Kwanzaa Learnings for People of White Privilege

As a man with White privilege I feel anxiety about offering any comments about a celebration of African/African American history, culture, and wisdom. I do not intend to appropriate the spiritual traditions of other people. However, as I told a friend, “It is not my heritage, but oh my, the wisdom is so powerful, so needed.” 

A bit of personal history is in order. One of the things that happened when I was the pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Richmond VA that really makes me proud, is our decision to observe Kwanzaa on the Sunday immediately following Christmas. I do not know for sure which year we began, but I know that by 2007 (I had been pastor since 2003) the local paper ran a story with pictures about our observance.  We had purchased a kinara, a beautiful carved wood holder for the seven candles, as well as the required green, red and black candles (I don’t think I had ever seen, let alone purchased, a black candle before this). 

I was moved to promote this because I was acutely aware that this congregation of 80 people was overwhelmingly white-identified—in a city in which African Americans constituted a majority of the population (of course, the suburban counties were very different!). I admit that my reasoning included appealing to African Americans, especially LGBTQ people, to check out our congregation. This was not the first time White-dominated institutions used Kwanzaa as a marketing ploy (Hallmark cards come to mind). At any rate, I have come to appreciate Kwanzaa over the years, although I admit I have not always actively observed it. With this post, I am committing to active year-round engagement. 

Dr. Maulana Karenga

One of the seven principles of Kwanzaa is Kujichagulia, self-determination. Dr. Maulana Karenga, the creator of Kwanzaa, said that he wanted to give Black people an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, not as a subset of or exception to other holidays, but their own self-designed, self-actuating celebration and foundation for personal and communal life, to define and name themselves, as well as to create and speak for themselves. 

That is why I think Kwanzaa is so vital. It can help people with White privilege come to grips with the reality that Black people, as is true of Indigenous, Brown and other people, have not only a vibrant self-defined culture but are agents in their own well-being. It is essential that we with White privilege massively change the ways we have set up, and continue to set up, the world to deny that. 

All of us, and each of us, who benefit from unearned White privilege need to get our collective knee off the backs of BIPoC people, but we also need to realize that even though we continue to victimize them they already have their own dignity, their own values, their own history. That dignity, those values, and that history are a powerful testament to the vibrancy of the human spirit from which we can learn much.  

We, all of us, need the wisdom that is collected and celebrated in Kwanzaa.  People with White privilege could learn so much from the peoples we have devalued, abused, slaughtered—and continue doing that today. At the same time, we who benefit from unearned privilege need to be careful in our own observance of Kwanzaa to avoid bleaching it (an example of bleaching is what is done each January to the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., removing all the edges of his words and work that might upset us, so he becomes a faint caricature of the giant he was and still is). 

I have already mentioned Kujichagulia, self-determination. Let’s look at the other six. 

Umoja (Unity)—To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race. 

Unity is so missing in our nation today, and really around the globe. Let the coming year be one that helps all people come together. A vital way people with White privilege can contribute to this is to give up some of that privilege, and work to eliminate it entirely. We can’t keep clinging to ideas and practices of superiority over others if we really want unity.

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and to solve them together.  

Collective work and responsibility is in short supply these days, especially with the number of people who continue to deny the reality of COVID-19, not to mention the Climate Emergency and the continuing scourge of White supremacy, and engage in behavior which endangers not only them but the rest of us, too. You know who you are and you can change if you care enough about the well-being of all. And the rest of us can promote this change.

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)—To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together. 

Cooperative Economics seems foreign to our capitalistic, monopolistic society. Imagine, encouraging everyone to use their gifts to build their own dreams in ways to benefit all. One small way I am trying to encourage this is to buy as little as possible from the online giants and give my patronage to local and smaller companies and especially to those owned and operated by BIPoC people. 

Nia (Purpose)—To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness. 

Purpose as an expression of collective focus seems foreign to the deep strain, the dominance, of individualism in the United States. This principle raises up the truth of the beauty, wisdom, and power of African cultures so often belittled and degraded by Western supremacist views. That needs to change, of course, and frankly people of White privilege also must think and work to draw upon parts of our heritage that call us to more universal values and behaviors. 

Kuumba (Creativity)—To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it. 

Creativity is an aspiration to contribute our fullest potential to the well-being of all. This is not motivated by profit and power for a few but by an awareness of our own innate and developed gifts, and a desire to use those gifts to bless, serve the world. There are people of privilege engaging in philanthropy but this is more than that; this is giving our whole selves, and continually stretching ourselves, to create a better world for all. 

Imani (Faith)—To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle. 

