Pocket Rocket

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” – The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution

These words were written by a group of angry and frightened men in 1791 to enshrine in law their right to protect themselves from perceived tyranny by using lethal force.  Today, every time we face another societal wave of grief over the senseless loss of life due to the easy access people have to guns in the United States, it reverberates in my ear:

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state…”

In these words, freedom and violence were linked as a consequential pair and presented as an ethical norm.  What is more, when they were written, these words codified a right exclusive to white men with financial means [1].  The Second Amendment was literally a declaration of rights to justify white masculinized violence.  Today, the NRA lobbies the government every day for guns that are bigger, more powerful, higher volume, longer range, and they use the Second Amendment as a protective defense for a macho gun culture that would be adolescent if it weren’t so deeply tragic.

It is hard to tell which might have come first: the projection of virility issues on firearms or firearms projecting virility issues on how men in the United States see their embodiment.  I do know however, that the combination of guns and ideas about how maleness is embodied has left us swimming in a lethal brew that easily conflates male potency with violence.  One look at the number of women (and men) who corroborate stories of rampant male sexual assault (the United States ranks among the highest numbers of rape per capita in the world [2]) alongside the epidemic of gun-based terrorism in this country and it is difficult not to consider a connection.

One problem is that men in the US don’t talk about their penises, something I’ve learned from my own experience growing up in a male identified body with biologically male genitalia. As an adult, I’ve taught sexuality education to youth and studied the impact of sexuality on faith and politics, and it is clear that boys are given a specific rhetoric of shame about their genitals that is tragically entwined with ideas about power.  There is little to no counter narrative to this message and the result is that the shame carves a space for defensiveness and self-styled myths about what is sexually right and wrong.  So, despite men handling them several times a day for a variety of reasons including function and fun, penises are rarely spoken about, never truly understood and most often the subject of performative mockery.  Everything from the casual crotch grab to eating a phallus-ized banana becomes part of the act.  We can joke about penises (thanks a lot Amy Schumer), but we can’t actually discuss them and what they are capable of both positive and negative. Despite being external organs, the profound mystery of the penis is more pervasive than we are willing to culturally admit and undoubtedly more dangerous than we realize.

Negative penis/masculinity narratives are prolific.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the grossly racialized stereotypes of male sexuality in the United States. In these pathetic exercises, black boys are burdened with the assumption of over-sized and threatening ‘Mandingo’ status; Latino men are a disposable ‘walk on the wild-side’; Asian boys are entirely de-masculinized and relegated to a sexual scrap heap, and so on. Meanwhile, all of this unfolds in the shadow of white masculinity as the definitive shining American cultural norm.  Yet when white masculinity is directly linked to violence we are trained to socially accept, endorse or excuse it as “boys being boys” and never, ever allowed to call it terrorism…although it most definitely is.  Personally damaging, false and impossible to realize just like the black stereotype, the white heroic myth of masculinity, becomes the idealized standard of every savior image projected in the US, and is a cornerstone of how we expect to see figures of authority including our modern day “well regulated militia”, the police.  If you consider all of these gendered, sexualized and racialized cultural elements together, the acquittal of white officers for killing unarmed black men and the labeling of non-white terrorists as “animals” takes on an entirely new significance.

For me, fixing the Second Amendment, isn’t just about guns.  It is about de-commissioning the tools that prop up toxic male embodiment and the excuses that enable an almost exclusively white male entitlement to violence.  Gun violence, sexual violence, economic violence, environmental violence are all parts of a culture, fed by a racialized capitalism that cultivates a male embodiment whose only purpose is to dominate and take without being questioned; to relentlessly penetrate everything it encounters with fear and intimidation.

The project of American manhood swinging between rape fantasy porn and a constitutional entitlement to hold the power of life and death in one’s right hand, has made us “dick dumb.”  In this increasingly winners versus losers society, we don’t talk about penises and because we allow ignorance to feed our unspoken fears, too many men are empowered to wantonly misuse their penises and the cultural leverage that is associated with having them regardless of racial or ethnic identity.  Our legal system underscores the misconception that we must live in a world where the only route toward security and freedom is through violence and the penis becomes every man’s most handy surrogate weapon of defense always locked and loaded.

