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“Those Who Can’t Afford To Forget”: We Cannot Sleepwalk Through Life; We Cannot Be Ignorant Of History

Recently I linked to an important article by Charles Pierce titled: When We Forget.

The 2016 presidential campaign—and the success of Donald Trump on the Republican side—has been a triumph of how easily memory can lose the struggle against forgetting and, therefore, how easily society can lose the struggle against power. There is so much that we have forgotten in this country. We’ve forgotten, over and over again, how easily we can be stampeded into action that is contrary to the national interest and to our own individual self-interest…

A country that remembers, a country with an empowered memory that acts as a check on the dangerous excesses of power itself, does not produce a Donald Trump.

While that spoke powerfully to what we are witnessing in the current Republican presidential primary, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something missing. This morning while I was writing about President Obama’s commencement address at Howard University, I finally figure out what that was about. Here is a part of what he said when talking about the unique role of African American leadership:

…even as we each embrace our own beautiful, unique, and valid versions of our blackness, remember the tie that does bind us as African Americans — and that is our particular awareness of injustice and unfairness and struggle. That means we cannot sleepwalk through life. We cannot be ignorant of history.

Think about that for a moment…why can’t African Americans be ignorant of history? It is because any attempt to understand their place in this country today has to be informed by our collective past. For example, African Americans can’t tackle BlackLivesMatter without some understanding of the fact that – throughout our history – they haven’t. White people have the privilege of being able to forget that story…Black people don’t.

Remembering isn’t simply about knowing the history of how things used to be. It is also about remembering the people who fought the battles of the past and the strategies they used in the struggle. That’s what President Obama’s speech at Howard was all about – the Black theory of change.

But it isn’t just African Americans who can’t afford to forget. Finding authenticity as a woman means understanding the history of patriarchy. Native Americans must remember the genocide that nearly obliterated their culture. Asian Americans can never forget the straightjacket foisted upon them by being the “model minority.” LGBT Americans remember everything from Stonewall to Matthew Shepard. And Mexican Americans remember that many of their people were here prior to this country’s settlement by European Americans – who now assume they are the “immigrants.”

I know I’m glossing over centuries of history, but I’m doing so to make the point that there are those who can’t afford to forget because, as Faulkner wrote, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 9, 2016

May 10, 2016 Posted by | African Americans, American History, Donald Trump | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Police Morale Can Wait”: How The Baltimore Riots Should Reshape Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s Agenda

Out of the many invisible and all-powerful forces that govern our universe, the cruelest must be Time. Whether you’re asking it to slow down for selfish reasons or to speed up for someone else, it doesn’t make a difference. Time is relentless and uncaring; it does not listen and it will not stop.

But even though it is ultimately an egalitarian ruler, wreaking havoc on the old, young, good and bad alike, Time seems to hold a special grudge against Loretta Lynch, the woman who, after an unprecedented delay, was finally sworn in on Monday as the 83rd attorney general in the history of the United States.

The first indication that Time has it in for Lynch was also the most obvious: the Senate’s 167-day-long dawdle. But while it was obviously wrong to make the first African-American woman ever nominated for the post wait so absurdly long to be confirmed (only two of Lynch’s 82 predecessors waited longer), I’m hesitant to throw the fault entirely on Time’s shoulders. The attack was launched by Republicans, after all; Time was merely their weapon.

But the second piece of evidence that Time may be holding a particular grudge against the attorney general was more palpable: the riots that convulsed Baltimore this weekend and paralyzed the city on Monday. Because although Lynch obviously had nothing to do with the disorder, the riots’ fires show with blinding clarity that Lynch’s first goal — which is “improving police morale,” according to the Times — is entirely premature. The wanton destruction of property cannot be legitimated; but simply criticizing anarchy and praising law enforcement won’t bring the mayhem to an end. And it won’t provide justice.

In many ways, the chaos in Baltimore is just the latest iteration of one of America’s saddest and longest-running stories. It is another example of what Martin Luther King once called “the language of the unheard.” King was speaking then of the riots that traumatized much of the country during the summer of 1966. But the social ills he described as kindling for the riot’s fire — poverty, police brutality and malign neglect — are, despite the nearly 49 years that followed, still powerful forces in America today.

For this particular moment, though, it’s Baltimore Police Department’s documented history of lawless violence that’s been identified as the riots’ inspiration. Protestors and rioters — who, it’s worth noting, are usually not the same — cite as their catalyst the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American man and Baltimorean. On April 12, Gray was arrested by officers from the BPD. When police detained Gray and put him in a van for transportation, he was walking; by the time the trip was over, he had a broken neck. He died on April 19th.

No one yet knows for sure exactly what happened to Gray during that trip and in that van. There are reports that he was taken out at one point and beaten, but an autopsy showed no injuries except for those to his spinal cord and neck. The BPD has already admitted that its officers did not provide Gray with the necessary medical care. But the main question — Why was he able to run from the police in the morning, but struggling to breathe by nightfall? — has gone unanswered, though an increasing number suspect the widespread, grotesque practice of giving “a rough ride” is to blame.

