What I Mean When I Say Compassion

This one is about definitions. This is how I define respect, how I define compassion, how I define the old Quaker injunction to “Walk cheerfully over the earth, answering that of God in every one.” And since it’s me writing this, we start with a story.

When I was in high school, there was a student named April who was developmentally disabled, with the conversational ability and habits of a seven-year-old, though she was older than I was. She was always cheerful, always smiling. On two separate occasions, I happened to see two different people interacting with April in similar ways. Both times April was brightly telling the other person about her day, or what she was headed off to do next. The difference, however, is what stands out. Continue reading


The Last Judgment of the USA

Then the people of the United States were brought before Christ, and were divided in two, the sheep and the goats, and the goats were placed at his left hand. And he said to them, “You who are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and you did not cure me, in prison and you did not visit me.” And they all answered, “When was this precisely, Lord?”

And he told them:

“Whenever you drove past East St. Louis or around Watts, and did not stop; whenever you passed over Gary or avoided the South Side; whenever you ignored Baltimore or the Bronx, stayed away from Philly’s heart, fled DC at nightfall. Continue reading


“Anoka-Hennepin staff, in the course of their professional duties, shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation including but not limited to student-led discussions.”
— Anoka-Hennepin school district policy

“We are not a homophobic district, and to be vilified for this is very frustrating.”
— Anoka-Hennepin superintendent Dennis Carlson

“Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.”
— Acts of the Apostles 7:58 (NRSV)


As I write this, I have just read an article in Rolling Stone about a series of school policies in the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota, and about a series of suicides among the student body. The article is worth reading in full, but the short version is this: under pressure from Christian groups, the school district adopted a policy of neutrality on gay issues (as you can read above). The immediate result: if incidents of bullying or harassment had any anti-gay overtones, the faculty ignored them. At least one teacher let a fight go on unchecked because the attackers were yelling “faggot!” at the kid they were beating. Astonishing, unbelievable, but true.

A further result: nine kids in the district have killed themselves. Continue reading

Recap For Recent Readers

For those of you who’ve started reading only recently or are just joining us, here are some key posts that somewhat capture the character of this blog.

The namesake post that explains what the generous grasp is — or at least what it could be.

My “belief basesline,” otherwise known as a Credo.

One of my favorite posts, on a topic dear to my heart.

Here’s what the Weekly Query is all about.

A post from last year, but still somewhat timely/seasonal.

Unfortunately this one’s still timely too.

That should get you started — but there’s plenty more out there for you to find on your own. I’m a teacher; did you think I was going to do all the work for you?


“The only position for women in SNCC is prone.”
— Stokely Carmichael, 1965

Shocks you, doesn’t it?

It shouldn’t. The great reformers and radicals always have feet of clay, and it’s often women who wind up taking the brunt. Mohandas Gandhi was profoundly strange when it came to women, surrounding himself with girls late in his life to prove he was “above temptation”; Dr. King was unfaithful to his wife; many early abolitionist women were also suffragists who lived to see the 13th Amendment, but not the 19th. The modern feminist movement, after all, began when the modern civil rights movement treated the women who signed up to help as servants and easy sex. Carmichael’s quote above was his response to one of the first feminist manifestos.

It’s not just women, though, and it’s not just one way. Dr. King relied enormously on Bayard Rustin, the man who taught him nonviolence, but he could never acknowledge Rustin in public, for Rustin was openly gay. Transgender women on the streets or in the shelters are warned to be most careful about violence from lesbians.

A people uprooted from their homeland, suffering through slavery, emancipation, mobs murdering them in the streets, hopes raised and hopes betrayed — if ever there were two peoples who could sympathize with each other, it would be blacks and Jews, and yet somehow that didn’t happen. When I was in college the Black Student Union invited a speaker who had made anti-Semitic remarks; when the Jewish Student Union protested from its office mere steps down the hall, they were accused of being racist.

