Growing up in Jacinto City, Texas, I was well within the urban lasso of Houston, yet I was insulated from its cultural amenities by barriers of transportation and income. Downtown Houston was a 30 to 45 minute bus ride from Jacinto City with lots of stops along the way for pickup and dropoff. We could do a few of the things that were free such as the zoo, the public parks, the art museum, and the free concerts at the Miller Outdoor Theater in Hermann Park. But those were rare occasions and I grew up without an ear for good music, with the barest exposure to the visual arts, and no experience with drama beyond the plays I saw on our high school stage.
My participation in the arts did not improve much as an adult after moving into the city proper and having a better income of my own. This reduced the impact of the barriers of distance and income but did not eliminate them completely.
Then, in 1982, we moved to an exurban area of Brazoria County – south of town, Lake Jackson. We were far enough removed from Houston that its urban amenities were virtually out of reach. For the kids in the poorer homes in our area, they were distant dreams if they were dreams at all.
But not long after arriving here, we learned that the performing and visual arts were available, affordable and a quick three mile drive down Oyster Creek Drive to the Brazosport Center for the Arts and Sciences.
My posts have tended to dwell on the things we have done wrong politically, socially and economically and continue doing wrong. Those things form the basis of the pieces carrying the title Our Bitter Legacy. But, of course, there are some things we are doing right. The Brazosport Center for Arts and Sciences is one of them. It argues for recognition that we are also at work on our legacy of hope.
Thirty-five miles northeast of where I sit this morning, ten people lie dead in mortuaries in or around Alvin and Santa Fe, Texas, victims of a teenager who had easy access to guns and potential victims. We know little about his mental state or motives. But we do know that it was senseless and preventable.
Yesterday, during the saturation news coverage from the Santa Fe High School grounds, local officials ushered our governor outside to the press area that had been set up in the school’s parking lot. Governor Abbott offered some words of comfort and some information the media had been awaiting. And of course he offered up the requisite promise of listening sessions, town halls, round tables and such.
Then he introduced two people who had no particular reason for being there — Dan Patrick and Ted Cruz, Lt. Governor and U. S. Senator, respectively. Cruz informed us that “Texas has once again seen the face of evil” and that there have been “too damn many of these [mass shootings].” Continue reading “IV. Our Bitter Legacy: Fear in the Classroom”
I grew up in a small, industrial suburb of Houston that was populated mostly by Southern Baptists and Methodists. There were a few other odd denominations of the Christian variety but no Jews, Muslims, or Others. In my little town of Jacinto City, Texas, the dominant Baptist and Methodist churches faced off across from each other on Wiggins Street and the Baptist church had the much larger buildings and congregation.
My family belonged to the Methodist Church and we only saw inside the Baptist Church when there was a wedding or funeral of a friend who belonged to the “dunkin’ church” across the street. Whenever we did get to go inside the Baptist Church, we kids were mostly interested in the transparent tank behind the altar with its painted desert scene complete with palm trees on the wall behind. My Methodist parents told us kids that Baptists believed dunking was required to effect a good baptism. They explained that Methodists felt that a sprinkle of water, done in the right spirit, would have the same result.
It was one of my first encounters with a basic difference in the way members of our demographically similar congregations thought about the symbols of faith. Over time, I would come to see that it also extended to the way they thought about the Bible, their morals, the world at large, and how they dealt with “exceptions to the rule of faith” that they encountered in their own lives and in the lives of others.
The First Amendment provision defining the separation of church and state stands as one of this country’s most valuable contributions to civilization. It allows everyone to worship; it forces no one to worship; it entertains diversity of faith; and it keeps the government to the secular business of governing for the welfare of its people. It is genius in a few simple phrases that limits the power of Congress in making laws respecting speech, faith, and other expressions of thought. The success of the doctrine has served as a model for developing countries as they sought ways to govern effectively in spite of deep religious divisions in their societies.
There is no constitutional provision that limits the expression of political views in religious services or within any of a church’s activities. That would contradict the free exercise clause. But, alas, there is the problem of taxation.
Churches that express political views or endorse candidates become subject to the federal income tax. And their donors, cannot deduct their gifts from taxable income. The rationale for the deduction recognizes the spiritual nature of the church and extends the favor of immunity from taxation only that far but not so far as any interest the church may express in influencing policy or in choosing the government. And, true or not, churches behave as though their institutional lives depended on being exempt from paying taxes and eligible for having their donors receive deductions.
When my kids were growing up, a local television station ran a plug just before the ten o’clock news each evening that was meant to be offer some parental coaching:
“It’s ten o’clock. Do you know where your kids are?”
If only that had been enough for us to meet our responsibilities to them.
Instead, we leave them this bitter legacy. Rising sea levels. More extreme and more frequently violent weather patterns. Dysfunctional government. Deteriorating infrastructure. An ever-widening gap between rich and poor. Health care that fails to meet the needs of most people. The growth of the use of terror as a political tool. Refugees from many nations seeking asylum in an unwelcoming world.
Sometime between the time I was a teenager (that would be the 1950s and 60s) and today, my perception of America’s social and political environment changed from one that seemed more sharing, loving and mutually supportive to one that is, today, almost terminally corrupted by fear, violence, and greed.
To be exact, I do not say things have actually changed in those ways, only that my perceptions have changed. It is an important distinction since the world of my teen years was viewed through a lens of privilege that blinded me to the violence, racism, sexism, and poverty that many people in our country already dealt with on a daily basis. Maybe things are not so different now, only the lifting of the curtain to allow the rest of us to see and share the suffering more directly.
There have been, however, some undeniably real changes that will have to be addressed by rising generations. Today’s ruling powers have proved unwilling and unable to lead changes that would save our world from choking its own greed.
Brazosport Center Stages opens The Little Theater’s Production of Hamlet tonight in the Dow Arena Theater. The play will run two weekends. Reservations at The Center for Arts and Sciences.
I have seen several rehearsals. The only big disappointment is that Sharon Barnes starts singing “How Great Thou Art” as she works alone in Hattie’s Restaurant but stops when the New York director, Lauren McTeer played by Laura Woodson, enters.
Somebody may slip Laura some money to get her to miss her entrance so Sharon will have to finish the song.