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On Privilege

Today is International Women’s Day. On social media I reposted a meme with Trump’s claim that “obody has more respect for women than I do.” Surrounding that quote are other gems. “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?” And “I just start kissing them...I don’t even wait.”

Commenting on my own post I wrote that this is why we need a day for women. Because every other day--and this one too--rich, misogynistic pricks are running the show. This needs to stop.

I’ve been reading Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, and early on in the book she lists some of the common ways that one can be privileged: gender, gender identity, heterosexual, economic, religious, and so on. Whenever I think of privilege and how I should be aware of it and also do something about it, I think immediately of last semester’s uber right wing student who argued with me that he was not privileged. He is white, heterosexual, on the varsity football team, from an upper-middle class family, born and raised in America, speaks English as a first language, and is obnoxiously right wing. I don’t mean that I think that everyone who votes for Republicans is obnoxious. What I mean is that during his presentation on whatever he was supposed to be presenting, he snuck in a slide that showed Hillary Clinton behind bars and the caption said “Lock her up.” I should note, this was not in a political or global issues class. I teach English.

If anyone was going to show him his privilege it was going to be me, yes, a white, heterosexual, college educated and gainfully employed middle class Christian, so there’s that--but also--former right winger, former Republican, former Evangelical-fundamentalist born-again Ryrie-Bible-carrying religious-pamphlet-on-the-corner card carrying member of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. In other words, I was on the wagon but I knew exactly what he was drinking and how it tasted and where to go for refills.

At 18 I thought I had it all figured out too, but if you keep your eyes open you start to see. Now I see the cars stop when a person who looks one way wants to cross the street, and I see them keep driving other times. And if you keep your ears open you start to hear. I hear my students tell me how one, then two friends stop at a particular store in the mall for an application for a job opening. And then the third friend--a person of color--stops immediately after and is told there are no jobs to be had.

At first I denied it too. Didn’t want to hear that I had privilege. When my students from the north side of Minneapolis would talk about how cops stopped them or harassed them for no reason, I quickly dismissed their stories and defended the police. My best friend is a cop, I would tell them. He wasn’t like that. And he isn’t. But part of the defensiveness probably had less to do with them and more to do with me. If I accepted the fact that there is privilege--which there is--then that means that I am benefiting from it. That means, or so I had it conflated, that I am on the same level as the racists.

It would be easy for me to take that road, defend myself as if not being a racist was the same thing as not benefiting from privilege. I could talk about how I never use the N-word. I don’t. Or how sometimes I don’t even realize one of my students is a person of color until they bring it up in conversation. That’s also true. Or how I am not misogynistic. But this line of reasoning, this defensiveness, is not helpful because it assumes a false binary. In reality, it is possible not to be racist--or misogynistic or homophobic or whatever-- and yet also profit from privilege.

The first time I started noticing my privilege was at a local gas station. The sign at the pump said pay first, but I didn’t realize that and put the nozzle in my car. When it didn’t immediately turn on and dispense gasoline I looked toward the window of the gas station, and a man turned on the pump and let it dispense even though I hadn’t prepaid. Because of my identity, and perhaps also how I was dressed and because my car was not a POS, he determined that I was not a flight risk. That is privilege.

I don’t speak with an accent. I didn’t have to jump through hoops to live in this country. I can go on dates and be pretty sure I am not going to get raped. I rarely wonder if I didn’t get the job because of my race/gender/identity/etc. And it is a privilege living this way. I can admit this now.

It’s probably difficult for my student to admit his privilege because, hopefully on some level, he does realize there is injustice in this world. Hopefully his suburban middle class education has shown him some glimpse of that. One way to deal with this realization of privilege is to get defensive and deny it. Especially if one feels a bit of white guilt or male guilt or any other kind of guilt, denial is an efficient way of dodging these feelings for a while. I think, sadly, that a lot of people are in this camp.

Another way would be to do something about it. But what! Just what am I, the privileged, supposed to do with this knowledge of being privileged? I correct students who misspeak or oppress. I march alongside my sisters. I teach my daughter to be strong and my son to respect her. Is this enough? Should I be doing something more grand?

