Make America Kind(er) Again

Kindness is the method, the action, of . . . love

My husband Jonathan has a friend who had some buttons printed up in response to the MAGA (Make America Great Again) campaign. His version of our national need is Make America Kind Again. He gave Jonathan several and I wear one on my coat every day.

However, from the first I have wished it read, Make America Kinder Again–because, frankly, I am hard-pressed to say that I think America has ever been truly kind. Our history is rife with the bodies of Native Americans, African slaves, and African-American men and women, as well as Japanese-American citizens imprisoned and LatinX people victimized by law and society–as well as gay and lesbian people denied civil rights (and not the only ones by far, at least we could vote!) and transgender people under assault every day. Then, there is the lack of universal health care for millions and a tax and economic system that clearly favors those who already have vastly more than enough to meet their needs. The rich are getting richer and the rest of us are forced to make it possible.

At the same time, of course, our national history is also a story of righting wrongs, of freeing people once considered less than human. That story is far from done–Native American claims to dignity have yet to be addressed in ways that would be concretely just and healing, and the same is true for African Americans. And now, the President feeds prejudice against peoples from other less-than-fully-white lands. But still we have tried, and in some ways succeeded, in ameliorating some of the worst behavior that marks our national story.

So we may not be kind as a nation, but we do seek to be kinder. At least, that is how it seemed to me until recently.

Our focus has shifted from living the American Dream–liberty and justice for all (and not just in the United States)–to grabbing what we can, while we can, everywhere we can, so no one can get more than we have.

In the process, we are becoming not only less kind to the rest of the world, but also to each other.

An article from the Atlantic Monthly, “Trump and Russia Both Seek to Exacerbate the Same Political Divisions,” makes the interesting, if not worrisome, point that creating and ratcheting up divisions with the American electorate serves the political aims of both the President and the Russians. Much of the article is grounded in some studies of social media sites and their reverberation through the body politic–including sites and drivers clearly linked to Russia intelligence agents.

The author, Conor Friedersdorf, takes pains to note that he thinks the motives of each are different–the President is not seeking to destroy our political system, e.g.–but that the electoral fortunes of the President and the GOP and the success of the Russian intent to disrupt our republic are both tied directly to heightened levels of social division.  The more we distrust one another, the better each of these forces will do.

Friederrsdorf argues that it is vital for internet users–on all the social media platforms–to “show more charity to competing political tribes and exhibit less pessimism about U.S. politics.” He admits there certainly is “homegrown ugliness” (how could this not be so in a nation so drenched in the blood of white supremacy, among other things?), but he says all need to be aware that some of the off-putting behavior and attitudes is “fakery” dreamed up by agents of a foreign and unfriendly power.

In short, we can be kinder, even if we find the opinions of others outrageous–or if not kinder, then at least less vituperative and angry than we may initially feel is justified.

I admit that this is not an easy prescription for me at times. I can become very angry, outraged, at some of what I can only see as ugly and stupid opinions and claims of fact. I want to strike back with a righteous fury.

But I recognize that such reactions give only momentary satisfaction–“so there!” I am saying, in a juvenile vent–and ultimately work against the very causes in which I am so invested.

Ursula K. Le Guin

In her loving tribute to the recently deceased Ursula K. Le Guin, Margaret Atwood quotes Le Guin writing about anger.

“Anger is a useful, perhaps indispensable tool in motivating resistance to injustice. But I think it is a weapon — a tool useful only in combat and self-defense. . . . Anger points powerfully to the denial of rights, but the exercise of rights can’t live and thrive on anger. It lives and thrives on the dogged pursuit of justice. . . . Valued as an end in itself, it loses its goal. It fuels not positive activism but regression, obsession, vengeance, self-righteousness.”

As a queer theologian, seeking not to be automatically and constantly bound by any of the ordinary strictures and straitjackets of religion and society, I certainly understand the necessity for anger. As Le Guin writes, anger drives resistance to injustice. As Fenton Johnson wrote in this month’s Harper’s (THE FUTURE OF QUEER: how gay marriage damaged gay culture), the work of LGBT liberation movement especially in its earlier manifestations, and most assuredly the massive queer community response to HIV/AIDS, were each driven by anger.

