Story Reprise – Harry Potter Edition

It’s not often that I sit down to write without thinking long and hard about the topic. I can spend weeks developing a theme to discuss here.

However, today is an exception. Besides, it’s my blog and I can do whatever I want to.

Those of you who have followed what I write or have talked with me know that I put a lot of importance on the idea of ‘Story.’ Story provides us with roots that hold us firmly in place. Story teaches us respect for people and the entire Cosmos. Story helps enable our moral compass and encourages us to follow it. Story connects us.

So, today when I read about a conservative commenter showing contempt for Story, I understandably found it necessary to say something.

Apparently,  Hillary Clinton stated to an audience that the Harry Potter stories taught kids tolerance and empathy for others. I agree with her assessment. I’ve read every Harry Potter book multiple times. I’ve seen the movies in theaters and DVD and cable more times than some may think healthy. I love the way J.K.Rowling weaves mythology and history into each story. Simple details like the naming Sirius Black.

We were introduced to this character in “The Prisoner of Azkaban.” In that book we learn that Sirius is an ‘animagus.’ That is someone who is able to shape-shift into the form of an animal. In Black’s case, that shape is a dog. This is quite appropriate since Sirius is the name of the ‘Dog Star’ in the constellation Canis Major, or the ‘Greater Dog.’ Details like this are found throughout the books.

This seems to have rankled right-wingnut commenter Jesse Lee Peterson. Quoted from a podcast, he stated,
“If that is true, immediately stop your children from reading Harry Potter,” Peterson said. “If it’s true that reading Harry Potter causes kids to be more open to immigrants and LGBT people, then you’re going to pay for brainwashing, traumatizing, turning your children away from good toward evil. I would shut down those books right away if that’s true.” (Emphasis added.)

Heaven forbid! Children may learn tolerance and empathy for others! Especially those who are marginalized. Apparently, teaching such things makes Baby Jesus cry!

What is wrong with these people?! Are they so bloody arrogant that there can be NO possible way to understand reality than their narrow, hateful path?

I try to stay neutral on things political on my blog. I want to embrace as many people and ways of being as I can. But, this is simply Bull-SHIT!

I hope that no one is offended too much by what I’m sharing. No, I really do. But, these people are trying to control thought and ideas. Things which by definition cannot truly be contained and controlled. Or, at least should not.

Anyway, thanx for letting me rant for a few minutes.

As always, please use the comments section to share any thoughts you may have.

Off the Path – A Review

Off the Path: An Anthology of 21st Century Montana American Indian Writers, Vol. 1, Ed. Adrian L. Jawort, 2014, Off the Pass Press LLC, Billings, Montana.

I feel a bit strange reviewing a book full of stories written about Native Americans by Native Americans. Mostly because I’m not Native American. I’m a white male descended from the colonists who caused so much of the pain contained in these pages. However, in an interview published in Indian Country Media Network written by Heather Steinberger, the book’s editor, Adrian Jawort said that this book is important because, “it introduces Indian Country to non-Native readers who may not understand what lies right next door. ”[1] So, I purchased the book and read it so that I could get to know my ‘next door neighbors’ a little better.

This volume contains nine stories written by five different authors. Each of them brought their own particular perspective to what it means to tell stories as Native Americans. They shared the raw pain that can only be experienced by people who have been marginalized…who have had their lives ripped open…who have had their culture and history nearly destroyed.

It was a difficult read for me. I have tried to educate myself about our Original Nations and what I found is not pleasant. Our country spent almost 500 years raping, stealing land, and cheating our Native sisters and brothers at every turn so that we could make a profit from the minerals in their lands. We have brutalized these people and tried to assimilate them into OUR culture. In 1879 Richard H. Pratt opened a boarding school for the expressed purpose to, “kill the Indian and save the man.”

I don’t want this to be a history lesson. But, it’s important that we non-Natives have an idea of what has happened as a direct result of our colonial treatment of the Native people in this country.

None of the stories have to do with non-Native violence directly involved. I say ‘directly’ because I think that indirectly we are responsible for everything written. The narratives reveal deep wounds that present in Native violence on other natives. Rape, alcohol and substance abuse, and dysfunction in relationships are all prevalent. The domestic and familial violence shocked me. While I realize that these stories are fiction, I can’t help but feel that they are birthed out of true experience.

I’m not going to review every story in this anthology. I only want to touch on one to give you an idea of what they say. Shoot! If I tell you everything you won’t need to buy the book!

The first story was written by Cinnamon Spear. She is a Northern Cheyenne writer and documentary film maker. In the above mentioned interview she stated, “The greater society knows little to nothing about Natives. Having a voice is everything, otherwise people aren’t going to know the realities of our communities.” Her story is entitled “ God’s Plan.” It reveals a life that very few outside of the Native community will ever hear. A life about which we NEED to hear.

