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Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Season For Balancing The Scales

A Season for Balancing the Scales scales

"When I feed the poor, they call me a saint; when I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist." Archbishop Dom Helder Camara

THE 1/204th HUMAN

There is an alarming lamentation among economists, social and political commentators, and progressive voices for economic justice, that while household incomes have essentially remained stagnant since the mid 1980s, in the same period corporate profits and executive compensation have grown at mind-boggling rates. Fifty percent of income resources now go to the top ten percent, while the other fifty percent is shared by the bottom ninety percent. This lamentation should get our attention because of the ramifications of this kind of inequity for the stability of any society. Peace does not proliferate where justice has no foundation. This is a fact of life...everywhere.

Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics, a professor at Columbia and a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and chief economist for the World Bank has observed the following:

"Our skyrocketing inequality - so contrary to our meritocratic ideal of America as a place where anyone with hard work and talent can "make it" - means that those who are born to parents of limited means are likely never to live up to their potential. Children in other rich countries like Canada, France, Germany and Sweden have a better chance of doing better than their parents did than American kids have. More than a fifth of our children live in poverty - the second worst of all the advanced economies, putting us behind countries like Bulgaria, Latvia and Greece."

In a national culture where American exceptionalism has become the cliched boast of those whose political ambitions drive them to side with those who have a vested interest in the maintenance of the status quo, we must ask ourselves whether or not this is the “exceptionalism” we want to engender going forward. What can we expect to be the future of a society in which the social, political, and economic ambitions of the few creates the kind of disparity that drives the majority toward a veritable cliff of hopelessness? Our nation’s destiny is without doubt severely compromised when the hope of the few creates despair among the many.

Zoe Carpenter, writing in The Nation, observes the following:

“It’s no secret that this sort of economic inequality is increasing nationwide; the disparity between America’s richest and poorest is the widest it’s been since the Roaring Twenties. Less discussed are the gaps in life expectancy that have widened over the past twenty-five years between America’s counties, cities and neighborhoods. While the country as a whole has gotten richer and healthier, the poor have gotten poorer, the middle class has shrunk and American’s without high school diplomas have seen their life expectancy slide back to what it was in the 1950’s. Economic inequalities manifest not in numbers, but in sick and dying bodies.”

The stark reality of our national life is that the growing inequalities in our economy are sadly expressed in crime and violence, in diminished access to quality education, and in the diminished health and life expectancy of the many who struggle to “make ends meet”. It is convenient for pompous conservatives to point the finger at the presumed “immorality” of the disadvantaged. By objectifying the unwed parent they are able to direct attention away from more substantial issues amongst us. For example, we might be asking questions as to whether it is moral for a fast food chain to bank billions of dollars in corporate profits while denying its workers a livable wage.

We must not allow ourselves to be distracted by the well developed sleight of tongue of our socio/economic/cultural detractors, who want to talk about individual responsibility while corporate entities get to call their lack of a collective moral orientation “success”. It is time to ask ourselves some hard questions about the kind of nation we are. Is community only essential when we want to mobilize the children of the working class to shed their blood in wars that have their raison d’etre in the undisclosed economic motivations of the neoconservative class?

Jesus of Nazareth whom many conservatives worship as their “Savior” rebuked those pointing their fingers at those who are too disadvantaged to effectively answer with the instruction, and here I paraphrase... Remove the log from your own eye before you talk about the speck in the eyes of others! As for this Jesus, he was a man surrounded by the working class. He himself is believed by many to have been, among other things, a carpenter.  This was a man who understood the predicament of the Mary Magdalenes of his world. He did not look down his nose at fishermen among whom he moved easily, his buddy Peter being one of them. He got Matthew, a tax collector, to leave a profession that many saw as oppressive and join him in the work of liberation. Jesus stood up for the poor, as his embrace of that well read mission statement from Isaiah 61 shows. The “good news” he proclaimed to the poor was bad news for those who gained from keeping things the way they were.
  There is no doubt in my mind that today’s conservative would condemn this Nazarene’s “social gospel” as unadulterated Marxism. His relationship with the political leadership and its economic partners was by no means a comfortable one. Remember that incident with the “money changers” in the temple? These economic vampires were using their monopoly of the currency supply to make exorbitant profits, charging “whatever the market would bear” for coins that the people needed to pay their annual Temple tax. Jesus physically threw them out of the Temple after branding them “thieves”. Days later these same bankers called for his death. How dare he do anything to compromise their hard earned profit margins?

According to Bloomberg, the average CEO makes 204 times the salary of the average employee. Is this what we mean in fact when we spout off about “American exceptionalism”? How long will civility hold when the social contract engendered by our economic relationships continues to guarantee the fecundity of the few at the expense of the many? Simply put, how long can we expect that the poor will accept that their lot in this life is to be fodder for the ambitions of the rich?

