Monthly Archives: January 2016

Philadelphiaspeaks.com

Philadelphiaspeaks.com

My friend Rob has been talking about his tough neighborhood 50 years ago in Philadelphia, where fistfights, dares, taunts, and threats were all too common. Still, he says, “we all walked away.”

What he means is that there were no guns–boys and young men fought, they acted ugly to each other, but they did not kill each other.

No guns. What a concept! Think how different today’s Baltimore, or D.C., or Philadephia or New York or Detroit would be.

That would be my ideal world. No guns on the streets except for police when absolutely needed to stop crime. Indeed no guns in the forests or woodlands either (I am a vegetarian and don’t want animals killed for our food) except for those legally empowered to protect us from marauding, dangerous wild animals (similar to police protecting us from marauding, dangerous human animals).

Still, I know that is unrealistic, especially in the United States.

associatesinfamilymedicine.com

associatesinfamilymedicine.com

Still, something must be done. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in much of the nation today, deaths from gunshots now outnumber deaths from traffic accidents, and overall a person in the United States is as likely to die from gunshot as from auto accidents. This is a new situation, an indicator of two things:

  • how much has been done over the past several decades to make cars, highways, and driving safer (as well as improved medical treatment)
  • and how little has been done to make guns safer to use and to restrict their use by people not properly equipped to do so.

Gun-related deaths did decline in the 1990s but the numbers have since remained steady. And homicides by gunshot have declined, while suicides committed with guns have risen.

Thus, it feels to me that at least some of the rhetoric about Second Amendment rights is saying that people have a constitutional right to kill themselves with guns. And I suppose I agree (although I do not know if the Supreme Court agrees).

tenthamendmentcenter.com

tenthamendmentcenter.com

However, I am not sure I agree that it is an unlimited right. Can we not better protect people in the midst of mental health crises from killing themselves (as well as others)? Is that not a matter of protecting the public health (especially when unstable people have access to guns in order to kill others)?

Three things can be done.

  • First, we can make guns safer by mandating various safety locks and mechanisms so people (including children) cannot just pick up a gun and shoot.
  • Second, we can insist on background checks on all gun buyers and every purchase. No exceptions.
  • Third, Congress must remove the ban on many types of federal gun research–so we can be smarter about how to prevent gun deaths without denying the right of people to own guns. Much of the decrease in automobile-related deaths is traceable to extensive federal research, often undertaken in cooperation with the auto industry. The NRA and the gun industry could learn from this. Fewer gun deaths would make the cause of gun ownership less toxic in our culture.

There is another set of factors to consider here. Like much else in our nation, gun-related deaths reveal underlying racial and class divisions. For example, Black Americans are significantly more likely to be victims of homicide even though only 1 in 5 Black households has guns. In contrast, more than 2 in 5 Americans who call themselves white have guns in their households, but gun violence is more likely there to be from suicide.  Both sets of numbers make changing some of the rules imperative.

slideshare.net

slideshare.net

It feels to me that a culture of violence is growing our nation–verbal violence in our politics, gun violence on our streets, visual violence in the world of video games and even the traditional and social media. Of course, ISIS and the Taliban and other violently radical groups cause great anxiety–especially in light of San Bernardino–and many people seem to be trying to ratchet it higher.

The bottom line is that violence in response to violence does not increase safety or peace ultimately. Instead, it simply multiplies the overall level of violence. Hatred begets hatred, violence begets violence.

My friend Rob’s old Philadelphia neighborhood sounds almost idyllic–boys being boys, men or about-to-be men being men, contesting for territory and badges of masculinity but staying alive to shoot hoops or chase girls or just hang out and talk big.

It seems hard to believe that old days may have been less violent, and yet in some ways and places that may be true. We are often blinded by thinking that technological progress is the same as moral progress (though improved gun technology could lower the odds for gun deaths), but it ain’t necessarily so.

In talking to Jonathan the other day about a person he had not met I indicated she was a person of color, African American to be precise. 

