Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Incarnation... Addressing the Frailties of Our Shared Humanity

Figs In Season Winter 2016 Divinity and Humanity... intersects in the middle.JPGFrazzled. Worn out. De-energized. Messed up. Discombobulated. Broken. Recognize any of these states of being in your own experience? You are not alone.

We live in a world where the experience of being overwhelmed with a sense of our vulnerability is shared. Winter, with its orientation of frigid discontentedness, brings home a very real sense of the shared frailties of our humanity. With the impact of these facts weighing on our consciousness, there is the fortuitous counterbalance that this is that season when multitudes around the world celebrate the Incarnation.

The beginning of Winter is when many around the world celebrate the coming of the Divine into the human experience in a way that is life-affirming and restorative. God, it is believed, becomes Man… and dwells in and among us. The Man-God comes to heal the breach initiated in Eden, and exacerbated in Cain’s murder of his brother Abel. The Savior comes to “rescue the perishing, and care for the dying”. He becomes “manna to the hungry soul… and to the weary, rest”.

There comes that moment in our experience when it is futile to deny the need for restoration and reconciliation. The many challenges that we face will eventually force us to pause, take a step back, sit down, and think about what we need to do in order to emerge from our frazzled-ness. By so doing, we give ourselves a needed reprieve from the discombobulation that is evident in our stumbling from one unfortunate circumstance to the other. If we are wise we voluntarily admit to the reality of the finiteness of our flesh. Wisdom makes us reflect on what it will take to move meaningfully forward, to regain our strength, and to correct our perspectives.

Much of what goes wrong within us, has to do with what is going wrong between us. The dysfunctions in us find expression in our various relationships. These relationships will include those that for one reason or other we have sought to ignore and to forget. Despite our best efforts to ignore them, they haunt us; they live daily in our conscious and subconscious behaviors. They thrive in the underworld created of and by our fears. This being the case, an examination of ourselves and the quality of our many relationships - present and past - is a good place to begin in our quest for a more fulfilling, more dynamic life experience. 

The re-filling that we need must begin within our own souls, and it must then necessarily find expression in the relationships that we engage in going forward. Let us make ourselves available to that which is Divine in and among us.

Wake Up!

Your life is yours. It is yours to lose. It is yours to save. It is yours to do something or nothing with. 

Ultimately no one else can occupy that space in eternity that you now inhabit. Accept that… know that this is true. Wake up from the slumber of unconsciousness that befalls so many. Open your eyes and train your senses for the challenges you must face as you become more and more aware of the circumstances that you now call your life. Is it what you want it to be? If not, why not? Be honest.

What are the aspirations that once energized you that have over time gone dormant? Where is the fire in your gut that once danced as a sparkle in your eyes? Like so many before you and around you, that fire may have been doused by the too many swallowed tears of mounting disappointments. Your primordial blaze may have succumbed to the many buckets of cold water poured on by those who seek to thrive by suppressing the aspirations of others. You may have gotten stuck in the mud of a sense of worthlessness cultivated by an overindulgence of your failings. You do not have to continue to wallow in that precarious existential state.

Your Moment Of Awakening comes, and when it does do not slight it as one more occasion of pipe-dreaming. Do not ignore your Epiphany by deferring the need to get up out of the bed of despair. Instead, adjust your position… determine to take up your bed and walk. 


Wake up, and set your face against the place that locks you up and shuts you down. Make up your mind to leave behind you every influence that binds you to a future of hopelessness.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

THIS SEASON OF GOODWILL


Around this time of year we celebrate a season of “goodwill toward men”. The general idea here is that we engage with those around us in a way that says we care about all those aspects of our lives together that make us better. It is a time when we pause to celebrate the better angels of our nature. We want to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, and uplift the spirits of our friends and neighbors through gift-giving.

