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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas... The Season of Forgiveness and Love

The freedom to act creatively in our world is enabled by two dynamics… Forgiveness and LoveWhile this season is still new we are forcefully reminded by the celebration of Light all around us, to focus on the seminal events that figure significantly in our redemption. 
This is that moment in time when we seek to facilitate the birthing of the Christ among us. This Christ is the universal Influence that comes to redeem us… to restore us to our best selves, and to reconcile us to our Creator and to each other.
Our redemption necessarily begins with the recognition and admission of our need to be forgiven for our own tendencies to miss the mark… to mess up… to sin. Our lives are works in progress. None of us have any claim to perfection. This being the case, we should seek to relieve ourselves of the burden of guilt that accumulates over time because of that naivety which evidences our lack of wisdom. If we can face the fact of our own unfinished-ness, then we might not be so terribly judgmental in our assessment of the shortcomings of others.
We begin our own healing with understanding the need for forgiveness in ourselves, and in others. First we admit our flaws and our faults… and those of others around us, and then we make a commitment to walk away from them. Forgiveness is the unburdening that comes when we act to leave our faults and those of our neighbor in the past where they belong.
The other aspect of the freedom to act creatively has to do with the cultivation of that resource which is in fact the ultimate expression of our wholeness. That resource is Love. A meaningful and durable expression of Love must go beyond any romantic notion of being together. Romance most certainly has its place, but we should all be aware that Eros (the source of our erotic nature) has always been, and will always be a transient. Feelings come and go based on the culture of convenience and the fatuousness that typifies many of our interactions. The cultivation of a true Love must be grounded in a sense of selflessness – not in the shallowness of our egos. A ‘love’ which does not serve us beyond the moment, and beyond the trappings of an infatuation that is mostly concerned with our own self-satisfaction, is never durable.
Love in its purest and most lasting form is an unconditional commitment to what is just. A true love is rooted in a genuine concern for the growth and well-being of the lover and the loved. That kind of love rescues us from the miry clay of our own self-indulgence, and from the tricky self-indulgence of others. We will not always like each other, but we have a moral/ethical duty to treat others as we want to be treated ourselves. The carried consciousness of this duty becomes the agency for enhancing what is best about us, and what can be really good between us. 
Love grows in us and between us the grace that enables us to be vessels of the Christ who comforts the lonely, feeds the hungry, is the healer of the broken-hearted, and the liberator of the oppressed. As we go about our celebrations this season, let us highlight the gifts of Forgiveness and Love that are an inseparable part of the reason for the season. Above all else, let us strive to place those gifts at the very root of the tree of our lives.
One Love! Happy holidays to all.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Day of Judgement Comes

There is a part of us that does not want to be governed. This is as true of us as individuals as it is for every group that is a function of our communal experience. The discipline that the operation of the common good among us demands is an unflagging inconvenience for that part of us, and for those among us who seek to satisfy their basest instincts at the expense of the potential for a healthy individual and communal experience.

The basic tenets of any well organized and prosperous social unit are expressed in values of mutual respect, a healthy regard for justice, and mechanisms for protecting each and every person from the disgusting excesses of the unconscionable among us. Societies and individuals that disregard these tenets are inevitably headed for their own doom. They may flaunt their ill-conceived and ill-gotten wealth and influences for a while, but eventually they all come tumbling down to their final resting place - the garbage heap of History.

Many among us live to scratch the unnerving itch that is the demand for self-satisfaction. The soothing of ourselves becomes in and of itself the number one preoccupation of our lives; we do so at the expense of our own existential integrity, and to the detriment of any and all who we come to see as obstacles in the way of our own comfort. Self-soothing becomes our raison-d'etre, and Selfishness our creed. To these ends we accumulate wealth and influence by any means we can. We cultivate a terrifying disregard for the ambitions and well-being of others. We devise and articulate in our behaviors a crassness that makes reasonable people scratch their heads. And we build alliances with those whose insecurities are compatible with ours.

Spiritual philosophers like the apostle Paul talk about the above tendencies and behaviors as "living by the flesh"; and he goes on to project that this way of being leads to destruction... self-destruction, and the ultimate failing of all the structures built to support this way of life. I agree with Paul. The well regarded advice that we should do to others as we would have them do to us is well taken. The other side of that coinage is that ultimately we do to ourselves what we do to others. We would do well to heed the wisdom inherent in this commandment. It applies equally to kings and peasants. Justice calls us to do right by each other. The Righteous Judge is no respecter of persons.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Time To Look Inward

Autumn... what a wonderfully exhilarating season of our lives!

 The changing hues all around remind us of the multifaceted nature of everything in our universe. They make us aware of the necessity to reevaluate all the many simplistic assumptions that go into the daily operation of our lives. This is a great time to take a new breath and look with clarity at the many relationships that we are part of.
This is a season in which we are reminded of the inherent beauty of nature. We look outside our windows and are inspired by the wonderful display of colors. Leaves become orange and yellow and red and brown and colors that, my wife will gently remind me, I am not able to name. Summer’s verdant green becomes a multi-colored display of the many wonderful hues that are always there, but seldom noticed. This is a great time to get away from the clutter of our congested lives. A leisurely venture into the the open country at this time of year is awe-inspiring.
Fall is indeed a time to turn inwards. It is an occasion to retreat from our “heat”, and reflect on all the ideas that we take for granted. It is a time to become aware of the inconspicuous parts of all our lives. Now is when we recover the truth that beauty is more than “skin” deep. This season presents us with an opportunity to repent of the snap judgments that too often sabotage our social discourse. By not doing so we render inconsequential the vital roles we play in each others lives and in the world around us.
And then the leaves fall. An oh so solemn reminder to us of the necessity to take inventory of ourselves. We can, and we must separate from ourselves those things that have become redundant. Let us let go of those rude attachments that weigh us down. Let us find again the strength to forego those superfluous conveniences that we allow to clutter our lives.
This is a season to unburden ourselves of the inessentials. This is the time to lighten our existential load. Take a moment to reevaluate your worries. Act now to separate the substantial facts of your life from the superimposed fiction that fogs and distorts your way forward. Recognize and reaffirm your truths. Assume a position of strength in your life. Expose and obliterate the falsehoods that can, and do corrupt your vision of a life well lived.
After Fall comes Winter. This is a season when many animals go into hibernation. It is a time of dormancy for many. Let us be aware that beneficial rest is always preceded by a process of unburdening and proper positioning. Fall provides this opportunity. Periodic renewal of ourselves during which we reposition ourselves as required, is a necessary prerequisite to growth and prosperity.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Courage Silences Fear

