voting rights

One of the causes of the current, clearly adverse political divide is that we don’t necessarily understand all issues and incidents. In fact, we don’t even know what we don’t know. That’s true for you. Me. Pretty much all of us. I wish that truth kept us humble. Sometimes it does; sometimes it doesn’t. We unfortunately each error.

One of the current issues pushed by some is the focus on voting rights. So let’s examine and make today’s post primarily informative. My goal is not to promote any perspective; my goal is to eradicate the rhetoric and sift through fact. Know, too, that it is completely valid to have different opinions regarding different ballot/voting provisions. But it’s difficult to discuss when we are unknowingly ill-informed.

Voting rights are “a set of legal and constitutional protections designed to ensure the opportunity to vote in local, state, and federal elections.”1 In order to ensure “consent of the governed” — that government’s authority is derived from the will of the people, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence — two equal priorities exist: every eligible voter should have access to vote and no ineligible vote should be cast. If either priority is diminished, “consent of the governed” is potentially negated.

Part of ensuring said consent was setting a single date to appoint presidential electors. In 1792, the 2nd Congress decided there would exist 34 days to vote. However, “as travel and communication methods became faster in the 19th century, potential manipulation and fraud concerns grew.”2 The 1844 election — in which Democrat James K. Polk defeated Whig Henry Clay — was rife with fraud allegations. Hence, when debating a bill that would set a uniform presidential Election Day, House members declared the goal was “to guard against frauds in the elections of President and Vice President.”3

Noting that states have made various, legitimate exceptions in the years since, changes were necessary to the voting process in the midst of the pandemic in 2020 in order to make it easier to maintain the distancing and isolation that the health crisis necessitated. The state-led efforts, though, prioritized voter access. Now that the pandemic is evolving into an endemic, states have made efforts to again adhere to both priorities: access and eligibility.

Recorrecting after the pandemic’s climax, some states are perceived to have expanded their approach; some are perceived to have restricted it — each learning from the pandemic provisions. The state of Georgia enacted SB 202, a 98 page bill entitled the “Election Integrity Act of 2021.” One can agree or disagree as to which parts are good or bad; remember our goal today is not to advocate or reject. Here, no less, is a brief synopsis of the bill with context included — as speeches absent of context often promote the ill-informed nature of which we speak. As authored primarily by Declan Garvey, associate editor at The Dispatch, which strives to produce “factually grounded journalism”4:

“For starters, the bill actually expands voting access for most Georgians, mandating precincts hold at least 17 days of early voting—including two Saturdays, with Sundays optional—leading up to the election. Voting locations during this period must be open for at least eight hours, and can operate between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Several states (including Biden’s home state of Delaware, which will not implement it until 2022) do not currently allow any in-person early voting, and plenty, like New Jersey, offer far fewer than 17 days.

Despite Biden saying the bill implements absentee voting restrictions that ‘effectively deny’ the franchise to ‘countless’ voters, SB 202 leaves in place no-excuse absentee voting with a few tweaks. It tightens the window to apply for an absentee ballot to ‘just’ 67 days, and mandates applications—which can now be completed online—be received by election officials at least 11 days before an election to ensure a ballot can be mailed and returned by Election Day. The bill requires Georgia’s secretary of state to make a blank absentee ballot application available online, but prohibits government agencies from mailing one to voters unsolicited—and requires third-party groups doing so to include a variety of disclaimers.

Rather than signature matching—which is time-intensive for election officials—voters will verify their identity in absentee ballot applications by including the identification number on their driver’s license or voter identification card, which is free. If a Georgian has neither, he or she can, pursuant to Georgia Code Section 21-2-417, include a photocopy or digital picture of a ‘current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document’ that includes his or her name and address. When mailing back their ballots, voters must print their driver’s license number (or the last four digits of their social security number) on an inner envelope. (An August 2016 Gallup survey found photo ID requirements for voting were overwhelmingly popular: 80 percent of voters supported them, including 77 percent of nonwhite voters.) SB 202 also codifies ballot drop boxes into law; Georgia added them for the first time in 2020 as a pandemic measure, and the law now stipulates that there be one for every 100,000 registered voters or advance voting locations in a county, whichever is smaller.”

