Monday, July 13, 2020

Abuse: A National Pastime

I’ve watched it happen over and over again since I was a little boy.  It seems to be happening much more frequently these days.  What’s happening?  The dehumanization, the defaming, the “put down,” the destructive belittling of those persons who do not or will not conform to another’s way.

It happens in the elementary school classroom and on the playground.  It happens in high school.  It happens in churches.  It is a practice used by those who are in power or who are seeking power to maintain or gain the chair at the head of the table.  In its worst form this practice is the tearing down of a person. It is more than bullying.  A bully is a person “who habitually seeks to harm or intimidate those who they assume are vulnerable.”  What is happening now is more like that of an abuser.  An abuser is a person “who treats another person (or a situation) with cruelty or violence—regularly and repeatedly.”

Domestic abuse has become a national pastime.  Any person or situation that comes along to  oppose the present seat of power, or disagree, or challenge it is made out to be a “hoax.”  Every person who takes a different stance becomes a traitor, unpatriotic, as someone who hates America.  Non-violent protesters are thugs, terrorists, criminals unless “they like me!”

Yesterday it was Hillary, Mueller, Comey, Kaepernick, Gold Star families and McCain.  The list is so long that it is impossible to remember everyone whose life has been impacted and  defaced, whose character has been impugned, whose career has been terminated.

And now it is Dr. Fauci.  

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Victor Hugo Speaks In Our Time

If you know nothing about Victor Hugo by all means learn of him.  Read his books and his poems.  He wrote “Les Miserables” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”  A noted poet in his time, he wrote several  poems that speak to me in the present moment.  Perhaps they will speak to you.

Will the “better angels” in our land survive this moment in time? Hugo responds:

Be like that bird
Who, pausing in flight,
Feels the bough give way
Beneath her feet
And yet sings,
Knowing she hath wings.

Who is this character “without character” who has a royal appetite?  Hugo responds :

Possessed of royal appetite, and feeling rather thin,
A monkey one day dressed himself in a tiger’s skin
The tiger had been nasty; the monkey was atrocious,
Wearing on his back the right to be ferocious.
He set himself to gnashing teeth and let loose with this cry:
Conqueror of the jungle, the night’s dark king am I!
As a bandit of the forest, in the bushes he lurked
And snatched away and murdered and other horrors worked.
Laid waste the forest, slit the throats of those passing through,
And with the skin that covered him did all it used to do.
He lived within a cave, knee-deep in butchery,
And all who saw the skin believed the tiger was he.
He would cry out, would bring forth a truly terrible roar:
Behold within my cave the bones of victims before.
Before me all draw back and shudder, everyone doth flee,
All tremble—I am tiger!  Look!  and worship me!
The animals were all awe-struck and fled with great alarm,
A lion-tamer came and grabbed him with his arm,
And ripped off the tiger’s skin like a flimsy piece of tissue,
Laid bare this “conqueror” and said, “You’re just a monkey, you!

“Those who do not weep, do not see.” (Victor Hugo)

Friday, July 10, 2020

Prayer Is....

The rejection of science has always been around from the time of Galileo and Copernicus to the present.  Such rejection has normally proved to be pure ignorance and/or stupidity. Science is often rejected by those who claim to be religious, who think, erroneously, that religious faith is somehow endangered by the advance of science.  The truth is that religious faith is endangered, not by science, but by its own stagnation of religious conceptions.  The act of prayer is one of these stagnated conceptions.

A minister was asked by his congregation to pray for rain.  This is what he said in his prayer:  “Thy servant has been importuned to pray for rain, but Thou knowest, O Lord, that it is not so much rain that is needed on these farms as it is good old barn manure for the success of the crops in this community.”  When prayer is seen and used as a tool for getting what we think is best, or for our own desired ends, it ceases to be what prayer is.  All our praying must end with:  “Not my will, O Lord, but thine be done,” to protect us from our erroneous concept of what prayer is.

I am discovering in my present circumstances that prayer is not asking, pleading or begging that my desire be fulfilled or that what I want more than anything else in the world should  happen, in spite of the facts or with total disregard for reality.  I am finding anew that prayer is a spiritual communion with God, the Love at the heart of things.  

Prayer is itself the reward and the victory.  Prayer is not what comes after praying, but what occurs in the act of prayer itself.  The seeking is the finding.  The wrestling is the blessing.  It is no more the means to something else than love is.  It is an end in itself.  It is its own excuse for being.  

Prayer is living with One who needs us as we need Him.  It is connecting with One who is sharing with us, always, the joys, travails and the tragedies of our living.  

