Monday, June 1, 2020

Freedom Comes Slowly

America was founded on the idea of freedom,
Though our history is littered with terrible violations of this idea,
And those who started our country had such limiting worldviews that
They did not extend this freedom to everyone
 
They were born into a very stratified society where even people of the same race and gender
Were categorized into classes,
And you might work as hard as you can and as long as you can,
But no matter what you did,
You would never be noble,
And all power in that society came from birth,
They believed
In the “divine right of kings”
And the idea that God chose some to be “vessels of honor”
Ennobled, and given all the power
While others were “vessels of clay”
And they were literally born to be less than
 
They overthrew that yoke and oppression,
Coming to a new land and carving out opportunities away from the stratification of European society,
Where even your accent belied your low birth
And no matter what your education level, work ethic, or desire was,
You could never be blessed by God,
You could never change your class
Because “God didn’t want you to”
 
They built a country that was better,
Though definitely not perfect,
They got rid of the idea that some people are born to nobility
While others are born to peasantry,
They taught us that we can educate ourselves and work hard and make our lives better,
They got rid of classism!
It was a step…
 
They did not complete the task,
They did not extend those freedoms to people of other colors, to women, to those born in other lands,
They did not extend those freedoms to everyone,
And so the idea of liberty and justice for all
Has been on hold,
Has been waiting,
Waiting for centuries,
For our limiting mindsets
Of racism, sexism, religion, nationalism, ignorance, and fear
To go away,
For humanity to outgrow them
 
Even so,
Step by step freedom has come,
From the abolition of slavery
To granting women the right to vote,
To ending the Jim Crow laws,
The Civil Rights Movement,
Feminism,
And becoming a post-religious society,
Freedom has been growing
 
Is now the time?
Is today the day?
 
Can we finally say we are a land
Of liberty and justice for all?
 
Freedom comes slowly, piece by piece,
But it is coming as we overthrow the yokes of oppression and limitation that have ensnared us
And realize that everyone has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,
And realize that we can see and honor the multifaceted divine expression
In each human being
 
Freedom comes slowly, but it is coming,
It is coming to America,
Land of the free!

Death to Separation Based on Race

Hearing of another innocent black man dying because of racism, I stopped and wondered
Why?
Why are some people more afraid of a strange man who is black than a strange man who is white?
And I thought maybe it’s because they live in an insular world without diversity,
Because we only fear what we don’t know, right?
And maybe it’s because they don’t know.
I am blessed to work with children of various races from various nations, so I know
And I will tell you
They are not scary! They are beautiful!
Nobody laughs like the Marshallese,
These kids smile so much,
And they randomly burst into song,
And I can’t tell you how many times they’ve brought a ukelele to class randomly,
And I’ve had to set it on my desk until the lesson ends,
And nobody can braid hair like the Marshallese ladies; I wish I could do as well
I love speaking Spanish because I have never once been told by a Hispanic student
That their language is only for them,
That I’m doing it wrong,
That I can’t understand or help them,
I have never had students bring me homemade treats like my Latina girls,
And if you’ve never had a pupusa made from scratch by a Salvadoran,
I’m very sorry for you,
The resilience of my Hispanic kids who have come here from other countries and been thrown into a language and culture so different from their origin astounds me,
Such strength is something from which we could all learn and benefit,
And my African American kids take the cake when it comes to slang,
Some of my favorite new vocabulary words were taught to me
By African American teenagers, no cap!
The way they play fight with their friends
But then staunchly stand together with fierce loyalty,
They way they can go from saying “yes ma’am” to me
To jokingly roasting me in front of the whole class,
It’s beautiful,
It makes my class better,
And then there are all the kids from other demographics,
The Vietnamese who study so hard and learn so fast and are obsessed with anime and video games,
The kids from islands I never knew existed—places like Yap where they speak Yapese—
I am privileged to learn from them and about them.
My kids aren’t scary; they’re beautiful,
So maybe these people who are afraid of them,
It’s just because they do not know them,
So know them,
Do better

Saturday, May 30, 2020

For Want of Connection


For a series of ifs, connection was lost
For want of connection, compassion was lost,
For want of compassion, expression was lost,
For want of expression, humanity lost

For want of connection, understanding was lost,
For want of understanding, perspective was lost,
For want of more perspectives, greater vision was lost,
For want of greater vision, humanity lost

For want of connection, listening to others was lost,
For want of listening to others, agreeing to disagree without hatred was lost,
For want of disagreement without hatred, peace was lost,
For want of peace, humanity lost

