How to not lose your mind: The difference between Gandalf and Saruman

17 12 2016

I’m sure I’m not the only one that has experienced a few contentious political conversations lately – kind of like Gandalf the Grey’s fateful rumble with Saruman the White. Many of us have questioned people we thought we knew. People who decided to support you-know-who in November (or refused to do what they could to stop him).

“Tell me, friend. When did you abandon reason for madness?”

I know the feeling. But don’t be too quick to dismiss Saruman as “crazy.” I can understand how he feels.

The difference between Gandalf and Saruman was one very important thing – COMMUNITY.

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Great artists that happen to be Muslims: Mos Def & K’Naan

20 08 2010

I was flipping through the channels the other night when I stumbled across a couple of great re-runs of Austin City Limits on PBS. (As often as this happens, you’d think I would actually make a note of when Austin City Limits comes on and deliberately plan to watch it. And yet, I don’t. But that’s a blog for another day.) I had way too much fun singing along with the two artists that were featured that night — Mos Def from Brooklyn, New York and K’Naan from Toronto, Canada (by way of Somalia).

After the show was over it occurred to me that both of these inspiring artists are Muslims — people who, by association, are being unfairly smeared by way too many media voices right now. Perhaps fewer people would accept all the stereotyping and hatred directed at Islam if they were more aware of some of the Muslims they come across in life.

So I decided to highlight a few Muslim artists that have made significant inroads with American audiences. It’s my own tiny way of reminding people of the valuable contributions Muslims make to to our culture. So many Muslims are our friends and neighbors, not our enemies. Protecting their religious freedom under the First Amendment is really about protecting those freedoms for all of us.

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The eternal sunshine of their spotless minds: the Tea Party’s selective memory

5 07 2010

Why don’t we see too many brown faces at Tea Party rallies? (According to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, only 8 percent of Tea Party supporters are non-white, compared to 21 percent of all respondents.)

I think the the conspicuous whiteness might have something to do with the Tea Party’s sense of amnesia.

What I mean is that their approach to history is reminiscent of Hollywood amnesia. It’s sort of like that Jim Carrey movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

For an example, take the July 4 fireworks show at Ault Park here in Cincinnati…

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Defend Atlantis: Confronting climate change with J.R.R. Tolkien & the Flobots

19 05 2010
Sauron Defeated. 2002 Edition. HarperCollins. Cover illustration by John Howe.

Depiction of the drowning of Numenor. Art by John Howe. Paperback cover of Sauron Defeated, published by Harper Collins.

“Then suddenly… there came a mighty wind and a tumult of the earth, and the sky reeled, and the hills slid, and Númenor went down into the sea…”from The Akallabêth by J.R.R. Tolkien

“And survival hinged on the ascent by the humble… We let the altars die to keep our pulse alive.” – from “Defend Atlantis” by the Flobots

As I watch the suspiciously opaque “climate bill” flounder in the Senate, I find that my mind keeps drifting to the legend of Atlantis.

No, seriously.

The story of Atlantis has been retold scores of times by different artists since the days of  Plato. But my favorite by far has long been J.R.R. Tolkien’s version, as recounted in The Silmarillion, a collection of the histories that form the back story of The Lord of the Rings.

I’m also a big fan of hip-hop/rock band the Flobots. As I wrote in SPIN Earth a while back, their latest album, Survival Story,  has a lot to do with environmental justice, especially global warming. And they retell the story of Atlantis in their own way in their music.

The other day I had an epiphany about an important insight these Atlantis stories share. And you don’t have to be a fan of either to appreciate it.

Both the Flobots and Tolkien suggest that our environmental issues are about far more than politics or economics. In a very real sense, they say, the root of these problems is actually about idolatry — what some might call free-market fundamentalism.

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To boldly split infinitives where they have never been split before…

8 04 2010

“A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct.”

Princess Irulan, from Frank Herbert’s Dune

This blog has been a long time in coming. One question had to be answered before I started. How can I write about big things (truth, justice, democracy, religion, etc.) and still make this fun for me to publish and others to read? I have little interest in reading blogs that are merely personal diaries, and even less interest in writing one.

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Easter & King’s Assassination: The Political Utility of Resurrection

4 04 2010

“There is a war going on for your mind… We are the insurgents.”

As I sat in church this morning, I found myself singing U2 in my head.

“Early evening April 4, shot rings out in the Memphis sky… Free at last they took your life but they could not take your pride… In the name of love, one more in the name of love…”

I was contemplating an interesting coincidence – Easter falling on the same day as the 42nd anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking King was walking in Jesus’ footsteps. He too was assassinated while opposing imperialism. And because of the non-violent nature of his movement, I think we fail to consider a simple idea that even the occasional military history magazine can express quite clearly — that King’s movement should be thought of as an insurgency.

And maybe Jesus’s movement was, too.

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“Hailing frequencies open”

17 05 2009
Zoe Saldana as Uhura

Production still of Zoe Saldana as Uhura in director J. J. Abrams' 2009 film, Star Trek. Courtesy of Wikipedia. Property of Spyglass Entertainment, Bad Robot Productions and Paramount Pictures.

So I finally saw the latest Star Trek film — the one directed by J.J. Abrams — and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The writing was solid, the visuals were nothing to sneeze at, and the acting was superb. Zachary Quinto‘s portrayal of Spock would make it worth seeing all by itself.
And yet, I walked out of Cincinnati’s Esquire theater tonight feeling like a guy with a Vulcan father and a human mother — conflicted.