a funny thing happened on the way to the protest (or “it seems to me”)

Symbol. A visual image or word that points beyond itself indicating, signifying an idea or object, verily, a reality oft unseen, but not unknown, which allows the beholder of the symbol, truly, the believer in the reality to which it points to comprehend it and communicate it with others.

And, it seems to me, in order for a symbol to be a symbol, that is, to perform the function of pointing beyond itself to a reality, at least two people (preferably more, of course) have to behold the symbol more or less in the same way, that is, perceiving it as pointing (believing it to point) to a similar reality.

And that’s the funny thing about symbols, whether images or words. No two people, it seems to me, necessarily see the same thing in the image or mean the same thing by the word. We humans, each and all, based on our individual histories and memories, thoughts and feelings, desires and needs, philosophies and theologies, intentions and actions, beliefs and behaviors (in other words, all this and more that constitutes being human; one’s sense of self and life’s experience) are entitled to our views of an image or word and the values that we associate with it.

Therefore, it seems to me, it’s important for humans, especially when we disagree, to be able and willing to engage in conversation or dialogue (literally, dia [through or across] logue [speech or words]) to communicate our potentially manifold understandings of a symbol.

And, it seems to me, such conversation requires respect; literally, re (again or anew) spect (look or see). With respect, I can see you no longer through the lenses of my sense of self and life’s experience, but rather, having listened to you as much, if not more than I have spoken to you, I can, that is, I am able (and, I would pray, willing) to see a symbol and its attendant reality through your eyes.

All this, it seems to me, applies to our current raging and divisive protest about protest involving the symbols of the American flag and the Star-Spangled Banner.

American flag against blue sky

Person One, based on her/his sense of self and life’s experience, beholding the flag and hearing the national anthem, believing they signify American liberty and equality, stands, salutes, and sings.

Amercian flag, tattered, behind fence and barbed wire

Person Two, based on her/his sense of self and life’s experience, believing these symbols to be signs of personal and systemic denial of liberty and equality, sits or kneels, locks arms or raises a fist.

Person One criticizes Person Two for disrespecting the flag and anthem, indeed, denigrating America.

Person Two criticizes Person One for pledging allegiance to a system in which the equality of opportunity, indeed, “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” are oft deferred, at times, denied based on inherent human qualities of race and gender.

It seems to me that Person One and Person Two are entitled to their points of view and to behave in ways, short of violence, that reflect their perspectives.

It seems to me that if Person One and Person Two could and would dialogue they might arrive at a new place of mutual understanding.

Now, this doesn’t seem to me, for this, based on my sense of self and life’s experience, I know. Whenever I, with respect, listen to another, I, at the end of our dialogue, may not be able to say, “I agree with you”, but, and it never fails, I can say, “I understand your point of view, indeed, I understand you and, therefore, why and how you stand and sing or sit or kneel, lock arms or raise a fist.”

the push and pull of mystery

I awoke this morning in a melancholy mood thinking about the cares that beset any human under the sun, the daily reminders of our limitations, the not (never?) having enough time, energy, or money (or any two or all three), in the face of our desires and needs, to complete, compete, or compensate.

Then I pushed beyond my personal, largely small cares, thinking about greater current woes of the world. Among them:

  • The horrific destruction of hearth and health and hope wrought by the winds and waves of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and the tectonic tumult of earthquakes; turning verdant lands barren, bringing darkness, save for still-shining stars, to what seem endless nights, cancelling the coming day for the final closing of the eyes of the dying, and
  • The dread specter of rising, billowing nuclear clouds, and
  • The social, cultural unrest of an America stirred by the symbols of flags, anthems, and statues, and actions, whether to stand and salute or lock arms and kneel.

Then pulling back from these painful thoughts, as I oft do, I meditated on mystery – not a riddle to be resolved by human reason, but rather the reality of all things beyond human power to control, perhaps even human ability to understand and, thus, to amend.

mystery - Hubble telescope

My meditations provoked, as they always do, questions. Among them:

  • Why do, must people suffer?
  • Why, after centuries of observing and studying the futility of war to resolve disputes, do we, as peoples and nations, continue to lust for combat and long for conquest; the latter, given the superior and spreading nuclear capacity to destroy both enemy and self, being a fool’s goal?
  • Why, despite our best ambitions toward equality, do we continue to separate ourselves along lines, some invisible, yet all seemingly inerasable, of race and class, culture and clan, party and perspective; resulting in our apparent inability and unwillingness to acknowledge the existence of another point of view?
  • Why, long recognizing the incontestable truth that we occupy one planet (notwithstanding the dreams of lunar and Martian colonization) and that we form a global community of inseparable, interlocking interests, do we remain blinded by our prejudices, refusing to see the common humanity that we all irrefutably share?