When the Georgia law was crafted, a few state lawmakers proposed ending all no-excuse absentee voting and early voting on Sundays, the latter seemingly targeting voter drives at black churches. Those provisions, however, were cut from the final bill. One restriction that was not cut prohibits outside groups from distributing money, gifts, food, or drinks within 25 feet of voters standing in line to vote. Polling places may still provide self-serving water receptacles.

That’s the primary significance of the law in my opinion. (Sorry for the length; I tried to be as brief as necessary.)

Note, nonetheless, that our two most recent Presidents have travelled to Georgia in successive Januarys to focus on the state election process. (Note: it was really tempting to find a creative way to quote the Charlie Daniels classic here). Both tried to convince us in sensationalized, (and in this encourager of respectful dialogue’s opinion) divisive rhetoric that something was/is deeply wrong. 

Let me suggest that both — us, too — are entitled to their opinions, but not to their own facts. One can believe what’s happening in Georgia and other states is good, bad, necessary or unnecessary. But after (1) studying the law, (2) recognizing allowances were made solely for the pandemic, and (3) prioritizing equally both voter access and eligibility, one can logically question whether claims of illegality, inaccuracy, or worse are based on fact.

We can legitimately disagree, friends. But it’s also important to be accurately informed.

Respectfully…

AR

1 Britannica, Brian Duignan, www.britannica.com/topic/voting-rights, December 17, 2021)

2 Ben Leubsdorf, Election Day: Frequently Asked Questions, Congressional Research Service report prepared for Members and Committees of Congress, January 6,2021, p. 2.

3 “Election Bill,” Congressional Globe, December 13, 1844, p. 29.

4 Coppins, McKay (January 31, 2020). “The Conservatives Trying to Ditch Fake News”. The Atlantic. Retrieved 12 April 2021.

Covid questions

We’ve said it before; we’ll say it again: this COVID stuff is confusing… multiple variants, mixed messages, changing conditions, changing approaches, and way too much politics. I continue to attempt to empathize with our healthcare workers; no wonder so many are increasingly exhausted! Amid the serious health concerns, there remain tons of questions.

As the Intramuralist oft scans a broad spectrum of news sources in order to discern what we’re wondering and potentially promoting, note the following, recent forty, all about Covid…

  1. A 4th Shot? 
  2. Are hospital workers running out of sympathy for unvaccinated COVID patients?
  3. CNN wonders: Is the media out of touch with the public on COVID?
  4. Confused By The CDC’s New COVID Isolation Rules?
  5. COVID vaccines for ages 5 to 11 start today but can schools open safely in the shadow of Omicron?
  6. Do Masks Protect Against the Omicron COVID-19 Variant?
  7. Do you have a cold, the flu or Covid-19?
  8. Do you need a booster shot to be ‘fully vaccinated’ against COVID? What does ‘up to date’ mean?
  9. Fox to Psaki: How is this still a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” if the boosted are getting sick?
  10. Has COVID Testing Declined Under Joe Biden?
  11. Has Covid vaccine efficacy turned negative?
  12. How did the 1918 pandemic end, and could the same thing happen with coronavirus?
  13. How effective are COVID-19 vaccines against Omicron?
  14. How Effective Is a Face Mask Against COVID-19 if You’re the Only One Wearing It?
  15. How Is a Third of the Population Being Hypnotized?
  16. How is COVID going to end?
  17. How is Omicron impacting your life?
  18. How long should you isolate if you’re fully vaccinated but have Covid-19? 
  19. How Reliable Are Covid-19 Rapid Tests for Detecting Omicron?
  20. How Soon Will Covid Be ‘Normal’?
  21. How Will The Pandemic End?
  22. If It’s Really a ‘Pandemic of the Unvaccinated,’ Mr. President, Why Is My Vaccinated 6-Year-Old Wearing a Mask?
  23. Is Covid Causing Decision Fatigue?
  24. Is COVID here to stay?
  25. Is COVID-19 a Disability?
  26. Is COVID-19 driving our teens to drugs, alcohol?
  27. Is COVID-19 ever going to go away?
  28. Omicron: Do travel bans work against new Covid variants?
  29. Omicron is here. What are your treatment options if you get Covid-19?
  30. Omicron-specific vaccines could be ready by March. Will we need them?
  31. So When Does the Emergency End?
  32. Vaccinated and test positive?
  33. Vaccine choice follows politics in US. Why doesn’t it in Germany?
  34. Vaccine Passports Are Here to Stay. Why Worry?
  35. What exactly is today’s status of the vaccine mandate in the federal space?
  36. Why are so many vaccinated people getting COVID-19 lately?
  37. Why Did the CDC Change Its Mind About COVID Isolation, Quarantine Rules?
  38. Will 2022 Be the Year We Put the Pandemic Behind Us?
  39. Will history judge Trump as harshly as his critics on COVID-19?
  40. 2 Years of COVID: What Comes Next?