THE CASE FOR AN “EXCEPTIONAL” WHOLENESS

In this season of “goodwill toward men” it behoves us to stop and reflect on the foundational ideals of our civil society. The loud voices of conservatism among us want us to believe in their version of the Judeo-Christian value system. The problem is that they are either ignorant of, or in total denial about the prophetic voices that have given life to this tradition throughout its history. Have the conservative pontificators among us read Amos, or Isaiah, or any of the prophets for that matter? Have they not heard Amos’ appeal to “let Justice roll down ...”? I speak with the prophets when I declare that we must not have our voices co-opted in the efforts to further oppress and marginalize the disadvantaged among us.

In light of the fundamentalism which insists that we must give prominence to the Biblical foundations of our nation’s origins, it becomes imperative that we raise some fundamental questions about those foundations. What, we must ask, are the social ramifications of a belief system that assumes the “fatherhood” of “a common Creator”? In the words of Cain... Am I my brother’s keeper? Do I have the right to demand that I be treated as a “fellow person”?  In the tradition of Martin Buber who was a prominent twentieth century philosopher, religious thinker, political activist and educator; shall we cultivate amongst ourselves “I-thou” rather than “I-it” relationships. Do we truly believe that “all persons are created equal”?

Religious belief is by no means separable from the anthropological assumptions of the faithful. People in fact create gods in their own images. Our religious ideals therefore bear the indelible imprint of our social, economic, and historical bearings. For this reason it is a semantically perilous exercise to posit a conversation about a just and civil society with assumptions about commonalities in religious belief. As I have stated elsewhere, our theology is, for the most part, the deification of our anthropology. The peril of religious dialogue is therefore its inherent subjectivity. Given this fact, it is not surprising to find that even the highest authority in any religious system will be verbally and otherwise assaulted by the faithful of the church of status quo ethics and economics. Such authorities include even the Successor of Peter.

The new Pope has garnered much press for the fresh new approach he has brought to leadership at the Vatican. His theological praxis is no doubt informed by the experiences he had as a pastor among the poor in Latin America. Like ArchBishop Dom Helder Camara, he is no stranger to the plight of those who struggle daily to eek out a living in desperate circumstances. Pope Francis has repeatedly called for greater efforts to lift up the world’s poor. The pontiff has this to say in his most recent encyclical:

“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness... This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacra­lized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

The fact that this statement expresses the doctrinal position of the Church way before this Pope came to office has not saved him from the venom of the icons of our current conservatism. The standard satanization has been pronounced against him. MARXIST! The “gates of hell” may not prevail against the “Rock” on which the Church is built; but the missile “Marxist!” has a certain philosophically destructive appeal among the religious masses.

It is ironic that in a culture where the God of the prophets tells the oppressors of the poor to go to hell with their “sacrifices” and their other religious observances, these same oppressors never cease to warn the poor about “a godless ideology”. I am reminded of the Epistle of John where it is unequivocally stated, and here I paraphrase again... If a man says he loves God whom he cannot see, while he is oppressing his brother whom he can see... That man is a LIAR. So, one may ask on the basis of this declaration, whose is the godless ideology?

President Barack Obama has been making the case for increasing the minimum wage.The federal minimum wage currently is $7.25 an hour, or about $15,000 a year. The President has indicated his commitment to back a Senate measure to increase the minimum statutory pay to $10.10. In the process he too has had to endure the satanization ...“MARXIST!” because of his efforts to improve the lot of the widow and the orphan. He understands that this kind of critique “comes with the territory”. Those of us who support the efforts of this President to make ours a more just society have no doubt that History will absolve him.

JUSTICE IS THE ONLY TRUE WORSHIP

As a student of the Judeo-Christian tradition, it is my conclusion that every 8th century prophet would have to endure the satanization of the likes of Rush Limbaugh in their stand against the economic/cultural status quo. In the struggle toward a more just society we must stand up to the the pseudo-intellectualism of the moral halfwits among us. We must not sit idly by while the apostles of what His Holiness calls “the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system” hold court. Furthermore, we will not allow the voices of the prophets to be drowned out by their heresy.

This is a season to participate meaningfully in calling the poor into a realization of the power they have to change the bleak and seemingly hopeless circumstances that face them. It is time for the worker to understand that their worth is much more than 1/204th of that of the CEO’s, who smiles at them and declares his/her feigned charitableness by handing out hormone inflated turkeys at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The God of Righteousness is with us. Listen as He/She speaks: Amos 5 vs 21-24

“I hate, I despise your feasts,    and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,    I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,    I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs;    to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters,    and righteousness like an everflowing stream.”

The resetting of our priorities to which we are directed by this rebuke has its very essence in the reality that to “do justly and to love mercy” is in fact the ONLY meaningful religion. The virtuousness of this statement is however not reserved for the religious. Prosperity does not happen in a social vacuum. The law of the jungle might have a certain appeal to the greed induced coma that typifies the behavior of those who have blocked the need to be “righteous”, but it only sets them up for destruction by the hosts of the aggrieved. The “jungle” is by no means a desirable social ideal. Ultimately our hopes for progress are rooted in a fundamental understanding of the kind of community where justice is a shared value. A society in which I-Thou takes the place of I-it in our socio-economic interactions. It is the need for this kind of community that beckons us into a season for balancing the scales.

