Posts Tagged ‘protest

02
Sep
20

Time for a jolt?

As a child of the 60s, I’d like to think I know a thing or two about protests. 

Granted, most of my participation in the anti-war or civil rights protests of that era consisted of watching them on TV from the safety of my parent’s living room. 

Then again, there was that one time when five or six of my friends and I “took over” the roof of the administration building on our college campus for a few hours in order to protest the Vietnam War. 

The quotation marks around the words “took over” in that last sentence stem from the fact that no one really seemed to much mind us being up on the roof of the admin building. They studiously ignored our chanting and passionate singing of “We Shall Overcome.” We maintained that righteous rooftop vigil right up until it was time to head home and finish the term papers that were due the next day. 

While it is true that I was personally a bit of a protest weenie, I see real value in taking a grievance to the streets. I believe that the Vietnam War might have dragged on for years longer had it not been for those anti-war peaceniks. The struggle for civil rights – though far from resolved even today – might not have gained even token footholds without the people who were willing to gather publicly and express their collective outrage at America’s Jim Crow status quo.

As I think about protestors, I also think about the Buddhist monks who set themselves on fire… the young man in Beijing (and his friends) who faced down tanks in Tiananmen Square… and of Nelson Mandela sitting alone in a South African jail cell for 27 years.

At the time most of these people were labeled extremists… kooks… dangerous radicals. So-called reasonable people denounced their tactics as wholly unnecessary. They urged calm, cogent conversation as the preferred way to solve society’s problems. 

But as history has demonstrated again and again, calm, cogent conversation doesn’t always move the needle. Sometimes, it takes an abrupt JOLT!

As it turns out, no one understood the strategic use of the abrupt JOLT quite as well as Jesus of Nazareth. He employed it regularly in the rhetorical technique known as “prophetic hyperbole.” A great example shows up in Mark’s gospel where we read these jolting words: “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.” (Mark 9:43-45, NRSV). 

Does he really mean people should cut off their own hands or feet? 

Or when he told the rich young man that salvation meant selling everything he owned, giving the money to the poor and following him, did he mean that literally?

My guess would be that Jesus didn’t really intend for his words in Mark to be taken as a literal command. In the other one, maybe he did. But maybe not. 

You see, Jesus was a revolutionary. He came to turn the status quo of the world upside down. He did not come for calm, reasoned discussions. He came to instigate radical, top-to-bottom life change. 

In fact, when this man – sometimes called the Prince of Peace – talked about his earthly mission in Luke’s gospel he said, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Luke 12:51, NRSV). 

Jesus sought to WAKE PEOPLE UP! To shake them from their complacency! To stress the urgency of the moment. 

Please understand… I am not saying that the people taking violently to the streets today are shining examples of Christ-like behavior. I have no insight into their hearts or minds. Many, I feel certain, are interested only in mayhem and destruction. 

What I AM saying is that sometimes the world finds itself in a place where a good, old-fashioned JOLT of prophetic hyperbole is exactly what the doctor ordered. 

What do you think… is this that kind of time? 

13
Aug
20

A New World? Or a New Heart?

Bob DylanThe answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind…

If I had a hammer…

To everything, turn, turn, turn…

Abraham, Martin, and John…

We’ve got to get out of this place…

WAR! [UH! GRUNT!] What is it good for? (Absolutely NOTHIN’!)

In terms of musical themes, the decade of the 60s will be best remembered as the decade of the social protest song.

Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, The Byrds, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and other well-known (and lesser known) musicians of that era attempted to bend spears into plowshares in the white-hot smelter of music.

Personally, I remember feeling just a little bit subversive as I sat by the campfire in the summer of 1967 singing, “How many years must some people exist, before they’re allowed to be free?” Those lyrics made me think about the poverty and unrest in our country’s inner cities.

Even though we imagined we were creating something utterly new and revolutionary back then, the idea of expressing a political point of view through music goes back centuries. In 1801, for example, Richard Allen, a former slave and a Methodist minister, published a hymnal titled, A Collection of Spiritual Songs and Hymns. Those familiar with Methodist history will recognize Allen’s name as the founder of the AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Church.

According to the book, Routledge History of Social Protest in Popular Music, most of the songs in Allen’s Collection dealt with his frustration about the level of racial discrimination he experienced from white Methodists.

The two essential elements of a song – melody and meaning – are a potent combination. A series of musical notes, skillfully combined, has the power to reach deep into our subterranean human chambers. When paired with words that convey a timely, haunting, moving, or unsettling message, a great song can’t help but create an almost transcendent spiritual moment for the listener.

But even if we concede that songs have the ability to produce a soul-stirring, spiritual experience, is that the same thing as hearing The Gospel?

