the politicization of death

On October 4, 2017, Staff Sergeant Bryan Black, Staff Sergeant Jeremiah Johnson, Sergeant La David Johnson, and Staff Sergeant Dustin Wright, members of a 12-man unit on routine patrol in Niger, were ambushed and killed by a larger force of ISIS militants.

This past week, we have borne witness to what I consider the sordid politicization of death.

First, believing no two people ever mean the same thing when employing the same words and, thus, as the firmest believer in the necessity of defining one’s terms, I digress.

Politicization, in my lexicon, is the act or process of becoming politically conscious. Here, I understand “politically” in the primary sense, derived from the Greek polis (city) and, broadly applied, the human community (which is as expansive – locally, regionally, nationally, globally – as one’s imagination allows). Thus, to be politicized is to be aware and to practice with effective, respectful care the art of human relationships.

In the clutch of human selfish self-interest, politicization can be distorted. An example: One’s negative description and definition of the word or action (or unspoken word or untaken action) of another so to depict, so to diminish that person as lacking in character or virtue or falling short of accepted ethical norms.

This, for me, is when politicization is made sordid. This is what we witnessed this past week.

President Donald Trump telephoned Mrs. Myeshia Johnson, wife of Staff Sargent La David Johnson, to express his condolences and those of a grateful nation, saying, in part, as it has been reported, “He knew what he signed up for, but it still hurts.” U.S. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson of Florida and a friend of the Johnson family criticized Mr. Trump as lacking empathy. Mr. Trump defended himself, denying Representative Wilson’s characterization.

I am no fan of Donald Trump. I consider him zealously egoistic and injudicious in speech and action, at times, dangerously, given his role and responsibilities. (However, I am not one who claims, “He’s not my President.” I am an American. Mr. Trump is the American president. Therefore, he is my president.)

I also am less than sanguine about Representative Wilson’s public and repeated declarations of her discontent with the content of Mr. Trump’s words to Mrs. Johnson. For her criticisms, in my view, precipitated a furious round of point-and-counterpoint because of which the primary attention has been given to the politicization of death and not on the lives and legacies, the memories of and the memorials to the dead.

I never served in the military. In World War II, my father, William, served honorably in the army in the Philippines. Through his recounts of his experiences and his revelations of the scars he bore, some invisible, but no less abiding, I, at an early age, learned to honor the sacred sacrifice of all who wear the uniform and bear arms, whether near or far, to maintain the liberties Americans enjoy (though, yes, it must be confessed, imperfectly and unequally).

Thus, this day, I want to – I will – do nothing but pray:

O gracious God, Sovereign Source of all life, Supreme Solace for the dead, I pray You receive into Your nearest, dearest Presence in Your heavenly habitations the souls of Staff Sergeant Bryan Black, Staff Sergeant Jeremiah Johnson, Sergeant La David Johnson, and Staff Sergeant Dustin Wright: Heal their wounds, bind them fast and forever in Your peace. And, by the living breath of Your Spirit, comfort, come with strength upon the families and friends of these fallen brothers in arms, guiding them through the shadowy valleys of their grief with the grace of the light of Your everlasting love; through Jesus Christ. Amen.

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#MeToo

In the immediate aftermath of the daily increasing revelations of Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long sexual predation against women, the #MeToo campaign was launched with a simple, straightforward, profoundly compelling message:

If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.

Carried aloft on the wings of social media, the response or rather, truly, sadly, the manifold responses of many, many women, some chronicling, detailing particular personal experiences of harassment and assault has been…is an unassailable testament to “the magnitude of the problem.”

My fear – perhaps, I confess, rooted in my prevailing pessimism about the perfectibility (or rather my persuasion about the imperfectability) of human nature – is that little to nothing will change; that, in days, weeks, months, years to come, #MeToo will have proven to be a powerfully cathartic, personally transformative, but not a communally revolutionary experience.

Why?

Because sexual predation, as, I believe, is true of all oppression, is an expression of the exercise of power, and…

Power is that capacity for one, always within the context of an enabling system, structure, society, to will and to do something, in this case, to harass and to abuse women, and…

As I read and reflect on human history, I cannot think of a time when the powerful, for the sake of the justice of equality, relinquished their privilege, however ethically bankrupt, to will and to do.

In the spirit of the Magnificat,[1] Mary’s song of praise to God in her reverent recognition of the One she bore in her womb, especially her words – He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly – I, in faith, hope, and love, shall pray fervently that I am wrong. For I, and I trust in league with many, many women and men, with the help of God and helping God, shall pray and labor for change.

