Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sunday Sermon [Fathers, Sons, and Daughters]

¡Hola! Everybody...
First, I want to send out my love to the loved ones of the brothers and sisters who murdered in the name of white supremacy. I have so much to say about this, but I can't get it all out right now.... 

I guess this is not your typical fathers day blog offering. Sometimes the hardest thing is to be honest with one’s self… My fathers were good, if flawed, human beings, but they gave much.

Happy Father’s Day, everybody...
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What Does it Mean to Be a Father?
What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?
-- Antonio Machado

I had two fathers and possibly more. I had uncles, older cousins, as well as elders from the community who were to me as fathers in some respects. But the two that were most influential was my biological father, Edwin, and my stepfather, Vincent. The two men were polar opposites.

My father was almost all yang: penetrating intelligence, extroverted, creative, charismatic -- he was everything a little boy wanted as a father. I adored him -- worshipped the very ground he walked and I wanted to be just like him. My father passed on to me the gift of the thirst for knowledge and I could never repay him for that. My father’s example taught me that there was a higher purpose in life and he taught me love for knowledge, beauty, and truth.

My stepfather, Vincent, was almost all yin: he was easy-going, definitely not cerebral, loved doing things with his hands, and loved music. As a child, he would take me to his various jobs and brag to his friends and co-workers that I was a genius. Then he would say something like, “Go ahead, ask him anything,” and his co-workers would and I would almost always get the answer right. He used to get a big kick out of that. Vincent, instead of resenting my intelligence, supported it. Any other man would’ve felt insecure, but not Vincent, because he was easy going almost to a fault. Not that he was a pushover, he wasn’t, he had the hands of a carpenter, large and rough, and I saw him knock out a man much bigger than him with one punch. He was simply less confrontational than my father. Vincent’s example taught me dependability, consistency, or “showing up” as he might have put it.

These days it’s popular for talking heads and politicians of all stripes to go on at length about fathers and fatherhood. On one side, there’s the myopic notion that almost all social ills can be placed firmly on the shoulders of fathers -- or “absent” fathers. Of course, this is just a form of scapegoating. Sure, fathers are important in the development of young minds, but a father being more “present” doesn’t automatically translate to a better, more just society.

I once created a leadership development workshop that utilized relationship-building skills. My assumption then and still, was that the essence of leadership is about the ability to connect to people, rather than forcefully leading them by the nose. Whenever I would ask workshop participants to list what they perceived as leadership qualities, nurturing -- the core skill for relationship -- was almost never mentioned. When our culture emphasizes bread-winning and individual success for men at the expense of care-giving, the welfare of children suffers. A father’s absence influences the son and daughter’s development of social skills, self-esteem, and attitudes towards achievement. But more importantly, our culturally warped understanding of masculinity contributes to various forms of maladjustment, such as lack of impulse control, violence, incompetence, dependence, and irresponsibility. The son of a psychologically absent father experiences a weakened identification with what it means to be a man, and the daughter experiences a weakened relationship to the masculine principle.

Yet, in the name of family financial and psychological welfare, our legal system emphasizes the importance of the father’s job (or ability to earn), and therefore his absence, and award child custody to the mother nine times out of ten. When societal attitudes are unsupportive of the father’s active involvement in the family, then we see the fragmentation of family relationships so common today.

Don’t misunderstand my point: I am not advocating for some vague notion of “men’s rights.” I am saying that we -- all of us -- need to redefine what it means to be a man.

In the end, we are all flawed creatures. We all make mistakes. As for me, I would say that if you were to ask my son, he would give at best a mixed review. More likely, I don’t think he would characterize me as a “good” father. And he has good reasons for his view. In the final analysis, I too am seriously flawed human being. I guess what is important is not to get too stuck in who’s “wrong” and who’s “right,” but to do the right thing at the right time because it is the right thing to do at that moment.