We remember that the word gospel comes from the Old English godspel, roughly translated as “good news.” We also recall that when Christians today talk about the Good News (capital “G”, capital “N”), we are most likely talking about the good news that Jesus – in his resurrection from the dead following a painful and humiliating death – forever broke the power of sin and death over humanity and freed all of us from those ancient curses.

Good News indeed! Hallelujah!

But that message is probably a qualitatively different message than the one you hear when you hear Pete Seeger sing, Michael Row the Boat Ashore.

Based on interviews I have heard, I know that the goal of the gifted individuals who write social protest songs is CHANGE. They seek to stir the hearts and move the arms and legs of their audience. They want to convey a message so irresistible that you and I won’t be able to help ourselves… we will drop what we are doing and get to work, actively building a New Social Order based on justice for all, equality, and compassion.

Their aim is a New World.

The aim of the Gospel, by contrast, is a New Heart, and then through it, a New World.

Today, we look around and see AT LEAST as much need for a new world as those protestors saw in the 1960s. Racism, poverty, runaway greed, random violence, environmental crises, political distrust, addiction, and sexual depravity seem to be at all-time highs.

But the question we need to wrestle with today is: Which comes first…

… the new heart?

… or the new world?

 

Abundant blessings;

04
Jun
20

Things I don’t have to do…

George Floyd protestsBut let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Amos 5:24, NRSV

In my life, there are a lot of things I HAVE to do. I have to help out around the house. I have to pay my taxes. I have to regularly demonstrate my love and affection toward Joan. CORRECTION! I WANT to regularly demonstrate my love and affection toward Joan. I have to obey the law. I have to behave graciously toward my neighbors.

But there is also another list. Here below I present only a partial list of things I don’t have to do… simply because I am a white male.

  • I don’t have to carry around the knowledge that I might be pulled over by the police at any time, in any part of the city, even if I am flawlessly obeying every traffic law.
  • I don’t have to have a carefully-worked-out script committed to memory in the event I am pulled over by the police and questioned.
  • I don’t have to make sure I am holding a young child’s hand on one side and a cute dog on a leash on the other side whenever I want to take a walk outside, just so I don’t arouse the suspicions of my white neighbors.
  • I don’t have to monitor the way I walk through any retail store, constantly making sure the clerks don’t find a reason to suspect me of shoplifting.
  • I don’t have to sit down with my two male children and have a serious talk with them about how lethal it is to wear the skin tone they were born with.
  • I don’t have to wonder if this evening’s jog might be the last one of my life.
  • I don’t have to sit down for an entire evening of mindless televised entertainment and wonder why I don’t see anyone on the screen that looks like me.
  • I don’t have to feel the pressure to be twice as qualified, twice as astute, twice as eager, and twice as willing to be flexible as white candidates when I apply for a job.
  • I don’t have to worry that I have a substantially higher chance of being wrongfully convicted of a crime than a white person. Specifically, if I were black, I would be SEVEN TIMES more likely to be wrongfully convicted for murder, THREE-AND-A-HALF TIMES more likely to be wrongfully convicted of sexual assault, and FIVE TIMES more likely to be wrongfully convicted of drug crimes than a white person, (according to a study by the Newkirk Center for Science and Society, University of California Irvine.)
  • I don’t have to worry if my family doctor (of a different race) is actually listening closely and working carefully to diagnose my health concerns.
  • I don’t have to lose sleep wondering whether my children are being afforded the same opportunities and given the same tolerance and understanding in their classrooms as the children of white parents.

And finally, I don’t have to feel a sense of mind-numbing rage at the report of yet another citizen of my race and ethnicity being murdered in cold blood by the police simply for the crime of being my race and ethnicity.

As an older, white male, I have the luxury of being able to scan the news, shake my head, say, “Ain’t it a shame!” and then go right back to watering my lawn and wondering what’s for dinner.

I pray God will afflict my heart and the hearts of millions of others with the same pain that lives DAILY in the hearts of those denied that luxury.

11
Jun
18

INDIVISIBLE

Indivisible banner artAll that hard work for the last three months… and suddenly POOF! it’s done.

As I write this, I have just finished singing with the Heartland Men’s Chorus in a concert called, “INDIVISIBLE: Songs of Remembrance and Resistance.”The weekend included one Saturday night and one Sunday afternoon performance at the Folly Theater in downtown Kansas City, Missouri.

The concert consisted of two halves: the first half featured the world premiere of a series of songs telling the story of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. As you may or may not be aware, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dedicated in Washington, D.C. in March 1921 to the memory of those who died in that First World War without ever being recognized or identified. This piece of music was written because this year – 2018 – marks the 100thanniversary of the armistice that ended World War I.WETU photo 1

As we rehearsed this moving and powerful music over the past three months, members of the chorus had an opportunity to talk with a soldier who actually served as one of the guards (they call themselves “sentinels”) at the Tomb.  His testimony of standing by that tomb in the darkness of early dawn with no visitors around was very poignant.  The special bond he said he felt with that soldier who served, fought, and died, all without any kind of recognition touched each of the Chorus members deeply.

