Thursday, August 10, 2017

Are You A Good One?

It's been a very long time since I posted anything here. For the past two and a half years or more I have felt like Eric Garner - I can't breathe.

In 2016 enough Americans voted for him to elect Donald Trump as 45th president of the United States. Words I hoped and prayed I would never say. This was a man who during his campaign said that Mexicans in the U.S. were all rapists and criminals, praised dictators and murders like Adolf Hitler, Kim Jong-Un, Joseph Stalin and Rodrigo Duterte, a man who said outright that he wanted to ban Muslims from entering the United States and who in referring to women spoke of "grabbing 'em by their pussy". I find it difficult to preface this person's name with the title "President" so will henceforth refer to him as "45"

When I was a child the wisdom of the dominant culture was that police officers were our friends. We could go to them if we were in trouble and they would try to help us. The police motto after all was "To protect and serve." I never was quite able to believe that. To me the police were an occupying force, marching down the streets bristling with arms. Their job was to protect other people from me,  and people like me, and to serve the status quo. I heard stories of people beaten by police. As a 12 year old I watched a police officer harass and intimidate a school mate. Whispers of people in police custody mysteriously dying.

You would think that over the decades things would have changed but guess what, they haven't. They have in fact gotten worse. Or maybe it's just that we now have full (er) disclosure. As black bodies continue to pile up the stench is finally getting to be impossible to ignore. Inner city residents are for the most part a marginalized people with the inherent distrust of authority that goes with that. Police are the symbol of that authority. And they all to frequently abuse it. There is now have proof of what we have known and experienced for decades. (We weren't the ones who needed proof, but in case you did.) The Justice Department has been to Cleveland. In a fairly comprehensive report they have documented decades of abuses of power by police.

In recent weeks 45 made a speech to a police organization in which he ignored a key concept of our legal system - innocent until proven guilty- and gave "law enforcement" agents carte blanche to abuse suspects with impunity. I believe one of the more frightening statements he made was something to the effect of  "don't bother being nice to them" There was no mistaking what he was saying or the response of the officers, who cheered and applauded.

The organization representing Police Chiefs was quick to distance themselves from 45's statements and say that they believe in treating every civilian with respect and dignity. I guess the officers who laughed and applauded didn't get that particular memo. Several of the unions representing police officers, including Cleveland's own Steve Loomis,  agreed with 45 and praised him. All well and good for the Association of Chiefs of Police to say they don't condone mistreating suspects but I have to wonder, if the Chiefs are disavowing this behavior and officers are cheering it where is the disconnect and what are the Chiefs doing to address it? I have seen very little evidence to back up the Police Chiefs' claim of fair treatment.

When we complain and protest the response is "Blue Lives Matter" and talk about how we are attacking police. Listen to the wisdom of Kareem Abdul Jabaar - "Police are not under attack, institutionalized racism is. Trying to remove sexually abusive priests is not an attack on Catholicism, nor is removing ineffective teachers an attack on education. Bad apples, bad training, and bad officials who blindly protect them, are the enemy. And any institution worth saving should want to eliminate them, too."

Right before 45 made this speech I was in the grocery store waiting for someone to pick me up. This store has a uniformed Cleveland Police Officer as a security guard. The officer that day happened to be black. Standing in line was a young black woman with two very young children, both probably under 5 years old. As I smiled at their antics the younger child, a boy, looked up at the police officer and asked him in all seriousness "are you a good one?" As I sat there with my heart shattered, blood rushing in my ears, I'm sure the officer must have responded in the affirmative but I couldn't even hear his response. What must he have felt, to have this child, so young he could barely get the words out ask him this question? What about this smiling child, interrupting his play with his sister to make sure he was safe? Or his young mother who surely knows that, not so many years from now, when her child leaves her presence she will have to worry that she might not see him alive or whole again.

After negative feedback 45 said that he was just joking. Is that why the audience laughed and applauded? I watched the video of the speech and did not get a hint of sarcasm or humor. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote a book about the Birmingham campaign called "Why We Can't Wait"  in which he addressed the call of people to let things take their natural course, or not to upset the apple cart. It's worth reading and as timely now as it was when he originally wrote it.

The leader of our country encourages police brutality and later says it's a joke. Police officers sworn to protect and serve cheer and applaud  him. Everyday a new name is added to the list of our ancestors gone too soon through state sponsored violence. Children not even in school  yet know that they can't trust the person in uniform. My heart lies on the floor of the grocery store broken into pieces. We can't wait.
I can't... breathe.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Politics As Usual?

