Thursday, June 18, 2015

'Identifying' as Human...and then some...

Rachel Dolezal has done us all a big favor by raising to a new level the notion of personal identity. She famously identifies as black although her skin pigment  and parents indicate otherwise.

In a lot of ways we should all identify as black. Black Africa is the "home" of our ancient ancestors. And they were black.

Time and migration modified human pigmentation into the rich variety we have today.

The question of racial identity has another side. I found out something about mine in Africa as well.

As a young man, I was in a Peace Corps teacher in Kenya for three years. All of my students were black, but they didn't identify as black at all. They identified as being a member of a particular tribe. Each had its own language, and, yes, racial characteristics. Kenya has some 90 tribal. Most of my students were Luos.

As time went by in my Peace Corps tour, I found that at the end of the teaching day something strange happened when I'd look in the mirror. I was surprised that the face peering back at me was white, not black. It seemed  that my identity was being absorbed and my "whiteness" was disappearing, at least in my sense of self.

I frankly found the change liberating.

Dolezal may have had a similar experience and had a similar liberating reaction.

The story of her self-proclaimed identity has put me into T-shirt slogan mode. I want to get a few score shirts that read: "I identify has HUMAN!"

The subtitle might be: "...for better or worse. It's up to me."

But that slogan doesn't really describe me either.  In my eighth decade of life as we know it I'm increasingly identifying with spirit, the ephemeral, the soul, the One.

And "identify" falls short of the mark too although changing the word removes us from Rachel's inspiring, provocative proclamation.

My operative verb is "am." "I am Spirit." Subtitle: "...the same one as you."

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Thursday, November 06, 2014

Lessons from the 2014 election

Random and opposing thoughts regarding the mid-term election:

Our political system will continue to be corrupted by and in the grip of those obsessed with money and power.

We will rely on the leadings of the spirit and the spiritual.

Gross inequality will continue.

We will distill our lives, or our lives will be distilled for us.

The militarism will continue.

We will learn by the riveting experience of suffering…and forgiveness.

Secrecy in government will increase. Our privacy will continue to be invaded and diminished.

We will be clearly shown that we are one, that we depend on each other, not as "The other" but as "The one.” We ARE the enemy and the enemy is us. (Pogo was right, sort of....)

Purveyors of fear (still the great motivator) will continue to shape our culture and attitudes toward our neighbors, be they on our street or in the rest of the world.

The Great Unraveling will teach us compassion and humility.

Global warming will continue. “Natural disasters” (Nature shaking off our toxic species) will grow more and more severe.

The manifestations of environmental disintegration and the power of nature will force themselves upon us. They will require us to change.

Ignorance will spread…thanks to fundamentalism, corporate media, distorted values, amplified media demagoguery and impoverished schools and families.

We will discover truth through experience.

The homeless, many of them veterans, the mentally ill or both, will continue to find homes only in the streets. They will continue to be neglected, even scorned. Children will suffer in growing numbers. Homeless, hungry and abandoned.

We will learn that change begins with us acting as individuals and as communities (including ‘communities of interest’). Change begins in “small places” within the "oneness."

Technology will grow with little or no consideration given to unintended consequences. Escapist sports, games, consumerist values and other fantasies will define our culture. We live in a drop-out, fabricated, media-manipulated world of distorted and corrupted values.

We will withdraw from corporate media, consumerism and their contrived values. There will be a growing suspicion of technological change masquerading as “progress."

Crime will increase, including that committed by our “system of justice.”

We will be forced to examine and re-examine deeply, and then reshape, our values and our actions. Restorative justice, compassionate listening and non-violent communication are manifestations.

The good (love) in religions will be muted; the bad (prejudice, anti-intellectualism, self-righteousness and judging) amplified. Religions will grow as a problem, not a solution.

We will turn to spiritual “leadings” and reject religious dogma and dictates.

Government and politics will grow as a source of our fear and despair.

We will focus on and do what is possible. We will live and act more closely to our communities and homes. We can not afford to be distracted by events (news?) we can do nothing about. We will govern ourselves.

Our infrastructure will continue to crumble. Private profit will reshape and then destroy “The Commons.”

We will be called upon to act together and independently in new, sustainable, cooperative, humane and creative ways.

We may not have “fallen far enough.”

We will evolve to new awareness and, then, a new consciousness.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ferrari worth a Fortune in Fables

When they announced the winning bid for the Ferrari — $38.1 million — the crowd at the Bonham's auction in Monterey, California, cheered the record price.

Sold was a rare, curvaceous, powerful, red 1962 240 GTO Berlinetta.

Bottom line, it is no more than a collection of metal parts. This one had been crashed and rebuilt. Here in Oregon its title wouldn’t be considered “clear.”

My first reaction to the fall of the auctioneer’s gavel was to ask: what might $38.1 million buy besides this?

Scholarships for the talented and gifted poor.

Retirement of student debt.

Care for the sick (think ebola in West Africa).

Wells and water for thirsty, drought-stricken villages.

Homes for the homeless.

The list is endless.

But somewhere, someone with $38.1 million in loose change decided in his wisdom that highest and best use in this troubled world was ownership of this car.

Not surprisingly, the possessor of this “pride of ownership” was not revealed. Somebody knows what hubris is.