This is a season when we pause to reflect on the foundational ideals of our civil society. The loud voices of religious conservatism among us call us to faith in their version of the Judeo-Christian value system. They call us to put and keep Christ in Christmas; even as they demonstrate either an ignorance of, or a total denial of the prophetic demands that have given life to this tradition throughout its history.

Inextricably bound with the coming of our Savior are the proclamations of the prophets who understood the undeniable relationship between God’s saving grace and the establishment of Justice in our midst. Can we meaningfully talk about Christ and Christmas in the absence of a real commitment to the proclamations of Amos or Isaiah, or any of the prophets for that matter? Have we not heard the admonition of the prophets echoing in Amos’ appeal to “let justice go rolling on like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream…”?

I speak with the prophets when I declare that we must not have our voices co-opted in what has become an orgy of commercial excess this time of year, while we ignore the political and economic culture that furthers the oppression and marginalization of the disadvantaged among us. Businesses and their political benefactors that deny a livable wage to workers can’t cleanse their consciences by the giving of gift baskets at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
In light of the fundamentalism which insists that we must give prominence to the Biblical foundations of our nation’s origins, it becomes imperative that we raise some fundamental questions about those foundations. What, we must ask, are the social ramifications of a belief system that assumes the “fatherhood” of “a common Creator”? Am I my brother’s keeper? Do I have the right to demand that I be treated as a “fellow person”?  

In the tradition of Martin Buber, a prominent twentieth century philosopher, religious thinker, political activist and educator; shall we cultivate amongst ourselves “I-thou” rather than “I-it” relationships? Do we truly believe that all persons are created equal; and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights? Is the pursuit of happiness a birthright of all persons regardless of race, gender, or nationality?

This Season Of Goodwill is a time when we should take every opportunity to get better … If we are not sure how, we should take every opportunity to find out.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Becoming


WHEN I free myself of childhood dreams…
When I let go of adult schemes…
When naiveté no longer appeals to me…
And ambition is stored with other vanities…
Then…I will become

When fear no longer in me abides…
And I let id, ego, superego, slide…
And I no more need to fit the mold
And let my destiny unfold…
Then I will…my heart being still…become

I can only be
What God has purposed for my life…
And I will only see the tree
That bears the fruit
Which enrich my days…
When I am
What I am
And always was
And can be nothing else…

When I am…that I am…
I have become

From “In My Element” by Roy Alexander Graham
https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/in-my-element/id574441227?mt=11
This material may be protected by copyright.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Witness


…And I awoke in the arena of my intrigue
To witness the dark tales of my surreal anticipation…
A lion embracing a bear
And littering reality with the offspring
Of an altogether illicit affair…
I saw the marriage of an old stumbling empire
As she fell in time
To the capricious wiles of an enticing romance…
Whore to whore wed locked
And vowing allegiance
Till death…
I saw the prophet led to his death in chains
While a bootlegging pharaoh and his klan*
Aspired to throne after throne
Dying death after death…but aspiring still
While young lions slept…
I saw the priests of an untenable union
Inwardly and outwardly frocked
In robes that hid them from the uncomfortable truths
Of a time when lions lay down with lambs
Having crushed the capricious existence
Of an abominable union…
…And I pinched myself
To confirm that I was not dreaming…
For all around me the earth shook
As whore ran to whore for shelter…
The rock of their convenience
Having been obliterated
And rising out of the earth like gods…
The prophet’s sons…
With sword and shield…advancing
I have witnessed the weeping and wailing
Of those who mocked and scorned
When righteous men told them
Behave.

