Thursday, June 28, 2018

Stepping Back From The Edge... Surviving The Wilderness In Our Experience

In the mid 1990s, the leader of one of the world’s most popular musical enterprises shook up the assumptions many had about his life when he was found dead with a shotgun laying across his body. It was concluded that he had committed suicide. His “success” at what he did was rather obvious to the superficial observer, many of whom longed for the kind of fame/notoriety that this artist had achieved. My reflections on this event, and others like it at the time, led me to pen the following:

Heard your songs… Empathized with your lust
Sung along like a chorus must
Seen the litany… Of your strain
In lines recurring like water in rain
And I’m wondering… Wondering… Wondering why
You keep using new words… To tell the same lie

Heard your songs…. Recognized their thrust
Sung along like a chorus must
Known your emotions… As they touched our strife
Like the sharp edges of a butcher’s knife
And I keep wondering… Wondering… Wondering why
You think the same potion… Will cause a new high

Heard your songs
Sung them over… and again
You have drained all the juice
From your joy… and your pain
It seems you have achieved all you set out to gain
And so I’m wondering… Wondering… Wondering why
Instead of truly living
You have chosen
To die.”

Recently we learned of the apparent suicide of another cultural icon, a man who came to be regarded by many as the Elvis of our culinary culture. This man came across as a person who was doing what he loved. To the casual observer, he seemed rather comfortable in his own skin. Sampling food from various countries was his thing; we in turn were attracted to what appeared to be his voracious appetite for life in its many cultural variations. It seems we were wrong…

The prevalence of suicidal behavior has become a focus of our common experience. In the past two decades we have seen a fifty percent increase in suicides among women, and an over twenty percent increase among men in the United States. The reasons for taking one’s own life are many and complex,  but they are generally related to an inability to cope in the face of various stressors with which we are confronted in our various circumstances.

The assumptions that once informed our conversations about the “‘sacredness of life” seem to have worn thin in a culture that thrives on an all-consuming materialism. In addition to this inconvenient truth, we must come to terms with the role that our tendency to victimize those whom we perceive as being different continues to play in pushing some “over the edge”.  Not to be ignored in this conversation is a growing philosophical orientation that insists on one’s right to end one’s life regardless of any moral or other objections that are raised.

There is that juncture in our life’s journey where we are challenged to come to terms with the clich├ęd ontological dilemma… To be or not to be. For some persons this is that place where they feel without doubt that they must either choose to continue to live, or end it all. When confronted with as critical a circumstance as this, we may find ourselves fortunate enough to embrace the providential fact that it’s not just about us. This is that wilderness between all the places we have been that did not meet our expectations, and the ‘’promised land’’ in our experience. It is where we are confronted with the proverbial “burning bush’’ of unrealized truth, and are summoned to to take stock of the quality of the ground under our feet.

At critical points in our life journey we can be lulled into a precarious daze by any number of heartbreaking occurrences. Failed relationships, disappointing outcomes in our business affairs, disease, sudden misfortune; these among other spirit-depressing events can take us to the brink of that unforgiving precipice.

For those who have ears to hear, it is in this moment that the unmistakable prodding of the ominous “I AM” calls to our attention the critical fact that if we are to continue to be, we must fill our lives - with other lives. The wisdom of lives well lived confirm the substantial-ness of the oft repeated refrain: “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.  Lucky, or maybe more aptly, fortunate,  because this is the proven formula for how we can save our own lives!

As we work our way through each life experience we come to realize that it is more important to give of ourselves, than to have for ourselves. With eyes wide open, and ears tuned to a more holistic reality, we come to embrace empathy instead of succumbing to self-pity. With the growing consciousness of an evolving spirit, we develop the ability to separate our needs from the things by which we have come to define ourselves and our lives in a culture of materialism. We come to realize, eventually, that there is a filling that results from fasting; a fulfillment that only comes when we engage in the process of emptying ourselves of the bloatedness of the vanity that consumes us.