Then, I realized I had done it again. Earlier, in the same conversation, I spoke of another person he had not met, who is not a person of color, but in that instance I did not mention that fact. I felt no need to describe what is essentially the default position. Among people who label ourselves white, we assume that our racialized identity is the norm. We don’t have to specifiy skin color, it is assumed to be ours. 

white privilege 2

buzzfeed.com

This is often called “white privilege”–the unearned status to be, and to assume to be, the norm. 

This came back to me as I watched an excellent film about racism on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. “Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequity” is a 75-minute film intended to lay out the various components of the system that put in place, and keeps in place, racial inequality. 

The film has enough didactic material to help the viewer understand the structural elements, and enough personal story-telling and commentary by a wide variety of individuals to give it depth and make it interesting and lively.  The audience, mostly people who call ourselves white, at the New Deal Cafe in Greenbelt–part of the monthly social justice oriented monthly series, Meal & Reel at the New Deal, sponsored by an alliance of activist groups– was appreciative of the film.

Cracking_the_Codes

dailykos.com

There was discussion, too. And that is where I noticed how the people of color in the room were much more ready to talk. Some who call ourselves white did talk, though a disproportionately small share (in terms of the ratio of attendees who were not people of color). 

Of course, the people of color had interesting, insightful, and important things to say. I am glad they spoke. 

What disturbs me, however, is how we who call ourselves white talk so little about race and racism. Even more, most of the time (as was true at the film-showing Monday night), when we do talk it seems to be about a time we noticed some other person who looks like us acting unjustly toward a person of color (and occasionally that includes our speaking up to object) or a time we realized the deleterious effects of racism on a person or persons of color. 

hand over mouth

media.co.uk

What we do not do is to talk about our own racism, our own learned attitudes and behaviors, our own complicity in maintaining systemic structures of racialized inequity. Partly this is due to the fact that the structures are hard to see. They are designed to work without our having to make any conscious choices. That is one reason it is called privilege–it is an accident of birth that goes with us throughout life. Membership has its privileges. 

But that does not let us off the hook. 

If we want racial justice, if we want a beloved community where all thrive–and I believe the overwhelming proportion of us who call ourselves white very much want that–we are going to have to get confessional. We will not overcome systemic racial inequities until we do the hard work of being open and honest about what we feel and what is at work in us. When we do that, we can change ourselves, and help others change, too. That is how the nation will really change, from the ground up. We can undo the white privilege that undergirds racialized inequity. 

confession time

guiltfreechristianity.org

For me, to start, I am going to really work at monitoring my speech patterns, and though patterns, too, to find out how I create my identity as a person I and others call white as the norm, and thus how many times and ways I replicate the model of racialized social domination in my daily patterns of living.  

And I am going to write about it, and I am going to tell others. I am committed to breaking the codes by breaking the silence. 

What about you? Where will you start? Feel free to write me here, with your ideas and personal commitments. 

 

Today is the day we celebrate the gifts of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther, King, Jr. to our nation and world. 

Martin Luther King, JRThis is a time when many in our nation participate in some action that they believe helps us achieve Dr. King’s vision of “beloved community.” My intention is to continue to do that continually throughout the year, throughout my life, and my hope and prayer is that is true for others as well. 

Yesterday, I heard a fine sermon by Rev. Dwayne Johnson at Metropolitan Community Church in Washington, D.C. in which he focused on the active love of God working in and through us. He drew much inspiration from early writing of Dr. King, such as “An Experiment in Love,” which appeared in in 1958 in a magazine and also as a part of his early book, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Circle.

In that article, Dr. King focuses on the Christian ethical concept of agape (a transliteration of the Greek word for love), often described as God’s love for humanity. This love is different from love songs and courtship. He wrote

Agape is not a weak, passive love. It is love in action. Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community. It is insistence on community even when one seeks to break it. Agape is a willingness to go to any length to restore community. 

Community. There are so many forces, so many people, seeking today to disrupt, even destroy community. From politicians to terrorists to intolerant individuals and xenophobic groups, our life in community is under siege. Dr. King would be preaching, writing, marching, praying to turn that around.

