Science Mike and All Survivors Are My Heroes This Week

 Still frame capture from video of Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) during this week’s Kavanaugh nomination hearing.  Source: “Nomination of the Honorable Brett M. Kavanaugh to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (Day 5),” September 27, 2018,

Still frame capture from video of Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) during this week’s Kavanaugh nomination hearing. Source: “Nomination of the Honorable Brett M. Kavanaugh to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (Day 5),” September 27, 2018,

If you are someone who has experienced sexual violence, this has been a hell of a week.

I truly cannot begin to imagine what you have been through these past few days. It's wrong. I am personally sorry for the pain you've experienced, and for the ways I have in the past been complicit in the systems that brought us to this moment.

If you are a survivor, you've carried the burden long enough, much longer than you should ever have had to. It's time for the rest of us to get off our individual and collective butts and stop being complicit.

If you are a survivor, you are not alone and it is not your fault, period. It doesn't matter who you are, who you love, how you identify, how you dress, or what you've done/not done; it is not your fault.

You may feel (justifiably so) after this past week that people will not believe you if you ever come forward.

It's completely up to you whether you ever come forward. If you do choose to come forward, there are people who will listen to you and believe you, without requiring you to share another word or a single detail. I am one of those people, and there are plenty of others out there, including the hosts of The Liturgists, and even a great many people of faith with whom I'd be more than happy to connect you. After a week in which leaders and thinkers on faith and spirituality were too often conspicuously silent, The Liturgists (and Science Mike in particular) have been for me both a breath of fresh air and a bracing challenge to do better.

I am in awe of Mike McHargue (better known as Science Mike) coming forward in his Ask Science Mike podcast this week to talk about his own experience as a survivor. I am in awe of the eloquence and strength with which he addresses his own difficulty in speaking out (he waited decades too), as well as the difficult-to-hear statistics about assault and the difficult-to-have conversations we MUST have about consent, particularly affirmative consent. We have to change the culture of all of the United States around sexual assault and make it unacceptable, and he expresses this with more clarity and conviction than I possibly could.

We have to believe survivors.

N.B. -- I encourage my friends far and wide to listen to this indispensable podcast episode IF you are able and ready, BUT please know that it includes frank discussions of sexual violence and you should NOT listen if you know you aren't ready. If you are a survivor and you know these discussions may cause you to be triggered/activated/re-traumatized, you are well within your rights to take a pass on any such discussion. You are well within your rights to turn off your news notifications, disconnect your Twitter app, and avoid podcasts like this one, especially this week. I would no more expect you to wade into this week's news than I would expect a soldier with PTSD to attend 4th of July fireworks. There is no shame in waiting until you are ready to listen to these sorts of conversations. Survivors are my heroes this week, and getting out of bed in the morning is more than I would ask of myself in your shoes (much less listening to an entire podcast on the topic).

That being said, my friends, the indispensable wisdom and courage of Science Mike...
[Ask Science Mike - September 26, 2018 - Episode 163 - Sexual Violence]

Look Up #WhyIDidntReport and You'll Quickly Find Out Why

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Search the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport. Go ahead. I'll wait.

The President tweeted things so horrid today, I don't even have words. At first glance, his tweets seem like normal political bluster, but they're not.

No woman (no person of any gender, in fact) should have to fear being shamed for reporting or not reporting sexual assault, but the reality is that such shame is the norm. Ask almost any woman (and many men): they will tell you exactly why they didn't report their own assaults.

By breezily assuming that assaults are usually reported (they aren't, and even more so weren't three decades ago), the President perfectly exemplified the kind of shaming our culture places on those who are sexually assaulted. This shaming, in turn, discourages reporting. He answers his own implied question.

This, Mr. President. This is why people don't report. You and everyone like you are why people don't report.

And, you know what? If I look over my own past, I can see ways in which I have said things which perpetuated a culture of shame. I have make remarks along the lines of assuming someone was wearing an outfit "to get attention." I was and am part of the problem, and I can do better. We can do better.

