Monday, July 20, 2020

Our Brother John Lewis

A few years ago I sat with my wife in an audience at Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia, as Congressman John Lewis gave the Convocation Address to the thousands of incoming students and their families and friends gathered there to mark the start of their careers as college students. Our youngest son Trei was a part of this class.

The Congressman is a great example of someone who refused to live in the mold prescribed by the prevailing socio-historical circumstances into which he was born. He had to overcome much in his own experience…  And he did. 

The following is an excerpt from the biography published on his website:
He was born the son of sharecroppers on February 21, 1940, outside of Troy, Alabama.  He grew up on his family’s farm and attended segregated public schools in Pike County, Alabama.  As a young boy, he was inspired by the activism surrounding the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., which he heard on radio broadcasts.  In those pivotal moments, he made a decision to become a part of the Civil Rights Movement. Ever since then, he has remained at the vanguard of progressive social movements and the human rights struggle in the United States.
As a student at Fisk University, John Lewis organized sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in Nashville, Tennessee.  In 1961, he volunteered to participate in the Freedom Rides, which challenged segregation at interstate bus terminals across the South. Lewis risked his life on those Rides many times by simply sitting in seats reserved for white patrons.  He was also beaten severely by angry mobs and arrested by police for challenging the injustice of Jim Crow segregation in the South.

I listened, overwhelmed by a substantial empathy, and I observed the rapt attention being paid to this man by an audience currently reflective of the American demographic landscape. His resounding message: “Never give up! Never give in!” And as I sat there in that audience listening to Congressman Lewis, the words of Dr Maya Angelou came to mind :

You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.

The struggle continues.

Working Our Way Through Tough Circumstances

Out of the hard places in our experience can spring possibilities for growth and fulfillment that we will only know when we embrace the circumstances, no matter how challenging, that we find ourselves in. That embrace is not however an act in which we succumb to the dictates of what appears at first to be an overwhelming challenge.

Our ability to spring forth through the difficulties that are part of our environment is cultivated as a function of our willingness to explore the gaps that exist in those difficulties, and our recognition of the strength of being that is innate in every living thing.

No matter how dense with its own matter a circumstance may appear, there exists spaces in that apparent density that can be explored and exploited by living things subjected to that circumstance. 

The perceived impossibility of overcoming such obstacles is an illusion born of the fear that leads one to think and conclude that there is no way out. That fear results in a certain unwillingness to explore the nature and density of that which is perceived. The inevitable dogma of this way of being is - “nothing ventured, nothing gained”. Such a dogma is both a convenient truism and an admonition to the faint of heart.

Nothing is impossible to the determined being. The greater the challenge, the more enthusiastic the efforts to dissect and dislodge the obstacles that suppress the determination to be. Give it your all. You cannot lose that which you have never claimed. 

Saturday, June 27, 2020

The Season of Tyranny Must End


No one is safe in a society that ignores the tyranny of evil men. No one.

Antagonistic perspectives on life and a crisis of viable core values create behaviors in and amongst us that make the formation of community very difficult, if not impossible. The struggles that each generation must go through in its search for a more humane world, are testaments to the challenges inherent in the incompatible values of competing interests all around us. 

The aspirations of white supremacists, and the struggles of people of color for greater justice, are examples of the antagonism that is endemic in a society that has not come to terms with the necessity for laws that have their foundation in core values of fairness. This antagonism finds a cradle, and sustenance, in institutions critical to the functioning of our daily lives. In government. In law enforcement. In economic institutions. In academia. In media outlets. In the design and build of housing. In the origination and distribution of natural resources.

The law of the jungle has become a cliche that finds expression in the lives of those whose insecurities drive them to define their lives and the lives of others in terms of a certain tragic oppositeness. When the hopes of the white supremacist clash with the aspirations of those they seek to victimize, the consequences can be seen all over the world in the solidarity in conflict of those who demand that their lives be valued on a just scale. It is in the resulting struggle that a determination is made as to who is really the fittest of the fittest. 

Despite the obvious superficiality of the supremacist’s perspectives, this oppositeness that they insist on becomes the rationale for reeking havoc among us. Race. Gender. Sexual orientation. Nationality. These attributes, among other observable variations that occur in the course of our experiences, become the reasons for the attempts to - and the history of the dehumanization of one group by another.

Envy. Avarice. An overwhelming sense of one’s own perceived inferiority. A vain sense of being superior to others based on transient attributes. These corruptions of our humanity become the engine that motivates us in our assault on the lives of others whom we have conveniently devalued in our need to satisfy the sprawling emptiness of our souls. The vanity of those who insist on values that are incompatible with a durable sense of our common humanity eventually becomes their undoing. That with which we seek to destroy others will become the source of our own destruction. So Jah say!

