Archive for July, 2010

I’ve been catching up on the highly original FX series “Justified” and not only because of the incredibly sizzling Timothy Olyphant, timothy-olyphant-picture-3but because the moral ambiguities it scatters across the Kentucky landscape feel so absolutely dead-on.  You do what you have to do and if you don’t turn your back on your best friend, it’s not because he’s your best friend but because he might just shoot you. And turning your back on your old life turns out to be as hard as shooting to kill is easy.

(photo: Mantalk.com)

The characters seek redemption but they don’t seem to find it. Redemption’s primary meaning relates to deliverance from sin, the act of salvation and yes, an element of forgiveness. Embracing God or Jesus or Allah clears one’s mind and heart and presumably allows one to see the truth and reject one’s wicked ways and past sins.

Which brings me to a recent story about how David Berkowitz, the “Son of Sam” has found God–or, to be more specific, he has found Jesus Christ. To his admirers’ way BERKOWITZ5-articleLargeof thinking ( he has quite a few admirers), he’s on the path to redemption. No one apparently interviewed the families of his victims to see whether the forgiveness portion of his redemption was forthcoming. No matter: Berkowitz answers to a higher power. (photo: NY Times.com)

I don’t think Berkowitz is evil; or rather, I wouldn’t have any way of knowing. Judging the character of anyone in this fashion is something I’ve decided is above my pay grade.  Frankly, it’s hubris to assume we can know anyone’s heart and mind that well, be they serial killers or terrorists.

On the other hand, I’m not ready to let anyone off the hook, spiritually or otherwise, for committing a horrific act.

This isn’t about whether David Berkowitz is considered legally rehabilitated, by the way: his life sentences are immutable and he has expressed no interest in being released. But I don’t know whether I’d consider him redeemed, either. Redemption divests you of responsibility: you pass a test, you’re home free.

The International Crimal Court (ICC)  has just issued a second arrest warrant for Sudan president Omar al-Bashir for crimes of genocide. bashir_1624222cI don’t know whether he thinks he answers to a higher authority but he’s certainly ignoring the ICC.  Honestly, I can’t imagine any God in any religion giving him a free pass. (photo: icc.org)

Which brings me back to justification and “Justified.” In the show, as in real life, we’re presented with arguments, spoken and unspoken, rationales for certain kinds of actions or mindsets. JustifiedWe know what the justification really is: an excuse.  And people who make excuses, however rational or required they may be, will eventually have to take responsibility for their actions.

(photo: FX.com)

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I love celebrating Independence Day. I’m grateful to live in this country, grateful for the freedoms we often take for granted. I plant my Independence Day petunias (red white and purple but who’s quibbling?)  and stick a little flag in the flower pot by my front door.  My husband and I used to ride our bikes to the town center to watch the parade and later, the fireworks; now my sister and I continue the tradition. If I’m not invited to a barbecue–and my next door neighbors often oblige–I hold one and pull together various permanent and temporary singles in my neighborhood.

I like to display the flag on special occasions; I’m very mindful of the proper way to fold a full-sized flag and how to treat it in bad weather, which is to bring it in. I wouldn’t dream of cutting or burning a flag or turning it into a shirt or a summer dress. I also know what a flag is and what it isn’t: a symbol of pride but not of ostentatiousness, an act of  commemoration perhaps but not an act of defiance.

At various times, and perhaps never more in my lifetime than after 9/11, the flag has been something of a catch-all: a symbol of patriotism and also xenophobia, a badge of honor but also a judgment–you’re either with us or against us. Obama was called out for not wearing a flag pin during his campaign and so was I for not displaying the American flag following my husband’s death on 9/11. You of all people, I was told; but I couldn’t see hoisting a flag that had become so freighted with anger, fear, expectation, judgment and, at times, yes, hypocrisy–an excuse to stifle freedom of speech or throw around accusations of treason or paste a decal on the back of a gas-guzzling SUV and call it sacrifice. Frankly, I was too tired.

Divisions in our fair land remain as do claims that we are or should be divided into patriots and pretenders. For one thing, patriots–or so the patriots would have you believe–are God-fearing. I don’t fear any possible supreme being as much as I fear closed-minded rhetoric and the absolute certainty that permits mere humans to assume not that they’re in search of the Truth but that they’ve found it. Another post here has bravely tackled the subject of whether the United States is truly a Christian nation or simply a nation with a Christian majority by suggesting that we as a nation fall short of following true Christian  principles. While I can scarcely lay claim to direct knowledge of how Christianity or any other religion defines good,  I agree that we sometimes fall short. On the other hand, we hold these United States of America to a different standard, as well we should because somehow, in some exceptional manner, we have proven to be pretty darned successful at integrating and allowing a huge and hugely diverse constituency to express themselves without fear.

No one should be starving here and some are; no one should be struggling either, and too many are. The marketplace has produced some impressive innovations and an oppressive focus on short-term gains; we all want a piece of the pie and so sometimes lose site of the common good.

But while I don’t claim to be able to know with the admirable certainty displayed by others the minds of the Founding Fathers, I’m impressed  that they (our Fathers) managed to jump-start a nation so durable that it could survive several examples of internal strife  and countless examples of external struggles and still grow, not just stronger but also wiser. They had faith in our country and so do I. We are too slow for some (me, most days) but growth is evident; even when we slide temporarily backwards, we manage to pull ourselves forward.

Thus, complaints, criticisms and concerns about my president, my representatives, my judiciary and my fellow citizens will resume next week; we’ve got much to discuss. Meanwhile, I’m celebrating, beginning with this invocation: may good continue to bless America.  Happy birthday and pass me that sparkler.

images credited to: www.flagsbay.com; Mike Keefe, The Denver Post; www.mudpreacher.com; www.elizabethperry.com

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