But our government has no tyrant king and does not represent the voice of only one race or class of people.  We are not colonial oppressors trying to fend off slave revolts or Indian uprisings.  Our states no longer require private militia and all aspects of our law enforcement and armed forces are no longer entirely male.  We do not live in a society of duels and honor killings and we are finally willing to recognize that a marriage vow doesn’t include consent to assault.  Gender statistics on mass shootings are a clear indication that gun violence in the United States is a male problem…just like rape. If we are to find an antidote to all toxic masculinity, we need to begin by de-weaponizing male embodiment.  This means the careful dismantling of all the language and social structures that equate the power of masculinity and the penis with lethal force.

We will never fix the fatal flaw of the Second Amendment until we disband the not-so-well-regulated militia in men’s pants.

Cut

Every cry from a child is hunger.
Not just for a hole in the belly,
but for emptiness, lack or abandonment.
Hunger names what we feel
as uncomfortable or raw.
There is hunger for being held…being loved,
and hunger for just being paid attention to.

Every hunger has a sound.
The hunger of pain,
when emptiness is left by safety
stolen from our bodies…
a spank, a fall, a needle,
all the unfamiliar sensations leaving holes in
a newborn sense of world
where there was no abandonment
no stings or burns,
only fullness…safe and alive.

The cry of circumcision is hunger.
A full-throated mortal terror
of being torn
for religion, society, medicine
“for your own good”…for good.
Every male who is cut
carries the phantom ache of this hunger
in sensations he will never know.
The scar he handles is a reminder
of the trade that was made with his flesh:
trust in the world, for someone else’s “div-anity”.

You, cut male child
are told to fill your role.
Penetrate the world with your most wounded self
Through deeds, seeds, desires, passions.
Do as you are told, ignore your basic hunger.
While every day longing for fullness, rarely feeling safe,
forever unable to recall being wholly functional or alive.

Wounded Knees

Forgiveness Ceremony

Forgiveness Ceremony at Standing Rock Casino (c) 2016 Josh Morgan/ Huffington Post

The poet in me can’t resist the significance of knees in this week’s episode of America: 400 Years of Racial and Ethnic Culture in Conflict.  First there is the gesture itself: kneeling.  This is what people do when they propose marriage, what they do when they surrender, it is a universally accepted gesture of homage.  It is also an image that is depicted of European colonizers when they landed on the shores of this continent, often being described as kneeling in Christian prayer.  When I read Eric Reid’s Op-Ed reflection on why he and Colin Kaepernick landed on this gesture and not something more dramatic like turning their backs, I’m reminded that, like the history of resisting racism in this country, there are many different layers to how it actually works and what it all means in real time.

The poetry continues when you consider the fact that so many people today associate the playing of the national anthem at sporting events with honoring the armed forces.  A colleague of mine reminded me the other day that no one ever asked if anyone minded this association (which saw a big boost post 9/11).  The national anthem isn’t explicitly a battle cry (it is based on a drinking song).  But looking at the origins of the practice of playing the anthem which was recorded as first happening during a WWI era baseball game, it is very easy to understand the association.  Just in case you forgot, until after the end of WWII, both baseball and the US Military were segregated specifically against blacks.  Anyone who tells you that sports, race and military service have nothing to do with each other, tell them to read a book.

A final (but certainly not the last) piece of poetry that resonates with me is anatomical.  When I think of kneeling and conflict in the United States, the first thing that comes to mind is Wounded Knee.  In Western US culture and history, we are aware of the name “Wounded Knee” because of the massacre that occurred at Wounded Knee Creek.  This slaughter of Indian people (including children) may have taken place nearly 130 years ago, but the battle is ongoing.  The Wounded Knee Massacre is considered by American historians as the last armed conflict between whites and Indian people.  But these historians forget about the resistance at Wounded Knee in 1973.  And of course one just needs to think back a short 12 months ago and remember that descendants of the same Lakota Sioux people who were targeted at Wounded Knee were the same people under threat and ultimately forced off of Standing Rock.

Anatomically, the knee is a pretty amazing joint.  It is designed to absorb the most incredible forces that our bodies sustain.  Its strength and suppleness is the key to evolutionary human survival, allowing for us to run fast, jump and climb.  The knee allows the human body to dance and to create shapes and movements.  It is an incredible juncture within the body.

And human beings have also learned to thrive without knees.  Paralysis, injury, amputation have always opened up different ways to comprehend human movement without the knee.  You don’t need knees (functional or otherwise) to have a beating heart or a brilliant brain.  Even the name of the creek “wounded knee” (Čhaŋkpé Ópi Wakpála) honors a warrior who has lost use of this joint.