Jonathan and Robin JVP Islamophobia actionSome of the worst right now is virulent negativity toward Muslims and Islam (of course, African Americans, Native Americans, immigrants from Latin America and elsewhere, as well as transgender people, differently-abled people, and LGB people continue to face this, too). 

That’s why Jonathan and I, with other members of the DC Metro Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, went yesterday to the Columbia Heights neighborhood in our nation’s capital to focus on Islamophobia and to encourage others to join in opposing this harmful attitude that seems to be affecting, infecting, so much of our public discourse. 

About 20 of us handed out flyers, talked to people on the street, and visited store managers and owners asking for permission to put posters in their windows. About 25 retailers accepted the posters and quite a few hung them immediately in their windows. We are shown with one poster, and the other is below. 

Many of us also wore small stickers in the shape of the yellow star Jews were forced to wear in the Holocaust with the word “Muslim” (and the Islamic crescent) super-imposed where the word Jude (German for Jew) was usually displayed. This was not without controversy for some, but the intention was to express solidarity with a people being marked for ugly treatment on the basis of their religion and heritage.

yellow star with Muslim and crescentI also know that expressing that solidarity right in the face of so much hatred is what so many should have done in Germany and elsewhere, including in the United States, when Jews by the millions, and many others (my own tribe, gay men, wore the pink triangle), were being forced to leave their homes and be slaughtered. Just think what might have happened, how different things might have been, if people–non-Jews all over–had stood up in 1935, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, etc.! Hitler and his minions did the deeds, just as others engage in genocide and racial profiling that leads to death and imprisonment for far too many today, but we all bear responsibility for whatever we did not, do not, do to stop it. 

Refugees are welcome here posterThis is what Dr. King meant when he often spoke of the silence of the “good people,” the ones who look the other way in the face of injustice. As Dr. King, and so many who marched with him, knew well, we are called on to speak truth to power when, as it so often is, it is on the side of oppression. And too often for some, perhaps many depending on the circumstances, the power that oppresses some actually sustains, even raises, the rest of us. It is not easy to stand up against our own group when it is wrong, but if we want beloved community, the community which is the whole of God’s people (all people are God’s people) to survive and thrive, we must do just that. 

The fate of community, beloved community, rests not only with others but also squarely with us. Thank you, Dr. King, for not letting us forget that truth. 

 

The death of David Bowie has not only denied us more amazing music and cultural creativity but also the answer to a question that continues to burn in some hearts. That question: was he straight, gay, or bisexual . . . or something else? 

David Bowie

91x.com

I did not realize the level of interest in this question until a clergy friend of mine,  not gay although certainly supportive of LGBT equality, asked me what I thought about Bowie’s sexual orientation and how I thought the LGBT community viewed him as a sexual being. He seemed genuinely puzzled by the lack of clarity about his orientation (really, I think, because he just assumed Bowie was gay). 

And then, I watched a post by comedian Sam Kalidi on Queerty (click here for link) in which he pasted together interviews with Bowie about his sexuality. Bowie was quite funny as he more or less dodged answering the question, except one time when he said he was bisexual (and in the same interview, said he was very promiscuous). 

No one asked him if we were queer. And that’s how I tag him–queer, as in not wanting to be locked up in unhelpful boxes. 

David Bowie with boa

theguardian.com

I have written elsewhere about queerness, specifically about God’s queerness (“Faithful to a Very Queer-Acting God Who Is Always up to Something New” in Queering Christianity: Finding a Place at the Table for LGBTQI Christians Santa Barbara CA: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2013). Although I am not equating the late British singer and actor with God, I do see in Bowie behavior similar to what I identify as God acting queerly . . . “to act unconventionally or oddly, irregularly in response to the normal . . . interfer[ing] with and spoil[ing] the expected by acting outside normative social boundaries and rules.”

As I am using the term, it is not a catch-all term for LGBT people or certainly the old pejorative term applied to homosexual men. Instead, it is a capacious term, leaving boundaries open for people who live, who act, in ways that feel congruent with their own selves whether or not their actions, their lives, fit within existing social molds.

DavidBowie naked cock TheManWhoFellToEarth-12_infoboxAnd that it seems to me is how Bowie often acted. Indeed, as my clergy friend said, he seemed gay, and he certainly helped create gay sensibility. But that doesn’t mean he had to “be gay,” whatever that means (at least not to fit the expectations of others). 

