Monday, December 31, 2012

Forgiveness Us Our Debts

Fresh starts. That's what New Years is about, right? Last year was a mess, so I'm going to clean up myself starting this year. But what if it's not solely about ourselves? What if I constantly fail at my resolution because they depend upon me and me alone to get my ish together, but under the same weight I labored under and got nowhere with to this point?

And this brings us to the fresh starts and to forgiveness. And what that means... As a Christian, I look back to the example of Jesus.

 Matthew 6:14-15 “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins."

That "But" is key.

image courtesy: Iran Press Watch

When Jesus talks about forgiveness - and he does a lot - much like in the rest of the gospels, he's talking about what it means to live in the Kingdom, or kingdom-ly (or what we called a couple months ago, the un-Kingdom). Take that for what it's worth. It may or not be advice, but it points to an subversive understanding, a more better way, and an alternative to the corrupt powers of the other kingdoms (the world) - a completely different path than lay in the realm of the "powerful" of Rome, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, the United States. What Jesus says should not be applied as law, but as the preferred method of those who follow him and his Way.

But notice this in your readings of forgiveness: in nearly every instance, Jesus speaks about both financial forgiveness and personal forgiveness simultaneously - as if he cannot separate the two. They are necessarily side by side.

In Luke 7, Jesus is at the home of some religious leaders and in barges the town prostitute.  And the hosts are offended that Jesus would let her near without condemning her, let alone touch him. She's sobbing with regret. Most likely hurt. I doubt she wants to be sexually exploited and turned into a commodity day and night again. Its likely that it is due to the social structures and rules these very hosts employ and implement and justify that she finds herself in this predicament selling her body in the first place.

So Jesus finds it necessary to share a riddle:

Two men were in debt to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?
- Luke 7 (the Message)

Such stories in the Gospels are common - and disruptive. Disruptive to the norm, to the regulatory forces*, to the status quo and its comfort with itself and its self-righteous. There's the Lord's Prayer hinted at above, of course. There's the parable of the rich debtor, but there's also Jesus' very own inaugural sermon, when he declared the following to be about his ministry:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.
- Luke 4 (NLT)

These lines themselves were adapted from latter Isaiah (Chapter 61 with some modification from chapter 58), which themselves were an expansion on the concept of Jubilee. Jubilee is a concept that the Mosaic Law introduced into Hebraic customs several hundred years prior. The idea is that every fifty years, families can reclaim their ancestral homes, debts are forgiven, prisoners are released. For a peasant class always under financial duress, the Year of Jubilee would be the Year of the Lord's Favor.

So forgiveness is necessary for financial justice.

But it's also necessary for spiritual justice.

Some Christian-led groups have been calling for Jubilee-like debt forgiveness for the poorest and most debt-ridden nations for years, most famously with the Jubilee 2000 campaign (and its offshoots) led to coincide with the Catholic Church's celebration of the Great Jubilee. This campaign had the intent of wiping out several billions of dollars of debt incurred to** Third World nations in Africa and Latin America. More recently and closer to home, an offshoot project of the Occupy movement (which has some tenuous connections with Christian and interfaith theology and practices) named the Rolling Jubilee is looking to subvert the bankers and collection agencies and those who profit from debt incursions by buying back debts and forgiving debtors (at pennies on the dollar). As of press, they have raised over $500,000 to absolve nearly 10.5 million dollars.

Say what you may about the situation - about how and why people and nations get into debt at astronomical rates - but to be released from that obligation and being able to focus on the day-to-day, on the familial and financial and community-based obligations that are also pressing and immediate, is an immense blessing, for lack of a better word.

But even still, taking care of the material, monetary debt is necessary, but we must not forget the spiritual, mental and emotional debt that needs forgiveness. After all, none can live on bread alone.

Now, when people in the Christian church talk about forgiveness, there seems to be a fundamental power imbalance. As my friend Sarah Moon so graciously points out, oftentimes victims of abuse in a church setting are commanded to forgive their abusers. Often, we are told that Jesus forgave the child molester. Ergo, everything is all good and that person should be allowed to work in the nursery (true story. Too often). Or spouses are commanded by the pastors to go back to their abusive partners (waaaay too often). Or the pastor, well, he's been pardoned by God for his "inappropriate" behavior. And so you are to pardon him too. Now!

But that's not forgiveness. That's forced, compelled, coerced, controlling, lying, false, insincere, dangerous, unhealthy, and ugly manipulation. Whatever it is, it is not forgiveness.

Forgiveness cannot work without boundaries. It cannot be forced. It needs to be nurtured and nourished. It needs to operate in safety. It cannot allow for injustice. Forgiveness does not allow for the pedophile to work with children - it recognizes that some behaviors will not change over night (if ever) and so makes a zone of safety for all those affected: children, spouses, parishioners, family, neighbors, constituents, you, me. That zone may require papers to be signed, people to be notified, offenders to be jailed. It will probably require time and distance.

But within that safe zone, miracles can happen. Miracles that both release the debtor and the indebted. Miracles that free the soul from the oppressive dictatorship of guilt and bitterness.

I find the act of forgiveness - of the spiritual and financial varieties - (though not necessarily forgetting or allowing back) to be fundamentally freeing. But if I'm honest, anything that is completely liberating is also as scary as hell.

When I recite the Lord's Prayer with my daughter and I get to the line about forgiving transgressions, I always pause. And I often bite hard.

And then I continue. A little bit lighter.

And in this practice, I tug away at the roots and branches and leaves of bitterness or frustration or angst laying deep beneath, or flourishing just above the surface, or suckling out the sunlight like anti-plants. They steal our joy. They steal our peace of mind. They take root and they rob us of sunshine and air and water and all the good elements - they lurk in the back of our minds and convince us that life is for the dead, these anti-plants.

The anti-plants need to eventually be uprooted. Only then can our gardens grow. Only then can we be set free from the prisons of our minds and hearts and from the prisons of indebtedness to others that we could never repay. This opens up boundless opportunities - not just for the self, but for those that we are near. And herein, a new cycle appears. For we are not just free as scattered individuals, but as members and parts of networks, families, communities. The effects of liberation on our communities are innumerable.