[* Originally rendered ‘sons’]


From “In My Element” by Roy Alexander Graham
https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/in-my-element/id574441227?mt=11
This material is protected by copyright

Monday, October 15, 2018

WHERE MY TEARS COME FROM

From ducts deep in my soul
where pains and joys
and compassions swell…

From confluences in the course of our experience
where we meet and mingle
and recognize our sharing of common ground…
And feel that certain rush
of our destination’s blue…

From our confessions
voluntarily or otherwise given…
verbally or otherwise spoken…
That now allows for the lifting
of that lid which suppresses
a certain internal commotion
in the swollen chambers of our hearts
that threatens to explode unless relieved…

For those who look on and wonder…
That is where my tears come from…


Monday, September 17, 2018

THE AUTUMN OF WORN WAYS

The Challenges of Being and Becoming
The tension between who we are and who we must become in order to realize our fullest human potential is real. That tension is, for many, a source of great physical, emotional, and spiritual trauma.

The demands of growth and change can seem overwhelming, but to maintain our health and sustain our general well-being we must at some point make a determination to meet them. This process is without doubt uncomfortable, since it involves our breaking out of old ways into new ways of being and behaving. Some of us recognize and embrace the change that grows us; while some of us will have that change forced upon us in the very midst of our unwillingness.

Over the course of our lives, and from one generation to another, we develop a certain vested interest in keeping things stable. We do not like change. We work on the establishment of a certain status quo in our personal and communal experiences, and we invest substantial material and intellectual resources in its maintenance. We become comfortable with the ways we establish, and we resist any attempt to breach the walls that surround those ways. To keep those walls up we foster certain self-serving dogmas… We demand that others not rock our boats… And why?...  Well… We do not want our boats to be rocked! Simple. No more questions. That. Is. It.

Well, as for the no more questions part… Not so simple. For better or for worse, the rocking of boats is an inevitable fact of life in the very fluid course of our dynamic reality. The challenges of our existence are not just omnipresent and inevitable; they are necessary. They enliven us by stirring our creative juices. These challenges come and go like day and night. They are as present and as essential as Oxygen in the air we breathe. They are at once as certain, and as unpredictable as the wind. And, when they come, they demand that we make adjustments in both the perceptions and the practices of our lives.

Back Then, As In Our Time...
I experience a certain guilty pleasure from relating this experience of someone known to me. He is Caucasian, I am Black. Having examined my soul for traces of insensitivity, and after eliminating the possibility that I do not share his existential dilemma… I can now tell this story without the constraints of cultural sympathy, but with an appropriate consciousness of our shared humanity and the inherent frailties thereof.

This gentleman grew up in George Wallace’s South where the social, economic, and political prosperity of Whites was premised on the continued disenfranchisement and oppression of Blacks. He was probably there at Wallace’s inauguration as the Democratic Governor of Alabama in 1963, when in the face of the rising challenge to a racist status quo the newly elected Governor declared:

In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!”

Segregation forever? Well, maybe not.

All the passion in the world cannot make an untenable position durable. It matters not who it's proponent is, or the extent of his or her persuasion. Race was the outstanding line in the sand here; but color was not the only factor in the offensive and grossly immoral social dynamic of the time. The twin markers of gender and sexual orientation also played a role in determining social and political progress, and thus the possibilities for one’s overall prosperity. These things were true then, and they are still factors influencing a person’s ability to thrive in our time.

Back then, as now, the players on either side of the cultural divide weren't always who you would assume or expect. There were homosexual persons who publicly condemned homosexuality. Blacks were complicit in the oppression of other Blacks, actively promoting the self-denigrating dogma that ‘nothing black is ever good’. Women were activists against the political empowerment of women.

The late Phyllis Schlafly, an ardent conservative political activist who came to prominence as an anti-communist crusader in the 1950s spent much of her life championing the supremacy of “traditional values” over “progressive causes” like feminism and gay rights. She died on September 5, 2016 at the age of 92. It wont be long now till a woman is elected to the Presidency of the United States, and with this in mind many are mocking the declaration: “There will be a woman President over my dead bodywhich has been attributed to her. To be responsible I must add that this declaration has not been authoritatively verified as having come from Ms Schlafly, even though there is no doubt that this is a shared sentiment among many women who call themselves conservative.