On an even broader level, liberal/leftist/progressive organizations have a tendency to treat their own staff fairly poorly. I can attest to this personally; I once worked for the Fund For the Public Interest for a week — hired on Monday, quit on Friday. The day I was hired I took one glance at the contract for my position and thought, “We need to unionize.” I should not have been too shocked to discover that some people in my position had tried that in Los Angeles, with the result that the field office in LA was summarily shut down to head off a nascent Canvassers’ Union. I’ve heard similar reports from friends; the general message from on high in the Left seems to be that if you are truly progressive, you don’t need a fair salary, since it should all be for the love of the work. Or, to put it another way, when you’re working on the Left, you should make waves, but only in the authorized directions. Continue reading

The Sense of the Blog, or, Feedback

So, my friends,

How is my blog faring so far?

A little background first. A friend of mine has been practicing civil disobedience on her cause of causes. Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised various LGBTQ groups that she would push forward the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, passage of which would actually do more to further gay rights than a sudden federal legalization of gay marriage. Pelosi has been stalling, however. So my friend, along with her fellows in the energetic new rights activist group getEqual,* occupied her DC office, and were (as they expected) arrested for it.

I look at my friends who do such impressive things and stand up for their beliefs, and then I look at myself. Here’s my friend, getting charged in federal court for her principles. And then there’s me, blogging.

I can justify this to myself only if I’m the best possible blogger I can be. And for that I’d like to see what my readers think. Yes, all five of you. So here are a few queries:

1. What would you change about the blog, if anything?

2. Are the posts too long? Too short? Too hard to read? Too muddled? Just right?

3. What has caught your attention in the blog? Or, to put it another way, what do you like most about it so far?

4. Do you have any other suggestions, up to and including “Give up and become a fry cook in Pasco”?

I’ll accept feedback by word of mouth, email, or carrier pigeon, but posting it right here in the comments would be best to avoid doubling up.


*: The getEqual site is worth a visit just for Will Phillips. And if you feel moved, as I did, to sign their rather easily-agreed-with pledge, then so much the better.

Sodom and Gomorrah

As promised: this is the rather punchy piece that’s been simmering for a few weeks. Some of you out there may love it, some may hate it — if you think I’m right or wrong, tell me so. I’d love some feedback.


Chapter 19. 1. Two angels arrived at Sodom early in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed low before them.

2. “My lords,” he said, “please come this night to your servant’s house. There you may wash, and spend the night, and then go on your way early in the morning.”
“No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the market square.”

3. But he was in such earnest that they did go with him and came to his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast in his haste, and they ate.

4. Before they had gone to bed, however, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house.

5. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”

6. Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him,

7 and said, “No, my friends. Do not do this evil.

8. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you may do with them as you please. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof, and I must be hospitable.”

9. The men said, “That is fair,” and Lot sent his daughters out to them. The men raped them and did what they liked with them, and though his daughters cried out to him all through the night, Lot shut his ears and did not listen.

10. In the morning the angels thanked him and went on their way.

11. And the LORD met them as they came up from the city, and asked them, “Well? What have you seen?”

12. And they told him, “Lord, there is no crime in Sodom, for the men there only rape women.”

13. And the LORD said, “Well, that’s all right then, women don’t count. No harm in that.” And thus Sodom was spared. Continue reading

What Have You Done?

God talked to me today.

I’m Quaker; it’s a bit more common with us than you might think, yet there’s always a moment of doubt as I write those words. Still: the One Insufficiently Labeled as God talked to me. He metaphorically sat down on the edge of my figurative bed, looked me in the eye, and said, “Paul, what have you done with your brother Harvey?”

I knew who he meant, although I’ll confess my mental image was of Sean Penn. But since I didn’t say anything right away, God went on. “What have you done with your brothers Harvey and Matthew, and with your sisters? Their blood is crying out to me from the streets and the fields.”

“I didn’t kill them, boss,” I said. “I’m not Cain.”

“I know, Paul. I was there, remember? I’m always there. But what have you done with your sisters and your brothers and all your other slain kin?”

“What can I do?” I said, flinging my arms wide. “I can’t protect them, as much as I want to. I can’t save them, I can’t bring them back. They’re dead. What can I do?”

He raised an eyebrow, and said, “You can start by asking the right questions.”

I paused, and then said, “What can I do?”

He smiled. “There’s something I need for you to say for me, Paul. Write this down.” Continue reading