Saturday, March 20, 2021

Blessings and Curses... Venerable Notions for Our Modern Times



We give to the world around us everything that we are and everything that we become. We touch each other’s lives in ways that we are, for the most part, not conscious of. Intentionally or not, we have an impact on the ocean of human experience that surrounds us not unlike that of the pebble dropped into the liquidity of the many moments that become our lifetime. We touch, and are touched in return by the presence and dynamism of all those, and all things with whom and with which we occupy time and space.

The awareness of this reality should cause us to be more conscientious about how we live our lives. Not that we should force upon ourselves the innumerable variations of the human experience in ways that would negatively constrain us. No… We can acknowledge the variety of our experiences as a fact of life, and at the same time allow ourselves the liberating joyousness of lives well lived. The ability to do so is encapsulated in a notably timeless formula. That formula finds expression in the wisdom that implores us to “do unto others as we would have them do unto us”.

Those who refuse to be guided by this timeless piece of wisdom become the creatures and servants of the dysfunction which causes malice among us, and consequently chaos. The resulting inhumanity that we display toward others, and our disregard for the creative/generative capacities of the world we inhabit, renders impossible the very possibility of a durable community. It invalidates our justification for being, and renders unviable all our attempts at creating the kind of domestic tranquility that we seek to establish as an ongoing fact of our lives. 

Blessings and Curses are not outdated notions that we can now ignore. They are constructs of the perspectives that we operationalize as a result of the quality of our engagement with each other and with our environment. They are as real as our experience of joy and sorrow… of pleasure and pain.

Curses, we may say, are the flaming arrows of an unforgiving bow. They can strike and keep us down. They can hurt and eventually destroy us via the wrath of their ragged edges. Curses force their way into the vulnerable souls of those who become their victims, and they disable the vital systems that make us viable human beings. 

Out of an assumption that we can manufacture our own best interests through the misery we cause in the lives of others, we create illusions that invariably come back to haunt us. The seeds of distress that we sow produce a harvest of sorrows. We get back that which we seek to give… in double measures. The curses we intend for others boomerang, that is their nature, and we reap in their wake a harvest of hurt. Do not wish upon others that which you would not want for yourself. The delusion that we can escape the harvest of our own dysfunction is just that… an ill-informed myth that the true story of our shared humanity has debunked in its entirety.

Blessings on the other hand, are like beautiful melodies. They join forces with the Wind to give our spirits needed wings. Blessings lift us up like Love expressed… and they inspire us to rise to our fullest potential. Blessings generate the joy expressed in an open smile. They build up in us healing resources that we can benefit from, and then share with those around who are in need of restoration.

We can choose to live our lives in a way that validates the claim of others to all the benefits of our shared humanity.  There is no greater Blessing than that which comes with this kind of Livity. What is “Livity” you ask? Livity is a spiritual concept espoused by those who seek an alternative to a worn-out religiosity and its culturally hollow formulations.

“Livity is the Rastafarian concept of righteous, everliving living. Its essence is the realization that an energy or life-force, conferred by Almighty Jah (God), exists within, and flows through, all people and all living things. This energy is the presence of Jah living within us, and is often expressed in Rastafarian vocabulary as "I and I", where the first "I" refers to the Almighty, the second "I" for oneself. A primary goal in Rastafarian meditation is maintaining awareness of I and I.” - Wikipedia —*{Now you know… Add this concept to your existential vocabulary.}*

In its anthropological application the appeal of “I and Isupersedes its context as a basis for talking about our relationship to or with any god. In the post-colonial world that gave birth to the necessity to re-examine our theology, it was a rebuke to what the philosopher Martin Buber describes as the I /it conundrum of an oppressive society. You see, I and I challenged the social structure of oppression by destroying the very foundation of all “Supremacy”. No one was superior to another person… not by virtue of race, or gender, or nationality, or possessions. “I and I was not just about one’s relationship to a god, it was now a declaration for equality and justice in the relationship between You and I! Thus was articulated the end of cultural imperialism and all forms of oppression. 

