perceiving character goes deeper than counting ways an underlying unpredictability emerges erupts and slips back good ol’ ambiguity loosens our grip on defined sins evermore more than we’ve ever been creation inhales breath is held in appreciation before release now I see who I may be and become now we see who ye may be and become now we see who we may be and become
I recommend an artistic reflection on Race presented by two singer/songwriters in the Folk tradition—Reggie Harris (Black) and Greg Greenway (White). They both grew up in Richmond, VA, and had different early experiences. Their paths finally crossed 30 years ago, and their on-going friendship has had included an on-going conversation about Race. They have turned their long-years of conversation into a story and music concert on Race. Deeper than the Skin is available on CD.
Their travel to a museum near New Orleans that witnesses to the disparity between a plantation’s enslaved owner and the imprisoned owned brought an experience in an old chapel built by freed slaves to finally have a place from which to gather and honor those who died. This one story is worth the price of the whole CD. I cannot adequately summarize it and simply commend it to you. May you someday see the artwork referred to through your imagination as you listen to the story or travel after the current quarantine.
It is easier to pass on another point of appreciation. I am acquainted with the old spiritual about letting “my little light shine.” They sang a line I hadn’t heard before:
not going to make it shine just going to let it shine
It is very tempting to “make” my light shine brighter than any other. Higher and brighter, lighting the way—that’s my light!
This refusal to “make” contrasts with my light standing beside other lights and partnering with them that there may be a generalized brighter light shining outward. This is an important transition between “my” light and any future “our” light. The “our” is not so much constructed into a particular season of shared light, as it is a found, shared experience holistically engaged.
On the Public Radio program, “A Way with Words,” it was suggested that when aliens come to visit, they may well describe humans as “The Classifiers.” This is different from our assessment of ourselves as “The Wise.”
Folks who listen to only one aspect of how they want to be known will soon enough be telling generation-long lies about their wisdom and greatness. It turns out that one needs to be a sap if they are going to glorify themselves as sapient. Wisdom without doubt and questions regarding what is known and not known is not wisdom. At best, it is a closed-loop feedback system that falls prey to the old rubric of GIGO (garbage in; garbage out). To change the image to genetics—no new bloodline leads to homozygosity, an expression of unhealthy recessive genes.
It is this tendency to classify that leads to rapacious colonialism molesting the Land and Indigenous Peoples. When uncomfortable in the presence of difference and easily tripped up by unacknowledged entitlement to the best, we begin to classify each and every Neighb*r. Wealth is one such classification. Race is another. We are so very good at classifying; we can even do it on the basis of “one drop of blood.”
When classifications begin to multiply, Wealth mates with Race, and soon their offspring carry a Supremacist look upon their face. Well split hairs of difference lead to a whole class of people who have lost their hair or had it harvested into ropes to hang their donors.
If we don’t wise up about how others see us, it won’t just be our sapience that we lose, but we’ll so finely classify everything until all is finer than dust. With ourselves as the apple of our own eye, the fruit of a tree of knowledge will bring wisdom full circle—from dust you have come; to dust, you shall return.
such a mighty wind
measured in gusts
beyond a sustained average
lightness of air
contesting with itself
focused all at once
a branch down here
multiple trees toppled there
stationary objects surprisingly mobile
this windowed tree
with St. Vitised leaves
writhes to its roots
still standing after
leaf stems boast
let’s ride again
Human agency is said to occur at the intersection of “acts performed” and “words pronounced.” This is a place most uneasy.
Our brave words are forever requiring a fleshy engagement with an external world where their innate power is vitiated in a swirl of interpretations, blank stares, and misinterpretations. A word set loose too easily loses its way as it is pulled and putsched from one Procrustean Bed to another. Connotations are piled upon it, far beyond its ability to center itself through repetition. Denotations are stripped away as every Humpty and Dumpty uses and misuses it according to their own light.
As soon as we ground a wispy word in time and space, we find our action to be inarticulate and invested with others’ fear or merely floating in another dimension, untethered from its primary impetus. Action qua action has no staying power. It is, and then it is gone. It may draw consequences to itself but has no lasting effect on larger systems.
From time to time, the words of one and the actions of another have a cumulative result. They can reinforce one another. Such can happen over generations with a word from then, re-enlivened now. It is less likely to happen the other way around. If an action was not public enough to be recorded, it does not echo down the years. A misreported event does carry the possibility of being corrected much later, though such a correction is more a new word for its day.
Human agency is exponentially increased when there are those who analyze situations and strategize how their words and actions cohere as an integrous unit of intend, implement, learn, and repeat.