— If you do not know who you are… you will end up as someone else. If you do not know where you are going… you will end up someplace else. —
The statements above express the ultimate dilemma of a lost soul. In the truest sense of the word, life is a journey of discovery. The mantra of the soul in discovery mode… the soul that would claim his or her power to be, is courage. Contrary to the belief that many have come to assume to be true, there is nothing inevitable about our destinies. We have heard many people put forward the false notion that our journey and destination in this life is set. Some people believe that one’s fate is predetermined, and that there is nothing one can do about it. To live meaningfully we must divest ourselves of the untruth of such a way of thinking. As a way of effecting the release from such ideas, one must courageously apply oneself to the discipline necessary to do so.
Mantras are understood to be powerful words/ideas that we repeat verbally and in our actions. To adapt to the mantra of courage is to walk step by fateful step into a future full of possibility. It is to moment by moment; event by event, deny the hold that fear would have on us. Through the repetition of a mantra, the meanings and manifestations of the ideas we want to commit to are imprinted in our subconscious. In time they become the template for the change that we desire in ourselves. Through the daily practice of our mantric exercise we are able to create a new template by which we connect with our most deeply held intentions. This eventuates because we are actually inducing a deep connection with the Creative Spirit …the source of everything in the universe... God.  The more adept we become at connecting with this deeper consciousness of life, the more we are able to silence the ideas that are contrary to our most deeply held ideals.
A template of courage silences fear. The mantric exercise by which we replace thoughts of self-defeat with thoughts of self-fulfillment; strengthens our minds,  bodies, and wills to accomplish the higher ideals of the Creative Spirit. This practice trains us to quiet the noisy internal dialogue within with all its under developing cross-talk about who we are expected to be, and who we can be in the worrisome… sometimes ego-degrading opinion of others. We determine our destinies first and foremost by speaking and subsequently acting them into being. And so, to begin with, I tell myself that I am who I think and say I am. Subsequently, I will act in accordance with that logos …that creative thought/word. That word is always becoming flesh in my life…in my world. My ideals take shape and find expression in my daily experience. My thoughts become flesh and live all around me. I become who I say I am. 
Find your truest self. Cultivate courage. Silence the fear that keeps you from finding your way...

Saturday, October 29, 2016

FILLING THE EMPTY SPACES IN OR LIVES


Image result for oil lamps shining in the dark
There lived a wise farmer who owned a vast orchard of various kinds of fruits that were in high demand all year round in the surrounding towns. He had tended to his farm with great pride for many years with the help of his three children and a number of other employees who loved working for this wonderful gentleman. As a businessman he treasured the great benefits his farm enterprise had brought to his customers, and the prosperity that had accrued to himself, his heirs, and his employees.

After many years of hard work, the time came for this  well regarded farmer to retire. And so he gathered his three children around the family dining room table, his task being to choose the heir who demonstrated the greatest wisdom to continue the development and further the prosperity of his well known orchard. This decision would not be based on any favoritism, but on the demonstrated ability of his successor to resolve issues that would invariably arise - with wisdom. To this end , he gave the following task to his three children.

After telling them of his plan for retirement, he took from an envelop three crisp twenty-dollar bills, handing one to each of his children. "You are all familiar with the empty barn that stands between the old outhouse and the first line of apple trees" he began. They all nodded knowingly. In fact that barn had been a fixture of the farm long before they were born; and they knew it very well, it having been the location of many of their childhood ...and young-adulthood adventures. "Well I want each of you to use the money I have just placed in each of your hands to purchase something that that will fill that barn to capacity. I will be inspecting and judging your efforts, and the management of this orchard will go to the one of you who accomplishes this task most completely. This place is sacred to our family, and to the communities around us. It is my desire to see it continue to flourish under the wise management of the one of you who demonstrates the wisdom and the discretion that the task requires." To this they all agreed, and having clarified the outstanding details of their father's instructions, they sat down to dinner together.


Now this is how each heir filled the barn up...

The first to attempt the task went out and gathered a large amount of straw and dried leaves, which was then used to stuff the barn to what they thought was its capacity. So much was forced into the available space therein that the door could only be closed after the application of much force. Feeling very accomplished, the old farmer was then summoned with great excitement at the end of the day to come see the completed task. "And with what did you fill the barn?" he asked the first of the three to complete the task. "Well father, I used all the straw and loose leaves we could gather. I paid one of  the field hands to help me stuff the place, and I still have a dollar left over!". The old man thought for a moment, and then with a wry smile he said "OK then. Lets take a look at your effort in the morning and see how you did." By morning of course, the stuff had settled under its own weight... as it usually does. Thus effort number one came up short.

The second effort suffered a similar fate. In this case a large quantity of loose dirt which was slated for disposal was instead brought in, and with the help of "one of the men", used in the same way as the straw and trash to fill the empty space in the barn. Three hours of labor at minimum wage brought the project in under budget. The father was now more than a bit concerned, but he held out hope. He had spent time raising his children, teaching them the many things he had learnt throughout his life. He had faith that his efforts to meaningfully raise his three children would bear fruit. He was not to be disappointed. 

The third effort to fill the barn was nothing short of inspired. With the money given, a lamp was bought... Oil was bought for that lamp... And matches to light the lamp. As darkness fell on that day the remaining heir called his father and the other two siblings to the barn. Wondering what he could have done that was not already attempted, they all approached excitedly. By now it was dark. They entered the barn to find the glass lamp lit and hanging from a beam in the very center of the barn. Realizing the genius of this effort, they all smiled and embraced each other. The place was filled with warmth ... and  light. There was no doubt in any of their minds as to who the new steward of this orchard should be.

Our attempts to fill the empty spaces in us, and around us, will benefit greatly from thoughtful approaches that go deeper than the usual dirt and trash that we are often drawn to as solutions to the challenges we face. The progress and  prosperity we aspire to will come to us when we make ourselves available to the illumination that comes with Wisdom, Knowledge, and Understanding. It is this illumination that we will need as we seek to emerge from the dark places in which we will find ourselves from time to time along the many roads of our lives.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

''Speak the truth to Trump"

The following is an excerpt from an article by Andy Crouch published in the magazine Christianity Today. Read the whole article here : http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/october-web-only/speak-truth-to-trump.html?start=2
'  ... not all evangelical Christians—in fact, alas, most evangelical Christians, judging by the polls—have shown the same critical judgment [As shown to Hillar Clinton} when it comes to the Republican nominee. True, when given a choice, primary voters who claimed evangelical faith largely chose other candidates. But since his nomination, Donald Trump has been able to count on “the evangelicals” (in his words) for a great deal of support.
The revelations of the past week of his vile and crude boasting about sexual conquest—indeed, sexual assault—might have been shocking, but they should have surprised no one.
This past week, the latest (though surely not last) revelations from Trump’s past have caused many evangelical leaders to reconsider. This is heartening, but it comes awfully late. What Trump is, everyone has known and has been able to see for decades, let alone the last few months. The revelations of the past week of his vile and crude boasting about sexual conquest—indeed, sexual assault—might have been shocking, but they should have surprised no one.
Indeed, there is hardly any public person in America today who has more exemplified the “earthly nature” (“flesh” in the King James and the literal Greek) that Paul urges the Colossians to shed: “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry” (3:5). This is an incredibly apt summary of Trump’s life to date. Idolatry, greed, and sexual immorality are intertwined in individual lives and whole societies. Sexuality is designed to be properly ordered within marriage, a relationship marked by covenant faithfulness and profound self-giving and sacrifice. To indulge in sexual immorality is to make oneself and one’s desires an idol. That Trump has been, his whole adult life, an idolater of this sort, and a singularly unrepentant one, should have been clear to everyone.
And therefore it is completely consistent that Trump is an idolater in many other ways. He has given no evidence of humility or dependence on others, let alone on God his Maker and Judge. He wantonly celebrates strongmen and takes every opportunity to humiliate and demean the vulnerable. He shows no curiosity or capacity to learn. He is, in short, the very embodiment of what the Bible calls a fool."


