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Friday, May 29, 2015

The Priest And The Farmer... A story about survival

(The following story was shared with me many years ago by my college roommate, a jovial fellow named Trevor Palmer. Trevor became a minister of the Moravian Church in Jamaica. He passed from this life in 2011. I still remember his great sense of humor. I have taken some liberties with the details, but the salient points remain.)

A rather portly parish priest who fancied himself well educated, was out on one of his few pastoral trips when the area in which he served was deluged by heavy rains. In a matter of a few hours the rising waters destroyed the only bridge that connected the rural part of of his parish from the more urban area where he lived. After two days without relief, a local farmer finally readied a boat that he had been working to repair for sometime.

Being a person of prominence, the priest pressed the man to provide him transportation down and across the river back to the his side of the town. After some consideration the farmer warned the priest that he had some doubt about making the journey in what was an untested boat. The priest insisted of course, assuring the man that “the Lord would take care” of them. The farmer finally gave in to the pleadings of the priest after reiterating the concerns he had about the age and sturdiness of the vessel. Anxious to get back to the comforts of his home, the priest brushed aside the farmer's trepidations.

They set about the trip later that day, even though the waters were still rough. As the farmer rowed, the priest sat back at the other end of the boat with his arms folded across his rather massive stomach. At times he appeared uncomfortable in the presence of this seemingly unrefined stranger. Not being accustomed to holding informal conversations with the common folk, but wanting to demonstrate the “depth” of his wisdom and learning, the priest thought he would ask the hard rowing farmer a few questions.

“So, my dear man” he began, “how much do you know about philosophy?”.
Puzzled by the awkward irrelevance of the question, the farmer replied...
“Philosophy sir... I can't say I know much about that."
The priest continued...
“Well I suppose that means you wouldn't have any ideas about eschatology then, huh?"
“And what would that be?”, the farmer asked disinterestedly?”.
“Well, my good sir, that would be the doctrine of the last things... You know, what will happen at the end of time”.
“No sir”, the bewildered man responded.
“It would suit you to spend some time learning about such things my good man”, the priest said, bursting with pomposity. He continued... “You know, this flood we just experienced reminds me of the great flood in the days of Noah. The Bible teaches that next time it will be fire that will destroy the world."  Feigning a cursory interest in the priest's little homily the farmer interjected...
“And I guess that would be an example of...” Before he could finish the sentence the priest burst out:
“Yes! Eschatology dear sir”.
“I see”, said the unimpressed farmer.
“You know man...”, the portly passenger continued,  “...without the knowledge of these things one cannot really live life fully... It's as if half your life is missing”.
“Really?”, the farmer said, at which the priest looked out at the waters ahead of them in anticipation of the balance of this tedious journey. Realizing that the farmer's interests were not exactly the same as his he lamented:
“I suppose it's no use trying to talk to you about psychology then...". The farmer did not respond; he just kept up the pace of his efforts to rid himself and his boat of this annoying cargo.

They were silent for a while as the boat continued through the deepest part of the river. Suddenly something scraped violently against the bottom of the newly repaired vessel. Less than a minute later, water started to seep through the flooring. Looking up quizzically at his captain, the priest became pale with fear. They were about a quarter of a mile from shore with no life vests. With what seemed a mischievous smirk on his face, the farmer turned and asked the priest in a somewhat mocking tone:
“My dear sir, do you know anything about swimology?"
“What!?” asked the now sweating passenger... “This is no time for jokes man; I cannot swim, and we are still a ways out..."
“Well sir,” said the farmer sarcastically, “...without the knowledge of swimology it is impossible to survive a situation like this. In fact you can't live fully, or maybe even at all without this knowledge”.
And with this the farmer relieved himself of the oars and jumped overboard; leaving the sweating, fear-filled priest ...to fend for himself.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Eat To Live ... Cultivating the vitality to lead functional lives

There is a feeling of "emptiness" that will not go away despite the acquisition of all the material stuff we think will make us happy. This persistent sense of emptiness reinforces the reality that our bodies and our souls both hunger for nourishment. Notice that I said nourishment, not just food. The error that we make in seeking to satisfy the emptiness we feel both physically and spiritually, is that we fill ourselves up with stuff that does not nourish us. Our propensity to yield to the overabundance of ‘junk’ to the detriment of our bodies and our souls is a pitfall that we must avoid at all cost. The harm that we cause ourselves may not ultimately be irreversible, but it denies us the vitality we need to lead fully functional lives on a continuous basis.