The knee can be used to great advantage by human beings.  It can allow us to reach heights that we cannot reach without it.  At the same time the knee is not essential to human life.  It can be immobilized, absent or even just wounded and we will still survive.  These are parallel lessons that people of color in the United States have demonstrated time and time again in the face of oppression.  Today’s battles are not new, the protests are not novel.  This is the perpetual state of things in a nation built on the obliteration of one people and the monetized subjugation of another.  The resilience of people of color in this country, with and without knees in the face of this status quo speaks to our permanence here and across the globe.

If you are flummoxed by the current state of affairs in this country, maybe you need to consider more deeply where your body can bend to have more leverage in the battle or how you can adapt without that joint altogether.  Some of us prove that both are possible every single day.

These Times

Some folks are in agony wondering
“What can we do and how should we feel ‘in these times’?”
Yet, while they’ve been busy
Creating ‘safe’ and ‘brave’ spaces
And learning about ‘diversity’
And pondering what it means to ‘dismantle’ racism in ‘these times’,
‘These times’ have been the entire context for Africans in “America”
‘These times’ have been the human history of rape
‘These times’ have been the ongoing Indian genocide.
Across the globe, right here at home, historical and modern, physical and social
‘These times’ are and have always been right now.
The only reason one could possibly see any of this as either new or shocking
Is because of  the highly evolved, totally unique United States Brand™ privilege.
It is not just a simplistic privilege of skin color
But the complex construction of an entire privilege culture
Based on race, fueled by fear, multiplied by greed
Locked in systems of opportunity, loaded in government
And fired down the barrel of a very specific social order
Laying waste to everyone in its sights.
The only way to truly deal with ‘these times’
Is to admit that ‘these times’ are business as usual
Face all the signs that say we have to start from scratch
And begin the experiment entirely anew.

Reid Kaepernick

Eric Reid, Colin Kaepernick, kneeling during the National Anthem (c) 2016 Marcio Jose Sanchez/ AP

Jefferson’s Democracy

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Democracy before decency…
Jefferson’s greatest deed
Sealed in the American creed that
“All men are created equal”
Too often holds these truths to be self-evident:
That “men” exclusively means “male”
And “equal” is only painted from the palette of white skin
And being “created” is synonymous with
an individual right to material wealth.

Democracy before decency…
Jefferson’s “gradual abolition”
Evolved into the prolapse of civil rights
Where what is most basic became most rare
A moral inversion secured in place by law
An ethical hesitation justified by greed
An excuse later celebrated under the blazing lynching tree
Where assumptions of dominance
Were seared into the genetic memories
Of both the “dis” and the “en” franchised class.

Democracy before decency…
Jefferson’s assumptions are
Captured today in words that
Dribble off the lips of those
Who see “both sides” of racial hatred
And try to “defend” free speech and First Amendment rights
To maintain the same status quo that birthed the horrors of
Slavery, genocide, colonial sexual servitude
And the posture that denies its paternity to the progeny called
Holocaust.

Democracy before decency,
Pride before dignity,
Profit before prophetic,
“We” before “all”,
Process before people…
This is history repeating
And failing over and over
and over.

There is no democracy
If the truth of decency makes a mockery of humanity;
There is no democracy
When civil rights are based on moral wrongs;
There is no democracy
In free speech that secures the end of a noose;
There is no democracy that un-sees, un-hears…
That too easily forgets.
There is no democracy in rape.

Mr. Jefferson,
We have learned the hard way
That there can be no democracy
Without truly common human decency first.

– ALD

We Are Jazz

(Cambridge, MA) A month ago, I wrote a post that gave some reflection on the issues of race and diversity within the Unitarian Universalist Association (HERE). Since that time, UU Religious Educators have called on our churches to spend this week and next engaged in a UU White Supremacy Teach In.  This is an opportunity for us to deeply explore the real problems of race in our congregations, our denomination and hopefully in our nation.  On a day when the Trump administration has signed an executive order that masquerades as “liberty” but will allow religious entities to flagrantly discriminate against LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, women in general and anyone else they choose to class as “other”, I am reminded that marriage between white and non-white people was only made legal in my lifetime and some of the biggest defenders of that restriction were religious entities.  I am also in that same breath extremely proud of Unitarian Universalists stepping forward to fully own the painful complexity of race and ethnicity in this nation.

