Thoughts on humanity from a theological and psychological point of view...
Sunday, July 17, 2016
Black Lives Matter: A Commentary
The Black Lives Matter movement has caused a push back by many saying, in effect the obvious, “all lives matter.” This is to counter by way of sarcasm, the movement. Of course all lives matter and this simplistic, obvious and trite attempt to diminish the point of the movement hides what I suspect is the real underlying issue – simply and starkly stated – RACISM!
I think what impacts and causes anger among so many is that they know, feel and are aware – at some level -- that the Black Lives Matter Movement is really saying: “Black Lives Matter – as much as White Lives.” Enter the racial animus of so many who will not openly admit that Blacks, and other Minorities are as good, smart and deserving as Whites. This is just old (ages old) racism – all the more reason to support the movement because historically and even to the present, as a group, Blacks have been culturally, economically, academically and opportunistically un-equal – and this is a nation that constitutionally declares all are created equal.
Some time ago I was in a Mennonite thrift store perusing books. I couldn’t help overhearing an elderly couple in conversation. The woman, in particular, loudly complaining about the country’s state of affairs and made reference to that “thing” in the white house. Barack Obama, a black man born, raised and educated in a country where he rose to the highest level of achievement and influence in the world. This bigoted old woman refers to him as a “thing” – of course she has to dehumanize him since she is a racist. And – forgive me here – given the store we were in, most likely calls herself a Christian.
I am a 77 year old white male who has been afforded the freedom and opportunities granted by this nation. I am an imperfect man, along with being a grateful man. I am liberal, pretty well educated, sometimes smart and many times not so smart. I am one who has been deeply influenced by Judeo/Christian thought and insights, and especially by the man, Jesus of Nazareth. I do not pretend that I can overcome prejudice, racism and ignorance, or the many other injustices that persist in our society. Our president recently said that “ignorance is not a virtue!” I agree. Ignorance is also ill informed, unaware, insecure, immature -- and dangerous. I do not believe that I would be able to change any of this – but what I can do, is to refuse to remain silent in its presence.
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
A Grief Revisited
In September, 1970, I was between college and graduate school. I and two of my children were at my parents’ home in central Pennsylvania. On the 12th, I was getting ready to go to my in-laws to pick up my wife and two of my four children and head toward Philadelphia. As I was leaving, I saw a military car pull up in front of my parents’ house. Knowing my brother Denny was in the Service, I thought he had been given another award, as was his history. I decided to stay to find out what it may be all about. Two officers came to the door and my mother answered. They inquired as to her name, and if Dennis John Bullock was her son. She said she was and that he was. The officer then said simply and directly, your son was killed yesterday in the South China Sea off the coast of Viet Nam. My mother did what all mothers do. She sank to the floor saying No! No! Oh No! In the following days my parents, along with my two other brothers, grieved. My parents being religious, began to find some comfort by acknowledging their son’s death was somehow the “mysterious” will of God. I railed against that notion by pointing out that what killed “Denny” was the American paranoia of communist influence in Southeast Asia; the machinations of the military industrial complex, the decision of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a five inch shell that killed their son and my brother. I was much younger then, my head filled with the protests of college during the 60s. My so-called intellectual maturity was leaning more and more to liberal and progressive ideology. What I said then, I still believe. The aforementioned dynamics were true then, and still are – I was right. However, for a number of years now I have come to know that I was, in fact, wrong. I had failed to acknowledge my parents’ faith, for which even though more liberal, I hold deep value even now. I am twelve years older than when my father died and two years older than when my mother died. I was wrong. It is one of my deepest regrets that over the years I never clearly indicated to my parents how much I have come to know they were right. Life and death is a psychological and spiritual mystery and the most honest reality for me is the willingness to acknowledge that mystery by “leaving it up to God.” The truth is, we don’t know, even as our hearts and minds want and need to “know.” So if courageous and honest, we go again and again to that only place where deep in us we know we have always been. The place where the fierce and radical love of God calls us and pulls us – sometimes kicking and screaming – to that place where we say with gratitude and wonder “your will be done.”
