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Do Black Lives Matter Or Is Their Loss ‘Ungrievable”?   Leave a comment

Journalist Mattieu Aikins has used the phrase “ungrievable lives” to explain how, from an American perspective, some lives are more valuable than others. In reality, some lives matter to us so little that their loss can be said to be “ungrievable.” In somewhat crude terms, the approach we take could be compared to a poker game. Everyone is holding cards, and some cards are better than others. High cards beat out low cards.

For example, in the category of what is usually thought of as race:
White beats Asian / Asian beats Brown / Brown beats Black / Black beats Native American

Or as applied to economic status:
Rich beats Middle Class / Middle class beats Poor
Poor beats Homeless / Homeless beats Incarcerated (or ex-con)

Or social status:
“Successful” or Popular beats Unknown / Unknown beats Invisible

Or based on education:
Highly Educated beats Somewhat Educated / Somewhat Educated beats Uneducated

Or mental health:
Healthy beats Unhealthy / Unhealthy beats Mentally unhealthy

And the miscellaneous category:
Male beats Female / Pretty beats Ugly / Skinny beats Fat

Finally, we can return to where Matthieu Akins* started us off:
North American lives beat European lives / European lives beat Asian lives /
Asian lives beat Central American lives / Central American lives beat African lives
African lives beat (Middle Eastern) Muslim lives

Now, obviously the game changes depending on where it’s played, and who is playing – and these are just my guesses as to how many who play where I live would see it. And what I’m talking about is really not the game itself, but the guide to the game – its rulebook.

Mattieu Aikins’ concern about “ungrievable lives” had to do with American reporters killed in the Middle East, compared to poor Afghan children killed by the U.S. in drone strikes. We grieved the deaths of the journalists (whose deaths have been reported and whose names are known), but for us, the children’s lives were generally unnoticed and consequently, “ungrievable”. We don’t know their names, and we’re really not thinking or that concerned about them.

My concern centers around the recent discussion of the controversial hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. The phrase has become a rallying cry lately because of police killings of unarmed black males. The phrase might not seem controversial, but it is. As a society we say we agree that all lives matter (even though, as I’ve suggested, we don’t play the game that way), so some object to saying it – to saying that Black lives matter – “Do they matter more?”, “Isn’t it obvious?”,  “Who said they don’t?”, “What about White lives?”, etc.

When we think about the game and the rulebook, we realize why black lives may not matter (in reality), or why under certain circumstances, they might matter less than others. For instance, how “grievable” is the loss of a black, ex-con with little education and some mental health issues? How is that man’s status any different from that of the drone victim with a different ethnicity from us, who lives in a different (read inferior) country than we do, who is relatively poor, probably an adherent of a different (unappreciated) religion, and is, for all these reasons, virtually invisible to us?

We owe Mattieu Aikins gratitude for the label, since it forces us to think about our assumptions. If indeed, we see some lives are more grievable than others, then we can no longer pretend that we value human life as valuable in and of itself (e.g., as “made in God’ image”, as Christians teach). We can no longer pretend that rich, powerful, beautiful, successful, educated “Americans” are not more valuable than others. We have to admit that we’re playing a certain (shameful) game, whose rules spell out very clearly what caste each person is in, and consequently how they are to be valued and treated.

Recently one Congressman’s criticism of Eric Garner apparently included the statement that Garner might not have died if he wasn’t so obese. That is, he was irresponsible about his weight, and therefore bore at least some responsibility for his death. And, I suppose we are to conclude, that our anger should decrease accordingly. Eric Garner was not only black, poor, unhealthy (other medical conditions besides his weight) and fairly invisible – but to top it off he was “irresponsible.” (That’s not explicit in the rulebook, but it fits with the basic approach.) His life is less grievable – and apparently for some – but not including the family he left behind – “ungrievable.” He is a victim of the rulebook approach. The phrase #BlackLivesMatter insists that the game is rigged and doesn’t make sense in light of ultimate realities. Many individuals who are highly respected would not do well according to the rules of our game, for instance, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jesus himself. If genocide, racism, totalitarianism, religious persecution and ethnic cleansing are abhorrent to us, it’s only because all lives matter. It’s because, on some level, we believe that each person has been created by God, can come to know God, can be a God-bearer, and is sought out by God as a friend. Besides these obviously religious reasons, there is also the fact that our lives are intertwined, as Martin Luther King famously said, so that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  John Donne put it this way:

“No man is an island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were:
any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind,
and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls;
it tolls for thee.”

