Racism. What Is That?

When I see Confederate battle flags fervently flaunted I can’t help but to judge harshly. I try to live my life with “assume positive intent” as a guiding principle but I can’t get past the presumptive “fuck you” as the intent of displaying such a deplorable icon. The Confederate battle flag had all but disappeared from post Civil War America with the exception of Mississippi adopting it into their state flag in 1894. I guess the bigotry of the deepest of southern states was ahead of its time. The revival of the flag began in the 1950’s and the beginnings of the civil rights movement. It served as a symbol for white supremacy to Dixiecrats who abhorred the idea that all men are created equal. It is not a symbol of states rights or southern pride unless you believe racism is something to cherish and be proud of.

We like to talk of American exceptionalism like it’s a badge of honor but I don’t think we truly understand that exceptionalism in and of itself holds no particular positive connotation. “Exceptionalism is the perception that a species, country, society, institution, movement, individual, or time period is “exceptional” (i.e., unusual or extraordinary) in some way.” (Google) We truly are exceptional in the way we salivate at the suffering of those who don’t qualify as being like us, and those who have values or priorities unaligned with our own. The proliferation of white supremacy under the Obama and Trump administrations is alarming. This proliferation under each administration is fueled by separate but equally disturbing motivations. The former being intolerance of a black president. The latter of leadership that campaigned on the rejection of diversity.

What is that? What short sighted comfort can be found in the hatred of others based upon the color of their skin? By its very nature bigotry rises like bile in the throats from which we draw breath and take nourishment. Hatred invokes the stress of fight or flight and stands in the way of enlightenment and peace. The deliberate discrimination of others, founded in irrational fear, Group 5 fists hold closely togetherserves no purpose in our values of life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness. It robs us of the opportunity to align with the universe, our creator, or any justification you might ascribe to the meaning of life. Bigotry robs us of the most sacred sense of our humanity. Man alone is not equipped to have survived the cruel selection of evolution. It was by working together and our sense of community that we were able to shield ourselves from harsh elements and superior predators. And whether you subscribe to evolution or creationism there is no denial that our linage ties back to a common origin. Think about that.

My prayer is that this festering growth of white supremacy and bigotry would abate and be abolished in our lifetime. I pray that those who’s lives are less than they hoped for would let go of the idea that their plight in life is anything other than the way they see themselves. You can never find peace, joy or happiness with hatred in your heart. After all, I’m sure that peace, joy and happiness is all any of us really want in this life. Change begins in our own hearts and by standing up to oppression whenever we encounter it. This is on us. We can do better.

Photo credit, Time Magazine

Do Black Lives Matter?

 Dontre Hamilton
 Eric Garner
 John Crawford III
 Michael Brown Jr.
 Ezell Ford
 Dante Parker
 Akai Gurley
 Tamir Rice
 Rumain Brisbon
 Jerame Reid
 Samuel DuBose
 Brendon Glenn
 Freddie Gray
 Natasha McKenna
 Walter Scott
 Christian Taylor
 Akiel Denkins
 Gregory Gunn
 Alton Sterling
 Laquan McDonald
 Jamar Clark
 Philando Castile

This is just a partial list of unarmed blacks killed by police over the last few years. If the list had one name it would be too many. Enough! How do we have a reasonable discussion about something so unreasonable? How do I teach my youngest son to respect the police when these actions are so un-respectable? IMG_0144How do I look my black friends in the eye and not feel shame? I didn’t ask to be born white anymore than they asked to be born black. I have no words to explain to them how painful this is. I have no perspective to understand how they must feel. I have no comprehension of what they might think every day when they get in their car to go to work or the grocery store or to pick up their kids from school when a patrol car appears in their rear view mirror.

There are those who read these stories who figure the victim did something wrong, anything wrong, or they wouldn’t have been killed. There are others who are just happy there is one less black life on the planet. Some find these stories sad but then move on. Some are outraged but figure there is nothing to be done about it. And then there are those who have lost all trust and respect for the police and hatred is boiling up inside. How do we reconcile any of this?

