Posted by: Andrew | March 29, 2014

God, Cosmos and Everything

It was nearly 25 years ago, on the night of my 16th birthday. To celebrate, I had invited a number of my buddies over for a role playing game. Clearly, we were party animals. I had set up a scenario that was supposed to play out as the characters in a desperate battle for survival against an overwhelming alien strike force. I miscalculated. The aliens were obliterated in one volley of missiles. Seriously…one. In retrospect, I can think of a whole bunch of ways to fix that scenario, but that’s not why we’re traveling down memory lane.

Somewhere along the way, we did presents and cake or some such thing. One guy, the youngest of our number had a few too many sodas and got on an obnoxious sugar and caffeine high. Hours later, a bunch of us, many of my oldest friends, then and now, sat around on the retaining wall under a sky that was uncharacteristically clear for July in Los Angeles.

We sat. We talked. We joked. We pontificated.

Somehow, the conversation turned to the universe, the infinite universe. We began speculating on the notion that in a truly infinite universe, every scenario that does not violate the laws of science must exist somewhere in spacetime. Somewhere, there was an Andrew that grew up to play first base for the Dodgers, or became a paleontologist or a fighter pilot. Somewhere, there was a world where, for good or for ill, I, or a parallel me, made, not just one decision differently, but every decision that I ever made differently in every way possible. And it wasn’t true for just me, but for every being in the universe.

Because that’s what sixteen year-olds do on a Saturday night, right?

Oh, and we weren’t high. Aside from the afore-mentioned caffeine, there were no drugs involved.

At some point in this discussion of the fabric of reality, I turned my eyes skyward to that clear night sky with stars, those visible in L.A. staring back down at me. At that moment, the universe seemed very big and earth felt like little more that a tiny rock floating in space. It was pretty mind blowing.

Now, I’m not here to put my vision of an infinite universe or multiverse or whatever, up for scientific analysis. I know it wouldn’t hold up…probability, randomness, all that good stuff. I bring it up as a prelude to the infinite universe concept resurfacing in a wonderful way.

I almost missed it. We’d gotten the kids to bed and were debating what to watch when I saw that we could catch the last few minutes of the premier of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. I quickly saw Neil deGrasse Tyson walking though a magnificent forest making reference to global warming. Then he was on a cosmic calendar talking about how, when the whole of time was scaled to 1 year, recorded history did not start until 14 seconds before midnight on New Year’s Eve. He shared about his meeting, at the age of 17, with Carl Sagan and how he had been inspired to not just pursue science, but inspire others to do the same.

The next night, we watched the whole episode, and four nights later, with nary a debate, we showed it to our kids as a Friday night movie.

I could wax poetic about the wonder of seeing my children watching, devouring this show, but that would imply that I did not feel that same wonder, even with 40 years of a reasonable understanding of science under my belt.

I was a little young for the original Cosmos, but I remember watching Jacque Cousteau with my dad. It was back before science programming was relegated to cable channels that, in turn, threw science under the bus in favor of such sensationalism as Ancient Aliens and Doomsday Preppers.

This is needed programming. In an age where science is under attack because it is telling us things that we don’t want to hear or that don’t match up with some religious views, we need Tyson’s full throated advocacy of the scientific method and the findings derived there from.

Tyson is right to include the history of science and the history or persecution of scientists in Cosmos. He’s right to talk about evolution and climate change, even though it upsets some people.

I read an article about creationists demanding equal time on this science program. They don’t deserve equal time because creationism is not science. I am yet to see a creationist interpretation of the origin of the universe that can be reached through the scientific method.

Here’s why.

Let’s use an example from the second episode, where Tyson explores evolution. He describes the process of random mutations in DNA strands that lead to, for example, a bear being born with white fur instead of brown. In the right environment, say the arctic, that fur becomes an advantage. The animal with the advantage reproduces more, spreading that useful DNA at the expense of its brown-furred brother. Generations later, you have polar bears.

Now, in describing the process, Tyson calls the mutations exactly as science calls them. Absent a pattern or discernible catalyst, the mutations appear random, and that’s how science perceives them. Is science right? Are they truly random? Maybe there’s a process or catalyst that causes mutations that science has not yet discovered. Maybe some mutations have causes…radiation? pollution? Gamma Rays?… that can, ultimately be observed while others don’t.

