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.

If I Had a Bell…

CALL FOR SOLIDARITY AGAINST ALL FORMS OF VIOLENCE: If your spiritual gathering place has a bell, as the minister of First Parish in Cambridge, Unitarian Universalist*, I encourage you to join a growing number of faith communities and ring it on SUNDAY October 8 between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. EST (or in your local time zone). Ring it intentionally with the purpose of first honoring those who have been the targets of violence in our society but also as a warning to those who would promote, glorify or carry out violence and violent rhetoric. This is one simple act that may unite those of us who believe in a world of peace.

First Parish Cambridge will ring its bell 59 times on Sunday to honor all of those impacted by the shooting in Las Vegas. Our message is clear as a bell: we will not be silent in the face of violence.

In a time when too many live under the threat of governmental, societal, political, social, sexual and personal violence, many in the developed world are at a loss as to what can be done. Although we may not agree on the means, surely people from every walk of life can agree on the goal: peace. A culture of violent action is encouraged by violent rhetoric and aggressive and irrational politics. In such a world there must be voices that call for humanity, unity and love.

Bells in houses of worship and spiritual gathering places have historically been signals to the community…of death, of warning, but also of joy and birth. They call us into relationship with the realities of our lives and our worlds and there is no more stark reality that we face today than the fact that a culture of violence is literally killing us all.

On your day of gathering or worship, ring bells. Whether it is your church bell or hand bells or a singing bowl, ring bells to let the world hear that you still believe in peace. Ring them in the morning, ring them in the evening, ring them all over this land.

https://www.facebook.com/events/1337548363040284/

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*This event/action is co-sponsored by First Parish in Cambridge

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

Presidents and Pulpits

SFG-Coral-Ghost-Eye-2-main-image-cropA response to the election of Susan Frederick-Gray as the next president of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

I am excited that the Unitarian Universalist Association has elected Susan Frederick-Gray as our next president and I wish her many blessings.  I will support her work enthusiastically.  At the same time, within this celebration of breaking one more glass ceiling, I feel compelled to continue looking forward in order to understand how Unitarian Universalists can truly live the lofty values we put forward.  This election is only one step in a series of many that must happen for us to accomplish that goal.  I will not rehash the troubled journey within the UUA over the last three or four months, nor will I debate the history of racial and gender bias in the denominational leadership.  Instead, as a new minister about to assume the great responsibility and privilege of leadership at the pleasure of a long standing and dedicated congregation, my question is much more basic: why must the President of the UUA be a minister?

On a simple level, it is very easy to see the structure of governance and the balance between “professional” and “lay” leadership that is attempted in our association.  Yet it is that same balance, that says to me having a minister at the helm of the entire Association seems an arrangement we should question in today’s world.  What is more, considering the specificity of how our ministerial leadership is developed in terms of educational pedigree, demographics, economics, age and ability it seems like we are perpetuating the very systems of exclusivity that we are asking our spiritual community to commit to unraveling.  Above everything else, the challenges of the world in which Unitarian Universalism as an organization is being asked to navigate are not challenges that our ministers are being explicitly prepared to meet as organizational leaders.

I’m well aware of some of the incredible professional histories that our past and new president bring to the table.  They are remarkable and multi-skilled people with passion and dedication.  They are immensely qualified leaders.  What is more, a minister leading a religious/faith organization just seems appropriate; one wouldn’t ask Elon Musk to lead the Episcopal Church.  But then again why not?  The assumption that a minister will lead a spiritual organization is status quo thinking and I’m sure that the progress we want to see over the next 10 – 20 years is not status quo progress.  When I look at the list and background of our history of Association leadership we have been blessed to draw the cream of the crop; but it is only a ministerial crop.  What are we missing by not looking across all of the crops within our vast acreage of talent?

I have had the pleasure to meet many incredible people in our congregations and the bulk of them are not ministers.  I have met lay leaders and professionals including Religious Educators, Musicians and Administrators.  They are former and current corporate and non-profit executives, they are lifelong organizers and activists, they are teachers and professors and they are deemed as somehow not qualified to lead this organization because they lack the title “The Reverend.” As a denomination, we place a lot of weight on the three-letter abbreviation (Rev.) But the title doesn’t make the person.  One of the greatest lessons I have learned through my own ministerial formation takes its cue from something Michelle Obama once said about her husband and the Presidency of the United States: “Being president doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are.”  Becoming a ministerial leader is the same way, it is a process of constantly peeling away layers until you are your most forthright and present self.  Even then you continue to evolve and change and discover new layers of truth and strength.  It tests you in ways that until now, I’ve only seen from the outside.  But coming to ministry from a very different background of management, it is also very easy for me to see that the crucible that is ministerial formation does not guarantee that one will always be an effective organizational leader or that they will peel away the most restricting layers. It also doesn’t guarantee that one will be the right leader at the right time.  Again, leadership, any leadership is something that is revealed.