For want of connection, appreciating differences was lost,
For want of appreciating differences, acceptance was lost,
For want of acceptance, lives were lost,
And for each and every life lost,
Humanity lost

If they are carriers, we must lock them away,
If they don’t worship as we do, we must convert them,
If they are a different race, they must be dangerous
If they speak a different language, they must be stupid and uneducated,
If they vote a different way, we must vilify them,
If they won’t change to fit my mold, they must be evil and I must consider them anathema,
If they are different, they make me uncomfortable, and I must end their differences by any means necessary:
I must control them with laws, with force, with power,
I must convert them and change their mindsets and beliefs,
I must teach them my ways and demand that they conform to them,
I must segregate them in places far away from me where they cannot connect because of our differences,
And if none of that works,
I must kill them

For want of the kind of radical self-acceptance that makes it to where I as a person am okay with myself
even when others around me look, act, believe, and are at their very core different than I am,
The ability to connect to and love others just as they are and celebrate all of their differences was lost
And humanity lost
And humanity lost
And humanity lost
And humanity is losing still…

Death to Superficiality


I rip the bonds and break the chains,
I burn the box and say amen
I damn all limitations
That bring lack of connection

I damn the following mindsets,
Cause them to burn up to ashes
So that we can build better things
Than our former superficial ways:

This person is a different race,
We can’t connect in deeper ways
They’re scary and they need to change
So we can pretend we’re all the same

This person might have a disease
And they might bring it home to me
And it might cause me real problems
Best to lock them away in a dark closet

This person has a different way
Of seeing and describing God, Yahweh,
Creation, existence, life, and Source,
They need to pray and take my course

This person has romantic thoughts
For people other than who they “ought”
They should change their sexuality
To fit what I approve and comfort me

These lies shall die in the pit of Hell
As human hearts grow and swell
So we can accept those who are different than us
And still in the depths connect in Love

This person, at the core of who they are,
Expresses Love differently, but we’ve the same heart
And we need to have deep and real connections
To heal the world and love again

On greater depths shall we rebuild
With more of love and less of Hell
Death to superficiality
And to the pain it’s causing humanity!

Friday, May 29, 2020

The Fine Art of Listening


When I tell you of my experiences, don’t try to explain them away
Justify them or rationalize them,
Pretend they didn’t happen
Or tell me that I shouldn’t feel the way I feel because they have,
That’s dismissive,
And that is not Love

I understand that you might not understand
Because you haven’t experienced it yourself,
I understand that you might want to offer me your perspective,
And I even welcome that because widening perspectives leads to growth and healing,
But before you offer me your perspective,
You have to validate mine

We are grown-ups, full of wisdom and life experience,
We are not eight-year-old children unable to think abstractly or understand
That just because someone else’s experience is different than mine
Doesn’t mean it didn’t happen exactly as they said it did,
Doesn’t mean I need to cry about how it’s unfair
Or try to make everything the same so that it can be fair,
We aren’t all going to get our cookies at the same time,
But we are grown-ups!
We can understand nuances and differences,
We can understand that some people are allergic to peanuts and don’t need to have peanut butter cookies,
We can understand that just because someone else tells you something you’ve never lived through
Doesn’t mean it’s not actually happening to them,
We can hold space for one another and value their experiences and the perspective that it brings them,
And when true injustice—not simple childish unfairness—
Happens to another human being
Even though that injustice has never happened to us,
We can let them tell their stories,
Sit with them in empathy,
And mourn for the fact that it’s happened to them

We can listen,
And we can hear each other,
And maybe then we will grow in love
Because instead of running around trying to tell other people their lives didn’t happen
Since if they did, we might have to change our view of the world and be uncomfortable,
We can soothe another person’s pain by simply listening to their story, recognizing that it’s true,
And telling them
“I’m sorry something so terrible happened to you”

We listen, not to fix it, not to change it
But we fix it and change it by listening,
Because once we listen, once we actually hear,
We can soothe the agony and anger that comes from being unheard,
And we can change our worldview and grow
And maybe, just maybe, if enough of us do this,
Some of these injustices won’t happen anymore

We can make the world better,
We can be okay with differences,
We can truly value one another,

We can start with listening and not making assumptions or comparisons,
We are not eight-year-olds,
We don’t all get to ride in the front seat today,
And sometimes I have to clean my room even though I didn’t make the mess,
And sometimes someone else is going to get the last ice cream cone,
And sometimes someone else is going to taste something I’ve never even heard of
And they’re going to tell me of this flavor and they will describe what it is like
And I will listen
Because I’m a grown up and because I love people,
And I will listen to you
Because I care.