Underneath these realities, as I behold them, lies unfathomable mystery. Understanding so little, I cannot answer my questions. One thing I do know. I cannot end suffering, war, inequality, prejudice, and a legion of human ills. However, as a person of faith, I can and do pledge to repent, daily, praying the Holy Spirit to make me more conscious of my:

  • time, energy, and money and how to use what I do have to serve, to share with my sisters and brothers of greater need;
  • anger, oft rooted in my sense of an affront to my personal honor and how to channel its virulent energy toward efforts to make peace with others and myself;
  • individuality of self and my commonality with all, so that in acknowledging the former I never disavow the latter;
  • biases and how to peer more deeply into the eyes of “the other” and mine own to behold our common God-given image.

I am not sure how this does, can, or will work. For I perceive it as mystery. By faith, I shall trust God, the greatest Mystery, to bring it to pass.

is racism immortal?

I usually don’t comment on television. We watch so little of it, save for some favorite shows on the Food Network, HGTV, ESPN, and the news networks. Thus, we skipped tuning in to the recent 69th Primetime Emmy Awards as most (all?) of the nominated shows we hadn’t seen.

However, for reasons of historical and social realities that matter to me, I can’t pass on this…

This past Sunday, September 24, 2017, CBS[1] launched, figuratively and literally, Star Trek: Discovery; set as a prequel to the original 1960s series, situated in the 23rd century, of the adventures of Captain James T. Kirk, science officer Spock, and others, as the now-famous introductory voiceover stated, in “Space, the final frontier…boldly go(ing) where no man (later changed to “no one”) has gone before.”

universe

One of the main stars, indeed, lead actor of Star Trek: Discovery is Sonequa Martin-Green, an African American woman.

I am not a Star Trek aficionado; science-fiction as a literary and cinematographic genre never has hooked, perhaps paradoxically, my ever-vivid imagination. Still, I do respect Star Trek as an iconic, groundbreaking franchise. The original series featured one the most racially and ethnically diverse casts, then or perhaps now. Even more, a show, then and now, whose plot-points consistently focus on engagement of alien cultures is, for me, a not so subtle declaration of the embrace of inclusion and the celebration of “the other.”

Hence, I would have supposed that Star Trek fans would welcome Ms. Martin-Green with (dare I would hope) universal applause. Sadly, that hasn’t been true, for she and the show have faced criticism, some, blessedly, not all, couched in racial terms and, some of that, articulated in the language of white genocide or an anti-white bias.

As a follower of Jesus, I strive (yes, failing, yet striving again) to live each day doing, being the love and justice of unconditional benevolence and fairness toward all people. As such, racism, its existence and its experience by offenders and the offended, grieves me. Given my, again, ever-vivid imagination, from time to time I have fantasized that if I was immortal, thus, destined to live forever in this world (that is, if we humans don’t destroy it via nuclear or climatological holocaust), then I would live long enough to see the end of racism. Clearly, in 2017, even looking through the 23rd century lens of Star Trek: Discovery, we’re not there yet.

 

Footnote:

[1] Columbia Broadcasting System

under a threatening cloud of nuclear annihilation, a Christian prayer

nuclear cloud

O God, Your Apostle Paul hath testified that all authority, e’en that of the agents of governance of worldly principalities, flows from the Font of Your Power.[1]

With fervent faith, I pray, too, that Your Wisdom wend its way into the minds and hearts, souls and spirits of all leaders that they can and will build bridges of common care, paving paths of peace that all Your children of Your creation may dwell in safety.

For, today, on “this fragile earth, our island home”,[2] men – the “Leader of the Free World” and the “Supreme Leader” (though You both are alway and in all ways), with the ad hominem bombast of “Rocket Man”[3] and “dotard”[4] – wield weapons of hostile intent threatening decimation, each of the other, and of Your world.

Into this cauldron of roiling vanities, this hubris-stirred maelstrom of wounded honor-shame, pour Your balm of Gilead, the sweetness of Your solace;[5] that we may walk back from the dread precipice of war to face a future, though, yea, uncertain, that bears the possibility of continued existence and, dare I hope, armistice.

Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares (1959), Evgeniy Viktorovich Vuchetich (1908-1974), United Nations Art Collection

And, O God, I pray, in the words of Your Prophet Isaiah, that You ceaselessly call us to come unto the mountain, the holy hill of Your Presence that we may learn of You, walking in Your paths, beating our swords into plowshares, our spears into pruning hooks, lifting no weapon against another, and learning war no more.[6]

All this, by the breath of the Holy Spirit in the Name of Jesus, I beseech You. Amen.

