Idealism Redux

I make no apologies for being an Idealist.

Of course, I have been criticized for it, as have many with shared values. We’ve been called naïve. We’ve been told that our Idealism is “unrealistic”. We’ve been told we need to “grow up”.

But I, for one, have a hard time equating the process of “growing up” with abandoning our dearest principles and rejecting our inclination to serve our fellow man. To my mind, Idealism means believing in something better than what we have, that we are capable of more. Believing that there are noble pursuits and goals that we should strive for, rather than accepting the status quo, which is so often marginalizing, self-serving, and oppressive. When we cease fighting for Idealism, we abandon the very things that makes us human: Compassion, Hope, Love. Shortly before her husband became the first African American President of the United States, Michelle Obama spoke eloquently about our “moral obligation to strive for America as it should be.” This is not an abstract concept or empty platitude; it is a call to action. It is a call many of us have heard and answered.

In responding to this call, we join many “grown up” Idealists throughout history. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an Idealist. He dreamt of a future where people of all skin colors lived in harmony, where discriminatory treatment was a thing of the past. I dare suggest he even dreamt of a day when a Black man could become President. Dr. King’s teacher, a brown-skinned Palestinian carpenter, was also an Idealist. Long ago, this woodworker-turned-itinerant preacher called us to love our neighbors, not to bully, degrade, reject, or strangle them in the noose of our own stubborn prejudices. Five hundred years before him, yet another Idealist, a nobleman of the Indian Shakya clan, called us to relieve humanity’s suffering by offering unconditional grace to our fellow beings, and to recognize our union with others, rather than our differences. Our capacity to care for others, regardless of personal cost or sacrifice, is an Ideal that has been promoted by countless saints of the past, prophets of today, and, God-willing, by the generations of tomorrow.

But right now, in this moment in America, we are struggling to hear this call. We have abandoned our national Idealism, erasing the “Ideal” in favor of a toxic nationalism that is wholly self-serving and absent of grace. And as those of us who persevere continue to push back against this tide of hate and callousness, we grow weary.  We find ourselves constantly having to redirect our brothers and sisters to freely available facts that have been drowned out by recycled fiction. We fend off allegations of ignorance while attempting to refocus the conversation on the many who need our help, rather than the few who exploit an already tragic situation. Even non-Christians are having to cite the most basic tenets of the faith to self-professed believers, who seem to have conveniently forgotten every word Jesus said.

It’s exhausting.

We are called to be better than this. We are called to care for the widow and the immigrant, to help the poor and treat everyone as our neighbor. Why do so many seem to believe that we are instead called to judge the many for the actions of the few, to disregard the basic human dignity possessed by all people, and to refuse to care for anyone but ourselves? Why do so many succumb to fear when the Book in which they claim to believe repeatedly demands that they “fear not”? And how does a simple truth like “black lives matter” elude so many? This phrase is not the “symbol of hate” our President would have us believe. As even staunch Republican Mitt Romney recently said, “I state the obvious, which is black lives matter.” It’s not rocket science; it’s an intuitive Truth. One that our President and Vice President and so many of their followers flagrantly refuse to concede. I find their reluctance to do so appalling.

I’m exhausted of being continually criticized for stating the obvious. I’m tired of the willful hypocrisy and the lack of common decency. I’m disgusted by the greed, insensitivity and hate. I’ve had enough of the accusations, finger-pointing, and demagoguery. If you aren’t willing to stand with the marginalized, then, for the love of God, please stand aside. Or better yet, take a seat. History is not on your side. You will fail. And we’re tired.

We’re tired of you. We have enough work ahead to change the systems of oppression that got us to where we are, that created people like you, and that bound us in complacency for so long before reaching this moment. We don’t need the added burden of dealing with your ignorance.

So, for all those in the back: Generosity is not weakness; selfishness is not strength. Benevolence and compassion are not “unrealistic” or “naïve”. They are the bedrock of our humanity. We are better than the individualism and selfishness that pervades our society today, and we must all learn to be Idealists if we want to have any hope of a better tomorrow.  Dr. King was right about the arc of the moral Universe bending toward Justice, but we’re the ones who have to stand up and bend it.