I identify as a gay man, I am married to a man (18 good years, and counting), and we have sex with each other. I like looking at men, clothed and naked and in between, and being naked with them, too (but sex only with my husband). That surely makes me gay. And as a political and social statement, I am glad to stand on that ground with gay brothers, lesbian sisters, and bisexual and trans siblings of all sorts. 

David Bowie on stage nearly naked

gregwilson.co.uk

But I really am more queer than anything. I wear earrings, long dangling ones most of the time, and I like to wear skirts or sarongs (I used to do this at Radical Faerie gatherings, and occasionally I would ride the New York subway that way on the way to a gay club, but it has been some time since I have done so). The latter is not because I want to be a woman, but because I like the bodily freedom of not wearing pants. 

I just like to be playful with my body and I don’t think much of rigid gendered behavior; I certainly don’t want to enforce rules on people, other than the prescription to do no harm to others or myself. 

David Bowie all art is unstable

theodysseonline.com

This is how I saw Bowie. As you can see from the videos, he could be very funny. And who knows how he actually identified himself to himself. Probably bisexual, if he had to choose. But somehow I think he did not really want to choose, and maybe he never really did. 

I honor him for that. I doubt anyone has any doubt of his solidarity with LGBTQI folks and other sexual minorities, so he did not need to declare sides for that reason. What he leaves us, I think, is a legacy of living as himself, creating his own persona not bound by the rules or boxes of society. 

David Bowie older

galleryhip.com

 

Thank you, David Bowie, for sharing your freedom. I am inspired, and I trust others are, too. I am glad you are shaking things up a bit even now on earth, and suspect your spirit is having good fun with your fellow angels right now. 

These wintry days in the northern hemisphere mean layers of clothes even inside and more darkness, too.

winter darkness

flickr.com

As someone who likes to wear as little as possible as often as possible–barefoot is always my desire, and nakedness often a delight–this is not good news.

And yet the darkness can be a joy. I appreciate slowing down as dusk descends, preparing for dinner and an evening of quiet at home. Also, I most definitely enjoy morning darkness in which to meditate before dawn, and even to go walking in the winter grayness, seeing the tree limbs arched gracefully against the sky.

But more in these days of angry talk about people from other places and locking up more of our own citizens–usually people whose skin is darker than mine–I am cherishing even more darkness. I mean the darkness that actually expands our awareness of life, the beauty of cultures and lands and people and beliefs that have their own integrity, and challenge and enrich my own.

light shines in the darkness John 1-5

pinterest.com

It seems no accident that in a nation built from the ground up on the architecture of white supremacy there is little valorizing of darkness. Of course, this is in line with so much Christian theologizing that turns to light to overcome darkness. I have not done sufficient research to determine the intertwining history of all this, but clearly neo-platonic dualisms, Euro-American colonialism, manifest destiny, theological paeans for light over dark, all help produce an ideology of dark/black/native as less worthy than its “opposites,” and even downright bad or evil.

A key element in the work of those of us not dark–by whatever definition–to heal our nation is to begin to celebrate what is dark. It is right to oppose the targeting of immigrants and the mass incarceration of black men, and many other policies and attitudes built on negative views of darkness, because we believe in justice and equality, but we must go further: we must valorize, we must celebrate that which we have ignored, belittled, and oppressed and tried to kill. Even more, we must let darkness change us.

We must claim our own darkness.

Stanton MI map

simonhoyt.com

I have written elsewhere about how my mother and my aunt repeated many times to me that my grandmother was “the first white child born in Stanton, Michigan.” (map left) Somehow that was seen as a mark of distinction for her, for us, a heritage of which I was to be proud.

As a child, I suppose I did see it that way. But along the way I began to think about all the babies born there before her, and after, who did not, do not, meet the definition of “white.” There were, are, beautiful babies, too.

africa-flag-map

potentash.com

And more to the point, our ancient heritage, black, white, native, brown, is rooted in Africa. We are all, at base, African.