___________________________________________________

* I have constructed all the categories and examples. The only thing I’ve borrowed from Mattieu Aikins is his term “ungrievable lives.”

Evangelicals Unite to Argue for Justice in Immigration   Leave a comment

Wow. Maybe I just haven’t noticed, but I don’t remember seeing something like this story in the news for some time. When Evangelicals are in the news these days, it seems like it’s usually about some spokesman for the Religious Right embarrassing himself (and us), or it’s about h0w uninvolved the Evangelical movement is in doing social justice.

Anyway, I couldn’t be happier to see this group pressuring President Obama to work with others to pass immigration reform legislation that:

Respects the God-given dignity of every person
Protects the unity of the immediate family
Respects the rule of law
Guarantees secure national borders
Ensures fairness to taxpayers
Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents.

Here is the list of those who signed the open letter to the President:

Leith Anderson, President, National Association of Evangelicals; Stephan Bauman, President and CEO, World Relief; David Beckmann, President, Bread for the World; Noel Castellanos, CEO, Christian Community Development Association; Robert Gittelson, President, Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform; Richard Land, President, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; Samuel Rodriguez, President, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Gabriel Salguero, President, National Latino Evangelical Coalition; Richard Stearns, President, World Vision United States; and Jim Wallis, President and CEO, Sojourners.

This is a fine hour for Evangelicals, and for each of these organizations. May there be many more to come as the church turns its sights on applying its faith outside the four walls of the church.

South Nassau Hurricane Relief   Leave a comment

It can be hard to know where to find help, where to donate, and where you can volunteer. Here’s a rundown of what I know as of now (November 12, 2012)*. I’ll be working as much as I can to keep this list current. Email me with corrections or additions please! This list contains both evangelical church groups, non-profits, and Occupy Relief groups. (Before you go out, I would suggest you call and make sure the information you’re looking at is current.)

The Bridge Church in Malverne (1 Norwood Avenue, Malverne, NY 11565) – They are accepting donations of these items only:  coats, hats, gloves, scarves, baby food/formula and diapers/wipes. You can volunteer with (or receive help from) their Mobile Soup Kitchen every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Long Beach. Finally, if you need assistance, or know someone who does, please call the church. Contact them at (516) 561-8101 or mainoffice@thebridgeli.com.

The Vineyard Church in Rockville Center and Lynbrook (Denton Avenue, Lynbrook, NY 11563) – The Vineyard church is partnering with the international aid organization Samaritan’s Purse (run by Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son). Organized crews of volunteers meet at the Lynbrook location at 7:30am and 12:30pm Monday through Saturday for orientation and then leave in crews to fulfill work orders. The work orders come from those in need that reach out to the church or vice versa. If you need sand dug out, mold remediation, a roof repair, a downed tree removed, or ruined furniture, appliances and carpet carried to the curb, they can do any of these things. To volunteer just show up at the times above. If you need assistance, or know someone who does, please call the hotline at (516) 568-3980. A volunteer will fill out a work order based on your need, someone will come to assess your home, and if at all possible, a team or workers will be sent out to work. There is no charge for this service. Preference is given to the elderly, disabled and those without insurance, but others may be helped too, so don’t hesitate to call. Rental property can be cleaned out, but for repairs to be made, you must be the homeowner.

clothing distribution in Long Beach, NY

Freeport Recreation Center (130 East Merrick Rd, Freeport, NY 11520) – Hot showers are available between 6:15am and 10pm. The Red Cross in this location is accepting and providing food and clothes. You can contact them at (516) 377-2314.