Now, looking at mutations from a faith perspective is a different story. I’ll use myself as an example. I’m a person of faith, a Christian, so I see the same story of genetic mutations, and at least in the positive ones I see what could be the hand of God. I see a creator at work, trying stuff out, thinking through improvements, taking joy in the creative process. Now, some people would say that this violates the idea of an omniscient God because it suggests things like trial and error and a creation that is less than perfect. I reject that reasoning, because, once we get past the first two books of Genesis, we see a whole lot of imperfection.

Think about it. Adam and Eve sin. Cain kills Abel. Every human that is God’s creation, which is to say all of us, according to my belief, is imperfect and trying to get better.

Now, I fully admit, that I’ve filled in a lot of gaps here. I’ve taken the unexplained and filled in a narrative that is consistent with my personal faith. I can envision God in the role, among other roles, of a joyful tinkerer in His heavenly workshop experimenting with His creations and trying to make them better. But, I can’t prove it. I can’t record it. I can’t demonstrate it in a way that another person could repeat and verify. I can’t prove it scientifically. It’s what I believe. It’s what I have faith in, but it’s not scientifically provable, and therefore does not belong in a science narrative.

Some people have objections to this approach to reconciling faith and science. I’ve heard the term “God of the gaps.” It suggests that, by allowing God to fill in the gaps that exist in scientific knowledge, the advancement of knowledge and subsequent diminishment of those gaps also diminishes God.

I reject that notion. Let me illustrate.

Have you ever wanted to cook a large roast? The larger the roast, the longer it takes to cook. If you want or need it to cook faster, you cut in half or quarters. This increases the surface area through which heat can be absorbed into the roast and thus reduces the cooking time.

Likewise, when our knowledge allows us to stop looking at a rock as just a rock and lets us see it as a collection of molecules and atoms and subatomic particles, we have expanded the surface area through which God can impact the universe. Likewise, as we look to the heavens and realize that we are one planet of many orbiting one star of many in one galaxy of many in one supercluster or many in one vast observable universe of, possibly many, we can look at creation as so much more vast and grand than our one little world. Suddenly, God is a being who can exist among the tiniest of subatomic particles and can shape the vastness of the observable universe, and, at least from a Christian perspective, wants a loving relationship with each life He creates.. When you look at it that way, it’s kind of hard to say that science diminishes God.

Science is a tool, a powerful one. We can use it to try and kill God, but that would be an improper and futile use. Likewise, we can use it to prove God, but that would be, at best, a waste of time. Science, true science that stays true to the scientific method can do neither. It’s agnostic. There will always be a far horizon of knowledge, beyond which lies faith. There will always be a smaller subatomic particle waiting to be discovered. Those are the limits of knowledge, and science allows us to expand the universe encompassed by those limits, but science will never, ever have all the answers. Science will never prove nor disprove the existence of God.

Which brings us back to Cosmos…

There are some creationists who criticize the show as disrespectful to people of faith. They’re wrong about that. Tyson acknowledges the controversies and even some of the arguments of creationists, and he does so respectfully. He does not give them any scientific ground or equal time. He dismisses the idea that something is too complex to be natural, and the fact that science does not have all the answers yet (and never will) as outside the realm of scientific inquiry.

The reason is quite simple. When you say, something like “It’s too complex to be random, therefore it must be God,” or “Science hasn’t provided an answer, so it must be God,” you are shutting down further inquiry. You stop asking questions and science never, ever stops asking questions. It shouldn’t. We shouldn’t.

Now, you may want to call me out on the fact that, mere paragraphs ago, I envisioned God as that happy tinkerer, tweaking His creation through those “random” genetic mutations. Is that not precisely what science precludes?

It would be if I were treating that as a scientific conclusion. It’s not. It’s a faith-based conclusion. Science sees randomness and keeps looking. Faith can go where science cannot. It can go to that which is unobservable. And what of the “keeps looking” part? Well, I suppose it depends on one’s individual approach to faith. I for one want science to keep looking, to keep searching for answers. That search does not threaten my faith.