One Love,

R.A.G.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Of Paradise Despised...The killing of Trayvon Martin and the shooter's acquittal

On Saturday the 13th of July 2013, George Zimmerman of Sanford, Florida was found not guilty on all charges in the shooting death of seventeen year old Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, shot and killed the teenager in a confrontation that all reasonable analysts agree should have been avoided. 

The shooter Zimmerman was only arrested after the incident received national attention that resulted in mass protests across major cities in the US against the inaction of the Sanford police department. His trial generated a national discussion on the part that race played in this unfortunate incident; and also on the availability of equal justice in our society. 

Many gathered around the courthouse as the nation awaited the decision of the sequestered jury. Those gathered ranged from members of the New Black Panther Party demanding justice for Trayvon, to friends of Zimmerman hoping for his acquittal. The jury who were all white except for one, found George Zimmerman not guilty on all charges. 

It is the morning following this verdict, and emotions run the gamut from elation among Zimmerman sympathizers; to anger and depression among those who feel the pain of Trayvon's family. Many anticipated some social upheaval to accompany this kind of verdict; but except for some incidents in California, the nation has remained calm. 

The angst that this event has generated is palpable. Many would like to forget the role that a history of racial animus has played in how we perceive events like this, but there can be no mistaking the fact that our responses are conditioned by this history. Just over a generation ago, apartheid was the operational dynamic in social and legal happenings in the South. As uncomfortable as some are, being reminded of this.... It remains a frame of reference in the interpretation of this type of unfortunate occurrence. 

As we continue to reflect on this verdict, the events leading up to it, and the realities that continue to inform the quality of our interpersonal relationships; let us do so remembering the sacred trust that we must assume toward each other if we are to build the kind of community that expresses the equality of all men in the eyes of our Creator. 

I humbly submit these verses from my book of the same name, “Of Paradise Despised…and lives that bought into a lie”, as a meaningful aid in our further reflection. 



Shanty towns
Of heated browns …
Blighted spirits weighted down
On bended knees
To hierarchies
Of powers in conflict that compete
For the loyalties of those oppressed
By the hardened heart of wickedness
And their own sense of void …

Wanton
Wasted
Brokenness
That looks at life through blood-tainted eyes …
Rancid stench of wretchedness …
Dark arresting passions
Of a sinful nakedness
Raging red
Till death and hell
Confirm the dread-full truths
Of paradise despised
And lives that bought into a lie …

And when we sorrow for the lives of our sons
Who indulge in the violence of their mutual despair
Will our tears yet quench the barrenness
Of this heated state in which we live …

And can we stop this crimson rain …
This predestined clash of conflicting loyalties …
If we replace the shanty towns
With fertile places unconfined …

And on this rise
From which we survey
The woe-begotten aftermath
Of a Megiddo inspired conflagration
We retire to wipe our tears
And find a place
To build a house of hope
Through which flows
The eternal spring
Of that love
That softens hearts
Restoring hope
And heals the brokenness of every passionate soul



One Love,
Roy

Sunday, June 16, 2013

'A Season For Being Grounded'

The following piece was initially posted for the Summer 2013 issue of  "Figs In Season"  (www.FigtreeEnterprises.com).  
"Figs In Season"  focuses on inspiration for both our chronological and our kairotic journeys:

'A Season For Being Grounded'


GROUNDED : being mentally and emotionally stable : admirably sensible, realistic, and unpretentious. (Merriam-Webster)



Reflecting on the ordinary events and circumstances of our everyday lives can, with the right frames of reference, produce deeper insights into our existence. In fact, the extraordinary “revelations” produced by many of our sages are the results of a deeper analysis of events and circumstances that most of us bypass, or otherwise gloss over in the course of our own experiences. We can connect with our "deeper” selves by cultivating a more acute awareness of the implications of ordinary events and circumstances that occur daily in the various facets of our living. A deeper appreciation of the ordinary lays the foundation for better decision-making. It allows for extraordinary interventions on our part, when faced with critical situations.

Take for example the "wisdom of Solomon" as demonstrated in the case of two women who came before him in a dispute over a child. Both women had given birth to sons within a short time of each other. While they slept one of them overlaid her baby, resulting in his death. Now they were before the king, each claiming that the surviving child was hers. After considering the dilemma before him, the king proposes to split the surviving child in two with his sword and give each woman a half of the child. A horrendous proposition, but one readily approved of by the woman who was clearly not the child's mother. 

What mother in her right mind would say yes to such a thing? In a culture where the definition of womanhood is tied to the ability to bear and raise children, some women become desperate about attaining and maintaining that status. But even in that desperation the bond engendered between a mother and child during the course of gestation remains more often than not, durable and unmistakable. A caring mother would never casually or otherwise agree to such a proposition to resolve this or any other crisis involving her child.

