assault is the fault of…

…the woman?(1) Never.

However, as I listen to the recriminations of those and their supporters who seek to respond to allegations of sexual harassment and assault (even casual, uninvolved observers commenting on the news), I hear words and phrases that, in 2017, surprise me.

Words and phrases that, in my view, belong to a bygone, long-gone era of patriarchal hegemony (never, I believe, God’s intention, but rather the corrupted generational heritage of a fallen humankind) when men were rulers of their realms and women were chattel.

Words and phrases that reflect the wide influence of power and privilege, affecting the attitudes and biases not only of those who bear them, but also those without them, which is to say, the whole of society.

Words and phrases, even more, that reflect how power and privilege never are relinquished by the hands of those who bear them without a struggle.

Words and phrases, still more, that reflect an ages-old, biblically-bankrupt view of Eve (more on this at another time).

Words and phrases like: “It happened because she…
• dressed and acted provocatively.”
• was out late.”
• was in that part of town.”
• didn’t say, ‘No’.”

Women can dress and act as they choose as expressions of their sense of and comfort with self. Women can choose to stay out late. Women can choose to be in any part of town. Women can choose to say “No” with words or with wordless social cues, whether demonstrable or subtle.

Sexual harassment and assault happen because men choose to act on their power of position, physical strength, anger, misogyny, or all of the above and more.

 

Footnote:

(1) Sexual harassment and assault observe no genderal boundaries either in regard to the perpetrators or the victims. However, here, I define (and confine my commentary on) sexual harassment and assault as that which is committed by men against women.

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predictable patterns?

On October 1, 2017, in another American mass shooting, 59 people were killed (one being the assailant from a self-inflicted gunshot wound) and over 500 injured. By the numbers, this is the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

Still, I think, I feel that all whose loved ones died last year in Orlando, Florida or in San Bernardino, California in 2015 or in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012 or in Blacksburg, Virginia in 2007 (or in any other incident in our ongoing national saga of mass violence), for as long as they grieve, which will be for as long as they live, may consider those the deadliest mass shootings.

Since Sunday, as in the instances of all mass shootings, I observe a predictable pattern; some, not all of the elements being…

Every one of us of goodwill, regardless of race or religion or no religion, class or culture, personal philosophy or opinion, decries the murders.

Some of us demand and some of us resist renewed efforts to enact tighter gun control laws; and, in this, some of us in either camp vilify the motives and the morals of some of those in the other.[1]

Still others of us contend that, for the sake of compassion for the mournful, the immediate aftermath of the tragedy is not the time to engage in political combat.

And, inevitably, all of us who live will “get on with it”, going back to living our lives as we have known them, that is, until the next mass shooting.

However, on this last score, something for me, something in me has changed. Perhaps it is because, as I age, I find myself more attuned to and pained by our human trials and tribulations, worries and woes, sufferings and sorrows. Yes, mine own, yet, even more, those of others, all others.[2] Thus, though I will “get on with it”, I won’t, can’t get over it.

What I think, feel, believe this means for me is that my awareness of human mortality and life’s fragility, suddenly, shockingly, sickeningly renewed this past Sunday, will not, will never fade…

What this means is that I, every day, will be more conscious that all of us are mortal, we will die, and that all of us are fragile, our lives, whether by natural calamity or human violence, accident or disease, can be tragically transformed in an instant…

What this means is that I pledge to live with more intention than I ever dared to dream…

And, on this feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, I can think of no greater, grander guide than to live my life in the conscious keeping of the prayer attributed to him:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace!

That where there is hatred, I may bring love.

That where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness.

That where there is discord, I may bring harmony.

That where there is error, I may bring truth.

That where there is doubt, I may bring faith.

That where there is despair, I may bring hope.

That where there are shadows, I may bring light.

That where there is sadness, I may bring joy.

Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort, than to be comforted.

To understand, than to be understood.

To love, than to be loved.

For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.

It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.

It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Here, I think, in political terms, it has become all too facile to cast Democrats as gun control advocates and Republicans as gun rights activists. For it seems to me that either the stance of gun control or that of the Second Amendment “right of the people to keep and bear Arms” is not the sole interest or desire of any party or persuasion. Indeed, I have been surprised, which, confessedly, reveals more about my biases and assumptions, when discovering that a friend, an avid hunter and combat veteran, is a longtime believer in strict gun laws and another friend, who has never owned or desired to own a gun, is a staunch supporter of individual gun rights.

[2] I wrote about this in a previous blog post, continuing becoming… (August 30, 2017).

all that should have fallen – at a time of tragedy, a Christian prayer

O God, as thousands of Your children gathered under Your gracious canopy of stellar space to celebrate Your gifts of life and music, all that should have fallen as the day ebbed and the night came was the mantle of warm darkness; all that should have fallen upon ready ears attuned to mirth was the wail of the guitar, the beat of the drum, the strains of the human voice singing, telling a story in country song, and the accompaniment of merrymakers joining in gladsome chorus…

What should not have fallen were the bullets, sent down, by the heated, hateful hand of another of Your children, in deliberate rain, falling in a fearsome fusillade…

What should not have fallen were the bodies of Your children struck down, dead or wounded, others scattering, crouching, running in terror…

What should not have fallen to the pitiless ground were the screaming, weeping cries of disbelief, fear, and grief.