I started out saying that Cosmos is a show that we need right now. I believe this because we need an understanding of science and the scientific method.  We don’t all need to be scientists, but with the number of pressing issues in our world that are scientific in nature, it is critically important, in our roles as citizens and decision makers, that we understand the rigorous nature of science so we can apply those findings in an intelligent and informed way.

When it comes down to it, the origins debate takes nothing from Jesus’ command that I love God and love my neighbor.  It does not change His advocacy for the poor and marginalized.  However, scientific research can inform my ideas and actions in furtherance of my efforts to carry out His commands.

Whether through an evolutionary process or through instantaneous creation, God gave us senses to take in the world and brains to process the information we take in.  Let’s use those gifts to learn about the vastness and intricacy of creation, and to do so in the faith that God is not endangered by what we learn.

Posted by: Andrew | February 14, 2014

Fifteen Years

Fifteen years.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been fifteen years since that sunny Valentine’s Day when I fell in love. I’ve told the story before. It might be the one post I’ve ever re-posted. But it’s still hard to believe how the world can change so quickly.

I’d been jealous before. I don’t think it’s possible to grow up without experiencing some form of romantic jealousy. Maybe it’s seeing her with another guy. Maybe it’s seeing him looking at someone else the way he should be looking at you. Maybe it’s hearing a story that translates to you as a missed opportunity or worse, betrayal. It doesn’t matter. In one way or another, we’ve all been there.

I’d also fallen in love before. Once it was an idealistic vision of something that I was utterly clueless about. Once it was a resigned acceptance of that which I knew wasn’t going to happen. In both cases, I reached for the star. I tried. But it wasn’t to be. Again, chances are we’ve all been there or will face it someday, in some form. .

I thought the jealousy came first, but I was wrong. The jealously revealed what was already there, even if I hadn’t admitted it to anyone, least of all myself.

A day and a half later, as I sat in my dark living room, it all became clear. I had no need to be jealous, or, for that matter lonely or searching.

I’d had a dream, not long before. It was my wedding day. My family and friends were joyfully greeting me in a parking lot. But my bride was nowhere to be found. I was not concerned. I watched a white van drive past, and I knew she was in there, whoever she was.

In that living room, in the dark, the identity of that woman became crystal clear. It was Alissa. It was always Alissa. I’d felt an attraction to her in our first email communications before we’d ever met. We’d both had to grow up a lot, and travel our individual journeys, our paths intersecting and paralleling each other before merging.
But our paths did merge, fifteen years ago with flare of the best kind of jealousy.

We don’t consider Valentine’s Day our anniversary, but it certainly represents a critical moment for us because that is when everything changed. That’s when I knew I wasn’t alone, and the world never looked the same after that day. I was not just me. I was half of us.

So what else is there to say to Alissa, my love, who challenges me and supports me and makes me a better man?

Alissa, fifteen years ago, I realized that I was in love with you. I still am. Thank you for being all that you are to me. Thank you for taking my hand and journeying with me through life. I love you.
Happy Valentine’s Day.

And Happy Valentine’s Day to my reader’s as well.

Posted by: Andrew | January 17, 2014

On the Seahawks Bandwagon

I’m not a football fan in any sense that would do justice to a true fan. I’ll watch the Super Bowl for the commercials. I might watch the Rose Bowl, or a regular season game for that matter, if there’s nothing better to divert my attention. I did go to the games in high school and college and had fun with my friends. If “my” team is doing well, I’ll watch more than if they are struggling. I’ll readily admit to hopping on and off football bandwagons.

But boy, this year, I’m having a lot of fun watching football. Of course I’m in Seattle, and the Seahawks are just flat out fun to watch this year, as they were last year. The Seahawks’ performance has managed to create a shared sense of excitement in this highly diverse community, and that’s what sports do at their best. That’s what makes fandom fun.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not limited to sports. On a smaller scale, I remember a lot of school and community-wide excitement when my high school went all out to put on a production of Fiddler on the Roof. I remember watching from afar the shared pride and nostalgia that the Space Shuttle Endeavor’s final homecoming brought to L.A.