Faith speaks to the fundamental human need to believe in each other. In the context of African and African American history, this is a reclaiming of the beauty and power of the various cultures and movements of the people. For White privileged people, this needs to be understood as a challenge to us to affirm the dignity and value of all people, AND to ongoing critical conversation and action that challenges and changes the people, attitudes, and practices that create and maintain hierarchies of value denying the dignity and value of others. Frankly, I, we, have much work to do in this! 

In case you hadn’t noticed, at the heart of Kwanzaa is community, communal living. May this new year be a time where more and more of us live in ways that acknowledge the truth that we all—of every nation, color, racial identity, religion, language, sexuality, gender, age, tribe, education, economic status, as well as all the non-human creatures of this world—are in this together. 

Indeed, the lessons of Kwanzaa tell us we people of White privilege must change. We can share in celebrations of this special time created and led by others, but if we do not show up to work on our own transformation we are only engaging in making ourselves look and feel good.  

We’ve got a year to show some progress. Let us get to it. 

If you want to learn more, you can visit https://www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kwanzaa

Note: As always, I invite you replies as an opportunity for us to continue the conversation. The best way to share in the conversation not with me but with others is to use the comment option on this page. You also can sign up to become a subscriber to this blog. I would be so glad of your continuing participation in the dialogue. 

Chanukah: A Reminder to Resist

Chanukah began last evening at our house with the lighting of the first candle and the singing of

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tsivanu l’hadlik ner shel Chanukah.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with mitzvot, commanding us to kindle the Chanukah lights.

Tonight is Shabbat, and Jonathan and I will sing the above as well as 

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav, v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Shabbat.

Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with mitzvot, commanding us to kindle the light of Shabbat.

Every other evening we pray before dinner in the kitchen–first with our beloved Standard Poodle, Cocoa—prayers for the world and our loved ones, giving thanks, whatever we feel called to share—and then on non-Shabbat nights we conclude that by singing 

Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu melech ha’olam hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

You will notice that the root of each prayer is identical. I really appreciate that, because each time I am reminded of the centrality of God in my life, indeed all life (at least as I believe). 

I am a lifelong Christian, a queer theologian guided by my ever-evolving sense of what being a follower of Jesus calls me to be and to do, AND I am also blessed to be connected to the ancient and contemporary Jewish roots of that faith. Let me be clear, I can’t help but come to Judaism with my Christian heritage and life, but I also come to this beautiful faith for its own truth and wisdom. To put it simply, I am doubly blessed. 

Actually, the blessing is rooted in my 23-year marriage to the love of my life, Jonathan, a Jewish man who helped and helps me engage with Judaism more than simply coming to love what was called in my childhood, and even in seminary, the Old Testament, the text truly known as the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh. He has helped me appreciate Jewish ritual and music and worship and values so now I want to participate more and more in it. I also am educated about the many Jewish spiritual texts by our rabbi and Jewish writers and scholars, which enriches my understanding and appreciation and grows and deepens my faith. 

Another way to appreciate this shift is that I am repeatedly reminded that God, the God of my understanding, is larger than any one faith, any one religious or spiritual system. So blessings abound. 

Tonight, at 6 p.m., Jonathan and I will join our community and Rabbi Joseph Berman online at the New Synagogue Project (newsynagogueproject.org) for lighting the Shabbat candles and the candles for the second night of Chanukah. I am honored to be a member along with Jonathan. 

Then, on Sunday, I will join my community at Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C. (mccdc.com) for worship at 11 a.m. The pastor, Rev. Dwayne Johnson will be preaching on “The Gift of Wilderness.” That congregation and our pastors are a huge blessing in my life, too. 

Then, at 3 p.m. that same day, I will join online the local community of Jewish Voice for Peace (https://jvpdc.org/jvp-dc)for a Chanukah party/celebration. Our special guest will be a young, gifted writer, Massoud Hayoun, author of When We Were Arabs: A Jewish Family’s Forgotten History. It is a splendid book of story and cultural/religious insight. 

Jewish Voice for Peace is a national organization working for justice and liberation for the people of Palestine. Both Jonathan and I are members. Most members are Jewish, but I am far from the only Christian involved. It is a wonderful movement. We began our involvement with the cause while still living in Richmond, VA (where I pastored the local MCC church) through Richmonders for Peace in Israel-Palestine. When we moved to the D.C. area in 2015, we joined JVP Metro DC. 

I connect all this to Chanukah because, although it is not a High Holy time like Passover, Rosh Hashanah, or Yom Kippur—and is often thought of as more for kids than adults (many view the contemporary focus on Chanukah as primarily a response to the dominance of Christmas in our culture)—I also understand Chanukah as a symbol and encouragement of resistance, resistance to oppression, injustice, and the failure to care for each other and the world.