So if you are having trouble empathizing with our brothers and sisters of color, if you can’t quite wrap your mind around why claiming “All lives matter” might be considered offensive in the face of ongoing, systemic mistreatment of “Black lives”, if you fail to realize that wearing a mask in the middle of a pandemic has nothing whatsoever to do with your liberty, then I urge you to take a lesson from another wise sage:

It’s not about you.

Maybe, just maybe, you should stop and listen for a change.

And if you’re very lucky, in that space of silence, you just might be surprised to hear a still, small voice chanting the same mantra.

Confession

It’s time to come clean. I am a Racist.

Maybe not the torch-wielding, Confederate flag-waving, “All Lives Matter” type of Racist, but a Racist nonetheless. Someone who was raised with Racist ideas, who was steeped in a Racist culture that bent and twisted my perception so severely that it’s taken four decades to even acknowledge my participation in it.

But I am also becoming an Antiracist.

As author and scholar Ibram Kendi points out in his book, “How to be an Antiracist”, people can indeed be both. I’ve only recently begun awakening to the privilege I’ve experienced being White in America. I believe that the current upheaval in our country is serving as a much-needed wakeup call to many Whites, who, like me, have not yet done the hard work of examining their own Racist ideas.

A disturbing trend among conservative White commentators is to flatly reject the notion of White privilege. This is most typical in the lower economic classes, who see “privilege” in strictly economic terms. But that’s not the (only) type of privilege we’re talking about. True, there are solid arguments to be made about land grants, generational wealth, inequitable distribution of G.I. Bill benefits, and discriminatory housing policies. But there are many Whites, particularly from poor, rural communities, who claim to have never experienced any of this economic “privilege” first-hand.

I, too, came from a poor, rural community, but I have slowly come to realize that “privilege” refers not only to immediate, tangible wealth, but also to many other social and emotional factors that, by and large, White people take for granted.

For instance: 

  • I’ve never worried about not getting called back by a potential employer because of the color of my skin.
  • I’ve never had to try harder than others at school or work, only to receive less benefits than those of a different race than me.
  • I’ve never been watched suspiciously by store employees while shopping.
  • I’ve never been pulled aside for additional questioning while going through Security at an airport.
  • I’ve never worried that a routine police stop would leave my children fatherless.
  • I’ve never had to sit my teenage son down and have a frank discussion about how he needs to act and respond to law enforcement, so he won’t get shot.
  • I’ve never had a shiver of dread run down my spine when I see someone flying the Confederate flag.
  • And I’ve never had to conscientiously avoid the White monoculture of the deep South.

Hell, I’m a product of the White monoculture of the deep South. Raised in the rural backwaters of Florida, I learned to be wary of Black bodies. Always lock the car doors when driving through “those” neighborhoods. Always watch your wallet and valuables if you see any of “them” around. Never walk too close to a group of Black teenagers; surely the “gang” will attack you if you enter their “’hood”. And don’t even get me started on the Mexicans!

White people of my generation, growing up in the 80s and 90s, were taught to avoid public discussion of race. Despite being instilled with all manner of Racist ideas, we were supposed to appear “color blind” in public. Likely a strategy concocted to avoid awakening the ire of the Angry Black Man. We were given only a surface-level introduction to the immense struggle of African Americans in the United States, so the justified antipathy toward White power, rightly felt by so many Blacks in this country, was portrayed as unjustified rage. Disproportionate. Uncontrollable. Something to be Feared.

What were “they” so angry about, anyway? Slavery happened a long time ago. MLK won. We don’t say the “N” word out loud anymore. What more did “they” expect from us?

I flush with embarrassment as I recall standing by while a group of boys mercilessly teased the one black kid in my grade school gym class. I’ve convinced myself that I’m a good person because I never joined in, but I don’t even know if that’s true. Memory is a fickle beast, and things you don’t want to remember or are deeply ashamed to remember can easily escape recall.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I had no idea what Juneteenth was until a week ago. I’m embarrassed that I thought a depiction of the Tulsa Massacre of 1921 was part of a fictionalized history of the United States. Surely that couldn’t have actually happened! Gunning down an entire Black neighborhood and fire-bombing their community? Using planes? In the sky? Preposterous! But it did happen. The Atlanta Race Riot of 1906 happened, too. Ocoee and Rosewood, both in my own home state of Florida, happened. So much collective guilt. So much to seek justice for.