Great achievement can bring together communities, whether in the arts or sports or even science and technology.

But there’s something more here, and it’s something that goes beyond Seahawks nation to the NFL at large.

No matter what happens in the next few week, no matter who goes to the Super Bowl, there is an incredibly powerful narrative arc going on in the NFL, and it’s a story as old as time, and I’m not talking about a romance involving Marshawn Lynch and a beautiful woman.

See what I did there?

Let’s look at the two Conference championship games. Over in the AFC, we have a showdown between the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos, led by Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, respectively. They have been two of the NFL’s most dominant quarterbacks over the last decade. Both having played their entire careers in the AFC, they haven’t faced each other in the Super Bowl, but they have faced each other 3 times in the post season (Brady’s Patriots have the series edge of Manning’s Colts, 2-1) and 14 times over all (10-4, Brady).

The AFC championship game will be the latest chapter in this individual rivalry that has been compared to that between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird among others.

So that’s the AFC narrative: two great rivals clashing once again with a championship on the line.

Then there’s the NFC game. The 2012 NFL season was marked by the debuts of several promising young quarterbacks. Two that had not gotten much attention going into the season were Russell Wilson of the Seahawks and Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers. Kaepernick led his team to the Super Bowl. Were it not for some lackluster clock management, he could very well have faced off with Wilson for the privilege. None of the other, more highly regarded rookies went as far as these two.
As luck would have it, they play for two teams that have a heated division rivalry. They have split the season series, each winning on their home field and will meet in Seattle on Sunday for a rubber game with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

If the AFC narrative is one of two great veterans with more playing years behind then than ahead, the NFC one is of a next generation rivalry that could very well define the next decade of football.

And that brings us to the Super Bowl. The AFC will send a team led by one of the game’s greatest and most respected quarterbacks. The NFC will send one led by a quarterback that could be the Peyton Manning or Tom Brady of 2024.
Will the torch be passed to this new generation of young quarterbacks, or will the veterans remain dominant? That’s yet another classic storyline.

And that’s why we watch. There are awesome stories being played out over the remaining three games of the NFC season, and when it comes down to it, they are stories that go beyond sports. They’re stories that take place in business and music and theater and science and politics and religion and literature.

Whatever the discipline, or the setting, you can find storylines that parallel those being played out on the field. That’s the beauty of a good story. It transcends obvious boundaries to reflect the human condition in a way that lets us see that story in our own lives.

Of course, I could be over thinking the whole thing. In any case, I’m looking forward to some football.

And of course…


Posted by: Andrew | January 2, 2014

2013 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,700 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 28 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Posted by: Andrew | January 2, 2014

The Turning of the Years…Plus a day.

What a year! 

What is there to say about 2013?  I’ll admit that I’m writing this a the end of a very busy holiday season couple with a lot of craziness at work, so that’s probably coloring my judgment.  You see, I’m really looking forward to 2013 being over.  I can’t say it’s been a bad year, but it’s been a hard year.  It’s been a year filled with hard work and a lot of change, so much so that the moments in which I have found my footing have seemed few and far between.  Actually, the more accurate phrasing would be that they’ve seemed fewer and farther between than they were in reality.

In looking over my pitifully few posts for the year, I’m reminded of the big events, both those that I wrote about and those that I declined to.  It’s been a full year.  It’s been full of change.  There’s been sadness and joy and growth and learning.  The year has been a roller coaster, and now, as the train pulls into the platform, I can look back, catch my breath and say definitively that it was a wild ride.

I’m not going to do a play by play recap of the year.  There was too much going on to even consider such an exercise, but I will say that “change” has been writ large across the year that was.  Obviously that’s something of a platitude or a truism.  Change happens all the time, but not at a constant rate.  A sometimes change is gradual.  Sometimes it’s not. 

2013 fell into the second category.  Obviously, some change is inevitable, especially with kids.  Annie started Kindergarten, performed in a ballet recital and joined the kid’s choir at our (sort of) new church.  Harry moved up to second grade, is reading everything and has discovered baseball, football, popular music and superheroes.

Last Christmas, Santa brought a doll house and a mess of Star Wars figures and vehicles.  This year it was an ipod and a “play” makeup kit.  They’re growing up too fast.