I pledge to do my part to make our country and our world a place where women are not shouldering a heavier burden than men when it comes to preventing sexual assault and harassment and abuse. I pledge to not say and do things which make women feel objectified or things which imply that women are in some way responsible for the wrong actions of men who mistreat or disrespect them. I pledge to treat everyone, especially women, with greater respect, and to not assume that I get to pass judgement on someone else's physical appearance, clothing, choice to report/not-report an assault or harassment, etc. Will you join me? Let's do better than the President.

He is a (huge) symptom, but he is not the cause.



September 11, 2018

On this September 11, I think of:

...where I was that day (Penn State), and the class I was in (New Testament, with a rather hostile professor who shut down someone who came into the room to try to tell us the news), and then the rest of the day spent in front of the TV when we realized the gravity of the situation. I remember reading "We're all ok here at CUA" on a friend's AOL Instant Messenger profile, as I had recently transferred schools from Catholic University in DC.

...the fallen––on Flight 93, at the Pentagon, in the towers and on the planes. Their sacrifices are not forgotten and their memories will live on eternally. I think the new "Tower of Voices" wind chimes at the Flight 93 memorial in Pennsylvania are an especially appropriate remembrance, and I look forward to visiting the place in person. I also want to go back to the 9/11 memorial just outside the Pentagon, which I found to be one of the most strikingly understated and contemplation-inducing and beautiful memorials I've ever seen.

...the President's "bullhorn moment" three days later, and the 60 Minutes story that came out a couple years later walking through his experience of that day. While I later came to realize that many of our government's actions (and particularly his administration's policies) and military decisions that rippled outward from 9/11 were misguided, in those first few days George W. Bush provided the kind of strong and steady leadership we needed.

...the countless people I know who have served in our military and emergency services and in so many other ways on that day and since, many of whom were inspired to service by the horror of 9/11. I am thankful for everyone who responds to tragedy by self-sacrificial service. That spirit of service is one of the best parts of this country; when we serve, we make America great, and 9/11 brought out the finest in so many people for so many years. I know people who served in the background, in secret, and in thankless and forgotten jobs to try to keep me and my loved ones safe, and I am so grateful.

...the wise words of my professor (and, really, mentor) Paul Barsom within those first days, in which he immediately understood and foresaw the context of the attacks and the risks in how the nation was already misunderstanding what would later be called the War on Terror. It took me longer to catch up, but it's become clearer and clearer to me that we only perpetuate a cycle of violence when we assume that we are locked in a great West vs. East (or Christian vs. Radical Islam) battle with a foe who "hates freedom" or "our way of life." There are many bin Laden-type people out there who do in fact despise us... but it's much more complicated than simple-and-pure evil; we have to go back and study our own nation's actions and their unintended consequences. It's easy to forget that (like Ho Chi Minh, and like Saddam Hussein) the rich Saudi heir Osama bin Laden was the United States' ally (with the Mujahideen in what for us was sort of a proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan) before he was our enemy. We (the USA) have a lot to answer for in our recent history, and it's not right for us to keep sending our brave (and often poor) young military recruits to fight and die in wars which are ill-informed and partially profit-driven. We've got to do better at thinking through the long-term implications of our foreign entanglements.

May God bless the United States of America, and may we learn from the hard lessons of a terrible day.

More about the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial:

It should NOT be this hard to find the liner notes for an album bought online

Soap box: with the streaming and downloading digital music revolution in full swing, it should be EASIER than ever (NOT HARDER THAN EVER) to see the credits for an individual track or an entire album.

I am spending a ridiculous amount of time this afternoon trying to access the "digital booklet" (i.e. a PDF of liner notes) for an album I bought on iTunes. I need these liner notes for my doctoral dissertation research, and I keep hitting roadblocks; in fact, it's been harder than finding and downloading most of the articles I've sought from peer-reviewed publications, downloads which have required the use of an academic institution's proxy server in order to authenticate my way in.

Think about that. In a world where we can link almost any digital asset to almost anything else with a single tap or click online, here is the laughably unhelpful and arcane step-by-step process I finally was forced to look up, describing how Apple wants me to access the liner notes for an album download I BOUGHT from them many months ago:

 Seriously? Do you have any idea how many songs are in my iTunes library? (Wait... Apple probably knows exactly how many songs are in my library...)