Sunday, August 17, 2014
On The Children at Our Border
I am a therapist. I have degrees. I am capable of assessing, evaluating, observing and even diagnosing persons. But most of what I have learned comes from the privilege of having people come to my office and sharing their hopes, dreams, doubts and fears. I listen, observe, support and diagnose. However, if I can’t identify with, empathize with and recognize that these courageous and wounded ones are also me and I them, then I cannot see in them my own journey and think and feel and believe even as they do, and I am only full of “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
So it is with these courageous and wounded children who come to this land, though it be one of privilege and poverty. They are like the Israelite slaves stumbling out of and longing to flee the oppression of Egypt who are also like us:
“Then we cried unto the Lord – and the Lord heard our voice –
And brought us out of Egypt with an outstretched arm with great terror, signs and wonders –
And he brought us to this land – flowing in milk and honey – and he gave us this land”
We have all been given this land. We are our mothers and fathers and their mothers and fathers. Indeed we are all those who came here in small boats and large, stumbling and hoping for a new life. We are all of them for 15 or more generations. We are those who have looked to the horizon, smelled the land, seen the birds, and even glimpsed a great statue in New York Harbor, on which is inscribed:
“Give me your tired your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to be free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me
I lift my torch beside the golden door”
In addition to being a therapist, I am also a Christian. Not a particularly good one, certainly not a pious one, but one whose heart and mind is stirred to compassion and heartache for all those who are oppressed, and as such, a listener to this man from Nazareth, who said:
“Let those children come to me
For unless you become as one of these
You cannot see the kingdom of God”
“Come to me, all you who labor and who are heavy laden
And I will give you rest”
These are not simple platitudes for comfortable, air conditioned pews. These are a serious challenge to identify with the “gentle and lowly of heart.” We are all the inheritors of those before us and they were like us and we like them. On the shores of the Sea of Reeds (we call it the Red Sea); with the Pharaohs’ chariots hard on our heels (bigotry, racism, greed, manipulated laws and regulations), we are all threatened by our own self-importance, our material greed and our warped notions of love, and as the Israelites needed to be delivered from Egypt, we need to be delivered from the impoverished slavery of our “exceptionalism.”
Recently I heard a line from an old Black Slave Spiritual:
“I’m gonna put my foot in that water
And God’s gonna stir those waters
I’m gonna put my feet in that water
And God’s gonna trouble those waters”
For me, I am stirred by the plight of these little ones, and I hope, if necessary, our politics, our corporate/profit mentality, our shallow and superficial culture, and our personal agenda driven laws are “troubled” and that the result will be the deliverance of these who came to our land, and in that, we too may be delivered.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
The essence of Greek tragedy is the concept of HUBRIS or pride. It is hubris that demonstrates to we humans, that the acclaimed and powerful, no matter how hard they try to do otherwise, have a fatal flaw. A fatal flaw that brings them down. So it should be no surprise that Penn State University has fallen from the pristine heights of moral probity to just another example of institutional "shucking and jiving" to maintain an image.
The image of PSU is, of course, a fine one. Only PSU and Stanford graduate the highest percentage of athletes; the football record stands alone in bowl wins; 4 undefeated seasons and 2 national championships; and its coach holds the most wins ever in Division I; its research reputation in agriculture, its engineering school and its business school has recruiters streaming to its campus; PSU is one of only a handful of public universities that approach Public Ivy status. Their plain uniforms with no stars on helmets, no names on jerseys, and black shoes all bask in the adulation of its fans. "We Are Penn State" reeks of self aggrandizement and hubris.
There are those who grieve "the fall from grace" of PSU; others can barely hide their glee behind moral outrage, that borders on the sanctimonious. I am one who also grieves as a PSU rabid fan for at least as many years as Joe Pa has been coach (I got married 22 years ago at 11:00 am on a Saturday morning and watched Penn State on television at 1:00 pm that same afternoon). But why are we so shocked? Child abuse is by all expert accounts, rampant and increasing, and we don't even have laws that require reporting to the police here in Pennsylvania except for certain professionals including therapists like myself.
