Sunday, October 1, 2017

A Gentle Cynic Reflects on Genuine Citizenship

Who does the poet serve?
The poet serves poetry,
Whose form is the beloved,
Who asks not blood but love.
Gregory Orr, How Beautiful the Beloved[1]

Voting for one of two capitalist candidates once every 1,460 days, while it will have some kind of impact on the lives of people, certainly has proven to have little consequence on elevating the common good —and of late, not even close in terms of leading dynamic global issues that continue to create a huge divide in wealth and the current “ecocidal evil in power”.  Howard Zinn in “Election Madness” (2008) recognizes the almost futility of voting in this era without deeper impacting endeavors to shake the foundations of the electorate.  
The election frenzy . . . seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the two mediocrities who have already been chosen for us. . . Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes—the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth. . . But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice.[2]
The first ever televised presidential debate in 1960 between Democrat presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kennedy and Republican presidential candidate Vice President Richard M. Nixon.
Why continue to delude ourselves thinking the political processes in Washington can really make a difference in the current ecocidal urgency, the upswing of racism, the growth of economic divide.  What literally actualizes change is every day, fed up people rising up out of their complacency, recognizing  they are being screwed, finding ways out of silence, developing connections—networks and engaging with others and their communities for a more common good. In the words and spirit of Martin Luther King,
These are the bright years of emergence; though they are painful ones, they cannot be avoided. . .  In these trying circumstances, the black revolution is much more than a struggle for the rights of Negroes. It is forcing America to face all its interrelated flaws—racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism. It is exposing the evils that are rooted deeply in the whole structure of our society. It reveals systemic rather than superficial flaws and suggests that radical reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.[3]

A deeply rooted, interrelated flaw in the American psyche is a myth of the Presidency.  I cannot conceive today how one individual and his or her administration can make much difference in my life of hopes and dreams, unless he or she has become for me a high priest of sorts in what could and has been tagged an "American civil religion." All the talk of faith with individuals running for the presidency informs this cultural notion and a clearly vibrant fight to keep it alive, which is a pattern of the collective capacity for self-delusion.

It needs to be argued that history has proven too many times that nationalism and religion do not mix well; for there becomes a strong tendency of religious influence on a national level or movement to produce a greater likelihood for discrimination and human rights violations. As Stjepan Gabriel Mestrovic argues, civil religious notions actually smack the genuine face of true religion. "Civil religion is neither bona fide religion nor ordinary patriotism, but a new alloy formed by blending religion with nationalism. If civil religions were bona fide religions then one would expect to find a soft side to them, teaching love of neighbor and upholding peace and compassion. But this is not the case."[4]

An observation over time has led me to an understanding that the religious right for the most part can only take on complex issues in simplistic terms. They need concrete, black and white solutions. There is little room for civil dialogue and an ear for even a basic literary exegesis of their religious texts. Add to this, they possess only a kind of simpleton, literal interpretation of the Constitution and miss the implications of it dynamic spirit. They are descendents of sola scriptura, the Protestant doctrine (heresy perhaps?) that holds the Christian Scripture as sole infallible rule of faith and practice. Unfortunately and lamentably, this notion over time has evolved into ideological formations through the creation of a democratic society that produced citizens that believed they could read religious text without moral guidance and spiritual formation (what is profoundly called discipleship), hence fundamentalism and large swaths of old guard and entrepreneurial evangelicals feel it’s part of their call to restore America to its rightful God.

By example, one of several major factors that shaped the behavior of the Christian Churches during the Nazi reign in Germany was the historical role of the Churches in creating or sustaining “Christendom” (Western European culture since the era of Roman Emperor Constantine), i.e., its advocacy of a Christian culture. In particular the German Evangelical Church (largest Protestant church in Germany) allegiance to the concept of Christendom was linked to a strong nationalism symbolized by German Protestantism’s ‘Throne and Alter’ alliance with state authority.[5]

Today we have the motto, ‘God and Country’ which has its confluence with the notion of American exceptionalism. While the numbers are decreasing, Life Way Research reported 53% of Americans agree that “God has a special relationship with the USA.”[6] And so it’s EASY for someone like a Donald Trump to seem and sound like a god-send when all you are listening for are ear-tickling biblical sound-bites. This rang true Obama on a unique level.

