Sunday, August 13, 2017

Band-Aids and Civil Disobedience

The world seems to be crashing down around Dixie these days.
Innocents were run down in the streets by evil men.
The horrors of Hate, visited upon our fellow mankind. 

Nobody talks about the cause of Hate, or if they do it is couched is such thick psychosocial-jargon that it comes across as empty vanity prancing in the shoes of academics. And nobody seems to listen; they just find people to talk with who share the same views, so they don't have to listen, and the cause of Hate grows deeper into our world. Fear.
Fear is a murderer, not Hate. You can hate someone, even despise them, but if there is not even a single hint of Fear about them, there is no violence.
On the other hand, every day people kill people out of fear, victims who are not hated at all, just feared.
How many times did we see a white trucker, dragged from his rig by black youth who were trying to bash in his head with bricks? Or the video of Rodney King being assaulted by those who broke their vow of civic trust? So who brought us that loop of footage? into the safety of our homes? 
Who shows the brutality of street violence for the world to see? And who is more likely to be shown as the aggressor? The Media shows the black man to be a criminal who is like a pit bull: one moment relaxing and strong, the next moment murderous and out of control.
Then the media shows us white police officers shooting an unarmed man, so all white police have been painted by the Media as murders in a long line of strange fruit.
Who paints POC in shades that are to be feared? Who stirs the oppressed and marginalized communities into acts of incivility? Why do the major media outlets get a free pass to brainwash citizens toward destruction, conditioning them for the siren song of hate-groups who offer solidarity of force in a ever-thickening cloud of fear?
What happened in Virginia is not new. We see it every week on the streets of France or Syria or Gaza or Venezuela. We see it because the Media brings it to us, not to inform us but to gain viewership ratings so they can make more money by using Fear to generate crisis; this rallies our species to stop thinking critically and switch to reacting-mode.
We are being played by the greatest power in the world to make a buck off us, leaving us terrified of people who are different from us, because we are IGNORANT. Ignorant of other cultures, of other religions, of other communities that live 5 minutes from our homes. And that ignorance is deadly.

But what we also see, if we choose to not be ignorant, is the amazing way people are capable of loving each other. There is no greater illustration of this than the fellow believers at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. I have never in my years seen a greater demonstration of the power of love.
And perfect Love casts out Fear. 
That Jesus would pray to God for those who were torturing him to death... torturing him because of Fear... that humbles me in ways that I struggle to see myself following. Emanuel showed me the power of "dying to your self", to vengeance, to hate-spawned-by-fear... the amazing people of Emanuel AME showed me that ordinary, amazing people are indeed capable of following Jesus, even to the cross. 
The dynamic tension between White Supremacy racists and BLM bigots will validate mutual violence until the scriptures in John 10:10 are fulfilled: the Thief comes to steal, kill and destroy. And this destruction comes not from Hate... it's from Fear... and that comes from not knowing people who are different from yourself: Ignorance. 

And there are very real issues that need to be addressed, to be dealt with in our daily life in America. Because we are still blinded by the band-aids that surround us, blinded, unless we have a friend from deepest, darkest Africa who needs a bandage on her forehead.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Mortality and Jesus: a change of seasons

As the trees prepare for winter time, and leaves begin their fall, 
may the sight of hummingbirds and butterflies remind us all 
that life goes on to a different place, beyond the winter's chill;
a place of sanctuary and transformation,
a place of dreams fulfilled.
And though this season fades from green to orange, then to gray,
The Spring will come, and Life returns, and night gives way to day.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Left-handed in a Right-handed World?

So I seclude myself yesterday into my man-cave, thankful for the junked fan that blows hot air around my garage, a recusal from the torrent of this last week of societal insanity and chaos. As I loose water-weight to the heat and Zika-vectors swarming my ankles, I stand at my work bench, thankful for the comforts of my tools and my self-taught skill-set.

For almost a month I have been working through the aftermath of an apparently injured ulnar nerve that shuts down my full use of my right hand. On occasion I will don the borrowed arm sling to force myself rest for my mysterious injury, using my left hand, an unskilled proxy, an apprentice much in need of life experience, especially if my injury progresses and I no longer have the option of right-hand awesomeness. My left hand is an awkward fellow, the Napoleon Dynamite of my limbs desperately in need of some dance moves. So it was yesterday when I switch-hit for the cleanup of my yard tools that I got a glimpse of a world hidden to my left-brained lifestyle: my garage is right-handed.

You never think about it; you never need to consider it unless you have a life-altering event that shifts the frame of interacting in the confines of your comfort. My world is right-handed. I have a right-handed ignition on the car; a right-handed refrigerator door; right-handed scissors and metal shears (seriously--you try using a "lefty" scissors for a month and tell me it's no big deal). I perpetuate this invisible bias by arranging my living space to maximize the use of Righty, and I had no conscious awareness of any of this until yesterday when I was trying to hang up my square-bladed shovel in it's correct niche on the wall... I could not really do it with my left hand because of the how I arranged that physical space.