The big change was our move.  We changed school districts, so it meant the kids had to switch schools.  We went from a tiny kitchen and no yard to an awesome kitchen and a massive yard.  I’m not going to go into too much detail on that move because it’s clearly part of a bigger arc of my family’s story, and that arc is yet to run its course.  You see, we were hoping that we’d be able to stay in this house for several years. 

Alas, it was not to be.  The house we had moved into is owned by a family that got moved overseas for work.  Shortly before Thanksgiving, we got word that our landlords were being transferred back.  I’m going to leave that story for later because it is not complete and is looking like it’s heading toward a pretty exciting resolution.

So what’s ahead?  Aside from the move, Annie’s break from ballet is over and she’s starting a new dance class.  Harry’s starting guitar and little league.  I’m introducing him to role playing games and comic books as well.

As for the adults, it’s going to be more of the same.  That means lots of hard work at home, at work and at the gym.  We’re getting to know our small group at church.  Alissa’s volunteering with the kid’s choir and I’m trying to find the right fit to plug into a volunteer role at church. 

And of course there will be more writing and blogging.  Despite my abysmal blogging record in 2013, I’m actually feeling pretty good on the overall writing front.  It’s definitely a case in which I need to settle in for a long game and just keep working and honing my skills.  I’m okay with that. 

So here we are, two days into 2014.  The canvas is blank.

Let’s paint.


Figuratively…for me anyway.  I’m not a visual artist and taking up painting is not on my agenda.

Posted by: Andrew | December 19, 2013

I’m a Bad Blogger

I’m a bad blogger.
It’s been too long. I’m having trouble fathoming where this year has gone. I certainly don’t know how we ended up less than a week out from Christmas. Time flies, I guess.

So shockingly, I have not abandoned “Great” Thoughts. I’ve actually been busy with some other projects that are nowhere near ready for public consumption. You see, I was getting ready for another run at National Novel Writing Month. I had my story plotted out and had spent a decent amount of time getting to know my characters. I was eagerly awaiting the November 1 starting gun.

Then it happened.

Another story popped into my head. It’s a ghost story, because I’m all about the ghost stories. (I’m not.) I don’t know where this came from except the inspiration started on our family pumpkin picking trip.

Initially, I thought I could slam out a rough draft in a week and then jump into NaNoWriMo. Perhaps I would have been better off had I stuck to that plan, but it was not to be. The story grew, although not to anything close to novel-length. At this point it’s a novelette which is something between a novella and a short story.

It’s proven to be a really fun writing exercise and had forced me to really work with various dilemma’s. How to you get rehabilitate an antagonist when that character is “off screen” for the bulk of a story written in the first person from the perspective of a protagonist who carries a very fresh wound at the antagonist’s hand? How do you write a significant kiss in the first person? What does the venue look like for an “All Dead” musical revue? And can I really get away with a giant eyeball wandering around?

Fortunately, I’ve got some friends who will give me input when I’m ready for it. Hopefully it will end up being better than Sharknado.

So that’s what I’ve been up to on the writing front. There’s been a lot of other stuff going on, but I think I’ll actually wrap up here in hopes of letting you know that your bad blogger is back.

I’ve missed sharing my “Great” Thoughts with you and I’m hoping to bring more balance into my writing time.

Until next time….

Posted by: Andrew | September 16, 2013

Syria: What Just Happened?

The whole Syria story has been something of a moving target, hasn’t it?  This is my third version of a post on Syria.  My first was to be a an attempt to analyze all the dizzying complexity of the situation, ranging from the geo-political chess match between Obama and Putin, to the regional considerations as the new Middle East continues to take shape, forged, for good or for ill in the fires of revolution, to the domestic political consideration clouding the effort to craft a good policy while haunted by the ghosts of the lies that got us into Iraq a decade ago.

My conclusion was that there was no good solution, and there probably never was one.

I’m happy to say that I was wrong about that.

