from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005


is the response Edwin Starr makes to his musical question,
War. What is it good for?

But this is not a diary about war.
Nor is it a diary about Schiavo, Gannon/Guckert, or  -- important in my case -- even about education.

It is NOT, however, a diary about nothing. It is a diary about EVERYTHING and it is provoked by a series of conversations -- with my life, with fellow teacher, with a person at the next table at Starbucks on Sunday. And that is why my title ends with questionmarks.

This diary is my response to a question I hear far too often:
What can we do when this group of Republicans controls the entire government?? Absolutely nothing??

This diary is a response to the anger I hear, such as my wife's comments to the Congress on AWR, on Schiavo, on so many issues. I see her otherwise beautiul face contort in rage, I hear stress in the sound that emits, and I hear words that are so intemperate that I almost don't recognize the person before me.

When we react that way, THEY have done more damage than that to which we react, whether it is the torture they justify, the raping of our wilderness on false pretenses about oil, or the hypocrisy of a President who signed an odious end of life bill in Texas attempting to portray his signing of the Schiavo bill as acting on the basis of morality.

I refuse to resort to a rage that distorts. I will not allow myself to be so contorted and frustrated that I do nothing.

So let me offer one person's tentative response, or rather, series of responses, to the questions, both in the title, and at the top of the extended text. What can we do?

I blog. I put out my opinions and beliefs and what I hope are insights of value to others. Perhaps that way I can spark connections.

I read. I see what others have written, or the recordation of what they have said. If worhtwhile, I pass it on to others.

I teach (yeah, I know I said this was not about education -- but my life is about education). I continue my commitment to challenging my official students to think, to examine things from more than one point of view. But since I define myself as as a teacher, I attempt to do that in every encounter where appropriate, including with people at the next table at Starbucks.

I maintain hope. I remember an exchange in the tales of the earliest Christian monks, the Desert Fathers. This will not be word for word, but you will get the gist:
The novice asked, "Abba (which means father or master), what do we do here in the Desert?"

And the Abba answered him "We fall, we pick ourselves up, we fall, we pick ourselves up, we fall, we pick ourselves up again."

There is an ancient Jewish tale about a old man who gave loving care to a new olive tree, and was asked why he worked so hard when he would not live to see the tree bear fruit. His response was that the tree would be their for his children, his children's children, and their children. I take this to heart, even though I have no children of my own. I keep going "for the children." Your children if you have them, those of your nieghbors, those in Iraq and Afghanistan and China and Congo and Darfur.

We cannot allow ourselves despair. We cannot let even justifiable rage paralyze us. We must go on. We must pick ourselves up, tend olive trees whose fruit we may never see. Yes, we must have faith that the actions we do that we think have no effect may influence beyond our greatest hopes.

Thee are two days left before Spring break. Some of my students are already mentally gone. could give up there, but I won't. Who knows in what mind I can kindle a spark and fan it into a flame hungtry for the fuel of knowledge?

After all, think of our inspiring examples -- one year ago would you have predicted Democrats would take over Montana? One month ago would you have believed that Democrats would get enough Republicans to block Bush on his attempt to further change medical programs? Two months ago would you have predicted that Bush's plan (whatever it is) to drastically change social security would be in such trouble? After the defeat of Daschle, did you believe that the new leader would do just a good job of getting the Democrats to hang together on at least some key issues?

I do not pretend that this diary will make a major difference in how you feel today. But perhaps for two or three readers, they will be able to take some small measure of comfort, pick themselves up again, and go on doing what they know to be right.

At the CIA, engraved in the wall is the biblical message "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (I hope I quoted that correctly). If we despair, we abandon truth. If we give in to rage, we abandon faith that things can get better. If we despair, we abandon hope, the hope that our actions will make a difference. Paul in Corinthians reminds us about Faith, Hope and Caritas, to use the Latin form of the word for love from which comes our term Charity. But he reminds us at the end of Chapter 13 that the greatest of these is that love, that charity, that caring for others. If we rage and despair, we have abandoned that caring for others that should mark us as different for those who rationalize and justify their self-aggrandisement at the expense of others, perhaps calling it tough love, or something even more obscene, a sign of God's favor to them.

I do not know the mind of God. I do not claim to always know what is right or wrong. I do know that if I do not act as if each person I encounter has that of God in them, then I abandon any divine spark in myself. When I rage or despair, I become blind to the divine -- in the world, and in the person I encounter. Then I become incapable of that love which is the gretest gift of all.

I do not consider myself a Christian per se. But I remember what I consider important lessons from the Bible. Jesus tells us that we should love one another even as he has loved us. I cannot love if I am paralyzed, whether by rage or by despair. And if I do not love, if love is not the driving force in what I do, if my actions are motivated by anything that blinds me to that divine spark in others so that it becomes impossible for me to approach them in love, then that about which I rage and despair has already won, and I am lost. I will not need a feeding tube removed, I will be dead!

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

I am fond of Eliot -- the lines above and below are from "Little Gidding."

We shall not cease from exploration
And at the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Absolutely Nothing??? No, Absolutely everything. And absolutely unlimited faith, hope and love. Returning to Little Gidding, including the quote Eliot makes from Julian of Norwich:

Quick now, here, now, always-
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

Have a really nice day.

 Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.
Thanks. I needed to hear these reminders today. I try to practice living for the moment. It sounds like a simple practice, but it takes...umm...practice! Life is good. I dare not waste my precious moments by agonizing over the unjust (but I do sometimes anyway). Practice Practice
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