 

 

Illustration: Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares (1959), Evgeniy Viktorovich Vuchetich (1908-1974), United Nations Art Collection

Footnotes:

[1] See Romans 13.1

[2] From The Holy Eucharist, Eucharistic Prayer C, The Book of Common Prayer, page 370

[3] Donald Trump’s derisive reference to Kim Jong Un, Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) or North Korea

[4] Kim Jong Un’s derisive reference, meaning a senile old person, to Donald Trump

[5] See Jeremiah 8.22, 46.11, 51.8

[6] A reference to Isaiah 2.3a, 4bc

my intentional protests

On Friday, September 22, 2017, President Donald Trump spoke at a Huntsville, Alabama, campaign rally, ostensibly to support U.S. Senator-appointee pro tem Luther Strange, embroiled in a tight runoff election race to succeed U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Mr. Trump, already America’s Tweeter-in-Chief, at all hours freely firing off 140-character (in my view, insubstantial, thus, misfired) commentaries on matters great and varied, has fast become our national and self-styled Riffer-in-Chief known for his impromptu reflections on current events. At that rally, Mr. Trump offered this unscripted appraisal: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL[1] owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now! Out! He’s fired! He’s fired!’?”[2]

The reactions to the president’s comments have been swift and divergent. Senator Strange, surely speaking for many, said, “Our supporters are very deeply patriotic, they respect the values that the president represents and what he stood for at that rally…I think it was well received, I couldn’t agree with the president more.” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and others rebuked the president’s remarks as “divisive” and reaffirmed the rights of players to exercise free speech. At a number of yesterday’s NFL games, during the playing of the national anthem, many players knelt or locked arms and, in one or two cases, remained in the locker rooms, taking the field later.

Unsurprisingly and, for me, sadly, given, I think, our now über-polarized and politicized social climate, the attending issues have been amassed and molded, that is, misshapen and shrunken to a contest between patriotism and protest. These and all matters are complex and, I believe, incapable of being confined to, verily, defined by an either-or calculus.

All this said, I offer a couple of left-field, that is, off-the-point-of-the-raging-debate observations…

Though I disagree with much of Mr. Trump’s allegations of “fake news” and though I recognize that every news account or narrative has an inherent social slant and political perspective, I protest inaccuracy in reporting. Yesterday morning, listening to NPR,[3] Weekend Edition Sunday host Lulu Garcia-Navarro, in conversation with reporter Mara Liasson, said, “Let’s talk about football…following up on (President Trump’s) remarks calling NFL athletes to be fired for protesting racism during the national anthem…”[4] No. Mr. Trump criticized the demonstrations by athletes as unpatriotic acts of disrespect for flag and country. Whether I agree or disagree with Mr. Trump (or anyone!), I desire, in this case, his point to be reported correctly.

During the Alabama rally speech, Mr. Trump also opined on the NFL’s declining popularity owing to changes in the rules to promote player safety, which lessen the physical contact desired by the players and the fans.[5] Perhaps for some, but, for me, no. My decreased attention to the NFL[6] has to do with my protest against what I believe to be the League’s less than consistent, verily, far short of just efforts to address, among a number of issues, (1) domestic violence allegations against (indeed, acts of) players and other violations of personal conduct policies, (2) player safety concerns, particularly related to longstanding and irreversible post-career physical and mental deterioration, and (3) racial inequities in team ownership and upper echelon management positions.

 

Footnotes:

[1] National Football League

[2] Last year, Colin Kaepernick, then quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand for the national anthem, saying, in part: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Kaepernick’s protest encouraged other athletes across the professional and amateur spectrums of sport to perform similar acts to illumine the disparity between our nation’s constitutional pledges of equality and characteriological practice of inequality. I wrote about Kaepernick’s protest in previous blog posts: September 3, 2016, The Star-Spangled battle? and September 30, 2016, where I stand on sitting & kneeling.

[3] National Public Radio

[4] My emphasis

[5] On this point, Mr. Trump said, in part: “…The NFL ratings are down massively…Because you know today if you hit too hard, fifteen yards (penalty)! Throw (the player) out of the game! They had that last week. I watched for a couple of minutes. Two guys (involved in) just (a) really beautiful tackle. Boom! Fifteen yards!…They’re ruining the game! They’re ruining the game. That’s what (the players) want to do. They want to hit! It is hurting the game…”

[6] I have not watched an entire NFL game since early fall 2014, coinciding with the League’s mishandling of the domestic violence case against Ray Rice, a former Baltimore Ravens player. (See my previous blog posts: September 8, 2014, the (p)rice is wrong and September 10, 2014, relationships – reason & irrationality)

equality

preaching-epiphany-laurens-1-22-17a sermon, based on Matthew 20.1-16, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, September 24, 2017

God asks, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” And we humans, alway, in our innate self-interest, wanting what we want when and how we want it, ifwhen we’re honest, answer testily, “No!”

God asks, “Are you envious because I am generous?” And we humans, chastened by the implication of the question, again, ifwhen we’re honest, answer quietly, “Yes.”