Church of the Transfiguration in Freeport (87 S. Long Beach Avenue, Freeport, NY 11520) – They are serving hot meals (sandwiches) from noon to 2pm Monday through Saturday, and dinner from 3:00-5:00pm. You can contact them at (516) 379-6226.

Word of Life Fellowship in Freeport (80 West Merrick Road, Freeport, NY 11520) – Shelter on a first come, first served basis (6:00pm to 9:00am), with preference given to families with children. Also hot coffee, etc. They are collecting and distributing outerwear, blankets, and nonperishable food. Contact them at (516) 546-3344.

First Baptist Church of Freeport (195 Pine Street, Freeport, NY 11520) – You can donate water and non-perishable food here. Call the church to let them know of needs, especially in Freeport. They are also providing shelter for volunteers coming from a distance. Work crews are going out daily. Contact them at (516) 379-8084.

Rockville Centre Recreation Center (111 N. Oceanside Rd, RVC, NY 11570) – Donations of most items (clothes, cleaning supplies, food, etc.) are being received between 9am-6pm M-F. You can contact them at (516) 678-9238.

Postscript:  These don’t apply to South Nassau County, but I wanted to include the one because of the Occupy connection, and the other because shelter is harder to find. If you have friends and family in the boroughs, this is how to find help for them:
“Occupy Sandy” (the Relief arm of Occupy Wall Street) –  You can help by donating your time with feet on the ground, or material items that they insure will get to the places needed most. For information go to: Go to  http://interoccupy.net/occupysandy/ If you can’t volunteer your time you can help by making a financial donation at https://www.wepay.com/donations/occupy-sandy-cleanup-volunteers. For more information simply google “Occupy Sandy.”

The Queens College (65-70 Kessena Blvd, Flushing, NY 11367) – They are providing shelter in their gym and dining hall. Contact them at (718) 997-5000.

*I want to thank my wife Martha Ramirez for all the hard work compiling this list. Any errors or omissions are my doing.

“Watch Out,” Says Jesus: Ten Warning Signs That Religion Has Become Evil   Leave a comment

It’s my honor and pleasure to present Daniel B. Clendenin as a guest blogger this month. His blog, Journey With Jesus is widely read internationally, and always worth seeing. I like this so much that I asked him to make it available again here.

When our daughter went to college three years ago, I emailed a friend about churches she might visit. His response caught me off guard.

After a few suggestions, he warned: “There is one church she should avoid. It is cultic, and its members work very hard to get unsuspecting college students to come. Then they love-bomb them and they become members, and then they distance themselves from their family and other believers. It is hard-core, legalistic, and authoritarian, but people get sucked in because the people are very hospitable. I went there for a long time growing up, and even today we get shunned by members for having left.”

Religious sincerity is no guarantee of spiritual authenticity.

At the end of his thousand-page history of the Crusades called God’s War (2006), Christopher Tyerman warns of the dangers of sentimentality and naiveté about religion: “It is a fond myth of the religious that piety excludes greed, coercion, conformity and lack of reflection, that it is freestanding. The language of transcendence should not distract or dupe.” Tyerman’s book is about the Crusades, when genocide and forced conversions, butchery and baptisms, were construed as works of God. The church not only justified and sanctified the Crusades, it even canonized them as meritorious deeds that earned one remission of sins and eternal salvation.

Tyerman’s warning is as applicable today as it was to medieval Europe. Even in Jesus’s own day and among his closest followers religion could turn toxic.

At least four times in the gospel for this week Jesus warns his followers: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and deceive many… You must be on your guard” (Mark 13:5–6, 9, 23, 33). These “false prophets and false Christs” would, if possible, deceive even his most intimate associates, said Jesus (Mark 13:22).

Further examples of religion gone bad haunt the gospels. Jesus’s disciples argued about who among them was the greatest. They asked Jesus for seats of glory in paradise. They wanted to exterminate a Samaritan village that had shunned them. They tried to prevent children from coming to Jesus, objected to an anonymous healer who was not part of their inner circle, and in the garden of Gethsemane they defended him with the violence of the sword.