Johnson is, in my view, too harsh in his criticism of the movement for marriage equality. I think he has a rather one-dimensional view of gay, or queer, culture. At the same time, he is right to insist that being queer requires significant vulnerability, that indeed, love requires the same thing. And he is right to say, that “what defines queer, finally, is not what one does in bed but one’s stance toward the ancien régime, the status quo, the way things have always been done, the dominant mode, capitalism.”

James Baldwin

With such a perspective, I seek here to suggest that resistance to injustice, to social straitjackets and oppression, requires not only righteous indignation but also love of the very deepest kind. Fenton quotes my hero, James Baldwin,

“Love has never been a popular movement. . . . The world is held together—really it is held together—by the love and passion of a few people.”

I agree with Fenton that the number of people who evidence love and passion is greater than Baldwin implies. But I know that we always need more of those people. And I know, I do know, that their number will only grow to the extent we are actually willing and able to be vulnerable enough to love even those who hate, or seem to hate, us. That love may well be driven by anger–as my teacher, Beverly Wildung Harrison, wrote long ago, the power of anger drives love–but it is the love that creates change that lasts.

Kindness is the method, the action, of such love, not so much romantic or erotic love (although eros is never absent in our lives) as love for the survival and thriving of every creature, human and not, on earth, indeed love for the survival, renewal, and thriving of the planet.

Let us be kinder.

 

 

 

 

 

50 Years Is Enough

I know that dignity for all, abundant life for all, is God’s charge to us . . . .

Today, June 5, 2017, marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Six Day War which resulted in victory for Israel over the military forces of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria–and, importantly for subsequent events, the expansion of Israeli rule over all of Jerusalem, the West Bank (often called Judea and Samaria by many Israelis) and Gaza.

Yesterday, tens of thousands marched in New York City in the 53rd annual Celebrate Israel parade, officially deemed a celebration of the creation of the State of Israel, but given its date it seems a clear declaration of support for an Israel that includes territory from the Nile to the Euphrates.

Palestinians and their allies refer to Israeli rule in the West Bank and Gaza as The Occupation. There is little doubt that it is marked by oppressive military presence, that Palestinians are under military rule in the land of their birth. Such rule is never, by definition, kind and gentle nor does it evidence much respect for the elemental human rights of those under control. With the requirement of border passes for work inside Israel, checkpoints, random searches of individuals and homes, evictions, murder and mayhem by settlers not to mention the growing presence of Israeli settlers, Palestinians feel deep bitterness. Fifty years is enough, they say.

Robin with keffiyehI spent Sunday afternoon outside the White House, not to celebrate Greater Israel but to bear witness to the strength and endurance of the Palestinian people. No matter how many times their leaders have failed in negotiations with Israel (whose leaders failed just as much), no matter how much they have failed to build a vibrant society within the hated control of Israel (and how much Israel, from its position of economic and military dominance has made sure to cripple Palestinian institutions), I admire them for their fortitude and patience, for their attachment to the land of their fathers.

They deserve my respect and honor. They deserve that from all of us.

Sadly, it was a very small group at the White House, with little or not visible organization and leadership. According to the email invitation I received, it was to be a silent vigil, but mostly people just talked to each other. At one point, one of those present got some of us to sing a few protest songs, with lyrics he devised to focus on the Occupation and the need for liberation and peace. I left about 30 minutes before its scheduled conclusion, not sure it had ever begun.

I have wondered if this was an organizational fluke–the listed sponsors were four groups, Arab American Institute (AAI), Arab American Anti Discrimination Committee (ADC), United Palestinian Appeal (UPA) and American Palestinian Women’s Association (APWA)–or if it reflects deeper disorganization within the Palestinian and Palestinian-American community. I hope it was a fluke. We need a strong Palestinian voice in the Middle East and here.