The realization that it is our connectedness that will inspire our ultimate viability  is crucial. Embracing our need of each other leads to the expansion of the social dimensions of our existence, and inevitably to the broadening of our spiritual horizons. That broadening of our horizons is a function of our collective commitment to the work of healing our world. We are called to this task by a chorus of hopefulness… a hopefulness expressed in the well known song of Michael Jackson and company :

Heal the world
Make it a better place
For you and for me
And the entire human race
There are people dying
If you care enough for the living
Make it a better place
For you and for me”.

Yes, there are people dying, if we care enough for the living let’s work to make the world a better place for you, for me.. for us all.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

THE ONGOING CRISIS IN PALESTINE - Living and Dying in an Unsustainable Duality

The central problem is this: How can the oppressed, as divided, unauthentic beings, participate in developing the pedagogy of their liberation? Only as they discover themselves to be hosts of the oppressor can they contribute to the midwifery of their liberating pedagogy. As long as they live in the duality in which to be is to be like, and to be like is to be like the oppressor, this contribution is impossible. ” - Paulo Freire - The Pedagogy of the Oppressed







A Palestinian protester throws stones at Israeli troops during clashes after protests near the border with Israel in the east of Gaza Strip
Palestinians hurl stones and incendiary devices at Israeli forces
On Tuesday July 15 2014 an Israeli newspaper Arutz Sheva published an op-ed written by Moshe Feiglin titled “ My Outline for a Solution in Gaza”. Feiglin spoke then as head of the Manhigut Yehudit faction, and a leader in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud Party. He refered to his article as: “Clear and concise...” because it is in fact very clear and very concise in its intention. These are Feiglin's - “Steps toward achieving quiet in Gaza”:

Ultimatum – One warning from the Prime Minister of Israel to the enemy population, in which he announces that Israel is about to attack military targets in their area and urges those who are not involved and do not wish to be harmed to leave immediately. Sinai is not far from Gaza and they can leave. This will be the limit of Israel’s humanitarian efforts. Hamas may unconditionally surrender and prevent the attack.

Attack – Attack the entire ‘target bank’ throughout Gaza with the IDF’s maximum force (and not a tiny fraction of it) with all the conventional means at its disposal. All the military and infrastructural targets will be attacked with no consideration for ‘human shields’ or ‘environmental damage’. It is enough that we are hitting exact targets and that we gave them advance warning.


Siege – Parallel to the above, a total siege on Gaza. Nothing will enter the area. Israel, however, will allow exit from Gaza. (Civilians may go to Sinai, fighters may surrender to IDF forces).


Defense – Any place from which Israel or Israel’s forces were attacked will be immediately attacked with full force and no consideration for ‘human shields’ or ‘environmental damage’.


Conquer – After the IDF completes the "softening" of the targets with its fire-power, the IDF will conquer the entire Gaza, using all the means necessary to minimize any harm to our soldiers, with no other considerations.


Elimination- The GSS and IDF will thoroughly eliminate all armed enemies from Gaza. The enemy population that is innocent of wrong-doing and separated itself from the armed terrorists will be treated in accordance with international law and will be allowed to leave. Israel will generously aid those who wish to leave.


Sovereignty – Gaza is part of our Land and we will remain there forever. Liberation of parts of our land forever is the only thing that justifies endangering our soldiers in battle to capture land. Subsequent to the elimination of terror from Gaza, it will become part of sovereign Israel and will be populated by Jews. This will also serve to ease the housing crisis in Israel. The coastal train line will be extended, as soon as possible, to reach the entire length of Gaza.


According to polls, most of the Arabs in Gaza wish to leave. Those who were not involved in anti-Israel activity will be offered a generous international emigration package. Those who choose to 

remain will receive permanent resident status. After a number of years of living in Israel and becoming accustomed to it, contingent on appropriate legislation in the Knesset and the authorization of the Minister of Interior, those who personally accept upon themselves Israel’s rule, substance and way of life of the Jewish State in its Land, will be offered Israeli citizenship”

One would be right to question the audacity of such a statement published for the civilized world to peruse. There is an obvious insanity that undergirds such audacity, and it is not the kind of madness that we can afford to ignore. The article reminds me of another “solution” that resulted in one of the most abhorred episodes in human history. The Holocaust Encyclopedia records the following:

“On July 17, 1941, four weeks after the invasion of the Soviet Union, Hitler tasked SS chief Heinrich Himmler with responsibility for all security matters in the occupied Soviet Union. Hitler gave Himmler broad authority to physically eliminate any perceived threats to permanent German rule. Two weeks later, on July 31, 1941, Nazi leader Hermann Goering authorized SS General Reinhard Heydrich to make preparations for the implementation of a complete solution of the Jewish question." 