Proper nourishment of our selves requires that we be knowledgeable about how our bodies and souls work together to establish the equilibrium that makes us thrive as whole persons. When we understand how our bodies work, we are able to more intelligently address the question of what we need to put in them so that they serve us optimally. The same applies to our souls; we need to be very careful about the spiritual and intellectual influences to which we expose ourselves.  Seeking appropriate nourishment of body and soul as a daily act must become a priority in order for us to experience the fulfillment we desire. We must be careful about what we put into ourselves. It is absolutely vital then that we discriminate between what we really need ... and what is being served.

To avoid spiritual/physical obesity/malnutrition there is a dictate we must remember... eat to live! This is important. Unfortunately, too many of us live to eat. As a result of this we develop our many problems with leading really robust, functional, healthy lives. Poor decision-making and general over-indulgence are powerful lubricants on the slippery slope of impaired living. The habits that come with ignoring the essential ingredients of a healthy existence impairs our minds and bodies. Ultimately, we do ourselves no good by filling ourselves with stuff that does not truly nourish us.

Robust, functional, healthy living is a function of quality nutritional input. This is as true for the cultivation of vibrant healthy bodies as it is for the cultivation of viable spiritual lives. Don't sit in front of the TV all day long soaking up all the stuff that is being served via the news and other warped cultural phenomena. Choose what you watch and listen to with the aim in mind of improving your mental health. When was the last time you read an uplifting book? Don't consume stuff just because of the powerful suggestions that are used to sell to you. Remember the old saying - Not all that glitters is gold.  Buy a good cookbook and learn to cook yourself and your loved ones healthy meals. A fast food sandwich won't make you more attractive to members of the opposite sex despite what that commercial portrays. How about a good garden salad made from fresh organic ingredients? Drink some water. Go for a walk. At the end of the day, our ability to endure the challenges of this life is as dependent on a robust physicality, as it is on a viable spirituality.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Parts Of My Mother's Love... A tribute to our Mothers

A gentle touch... That means so much
From the loving hands that cradled me…
Attentive ears... That show you care
Listening to my every quest…
Eyes so full of wisdom rare
That see beyond
Because you’ve been there…
Lips that kiss me “Goodnight my child”
Bringing the gentle winds
Of a loving smile…
And a heart so full of love complete
That nurtured me
With care so sweet…

With the outpouring of a grateful heart
That knows the gift of motherhood
As all the ways through which you show
Your grasp of virtuous womanhood…
Thank you…Thank you mother dear
Here’s one more hug…To show how near
I feel to every part of you…
And one more kiss…That lets you know
That I love you…Love you…Love you so

From the book "Of Scattered Seed And Broken Souls..." By Roy Alexander Graham

A Cathartic Moment...


 An excerpt from the Book "The Legend Of Tai & Burung Elang" by Roy Alexander Graham. (Shared in honor of Mother's Day and National Children's Book Week 2015)

Tai spent more time than usual in Hekima’s company that day. Even when they were not talking, she just felt very comfortable being around this compassionate, dignified woman. Hekima encouraged her to think and to have confidence in her thoughts. The subject of dreaming came up in their conversation.
You say you can determine your dreams?” asked Hekima.
I have done that many times,” said Tai.
Well, what do you wish for most?” asked Hekima. Tai was about to answer, but Hekima gently placed her index finger to her own lips.
“Just think about it,” she said. Tai heard and understood Hekima’s direction to her. “You are so much like the mother I have missed so much and for so long,” said Tai, looking gently into Hekima’s face. Hekima stretched out her arms, and Tai came to her eagerly.

In a moment that they both recognized, Hekima gathered the young woman to her chest and embraced her. As she did, Tai felt a torrent of tears well up from an ocean of unexplored emotions within herself. Hekima held her closer, allowing her head to rest on her bosom. And as she held her close, her blouse became the refuge of tears long held back by a daughter who had for so long missed the affections of her mother. Something about being held in this woman’s bosom took her back, way back to a moment she had long forgotten.

As she listened to Hekima breathe, she felt again the connection between herself and her long lost-mother. This was, for her, a moment of reconnection. And in that moment, she felt a peace and completeness about herself that she had never experienced before. This connection was cathartic in a way that she long needed. These tears were like a river from within that carried in them the debris of a life broken in so many ways and for so long. Between her deep, wet breaths, Tai heard herself whisper, “I love you, Hekima.
And Hekima, in full recognition of the import of the moment, whispered, “And I love you too, my child.”

And from that moment, they would hold each other close, even after they let each other go. They had built a bond between them that would transcend time and distance. After the extended embrace, they held each other at arm’s length, allowing for the necessary registering of the transaction they had just created. “I am sorry for making a mess of your blouse,” Tai offered, holding her head slightly down in shy appreciation. Hekima reached out and gently raised Tai’s face so that she was looking directly in her eyes and said, “No need to be sorry, Tai. Never apologize for the course that your heart takes. Learn to live in that moment and all that comes with it. When your tears are as rare and as precious as they are, you should treasure them. Treat them as the sacred gifts that they are. I am honored to share your precious gifts, my child.”