I recently participated in a trivia game involving questions about presidential politics in the U.S. At the end of the game it occurred to me that except for President Obama there were very few questions about the participation of African Americans or women in the presidential election process over the past 300 years.

At first I was discouraged. I thought, like so many who rely on main stream media, that this was because of the dearth of such participation but then I pictured a couple of women standing in front of me, reminding me that just because we don’t get talked about doesn’t mean we aren’t there. We’ve been told over and over that Presidential Politics in the U.S. has always been “all old white men all the time.” We’ve been told it so often that we have started to believe it. That’s not quite the entire story.

 I’ve been "advised" that I should support Hilary Clinton even if I have reservations because she’s our first, best shot at getting real female participation in the presidential election process and getting a woman in the White House. While she might be our best shot to date she is by no means the first.

It’s way past time that we as African Americans and/or women reclaim our place and our history as participating citizens in this democracy of ours. It’s time for us to deny and deconstruct the myth that we’ve been kept down by our circumstances.  We always have been and continue to be vital members of the election process not only by our votes but by actually running for and winning offices. We need to reclaim our herstory for our sisters and daughters so that they know it can be done because it has been done and so that they don’t think they are going it alone.

My challenge to anyone reading this during this seemingly endless presidential election cycle is this – name one woman or African American in the 300 year history of presidential politics who made a significant impact and or was on the ballot somewhere in these 50 United States.  I’ll even let you cheat a little if you name one person who fits both categories. Come on, you know they’re out there. We’ve been there all along. Let’s make it known.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

More than a dream

To my friends and/or readers :)

I thought I had posted this but guess I forgot to hit the publish button. However,  it is Black History month and there is some good stuff here, so even though it's not MLK day anymore somehow I don't think he'll mind. 

 My friend Kurt has a pretty good blog called "One step closer - Religion and popular culture." I like him and he usually has some interesting things to say. The following post for Martin Luther King Jr. Day is no exception. Read, ponder and then do something.

Remembering all MLK dreamed for...

The collective national memory concerning Martin Luther King Jr. is often summed up by choice passages from his 1963 “dream” speech, like this one:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

It is with good intentions that we remember these moments of “dream”, but in doing so we often end up with the false idea that King’s goals have been accomplished.  We point to proof of this by certain observations of our present, perhaps most notably in the fact that an African American president will be inaugurated to his second term on the same day we celebrate King.

Professor and author Fredrick C. Harris reminds us of the fight King was waging by the last year of his life:  a war against the triple evils of racism, poverty and militarism, reflected in a battle for the rights of low-wage garbage workers in Memphis, a movement against the Vietnam War and, nationally, the hope for a second march on Washington, one that would dramatize the plight of America’s poor.

On the Sunday before his death, King gave a sermon at the Washington National Cathedral called “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.”

In it, King left the nation with a vision of what it would take for real change to come to America:

On March 31st, 1968, using The Book of Revelation's quote "Behold, I make all things new; former things are passed away", King began with a challenge to develop a world perspective:

No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone, and anyone who feels that he can live alone is sleeping through a revolution. The world in which we live is geographically one. The challenge that we face today is to make it one in terms of brotherhood.

Now it is true that the geographical oneness of this age has come into being to a large extent through modern man’s scientific ingenuity. Modern man through his scientific genius has been able to dwarf distance and place time in chains. And our jet planes have compressed into minutes distances that once took weeks and even months. All of this tells us that our world is a neighborhood.

Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.

King then moves to racism.  The vision offered in The Dream speech is far from reached.  He said:

“The disease of racism permeates and poisons a whole body politic. And I can see nothing more urgent than for America to work passionately and unrelentingly—to get rid of the disease of racism.”

Fredrick Harris observes that we are still not yet there, suggesting that, despite steps forward, “We are not a post-racial society, in which race no longer matters. At best, we are a post-racist society — in which formal legal barriers against African Americans and other minorities have been eliminated, but the legacy of those barriers endures.”

Next King spoke about poverty, outlining a planned day of action that never happened due to his assassination:

This is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. The question is whether America will do it. There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.

In a few weeks some of us are coming to Washington to see if the will is still alive or if it is alive in this nation. We are coming to Washington in a Poor People’s Campaign. Yes, we are going to bring the tired, the poor, the huddled masses. We are going to bring those who have known long years of hurt and neglect. We are going to bring those who have come to feel that life is a long and desolate corridor with no exit signs. We are going to bring children and adults and old people, people who have never seen a doctor or a dentist in their lives.