And I’m not just being rhetorical. Not just asking a question I already have the answer to. I sincerely invite my sisters to speak up and tell me what to do next. Invite those of less privilege in any other way to point me in the right direction.

I will shut my mouth now. I am listening.

Exodus: Gods and Kings
I'm a fan of action movies, and I knew that the executive producer of Gladiator would have an interesting take on Moses. I am also a graduate student majoring in the Hebrew Bible (aka Old Testament), and I know that the Bible is not usually looked upon as action fodder. So it was with skepticism that I watched Exodus: Gods and Kings on the big screen yesterday.

I was in for a treat. Ridley Scott does for this old Biblical story of exile and empire what Anita Diamant did in her book The Red Tent for the stories in Genesis. Where the Bible is terse--which is the norm in this 3400 year old story--Scott fills in with what I found not only to be a plausible telling, but also one in which was moving, beautiful, and oh yeah, full of action as well.

Computer animation was used, but the parting of the Red Sea was more credible than one would expect using a green screen and computer programmers. Even more impressive than the special effects was the back story that Scott brought forth, showing the tension between "brothers" Moses (Christian Bale) and Ramses (Joel Edgerton). With a supporting cast including John Turturro, Ben Mendelsohn, Sigourney Weaver, and Ben Kingsley, one can expect (and rightfully so) that this movie is not just an action flick, but rather an epic struggle which contains action sequence, much in the way that Gladiator blended drama and action.

As I watched the movie, I continually looked for some way that the characters or storyline would part way with the Bible, or for some sense of disingenuousness either in character, dialogue, or motive. And to be sure, there will be those literal readers of the Bible who are not happy with some of the choices Scott makes in this film. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find not the simplistic characters found in Sunday School class long ago, and instead a compelling story with vivid and complex characters who brought the story alive. What I found was me wishing that Scott creates a sequel.

In theaters now. 2D and 3D versions available.

Rating: Dahlworthy

(originally posted January 8, 2015)
What's going on?
Mother, mother...there's too many of you crying
Brother, brother...there's far too many of you dying
                                                               ~ Marvin Gaye

It's true I've been sheltered, growing up in a small rural community. But I've lived in the 16th biggest city for the past 15 years, and I am still shocked by the news this week (and this month). I thought we had past some sort of hurdle. I thought we were passed blatant discrimination based on skin color. Now I am not so sure.

With Michael Brown's case in Ferguson, MO, there was some mystery to it. Maybe Brown did this, and maybe he did that. But with the most reason example of white cop on black man homicide--which is what the coroner ruled Eric Garner's death to be--there was much less ambiguity. We have the video.

Have you seen it? Several officers surround a black man, who clearly has no weapon, whose crime is selling cigarettes on the street. Selling cigarettes! Now, don't get me wrong, I agree selling cigarettes is a crime. But Walgreens and CVS and your grocery store sell them, and no one is getting strangled to death for doing so. Eric Garner's real crime? What is the reason he died?

I've seen the video. It is sick. Why wasn't he just handcuffed? Why put into a headlock and crushed into the concrete? His hands were animated, yes, but I didn't draw the conclusion that he was resisting arrest. What was clear, from his words, were his repeated statements: I can't breathe.

From what I can tell, one of three things is happening. A. Everything is fine, America is not racist, and these are just isolated incidents taken out of context, and if we could see everything, we'd see a justice system working perfectly for blacks and whites. B. For many years blacks and whites have lived peacefully, but lately things have changed as evidenced by white officers treating black men worse than they do white men. C. Not that much has changed since Martin Luther King Jr.'s days, and I am just opening my eyes to it.

I suspect that the third option is closest to the truth. I suspect that, despite having an African-American man in the White House, that we have not come as far as we'd like.

The question is: What do we do? It makes me happy to see news of people in NYC protesting in Grand Central Station. It makes me happy to hear protests in Minneapolis temporarily cutting off traffic on I-35.

