Monday, December 31, 2012

Listening to a different voice… Russell Means

And so most of the lists are in; the best and worst of the year as it fades.  Best songs, worst dressed celebrities, most spectacular sporting moments, most memorable moments and on it goes.  Of course some will be more daring declarations also; the absolute number one, Time’s person of the year for example.

I don’t know why, but I think the lists that I pay the most attention to are those whose passing warrants a mention because of something noteworthy in their lives.  I find it interesting to think of the difference each person mentioned made, mostly for good, and sometimes for bad.  I also ponder the names that didn’t make it and think of why not.

And so this brief note is to reflect on a person who while not mentioned on many of the lists, left an important legacy in this country.  Of all the incredible people mentioned, and there are many, Russell Means is the one I keep gravitating back to.  If you haven’t heard of Means, then perhaps that makes sense in the sad light of one major US television network presenting a list of no less than 140 people (and a dog), but no mention of Means.

An Oglala Lakota (Sioux), Means was an incredibly complex person.  I will not impose my meager words on his life, his memory or his legacy, except to say he was polarizing and often controversial.  He was a pivotal figure in many public confrontations bringing the plight of the American Indian to the attention of an American and sometimes world audience that were neither aware nor sympathetic to.  Perhaps the most famous such incident was the occupation and subsequent two and a half month siege by US authorities at Wounded Knee.  

I encourage you to visit perhaps his own web sites or read some of his obituaries.  As little as he respected the written word over oral tradition, read… learn to listen as you read.

"To the Lakota, to the Indian, when you listen, you're praying. That's a form of prayer, when you listen."

Perhaps he foretold his own path as is fitting for dead warriors in his role of Chingachgook in the early 90’s version of “Last of the Mohicans”… that he would fly towards his ancestors like a swift arrow into the sun. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

No more judgments... no more fear

For one reason or another - it hasn't felt like Christmas this year yet.  Hard to put my finger on why - warm weather, family not together (this college thing takes some getting used to first time through), travel, various tragic events...

Anyway - maybe everyone being home now, the weather being a touch on the cool side, and a little time to settle and process the tragic events challenging us in the deepest darkest recesses of our beings, I think I am getting there.  Good thing too as in a little over a week we are there.

A good friend Pat Green has taken a bit of a break from Facebook.  There are a lot of things I miss about that, but one is his regular publishing of an evening “hymn” before turning in.  OK – don’t worry – they aren’t your grandmothers hymns (not that there is anything wrong with that).  They would make an awesome playlist though.

So I thought I would put something out there myself – with a bit of a Christmas flavor as tis the season.  This of course is not your traditional hymn or Christmas song – but it feels right to me after the last weeks.  And the selection is Glorious by Melissa Etheridge.  Select phrase from my heart…


And family near

No more judgments

No more fear

For those who enjoy a music video there are two here – one that lacks quality of a professional recording and yet has a poignant raw edge to it.  If you want to hear the song more clearly – together with mushy video, then the second will do the trick.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

an endless, deafening silence…

I don’t often go back and read what I’ve written but I felt compelled to go back and read this recent post.  What grieves me terribly is the events in Newtown compelled me to do so this soon.

Did I want it to reassure me?  Did I want it to ease the disquiet in my soul? Was I hoping I had somewhere in my rambling jotted down an answer?

The truth is I don’t have an answer.  A friend of mine posted a podcast.  Phil is a pastor of a rather non-traditional faith community.  He didn’t have any answers either – just a lament.  I was glad to hear his heartfelt honesty.  I don't know why people are so convinced pastors and ministers in particular and we as a society in general needs to have an answer.  Maybe it would make it all easier to put it away in a little box and move on.  If only we knew why…  if only there was someone or something we could blame.  Do we think even the most perfect answer will make moving on possible for the people affected there in Newtown?

I grieve for them... I have no answers either, but my heart is broken with them.

