Self-reflection has become a critical personal discipline for my life. This practice offers me the opportunity to examine actions I have taken, words spoken, and thoughts I have meditated on throughout the year. Self-reflection is a humbling practice as it allows an individual to face him or herself.
I think we are all in need of a little bit of self-reflection during this period of our societal history. We are not as holy as we make ourselves out to be on a daily basis. We are not as just and merciful to others as we would want others to be with our own actions and words. We are not as civil as we think we are in the 21st Century America.
What a strange word.
This word invokes images of peaceful interactions between persons. Persons who have equally chosen to place themselves in positions in which there are no religious, social, political, or economic hierarchies. I imagine civility as the embodiment of two human beings on a journey of questioning, discovery, and understanding.
Civility should produce friends.
Then I realized something. In order for civility to be embodied in human beings it necessitates the acknowledgement of a human being’s personhood. Rufus Burrow identifies a zeitgeist or spirit of the age in which persons are not appropriately given the consideration of their inherent worth. If I am not willing to acknowledge the dignity of the person with whom I am engaging within a form of communication the result will not be beneficial to either of us. If I desire to see civility I have to do something different.
As I reflect on this past year, I worked hard to provide a platform for people, primarily on social media, to discuss topics of race, poverty, and other social issues. Sometimes the topics went very well while other times I just shook my head and chose to delete the whole interaction. I realized I was contributing to the incivility I was seeking to reduce.
Breath changes people.
When a person feels, touches, and sees another person the opportunity for change is possible. That is what happened to John and his friends in first century Palestine with a Jewish Rabbi who embodied the breath of God. Social media is a poor platform for interaction because people are not face to face. Our ability to feel appropriately, touch a hand, and see facial expressions are significantly hindered. Social media many times creates opportunities for persons to diminish themselves through disrespectful and dehumanizing comments which prevent any type of meaningful engagement, discovery, and understanding. I have observed even the most encouraging statement can descend into ugliness.
So now as 2019 approaches I need to exhale in the presence of other living persons. I want people to recapture the power and beauty of inspiration through the virtue of human presence.
Noam Chomsky stated “freedom produces opportunity and culminates in responsibility.” I have a responsibility to people in the area in which I live to cultivate civility. Why? (Only God knows.) Whatever the case, I understand my small platform and will pursue opportunities to advance the dignity of persons.
What will this look like?
Join me for self-reflection, civility, and the opportunity to experience the breath of another human being.
I don’t know when it happened. I can’t get my head around why there are so many people who have so much energy to talk yet such an anemia of action. It is a very uncomfortable position to place oneself in what could bring opposition from a variety of persons.
Maybe its social media. Everything comes at us one hundred miles an hour. One moment a man is shot by a policewoman. In another moment a president with Nobel in hand drone strikes people. In another moment children are being escorted to centers apart from their parents. While another president drops a MOAB an already turbulent land. As soon as we get outraged about one event, here comes another. Dang it Nike! We return to business as usual.
Maybe we like our comforts. You know business as usual. Selfies. Trips to some resort getaway. Getting all emotional because Cardi-B and Nicki Minaj had blows. We swoon over a Kardashian’s lifestyle and our desire to be part of the rich and famous.
Outrage. Pontification. Normalcy.
Outrage. Pontification. Normalcy.
Maybe outrage is simply a cathartic opportunity to feel as if we care. I mean surely we don’t “want to be on the wrong side of history.” I can’t look like a bigot or a sympathetic nationalist. I pick up my phone. I get on my computer. With furor and anger. With some sense of moral standard and justice, I have to get my thought out there into the universe. I have to say something to show I care. It is the two-hundred and eighty characters who I will employ with my moral outrage to express my shock, put my opposition in a corner, and anxiously await the glorious sound of affirmation.
Now I can go back to my comfort because I have maintained my distance from the Jericho Road.
Looking back on the Civil Rights Movement of the sixties, there were many well meaning Caucasian brothers and sisters who wanted to see changes in the society. In the North, there were well meaning persons who rejected segregation and racism. There were those, yes even in the South, who wanted to progress out of the dehumanizing posture towards Black Americans. Inspirational in words. They were outraged about the treatment of courageous young persons facing dogs, hoses, and Sunday school teaching resistance. Yet the level of activism resided in words and lacked any strength to be present, participate, and if needed, have their reputations perish for a greater cause, the cause of justice. Many simply did not want to give up a way of life which was normal. “Life seemed unrecognizable to many white Southerners. Confronted with a reality they had barely contemplated, some whites retaliated with any weapons at their disposal. Others attempted to avoid the upheaval; they tried to maintain cherished ways of life even as the ground shifted beneath their feet. In the end, evasion proved impossible” (Sokol, 64).