O God, as what should have fallen was halted in savage mid-flight by all that should not have fallen, I pray You hail the dead in the heavenly halls of the everlasting Light of Your peaceful Presence, I pray You heal the wounded in mind and heart, soul and spirit, and I pray You hasten the day of Your coming that Your living will that countenances no killing – through Your Spirit, making benevolent habitation in all of Your children – be done on earth as it is in heaven; in the name of Jesus, I beseech You. Amen.

hate & violence come in all colors & causes

On Saturday, August 12, in response to the violence that beset Charlottesville, Virginia, involving clashes between white supremacist demonstrators and counter-protesters, President Donald Trump said, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.”[1]

Yesterday, August 27, in Berkeley, California, over a thousand demonstrators gathered at an anti-hate rally. Their principally peaceful protest was disrupted when scores of self-described anti-fa[2] anarchists, masked and adorned in black clothing, stormed the assembly. These interlopers, many, for me, excruciatingly ironically, wielding shields inscribed with the words “no hate”, physically assaulted Joey Gibson, the leader of Patriot Prayer, a conservative group that supports the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution[3] and others who could be identified as pro-Trump supporters.

I am a 65-year old African American. I was born and raised during the formal Civil Rights Era.[4] I was tutored at the knee of my Baptist maternal grandmother, Audia Mae Hoard Roberts, who seamlessly wove the Exodus story of Hebrew emancipation from Egyptian bondage with the Negro’s striving for freedom. I followed her, my maternal aunt, Evelyn Hoard Roberts, and my parents, William and Lolita Abernathy, in their involvement in the work of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. I also am an advocate of the teachings and practices of those I revere and affectionately call the 3Ms – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

Therefore, I believe in protest. Peaceful protest. I hate hate and violence. Whatever the group. Whatever the cause.

 

Footnotes:

[1] The phrase “on many sides” coupled with Mr. Trump’s then omission of referring by name to the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi, and other alt-right groups, hastened a backlash of criticism accusing him of establishing a moral equivalence between those factions and the counter-protestors. I heard and understood the president’s remarks that way (see my previous blog post, moral inequivalence, August 19).

[2] Anti-fascist

[3] Patriot Prayer, accused of being a magnet for white nationalists, though Mr. Gibson has disavowed racism and denounced white supremacy, had cancelled a free speech rally on Saturday, August 26, due to threats of violence by leftist counter-protestors.

[4] 1954-1968

God or god? (part 2 of 2)

David Hume, 18th century Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, staring unblinkingly into the face of evil, speculated about the nature of God (in my view, rearticulating the psalmist’s ardent plea: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”): “Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence evil?”[1]

American poet and writer Archibald MacLeish breathed new life into this ancient and abiding protest, placing this tart riposte on the lips of a character in one of his plays, a modernist retelling of the Bible’s story of Job: “If God is God He is not good. If God is good He is not God.”[2]

I treasure these words of zealous uncertainty about the existence of God, and, if not that, then the benevolence of God. As a lifelong inveterate inquirer with a deep-seated streak of iconoclasm, I have faith in (I hasten to write, not disbelief or mistrust, but rather) doubt. Doubt is a companion of my faith, allowing, encouraging me to question and question again the validity of the truths of God I hold dear. And nothing, absolutely nothing stirs my impassioned, angst-ridden wonderment more or at all than evidences of incarnate evil; gazing steadily, like Hume, in the contorted face of which I join the sorrowing song of the psalmist: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?[3]

In this, I am comforted by the psalmist’s rediscovery of faith; in the shadows of the ills of evil, sounding, singing a righteous “Nevertheless!”:

Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.

In you, our ancestors trusted.

They trusted and you delivered them.

To you they cried, and were saved.

In you they trusted and were not put to shame.[4]

For me and my faith, God’s deliverance is not, cannot be found in freedom from want and need, suffering and sorrow, no matter how earnestly, sometimes desperately we yearn for it; at least not in this life in this world where mortality is an ineluctable reality. Rather I see God’s salvation whenever I, in the words of the hymn, “survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died.”[5] For me and my faith, Jesus’ crucifixion and death is both God’s response to my and the psalmist’s cry – “I am with you always and, in life and in death, in all ways” – and God’s rejoinder to evil – “You can kill me, but you cannot defeat me, for nothing can conquer unconditional love.”

Deo gratias.

 

Footnotes:

[1] From Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779) by David Hume (1711-1776)

[2] The character Nickles in J.B.: A Play in Verse (1959) by Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982)

[3] Psalm 22.1a

[4] Psalm 22.3-5

[5] Words (1707) by Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

God or god? (part 1 of 2)

My daily starting, mid, and ending point: I am a Christian believer. I ascribe to a faith, a conviction about, a confidence in the existence of a God as revealed in the life and ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. As I read and reflect on Jesus’ story as recorded in the Bible’s gospel accounts, as I believe in Jesus, I behold in him the incarnation, the embodiment in space and time, the enfleshment in human life of divine love and justice, unconditional generosity and equality.