I heard some of a press conference with the governor of Connecticut.  Amongst so many heart rending pieces of information and the grief poured out, one particular statement has really been gnawing away at me…
“Evil visited this community today” 

What do we do with that?  How do we prevent that?  Is it true that it is always there – latent – malevolent – waiting to be unleashed upon unsuspecting and undeserving people?  And whether it is there under the surface all the time – or just pops up at the most inopportune moments – where is God in all this?

Less than five months ago, one day after the tragic theater shootings in nearby Aurora I wrote:
Yes – yesterday there was a hole in the world.  Today is a new day – and while that does not mean something like this will never happen again (although I hope and pray that it does not), I will move forward in my life, believing that forgiveness and love has the capacity to overcome fear and evil.

Can I still believe this?  Is forgiveness and love enough?  Five months ago perhaps is was cathartic to write that – it almost seems trite now.  Perhaps it was easier to say last time writing a day after the tragedy – when my emotions were less raw.  It’s like these words were at best a Band-Aid that has been ripped away. 

The Band-Aid gets ripped away again when I read what to me is unconscionable nonsense from recent presidential primary candidate Mike Huckabee – suggesting that the violence was no surprise because we have "systematically removed God" from public schools.  Seriously?  What is he saying – that God repays evil (at least Huckabee’s vision of evil) with evil?  Again in the words of my friend Jimmy, “If you think God allowed 20 children to die because some folks turned their back on him I don't know what to say to that... I choose not to believe God is that petty?  If he is we are ALL in trouble.”   Me personally – I don’t think we are in trouble – God’s heart broke over this much faster than any of ours.

The Band-Aid gets ripped away again when I hear people advocating for our teachers to carry handguns and be trained to use them.  Again – seriously?  My wife is a teacher and I asked her.  She didn’t think you could convince many teachers to do it.  But even if you could – is this an answer?  It seems over and over to be one of the preferred answers here – answer violence with violence.  Personally I find the notion of armed teachers horrific - and we would be outraged soon enough over the shooting of a child by a teacher that turned out to be unjustified - even more so than we are when this happens at the hands of our armed law enforcement.

The Band-Aid get ripped away again when I hear nonsense like “guns don’t kill people – bad people with guns kill people”, or “we have all the laws we need to prevent this – we just need to enforce them”, or directly attributable to a leader of the NRA “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” (Wayne LaPierre).  I’m sorry; I grew up on a farm.  I’m not opposed to guns.  I get the need as we had in Australia for control of animals threatening your livestock.  I get the utility as we did in Australia of using them to hunt for food.  I never contemplated and can think of no plausible reason why handguns or assault style weapons are needed for either of these purposes, both of which I consider legitimate.

But the truth remains - I still don’t have an answer.  Yesterday at least for me was not the day for answers.  I don’t know how to overcome evil, but I think a part of me will continue to hold out for forgiveness and love as a strong undercurrent.  Some of the most significant and transformative social change we have seen in this last hundred years came through adoption of largely nonviolent approaches.  

But we do need answers soon.  Tomorrow there will still be a hole in the world for many.  Tomorrow more than today, there will be for some as my friend Brandon wrote, “an endless deafening silence”.  Love and forgiveness will help – but we cannot just put this behind us and forge on stoically.  We can’t just say this is not us – because while there is unquestionably far more good than evil, the father of a student murdered in a school shooting 20 years ago makes an challenging statement which I think of more as a proposition:
“I came to realize that, in essence, this is the way we in America want things to be.”

The horror of this proposition is of course unacceptable today of all days, and yet are we willing to really go deep into darkest places of our souls and answer this.  Fundamentally I would say the answer to that proposition is no – this is NOT the way we want things to be, but then the challenge remains - what are we willing to do to change it?

I don’t have the answers for how this evil came among us, the nature of evil or how evil generally comes about.  Edmund Burke has been quoted perhaps uncountable times for saying:
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

The obvious extension of this is saying nothing is the same as doing nothing.   If the endless deafening silence is not only that in the homes of the victims in Newtown, then the blame for the next tragedy like this falls at our feet.