Who Are You (Oscars 2017 Edition)

Friday 3 March 2017

First, you’re Warren Beatty.

A few moments earlier, someone handed you an envelope. You didn’t really inspect the envelope, but if you had, maybe you would have noticed that printed on it were the words “Actress in a Leading Role,” not “Best Picture,” the award you are presenting. The nominees have been reviewed, and now you’re opening the envelope. And now you’re a bit confused. Because the card inside says, “Emma Stone, La La Land,” and you know that doesn’t make sense for a Best Picture award. Those awards go to the producers. Emma Stone is an actress.

You know this isn’t right. You know something has gone terribly wrong; this isn’t the way the world is supposed to be. But you have the power to right this wrong. You have the power to avoid what is to come – a disaster, a situation that extends far beyond yourself. You aren’t fully responsible for this problem, but now you’re a part of it, and you have a part to play in fixing it. There may not be one right way to move forward, but avoiding the problem, choosing to ignore it, transferring it to someone else, hoping it will go away: that would be cowardice, and that is not you.

Now, you’re Faye Dunaway.

You don’t understand why Mr. Beatty is taking so long looking at the card and doesn’t just get on with it. The show’s been going on now for more than four hours; get it over with already.

He then turns the card to you.

And of course it says “La La Land.” You don’t think twice about the other words on the card, you just blurt it out. You voted for it, after all. And so did so many friends you know, white and older though they may be. But still. Who wouldn’t want to be taken back to the Hollywood of old, when everything was glamorous and golden? Who wouldn’t want to go back to the days before identity politics, before #OscarsSoWhite and #BlackLivesMatter? Who wouldn’t want to “Make Hollywood Great Again?”

Now you’re Brian Culliman.

You hear Ms. Dunaway say La La Land – and you know that’s not right. That’s not right at all. In fact, you and Martha Ruiz are the only two people in the world who know the truth, who know that Moonlight, not La La Land, was voted Best Picture. You look in your briefcase and pull out the envelope for Best Picture. You realize your mistake: you had given Mr. Beatty the wrong envelope, a duplicate from the previous award.

But now it’s been a full minute, and you’re still not on stage. You’re still not using your body to shut this thing down, to correct this wrong. You’re implicated in this, big time, and you realize it now. You’ve discovered your place is the system, your role in the injustice, and you know you need to take action. But you don’t want to rock the boat too much, to cause a commotion. You don’t sprint out on stage with the envelope, call a halt to things right there and then, before the speeches can be given, while the rightful winners marinate in the sting of defeat. It’s more important for things to be proper—or as proper as possible, given the circumstances—even if that means extending the suffering of those who’ve already been suffering far too long.

Now you’re Fred Berger.

You’re holding a golden Oscar statue tightly in your right hand, a statue you’ve dreamed of winning your whole life. It’s been 90 seconds since Faye Dunaway called out the title of your movie, a movie you spent countless hundreds of hours pouring your time and soul into, a movie with six Oscar wins before this one. Your co-producer Jordan finishes his speech, and Marc, your other co-producer steps forward to begin his. And you start to notice the commotion next to you on stage. You try to stay in the moment, but it’s impossible. Someone in a headset comes up and inspects Jordan’s envelope, the one Mr. Beatty had opened just two minutes ago. You see Emma Stone’s name on it, and you know it’s all a mistake; you didn’t win at all. It’s the wrong envelope, obviously. But that’s not the problem, for if your movie had actually won, no one would be on stage, trying to fix this.

But then Marc says your name, beckoning you to take your turn at the microphone. You know you don’t deserve this moment. But you step up and start talking anyway. They called your name, your movie’s name, after all, and the show must go on, right? You’re caught up in the moment, sure, but you still know this is wrong. Why not sit back, for just a moment, to let things get straightened out? You’ve had you turn at the Golden Globes and too many other award events to count. Would it be so hard to step back and share the spotlight?

——-

In the end, they got it right, but why did it take so long? Why didn’t Warren, or Faye, or Brian, or Fred – YOU – why didn’t YOU stop it sooner? Why didn’t you step up when you had the chance? You had the power and the opportunity. You have the power, and the responsibility to make change happen, to right the wrongs of the past and of the present, so they don’t continue to be wrongs into the future.

Now you’re you.

But who are you? And who are you going to be?