The Not So Indelible Impressions of Our Dogma
The stain of our cultural myopia still colors the sentiments, and impugns the integrity, integumentary and otherwise, of many. Which takes me back to the case of this man, the subject of my story. He, while in his early twenties, had the Confederate flag tattooed …emblazoned across his sun-tanned chest… So that it would go before him wherever he went. This being the case, he would wear his shirt buttoned low, or open-fronted as often as fashion and etiquette permitted.

This son of the Confederacy himself became a father during the days of ‘Rock and Roll’. He thrived and raised his children during a period when the legacy of racial injustice and oppression, neo-colonialism, and the threat of nuclear war were ever-present themes. These were the overwhelming socio/political impressions of the time that led the inspired activist-artist Bob Dylan to pen such anthems as:

Blowin' in the Wind
‘’How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, and how many times must the cannonballs fly
Before they're forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind
The answer is blowin in the wind”

And ...

A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall
“Oh, what did you meet my blue-eyed son ?
Who did you meet, my darling young one?
I met a young child beside a dead pony
I met a white man who walked a black dog
I met a young woman whose body was burning
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow
I met one man who was wounded in love
I met another man who was wounded in hatred
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard
And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall”.

The season of Rock and Roll evolved into the season of Rap and Reggae… Reggae, a sound that has its origins in the shared dynamic syncopation of our heartbeats… This season mobilized a strident uprising against racism and apartheid, against wars and rumors of wars, against economic vampires and their bloodsucking ways... It shook the foundations of the System of Oppression from Jamaica to Rome to London to Paris to Washington to South Africa to Mozambique. This season spoke with an unmistakable force in the voice of prophetic luminaries like Robert Nesta Marley and the Wailers… A force felt in the well-fired architecture of renditions of:

Babylon System
‘We refuse to be
What you wanted us to be;
We are what we are:
That's the way it's going to be. You don't know!
You can't educate I
For no equal opportunity:
Talkin' 'bout my freedom,
People freedom and liberty!
Yeah, we've been trodding on the winepress much too long:
Rebel, rebel!”

And…

War
“Until the philosophy
Which holds one race superior and another
Inferior
Is finally
And permanently
Discredited
And abandoned
Everywhere is war
Me say war
That until there are no longer
First class and second class citizens of any nation
Until the color of a man's skin
Is of no more significance than the color of his eyes
Me say war”

And it was in these days that this man became a great- grandfather… To a black baby boy.

You see, his granddaughter was a student at one of our now desegregated colleges here in the South. Yes, the ones that have the authors of those strident racist dogmas - ‘Segregation forever!’ - turning over in their graves. And it was while she was a student there that she fell in love with an African American classmate, a not so uncommon occurrence nowadays in the new evolving multicultural reality that a Barack Hussein Obama demographic represents. Oh, you did know that his mother was a white woman… ? Of course you knew that. And he went on to become POTUS… President of these United States of America; a world leader second in popularity only to this current Pope. Nothing said about him by a certain Donald J. Trump and the bigots among his followers can change that. And did I mention that these United States of America continues to include the great States of Alabama and Mississippi, and Georgia, etc. But I digress. Let's return to our new great grandfather.

Being and Beneficence
There is a well repeated fact that we regard and repeat with a kind of liturgical steadfastness: The Lord moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform. We say this with the reverence it deserves. Amen. When this man first learned that his granddaughter was expecting a child ‘‘by a colored boy’...that's how it was presented to him by one of the young woman’s aunts…he was speechless. By his own words, he ‘didn't know what to feel or what to think’.

In the months preceding the birth of the child, they were introduced to the youngman over and over. If nothing else, these reintroductions provided opportunities to get over the very real awkwardness that existed on both sides. The initial tentativeness wore thin with the experience of a growing familiarity. By the time the baby was born our great grandfather had gone from soft hesitant handshakes, to firm but still awkward embraces of the now husband of his grandchild.

