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Archive for March, 2019

CONSIDER – ‘TALKING’. . .

In saying what I have in mind will I really improve on the silence? –Robert K. Greenleaf

Yesterday as I was sitting in one of my favorite Starbucks cafes reading, a young man, I will call him Daniel, sat down in the chair next to me.  We greeted one another and after a few minutes Daniel inquired as to what I was reading.  I told him that I was reading Zygmunt Bauman’s ‘Strangers at Our Door.’

Daniel asked me what it was about and I told him about Bauman and his interest in immigration and refugees and that this book was published a year after his death (2016); it was the last book that Bauman had written.  We then engaged in a stimulating conversation about refugees and immigration.

After Daniel left I began to reflect a bit.  The word/concept ‘Talking’ emerged into my consciousness and I began to think about this word/concept.  Here is some of what emerged into my reflective consciousness; the following are listed in no particular order.

  • A QUESTION: How often do I talk because I am not at peace with my thoughts?
  • At times I find that I talk when I am no longer able to dwell in the solitude of my own heart – my ‘talking’ does not have to be spoken out loud.
  • At times I find that I talk when I need a diversion/distraction from…
  • I realize that at my worst, my talking depletes, even directly stifles, my ability to think/reflect.
  • A QUESTION: How often are my words like a cage that keeps my thoughts from taking wing? The image of a large bird trapped in a small cage, a cage so small that the bird cannot even stretch its wings, emerged into my consciousness.
  • A QUESTION: How often do I talk because I am fear-full of being alone? The silence that comes with being alone often reveals my ‘self’ to me and when I am in the dark places this ‘self’ is a ‘self’ I want to escape from.  Talking provides me with the illusion of escape – again, my ‘talking’ does not have to be spoken out loud.
  • Many years ago a person said to me, ‘You talk and talk and talk and then you might begin to make sense.’ He told me this was a compliment.
  • Now it is not all negative, at times talking reveals to me a truth that I do not understand. At times my silence hides a truth that I am hesitant, if not fear-full, of revealing.  A truth that I might reveal if I talk.  I recall a wise person telling us that at times our silence can put us in a spot of bother.
  • A QUESTION: How often do I allow my inner guide, my ‘spirit,’ to guide my talking?

Gentle Reader, what does the word/concept ‘Talking’ bring to your mind as you reflect upon it.

I will leave us with the words of that wise philosopher, Yogi Berra:

It was impossible getting a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.  

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BEING MORAL, PART III. . .

‘No one invited you here.’ –Milos Zeman, Czech President

The overall effect of the slanders and calumnies showered upon ‘them’ (rarely supported by facts) results in the dehumanization of the migrant, immigrant, and refugee.  They are stripped of their humanity and of their religious significance (this second stripping is significant for it allows people who espouse a belief in and a commitment to a compassionate-loving God to guilt-free dehumanize them and then guilt-free punish them).

Dehumanization paves the way for their exclusion from being ‘part of humanity’ and thus from those who have a ‘right’ to ‘human-rights.’

Dehumanization leads, with dire intended and unintended consequences to shifting the ‘migration-immigrant-refugee’ issue from the realm of the moral-ethical to issues of threats to security, crime prevention and punishment, criminality and defense of ‘civil-order.’  The metaphor becomes a ‘war’ metaphor and thus we become ‘at-war’ with ‘them.’

In 2015, Texas’ Agriculture Commissioner, Sid Miller, compared Syrian refugees to rattlesnakes.  He posted on Facebook images of snakes and refugees and asked: ‘Can you tell me which of these rattlers won’t bite you?’  About the same time, the Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, told reporters that ‘we cannot allow charity for some to compromise safety for all.’

Then there is Katie Hopkins, an English media personality.  She faced charges that she incited racial hatred in a newspaper article calling migrants ‘cockroaches’ – a name given by the attackers to their victims during the Rwandan genocide – and ‘feral humans.’  She published an article with this title: ‘Rescue Boats? I’ll Use Gunboats to Stop Migrants.’

Our current President challenges us to ‘make America great again.’  Perhaps we might embrace ‘Make America Moral and Human Again.’

Our current President is chided by many because he is illiberal towards the people seeking ‘salvation from tyranny’ and persecution and inhuman poverty.  Paradoxically, or is it ironically, he is also praised by a minority of us because he is illiberal towards these human beings.