#connectionlost


He shut his laptop with a sign, turning to look for the remote control. He hadn’t turned the light on this evening, and the darkness hindered his search. Rubbing his bleary eyes, he stood up from the couch and stretched, padding his way over to the light switch that was, of course, on the other side of the room.

The sun had only just begun to go down, so there was enough of a gloaming to keep him from banging his shins into the coffee table as he had last week. Small victories, he guessed. The light hurt his eyes as he snapped it on, and he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror that hung over the sink in the kitchen. Not pretty. He had forgotten to shave, again, and he couldn’t remember the last time he had bathed. Ugh.

Of course, it didn’t matter. His avatar looked professional enough, and it’s not like there was anyone around to smell him. Even the cat had long ago run off, escaping the confines of the small and dark apartment. Technically, like him, the cat was mandated to stay indoors, but since when had cats ever been adept at rule-following?

Grabbing a beer from the fridge on his way back to the couch, he decided against showering that day. Maybe he could log on to his Nintendo Switch and play around for a few hours. He looked at his watch. He didn’t have to log into work for a while yet.

Just as he sat down, a buzzer sounded at the door. Food, probably. Was it Monday already? His weekly grocery delivery always consisted of the same things and always appeared at his door on Monday mornings. He knew it was delivered via drone, and sometimes he tossed around the idea of watching for its arrival just for something different to do, but every Monday without fail, he forgot. The days all ran together. If he didn’t have an alarm to remind him to log into work, he would probably lose his job.

He padded over to the door and looked through the peep hole. He wasn’t sure why he bothered to do this; nobody was ever in the hallway. They, like him, lived their lives indoors waiting for drones to deliver the basic necessities. He had seen YouTube videos and HGTV shows that told him that some of them decorated their boxes more than he bothered to. Entire YouTube channels were devoted to DIY home makeovers. The online mall had entire stores—tabs on a webpage—devoted to such things, and every so often he tossed around the idea of logging on and making purchases to upgrade his little hole in the wall, but the motivation quickly left him. After all, he wasn’t a YouTuber and his boss didn’t require live Zoom meetings, so what was the point? Not even the cat was around to appreciate his handiwork.

He cracked open the door while holding his breath, bent over, and grabbed the bags of groceries, yanking them into his apartment. Taking out the Lysol wipes from his last order, he wiped down the bags and disposed of them, then wiped down the cartons inside the bags and shoved them into cabinets. Sometimes, he tossed around the idea of ordering something different, but he inevitably ordered the same things. After all, what was the point? He knew what he liked, and he had limited funds for experimenting on something he might not like, but would be stuck with for the week.
This task accomplished, he went back to the television. Nintendo no longer held any appeal for him. Maybe he would get on Snapchat. Nah. He couldn’t think of anyone he was following who might interest him at the moment. He got up to use the bathroom. He thought he needed to pee.

On his way back to the sofa, his phone rang. He jumped at the sound. He wasn’t used to this kind of thing. He fumbled with the device for a minute before accepting the call. “Hello. This is Max from Cardholder Services,” the monotone recording intoned. “You have been presell—,” he pressed the end call button and flopped back onto the couch.

He pulled his computer over to him and logged in. The home page popped up with the news again. Today’s numbers and statistics flashed in a banner across the top of the screen. Four different news articles that had been considered most likely to generate traffic and clicks popped up right beneath them “CELEBRITIES DO THEIR OWN HAIR” was accompanied by a picture that he was certain was photoshopped. The other three chosen stories told contradictory information about the latest speculations and data. There was, of course, nothing new or concrete. There hadn’t been for years.
He didn’t even bother clicking on anything before navigating to Facebook. He only really looked for the memes. Some of the people he’d known in school—back when school was done in person—posted the most hilarious memes. Sometimes, he amused himself by scrolling as far back in their timelines as he could to see the tone of the memes change. From actually funny to sarcastic and biting, the earliest memes were filled with optimism that things might one day go back to normal. Four years in and not much change, the memes had shifted from optimistic humor to nihilistic humor. Well, there had always been a mix, but the balance shifted. After the New Sedition Act 2043 was passed, the memes no longer spoke of politicians, scientists, leadership, the media, or how any of them were handling the crisis. The most recent memes didn’t talk about modern events at all. That wasn’t allowed. Posting memes on current events was punishable by a fine of up to $1200 and removal of your online account.

He supposed imprisonment wasn’t enough of a deterrent anymore.