This is hard, friends. On many…

So many questions continue…

Respectfully…

AR

[Source list: AARP, ABC, American Greatness, Associated Press, The Atlantic, BBC, Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Christian Science Monitor, CNet, CNN, Deseret News, Federal News Network, FOX News, Health Magazine, Hot Air, Huffington Post, The Intercept, The Jerusalem Post, Joe Rogan Show, Miami Herald, MSNBC, National Law Review, NBC News, New York Post, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Newsweek, NPR, PBS, The Post Millennial, Reason, Substack, USA Today, VeryWell Health, VOX, and The Wall Street Journal.]

who believes in democracy?

“We’ve got spirit — yes, we do! We’ve got spirit! How ‘bout you?!”

Then went the other side…

“We’ve got spirit — yes, we do! We’ve got spirit! How ‘bout you?!”

And after a few more back-and-forths of the familiar, middle school cheer, one side would boldly break into…

“We’ve got more! We’ve got more!”

To which the opponent would equally, brashly retort…

“That’s what they all say!”

Forgive me. We were only 12. Maybe 13, 14… 15 at best. While we cheered in zest for our Falcons and Stars, there typically wasn’t that much animosity. Emphasis on “that much.”

The implication, no less, was that “we” — aka “me” or “my team” — had definitively more spirit than the opposition. In fact, sometimes — especially if we played those perceived vicious Cardinals (sorry, remember our frontal lobes weren’t fully formed yet) — the implication was not just that we had more, but that we were the only ones who had it. In our support, loyalty, fandom or whatever you want to call it, we simply assumed in our passion that because spirit was important to us — we had it, felt it, and ardently believed in it — that there was no possible way it could manifest itself in our opposition. This wasn’t even a debate, friends. At the very least, we had more.

Sometimes I feel as if middle school has somehow magically transported itself to current culture… only now we have more money and use bigger words. Because we feel something strongly, we assume our perceived vicious opposition doesn’t have what we have… there’s no way it could manifest itself differently…

Note the following…

Republicans dispute Democrats’ belief in patriotism; we heard it much during the candidacy and tenure of Pres. Obama. Democrats dispute Republicans’ belief in democracy; we hear it now in promotion of their desired legislative agenda.

Please.

I mean no disrespect. I simply refuse to believe the Democrats or Republicans as a whole don’t belief in either patriotism or democracy; certainly there are some outliers in each party; certainly, too, a biased media cannot be trusted to promote accurate representations of what each party/party member believes. Hence, who/what we listen to matters. So why then do multiple leaders of each party continue to attempt to convince us that the opposition is either unpatriotic or undemocratic?

I’ll take a brief stab…

Because patriotism — defined as a devotion to and support of our country — is a good thing… Because democracy — defined as a system of government in which everyone is treated equally — is a good thing… And if one party can convince us that the opposition is null and void of such a good thing, then maybe, just maybe they can convince us to only support and vote for them — to put/keep them in power. Maybe we’ll be so disturbed, enraged, or fill-in-the-negative-adjective-here, that we’ll never take the time to notice the lack of integrity in the accusing party.

That’s key to the current voting rights question. In this country, two things are true: one, every eligible voter should have access to vote, and two, no ineligible vote should be cast; both work in conjunction with one another in order to ensure the “consent of the governed” occurs.

The competing challenge, however, is that party victory is often prioritized more than the above “one” or “two.” Hence, rather than wrestling honestly with one party’s own incongruity, inconsistency and undeniable contradictions pending their position when in or out of power, it’s often easier to instead valiantly work to get others to perceive the opposition as vicious…

… acting like they have none of those good things… acting like we’ve got more… and acting as if we’re all back in middle school again.

Respectfully… and wanting what’s better and best…

AR

just one resolution…

Ah, yes, it’s a new year… time to make or not make resolutions. No pressure, friends. While we may hear bold pronouncements of wanting to eat healthier, hit the gym, or maybe even ensuring we end no more phone conversations by adding an accidental “love you” to a random person (or Verizon sales rep — ugh), resolutions are not something we make for anyone other than self.