Yet the fact that such a thing could happen, and only become a major story after the activism of peaceful protesters (and the destructive hijacking of violent rioters), is exactly the problem. The fact that the BPD’s reputation is such that many Baltimoreans heard Gray’s story with weary outrage rather than shock or indignation is exactly the problem. The fact that the BPD rank-and-file evidently feels so comfortable with extralegal brutality, and are so accustomed to wielding it, that demands for accountability has left them panicking — that, too, is exactly the problem.

I’m quite certain that, at least to some extent, Attorney General Lynch would agree. But that’s why it’s so unfortunate that news of her interest in “finding common ground between law enforcement and minority communities” came when it did. Because once the last stone is thrown, the fires are put out, and the state of emergency in Maryland is lifted, what Baltimore and the countless places in the U.S. like it will need is not another conversation. And finding “common ground” won’t be what America needs from its attorney general or its Department of Justice.

What will be needed instead is for the authorities in Baltimore, Maryland and D.C. to stop pandering to the police unions who demand carte blanche in the field and an endless line of officials singing about their valor. What will be needed instead are signs that the authorities take fears of the rise of the “warrior cop” and police militarization seriously, and that they will no longer see the deaths of people like Gray as “tragic.” Because they’re not cosmic acts of injustice; they’re crimes. To suspend (with pay) the officers who may be responsible is not enough — and Lynch needs to make clear that she understands that, and that her predecessor’s groundbreaking report on Ferguson, Missouri, was no aberration.

What will be needed, in short, is for the people most apt to use “the language of the unheard” to feel that someone who matters is finally listening. And that those in public office prove with actions that they believe it when they say an African-American life is worth no less than a cop’s. Now is not the time for Lynch to focus on making law enforcement happy. Now is the time for her to promote equal justice. Improving police morale can wait.

 

By: Elias Isquith, Salon, April 28, 2015

April 29, 2015 Posted by | Baltimore, Baltimore Police Dept, Police Brutality | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Questioning Our Questions”: In Faith As In Science, Finding The Right Answers Inevitably Involves Questioning Our Own Questions

It is a mark of our pluralistic moment that I learned of an old joke among rabbis from the writings of a great Christian scholar, Jaroslav Pelikan.

In his book “Jesus Through the Centuries,” Pelikan tells the story of a rabbi who is challenged by one of his pupils: “Why is it that you rabbis so often put your teaching in the form of a question?” To which the rabbi replies: “So what’s wrong with a question?”

Trying to imagine what will matter in a new year is daunting, but it takes no clairvoyance to see that in 2015, one of the struggles around the globe will be between those who acknowledge that religion is as much about questions as answers and those who have such a profound certainty about their answers that they will kill in the name of the divine.

To cast the matter this way, I know, invites dissent from both believers and nonbelievers. The believer can plausibly argue that you can be utterly certain about the truth without killing anyone. Nonbelievers might note that both halves of my formulation undercut religion. If religion is primarily about questions, what truth can it contain? And if it preaches certainty, where is the space for dissent and dialogue?

Holding on to faith’s middle ground — what my friend Arnie Eisen calls “moderate religion” — is one of the most important tasks in the world now. Eisen, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, is not referring to a faith that is weak or tepid. Rather, he thinks that all traditions need to recognize the radically new situation in which they find themselves.

“The job market is global, and so is the thought-and-values market,” Eisen said in a lecture in November in Jerusalem. “It is more difficult for ‘The People of the Book’ to sustain the belief that it is in any meaningful sense ‘The Chosen People’ — or is ‘the’ anything — because an unlimited diversity of claims is literally in our face every time we look at a screen on a laptop or smartphone.”

Admitting this does not produce all the answers, but, as the rabbi in the story might say, it does lead to the right questions.

My hunch is that Pope Francis’s understanding of Eisen’s point has much to do with his worldwide popularity. A recent Pew survey across 43 nations found Francis with a median favorable rating of 60 percent and an unfavorable rating of just 11 percent.

Political consultants would love to have access to the pope’s secret sauce. Some of the ingredients are clearly personal: Francis conveys the reflectiveness of a holy man and the compassion that most hope religious engagement encourages. But he also manages to juggle the imperative of making tough judgments, especially about injustice and poverty, with an awareness that justice without mercy and understanding (“Who am I to judge?”) lacks both humanity and the sense of a God whose most important characteristic is mercy.

By simultaneously conveying a certainty about what his faith teaches him and a confident openness to those who are seeking answers along other paths, Francis gives an intimation of what holiness needs to look like in the 21st century.

One of my favorite political acts at the end of 2014 was the Senate’s confirmation of Rabbi David Saperstein as the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. I admire Saperstein for many reasons, but why I think he is perfect for his new job was illustrated during his 2004 visit to my Religion and Politics class at Georgetown University.