Nelson Mendela, after 27 years of imprisonment

*Jesus takes note that the Pharisees did not really welcome him, did not wash his feet - but this lowly prostitute just walking off the street cleans them with her tears and hairs
**Let us refuse to say "by" as if the countries asked for or deserved to be in debt for the crime of being plundered of economic, labor and natural resources

Friday, December 21, 2012

Moving Abe

An occasional one-off with a semi-celeb on Twitter is what passes for a brush with celebrity for me. So, Chicago-based rapper and political activist (as well as would-be alderman) Rhymefest has tended to have a contentious interaction with the Occupy Movement. Unlike another Chicago-based rapper who's worked with Kanye, Lupe Fiasco, he sees the Occupiers as wasting time and space better used for direct political action.

Image will appear as a link

Rhymefest disregards the overriding lessons of the Emancipators and the Civil Rights Era as being out of time. Fine. But then tell me that Occupy hasn't helped to shape the discourse of American politics - tell me that the Tea Party movement also hasn't done so. Tell me that right now this whole Fiscal Cliff nonsense isn't largely directed by the rhetoric of one sort of radical, non-pragmatic paradigm or another.

He's a hostage!
Well, actually...
Tell me that the post-Sandy Hook imagination of the American populace isn't directed by one form of radicalism (the No-Restrictions-Ever-on-Guns NRA and their stand-ins) and the rest of us aren't trying to feebly talk about sensible gun control measures.

Imagine if a large, national peace movement were actually put in place some twelve years ago - rather than a late-to-the-game anti-GOP posturing. How would the conversation about war and violence be engaged now?

Politicians, as historian Howard Zinn points out in his must-read work - including the Zinn Reader - do not lead - they follow. As much as Abraham Lincoln wanted to end slavery, he had to garner popular opinion in order to get to the office of president in the first place. And before that happened, the popular perception of slavery as being a largely harmless and beneficial financial institution had to be challenged.

So, the slave narratives. So, Douglass, and Garrison, and Sojourner Truth, and Beecher Stowe. These figures and their heroic, bristling words waged a war for the hearts and souls and minds of men and women.

The reformer is careless of numbers, disregards popularity, and deals only with ideas, conscience, and common sense... He neither expects nor is overanxious for immediate success. The politician dwells in an everlasting now... His office is not to instruct public opinion but to represent it.
- Wendell Phillips
The institution of slavery was peculiar to the South. It was an issue that, as a force of evil, was only understood to a small minority of the white population. Yet all were responsible for its continuation even as it was cloaked through being race-based and therefore imperceptible to the White mind as - as a deliberate matter of dividing and conquering - it was out of the sight and experience of the Whites of the North, and out of the personal physical and psychic reality of the majority of White Southerner. The South and the North needed the issue of slavery to be pushed in the open and come to a volatile head - otherwise it would have stayed hidden. Not that slavery itself wasn't a constant threat to the very Southern "way of life" that Southern elites were trying to maintain at all, unbelievable costs. But slavery may never have ended if its death knolls weren't forced through abolitionism (which, again, isn't the same as saying that abolitionists "caused" the secession. But, regardless, they had a hand in forcing the Southern elites to take a form of action, and they opened the way for Lincoln to sign both the Emancipation Proclamation and then the 13th Amendment)

That possibility would not have been the case were it not for the rebellious acts of the slaves themselves opening up the remote possibility of a way out - opening up the imagination of White Americans in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries to the radical reality that Black slaves were not property but people. I contend that slavery would have been much more profitable and therefore more desirable to the entire US if the slaves hadn't acted out in various ways against the bitter institution of slavery

All true Reformers are incendiaries. But it is the hearts, brains and souls of their fellow-men which they set on fire, and in so doing they perform the function appropriated to them in the wise order of Providence.
- James Russel Lowell
It wasn't Abraham Lincoln that freed the slaves. It was the actions of the slaves which energized the abolitionists who powered the imagination and moral compass of the United States which brought the conflict to a crucible. This crucible was important, for it meant that the slave-holding elite of the South believed that reparations with an abolitionist-leaning North were now impossible, ergo, they had to go on and make their own country and go so far as to start a war with their free neighbors to the North (Southern Apology Myths withstanding).

In all ages, it has been first the radical, and only later the moderate, who has held out a hand to [those] knocked to the ground by the social order.
The moderate, whose sensitive ears are offended by the wild language of the radical, needs to consider the necessary division of labor in a world full of evil, a division in which agitators for reform play an indispensable role.
- Howard Zinn

To use biblical imagery, when the reformer is the voice of the prophet, we have Moses confronting Pharaoh  "Let my people go." Or we have a newly liberated people, who are slightly more liberated, but then codified back into serfdom through Solomon. In the meantime, we have  Moses, Joshua, Saul, and David - each of whom represents the law, each tightening the screws on their people. Each inching just a bit closer, in their kingly duties, to the role of Pharaoh over Hebrew slaves - though this time, the Hebrew ruler was enslaving his own as well as neighbors - despite the warnings against doing such in the Mosaic law.

Then there's the Samuels and the Nathans. The prophets who spoke to and against, who checked, who lacked fear in the face of the terrifying, who dared speak against the thieving, murderous ways of the kings against common sense.

We need more Samuels and fewer would-be Solomons. We don't need our Garrisons to turn into Lincolns. We need Occupiers to continue to Occupy the American imagination, not pragmatically bow to the whims of a fickle populace.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Holy Days of Grief

When tragedies strike, we are alternately and simultaneously awe-struck, grief-stricken, stupid.

Here I'm thinking of not just national, CNN-feeder tragedies like Hurricane Sandy or massacres in crowded elementary schools or theaters or malls, but also the everyday tragedies of poverty, of war, of death, of prison, of murder (all predominant among people of color who are disproportionately targeted for institutional poverty and its residual effects). But also, what of divorce, lost friendships, depression, mental disease, domestic violence and abuse, deteriorating physical conditions, ends of eras? How do we react when such sorrow is uncomfortably placed on our laps like sobbing children?

We can hardly be blamed for being stupid in the face of the incomprehensible. After all, we are taught to not cry over spilled milk - so what happens when we find our friend literally crying over milk that's gone to waste when she is already unsure of how she'll feed herself and her kids through the end of the month?

My own religious tradition is recklessly infamous for such insipidity. I'm convinced that has to do with Western Christianity's creeping (and now substantial) gnosticism - this fascination with this idea that we must know the answer to everything under the sea. And if we don't - well it doesn't matter because Jesus does and when we die we can ask him. This trend is made much worse when we consider such high profile would-be Jesus mouth-speakers as Bryan Fischer, John Piper, or Pat Robertson - who, for instance, blame lack of prayer in schools, God teaching us a theological lesson, and the gay agenda for such tragedies.