Though our culture is going through another of its know-nothing phases, modeling the repeating trinity of intend, implement, and learn is one of the best gifts we can offer to those still living seven or more generations down the way. May any blessing from this trinitarian process circle wider than yourself.
a bit of dandelion fluff entrusted to a spirit’s breath floats unpredictably hesitating for an extended moment before accelerating vertically who knew there was an updraft just there shifting right waving warning a weather front cannot be avoided such an alarm goes unheeded by such a lump observing from afar caught in their season of downdraft wandering to another’s eye at rest in one’s own an unlikely happens faster than anticipation a seed is inked to a page the mighty pen paused and wrote on a white gown soiled slips to a sterile deck to float no more a rush of life continues invisibly sashaying winking at a next play partner
“Covenantal privileges by no means automatically confer moral perfection.” Rober Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative.
A privilege, in any way adjectivized, is a privilege. No matter how it is characterized, it is blood and bone related to every other sense of privilege.
Since I carry multiple privileges where’re I go, it is easy for me to project a presumption of moral perfection onto everyone else—redoubling my desire to assert my own perfection through a comparison to someone deemed less so. Who it is that we are privileged above makes little difference. We may claim superiority over a whole shithole country, an entire class of political deplorables, a mailroom clerk, janitor, or delivery person. We may even be adept enough to claim a privileged position within our own life’s timeline, forgetting we arrived from a less experienced past and denying a coming decrepitude. If we lived in Oceania, our privileged position would be in regard to ever-changing enemies (and thus “friends”).
Given the difficulty we have in the practice in and practice of humility, it might be said that privilege is another name for a common or un-original sin that precedes pride by a country mile (4-times longer than a city mile).
Like the song, Greed, by Sweet Honey in the Rock, if you have to ask if you have privilege, “this song you really need.”
To build a society (as measured by its leadership) based on winners and losers is to build in tribal feuds all the way through. The unprivileged fight to see who is least privileged and the privileged fight to see who is most privileged. Both attempts—to avoid being labeled unprivileged and to triumph over all other privileged—leave the whole body-politic weakened for to do either requires a multitude of lies to prop itself up. Both require a denial of basic interconnection, a willingness to be part of a fallible series of self-constructed values, and a suspicion of empathic compassion or kindness. With such denial is lost the only long-term process with a reasonable chance of effectiveness—honest thinking and a shared expectation of difference being catalysts that will draw each further on, together.
in the middle of the night
specters are loosed for fright
arising from seeming nowhere
prancing surround each everywhere
where Cheshire grimaces come and go
where Charon commands a river’s flow
where all that is left are fingers crossed
there and especially here where all is lost
when finally seeing there is only middle
where stories start to soothe a crying cradle
continue into hero’s way setting all right
through broken hearts lost to greater might
slowly return until ready for a farther quest
stripping away entitled pride lest
caught lost circling a pegged idol
each start and end be forgotten as middle
remembering bits anticipating more
this middle night is morning’s door
a breath is deepened bugged eyes retreat
our fiend-friend’s frenzy misses a beat
a trip stumble fall caught midair
our hand steadies their fright there there
with thanks for humble ready reflex in unexpected time
a next story starts in this middle moment unrhymed
Archimedes asked for a place to stand, whereby he could apply a lever to move the earth. We are still looking for such a place. This was an easier question before we learned that earth and the whole universe is in constant motion. Even using an earth-centric model, we would still be looking for such a place. Astrophysicists may yet find such a place to stand, in either ancient or current modeling of the universe. In such a case, there would need to be as difficult a task to develop the material for a lever able to handle the stresses its appointed work would require. Presuming there would be something a material-scientist could come up with and a corporation would fund, there may be a limit of whether there is enough such material in the universe to use for this purpose. Beyond these physical limits are transportation questions—“How do we arrive at the appointed place (presumably light-years away)?” and “How is the lever positioned or the materials delivered for on-site construction?”
Archimedes’ thought experiment may never be put to a test of its scale. Closer to home is a question of moving heads and hearts, if not the earth. We have plenty of folks who find all manner of places to stand in an attempt to mold the world in their present image. Anywhere can be a place from which to stand and declare, “I can do no other!” Current conditions can be perpetuated from anywhere—from a tavern or an executive office (both have addictive possibilities). Innumerable fences can be constructed to protect ever-smaller spots of supposed stasis, but, like earth-centric models, they erode and fail new situations.
To reverse engineer the latest opportunity to move heads and hearts regarding the stuck and false model of racism—we must look for a slightly larger place from which to engage, right here on earth, in our current locations. Extra room is needed when standing becomes kneeling.
The action of “kneeling” used in Minneapolis to continue dividing the world from itself and meant for disrespect, control of another, and a banal exercise of power, is now being used to proclaim what matters (Black Lives), freedom from structural violence, and conversation toward community.
Archimedes proposed a moment of change—a place to stand, a fulcrum and lever appropriate to the task, a flick of a finger, and earth moves. Kneelers today affirm a persistent process aware of the temptation to lose focus, be distracted by economic fluctuations, and backslide one more time. May each of us use the levers of empathy and energetic commitment that are always available to us—changing our heads and hearts to clear kneeling space.
Blessings as you find your space—larger than a belligerent stand and smaller than a pandemic 6-foot rule—space enough to enjoy a Neighb*r.