According to this same articleGerman SS and police murdered nearly 2,700,000 Jews in the killing centers either by asphyxiation with poison gas or by shooting. In its entirety, the "Final Solution" called for the murder of all European Jews by gassing, shooting, and other means. Approximately six million Jewish men, women, and children were killed during the Holocaust -- two-thirds of the Jews living in Europe before World War II”.

With all due disrespect to euphemisms from the mouths of those we know as murderous villains in the course of human history, let me suggest that the word “solution” should never proceed from the mouth of a Jew toward Palestinians in the “occupied” territories. 

The article by Moshe Feiglin expresses the crassness and inhumanity that has come to characterize Zionist behavior toward the Palestinian people. This crassness and inhumanity found expression in the slaughter of dozens of Palestinians, including women and children, and severe injuries to thousands of others protesting against Zionist oppression in recent days.

According to the Holocaust Encyclopedia:

“After the September 1939 German invasion of Poland (the beginning of World War II), anti-Jewish policy escalated to the imprisonment and eventual murder of European Jewry. The Nazis first established ghettos (enclosed areas designed to isolate and control the Jews) in the Generalgouvernement (a territory in central and eastern Poland overseen by a German civilian government) and the Warthegau (an area of western Poland annexed to Germany). Polish and western European Jews were deported to these ghettos where they lived in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions with inadequate food.”

In the minds of Jews like Feiglin, Gaza is nothing but a “ghetto” and its inhabitants are nothing more than “vermin” that must be wiped out to make way for Zionist ambitions. The “elimination of terror from Gaza” is the same as the elimination of any man, woman, and child who dares be perceived as obstacles to such ambitions. Feiglin has seen the enemy...it is him. He dwells in an unsustainable duality that has degraded his humanity. For him, to be is to be like, and to be like is to be like the Nazi that he has been conditioned to despise.

The Zionist is yet to realize that his own liberation is inextricably bound with the liberation of the Palestinian. He is numb to the glaring reality that his every expression are manifestations of his own dehumanization. He finds himself in a delusional state in which he actually believes that he can quarantine himself and his clan from the pandemic of violence that his inhumanity breeds.

Reasonable voices must prevail against the insanity of the rabid fundamentalism on both sides. Israel's right to exist and to defend itself should never be an excuse for the disproportionate use of force to accomplish patently inhumane ends. Reasonable people have laid the groundwork for two states living side by side in civility. That work must bear fruit despite the objections rationalized on each side and their detractors. 

The resolution of this conflict requires the engagement of truly liberated persons. People willing to let go, not forget, but willing to work in creative ways to establish Peace despite the horrors in their common memories. The process has not been and will not be easy, but it is critically necessary that it endures through completion. The establishment of a comprehensive Peace in the Middle East is necessarily a work of persons dedicated to Justice for all involved. It is a work that requires the efforts of truly liberated participants. 

Paulo Freire aptly describes the peril and the promise of the work that must be done: "Liberation is thus a childbirth, and a painful one. The man or woman who emerges is a new person, viable only as the oppressor-oppressed contradiction is superseded by the humanization of all people. Or to put it another way, the solution of this contradiction is born in the labor which brings into the world this new being: no longer oppressor nor longer oppressed, but human in the process of achieving freedom."

Despite the hopes of those who work and pray for a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, the birthing of a different state of being in Palestine is destined to be a process fraught with pain and bloodshed... on both sides.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