These responses aren't just untimely or wrong or inappropriate or even just plain inhumane and gross. They are assholy: An attempt to act sacred, profound, spiritual, and godly while being a tremendous asshole.

But this isn't about them*. I spend too much time and mental energy worrying about others - and during moments of grief, they should not be allowed the space or the privilege of our collective heads. This is about what a holy response perhaps could look like.

What would be an appropriate Christian response?

And I think of the holy days and how they can each speak to us in our sorrow. Specifically, the three biggest days on the Christmas calendar (at least those recognized by the majority of the Western Church - those of liturgical and non-liturgical backgrounds) and the two most recognized seasons:

  • The deep anguish and violence of Good Friday
  • The realized hope of Easter
  • The mournful repentance of Lent
  • The longing and expectation of Advent (our current season)
  • The incarnation of Christmas

Often, I find that I respond in one way or another to bad news. I think many of us do. Some of the worst advice is found in, for example, acting as if Easter were right around the corner - particularly among ministers. For myself, leaning heavily towards a social justice view of Christianity, I tend to focus on calls to societal repentance. But today I'm meditating on the idea of conscientiously practicing all five. I'm considering particularly what it means to place a central crux on the incarnation. The incarnation in Christian tradition is the idea of God coming to weak, fragile humanity as a weak, fragile human. It is the ultimate of humbling; the idea that God the Creator just does not understand human suffering and life and so must enter into the atmosphere, into our sphere, into our fragility and brokenness, must be broken and spilled.

Good Friday is the ultimate of violence - taking the good and murdering it out of spite, out of greed, out of a need to control and dominate. But that is not all - it is also a consideration and a mourning as John and the women witnessed this death. And it's a running away from the realities of such violence as Peter and the disciples did - a selfish but understandable fear. It is murder, it is death, it is theft, it is rape - it is the barrel of evil.

The promise of rebirth and renewal associated with Easter is often the first and predominant response of the American Christian to such violence. It's therapeutic for the teller to tell the grieving that everything is going to be all right. That Tim lives forever in a better place now. And whether or not we can say that with any sense of truth into the life of the hearer, it's a horrible first step; it delegitimizes the sorrow, the hurt, the grieving process of the ones who have lost. What if there really is no money at the end of the month? How about we never see Tim or Nana again on this side of earth? Do we need to wait sixty years to see them again? Isn't it appropriate to say goodbye here and now? Is there closure? Is there finality? Is there really hope - because if there is, then there is dignity and room to grieve the good emotions God gave us, no?

Hope is necessary, of course, but it cannot be unmoored from the desperate realities of humanity and suffering. Hope gets us through, but false hope is a dream deferred. It stinks and leaves us more desperate than when we began. I speak from years of ministerial experience.

Sometimes, after such a tragedy, my first instinct is to cry foul. To call for a soul-search as we do during Lent. To say that we need to look deep within and repent of our selfishness, our greed, our racism, our institutional monstrosity. That is a primary way of how I grieve. And often I - and other like-minded friends - are silenced. Told to wait for a more appropriate moment. That our anger at the system that has caused such tragedies as the needless deaths in Sandy Hook or Haiti is out of place. I remain that it is not only beneficial but necessary as a people, as a nation, to have such prophets of Lenten lamentations. But again, such calls should never stand alone. I want what I say, however, to always arise out of hope and anguish and shared experiences. The prophetic lamentations should never be divorced from the other holy respects.

Which includes the expectation associated with Advent - the expectation as I see it is a star set in the west. This star is a witness, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr, "Look. The arch of history is long but it bends toward justice." It stands at a precipice - this land between the reality that is and the place that we may have and balances the two, ever moving toward the land of milk and honey while steadfastly aware of the time and location in the desert of discontent. It is an energizing vision for justice among violations and a vista for beauty among the unsightly. It is our long-expectant hope that continues to hold out when we are weary from doing good.

The incarnation seen in Christmas continues - and that is key. Not that the Christian God looks down upon humanity and approves or disapproves of our behavior or allows or does not allow horrible, monstrous, devastating events to occur. But that that God walks with us, suffers and loses with us, struggles and starves with us.

That, to me, is key. God with us.

*I believe very much that the Christian God speaks primarily with and through and alongside the Body of believers - the Ecclesia, the Church. And so what we say and do during these moments of crises is reflective of and on Jesus - for better and worse. When we neglect to enter into these moments of grief and loss as Jesus and his thoughtful followers have demonstrated, we neglect to answer as Jesus. If the American Church (and specifically here I'm thinking of the Evangelical wing of it) desires to be called followers of Jesus, it needs to discard these "leaders" forthwith.

Monday, December 10, 2012

White Rapists, Native Women, and Diplomatic Immunity

I'm encouraged - and I want to talk more in depth about this - that rape culture in the US among males and females is in sharp decline the last few decades. It's truly magnificent. It's like racial oppression's decline in government and society since the 60's. Which, as I'm sure long-time readers of the Left Cheek will know, doesn't mean that we can claim victory. Anybody who's been paying attention to politics and national events will know that the US still remains a very racist and misogynist county. Not just among the Republicans, either.

But, damn, they sure know how to illustrate and blow up trends. Take these two coming in at a perfect storm under nationalist Eric Cantor:

[The Violence Against Woman Act], which has been reauthorized consistently for 18 years with little fanfare, was, for the first time, left to expire in Sept. 2011. The sticking point has been new protections for three particularly vulnerable groups: undocumented immigrants, members of the LGBT community and Native Americans. The additions are supported by Democrats and opposed by House Republicans, who are calling them politically driven.

(All boldings, italicizing and underlinings are mine. I'd add arrows if I could.)

Only in retrograde ConservativeLand can you decry protections for vulnerable groups as being "politically driven."

Finally, after stalling on these amendments and letting the bill expire in September of this year, House Majority Leader Cantor is meeting with Joe Biden to push through a bill (House Republicans pushed through a version of the bill without the amendments earlier). And yet, Cantor is stalling on one of the issues.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy... explained the provision, probably the least understood of the three additions in the Senate bill: It gives tribal courts limited jurisdiction to oversee domestic violence offenses committed against Native American women by non-Native American men on tribal lands. Currently, federal and state law enforcement have jurisdiction over domestic violence on tribal lands, but in many cases, they are hours away and lack the resources to respond to those cases. Tribal courts, meanwhile, are on site and familiar with tribal laws, but lack the jurisdiction to address domestic violence on tribal lands when it is carried out by a non-Native American individual.