I am a proud supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement. I don’t approve of all that has been done by a few individuals in its name but the legitimate basis of the movement and its tenets are held close to my heart. I bristle and feel embarrassment for those who would retort “all lives matter” in response to hearing Black Lives Matter. That has nothing to do with the ideals behind Black Lives Matter. Of course all lives matter but you can not tell me all lives matter if you can not say black lives matter. Can we agree on that?

There are two things I believe need to happen. First, we need accountability for any officer who would kill any unarmed person. Period. I don’t even care if they are resisting. Something short of lethal force is demanded. Second, I want to see law enforcement take the stand that the killing of unarmed people is unacceptable. I want to hear them condemn the actions of those who act as judge, jury and executioner.

The victims, families and communities affected by police violence have lost the foundational right to feel safe in our society. Imagine you were in those shoes. How might you react? What irreparable harm might scar your heart and psyche if you could not trust those entrusted to protect you? Do you think that is hyperbole? I think the victims families might disagree. We should feel fortunate we do not know that feeling and afford our deepest compassion for those who do. So I’m asking that the next time this happens, and it will, consider the whole story. And when a community takes to the streets to demand justice, have empathy instead of contempt. You would appreciate the same if our place was reversed.

Reaping What We Sow

In the movie Citizen Kane, the protagonist was born of austere means and rises to achieve world class wealth and power. At the end of his life, Citizen Kane, Charles Foster Kane, realized that he got everything wrong. In a flash of deathbed clarity, he recognized what symbolized the only true happiness he had ever known. The story unfolds as a reporter tries to find the IMG_0143meaning of his enigmatic last word: “Rosebud.” It’s a story of lost youthful idealism. Rosebud was the simple wooden sled Charles would ride as a care-free boy, perhaps too busy having fun to realize he was poor.
Nobody would ever know the secret of Rosebud. Even when they had Rosebud in their hands. They couldn’t see it and tossed it into an inferno. They couldn’t see it because they didn’t know what they were looking for. It was a shame that Charles needed to be on his deathbed to finally recognize a truth that could have been his most significant contribution of value to the world. It was a bigger shame that he had lead his life in a way that nobody could have ever imagined his secret could be so profound. And the biggest shame of all is, what likely blinded everyone to the secret of Rosebud was, the same thing that kept the truth from Charles Foster Kane. We value the wrong things.
By all accounts Charles personified the American dream. And yet at that most lonely hour, where he contemplated his life achievements for meaning, his life came up short. Brooks Brothers wrapping might cover a man’s character to the outside world but a cover can work both ways. Blind ambition kept Charles from finding fulfillment in the moment it mattered most. It should be our greatest fear that we would take our last breath with regrets. I don’t want to live anything like Charles. And I certainly don’t want to die like him. I contemplate what drives happiness in my own life. It always comes back to times when I’m more focused outward than inward. Those times when I can afford peace, love and light.
We need more peace, love and light these days. Maybe it would be good for all of us to examine what it might look like if we purposefully pursued satisfying and well lived lives. We all do that to some extent, unconsciously. We intuitively try to be good people. But how often do we actually contemplate and plan to lead richer and more meaningful lives? Think how impactful it might be if we devoted time and energy to making the world a better place for the people around us. Or Rosebud.

Rolling Thunder

Imagine, lining up with thousands of bikes four abreast in a line over a mile long.. The call comes from the front to start your engines. This is Rolling Thunder. Every Memorial Day weekend upwards of 400,000 motorcyclists converge on Washington DC for Rolling Thunder.

From the Rolling Thunder website:

“Rallying for the POW/MIA issue, our mission is to educate, facilitate, and never forget. This First Amendment Demonstration Run has also evolved into a display of patriotism and respect for all who serve our country.”