In the name of God’s love Christians have slaughtered Muslims (the Crusades), Jews (the Holocaust), Native Americans (see The Conquest of America by Tzvetan Todorov), and certainly each other (the Thirty Years War). We have humiliated and exploited slaves, women and gays. Here in America we’ve aligned the gospel with nationalistic and political ideologies of both the conservative right (evangelicals) and the liberal left (mainline denominations), all in the name of Jesus.

Some critics vilify Christendom as the worst of all religious offenders, but I’d make two observations.

First, religious violence plays no favorites, either with perpetrators or victims. Child sacrifice (eg, Aztecs sacrificed 20,000 people in four days at the consecration of a temple in Mexico in 1487), widow burning, caste systems, female genital mutilation, witch hunts, ritual abuse, ethnic cleansing, suicide bombers, apartheid, and mass suicides — the list is depressingly long and includes virtually every religion.

Second, political atheism has had catastrophic consequences. The exterminations of 100 million people in the last century have come in the name of “liberations” by Soviet and Maoist atheism.

Why do people do evil in the name of religion? Why do we talk about love but torture and annihilate? After studying the Crusades all his life, Tyerman concludes that it’s an “irreconcilable paradox” why medieval crusaders who followed the Prince of Peace endured unimaginable personal risks and privations in order to slaughter fellow human beings with such sincerity. In his book The Most Dangerous Animal (2007), David Livingstone Smith argues that violence is more a function of biology than religion. He says that war is deeply embedded in human nature, that it’s innate, and our natural impulse. As such, war is not a pathology or aberrant choice but “a normal feature of human life.”

None of these “explanations” mean that we should ignore, excuse, or rationalize religious violence. Far from it. We should not remain silent when we see religious fraud. We should name it for what it is. We can all learn and reflect upon some of the signs that religion has become evil and that evil has become religious. Here are ten warning bells.

  • Fanatical claims of absolute truth. I don’t mean the belief in absolute truth(s), which I think is both tenable and admirable, but rather the doubt-free and uncritical confidence that one has understood absolute truth absolutely.
  • Identifying the gospel with nationalistic ideologies, partisan politics, state power, and ethnic identity.
  • Blind obedience to totalitarian, charismatic, and authoritarian leaders, personality cults, or views that undermine moral integrity, personal freedom, individual responsibility, and intellectual inquiry.
  • Ushering in the “end times” in the name of your religion.
  • Justifying religious ends by dubious means.
  • Any and all forms of dehumanization, from openly declaring war on your enemy, demonizing those who differ from you, construing your neighbor as an Other, to claiming that God is on your side alone. Do you believe that God loves Iran as much as Israel? There shouldn’t be the slightest hesitation or qualification in the answer — of course he does.
  • Pressure tactics of coercion, deception, and false advertisement.
  • Alienation, isolation and withdrawal from family, friends and society, whether psychologically or literally (eg, David Koresh’s Branch Davidians or Jim Jones’ “People’s Temple” in northern Guyana).
  • Exploitation and all forms of unreasonable demands upon one’s time, money, resources, family, friendships, sexuality, etc.
  • Oddball, sectarian interpretations of Scripture that have little or no support from the broad, classical Christian tradition, or that disregard the best of historical-critical scholarship.

Often these danger signs combine and overlap.

About the same time that my daughter was heading off to college, I read two disturbing memoirs about damage done in the name of religion. In An American Gospel; On Family, History, and the Kingdom of God (2009), Erik Reece describes the fundamentalist faith that he inherited from his grandfather and father (both Baptist preachers). His father’s suicide at the age of thirty-three had medical roots, he admits, but it was badly aggravated by the “acute self-loathing,” “life-negating principles,” “oppressive faith,” and “repressive morality” of his fundamentalist heritage. When Reece himself experienced a nervous breakdown at the same age of thirty-three, he headed for a Buddhist monastery to purge himself of the demons of his family faith.