Sounds reasonable, right? I mean, if a crime is committed by a tourist in another land and to a native of that land, you expect the place where the crime is committed to have jurisdiction, right? Especially since the place is, y'know, local and therefore, can access the scene of the crime and the victim and any available witnesses and parties at a reasonable time and with adequate knowledge of the local lay of the land. It's very reasonable, considering that other jurisdictions are usually busy enough trying to take care of their own areas. I mean, you would assume it was reasonable.

Well, unless the perp happens to be male and American and the alleged victim happens to be female and indigenous (We've already talked about how indigenous people are immensely mistreated by colonial and dominant [read: White] cultures). I mean, how dare anyone suggest that another country would or could possibly try a good ol' boy USA si-ti-zin.

That means non-Native American men who abuse Native American women on tribal lands are essentially "immune from the law, and they know it," Leahy said.

They can get away with rape - because they have...

Diplomatic Immunity!
image courtesy of
As a result of this immunity, 86% (yes. Eighty-six PERCENT) of rapes of tribal women on tribal lands are done by non-tribal men, according to a report by Amnesty International.

Now, this report is important to read. Because in it, you don't just get a story of an angry white male leftist angry with the angry white male Republicans and so forth. This isn't just a story of injustice in Washington, DC or the injustice of voting for the wrong guy. No, that's an obvious component of injustice. But the real injustice is how Native women are treated for the fact that they are Natives and they are women - and then that they are sexual abuse survivors.

Because we can talk all day about who is obstructing whose what in the less-than-sacred halls of Wallhalla, District of Columbia. But what of a support worker near Fairbanks who had been shamed into anonymity by the sheer factor that she is Indigenous, female, and had been sexually assaulted?

In July 2006 an Alaska Native woman in Fairbanks reported to the police that she had been raped by a non-Native man. She gave a description of the alleged perpetrator and city police officers told her that they were going to look for him. She waited for the police to return and when they failed to do so, she went to the emergency room for treatment. A support worker told Amnesty International that the woman had bruises all over her body and was so traumatized that she was talking very quickly. She said that, although the woman was not drunk, the Sexual Assault Response Team nevertheless “treated her like a drunk Native woman first and a rape victim second”. The support worker described how the woman was given some painkillers and some money to go to a non-Native shelter, which turned her away because they also assumed that she was drunk: “This is why Native women don’t report. It’s creating a breeding ground for sexual predators.

This view of Disposable Lives is prevalent in most cultures. But why, Oh why, in such a "Christian"-predominant one as the US. As Alaska? Why treat others as less-thans when we are all human and, according to Christian theology, all made in the image of God and all bearing the love of the Christ? Why are these lives treated as if they are invisible? Why are there stories trivialized that - even in the protection of - they are treated as political fodder?

Over the past decade, federal government studies have consistently shown that American Indian and Alaska Native women experience much higher levels of sexual violence than other women in the USA. Data gathered by the US Department of Justice indicates that Native American and Alaska Native women are more than 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than women in the USA in general.
A US Department of Justice study on violence against women concluded that 34.1 per cent of American Indian and Alaska Native women – or more than one in three – will be raped during their lifetime; the comparable figure for the USA as a whole is less than one in five.
Shocking though these statistics are, it is widely believed that they do not accurately portray the extent of sexual violence against Native American and Alaska Native women.
“Most women who are beaten or raped don’t report to the police. They just shower and go to the clinic [for treatment].”
Native American survivor of sexual violence (identity withheld), February 2006
Amnesty International’s interviews with survivors, activists and support workers across the USA suggest that available statistics greatly underestimate the severity of the problem. In the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, for example, many of the women who agreed to be interviewed could not think of any Native women within their community who had not been subjected to sexual violence.
These stories are ignored, these women abused disproportionately, these survivors out of reach of justice and appropriate medical attention. This continues to happen not just because Eric Cantor is a big meanie. But because in the big scheme of things, what does it matter if Native women and their communities are adequately prepared and taken care of?

The tremendous - as in Visible-From-Space - racism and sexism  in the GOP isn't helping. After all, just because you don't care about certain groups or they're invisible from your point of sight doesn't mean they don't need protections. But not only that, there is the hubris that only those who come up through and are within a White Man's system of "justice" are capable of administering justice to White Men.

The two sources say, to Cantor's credit, his staff has said they're willing to try to come up with other solutions to responding to violence against women on tribal lands, as long as the solution doesn't give tribes jurisdiction over the matter.

That, as you may have noticed, is NOT to Cantor's credit.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Few of the Sins of the Fathers Are Visited Upon the Sons

Inevitably, whenever you get a mixed group talking about ethnicity and racial justice, and history, the topic of reparations of one form or another is brought up. The topic could be slavery in the New World, cultural and population genocide of the indigenous in the US, cultural and property genocide in Australia - but the topic in one form or another hits this supposed sleeping giant.

And the defense, the very natural defense for us white folks - and I sure as heck have thought this and used this line since I was twelve till about the time I started shifting maybe eight or so years ago:

But I didn't do it. Maybe, maybe some of my parents were involved. But, see some of my parents were Puerto Ricans (or fill in your blank, non-white descriptor), and most of them were poor or weren't even IN this country at the time or they were Northerners and Abolitionists fighting to free the slaves, but even if they were slave owners or slave drivers, that wasn't me...

Those who use this defense are not necessarily bad or racist or even ignorant. Rather than going after the individual making such statements, it is beneficial to remember that we all suffer from bias and from a system that demands and takes and orders and cushions and protects itself against all others. This line of thinking, it is important to remember, is another tool in the pervasiveness of Dominant Culture Survival - another line where the dominant culture (particularly Western/Euro-American) tries to protect itself from considering our own culpability - and we, growing up white in America, almost naturally adopt that defense as if it were our own.

But that wall of protection (just like the "I'm Not a Racist!" defensive wall) becomes a barrier to justice. And that barrier to justice is a barrier to humanity and wholeness.

Let us start with the recognition that history has a current role in racial injustice. Globally, and particularly in the Americas and Australia, the indigenous have been deliberately robbed of their wealth, land, and (for most) cultural signifiers such as language and history. The African diaspora that is currently in the Americas (including not just the US, but Haiti and Brazil among others), have also been robbed of their ancestral cultures as a collective cloth (though much of it survives in bits and pieces and still more is being found and rediscovered by the descendents), their language, their work, their families, their blood, the value of their work. The wealthy elites, bosses, and agents of White America saw generations and perhaps centuries of tremendous profit to be made for themselves and their progeny - and that profit could most easily be made if those working for them did so as perpetual, soulless children, bereft of will and completely dependent on the whims and moods of their "masters." They tried their damnedest to steal the dignity and humanity of the indigenous and tribal.