It would make me more happy for officers and those who employ them to realize that force and prison sentences are not applied equally. It would make me happy for our nation to repent and to seek a new path where no one feels disenfranchised by a deeply flawed system.

(originally posted December 6, 2014)
Seek first to understand
Usually when you stick a diehard lefty and righty (politically speaking) in the same room, you can be pretty sure an argument will ensue. I am not proud that I often carry on that fight even when it's obvious that I will not win a convert to my side. But Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has words that speak to this situation. "Nonviolent resistance does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding."

Easier said than done, but not impossible. A few years ago, after Obama was elected, my best friend and I were riding around talking. When the subject of politics came up we naturally talked about the recent election. The thing was, each of us had voted for a different candidate. As a teacher and graduate student, I naturally lean to the left. As a cop and hostage negotiator and trainer for Homeland Security, he leans to the right.

The thing that has struck me ever since this conversation is how we handled it. While my buttons can usually be pressed fairly easily, something different happened that night. Tim and I weren't trying to sway the other's opinion. We genuinely wanted to know the thought process involved in how we came to our separate conclusions. 

For this type of conversation to happen, there needs to be genuine respect for each person by each person. Because of the decades of experiences together, we knew that we could trust each other in any situation. We also knew that the other had very good reasons for voting as he did; we just weren't entirely sure what those reasons were.

What if we tried a little experiment? The next time we talk to someone whose views on politics/religion/social issues are different than ours, what if we stop trying to convert but rather start trying to understand? If both sides can do this, and both sides can respectfully see the other as also seeking the greatest good, I think that naturally more compromises and win-wins will start to occur.

(originally posted November 14, 2014)
Republicans get it wrong for women. Again.

It’s an old story. Two people work the same job but one makes more money. 

Back in 1941 President Roosevelt created a committee to do something about it. The Fair Employment Practices Committee was implemented, and it required companies with government contracts not to discriminate on the basis of race or religion. While such a measure was not very comprehensive--it said nothing of the private sector jobs who no doubt were often discriminatory--it was a good step. The problem was that the office was understaffed and had little budget to really do anything. 

A few years later an attempt was made to give it some more teeth, to pass the Fair Employment Practices bill. There were many who fought it. At the time, writing in her April 30, 1945 “My Day” column, Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Many people have come to think of this bill as being of value only to certain minority groups. I think it is....equally vital to each and every one of us who are citizens of the United States. If we do not see that equal opportunity, equal justice and equal treatment are meted out to every citizen, the very basis on which this country can hope to survive with liberty and justice for all will be wiped away.”

The fight continues to this day. It is estimated that a woman in this country, during the course of her working life, will earn $431,000 less than a man in the same job. The figures show that full time women are paid only 78 cents for every dollar their male counterpart makes. Latinas make only 56 cents. 

Whether people are making less money because of their skin color or their gender, the practice needs to stop. This is not a minority issue, or a woman’s issue. This is a fairness issue and a family issue. Often those being paid less are trying to support a family. By unfairly paying the breadwinner less than if she were a white male, a crime is being committed to children. 

While we can hear from our religious traditions beatitudes praising the love and respect of children--”Suffer not the little children” echoes in my ears--sadly those in charge of commerce are not always guided by high-minded principles. So it is wonderful that President Obama and other elected leaders are championing the Paycheck Fairness Act. It seems like a no-brainer, voting for equality and giving hurting families the money they have worked hard for and earned. So why is it that Republicans are voting against it? Why, on April 9, 2014, did Republicans filibuster and block this bill?

Tomorrow the polls will be open in America. There are many things at stake this election, and many politicians right now would have us hear them talk about the future. Sometimes, though, we need to simply look at what our officials have done in the past to make our best decision for tomorrow.

(originally posted October 20, 2014)
Kale it what you want, but we pronounce it delicious

It's happened before and I'm sure it'll happen again. I roll up to our CSA (community supported agriculture) pickup location to get our weekly box of vegetables, and another member arrives about the same time. I've seen her before, so I try to say positive, but I know what's coming.