Here, no less, my primary annual resolution in recent years has been to read more — reading from diverse authors of varied perspective, believing growth is oft prompted via the written word.

But if I respectfully strayed from the conviction that resolutions are only to be made for self — and if I could semi-humbly suggest a resolution for far more than me, I think I know what it would be…

We are a people quick to criticize. To be clear, criticism isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it’s sincere, solicited and respectfully stated. Unfortunately, much of the criticism that rampantly flows throughout today’s culture is only the first of the three.

We’ve watched people attempt to respond to such criticism — constructive or not. And even more unfortunately, we’ve watched them respond poorly…

We’ve watched people become immediately defensive…

I get it; this is easy — sometimes even our immediate, “go-to” reaction… How dare anyone would think so poorly of me?!… And just like that we stop asking questions; we stop seeking to understand; and because we’re defensive and reject whatever the other has to say, we never earnestly wrestle with any potential validity of the other’s concern.

We’ve watched the deferring of blame, pointing the finger at somebody else…

Oh, my… sign our politicians up!… One of the things that is respectfully near the top of my disappointment list in many of our elect, is that they are very slow (if that) at admitting wrongdoing. If I allow myself to be a bit facetious, I would argue that too many politicians are quick to take credit for all that is good and quicker to blame their opponent or predecessor for all that is bad. That makes no sense to me. When we defer all blame and point the finger elsewhere, we lack self-awareness. Maybe humility, too. But we again never wrestle with the potential validity of the other’s concern.

We’ve watched the tit-for-tat, Twitter fights ensue…

Yuck. Not sure quite what else to say here. Especially when leaders and celebrities fall prey to utilizing this poor method of interaction and response. When wrestling with a wise response to criticism, solid communication is important in regard to understanding what the criticism actually is and if there is any validity to it. Social media and texting are not helpful; they typically only facilitate insult faster. It is thus always disappointing to see otherwise seemingly intelligent people believe that social media rants are a prudent means in response to criticism.

So yes, if I could suggest a resolution for far more than me, it would be that we handle criticism in a wiser way…

… listen… ask questions… seek to understand… resist defensiveness… always…

… communicate in person, FaceTime, or on the phone… own what’s ours/not what’s not…

… stay calm… be respectful… apologize when necessary…

Let me be honest: I haven’t always been consistently good at this. And many/maybe most times, when the criticism was offered — especially when it was sincere, solicited and respectfully stated — it had at least some validity to it. Sometimes I handled it well; sometimes I did not. But I know, too, that apology is a strength… and a necessary skill.

Still growing. That’s why we make resolutions.

Now time to go back to reading more books.

Respectfully…

AR

5 hard current events questions for 2022

As a question advocate — asking questions for the purpose of solution — let us begin with five significantly pressing questions for the year ahead… questions that are respectively asked… but granted, still aren’t all that easy to answer…

Question #1: What’s an effective, next step approach to Covid? Let’s be real… This is hard. On all of us. On the sick, on the dying, on the healthcare workers, on those making protective decisions, on the varied vaccination decisions; there’s an element of challenge for us all. As has been long stated here, what’s best to do in rural, big, blue sky Montana is not the same as what’s best in the dense, urban metropolis of New York City; it simply doesn’t make sense. So how do we move forward in a way that doesn’t start from a ready-to-pounce, defensive position? Are we capable of giving generous grace to those who come from a different perspective? Can we learn to treat the variants with the wisest approach each needs, recognizing that the severity of each strand is different? Can we also recognize that maybe the endgame isn’t good riddance of all; hence, what does moving from a pandemic to an endemic look like — and have we already done so?

Question #2: Is Joe Biden physically and mentally ok? Zero ill will, folks. I genuinely wish to know what decisions is he making and what decisions people are making for him; the reality is that the public can’t tell. I don’t believe Pres. Biden is a bad person in any way whatsoever. However, I do have candid questions about his competency and his current clarity of thought. His repeated gaffes, misstatements and avoidance of the free press are increasingly concerning. He has difficulty handling conversations which are typically routine for a sitting President of the United States. Those are not character issues; those also cannot be dismissed as a speech disorder. Something seems off.