Fortunately, that experiment failed. Economically, the northerners figured that a "free" labor source (though still ridiculously low priced) without fear of so much upheaval would be cheaper than maintaining and propping up a system of continuous fear and paranoia (it's a delicate economic line that the very wealthy are still trying to distinguish between in struggling between FreedomWorks, CitizensUnited and various Koch-backed agencies on the one hand and the Buffetts, Gateses, and other millionaires who aren't as willing to see hungry masses crash the gates just yet on the other).

farm work
Unfortunately, that experiment lives on in too many aspects to count in such a blog post. But maybe a primer will suffice for now:

These devastating realities did not just happen. They certainly did not happen because Black and Latino Americans (or fill in your marginalized people group) are lazy or inferior (though there are supposed "scholars" who make it their work to argue just that, and entire populations who eat that sh*t up for breakfast). In fact, to speak broadly, people of color in these here United States have had to work much harder than White Americans just to get by - just to literally survive. Much the same can be said of the indigenous and the African diaspora globally.

The awful truth is that Euro-colonialism has stolen from non-Euros and continues the trend of stealing from them, from their wages, from the fruit of their work, by refusing care. What remains is not much - and for many, it's much less than adequate. Do we who have more access to wealth and privilege due to those robberies owe them any debt? I believe we do - at the very least to erase the debt, to start the clocks over again, to release the prisoners, to declare the year of jubilee.

We who have descended from Europeans like to say (and as a White - though also bi-racial - American, I have also myself since at least the age of fourteen until the last five or so - almost twenty years) that WE should not be held responsible for the sins of our ancestors. Yes, sure.

But neither should the indigenous nor other people of color be held responsible for the sins of our fathers.

Especially while we still benefit from those sins...

* Because I'm speaking of a global phenomenon, I do not want to show trends rather than figures. The links provided, however, give just a glimpse as they are focused on the United States and particularly the relationship between Black and White Americans in dealing with justice. It doesn't give a comprehensive picture, of course - and if you would like to offer some extra links, maybe we can have a link dump in the next blog to demonstrate the global inequity. The figures that are presented in these links, however, are staggering and mind-blowing, but I also want to point out larger trends - not just in the US, but in Canada, throughout the various Latin American countries and regions, in Europe and white-run sections of the rest of the world (South Africa and Australia come to mind), as well as throughout Africa and Asia.

Sunday, November 04, 2012


Jesus, we Christians must remember, was not content to be a removed deity, off in the sky judging humanity and moving efforts from the heavens. The story of Gospels is the story of an incarnational God - a God who not only walked among men and women, but was one of them. A lord who did not lord, a religious leader who welcomed all into the work of ministry. The story of the Gospels is, therefore, a testimony against centering and lording forces such as imperialism, statism, and capitalism, an alternative to presidents and corporations.

In that sense, however, the greatest remaining legacy to the witness of the incarnation in the US may not reside in the four walls of the institutional church. It does not belong to the power-hungry Religious Right in its various incarnations (let alone the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association). It does not belong to the Republicans, nor to the Democrats (shockers, I know!). But it also doesn't honestly belong to me or my friends in the Christian Left or much of progressive Christianity (at least as far as bloggers) - though I like to think we're preparing groundwork and pointing the way.

No, those on the ground, those in the trenches, those doing the dirty work - those are the ones demonstrating the incarnation by being and doing interconnectedly. Such actors are in every community of course, but as far as any large body where I see the work of community and salvation being worked out without authoritarianism, without massive centralization, that distinction goes to the Occupy Movement. Still. While the rest of us have just about forgot about them save a few slogans, they've been involved and part of communities in need; they've been incarnational this whole time.

So how did an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, best known as a leaderless movement that brought international attention to issues of economic injustice through the occupation of Zucotti Park in the financial district last year, become a leader in local hurricane relief efforts?  Ethan Murphy, who was helping organize the food at St. Jacobis and had been cooking for the occupy movement over the past year, explained there wasn’t any kind of official decision or declaration that occupiers would now try to help with the hurricane aftermath.  “This is what we do already, “ he explained: Build community, help neighbors, and create a world without the help of finance.  Horst said, “We know capitalism is broken, so we have already been focused on organizing to take care of our own [community] needs.” He sees Occupy Sandy as political ideas executed on a practical level. (Emphasis mine)
How to make a difference that will last? Be incarnational.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

And the Violent Bear It Away

There is no place for violence. But violence has no mind, so it doesn't mind. It makes its own spot and throws everything else to the ground. It is the ultimate parasite, feeding and growing and bloodying itself while sucking the world dry. The Great Impaler. The Alpha and Omega of vampires.

Violence is unremittingly evil. It is a scourge, and it doesn't matter who commits it nor whom receives it nor whether or not the recipients "deserved" it or not in this regard: It is always an evil.**

Always. Every time.

Violence shows itself unremittingly and unforgivably in every battle field, through each bomb, in each bullet, via each threat or word or war.

But war is not the only form of violence.

Rape is violence.*
Poverty is violence.
Subduing is violence.
Child abuse is violence.
Apartheid is violence.
Prison is violence.
Rape culture is violence.
Emotional abuse is violence.
Police brutality is violence.
Racism is violence.
Sexism is violence.
Verbal abuse is violence.
Patriarchialism is violence.
Segregation is violence.
Apartheid is violence.
Pollution is violence.
Hitting is violence.**

Can we agree that, whether or not violence should ever happen, that when it does happen, it is wrong and evil? Can we come to terms that violence should be avoided as much as possible? Can we at least agree that we need to reduce violence, that our children should not have to be subject to repeat violence and that the effects of violence upon us and particularly our children is damaging to individuals as well as in social functions?

Can we see to it that violence is mitigated? Can there be a social force rising from deliberate and vigilant groups and communities of people to meet and turn these forms of violence on their heads? Who will rise? What will our answer for violence be? Who has the answer? And what does that answer look like?

Seriously. I wanna know.
*This includes any form of non-consensual, coercive sex between an adult and another adult. Child molestation, bestiality, date rape, and - to a certain extent - forcing your spouse/significant other to have sex with you or risk incurring God's wrath. I'm looking at you, Mark Driscoll and any fellow Complementarian Christians who teach this.