I want to quote extensively from Rabbi Brent Rosen’s recent piece about Chanukah [the name of his blog, Shalom Rav, refers to an evening blessing of Abundant Peace]. He writes, 

Chanukah, of course, is based upon the story of the Maccabees, the small group of Jews who successfully liberated themselves from the oppressive reign of the Seleucid Empire in 167 BCE. The legacy of this story, however, is a complex one because the Jewish struggle against religious persecution took place within the context of a bloody and destructive Jewish civil war. In contemporary times, the meaning of Chanukah has become even more complicated given its proximity to Christmas, subjecting it to the uniquely American religion of unmitigated commercialism.

Beyond all these complications, I’d argue that the essence of Chanukah is the theme of resistance. At its core, the Chanukah story commemorates the victorious resistance of the people over the power and might of empire. On a deeper level, we might say that the festival celebrates the spiritual strength of our resistance to an often harsh and unyielding world.

You can read his entire article, which focuses on how we can resist Covid-19 through mutual aid, at https://rabbibrant.com/2020/12/10/Chanukah-is-about-resistance-lets-resist-this-covid-spike-through-mutual-aid/. Whatever your faith or lack thereof, I encourage you to read it and ponder your own ways of resistance, not only to Covid-19 but also to the other viruses infecting our world (including White supremacy/racism, militarism, the climate crisis, inequality and inequities of all sorts, and rampant capitalist exploitation). 

It may be the season to be jolly and joyous, as we are told—and it is also the season to resist, to work together to create the world God (however you understand God or the Universe or what/whomever) really means for us to have and be, not just you and me but every single body, human and non-human. 

So I say, “Chag Sameach” (pronounced “hahg sah-mae’-ahk) and/or “Chanukah Sameach”, or simply Happy Holidays or Happy Chanukah! 

And may the resistance be strong, resilient, and joyous.  

 

From Turtle Island to Israel: A Shared Reality

Jonathan and I chose this year to observe two events often overlooked in all the focus caused by what is called the holiday season in the U.S. These two events are Native American Heritage Day on November 27 (part of the month-long Native American Heritage Month), and the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People on November 29. 

At first glance, they may not appear connected, but for me they reflect a remarkable intersection, a confluence of political and spiritual observances, memories, hopes, and yearnings. They both involve the reality of peoples affected by the drive of one group of people to claim and occupy land which is ancestral home to others. 

Native American Heritage Day changes actual date each year because it is always observed on the day after Thanksgiving in the United States. Most people know this day as Black Friday. Clearly, the rush to shop overshadows the observance of indigenous history. Indeed, I think that in both the United States and Israel the realities of these two peoples is largely erased by the dominating power.  

The international Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People is always on November 29, designated by the United Nations (although sometimes events at the UN are on adjacent days). The date was chosen by the UN in 1977 in recognition of the adoption of a resolution on November 29, 1947 calling for the creation of two states, one Jewish and one Arab, with an international status for Jerusalem. This was intended to end the British Mandate in Palestine which had been in force since World War I. 

This plan did not come to fruition. The Jewish leadership reluctantly accepted the plan and its boundaries for each of the new nations but the Arab states objected saying it denied the agency of the people currently living there for self-determination. As we know, the result has been the creation of the State of Israel and the division of the Palestinians among three territories: those who remain in Israel, those living in the West Bank which I called the Occupied Territories because the real power of governance lies with Israel, and those living in Gaza, as well as Palestinians confined to refugee camps in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. 

Thus, what we have in these two events is an effort to draw attention to the suffering of two peoples at the hands of occupying powers. 

The erasure of Palestinians is rooted in what Zionists and others felt was, is, the acute need to establish the world’s first truly safe haven for Jews. This drive began in the 19th Century—in response to pogroms and ongoing repression in Europe—and gained support and energy with the rise of Hitler and the genocide of six million Jews in Europe. Clearly, the creation of this new nation is a response to the devastation, a desperate attempt to create a national sanctuary designed and built by the survivors themselves.

The erasure of Native Americans begins with the arrival of Europeans, many of them subject to political and economic subjugation, seeking a better life in “the New World” (not so new for those living here for millennia). It picks up steam as these arrivals want more and more land on which to create a new society, one that gives them a sense of freedom from often negative experiences in Europe and one in which Christianity, not “heathen beliefs,” dominates. 

To put it simply, both groups are struggling to overcome what has been, and is being, done to them by settler colonial societies. 

Settler colonialism is a distinct type of colonialism that functions through the replacement of indigenous populations with an invasive settler society that, over time, develops a distinctive identity and sovereignty. According to Laura Hurwitz and Shawn Borque’s Settler Colonialism Primer, “This means that settler colonialism is not just a vicious thing of the past, such as the gold rush, but exists as long as settlers are living on appropriated land and thus exists today.”

