Search This Blog


Saturday, September 3, 2016

Colin Kaepernick, the National Anthem, and Priorities

The truth is, as a football player, I don't have much use for Colin Kaepernick. The whole kissing his steroid enhanced bicep after a touchdown is a bit much for me. Why not just scream, "I love myself" while dropping your pants to show us how much? It might be more honest. What's more, I have always thought he was a flash in the pan, as most quarterbacks who can run really well usually are. I don't care how fast you are as a quarterback, professional football players and coaches will eventually find a way to defend against your running and force you to pass. Rare is the quarterback who can both run and pass extremely well.

However, as an example of what it is to be an American, I love Colin Kaepernick. I don't love him enough to kiss his steroid enhanced bicep, but don't let that deceive you, I love him for his courage and integrity. I support both his refusal to stand for the national anthem and his reasons for doing so. I have taken similar action regarding the flag and the pledge of allegiance for many years now. Of course, nobody really cares because I am not a professional football player, but nevertheless I have done so.

Probably around ten years ago as I sat at a Fourth of July parade, popping up and down as flag after flag passed, it suddenly occurred to me that this was nothing more than a litmus test of nationalism. At that point I decided that I would stand when a group of Veterans passed with a flag out of respect for the Veterans, but the rest of it was nonsense - the kind of nonsense that "my country right or wrong" nationalists just love. I believe a true patriot criticizes their country when they believe it is wrong in the hopes of bringing change, and I also believe America has failed to live up to its purported values for most of my life.

I believe Donald Trump does well in certain circles because a great number of people cannot tolerate ambiguity. The truth is that the less educated you are and the less intelligent you are, the more likely you will be unable to tolerate ambiguity. It will be much more comfortable for you if everyone looks the same, dresses the same, goes to the same church, and believes the same thing. Obviously, in a diverse society such a person is not going to do well at all. They will begin looking for reasons to exclude people who reflect the very diversity this nation was founded upon, and the more violently and permanently they can be excluded the happier these people will be. These are nationalists, and nationalists of every background and place of residence have always found narcissistic autocrats like Donald Trump appealing. Any responsible leader bearing even an ounce of integrity begins to get nervous upon realizing they are surrounded by sycophants, tyrants surround themselves with them.

In the city where I live there is no equal opportunity, there is no honest attempt to address social injustice, there is the greatest inequality in opportunity and income between blacks and whites in the nation, and the political hacks that run Milwaukee and the State of Wisconsin believe the answer to the inevitable violence that arises from decades of refusing to redress issues of injustice is to add more police, arrest more people, and step harder on the necks of the people you are trying to keep down. Meanwhile, the whites sit in terrified and ignorant huddles, believing the nonsense they are fed by those in power and afraid to agitate for change that would make this city a better place for all people. Much as on the national level, the alternatives we are offered to the hacks in power are more of the same, or even worse - law and order candidates reminiscent of the 1960s.

National anthem? I'll be on my ass, thank you very much,

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Gangs and the Media: Violence and Healing

An outstanding piece on the state of things in Milwaukee - and around the country:

Gangs and the Media: Violence and Healing: I’ve had some thoughts on violence and healing. They are personal but also reflections on what has happened to my city this past month....

Friday, July 8, 2016

Tragedy in Dallas - and Across America

Those of us who go to bed a bit earlier than others awoke this morning to the news of tragedy in Dallas, as five police officers were killed by sniper fire. At least seven other officers and two civilians were wounded in the attack, which took place during a Black Lives Matter protest in response to police killings of two unarmed black men - one in Baton Rouge, LA and another in suburban St. Paul, MN - over the previous 48 hours.

Reactions to the news are largely predictable. Supporters of law enforcement, especially their families and friends, will rightly decry the attacks for the cowardly acts they were. Those outraged by the seemingly growing police misconduct across our country will rightly ask why the murder of these police officers receives more compassion from the community - especially the white community - than the murders of people of color by police officers. Hash tags and tempers will fly, posturing will abound, statements from the sublime to the ridiculous will be made, and little will change until we see that there can be more than one right answer to any question. The truth is that we need to move beyond dualistic thinking if we hope solve any complex problem we face. The answer isn't either-or, but rather both-and.