The other woman, heartbroken and going out of her mind about the possibility of such a fate for her baby, begged the king to give the child to this other heartless person in order to save its life. This was a demonstration of that motherly affection which we know to be almost universal, and with which most of us can identify. The king, recognizing her motherly instinct, gave the child to this woman. She had, without doubt, authenticated her motherly claim by being willing to save her child's life even if that meant she was going to lose custody to this desperate person. 

The king’s action was that of a wise judge. Solomon demonstrated wisdom derived from an in-depth knowledge of his society’s norms, a real appreciation of the dynamics at work in the socio/cultural environment, and an intimate connection with the complex workings of the human mind and heart. We rightly applaud such great judgement. But as we do so it is vital to realize that each of us can give ourselves the benefit of this kind critical ability. We do so by cultivating a deeper awareness of the world around us and its workings. 

To get a real grasp of the world outside the one we inhabit we must become daring. We must be willing to delve beneath our own ingrained superficiality. It demands that we unlock the gates of our old familiar comfort zones, and venture into the uncomfortable realm of mindsets and experiences that are foreign to our own experiences and unkind to our vulnerable sensibilities. Solomon cultivated this critical ability. To be a good king he had no choice. His was a groundedness wrought in the inconvenient, and at times agonizing business of governing. This is what it takes to be the masters of our domain.

Not too long ago I had an opportunity to do some reflection on certain events in my experience. The circumstances and demands of my analysis were nowhere as critical as in Solomon's; but they remain meaningful for me nonetheless. I hope you will find the following observations useful, as I invite you to ride along with me in this act of reflection-sharing.

Above the clouds

So here I was cruising at thirty-two thousand feet on a flight from Atlanta, Georgia to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My flight originally scheduled for this time yesterday was cancelled without notice. A day later, with the sun streaming through the windows of the business class cabin, it is going to take at least an extra half-hour because we have been re-routed. This trip will add an extra two hundred or so miles, but it will get us around weather that might not be conducive to safe, comfortable flying. 

The pilot explains that our new plan “will take us north toward Ohio, ... and then we will eventually approach our destination from the south-west...” instead of our usual swipe across the Delaware River. Small price to pay, I thought, I just want to get there...and in one piece. In the final analysis we will readily accept changes in our lives, and to our plans, when we realize that we have no viable alternative...and gladly so.

I have grown patient with these delays and re-routings from experience. One kinda has no choice but to adapt, if one intends to remain in a healthy state of mind. I bolster my acquired stoicism by telling myself “safety first”. Yesterday my flight was cancelled because of bad weather, and today I will get to my destination at least a half hour later...because of inclement weather. Ok. Safety first. And besides, what’s a half hour, I have no plans for the evening. 

It has become quite interesting to stand by and observe fellow travelers get really angry about these cancellations and delays. To hear them tell it, they have important business that can't wait. Some rant and rave, demonstrating that aura of self-importance that “indispensables” are known for; but to no avail. To such persons it matters not what the reason for the change is. Come hell or high water, the airline had better find a way to get them to their destination on time.

The seasoned agent behind the counter will patiently listen, knowing full well that there is not a damned thing that will be done to satisfy the demands of angry, disappointed clients. Oh hold on, maybe a free ticket to a destination of choice. Not! Just a new itinerary, a facile smirk, and a not so gracious “thanks for your patience and understanding”. “Now go back home, or go find a hotel room till tomorrow!”. Oh hold on, that last sentence is me thinking out loud. There is such a thing as “an act of God”; the consequences of which we are all expected to share.

I recline my seat just enough to maximize my comfort, without impinging on the space of the passenger behind me. I am always conscientious about that, unlike those who just recline as far as the seat allows. I must confess my annoyance with people who do that. The new Boeing 737-800 series aircraft shears the wind, eliciting an elongated monotonous whistle as it makes its way across the sunny skies over Pittsburgh. I take a number of slow deep breaths as I find myself reflecting on what I have called elsewhere “our fragile existentialism”. 

It seems to me the idea that we are free and are therefore ultimately responsible for the choices we make, is a philosophical burden that few of us are prepared to assume. In a world in which it is sometimes convenient to "believe" that "what is to be will be”; we tend to cultivate a certain pathos around the reality that whatever is “to be” is up to us. I have come to believe this. Many of us declare a pre-determinism that assumes that our course in this life has been set, and there is nothing we can do about it. What is to be, will be. Period.

We can agree that there are some things we have little or no control over in our lives; but our fate and destiny are determined by the course that we ourselves set by each decision we make. There are people who will never set foot on an airplane because of their fear of flying. Like bungee jumping, and riding on the latest version of a wild roller coaster, they just wont do it. Our most awe-full phobias are fed by one decision after another not to do something...not to take those steps which will ultimately give us power over our irrationality.