And so that moment came when, as he sat in the well-worn, white rocking chair that adorned his verandah in rural Georgia; the baby boy…the black child of his white grandchild… was brought and placed in his arms. He held the child up to his eyes with his arms straight at each elbow, and then he slowly brought him to rest on his chest...his suntanned confederate-flag-emblazoned-chest. It was a moment like none that he ever expected to experience. Rocking back and forth in that chair, his chest became more expansive with the deepened breath that came to him in that very moment - Some would say a sigh - I say a deeper breath than he had ever taken in all his years.

And he became silent as something happened inside that flag-stained domicile of his emotional being. His face became flushed as his once very stubborn heart opened up and gave space to emotions that were more compliant with the demands of a deepened humanity. And as he experienced the liberation that Love brought, the tears that ran down his face became a libation to the sacredness of the moment. It moistened and lubricated the now non-existent space between his cheek and the soft innocently fragrant face of his new great grandchild. And some of those tears rolled to the edge of his lips, and he licked them in - savoring the essential blessedness of the new cultural reality that beckoned.

Love, we can affirm, is an agent of change. It carries the full force and authority of the essence of what it means to be. It comes to break down barriers cemented in the substance of our convenient dogmas. Love came. And change came. It did like a raging torrent in that moment.  And the tears that flowed in its track washed into oblivion the brokenness of a cantankerous past with all its coarse debris. And the child looked up at his great grandfather’s face and smiled. And he… He groaned in relief, as if to lay a burden down.

Until We Open Our Hearts...
The next day came, and not a moment too soon. He woke up early, and with a newfound determination he took time off from his usual chores. His world had changed. He must now become a willing agent of that change. Change does not require our permission or consent. It comes. And when it does we either flow in its course, or remain stubborn… But then, like unmovable rocks in the course of a determined river, we get reduced to sand and silt. We either comply with the demands of change, or we become the fertile remnants of a non-compliant past.

And so this man went about the business of finding out how and where he might go about removing that tattoo from the flesh that housed his heart. He had for too long walked down that road where some men are not regarded as fully human… as truly men. He was once a man who was ‘wounded in love’, who now felt the urgency to stop being an agent of hate. No more would he trod the winepress of bigotry. A new consciousness dawned in his blurred world when his heart was touched by Love in all its eloquent splendor.

In his quest to blot out that old symbol of hatred and oppression he was not totally successful. But he did manage to get that flag reconfigured to look more like the Star Spangled Banner. Not a perfect outcome we can agree, but one more in keeping with the promise of a more perfect Union.

In the face of everything that we are taught about being, we remain yet ignorant until we open our hearts to each other. Our dogmas serve to indoctrinate us in the ways of our cultural biases; but they are no substitute for the true learning that comes from the affirmation of the needs and the potentials of our common humanity. Beyond the narrowed perspectives and the practice of the dogmas informing the status quo in our lives, a real education awaits. To summarize a wiser soul than myself, …At the very heart of that education, is the education of our hearts.

A Nation In Decline?

A voice crying in the wilderness declares:

... American politicians are not as much concerned about right and wrong as they are about Right and Left. There is no longer a preoccupation with principles, they live and sell their souls for the privilege of power. The call to partisanship has drowned out the call to service, as those who were elected to serve now are the servants of masters whose priorities have nothing to do with the best interest of the populace.

Above the ideals that unite a people for their common prosperity, are the yells of demagogues who live to divide so they can rule. And this my friends is the dilemma we face; we are a nation in decline because our Congress has made a deal with the Devil. And this deal, it seems, has been co-signed by enough of us to give it teeth... or has it?

And a contrary voice shouts back
 ... NOTHING NEW THERE!

And the voice responds....
True. But can a nation thus conceived survive?

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 clichéd 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.

A New Year Resolution... Feed The Good Dog

“A Native American elder once described his own inner struggles in this manner: Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean a...