God bless MLK. God damn MLK Day.

Today I’m off work for the MLK Holiday, and I’m thankful for that. I can use the rest. I’m also dismayed by the day.

Rev. King was killed in Memphis while he was there supporting the sanitation workers who were striking. I walked out my front door today to see the rows of emptied trash bins, evidence that while I was sleeping in, the sanitation workers in my town were up long before dawn, working. People are at work right now, making nowhere near a living wage at WalMart, Burger King, gas stations, coffee shops, hotels, janitorial services and nearly every retail or service industry job, while a handful of us rest. Or worse, shop.

The president is being sworn in today with his hands on Dr. King’s Bible. Dr. Cornel West expresses everything that is wrong with that, and does it far better than I can.

So we celebrate the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by letting a privileged few off work while those who labor and still make poverty wages are ignored. We celebrate King’s agitation for peace by having the leader of the world’s largest killing force, a man who murders by order and by robot, falsely associate himself with King’s vision and King’s faith by placing his hands on the Rev. King’s Bible.

We do nothing to stop war. We do nothing to end poverty. We ignore the basic humanity of people near and far. Yet we can feel good about ourselves, because there’s a day on the calendar to honor a man who did all the work that we refuse to.

God bless Martin Luther King, Jr. May his legacy never die and his words never fall silent. God damn the empty holiday that bears his name.

What makes a company “pro-gay”?

Church this morning nearly gave me a migraine. See, a fair portion of the service was related to all the Chick-Fil-Hate hullabaloo this week, and the deep pain that it caused so many people. I’d spent the week arguing, raging, seething and hurting over the immense hatred that was flowing from the “gotta have straight chicken” and their “but what about the free speech red herring?” compatriots. It was an exhausting week, and while it was wonderful and healing to be amidst folks who shared in the hurt, just revisiting the topic sent my neck and shoulders back into the tension of that rage. The pastor’s message of “Hold on, better times are coming” was wonderful, but I still needed a massage when I got home.

While the plate was passed for the offering the image below was projected up onto the wall, I assume as a reminder that there are companies who aren’t trying to have people killed for being gay.

The image, and the idea behind it, just don’t sit well with me. You can see HRC’s criteria for their Corporate Equality Index here. That’s the list of things they use to determine if a company is “pro-gay” as described in the above image.

But there’s so much that they leave out. Coca-Cola may have wonderfully inclusive insurance, and they may include orientation and identity protections in their hiring procedures, but they also have a history of murdered union workers in their bottling plants in central America. What does it matter if they won’t discriminate against you for being gay if they’re just going to have you killed for demanding safe working conditions and fair wages. Their corporate headquarters may be a great place for LGBT people to work, but I’d bet those plants are not.

The same can be said of the factories that produce Apple products, Nike’s sweatshops, Gap’s sweatshops and Hershey’s child-slave farmed chocolate. Even here in the US, Starbucks has a history of union busting. Those are just the ones I knew about off the top of my head!

Hiring practices and sponsoring Pride parades don’t mean jack when you’re mistreating and killing your employees. You can’t be pro-gay and pro-slavery. Queer people are slaves. Queer people are union organizers. Queer people are textile workers in sweatshops.

Playing nice in the public eye doesn’t make you “pro-gay,” not when your murder, exploitation, slavery and unfair business practices affect queer employees and their families. You can’t be “pro-gay” when you’re anti-human.

Rewriting Christmas

I’ve often said that I loathe Christmas, but that’s not exactly true. I adore the religious holiday of Christmas. Some of my fondest memories in my spiritual life involve staying up most of the night of Christmas Eve into Christmas morning, contemplating the Incarnation. Unfortunately the secular celebration that uses the same name is my least favorite time of year. While I find the “war on Christmas” crowd to be ridiculous, I do feel that Christ has been divorced from his own mass, even in most purported religious celebrations.

In my own family “the meaning of Christmas” was giving to others in love. While a beautiful sentiment, it’s so far removed from my most profound experiences of Christmas that I can’t even see how it applies. Giving to others in love is a foundation of Christianity, but the way it is practiced at Christmas feels, to me, to be counter to a feast celebrating the incarnation of the Divine in the person of Jesus.

Perhaps that’s because Advent has been overshadowed by the Christmas season. There is no room for waiting, for contemplation, for quiet anticipation. There is only “30 shopping days left until Christmas.” Our system of maintaining the wealth of the ruling class is, in many ways, dependent upon the consumer glut of the Christmas shopping season. The first day of the season is “Black Friday,” a day when retail establishments profits move upward. Yet, Mary’s song of praise in anticipation of the birth of Jesus celebrates a God who “has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:52-53) Is this God honored by making the rich richer in the mad dash to get the best deals, even if the drive behind it is to give to loved ones?