As a former evangelical and someone who has sustained serious intellectual honesty in the pursuit of becoming more fully human, I continue to see the need, e.g. of moral guidance and spiritual formation that leads individuals and communities to live out what it means to be a citizen in such perilous times. The very meaning or mean good of “citizen” is one connected and engaged with one’s community for the common good (of the people, by the people, for the people).[7] Its excess then would be having control or overrule by way of administration, wealth and military or self interest or gain—sound familiar?[8] Conversely, its deficiency is disengagement: privatization, individualization, isolation, being complicit and by consequence marginalized oppression.[9] The latter in this continuum is the behavioral of the masses while the former may well be characterized as hegemonic norms that feed the American script and hold them in blind abeyance and an illusion that promises to us safe and happy.[10]

In a personal effort to not lose heart, being highly self-governed, recognizing the need to have and sustain a counter script or narrative and to attain an inner voice that nurtures healthy resistance of the entertaining mechanisms that obscure and silence the surrounding harsh realities, I see more clearly the need to intentionally seek out local grass roots movements, voices and communities where people flesh out the peaceable, humble, uncompromisingly nonviolent traditions that while having perhaps their foundation in religious traditions (or not), they remain  genuinely and more fully humanly capable of civil dialogue, resistant against the current complacencies, corruptions and oppressions, and thus practice radical hospitality vs. the triumphalistic, militant, God-and-country Christianity of American theocracy that have retreated into fantasies embraced by those who prefer turning a blind eye. [11]

Hence, the work of a more genuine citizen is to manage our ambivalence--liberals, progressives, and conservatives alike--in generative ways in order to concede relinquishment of a failing script/narrative that continues to disappoint us and leave us empty. Managing our way means identifying and aligning ourselves with networks, organizations, communities that embrace new, alternative scripts/narratives that name and evoke the ambivalence, and “carve out a protected space for those who question and challenge national myths.”[12] They should possess energy to speak freely and with boldness; by implication a range of speech practice, not only freedom of speech, but the obligation to speak the truth for the common good, even at personal risk.[13]

Change up your intake. Read, listen, contemplate/think with your mind (Geist); import the wisdom of prophets, poets, writers, philosophers, musicians, theologians, sages of history and perhaps a tradition or community  versus the dominant scripts or myths peddled by popular media, Hollywood, politicians, military, sports, advertisers, big business. Seeks out and participate with others to work toward a vision of human flourishing (human centered) while differentiating what misses the mark (illusions both personal and societal).

It may sound elementary, but distinguish your wants from yours needs; i.e. simplify your life, seek to do with less—less nationalism, less consumption of goods that pollute and destroy the air, water and atmosphere, and the mind; less head-in-the-sand naivet√© with respect to the conventional forces that dumb down the larger society (das Man) with its dominant scripts and narratives that feed racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism.

If we are to be citizens of the world, we will need to develop practices that acknowledge being-in-the-world that require more than mere survival or das Man (quiet conformity to the conventional world). Personally and collectively we need conscious  ways of existence in society that are aware that the masses follow a failed dominate script that promotes an illusion of safety, health and happiness; and pursue and practice ways of moving through (not stepping away from) tensions where there is a complex array of easy-to-get-to thin practices, answers and ideals on one side, while on the other, profound, thick sources of questions and insights that invite persistent souls toward the way of becoming more fully human (eudemonia).[14]

Nationalism has always and continues to be scary. Citizenship envisions a future that puts humanity first.  Some growing organizations that provide examples of progressive citizenship movement are below.