Sometimes, he wondered why the New Sedition Act wasn’t retroactive. The memes from early in the crisis portrayed the leadership of the time in the worst possible light. He supposed current leadership didn’t care much about viral videos from a couple of decades ago making fun of how terribly their predecessors had done. Also, when the thought about hit, he remembered something about an amendment and a right to freedom of speech. He had learned that, too, in in-person school, back before everything went through internet censorship.

 A banner flashed across the top of his screen. Was it an election year again? He tossed around the idea of logging in to the voting portal, but it was September or something, right? November was far away. He’d do that later, maybe. He didn’t much see the point. His little hole in the wall wasn’t really altered much by the whims and ways of the elite.

The alarm on his smartwatch sounded. He had ten minutes before he had to log in to work. Where had the time gone? He mustn’t let society down, as the commercials on the TV told him. They needed his productivity, his work ethic, his fortitude to help them get through this current crisis and return society to its former glory. He snorted. He didn’t much see the point. Summer pool parties and movie theaters were a thing of the past as surely as covered wagons and throwing tea into harbors. He only logged in to work because the Internet was only provided free by the government to those with essential online jobs. He wasn’t really sure why his job was considered essential. He just punched words and numbers into various documents, sometimes a spreadsheet, sometimes a blank page, and sometimes, when he was really lucky, he got to go to the Zoom meetings where avatars could talk at each other about data.

Which is what he had to do now. He selected his avatar from the list of options. His avatar was what he would have looked like if he had any reason—or ability—to go outside. His avatar’s hair was short and carefully combed. His avatar’s face was clean-shaven. His avatar wore a button up white shirt with a tie, black slacks with a crease in the leg, and polished patent leather shoes. He gave his avatar glasses even though he didn’t really need glasses because he thought the glasses made him look more professional. Actually, he rubbed his bleary eyes, he wasn’t sure he didn’t need glasses. Perhaps he should schedule a telehealth appointment with an optometrist.

He walked his avatar over to the meeting table, a completely useless series of pixels that his bosses, who were from the generation when meetings actually took place in person, thought would help boost productivity and lend a professional air to the meeting. Damn! He had forgotten his headphones with the microphone. Where had he put them, again? A quick glance around the room told him they were probably in his bedroom, the only other room in the apartment where such a thing could be. He tossed around the idea of getting up to look for them, but he didn’t see the point. It was highly unlikely they’d actually need him to say anything, and if he really needed to communicate, there was always the chatbox.

“Can everybody hear me?” the gravelly voice of his boss came through the speakers loud and clear. At least he could hear what was going on in the meeting. Last week’s Zoom had had to be rescheduled because of audio difficulties. Perhaps this was why his bosses voice sounded so hoarse. Two weeks without speaking makes a voice weary from lack of use.

He thought it funny that something could break because of lack of use as much as from overuse. Then he thought about how long it had been since he had used his own voice. He tossed around the idea of making an actual phone call, but he wasn’t sure who he would actually want to call. He tossed around the idea of turning on a song and singing along, but didn’t see the point.

The meeting ended quickly, though someone always tried to prolong it by asking useless questions. Today, he could tell, many of his coworkers were not engaged. Their avatars sat silently at the table. He imagined what they might be doing in real life. Maybe Susan, whose avatar had red hair even though he thought he remembered her as a brunette from the company webpage, which had actual pictures of staff taken by a professional online digital photographer, was helping her son login to online schooling. He thought she had a son. Might’ve been a daughter, and actually, she might have graduated by now. Maybe Susan was just in the bathroom.

Still, his avatar was as silent and still as hers was, and he was here. Maybe Susan was staring at the screen with the same bored expression on her face as he was sure he was wearing. He smirked for half a second at the thought. It was nice to think of having something in common with someone else, but then he remembered he was only imagining that connection.

He logged off of the Zoom meeting and knew he was supposed to click over to the app that would allow him to enter secure and confidential corporate data via a VPN. Hackers had been stepping up their game since everything had moved to online, and corporate espionage was a booming industry. He tossed around the idea of taking a break for lunch, but what was the difference between eating now or later? He might as well get this over with.

But when he tried to log in to the app, the stupid thing gave him an error message. This wasn’t a huge surprise. Often the VPN was clogged with traffic right after the Monday morning meeting. He sighed. He guessed this meant he should eat lunch first and then try to get his work done. He opened his freezer and found a Hot Pocket to toss into the microwave. He tossed around the idea of making something more substantial, but he wasn’t that hungry and he didn’t see the point. His apartment was too small for a treadmill and he hated online workout videos, so it’s not like his body was going to use the energy much anyway. He was getting tubby again. His physician would yell at him during his annual telephysical if he didn’t get this under control before then. The problem was, he wasn’t sure when that appointment was for. Had he already had it this year? He couldn’t remember.