And then I thought of all the race-riots this week: Euro-cops killing Afro-civilians in Baton Rouge, and then in Minnesota; an Afro-civilian assassinating five officers in Dallas proclaiming that he wants to kill white people, especially white cops. Black Lives Matter activists plotting with officials to disrupt political conventions to create civic chaos and radical shift in power structures, countered with white-supremacist groups gearing up to counter this, or worse... use it as an excuse to perpetuate what they perceive as America. Crazy! What happened to our Country, Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty?

And then social media blew up, with non-stop slap-fighting between, "You can't understand because YOU'RE WHITE! vs "I may be white but at least I know NOT TO RESIST COPS!" vs "You don't even KNOW ME, how can you judge me.. because I'm WHITE?! /BLACK?!"... and so it went. Folks posted studies and research and opinions and pointed fingers; white scholars apologized for being white; black scholars pointed to the systemic injustices of our current culture; a few Americans walked across the street and hugged the others. And I felt it... in my right hand.

Our culture, our systems, our institutions in America... we're right-handed.
And my Irish-immigrant hands are white.

Peace.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Ouch... I believe this stone is yours?


I am a sinner, saved by Grace, so I have no room to boast.
I am not perfect... like I said: I am a sinner. I keep screwing up.

The good news is a wonderful paradox-- there is nothing I can do to be "good enough" for God; my only hope comes at the expense of a perfect sacrifice offered on my behalf to take my punishment in exchange for a life-changing intimacy with The Father-- this historic Jesus, born of the line of David, in Bethlehem, was uninterested in political power or military might. The people wanted a fighter, someone like David to shed the blood of the oppressor... so they used the political system to brutally and publicly assassinate him.

There is a popular perception that somehow America, or other countries for that matter, are no longer the Christian nations that they used to be. I have read enough history to doubt whether any nation is Christian, but to qualify that, let me explain what I mean by "christian".
Jesus taught his followers to love their enemies and pray for those who persecuted them. All of the original disciples were killed by the secular and religious authorities of that time, though John outlived most of them. They did not die in gun battles or sword fights; like sheep they were led to the slaughter. Although impulsive and passionate Peter used his sword to try to protect Jesus, he was rebuked and later allowed Rome to crucify him... upside down because he was unworthy to die like the Messiah.
Thousands of these Jesus-followers were stoned to death by Jewish communities trying to "purify" and "purge" their community from this sect. Thousands of others were used for sport in the Roman arena. They huddled in shadows with secret codes to avoid persecution.
In time the good news of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus reached Caesar and other heads of state, but in assimilating it as an institutional religion, transmuted it into something very different from The Way.

Today I see the Christian faith still in this age-old struggle between authentic obedience to the teachings of Jesus  and the institutional power that conveniently adheres to Christian ideology when it suits its agenda. The former is not the same as the latter.
An amazing display of follower-ship was recently seen at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston. Those families better reflected Jesus than any evangelical celebrity in the media. The very outrage created in the hearts of radical militants by their courageous faith to forgive gives testimony that the Church is not dead yet, though not likely to be seen in the media outside of opportunities to sell advertisement.
I see a great parallel between the original Church and the black church, the Coptic church, or other marginalized communities that follow the Lord's command, "Come, follow me."

So as you throw stones at what you do not understand, I challenge you to consider your role in history, who you stand with, and who you stand against.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Tiny Glass Bells

I remember the night I cried for my loss.

I was on the school's annual induction retreat for incoming freshmen students, and after a late night of preparation and planning for the next day's activities I escorted one of my female colleagues to her cabin in the woods. I'm not sure what kind of security I could actually provide if we encountered some rabid lumberjack on the trail, but there's always comfort in companionship.

As an aging teacher I was beginning to struggle with my hearing, especially those shy little girls that sit on the back row, brilliant yet afraid they may be wrong with their contribution to our daily discussions. "Mr. Kelley, I think tha... ke... but...."-- DRATS! I'm losing my ability to engage in my own discussions!
So I went to the audiologist, was tested in her sound-proof phone booth, and was issued a set of high-dollar hearing aids programmed specifically for me. I was given a two-week trial to see what I thought, two weeks that included this particular retreat. I didn't wear them all the time-- as a playful teacher away at camp with students, I'm always mindful of the possibility that impulse-laden guys may entertain themselves with a moment of mutiny and decide to escort said teacher into the pool or lake-- not good for hearing aids or cell phones. At night, especially during meetings, I was free to don my new toys and try them out. I would turn them on and off at intervals, collecting data whether the cost was worth the benefit. Undecided.

Walking back along the trail that night, I realized I had turned them off during the meeting earlier and thought I'd just turn them back on. This model starts with a little chime: "Do-da-do-deet", except this time something was terribly wrong-- intense static filled my ears, like when as a kid I turned on my AM radio with my earphones on...so loud! So intense! This set of hearing aids were defective-- thank goodness I hadn't bought them-- and I turned them off quickly! Walking another minute down the moonlit trail, I thought I'd give them one-last-try [how often throughout my life I've done this?], and again: "SHHHHHHHH...", yet there was also something... something melodic... something familiar. As I stepped closer to the end of the woods the din unravelled into a very difficult, horrifying reality: the night was alive with insect life and I never heard it in my adult years.
I cried.
I cried for the horrible reality that I had missed a whole world around me for so long, a world that friends would comment on or complain about that I had no awareness of... a world re-experienced with a new wonder, like when a child gets her first pair of corrective eyeglasses. I bought the hearing aids.