It is tragic when police officers kill unarmed people and it is tragic when police officers are killed. It is an absolutely cowardly act to kill people with sniper fire in a civilian setting and it is completely predictable that such a thing will happen when the society continues to ignore discrimination and lynching - and let's be clear, the murders of men of color in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and dozens of other places were nothing more than lynchings - at the hands of anyone, but most especially representatives of the government. Put more simply, you cannot legitimately be surprised when after throwing a number of lit matches onto a gasoline-soaked pile of wood it bursts into flames - yet that seems to be our reaction to tragedies like the Dallas sniper attacks!

Clearly, we need a new approach. We need to stop running as fast as we can to the two extremes put forth, that we either support police or support people of color, standing at those extremes and spitting vitriol at each other. We need to find a way to work together, but I don't believe that will happen until some of us take the first step. To be honest, I am not a fan of Black Lives Matter because the truth is that all people of color are the victims of police - and societal - discrimination. Don't Brown Lives Matter? Yellow Lives? Red Lives? Gay Lives? All those groups and more are the victims of the same discrimination that Black people face, and I believe that needs to be acknowledged. That being said, I believe it is a movement that isn't going to go away and that is probably a good thing because at some point even a movement based on a flawed concept is better than no movement at all. To be equally honest, I have occasion to regularly drive by a home with an "I support the badge" yard sign on display, and I find myself wondering why they don't just hang a confederate flag on their porch and a makeshift noose from their doorpost. One of the questions I haven't seen addressed, which doesn't mean nobody has addressed it, is when did it become acceptable for police to deploy robot bombs against civilians?

Have you ever seen a yard sign, bumper sticker, or hash tag that says, "I support a solution"? Of course you haven't, because America seems to be all about assigning blame rather than making substantive change. Once we can establish to our own satisfaction that we have identified who is to blame, we seem to feel no need to change anything. It is as if an arsonist burned our house down and we found the person responsible so we feel no need to rebuild our house! If that sounds absurd when talking about a building, why don't we seem to feel the need when it comes to our societal infrastructure and systems?

We obviously need substantive change, but to achieve that goal we are going to have to find a way to work together to make it happen. While we need to move forward just as fast as we can, we also need to acknowledge that change will not happen overnight. We will need to replace elected officials who don't see the need for change. We will need to protest, non-violently and continually, and agitate for change. We will need to demand justice. We will need to be relentless. One thing we cannot do is allow those in power to continually divide us into two opposing camps and thereby neutralize our power.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Can I be a Person of Faith and...?

Every once in a while I come across a discussion that begins with the question I posed as the title to this post - "Can I be a person of faith and....?" Honestly, most of those discussions are pretty much a waste of time because they are hypothetical and walk a line of extremes that doesn't reflect the world in which we live, a world with shades of difference lived mostly in the vast middle ground between extremes. Examining some of those questions will illustrate my point, and in the middle of this Presidential election year some of the questions are timely. 

Let's begin by examining a few questions of belief. We will examine these issues from the broad perspective of a generic person of faith, a member of one of the three Abrahamic traditions (i.e., Judaism, Islam, and Christianity) or of the two large Eastern traditions (i.e., Buddhism and Hinduism). Further, the perspectives within those traditions we will respond from will be fairly centrist and neither extremist nor radicalized. 

Q. Can I be a person of faith and hold some racist beliefs?
A. Yes, because the great majority of people hold some prejudice even though they may be unaware of it. What is required is a willingness to grow and to change.

Q. Can I be a person of faith and belong to any mainstream political party?
A. Generally speaking, yes.

Q. Can I be a person of faith while struggling with violent thoughts or tendencies?
A. Yes, because many if not most of us do, even though we may not be aware of it. What is required is that we are addressing these issues.

Q. Speaking now to the American political parties, does either political party more accurately reflect the views of people of faith on a regular basis.
A. No, and particular candidates or office holders may or may not.
We could go on, but it's probably clear by now that in terms of beliefs, there are no particular beliefs - even those that might generally be thought to be problematic - that in any way disqualify a person from being a person of faith. We all have room for improvement in some areas and strengths in others. Presumably, as people of faith we all want to live into our particular belief system more fully. Here's where we run into some problems.