Veronica Chater’s memoir, Waiting for the Apocalypse; A Memoir of Faith and Family(2009), centers around her father Lyle Arnold, for whom the modernizations of Vatican II were not fresh winds of change but “the smoke of Satan.” He spent his entire adult life in a self-styled “counter-revolution movement” to return the Catholic church to its original purity. His honorable intentions, dictatorial faith, religious earnestness and sheer stupidity all backfired. Only one of his eleven children remains a practicing Catholic; otherwise the entire family paid a steep price in bitterness, resentments, banishment, drugs, teenage sex, and school drop-outs. In the last pages of her book, the Arnold family of fifteen is living in a dilapidated three bedroom, one bathroom house. Hell had descended to earth in Arnold’s kamikaze quest for heaven.

Don’t be deceived or duped, said Jesus. Watch out. Be on your guard against the many false faiths that masquerade as true religion.


Image credits: (1, 2) Arthur Frederick Ide’s Blog.

Is Political Talk on Facebook Pointless?   1 comment

Is Political Talk on Facebook Pointless?

Recently someone close to me expressed concern about the amount of time I’ve been taking to post political articles on Facebook. It proved to be a good opportunity for me to pause and evaluate.  Just what do I think I’m accomplishing, and is it worth the time? What follows is my answer. (I should say at the start that I am an evangelical Christian, and that both the question and my answer are framed by that fact.)

What motivates me?

First and foremost, I’m compelled by the Biblical mandates. When it comes to the life of a Christian, the Bible emphasizes more than anything else the necessity of a life lived in love for God and others. Biblically speaking those “others” are our neighbors – those disenfranchised or exploited in some way. The Bible often mentions the poor, the widow, the orphan and the immigrant as prime examples. Indeed, in the book of James, in a provocative verse, caring for widows and orphans (and keeping oneself uncorrupted in the process) is the definition of pure religion. Practicing compassion for others in need reflects the heart of God. It’s the main thing that followers of Jesus are called to do. My posting is part of my attempt to respond to that call in the most effective way I know.

Disenfranchised people are proliferating in U.S. society as a result of our growing and profound wealth inequality. Exploitation occurs when freedom of speech, assembly, or due process is restricted or prevented, when hard-fought civil rights are lost, when multinational corporations are allowed by a dysfunctional and compromised Congress to abuse rather than tend our planet, and when the womb is a terribly dangerous place for a growing child. People are disenfranchised when immorally deprived of their legitimate voting rights, of the possibility of an education, or of their homes, and when corporations and exceptionally rich individuals are granted the right to buy election results so they can maximize profits.

In this environment, I am motivated by the desire to speak truth to power, to call Christians to less of a simplistic way of thinking about politics (rejecting, for instance, the idea that any true Christian will be a member of a particular political party), and to point to Jesus Christ and faith in him as the only ultimate hope for our world, and for us as individuals.

And Facebook posting is not all I do. I’ve marched in Occupy protests, and I talk to anyone who will listen. I want to use my resources, harness my abilities, cast my votes, and speak my prayers in the out working of this calling, but because of the restrictions on me (time, age, work, etc.), I’ve concluded that using social media to engage with others is one of the main things I can routinely do. I also want to learn from others. I’m not as confident as some that I see everything just as it is.

What am I determined to accomplish?

I am committed to being a voice of dissent at a time when too many are quiet. I’m committed to joining with others in working for change in our beloved country. I’m committed to responding faithfully to God’s call to perseverance in well-doing in what he says are the most important ways. I’m committed to challenging others to be more informed and active, and to do so in an irenic way – always attempting to be motivated by my faith, by the common good, and not by partisan politics.

Is this a worthwhile use of my time?

Biblically speaking, nothing surpasses these goals and purposes in importance.  Even the work of the believing Church in evangelism and discipleship relate to these goals and my choice of them. In my opinion, the evangelical church (among others) is rapidly losing any credibility it has with unbelievers and younger Christians who see it an unengaged and irrelevant. As several notable Christian books have shown, many, perhaps even most, professing Christians are missing the main point of their faith. (For instance see The Life You’ve Always Wanted by John Ortberg, and Generous Justice by Tim Keller.) The church can no longer go about business as usual. Somehow is must awaken and embrace a broader sense of mission.

What are my expectations?