 

Footnote:

[1] The full text of the Magnificat or The Song of Mary (Luke 1.46-55):

My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,

for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who fear him

from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy,

according to the promise he made to our ancestors,

to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.

me, too?

Harvey Weinstein, American film producer and studio executive, has been exposed publicly as a long-time serial sexual predator who, wielding the power of his professional largesse, used, misused, abused his position to force his wanton intentions upon women. Weinstein stands and falls in a sorrowfully extended (interminable?) line of notable men, long known by some in their inner circles, who have been abusers of their prominence to assault, for their personal needs and gains, the values and virtues, minds and bodies, souls and spirits of women.

Yesterday, scrolling through my Facebook feed, I read and wept over the numbers of women who responded to the post: If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me, too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Among my FB friends answering “Me, too” were woman I love and respect and one I most love and respect, my wife, Pontheolla. I know her. I know her story. Therefore, her affirmation of her union with women who have been harassed or assaulted was no surprise to me. That does not mean that this, her reminder of her pain, does not hurt; her, first and foremost.

Yet, as an introspective sort, my next thought was to ask myself (one who shares the same birth year as Weinstein and, to some degree, a similar cultural sensitivity or rather insensitivity): Paul, have you sexually harassed or assaulted a woman and, upon soulful reflection, must you be compelled to attest: Me, too?

Upon that soulful reflection, I answer “No”. However, that does not mean that I, in some way, by thought, word, or deed (or two of the three or all three), have not demeaned and dismissed a woman as my lesser. For, I know, I have so done. For this, I repent.

the separable individuality of suffering

A friend, Daniel Gutiérrez, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania – though we’ve never met in the flesh, via Facebook we have connected and, even before, I, having known of him, Episcopal Church circles trending toward small, have admired his life and ministry from afar – today, in a FB post, wrote: Monday will be two weeks since the horrific violence in Las Vegas. Have we forgotten? Have we moved to the next news cycle? Let us embrace His Kingdom.

Bishop Gutiérrez, for me, an incarnation of passion for God’s love and justice, reminds me ever to remember, to “embrace” the sorrows of my sisters and brothers, in the instant case of his post, the October 1 mass shooting. His clarion call of loving and just remembrance gives me pause to reflect on how, if not easily, inevitably I do “(move) to the next news cycle.”

Thinking about this, I turned to Pontheolla and asked, not to induce her guilt, but rather as my reality-check, “Honey, when was Hurricane Harvey?”[1] She answered, “I don’t remember exactly.” I replied, “Neither do I.”

I repeated my question concerning Hurricanes Irma[2] and Maria,[3] the Mexican earthquake,[4] and the current California wildfires.[5] Her answers, the same. My replies, the same.

I wonder. Is this not true for any (all?) of us?

Do we not move on unless and until “it” (whate’er the tragedy) is our immediate experience or that we are vitally, viscerally connected because our loved ones, those near and dear to us, have suffered?

Do we not move on given the press, the pressure of our daily inundation through the 24-hour news cycle that continues to operate under an ages-old mandate, “if it bleeds, it leads” (which is to say, suffering, more than good news, sells, therefore, dominates the headlines)?

Do we not move on, for suffering hurts and there is only so much that we, psychically, even physically, given our own trials and tribulations, worries and woes, can tolerate?

I suspect that for these reasons, perhaps primarily the separable distance of tragedy not personally experienced, the painstakingly honest answer is “yes”, we do move on.

Yet, Bishop Daniel, I want to do as you implore…

I want not to move on…

I want to stay, as damnably discomfiting as it is, in the pain of the tragedies of others.

Why?

At most, for I want my mind and heart, soul and spirit never to be inured, desensitized to the hurts of others, so to be able and willing to act where I can, when I can, how I can for their good, and

At least, for I believe that the sufferings of my sisters and brothers, whate’er the tragedy, as easily, perhaps as inevitably could well have been mine and could well one day be mine.

 

Footnotes:

[1] mid-late August

[2] August 30-mid September

[3] mid-September-early October

[4] September 19

[5] early October-ongoing

if…then…: part 2 – hazarding some answers

I ended yesterday’s blog post (October 9, 2017: if…then…): I wonder, why can we not, will we not, do we not fashion legislation geared toward the prevention of more acts of gun violence or, at the least, compel strictest compliance with gun laws already on the books?

In my continuing wonderment, I hazard some answers or rather, in the fairness of honesty – for the subject of gun control, though my concern, is beyond my realm of expertise – some guesses to my question.