If I had known about these and so many other incidents of brutality, unjust policies and oppressive systems, I might have been more sensitive to what I saw around me. But probably not. Because I was a Racist. I held Racist ideas as facts and spared no time for empathy or understanding. I was constantly surrounded by racial injustice as a child, but I did nothing. I said nothing. I was silent then and remained so into adulthood.

Which leads me to my Apology.

For the last twenty-five years, it has been my wife that has borne the brunt of my Racist ideas. I am married to a gorgeous, intelligent, strong-willed and vocal Black/Latinx woman who I am lucky still puts up with me. She is kind-hearted, thoughtful, generous, and honest to a fault. And she’ll kick your ass if you deserve it, so watch out! She’s raised three beautiful children, one with special needs, and one that’s a teenage girl, which may be even more challenging.

But despite being married young to this beautiful Black woman, the Racist ideas that had already made their home in me did not disperse easily. Or quickly. Over the years, these ideas have manifested as unfair judgments, ignored concerns, and, perhaps most damning, my silence when I should have spoken up in my wife’s defense.

  • I have stood idly by and said nothing as people mistook her for our children’s nanny, instead of their mother.
  • I’ve kept quiet while people, upon first meeting her, wondered aloud if she even spoke English.
  • I’ve mistaken her quiet fortitude for callousness and failed to support her when she felt vulnerable.
  • I’ve mistaken her passion for anger and her defiance for cruelty, and thought ill of her for it.
  • I’ve embarrassed her by showing my own discomfort with the loud, joyful closeness she shares with her extended family.
  • And I’ve minimized her very real concerns about economic stability. Concerns born from generations of struggle just to receive opportunities I take for granted.

To my wife, I apologize. I am truly and deeply sorry for all the times I have misjudged and abused you. Rejected and shamed you, or made you feel less than.

And I lay my Racism out for all to see. Including myself. Because the only way to heal a nation so divided and broken, is for people like me to own up to what we’ve done. To what our parents and grandparents did, and our great-grandparents. It’s time to acknowledge the sins of our fathers and of ourselves.

White privilege, power and policy has committed Economic genocide against a people who have already been abused for centuries. A people whose bodies have already been enslaved, tortured and killed. Who have been hanged, drug behind vehicles, and shot in the back by police. Whose collective neck has been crushed until they can barely breathe. We did that. I did that.

So if you are White and reading this, make no mistake. You have privilege. I don’t care how little money you have or if you’ve never owned your own home, or if you didn’t get an inheritance from your dead aunt Sally. You. Have. Privilege. You have the privilege to jog through a neighborhood without being hunted down like an animal and murdered. You have the privilege to move up in a society where the color of your skin is not considered a threat. You have the privilege to seek justice from police and courts and expect to receive it. And you have the privilege to breathe without fear.

Lucky you.

Now go apologize to your wife. Or your friends, neighbors or coworkers of color. Tell them you’re sorry for your legacy of White oppression. Empathize with their struggle. Tell them that you were conditioned by Racist ideas and that you’re still learning, that you’re not perfect but you’ll change. And after you’ve done that, go use that privilege of yours to make a damn difference. It’s time.

June 19, 2020

Birth

Light!
All is Light. Awareness.
Vibrant Life. Being.
Wholeness. Connection. Unity.
Undifferentiated world, full of Light and Vitality.
Awareness is All and All is Light.
All is Joy.
All is Love.

Time?
Passing. Distinctions. Separation.
Consumption. Production of Waste.
Differentiated world, separated by Time and Pain.
Anger and frustration. Change.
Tears. Suffering.

Unity gives way to Separateness,
Connection to Chaos.
Colors and Sounds. Objects. Disarray.
What is mine? What was All?
I am Me and You are You. We are not the same.
We are Divided.