When I first became involved with Occupy Wall Street, I had very high hopes that it would be a catalyst for real change. Its contribution has been very significant, and continues, but the response of apathy from so much of the population is disheartening. Outside of what the Occupy movement (or something else like it) can accomplish, I see little hope for our country. To expect the profoundly needed changes to come from our political or religious institutions is, to use a Biblical phrase, “to lean upon a reed.” Obviously, too much dysfunction prevails in Congress and in the Church to expect much from either corner.  Many in ministry will respond by saying we can still reach individuals whose lives will be changed by Jesus Christ, and that we’re not trying to change the world, but instead, to deliver a remnant out of it – to create a counter cultural people for God – to show a better way. I understand this perspective, and agree with it as far as it goes – it just doesn’t go far enough. Too often this approach translates into a pietistic Christianity which simply is not what God intends.  Believers characterized by obliviousness or apathy towards others in need, or filled with animosity toward those who are different (politically, racially, in sexual behavior, etc.) have missed the main point of faith, which is after all, as J.I. Packer argued in The True Humanism – to be a better human, a better person. Too many Christians have chosen truth over love, and quietism over personal involvement – both of which fall short of what Christ died to accomplish for us and our churches.

Will my efforts, either with Occupy or in the political process be more effective than the efforts of others in the church? I’m not saying that. I want to honor hard-working pastors and Christians in the churches. We can’t do without the church. But, it’s not an either-or proposition. There is just no reason that we must choose between Bible studies and engagement on social and economic issues. And anyway, I’m simply explaining and defending my thinking and actions. God leads different people in different ways, obviously, and we all must answer to him. I think the story of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. illustrates the kind of approach I’m talking about – commitment to a long, often difficult process of change, and persistence in it despite the apparent results, with the conviction that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

When I ask myself whether I can devote the rest of my life to this – whether that would be a sufficiently worthy goal, I can only say, for all the reasons above, that I feel that it is, and that I cannot do otherwise. Unless one takes the approach that Christ is going to return soon to usher in an entirely new world – rendering working for change in this world futile, then these things are the things that matter most. (And in fact, even if we knew Jesus would return in just five or ten more years, we would still be compelled to care for the helpless in the meantime.)

Finally when it comes to the Christian church and just her own selfish good, let us remember that the freedom to meet, and to preach and witness could easily be taken from her. One day maybe the powers that be will try to disenfranchise her. And short of that, what good will it be if the church continues to be free to preach, but loses its audience because of a bad reputation? Even for just it’s own survival, the church needs to do better when it comes to these concerns. (Obviously, faithfulness to God’s call transcends this as a sole motivation, but it certainly can be a motivation.)

On my Occupy website are these words from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, “Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.” That’s what I’m talking about. Those are marching orders for the church the same as they were for Israel. What is uppermost on the heart of God has not changed.

In the seventies we used to sing, “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love.” The song may sound outdated today, but it’s message endures. If we’ve experienced God’s love, we’re compelled to live it out in our world. God’s intention has never been for us to huddle in our churches. (Biblically speaking, we are to be “in the world” but not “of it.”) We can’t wait for people to come to us in order to experience God’s love and justice. We have to go to them. We have to engage with the culture – especially now, in days where threats to what we hold dear surround us.

Dick Clark and Levon Helm – Nonconformity and Protest in Music   Leave a comment

The recent deaths of Dick Clark and Levon Helm cause us to look back fondly at an earlier era. As many articles are pointing out, the brilliant career of Dick Clark forever changed American music. The beloved Levon Helm, especially in his role in the Band, had a huge effect on American music in a different way. What they both had in common, besides their importance, was how they defied expectations about the way things should be. I’ve been thinking about music and musicians lately, and just that about them – how often they point the way ahead for us, how often we learn from them and follow.

I recently bought a turntable and dug out my old LPs. I also happened upon a yard sale where the guy was selling hundreds of unopened cassettes. (I bought 80!) As a result, I’ve been listening to music from the sixties and seventies again – and  since I’m involved with the Occupy movement – with new ears. Obviously, that was a time of intense protest, and of “peace, love and understanding” – itself a form of protest – and we hear it in the music.

