Friday Morning Street Banjo Music

When I am in DC, on weekdays I go to my office near the US Capitol. It is on the Senate side, so for those who know the city I take the train to Union Station and walk a few blocks. Like many train stations, Union Station attracts street musicians.

While we all have heard the stories of undiscovered diamonds busking in the streets, the truth is many of the musicians are just okay. A lot of it is singing performed over karaoke loops. But it’s all great — as someone who has tried it himself, I admire anyone who has the courage to get up in front of people and perform. And I love music.

The unwritten deal of street music is, if you stop and listen you are honor-bound to drop a dollar (or more) in the hat. Sometimes, to be honest, I just walk on by because even though I want to support, I am in a hurry, feel stressed, the music doesn’t grab me, or I don’t have any cash on me and don’t want to break the deal.

This morning, a clear, crisp, bright Fall day, I was stopped short by this:

 

 

That’s Brian Williams, playing the banjo. I was not only moved to stop and listen, but to talk to him a while. The figure he cut, and his sound, just entered my spirit. I asked if I could video him and he agreed.

Brian is a multi instrumentalist (guitar, cello, bass, banjo) who has been playing since 1968. Recently his guitar was stolen and he was without instrument. He says he met “an Irish man in Georgetown” who was having trouble finishing a song. Brian finished it for him, and in return the man gave him this banjo. He was going to sell it, but the music store told him it was a vintage 1930’s banjo, so he kept it.

I hope you enjoy his music.

A Theory of Community

 

  1. Human beings are innately social. We live together in groups.

  2. Living together brings a number of benefits: we can protect ourselves, we can pool resources, we can find safety when vulnerable due to illness, we can raise children, we can better shelter ourselves from elements. These things motivate our group life. In part, they are why we live in society rather than apart.

  3. Living together also brings with it a set of challenges, related directly to the benefits:
    • Crime. Fellow group members threaten us (either physically, or our property). How do we protect ourselves?
    • Economy. The place in which we live become a locus of exchange. How do we make it one where we can thrive?
    • Poverty. Differences in how exchange takes place creates some who have too few resources. What do we do about people who have trouble surviving (poverty)?
    • Health. Proximity brings with it increased disease. We depend on others to care for us when vulnerable. How do we care for group members?
    • Education. Our young ones must acquire the norms and habits that we require of one another. How do we create citizens of our group?
    • Environment. The byproducts of life become concentrated (waste, extraction of resources). How can we manage this?

  4. These challenges are not problems to be solved, but conditions to be managed. The possible ways to address them are myriad, require collective actions, and there is not an objectively correct outcome.

  5. Any group of people living together in a place will face such challenges. These are the challenges that come with being a “community.”

  6. These problems, in varying degree, face everyone in the group. Everyone is therefore trying, in their own ways to address them. This is happening throughout the group, always.
One definition of community:
  • The places where, and collective means by which, such opportunities and challenges are collectively addressed.

How Should We Prevent Mass Shootings In Our Communities? Announcing New Conversation Materials

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I am pleased to announce publication today of a brand-new update to the National Issues Forums issue advisory, How Should We Prevent Mass Shootings In Our Communities? The materials are meant to support deliberative conversations in community and other settings, and are free to download.

From the guide:

The tragic attacks in El Paso, Texas; Dayton, Ohio; Parkland, Florida; and other places have raised concerns among many people across the nation. Such shootings have become more frequent and more deadly in the last decade. Each mass murder has devastating effects on a whole community.

Overall, the United States has become safer in recent years. Yet mass shooters target innocent people indiscriminately, often in places where people should feel safe—movie theaters, shopping centers, schools. Many believe these attacks are nothing short of terrorism. How can we stop mass shootings and ensure that people feel safe in their homes and communities?

This issue advisory presents three options, along with their drawbacks. These are not the only options, and you may think of others.

Option One: Make Mass Killings More Difficult

According to this option: The problem is that we are too vulnerable to gun violence. Communities and homes should be places where people are safe. The tools for carrying out mass shootings are all around. It is too easy for individuals to obtain weapons that are designed to kill a large number of people in a short time.

We cannot stop all violent impulses, but we can and should make it much more difficult for people to act on them. We should restrict the availability of dangerous weapons, identify potentially dangerous people, and prevent them from carrying out their plans.

Option Two: Equip People to Defend Themselves

According to this option: The problem is that most people are not able to defend themselves from the sudden danger posed by mass shootings. There will always be some who are a threat to those around them. We cannot afford to rely on the presence of police to rescue us. We should be prepared for violence and have the means to defend against it. The Second Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees this right.

Option Three: Root Out Violence and Hate in Society

According to this option: The problem is that we live in a culture that perpetuates violence and numbs people to its effects. The Internet provides a platform and organizing space for hate groups and domestic terrorists. Violence and criminality are pervasive in movies, television, and video games. Mass murderers gain notoriety through nonstop media portrayals.

This results in a culture in which stories of mass murder circulate and gain momentum—so further shootings become a greater possibility. We must root out and stop the glorification of violence and promotion of hate to break this cycle.

Please let me know if you use these materials and, if you do, what happens.

* * * * *

I serve as executive editor of issue guides at the Kettering Foundation. We develop these nonpartisan materials to support deliberation on difficult public issues, and make them available for publication by the National Issues Forums Institute. The NIF network is comprised of all sorts of organizations who use the guides in their own ways, holding conversations in which people deliberate together about what we ought to do.

1,500 Daily Letters

In early January, 2015, I was at a low point spiritually. As an experiment, I started writing a daily letter to God. Things got better. Life got better. I got better. God got nearer. I have kept up a daily letter every morning ever since. Monday will be my letter number 1,500.

There is nothing remarkable about any one of these letters. Each is just a simple entry in a notebook. Think of it as journaling. But taken together, they add up. They are a practice. This practice, done consistently, has improved my spiritual life in revolutionary ways. This is not an understatement.

Over the past few months, my relationship to my God has deepened and grown. The letters have become love-poems. (I post each one here every morning: https://letters-to-god.com/)

I share all this not to seem special. The opposite: Anyone can do it. All it takes is a start. One step, another step, another step. Pretty soon you’re walking. Pretty soon, you’ve traveled a fair distance.

If you are curious to follow a similar path, I would be interested to learn what you find.