Friday, August 24, 2012

Can we talk - really?

Here is my most recent Claremont Courier column. I’ll just add that after a particularly harsh screed printed in the paper, the editor suggested in a note that if the writer hates Claremont so much, he can always move.



It was a church group.

I don’t know why people were shocked - shocked! - about what happened when, in a new addition to the City’s Fourth of July Celebration, the choir from the Pomona First Baptist Church presented a concert of patriotic music in front of the Claremont Depot at the beginning of July. Sure, “God bless America,” “In God we trust,” even “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord” and “Glory, glory, hallelujah, His truth is marching on” are familiar tropes in patriotic American song, but they do have a different, very distinct ring when put forth by a Christian body.

This wasn’t the Pomona College Choir singing a Bach mass. Or, perhaps in a better example for those with questions about Pomona College’s Congregational beginnings, the choir with students from Scripps, Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd and Pitzer College singing “O, Magnum Mysterium.”

“What was the City thinking?” was the immediate question, including from members of the City’s Human Relations Commission, regarding what some saw as evangelism at a City-sponsored event. Or even in a public space. This was all the more poignant after the City ended up backing out of a celebration featuring a Catholic Mass in El Barrio Park not long before.

But perhaps the question should be “What were people thinking?” What was anyone thinking?

This is what I’ve been asking, with people firing off letters, printed in these pages, ricocheting off each other in a steady stream since the patriotic concert. These letters haven’t been about how good or bad the singing was, and they have definitely made summer even hotter and steamier around here.

Some letters have said that Christians should be allowed to express their faith in public, with a few at least implying that they have a duty to spread their faith. Some letters have said that religion has no place in the public square, citing the First Amendment and saying that it makes people of other faiths or no religious belief feel left out or estranged. At least one letter included the opinion that it’s unfair that it’s okay for Occupy Claremont to have a presence in front of City Hall, at least for a while, even as a Christian great doing so wouldn’t be tolerated. One letter was from representatives of the A.C.L.U threatening legal action unless the City draws up rules, or clarifies the rules it does have, regarding church/state issues.

Like I said, Claremont has been heating up in the last month or so, whether or not the mercury has been rising.

I’m wondering if the real question isn’t, what was anyone thinking, but, rather, was anyone thinking? Or, maybe, thinking too much.

It could be argued that Occupy Claremont is based on religious values, even Christian values - peace, justice and all that - but, as far as I know, it’s not a religious group. It is certainly not a church choir singing in front of City Hall. Or like a church choir singing in front of City Hall.

But what about Claremont’s Fourth of July parade? Do we really think about what goes on in it?

For many years, there has been a large contingent or two, at least, from fundamentalist Christian churches, with Christo-centric songs blaring forth. I am not here to advocate them being banned from the parade, like those who sue to have God removed from the Pledge of Allegiance, but what about the Jewish people, the Muslims, the Buddhists who are there to cheer on the parade? How do they feel when these contingents pass by? What about Sikhs, a group recently victimized in a recent terrorist act?

Likewise, the large contingent in recent years featuring people of different faiths championing same-sex marriage (which I have been involved in) has, for sure, elicited some frowns and thumbs down. Again, this is a case in which some feel obliged or called to express their beliefs, especially when they see them challenged or see those with differing beliefs as “lost.”

And, no doubt, there are those who rather see a contingent of soldiers or veterans waving the red, white and blue than a group of peace marchers carrying signs.

Over the years, such issues have inspired a letter or two regarding the parade. But then the topic quickly dropped, with no on-going conversation.

But can we have a real conversation, a constructive, productive dialogue, about expressing religious beliefs in public spaces, at public events? Perhaps what we should really ask is if we want to think about this and if we can talk about it without getting hot under the collar.

And I don’t know if suggesting that someone who doesn’t like what’s going on go elsewhere, no matter how negative and harsh the expressed opinions are, is what I mean by constructive and productive.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Justice done

I have written a few times here about Jared Lee Lochner, the gunman in the Tucson shooting a year and a half ago, who killed 6 and severely wounded Senator Gabrielle Giffords among others. My last post on the subject was about how nuts it was that Lochner was being forcibly drugged so that he could be sane enough to be tried and sentenced to death.

So I groaned on Sunday when I read in the Los Angeles Times that Lochner, after being drugged and treated at a psychiatric prison, was going to be declared competent to stand trial at a hearing. I thought the insanity was going to continue.

On Tuesday, when the hearing took place, I was relieved to hear that Lochner, who did appear to be calmer and reasonable, plead guilty and that there will be no trial and no death penalty. This spares everyone a wrenching and expensive high-profile trial, and, best of all, at least in this case, it stops the insanity of the government having a hand in murder.

Lochner will no doubt get life without parole, which is absolutely appropriate. I hope he gets the helps he needs to be well in prison. The only other thing I’ll say is that, with all the hand-wringing going on but no action being taken after all the mass shootings that have happened, including the recent ones at a movie theater and at a Sikh temple, it appears very much that the N.R.A has America by the balls.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Acting my age

In my last post, I wrote about attending California WorldFest in Grass Valley and how fun it is. I have been attending this music festival for five years, and, before that, I camped at the Strawberry Music Festival, just outside Yosemite, focusing on bluegrass and folk for several years. When the Grateful Dead was still around, I attended four of the band’s concerts. My favorite of these concerts turned out to be the one I had the most trepidation about - on a big, grassy soccer field. I guess you could call me a deadhead, although nothing like the attendant I had who pulled my van over and burst into tears when he heard on the radio that Jerry Garcia had died (I really had to try not to laugh).

I have to admit, however, that, when I’m at these festivals and loving it, I find myself curious and, yes, bothered that there are people, especially men, in their 40's, 50's and 60's there. Sometimes, I catch myself appalled when I see an older guy frolicking and dancing around on the lawn and in the dust. I totally get it with guys who are 18 and in their 20's, but what are these older men doing there?

I think a lot of this is that I can’t imagine my dad doing such a thing. And aren’t these guys supposed to be playing golf, or talking about work while playing golf, or something.

And, yes, it does weird me out a bit that Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger are about 70.

But the weirdest thing is what I realized last week: I turn 52 this week, and here I am, frolicking on the grass, dancing in the dust - not to mention lounging back in my new tilting wheelchair - with the rest of them. What’s more, I’m doing this shirtless in brightly colored overalls and mismatched high-tops with rainbow laces and sporting dreadlocks and now spiked mohawk.

Which is pretty much my standard look, festival or no festival.