On most days, my faith holds together, makes sense to me and holds me together, allowing, encouraging me to act with love and justice toward all around me. (As human, I confess that I am limited by my perceptions and perspectives, my preferences and prejudices; how I view, understand, and respond to others and things. In this, my love and justice, even at my best, are provisional, falling short of the perfect impartiality of my God.)

By “on most days,” I mean that I can hold, sometimes in anguished tension, this world’s lights and shadows, joys and sorrows (or perhaps, truth to tell, I maintain this equilibrium largely less by conscious attention to life’s dichotomies and rather by focusing on whatever is before me, momentarily mindless of the ongoing cosmic clash between good and evil), so to remain upright and moving forward in seeking to do love and justice, in striving to be loving and just.

Then comes a day that disrupts, destroys my balance, painfully reminding me anew of life’s fragility and the friability of my equipose.

Sunday, June 12, was such a day in Orlando, Florida, and swiftly around the world. A person, driven by animus toward the LGBTQIA community and, perhaps as now speculated by some, psych-social/psycho-sexual maladjustments, and, doubtless, motivations unnamed and unknown, even to himself, murdered 49 people, wounding another 53.

There have been other days like this. Many. Too many.[1] More, it seems to me, as I age. Or maybe in my aging I am more aware of our inescapable mortality, thus more alert to the stages, especially when accelerated by vicious acts of human hands, along our inexorable human pilgrimage from birth to death.

In my grief, my hurt, my anger, my helplessness, I cry out, borrowing the psalmist’s words of eloquent despair:[2]

My God, my God, why have you forsaken us?

Why are you so far from helping us, from the words of our groaning?

O my God, we cry by day, but you do not answer and by night, but find no rest.

My God, is it because you do not hear or care or because you are not there? Are you God (more or less), the creator and judger and reconciler of all – good and evil – things? Or are you god (more or less), a creature of human invention, a figment of human imagination?

 

Footnotes:

[1] I am especially mindful of the approaching June 17 one-year anniversary of the murders of nine people at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Charleston, SC, by a person acting out of a virulent, violent racism.

[2] Psalm 22.1-2

right & wrong place & time

Last night, Pontheolla and I joined friends at a local eatery and bar to listen to Coconut Grove, a Charlotte, NC, based (but-close-enough-to-consider-Spartanburg-SC-home) band. They were great. The song list, wide and varied. The musicianship, literally and figuratively electric. The vocal harmonies, rich. The place was packed. The mood, highly spirited and responsive; folk happily singing along with the band. The proverbial good time was had by all.

And then, I don’t know why, the thought occurred to me. What if one of us in that room had a gun? And what if that one (or more?) of us with a gun, driven by whatever motivation – conscious and unconscious, whether long-ago experienced hurt coupled with misplaced, misguided anger or focused, targeted rage at someone or multiple ones there and elsewhere or for some other cause, clear or inchoate – opened fire?

Again, I don’t know why I thought it, but I did think it, if only for an instant, and then, I let it go, allowing myself to be reabsorbed by the celebratory atmosphere. So, it was that I was in the right place at the right time.

The same sadly cannot be said for my sisters and brothers in our human family of Orlando, Florida. They did not have the freedom to be festive, verily, to remain free from fear. For a gunman, Omar Mateen, was that one in a crowd who opened fire. They, 49 murdered, 53 wounded, were the victims in the latest mass shooting; for now (for a sorrowful, even cursory review of our recent national past raises the specter that it will happen again) the worse incident, as we humans count carnage, in American history.

The investigation continues. It may be proved that Mateen, who openly espoused Islamic State sympathies, engaged in an act of domestic terrorism. Or that he, driven by animus toward the gay community, sought to strike at the heart of our American liberties to love and live with those of our calling and choosing (for the murders took place at the Pulse nightclub whose mission, in addition to human joyful, peaceful celebration, is the promotion of awareness of the LGBTQIA community). At the proverbial end (and at the beginning and at the middle) of the day, I believe unfettered, unfiltered hatred was the defining impulse.

As I grieve for the dead and the wounded, for their families and friends, and for all who love the law of liberty and who, in mutual respect, are lawful in the pursuit of the liberties they love, I believe that the hostilities that inspired Omar Mateen to open fire also beat, pulse in the hearts of many. Thus, who among us knows or can know where and when will be the next wrong place, wrong time? I don’t know. You don’t know. No one knows. Perhaps it will be where and when Pontheolla and I or those we love or you and those you love will be some anywhere at some anytime.

When I was growing up, my father frequently advised, “Son, you’re only as good as your last good deed.” By that he meant to encourage me to do good (although his counsel also had the unintended effect of teaching me that my value rested on what I did, not on who I was; that action, indeed, achievement as the world judges accomplishment was greater than character). Moments in space and time of mass murder, coupled with all other catastrophes nature made or at human hands, reaffirm my belief that my last good deed, indeed, might be my last deed. Hence, this day forward, I renew my pledge to pray the strength of God’s Spirit to live conscious of and committed to love with unconditional benevolence toward all.