There was one presence at the White House that was clearly organized and in charge: The Secret Service. When I arrived at Pennsylvania Avenue–it is blocked for through traffic between 15th and 17th Streets and has become essentially a pedestrian mall adjacent to Lafayette Park (except for official vehicles going in and out of the White House)–just before 3 pm, there were hundreds of tourists taking pictures of themselves and their companions with the White House in the background. It was a good-humored gaggle of humanity speaking several languages, doing tourist-y things. I noted uniformed Secret Service agents moving through the crowd.

I found the one lone man with a pro-Palestinian sign and we chatted. Several others joined us. Eventually, our small group moved across the street, closer to the park and in the shade (it was a hot sun), waiting for some others we were told were on their way.

Here’s what it gets informative. When we all–no more than 25, maybe 30 including quite a few teenagers/college students, regrouped on the street directly in front of the White House, many of us with signs protesting the Occupation and other Israeli policies and practices, we were approached by two Secret Service agents. One asked what our purpose was. One of the men in the group who seemed to know more than others said, “We have a permit.” The agent nodded and repeated his question. I did not hear the answer but assume it was to say we were doing what our signs said, protesting the Occupation.

Secret Service agents in front of White HouseThe agents moved away and I, naive and trusting soul that I am, thought that was done . I was disturbed, however, by the question. The right of Americans to gather, the right of public assembly guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, is not dependent on the content raised by those gathering.

Fifteen or so minutes later, the agents moved in more authoritatively and begin telling everyone–tourists, our group and the few individual purveyors of amusement (including the man putting on a Donald Trump mask and getting his picture taken while in some sort of Trumpian pose, and a Christian evangelist–to move across the street. It was done quietly, but it was done efficiently.  Pretty soon we were all across the street behind yellow police line tape. The street was empty but for some Secret Service agents, several of whom held automatic weapons in their hands. Earlier, I had noticed holstered hand guns but not these more lethal weapons.

A few minutes later, one white SUV emerged from the driveway from the White House and drove down the street. I’d like to think that was why agents cleared the street, but there probably were easier ways than closing three blocks containing hundreds, probably more than one thousand, people. For one thing, a few honks and orders from an agent would easily have cleared a path.

We small band of Palestine supporters were the only organized group, the only group with signs who had been in the street. I realized after about 30 minutes of being held behind the yellow tape, and the the agents’ eyes mostly aimed in our direction, that we were the focus, the cause of the herding. I felt for the tourists who just wanted their picture taken as close as possible to the White House.

Then, just as quietly as before, an agent released the tape. It seems logical to me that after the agents watched our rather ragged attempt at singing protest songs–if someone said 10 of us sang I would be surprised (even with a portable speaker we made very little noise)–and seeing that our number did not grow, they decided the President was safe from marauding Palestinian freedom fighters (or terrorists as many would say).

Occupation demo at WH June 4 2017After re-grouping, several of us took a few pictures (I took picture on left of three of our group), and then I began the journey home. I had donned a black and white keffiyeh at the vigil and I wore it home on the Metro to Greenbelt. No one asked me why, on a hot day, I had a large scarf over my shirt, but if they had, I would have told them I was showing solidarity with, and honor to, strong, patient Palestinians who still seek the respect of the world, and most especially of Israel and my own country, the United States of America.

I’ll be back, at the White House or not, and I am sure our numbers will grow. It does not take a multitude to remind me of what is important, even as I know that many will not join until there is a multitude. So we have work to do.

And as Christian theologian, I know that dignity for all, abundant life for all, is God’s charge to us. And it does not matter whose God that is. God says it in every tradition, in every religion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We the People

our silence will not protect us, only we claiming our power can do that . . .

Reflections from the Women’s March, Washington, D.C., January 21, 2017

 

Pussy grabs back,
I was raised by a nasty woman and now I’m one, too,
Black lives matter,
We the People,
we bodies of the people,
are greater than fear,
keep your filthy paws off my sticky drawers,
this is what democracy looks like,
I stand with Standing Rock,
no disrespect, no going back,
we will not go quietly back to the 1950s,
my body, my choice, her body, her choice,
no to racism, homophobia, misogyny,
climate change is real, save the planet,
this man grateful to be raised by a nasty woman,
immigrants welcome, hatred not,
if I wanted government in my vagina I would have slept with a senator,
no human is illegal,
hands (or dick) too small to build a wall,
and on and on,
homemade signs and improvised chants everywhere,
notes of this land is your land, we shall overcome, on many lips,
sassiness, joy on many hips,
and arms, hands, smiles, laughter.