Friday, September 30, 2016

They Were Deplorable Then, They Are Deplorable Now

DEPLORABLE
Pronounced- de·plor·a·ble
Adjective - Means ... deserving strong condemnation.

A postcard showing the 1920 Duluth, Minnesota lynchings, showing three African American circus workers falsely accused of raping a white woman. Lynched without trial.
Photo Courtesy of Wiki media.

There can be no mincing of words when it comes to calling out those among us whose values threaten the lives and humanity of others.

The hypocritical double standard that some appeal to in their efforts to normalize the dastardly ways of the unjust among us, must be exposed and permanently discredited. Hate and its agencies of racism, sexism, xenophobia, and apartheid - deserve our strong condemnation. We must not continue to tolerate values that history has shown to be antithetical to the development of civil society, and to the greater cause of Justice.

Donald Trump is a racist, sexist, xenophobic, wannabe tyrant. He has become the new great white hope of the still thriving racist underbelly of American society. His brand of social and political behavior deserves our condemnation. His attempts to hide behind his token use of individuals from groups that would be victimized by his bigotry is laughable at best. Slavery had its house Negros. Nazism in its infancy, had its Jewish enablers. Fascism has its embedded agents among those in the populations it targets. Trump's use of a few Black preachers, Hispanic talking-heads, and paid female sympathizers that he has yet to fire - including the current head of his campaign - or those who do not yet fit his description as 'fat pigs'... must be seen for what it is - an attempt to mollify his target audience. Donald Trump is a political groper whose only real inner circle are those with sanguine connections to him, and those from whom he sources his economic and ideological orientation.

History is pocked by little men like Trump. They exploit the vulnerabilities of the ignorant and the fearful in our midst to launch their infestation of discord on the way to political prominence. Fear, as we now know, is an agency of hate. It is the facility in our hearts, and in the national body politic, that terrible characters like Hitler and Mussolini and Trump use to develop and spread the venom of discord that they hope will be the magic carpet to political and economic prominence. In this effort they cast themselves as messiahs- come to save their followers from their socio-economic/ knowledge-impoverished lives. Their delusions of grandeur find wings on egos that loudly proclaim ...I alone can save you!... Believe me! This thread of self-aggrandizement runs rampant in the rhetoric of the Hitlers and Trumps who have held sway along our political journey as civilized societies; and who eventually get relegated to the garbage heap of history. 

The following is part of a speech that Adolf Hitler gave on April 28, 1939. Note his elevation of his I-ness throughout - which I have highlighted. I interjected the word bigly for obvious reasons. 

"I overcame chaos in Germany, restored order, enormously(bigly) raised production in all fields of our national economy... I succeeded in completely resettling in useful production those 7 million unemployed who so touched our hearts...I have not only politically united the German nation but also rearmed it militarily, and I have further tried to liquidate that Treaty sheet by sheet whose 448 Articles contain the vilest rape that nations and human beings have ever been expected to submit to. I have restored to the Reich the provinces grabbed from us in 1919; I have led millions of deeply unhappy Germans, who have been snatched from us, back into the Fatherland; I have restored the thousand-year-old historical unity of German living space; and I have attempted to accomplish all that without shedding blood and without inflicting the sufferings of war on my people or any other. I have accomplished this, as one who 21 years ago was still an unknown worker and a soldier of my people, by my own effort..."

Think about Hitler's violation of the Treaty of Versailles when you hear Trump mouthing off against NATO. Think about Hitler's support of Franco when Trump expresses his admiration for Putin's 'strength', and his expansionist practices. Think about Hitler's re-militarization of Germany when Trump talks about his plans for our military. Think about Hitler's conscription of territory when Trump and his surrogate Giuliani salivate about stealing  Iraqi oil lands. Think about the fact that Hitler stopped paying war reparations agreed to in the above Treaty whenever Trump suggests that America should not pay the debts we have incurred. Trump has shown us who he is through his behavior in business and finance. We should believe him.

Adolf Hitler was a liar, and so is Donald Trump. Hitler inflicted the suffering of war on millions- granted they were not his people... Over 6 million Jews suffered and lost their lives as a result of Nazi terror. We witness the groups that have rallied to support Trump, and we agree that there is no other candidate in recent history that could survive keeping such company. But this Republican Party finds itself in the compromising position of having to cozy up to an offspring of its own bigotry... a bigotry cultivated through its relationship with those who sought to delegitimize the presidency of one Barack Hussein Obama - the first African-American to hold that office. Today we witness Candidate Trump trying to make nice with Benjamin Netanyahu, and we cannot help but scream - HATE IS HATE!! Israel cannot be comfortable with a candidate for POTUS who is causing a bulge in the trousers of the likes of once impotent haters like David Duke.

The Trump candidacy has led to a historic resurgence of what we euphemistically call " the Alt Right".  By this we actually mean the KKK... We mean those who idolize Hitler... We mean those who made post cards from images of lynched Blacks... We mean those who, like Donald Trump, want to build a wall between us and our Brown neighbors to the South... We mean those who hate Jews and Blacks... We mean those who became bigly inflamed at the reality of a Black family in the White House.

The gross racism of Slavery and Segregation was deplorable then... It is deplorable now. The disenfranchisement of women and people of color was, and is, deplorable. Trump's standard of beauty, which is reminiscent of the "eugenics" of Hitler was deplorable then... It is deplorable now. The xenophobia that drove the Nazis to victimize the Jews, and which is appealing to Trump and his followers who want to "make America White again", is deplorable. Trump's own racist practices which led to him being sued and fined for housing discrimination in New York is deplorable. His declaration that his followers would still vote for him if he murdered someone in the middle of 5th Avenue IS deplorable... and such followers ARE deplorable. 

Hate is a function of fear. It is the torment that fear wreaks in the lives of the fearful, and that they then project upon those they come to perceive as threats. Advances in technology have led to a shrinking of time and space that challenges us to live together in the new global village that is constantly being created. Instead of walls, we need to facilitate the building of bridges that make it easier for us to interact across the spaces - cultural and otherwise - that became convenient in the old world. 

True leadership in the brave new world that is becoming more and more a fact of our lives, demands the cultivation of courage. That courage is a function of the mutual recognition of the needs of our common humanity. It demands that we work together to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of progress for all. That courage calls on us to deplore the ways of hate, and to explore the possibilities that reveal themselves when we affirm the rights of every person to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.


