Art & Writing

Art and writing play a critical role in how we perceive the questions of our time. The authors, poets, playwrights, painters, sculptors, printmakers, filmmakers, actors, songwriters, musicians, choreographers, dancers, and other artists, performers, and writers may or may not present the best answers, but they weave together the collective thoughts, passions, fears and joys, the terrifying and beautiful dreams of our people and our world. When considering deeply the meaning of justice, it is important to look at culture contributions as well as policy, research, law, and life experiences. The messages of our creatives can be critical, can be visionary, can be redemptive. These messages can each perform a role in our transformation, our next stage in growth.

Justice Holds the Broken Tenderly

Lisa Montgomery is scheduled to be executed on Tuesday, January 9th. Her crime seems to me to echo the extreme brutality she endured throughout her own life. She experienced rape more times than can be counted, including gang rapes by her stepfather’s friends, sodomy, and being sold for sex with people such as the plumber and electrician by her mother when work was needed in their home. Her stepfather built a special room where she could be raped more often and more easily. She was smothered to silence her screaming, she suffered a concussion, was beaten with cords, and urinated on. Her mother put a gun to her head. She would also duct tape her daughter’s mouth shut as punishment, and Lisa was required to be naked and silent among her parent’s friends. As a young adult, she was forced into a marriage by her mother where she continued to… Continue reading

When, America, Will There Be Liberty and Justice for All?

When, America?

“Liberty and justice for all” is an idea we’ve never lived up to, –never even have come close. A year or two ago, when the Pledge of Allegiance was led in assemblies in my children’s school, I stopped saying the words, and instead, with hand over heart, decided to pray that someday it will be true. The featured artwork is a Tenderly Project piece on the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, police brutality, and racism in America. The Tenderly Project is a meditation on the sacred value and beauty of all beings. The thick, jumbled tangle of botanical illustrations represent the chaotic, exuberant, too-much-to-comprehend fullness of life in our world. The intention is to work in a state of prayer, holding the subject tenderly, and extend healing and justice to the subject and those touched by similar life experiences. This piece may be copied and shared… Continue reading

Shelter in Place without Shelter

As people in America and around the world are being told to shelter in place in response to the rapid spread of Covid-19, the unhoused remain exposed, without access to shelter, medical care, and are losing access to food and places to wash hands or shower. Some government officials have promised hotel vouchers or trailers, but they have been stalled, and are not reaching local municipalities. Some people among the unsheltered communities are frantic, others are becoming hopeless. People are very scared. In the past week, I’ve personally worked with families with children who had nowhere to go but the street (who thankfully are now being sheltered by a local non-profit), and a person with cancer who still has nowhere to go. In the past few months I’ve jumped on Nextdoor a number of times to support others in my community who were active in finding solutions for the local… Continue reading

Matthew Part V: Imagination

“Even the quest for justice can turn into barbarism if it is not infused with a quality of mercy, an awareness of human frailty and a path to redemption. The crust of civilization is thinner than you think.”                              – David Brooks, The Cruelty of Call-out Culture, NT Times, January 14, 2019 “Under the new outlook multiplicity of material wants will not be the aim of life the aim will be rather their restriction consistently with comfort. We shall cease to think of getting what we can but we shall decline to receive what all cannot get.”       – M.K. Gandhi, Young India, 3-9-25, 305 “I do not believe in the doctrine of the greatest good of the greatest number. It means in its nakedness that in order to achieve the supposed good of fifty-one per cent, the interest of forty-nine percent may be, or rather, should be sacrificed. It is… Continue reading

Lunch with Looms: Connecting Programs to Create Community

loom with weaving

Middle school – what does it bring up in your mind? For me, and most of my friends, those days were a struggle. I felt awkward, insecure, and was bullied throughout my 7th and 8th grade years by both girls and boys, so much so that I often pretended I was sick just to sit in the peace and quiet of the nurse’s room. Though it was really tough, there were certain realities that I didn’t have to deal with: phones were at home and still attached to cords and there was no internet. School shootings were non-existent in the early 1980’s in Wisconsin and Ohio. Now a parent of a middle school boy, amidst the constant news of school shootings, my troubled memories mix with the new realities. Certain questions are brought to the forefront of a parent’s mind these days: How do we keep our kids safe on… Continue reading

Opening the Door

“We must tell ourselves the truth about who we actually are—in all of our goodness and in all of our terribleness. When we avoid telling ourselves the truth we are prey to our shadows and are subject to our fears and we project onto others the terrible parts of our selves—our capacity to do untold harm—and find them, whomever the object of our projection is, to be less human, less than ourselves.”                             Bill Denham, “Matthew [What is Justice?] IV: Compassion, a radical critique“ This week, Bill Denham’s fourth installment of his essay exploring justice was published on this site, in which he reflects through the lens of the murder of his stepson, Matthew, and the arrest ten years later of Matthew’s accused killers. The paragraph above from Denham’s writing jumps out to me. Last year, I completed a series of artwork entitled, “Opening the Door,” which features figures who… Continue reading

Matthew Part IV: Compassion—a radical critique

“I am a part of all that I have met . . .”                     Alfred, Lord Tennyson – Ulysses, line 18   “Jesus in his solidarity with the marginal ones is moved to compassion. Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal and natural but is an abnormal and unacceptable condition for humanness. In the arrangement of “lawfulness” in Jesus’ time, as in the ancient empire of Pharaoh, the one unpermitted quality of relation was compassion. Empires are never built or maintained on the basis of compassion. The norms of law (social control) are never accommodated to persons, but persons are accommodated to the norms. Otherwise the norms will collapse and with them the whole power arrangement. Thus the compassion of Jesus is to be understood not simply as personal… Continue reading

Matthew Part III: We Are Not Innocent

“Your grandmother was not teaching me how to behave in class. She was teaching me how to ruthlessly interrogate the subject that elicited the most sympathy and rationalization—myself. Here was the lesson: I was not an innocent.”                                                  –Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Between the World and Me,” 2015 By the time Matthew was murdered in 2008 I had been “ruthlessly” interrogating myself for thirteen years. I am not entirely sure how I came to this excruciating effort by which I had gradually come to know myself—to know that “I was not an innocent”— to accept responsibility for the harm I had done to those I had thought to love. But three days after the murder, I awoke and for a precious moment or two I had forgotten that Matt was dead. After the realization that he was gone hit me, as I lay in a liminal state—half-awake/half-asleep—I saw that I had… Continue reading

Matthew Part II: The nature of being human

An unexamined life is not worth livingSocrates – 399 B.C. Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself.Ludwig Wittgenstein – 1938 (This is a continuation of “Matthew Part I: What is Justice.”  Looking for Matthew, a book of poems by Bill Denham written about his response to Matthew’s death was published by Apocryphile Press in Berkeley, CA in 2012. “O Felix culpa! O light from darkness” was included in this book.) All three defense attorneys responded positively to my inquiry, expressing sorrow for my loss. I thanked them for that expression but stated my current and long-time desire to explore ways to turn this tragic mistake into something positive. I have sent each of them copies of Looking for Matthew. I have been counseled that the pace of such litigation is glacial, at best, and that the capital charges—the death penalty—in the indictment, may never be sought. Regardless, I am… Continue reading