"You pray in your distress and in your need;
would that you might pray also
in the fulness of your joy and in your days of abundance."
(Kahil Gibran, The Prophet)

Saturday, July 4, 2020

The New Dark Age

A few days ago I wrote “American History:  A Trail of Tears,”  to encourage us to examine our American “heritage,” which we often romanticize and rob of its reality.  I used Winston Churchill’s words, “A nation that forgets its past has no future.”  I wrote not to disparage that heritage, but to lift it up as part of our ongoing struggle to attain the American Dream. 

What is the American Dream?  “In a real sense, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “America is essentially a dream, a dream as yet unfulfilled.  It is a dream of a land where men (women and children) of all races, of all nationalities and of all creeds can live together as brothers (and sisters).  The substance of the dream is expressed,” he went on to say, “in these sublime words lifted to comic proportions:  ‘We hold the truths to be self-evident, that all men (women and children) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’  This is the dream.” 

We sing of this dream in “America the Beautiful:  “America! America! God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea….” Added to those words are the following:  “God mend thine every flaw…,”  words that recognize our continued and often frail attempts to live out that Dream.

Are we entering a new dark age?  (Most are aware of the dark age which settled upon Europe for over six centuries.  It was a time in which science, history, and reason were obliterated.)  When reason is abandoned, when history is fabricated, when science is ignored, we are in danger of such an age falling upon us.  When over fifty percent of Americans are labeled treasonous or unpatriotic, when divisiveness is encouraged and condoned, when peaceful protesters are labeled “angry mobs” making a “radical assault on American democracy,” or as “left-wing fascism,” when any opposition, including the opposing party is castigated, when the free press is called “fake news” or “communist,” the dark clouds gather.  

Donald Trump’s speech last night was a divisive one. There was no attempt to unify.  There was no reference to the Dream. There was no attempt to bridge the gaps.  Reason was abandoned.  History was fabricated.  Science was ignored.  The dark clouds that have been hovering over the Dream are darker this morning.

The dark ages still reign over all humanity, and the depth and persistence of this domination are only now becoming clear. This Dark Ages prison has no steel bars, chains, or locks. Instead, it is locked by misorientation and built of misinformation. (R. Buckminster Fuller)

Thursday, July 2, 2020

American History: A Trail of Tears

They say, “Love is blind,” and there is a lot of truth in that statement whether applied to romantic love or to the love of country.  I love America.  You love America.  I am a patriot.  You are a patriot.  Let’s begin with that premise.  

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” and the same can be said of history.  Unexamined history is not worth living.  In our love of America our history has often been blindsided.  We have been unwilling to examine the truth of our struggle to become what our forefathers envisioned.  Winston Churchill said, “A nation that forgets its past has no future.”  I’m convinced Churchill was right about that.  But what is our past (our history)?  Have we seen it clearly, or have we, in our love-blindness, embellished it and romanticized it out of its reality?

“History is written by the victors,” is a phrase also attributed to Churchill (as well as to Herman Goring at the Nuremberg trials).  I believe that statement is true also.  Our history is written by the victors.

Who were the victors in  the “Trail of Tears?” You know about that, right?  It’s our history and we have no future if we forget it.  In the 1830’s, nearly 125,000 Native Americans lived on millions of acres of land in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and North Carolina.  White settlers wanted that land to grow cotton. The federal government forced these Native Americans to leave their homeland and walk 5,043 miles to what was called “Indian Territory” (Oklahoma). Thousands died along the way, some “bound in chains” and as one Choctaw leader told an Alabama newspaper at the time, it was “a trail of tears and death.”  We remember the “Bataan Death March” of World War II, but we often “forget” the death march called “The Trail of Tears.”  If we forget our past, as Churchill says, we will have no future.

Our past treatment of Native Americans (and our present treatment of Native Americans) is an ugly story.  But it is our history.  We remember genocide in other lands, but we ignore the genocide that took place in our own.  

We talk about the concentration camps in Germany and elsewhere, but we tend to forget the various concentration camps that are part of our own history—“reservations” for Native Americans and “internment camps” for Japanese Americans in WW II.  And then, of course, there is the issue of slavery and a bloody civil war, and the demeaning of immigrants from Italy, Ireland, etc. in the late 19 century. 

Our American history is not a pleasant or pretty story as we pretend it to be.  To forget it, or ignore it, and for some, even to deny it, means that we will have no future.  Love is blind.  Love of country is blind, too.  Such blindness prevents us from seeing reality—our reality—“a trail of tears.”  It prevents us from moving forward toward the real American dream.

“Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes,
 our inclinations, or the dictums of our passions, 
they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”  
(John Adams)

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

An Unforgettable Experience

Charlie lived with his wife in the Nicetown-Tioga neighborhood of north Philadelphia.  We first met at Graterford Prison (closed in 2018) in the mid 1980’s, where Charlie and others went weekly to minister to inmates.  Long story short, Charlie and I became friends and developed a ministry together called “Where City and Country Meet” at the Yokefellow Center in northeastern Maryland. For a number of years, Charlie brought African-American children from the Nicetown-Tioga community to experience a day in the country.  I, in turn, visited Charlie on numerous occasions in his community.

The Nicetown-Tioga neighborhood is a 20-minute drive from downtown Philadelphia.  It was an extremely impoverished, drug, and crime-ridden neighborhood (“hence the North Philadelphia gallows-humor witticism that ‘there’s nothing nice about Nicetown’”).   In the 1960’s there was an influx of African Americans escaping poverty and the discrimination of the south into the already “worn and used” community.  That’s where Charlie and the children he brought to the Yokefellow Center lived. Charlie’s grandson (14-years of age) was shot and killed while walking across a parking lot near his home.  Charlie couldn’t afford to move out of the neighborhood so he tried his best (along with his Church community) to make it a better place.  It was not safe for me, a white man, to walk the streets of the neighborhood—but with Charlie by my side, I felt safe.  Charlie introduced me to his friends and neighbors.  I remember visiting the local barbershop and listening to the fellows gathered there and what they were up against. I shall never forget the experience.  Nicetown was Helltown. That was some thirty-plus years ago!  

When I visited Charlie I usually traveled  from the south and knew exactly how to get to his home (no GPS then).  Then one day on a return trip from New Jersey with my wife, we decided to visit with Charlie and got terribly lost—ending up in the middle of Philadelphia. Spotting a police car nearby I stopped to get directions.  Sitting in the cruiser was an African American police woman.  She reminded me of Officer Laverne Hooks in the Police Academy movies.  She was short, like Officer Hooks, and even had a soft gentle (though not squeaky) voice.

I explained to her that I was totally lost and discombobulated and where I wanted to go.  She responded with her soft voice that I must have the wrong address for my friend.  I assured her that I had visited Charlie on previous occasions and the address was correct.  She shook her head and then instructed me to go wait in the car.  A few minutes later she came over and said that she would “lead” us to the address.  And she did.  When we arrived at Charlie’s home I thanked her profusely for her help.  Her response was that she would remain parked in front of Charlie’s house until we finished our visit and then she would help us find our way out of the neighborhood. When we finished our visit and walked out of Charlie’s home—there she was, true to her promise. We followed her cruiser out of the neighborhood and she pointed us toward our way home.

“We do not know the inmost depths of the human heart;
 it is revealed only to love. 
But those who condemn have generally little love,
 and therefore the mystery of the heart which they judge is closed to them…” 
(Nicolas Berdyaev, The Destiny of Man). 

Monday, June 29, 2020

Keep the Focus

The national and international focus over the last several weeks is that “Black Lives Matter.”  George Floyd mattered.  Brionna Taylor mattered.  The focus is NOT on standing for the national anthem, defunding the police, the dismantling of statues, rioters, Antifa, anarchists or arsonists.  These are distractions.  The focus is that “Black Lives Matter” because in so many cases in this country they do not seem to matter.  This is what is being protested in accordance with the Constitution’s First Amendment:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  There are grievances that need to be redressed—Black Lives Matter.  Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, and many others mattered. “Say their names,” because they mattered!  Black Lives Matter.

Jesus healed the demon-possessed Gerasene, and, according to the story, sent those demons into a herd of pigs which immediately went crazy and ran pell-mell over a cliff.  The farmers lambasted Jesus and demanded he leave their district for destroying their pigs (property, statues, comfort-zones, and other cherished proprieties).  They missed seeing the liberation of the Gerasene!  Even today, when people retell the story the focus is often on the loss of the pigs  rather than on the liberation of the Gerasene from his grievances.

We are doing the same thing as those farmers did.  Keep focused.  It isn’t about standing for the national anthem.  It isn’t about defunding the police.  It isn’t about rioters, Antifa, anarchists or arsonists.  It isn’t about property.  It isn’t about statues.  It is about the liberation of human life—Black human life—and that is what matters.  That’s the priority—don’t lose the focus, don’t be dissuaded.  Don’t let anyone mislead you with the distractions.  The important thing is Black Lives Matter!  The focus is on petitioning for a redress of grievances.