In this state, even the symbols with which we surround ourselves lose their meaning. Christmas lights, on a house or a tree, have such potential to be a reminder of what is coming. The small, dim lights in the darkness can keep us focused on the hope of greater light coming. The evergreens can speak of life continuing despite the cold and darkness. But they don’t. We’re too frenzied to notice. The songs of secular Christmas don’t speak to my life, my culture or my place. This is southern Louisiana. We don’t have white Christmases, sleigh bells ringing nor winter wonderlands. No one I know has ever seen a partridge in a pear tree. And even if some deck their halls with holly, do they do so with an awareness of holly’s symbolism? The trappings of Christmas are so divorced from the cultures in which they arose that they lack meaning.

But I’m trying this year to find Christmas celebrations that nourish me. Part of that is in response to my loves, both of whom have many good associations with Christmas. So instead of simply decrying all that is wrong with Christmas, I am trying to imagine a Christmas celebration that speaks to me, feeds me and reflects my experience of the divine incarnation. Here are some scattered ideas.

I think the first part of that is reclaiming Advent. I’ve not done this well this year, but I am trying. Prayer, contemplation, quiet. These things can help me prepare for what is to come.

Music like “O Come O Come Emmanuel” or Arvo Pärt’s “Magnificat” is wonderful.

Imagining the topsy turvy world to which the coming incarnation speaks is a wonderful use of time. If we know that God is coming in the form of a child born to poor parents in an occupied country, then where in our own worlds can we anticipate God?

Creating! If gifts are to be given in the coming feast, time spent crafting them is a wonderful way to participate in God’s creation. If we are made in the image of God, and the first image of God our scriptures bring us is that of Creator, then by creating we realize a part of our own divine natures.

If Advent is to be reclaimed, then Christmas is to actually start on Christmas. The Christmas season doesn’t start on the day after Thanksgiving. It starts on December 25, and continues through January 6 (or perhaps, from sunset Christmas eve though sunset January 6). Christmas day is but the start, and those 12 days are the time to begin celebrating the entrance of the divine into the world in the flesh of Jesus. So then what would work for me? Filling those days with meals with loved ones. Drinking and dancing, sharing. From Christmas until 12th night we revel in the beauty and truth that the greatest has become the least and the entire world has been changed.

And of course from 12th night until Ash Wednesday, the celebration continues as Carnival, in which the turning upside down of the world is focused on more and more.

And shhhh, don’t tell anyone, but in this configuration I can even see myself wanting to give gifts (in the form of small, hand-made tokens), whereas as I’ve seen it as a stress filled obligation before now.

It’s not much, and it’s all going to be hard to practice in the face of a consumerist, culturally irrelevant secular Christmas onslaught, but it’s a start. Maybe by writing this out and by rewriting the holiday itself I’m one step closer to finding a Christmas I love instead of being saddled with one I loathe.

Who dat say dey gonna own dem words?

In January 2010 someone at the National Football League said, “Holy shit! People are paying attention to the Saints!” and proceeded to send cease and desist letters to businesses selling merchandise with the phrase “Who Dat?” on it. The NFL eventually backed off under massive public pressure. Of course the fact that someone else had the phrase trademarked before the NFL claimed exclusive rights helped push them to back off.

At the time I was most struck by the absurdity of anyone claiming to own two words that are so much a part of the culture. It’s ludicrous. And I knew that trademark would eventually come back around to bite us in the ass again. Now Sal and Steve Monistere and their company, in an effort to assert their right to the phrase, are suing local businesses who are selling Who Dat merchandise. Once again there’s going to be an outcry against this, but it’s going to be much more difficult to stop the Monistere’s.

The problem here isn’t greed, it’s intellectual property itself. Somewhere along the way people decided they could own ideas. Anything that had been part of culture could now be privately held. Where once poems could inspire books which could inspire operas that would inspire other operas, now licensing stood in the way.

For nearly all of human history our stories, our songs, our poetry, our language was held in common. Stories would evolve as they were retold, adapting to fit different circumstances. Poems would be recited by anyone who knew them. Songs were sung by anyone with the ability. Now all of that has been taken away. To sing a song publicly, you have to pay a fee. To share a poem, you have to get permission from its owner. To retell a story, you have to pay for the license to do so.

And apparently to print a chant widely used by the population of south Louisiana, you have to pay Sal and Steve Monistere.

I say, along with most folks in this area, that “Who Dat” belongs to everyone. I’m not just saying that because the chant predates the trademark claim. I’m not just saying that because the phrase has grown beyond its use by the Monistere’s and thus transcends their right to ownership.

“Who Dat” belongs to everyone in the same way that Cinderella, Rent, “Howl,” “Stairway to Heaven” and the letter B belong to everyone. Art and language are not private property, but cultural property. No one person can claim any of it. Stories, songs, poems and chants grow out of their cultures and belong to everyone.

Who dat say dey own “Who Dat?” Me. And you. And everyone.