Question #3: When will Donald Trump relinquish his political ambitions? Again, honestly, sincerely, and still zero ill will… I realize there are many who love and many who loathe (and no doubt a zillion who fall somewhere in between). I also think we make way too many assumptions and even judgments about those who love or loathe. To be clear, I am neither. However, I do believe his Oval Office tenure was especially divisive. And it’s no secret the Intramuralist is not a fan of divisiveness. I believe our country’s highest leadership should be marked by unquestionable compassion and competency. I am disturbed that both have been uncertain for years. 

Question #4: What happens in the near future to the legislative branch? The purpose of the legislative branch is to make laws; contrary to the desires of some, that is not the role of either the executive or judicial branch. The purpose of a sitting congressperson, therefore, is to represent their district or state in crafting those laws. And yet, as we’ve witnessed from recent singular party debates, there is a tendency to shame the one who doesn’t “get in line” with the national party. But if the responsibility is to represent one’s geographic region accurately, why would we assume that an urban, coastal region has the same wants/needs as a rural, midwest region? Why would we think all Democrats or Republicans would think the same way, especially, logically, if there are varied priorities in those geographic areas? My question is whether Congress can move forward in a healthy way if partisans continue to vehemently pursue a sole party perspective, convinced only their party knows best. There is way too much focus on party — party over people, so-to-speak. That, to me, is not wise leadership. I don’t care whose party it is.

Question #5: And lastly, what about us? When will we as a people realize that if we’re not kind to those who don’t think like us, then we’re not really all that kind… if we won’t engage in discourse with those who respectfully disagree, then we are the ones not very good at discourse… and if we as a people believe that reconciliation only happens when the others finally realize the error of their ways and come to agree with us, then we don’t really understand reconciliation? Friends, when will we as a body politic recognize the humbling truth that each of us have played a part in the current division?

Just questions, my friends, but honest ones at that. As a current events blogger, I deeply value honesty, sincerity and integrity. I will continue to advocate for such.

And so we ask these questions not so to embolden what we already think, but rather, so that we can make healthy strivings going forward.

Let us always pursue what is wisest and best. 

Respectfully… happy new year, too…

AR

some insightful goodbyes to 2021

As is no secret, lots of thoughts go through my head lots of hours of the day. Some are random. Some are huge… What’s my purpose? … how can I grow? … how can I be a positive influence in my every interaction this day?… One “big life” question that often permeates my thinking is what will people say about us when we’re no longer around. Hence, we remember ten who passed away in 2021… and what a few select people had to say…

About Hank Aaron, baseball’s home run king who strong as he was, long shared how God was the source of his strength — from Terry McGuirk, Chairman of the Atlanta Braves: “We are absolutely devastated by the passing of our beloved Hank. He was a beacon for our organization first as a player, then with player development, and always with our community efforts. His incredible talent and resolve helped him achieve the highest accomplishments, yet he never lost his humble nature…”

About F. Lee Bailey, who as an attorney represented some of history’s most controversial defendants, once sharing how his profession was filled with “a tremendous collection of egos” — from one-time client, O.J. Simpson: “Today I found out that I lost a great friend… one of the great lawyers of our time… He was great; he was smart — sharp as ever… maybe the best lawyer of our time, of his generation, but a great guy…”

About Beverly Cleary, one of America’s most beloved and successful children’s book authors — from HarperCollins Children’s Books President Suzanne Murphy: “Looking back, she’d often say, ‘I’ve had a lucky life,’ and generations of children count themselves lucky too—lucky to have the very real characters Beverly Cleary created, including Henry Huggins, Ramona and Beezus Quimby, and Ralph S. Mouse, as true friends who helped shape their growing-up years…”

About Lee Elder, who in 1975 became the first black American to compete in The Masters — from fellow professional golfer, Gary Player: “Lee was truly a titan in the world of golf and a great contributor to society. He overcame a tremendous number of obstacles throughout his life, yet always remained gracious. His courage and determination were inspiring — a fighter in every sense of the word… Lee’s impact on the sport, and on my life, will never be forgotten…”

About Edgar Harrell, who was the last surviving Marine of the USS Indianapolis, the Navy ship that sank during WW II, hit by torpedoes from a Japanese submarine, surviving for 4 days in shark-infested waters — from the administrators of the ship’s public Facebook page: “During his time aboard ship, he helped guard components of the atomic bomb. After the torpedoing, he was a hero amongst his shipmates.”