Furthermore, why are we shocked when it is apparent when the goal of any self conscious institution is to survive? Survival is largely dependent on PR and image, an open invitation to "cover up." Cover ups are the unspoken and non documented goals of any institution. We can talk about the decades of cover ups by the Catholic Church, or the cover ups of the US Military (most of whom are rightly called heroes), by releasing information that a former NFL player was killed in heroic action, only to discover he was killed by friendly fire. Or, the scripted rescue of a West Virginia private from an insurgent capture, the government - national, state and local is rife with cover ups. Insider trading tips, good ol' boy networks, money from God knows where, are only the tip of the cover ups that permeate institutions. Political cover ups need not even be mentioned, they are so common. "I never had anything to do with that woman." Or, what about Lay, the CEO of Enron, or Bernie Madoff, or the Savings and Loan scandal. Did they ruin lives? Or Wall Street shenanigans covering up the real work of hedge fund manipulators.
Carl Jung, the great Swiss co founder of psychoanalysis said that we all have a persona -- or mask (persona is Latin for the masks worn by actors) that we wear before the world. The problem, is that when we believe we are our own mask, then that is the fertile ground for neurosis, not to mention tragedy. When institutions -- political, financial, athletic, military or religious, have as their goal, survival, it is easy to see why persons do not count -- only the institution. In the case of PSU, the boys didn't count. Boys from disadvantaged circumstances, needing guidance, nurture and love, and so hungry for that it made them an easy target for a father figure who was revered, admired and apparently wore a mask of caring deeply for them. And if he did what the grand jury says (I'm saying if, because due process is not only a constitutional right, but is deeply embedded in our value system), he perpetrated a violent betrayal of trust that has the potential to impact one for life. These boys, the most vulnerable ones, without power, are at the bottom of the hierarchical set up that defines our institutional driven culture. The people in the institution do not matter. Only the institution, and if the institutional image is threatened, it folds in on itself and circles the wagons, and does away with people, which is just a variation of keeping the image intact.
Institutions are not going away, and I am not arguing for their demise. They constitute the structure and fabric of our culture. I am making the point that money and image driven value systems dominated by males who honor "winning is not everything, it is the only thing" or to paraphrase, "image is not everything, it is the only thing." As for the boys, Jesus said, "even as you do it unto the least of these, you do it unto me." I believe that what he meant was not just to be human, as we all are in our gifts and flaws all mixed together, but that he meant that to be truly human, one must be humanely human. I also believe that humane humans remain a minority and a meaningful goal in life is to increase this number by insisting on becoming part of the minority.
Finally, I must point out that I am sad -- especially for those boys -- who's ability to trust may be permanently impaired. But I am also sad and disappointed in myself. I bought the lie. People would ask, when they saw my Penn State enthusiasm, if I had attended college there. I didn't. Over the years, I had developed a "tongue in cheek" rationale for my Penn State cheerleading. I usually said that PSU symbolically represents the classic clash of good and evil. So the good guys, dressed in blue and white (the color of the sky) operating out of Happy Valley in the beautiful Nittany mountains of central Pennsylvania, my home region and coached by "Saint Joe Paterno" fought valiantly against the likes of the "Crimson Tide, " the "Boilermakers," the "Wolverines," the "Badgers," not to mention the "Cornhuskers." I bought the image that I created. I fell for it hook, line and sinker. So I was stunned when it turned out I had been mistaken about who was good and who was evil in my metaphor of the great cosmic clash. Perhaps my petty regional hubris was a flaw; not necessarily a fatal one, but one that reminds me that I should know better.
Enantiodromia -- a term coined by Carl Jung, borrowing from the Greek, meaning simply -- anything pushed to its extreme becomes its opposite.