IMG_0134Huge groups of riders converge from all 50 states. One of the exciting events I participate in is the Patriots Ride. Over 5,000 bikes line up in Fairfax and get a police escort to the Pentagon where we join up with all of the other groups and stage to ride into the nation’s capital as one enormous group. The route is lined with cheering spectators waving flags and holding banners in honor of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Every overpass along the route is filled with families waving, smiling and cheering us on. It could make a guy emotional if he weren’t a tough old biker such as myself. This truly is a day where all walks of life come together to honor our brave soldiers, seamen and airmen.

I saw a few bikes sporting rebel flags and displaying politics I abhor but today, this day, was not about any of that. I’m sure some balked at the Obama emblem I proudly display on my rear fender. The thing is, our service members don’t go into harms way judging the guy in the next foxhole for their politics. When threatened by an enemy we draw together. When hostile foreign governments threaten our way of life we rally as an insurmountable force. It was heartwarming to see that kind of unity today. No red states. No blue states. Just a lot of glittering chrome and black leather. Murica!

Finding My Zen.

I seem to have been born with some perpetual discontent that will never quite allow me to feel as if I’ve arrived. For the most part, over the years, that has served me well. I’ve done my best to channel that angst into personal, professional and spiritual growth and yet I’m coming to realize that this can be a huge obstacle in my life. An obstacle that is separating me from the sense of Zen I so desire. Wait. That’s not true. I think I’ve always been aware of this affliction. I’ve just not found the willingness to confront it.
IMG_0126My dark secret is that all too often I struggle with the simple principle of assuming good intentions.
In my mind assuming good intentions seems to be a derivative of The Four Agreements. The Four Agreements are regarded as a preeminent model for personal growth. I struggle every day with making assumptions and taking them personally. On the outside I’m great at presenting a positive attitude but my inner self is, at times, maybe more analogous to the proverbial duck swimming across a pond; gracefully gliding across the water. Under water, however, its feet are paddling like mad.
Here are some things I know: a principle tenet of Christ’s teachings are that we live our lives for others, a fundamental element of our humanity is that community is an inherent value and finally that we choose our inner dialogue. So what is happening when I make assumptions about others motives, their obliviousness or their seemingly flat out selfish and hateful behavior? Yeah. I do that too often. Could it be that others are just trying to make sense of their world? Could it be that they have concerns about their health or that of a loved one, pressure at work, troubling relationships or any number of the things that create some of the very insecurities I face from time to time?
It’s at those times when that I am focused inward as opposed to the people around me. It’s good to remember that we are all in this together and maybe, just maybe, the more I afford others a little grace the more likely they will be to find relief from their troubles. I can find blame in western culture, that sense of personal aspiration and trickle down charity. To often we can conflate that “take care of yourself first” mentality with a “what about me” pity party. I can find blame in a busy lifestyle and Madison Avenue projections of what my life should look like. I can find blame nearly everywhere I look. The fact of the matter is, this isn’t about the world around me. It’s about what goes on between my ears.
Assuming good intentions. It’s a simple concept. Maybe the next time I’m cut off in traffic or waiting impatiently in the checkout while some shopper digs for exact change I can imagine that their life is about a purpose I know nothing about. As soon as they get where they are going they will make their world a better place. Maybe the next time I feel insecure I can feel assured I’m doing the best I can; just like we all are.

Little Lessons.