Sahne Claiborne 
There are various organizations informed by inter-religious and ecumenical roots: New Monasticism; 

See list of environmental justice movements at SocialMovement and Culture  

Global movements:
World Parliament Now       

See “20 Activists Who Are Changing America” and organizations of growing activism on economic, social, and environmental justice issues.

[1] Gregory Orr, How Beautiful the Beloved. Copper Canyon Press, 2009, 51.
[3] “A Testament of Hope,” 1969

[4] Quoted by Gerald A. Parsons, "From nationalism to internationalism: civil religion and the festival of Saint Catherine of Siena" in Journal of Church and State, September 22, 2004.
[5] Rittner, Smith, Steinfeldt, The Holocaust and the Christian World: Reflections on the Past Challenges for the Future (NY: Continuum, 2000), 55-58.
[6]  Ed Stetzer, “God and Country: Americans' Views of God's 'Relationship' with the U.S, Christianity Today (July 3, 2015)
[7] One way to consider movement from a complacent, oppressed citizenry to an engaged people seeking to regain or resurging of their humanity is a pedagogy that promotes nonviolent, peaceable rebellion that demands change while attempting to affirm human beings as the subjects of decisions, restorers of humanity. Influencers of humanization worth reading are available to all of us, such as Paulo Freire, Ivan Illich, Chris Hedges,  Bill McKibben, Parker Palmer, Wendall Berry, Shane Claiborne to name a few. I higher recommend a regime of listening to On Being with Krista Tippett (podcast).
[8] E.g., excessive rule of oligarchy (the rule of a few who are distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, education, corporate, religious or military control), more specifically, a plutocracy (ruled or controlled by the small minority of the wealthiest citizens). The deficit extreme might well be defined as the disengaged person, private, isolation the services as a dualistic realm of leisure to work.
[9] E.g., 1] a purely ‘private life’ or ‘home life’ as a means to an end, “a luxurious establishment, or to accumulate wealth for its own sake by trade. There is the well known argument of the social phenomena that occurred with the rise of the television resulting in a decline in social capital and civic engagement in Robert Putnam’s “The Strange Disappearance of Civic America” in Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000). Putman showed a decline in people’s connections with the life of their communities, not just with the political processes due to various suspects yet with main culprit being the television which is associated with low social capital (the technological "individualizing" of our leisure time via television, Internet and eventually virtual reality apparatus.) An antidote to this is identifying “third places” where one can engage with people in one’s community outside of work and home. This could well fit the complaint and gradual uprising of the masses against the slavery, Wall Street and banking industry that has sought its wealth in ways that have not contributed to the chief good of the nation at large. 2] The exclusive attention paid to military excellence, the industrial military complex that deteriorate profound aspects of human community and can never arrive at peaceful solutions that benefit the community at large evolutionarily.
[10] See Walter Brueggemann’s 19 Theses: Brueggemann posits the need for a “steady, patient, intentional articulation of an alternative [counter] script” that replaces the dominant script which feeds the masses and has infiltrated the everyday evangelical. This dominant script is the of therapeutic, technological, consumerist militarism that permeates every dimension of our common life.
[12] Chris Hedges, “How to Think”, TruthDig
[13] Parrhesia, the act of truth telling is at the heart of the life of ancient cynic. Parrhesia in its nominal form is translated (from Latin) "free speech". In ancient Greek its meanings conveys the meaning “to speak freely", "to speak boldly", or "boldness." (Liddell and Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon). See Michel Foucault, The Courage of the Truth (The Government of Self and Others II) LECTURES AT THE COLL√ąGE DE FRANCE. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
[14] Probably the ideal translated as “happiness” the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence; Heidegger’s “authenticity”; Maslow’s developmental realm of “self-actualization; Aristotle argued that eudaimonia is realized in virtuous (differentiated) living while having purposeful, authentic engagement with others and society.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Extend your Life and the Life of the Planet

Emma Brown wrote an article in The Washington Post (Sept. 2017) entitled “Cycling to work means better health and a longer life. Here’show to get started.” She not only provides new data regarding health and safety among cyclist, she reminds us of a vital, practical option to all able people who wish to create a greater impact on their personal lives against a hegemonic automobile culture that says you cannot live without a car.  