In other contexts in our lives we parrot the dogma “practice makes perfect”, but we fail to see its implication for the “finishing” of ourselves with regards to our fears. Yes, the word “perfect” means “finished”, and it is an often stated fact that none of us are. We are impacted daily by the formative influences of the hands of experience. The perfection that life nudges us toward is a function of the steps we take to overcome our worries and our fears. Sometimes the nudges of reality are painful and unsettling, but they force us to look more clearly at the ground around our feet. They make us look again with more critical eyes at the assumptions in which we have anchored our expectations.

Our fears sabotage every aspect of our existence. They prevent one from asking for a deserved salary increase at the job one has done well for five, six, seven years. It is fear that causes an unhappy spouse not to declare to the world that his or her marriage is a miserable sham that should end. The desire to maintain the status quo at the expense of one’s fulfillment demands unreasonable self-sacrifice. We worry about outcomes that may never be because fear breeds irrationality. My existentialism says, if a thing is unreasonable it is wrong. There comes a moment when we are shaken by the need to right the ship of fear filled living.

My thoughts go by like wisps of cirrus clouds. A multitude of “what ifs” find their way in and out of my mind despite the protestations of my rationalism. I eventually surrender to the moment, recognizing the reality that there are some possibilities that lay on the heap of fate which are out of my control. My mind goes back to something that Cypher Raige says to his son Kitai in the movie After Earth. “Danger is very real. Fear is always a choice”. 

I try for a moment to reconfigure the notion... Fear is a response to danger... . My reformulation sounds reasonable, it is congruent with what I have heard others conclude, but I chose to stick with Cypher Raige's dogma...Fear is a choice. Something about this formulation engenders a sense of being in control. I identify with that. The thought appeals to something in the DNA of my personhood, so I let it soak in. It fleshes out my existentialism, fragile as it may be.

We are forty-five minutes from landing in Philadelphia according to the in-control, well seasoned, reassuring voice of our veteran captain. I hold my head up and briefly, look around. The passenger beside me has had a coca cola and five or six airplane size bottles of cognac over ice. He will be served as much as he can tolerate; drinks being free in business class. He seems in a good mood, gently bobbing his head up and down as he listens to music from his smartphone with his eyes closed. As for me, I have given up on my can of ginger ale. It has gone flat. I’d prefer some water anyway, but I am otherwise occupied, and not really thirsty. 

The lady across the aisle to my right is typing away on her laptop, much like myself. I don't think she is documenting her roaming thoughts though. She seems quite focused, maybe a businessperson catching up on work. Who knows, maybe a writer working on her next bestseller.

It has been a quiet day in business class. Often people meet others on these flights and engage in very audible exchanges about work or their other interests, or both. It can be particularly jarring when someone has had too much to drink, or when some guy is trying to impress the lady he is sitting beside whom he has just met, and with whom he must complete a certain social transaction before landing.

Coming down
At the moment I have a certain private transaction that I must complete, in the bathroom. I unbuckle my seatbelt and head thereto. It's less than a minute later, and I hear that discreet ’ding’ which precedes inflight announcements. The flight attendant speaks: “The pilot has turned the seatbelt sign on. Please fasten your seat-belts and return your seats and tray tables to the upright and locked position. If you are moving about the cabin please return to your seat and fasten your seatbelt now.” The aircraft tilts to one side and then downwards as I return to my seat. We had begun our initial descent into Philadelphia. It is 6:55pm and still sunny above the clouds. It is the latter part of Spring.

The journey through the clouds, some of them appearing like mountains, always evoke certain latent reflections. No matter how stormy it is below, it is almost certainly calmer above, especially at thirty two thousand feet. It brings me back to conversations in which we often underline the importance of “taking the high road” when we face certain difficult situations. The ability to ground ourselves in a robust objectivity in the face of trying circumstances is a most welcome resource, one that we hope will always bear good fruit.

The sound of the landing gear deploying breaks my momentary soliloquy. We will be on the ground in about ten minutes, and must now put away all those technologies that could interfere with the aircraft’s safe operation. Safety first. And so we turn our phones and computers off and store them. I look outside, it is still raining. I have barely noticed the difference in the duration of this flight. Time contracts when mind melds with the sometimes dense matters of living. Those who had fallen asleep now awaken as we prepare for arrival.

Landing
Under the skilled guidance of our pilots, the aircraft touches down smoothly. The runway appears slippery from the precipitation, but the wheels of our aircraft obey the commands of their brakes, and we taxi to the gate at normal speed. The engines rest finally, and the door opens. We have arrived in Philadelphia. As my custom is, I call my wife to let her know that I am on terra firma... Safely. As usual, she is relieved, and grateful. 

I spend an uneventful evening watching the Miami Heat play the Indiana Pacers in game seven of their conference final. I love play-off basketball. The energized crowds, the engaging drama with its apparent choreographed uncertainty, are nothing short of spectacular. The “game within the game” would be comedic except for the real bumps, bruises, twisted joints, altered egos, and heartrending defeat that cruel destiny holds for unsubstantiated hopes and dreams and, in this case, “hoop dreams”. Despite what had been a close series so far, and what was billed to be a tight game, the final score ...Heat 99, Pacers 76. It was a rout.