In closing, I invite you, Gentle Reader to consider Michel Agier’s insights.  In 2015 he was considered to be the most experienced researcher into the fate of 200 million (that’s correct, Gentle Reader, as of 2015, 200 million) persons displaced.  He noted a ‘consolidating’ partition between two immense world-categories: on the one hand, ‘a clean, healthy and visible world; on the other, the world of residual remnants, dark, diseased and invisible.’

We (humanity) are on a path.  If we continue on this path, Agier predicts that internment camps ‘will no longer be used to keep vulnerable refugees alive, but rather to park and guard all kinds of undesirable populations.’   We, Americans, have created such camps along our Southern Border.  And ‘We the People,’ for the most part, remain silent rather than become nationally and morally incensed.

We all must be serving someone or something.  Do you know, do you comprehend, in the moment, who or what you serve?  –Maya Angelou

 

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BEING MORAL, PART II. . .

Few are guilty, but all are responsible. –Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

When it comes to the practice of morally informed/committed conduct, realistically managing our response-ability, responsibility and accountability becomes, more frequently than not, a daunting challenge.  The challenge quickly becomes over-whelming; it becomes, it seems the work of saints.

Now, Gentle Reader, the last time I checked there are few of us who qualify; we do not often claim to possess saintly qualities.  Thus our challenge becomes one of devolving the ‘absolute’ into the ‘realistic’ (think: manageable).  The process of devolution, however, opens the pathway to another territory.  This is the territory of moral blindness.

Consider that what needs to be avoided – and with some focused diligent effort can be avoided – is our common tendency (our = society) to set limits on the human beings to whose treatment moral responsibilities must be applied.  One way we do this is to exempt certain categories of ‘other humans’ from the realm of moral obligation.

To state it bluntly: What is unconditionally alien to the quality of ‘being moral,’ and what militates against it, is our tendency to halt and renounce moral responsibility for others at the border that we draw – the border we draw between ‘us’ and ‘them.’

We are well aware of, if we choose to be awake and aware, that this border-drawing-ploy takes the form of assigning to humans exempted from our (otherwise unconditional) moral responsibility features that defame and demonize their image and that dehumanize them.  It is easy then for us to re-present these ‘others’ as unworthy of our regard, respect, care, compassion, support, empathy, and love.  In fact, we now deem them to be deserving of punishment for their many incurable vices or, at minimum, for their incurable vicious intentions.  Once we reach this border it is but an easy step that we then take and cross over into the territory of guilt-free punishment.

As we know, again if we have been paying even a bit of attention, these ‘others’ have been and continue to be accused of carrying incurable and terminal dis-eases: being in the service of the ‘Islamic State,’ intending to sponge off of our welfare system, scheming to convert us to Islam and impose the rule of sharia law (forgetting or neglecting that a significant minority of ‘good Christians’ also want to convert us to ‘their Christianity’ and impose their ‘rule of law’ upon us).  There are more examples, but these will suffice for now.

Lest we think that in our country (the U.S.A.) that this is new let us remember one other example (from many).  During our 1840 Presidential Campaign one candidate, Martin van Buren, sought to engender a fear in the citizens that immigration was beginning to become a real threat to America’s social cohesion.

Who were the immigrants that were going to ruin our nation: the Irish and the

Germans.  One of the main defenders of immigration was Abraham Lincoln.  Lincoln also noted that as a consequence ‘sectionalism was becoming more divisive’ (think: ‘Tribalism’ today).  For those of us who still claim to be followers of Lincoln and his party this example invites us to pause and reflect a bit (I hope).  As one of Lincoln’s contemporaries noted, ‘Lincoln forces consideration upon the mind.’

I don’t like that man.  I must get to know him better. –Abraham Lincoln

 

 

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BEING MORAL, PART I. . .

Be wise as serpents…-Jesus

Good morning Gentle Reader.  Consider these words, ‘be wise as serpents,’ to frame the sole precept that is followed by and demanded of a politics focused on obtaining results.  Sadly, too often – rarely actually – is it followed by the prerequisite of being ‘guileless as doves.’  The supplement that morality calls us to add.