Settler colonialism was practiced in, and the effects remain, in several countries including Canada, South Africa and Australia, as well as the United States and Israel. Thus, these two groups, Native Americans and Palestinians, both indigenous to territory now controlled by more powerful forces are linked by the fate that has befallen them and their struggle to regain their lands and their rights to live freely. 

As I learn more about the histories of these two peoples and about settler colonialism I see that once again a U.S. value has been exported to another part of the world. I am also coming to believe that the shared history of settler colonialism in both nations provides an important layer in their bonding. Yes, the U.S. wants to support the aspirations of the Jewish people for safety, but I also believe our government and many leaders recognize, if only unconsciously, our shared bond with Israel as an occupying power.

Israel is doing what we have done, and continue to do, to our own indigenous population: put them on reservations; make it difficult, if not impossible, for most of them to lead safe, economically and professionally successful lives; mistreat their children; erase their history from “our” history books; and punish those who speak up agains oppression. 

That is why Jonathan and I participated in two webinars focused on the struggles of the Palestinians and Native Americans. Indeed, one of those presentations was entitled “Unite to Decriminalize Indigenous Struggles from Turtle Island to Palestine,” co-sponsored by Friends of Sabeel North America ( http://www.fosna.org ) and Christian Peacemaker Teams (http://cpt.org ) [Note: Turtle Island is a name for North America  used by some US Indigenous and First Nations people and by some Indigenous rights activists. The name is based on a common North American Indigenous creation story.]

I will be writing more about each of these struggles. In the meantime, you can read some of my thoughts about Thanksgiving and Native Americans through this post from 2015, https://thenakedtheologian.org/2015/11/25/gratitude-or-grief-its-both/ . 

I hope you will join the conversation by leaving a comment. 

Thriving for All, Part 1

Recently, I published a post about the Four Necessities—water, food, shelter and community, and health care (both physical and mental). These four are the basic necessities for all human beings/bodies to survive (see https://thenakedtheologian.org/2020/07/28/the-four-necessities/ )

Of course, each of us needs more—freedom to think and act for ourselves, to believe what we believe, to feel empowered to be our best selves rather than confined by the straitjackets of social expectation, oppression, invisibility and silence. 

But without the full functioning of our bodies it is extraordinarily difficult, even impossible to go beyond survival to thriving. 

What do I mean by thrive? This is far more than survival, important as that is. And shamefully, not every one in the world has enough water and food to even survive at the most minimal level. And the root of this reality lies not with those with too little but with the rest of us who refuse to create change that serves all. 

Thus, I am writing about these four necessities in order to propose an new ethic for our world—namely that rather than creating and relying on systems which provide some with more than enough to thrive while others struggle and too many barely survive, and too many of those don’t—to one in which our universal goal and practice is for all to thrive.

At this point, I am working on a definition of thrive. But there are a variety of synonyms: flourish, prosper, grow vigorously, develop well, burgeon, bloom, blossom, do well, advance, make strides, succeed, shoot up, boom, profit, expand, go well, grow rich. 

I don’t know if everyone can grow rich, at least in terms of money. But I do believe everyone can grow rich in experience, in achievement, in meaning, in love, in joy, in caring. I do believe that everyone can become their best selves, to be and to do what they are called to be and do, to be their true selves. 

I am proposing a clear systemic shift in the world, a profound reordering, restructuring, how each of us and all of us approach our own well-being—namely to accept, and live by, a new ethic which says that my well-being is very much dependent on the well-being of others, indeed of all others. What I believe, in an echo of Dr. King about freedom, is that none of us can truly thrive unless all are thriving.

This is a clear repudiation of capitalist views of “getting ahead” and the American idea of rugged individualism. It contradicts the social Darwinism doctrine of survival of the fittest (which in our world so often defines the fittest as those who are rich, white, male, already privileged). 

It is not that each of us is not an individual but rather that our ability to actuate our own bodies, character, potential is directly linked to, dependent on, the ability of all others to be able to do the same. 

I can hear someone say that surely Michael Bloomberg or Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg do not need any of the rest of to do all they want to do whenever and wherever they want to do it. There is truth in that. 

And yet, even they depend on the ability of people to buy what they sell, to access their products, to entertain their ideas and their schemes to further build and burnish their empires. 

But more than that, do they not depend on the constant uprising and inflow of talented people to maintain and grow their economic and social engines? 

How many Einsteins. how many Edisons, how many Kings and Mandelas and Wells and Obamas, how many Domingos and Sills and Picassos and Kahlos, how many Morrisons and Baldwins and Lordes and Faulkners, how many Curies and Salks and Barnards, how many Platos and Arendts, Rawls, de Beauvoirs and Foucaults—how many of the very people we always need are we losing when people not only die of thirst and hunger and absence of protection of their bodies and their minds but also when more of them lose hope that they will ever be able to rise above the misery and limitations of their life situations even if they survive?