So today as I sip coffee and eat breakfast in the backyard with my Sweet Susie, I realized my hearing aids made it home from their normal residence in my classroom. She sits transfixed, amazed at some mysterious event above us as I watch flocks of cedar waxwings fly in and out of the mulberry trees. In her sad, pitiful way she looks at me and repeats her gentle query: "Can you hear that?"
I reply, as always: "The cars?, the wind? the doves? the sparrows? the mockingbird? the neighbors? That?"
She just looks at me... sadly. Except today I go inside, put on the aids, and step outside into a din of tiny crystal bells trilling away with fantastic enthusiasms. "Got it," I say, now appreciating what I've been missing in my own backyard, sharing now with my sweety what brings her such joy.

Little, tiny crystal bells; trilling with life. Thank you, Abba, for the wonder of your Creation. And for the consolation of the Serenity Prayer, knowing there are some things that don't have to be accepted or settled for.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Grey

Dark eyes, focused.
       Crunch.
The light of my literacy glows cloudy in reflection.
Fixed.
Waiting.
Expectant.
       Crunch.
Brows raised, focus shifts now: left, right, left…. right.
Nares flare with Pavlovian response.
Dark eyes, focused.
        Crunch
Fixed.
Waiting.
Expectant.

It's breakfast time, and I am not alone.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Why WalMart will Fail in my Neighborhood


Customer service.
WalMart has risen to preeminence in the consumer retail industry because of their smart-inventory systems and sense of branding among "associates". But that is recently shifting with ongoing lack of local management.
In the last two years, we, the consumer, have seen a shift to modern exteriors, enhanced produce sections, and poor service. It is now expected that when a customer wants to pick up a bag of dog food, they will wait 10 to 15 minutes in a 15-customer line, because of the 26 registers that are newly installed and ready to go, only two.. maybe three.. have a cashier and are actively helping customers.
If it were anecdotal, this would not be blog-worthy.
But this has been my experience with every visit, save one late-night expedition, and at three different stores in the West-Houston region. 
 Something has shifted. So much so that twice this short month I have simply left the store, abandoning my cart out of the way where another shopper had just done the same. There are 4 store associates talking, and the manager had just opened a register but only to help an employee to make a discount purchase. The rest of us stand in long lines thinking she will look up, realize that we are getting frustrated and have the initiative to open one more line.
Or maybe as another manager at another store chats up some off-line cashier, he might glance at the line (Katy store) and actually invite her to open her register for the line that has now expanded into the retail area. Of the two frazzled cashiers working that store's truncated check-out, I see two customers leave the line and abandon their carts when one of the cashiers has a client who wants a price-check for yet another item. And there are three associates chatting away from the cashiers.. I guess waiting to restock items left by frustrated customers?
So here's the part that the Region managers don't seem to get: if people leave the store, they not only did not spend any money there, they may not want to return.
I have now decided that my money and my time will now first go to my local grocery store, whose inventory, pricing and customer service has just won a client. It's only a $50 purchase, but that's money that Walmart will never see.
(originally written Feb2014)
JK,ns

The Pause

As I sit here in my lab desk, reflecting over the crazy pace of this last month, I am aware of a background noise that masks itself earlier in the day with the sounds of footsteps or conversation. No, it is not my tinnitus, though that certainly is part of the moment.
It is the air conditioner.
The air conditioner running, and there is nobody left in this building but me...
...and I like it.
Have you ever gotten so still, so quiet that you can feel your own heartbeat?
Listened to your pulse in your ears?
That's what the air conditioner moment is like for me right now.
April had been so crazy: school year coming to a close, taxes are due to The Man, already making plans for next school year, working finances for home-repair and a mission trip to the Philippines... so busy that I come home, kiss my sweet Susie on the forehead and just... want... to... sit on my back porch and listen to birds or wind in the trees.
Stillness.
This morning's weekly reunion of Bible, Biscuits and Bro's began a study of 1 Peter. In beginning of this letter, I can almost hear a plea in his tone as he writes his letter to us: "May Grace and Peace be multiplied to you."
Grace and peace.
Multiplied to us.
The awareness that not only are we not worthy, but that's not relevant... we are the Beloved. We have a loving Abba who walks with us into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, moving past the crazy distractions that bring us anxiety, past the painful realities reminding us of our own mortalities... into the peaceful Presence of His embrace.
Lord Jesus, thank you for the cross... for your willingness to take my punishment, for my sinfulness, all the way to death and back. Thank you for Easter; that reminder that death does not have the last word for those who surrender to your Kingdom within.
Lord, thank you for this moment, the gentle hum of a pause.