Hannah Arendt in her book, Responsibility and Judgment, reminds us that: ‘No one had to be a convinced Nazi to conform, and to forget overnight, as it were, not his social status but the moral convictions which once went with it.’

Consider that what is happening – in clear opposition to the ever expanding reality of human interdependence – is the closing off of that realm of moral obligations that we are ready to admit, take responsibility for, and accept as a charge that requires our daily attention and calls us to engage in remedial moral action.

What keeps us from being morally and unconditionally response-able?  We are nurturing a world, not of interdependence but of separation.  We are creating and living in a world sharply divided into ‘us’ versus ‘them.’

Ironically, this growing chasm does not require a ‘negation of morality as such.’  On the contrary, this growing chasm births frantic efforts to draft moral impulses into the service of the serpent via serving social and political division and antagonism (think: fear, suspicion, demonization and hate of ‘them’).

‘Morality’ is far from becoming a negative attribute.  ‘Morality’ continues to be a name for a property that is widely coveted.  People of all types wish to appropriate, possess and protect this property for themselves.  People covet this property because they believe it will bestow on the owners of the property the mechanism it provides in order to recruit more followers (think: converts) and of the moral advantages it provides ‘us’ over ‘them.’  Those who hold this property can – and do – claim moral superiority over ‘them.’

Now, this gets messy.  The right to the label ‘moral’ is contested by all who claim a right to own this property.  Each party that claims the right to this property hotly denies any suspicion of moral indifference on their part.  They deny any moral blindness.  They deny holding an immoral stance.  AND (remember, Gentle Reader, there is always an ‘AND’), each charges the ‘other’ (think: ‘them’) with the moral perversions running amok among us.

Simply stated: Being ‘Moral’ means knowing the difference between good and evil and where to draw the line between them.  It also means recognizing one’s own unconditional response-ability and responsibility for promoting good and resisting evil.  It also means recognizing and accepting both the good and evil that resides within one’s self (remember, at our healthiest each of us is a living paradox).

 

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Do unto others as you want others to do unto you. –Golden Rule

Hobsbawm was clear.  Benjamin Barber is blunt: ‘Today, after a long history of regional success, the nation-state is failing us on the global scale.  It was the perfect political recipe for the liberty and independence of autonomous peoples and nations’.  He continued a bit later: ‘Too inclined by their nature to rivalry and mutual exclusion they appear quintessentially indisposed to cooperation and incapable of establishing global common goods.’

Then there is Ulrich Beck (Gentle Reader, I recommend that you read and think about what he offers us in his book: ‘Cosmopolitan Vision’).  Beck notes that even if ‘cosmopolitans are to this day regarded in many countries as something between vagabonds, enemies and insects who can or even must be banished, demonized or destroyed’ we are all already living, whether we like it or not, on a ‘cosmopolitanized’ planet with highly porous borders and universal interdependence.  In other words: ‘Migration-Immigration-Refugees’ are a deep current, if not a wave, that will not be dammed off and stopped.

Beck notes that what we are lacking is ‘cosmopolitan awareness.’  We must become awake and aware to our cosmopolitan condition.  Given the reality of our ‘cosmopolitan condition’ the ‘Nationalistic’ pledges of Donald J. Trump and his supporters is at minimum a failed vision and at maximum a conjurer’s trick.

The reality is that the ‘Nationalistic Vision’ – and the shortcuts – held by this aspiring strongman and his followers are no less seductive for being misleading.  Fraudulent the promises might be – but they ae catchy and seductive.

The seductive attraction of the pretender(s) to a strongman’s role consists in his pledge to act – even if his main action is just speaking and talking.  What our pretender speaks and talks about is that he can do.  The pretender and his followers tell us that there is no alternative to Nationalism.  In fact, he tells us that he is the alternative.

The wanna-be strongman’s seductive powers rest on the many pledges and pretensions that continue to remain untested.  The key to seduction is to keep speaking, to keep promising, to blame the other(s) for failures and inactions (even if the ‘other’ was a long-time ally); to keep repeating, over and over, the same themes.

We are a global community.  We are all in it together.  We are truly, more than ever before in history, interdependent AND our interdependence will only grow.  In order to embrace the reality of migration-immigration-refugees we must embrace the reality of being BOTH a nation and a member of the cosmopolitan global community.  History teaches us, over and over again, that Nationalism leads to the nation’s demise.  Today, Nationalism might well lead to the demise of humankind.  We, in our Country, still have a choice.  Each of us has a choice as to which vision we will support.