Seriously? Do you have any idea how many songs are in my iTunes library? (Wait... Apple probably knows exactly how many songs are in my library...)

The most laughable part of this page is probably the second set of instructions for viewing the digital booklet on a mobile device. I cannot for the life of me understand why I wouldn't be able to do so simply by tapping the cover art, but no. I have to manually (manually!) find and then sync the individual PDF file using iCloud Drive (or, really, any cloud storage solution). How Apple manages to still be the biggest player in the downloadable digital music game is beyond me.

I am guessing the average consumer is not going to bother. Most people who own this album probably have no idea which studio was the location for the recording, which audio engineers worked on it, who the producers were, or which special individuals or organizations the artists wished to thank or acknowledge. And, with all their power and billions of dollars, Apple isn't interested in designing a relatively simple software fix to make it easier to find and appreciate this kind of information. Ridiculous.

When I was a kid, this kind of information made a big difference to me. Now that I am a working musician and I know all sorts of people who work in the industry, it's infuriating how inaccessible it is.

Earlier this year, Spotify finally started to address these concerns, but their solution is pitifully inadequate. Yes, you can now (sometimes) right-click and select "Show credits" or tape "Song credits" to see who wrote and produced an individual tracks... but the information is missing or incomplete for a vast number of tracks, and it still has no information on who recorded, mastered, played as session musicians, etc. ...and the mission information for writers/producers is not just on obscure albums. For example, I just clicked to find the credits for multiple songs from The National's 2017 album Sleep Well Beast, and the producer field was blank every time. I'm guessing The National would like to see their producer(s) credited (or if it was self-produced, that should be credited too).

I spent many hours of my adolescence poring over album liner notes, and the minutiae therein made an impression on me. I learned the names of musicians, producers, audio engineers, and many other contributors whom I would never have heard of. I sometimes saw those people, people like bassist/producer Otto "Sugar Bear" Price, playing in a concert and would be very excited and inspired. Many of my musical heroes and career inspirations were not the headlining artists, songwriters, or composers, but rather the co-writers, producers, session musicians, and more low-profile people. Learning these people's names, seeing the model number of an artist's favorite instrument, or reading their thanks and acknowledgements opened my eyes to career paths in music I had no idea existed. Liner notes also helped me learn lyrics, gain historical perspective, and do the sort of exciting exegesis which unveiled how interconnected the music world can be. That information matters, and it helped shaped my pathways through this profession. I'd hate to see others miss out on that info.

Soap box over. There are lots of petitions to change this state of affairs. Here is one:

Beth Moore reminded me that I was part of the problem


This is important stuff. Beth Moore reminded me that I was part of the problem not long ago.

My opinions and prejudices and preconceived notions about female leadership in the catholic (universal, not just Roman) church had to change over time when I was presented with new information.

It was hella uncomfortable and took time and new experiences, but it was also worth the discomfort and just plain RIGHT for me to change my views on how women can and should serve God. My discomfort is puny compared to the outright hostility so many women STILL face when they try to follow God’s call. My discomfort belongs on the altar of sacrifice, along with my old this-is-the-way-we’ve-always-done-things-and-it-just-feels-right bubble of safety. It took time, but I put those things on the altar, and my High Priest was kind enough to slaughter them for me.

I don’t like admitting just how sexist I was in the not-so-distant past. Whether I intended to be sexist or not is irrelevant. Whether I was more sexist or less sexist than other people is irrelevant too. The fact remains that I was sexist in my attitudes and actions. Sometimes, if I’m not careful, I still am.

If we want to truly follow Jesus, we are going to have to admit our faults, dethrone traditions that don’t advance the gospel, and take seriously the work of uprooting and removing misogyny.

I was part of the problem. I’m all in for changing things and fixing the problem. Are you?

(Oh, and by the way: Beth Moore writes specifically about her experiences in “conservative evangelical” churches in her letter, but churches that don’t meet that description don’t get off the hook either. Sexism is alive and kicking in plenty of churches across the ideological and theological spectra.)