Which one of the malnourished children we see in pictures not only from so-called Third World countries but even our own might be the genius, the leader, the inventor, the artisan, the performer that will transform the world. How many of the parents we see in such pictures with eyes pleading for someone, anyone, to help them and their families could create whole new understandings of how we can all live better lives?

I raise these questions as a way for us to think that no matter our own level of privilege, our own ability to thrive, we are diminished by what others are unable to do because what they need is kept from them. I encourage you to think about your own interests, your profession and work, your community, and ponder who/what is missing. 

In my next installment I will discuss how I came to this view via the workings of what we call nature, or the natural world. 

Dark(?) Times

Friends and others lament these “dark times,” meaning for them one or all of these: the ugliness of Trumpism and our politics in general; and the scourges of four Pandemics— Covid-19, racism and White supremacy,  economic despair and devastation for too many even before the virus struck, and a burgeoning climate crisis. 

I share this lament, but not the negative value associated with the this usage of “dark.”

Why is the devil so often portrayed as black/dark?

As one who feels at home in the dark, the phrase “dark times” troubles me. There is so much that is good about darkness—whether it be darker-pigmented people or the underland where fungi and other creatures deepen and extend life in the soil or even the overland beauty of leafless trees in winter against the night sky. Or what about the things we learn as the result of “being in the dark” and the feeling of revelation, sometimes even elation, when we see what we had missed before? 

I experience darkness as almost always a gift, a break from the light pollution to which we are exposed every day. For example, there is more than enough light created by our neighbors and us in our small court of co-op homes as we leave our porch lights on at night to discourage criminals from breaking in. We also  live across the street from city hall, the community center, and the library, which are overlaid with light each night. 

When I go outside at 5:00 or 5:30 a.m. to meditate and pray, all this light, not to mention the noise of twin-interstate highways and a local parkway that meet just outside our town, reduce the number and brightness of stars visible in the sky and compete with the chorus of cicadas.

Why is Jesus so often portrayed as white, non-Semitic?

Often it feels to me life is an unending contest where light keeps trying to overcome, even erase, dark. And light wins all the time—a system of light supremacy to which our society is addicted. Why can’t we accept, and celebrate, the reality that there is life, good life, in darkness, and that we can learn from its multitude of gifts?

White racism, White Supremacy, is a good place to start. Despite the beauty, strength and resilience of darker-skinned people even in the most ugly times, Western Civilization insists on the primacy of Euro-American positive valuation of light and the negative valuation of dark. 

In the United States, we connect White Supremacy with the subjugation and domination of African peoples. And yet, coupled with an Enlightenment mindset—namely the value of the rational over the mystical, the scientific over the intuitive and artistic, and the valorization of the individual (often to pursue their own interests over the well-being of community), White Supremacy supports and sustains the subjugation and domination of other groups as well. 

For example, Arab learning—at one time the zenith of mathematical and scientific reasoning and knowledge in the world—was discounted to justify Christian crusades against Muslim people. That same strain of Christian imperialism and the belief that Western (northern European) ideas, culture and systems are the apex of human achievement unite in capitalism and colonialism to undergird and justify the conquest of indigenous people in the Americas as well as the importation and breeding of slaves for the profit of their owners. 

A central method of the capitalist/settler colonialism drive to subdue and own land and all it contains is to label the wisdom and practices of indigenous people as primitive, without value in the modern world. Thus, today we can see not only how African Americans and Spanish-speaking peoples from Latin America continue to be oppressed, but also how the Middle East, other than Israel, is viewed as backward, and even nations and peoples further east are the victims of negativity.  

Further, this intersecting series of belief systems produce the subjugation of nature, degradation and elimination of species, and denial of what is happening in the Climate Crisis. As Robin Wall Kimmerer writes in Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, non-indigenous people are trained to devalue the teaching of nature.

In short, “we” have created a worldview that highlights only some parts of reality and casts the rest into the dark—not listening to BIPOC people (Black Indigenous People of Color); not paying attention to that which makes life possible for all, namely the earth and all its parts; and refusing to build a world in which all have what they need to thrive (rather than some having far more than they need and too many not having even enough to survive).

Thus, I believe we must begin the practice of Endarkenment, to value not only things that appear dark but also the wisdom we have cast into the dark. In future posts, I will discuss this concept but suffice it to say at this point that I believe if we continue to refuse to acknowledge and accept and even celebrate the equal partnership of dark and light, we, and certainly our children and grandchildren and their children, are doomed. 

These are not “dark times.” They are times of pain, fear, anxiety, injustice, and crisis—and thus times of challenge and opportunity to radically change our ways to save us all. 

