Category Archives: Politics

it’s scarier when nobody notices…

Hip Hop Caucus: Rev. Yearwood Released, Charged With Assault – Part of Increasing Capitol Hill Crackdown On Voices of Dissent:

“How am I supposed to convince other African-Americans to come to Capitol Hill to participate in democracy, when Capitol Police will go so far as to jump me when I question my exclusion from a hearing that is open to the public? We all know what ‘driving while Black’ is, well I’d call this ‘democracy while Black.'”

Go read the stories. Watch the video. Then tell me what you think about the LA Times version of events.

Suddenly, there was scuffling. A clot of Capitol police coagulated in the hallway. In the middle was the Rev. Lennox Yearwood, an antiwar activist who had apparently attempted to push his way into the hearing room and was wrestled to the floor.

Or the Washington Post version:

the Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., of the D.C.-based Hip Hop Caucus, who allegedly refused to move back after jumping in front of a line of people waiting to get inside the room. He was charged with disorderly conduct and assault on a police officer, Capitol Police said.

The only two major news outlets I found in a (granted, quick and dirty) search of Google News for “Rev. Yearwood Congress” got it wrong, and not just wrong but maliciously wrong. Only independent, “liberal”, or protest news venues covered the whole thing. Democracy Now! has been covering this from the start, and had Rev. Yearwood on the program this morning. It’s really disturbing that events have progressed to the point that “public discourse” is limited – forcibly – to those members of the public and those topics of discourse that come pre-approved by government agents. We have an election coming up. It’s not the 2008 election that obsesses the news media and the popular imagination (what little of it is left after Reality TV, video games, and social networking get through), but it’s our democracy on the line even so. Americans, go vote this November. And every time your section of the country votes, go make your mark on your corner of this democracy.

atheists in foxholes

This article asks profound questions and underscores the lack of true tolerance in the nation (and the world?) today. As an interfaith minister this is one of the times I really feel that lack. The idea that a profession of faith, any faith, sincere or insincere, is automatically morally superior to atheism is extremely uncomfortable to me. As if religious morality hasn’t led us all into a morass of violence and recrimination.

Addressing atheism was one of the (many, I grant) places where my short seminary training let me down. For a group positing tolerance and understanding among people, somehow they still manage to slice off little bits of humanity.

I’m actually reminded a bit of my Epicurean days (circa 2000), when I believed down to my bones that the soul was mortal and this single animated existence was my only mark upon the universe. Perhaps the well-known adage, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die,” would have been better rendered, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we end, and all chances for physical or spiritual experience cease.” This is life, right now, this moment, the conscious experience of emotions and sensations distinct from any idea of God or afterlife.* Afterlife is just that: after life. Live first, and respect those who do so with no anticipation of later reward, but simply to revel in this marvelous experience of being human.

Matthew Chapman: At Last A Comic Book Atheist Hero – Living Now on The Huffington Post:

Pat Tillman, an extraordinarily square-jawed football player who gave up a lucrative professional life to go and fight for his country, was at first hailed as a hero by a military eager for good publicity. When it was discovered Tillman died as a result of “friendly fire” — he was shot at close range in the forehead, which seems a little too friendly — his family pressed hard for a more thorough investigation. Lt. Colonel Ralph Kauzlarich, an officer with responsibilities for Tillman’s unit, complained that his relatives were being so insistent because, like Pat, they were atheists.

*Full Disclosure: I am not an atheist. I have a religion, although it isn’t a mainstream practice. As part of that religion, I believe in the concept of panentheism, the Divine immanent in the universe as well as transcending it. For me the energy/spirit that lives in every cell in my body is the Ultimate Reality, which some call “God” (and others call Physics). But for the purposes of this paragraph, and the article to which I link, “God” is a word describing a particular, discrete deity-type, the Jehovah/Father of the Abrahamic traditions. With that type in mind, I do believe that the experience of life on all its levels – spiritual, mental, physical, emotional – is distinct from God and the afterlife.

Maxine Hong Kingston: a briliant and beautiful star

In the tarot, The Star card is often encapsulated in a single word: Hope. The Star offers a respite from the deconstruction and self-examination of Death, The Devil, The Tower. The Star reminds us of our inner strength and calls us to a higher spiritual self.
That’s why I call Maxine Hong Kingston a star in the subject of this post. I just watched her interview with Bill Moyers on PBS. She has created a community of healing through her workshop, Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace, a gathering of people suffering through trauma and pain, many of them veterans of Vietnam. These people have found healing and a measure of peace through writing.
Maxine and Bill discussed the transformative power of story, especially of writing our stories. One thing that she said stuck with me. By writing our stories we take the chaotic and random memories and emotions of our lives and give them shape. We create a form, and that form can then be communicated to another person. Communication creates connection creates compassion. The authors and poets featured in their anthology have used writing as healing, have saved their lives and created a place to which others can turn for hope.

MAXINE HONG KINGSTON: That what I mean is that when people share their stories and they share their hardships, that all of us will listen. We’ll help carry the burden. And so, after writing in such a way, in which we release our feelings we take the– something that happened chaotically in the past. Or it happened so subtly, that at the time, you hardly notice you’re– there’s no time to think it over.

But later, 39 years later, putting it into words, slowly– understanding one’s own feelings, and understanding the point of view of others. And shaping what happened into a form and this form is a beautiful form. The form of a story, the form of a poem — after immersing one’s self in all of that, then there comes the understanding, recognition, reconciliation.