  

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

In South Africa Today!

WHITE RACISM: THE COMPLICITY AND HYPOCRISY OF BLACKS!! - Mayihlome News

Follow this link for the full article.
https://apple.news/A4-423JcANiax9OWzb4S3WQ

''The recent protest by young Black girls at the Pretoria Girls High published on (social) media is a clear case in point here. This incident exposes not only the totality of white racism in South Africa, but also the disguised hypocrisy of us Black people in dealing with it.

Yearly in South Africa children of the RasTafari community and Black children who keep dreadlocks for spiritual purpose like Intwaso or Ukuthwasa are rejected, chased away or suspended from (township & rural) schools for their dreadlock hairstyles – which forms part of their spiritual-cultural heritage and philosophical world views".

Monday, September 5, 2016

Name Yourself... Beyond the Labels of a Circumstantial Existence

Life is often characterized as a journey. It is an adventure that incorporates the good and the bad, the bitter and the sweet, rough patches and smooth paths, high places and depressions that are at times difficult to rise from.

The many challenges that will inevitably come our way demand of us a firm resolve to keep moving forward. In the absence of this resolve we tend to shrink and shrivel and fade into oblivion. 

The interplay of wisdom and folly is a dynamic that will be a constant in many of the steps that we take on this journey. The unique challenge that we will face is that of determining who we are, and who we must become in the face of the challenges that come our way. Ultimately we will face two critically important questions, each of which must be answered realistically if we are to successfully navigate our way through the journey to our destiny.

The first question we must face is... Who do others say that we are? As babies we are given names. These names express the subjective experiences and aspirations of those who parent us. These names become our legal labels. We sign them as a way of identifying ourselves to the world in which we live. They become our "mark" on the many documents that provide proof of our many transactions in this world. To get our attention others call out to us, and we answer in recognition of our given names. 

As we go through life we may acquire other names, words used informally to describe us beyond our given names. We call these "nicknames". Our struggles to navigate our way through the many difficult circumstances we face in life at times result in us acquiring nom de guerres... These are labels that describe our character as warriors. Some of the labels we acquire are not always flattering. Some nicknames honor us...  Some of them ridicule us. These added names talk about the impressions we make in the face of various circumstances. They tell us whether we strike others as heroes or villains, as Jokers or Scarfaces, as strong or weak, as truth-tellers or liars, as leaders or followers.

In life we sometimes come to be known by the fortunes and misfortunes that come our way. For better or worse some people will label us according to the various experiences that we fall into or that befall us. To be fortunate is one thing... we all desire to be known by the "good things" that happen to us, or that we happen upon. Not so with respect to the "bad things". The naming that is a function of the stigmatization that results from the unfavorable experiences we have had is at times ego-deflating to say the least.

The tendency to limit our perspective of other people's lives to our interpretation of the "bad things" that have been a part of their experience becomes a rather convenient practice. This is a rather easy thing to do especially for those who would like to direct attention away from the skeletons in their own closets. Whether we like it or not, there will be those who will insist that we are nothing more than what they conveniently think we are. It is in the face of this tendency that we must ask the second question: Who do you say that you are?

Beyond the names that we are given at birth, and beyond the nicknames that get heaped upon us by those who seek to define us by certain of our experiences and tendencies; we have a sacred responsibility to name ourselves. We do a disservice to ourselves, and we negate our personal integrity by living according to the transient wisdom and the follies of a circumstantial existence. There should come a time in our journey through this life when we stop and spend the energy necessary to address this most fundamental query... Who am I? Am I at ease with the name I have been given; with its many, sometimes subservient applications? Do I need to take a meaningful pause to identify and emphasize the me that I want to be?

With all due respect to the experiences and aspirations of my ancestors; and with appropriate regard for those who may, or may not wish me well... it ultimately is my responsibility to name myself. It is my solemn duty to reflect on all the experiences that have been a part of my life, with a view to determining who I must be on this my journey. In so doing I have the right to put the names I have been given in perspective, and to cultivate a me that will serve the demands of my chosen course through this life. 

Ultimately I cannot bequeath the responsibility to truly name myself to anyone but me. That, I believe, is what makes any talk about self-determination and personal responsibility meaningful.

To ask someone to take responsibility for your definition of their life is a rather tenuous proposal. It is a burden that we must ultimately desist from heaping upon anyone with the expectation that they must then unquestioningly live out our design for their life. And it is therefore a burden we must adamantly refuse to bear ourselves.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Notorious... A Protracted Epitaph


May not have met him... But I see him every day
Standing on the corners with melancholy in his veins
And a look in his eyes that says
No vacancy here...
My life is overflowing... I am full to the limit
With the burden of 400 years that I am forced to carry...
I'm a hunter on the prowl... Too long I've been the quarry
In a jungle that I despise

May not have met him... But I heard the words he spoke
Leaning against a wall... His eyes reddened by the smoke
Of fires in his mind... That burned against his will
Now he talks... Now he's silent
But it continues still
That incessant flow of rage... Which knows no bounds...
His world is no stage... There's no entertainer there

May not have met him... But his bitterness I've tasted...
We have known his strife
And the anger and frustration
Of every single life... That gets wasted at a station
Waiting for a train... That never comes on time
Stressed out with an-ti-ci-pa-tion...
Tired from standing in a line... Staring down time
In lonely dark tunnels
That have no light approaching

May not have met him
But I know the stench of which he told
The foul odors of a world
That he named in words so cold...
His were the senses... Of a target on the prowl
A hawk stalking chicken
Unconcerned about his own fears
A hero... Often beaten
Brushing aside his own tears...
His head held high... continuing to fight

May not have met him... May not have shook his hand
May not have embraced him
Nor stood with him on all his stands...
But I have felt... all the pain of which he told
And we have known... the scary heat of his cold
And you have walked in the multitude of his lonely
And seen
And heard
And tasted
And felt
The potpourri of a life perfumed without romantic intent...

And while we continue to hate the ways of their death
We love our brothers
As we must love
Ourselves...

Good vs Evil and the Living-Out of Our Intentions


The world we inhabit is in large measure the externalization of our interior states. 

We project onto the landscape of our lives the cultivated assumptions of our collective experience. The perpetuation of conflict has become an indispensable feature of that experience.

Day and night we are bombarded with stories of conflict. From continent to continent and from the uttermost corners of the globe, the accounts of national and internecine strife are collected and presented to us in a steady and consistent menu designed to create among us, gluttons for blood and gore. In the process our collective insecurities are cultivated in a manner that serves the economic and existential needs of business interests that profit from our appetite for this banquet of horrors.

A critical examination of the practices of the peddlers of information lead some of us to the conclusion that they have no real stake in the resolution of any conflict. The demand for high ratings is the primary driver in their business culture; and this dictates that they breed a callous disregard for the best interests of people. This includes the people who make up their audience, and those who are the subjects of their reporting. There appears to be a silent partnership between Media and those who create the means and the motives for the tragedies they report on.