We came from everywhere
hundreds of thousands,
bodies gathering one by one, two by two,
young and smooth, old and wrinkled,
women yes the most but men, too,
children, parents, grandparents, college students,
tots in strollers, gay, lesbian, bi, trans, cis, straight,
Black and Brown, Christians, Muslims, Jews, immigrants
Dreamers, sex workers, clergy, lawyers, singers, accountants,
clerks, dock workers, athletes, unemployed, underemployed,
doctors, social workers, retirees, and all the rest.
So much joy, so many smiles, laughter and song,
dancing even when packed like sardines between monumental
buildings made small by roars of voices joined together
to stand, to rise—Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise resounding in every heart—
Angela Davis with hair out to here
reminding us of all the connections from
Ferguson to Orlando to Planned Parenthood,
from Standing Rock to Palestine.
We marched and when we could not move,
still we marched,
our hearts beating with the pulse of liberty
and justice for all. We were, we are, the People
whose claim on this nation does not cease
because voices of yesteryear now hold official power,
seeking to recapture some imagined golden era
when men were white and ran things,
while women, Blacks, queers, natives, Latinx, Muslims,
Jews, trans and physically challenged folk, and elderly,
all the rest of God’s people,
kept to themselves, not getting in the way
of those who keep anointing themselves
the powers-that-always-are and shall be.

Power to the people the long ago cry
of those marching, blocking roadways, and sitting in
to protest elites sending our beautiful boys
into senseless, ill-fated war—
now expropriated by billionaires and millionaires
to convince people with much less, so much less,
that they are all on the same side,
while cutting taxes for the richest
and insurance for the rest,
claiming science is a hoax
and Islam work of the devil—
a topsy turvy world,
growing more Orwellian by the day,
in which, for which, we must march,
more we must organize and write and speak
and sit down where we are not welcome,
learning from Dr. King and Malcolm and suffragettes
and so many more that there is nowhere
the arc of justice will not bend
and create the change we need
when we link our arms and hands and hearts
and minds and souls, becoming the angelic troublemakers
of which Rustin spoke and Baldwin wrote,
remembering as sister outsider Audre Lorde wrote, too,
our silence will not protect us,
only we claiming our power can do that.

We the people: This is our time, again.  

 

If you cannot see the entire image at the top, and wish to see this moving public art, please click here

Whose Land Is It, Anyway? Part 5

Palestinian claims to this land are as legitimate as Israel’s.

[Part 5 of this series was preceded by the original post on February 4, 2016; Part 2 on February 8, 2016; Part 3 on March 3, 2016; and Part 4 on March 30, 2016.]

It’s been a long time since I visited this topic. The delay stems in part from too much else going on in my life, and from continuing to worry about the topic. Can I say what it seems I must say?

Based on what I have written in prior installments in this series, as well as ongoing research and reading, here is what I believe:

  • Palestinians deserve a true and secure homeland, and Israel must be safe
  • Israel can be safe and Palestine, too, if Israel, the United States and others will work with the Palestinian Authority (and even Hamas) to end the occupation of the West Bank and the isolation of Gaza
  • Rigid, rightist Zionists and their allies in the Netanyahu government must be stopped from their plan to obtain all the land they claim they have from God, often called Greater Israel (meaning in contemporary terms the current State of Israel plus the Palestinian territories), and at other times more expansively historical Israel (relying on biblical texts which extend the claim into other sovereign nations)
  • The United States should spend as much on helping the Palestinians develop their economy, government and social institutions as it does sustaining the Israeli military (Israel will be far safer with this nation-building than with more arms)

In other words, the land in the State of Israel and the Palestinian territories belongs to both people, and a way must be found for both to live there.

