Tuesday, April 02, 2019


Looking back over my "careers" I'm still struggling with what I did in the face of emergencies that deserved far better responses.

My UU clergy episode meant being confronted by people who thought it was funny to taunt someone with a taboo on pork by offering them sandwiches with that meat.  Or to claim Nazi salutes and signs because it bothered people, some with tattoos on their arms.  If a denomination advertises for new members by emphasizing tolerance for oddballs and norm-breakers, these people are bound to show up.  I remember standing toe-to-toe with a very big man who vehemently shouted (spraying my face with spit) that it would be a cold day in hell when he ever did anything a clergywoman suggested.  

Partly they come as a test, sometimes a covert cry for help or at least effective opposition, most often because something went wrong in their childhood, and occasionally because they're smart but immoral.  (Clergy, too.)  But the surging conflict of our society offers cover and justification.  Easy access to contraception didn't stop sex or encourage it -- it simply made it public and demanded some kind of protocol.  Still to come.

Before I ever thought of seminary, I lived near the Lloyd Center in Portland.  A handful of unattached young people were living at the curb in a broken-down pickup, eating by shoplifting in the nearby grocery stores.  None of us in the nabe interfered until little white wads in the landscaping revealed their own backup plan.  Then the cops came and the pickup was towed.  Sanitation trumps propriety.

But more serious than that was the problem presented to me by the old Irish woman across the street who sat on her porch stairs and watched everything. In her lifetime she had birthed, raised, fostered dozens of kids.  One day she called me over and asked what I heard from next door.  Single mom, daughter and son, the son a little older.  I heard them fighting, but that was about it.  They were left alone most of the time.  The Watcher suspected the boy was regularly raping the girl.  I wasn't surprised but had nothing like evidence, words said, actions glimpsed.  I did nothing.  They soon moved.

When I was teaching in the far reaches of the rez, a boy wrote an essay about capturing a girl, keeping her captive and raping her.  It could have been real. I had told them I would not censor. This boy was already alcoholic but a good basketball player.  I knew the superintendent, a coach, would put the weight there and oppose even knocking him out of several games for punishment.  The boy, now a man, is even more deeply alcoholic now.  I'm always surprised he's still alive.

When I was teaching in the white town, newly hired and confused by that since I hadn't taught for years, a female student came to me and asked for help.  A boy had asked her to have sex with him.  She said no.  He told all his cohort that she had said yes and had actually done it.  This put her at risk of the other boys demanding and forcing sex because the "virgin taboo" was broken.  She had already been to the counselor and her parents, who suspected she had "put out" and was covering.  She was afraid of the boy's parents.  The other kids said, "Why are you so upset?  It's just sex."

My successes were likely to be while I was working at Animal Control in a deputy's uniform with specific complaints from a wide range of people.  The rules were clear and we made them even clearer when a citizen committee rewrote the animal law.  Actually it was city/county code, a whole shelf of thin paper/small print "rule of law", much of it more regulation than law.  When I was a clerk, one of my jobs was keeping those mega-books up to date, new material and material to-be-removed coming in weekly.  So many things were addressed with the idea that if we had a perfect description of the law and the consequences, we could achieve justice.  This was a fantasy.  And even now, members of the town council of Valier believe that it's legal to do anything not specifically against laws written down.  My explanation of "tort law" did not register.  They wanted behavior handbooks like high school.

It was a relief to work at the U of Chicago Law School because the issues were so abstract and deeply taken for granted that one rarely had to do anything.  I mean, nothing defined.  This was not true of my seminary, where the UU intention of doing no harm meant tolerating everything.  When Jim Jones of the Jonestown Massacre came to his closest UU minister and asked about applying for seminary, the only thing that kept him out was the fact that he had never earned an undergrad degree, and the seminary was a grad school enterprise.  No one would have dared to say to him, "Sir, you simply are not 'high quality' enough."  In fact, when one of us expressed worry at not being good enough to be a minister, a faculty member reassured him/her by saying,  "If you weren't good enough, we wouldn't have admitted you."

When I moved to Heart Butte and went to get my phone connected, I was told I'd have to deposit a couple of hundred dollars.  I was aghast.  I'd never had to do such a thing.  Gradually I realized this was because in the phone company's experience, "Indians" don't pay their phone bills.  I threw my weight around, used connections, used the "Dr" and "Reverend" entitlements, and so on.  Finally, I was passed up to a supervisor.  She said, "I'll fix it."  She typed in the lie that I HAD paid the deposit.  All went on unruffled.

So now we know what happens when this stuff percolates up through the Federal government and the president does it in plain sight, assuming there's nothing wrong with lies, cheating, stealing, thuggery.  Now we find out what's wrong with it.  We just can't summon up the will to do something about it or figure out what that would be.

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