As we embrace the new direction of leadership that will be revealed in Susan Frederick-Gray’s tenure, I say hallelujah let’s celebrate!  But I would also say that it is not the time for us to sit back with relief and sigh “whew…at last, we did it!”  We’ve only rolled on to the tarmac, we haven’t taken flight yet.  Rather, it is the time to embrace Susan’s forward thinking and the forward thinking of all the candidates and say “what a great FIRST step toward wholeness!”  We have a long way to go my friends.  We are preparing for a long flight.  Let’s continue to challenge the structures that cultivate complacency, dominant culture oppression and mono-cultural vision.  At last we’ve proven that our leadership can rock a pair of heels (if she wants to…thank you Sofia Betancourt, Susan Frederick-Gray, Alison Miller and Jeanne Pupke).  Now, let’s keep proving that both our leadership and our lived faith can reflect the economic, racial, social, cultural, ability and educational diversity that we talk so much about.

Hey, Kathy…

landscape-1496233880-kathy-griffinKathy Griffin made an exceedingly poor choice as a pop culture celebrity.

No child (regardless of who is their parent) should have to see their parent or an image of them murdered.

Kathy Griffin did not kill anyone (not even her audience). The joke wasn’t worth it.

Donald Trump has not killed anyone directly (yet) and does not deserve to be murdered.  No one does.

 

But let’s not lose sight of the fact that…

Kathy Griffin created a piece of fiction…poor taste, violent, bad…but a piece of fiction nonetheless. And she is contrite.

Whereas, Donald Trump is creating fact every day and he is rabidly unapologetic no matter what kind of violence it represents.

Not only has he enabled violence at his campaign rallies but he enables and has sometimes endorsed:

…violence against and traumatic separation of families

…violence targeting people through hate crimes

…violence against women and their bodies

…violence and victimization of US born citizens as “foreign” and “undesireable” for their associations

…the ongoing violence against our environment.

 

Kathy Griffin created an entirely ugly and inappropriate piece of fiction. There is no excuse for that.

Donald Trump is creating entirely ugly and inappropriate fact. There is also no excuse for that.

And who just got fired?

 

In 2002 I had the great pleasure of briefly interviewing and chatting with Kathy Griffin as part of the Los Angeles Pride Parade.  She was totally bawdy and randy and made me blush…and she was one of the most completely authentic people I’ve ever met.  Inappropriate, rude, crude, she also knew never to take herself so seriously that she couldn’t see when she was wrong.  She still has my vote.

…literally, when the wind blows.

Kelly Wallace wrote a great piece for CNN that highlights the way that school dress codes body shame girls and how this complicates parenting (Tues, May 30, 2017). I think it is important for more parents (mothers and fathers) to address how girls in particular are shamed in the school setting. As someone who studies masculinity however, I couldn’t miss one quote in the article that really spoke volumes about how male fragility damages everyone.

In the article, Wallace quotes Dr. Catherine Pearlman’s experience with her daughter being told to change her clothes as an example (community Today blog). Dr. Pearlman is the founder of The Family Coach and author of Ignore It!. She advises parents on all matters of child rearing:

“Pearlman said her daughter, now 13, had been told in the fall by a teacher that she couldn’t wear yoga pants because the boys would get turned on and then be embarrassed.”

So in this situation, a 13 year old girl is being told that she needs to feel responsible for adolescent boys’ sexual arousal. What is more, it is assumed that the boy will be embarrassed by his physical response so the message is that his erection is shameful and the 13 year old girl who causes that erection is to blame.

Wow.

As a male bodied person who grew up with a penis, I seem to recall that being 13 years old and being aroused were basically one in the same. Being asked to read in front of the class…‘schwingg’; singing in chorus…‘sproingg’; eating lunch…‘attention!!’. Anyone who would tell a 13 year old girl that her wearing yoga pants is a more likely cause for a 13 year old boy to have an erection than his getting an A on his math test is someone who is at best ill informed about adolescent sexuality and at worst someone with a serious agenda to indoctrinate gender based shame into the lives of young women.

I just wanted to point to this article as a great place to start a conversation among parents and also between parents and children; and not just parents of girls. Parents should share this article with their teenage boys.  This needs to be a conversation between mothers and their sons or any parent of boys and male identified children. Male privilege is not just present in what men are allowed to do or be. Male privilege is present in the blame and responsibility it places on those who are not male identified. It begins by saying to the 13 year old girl that your yoga pants turned him on and ends with a rapist walking free because the defense was able to place blame on the victim’s choice of clothing or appearance.

This is a great article as a starting point for a much deeper conversation.  It is a reminder that men and boys can end sexual violence, but only if we are held responsible for our bodies.

Love your body.

– ALD

Link to original article on CNN.com: Do School Dress Codes End Up Body-Shaming Girls?

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.