It would be easy, too easy, therefore, I think, unfair and dishonest, to attribute or blame “it” (our American unwillingness to do anything more vigorously legislative concerning gun control) on the National Rifle Association and the greater gun lobby. Yes, with the support of millions upon millions of dollars and millions of gun-rights advocates, the NRA can and does influence elections and, therefore, legislation or no legislation.

Yet that’s only a part of it, for, it seems to me, the immobility of our inability to do anything is, must be a complex matter rooted (again, hazarding a guess) in our national psyche. And this rootedness in the soil of the American soul (again, hazarding a guess) has to do with the power of the symbol of the gun.

Now, I’m not opposed to individual, private gun ownership. However, I neither have owned nor desire to own a gun. So, in an effort to understand, dreaming my way into a mindset other than mine own…

If I was or wanted to be a gun owner, then I wonder might that be an expression of my desire and need to take individual hold in hand (literally! physically!) of:

  • my 2nd Amendment rights and freedoms, especially in reaction and resistance to what I perceive (indeed, fear) as the external intrusion and erosion of those rights and freedoms by the government? Perhaps, and even deeper,
  • my sense of security in an era of unparalleled (read: uncertain, power-shifting, and status quo-threatening) social and cultural change? Perhaps, and still deeper,
  • my self-confidence in the glaring light and encroaching shadow of my ever-increasing awareness that I control little to nothing of the circumstance and chance of this world I inhabit and thus, the life I live (where even my free choices are in response to uncontrollable circumstance and chance)? Perhaps, and

If any (or all) of my guesses and more than I possibly can guess – all powerful, abiding, perhaps unconscious and, thus, unspoken reasons, verily, forces – are true, then I don’t wonder (or, at least, I wonder less) why we can’t, won’t, don’t fashion legislation geared toward the prevention of more acts of gun violence or, at the least, compel strictest compliance with gun laws already on the books.

if…then…

Subtitle: hypothetical (conditional) conclusions

Sub-Subtitle – A Prefatory Disclaimer: I don’t have all (any of?) the facts and this is outside of my field of expertise (though not outside my range of intense interest), thus, doubtless, there are vast holes in my argument; nevertheless, I wonder…

If airliner and automobile crashes lead to legislation and regulations to make airliner and automobile travel safer, and

If airliner crashes, by dint of the number of casualties, can be considered akin to mass shootings as automobile crashes can be considered akin to single (or less than four, thus, not mass) fatality incidences of gun violence, and

If (and if it can be proven that), in most cases, airliner and automobile crashes are caused by environmental (weather-and/or-road-related) factors or mechanical failure or pilot/driver error, and

If, in many (most? all?) cases, mass-and-single-fatality gun violence is the result of human premeditation,

Then, I wonder, why can we not, will we not, do we not fashion legislation geared toward the prevention of more acts of gun violence or, at the least, compel strictest compliance with gun laws already on the books?

this is what I said (to the best of my immediate memory)

My sisters and brothers, the sermon I intended to preach I will post later this afternoon on my blog page. Should you desire, you can read it there. Another word has been given to me to share with you this day.

As I age, day by day I feel more and more the pains, the sorrows of others. So much so, that, at times, I sleep less, I eat less because I feel more. This past week was one of those times.

Last Sunday, in Las Vegas, fifty-eight of our sisters and brothers were murdered. Over five hundred others were injured. Only God knows how long their recoveries, if they do recovery fully, will take.

Less known, perhaps, is that this past week there were three or four other mass shootings; defined as the death or injury to four or more persons in a public setting. Yet this is not a word about gun control. Though I will say that I am not opposed to the individual, private ownership of guns.

Now, during this past week, as I watched and listened to the news coverage in the aftermath of Las Vegas, especially the stories of the lives of the dead, the testimonies of their families and friends, I heard many words, among them: “kind”, “compassionate”, “always thinking of others first”, “infectious laughter”, contagious smile”. I am struck by a sense of the spiritual capital these folk, none of whom I knew, amassed and shared in their lives of goodwill. Spiritual capital now lost to their families and friends and to us.

In my sixty-five years, one of the hardest things for me to do is to stay in the present. I spend a lot of time reviewing the past, my past and a lot of time anticipating the future. The past is past and the future has not yet come. Las Vegas reminds me that today is here and tomorrow is not guaranteed, thus, the necessity, the essentiality of striving as much as possible to remain in the present.

So, today, as your priest, I beg you, let those you love know, in every way you can, that you love them. Tell them. Show them. Even when they upset you rejoice and be glad that you are upset, for that demonstrates that you are alive to feel and that you love others enough to be upset by what they say or do or don’t say or do. Tell them, show them: I love you…I love you…

So, I say to you now: I love you.