Through the pageantry of the show our popular media connects with the barking dogs in each of us. They use all the tools at their disposal to create a symbiotic relationship between us and them… much to our collective exasperation. And so we complain, but return for more. We cringe, but can't help the rubber-necking that keeps us distracted against our better judgment. We can't help being strung along in the vain drama that is the news of the day... twenty four hours a day all year long. We are hooked because we see ourselves in the stories. The conflicts presented seem to be, and are our conflicts. The tragedies are our tragedies. We live. And we suffer and die... And then we rise again in a never-ending vicarious drama.

Churches. Mosques. Schools. Government buildings. Train stations. Shopping malls. Movie theaters. Elevators. In urban centers and unknown remote villages... These are the now familiar sites where we witness the brutality expressed by those who choose to feed that evil dog within. It's teeth of steel in compliance with its gruesome volatility discriminates not between the vulnerable flesh of babies, kindergarteners, expectant mothers, the elderly, the newlywed, ... There is no safe haven from its bloody villainy. It prowls as a destructive force of one. It roams in packs with those who share its rabidity.

Our availability to the impulses to become tragic actors in the arena of our conflict driven reality is jarring, but a fact nonetheless. Unleashed...we become the rapist, the child molester, the robber, the terrorist, the murderer. Our communities become haunted by the wearer of the long black coat with the assault rifle hidden beneath, looking to create mayhem. Our nemeses materialize as the wielder of the long knife on the elevator, or on any given street at any given hour. Yielding to an obtuse nihilism we become the oppressor of the disadvantaged, the enslaver of the stranger, the bigot. In the absence of moral restraint we become the invaders of countries, the killers of innocents, the abductors of daughters, perpetrators of genocide. The mean dog within each one of us fights the good dog all day and all night long; it's bark becoming the awful precursor to its terrible, mangling bite.

We know that evil exists because we are aware of its potential in each one of us. That evil thrives unless we make a conscious choice day by day, minute by minute, event by event, not to feed that mean dog within. Many of us may resist the fact that we each harbor the best and the worst of all instincts within us. To those who think this I would say that history is full of examples of “good” people who are guilty of committing some of the worst atrocities.

For good to be triumphant we must each commit to nurturing the good dog within. Essential steps in the nurturing of the good dog in ourselves must take into consideration the factors that give ascendancy to the evil dog. We must identify these factors and deal with them in ways that lead us to replace the destructive tendencies they can breed with more desirable traits.

OUR SECURITY/INSECURITY…
The most basic of the needs that drive our actions is the need to survive. It is the parent of our responses to the various challenges in the various circumstances of our lives.

The quality of our responses to perceived threats is a direct function of the quality of the values we cultivate habitually. Honesty. Selflessness. Courage. Humility. Indomitable Spirit. These are values that can be inculcated through commitment to the practice of a wholesome discipline. A wholesome discipline is centered around a true commitment to balanced living. It opens our eyes to the essential interconnectedness that is a principal truth of our communal experience. It strengthens body, mind, and spirit in preparation for the many challenges that living presents.

The skillful practitioner of a wholesome discipline learns to focus on what is essential to achieving a balanced life, and acts in the best interest of that balance. Such a disciple knows when and how to act to effect that balance. That person knows that true strength does not exploit the disadvantaged, does not encourage divisiveness... does not put selfishness above the interests of our common humanity.

OUR INTENTION…
The thing in us that gives rise to, and determines the quality of our actions is something called intention. It is the big WHY behind every action we execute. To have intention is to be able to determine at the most basic level what we want the desired outcome of an action to be. Intention is the ultimate servant of freedom. In it we recognize our potential to be our best or our worst selves. It is the point of sale of our every social interaction. The good dog in us wants to act in a way that serves the common good. The bad dog’s intention is to serve self regardless of the consequences to others.

Every time we choose to act in the best interest of each other we are feeding that good dog and starving the mean evil dog. The inherent challenge is to become more and more selfless in our behavior. This demands that we stifle our want of immediate self-gratification in the interest of perpetuating the common good.

Acting unselfishly engenders a nobility that, although uncommon, is essential to the building of viable communities. It is what we mean by "being in this world" but not "being of this world". Ultimately it is how we potentiate the possibilities of being Mankind’s "best friend".

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

For-profit Prisons & The Politicians Who Get The Most From Them

"These groups have also publicly stated that leniency towards non-violent drug users and undocumented immigrants could "potentially reduce demand for correctional facilities", thereby impacting their revenue. Many have pointed to private prisons' vested interest in keeping inmate populations above a given threshold as a key factor driving the 'war on drugs', a set of policies that impose mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug users, which have resulted in a 700% spike in state prison populations over the past three decades."

Click on the link below to read the full article.
https://www.crowdpac.com/blog/private-prisons-1


Friday, August 19, 2016

Jerrymandering via Incarceration... A Fact Of American Life


The United States is truly exceptional in terms of the number of people in our prisons. This country incarcerates 716 people for every 100,000 population, more than any other country in the world. While we have under five percent of the world's population, we account for around twenty five percent of its prisoners. The Prison Industrial Complex in the USA has a vested interest in keeping their facilities full even if crime statistics are on the decline. 
Stop for a moment and let that sink in...  What are the implications of this reality for the way our justice system operates? It is time for a critical examination of the process of what is blatantly an “injustice system”. Can a society that ignores this fact escape its consequences? 

When our aspiring candidates for political office talk about being “hard on crime”, let us loudly interrupt them and ask them how much money they are getting from this prison industrial complex. Are they and the judges we elect the compliant cronies of the system of injustice which now exists to target the poor and underprivileged in our communities...especially our communities of color? 
Paul Waldman writing in The American Prospect observes the following:
"... you can't talk about prisons without talking about race. African Americans in particular are over-represented in prisons; though they are 13 percent of the population, they made up 38 percent of the population of state prisons.... The crimes that landed them there, however, are not too different from their white and Hispanic counterparts. Eighteen percent of blacks in state prisons were convicted of drug crimes, compared to 15 percent of whites and 17 percent of Hispanics."
In addition to the disproportionate number of persons of color in our jails, it is also a fact that the US imprisons more women than any other country. This raises other disturbing questions about the political culture being perpetuated here. Think for a moment about the history of the disenfranchisement of women and minorities in this country's politics.

