Non-automatic Perfection

“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.

Middling

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

Leveraging

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.

Sufficiency

a bacterium’s life
like every other
is fraught

resources resources resources
is the name of this game
grounding every other

eventually their gods
heard their cry
on-time delivery

and those teeny gods
inhabited clay
shaping sculpting

eventually a whoman
leapt claiming
self-sufficiency

while only a structure
for more bacteria
than its own cells

My Prayer

Claudia Schmidt has composed “My Quarantine Prayer” (https://youtu.be/VyL8Ai8lvzc). I expect that readers here will construct additional reflections on the significance of these days.

For me, the quarantine is an unhelpful image that gets in the way of looking at its importance—a threatening uncertainty which has multiple sources. The virus would not be so unsettling if leaders took it seriously rather than find ever smaller moments of using it to their advantage of a restrictive political ideology of me and mine.

Before politics was economics, favoring money over people. And before that, an attempt to avoid the sweat of my brow by the sweat of yours. And even earlier, an equating of ethical knowledge with death. And who knows what before one particular story.

These days, before being too definitive about cause and effect, it is helpful to remember that viral uncertainty set the stage for a different response to the predictable next police murder. The universalized threat that goes beyond any categorizing, including predisposed morbidities, set all at risk.

In such a pandimonious moment, a next callous death was finally acknowledged by those all too able to distance themselves. Suddenly, I can see my death in your death. It took an all-too-real threat to privileged White folk to set the scene for them to see themselves connected with folx of every sort.

Of course, all along the way, there have been prophets, community organizers, working in solidarity with oppressed peoples. Their language seeded the world with usable words and images that could easily be picked up and applied.

Thanks be for a pandemic and prophets working in tandem to set people free from structural violence, social and environmental. Blessings to all who died without knowing how they have assisted in bringing a better definition of public safety for individuals and communities.

No Longer Normal

In reading Ancient Mysteries by Marvin W. Meyer, there came these sentences:

In sum, the Olympians began to fall from glory for several reasons. Their destiny was linked to that of the Greek polis, which was no longer the basic political unit in the world after Alexander’s time.

A connection between politics, economics, and war has a long and sordid history. It should be noted that these entwine religion and philosophy as support structures. This is not to say there are straight-line connections or a fated outcome in their confluence.

There is recent news of a significant statue of Robert E. Lee coming down, days of growing protest regarding police violence, and the naming of a portion of 16th Street NW in Washington, D.C., as Black Lives Matter Plaza. Questions arise regarding the economic system of Capitalism being repositioned by movements exterior to it, events as large as those that left the structure of a Greek polis behind. The limits of repression and resources upon which Capitalism has flourished are larger than its desire to continue as a perpetual normal.

A system tied to the limits of slavery—overt, championed by Lee, or covert, championed by union-busing Kochs, or both, embodied by imperial divide-and-conquer insults by Trump—and dependent on ever-larger swaths of environmental destruction and rape of resources, eventually runs out of room to breathe. Slaves and wage-slaves revolt. Technological advantages can only delay the consequences of used-up resources for so long before they are starved by the same lack.

Though we are no longer in a stable economic world, a shift to what is next will be generations in the making. Right now, we are too close to Capitalism’s internal contradiction of separating money from people to see beyond knee-jerk reactions to its displacement as an organizing principle. Currently, we can only project, based on past falls of empires, that politics, war, religion, and philosophy will also change. This change has already begun and will further evolve in decades and centuries to come.

This perspective suggests that what has been described as an American Empire has been an Empire of Capital. There may still be a bit of life for Democracy if it does not become a cloak for another idol interposing itself between people.

Accompany

Accompaniment is an integral part of a musical lexicon. There is a reciprocity of instrument and player, each testing the limits of the other. Without a written contract, both parties invest their time and resources to the other.

This relationship is a helpful one in days of protest. Multiple players need to know they can accompany each of the others in their tasks. By doing so, each amplifies the work of the others. Gifts and agency are added to the whole without a claim to be anything other than resources for a longer journey enhanced by the presence and engagement of everyone else.

Accompaniment goes beyond being an ally (still a role of privilege). It is ready to play multiple roles according to the need of the time. Accompanists know when to be still for another’s solo. To accompany also asks an ability to give a cue about what is coming next. There are also moments to carry a melody line and improvise when others cannot carry on.

Staying alert to the season of the collective work asks constant and consistent care for the whole. When the background is honored, the foreground is freed to sparkle here and dive to the deep there.

New occasions do offer new duties. To be ready for a next need takes a practice of perceiving how yesterdays have brought us to today, of anticipating how improvisation can lead to better living tomorrow.

Accompanying is not just a musical term, but a way of social change—a symphony of accompanists is a joy to behold.

Test

I am pro
test
going beyond
mere measurement
a context
of engagement

A train leaves St. Louis at 2:43 PM with an average speed of 40 mph. At the same time, another train leaves Chicago averaging 42 mph. The distance between stations is 296.9 miles. At what time will they meet?

I am con
test
Chicago’s train is New York bound
St. Louis’ heads for San Francisco
to posit
is not to know

I protest the present limitation of rail travel in America. A lack of state-of-the-art light rail saved tax money to benefit “everyone” — giving more to those who already have more than more.

I contest the notion that current decisions cannot be different than those we have inherited. Our fear of the unknown does not have unfettered license to shackle every later choice.

For tomorrow’s sake, I
     Protest!
     Contest!

Storms

Storm systems have a variety of results. Last night’s storm brought us some enhanced sleet. It brought golf-ball-sized hail not all that far away. How far away? The same distance that Projects are from Palaces. The buffer zones of guarded gates and tinted windows do not increase the distance of interconnection.

Storm systems scatter debris according to the meteorologic and geologic conditions. Other natural disasters, such as earthquakes and plagues, follow this same general model of responding to and taking advantage of external realities. All these have rules yet unknown to us, but they are random only from a perspective of this moment.

Other storms have the potential of internal limits according to the reigning authority at the time and policies enacted or denied. The results of a capitalist economic system and military uniformity (efficiency behind assembly lines and dictators) seem not to have random outcomes. Public storms seem to always result in the poor being poorer and the rich being better off.

It is more difficult to see how public storms over discriminatory norms reduce the flexibility of common good to cover all within and add an extra layer of protection by strengthening the environment without. When such flexibility fails because of too many barriers and not enough bridges, a joyfully confident stride falters into a walker, a Lazy-Boy®, and, finally, six pallbearers. The formation and decline of these storms are years and generations in the making and failing.

Part of the grief from falling apart is knowing how little it would have taken to resist and rebound from a destructive pattern. It would have taken more as time went on, and a lack of current exercise of good judgment, seven generations long, eventually ends in poor and then inadequate balance. Whether a little earlier or more later, the current cost is on the verge of being too high to rebalance connections.

As our public storm is still gathering force, may our liturgists plan a national dirge and language educators prepare next-needed second language curricula.