It seems clear to me that two forces are making this impossible. One is the ineffective leadership of the Palestinian Authority, called corrupt by many. This is not the focus of this series, but is an important element in the ongoing failure to bring peace and justice to the land. Of course, it is not simply corruption or ineptitude that bogs down the PA, it is also that in reality it exists at the sufferance of the Israeli government and the IDF (Israeli Defense Force). Despite declarations by some bodies, one can hardly call Palestine a state because its government does not have typical governmental authority over its own territory.

Indeed, the question of land management reveals how the PA lacks what would be ordinary authority for any government–to issue building permits and enforce land management regulations duly adopted by the civil authority.

jewish-settlement-of-maale-adumin-east-of-jerusalem-sputniknews-com
Jewish settlement of Maale Adumin, east of Jerusalem sputniknews.com

Instead, what is happening in the West Bank–about 60% of which is under full Israeli control (Area C), 28% which is under joint PA/Israeli military control and PA civil control (Area B), and 11% of which is under PA control but subject to Israeli military incursions–seems to be the gradual settlement by Jewish persons in settlements designed to bring about a de facto control the land by Israel.

It is impossible for me to look at these facts and conclude that Israel is not an occupying power. Most of the rest of the world, including the United States and the United Nations, say it is so. Israel denies this. And many Jewish settlers and organizations that support existing and future settlements argue that Israel is not an occupying power but is instead the legitimate government by virtue of God’s grant of all the land of Judea and Samaria to Israel. It is, in the view of settlers, the Palestinians who are out of place, who are interlopers and invaders.

In a recent article in the Washington Post, Yochi Damari, who heads a regional council representing Jewish settlements in the Hebron hills, claimed that those resisting demolition of the village of Susiya represent an insidious Palestinian encroachment onto lands the Jewish homesteaders believe were given to them by God.He called the residents of Susiya “invaders” and a “criminal tribe.”

save-susiya
jpost.com

This is in spite of the reality of generation upon generation of Palestinian families who have resided in that village, farmed and otherwise made their living on the land surrounding it. The effort by the government to push the inhabitants out of their village, and other villages, too, is one part of the process by which it appears that Israel seeks to displace as many Palestinians as possible–to create a modern-day, quiet but effective nakba (the Arabic term for the events of 1948, when many Palestinians were displaced from their homeland by the creation of the new state of Israel–either through military action by Israel and/or the Arab nations who invaded to stop the creation of Israel, or through flight brought about by fear after the massacre at Deir Yassin (see “Deir Yassin, Where Are you?”).

But forced removal–by governmental action or by settler intimidation and violence–is not the only way the local Palestinian population is seeing the land vanish before their eyes.

The other method, one that seems far more effective in the long run, is the establishment of Jewish settlements in various parts of the occupied West Bank territories. Another factor, not for discussion now, is the low, almost non-existent, rate of approval by Israeli authorities for Palestinian homes to be built.

I have noticed a common theme in conversations with many U.S. people who oppose BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) and groups like Jewish Voice for Peace (which supports BDS as a non-violent citizens movement centered in Palestine) and others who are critical of Israel. Most say, as they make judgments about the motives and intelligence and ethics of those who they see as anti-Israel (and some who claim anti-Semitic views as the cause), “Israel makes mistakes, of course; for example the settlements are wrong.”

But no one seems to have figured out a way to stop more of them, let alone what to do with existing ones–no one, except the settlers themselves, with the helping hand of the Netanyahu government.

If you doubt this, I invite you to read the New York Times article, “Israel Quietly Legalizes Pirate Outposts in the West Bank.  The Times is generally very uncritical of Israel, both in its reporting and on the editorial pages, so this report is important. The Israeli daily, Haaretz, also reports formal approval of more new homes for Jewish settlers in the West Bank (see “Israel Approves Hundreds of Homes in West Bank Settlements”). .

The Times article traces what happens when settlers move into an area without authorization and establish homes: eventually, the government recognizes realities and gives the settlers legal permission to be in their homes. What I learned during my visit to Israel and the West Bank in October, 2014 is that once a settler or settlers have a home set up, the IDF generally provide them protection, a de facto recognition of the legitimacy of unauthorized, or illegal, settlements.

israeli-flag-and-idf-soldiers
chinadaily.com.cn

Haaretz outlines how the Netanyahu government is trying to move forward with settlement construction without incurring the wrath of the U.S. government. So far, that government is doing quite well. U. S. protests seem to carry not penalty, the language feeling more like a plea to stop doing something rather than an action to stop it.