We are not coming to engage in any histrionic gesture. We are not coming to tear up Washington. We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty....

We are coming to ask America to be true to the huge promissory note that it signed years ago. And we are coming to engage in dramatic nonviolent action, to call attention to the gulf between promise and fulfillment; to make the invisible visible.

Why do we do it this way? We do it this way because it is our experience that the nation doesn’t move around questions of genuine equality for the poor and for black people until it is confronted massively, dramatically in terms of direct action.

Finally, King addressed the problem of using violence to solve problems, especially concerning the Vietnam War:

I want to say one other challenge that we face is simply that we must find an alternative to war and bloodshed. Anyone who feels, and there are still a lot of people who feel that way, that war can solve the social problems facing mankind is sleeping through a great revolution....

This is where we are. "Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind,"....

It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence....

There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right. I believe today that there is a need for all people of goodwill to come with a massive act of conscience and say in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "We ain’t goin’ study war no more." This is the challenge facing modern man.

Tomorrow, on the day we remember The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., you will surely hear quoted some of the most cherished passages from the “I have a dream” speech.  Know that this does indeed, in the words of Harris, “Convey the spirit of America’s promise and the hope that one day the nation will live up to its creed”.  If we are to get there, we need to  remember all that King dreamed for, and the hope he still had on the Sunday before he was shot and killed.

  “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” concluded with these words:

We’re going to win our freedom because both the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of the almighty God are embodied in our echoing demands. And so, however dark it is, however deep the angry feelings are, and however violent explosions are, I can still sing "We Shall Overcome."

We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

We shall overcome because Carlyle is right—"No lie can live forever."

We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right—"Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again."

We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right—as we were singing earlier today,

Truth forever on the scaffold,

Wrong forever on the throne.

Yet that scaffold sways the future.

And behind the dim unknown stands God,

Within the shadow keeping watch above his own.

With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair the stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

Thank God for John, who centuries ago out on a lonely, obscure island called Patmos caught vision of a new Jerusalem descending out of heaven from God, who heard a voice saying, "Behold, I make all things new; former things are passed away."

God grant that we will be participants in this newness and this magnificent development. If we will but do it, we will bring about a new day of justice and brotherhood and peace. And that day the morning stars will sing together and the sons of God will shout for joy.

God bless you.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


I didn’t know much about the season of Lent growing up, not having been raised in a liturgical church. Didn’t even know it was a “season”. All I knew was that people got ashes on their head on Ash Wednesday and gave up something they liked for Lent. When I first became an Episcopalian, every year I asked myself what I should give up for Lent and every year I failed to follow through. (Same goes with New Year’s Resolutions, but that’s another post.) As I have grown in my understanding I began to see that Lent is not just about what you give up but about what you learn, and what you take on.

16 ‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.* 

I don’t even like to talk in terms of what I’m giving up for Lent because when you focus on what you are giving up you spend the entire 40 days feeling deprived, thinking about what you gave up and waiting until you can get it back again. If I am just giving something up for 40 days what do I gain from that except 40 days of misery and self-denial (and maybe a few pounds of weight lost, which I’m probably gonna gain back after Easter anyway)? I spend the entire time being the person who trumpets how good I am because I “sacrificed” so much for Lent.

So now I try to approach the season of Lent in a different way. Whatever I do (or don’t do) I try to do in an intentional and prayerful way. What is going to be the end result of my Lenten discipline? What is my spiritual goal? If I do “give up” something I think of it more as pruning. On the corner where I catch the bus from work every day there is a rose bush. It produces beautiful roses for most of the year. Right now it is dormant but it will be blooming again, probably right around Easter or shortly thereafter. I have seen the people who manage the building cutting back dead wood, or buds that haven’t opened. This rose bush thrives long past the time when most flowers in Cleveland’s climate have stopped. When you have a plant that is overgrown and starting to get leggy or not producing good fruit, or leaves or flowers, you prune back the overgrown leaves and branches. In this way the roots can concentrate on growing deep and strong and nourishing healthy new growth. Likewise if I do take up a discipline of denial for Lent I am doing spiritual pruning. I am cutting back the mass of “stuff” that is choking my roots. I am not giving up something. Rather I am getting rid of something that keeps my roots from reaching deeper and growing stronger, something that distracts me from the need to be always striving to be closer to God and the need to always  be aware of my responsibility to God’s creation. At the end of the process hopefully my roots will be stronger and I will be better able to produce strong and healthy spiritual fruit.