Keep this in mind as you mull over this issue- Studies have shown that States budgets for education have declined even as their budgets for incarceration have increased. It is a well documented fact that the vast majority of our imprisoned population are from communities with poor school districts. So as the educational infrastructure in disadvantaged communities suffer from crippling deficits, the prison industrial complex has grown more and more muscular. In 2009 the School District of Philadelphia faced a deficit of $147 million after losing $160 million in State funding. Yet, during this same period, taxpayers spent nearly $290 million imprisoning residents from its most economically depressed neighborhoods.
In a Democracy such as ours one may ask... in fact must ask... who benefits from the disenfranchisement of this part of the potential electorate which is disproportionately affected by our present policies on incarceration? Is the excessive incarceration of women and people of color a way of thwarting the democratic process? Does it tilt the balance of electoral power in favor of the same influences that historically wanted exactly that state of affairs? These are questions worthy of further examination. Is this in fact jerrymandering via incarceration?
Let us be very clear about what is at stake here. There are inescapable consequences of this kind of injustice. The institutions in our communities must begin to take this issue to heart. I say this especially to those institutions that focus on the moral issues we face as individuals and as communities. We must do more than is being done to conscientize our fellow citizens about this problem. 

The proliferation of  “prison ministries” focusing on saving the soul of the incarcerated is unlikely to change the hearts of the captives in this new system of slavery. Poor prisoners are more aware than the preachers that the dichotomy assumed between their physical and spiritual needs is mostly false. The moral voices among us must be employed to bring a specific focus- to shine a bright light- on the degradation, misery, and disenfranchisement, created by a system of greed and it's corrupted agents. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Like Daedalus was to Icarus...So is the GOP to Donald Trump

A depiction of Daedalus and his son Icarus as Icarus plunges to his death

Daedalus was to Icarus what the Republican Party is to Donald Trump... his daddy.

All considered, Donald Trump's ascendance to the leadership of the Republican Party is in essence the ultimate expression of a politically incestuous relationship. Some have deemed the ongoing drama of his dismantling of Republican ideals as poetic justice. Trump is the chicken that the GOP hatched after seven years of roosting with their backward, obstructionist, Tea Party cousins. 

The leaders of the Republican Party, such as they are, now find themselves in the awkward position of desperately wanting to defeather their own hatchling. They are powerless in this regard, since to do so would create the kind of intra-party schism that could very well result in the end the Party as we know it. I am led here to take liberties with a line from a hymn by the English poet and hymnodist William Cowper, a line inspired by the Old Testament prophet Isaiah's profound querry: "Can a mother's tender care cease toward the child she bear?"... I ask:

Can the Grand Ole Party's tender care cease toward this bombastic candidate they have hatched?

This is without doubt a painful existential moment for the Grand Ole Party. When they look at Trump's face, and listen to the scurrilous bleatings of this bombastic offspring of their own reactionary overindulgence, they see themselves... And it is not a pretty sight. They would love to snuff out his political breath... Or put a cork in his outrageous mouth. But it is too late. Short of breaking his proverbial wings with the blunt force of some kind of obstructive maneuver, they are helpless. They are at the mercy of his ignorance. They are left to cringe in embarrassment at his bombast. And so they continue to twist themselves into rhetorical pretzels in their attempts to account for his vain bluster. 

The GOP is now left to tend to its own self-inflicted wounds. One look at Reince Priebus' face reveals the extent of their pain.

For Donald Trump's part, the true nature and potential of his ascendance is about to be revealed. The prospect of having his wings clipped by the Grand Ole Party that now regards him with unbridled disgust is one thing. Finding out that his rise has largely been a function of the superficial nature of our political and media culture will be quite another. He seems genuinely incredulous that he rose to the top of what was quite a heap. His perceived closeness to the luster of the nation's highest office is apparently quite thrilling to him. Like the son of Daedalus, he is all fired up about his ability to rise to unexpected heights... After all, he has "never done this before".  Hell... he had no problem negotiating his way through the GOP's grossly ill-conceived political labyrinth.

But, like Icarus, the GOP nominee is discovering that flying too close to the sun with wings unsuitably engineered, has certain inherent risks. He employed a by any means necessary approach to rising above his fellow inmates in the institutional circumstance he confined himself to. But now The Donald is discovering that the feathers enabling his political flight are fixed by wax... the wax of his Party's hypocrisy...the wax of a sensationalist media culture...the wax of his own gross unpreparedness...the wax of ignorance, hatred, and bigotry, that he so willingly exploits. 

His is quite a dilemma. The fate of Icarus awaits Trump. The Primaries are over. The country has endured his unconventional Convention, and the incoherent doting of his selected enablers. We expected more, but in characteristically Trumpian manner, we were treated to... and unsettled by less. The little we got that was uplifting, we discovered was covertly borrowed. He must now continuously face the unrelenting glare of public and media scrutiny; and it is now obvious that he is woefully unprepared for the bright lights of a meaningful election campaign. 

Recent statements of his suggest that Mr Trump may be preparing himself for what will be a rather precipitous fall from political prominence. 

If Mr Bombastic is lucky he may land in another one of those TV reality dramas... much diminished of course, but with the ability to rehabilitate his unwieldy ego much like the banks have repeatedly rehabilitated his financial life. Icarus was not so lucky... he fell into the sea and drowned, leaving his father to bitterly lament his own craft... Much like the GOP will lament the reality of their own inevitable demise. 

Well... lets wait to see what jewels of wisdom their next autopsy uncovers... Again.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Beyond Partisanship... Why We Must Elect Hillary Rodham Clinton POTUS


Eight years of partisan and cultural tensions in our country have served to produce the clearest choice for President of the United States that we have had in a generation. That choice, without doubt, is former Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The challenges of our time, and the fundamental principles of our democracy, demand that we reject the candidacy of Donald J. Trump. In a political moment such as we are experiencing as a nation, and as a world... we must rise above the partisan impulses that have come to define our political behavior. We must do so because to do otherwise compromises any claim to intelligent moral leadership that we might make as Americans.

It has been declared that politics is about life. I want to expand and expound on that: Politics is about our lives together. Beyond our individual interests, and the group interests that are at times used to divide and rule us; there is that greater imperative that calls us to build the kind of national and international community that will secure our mutual interests and bolster our collective security. The leadership that this vision of our lives demands is what we are now being called on to elect... to choose. Donald Trump's lack of moral acuity, his demonstrably horrible temperament, and his ill-mannered attitude toward others, are antithetical to everything we should be working toward as a society.

One does not have to look far in order to find the reasons that disqualify Mr Trump for the Presidency. Any casual observer of his conduct so far in this political season can, without much effort, identify a host of such reasons. His unapologetic divisiveness. His crass abrasiveness. His activist appeal to the racist underbelly of a nation still scarred by its history of bigotry. His disrespect for women, and for immigrants who are not white and rich. His obvious inability to intelligently address any of the issues of critical importance in our national life. His demonstrated lack of intellectual curiosity about our world. His careless disregard for those with disabilities among us. His history of exploiting the economic system to benefit himself to the disadvantage of others. His careless disregard for truth. His propensity to promote violence against those who don't share his worldview. His ludicrously inconsequential bravado, and his disrespect of those who have served in our military. 

Donald Trump's slighting of the suffering of our soldiers, and his disregard for the sacrifices they and their families have made in service to the country he wants to lead is in and of itself a reason he must never be Commander in Chief. And, in the face of all this, we can add his total lack of any ability to be meaningfully self-critical.