Dan Seifert, 58
Route: SE Harrisonburg to the outskirts of downtown, 8 miles round trip
Bike: 2016 Specialized AWOL

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Reflection at Another "9/11"

While there remains a need to retell this story of trauma, there are those who need to lead us in the face of danger. I want to imagine a people who see a threat they can allay by the very way they live their lives.

  Below are links to two articles that reflect on the inner reality of where the U.S. has come since 9/11—looking for safety while an imminent threat to our national security is plundering the planet. 

Juan Cole in this article begs the question, was the American response really worth it? 

David Robeik reminds of or just how weak and the high price of collective fear.

SEPTEMBER 11, 2017, Adam Zyglis / Cagle Cartoons

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Earth Speaks its own Language

Is the earth speaking to humankind?
Is human action upon climate change making hurricanes worse?

Geo-logos (earth writing) posits the earth speaks its own language, e.g. in the form of motion. See video where science reveals in its casual knowledge (data) profound changes which poetry captures best, e.g., the increase in rain with the warming of the oceans.

Here is an excerpt of the first few stanza's of A.R. Ammons, "Expressions of Sea Level" (Ohio State Univ. Press, 1963). Here we perceive an ecological consciousness in which individual and collective actions have far reaching consequences. 

Peripherally the ocean
marks itself
against the gauging land
it erodes and

it is hard to name
the changeless:
speech without words,
silence renders it:
and mid-ocean,

sky sealed unbroken to sea,
there is no way to know
the ocean's speech,
intervolved and markless,
breaking against . . .

See A R. Ammons, "Expressions of Sea Level" 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Marshall McLuhan: The Medium is the Message

Marshall McLuhan developed unique philosophies on media and how humans interact with it, popularizing the phrases “The medium is the message” and “Global Village.” Along with Teilhard de Chardin (Noosphere), he is thought to have predicted the Internet in his book, The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of the Typographic Man (1962). The “global village” would be an age characterized by people forming communities through technology. McLuhan posited that the method of communication would become more influential than the information itself, ergo “the medium is the message”. 

McLuhan helps us to better see ourselves with in a media-saturated global society/reality. Technology has become extensions of consciousness and even our nervous systems.

[A]ll media, from the phonetic alphabet to the computer, are extensions of man that cause deep and lasting changes in him and transform his environment. Such an extension is an intensification, an amplification of an organ, sense or function, and whenever it takes place, the central nervous system appears to institute a self-protective numbing of the affected area, insulating and anesthetizing it from conscious awareness of what's happening to it. It's a process rather like that which occurs to the body under shock or stress conditions, or to the mind in line with the Freudian concept of repression. I call this peculiar form of self-hypnosis Narcissus narcosis, a syndrome whereby man remains as unaware of the psychic and social effects of his new technology as a fish of the water it swims in. As a result, precisely at the point where a new media-induced environment becomes all pervasive and transmogrifies our sensory balance, it also becomes invisible. [“The PlayboyInterview: Marshall McLuhan”, PlayboyMagazine, March 1969.]

How do we continue to make sense of our human evolution with an exponentially expanding ocean of information and perpetual connectivity? In the words of McLuhan during his interview with Playboy, "I merely try to understand."

Sunday, July 2, 2017

What would Teilhard say? Evolve or be annihilated

By Ilia Delio, Global Sisters Report, 6/27/17

"This is our threshold moment and we need to get on board with evolution. And if we get nothing else straight about our present moment, it should be this: Stability is an illusion. The only real stability is the future. Our moment of evolution requires revolution, and one of the main forces that must make a complete turnaround is religion."

Click here for the full article.