You see, there is no religious or spiritual tradition that advocates racism or xenophobia. Quite the opposite, in fact. Religious traditions call for special care for the stranger, the foreigner, and the outsider along with the less fortunate. So much for a massive wall on the Mexican border, no matter who pays for it, and so much for mass deportations on any basis. In fact. despite the fact that many people believe that American society was not only endorsed but mandated by God, nothing even remotely resembling our system of government existed in biblical times. Kings ruled the world. Jesus didn't prop up the local government in his day, he was killed because the occupying Roman forces thought he was plotting to overthrow them.

What needs to be said, and it needs to be said very clearly, is that if you consider yourself a Christian and support Donald Trump - including the wall, including his racist rhetoric, including his anti-Muslim rhetoric, including his misogyny - you are apostate and no longer a Christian. What's more, if you are one of those people I have seen on the Internet comparing The Donald to Jesus, that would be pretty close to what Jesus described as the unforgivable sin.

America is full of people who claim the label Christian but have so watered down and modified what that means that it has become little more than say a prayer, get out of hell free, and listen to a kicking worship band every now and again. Beyond that it's okay to hate, it's okay to beat people, it's okay to sling your rifles around, and to do pretty much whatever else your want, including an occasional "Heil Hitler" salute to the Donald, because now you are "saved." You might want to take another look at that.

Right now, America is a country that seems to be long on fear and short on common sense. Nowhere is that more evident that in our political process. I confess that I am biased, but I believe the only way that we will be able to move away from this horribly misguided belief we have that stuff will make us happy is to rediscover spiritual practice. It doesn't have to be any particular form of spiritual practice, but we do need to commit to it, for that is the only place we will find lasting happiness.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

When the Ideal Isn't Possible (Which is Always)

We all want things to be "the way they should be." Of course, a great deal of the time the way things should be is simply an illusion or a myth. Way back in the 1950s, even before my time <gasp!>, the television show "Ozzie and Harriet" supposedly depicted idyllic family life before the onset of the rather untidy 1960s. It was only decades later that we learned that Ozzie and Harriet weren't so tidy after all, and one of their children died in a plane crash freebasing cocaine. Many people were shocked to find that Ozzie could be less than pleasant - but thank God they did, although the lesson seemed lost on most.

Fortunately, most of us live a much lower profile existence than Ozzie and Harriet did. Unfortunately, many if not most of us are plagued by just as many struggles. Even more unfortunately, we don't realize that our plight is rather common. Instead we suffer from the delusion that Ozzie and Harriet's television existence was normative. We wonder why our family is so different, so unusual, so abnormal - when in reality if we were to define "normal" as being "a member of the majority" our struggling families would be astonishingly normal! If we could come to terms with that it might take some of the sting out of it when others try to wound us by announcing how abnormal our families were, or when our now adult children try to hold us hostage for doing the best we could and as a result not providing the perfect childhood we all imagine we deserve but that none of us actually receives!

Many times when our adult children complain about their childhood or teen years they are trying to understand what happened or still struggling to establish their own identity. That's fair enough, and a discussion - notice I didn't say " an explanation" - is in order, at a time when emotions and passions are not running high. However, at other times complaints are coming from a much less healthy place and any attempt at an explanation will be counter-productive and only result in more damage to the relationship. For example, if someone - whether parent or child - demands some sort of restitution for the other being less than perfect, there is an unhealthy process at work. If we add mental illness to the equation, especially personality disorders, moving forward may not be possible and the best we can hope for may be a detente.

Our culture has encouraged us to develop a profound sense of entitlement. As a result, many of us believe we should never have a struggle, never have to work hard, never have to answer questions, and that we always deserve an explanation. We see the evidence in everyone from our own family members to a dejected Cam Newton walking out of a post Super Bowl press conference like a recalcitrant child. The truth is that while we all would hope that everybody would have an ideal situation all the time, in reality it doesn't work out that way. We can become trapped in wishing things had been different and never get around to working through the way things really were. That doesn't help anybody. It's rather like saying that even though it's raining today you wish that it was a clear, sunny day and so you are going to leave your umbrella at home - and them complaining because you get wet! You can't have it both ways, and while it is sometimes disappointing, reality is definitely more rewarding.