This story tells about a young woman living with a Food Channel expert mom. While the Mom works hard to keep the family supplied with food, clothing, and other essentials, the Dad doesn’t appreciate it. Apparently, Dad had aspirations of becoming an attorney and Mom did something that had shot down that pursuit. At least in his mind. For that he was angry. That anger spilled over to physical abuse. The daughter stated that, while “millions of other American children are in their pajamas carelessly enjoying the aroma of blueberry pancakes while watching Saturday morning cartoons on CBS, [she was] in East Bumfuck, Wyoming unknowingly prepared to practice real life First Responder EMS training in her living room.”

The rest of the story followed this track. The Dad was kind one minute saying, “Good morning, my girl,” to her. The next he was beating her Mom to within an inch of death.

In the end, the Dad announced that he and their Mom were getting a divorce. He proceeded to pit the children against each other by asking who would go with him and who would stay. The daughter chose to stay with Mom while her siblings chose Dad.

In the last scene the Dad says, “I said good morning, my girl. Did you sleep well? Hey! Go wake up your mom and sister, huh?”

The pain and dysfunction in this family resulted in physical and psychological abuse that went beyond extreme. We outside of the Native community do experience dysfunction and abuse. But, within Native communities these appear to be systemic. And, a result of 500 years of mistreatment by colonizers.

If there is anything about the book that disappoints, it is the editing. Or, lack of editing. I’m a grammar geek. When I read a book and come upon misspellings or parts that are not cohesive within the plot I become distracted. And, there was a lot in this book to distract. Perhaps, this was by design. Maybe the editorial staff desired that the work be ‘raw’ and ‘natural.’ I don’t know. But, for me, it was problematic.

Would I allow this to keep me from reading it? No! As I wrote earlier, these stories must be read. They must be read widely. We, as non-Natives owe it to our Native sisters and brothers to listen to their stories. We owe it to ourselves to hear their stories.

[1] https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/culture/arts-entertainment/off-the-path-native-writers-in-montana-share-work-in-bold-new-anthology-2/, Accessed: June 20, 2017.

Away for a bit

It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve been here. There’s simply been too much on my plate to spend time with this blog. My dad was back in hospital again. It really sux getting old. He’s a tough old codger, though. And, I started at a new position at work last week. New stuff to learn and not a lot of time to learn it. Ah, yes! I love it when they move the cheese.
Anyway, I’ve spent the better share of the last month ruminating on how the Euro-American worldview is simply NOT the best way to live a full and abundant life. I’ve read a couple books from a Zen point of view. One of them by a Jesuit priest who uses Zen practices to deepen his spiritual life with Yahweh. Interesting stuff that I will comment on later. I’ve also been studying material written from a First Inhabitant point of view. I have been encouraged to look at this by Randy Woodley. He is an American Cherokee with a Ph.D from Asbury Seminary. Having been following his online works and blogs, as well as working through his newest tome, Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision, has given me much to meditate on. This, too, I’ll comment on later. All of this to say, I am in the process of trying to reconcile the Euro-American culture with the Very Good Creation that Yahweh has provided for all living things to dwell in. It’s difficult. Actually, it’s impossible. We who are of European descent have much to bring to the discussion, but we are not the answer or telos of that discussion.

Over this past weekend, between taxes and chores, I read Suzanne Collins’  “The Hunger Games.” With all of the recent hype over the movie, I thought I’d check it out.
It was a very easy read. The plot moved along nicely for the most part. There were spots where the action trudged along, but overall, I was pleased with the pace. 
I can see why it’s a hit among young folks. Each generation has its version of Big Brother. This one is ‘The Capitol.’ The term refers to place and people. A pampered and indulgent culture that feeds off of 12 districts that vary in degree of exploitation based on whatever each produces. One is agriculture, another produces gems and baubles and such. The star of the story, Katniss, is from the least of the districts, which produces coal. From this lowly place we are introduced to characters with character. They have desires and goals. They hurt and they love. As the story unfolded, Katniss’ difficulties with being a teenage girl came out clearly. The emotional rollercoaster; no longer a girl, but not quite a woman. Her need for relationship was refreshing to me. She was a strong and capable personality, but Collins didn’t paint her as a young, female Rambo. Katniss was vulnerable in her strength. She was selfless in an extremely selfish world. 
There were other characters that also showed real humanity. Rue, the young girl from District 11, was one. Even the old drunk, Haymitch Abernathy, the lone Games survivor from District 12 and mentor to Katniss and her male counterpart, Peeta, was someone that one could admire.
Yes, there’s violence…lots of it. But, I don’t think that it was inappropriate. Culture is violent. Bad culture, more so. Overall, I was happy with the story and am looking forward to getting the second part, “Catching Fire.” While it is geared for a younger audience, geezer like me can still be entertained and provoked.