The contrast between Donald Trump and Secretary Clinton could not be more stark. What we have here is a choice between a candidate who has dedicated her whole life to advocating for those who are less fortunate among us; and a man who has no real record of serving anyone but himself and his own selfish interests. This is a contrast between someone who has fought for justice in our education and healthcare system; and a man who is accused of establishing a fake university to separate gullible clients from their money. We have a choice between a man who was being sued for racial discrimination in housing practices in New York; while Hillary Clinton was fighting for equal justice in the segregated South. We have a public servant who counts among her accomplishments CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program), which brings the added security of guaranteed health insurance to millions of low income families; and a man who regards the less fortunate as "losers".

Tony Schwartz, who states that he is the real author of the book that Trump has boasted about writing: The Art of the Deal... has declared his opposition to the Donald Trump that he came to know very well. Schwartz, who spent much time observing Trump for this now well known book, says this about Trump's character, and the possible outcome of a Trump Presidency:

I put lipstick on a pig,” ... ... “I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is.” He went on: “I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”

The Republicans have spent much time over the years, and a significant amount of the nation's capital, in their efforts to make Hillary Clinton seem like a terrible person and a bad politician. Those efforts have largely failed. As unpopular a choice as they have succeeded in making her among many in the Republican base, there is no assessment of her that is as grim as that of the Schwartz assessment of Trump.


While the GOP has put a lot of resources into diminishing the appeal of Hillary Clinton, they are apparently ignoring the Trojan Horse which Trump represents. He has most certainly shown himself to be a hollow human being, but beyond that... he is a bearer of traits and ideals that go against the grain of the kind of society we aspire to be. The former Secretary of State has her faults, of which she is duly self-critical. But Donald J. Trump is a collective of the very values that we have spent the last two and a half centuries fighting against as Americans.


We must stand against the destructive divisiveness that Donald Trump represents. Let us affirm the strength that comes from a people united... Let us rise above partisanship, and elect Hillary Clinton President of these United States of America. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Michelle Obama... The Gift That History Gave

First Lady Michelle Obama To Speak At Maya Angelou’s Memorial ...
"That is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today, I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves — and I watch my daughters — two beautiful, intelligent, black young women — playing with their dogs on the White House lawn." --Michelle Obama, FLOTUS

So this happened. Last night I watched, along with millions here in America and around the world, as First Lady Michelle Obama spoke to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. And I could not hold back the tears that came to rescue me from my own efforts to control my emotions in the course of that speech. Thankfully, when she got to the part quoted above, our ancestor Maya Angelou came and sat beside me. She  rested her right hand on my thigh... and I found myself repeating with her that most profound, universally powerful, verse:

          "Out of the huts of history's shame... I rise!
          Up from a past that's rooted in pain... I rise!
          I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
          Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
          Leaving behind nights of terror and fear... I rise!
          Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear...I rise!
          Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
          I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
          I rise! I rise! I rise!" 

There I sat in that sacred moment... In the company of Michelle and Maya... Phenomenally

There is a life-proliferating quality in the words and work of these two women. In affirmation of the cultural and spiritual offerings they contain, their words stir in us certain emotions that are now inhabitants of  our consciousness as a result of our shared history. Maya came to remind me of this. And having done her work, she gently patted my thighs and left me alone with my thoughts and emotions... And the visage and voice of Michelle Obama.

        "  ..., we cannot sit back and hope that everything works out for the best. We cannot afford to be tired or frustrated or cynical.'

Michelle Obama is the gift that History has given us. Her words serve us way beyond the exigencies of any election season. As a gift she is one of many... but an exceptional one. She has this wonderful ability to draw us to a most sacred place in our life experience; and in this place we become intimate with a mating of ideas and ideals that leave us pregnant with the expectation of something greater for ourselves and all those connected to us. 

Through her cultural and political genius the First Lady reaches deep within and calls forth the memory of our sacred obligation to be fruitful and multiply ... to take charge of our lives and our destiny... to never give in or give up on ourselves despite the challenges of our past and our present. Here is indeed a voice from the Eden of our experiences. It calls us to new dreams, and new hopes, and a new vitality.

Michelle Obama inspires us to refine and redefine who we are and who we would be in a world constantly holding up before us the forbidden fruit of a corrupted culture.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Bees In Our Bonnets vs The Butterflies In Our Boxes

Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself - free PowerPoint Sermons by Pastor Jerry ...
The appeal of the supernatural
Proselytizing is risky business. Religion has always been, and remains a powerful motivating force. It has the power to capture the minds and imagination of people, and move them to act out the convictions they develop. This acting out of convictions is at times executed with gross disregard for the perspectives of those who do not share them.


The need to make sense of the various, sometimes overwhelming, circumstances that we face leads many to reach for a "power" greater than the individual or communal self. That need to become connected to a force more awesome than one’s self, or more powerful than the sum of our communal experiences, drives many people to develop a reverence for existential imperatives that are perceived in supernatural terms. So, for example, instead of simply identifying with the need to live a balanced life and do right with each other, we come up with formulations about “doing the will of God”. We could call this the mystification of enlightened self-interest. We shroud the commonsense imperatives of our personal and communal experience in other-worldly language, and by so doing we transfer the authority for control of our lives from our selves, and one another... to a mysterious Other.


Invariably mystery and miracle become bedrocks of our belief systems. For reasons that we must continue to honestly and boldly analyze, we create the foundations of our faith in the realm of the supernatural. Our Saviors are born of virgins, and not just in the sense of a young woman of marriageable age, no... we make that 'maiden' conceive and have a child without having had sex! Our messiahs come back from the dead and talk to us. They bring the dead back to life... literally… even those who had started to rot. They make wine from water… just water. They walk on water. They feed multitudes with food barely enough for two people. And so, in the process of denying the ability and the responsibility that we have to change our world for the better, we attribute to our gods natures and abilities that are essentially super-human. We believe of course that they have made us to serve them, and that we are lost without our faith in them.


It is for these reasons that we should be aware and wary of the inherent risks in the reach for faith. The connection between our theology and our anthropology is often obscured by ultra-poetic attempts to place the one above and beyond the other. In a world where radical theisms have again become vehicles of  much social and political turmoil, it is useful to remember the essential truth that theology is what one person says and another hears about "God". Simply put, theology is nothing more than our conversations with each other about our gods. These conversations often suffer from our tendency to replace the discipline of critical analysis with dogma. Could it be that dogma is an affliction of the ever-present power dynamic in our relationships?

The butterflies in our boxes

(The general outline of the exercise I am about to describe is from a discussion that took place one evening over thirty years ago while I was a seminarian. The course was 'Development Studies', which sought to engage us in a critical analysis of god-talk in the context of post colonial / developing countries. Details vary, but the essential point remains. Our professor was the brilliant scholar Rev. Dr. William Wilberforce Watty.)