Fear obliterates the commandment and the inclination to love thy neighbor as thyself. Hate, the torment that fear breeds and gives rise to, becomes our modus operandi. The cultivation of a sense of otherness finds its way to our doors in a world where reclusivity becomes the norm that dispenses with the need for community. And so we end up in an existential cul de sac in which we aim to denigrate and disenfranchise, rather than protect and serve each other. In time we fall into the ditch we dug for our presumed victims. 

Behold, the destiny of the oppressor is his own destruction.

It is no wonder then that the fires we designed to incinerate others become the inferno that turn our incivility to dust… It is not difficult to understand why our hypocritical lamentations about law and order become the echoes in the wind that haunt us… It can be expected then that our appeals to the beasts of our inhumanity will fall on deaf ears and deadened sensitivities when those beasts turn on us… . 

And so we live to see the graven images of those lifted  up as heroes by their acolytes to the chagrin of the dispossessed of the earth being toppled… even as we speak…

The season of tyranny must come to an end. 

We will no longer seek to reason with those who require the obeisance of our fellows even while they unashamedly press their vile knees against our necks. Reasoning with the unreasonable has shown itself to be an exercise in futility. We will not be an audience for the foul hot air that proceeds from the mouths of those who have, and continue to justify the creed of a vile culture while they ignore the anguished cry… I can’t breathe…

No more!

Our exasperation is expressed in expletives that forcefully object to the offensive nature of our dehumanization. Our cuss words are symbols that are meant to bear witness to our determination to no longer be polite to those who would openly and carelessly hurt us… and casually kill us. 

There is nothing polite about the hot lead that they let loose into our vulnerable flesh at the least provocation… or without provocation. There is nothing polite about the hard knee that forces our faces into the ground in public… while their cohorts casually look on. There is nothing polite about the looting they facilitate through an unjust economic system, even as they denigrate shoplifters who help themselves to the crumbs from tables in their midst.

The season of the unchecked fecundity of tyrants must come to an end. That time of the imposition and proliferation of an immoral value system must meet its inglorious and overdue demise. The expectation that we should submit and succumb to the violence of an unjust society must meet the torch of our determination to rise up and be counted. 

In the face of unchecked wickedness, we must lift our voices with the Rastaman Marley and declare:

We refuse to be
What you wanted us to be
We are what we are
That's the way it's going to be - if you don't know -
You can't educate I
For no equal opportunity (talkin' 'bout my freedom) 
Talkin' 'bout my freedom
People’s freedom and liberty!
Yeah, we've been trodding on the winepress much too long
Rebel, rebel!
Yes, we've been trodding on the winepress much too long
Rebel, rebel!”

When those who would lecture us unendingly about the virtues of law and order, themselves become lawless; those who believe in righteousness must embrace the destiny that unfolds in the necessary demolition of the status quo. Enough with the pointless otherworldly obfuscations of the wicked and their agents! We hear  now the voice of our ancestors militating against the values of a vampirical system of immorality. We heed the call to action implicit in their timeless warnings to oppressors then ...and now. 

In a moment such as this we hear the voice of His Imperial Majesty, the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie as he prophesied then…  And we declare now:

That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned;

that until there are no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation;

that until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes;

that until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race;

That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained.

Did you hear that… ?

No justice, no peace.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

A Man Like Me...

A man like me…the black man you see

Standing here in front of you…

In your eyes…but out of view

Always knew…

What it's like to be

A man…a black man like me

Can you tell me…

The black man you see

Standing here in front of you

Face to face…but out of view

Something new…about what it’s like

To be a man…a black man like me

Now look at me…stare deep into the mirror of my soul

And see yourself…

In my pain

In my degradation

In my crucifixion

In my resurrection…

Know me as I am

And receive salvation…

From a black man

Like me.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

That Voice Crying In The American Wilderness

At the very core of our idealism as a nation is a philosophical insistence that: "... All persons are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". This is the central idea informing the “exceptionalism” we claim as a nation. The preachers among us constantly remind us of the indelible imprint of the Judeo-Christian influence on our sense of who we are as a nation. 

Those who insist on the validity of the fundamental ideals informing our nation's origins, it's growth and  it's development; must never forget that our core religious belief is founded in a moral and ethical relationship with the God of Abraham and Moses. This is a Being who, throughout History, has declared on behalf of the disadvantaged, the oppressed, the widow and the orphan, and the wanderer seeking a place to build a better life for self and kin. 