As the game ends I begin to think about the gaps that occurred in my routine of the past day. I am satisfied that all the clients I was scheduled to see, were in fact taken care of by others on my team. That's good. I complete my “call out/cancellation” protocol, and fax it to the corporate office. That takes care of that. The people in Human Resources appreciate that kind of accountability. It wasn't my fault that my flight was cancelled, but I am still accountable to those who depend on me.

Sometimes we become so caught up in the fiction that we are indispensable that we forget that the world will in fact go on without us. And it will! It does. It was either Charles DeGaulle, or Winston Churchill, or some other experienced leader who pointed out that the graveyards are full of indispensable men. Some attribute the observation to Rick Santorum. He may have repeated it, but imitators are usually not originators, all due respect to ex-Senator Santorum.

On solid ground
There are events in the course of our lives that cause us to reassess the assumptions we develop when things do not go as we would have them. An unexpected illness. A heartbreak. Storms. A delayed or cancelled flight. Unsubstantiated dreams. Divorce. Death. These reassessments are necessary and useful. When life hands us lemons, we need to see the opportunities for the refreshment of our old, thirsty, outdated ideas and insipid attitudes. “Make lemonade”, someone says. We can, and we should. These are the thoughts and possibilities that keep us vitally connected to reality. We practice this essential connectedness through the following basic exercises:

1. Relax. Calm down and find time for rest and the rehabilitation of your physical and mental parts. The fatigue that results from inadequate rest wears us out, and eventually tears us down. It depletes our sensory capabilities, and makes us prone to accidents of thought and physicality that jeopardize our own safety, and the safety of those around us. So the good we do ourselves by resting issues to those around us who are impacted by our presence and activities. It is essential therefore, that we become aware of this at home, at work, and in the public spaces that we share.

2. Pay attention. There is a tendency to develop tunnel vision when we allow ourselves to become worn out by work, and the frustrations and disappointments that are inevitable in the course of our lives. Tunnel vision is a function of the anxiety that is part and parcel of our being tired and overwhelmed. It keeps us from seeing the other possibilities available to us in the face of mechanisms that fail in our expectations. The voice of Wisdom speaks to us in these circumstances, and hopefully we listen. It tells us to stop and look around. It suggests that we silence that other voice in our heads that keeps telling us there is no other way out. When wisdom gets our attention we begin to take those deep breaths which add needed oxygen to the blaze of the fire of our possibilities. That fire is extinguished when we suffer “burn out”.

3. Reboot. Rebooting is the act of shutting down and restarting a computer that gives it a bounce intended to clear its “wedgitude”. Wedgitude is tech slang for “the state of being wedged”. We all get to that point in our own experiences where our “operating systems” need a wedgitude adjustment. Shut things down for a moment. Give yourself that bounce necessary to face the new challenges ahead.

Replace the worn and obstructive pieces of your operation, personal and otherwise, and give yourself reasonable time to “come again”. In other words, reboot! Trying to operate with a “wedgie” in your os (operating system) results in debilitating dysfunction. Avoid system failure. In the words of the Desiderata: “with all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams; it is still a beautiful world.” So reboot, and carry on.

The road ahead
We may come upon circumstances that disappoint us and deplete the resources by which we operate at status-quo in our lives, but we must never act as if we have no recourse. At such times we need to reroute, and negotiate our way around the storms and other obstructions that come our way. We will inevitably experience the brokenness that result from life's traumatic events, so it is essential that we cultivate the courage we will need to rise up again and move forward.

In the middle of some of our challenges we may feel as if we are all alone. At such times it is critical that we reach out, and that we remain reachable ourselves. We can't live fully in this world all by ourselves, and so we need to be realistic about the relationships we all will need to enable us to achieve our fullest potential. True wisdom teaches us humility. By being humble we are able to facilitate a meaningful unpretentiousness as an outstanding feature of our being in the world.

It helps if in all our doings we make the rock of reasonableness our strong ally. There is no prescription for resolving the many and varied issues that will arise in the many and varied circumstances of our lives. But reasonableness allows us to hear each other. In the noisy confusion of our insistence on having it our way, reasonableness becomes that breath of fresh air which opens our eyes and ears and hearts to each other. 

Reasonableness is the raw material by which we establish a sound mental and emotional foundation in life. Ultimately it is the great facilitator of all those relationships by which we validate our reason for being in this wonderful world. Our world demands that we take time to become better for ourselves, and for each other. Let us realize this most important of aspirations by recognizing the coming of a season for being grounded.

ONE LOVE!
R. A. G.
Roy Alexander Graham

President/CEO, FIGTREE ENTERPRISES, INC.