The Four Necessities

by Robin Hawley Gorsline

[Note: I began writing this well before the outbreak of Covid-19, but in some ways that crisis simply adds to the imperative that we attend to the needs of all humanity. And of course, the crisis highlights the social divisions already present—the lack of one or more of these necessities in various marginalized communities.]

For a year or more, I have included in my morning prayer a desire that everyone in the world has four things every day of their lives: 

  • water
  • food 
  • shelter and safe communities
  • and health care (both physical and mental). 

And in sufficient quantities every day to more than survive, to actually thrive. 

I call them the Four Necessities (following President Franklin Roosevelt’s proclamation of Four Freedoms for all people). Those freedoms he enunciated are still vital today (and all too lacking in too many places), as are these necessities, which are essential components for every human body on earth to not only survive but also thrive. 

As with Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, each of us, all of us, have the inherent right to all four of the necessities. No one has the right to deny any of them to anyone. 

Indeed, I believe we have a obligation to be proactive, to do all we can to make sure they are available for all bodies, wherever they may live, whatever age, nationality, ethnicity, gender or gender identity, sexuality, income, religion, political views, education, racial group—every single body without exception. 

For me it is a call, and I believe it is a call laid on all of us. It has changed how I understand what is important, because I know that our world suffers when any one or any group of us cannot be our authentic selves. I agree with Robin Wall Kimmerer who writes, “all thriving is mutual,” meaning that if each of us, all of us, are not thriving then none of us is able to be all we can be. As Dr. King said, “no one is free until we are all free ….”, so too if any of us cannot thrive—due to lack of water, nutrition, safe and secure shelter, and lack of mental and physical health services—then none of us can live into our maximum potential. It can sound like a cliché but it is the truth: we are each and all part of an interdependent web of life. 

Just think of the waste in human capital when individuals and whole populations are without necessary hydration to be able to breathe, healthy food to strengthen their bodies, safe and sanitary and protective living conditions, and health care for their bodies and minds. 

Hands of the poor

Those of us who have these necessary conditions for life in sufficient quantity and quality can feel sorry for them, pray for them, and even donate to some group that tries to help, but in reality we are already paying—not only in funds our government may use to help (always far short of the need), but also in lost human potential and productivity in our world as well as the maintenance of law enforcement and military mechanisms to keep them from agitating against their conditions or even striking back in frustration and anger against the gruesome realities of their lives. 

Should not our first obligation as members of the human race be to do everything we can to make sure that everyone else has enough to thrive? If every body thrives, we all thrive. 

I have a special concern for Gaza, given the alarming deficiencies in their lives, but this is not limited to Gaza. Puerto Rico, part of the United States, is still struggling after Hurricane Maria and the more recent earthquake. And Somalia and so many parts of Africa, Central America, Asia, and of course the 50 states of our own nation. These four necessities are missing in lives everywhere.  Should we not be exercising empathy for the entire human race, not just our own group? 

So what to do? 

There is no one or easy solution. What is needed is a fundamental attitudinal change, radically changing the definition of success and good living, currently built on getting what only we need and want, to seeing success as being when everyone has what we need and want. As Ibram X. Kendi has said, “we need policies that are need-based.” 

I am safe in my privilege, but I do not feel successful when I know how many people are not, indeed how many are barely surviving and how many needlessly die, or whose lives become living hells, due to the lack of one or more of these necessities. 

One more thought: as I continue to learn from indigenous people and scientists about the workings of the non-human parts of the world I am struck by how often they speak of creatures (I admit my special interest is in trees) galvanizing to help others in trouble, both those in their own “tribes” and others around them. So why can’t we do that, too?

And I continue to learn how seeing that natural world as “other,” as object to be used for our own well-being, rather than as neighbor and ally and teacher and fellow citizens of the planet can make a huge difference. That is a key to creating a different world. I have much to learn about this, but already I am growing more conscious of how my own socialization and practices make things more difficult for so many, not only other humans but nature as well (think Climate Crisis/Emergency).

In posts in the future, I will look at each of these necessities in turn, highlighting the essential nature of each and how many of us—yes, us—do not have access to them. 

And I will return to how we might begin to shift our priorities. In the meantime, I invite you to read print and online articles (and share in your networks and share here) that highlight the enormous necessity gaps in our world. Don’t turn away from the troubling stories about starvation and thirst, substandard and even non-existent housing, and the lack of care for people who are sick and dying. Take them in, and think, what can I do? Feel the pain and loss that so many experience. How can I help create change, deep, systemic change so that all may thrive? 

And let us not avoid opportunities where we can provide practical help, contributing to organizations that are already at work as well as insisting our leaders shift our priorities, leading us to a new world. We can lead, too.  

Stay tuned. 

When Racism and Sexism Meet

Monica Hesse, a columnist for the Washington Post, published an insightful piece about racism and sexism today, “The Point We’re Missing about BBQ Becky and Her Sisters.” Click on the link to read.