**I want to make a very important distinction here. The effect of violence needs to be accounted for in terms of power, and that is what I wanted to get to here. The power that a colonial/imperialist nation commits over tribes or adults over children or men over women or police over civilians, etc. Defending oneself from a clear and present danger - unless done in a lethal manner - should not be construed a form of violence in itself and - when it causes less overall violence than what would or could be done without defending self (or neighbor), then it is a good. But this gets more complex and may need some more clarification and nuance throughout. More than I can give here. The rape victim should never feel responsible - for instance - for not being able to prevent her or his own rape - yet that is often what the victim hears when such arguments are aired. So... I would like to continue this conversation in the comments section. Please, let's continue this conversation.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Trouble with Powerful Men and Political Hacks

A couple weeks ago I read an interview where a hospice worker made an observation that how we live our lives demonstrates how we end our lives. Some go out fighting every step of the way; some go out peacefully; some with reservations. But you can generally tell how they're going to go out the way they've acted the last forty, sixty, eighty, hundred years.

I'm becoming convinced that Billy Graham's greatest downfall is his semi-worship of powerful men. Often, those powerful figures were presidents, from Nixon to Clinton and most inbetween (save Carter. Odd, that). These men often benefited from the relationships with one of America's most beloved and trusted public and religious figures. But now the most powerful man in his vicinity is his son, Franklin.

But Franklin doesn't have the advantage of being an actual politician who can inspire roughly half the population of the United States. He did not rise through the fire of political discourse and meddling and the tribulation of trying to please most despite the impossible odds. He is a political hack who only needs to please a certain (and generally white, privileged, male-dominated) Evangelical base. But he is shrewd enough to recognize that his father's legacy is stronger and wider than his will ever be. As long as he can ride those coattails, he will. As long as he can convince his locked-away father - who is losing breath and consciousness - that he is taking care of him and convince his followers that the words that are supposed to be representative of Billy Graham are actually Billy Graham's - such as the recent two-page ad in the WSJ.- then, glory be! Franklin Graham the scam artist/political hack can get away with destroying a legacy and helping to steal an election at the same time.

I'm convinced that's what's going on here. The problem is that Billy Graham has had this moral character failure (trusting powerful men) threading through his life, and that his son - a moral failure himself - is exploiting that.

Not only is Franklin Graham purposefully and sloppily burning through the last vestiges of respect that his father earned through a scandal-free public life in order to establish his own credentials within the Fundamentalist/Evangelical Moral-less Majority (because, really, what else does he have?), but Billy is letting him do so because he fundamentally trusts powerful men. I recognize that draw, sadly, because I'm wired to think that way too. Yet, I've been on the other side of privilege and seen what those same men have done to my non-white/non-male cis/non-middle class friends and family and neighbors and students long enough to recognize that Navin Johnson's father was right.

Especially if that whitey is a middle aged no-good-nic son taking advantage of his late-stage Parkinson's nonagenarian father.

I hasten to add that I do not believe that the elder Graham is cognizant enough to know what he is ascribing his name to. Nor that he believes nor certainly says that which is being applied to him. I'm confident that Franklin comes to him, asks him to sign or if he will agree with some document or photo and Billy, not being fully aware but trusting his son, nods in approval, or some such way shows approval. Not of the content, but of whatever it is that he thinks that Franklin is asking of him. He trusts him that much. To his detriment.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Freedom of Religion Argument that the Democrats Are Missing

The Republicans were right to frame abortion as a Freedom-of-Religion issue.

However, being pro-big business, they prefer the Freedom of Religion for Corporate Bodies (such as Catholic hospitals) over the Freedom of Religion for the Workers in those businesses - they who may not share the same religious convictions.

5 months and counting...
Ilknes - Five Months and Counting...

The entire "life begins at conception" concept is religiously-based. The US Council of Catholic Bishops, in arguing against being involved in the Affordable Care Act, merely demonstrate that they are upset  that their employees will have access to measures that these males religiously object to: birth control and abortifacients. And maybe even abortions.

But that's a religious concern not necessarily shared by their employees. The bishops are basically arguing that they should have the right to impose their religious views upon their workers, who - even if they are Catholic - do not need to have the same religious views (if any) as their employers.

Is that okay in any other field? Who would argue that Muslims have a right to make their employees pray to Mecca during the workday (unpaid time at that)? Or that a capital acquisition firm under Mormon leadership has a right to baptize deceased employees or dead family members of employees? Or that all school children should be made to participate in Christian prayers, or pledge allegiance to a civil religious god?

You wanna get a Republican angry with you? Tell him that in supporting the Diocese, the GOP is supporting group-think over the rights of the individual. They'll be angry - because they're hypocritical.

But then, that's a fair thing to say about nearly every person that's politically motivated. Politics is about power. And power corrupts. Most of us want more than we have - or we want to maintain what power we do have.

Perhaps the only person that is not in danger of being labeled a hypocrite is she or he that purposefully gives away or denies his or her own privileges? Or, rather, that has few to begin with and is only fighting for her or his right for basic liberties (such as access to basic health care). For instance, the so-called "Party of the People" rarely supports workers' rights - rarely defends the poor anyway. Let it be known that some of its major actors oppose teachers in the name of privatizing education. Actually, they're quite fond of privatizing for profit just about any public good  that can be unchained. Parks, schools, right-of-way, postal service...

Is that why they haven't brought up this objection?

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The un-Kingdom of Jesus

Mark van Steenwyk on the un-Kingdom of Jesus from The Holy Anarchist:
Christ's kingship is inconsistent with traditional structures of power; and for this reason, Jesus tells Pilate that "My kingdom is not from this world" (Jn 18:36). Passages like these have, unfortunately, fostered an ineffectual other-worldliness among Christians. And they have been used to legitimate "real-world" kingdoms. Jesus rules some magical sky-kingdom, while princes and emperors can dominate flesh and land. 
But Jesus' reign isn't other-worldly. It isn't apolitical. It's just political in a radically different way... 
So, when Jesus said his kingdom wasn't of this world, he wasn't understood by Pilate or by the Jews or by his earliest followers as talking about the afterlife or some abstracted spiritual truth. Based upon the lethal response to Jesus (and the early reactions to Jesus' movement), the "Kingdom of God" was understood as a challenge to Caesar and his reign. Their two kingdoms clashed... 
The social, economic, political, and religious subversions of such an un-reign are almost endless - peace-making instead of war mongering, liberation not exploitation, sacrifice rather than subjugation, mercy not vengeance, care for the vulnerable instead of privileges, generosity instead of greed, embrace rather than exclusion.
So, what DOES this unKingdom look like if it's not domination, not of war or exploitation, subjugation or vengeance, neither privilege, greed nor exclusion?