"The Legend Of Tai & Burung Elang" is the second book in  The Empowerment Series For Children by Roy & Monica Graham. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

When The Law Becomes Lawless...

NEWS FLASH!! The death of Freddie Gray has been ruled a homicide... Charges to be filed against six Baltimore police officers.

There are persons who become cops for the same reasons that others become priests... So that they can have a socially respectable perch from which to perpetuate all kinds of evils on the communities they pretend to serve. One of the factors triggering the Reformation was in fact the well established reputation of clergy as greedy extortioners. In the midst of worsening economic conditions it became "unbearable that the sheep should be shorn for the benefit of their unworthy shepherds". The same holds true for cops who see their official status as a cover from behind which they commit all kinds of atrocities in the community; atrocities that range from robbing drug dealers to murdering those who stand in the way of their illicit activities.

The stories of corrupt cops and corrupted precincts are too many to ignore. It is a fact that there are men and women in blue who set out each day to supplement their relatively meager salaries with ill-gotten gains from compromised sources. It is a fact that the 'game' of "cops and robbers" is in many cases more truly a reality of cops who are robbers. Many of us don't quite understand why it is that some young men in certain neighborhoods are deathly afraid of the police. We do not comprehend why an approaching police car is enough reason for certain of these young men to flee. But if you have been robbed of your own ill-gotten gains by those "officers" you understand. If you have been brutalized and had evidence planted on you you might understand. If , like me, you have been mistaken for someone else and shot at... tossed into a police wagon... asked "where is the gun?"... told to "shut the f*ck up!"... and then left in the middle of nowhere when they realize their mistake... yes, you might understand.

As communities, and as a nation, we are witnessing in real time what has been happening with impunity in many neighborhoods for many years. The advent of the twenty four hour news cycle has brought into our living rooms and our consciousness a cruel reality that until now we only ascribed to Hollywood scripts. Well here we are, at a point in American policing when the presumed "good guys" are being shown to be as rotten as any of the "bad guys". In many places in these United States of America people are deathly afraid of the police, and not because they themselves are bad, but because of the quality of police presence they have become accustomed to.

Between 2011 and September 2014 the city of Baltimore paid $5.7 million to alleged victims of police brutality. In that time the city has been involved in 317 lawsuits alleging  assault, false arrest, and false imprisonment. A city such as this is wired to explode. But Baltimore isn't unique in this respect. This ignominy is something it shares with many other metropolitan areas and also with small towns like Ferguson, Missouri. Certain media whores want to pretend as if the "thug life" is a reality unique to Black gangsters. Well we have news for them... The thuggery they so despise and want to pin on young men of color pales in comparison to the behavior of many in law enforcement. To paraphrase the character played by Denzel Washington in the Hollywood feature "Training Day".. King Kong ain't got nothing on some of our police.

We now have actual footage of police officers shooting fleeing victims in the back. We see policemen choking the life out of a man whose crime was selling cigarettes on a sidewalk in New York. We see women being held down and punch multiple times in the face by a policeman. We have 72 year old white men without appropriate training, buying their way into police operations so that they can participate in the "hunt" for men of color to shoot... Oh, he is "sorry", he thought the 357 magnum in his hand was a taser gun!

What happened in Baltimore this past week pursuant to the death in police custody of Freddie Gray is a portent of things to come. The statements describing the actions of protesters as 'thugs' feeds on the low hanging fruit of shallow analysis. It does not begin to articulate the real issues in a city that has an underclass that is vastly under-employed, subject to the brutality of law enforcement, and ignored by local and national policy makers. To call protesters who burn police cars and local businesses by derogatory names while ignoring the root causes of their discontent, is to negate the historical essence of the Boston "tea party"... It is to call American politicians and military leaders "thugs" for the retaliatory bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

There is a nation within the nation in this country. It consists of the children and grandchildren of Black people who have for centuries been used and abused and denied the benefits of equal treatment under the Law. This nation within the nation is under attack. We are a people who daily witness the continuation of the slave watch. We wonder if our sons and daughters will make it home if they must pass through certain towns and states in our country given the color of their skin. We have had to put in place certain protocols for ourselves and our children just in case they are stopped by the police... Protocols to avert the disaster of living while Black in a culture corrupted by White racism. Our fears, and the fears of those who fear us, are only exacerbated when the actions of law enforcement reinforce the racist stereotypes that were used to rationalize our dehumanization during and after centuries of enslavement. The images of a burning city that our sensationalist media feasts on, are only symbols of what is destined to happen when the Law becomes lawless.