About Tommy Lasorda, the legendary LA Dodgers manager — from former Dodger and current broadcaster Orel Hershiser: “There’s a lot of special people in my life. But if you think of baseball and making a significant impact, Tommy Lasorda made the most impact on my life in baseball. He was my baseball father. He taught me baseball on the field and off the field…”

About Cloris Leachman, the versatile, comedic actress, whose decorated screen, stage and television career spanned 7 decades — from actress Maureen McCormick: “Rest In Peace Beautiful Cloris… I became a fan of yours the first time I saw you on tv. And then years later I was lucky enough to work with you and I fell in love with who you are as a person. I will never forget our talks and the time we shared…”

About Larry King, the iconic TV and radio host, who interviewed all sorts of celebrities and politicians for 25 years on CNN — from fellow TV host, Meghan McCain: “There are ‘friends’ in this industry and then there are real friends for whom I can count on one hand. Larry was one of those people. From the beginning of my career when I first appeared on his show when I was 23 and no one took me seriously, he gave me a platform, opportunities, guidance, support and always treated me with the utmost respect. He did so throughout my entire career… I am grateful for the years of friendship and all of the stories you shared Larry. You are an institution, a broadcast legend, will never be replaced and truly missed. TV is less interesting without you…”

About South Africa’s Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, known for his nonviolent pursuit of equality for all people, who passed away just this week — from English journalist and TV host Piers Morgan: “A magnificently charismatic & heroic figure who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his relentless campaign against Apartheid in South Africa. Love his quote: ‘If you want peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.’”

And about Cicely Tyson, the talented and no doubt groundbreaking actress as a black woman cast in multiple starring roles — from director and producer Tyler Perry: “She was the grandmother I never had and the wisdom tree that I could always sit under to fill my cup… She called me son. Well, today your son grieves your loss and will miss our long talks, your laughter from your belly, and your very presence. Always so regal, always so classy, always a lady, always a queen. Every time we would talk I would ask, ‘How are you?’ and you would say, ‘I’m still here. He must have something he wants me to do.’ Well, I think it’s safe to say you have done all you were put here to do, and we are all better for it.”

… we are all better for it…

There are certainly more of note than we can count who passed away this past year — Bob Dole, Colin Powell and Anne Rice… Prince Phillip, Norm MacDonald and Rush Limbaugh… DMX, Stephen Sondheim and The Supremes Mary Wilson… John Madden and Harry Reid, for example. What a variety of people… what a variety of gifts… what a variety of reactions…

It’s always insightful to see what people say…

Respectfully…

AR

the day after

[Beautifully written by Jennifer Finney Boylan, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, published 3 years ago…]

* * * * *

It was my first Boxing Day in retail. There I was, sitting at the returns desk at Classics Books in Midtown Manhattan, 1980. A woman in a mink coat angrily dropped a volume upon my desk: “Mommy Dearest,” by Christina Crawford.

“I’m returning this — this piece of trash!” she said.

“Was there something wrong with the book?” I asked. She’d received it just the day before.

Her eyes narrowed. “Joan Crawford,” she said, “was a wonderful mother!”

The day after Christmas is a hard day to work in retail, what with all the returns and exchanges. At least Black Friday is just about sales. So many people. So much disappointment.

We don’t have a proper name for the Day After here in the States, although it’s definitely a good time to stay home if you can. It’s a day for reflection, for eating leftovers, for taking stock of the year just past.

In England, it’s Boxing Day; in Ireland and elsewhere, it’s St. Stephen’s Day. When I was a student in London, my professor, a Briton, explained that it was called Boxing Day because it’s the day disappointed children punch one another out.

For years I trusted this story, which only proves that there are some people who will believe anything, and I am one of them.

The real origins of Boxing Day go back to feudal times, when workers on a lord’s estate would ask, on this day, for a Christmas box, in exchange for good service throughout the year. Later, the tradition expanded to include the collection of alms for the poor.

In Ireland, St. Stephen’s Day brings the appearance of the Wren Boys — costumed revelers engaged in a ritualized hunting of a wren. The best-known Wren parade happens in Dingle, in County Kerry. There’s a lot of marching around and collecting of money, some of which goes to charity and some of which — according to at least one of my Irish friends — goes to pay for a round at the pub. The veneration of the wren predates Christianity, in fact: The Irish word for wren, “dreoilin” — comes from two words, “draoi ean,” the druid bird.

There are lots of songs that go with this revelry. I always liked the Grateful Dead’s “St. Stephen,” which speaks of the “country garden in the wind and the rain; wherever he goes the people all complain.”