REALITY BYTES... Tragic Factoids Informing Our Laughter And Our Tears

I grew up in Kingston, Jamaica, where the proliferation of “garrison communities” has to this day engendered a sense of persistent insecurity among the people who inhabit them. These are places where ruthless gangsters and politicians exploit the survival instincts of their henchmen in pursuit of their own ignoble goals. These “communities” suffer some of the highest murder rates in the world. The devaluation of life in these circumstances has led to the kind of social destitution in and around them that is described in Damian Marley’s “Welcome to Jamrock” :
“Welcome to Jamdown, poor people a dead at random
Political violence, can’t done!
Pure ghost and phantom,
The youth dem get blind by stardom… 
To see the sufferation sicken me
Them suit no fit me, to win election them trick we
Den them don’t do nuttin at all”
I lived my teenage years in the environment that Damian Marley so aptly describes in his lyrical exposition of the facts of life in these violence disposed ghettos. By the time I was 20 years old, many of the boys I had gone to elementary and secondary/high school with were either dead or in jail. They had become perpetrators or victims, all equally susceptible to the destructive wrath of the sharp edges and bullets of the criminal/political tribalism around them.
I have been robbed. I have been shot at. I have loved ones who were raped. I have seen the mayhem of brutality and murder. I have been called a “slave” for believing in the virtues of hard work by those who chose to be “thugs”. I have been caught up in curfews where a policeman told me to “run” so I would become a target of his trigger-happy, murderous inclination. 
I believe I am alive today because something greater than the fear in me made me stand firm against this prevalent inhumanity. Scary as it was, I learned to walk through it. I know about the corrupt influence of politicians, and cops, and preachers. There are evil people in the world, and no amount of naivete or pseudo-liberal idealism will, or can change that reality.
I make no excuses for those who choose to cultivate their depravity with excuses about being poor or disadvantaged. I grew up among the poor and disadvantaged; and I know that decency and industry was as much a part of our experience and aspirations as it may have been among some of those experiencing the abundance that we longed for. I also know that we did not have the quality education and training facilities around us that the privileged were exposed to. Neither did we have the resources to bribe the police and politicians and other servants of the status quo in order to gain access to the advantages that the moneyed around us had.
Despite the deleterious influences around me I have always seen my life in terms of making a positive difference in my world. 
By the time I was 18 years old I had boiled down my vocational choices after high school to either law enforcement or the priesthood. I chose the church because I was convinced I would be no good at taking orders. Chalk that decision up to my persistent naivete. After four years of seminary I found myself in a vocational crisis that led me to the couch of a renowned psychoanalyst, who, after many sessions, concluded that my personality was most suited to work in a prison.
 I left her office laughing, I wasn't sure why… I remember that I was very sad.

Friday, April 20, 2018

4-20

LEGALIZE IT
By Peter Tosh

Legalize it 
Don't criticize it
Legalize it, yeah yeah
And I will advertise it
Some call it tamjee
Some call it the weed
Some call it marijuana
Some of them call it ganja
Never mind, got to legalize it 
And don't criticize it
Legalize it, yeah yeah
And I will advertise it
Singers smoke it, 
And players of instrument, too
Legalize it, yeah yeah
That's the best thing you can do
Doctors smoke it
Nurses smoke it
Judges smoke it
Even lawyer, too
So you've got to legalize it
And it don't criticize it
Legalize it, yeah yeah
And I will advertise it
It's good for the flu
Good for asthma
Good for tuberculosis
Even numara thrombosis
Go to legalize it 
Don't criticize it
Legalize it, yeah yeah
And I will advertise it
Birds eat it
Ants love it
Fowls eat it
Goats love to play with it
So you've got to legalize it
And it don't criticize it
Legalize it, yeah yeah
And I will advertise it
Keep on telling you legalize it
And don't, don't, don't criticize it

Friday, April 13, 2018

IS THE FATE OF ICARUS AWAITING DONALD TRUMP AND HIS ENABLERS?


In Greek mythology Icarus is the son of the master craftsman Daedalus, the creator of the Labyrinth in Crete. Having fallen out of grace with King Minos of Crete, Daedalus was imprisoned in a tower. With Icarus' complicity he hatched a plan to escape from Crete by means of wings that Daedalus constructed from feathers and wax. In preparation for the execution of their plan of escape Daedalus warns Icarus first of complacency and then of hubris, asking that he neither fly too high or too low, so the sea's dampness would not clog his wings or the sun's heat melt them. Icarus ignored his father's instructions not to fly too near the sun. When the wax in his wings melted he fell out of the sky into the sea and drowned.