If we have ears to hear we will pause and listen to the consistent call to Community that proceeds from a righteous Creator. That would be HIS/HER voice calling out to us from the “burning bush” at the center of our communal experience. It is a voice that demands that we reign in our scandalous propensity to the kind of violence that issues in torture and murder and wars for profit. It is a voice that calls us to account for the innocent blood that we shed, and are complicit in shedding, in our own nation and around the world. 

The Power from which that voice emanates is defined in the reality that we are inextricably connected in our "being", and are therefore essentially affected by all the circumstances that touch each of our lives. This connectedness of being transcends all national and tribal distinctions.

The voice of our supreme moral and ethical Source declares in no uncertain terms that, as a nation,  we must take off the boots of moral ignorance which weigh us down in the miry clay of a corrupt sense of being. Those boots keep us from advancing overdue liberty-promoting actions toward our fellow persons withering away as captives of an unjust system. They wither away in the Guantanamos in our midst, and our other prisons known and unknown. 

These captives yearn for deliverance from the liberty-suppressing, life-thwarting circumstances prevalent around them. The undeniable dynamism of that Voice holds our feet to the fires of Justice. Cover our ears as we might, that same voice echoes disturbingly from the distant “wilderness” of our beginnings as a nation. A nation founded on the ideals of Liberty, Equality, and Justice, as endowments of our common Creator.

Those among us who would “preach” to us about our religious foundations - especially those who claim to be conservatives- are required to have an exegetical moment that is ontologically meaningful. A nation that claims the God of Moses as its moral standard-bearer cannot continue to ignore the call of this same God “to do justly, and to love mercy”

This is not a moment in which we can comfortably resort to the kind of meaningless obfuscation that calls our crimes "mistakes”. Slavery was, and is a crime. Racism is criminal behavior. The predatory behavior of investment bankers is criminal. A for profit healthcare system that denies care in order to cull a profit for investors and shareholders is legally and morally reprehensible. Building jails as investment opportunities is in and of itself an injustice that reeks of criminality. 

Repeating platitudes that comfort those who choose various convenient states of inaction while ignoring the need for change, will only cement us in a place of cultural and spiritual decadence. Our claims to moral and political exceptionalism are meaningless in the face of our unwillingness to deal with the contradictions in our midst. 

It is time that we renew our commitment to the faith expressed in our foundational rationale for being America... Land of the Free, Home of the Brave. Beyond the parochialism of our claim to some special existential privilege, ours is a nation that claims a Faith based on an understanding of Salvation that is rooted in an act of Liberation. That Faith resonates in the powerful vibrations of one Robert Nesta Marley when he declares: 

"Jah come to break downpression (every manifestation of oppression)... Rule equality... Wipe away transgression,
Set the captives free... Set the captive free!... Set the captive free!" 

Thursday, March 19, 2020

... Like a Morning in Spring

Sing me a song
Like a morning in Spring;
Play me a tune
That warm sunshine will bring...
Wake me up 
With words so warm;
Sing me a song that will sound the alarm
Of all my senses.” 
~From “For All My Seasons” by the author - Roy Alexander Graham~

I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.”
~Pablo Neruda~
************************** ***************************
We experience the world and most things in it through the portals of our five senses. We see, we hear, we smell, we feel, we taste… And so we know. But beyond these five portals is a sixth sense… an innate intelligence that is shared by the trees, and the animals in the environment around us. 

This innate intelligence helps us prepare for essential changes in our world. It makes the birds fly South when they sense the imminence of certain changes. It makes the squirrels hoard nuts for the season of scarcity. It makes the trees shed their leaves in preparation for a season of dormancy. 

When the psalmist declares “Lord teach us to number our days, so that we may apply our hearts to Wisdom”; it is this intelligence that is being appealed to. Most people hear this as an oft repeated admonition at funerals, or as a gentle reminder to be conscious of the passing of time, especially around our birthdays. Beyond its function as an existential admonition however, we may aspire to relate to this piece of advice in the way that the birds and the trees and the flowers do. Yes, they too can, and do apply their hearts to Wisdom.

Engaging our sixth-sense-abilities...
Oh that we could or would connect with the world around us in ways that would cultivate a greater sense of the wonderful-ness, not just of our immediate environment, but of the vast universe that we are privileged to be dynamic atoms in. We can, if we want to. We can if we develop a strong enough desire to tear ourselves away from that superficial engagement with the world around us that we find so… convenient. We can, if we detach ourselves from the selfishness that keeps us bound to our fears. 

We can cultivate a more acute connection with our world, but only when we commit ourselves to being truly selfless explorers of its treasures. In moments of transient nobility some of us wish we could do for others what Spring does for the cherry trees... We hold on to this notion until we are forced to concede that in the absence of an essential empathy we can’t. We are unable to because for the most part we are not sensible enough Sensible as in sixth-sensible. We can’t because we have become prisoners in the open penitentiary of our own lack of benevolence. We trap ourselves in the cages we construct out of our unwillingness to let others in… .