It didn’t take long to eat the Hot Pocket. He supposed he shouldn’t have washed it down with a Coke, but he hadn’t ordered any diet soda from the supermarket page. He couldn’t remember if he liked diet soda. He tossed around the idea of ordering one next week just to see, but he didn’t want to log on to the supermarket website right now. It just seemed like too much effort for no point.

He sat back down in front of his laptop and clicked the app again, hoping that this time the traffic would have abated enough that he could get in. It hadn’t. The stupid app wouldn’t even open now! He clicked on another app to get him to his email so he could send yet another message to tech support complaining about how slow the app was and how often the VPN clogged, but the email app wouldn’t open either!

Frustrated, he clicked on another random app on his screen. This also didn’t work. In fact, the only app that would work was the one that showed the date, time, and percentage of battery power left on his device. He was floored. This had never happened before! What was wrong with his computer!
He grabbed his phone to log into his email from that device, but that wasn’t working either. 

Frantically, he clicked the apps on his phone, and he found that the simple calculator app was the only one that worked. He leapt off the couch, moving rather more quickly than he had in years, and marched to his bedroom to find his tablet, which he had fallen asleep playing the night before. It took him a while to find it buried in the blankets on his bed, and when he did, he found it had the same issues as his phone.

Whirling back into the living room, he grabbed the remote had previously forgotten to find and clicked on the TV, which promptly portrayed a “no signal” box that bounced around the screen from corner to corner. His unused voice let out a little squeak. What was going on?

He sat down in front of the laptop again, only this time, he looked in the lower right-hand corner to the place where the network icon was. He blinked three times before he understood the words that appeared when he hovered his mouse over that icon.

Connection lost.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Murder


We kill each other in our hearts every day,
Asking other human beings to change
Who they are, what they love, all that they express
So that we can be comforted by not having to confront differences

We ask people to change,
Telling them its for their own good,
“Society isn’t going to accept you like that”
“You need to dress more professionally,”
“God loves you too much to leave you in that state”
“You need to line up with who Jesus says you are,”
“Get better at this, that’s what the world’s looking for”
And we, with good intentions, teach our children to market themselves for the best opportunities:
The best education, the best jobs, the best friends, the best communities,
When instead we should really be teaching them how to fall madly and passionately in love
With who they really are

Buying and selling the souls of men,
We slowly kill and alter them
Until they are unrecognizable shadows of their former selves,
The world accepts them,
And we say we’ve done a good job

Until we can look at each human being and say unequivocally,
“They are beautiful; I don’t need to do anything to change them,”
Then we have not learned unconditional love,

When we want to allow someone into our group,
But only if they conform to the ideals of the box,
Then we have not learned unconditional love

Every day we commit murder,
Unknowingly, sometimes willingly and sometimes not,
With a look or a glare or a word spoken in judgment
Where we look at another human being and say,
“This is not ideal,
Change!”
This is not unconditional love

I hate summer,
The warm weather makes me uncomfortable,
And I have never enjoyed hiking or working out,
I don’t enjoy walking in nature while the bugs swirl around me
And the humidity oppresses me
And the sun beats down on my unsuspecting skin,
But it takes nothing away from me and my life
To look at someone who is an avid naturalist athletic hiker
And admire them for each and everything they are,
To listen to their adventure stories
And have them show me pictures of the view from the top of the mountain
That took them seven hours in the heat of the day to climb to
And genuinely be happy that they’re doing something they enjoy

I do not ask them to change,
To put their hiking gear away,
To come indoors to the air conditioning and open a book and read with me,
To dissect sentences and words,
To write poems and discuss etymology
Never to hike again because that makes me uncomfortable to be outdoors in the summer

Sometimes,
I would hope that they value me enough to come inside for a little while
Before their outdoor bike ride
And listen to me tell them of the depths of meaning behind
Robert Frost or Shakespeare,
Just as I will value them enough to engage with them on a hike,
After I’ve prepared myself with enough sunscreen and water,
And they can show me their world and the way the trees grow new branches,
And I will show them my world and the way changing one word in one document
Can change history,
And we will part from each other after these experiences
Still very much ourselves,
But richer for the knowing of each other,
And I will still hate the outdoors in summer,
And they may never read Shakespearean sonnets,
And neither of us will disdain the other for these choices
Or try to alter them

For that would be murder,
Fundamentally changing who someone is,
Even just not valuing them,
When you say “fool” in your heart,
Because someone is not who you think they should be,
You kill an expression of Divinity

Stop that.