She makes two fundamental points:

  • using hashtags to jeer at, and make fun of, white women who call 911 to report alleged suspicious behavior by black men is a denial of the serious racism involved,
  • and it also signals sexist behavior in that the practice of creating “cute” nicknames when referring to the women–because white men who do similar things are rarely, if ever, labeled this way.
Monica Hesse
Monica Hesse

I urge you to read her post about these points–especially her iteration of the role of white women, especially in the South, in creating the “black sexual predator” who destroys white female purity (this system was of course created by white men to keep black men in line while many of the white men sexually abused black women).

But I also encourage you to reflect on her interaction with the young black teen on the D.C. Metro. His instinctive, self-protective action in the face of transit police boarding the train is very revealing, and all too common and necessary for the survival of young, and old, black men.

The “isms” are often, probably always, tangled up together. Part of our task is to untangle and name them, and change our attitudes and behaviors. Hesse helps us here.

 

 

 

Erotic Community with God’s Body

On February 22, 2018, I presented a ten-minute talk about men and erotic community on Jonathan’s Circle Live. Here is the link to that talk.

Jonathan’s Circle is a group of men, many in the DC Metro area but ranging as far as Australia, who share an interest in spirituality and sexuality, and engage in open conversation–sometimes in person for Circles, on a Google+ page, and through an online blog. Here is the link to blog, and here is the link to Jonathan’s Circle web page.

My talk certainly is not limited to men, so I invite all to check it out. Of course, I would be very interested in your thoughts.

I will be posting some additional writing on this topic here soon.

It’s National Redemption Time

en.wikipedia.com
en.wikipedia.com

Would the United States be better off if mothers were guaranteed paid maternity leave of five months? Or better if workers had at least a month of paid vacation every year? Or if workers had more say in the policies and operations of the companies for which they work? Or maybe if school lunches were actually not only nutritious but also sophisticated and tasty?  How about no death penalty? How about prisons that are not designed to punish so much as to simply deny freedom of movement and association to convicted criminals for a fixed amount of time and to help them during that time to build new lives when they are released?

These and other provocative questions are raised in Michael Moore’s new film, “Where to Invade Next.” The film is a sort of political travelogue around Europe, with a side trip to Tunisia, exposing policies and practices in those places that Moore posits would be good ideas for the United States of America. He even claims most of the good ideas originated in the United States, raising the question of why we are not using them now.

This is a spiritual question for me (although probably Michael Moore would not use that language). Or as others might say, it is a matter of values.

Part of the answer, as I see it, is revealed in a segment of the film where Moore contrasts the dogged insistence of Germans to learn from the horrors of their past–to expose the national involvement in the Holocaust, to remind each other in very public ways of how they rejected humanistic ideals and accepted, even celebrated, ugliness and monstrosity. Germany does not stop telling the stories of victims and its complicity in the evil.

face2faceafrica com
face2faceafrica com

Moore draws a sharp contrast between that behavior and the denial that pervades U.S. culture and politics around our racist, white supremacist past and our national white-privileged present. Moore shares graphic pictures and videos of police beating black suspects and inmates today and their counterparts in harsh pictures of lynching in the past. Have we made any progress?

Well, yes, of course, laws are more fair, and the equality promised by the Declaration of Independence and the constitution and fought over during the Civil War is closer to realization than it was one hundred years ago. But legislatures still pass laws whose effect, and I think intent, is to reduce voting by proportionally disadvantaged portions of the citizenry, and we are locking up Black men at an alarming rate (and we can’t blame this on higher rates of drug use in the Black community than among those who call ourselves white, because the reverse is true). As Michelle Alexander has written, this “incarceration while black” is the new Jim Crow.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander amazon.com
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
amazon.com

To be sure, the countries Moore visited (‘invaded,” he says, in an attempt to connect our militarism with our lack of social progress, a subject for another blog) are not perfect. They have problems, too. But they are doing things to improve the life of their citizens, and they are doing this through the social contract, through the governments they institute, as our framers instituted our nation “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

As I read these soaring words, these noble objectives, I hear the stark, deeply disturbing, contrast with the political rhetoric awash among us today.  The framers approached the national question, “Who are we called to be?” with hope, with generous spirits, with an awareness of divine providence and abundance. Too many of our leaders, and would-be leaders, today approach the same question with stinginess, with an underlying mentality of scarcity, with deep fear expressed in angry words of division and derision toward those who disagree.

Our national soul is at stake in this election season. We need to find it and claim it, really claim it for the first time since the early days of the new nation and perhaps the Civil War.