In closing I am thinking of the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel:

Few are guilty, but all are responsible.

 

 

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Truly I tell you, whatever you did for the one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. –Jesus

I continue to think about ‘Migration-Immigration-Refugees.’  I continue to think about our ‘Nation-Nationalism-Globalism.’  Although the title I have chosen for these postings is ‘M-I-R’ I will also be addressing its sister topic, ‘N-N-G.’  Today, more than ever before, these are two siblings that must be, I believe, reflected upon, engaged and addressed together.

I have been immersing myself in several new books.  There is one that, I believe, we must read and re-read.  This is Eric Hobsbawm’s ‘Nations and Nationalism since 1780.’  

Hobsbawm is one of the most insight-full historians of our time.  Hobsbawm, more than 28 years ago – well before our present ‘immigration crises’ and ‘globalization crisis’ flowered into full bloom – noted that:

…urbanization and industrialization, resting as they do on massive and multifarious movements, migration and transfer of people, undermine the basic nationalist assumption of a territory inhabited essentially by an ethnically, culturally and linguistically homogeneous population.  The sharp xenophobic or racist reaction of the native population in receiving countries or regions to the massive influx of ‘strangers’ has been, unfortunately, familiar in the USA since the 1890s.  Yet xenophobia and racism are symptoms, not cures.  Ethnic communities and groups in modern societies are fated to coexist, whatever the rhetoric which dreams of a return to an unmixed nation. 

Hobsbawm added: ‘…movements of ethnic identity seem to be reactions of weakness and fear, attempts to erect barricades to keep at by the forces of the modern world.  What fuels such defensive reactions, whether against real or imaginary threats, is a combination of international population movements with the ultra-rapid, fundamental and unprecedented socio-economic transformations… Wherever we live in an urbanized society, we encounter strangers: uprooted men and women who remind us of the fragility or the drying up of our own families’ roots.’

Hobsbawm invites us to consider that nationalism and ethnicity are a substitute for factors of integration in a disintegrating society.  When society fails, the nation appears as the ultimate guarantee.  The ‘strangers,’ Hobsbawm reminds us from beyond the grave, ‘can be, must be, blamed for all the grievances, uncertainties and disorientations which so many of us feel after forty years of the most rapid and profound upheavals of human life in recorded history.’

As the wisdom figures of the past several thousand years insisted – and we are recklessly ignoring – is that history is our teacher.

For me, a powerful lesson that I take from Hobsbawm’s insight-full and challenging book is that failing societies that invest their hopes in a savior, a man (or woman) of providence, are looking for someone staunchly, militantly, pugnaciously nationalistic.  They look for a person who promises to shut out the globalized planet, to lock the doors that are off their hinges (talk about futility).  To erect the many walls that are to keep the strangers out.

What is the ‘cost’ of locking the stranger out?  For Christians, Jesus was quite clear.

‘Let he who has ears, hear!’ –God

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WHISPERS & WISDOM. . .

There is so much yelling and screaming and taunting and name-calling and demonizing washing over us like an out of control tsunami that I-You-We are missing the ‘Whispers & Wisdom’ that has been offered to us for thousands of years.   Here is a poem that emerged into my consciousness on 31 January, 2012.

They spoke in whispers 

They spoke in whispers.

The great wisdom figures

their voices long silent

but not unheard

continue to speak to us in whispers.

 

Be Still. . .

 

Be Open. . . .

 

Listen. . .

 

‘Love the other as you want to be loved.’

 

‘Invite the other’s voice into your heart.’

 

‘Include the excluded.’

 

‘Trust strangers for they are inherently good.’

 

‘Bind up the wounds given and received.’

 

‘Emphasizing differences enables guiltless killing.’

 

‘I see you!’ calls the other into life.

 

Look deeply into the eyes of all you meet along the way. . .

Look deeply and you will see the Divine residing within. . .

Look deeply and see their eyes reflect the Divine within you.

 

Be Still. . .

 

Be Open. . .

 

Listen. . .

 

for the whispers that continue to softly speak to your heart and soul.

 

–Richard W Smith 31 January, 2012

 

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