I am awed and amazed by Maxine Hong Kingston, not only for coming through her own trauma by creating this healing community, but for her way of expressing those concepts about writing and the healing power of story. Human beings are creatures of story. We live in story, and by taking control of the story, giving it shape through our thoughtful expression, we quite literally create our worlds.
Perhaps no one short story anthology will stop a war. No single non-violent protest will end all violence forever. But by sharing ourselves, by becoming beings of peace ourselves, by baring our truths to our community, we create a small circle of peace. That circle can expand as our communities do, as our communications do, until like the ripples left by a pebble in a still pond, the circle reaches the very edge of possibility. There lies the power to change the universe.
You can watch video of the program or read a transcript (and more than just Maxine, other contributors to the anthology are interviewed and several excerpts and poems are read) at the Bill Moyers Journal website.

14th Dalai Lama speaks on tolerance at Rice

I am so giddy. The Dalai Lama is one of those figures that impresses no matter where you see him, but after the big-screen viewing in Central Park, hearing him speak to a relatively small crowd in a small gymnasium was a revelation.
He is so funny. And he laughs so easily, and so often – that joy was great to see. Even when speaking of the destructive emotions that fill our world today, he held out hope for humanity’s future. His talk for the Rice Community was entitled “Tolerance and Universal Responsibility“, and like Bill Clinton, he addressed the undergraduates in particular. The world is changing as we move into the 21st century, and the people who will lead us into that new reality are learning to lead, learning their values, and learning to cope now.
He spoke about the power of compassion at the community level, which I loved. When asked about bringing change at the global level, he talked about each individual changing himself, then sharing his compassion and learning about compassion with his close circle, the they all share with their neighbors and friends to become a community, and then it grows from there, until the leaders of the day after tomorrow were raised in a compassionate society. What a great vision.
He also talked about proselytizing and conversion, which I found to very interesting – that was in response to one of the hard questions from the audience. He said that for the most part, people can be happy within their own tradition, and do not need to have a conversion experience. Some people may, on an individual basis, and that is fine, if it is what is right for them as a person, to grow and be content. But mass conversions, especially conversions driven by politics or by the almighty dollar, are simply not right. (His examples for this were Indian conversions based on political or social pressures, and Korean missionaries in Mongolia for whom each conversion was worth $15.)
For the most part, his talk centered on the ideas of global community and creating a future of peace. He also spoke, though, of the Law of Causality in Buddhism, and the idea that once certain events, man-made events, reach an emotional/spiritual/societal “boiling point”, there can be no stopping of the negative fallout. So he is not suggesting that war will simply end. (And from a natural disaster standpoint, meditation won’t disperse a hurricane, either.) There may be no way solve the current world crises without further violence, simply because force has been ingrained for so long as the proper solution. But the new generation of 21st century leaders can see a new way to relate to one another – the interconnectedness of all humanity has never been more evident. His Holiness encouraged the new leaders to think of the 21st century as the “Century of Dialogue”, allowing respectful discussion and compassionate relationships to end the automatic turn to force for global solutions.
It was an inspiring talk, and at the end, one that also left us with an example of cheerful humility. A student asked what dangers students might face in today’s world, and how they might deal with those dangers with compassion. The Dalai Lama listened to the translation, needing a few clarifications, then held his hands out, palm up, and said, “I don’t know.” He went on briefly to say that the lives of students are so different the world over, but that American students especially have such freedom to acquire knowledge that they should act on it. He lamented the censorship and bias that is found in education in totalitarian states. But then he said again, that in answer to the question, “I don’t know much about student lives. I cannot answer. It is a good way to end: I don’t know.” Then he laughed, and shrugged, and we gave him a standing ovation.

scared? No. outraged? Yes.

As I was walking back to my office from lunch I was stopped by a guy from the local news radio, who asked me if I was “scared to be on a college campus” following the shootings at Virginia Tech. My response was pretty succinct: “Whu? No.” He pressed, “You’re not scared?” And I said, “No.” Just like that. After a few more volleys, I said that I had just moved here from New York where there was a pervasive, daily sense of threat, and sorry but I can’t live scared anymore. “You’ve got to live your life. If something happens, you deal with it.”
As I was walking back from the encounter, I felt really cheesed off. What the hell kind of a question is that, “Are you scared?” I could get hit by a bus tomorrow, or shot in traffic, or struck by lightning, or just drop dead because some hitherto unnoticed portion of my body decided it was the day to go. Any of those is as likely, or more likely, than having some madman with a gun attack this campus. Am I scared? No. Being scared is counter-productive. (Which is not to say that I don’t get out of bed some days with a bone-numbing terror living in my heart and mind – most of my days in New York, in fact, even pre-9/11 – but what good is giving in to the bone-numbing terror when I have to grab as much life as I can before the end? I feel fear a lot of the time, and I challenge anyone in today’s world to say that they don’t, but there’s living beyond the fear and there’s wallowing in the fear mongering that cripples our community.)
Why wasn’t the question, “Are you outraged at the state of gun control (or lack thereof) in this country, or lack of gun education, or the perpetuation of the culture of violence that glorifies war and killing in song, story, movie, and TV news?” Why wasn’t the question, “How do you think we can work for change so that something like this is less likely to happen again, here or anywhere?” Because obviously we’ve been unsuccessful so far in preventing shooting after shooting, in schools or on the streets. (Ok, I know the reason – because most of the media outlets in this country aren’t about working for change or even accurately reporting news or informing people of events. Nevertheless.)
I’m sure that the guy found some folks to be obligingly full of fear and worry over the breaching of their ivory tower existence, especially since campus is crawling with prospective students and parents today. It’s a shame, though, that the ‘news’ is about perpetuating the fear. Fear breeds further violence, and that is no fitting memorial to anyone who has died.