Maybe it looks like a place where values are changed and transforming. Where we love others as we love ourselves because we love God.* Where the prisoners and the poor and the outcasts and the marginalized are prioritized - where the peacekeepers and the meek are elevated, where the hungry and thirsty are fed, where the prisoners are set free, where strangling financial debts are forgiven, and love is the law of the land.

Maybe it looks like Jesus' sermons and illustrations. And maybe the opposite of that is worldly.

King of Montenegro and Lt. Gen. Sir E.H.H. Allenby

*Rather than the current manifestation of American Churchianity where we often say we love God and use "love" as a semantic weapon against others, telling them that, while we "love" them, they must conform to our dominating standards of what it means to be right or human or good. Which is not love at all, only greed and selfishness.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Thinking of the Children, Will Not Anyone?

Recently, a cavalcade of aldermen and pastors have come out saying, while they support the aims of the teachers that went on strike in Chicago, or that while they are not siding with the Rahm Emanuel administration, they are with and for the kids (you know, like Helen Lovejoy) and, ergo, against the strike. They argue that striking now is just not the right move. That if the teachers were just a bit more patient and went through the proper channels, they would see the changes they need in due time. That now is not the time for protests, rallies, marches, unrest...

These arguments sound oddly familiar to me.

I find it ridiculous and somewhat telling that many of the same civic and religious leaders in Chicago that ostensibly support the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960's (or at least say they do), who hold them up as models of participating in civic democracy and empowerment, currently begrudge workers of what little non-violent tools they have for their own empowerment.

As parents, educators, and citizens, we must realize that educational power has been wrestled from the classrooms by millionaires, allowing those millionaires - untrained in and oblivious to the ways of education - to set the agenda, aims, and measurements of the classrooms, teachers and students. Despite the claims of "educational reform", however, the objectives have been the same since the halcyon days of the anti-Dewey "educational reformers" of the industrial age: Continuing to line the pockets of millionaires and keeping the lineage within their families.

And the rest of us are supposed to believe that we stand a chance to also be millionaires.

Are we supposed to expect to get that educational and economic power back to the educators through, what, a political system that is stacked up against them? Through, what, the good-hearted nature of Chicago's bosses? Because employers always desire the best for their employees? Because the rich are fair and good people by nature (is it because the influx of money has given them moral character or did they deserve their wealth because they are such good, moral folks)?


Liberals and progressives have decried teachers and social staff for desiring change. My daughter's entire elementary school has one nurse, who comes in once a week. In a school system filled to the brim with children with allergies, asthma, chronic health problems, trauma, diet-based obesity and related health problems - and they share nurses! What is that, one medically-trained nurse per thousand students? Counselors and therapists help, but the counselors are mostly academic/collegiate (though they, like the teachers themselves, stretch way beyond their designated, official roles and become de facto therapists and care-givers for the students). Teachers have the odds stacked up against them because the students have the odds stacked up against them. In this scenario, students lose - no matter how Superman you think the teachers can ever be, they can never be the extra necessary mother/father figures and grief counselors and therapists to thirty students at a time. Let alone do that plus their academic and basic social jobs they're expected to do. They sure aren't paid for that.

I know many Chicago Public School teachers - none of them are fat cats.

Not a singular one.

So why do progressives and civil servants begrudge hard-working professionals from getting a decent living wage? Do teachers really make too much? I thought, being good capitalists, progressives believed in a strong middle class? And this being a period when the middle class is dwindling and the economy and tax base is struggling as a result - I'd much rather that we have ten well-paid, professional teachers than one more executive pocketing another $760,000 (base salary for average teachers plus benefits allotted in monetary value times ten) and bemoaning the lazy poor. Because at least I know the teachers will spend their money and pay their taxes - rather than hiding it like a moocher.

But, secondly, teachers know that things have changed for the worse since the Testing Industrial Complex got a great foothold through the exasperatingly misguided (if not plain evil) No Child Left Behind and, in Chicago, the Renaissance 2010 Project - which is tied to our former school head (and Never Educator) Arne Duncan's Race to the Top initiative.

They are being forced to teach to the tests, while the tests are geared for a limited scope of the educational imagination. As a result of the high-stakes of these exams, nearly two months of each school year are spent teaching poor and underserved* students how to take tests better and more efficiently. They do not need to worry about such things in wealthier districts. Partly because the students do not have so much trauma and hunger to concern themselves with as high-poverty students do. They can concentrate much more easily on their academic studies.

But not being able to concentrate on studies, not being as focused, being diagnosed with learning disabilities are real, live, frustratingly detrimental problems among students in poverty and particularly students of color.

There were a million reasons to strike. There are a million reasons to shut down our work and demand what belongs to us and our children. Do not tell us that the time is not right for direct action or democracy, cowards.
*The word "underserved" has a strange connotation. As if somehow, through no fault of anyone, passively some children just happen to land into this strange netherworld where they can receive adequate benefits, but they won't

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Who Teaches Math to the Red Eye?

According to a lead story in Tuesday's print Chicago Red Eye (the baby sister of the Old Man Anti-Union McCormick's anti-union Tribune), the Chicago Board of Education offered Chicago Teacher's Union members pay raises in increments of 3% the first year and 2% for the following three years. According the the Red Eye, this amounts to a total of 16% for all teachers.

Now, I was taught by those same CTU teachers, and I'm more of a humanities person myself, but I don't think that math adds up...

Chicago Teachers Union Rally 50

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I Don't Need Truthers

I don't need Truthers to tell me our rememberences of 9/11/01 are irresponsible. Are deadly. Are poisonous. Are selfish. Are ego-centric. Are violent. Are unnecessary.

I don't need conspiracy theorists to tell me that we have raced into bludgeoning violence. Rushed into a schoolyard fight with spiked bats and automatic weapons and tanks.

That we have killed seventy-times-seventy of "theirs" than they have killed of "ours."

Nor that there is no "they" or "us." Unless we are speaking of those on top of the  capital, economic, cultural, industrial, and political orders against those of us here. On the ground. Running around and playing their games just in order that we may eek out an existence. Risking our lives in the efforts to take the lives of others. Because the American God is a God of Vengeance and Retribution.

And oil. And contracts.

And racist nationalism.

And this God demands sacrifices. It demands money. Trillions. It demands lives. Millions.