We are so limited to the world created by our own myopia, and so fenced in by our narrow self-indulgent interests, that we have no true connection to the universe of the birds, and the bees, and the flowers, and the trees. In our pursuit of a world in which we seek to exclude others as a function of our own unjustness… our prejudices, our greed, our xenophobia, our warped sense of being, our gross ignorance - we have created a wilderness. 

We, out of the abundance of our own fears, have created a wasteland in which we are ruled by the multitude of our own existential anxieties. In the constant pursuit of our transient vanities, we have lost our sixth-sense-abilities. The result of all this is an inability to release our boundless potential - that dynamic in us that would allow us to be all we can and should be, to ourselves and to each other, in each season of our lives. It is a reason we wilt and die when we should be vibrant and prosperous. 

The absence of this dynamism weakens our rootedness in this world, and stunts our growth in ways that are at times life-threatening. This inability to live into the promises of the various seasons of our lives is an issue that must be addressed. It must become the focus of remedial action if we are to experience the wonder-filled vigor of lives lived fully.

Sing me a song…
The activation of our innate potentials begins with a declaration in our souls of our intention to be everything our Creator intends for us to be. This declaration may not express itself as poetry in its infancy, but it evolves as such when we steadfastly lend ourselves to its promises. 

Poetry, in this sense,  is an expression of the art of the possible. It is the manifestation of the creative instinct in us. A poem is the thing we do or make to give expression to our co-creative genius. It is a witness that the Creator dwells within us. Through this poetry your life and mine become the Songs through which we express the many ways in which Life affects us.  Our songs are also testaments through which we declare the many ways in which we want to affect Life in return. 

Play me a tune…
Songs that are worthy of our attention, are essential expressions of the best notions of our idealism. Such songs are the intermingling of our spoken intent with the stimulating instruments of our steadfastness. A steadfast rhythm is in and of itself essential to every song to which we lend our voices and our emotions in the sway of our daily dance through this life. 

Steadfastness is that quality of being which evidences our commitment to an idea… to an ideal. It is the oft-repeated attribute of ideals that are worth holding on to... and dancing to. It rocks and motivates us in ways that others may see but not always understand or ably imitate. It is steadfastness that lends a remarkable motility to our daily strides. Steadfastness has a core capacity to incorporate even the stumbles to which we are sometimes prone.

Wake me up…
We sleep. Sleep is essential. It is the necessary recreative interval that our vitality demands. The season of dormancy will naturally come to an end. To some a restful interlude sometimes seems like death. Like the tree in its moment of deciduous recline and apparent fruitless-ness, our exhaustion can sometimes present as destiny… but it is not! Sense- abled people know this. They have eyes and ears and an experience of life that allows them to tell the difference. 

It is Spring… Again!!
Spring is the ultimate declaration of the fact that dormancy isn’t destiny. It at once enables our regeneration and commands us to “wake up!” - but not in a harsh way. That command is enlivening. It brings with it an expressed warmth that is essentially life affirming. It calls us to join again the chorus and the choir of Life

And so we wake up from the state of being dormant; and we find ourselves in a world that seems like a wilderness… a place that has no obvious beauty or joy. That is how it seems in the initial period of wakefulness. And then, eventually, we face the realization that dormancy is not destiny. In the refreshing warmth of a new season of being we come to realize that, in fact, we may be able to do for each other what Spring does for the cherry tree

Spring comes as a chronological fact when the days of cold have run their course. Kairotically, it is when the frost of Despair is replaced by the sunshine of Hope. It is that season of our lives when the regeneration that the lilies signal replaces the grayness of the season of dormancy. 

Spring is the effervescent now in which the wilderness created by and of our fears becomes again a garden of opportunity for the oppressed, a resort for the healing of the sick and lonely, a refuge for the widow and the orphan… A once barren place now becomes an oasis; a place of comfort for those who have been bruised and broken in their travail through the wasteland of dried-up perspectives.

Spring wraps us in its regenerative warmth... it silences the murmur of selfishness, and gives prominence to a chorus of inclusivity. We feel it’s novel comfort; and in the distant recesses of our being we rediscover a renewing and dynamic sense-ability. In the effervescent reawakening of this wonderful season we blossom forth, and find again our places as participants in the grand choir which is Life...

Sing me a song… 
Play me a tune… 
Wake me up with words so warm; 
Sing me a song that will sound the alarm of all... all… all of my senses.

Our Brother John Lewis

A few years ago I sat with my wife in an audience at Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia, as Congressman John Lewis gave the C...