The half of the concert was the Songs of Remembrance part. Members of the Soldier’s Chorus of the U.S. Army Choir sang the oratorio with us.

The second half of the concert was the Songs of Resistance segment. It included an ensemble singing Michael Jackson’s hit, Man in the Mirror. We also performed a recently written piece called This Grass, recounting the recent controversies in Charlottesville, VA and elsewhere over the removal of statues dedicated to soldiers of the Confederate army.

But the most difficult piece – both to perform and to listen to – was a number called The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed.  In an incredibly creative and provocative arrangement, the verbatim last words of African-American men killed by police officers since 1999 were set to music. There was Trayvon Martin’s voice saying, “What are you following me for?”,Michael Brown pleading, “I don’t have a gun! Stop shooting!”,Eric Garner gasping for breath, pleadingly saying, “I can’t breathe!” and four others.

WETU photo 2The one that I always struggled to sing without openly sobbing was the part of Amadou Diallo. When he was shot and killed in February 1999 in New York City, his last words were, “Mom, I’m going to college.”

It was an incredible concert to be in and – according to my wife – to watch. I loved the music… I loved the staging… I loved the emotion it generated… but what I probably loved most was the title: INDIVISIBLE.

This single word speaks Truth and fills me with hope. It boldly declares that we cannot be divided… despite the best efforts of some to divide and isolate on the basis of color, gender, sexuality, or any other criteria. It speaks of a strong, deep bond in the core of our souls. It defiantly raises a fist and says a loud “NO!” to the forces working actively to pull people apart because of their differences.

And even though it involved three months of damned hard work to learn this music and commit it to memory, I am really sorry to see it end. I wish we could sing this concert in every city in every state. I want to remind TONS MORE folks that our differences are the MORTAR that holds the bricks of our country together… it isn’t some kind of menace or aberration. From the earliest days, we have always understood that the strength of our country is our diversity.

Fortunately, for folks in the Kansas City area, our local ABC television affiliate, KMBC, produced and will air a special documentary on the making of the concert. You can see it on June 20 at 9:00 p.m.

For everyone else I would just ask: take that word – INDIVISIBLE– grab it with both hands… hold it tightly to your chest… let it fill your heart with courage and your spine with steel.

It really is who we are.

25
Sep
17

Help Me See

Anthem protest photoI need help.

I need help with a lot of things, actually.

I need help with exercise. Left to my own devices I probably wouldn’t do it with much regularity. So I exercise in a class with a group of other guys.

I need help with eating. No, not the “lifting the fork and spoon to my mouth part” of eating. More like the “eating stuff that is good for me and avoiding stuff that is bad” part.

I need help packing for trips. Or at least my wife seems to think I do. (Shhhh… I’m going to let her keep thinking that, too.)

I need help dressing. Seriously. I mean, who knew a red polo shirt doesn’t go with brown plaid cargo shorts?

Apparently everyone.

But with all those areas of life where I struggle and need “a little help from my friends,” there is one thing I definitely do not need help with; and that is my ability to live in denial of life’s difficult realities.

Throughout my life, I have had a LOT of practice with this denial skill and – as many who know me will attest. As a result, I believe I have achieved a dubious degree of mastery.

Here are just a few examples of some of life’s hard realities I have been able to deny:

  • Because of my education, I have been able to live in denial of the reality of illiteracy.
  • Because of my income and net worth, I have been able to live in denial of the reality of poverty.
  • Because of my healthy, loving family of origin, I have been able to live in denial of the reality of family dysfunction.
  • Because of my gender (male), I have been able to live in denial of the reality of sexism.
  • Because of my race (white), I have been able to live in denial of the reality of racism.

Mind you; as much as is humanly possible, I try NOT to live in denial of any of these realities of life. They exist. They put a stain on the lives of millions of our brothers and sisters. They systematically undermine the values on which our country was founded.

But then I tune into the debate around national anthem protests… and I notice that some of the voices in that debate seem to be intent on helping me continue to live in a state of denial.

  • Those voices equate taking a knee during the anthem with anti-Americanism and disloyalty to our country.
  • They suggest that professional athletes have no right to express opinions on matters outside the realm of their employment.
  • They further suggest that all of us – including members of the marginalized classes – should place loyalty to country over everything else… including our sense of justice.
  • But mostly those voices seem to be saying that we should all continue to live in denial of some fundamental inequalities in our system of legal justice, particularly as it is applied to African Americans.

Thanks, but no thanks guys. I already have too much denial in my life to atone for. I don’t need help adding more.

The help I really need now is help to open my eyes to life’s hard truths… and keeping them open; even if it stings a little.




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