Body and Mind.
I am these and these are mine.
Mine are not yours.
Hands and Feet. Fingers and Toes.
Clothes and coverings.
Disguises. Masks.
Lies. Fear.

I am learning.
Symbols and patterns. Abstractions and metaphors.
Thoughts morph into words. Syllables. Sentences.
Communication and Judgement.
Because we are Different. Because we are Separate.
Unity is Lost.

I have aged. I have grown.
My mind is my own and you may not have it, you may not know it.
My objects are my own and I do not share.
Clinging. Groping. Grasping.
Change is inevitable; Life is Suffering.
God is Dead.

Abundance. Is this Joy?
I have accumulated much and you may not have it.
I am Important, you are not.
My life is significant and I do not know who you are.
Do I know who I am?
Only that I am not You.

Time has passed and I am old.
I bear regret and shame. These are me and I am them.
What was that?
A faint echo, a brief glimpse. All? Light? Love?
Forgotten and Alone,
I don’t remember.

“Quieter Now” (Earth Day 2020)

It’s quieter now.

The chainsaws have ceased their ripping, chewing, slashing.
Our forests have at last been left in peace.
The exploitation of living creatures to feed our countless mouths has ended.
Grazing herds now rest easy in fields and meadows unmolested.
Factories no longer belch their noxious gases into the atmosphere.
The poisons have begun to thin and one day the air may be clean again.
Aircraft no longer soar the skies, polluting even the clouds with their foul discharge.
Birds have taken wing unchallenged, ruling their domain once more.
Gone are the millions of fossil-fueled machines that once choked our planet.

They rust in silence.

The world has moved on.

The ever-present cacophony of sound that once plagued our world,
Mechanical, electrical, digital mayhem.  All of it is gone.
Schoolhouses lie in ruins; our sacred temples have turned to dust.
Pillars of steel and glass, once tall and proud, peek timidly above the waves.
Only the soft whispering of the wind among the leaves can be heard
In trees where children once laughed and played.
Gone are the halls of government, vanished are the edifices of art and culture.
And of all mankind’s achievements,

Only ashes remain.

Earth has bled herself dry for us.
She has transfused her lifeblood into us, giving freely of her bounty.
And all she asked for in return was respect.  Compassion.  Care.
For far too long, she writhed and choked and wept, yet we heeded her not.
And as our final chances were squandered by our pride and greed and vanity,
Our children looked on in horror.
But now, in this space of silence, our Mother begins to heal.
The sun soothes her wounds by day, the moon watches over her by night.
And seasons pass as they have always done.

But it’s quieter now.

Unity in Daily Life

True unity lies at the crossroads of wisdom and pragmatism. The underlying web of life to which we all belong is undeniable. Yet, this is an intellectual concept. Language can only produce concepts; that is its fundamental limitation. It cannot describe Truth. It cannot describe Beauty. In cannot describe Love. Language is rather impotent when it comes to describing the ineffable nature of experience. So, in order to make this intellectual concept of unity mean something real in our daily lives, we must rely also on pragmatism.

One of the most direct manifestations of this is the invocation of the concept of unity to defuse or avoid conflict. Conflict is rife in society today at every level and shows no sign of going away. A true unity of mankind would preclude conflict. How does one have conflict with oneself? Conflicts which arise from different points of view or different ideologies must be seen as part of the larger unity of consciousness. There must be darkness for there to be light; there must be hatred for there to be kindness; there must be fear for there to be liberation. In this way we respect the darkness as a necessary part of the light.

This does not mean we get to ignore our responsibility to speak out against injustice or alleviate suffering. Not at all! It simply provides a larger context in which to continue our work. By recognizing the darkness as part of the light, we see that the very nature of the darkness itself is suffering. Those mired in hatred, bigotry, greed, and selfishness are suffering in that same darkness. Their apparent, individual consciousness may not realize or accept this, but it’s true. They are striving against their natural state, which is Love. Being separated from Love is the very definition of suffering.