The fundamental question remains, will we, as Dr. King said in 1963 and as Lincoln said 100 years earlier in different words with similar import, will “this nation . . . rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed . . . . ?”  

boston.com
boston.com

Or will we continue to stumble over the ugliness of our past, denying the roots of our present-day tragedies, pretending that murder and mayhem, poverty and power-less-ness among whole segments of our people are simply the fault of a few bad actors and some weak, lazy individuals and even groups of people out to take advantage of kindness, care, and just treatment under law?

It’s confession time, my fellow Americans, my fellow “we are white” Americans. Black activists, artists, and others keep giving us yet another chance to clean up our act, keep marching and protesting and educating, and still too many of us look away. And the politicians who never even mention “race,” let alone racism, white privilege or white supremacy, are lying to us. They may be lies of omission not commission, but at some point not speaking a hard truth means you are complicit in the ongoing power of that truth.

Denial of a real problem is dangerous to your mental health. That is just as true for our nation as for individuals.

ejvictorsofa.tk
ejvictorsofa.tk

We need to go into analysis, as a nation, to name, face, hold up, and root out our demons. Michael Moore has given us a mirror to look into, a way to ask some questions of ourselves and our leaders. As a first step, I urge you to see the film.

And if you have not yet begun a conversation about our national disease in your family, at your workplace, your spiritual home, your neighborhood, or not yet participated in such a conversation, I urge you to start (or continue) that conversation now.

It’s redemption time, folks, and each of us has a role to play.

Genitalia, Breast Size, Facial Hair Don’t Count

Today, Iowans vote in the caucuses. Praise God that this round will soon be over!

Before the outcome is announced, I want to offer a couple of thoughts about one of the candidates–or more accurately some thoughts about the way I perceive many of us responding to one of the candidates.

I can hear some readers already saying, “Oh no, he’s going to write more about Donald Trump.” But not today (and I hope most earnestly I never have to say another word about him, even as I know I will).

Hillary Clinton speaks in Washington
tvguide.com

No, today, I want to talk about Hillary Clinton. Or, as I said above, about us and Hillary Clinton.

I am not endorsing her today, and do not yet know for sure who will get my vote in the Maryland presidential primary on April 26 (but it will not be Cruz or Trump or Rubio or Bush or Kasich or Christie or Fiorina or the doctor–I know . . . big surprise).

However, I do begin to feel very tired of all the people I encounter, in person and through the media, who say some variation of, “I just don’t know about her . . . not sure I trust her . . . seems too rehearsed . . . not genuine . . . says whatever she thinks she needs to say to get ahead . . . be nice to have a woman president, but . . .

It is that last one that really gets me. Be “nice” to have a woman president? Nice? Is that all?

shirley chisholm-1972
btchflicks.com

I cannot imagine why we do not hang our heads in shame that Hillary Clinton is the first truly serious woman candidate for President of the United States of America. Sure, others have run–my favorite was one of the first, Shirley Chisholm (and back much earlier, Margaret Chase Smith)–but none of them was really a viable candidate.

Nor am I sure there will be another one for a long time, because we are still trying to get ourselves ready to elect a woman. Of course, there are women Senators and Governors who could run, who may even run–Senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobushar and Governor Nikki Haley come to mind–but given how we nitpick Hillary Clinton I wonder why they would even try.

Elizabeth Warren
Senator Elizabeth Warren twitter.com

I do not mean that I agree with Clinton’s every position, any more than I agree with all any of the other candidates say (some obviously more than others!). What I mean is that all the reservations, while real, are also true about the men. But we reserve so much of this language for her, and her alone. I believe we are holding her to a higher standard than any man who has a serious chance of becoming President.

Do we not think that the men are calculating, too? Even Trump, seemingly shooting from the hip, tests everything he says, and if it is not working he stops saying it. We complain that she takes so long to admit a mistake, but when was the last time you heard one of these men apologize for a mistake, including for making outrageous, demonstrably false, statements.

We are still a racist country, and a sexist one, too.

Nikki Haley
Governor Nikki Haley christianitytoday.com

Of course, electing Barack Obama did not end racism, nor will electing Hillary Clinton end sexism. In some ways, the two Obama terms have resulted in racial tensions–white privilege and supremacy–becoming more obvious. That will, I hope, help us to continue the work of truly overcoming our ugly racialized heritage.

May it also be so whenever we do elect our first woman President. But first we are going to have to get over enough of our sexism to treat the woman (or women in the future) the same way we already treat the men . . . as politicians, flawed, incomplete, human beings, not saviors but ambitious folks who want to lead (and who have a host of mixed motives and drives).

We are not electing a dad or a mom, or a favorite brother or sister, or even aunt or uncle, and surely not our best friend or favorite neighbor. We are electing a President, a mortal human who will not meet all our needs or ever be perfect.

In that sense, they are each qualified, no more or less than any other, even allowing for differences in genitalia, breast size, and facial hair.