Last Sunday, April 30, I preached a sermon that I didn’t know I could preach.  It is blunt in its language about race and racism in the United States. It is not religious language per-se, but it is the language of passion and deeply spiritual belief that we cannot “fix” racism, until we actually and honestly recognize its horror.  May we find the strength as more and more horror is heaped on us, to continue to look at what we are faced with, continue to find strength in one another and continue to fight with every bone in our bodies to eradicate any force that attempts to play true liberty and justice for fools.  We are beings that are created of love and innovation.  We are jazz.

RECORDING AVAILABLE HERE

PDF of We Are Jazz, Sermon delivered at First Parish of Cambridge, Unitarian Universalist, April 30, 2017

(Please note: this printed version is a direct preaching manuscript and not a fully edited and corrected version fo publishing.  There are most likely a couple of typos and highlights that are for delivery purposes more than reading purposes, but there has been a great demand from people interested in reading this.)

– ALD

More

Tomorrow, 5 years of seminary and many more years of discernment will come to fruition for me as I find out where I will begin my journey as a Unitarian Universalist minister.  For all of us who have been in search this winter, this has been a time fraught with anxiety and punctuated by incredible affirmation of our abilities as well as painful reminders that we cannot be everything to everyone.  I am grateful to everyone who has been with me on this journey and particularly to the incredible congregations who were generous enough to explore the potential for building ministry together.  I am overwhelmed with their love.

And in the midst of this, Unitarian Universalism is in pain (Critics decry ‘white supremacy’/UU World – March 27, 2017).  Once again, we are being asked to look deeply at the self perpetuating patterns of white supremacy that continue to dog our efforts to be “multi-cultural”.  Even as I launch my nascent ministry, I cannot be silent on this issue; particularly as a black gay man.  We have stepped into a new time of consciousness in the United States and I believe the world, where we are being asked to show what we are truly made of.  I am proud to soon count myslef among dynamic and diverse Unitarian Universalist religious leaders and I believe in Unitarian Universalism, but not with an eye that only looks back.  Fixation with the past is the same crime of our government that speaks of “founding fathers” and “original framers” to fix the ongoing terrorism of black and brown bodies and the epidemic of violence against women and the catastrophic marginalization of human sexuality, differing abilities and mental perceptions.  I must see Unitarian Universalism looking forward.  We cannot be sentimentally bound to the tools and structures that have reinforced patriarchy and subtle (and not so subtle) racism.  We must listen, we must learn, we must be humble, we must do better. We can be more.

More

“Inherent worth and dignity” is not enough,
when “worth” is code for “white”
and dignity is spelled “m-a-l-e.”
This slippery intention
to name us all the same,
too often strides
into assumptions about perspective,
privilege, agency and pride.

“Inherent worth and dignity”
refuses religiosity, and will not bow in unison
or hold a single vision of the divine.
Yet while it mutters a refrain that tries to contain
the vast complexities of every human being
it seems to sound just like the same Western God.

Because “Inherent worth and dignity”
is the language of the colony
that doesn’t know the pain of slavery in its genes,
that ignores its culpability for Holocaust,
that continues to bastardize native people in ritual and song,
that strains against translation,
and always leaves women one step behind.

“Inherent worth and dignity”
Is carved from the dissonant language of white supremacy.
It resonates with paternal principles grown from privilege,
and rises as an onanistic declaration,
excited most by promises of self-righteous satisfaction.

Inherent for you
But abhorrent to her;
Worthy to me
But valueless to them;
Dignity to him
That erases xyr …

“Inherent worth and dignity” is not enough
In a language where the word nigger still sours every tongue.

We must have more.
We must have freedom
Unchained.
We must be seen
Unfiltered.
We must be heard
Un-silenced in a full-throated and triumphant cry.
We must have more than the language of the oppressor
for this dream of freedom to grow living wings
and finally take to the sky.

Slogan to the Right

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Lincoln Inauguration (incomplete Capitol) 1861

Four words that are
Not for all
Cast a pall
Build a wall
Straight and tall
Where only one side is right.

Four words that
Conjure an era
Make nostalgia dearer
Allay misplaced fear
Make it clear
There is only one way to be right.

These same four words
Erase black authority
Deny brown integrity
Evade gender autonomy
Remove migrant empathy
Define only one kind of right.

Four words,
one man,
300 million dreams,
An unending struggle to be “right”
That in the end will leave us all
Alone and afraid in a dark and starless night.