I Am a Man (not a Caravan).

Mr. President: Let my people go.

What would you do? Before we demonize the stranger and the outcast, we ought to know why they leave their homes. Perhaps instead of treating them like rapists and gang members, we should consider that the opposite may be true. For some, they may be fleeing rape and gangs and more awful realities. If we cannot do our part in addressing root causes, a wall made of concrete, soldiers, or racist rhetoric will certainly not improve the situation.

Are we not one human family?

The Memphis sanitation workers in the time of Dr. King’s assassination chanted a slogan which they still use today: “I am a man.”  Translation: I am just as human as you are. Each and every migrant seeking a better life, and each and every desperate parent seeking simply to let their children live is as human as you or I in our comfortable United States homes.

Sí, somos una familia.

Here is an excerpt from the article linked above, describing one heartbreaking story:

Rodriguez, a builder, said he fled his home in El Salvador in the middle of the night with only the clothes on his back, a few dollars, a nephew, and his son, a student who had received a written death threat from a gang he had refused to join or pay.
"To be young, in my country, is a crime," Rodriguez said. "I'm old - they'll do nothing to me. But to my son, if we go back ... they'll kill him."

Massacred children? Sad. But “no collusion!!!”


This right here... this should be the end of his political career. Not normal. NOT NORMAL.

The President of the United States of America—three DAYS after a horrific national tragedy when children were massacred in their classrooms—made it about himself. He didn’t even try to co-opt the event to support some cause or advance some concrete policy goal. He didn’t even try to masquerade as caring. He might as well have said “too bad those kids died, but that’s just another reminder that there is NO COLLUSION.” Before the blood was dry or the bodies were buried. Before the survivors returned to school. Before the weekend was even over. Before the makeshift memorials were supplanted with permanent memorials. Seemingly without hesitation and (I hope) without consulting anyone who knows anything about how to comfort and support the grieving, he jumped on the opportunity. He eagerly issued a hot take as if he were some impotent pundit who has no real influence and can only hope to be heard by yelling into the void. He twisted one terrible truth of the story (the FBI failing to follow protocol on tip investigation) into an opportunity to help himself. Just himself. “No collusion” is almost like a mantra to him lately, a mainstay if his most ugly political tweet-slinging. And he trotted it out in a tweet about a massacre. He even uses his favorite word—“Trump”—to refer to his own campaign... as if we needed to wonder to which campaign he might be referring.

This should be it. He has gone too far so many times that it’s like we have no idea what “too far” is anymore. But can we not agree that this is too far? That this is not the time or place? That The process of national grieving domestic mass murder by an American attacker is possibly the wrong time to try to exonerate oneself from complicity with international espionage? Is this not the absolute sickest and most disgustingly self-centered way to try to turn events to one’s own political advantage, no matter who it hurts?

When you’re president, your words really matters. Talking—it’s pretty much the majority of what you actually do. It’s your most visible job responsibility. You get up and say stuff. People ask you questions, look for orders, debate with you, and listen to you. And you say stuff and armies literally rise when you give the word. You send a mere tweet and it’s often easily the top story of the day.

Is Mr. Trump the person whose words we want speaking into the soul of our nation? Does he speak life? Does he speak truth?

It matters, because, in this vain moment of opportunistic verbal vomit, the President is building our future. He is building our future on the backs of slain civilians, teachers and marching band kids. Except the only future he actually seems to want to build is his own political survival.

What a small, pitifully low, weak aspiration toward which to direct the words which issue from the most powerful office in the world.

It’s time to start asking what went wrong and look at the whole picture of a school massacre

It’s one thing to call for more “mental health” treatment, or to blame horrific events on a nebulous evil or a large-scale set of cultural ills. It’s quite another thing to identify specific defects in our social fabric, tie those defects to specific events in specific people’s lives, and devise specific options for how to mend the holes or re-weave the fabric.