La Frontera 2016

Wednesday 9 November 2016

I have a lot of printed t-shirts hanging in my closet, and I’m usually thoughtful about which one I wear on a given day. Yesterday, working the election polls, I decided to go with my Chicago neighborhoods tee (which looks like this, but on a shirt).

Today, flipping through my shirts, I stopped and pulled down my Camp Mowana “La Frontera” theme shirt. The meaning that we were shared (at least as I internalized it) of “La Frontera” was of a place between, neither here nor there, a place of transition from what was to what is to come. In seeing that word and what it’s come to mean for me in the 10+ years since I obtained the shirt, I decided it was the appropriate way to capture my mood this day. (The shirt is subtitled “Where Jesus Meets Us” for some context for the camp’s choice of theme.)

Sitting here, the day after our citizenry (or at least those of age who decided to vote and are not restricted by law from doing so) went to the polls and elected a man who has shown callous disregard for so many different groups of people, I feel between. We’re obviously moving forward, at least in terms of calendar time, but it’s also clear that we’re in the middle of something big.

While there were likely many people who voted for Donald J. Trump out of animus for specific groups and peoples (Blacks, Muslims, Mexicans, Immigrants, Jews, even women), I suspect that that population alone would not have been enough to propel Trump to the presidency. Instead, there were many who simply turned a blind eye to this part of Trump, taking an “It’s not that important” stance to these issues and focusing instead on his anti-establishment rhetoric and their dissatisfaction with the political status quo when dealing with their (economic) lives.

Whatever the reason citizens opted to vote for Trump (who appears to have not even received the most votes overall, just enough in the right states—but that’s a topic for another day), our country will soon know the leadership of a man who embodies a white supremacist and xenophobic framework, supported by an electorate who at worst find this trait positive and at best find it negligible. (I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that I believe failing to condone such oppression is unacceptable and as good as promoting  that oppression.)

For me, this time—definitely this day, likely the next two months, but perhaps also the coming four or more years—has all the feelings of what I envision for La Frontera. It will be a time of struggle as we figure out where our country, full of a vast number of peoples with a vast number of beliefs and ideals, goes from here.

How can we create a land where all people are able to live in peace and comfort and seek self-fulfillment? How do we heal the wounds that (not only this election cycle but) our history has given so many of us? How do we listen to one another and recognize that my ability to live a full and valuable life does not depend on others suffering, and vise versa?

There are no easy answers, and (as always) the outcome of this election, no matter who had won, didn’t make these questions any less relevant. After all, it takes more than a president to change a country (see: Barack Obama).

As we move through La Frontera, it is important for all of us to ask ourselves what our role will be in the healing future of our country and its peoples. If you’re seeking a place to start on this first Wednesday after the first Monday in November, I recommend it be there.


question your sources

Friday 21 December 2007

Being off for a few weeks, I’ve been able to do a lot more reading and watching of media coverage of world and current events (and too much Clash of the Choirs, too, I might add). Today I was reading an AP article about pilgrims flocking to Bethlehem for Christmas where I read, close to the end of the article, this sentence, dropped in rather nonchalantly: “Israel is building the [West Bank separation] barrier in an effort to keep out Palestinian suicide bombers.”

Because of the witness of a friend of mine, I’ve become engrossed in the Palestinian situation in the past few months, reading testimonies by peacemakers from groups like Christian Peacemaker Teams and Michigan Peace Team and individual blogs by those currently in Palestine. Thanks to these reading, I was able to take this sentence and other words and comments we come to hear daily for what they really are: falsehoods.

It’s easy to accept this separation wall — 25 feet tall in most places completed — as being about national security. I mean, they want to build a wall at the border of Mexico for that reason, right? Unfortunately, things aren’t always as cut and dry as they seem. Firstly, he wall being built isn’t being built on political borders because, really, there aren’t any other than the supposed border set up in the late 1940s. Because Israel later captured these lands in 1967, there is really no longer an official border.

So one might expect if there were to be a wall to protect a border, you’d at least build it on the border. But as it goes, the wall is being built to encompass land that belongs to Palestinians, in reality illegally stealing land for Israeli settlers.

The situation is much too complicated for me to explain fully here, but I encourage you do to not take my word for it and do your own research. Read stories from the links I’ve posted here and examine other media sources. But above all, question what you read and see on TV, asking if there might be another side to the story or an ulterior motive for the way something is reported. It might take some time and effort to uncover reality, but don’t you owe it to yourself to know the truth?