So, whose land is it, anyway? If possession is nine-tenths of the law, as I was taught in childhood, then increasingly it appears the land belongs to Israel. The Palestinians are losing ground, day by day.

Will this bring peace? No! Of course not–it will only bring more unrest.

Many say, with some accuracy in a legal way, that there never was a nation called Palestine. They say this means that Israel’s claim is paramount (not to mention the view of biblical literalists) and must carry the day.

However, these people, whom we have come to call Palestinians, are a people of the land. This land. They did not emigrate from Eastern or Western Europe or the United States or Latin America or Africa in order to create a homeland. They had a home, they had homes here for generations. Now their homeland is occupied.

palestinian-flag-with-lone-man-in-demo
news.yahoo.com

Their claim to this land is as legitimate as Israel. Some would say more. I might agree, except that we must work within the legal decisions by the League of Nations and the United Nations.

And Israel, as the occupying power, had best learn the lesson every occupying power in history (including the British whose mandate from the League of Nations to govern this land was a violent episode that drove them out)–namely that the local people will use whatever means is at hand to drive out the occupier.

It is time for settlers and others, including the government, to give up the dream of a  Jewish state within the borders of the current legal territory of Israel and the occupied West Bank–to give up the idea of Greater Israel without Palestinians–and to make peace with the reality on the ground.

God’s ground, the ground belonging to several groupings of God’s people.

 

 

 

Time for Khalil, and Renaissance in Baltimore!

. . .even in these troubled, even desolate, places, sprouts of life spring up . . .

It’s been way too long since I wrote here. I still believe in the power of love to build community, but I need to remember the love has to be active. I express much of that love through writing.

And its not that I have not been writing–every week a new poem at faithfulpoetics.net and a new post by Malachi Grennell and I at sexbodiesspirit.net, often about, at least indirectly about building community. But there are other topics near and dear to me–racial justice, undermining white privilege, justice for Palestine and true security for both Israel and Palestine, caring for our physical world, sharing theological visions and thoughts outside poetry.

hope sproutToday, I want to focus on the story of one young man in Baltimore–a story I encountered in the Washington Post recently, and which has renewed my hope and my desire for change in our marginalized urban communities, the places where hope seems impossible and where violence becomes a way of life. But even in these troubled, even desolate, places, sprouts of life spring up and somehow, by the grace of God and some good people, they are not destroyed. Indeed, they are nurtured and we see yet again that it is possible to make a way out of what seems to be no way.

I can’t recount the entire story of this young man, Khalil Bridge, but you can find the story, “Coming of Age in a City Coming Apart” here. The basic story is that he has grown up in a troubled part of Baltimore, with a lot of street violence and drugs, that his father is long gone, that his mother has so many ailments he has been raising her (and now she is in a care facility), and that he has led a checkered life–but thanks to some grit in himself, and some amazing educators and social workers he has graduated from high school, and is headed, thanks to a GoFundMe campaign to community college. The money and support really came about because of the article, linked above, by Theresa Vargas of the Washington Post.

iel.com
Khalil Bridge iel.com

In addition to the report about Khalil Bridge personally, Vargas makes a powerful point about the presence of violence in the community served by the school from which Khalil just graduated, Renaissance Academy High School and Booker T. Washington Middle School (housed in the same building). In a survey by Promise Heights, a support program run through the University of Maryland School of Social Work, 41% of students surveyed reported knowing someone younger than 19 who was a victim of violence. In addition, 23% of the total sample reported being a victim of violence themselves, and 40% reported knowing someone who has a gun.

How students can succeed in such circumstances is pretty much a mystery to me. That is what makes Khalil Bridge’s story so remarkable. I really hope you read all three-plus pages from the Post.