Rasta Livity for iver!! (forever that is) - - - Remember the feeling you got from helping an elder across a busy intersection… Remember the joy of a gift needed, and given, and well received… Remember the upliftment of a heartfelt “Thank you!”… Remember the satisfaction you experience every time you are able to complete a day of worthwhile work. Remember the empowerment that becomes your birthright when you embrace a commitment to preserve the sacredness of this shared space in the universe that we call home...Earth... by being just in all that you do. Let us live our lives in a way that blesses others, and the world. In so doing we shield ourselves from the raging arrows of a cursed existence. Now hear this...

Thursday, December 31, 2020

It’s The Season To Be Jolly

 It’s the season to be jolly.

Of course there are many reasons we can point to in an effort to negate this sentiment. You name them, and I will say you have a point. But after all these have been listed I will be silent in due recognition of their validity, and then I’ll declare again… It’s the season to be jolly!

Life throws us many curves - some bring us a sense of joy and imbue us with a sense of enthusiasm, others generate a sense of sadness and melancholy. At the end of the day we have a responsibility to determine which set of circumstances we will allow greater play in the ongoing adventure which is our life.

No one can determine for us which set of circumstances will become the template for our social and spiritual existence, but Wisdom dictates that we should choose that course of being that will result in the good health of ourselves and those who are part of the world in which we live. To do otherwise is to bring grief and pain where these could very well be avoided. To be sure, we, for reasons that are myriad, do not always choose according to the dictates of Wisdom. We make crazy choices based on the fragility of our egos… and we inevitably suffer the consequences. Oh that we would disengage from such egoisms. 

I do not know what the circumstances are that will determine what choices you make. I am not privy to the foibles of our fragile egos. Of one thing I am convinced however… our destinies, for better or worse, are the end product of the choices we make from one small circumstance to the next. Choose wisely.

The sentiments we cultivate become flesh and live themselves out in our lives. The many seasons of our lives teach us about the wisdom of good choices on the one hand, and the painful folly of bad choices. A season to be jolly is by consensus the wise choice at this time of year. Give yourself permission to live into it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Shake The Foundations!

The Black Lives Matter mural on Hamilton Avenue in front of Palo Alto’s City Hall, California 

Drought Broken... Shaking Our World to its Very Foundation 

It is frightening…

The raw unfettered life-giving energy of lightning

With its spontaneous thunder

Breaks the air…

And speaks in violent monotones

To earth and sky and sea…

And all that in these dwell

The living…And the dead

It is quickening…

The juice of life that falls upon us

Without distinguishing the just from the unjust…

It quenches the thirsty ground

And grows with ever increasing fecundity

The seeds of men and beasts...

And all that for these dwell

Of living…And of dead

It is frightening…

It is quickening…

The raw unfettered juice of Life

That falls upon us

Distinguishing between the living and the dead…

It breaks the fear…

And makes us speak as authentic beings

To earth and sea and sky

And all that in these dwell

As living souls who have come to know the fecundity of freedom...

Souls who no longer

Allow our seeds to fall…And perish…

On what for some…is fertile ground

With freedom comes the quickening

Of an otherwise fettered life…

And they will know the frightening

Who once maintained the strife…

It is violently magnificent

This flash and its accompanying roar… Of truth

That signals the abolition of all the codes

That keep those in their place

Who for one reason…or other

Suffer for the inequities of their ancestors 

Emancipation comes to all

Who by omission or commission

Are residents of those barb-wired spaces in time…

Till now they have only existed…

And now…Now they are...

Quickened from the dead… they live again...

And the sounds of drums you hear

Are amplified reproductions of their hearts’ beats

We know that freedom is no gift

So we dance in celebration of our birthright…

Speak my heart…Shake my world

Shake my world of its complacency…

Rid my world of its indecency…

Speak my heart…

Cause the spark that starts a fire

Build a ladder that takes me higher...

Higher than the fear

That keeps my soul impounded…

That keeps my spirit grounded…

Speak my heart… 

Cause my feet to listen

Inspire my hands to clear the way

That leads to the place

Where the lightning is stored…

Speak my heart… Speak and I will listen

Awaken now and quicken the living and the dead…

Break the drought that makes of my world

The valley… of the shadow of death

Break free my heart… And quench this parched place in my soul…

Guide my feet to the place… Where living waters flow.

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.

Blessings and Curses... Venerable Notions for Our Modern Times

            We give to the world around us everything that we are and everything that we become. We touch each other’s lives in ways that w...