And I like the one the Chieftains sing: “The wren, oh the wren he’s the king of all birds/on St. Stephen’s Day he got caught in the furze/So it’s up with the kettle and it’s down with the pan/Won’t you give us a penny for to bury the wren.” The wren symbolizes winter, as the robin represents summer, and “burying the wren” means the coming of longer days.

Then there’s “The King,” which Steeleye Span covered years ago. In Victorian times, this tune accompanied the presentation of a wren-king, hidden inside a box, dressed in silks. In exchange for a donation, you could get a glimpse of the king. (“Joy, love, health and peace, be all here in this place/By your leave we will sing, concerning our king/Our king is well dressed, in silks of the best,/wearing ribbons so rare, no king can compare.”)

Who was St. Stephen, and what does he have to do with Christmas, or Christians? Stephen was the faith’s first martyr, slain for suggesting, among other things, that God was not to be found in the temple, or in any dwelling made by human hands.

As a Christian, I can promise you I fall short in lots of ways, especially in my consistent failure to treat other people with the love and grace they deserve. But on the issue of the temple, St. Stephen and I are of one mind. Most of the times that I’ve experienced the eternal are times when I was not sitting in an actual church.

Exactly 40 years ago, in fact, on St. Stephen’s Day 1978, I was staring into a fire at a beach house in Atlantic City with some friends. As I sat there looking at the flames, I heard a voice as clear as a bell, speaking out of my own heart: How long, the voice inquired, do you intend to avoid becoming yourself?

A little while longer, I thought.

This year, on St. Stephen’s Day, I’m almost certain to find myself by a fire once again, looking into the flames, thinking about the road that lies ahead. My daughter, who spent the holidays in Maine with us, will be leaving that morning, stepping onboard an airplane bound for Australia, where she will be joining her fiancé’s family, halfway around the world. I don’t know when I will be seeing her again. Soon, I hope.

From the woods outside comes the voice of the wren. The light returns.

* * * * *

Merry Christmas, friends…

AR

before Christmas

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

* * * * *

I’ve long posted the words from this enduring Christmas hymn, written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, because it so feels like it puts life in perspective. 

Longfellow was the widowed father of six. His wife died from a tragic accident in which the dress she was wearing caught on fire. His oldest son was severely injured during a battle of the Mine Run Campaign. He was reunited with his injured son on December 5th, with the army surgeon sharing that his son’s wound “was very serious” and that “paralysis might ensue.”

Only 20 days later, on Christmas Day 1863, Longfellow “wrote a poem seeking to capture the dynamic and dissonance in his own heart and the world he observes around him.” Hence, the rest of us were gifted with the embedded wisdom of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

Amidst the outer chaos of the culture and the inner chaos in one’s own heart, peace is still available. Hope, too. That hopeful confidence has the power to pierce all chaos. 

That, my friends, puts life in perspective.

Respectfully…

AR

the week before Christmas and all through the house

We basically have one week. I speak not of the number of shopping days left. Neither do I dismiss the beauty of the recent Hanukkah celebration. 

I speak of how many days left we get to practice. Or at least think we do.

Knowing Christmas is coming, the goose is (or we are) getting, uh, larger, the festivities have begun, cards are in the mail, and we have a week to practice. We have a week to focus on what is best…

… bringing good cheer…

… from everywhere… fill the air…

Maybe that’s one of the three zillion things I love about Christmas. As a Christ-follower or not, there exists a societal focus on what is best…

… the beauty of rest…

… tidings of comfort and joy…

We’re generous in hospitality. We’re more thoughtful of others. We’re mindful of those who are dear to us — here or here no longer. We also are aware that we have a role to play…

… let there be peace on Earth…

… and let it begin with me.

That’s actually one of the harder things about being a semi-humble current events blogger. Allow me to briefly elaborate.

In our desire to cover what’s current and talk about what people are talking about, we strive to be relevant and thus aware of what’s actually going on. In 2021, as a country we found ourselves attempting to navigate through multiple fairly sticky issues. For example:

  • The economy and jobs, including the labor shortage and “great resignation”
  • A near 40 year high for inflation; our dollar is worth increasingly less
  • Covid-19: an appropriate response by both the people and government; how far should each go?
  • A dire surge in crime; understanding why there is such an increase especially in homicides and looting
  • Shaky foreign affairs, noting Afghanistan, China and Russia

Not to negate the very real challenges in education, equality, and justice, etc.