– ALD

Wherefore Art Thou?

dubois

W.E.B. DuBois

In 1890 W.E.B. DuBois delivered a commencement address at Harvard[1] in which he tackled the issue of the impact that leadership has on society. He brilliantly foreshadows the work of Martin Buber’s Ich und Du (I and Thou – 1923). More importantly, his words ring ominously true today as we start 2017 in the United States. In the piece, he reflects on the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis:

I wish to consider not the man, but the type of civilization which his life represented: its foundation is the idea of the strong man—Individualism coupled with the rule of might

DuBois goes on to caution that:

The Strong Man and his mighty Right Arm has become the Strong Nation with its armies. Under whatever guise, however, a Jefferson Davis may appear as man, as race, or as nation, his life can only logically mean this: the advance of a part of the world at the expense of the whole; the overweening sense of the I, and the consequent forgetting of the Thou. It has thus happened, that advance in civilization has always been handicapped by shortsighted national selfishness.

Today, we are facing a New Year and a new government and sadly a new shortsightedness. The choice is stark: are we, as a society, a nation and individuals, going to be an isolated “I” or are we going to be partners in cultivating a world of “I-Thou”?

The incoming US Government administration has utilized a “post-truth”, bully posture to convince the American people that the schoolyard will be better for everyone as long as the chief punk is in charge. This has ushered in a new dark age in American idealism that finds its greatest motivation in fear…fear of exclusion from the club, fear of the other, fear of appearing weak, etc. It backs up a nouveau belligerence that has no grounding in facts or integrity. “Because I say so” has become the default bargaining phrase of the day and the “deals” that are already being struck are less about negotiation and more about coercion and self-aggrandizement. In this equation there is only “I”. The “I” of the “strong man” who only functions for himself* and the “I” of the minions responding to the source of their intimidation, each one trying to see a small part of the big bully/strong man reflected in themselves.

But there is also the dangerous “I” of apathetic immobilized malcontents who refuse to fight back because they believe the system will correct itself. These are the same people who in 1868 allowed Jefferson Davis and the rest of the Southern aggressors in the civil war to be pardoned “with restoration of all rights, privileges, and immunities under the Constitution and the laws which have been made in pursuance thereof.”[2] The result was Jefferson Davis and his “Strong Man” never being called to task for defending the institutionalized possession, abuse, rape and murder of other human beings in servitude. This laid the groundwork for the next 150 years of political apologists who still don’t understand why blacks don’t just “get over” slavery and the legacy of Jim Crow. The “I” of apathy does more damage because it is the “I” of retreat and acquiescence with the full knowledge that grave wrong is being committed. This is the same “I” that quickly defaults to assumptions of sameness as a rationale for inaction. It proudly proclaims on one hand that “All Lives Matter” and that it does not see race, but it refers to “the Hispanics” or “the gays” as if they are entirely different species. This is the “I” who will see you as long as they see themselves in you first.

But, I-Thou does not function based on sameness; it is not a filter. Instead, I-Thou is a manifestation of interconnectedness. I-Thou asks us to be in relationship regardless of our ability to agree. It says that there is no I without Thou. The great advantage here is the elimination of in-groups and out-groups and the true nourishment and safety of all. The challenge for us then today is to avoid being swept up in the wave of “Strong Man” individualism based on assumptions about how we are all the same and instead embrace the importance of being able to submit strength, individual or national to the benefit of all in celebration of our collective uniquenesses. In truth, the more the “Strong Man” abandons his relationship with “Thou”, he is not only weak, but an utter coward, afraid of his own human frailty and need. I cannot improve upon the words DuBois uses to drive home our greatest calling, particularly now at the dawn of an era that will challenge our most basic potential for interconnectedness:

What then is the change made in the conception of civilization, by adding to the idea of the Strong Man, that of the Submissive Man? It is this: The submission of the strength of the Strong to the advance of all—not in mere aimless sacrifice, but recognizing the fact that, “To no one type of mind is it given to discern the totality of Truth,[3]” that civilization cannot afford to lose the contribution of the very least of nations for its full development: that not only the assertion of the I, but also the submission to the Thou is the highest individualism.

Happy New Year!

– ALD

*I have intentionally retained the limited masculine language of “he/him/his” in this piece to reflect the original language used by both DuBois and Buber from which I have drawn my analysis.

[1] http://credo.library.umass.edu/view/full/mums312-b196-i029

[2] http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=72360

[3] New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, Volume 7, Issue: 3, March, 1890, 361-374