 Daedalus is to Icarus what the Republican Party is to Donald Trump... his daddy. The GOP finds itself in a place of potential political isolation given its cultivation of a labyrinth of bigotry aided by demographic gerrymandering. In desperation they have embraced this offspring of their own bigotry in hopes of escaping from the tower of isolation to which an ever-changing society has them relegated. 

All considered, Donald Trump's ascendance to the leadership of the Republican Party is in essence the ultimate expression of a politically incestuous relationship. Some have deemed the ongoing drama of his dismantling of Republican ideals as poetic justice. He is the chicken that the GOP hatched after seven years of roosting with their backward, obstructionist Tea Party cousins. 


The leaders of the Republican Party, such as they are, now find themselves in the awkward position of desperately wishing they had aborted this unfortunate hybrid of their own bigoted over-indulgence. They are now powerless in this regard, since to denounce him now would create the kind of inter-party schism that could very well result in the end the GOP as we know it. I am led here to take liberties with a line from a hymn by the English poet and hymnodist William Cowper,  a line inspired by the Old Testament prophet Isaiah's profound query: "Can a mother's tender care cease toward the child she bear?"... I ask:


Can the Grand Ole Party's tender care cease toward this bombastic hybrid of the bigoted conservatism that they have bred and cultivated?


We are witnessing what is without doubt a painful existential moment for the Republican Party. When they look at Trump's face, when they listen to the scurrilous bleatings emanating from his foul mouth, when they are forced to face the reality that his history as an amoral entity contradicts every principle they claim to hold dear; to say he is an embarrassment of major proportions would be an understatement. They would probably love to snuff out his political breath, or put a cork in his outrageous mouth, but it is too late. 


Short of breaking his proverbial wings with the blunt force of some kind of constitutional maneuver... the 25th Amendment comes to mind, they are helpless. Today's GOP is at the mercy of Trump's ignorance and bluster. They are left to cringe in embarrassment at his bombastic Tweets and his other half-literate utterings; and so they daily twist themselves into rhetorical pretzels in their attempts to account for his demonstrated idiocy. 

The GOP is now left to tend to its own self-inflicted wounds. the coming departure of  an apparently spineless Speaker Paul Ryan reveals the extent of the painful predicament they face.


For Trump's part, the true nature and potential of his ascendance is about to be revealed. The country and the world now waits with baited breath for the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. The prospect of having his wings clipped by a Grand Ole Party that for the most part now regards him with unbridled disgust is one thing. Finding out that his rise to political prominence has largely been a function of the superficial nature of our political and media culture; and that he may well be the Trojan horse of a hostile foreign power will be quite another. We may yet find out why he appears so genuinely incredulous that he rose to the top of what was quite a political heap. 

Trump's proximity to the luster of the nation's highest office is apparently quite thrilling to him. He now occupies that sacred space. Like the son of Daedalus, he is all fired up about his rise to unexpected heights.  He had no problem negotiating his way through the GOP's grossly ill-conceived political labyrinth, but he is discovering, quite to his chagrin, that maintaining his ascendance in the hot lights of the nations scrutiny is quite another matter. Hell, he seems to be daily warming to the fact that he is woefully ill-equipped for the challenge he now faces.


Like Icarus, Donald Trump is discovering that flying too close to the sun with wings unsuitably engineered, has certain inherent risks. He employed a by any means necessary approach to rising above his fellow inmates in the institutional circumstance he found himself in. But now The Donald is discovering that the feathers enabling his political flight are fixed by wax... the wax of his Party's hypocrisy...the wax of a sensationalist media culture...the wax of his own gross unpreparedness...the wax of ignorance, hatred, and bigotry, that he so willingly exploits. 

His is quite a dilemma. The fate of Icarus more than likely awaits Trump. As he is always eager to remind us ... the election is over. The country now has to endure his unconventional approach to leadership.  He now stumbles forward,  egged on by the morally incoherent doting of his selected enablers - led by sycophants at Fox News. 


Some were led to expect more, but in characteristically Trumpian manner, we are being treated to... and unsettled by a remarkable lessening of the American Presidency with him occupying the Oval Office. He must now continuously face the unrelenting glare of public and media scrutiny, and it is now painfully obvious that he is woefully unprepared for the bright lights of a meaningful presidency. If Mr Bombastic is lucky he may land in another one of those TV reality dramas... much diminished of course, but with the ability to rehabilitate his unwieldy ego and his financial future. 