After a seemingly long work week I stopped by my favorite store. I won’t say which store but if you were to guess I can tell you it would be as simple as ABC. (wink) As I entered the parking lot an elderly lady, using a walker, fell down as she was stepping off the curb. The car in front of me was loaded with kids who looked horrified but didn’t really know what to do. The oncoming car, also loaded with teenagers chose to point and burst into laughter while yelling comments out the window I’m glad I couldn’t discern exactly what they were saying… And there we sat. From one car back and partially blocking the intersection I put on my emergency flashers and jumped out to give a hand.
By the time I got to her it was obvious she had resigned herself to sitting there, on the curb, contemplating what she might do. She was the sweetest of ladies who was obviously a little shaken up by her predicament. I told her I was there to help and asked the best way to do that. With the confidence of someone who has been there before she instructed, “Place your feet in front of mine and help me up, thank you.” I did as instructed and was amazed at how little effort my assistance required. She smiled and said, “OK now, where the hell did the ABC store go?” That took all of the tension out of the moment and I told her she was in luck. I proceeded to escort her to her destination and then went to retrieve my car. By the time I got in the store she was at IMG_0117the counter with a half gallon bottle of 15 year old Glenlivet. I bantered that “Bourbon is better for you.” and she spun on her heel and scolded me like she’d never seen me before and exclaimed, “I don’t like bourbon I like scotch.” I couldn’t argue with that.
As I made my exit I noticed the car of mocking teenagers was pulling out of the neighboring Wendy’s drive through. It just so happened that they had to wait for me to cross the street before they could be on their way. I took the opportunity to suggest that, in the future, if they witness an old lady falling down they might choose to offer assistance rather than be cruel. Their previous frivolity suddenly seemed abated and one of them offered, “Yes sir.” That was good enough for me. I asked them to have a good weekend and went about my way. I had wished that those kids would have instinctively known what to do. I’m sure, had it been their grandmother, they would have reacted differently. Then I thought back to the dumb things I had done as a kid and was reminded that maybe kids haven’t changed all that much and hope that a lesson was learned.
When I got home, I poured my sip of bourbon, sat down on the back porch and offered a toast to little old ladies and rambunctious kids everywhere. It takes all kinds of people to make this world go round.

Your Hidden Gifts.

My parents met post World War II while big band, dance halls and supper clubs were still the rage. I don’t have many stories of those times but the band names they referred to were the likes of Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, the Glen Miller Band, minus Glen Miller by that time, and the like. I think they actually met at an up and coming band leader Lawrence Welk gig. My dad claimed to not care for Lawrence Welk very much but you’d never know it from the hours of Saturday night time our television was dedicated to his TV program. My dad, while not a musician, shared his love of music with his kids. He encouraged us all to play an instrument but forgot to provide the gene pool. That’s OK. We are all proficient at volume control and tone settings on our music playback machines and my kids would tell you it’s rare to not hear music in our home if I’m in the house. I’m grateful for his gift of music appreciation. It provides a richness to my life I can’t imagine doing without.
Both of my parents are gone now. My main Pandora station is img_4813lightly mixed with music from their era. Every time a Sinatra, Miller or Dorsey song graces my playlist I have fond memories of growing up. Music transcends time and space in a special heartwarming way some times. I was born in 1960 and in the early years of my life a few dinner clubs were still around. The Colony Club sat high on a wooded hill in central Waterloo, Iowa. On special occasions I remember getting dressed up and joining my parents on “date night.” That’s how they did it. I could maybe count on one hand the times my parents went out and left us with a baby sitter. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to get rid of me to this day. I never learned what it was like to be excluded. I always just assume I belong wherever I happen to be.
The Colony Club was a candle lit fine dining establishment with tables surrounding a large hardwood dance floor that was edged by a large stage capable of holding twenty-five or better musicians. By the time I got to hear the bands play at The Colony Club I would imagine few had ever played with the great leaders bearing their name. I don’t suppose that mattered much to my parents much because they always seemed to get lost in the music. And that’s the funny thing. I always thought of my parents as the straight and narrow Ward and June Cleaver types. They were modest, practical and reverent… Until they hit the dance floor. Clayton and Anita would transform into something unrecognizable. Upon taking the floor they bestowed an elegance and grace that could only be capable if gravity did not apply to them. I’m talking Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers grace. In the event you think I exaggerate I’ll tell you, I thought long and hard and decided that is the best way to describe what I saw. I was always in awe of them, of the love they had for one another. What I wouldn’t give to see them dance once more.
We all have hidden little surprises stored away in our gifts and talents. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could go through our lives in such a way that people would share that with us. Wouldn’t it be grand if we felt safe enough to share our gifts with others. What’s your hidden talent? Would you care to share?

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