Perhaps it is time go home, not as missionaries, to change people there, but as pilgrims on a spiritual journey to be changed, to come into our own deep, dark selves.

And absent the opportunity for that, we can open our borders, our minds, our hearts, to those who have much to teach us right here, right now.

Most of my life I have been fascinated by politics, probably accurate to call me a political junkie, avidly reading the latest tidbits of commentary, polls and the like.

Some of this is tied to the fact that I have been an elected official, albeit at the relatively low level of local and county government in my native Michigan. I also served as an aide to a U.S. Congressman and a State Senator. My undergraduate degree is in political science. I was sure, in years long ago, that I wanted to make my way in politics, and dreamed of being a U.S. Senator, maybe even President. [Note: There used to be a picture of the county seal here, but the county’s office of corporation counsel asked me to remove it, fearing that someone could think its presence constituted an endorsement by the county of this blog. I guess they have little better to do with their time than worry about a lowly blog by a former county official. But I have complied, to save them filing suit or taking some other such, in my view, unnecessary action, and to save the taxpayers further burden.]

I have not abandoned that interest entirely (though no dreams of elected office remain!), but I am finding it less and less satisfying. The shift began in the late 1970s when I perceived the inadequacy of the political system to solve some really basic problems in our world, at the very time I felt a call to ordained ministry (I went to seminary in 1981, graduating from the Episcopal Divinity School in 1985). 

Episcopal Divinity School group circle

lonestarparson.blogspot.com I found this picture on Google, connected to a blog that calls EDS “Satan’s Seminary” (that will be for a future post!)

Neither politics or religion have all the answers, of course. Both create problems as well as offer solutions. This is probably because each is a human construct managed by human beings. I say this without denying the role of divine inspiration in religion, and sometimes even in politics.

5.0.3

magnificat.ca

There is one thing however that I do not find in politics generally, and especially today, and that is love. Love is at the center of my life, because I believe it is at the center of all life. I agree with St. John of the Cross, who said, “There is nothing better or more necessary than love.” One of my favorite spiritual writers, Fr. Richard Rohr, has written about this extensively in, among other places, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi and Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self

Richard Rohr 2

Richard Rohr OFM en.wikipedia.org

Neither they, nor others, nor I, mean so much the feeling or sentiment of love (romantic love, Hallmark card love, etc. (although this can be very good and indeed wonderful) as we mean the active engagement with others. all others, in mutually respectful, caring, holistic relationship. 

In the political realm, I guess this makes me a liberal. I do not doubt that conservatives love other people, but their politics seems mostly devoid of it. Love requires a largeness of spirit, and certainly a focus on things in addition to money, the national debt, and the latest outrages.

hunger

sites,google,com

Speaking of outrages, there are many in the world, and they are not limited to beheadings by ISIS and shootings by extremists (“Islamic” or otherwise). How about the fact that tens of millions of people in the world go hungry every day, and yet there is enough food to feed everyone? That is an outrage of grand and preposterous proportions! 

So love. I am in search of how I can help grow the quantity and quality of love in the world. I believe it can be done best, maybe only done, in community–hence the name of this blog. 

Obama's tears

nationalreview.com

Which is where politics could come in, and religion, too. Both are fundamentally communal. But I am having a hard time finding much love in what passes for political discourse, even among Democrats. Maybe love is at the root of what they say, but they do not use the word very much (President Obama’s tears when speaking about the children killed in Newtown demonstrate love). The only Republican running for President who comes close is Governor Kasich of Ohio (and he is not doing very well in the polls!). 

John Kasich

Governor John Kasich businessinsider.com

I believe in the responsibility and power of the vote, I will never stop voting, but my criteria are clear: the more loving you sound and act, the more likely I am to vote for you. And it is possible that in some contests, if I cannot sense any love, I will leave the ballot blank. 