And yet my own experience leaves with the feeling that a good father, however that is defined, requires more than getting the task done right. Perhaps fatherhood is more about being genuine and revealing ones vulnerability to those you love. When I reflect on the relationships between fathers, sons, and daughters, I am reminded of the words of the poet Rumi: “Out beyond rightdoing and wrongdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” My son, if he chooses, will one day be a father and if he can take even a little of what my own teachers gave me, then he will be a man.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sunday Sermon [Economic Enslavement]

Hola Everybody...
It’s official. I will be leaving my current job at the Correctional Association at the end of June. I am going to a transitional period right now, looking to see how I can best use my skills to undo the structural racism at the core of mass incarceration and police abuses. Perhaps I’ll write about that in the coming days. I don’t have a “real” gig yet, but I will be doing some freelance work while looking for full-time employment. So! If you know of any criminal justice reform organizations needing an intelligent and gifted writer with a strong analysis and years of experience in the direct services and policy arenas, let me know.
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There are currently at least 30 wars and armed conflicts raging in the world… over 80% of the casualties of war are civilians… disproportionately women and children.

The Ties that Bind Us
... And whoever controls the debt, controls everything. This is the essence of the banking industry to make us all slaves to the debt.
-- From the flim, The International

As we lurch toward the second decade of the new millennium, I can’t help but reflect in amazement how we’ve been at it for all these thousands of years and we’re still here in spite of ourselves. Through the cruel elements, the countless plagues and wars, the lunatics, and perhaps human nature itself, we are still here, defiant, striving, still trying to make sense of it all.

We’re still alive...

But we’re still suffering and killing and hating each other. Diplomacy has risen to an art form because we have become masters of the art of war. I wake up today with the realization that we have defeated the democratic process and in its place we have put an economic system that depraves our efforts in order to create riches based on a subculture of poverty and crime, a system any other creature would rightfully see as barbaric.

We believe ourselves to be the most advanced species but we demonstrate very little understanding or respect for our bodies or the world we inhabit.

For over a hundred years, the practice of slavery has been outlawed here in the Land of the Snow, but people still slave. Technology has taken us to outer space, but not before we managed to eradicate millions in search of genetic purity; not before one of our greatest technological projects, harnessing the power of the atom, incinerated tens of thousands of innocent men, women, and children to shadows.

We wear the restraints of capitalism, the corruption of ideals, and our hatred, prejudice, and ignorance like shackles.

Our capacity for moral reasoning hasn’t caught up with our technological advances. On the richest nation on the planet, we have the power to end starvation, but children still go hungry. We celebrate our medical advances, but the medicines that slow the progress of AIDS are nowhere to be found as that very plague decimates the entire African continent. Our thinking gets the better of our actions. But before we begin to lay blame, please know that our actions are not truly ours to command. At least not any longer... 

Today decisions are made by governments and the corporations that own them and are designed to increase profit, not to advance humanitarian ends. Children are starving because it has nothing to do with the bottom line. People are dying everywhere, but how can you try an international cartel for murder?

I awaken and I am appalled at the lack of moral responsibility and leadership. We all know something’s wrong, but we can’t seem to change because we’ve been hoodwinked -- we’ve all been chained and made into property.

Reality TV is our pacifier and money is our drug of choice -- the one habit we can’t kick without dying in the process. Money also forms the links that create our shackles. Our labor binds us to systems that see us only as units of value or expense.

And in this way we careen toward a future like a runaway train whose conductor and engineer have slain one another, its passengers blissfully unaware. Our lives are designed to maintain the values of our economy. A pound of coffee, an ounce of lead, a human life -- all these things express value in our world. Not human values, but the values of a system that rules us. We drag along these values accepting their consequences: wars, the laws that maintain order (and their prisons), the weapons of mass destruction, and the perceived need for world dominance.

Through all this, we are told that there awaits a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But we know deep down inside that we’ll have to pay in sweat, blood, and sacrifice -- our sacrifice alone -- for such a future. Yes, boys and girls, the future may be bright, but we will be the beasts of burden hauling around the necessities to maintain that brilliance.

I wake up today and I am overcome by an overwhelming sense that nothing will save the masses from this tragic fate.