The next version was going to discuss Obama’s speech on Syria (an excellent one, by the way) and the apparent agreement with Russia that may have averted a war.  No, Kerry’s “off-hand” comment was not a gaffe.  It was, at a minimum at trial balloon, although analysis of the chain of events starting with the discussion between Obama and Putin at the G20 summit suggests that it may have been part of a more carefully crafted plan.  I’m sure the history books will tell us.  The funny part of this is all the pundits claiming that this is a loss for Obama and a victory for Putin.  One could argue that Putin did achieve a victory by inserting himself into a crisis and emerging as a responsible partner in finding a diplomatic solution rather than an antagonistic rival bent on countering American influence by enabling a tyrant. But this is not a zero sum game.  A victory for Putin is not a loss for Obama.  After all, good policy lifts all boats.  But, for those who insist that only one can win, just look at whose policy changed and whose has remained intact.

Over the course of the Syrian civil war, Russia has blocked every attempt by the United Nations to even express disapproval of the brutality of the Assad regime.  Assad, has denied having chemical weapons.  If this agreement goes through, Russia will have shifted to holding accountable and Assad regime that has now admitted to having chemical weapons and has offered to join the Chemical Weapons Convention and dismantle their stockpiles.  The American policy, over the long term, has been about disarming Syria and eliminating the threat of chemical weapons.  The policy is still in place even if the threat of force has been reduced. 

I don’t think Obama was playing 11 dimensional chess, but I think he was playing chess and I think he won. 

(Disclaimer: The whole thing could still fall apart, but I’m looking at the current trajectory of events.)

But let’s take a bigger step back.  Leaving out the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was a direct confrontation between the US and Soviet Union, when was the last time, in the post-World War II era, that the US leveled a concrete threat of war against another country and then backed down in favor of a diplomatic solution? 

Korea?  Obviously not?

Vietnam? Again, tragically no.

Grenada?  Panama?  Iraq? Somalia? Bosnia? Kosovo? Sudan?  Afghanistan? Iraq again? Libya?

I can’t think of a single incident in which we were on a trajectory for war and then altered that trajectory without initiating hostilities. 

Am I wrong?  Is there something I’m missing?

Because if I’m not, that would mean that we’re looking at the first time in the post-war era that we, as a nation have turned away from war before initiating hostilities.

Maybe there’s hope.  Maybe we’ve learned our lesson.  Maybe , just  maybe we’re choosing to turn away from war.



Posted by: Andrew | September 1, 2013

Adventures in Canning

So I got a canning kit for my birthday and I’ve been excited to use it. Still, it took me a while to decide what to start with. I found the answer at the Lake Forest Park Farmers’ Market.



I wasn’t sure I had enough, so I chose something I could (and did) supplement from the vines coming over the back fence.

I won’t go into the play by play, but after a relatively simple process of boiling and stirring, I lowered two pint jars of blackberry jam into the canner.


And a few minutes later…

Ta daa!

Ta daa!

Oh, and there was more jam than jars. What to do? What to do?

Works for me...

Works for me…

It was a pretty easy operation for my first time out. I will definitely be trying more of this.

Posted by: Andrew | August 19, 2013

A Season at Home

A couple of posts ago I referenced “whatever hole Andrew had fallen into.”  Well, that hole was that we moved.  It was a local move, from a condo to a small house with a big yard, a formal dining room and an awesome kitchen.  Needless to say, it’s been a busy summer, but one that we have spent largely at home.

Harry has continued at Lynnwood’s most excellent Kamp Kookamunga, running all over the Puget Sound region on field trips.  Annie’s in her last few weeks of day care.  We’ve had swimming lessons twice a week.  Annie had a summer ballet class.

Each child had a week’s diversion from the norm.; Harry went to a baseball camp and Annie spend a week preparing for Kindergarten in the ingenious Jump Start program.  She spent a week going to her new school in the morning and learning the ins and outs  so she’ll be ready for academics come September.

I celebrated my 40th birthday with a dinner and game night at the AFK tavern. I got a canning set, so I will be experimenting with canning in the coming weeks and months.  We had a bus and ferry adventure to Edmonds and Kingston that resulted in us having to call my mom for a ride when we missed the last bus home from Edmonds. 

And mowing.  I mentioned the big yard, right?  It requires both Alissa and I to do a lot of mowing.  But it’s good exercise.