So, we must first acknowledge that those who peddle hate and fear are a symptom of our diseased society, not the disease itself, and that they are not their words or their ideas. How do we approach this pragmatically? We don’t add suffering to suffering. We speak against ideas and ideologies, not against individuals. We don’t label. We offer love to the unloving as well as the unloved. Is this easy to do? Absolutely not! But it is necessary. The cycle of conflict cannot be broken through constant escalation. It can only end when light is shone into the darkness and Love is offered unconditionally to all.

For, truly, we are One.

The Veil

Reality hides behind a sensate veil,
Forever denying our groping, grasping, groaning hearts.
Immaterial as thought, yet solid as stone,
She offers clues to her form, but never direct experience.
Trapped in our prisons of flesh and bone,
We can never penetrate the fullness of her mystery.
So in our fevered desperation,
We cling to our own constructions:
Metaphor and myth, science and shadow.
And in our ignorance, we mourn.

A cruel enchantress is she who hides behind the veil.
She teases and taunts, tempts and toys with us,
Bemused as we strive in vain to comprehend her.
A Siren, she sings to us her haunting melody,
And we are struck dumb by its faintest echo.
She stands aloof as we beg to taste her nakedness,
Longing for her touch, insistent, painful as it is.
Her sweet perfume suffuses, infuses, refuses us,
And the spell she has woven is complete.

At last!
Her seductive whisper finds us in silence,
But now we dare not yield.
Her arms are open, but we hesitate.
The Unknown is wide and we are wary.
Reality has treated us harshly in the past
And we know not where she will lead.
We haven’t the trust, the faith, the will to follow her.
We gaze through a glass darkly and fear what we will find.
For to know Reality’s form is to know the shape of God.

She is a veiled mirror,
And we know her not.

Temple

Why do we enjoy being small? Are we so mesmerized by our insignificance that we must constantly prove it so? We seek out monuments of grandeur, lest we come to believe ourselves too important. Atop ancient spires of immutable stone, we relish the sweeping vistas that dwarf us. We find inspiration in a horizon we cannot see as the ocean lies endless at our feet. The star-drenched night sky reminds us that we are but a speck in the unfathomable void of the cosmos. …And we delight in the disproportion of our own existence.

When nature fails us, we construct temples of wood and brick and glass, insisting that there is Something or Someone larger than ourselves, to which we may be subject. We push the Infinite away, insisting It keep Its distance, rather than embracing It as part of Ourselves. So eager are we to reinforce our weakness, to prove our lack of worth. Rather than acknowledge our boundless potential, we willingly subjugate ourselves to ideas that hold no power, or to Nature, of which we are part. Why is this so?

Perhaps humanity has a collective inferiority complex. Conditioned as we are by a culture of individuality and lack. We compare ourselves to anything we see as separate, and our smallness justifies our ambition and reinforces our fear. We compete with those we see as “other”, not realizing we only hurt ourselves in the process. We must step away from our individual egos and realize that it is we who are the Temple.

Humanity itself is Holy.

Unity

The blood flowing through your veins was formed in the heart of a star. We are a microcosm of the Universe, possessing in part the substance of all.

Over eons, our minds have been trained to decipher patterns, yet so many elude us. The coarse texture of a feather, the delicate symmetry of a butterfly wing. Our veins a mountain stream, bringing life to the farthest reaches of our being. Nature’s divine patterns are etched into each of us, yet we are blind to them. We fail to realize our unity with the world even though we are drowning in it.

In nature, we unfold a part of ourselves too often bound up in society’s custom & convention. It is that hidden part which understands our unity with all things, that part which sees the common fabric from which all things are cut. Yet, we must also realize that it is only our minds which do the cutting. In truth the cloth is whole, as it has always been.

Our so-called intellect has a habit of lying to us. Separation is an illusion we impose upon the world because the pure synthesis of nature is beyond our capacity to rationalize. So it is beyond rationality where we can see past the lies. Here, we are truly free to see the beauty of our beating heart. Not the feeble muscle in our chest, but rather the throbbing, pulsing energy of reality itself. That is our true heart, and it is yours as it is mine. One heart, beating for all of us, driving the symbiotic synergy that we call life.