It was around the time that Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” was released. Saperstein had been a sharp critic of what he (and many others) saw as anti-Semitic tropes in the movie. But several of my students had appreciated the film. Rather than launch into an attack on Gibson’s work, Saperstein invited them to have their say.

When he finally did express his view, Saperstein began with these words: “If you believe that the birth of Jesus Christ is the most important event in human history, you cannot help but be moved by this movie.” Only then did he offer his critique.

Religious freedom will thrive and religion itself will be a force for good only if religious people can convey this sort of empathetic understanding of the truths that others hold dear. In faith as in science, finding the right answers inevitably involves questioning our own questions.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 31, 2014

January 4, 2015 Posted by | Faith, Pope Francis, Religious Liberty | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Saintly And Crafty”: After Papal Crackdown, We Are All Nuns

Catholic nuns are not the prissy traditionalists of caricature. No, nuns rock!

They were the first feminists, earning Ph.D.’s or working as surgeons long before it was fashionable for women to hold jobs. As managers of hospitals, schools and complex bureaucracies, they were the first female C.E.O.’s.

They are also among the bravest, toughest and most admirable people in the world. In my travels, I’ve seen heroic nuns defy warlords, pimps and bandits. Even as bishops have disgraced the church by covering up the rape of children, nuns have redeemed it with their humble work on behalf of the neediest.

So, Pope Benedict, all I can say is: You are crazy to mess with nuns.

The Vatican issued a stinging reprimand of American nuns this month and ordered a bishop to oversee a makeover of the organization that represents 80 percent of them. In effect, the Vatican accused the nuns of worrying too much about the poor and not enough about abortion and gay marriage.

What Bible did that come from? Jesus in the Gospels repeatedly talks about poverty and social justice, yet never explicitly mentions either abortion or homosexuality. If you look at who has more closely emulated Jesus’s life, Pope Benedict or your average nun, it’s the nun hands down.

Since the papal crackdown on nuns, they have received an outpouring of support. “Nuns were approached by Catholics at Sunday liturgies across the country with a simple question: ‘What can we do to help?’ ” The National Catholic Reporter recounted. It cited one parish where a declaration of support for nuns from the pulpit drew loud applause, and another that was filled with shouts like, “You go, girl!”

At least four petition drives are under way to support the nuns. One on Change.org has gathered 15,000 signatures. The headline for this column comes from an essay by Mary E. Hunt, a Catholic theologian who is developing a proposal for Catholics to redirect some contributions from local parishes to nuns.

“How dare they go after 57,000 dedicated women whose median age is well over 70 and who work tirelessly for a more just world?” Hunt wrote. “How dare the very men who preside over a church in utter disgrace due to sexual misconduct and cover-ups by bishops try to distract from their own problems by creating new ones for women religious?”

Sister Joan Chittister, a prominent Benedictine nun, said she had worried at first that nuns spend so much time with the poor that they would have no allies. She added that the flood of support had left her breathless.

“It’s stunningly wonderful,” she said. “You see generations of laypeople who know where the sisters are — in the streets, in the soup kitchens, anywhere where there’s pain. They’re with the dying, with the sick, and people know it.”

Sister Joan spoke to me from a ghetto in Erie, Pa., where her order of 120 nuns runs a soup kitchen, a huge food pantry, an afterschool program, and one of the largest education programs for the unemployed in the state.

I have a soft spot for nuns because I’ve seen firsthand that they sacrifice ego, safety and comfort to serve some of the neediest people on earth. Remember the “Kony 2012” video that was an Internet hit earlier this year, about an African warlord named Joseph Kony? One of the few heroes in the long Kony debacle was a Comboni nun, Sister Rachele Fassera.

In 1996, Kony’s army attacked a Ugandan girls’ school and kidnapped 139 students. Sister Rachele hiked through the jungle in pursuit of the kidnappers — some of the most menacing men imaginable, notorious for raping and torturing their victims to death. Eventually, she caught up with the 200 gunmen and demanded that they release the girls. Somehow, she browbeat the warlord in charge into releasing the great majority of the girls.

I’m betting on the nuns to win this one as well. After all, the sisters may be saintly, but they’re also crafty. Elias Chacour, a prominent Palestinian archbishop in the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, recounts in a memoir that he once asked a convent if it could supply two nuns for a community literacy project. The mother superior said she would have to check with her bishop.

“The bishop was very clear in his refusal to allow two nuns,” the mother superior told him later. “I cannot disobey him in that.” She added: “I will send you three nuns!”

Nuns have triumphed over an errant hierarchy before. In the 19th century, the Catholic Church excommunicated an Australian nun named Mary MacKillop after her order exposed a pedophile priest. Sister Mary was eventually invited back to the church and became renowned for her work with the poor. In 2010, Pope Benedict canonized her as Australia’s first saint.

“Let us be guided” by Sister Mary’s teachings, the pope declared then.

Amen to that.

 

By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 28, 2012

April 29, 2012 Posted by | Religion | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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