Friends, these are tough issues. None will immediately dissipate simply because we turn the calendar to 2022.

But I have this thought that we might be better at solving the issues or at least making progress if we carry forward our focus from the week ahead…

Good cheer fills the air from everywhere… not just on my side of the proverbial political aisle…

Rest, comfort and joy should be encouraged to all by all… not just to those whom I like how they think…

And peace…

Too often people proclaim they want it, wish for it, and conclude that thought with “hey, you go first.” In other words they act as if peace begins with someone else…

If only the Democrats… If only the Republicans… If only white people… If only persons of color…

My sense is a far healthier, more productive statement — for those who want both peace and progress — is… “if only me…

Tidings of good cheer can fill the air all year round. We can make progress. We can navigate through the hard stuff… if we remember that peace, progress and solution never start with somebody else.

Respectfully… enjoying the week to come…

AR

what if you’re wrong?

The best thing I’ve read this past week was a piece written by Ronald Bailey for the January 2022 issue of Reason. He takes a humble stab at attempting to answer the age-old question of why — especially in politics — is it so hard to admit we are wrong.

Writes Bailey…

“Today, if you are a member of one of the two major American political parties, you are statistically likely to dislike and distrust members of the other party. While your affection for your own party has not grown in recent years, your distaste for the other party has intensified. You distrust news sources preferred by the other side. Its supporters seem increasingly alien to you: different not just in partisan affiliation but in social, cultural, economic, and even racial characteristics. You may even consider them subhuman in some respects.”

I think of the plethora of posts and tweets, likes, dislikes, and exaggerated reactions we feel emboldened to broadcast on social media. Few seem to share abundant admiration for the political ideals with which they most align; increasingly more pounce on the perceived lack of integrity of the other… like only one of the parties is supposedly destroying America… forgetting, of course, the reality of taking two to tango, so-to-speak.

Bailey continues…

“You’re also likely to be wrong about the characteristics of members of the other party, about what they actually believe, and even about their views of you. But you are trapped in a partisan prison by the psychological effects of confirmation bias. Being confronted with factual information that contradicts your previously held views does not change them, and it may even reinforce them. Vilification of the other party perversely leads partisans to behave in precisely the norm-violating and game-rigging ways they fear their opponents will. It’s a classic vicious cycle, and it’s accelerating.”

And there we have it. It’s not that we might be… it’s not that we could be… it’s that we’re likely to be wrong. Wrong about other people. But emboldened about self. Maybe that’s the primary impetus of the current cultural, socio-political deterioration.

Last week I had the sweet opportunity to share a conference call with former Senator Joe Lieberman, the “Independent Democrat” from Connecticut. As national co-chair of No Labels, an organization that steadfastly works to encourage bipartisan, commonsense solutions to problems — and an organization to which The Intramuralist belongs — Lieberman shared some  significantly keen insight, answering questions from a few of us, discussing, for example, the current shakiness and danger in foreign affairs, how to communicate the effectiveness of a more centrist approach with the Next Gen, and how the current administration has been pulled markedly left. It’s fascinating to dialogue with a person of integrity, who actually knows and has enjoyed a positive, respectful relationship with Joe Biden, Lindsay Graham, and John McCain, among others.

But there was one insight that caused me to linger.

When Lieberman was addressing how we got to this point, he made a simple, profound point.

His response was in regard to how biting Congress has become. So addressing sitting senators in particular, as that was his experience, Lieberman said simply, “They don’t know each other.”

He spoke of how historically, if one was honored to be elected to go to Washington, you took your family and stayed all week. The families would then hang out on weekends — regardless of party. They did stuff together. When you do stuff together, you get to know each other. And when you get to know each other, you learn to trust and respect each other. You may not nor ever share the same opinion, but you know why another believes (and votes) the way they do.

But now our elect go home. They leave early. Weekends are never spent with those they don’t know.

Hence, back to Bailey for a minute; his insight is fascinating (access HERE). He shares significant research in multiple areas where Democrats and Republicans think they know what the other believes, but alas, they do not. Highly intelligent people don’t know what they don’t know. And that lack of knowledge — that lack, better yet, of relationship — is far more damaging than any one party.

If we knew that, if we worked to know the one who thinks differently, maybe we could see where we — not others — are wrong.

Respectfully…

AR