No, I did not cheer the sale. I wondered why others would.

We are told that shock turns to anger, then grief, then acceptance.

Now, five days after the sale, I have arrived at “creative therapy.”

The sale of the Ferrari stretches the imagination.

For one thing, $38.1 million is no longer locked up in some bank account. The Ferrari had freed it. The money could go to work.

But doing what?

Who got the check? And what would that person (or persons) do with the money? After all, the the car had been owned by one family for 49 years, from 1965 to 2014. Why did they sell it? Boredom? They got tired of red? They were in the red?

I began to imagine scenarios. Some uplifting, some ironic, some funny, some even more outrageous than the sale itself.

Here are a few:

What does one do with a car like this? Where can one go and not be A, envied, B despised or C shunned? At Walmart they gawk. At the Ritz, they see uncouth ostentation.

What does one say to: “Hey Dad, can I take the Ferrari tonight?”

What does one say to the dying, emaciated ebola patient who is told the news in his crowded death tent in Liberia?

What happens when the owner is “outed”?

Call a press conference? Hire a PR firm? Subject oneself to questions about the homeless, the starving, the thirsty? About those forced to travel on foot, in the heat, without shoes or superchargers?

Auditioned response: “I’ll have to get back to you on that one….”

Too dangerous to park in public. Hire motorcycle escorts and body guards. How about trucking the beast for safety’s sake? After all, Mercedes make really nice trucks. You can even sleep in them. Try that in the GTO.

The shrewd seller, with $38.1 mil in his pocket might use the money to buy, oh 38 new Ferraris at a million a crack and watch them appreciate.

Maybe the buyer is trying to impress a certain someone. Good luck with that. Stay clear of certain someones impressed by a $38.1 million Ferrari. Then again perhaps Ferrari-infatuated couples deserve each other. But wait, who gets to drive the Berlinetta? A stablemate is needed. The Rolls will no longer do.

Suddenly you need another Ferrari.

There’s this guy I know who just bought 38 of them….There’s an auction house crowd eager to cheer as you bid up the price.

Aesop wrote fables. Why not Ferrari?

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Monday, August 11, 2014

The New Yorker's Quaker moments

This summer, in a rare event, two consecutive issue of the New Yorker magazine made passing reference to Quakers.

As a Quaker, I found it strange to see them and yet, in context they seemed to provide a snippet of tantalizing, off-hand insight about Quakers for New Yorker readers.

The first reference was in a piece about Radical Feminists and their exclusion of transgender females as not really being women. The Quaker reference happened to be to action taken by my own Quaker meeting here in Portland. Our meeting at first agreed to rent our meeting house to the Rad-Fems group, but after transgender members of our meeting objected, the meeting decided to cancel the rental, stating that to rent to the Radical Feminists would be hurtful to our trans members.

From my knowledge about how the decision was reached I know that an entire article could have explored the Quaker decision-making process and how inadequate it can sometimes be even as it seeks to be “spirit-led.” For an excellent book on the subject, see “Beyond Majority Rule” by Michael J. Sheeran, who happens to be a Jesuit priest.

The second reference was more remote, but more profound, though terse. It was a sweeping statement by Malcolm Gladwell in an article (“The Crooked Ladder” in the August 11 & 18 issue) about how Mafia families over generations strive for respectability and ultimately leave their illicit histories behind.

The Mafia may seem a long way from Quakers and their "Godfather" George Fox (see portrait to the right), but here’s the passage that caught my eye:

“Six decades ago, Robert K. Merton argued that there was a series of ways in which Americans responded to the extraordinary cultural emphasis that their societies placed on getting ahead. The most common was “conformity”: accept the social goal (the American dream) and also accept the means by which it should be pursued (work hard and obey the law). The second strategy was “ritualism”: accept the means (work hard and obey the law) but reject the goal. That’s the approach of the Quakers or the Amish or of any other religious group that substitutes its own moral agenda for that of the broader society…”

I suppose all spiritual groups (I hesitate to call Quakers a religion) feel misunderstood. Many, like the Quakers themselves, are diverse in how they follow their spiritual paths. One could fairly ask whether they understand themselves in their entirety. Without going into detail, I’ve adopted the saying that “If you have talked to one Quaker about the Quaker Way, you have only talked to one Quaker.” There are others, so many others, with so many other ways to describe what it means to be a Quaker.

So Gladwell is on shaky ground, and, on one point, dead wrong. Quakers are well known for NOT obeying the law when they find laws unjust. Civil disobedience is part of their arsenal in the “Lamb’s War” for peace and justice. Some Friends resisted war taxes, some sat-in in the South in the ‘60s, many have been conscientious objectors, some illegally assisted runaway slaves in the mid 19th Century. The list is long.

Still, Gladwell shares an underlying truth, which is visibly evident in the way the Amish live their lives, and less so in “The Quaker Way.” Each does indeed have its “own moral agenda.” The “American dream,” as generally understood (materialistic, individualistic, nationalistic), is counter to the Quaker “testimonies” of simplicity, peace, integrity, community and equality.

As interesting as the article about the transformation of crime families was, it seems to me that a more compelling story is that of groups that choose to follow their “own moral agenda.”

Both New Yorker stories hint that Quakers (and Amish) go about doing just that. The broader American culture could use more than hints.

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