Unless we free ourselves from those old chains of ignorance of the past two-hundred years or more. In order to free ourselves we must stop fooling ourselves into continuing to believe that our chains are jewelry. We must begin to consider the nature of our chains. Understanding something about how we became enslaved (again) might allow us the ability break free of those chains. Once freed, we might bring on a new consciousness that will help us realize that the dreams we had for a bright future pale in comparison to the reality that lies quiescent within each and every one of us.

I can’t help but think that as the latest economic devastation forces white working-class Americans to stop heeding the demagoguery of right-wing talk show hosts, they will come to realize that they too are part of the insanity of mass oppression for mass production. This current economic mess, brought upon by decades of conservative ideology, will not just go away. This is not an economic hiccup.

Maybe this time it will make it harder to separate people of color from whites, as we all endure the hardships. Even if people do not want to see -- or admit -- the fact that we’re all in the same boat, reality has come knocking. Maybe, finally, as we all continue to suffer from the ravages of an economic shit storm, people will be less prone to heed the propaganda of racial superiority.

Poor or nonexistent medical care, job insecurity, lack of education -- these issues affect every cultural group, creed, and race to differing degrees.

Do not misunderstand me: I cannot abide the idiots who caterwaul that it is not race, but economics that matter. That’s bullshit. You cannot skip to class struggles without addressing the structural racism that is the foundation of the economics! Yet, while the runaway juggernaut of capitalism may not extract its pound of flesh in an equal opportunity manner, it does extract it from all of us. It is the nature of capitalism to apply its value system to everything. Within this system, all values are interchangeable. Not only are these values interchangeable, but they also rise and fall according to market forces. Your whole sense of identity and belonging can come tumbling down the moment the cost of a barrel of crude oil, for example, skyrockets. Price competition could well affect the cost of production and one of the major production costs is labor -- your labor. In this way, the value of life itself rises and falls according to the cost of production.

Contrary to what the well- groomed media lap dogs tell you, the economic system that rules so much of our lives cannot value human labor above any other commodity or resource. Under the crushing weight of this system, your humanity is no more valuable than its equivalent cost of a sack of potatoes. Capitalism has no humanity, something even the talking heads admit even while they tell you it’s the ultimate solution to all our social ills. All that exists in the capitalist bible is the margin of profit, the market share. We are all part of the machine, and those elements -- those idiosyncrasies of individualism -- must be dealt with in the same way any mechanic deals with a “faulty” part: removal or replacement.

We are all part of an economic machine. Some of us are cogs, others ghosts, but it is a machine, not our differences, that drive us.

Whites will experience what people of color have been experiencing for centuries and my hope is that, as they experience alienation and isolation from the full participation of the democratic process, they will begin to learn what it feels to be marginalized and in that way, we can all somehow create a coalition founded on our common experiences. As whites, you might feel identification with groups or power, but what does that identification mean on the unemployment line?

In our current reality, we are all a unit of labor. Sure, each individual may use his or her labor as he or she wishes, but in most cases, this power is extremely limited. Make no mistake: the advantage of supply and demand is in the favor of the corporations, not ours. While this is indeed depressing, I take heart in knowing that the experience that can marshal a new era -- a new consciousness -- in our shared history. 

The history of African Americans and other people of color is an integral and important part of the history of the United States. Rebellion, it is said, is the essential movement of understanding. Violence and oppression rob us of the ability to understand. Without understanding, there can be no growth, no appreciation of truth, and no tomorrow -- only a never-ending repetition of the daily act of humiliation that has become definition of our existence.

You may judge my words depressing, but I say that there can be no healing until recognition of the disease has evolved. With that, we are well on our way. I also realize that some of you despair that there aren’t enough of us, that the machine will chew us like so much grist for the mill. My first response is almost theoretical: allow me to point you to the power of karma as we discussed the other day. Your actions, no matter how seemingly insignificant, fan out, creating psychic ripples of consequences and actions. My second response is pragmatic. For those who would despair, I leave you with the following knowledge passed down to us by the great anthropologist Margaret Meade:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization… 


[un]Common Sense