I contributed a small amount to the GoFundMe campaign, which has raised more than $38,000 on a goal of $30,000. Thus, I am now going to support an organization started by the principal of Renaissance High, Nikkia Rowe, called “Seeds of Promise: Transforming Black Boys into Men,” which aims to provide support in the school for mentors and others to help some of the young men who show real promise. I think that is a wise investment, as does Rick Barth, the Dean of the University of Maryland School of Social Work. You can link to that funding page here.

It’s simple really. We’re never going to break the endless cycle of inner city violence and despair if we don’t begin to make special investments in at least some of the most promising, and simultaneously improve public infrastructure in those same communities.

Khalil Bridge and Antwon Cooper gofundme.com
Khalil Bridge and Antwon Cooper
gofundme.com

Just because its simple, does not mean it is easy. But I am quite sure that my investment in Khalil, modest though it is, matched with those of hundreds of others, will help him go all the way to a brilliant career doing something important and a beautiful life he otherwise had no reason to expect or hope for.

And I am also sure that Antwon Cooper, the mentor who was one of the first four hired by Rowe in the Seeds of Promise program and who supported and challenged  Khalil Bridge, can do more good, and could, with his three colleagues, do even more if they had more co-workers in the program. That’s where we and others come in.

I have lived in Maryland for just shy of one year, and I can now see that Baltimore is one of the most dis-eased cities in our nation. I was born in Michigan, 40 miles northwest of Detroit, and that place has barely survived some of the worst social storms endured by any people, They are on the way back, I am told. I had thought I would try to find a way to invest in Detroit, but I think I will do this closer to my home. Real work by not only government and schools, but also private citizens taking initiative is required if we are turn to this beautiful place around. Again, click the program name here for the link to support “Seeds of Promise: Transforming Black Boys into Men.”

I hope you can help.  Give if you can and pray, and even if you can’t give, pray for Khalil and his brothers–those who yet live and those already struck down–in Baltimore.

 

Whose Land Is It, Anyway? Part 4

Today, March 30, is Palestinian Land Day, a day set aside to mark a horrific moment on this date in 1976 in relations between Israeli citizens (both Jewish and Arab) and Palestinians.

I had not intended to write today in this series (see previous entries on March 3, February 8,  and February 4), but when I learned of the significance of this date, I felt it right to acknowledge history. I make no claim to expertise on this event or its celebration, but given the fact that few news outlets in the United States report much news about nonviolent events among Palestinians, and because I did see some shocking disparities in land and water allocation (with Palestinians at considerable disadvantage) during my visit in 2014, I decided to share this information.

Here is an excerpt from a post of two years ago in the +972 blog…..

On that dreadful day 38 years ago, in response to Israel’s announcement of a plan to expropriate thousands of acres of Palestinian land for “security and settlement purposes,” a general strike and marches were organized in Palestinian towns within Israel, from the Galilee to the Negev. The night before, in a last-ditch attempt to block the planned protests, the government imposed a curfew on the Palestinian villages of Sakhnin, Arraba, Deir Hanna, Tur’an, Tamra and Kabul, in the Western Galilee. The curfew failed; citizens took to the streets. Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as those in the refugee communities across the Middle East, joined in solidarity demonstrations.

Palestinians from the Galilee town of Sakhnin commemorating Land Day, March 30, 2013. (Photo by: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

In the ensuing confrontations with the Israeli army and police, six Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed, about 100 wounded and hundreds arrested. The day lives on, fresh in the Palestinian memory, since today, as in 1976, the conflict is not limited to Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip but is ever-present in the country’s treatment of its own Palestinian Arab citizens.

You can read the rest of the blog here. And here is a link to Wikipedia on the subject of Land Day, and here is a link to the report in today’s Haaretz daily newspaper in Israel about the strike being carried out by Israeli Arabs.

As I continue to learn more about the land, its history, and the current situation, I will offer other information.

What remains clear is that contest between these two portions of humanity is far from over. And my prayer remains, on this day and every day, that there be no more martyrs of any type for any reason. There is already enough blood to go around.

We Can Stop Pulling the Trigger

Last Sunday, our church music director opened worship by saying, “It’s been a rough week. Not only the cold, but I have been dealing with two suicides–one an 8th grader at my school and the other a leader of the Black Lives Movement.”