"We've got so many [fill in the blank with any vegetable] we don't know what to do with them."

Has that ever happened to you? You read the zines and books, you know that you are supposed to eat mostly plants, and so you plant a big garden or get zealous at the farmers market only to realize later you've got produce rotting in your fridge.

I feel your pain. My wife and I subscribe to a CSA, where we get 3/4 bushel of fresh vegetables 20 weeks out of the year. On top of that, we have our own garden. While some things are in precious scarcity, like our homegrown asparagus and raspberries, other things are in great abundance. Kale is one of those items.

But rather than fight it, we have learned to embrace this tough skinned veggy.

The beauty of kale is that it's ultra healthy and super easy to grow. We buy four plants at a local plant sale Mother's Day weekend, and since the stalks reproduce themselves, there is no time during the summer and fall that we don't have a few dozen fresh leaves waiting for us to be picked. Our CSA contributes to our horde of the stuff, so we've had to become creative. A couple standbys are good all the time. Kale chips are easy to make and surprisingly tasty for something so healthy. There are numerous recipes on the net, but really you just bake it with a little olive oil sprayed on. We recommend removing the stalk, as it's quite chewy, but that is a personal preference. Another standby is our weekly egg bake. Consisting of eggs, mushrooms, onion, cheese, and of course kale, it's an easy quick breakfast that my wife bakes Sunday nights and reheats portions each day.

Kale is easy to grow and nutritious. What you may not realize is that it's also quite versatile. It can adapt itself to a lot of different meals. For example, if you have a gluten intolerance or cannot eat wheat or just want to avoid the simple carbs found in pastas, kale is one thing you can use. I am not going to tell you it tastes like spaghetti. It simply doesn't. But for me the best part of Italian is the sauce, not the pasta, so the following quick meal is completely satisfying as well as low carb.

14 stalks kale
2 cups Monte Bene garlic marinara
2 Italian sausage links
1 onion
handful of mushrooms

The preparation is easy. Wash and de-stem the kale and throw into a 12" or larger frying pan. Add enough water to create steam, and then turn the burner on medium high. Add a sliced onion and throw in the sausage links. Assuming the links are raw, cook about 20 minutes (maintaing water for steam) and then throw in the mushrooms (diced) and the tomato sauce. Cook for five more minutes on low, and there you have it!

As described above, this meal serves two. And here are some numbers per serving:

604 Calories
12g Fiber
34g Protein
34g Carbs
14g Sugar
32g Fat
2387 Potassium
1665 Sodium
278% Vitamin A
202% Vitamin C
33%  Calcium
40%  Iron

* * *
For those who follow this blog locally, we recommend Common Harvest (CSA) and Mississippi Market (co-op) homemade sausage.

(originally published October 13, 2014)
An Open Letter to Scott Walker

Mr. Walker,

When I cross over the border each weekday to teach at my new job at the Hudson High School, there is a “Thank You For Visiting Minnesota” sign but none welcoming me to Wisconsin. Indeed, the first sign that I am in a different land comes from the occasional sign proclaiming “I Stand with Scott Walker.” I hadn’t given the name much thought until last week, in a section of English 10, when one of my students came in wearing a shirt with the same message. “What do you think of my shirt, Mr. Dahl?” the young man asked me.

I know I have to be careful. Even the American Civil Liberties Union would warn me to consider holding my tongue. “A teacher appears to speak for the school district when he or she teaches,” says the ACLU’s website. And as a new teacher, I am unsure of what my district thinks (or admits publicly) about Scott Walker. So, on the fly I invent an answer that I hope stirs this student’s brain into thinking past his party’s rhetoric and yet helps me retain my employment. “I believe in human rights,” I tell him. 

It may seem like a funny thing to say, perhaps. I mean, don’t we all believe in human rights? The more I study the issue, though, I realize that no, not all believe in them universally. The matter is probably in the forefront of my mind because one of the graduate courses I am taking this semester is an Ethics course in which we are studying Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Right now we are reading A World Made New, which tells of Eleanor Roosevelt’s role in creating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It had been a while since I’d read them. Mr. Walker, when was the last time you read them? I’ll remind you of the first two.