Holy Fire

A ball of flame arcs across the heavens, bringing light and life to a slumbering Earth.
It’s passage brief, it soon slips below the horizon, heralding the return of darkness.
Again, the flame rises. Light returns. A ceaseless rhythm.
Days, Seasons, Years – all marked by the orb’s ever-shifting path.
Patterns emerge, fitting the cadence we prescribe.
As we bend the light to serve our needs, our position becomes clear.
We have become Master, Diviner of Secrets, Center of All.

In time, we learn, it is rather we who circle the mighty star,
Which has survived billions of years without need of us to measure its passing.
Our Centrality is further challenged as our gaze stretches outward.
Our planet, our star, our galaxy – all dwarfed by the scale of our Universe.
Patterns emerge, independent of our feeble expectations.
As our science and technology reveal ever more Secrets, our position becomes clearer still.
We have become Small, Insignificant, Expendable.

Through ages endless and distances unfathomable,
The cosmos has silently unfolded without our intervention.
But not without purpose. For after eons, we are here.
And as we probe the deepest reaches of Mind and Universe,
As we explore the Questions with Answers beyond comprehension, our Position is finally revealed.
We are Vital. We are Precious. We are Life.
We are the Consciousness of the Universe, seeking to understand Itself,

A spark of holy fire in the endless night.
May we forever burn.

Cloud, Immortal

I sit by a window, 30,000 feet above my home, nose pressed to the double-pane glass like a first-time flyer. I have flown dozens of times, but I never tire of the view. The perspective afforded at this height is unmatched, even from the tallest mountains. Photographs and video can never reproduce the scale and depth of the actual view. Watching the world unfold in real-time far below, I feel a connection with all I see, a connection that can never be captured on film or flashdrive. Only the view of our world from space could top this. And yes, I intend to experience that someday, too.

I am always struck by how pitifully small we are. We break and bend the land to our purposes, but from above the clouds, all our efforts are dwarfed by the impossible scale of nature’s handiwork. Water dominates the landscape here. The tiny human structures appear to cling desperately to the shreds of dry land, like ants drowning in a puddle. How vulnerable. How fragile. How precious.

Water dominates the sky, as well. The cumulus clouds of the lower atmosphere boast such intricate structures, flaunting their complexity as if they are trying to outdo one another. Each a unique work of art, their pride is evident as they carry themselves regally across the sky. I can see thousands of these magnificent creations from my window, each discreet yet all connected.

“How do they retain their shape?” I wonder. While it’s true that the shape of each cloud is in constant flux, they each give an illusion of solidity, of cohesion. How do they retain their delicate edges, which, in reality, are in no way distinct from the surrounding atmosphere? From above, the clouds can be seen in their true, three-dimensional forms, shedding the limitations of a ground-based perspective. Casting shadows that extend for miles across the land below, how can one below the cloud conceive of that which is above? How can they discern the true and full nature of the majestic cloud as it floats languidly overhead?

We are flying between stratified layers, yet another aspect of the cloudscape which is entirely lost on the earthbound observer. We are told in grade school that some clouds form at higher altitudes than others, but the fact is abstract until witnessed firsthand. From the ground, all clouds are simply “up”, and the distance between layers is impossible to discern. From my window, however, the gulf separating the strata is like an ocean separating continents. Far below, the fluffy cumulus clouds march on in their endless parade, while above, the wispy cirrus clouds have no time to spend on making themselves beautiful. Cold and aloof, they scurry away with the wind, as if seeking some faraway spot for a secret rendezvous.

We are not so very different from these graceful constructs, our atoms held briefly coherent in the vast stream of time and space. The water molecules that form the clouds will eventually dissipate, evaporating back into the surrounding atmosphere, or falling to earth as precipitation, to nourish the inhabitants of the land, plant and animal alike. But not one of those molecules will ever truly be lost – they will continue their cycle between earth and sky. And perhaps one day, a new cloud will form which contains some of those same molecules.

Our own bodies are also predominantly water. And like the clouds, the molecules that compose us will one day dissipate. Our atoms will nourish the soil from which we came, will be absorbed into the biosphere, and may eventually emerge within the confines of another body. Why do we weep for death, then? While our form may change, the “stuff” of our life on this Earth is immortal.

Indeed, we are all immortal.