Monday, April 29, 2013

'A Season For Reason'




A Season For Reason

The following piece was initially posted for the "Figs In Season" page of my website (www.FigtreeEnterprises.com).  "Figs In Season" focuses on inspiration for both our chronological and our kairotic journeys:

A Time to Grow... 

Saying "I am not the same person I was yesterday"has become cliche for many persons realizing both the need for, and the constant challenges of growth. This season, with its themes of rebirth and resurgence, is a great time to pull out...dust off...and activate the inherent challenges and benefits of this potentially invigorating reflection. Stagnation is never a viable option. We are either growing or regressing, but we do not remain the same persons we were yesterday.

Time marches on, and because we exist in a dynamic universe we do not have what for some would be the comfortable option of remaining the same. This remains true for us all, even though some of us would contest it with every fiber of our being. Some of us embrace change, even look forward to it. Some of us cope with it as a matter of course, with a kind of "alright then" attitude. And then there are those of us who have change thrust upon us; ready or not... it comes, and we deal with it because we must.


“Things” Change

Whether we like it or not, whether we are comfortable with it or not; things change. If you own a cellular phone, or a television, or some other cultural utility, you will attest to this. Nowadays before you learn your way around the newest iteration of your cell phone, it becomes obsolete. This applies to many things in our daily lives. Some of us embrace these changes, even look forward to them, hoping to somehow benefit from every advantage offered in the newest “thing”.

Some of us hold on to the old technologies, insisting that they still perform the “basic” functions so why bother. When the automatic transmission became the predominant trend in automobiles, some older drivers insisted that unless one could drive a “stick shift” with its clutch action and other cumbersome appliances, you couldn't really “drive”. Instead of embracing the new ease of operation and the opportunities it represented for those whose physical and other challenges were not the same as theirs, they just wanted things to stay the same.

The unreasonableness of this view not withstanding, some people just need to have their ingrained default positions /prejudices overridden. This is necessary for progress, and is as true for advances of a scientific nature as they are for cultural, political, religious, and other advances. Change is endemic in a dynamic universe. It is inevitable in our world. It happens, and when it comes it necessitates the demise of the status quo. We either embrace it, or it envelopes us and renders us functionally redundant. Not a good place to be.


Times/Traditions Change

Driven by the inherent tensions of a dynamic environment, every generation produces its crop of “seers” proclaiming the “end of the world”. We have seen a few of these only recently. From leaders of religious sects to perusers of the Mayan calendar, all proclaiming various end-times scenarios. Whether religious or quasi-scientific, these eschatological prognostications may all be traceable (in our psyches) back to the anxieties related to an inability to deal with inevitable changes in the natural, political, cultural, spiritual, and social order of things.

One may observe, on further examination, that such predictions are a result of the clashes between inescapable chronological /historical realities and our kairotic under-development. In other words, when we are unable to reconcile the changes around us with our own inability to grow, our worlds come crashing in. The events that mark these critical developments in human history are well documented in the transitional epochs of various societies and civilizations. The revolutions and other social upheavals that mark these transitions remain lessons we must continue to learn from.

We cannot escape the consequences of our proverbial “dogma” being over-run by our “karma”; when our unwillingness to adjust our point of view makes coping almost impossible. So, for example, in a culture where racism proliferates, a person of the oppressed class ascending to the highest office in the land presents those who insist on maintaining the status quo with a crisis of gargantuan proportions. It happens in economies where workers rise in revolution against bosses who make more in a day than they make in a year. The world as they know it ends, and the readjustments necessary to cope with the new reality is, to say the least, overwhelming.

The same thing happens in the cultural/political environment when persons of the same gender begin to insist on the same conjugal rights as heterosexuals; or the female politician in a patriarchally oriented society insists on the shattering of the “glass ceiling” of male dominated pre-eminence.  It happens when "widow cleansing" is called by its real name “abuse”, wherever it occurs. It happens when women and girls insist on going to school when the males of those societies would rather they be uneducated and subservient. Why can't women be priests and bishops and cardinals and pope? I would ask why homosexuals are rejected for ordination, but you would laugh at me, and rightly so.


It is this crisis that drives reactionary groups having to deal with a new cultural/political reality to announce that they have come to take their country “back”. This backwardness of which they speak is not just a function of chronology, as in “back to a time when”; it also expresses a wanting to repeal the socio/political/ cultural advances that they now see as a threat to an old status-quo. It is what happens in the shift of power that then makes meaningful the declaration that every person “has a right to determine her/his own destiny".

The demands of change are no respecters of persons and their philosophical positions. Change moves us to an examination of all our positions. The only thing sacred in this process is its necessity. For every finger pointed, three points back at our own “sacred cows”. Change necessitates a thorough examination of our most dearly held biases. It forces conversations about our held beliefs on family, religion, gender and sexuality, race and nationalistic claims, and all the alliances we have come to take for granted. It calls into question all the convenient  positions that we have built to maintain the status quo in our lives as individuals, groups, and nations.