Imagine that you were the observer of a discussion that two parties were having about the super butterfly in each of their boxes... boxes that only each party could see into. So the one party describes in exotic detail the attributes and actions of the butterfly in his or her box. The thing is said to be beautiful and skilled at flight. It has colors that were too exotic to name, and features that defied one’s ability to detail. This butterfly is said to have appeared out of nowhere one day after a storm. That thing of inexplicable might and magnificent beauty could also talk... in every language... And it was able to tell stories of the past, and prophesy about the future.

Now the other party, not to be outdone, looks into his or her box and sets about describing the butterfly therein. Not only does that creature possess all the attributes and abilities of the already described butterfly, but it's wings are larger and more powerful. The looker into that box states that every time this creature moves in flight, it becomes the source of all the winds. The back and forth between the two parties is sometimes heated, as each attempts to describe the occupant of a particular box in terms that would give that particular butterfly supremacy over the other.

As an intelligent observer, you look on with great interest as the banter goes on. The rivalry between each protagonist grows and becomes more and more obvious. You notice that at times they make claims about their butterflies without even looking into the box in which the creature dwells. This tends to happen especially when the conversation gets very heated.


Eventually they turn to you, each one of them, and ask you to vouch for the veracity of their individual claims... based on their assumption that you now believe what each has been saying about their butterfly. It is then that you are struck by the singularly astute observation that no one can see into the box of each of these persons but them. The experience of actually seeing into those boxes is exclusive to each. No one else has access to those boxes. The prospective convert is left with the very real disadvantage of believing… Or not.


And so you awaken from the more than momentary incursion of consciousness only to hear them each clamoring for you to take sides. Not only do they expect you to believe the stories they tell, they each want you to be a witness for their version of things. That is until you confront each of them with the question: How do I know that there is even a butterfly, or any other creature in your box? You know that they won't give you a meaningful answer... They will of course forbid you to look into their boxes, that is how they maintain their hold over other acolytes. Mystery. The power of each claim is maintained by way of its given mysterious nature. It is enough for them to get you to just “believe”. And I'm thinking that I will give due regard to the claims of each; that is if they in turn will recognize my right to not believe in the very existence of the butterflies in their boxes.

The bee in our bonnets
Where does our unrelenting preoccupation with god-talk come from? Why this perpetual harangue about our origin, our state of being, and our destiny? The competing narratives about faith do not take place in a vacuum. They happen in the context of very real, and at times, competing interests in our social and economic environment… Rich vs Poor… Haves vs Havenots… Good vs Evil… Theist vs Atheists...


Historically, those who have preached to us about rewards that await us in Heaven, or eternal damnation in Hell, have invariably been the agents of those who have taken the liberty to reward themselves with the bounties of a culture of inequity. Yes. The priestly classes have mostly been the servants of the ruling classes. This has been true for all the major religions.


In cases where the religious instinct has been cultivated by the economically and politically disadvantaged in contradiction of the prevailing belief system, any new movement is usually viewed with scorn and ridicule. Almost universally, they are initially singled out for brutal repression. This was the case with the Rastafarian movement in Jamaica. The Rastafarian rejected the idea of a white messiah, favoring instead an Ethiopian emperor of their own ethnicity. This new consciousness is expressed by the Rastafarian artist Sizzla as follows:

"I have no white God... don't teach anything wrong
Would di(the) white God save mi(me) from whiteman oppression?
I have no white God... It's just a BLACK MESSIAH
If a white God a Bless(If a white God blesses)
How him naw bless Sizzla(How is it He doesn't bless Sizzla)?"

The dialectic in which Sizzla engages brings to the fore the basic incongruence between what he was taught to believe and his lived experiences. He declares unapologetically against the idea of a white God in a cultural and political circumstance in which White racist domination functions as an oppressive reality in the lives of Black folk. His new consciousness is expressed in the the cultivation of a new sense of self in which a rejection of European aesthetics and Theology is an ontological imperative. The dread-locked Rastafarian became a symbol of rebellion against White cultural domination, and was reviled and feared as a consequence.

Persecution was a fact of life in early Christianity until the Roman Emperor Constantine realized that he could domesticate the new religion and co-opt it for the cause of stabilizing and expanding the empire. Thus martyrdom gave way to Christendom, and the marriage of Church and State became a reality. Wherever it is the case that strands of religious dogma become the impetus for revolutionary change, the believer is martyred… persecuted and in some cases, annihilated. Alternately, the domesticability of new movements is exploited to further the ambitions of the State.


In societies that are strained by the burden of inequality, the very real antagonism between hope and despair in people's lives becomes the breeding ground for instability. The loss of hope, and the breeding of despair, are the context in which violence develops in such societies. A sense of hopelessness and the futility it generates, is the animus that drives people to do violence... to themselves… and to others.


Injustice is the bee in the bonnets of those who rise up against the status quo. It is a source of the torment expressed by its victim, which is in turn vented on everything and everyone within reach. In such circumstances the need to repair the breach results in the promotion of a choice between the bee in our bonnets and the butterflies in the philosophers’ boxes. To preempt the upset that injustice causes, the dispossessed are called on to defer their need of material fulfillment in favor of a spiritual life, and their desire of a hopeful future until an afterlife.


The question we must answer
More important than our reach for mystery and miracle, is the reality of how we view and treat those with whom we live, and move, and have our being. There is in fact a well established and very meaningful orthodoxy which declares that it is utter nonsense to talk about our fascination with gods we cannot see, while we foster a culture of inequity. The propagation of injustice is a direct contradiction of our claim to obedience to any loving God. It places our faith on tenuous ground, and nullifies all attempts, rhetorical and liturgical, to validate our stated beliefs.

Theological exercises that do not affirm the experiences and the needs of our common humanity are a gross misuse of physical and mental energy. Worse than that, they are potentially dangerous. To profess our love for, and our commitment to the butterflies in our boxes while we actively antagonize one another is to live
a lie. Lies have a tendency to erode our potential to live in authentic relationships. This is as true for each of us as it is for all of us. Lies negate and erode the life-enhancing potentials of individuals and of nations. A meaningful faith is one which finds expression through the cultivation of real equity in our stewardship of Earth and its fullness. Another word for equity... Justice.


In the physical, cultural, and political spaces in which we live out our lives we often have to confront the incongruities between the ideas that we have come to define ourselves by and the challenges that are inherent in the realities of our being together. The tensions herein are real and ongoing. Our efforts to resolve these tensions underline the necessity to engage philosophically with our selves and each other. The honest philosopher comes to acknowledge a truth that is universally affirmed: "There are more questions than answers; ... and the more we find out, the less we know". The less we know for sure that is.


Ultimately the most consequential question that we must answer is not about the nature of God. The responses to that philosophical piece are too subjective to be universally useful. We can agree that that question is indicative of a certain functional genius, and it most definitely has its place in our philosophical resumes. But the more pressing query is: Who is my neighbor, and am I his/her keeper? An affirmation of the wisdom and the duty implied in this question clears the path to the salvation we and our societies seek… and need.