 We haven’t done much of anything with the planting beds, but I have visions of a small kitchen garden next summer.  I’m also waiting to see if the eleven fruit trees produce anything edible.

We’re still trying to get unpacked.  Our garage is stuffed.  We want to remedy that so we can use the space for a freezer and an extended pantry for all the stuff I’m going to can.  Seriously.

We didn’t travel this summer, but that’s okay.  It’s been a season at home, of sprinklers and wading pools, of outdoor dinners and bugs and birds.  The smell is undeniably one of freshly mown grass, tinged with sweat and chlorine, diamond dust and leather.  And it has been good.

And now, the leaves have started to turn. My little girl turns five this week, and with her birthday, we will be turning undeniably toward autumn and winter.  Lawn mowing will give way to leave raking.  Grilled dinners will give way to stews and roasts, soups and chili.  And that will be good too.  We’ll even put the fire place to use. 

Posted by: Andrew | July 20, 2013

Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman and White Privilege

It’s hard to know what to say about the outcome of the murder trial of George Zimmerman.  Yeah, the Zimmerman trial.  He was the person on trial.  He was the one accused of murdering an unarmed child.  There were times when that was not obvious.  There were times that it seemed that he was the victim of his actions stalking and chasing and killing an unarmed child who was not engaged in any illegal activity. There were times when it was clear that the victim was on trial. This was the defense strategy and the prosecutor pretty much went along with it, not even suggesting that the victim had a right to self-defense.  The killer (and despite his acquittal, he did kill Trayvon Martin) was portrayed as victim and the victim, that dead, unarmed child, was portrayed as the aggressor.

I’ve read my share of opinion pieces.  Battle lines get drawn in the media and we rush to our ideological barricades.  That’s expected in our polarized nation.

But what’s most jarring to me, is the reaction of my friends of color. These are people, diverse in background, whom I’ve known since childhood.  Some relationships are or were closer, deeper, than others but they are people that I studied with, did extracurricular activities with, played and laughed and joked with. Some were confidantes, and some were little more than acquaintances.  Despite the diversity of people and relationships there’s a common thread I’m observing in their reactions.

You’ve probably heard about how black and brown parents have talks with their kids, particularly boys about how to behave if they encounter a police officer.  As far as I can tell, it’s largely about being extra-polite and deferential, and doing exactly what the police say, even if the kid has done nothing wrong, or even anything that warrants police interaction at all.  It’s not about manners or respect, as positive as those things are.  It’s about not getting arrested or beaten or shot.  It’s a matter of survival in a world where the color of their skin makes them more suspect than, say, me or my kids.

Somehow, it never occurred to me that my own friends were having those conversations in their homes.  I never even considered that my own friends had to worry about being profiled as a gangster or a thug or any number of other sinister things that they so obviously were not.  And yet, the reactions that I’ve seen clearly show that this is a common experience across non-white America.

It’s an experience that I will never have.  It’s based on a the experience of generations of people who have lived their lives in bodies covered with skin of a color that singles them out for negative treatment at the hands of generations of people with skin like mine.

Think about that.  We’re not talking about a single incident or even a single person’s life.  We’re talking about what has transpired in our country over generations and how it impacts us, all of us today.  When you put it in that perspective, the notion that the killing of Trayvon Martin was an incident free of race is laughable.  Or it would be if it did not involve a dead child who had done nothing wrong.

I know the narrative is that he was fighting Zimmerman and Zimmerman says he was only defending himself.  Martin would say the same thing.  Actually he would say that he was defending himself against the guy that followed him in a car when he was doing nothing wrong and then got out to chase him.  It would be his word (corroborated by the undisputed fact that Zimmerman did follow him and leave his car to give chase) against Zimmerman’s claim of being attacked by the guy he was chasing.  Why is Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense more valid than Martin’s?

Because Martin is unable to make that claim.  Zimmerman killed him.