Icarus was not so lucky... he fell into the sea and drowned, leaving his father to bitterly lament his own craft. The coming departure of an unprecedented number of GOP congresspersons may be an indication of a catastrophe-in-the-making for the Republican Party. Beyond the anticipated meltdown of their leader, lets wait to see what lamentations proceed from their next autopsy.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

BLACK FLAMES THAT BURNED IN MY ANCESTORS' BLOOD

In The Circle Of My Fire... 

( Poetry... words that will become flesh in the lives of those who lynched and burned my brothers and sisters, and those who maintain the prisons that seek to keep us enslaved ) 

Judge and jury sitting scared…
Prosecutors trembling in electric chairs…
Here I am…Sitting in the dark court of my mind
Strumming the chords of my accusers’ fears
The anger in me turns to fire…
Black flames that burned in my ancestors’ blood
Burning…Blazing… I have become a blasting inferno
Of purple-hearted flames…
Sitting here with a callused glare
Melting the shield of those who dare…
Who dare to confine…And judge me


They sit in the sty of their own degradation
Breathing the stench of a putrid self-righteousness…
Tense with anticipation undefined…
Anxious to know what’s on my mind… they shuffle…
As I sit still…breathing slow full breaths
Thinking dark red thoughts
Making them wait…for a certain uncertain fate


A circle of flames from the hell of my hate now surrounds my adversaries…
Fanned by their own generic fears ...It singes them inside out
Conforming to my wishes that they should be afraid… Sore afraid
Until they tremble at the edge of their own outer limits
I do not care about their screams… Nor their tears
For it is their fear I want to indulge…
It is not their hurt I seek…
Just to break them... Not to make them crawl…
But to change their minds
And burn down every illusion that they have built
About their superiority…
About their right
To rule
Me


I train my flames to lick their lies
I make them live…In the circle of my fire…
I…make them live…In the circle of my fire



Tuesday, April 3, 2018

PUT AWAY THE HEAVY COATS

In the real world in which we live it gets very cold sometimes. Not just in winter, but in the many and varied times and spaces of our numerous relationships. For our own protection, and to maintain our good health, it becomes necessary to cultivate spaces of warmth and comfort for ourselves; and to dress our souls in the kind of physical, emotional, spiritual, and cultural attire that protects us from the pervasive risks of our challenging life environment.

"Coming in from the cold" is not just something we do in the chronological period between Fall and Spring; it should be, and becomes a part of protecting ourselves from the debilitating chill of those kairotic interludes in our day to day life experiences. Indeed there are times in our politics, in our culture, in our families, in our intimacies, in the many and varied circumstances that make up the totality of our existence - when we are forced to recognize and deal with the real discomforts of being in this world.

But we can't live with any real sense of joy in a perpetually clothed, or an unrelenting threat-prevention mode. There comes a time when to truly live we must unfold our arms, disrobe,  and let our guard down. This is not to temporarily or otherwise deny the real threats around us as evolving persons in an ever-evolving environment. Those threats always exist. Despite them however, we must eventually let our guard down in recognition of the fact that to survive and fulfill our sacred obligation to multiply ourselves in all the essential ways, we have to at some point make ourselves available to being embraced ...and to be embracers of others.

To truly live it is necessary to engage with passion in that bountifulness of being that affirms the wholeness of our humanity. This is what  allows us to be prolific in accordance with those creative expectations that make our hearts race and that enliven minds. Our heavy coats and other protective gear get in the way of that vitally creative process.

And so, as with the coming of Spring with its potential for birth and rebirth and renewal, we must shed the obstructive camouflages that keep us isolated, and that stunt the possibilities for growth and its consequential fruitfulness. This new season beckons us to live into the blossoming that portends that fruitfulness. We accommodate that beckoning by opening our minds and hearts and our very being to the possibilities of both a chronological and a kairotic season of abundance.

Stepping Back From The Edge... Surviving The Wilderness In Our Experience

In the mid 1990s, the leader of one of the world’s most popular musical enterprises shook up the assumptions many had about his life when ...