We Must Change

Change requires us to make the adjustments that become necessary as a result of the reality that “all things are becoming new”. We change our clothes because physical and physiological dynamics dictate that we do. If we don't, our place in the socio-communal order becomes compromised. No one wants to be around tattered, stinking individuals. We shower to get rid of the dirt, the dead cells, and stench that results from our being in a demanding world. It is a re-freshing experience. We should all embrace it; but for many resisting change, the tatteredness of their general disposition is only superseded by the foulness of their bad behavior.
We change our minds because we should always be learning/ discovering new things. At some point we should accept the reality that the earth is not flat. At some point we discover that the place we occupy in this infinite universe is but a spec, all be it a most beautiful one, but a spec nevertheless in the grand scheme of things. Eventually we realize that each of us are but minuscule pieces in an unimaginably large puzzle. Minuscule, but essential pieces.

The role each of us can play in the functionality of this great puzzle which is life is not to be underestimated. Ask Gandhi. Ask Martin Luther King Jr. Ask Malcolm X. Ask Yeshua. Ask Moses. Ask Mandela. Ask a tired lady who refuses to give her seat up to a white man and move to the back of the bus to satisfy the demands of a racist society. Ask my grandmother...and yours.
In the light of new discoveries, the assumptions we made in ignorance about life, and the operations of day and night, the comings and goings of the seasons, and the oceans, and the stars, and each other,... must change. The historical assumptions that led some to deny others their rightful place in society based on pseudo-science, economic bias, and just straight up evil behavior, must eventually end up where they belong...on the garbage heap of history.

So we discover new things, and those discoveries require us to make needed adjustments in how we think, and believe, and in how we behave toward one another and the earth and the broader universe. To maintain old dogmas in light of ever emerging realities, is to create for ourselves unsustainable worlds of being. It is no surprise then that some end up being what I would call charlatans of unreality, others call them “prophets of doom”. The demise of things that they “predict”, has to do only with the very real unsustainability of their own world-views. Nothing else. Their world will end...must end, and we will all be witnesses to it.

At some point what I would call our old technologies of thought and behavior, become defunct. Our continued survival as dynamic presences in universal reality, will be...and is, a function of our willingness to be constantly growing, amenable to change. In order to grow we must cultivate in and around ourselves an ability to shed old ways of being, so that we are constantly emerging into, and ready for the challenges of an infinite universe.

The processes of growth allow us to emerge from the dysfunctions of a superstitious mindset, its protestations, and its proliferations; into being the cultivators of more viable lives, and a more sustainable society. This is the welcome fruit of a season of reason.




ONE LOVE!
R. A. G.
Roy Alexander Graham
President/CEO, FIGTREE ENTERPRISES, INC.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Raining Blood

This article was originally posted on our website (www.FigtreeEnterprises.com) after the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy. Recent events in Boston, Massachusetts warrants it's re-posting as my first blog at this site: 


 RAINING BLOOD

There is a sickness prevalent in our culture. It is the sickness of violence. It is a malady that burns its presence into our consciousness with a marked forcefulness. Its consequences are unmistakable. It hurts us all.  

    This sickness is perpetuated in the news media. Witness your nightly and weekend news: if it bleeds or burns, it leads. Check out our entertainment complex: the bigger the gun, the more violent the explosion, the grittier the temper, the more of a draw. In our publishing culture: its sex and violence all the time. In video games: its all about gratuitous violence. We are hooked. In our music industry: its sex and violence... and more sex and more violence! Even in our sports... witness a hockey game, or a football game, or even a basketball game. 
     In our political culture... no difference. The military-industrial complex rules. The dogs of wars bark incessantly. Politicians twist the facts to get their way, and guarantee benefits to those who profit from the misfortunes of others. They talk it up. They rationalize. They get their way, and innocents die. Our minds are saturated with this destruction. Our children’s minds and behaviors drip with blood and filth.

Where does it end? It ends in school shootings where our youngest are brutally killed along with their teachers and other guardians. It ends in movie theater massacres, where the cruel realities of our virtual world are incarnated. It ends in mass murders in public spaces where we go to shop and have an otherwise leisurely time.

     And so we weep. We mourn. We walk our way to the cemeteries. We end up in the same black attire and dark moods that our “terrorists” wear. And the same media that consciously perpetuates this tragedy, then gets to broadcast its consequences ad-infinitum, and for a profit. Sad.
Join me in this lamentation, and then let us all examine the way we live. 

'Assassin' 

Raining, raining, raining blood...
Bitter, hurtful, crimson flood...
Living, dying, pitter patter...
Rifle loaded, leadened matter
Raising hell in heaven’s name...
Notoriety embracing fame...

Pulls the trigger, draws the knife...
Wounds delivered, takes the life...
Sheathed blade, holstered gun...
Reaps the raid, journey done...
Raining, raining, raining blood
Bitter, hurtful, crimson flood...
Last breath taken...
Darkness


This poem is from the book “ Of Paradise Despised... and lives that bought into a lie”
By Roy Alexander Graham