But that doesn’t make it about race, does it?  Okay, ask yourself this?  If the situation were reversed, and it were a black man having followed and shot an unarmed white kid in “self-defense”, do you honestly believe that it would have taken a southern police force a month and a half to arrest him?  If we take an honest look at the history of this country, we know the answer to that question.  If it were a white kid walking back from the store wearing a hoody in the rain, do you think he would have been followed in the first place?  We can try to equivocate all we want and say that the hood obscuring the face would be enough to warrant scrutiny.  By that standard, any able-bodied-pedestrian in a hoody becomes suspicious.

So yes, it’s about race.  As much as I wish we could say we live in a post-racial America, as much as I wish I could say that the fact that we elected a black president twice (yes I know he’s bi-racial, but if he were the one walking through Sanford, Florida in a hoody on a rainy night, George Zimmerman would not have identified him as such), makes everything right.

It doesn’t.  We have a lot of work to do to heal those generations of wounds that have brought us to this place, and are in fact still being inflicted.

And that brings me back to my reaction to my friends comments, and the realization that while I was enjoying my little multi-cultural childhood utopia, they had very real concerns about how our society’s racial prejudices would impact them.

I’m honestly not sure how to react to this, … what? …revelation? …demonstration?  of the privilege that comes to me from having been born a white male.  Part of me wants to apologize, but for what?  I haven’t sought to exploit the privilege. I haven’t tried to hold others down because of their race or gender or anything else. I’ve even tried to recognize my own prejudices and not use them to judge people unfairly.

And yet, I’ve heard this song.  It’s the song of whites who don’t consider themselves racist and are “tired” of being “labeled oppressors” by a civil-rights culture that has been so “wildly successful” that  a black man is president.

“I haven’t done anything wrong, so why are “they” bringing up race?”

“I have black friends.  You can call me a racist.”

“Dr. King wouldn’t want affirmative action.  If a black applicant is more qualified than a white one, I’ll hire the black one, so we don’t need affirmative action.”

“If you’re not doing anything wrong, the police will leave you alone.”

“People who talk about race are just trying to tear the country apart.”

That’s the insidious thing about privilege. I get to enjoy it just by virtue of living.  I get to teach my kids that the police are safe.  I don’t have to worry about getting followed by security in a store or an “exclusive” community.  I can live my little life and not have to confront the fact that there are people who have also done nothing wrong but can’t make the same statements that I made in the first half of this paragraph.

So an apology seems, not wrong, but not the right answer.  What can I do with my privilege in a world where some don’t have what I have?  Well, to paraphrase a certain comic book icon, “with great privilege comes great responsibility.”  I have privilege.  I should use it for good.  But how?  I mean, I found myself blindsided by the realization that people of color that I’ve known for decades have had to deal with racism.  This really should not blow my mind, but it does, and it makes me wonder about some of the stories and incidents from our youth that they tend to laugh off.  What was he thinking that time he tried to jaywalk to a comic book store and got caught on the median strip while a police car was stopped at a light?  What was he really thinking when he got out of a friend’s car in front of his house late at night and found six cops with their guns drawn on him because the car looked like a stolen one.  And why did he have to sit on curb for two hours even though the car was properly registered and licensed?  Would that police car have pulled out of a left turn lane to tail us out of South Pasadena if all four of us in the car were white males?  And how would my friends have felt if they were in my shoes when  a police car had pulled up next to me while walking down the street so the officer could offer me a ride to a Kiwanis meeting?

So, in a way, I’m clueless, even though I didn’t think I was.  So what can I do?  It starts with listening to people who have had experiences that I’ve never had and never will have.  It starts with learning.  The next logical step to learning is passing on the knowledge.  But that’s not quite right either.  Who am I to impart knowledge about the experience of minorities in this country, especially when there are so many who can ably tell their own stories?  No, that would be arrogant.  What I can do is talk about my own experiences, and my own deficiencies and blind spots when it comes to race.  I can talk about how I really know very little and have a lot to learn, and I can encourage others to become part of the dialog, and to start by listening to those who can tell us about that which we can never experience.  Whites need to listen to minorities and give weight to their arguments.  And it’s not just about race.  Gender? Religion?  Sexual Identity?  Poverty? Those of us in power need to listen to those not in power and recognize that they have something to say.

It starts with shutting our mouths and opening our ears.

So, on that note, I guess I’ll shut my mouth. Or stop my fingers.  Or…you get the point.

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