Posted by: MC | August 9, 2010

8-9-10 — Right on Time

My friend, Jessica, is training for a half marathon.  She’s never really been a runner before.  Lately her body has gone through a vast transformation.  A tall woman weighing in around 200, she’s nearing half her former size.  That’s living change.

Jessica is training for a half marathon because she can.  Her body is ready for something like that.  Her primary goal is not to lose more weight.  In fact, Jessica is an advocate for the dignity of women – and men, girls and boys – no matter the size of their form.  She wishes health for everyone and a large part of that, as she well knows, has to do with each person knowing dignity and agency as her- or himself.

Recently, Jessica read a draft query letter of mine – one I’d put together for connecting with small publishing houses.  Her comment:  “There’s so much more to what you’ve got here than politics.  The way people talked with you about change was grounded in the whole of their lives – not just in the way they think about government and politics.  You’ve got to let the publisher types know that, too.”

She’s right.  These are for sure political times, but this is not primarily a political project – and what I’m proposing to publishers is not, at its most essential, a political book.  It is a book about listening.  Me listening to the 100 voices.  But beyond that – us listening to one another – listening across differences.

This week in New York, the mayor of that city stood on Governor’s Island, “where the earliest settlers first set foot in New Amsterdam, and where the seeds of religious tolerance were first planted.”  Flanked by a dozen of the City’s spiritual leaders, he spoke of the mosque proposed to be built at that site now known as Ground Zero.  He spoke of the power of that proposed building as a symbol for the religious, and by extension, the existential freedom our country stands for.  [http://online.wsj.com/article/NA_WSJ_PUB:SB10001424052748703545604575407673221908474.html text, http://www.observer.com/2010/politics/bloombergs-speech-ground-zero-mosque video]

“Of all our precious freedoms, the most important may be the freedom to worship as we wish. It is a freedom that, even here in a City that is rooted in Dutch tolerance, was hard-won over many years. In the mid-1650s, the small Jewish community living in Lower Manhattan petitioned Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant for the right to build a synagogue – and they were turned down.

“In 1657, when Stuyvesant also prohibited Quakers from holding meetings, a group of non-Quakers in Queens signed the Flushing Remonstrance, a petition in defense of the right of Quakers and others to freely practice their religion. It was perhaps the first formal, political petition for religious freedom in the American colonies – and the organizer was thrown in jail and then banished from New Amsterdam.

“In the 1700s, even as religious freedom took hold in America, Catholics in New York were effectively prohibited from practicing their religion – and priests could be arrested. Largely as a result, the first Catholic parish in New York City was not established until the 1780’s – St. Peter’s on Barclay Street, which still stands just one block north of the World Trade Center site and one block south of the proposed mosque and community center.

“This morning, the City’s Landmark Preservation Commission unanimously voted not to extend landmark status to the building on Park Place where the mosque and community center are planned. The decision was based solely on the fact that there was little architectural significance to the building. But with or without landmark designation, there is nothing in the law that would prevent the owners from opening a mosque within the existing building. The simple fact is this building is private property, and the owners have a right to use the building as a house of worship.

“Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question – should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here. This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions, or favor one over another.

“Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11 and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values – and play into our enemies’ hands – if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists – and we should not stand for that.

“For that reason, I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetime – and it is critically important that we get it right.

“On September 11, 2001, thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives. More than 400 of those first responders did not make it out alive. In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked ‘What God do you pray to?’ ‘What beliefs do you hold?’

“The attack was an act of war – and our first responders defended not only our City but also our country and our Constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very Constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights – and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.

“Political controversies come and go, but our values and our traditions endure – and there is no neighborhood in this City that is off limits to God’s love and mercy.”

Many things in life can feel like training for and/or running a marathon.  Seeking the right of peaceful assembly as a religious group, resolving a war, righting an upside-down economy, reclaiming individual dignity, regaining a body’s health, finding a publisher.  And all of these are defined by and reliant on the fact of change.

Today is 8 – 9 – 10.  I’m just the kind of geek who loves stuff like that.  So is Jessica.  Somehow the reminder in the date makes all of the sturm und drang of our times seem tolerable.  8, 9, 10.  Everything is in order.  Everything is on time.  We are paying attention.

Right?

We ARE paying attention.  We ARE listening.

Change is ours for the creating.  Together and across our differences.  Beyond Pollyanna – beyond ‘woo woo’ – this is real.

This week a federal judge concluded that California’s Proposition 8 is unconstitutional and may not be enforced.  The Republican lawyer who defended Bush in the Bush v Gore ballot count situation was, in the end, respectfully deferred to by a FOX news pundit when he patiently articulated the logic of the inalienable right in our constitutional democracy for any two people in love to marry.  [http://wonkroom.thinkprogress.org/2010/08/08/wallace-olson/]

As my daughter wrote on her Facebook page, “The time is now.”

The time…EX:Change….   It is political precisely because it so much more.  It is our lives and we are the change.

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