Jesus tells a parable, comparing God’s kingdom to a landowner who hires workers throughout the day from first light to an hour before dusk, literally the now proverbial “eleventh hour”. At day’s end, the landowner, summoning the workers in reverse order from the last to the first hired, perhaps to assure that all will see and know what’s up, pays all the same wage.

Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, Erasmus Quellinus the Younger (or Erasmus Quellinus II) (1607-1678)

I know of no human being, including me, who doesn’t take offense, however slight, more likely great, at the landowner’s munificence, which, in worldly terms, thus, for us, is injustice. For there is no human being who does not employ the worldly calculus of time and effort, sense of purpose and spirit of perseverance, ability and achievement to determine, surely, we believe, fairly, the measure of our deserving: “I had more, gave more, did more, therefore, I should get more!” Whatever the wage – financial remuneration, public recognition, and, yes, even personal attention and affection.

And how right we are. For we have a right, in the light of the way the world is, this world we inhabit, to our time-honored sense of what makes sense. Yet Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who” – with the inequality of his authority, possessing land and wealth, over and against day laborers who have nothing but the strength of arm and the sweat of brow to exchange for a daily wage – establishes equality for all.

And, by faith, dare we say, “Thanks be to God!” who, in the life and ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, doesn’t pay us, but rather gives to us, each and all equally, not the wage, but rather the grace of salvation, which is ridiculously, unfathomably beyond our deserving.

Why does God do this? Because God loves us equally no matter who we are, no matter how much or how little we have, give, and do; all the while, hoping, praying that we will see and know what’s up, and then act toward one another accordingly.

 

Illustration: Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, Erasmus Quellinus the Younger (or Erasmus Quellinus II) (1607-1678)

renewal (or what I, as a Christian, have learned by honoring my religious Jewish roots)

Yesterday, at sundown, the sounding of the shofar signaled Rosh Hashanah, literally head of the year; to be followed, at sunset on Friday, September 29, by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The central themes of these annual High Holy Days of Judaism are repentance for the sins, personal and communal, of the past year and reconciliation with God, others, and one’s self.

As a Christian, I long have acknowledged my eternal debt to Judaism from whence cometh Jesus of Nazareth.[1] And, o’er the years, reflecting on the High Holy Days, I have become profoundly aware, perhaps even more than through the Christian penitential season of Lent, of my constant need for spiritual and ethical renewal so to love God, others, and myself more faithfully, freely, fully. Moreover, I have come to understand that renewal is elemental to all relationships and chiefly expressed in mutual responsibility, literally the response-ability to act benevolently one with another.

This came to mind during my morning’s Bible study. I’ve been rereading the Book of Exodus; today, one of many encounters between God and Moses.[2]

Moses at Mount Sinai (1655), Jacques de Létin (1597-1661)

For forty days and nights, Moses was on Mount Sinai listening to God and receiving the Commandments. The people, growing anxious in the absence of Moses, appealed to Aaron, Moses’ brother and spokesperson, to make a visible symbol of the divine presence to comfort them. A golden calf was fashioned.

The Adoration of the Golden Calf (1633-1634), Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665)

How easily, I believe, humans become confused, attaching their affections to a symbol and not the reality to which it points. And God, in anger, disowned the people, referring to them in speaking to Moses as “your people”, and deciding to destroy them.

In this harrowing moment, the response-ability of God and Moses was mightily manifest. God, the Almighty Judge, didn’t act against the people without first telling Moses. Moses didn’t leave the mountain at God’s command, but remained as an attorney for the defense; yet neither explaining nor excusing the people’s actions, but rather reminding God of who God is: “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel…”

Moses reminded God that God, beginning with Abraham, made a people and when that people fell captive in Egypt, God sent Moses to save them and, in saving them, proving that God makes and keeps promises to God’s people. God, being reminded, recanted, revising the divine plan of action.

God and Moses, in their faithful exercise of mutual responsibility, were renewed; each and both. God in remembrance of the divine identity as Liberator and Moses in his re-awareness of his vocation as God’s instrument of liberation.

Taking this personally, I am led to see afresh how I, as human, oft, when anxious and confused, take my thoughts and feelings, my desires and needs and, making them supreme, fashion them into my gods. Not if, but whenever this happens I cannot fail to note how unbenevolent I become toward others, verily, toward my truest self, and, thus, need renewal – always and in all ways.

 

Illustrations:

Moses at Mount Sinai (1655), Jacques de Létin (1597-1661)

The Adoration of the Golden Calf (1633-1634), Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665)

Footnotes:

[1] Without Judaism, there is no Christianity. For this reason, I believe that for a Christian to be anti-Semitic is a malevolent expression of self-hatred.

[2] Exodus 32.7-14 (my emphases): The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely. They have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them. They have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.