Article 1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. Mr. Walker: when you put limits to the brotherhood in this state for the purpose of collective bargaining, aren’t you stepping onto a slippery slope? What I mean is, when you take away some people’s rights for the sake of the “greater good,” where do you stop?

Article 2. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind.... Mr. Walker: why do the laws you propose and support reduce the number of people included in the word “any”? In particular, what about the rights of the teachers, police, and firemen in your state? 

When you were facing a recall election, and asked why, you said, “Simple: the big government union bosses from Washington want their money.  They don’t like the fact that I did something fundamentally pro-worker; something that’s truly about freedom. I gave every one of the nearly 300,000 hard-working public servants in my state the right to choose. Now, each of them gets to determine whether they want to be in a union or not.” But you are incorrect, Mr. Walker. I am now a hard-working public servant in your state, and I didn’t have a choice. I asked about union dues when I got my job, and I was told that we no longer had the right to unionize. So Mr. Walker, where is my freedom? How was your decision to take away my collective bargaining “fundamentally pro-worker”? In other words, in what ways am I benefitting from your reducing my human rights?

I’m not asking you, Mr. Walker, to agree with history that claims that unions have given us (your hard-working public servants) higher wages, greater benefits, reduced hours, or improved working conditions. But I am asking you to live up to your words. You promised the right to choose. You promised freedom. But if your decision was such a good one, why did USA Today report that 100,000 (of your nearly 300,00) public servants publicly protested against Act 10?

Maybe it's because they have read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for protection of his interests. Maybe they know, even though Article 10 may have been formed in the greatest of interests, that it is taking away something we hold so dear: universal human rights.

Matt Dahl

(originally published October 4, 2014)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his life: Dahlworthy
One of the themes that consistently runs through anti-Christian (and anti- other religious) diatribe is that the world would be a much better and safer place without Christianity. Specific wars are often cited, and along with it other atrocities that could have been avoided had only the instigators not been followers of such a violent God. The Church, continues this argument, has caused more war and oppression and pain than the good that it purports to do. Consider the Crusades and the Witch Trials and the acceptance of slavery. Consider the Holy Wars that continue in our time.

The first problem with the above statements is that they are true. Religion has brought with it plenty of evils. The second problem is that the above statement is entirely too broad to be completely true.

It is true that during the Holocaust the Church officially made a deal with the Nazis, allowing each participant in the agreement to go on about life without public judgment from the other. But it is also true that there is more to the story.

It may need to be said here that the official head of a religion doesn't necessarily represent all within its fold. This is easily visible in the differences between what the Pope (any pope will do) professes and what the lay people believe. Even my good friend John from high school, who claims he believes everything the Pope says, doesn't follow the Holy Pontiff in certain areas where his conscience disagrees.

In Nazi Germany, German pastors were in much of the same boat as the rest of the populace. You either get in line with the goose-steppers or face their quick and deadly wrath. But some pastors realized that what was happening was not right. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as evidenced in the documentary and in his writings found in A Testament to Freedom, was one of those dissenting pastors.

In what was perhaps one of the toughest decisions in his life--it would have been very tough for me, at least--Dietrich makes the decision to leave the safety of America and come back to Germany. His desire is to be with the German people and help them through the great moral decisions before, them as they figure out how to wrestle with the evil in their midst. Writes Bonhoeffer in a letter to Reinhld Niebuhr, "Christians in Germany will face the terrible alternative of either wiling the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive, or will the victory of their nation and thereby destroying our civilization."

While there have clearly been those who use religion as at least a verbal excuse for their selfish desires and evil acts, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's life shows us by example that there are others who use their religion in the opposite way. Let us all strive to know history a little better. And may we all find the courage that possessed Bonhoeffer as we stand up to the evil in our midst.

(originally published September 21, 2014)