The American God of Vengeance and Retribution demands toddlers and mothers and fathers and sisters and cousins and wives and husbands and infants and teenagers and the recently deployed and college students and taxi drivers and bakers and nurses and teachers and "the help" and... the list goes on.

These are not the people we remember. We remember An Attack By Them.

Bomb The People
The Attack By Them is justification - an eternal loop of crashing, inflated justification - to blow holes through children and send kids to do things that kids should never have to witness. The adults, the American adults continue to say that we Will Never Forget The Attack By Them. On Our Soil.

But we seem to have little problem forgetting our capital, economic, cultural, industrial, political violence upon on Them predating the Attack By Them.

And a thousand times over since then.

I don't need a Truther to tell me that this is a horrible, violent, monstrous sham. A con game, where we all, Christians and Muslims, Euro-Americans, Mid-Asians, and Middle-Easterners, poor and working class, veterans and their victims, lose. The house of cards is stacked against us. And when it falls, we lose it all.

If you remember, remember us all.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Capitalism and Charity

Socialism is about the worker being paid justly for his or her work. That’s the gist of socialism.

Why do American Christians have such a hard time with this notion? We tend to revel in capitalism as if it were not intrinsically sinful - paying into and glorifying a system that is energized by, fueled by, and kept in motion by greed and avarice.

How capitalism works is essentially taking “surplus” (the gains gotten from reducing wages given to workers) and storing it towards upper management (that being a generous term) and investors. This process creates a need to go back and give charity towards those who are not paid properly in the first place.

And that charity comes with strings and conditions. And the charity is extremely limited, rather arbitrary, and only supplies little of the need created by the lack of power and access to resources created by the injustice of the capitalist system in the first place.

MN: Coleman "No Bandage Solutions!" to Health Care Crisis
1000s of signatures from MN residents urging Coleman to stop offering bandage solutions to the health care crisis 

We don’t need more charity. Charity is a band aid for a crisis of the bludgeoning. We need to stop the bleeding at the source. We need to end the cycles of violence. 

We need justice.

Reposted from CommiePinkosWroteMyBible

Saturday, September 01, 2012

More About That Big Ol' Table with All the Homeless and the Homosexuals

Continuation of this post.

The third critique I want to get into here goes beyond Chick-fil-A or gay people or churches or conservatives or liberals or where we find ourselves in these divides: It is the fundamental fact that our own reliance on consumerism as a way of life, as a culture, and as an economic system is fundamentally destructive - literally, figuratively, physically, socially, spiritually destructive. It is consumerism, rather than creativity combined with sustenance, that is not just killing us in terms of health problems (obesity, diabetes, heart disease, strokes), not just in terms of the ecology (which indirectly but even presently affects all of our health in tremendous ways - from ice caps to greenhouse to toxins in the air, land and water), but in terms of actual starvation - specifically of third world children, women and men.

While we argue over whether or not we should support or boycott one fast food franchise, our habits of eating meats and processed foods are actively stealing necessary resources from the majority of the world, just to feed us more (and yet less) than what we need to remain healthy. If American Christians really cared about the starving of the world, we'd eat out a lot less, we'd drastically consume less meat, we would support community farms and gardening so as not to steal grains from overseas. Because when we have such an over-reliance on a small stock of grains (and specifically genetically modified ones), we erode topsoil and limit precious farming land - allocating what property and work third world farmers have towards the propulsion of our already full tummies.

But if we cared for the poor of the world and the US, we wouldn't just stop there. We'd not only not shop at Wal-Mart (which I've made a pretty good habit of boycotting over the last decade ever since I saw what they did to the small stores in my parents' town in Oklahoma. All the stores. Every last one), we'd cease shopping at any ridiculously low-priced store, any big-box, any retail location that doesn't pay living wages to its employees and doesn't pay its vendors enough to maintain a living wage for their employees. We'd shop locally, at little shops, at local machinists, at bakers' shops, getting ingredients from local millers and nearby organic farms, because that money tends to stay in the community - rather than going to some corporate office somewhere where it then goes into hiding. Our money should be circulated to afford more higher-paying jobs.

Space Junk

But then, the majority of poor and lower-middle class people who shop at Wal-Mart do so because it's exactly what they can afford with what little they have. I stock up on highly-processed foods from Aldi because it's 20-60% cheaper than buying from a major grocery chain, let alone a corner grocer, and a lot easier than making food from scratch - which is something that I'd like to do, but, like a lot of this country's poor, I run low on energy and/or time and/or resources when it comes to this. Generally speaking, the working poor cannot afford to shop at the farmer's markets, even when we're well aware how much better they are for us, even when they allow for TANF credits (though I just found out that TANF will match, dollar for dollar up to ten dollars, what is bought each visit to a city-sponsored farmer's market in Chicago - and these are in poor neighborhoods in Chicago such as Austin and West Humboldt Park), even when everybody tells us we should and why we should.

How do we allow for a place to address social-class, poverty, sexuality, racial, gender issues, though? Especially when some of those issues are self-perpetuating, or seemingly at odds with each other - when homosexuals feel that black men and women are working against their interests and black families feel slighted by non-black LGBTQ, or when African Americans are slighted by the service industry - whether they be police or waitstaff or banks - or when Black, Latino or indigenous students become distrustful of the very same educational systems that they are told are supposed to deliver them from poverty. These things do not happen without reason. They are not imagined problems.

I pledge a round table. No kings, no positions above or below. No servants, nobody is slighted nor unwelcome. A table of shared humanity and talents and skills where the learning and the restoring can begin.

We must discover this fact together. We must find out why they are not imagined. We must discover anew the fine art of friendship - extended beyond our borders and the limits we have manufactured to protect ourselves and our ways of life..

And when I say "we" here, I mean "we privileged." Whites, males, heteros, English-speaking, middle and upper class, educated, professional class, Christian, with able bodies and minds and all that stuff that many of us take for granted and in whatever area that we have privileges. Once we recognize our privileges - those bonuses in life that give us a distinct (though rarely recognized) advantage over others who do not share those identity traits - then maybe we are ready to sit at the table. But perhaps we should go over some ground rules before we shed our shoes, elbow up, and grub on down.

We'll touch on those ground rules in the next installment. Let's just say that those who've spoken will need to shut, and the currently shut down will open. Oh, and lots of work, and lots of sharing, and lots of good stuff. I promise. Soon.

But I'd like your ideas. What would be some good ground rules for a great gathering? For a place of learning and sharing? A place of equilibrium, of justice, of feeding.