I want to know exactly what went wrong, and fix it. I have a strong suspicion that everyone from presidents to everyday citizens of both major parties and of many walks of life will be found lacking if we take an honest look at the whole picture of how Mr. Cruz’s life arrived at the events of Feb. 14. I have a strong suspicion that a great many of us are part of the problem, even if we’ve never touched a gun or never intended to hurt a Douglas HS student or teacher.

I keep hearing more news coming out about warning signs and missed opportunities to help or at least contain the “broken human being” (to quote his public defender) who confessed to the massacre in Parkland on Valentine’s Day.

Here’s the thing: much as I want to see better gun control policy in the USA, I also know that preventing potential killers from easily getting their hands on guns and ammo will not solve the deeper issues that lead to massacres.

I hear that the FBI didn’t follow through on tips. I hear he passed a gun-buying background check despite being banned from carrying a backpack to school before he was expelled. I hear that he displayed behavior concerning enough to be reported over and over. I hear he had fallen under the influence of white supremacists and even drilled with them. And I hear that he is recently an orphan who was not given the treatment and care and community he needed.

I also hear calls for better school safety and better mental health policies from many people, including the President.

What I want to know is: how did the system fail Mr. Cruz? How did the community fail him? How did we all fail him, and how did we fail each other by not stopping him when he was perhaps beyond help? How did government agencies and laws at all levels fail him and fail his victims? What do we need to change—specifically—before the next time, to make sure there is no next time?

Not my President?

The President’s latest offensive comments are no surprise.  However, we have to draw a line in the sand somewhere and this seems a moment of clarity.

I gave him a chance. He failed even basic tests of presidential competency and decency. Repeatedly.

So, from now on, I shall consider myself a conscientious objector to the Presidency of the current President.

I at first thought it was denial to say #notmypresident. After the election, whether I liked it or not, he was my president.

But the reality is apparent at this point: he may be “the president,” but he is not my president, and I will not pretend any longer that he is. He probably never will be. Herod and Pontius Pilate may have had legal authority in first-century Palestine, but I know of at least one small junta of nomadic activists who did not recognize their authority as the rightful rulers of the people (and who clearly delineated the limits of Caiphas’s authority).

#Resist. Peacefully, firmly, within our democratic processes: resist.

Our children, grandchildren, future generations, and the rest of the world are watching. If you’re wondering what it looked like when “good people” stood by in the face of past atrocities and seemingly intolerable national outrages in various other countries, this is it. Stand and be counted as one who said, unequivocally, “No.”

The logical conclusion of the “shithole” controversy


The many people online defending the President’s calling Haiti, El Salvador, and THE CONTINENT OF AFRICA “shithole countries” make me sick.

Let’s follow the logical path forward. I would never use such a term to describe any of these countries, but I would agree that many have serious issues that can make them unsafe to live in and visit, depending on where you go (though I would never apply that description to THE ENTIRETY OF AFRICA). But you know what? The same could be said of the President’s beloved New York City, a place I and he both love to visit.

Anyway, following the logical path a bit more: if these countries are such “shitholes,” don’t we as a “Christian” nation have a moral and spiritual obligation to help them and to welcome the vulnerable and desperate into our “great” country as best we can? I’m not going to start quoting scripture, but the instructions to do so are legion.

So, are we a nation of people who follow “Christian” principles, or are we just a nation of selfish liars? We can’t have it both ways, no matter what the President says.

President Trump: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”

To this we’ve come.

I know people from those “shithole countries,” and they (and their cultures of origin, and their stories, and their families) are beautiful, valuable, and not shitty at all.

I’m tempted to tell the President of the United States of America where he can shove his opinion of their countries. But I won’t stoop to his level.

Instead, I’ll settle for giving him a milder piece of unsolicited but heartfelt advice, using the word he chose to describe my friends, colleagues, and fellow sojourners in this difficult journey of life

I invite the President to end his shitty presidency, resign his office, remove himself from the nation’s capital and the executive mansion he found so unimpressive, and take a very long (or permanent) vacation in one of the beautiful “shithole” locations he chose to denigrate. We will gladly take their immigrants if they will please look after him for the next three or so years.