Of course, I find it difficult to find much love in what passes for religion in many quarters these days. The good news is that, unlike politics so far, we are not required to live under the rule of a religion (although many have tried and will continue to try to make it so). 

tough love not easy but worth it

pinterest.com

And by the way, love includes “tough love,” but by that I do not mean being a tough, macho-like guy (or gal). Tough love means, to me, telling the whole truth no matter the cost. Much of the time, the hard truth is not the aggressive- or militant-sounding one, but the quiet one, the clear analysis which shows that solutions are more complicated than building walls or denying rights and livelihoods to whole groups of people. 

In that vein, consider this post an installment payment on “tough love” for my country and the world. 

I encourage you to join the love campaign; let me know how you are promoting love in the world. Together, we can grow love until all the unlove is cast aside.  

 

 

 

So, here we are in 2016.

What kind of year it will be depends on us.

ballot-box-graphic

aft243.org

Presidential candidates and other would-be leaders think it depends on them, or at least on their being chosen. Indeed, our choice of a new president and vice-president (yes, don’t forget we need both), as well as Congress will determine much.

But not nearly as much as these leaders might think. Just ask President Obama, or either Bush or Clinton or Carter, etc. They each did a lot, but much they wanted to do never happened (and much they did not want to happen did so anyway).

Of course, our choice will say much about who we are at the moment of the election. It will say much about how we see the state of the nation, what we see as the good points and the not-so-good points.

What is the state of the nation today?

state of the union

blogs.rj.org

At home, some things seem to be going pretty well: an improving economy, falling unemployment, tumbling gas prices, low inflation, rising housing prices. Unfortunately, health care and college costs remain obscenely high. And the income gap grows as wages are too stagnant, and gun violence seems on the rise. At the same time, civil rights gains continue, even as the nation’s underlying white racist social structure continues to operate in many sectors. So, things are mixed at best.

Abroad, things look more dicey. ISIS continues to frighten the world, and now Iran and Saudi Arabia are at each other’s throats in another round of internecine Islamic religious warfare. Violence continues in parts of African and Latin America, too, and the ugliness in Israel/Palestine remains unchecked. There is a sense among many that the United States is no longer the leading nation of the world.

President Obama 2

absoluterights.com

And yet, President Obama remains popular outside the country, other leaders look to him for leadership, and he wins some treaty victories (although not in the U.S. Senate). He is not the bragging, pushy leader many in our nation seem to want, but much of the rest of the world appears grateful.

It was only a few months ago that national polls showed just more than half of the country thought things were going pretty well. Then, came more gun violence, and particularly the Paris and San Bernardino massacres. Now, the numbers have gone below 50%.

Perhaps the most important factor in the decline is the presidential campaign. Republicans paint a dire picture–America is about to expire, if you listen to Donald Trump, but others don’t see things too much better–while Democrats are reluctant to be too positive for fear they will appear uncaring about our problems.

I reject the extreme dire view. It is bombast at best, and carries a not-so faint whiff of fascism.

We have many problems, to be sure. But the United States is still able to deal with them–we are dealing with many, despite frequent (but not universal) deadlock between the President and Congress.

So, right now, I am thinking the Republicans could do worse than re-nominate Ronald Reagan. He pointed with alarm at times, but most of the time, he just claimed that while things were okay, he could do better.

Ronald Reagan

en.wikipedia.org

I did not vote for him–indeed, his nomination in 1980 was what finally drove me out of the Republican Party into which I was born. And his silence in the face of HIV/AIDS smelled just plain ugly.

You may think it then strange that I am waxing nostalgic about Reagan, especially because he is dead.

But despite his silence in the face of much that was evil, he was not a hater and he knew how to compromise with Congress. And he wanted peace, really wanted it, I think. Okay, he may not have been the brightest boy in the class, but who says the President needs to be brilliant (some say that is Obama’s greatest problem).

What the nation needs now, I believe, is someone who really believes in our possiblity as a nation–a nation where everyone is thriving and a nation that is the best leader for just and lasting global harmony.

state-of-the-nation-is-good

phil.harris.com

If not Reagan, then I think FDR (see left).

As far as I can see, our best years are ahead. But we have to make the choices that will make it so.

One set of choices is at the ballot box–and there I am less sanguine about our future. But other choices lay elsewhere. About these I will write more in the days ahead.

We can do better than our leaders. We have done it before, and we can do it again.