History illustrates a point. One can be outraged about the treatment of others or the trajectory of our country, yet in the same experience, we can choose not to act because of the implied changes which would happen to us, our context, and most importantly those we are advocating for in words.
Outrage and intellectual activism which remains in our social media silos or silently discussed around our white chocolate mochas and expensive MacBooks are ineffective knives to cut the chords of injustice.
James Brown opened a song with the following words:
Like a dull knife
Just ain't cutting
Just talking loud
Then saying nothing
Don't tell me
How to do my thing
When you can't, can't
Can't do your own*
The Godfather of Soul has some good instruction for all of us. Outrage and intellectual activism without actions which puts us in the middle of the injustice are ineffective knives. The very design of a knife is have and maintain a sharpness which is then capable of cutting through some object. The knife for a period of time becomes part of the object until it separates the object from whatever it maybe attached. If we would be honest many of us are simply dull knives, creating a lot of noise, fostering incivility, and not willing to offer substantial change.
If you are not moved by James Brown, I would encourage you to hear the voice of a woman. Esther was a Queen who took outrage and words over the treatment of people she identified with, choosing to disrupt normalcy for the sake of justice. In her actions, she went unannounced into the throne room of the King.
Outraged about the impending injustice to kill Jewish people.
Intellectual activism in her discussion with her uncle Mordecai, “I will go to the the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16).
Action knowing the threat of death, “And when the king say Queen Esther standing in the court, she won favor in his sight, and he held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand” (Esther 5:2).
James Brown and Esther still speak today. We can be men and women who act justly. Yes it means being outraged and discussing the injustice. Yet these two must be accompanied by actions because injustice is tied to people. People whose lives, potentiality, and capability are interrupted by some form of individual or societal injustice. When outrage, intellectual thought, and loving action work together, the chords of injustice are severed and people can move freely.
“Words from James Brown’s Talking Loud and Saying Nothing”
Sokol, Jason, (2007). “There Goes My Everything: White Southerners In the Age of Civil Rights 1945-1975.” Vintage Press.
How are we going to move out of this mess? It seems as if everyone is rapidly moving to claim some illusionary power over another group by wall building and isolation. What is public and flaunts itself as the main contractor of tirades, tantrums, and terrorism is hate. Hate moves across the construction site of tribalist groups, down to the shoveling areas of disaffected groups, and speaks with the crack of a whip, motivating these contracted men and women to build personal prisons by their own hands.
There is one onlooker at the top of the construction site of emotionally charged and exhausted persons. There is one onlooker who is so grieved by the detriment of hates influence and the willful participation of these persons submission to hates mastery, this onlooker chooses to step down into the rubble.
The stranger grabs a megaphone, clears his throat, and stops the work. The voice rings with a soul and rhythm which announces the words:
“God is my friend.
He made this world for us to live in.
And gave us everything…God gave us everything.”*
This life is a gift brothers and sisters. I don’t understand completely why we exist on this world and why we exist in our particular countries and neighborhoods. What I do know is what Marvin Gaye sang about, this world and this life is a gift to each and everyone of us. In the midst of all this strife and struggle, I think we all have forgotten this simple and yet profound truth, this world has been given to us. Like any gift, there is this expectation it would be honored and cared for with the same intensity of the giver.
What are we asked to do with this gift though? I mean there is an expectation and Mr. Gaye tells us about an expectation which reflects the reason for God giving us this world and each other.
“And all He asks of us, oh yeah
Is we give each other love, oh yeah.
Love your mother-She bore you
Love your father-He works for you
Love your sister-She’s good to you
Love your brother-Your brother”*
What are we to do? We are to love each other. Love should and must be public. It is so easy to respond to the lead contractor, hate. But what if we listen more intently to this new contractor who simply asks us to give love to each other?
Love has the opportunity to go public in two ways according to Dr. Howard Thurman. First, love can be seen between persons who possess some form of intimate relationship. These relationships can be marital, parent-child, friendship, or professional. Love publicizes itself for others to see affection, forgiveness, and affirmation.
Second, the public character of love acts to establish relationships between persons with vastly different life experiences. Here I am reflecting on persons of different ethnicities, political ideologies, or religious beliefs. Especially this time of extreme tribalism and isolation on the basis of skin color, political thought, or views about God. The atmosphere is ripe for genuine expressions of love. Expressions which are tables of diverse persons feeding on unique human perspectives and drinking the sweet wine of a common humanity. As the rapper Derek Minor commented,
“We all need love, joy, Jesus, and healing.
We got a lot in common if we would listen,
Instead of building more walls,
let’s build more bridges” (Derek Minor, Walls)
God in love gave us this world.
God ask us to love one another.
God ask us to build loving bridges to one another.
God’s love for us is so public he even went so far as to give us someone greater than the world.
God is love and so I believe we can be too.
*God is Love by Marvin Gaye