I did not get a chance to ask Tyrone about the young student, but I learned about the activist through a Washington Post article a couple of days later (click here for the story).

MarShawn McCarrel complex com
MarShawn McCarrel complex.com

His name was MarShawn McCarrel, 23. He shot himself on the steps of the Ohio State Capitol in Columbus on February 8. A few hours before the shot, he posted a Facebook message, “My demons won today. I’m sorry.”

By all accounts, this was a talented young man,  dedicated to liberation and justice. He started several nonprofit organizations, a mentorship program called Pursuing Our Dreams and a charity for homeless people called Feeding Our Streets. He had become a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement in Ohio, following on other activism and writing poetry.

The man was a poet. On paper. And in life. Poets are people for whom words matter. Each word matters. And for this poet, lives mattered, too.

Except he could not sustain his own. He pulled the trigger.

But so did we. We–and when I say “we” I mean all of us who call ourselves white who have so far failed to undo the strangehold white supremacy, white privilege, white racism, have on our national psyche and day in and day out living in this land we claim is free and home to the brave.

As sure as anything, I believe his depression–which had plagued him for some years, after the death of his grandfather–was undone or minimized, but also deepened, by his activism.

Ta-Nehisi Coates Between the World and Me
observer.com

His ability to write and speak and organize and give hope to others helped to keep him going, but it was not enough to overcome the relentless–r e l e n t l e s s, let me say that again, relentless–drumbeat of negativity in his life and the lives of millions of other African American men, women, and children (remember that 8th grader?).

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in his magnificent, also relentless (in a similar but also different way), letter to his son about growing up Black in America, “Between the World and Me,”

To be black in the Baltimore of my youth was to be naked before the elements of the world, before all the guns, fists, knives, crack, rape, and disease. The nakedness is not an error, nor pathology. The nakedness is the correct and intended result of policy, the predictable upshot of people forced for centuries to live under fear.

Coates tells us that much of the posing and braggadocio of Black boys and young men on the streets, and the posing and efforts at creating distinct identities for the Black girls and and young women, is really in response to fear, fear for their very lives in the face of what feel like, and are, overwhelming odds against survival for many, if not most, of them in a world run by and for those who call ourselves white.

I cannot speak for MarShawn McCarrel, this lost prince of Black personhood, but I can imagine that he, like many other activists in the Black Lives Matter movement (and many in other movements for human dignity here and around the world), was brought down, depressed, by that fear, and by how little long-term deep, intentional attention is paid to the continuing violation of African Americans, Native Americans, immigrants, etc.

Black Lives Matter protest  startribune com
startribune.com

I know I feel that, and I am not (yet, anyway) on the front lines of that struggle. He was on the front lines, and I know from experience on my own front lines (for LGBT equality, e.g.) that there is hope, even exhilaration at moments, when you watch others see new truth, but there also is exhaustion and fear when you realize how many people aren’t paying attention and how many of those who claim they are show no signs of caring (and may even express animosity).

What Coates’ book, and the unnecessary death of MarShawn McCarrel push me into is somehow to join the front lines. I have no desire to do what we who call ourselves white so often do–move in to take over the struggle, or even to make it about me or us. And yet, I know I have and can claim my place to support McCarrell’s surviving colleagues in the movement more than I have done, and to more directly engage my siblings in white privilege so that we all may learn why and how to give it up.

I don’t want to be part of pulling the trigger any more.

I don’t want to participate, even at a distance, in snuffing a life, or silencing a voice, as magnificent as that of MarShawn McCarrel.

It is my belief that he has found peace with the God who loves him unreservedly. But I have yet to find peace in my grief for this beautiful man, and perhaps I will not any time soon, knowing–as I have chanted more than once on the streets of Richmond, New York, Boston, and will undoubtedly do so again on Washington boulevards, and maybe elsewhere–No Justice, No Peace! Know Justice, Know Peace!

The good news, if there is any in this, may be that I have found, thanks to his friends, a powerful poem of truth and life by MarShawn McCarrel. May he have the final word here, today.

Down South by Marshawn McCarrel

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.

A Constitutional Right to Shoot Oneself?

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.

The Hard Truth of Beloved Community

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.