As “Boomers”, we were weaned on this music, which shaped our values, and provided, as Dick Clark himself so aptly put it “the soundtrack of our lives.” And yet, it seems like not very many Baby Boomers are involved in protest today – for instance with Occupy Wall Street. (I’m not as familiar with the ranks of the Tea Party, so I won’t be commenting on that.) I’ve been wondering at how that can be, and if it can change. But first, I invite you to take a stroll down memory lane with me, sampling protest music for that era. How many of these songs to you remember?

Malvina Reynolds – Little Boxes (’62)

Peter Seeger – Where Have All the Flowers Gone (’61, popularized by Peter, Paul & Mary), We Shall Overcome (based on a negro spiritual, covered here by Joan Baez), Bring Them Home (’66), Union Maid (written by Woodie Guthrie, covered here by Seeger),  Which Side Are You On? (popularized by Seeger, written by Florence Reece in ’31) this cover by Annie DeFranco

Phil Oachs – Vietnam (’62), Talking Vietnam (’64), I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore (’65), Draft Dodger Rag (’65)

Tom Paxton – My Son Tom (’66)

Bob Dylan – Blowin’ In the Wind (’63 – sung here by Peter, Paul and Mary), Masters of War (’63), John Brown, The Times They are a Changin’ (’64), With God on Our Side (’64 – Baez cover), the Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll (’64), Masters of War (’64), Chimes of Freedom (’64), Hurricane (’66), The Death of Emmett Till (’72), Hard Rain (’76) [Most, if not all, Dylan’s solo videos have been removed from Youtube.], w/ Joan Baez, Deportee (’76)

Sam Cooke – A Change is Gonna Come (’64) (this cover by Seal)

Curtis Mayflield – People Get Ready (’65) (later covered by the Vanilla Fudge)

Jackie DeShannon – What the World Needs Now (’65), Put A Little Love in Your Heart (’69)

Country Joe and the Fish – Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag (’65)

The Byrds – Turn, Turn, Turn (’65) (written by Pete Seeger)

Barry McGuire and P.F. Sloan – Eve of Destruction (’65)

Janis Ian – Society’s Child (66)

Kriss Kristofferson – Vietnam Blues (’66)

Jr. Wells – Vietcong Blues (’66)

Buffalo Springfield – For What It’s Worth (’66), Soldiers of Peace (’67)

Arlo Guthrie – Alice’s Restaurant Masacree (’67)

Donovan – The Universal Soldier (written by Buffie Sainte-Marie, ’64)

Eric Burdon and the Animals – Sky Pilot (68)

John Lee Hooker – I Don’t Wanna Go To Vietnam” (’68)

Quicksilver Messenger Service – Pride of Man (’68), What About Me? (’70)

The Doors – Unknown Soldier (’68)

Graham Nash –  We Can Change the World (’68),Oh! Camil (’73), Military Madness

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Wooden Ships (’68), (also covered by Jefferson Airplane), Ohio (’70), Teach Your Children (’70)

David Crosby – What Are Their Names?

The Beatles – Tax Man, Eleanor Rigby, She’s Leaving Home, Revolution (’68)

Joni Mitchell – The Fiddle and the Drum (’69), Woodstock (’69), Big Yellow Taxi (’70)

Larry Norman – I Am the 6 O’Clock News (’70, Grammatrain cover), The Great American Novel (’71), Peace, Polution, Revolution (’71)

The Kinks – Some Mother’s Son (’69)

Steppenwolf – Draft Resister (’69)

Joan Baez – I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill (’69) (written in the ’30s but popularized by Baez), Saigon Bride (’67), Where Are You Now My Son? (’73)

John Sebastian – I Had A Dream Last Night (’69)

Credence Clearwater Revival – Fortunate Son (’69)

Jimi Hendrix – The Star Spangled Banner (Woodstock) (’69), Machine Gun (’70)

Jessie Collin Young – Hippie From Olema (’69), Get Together (here with Jackson Browne, Steve Stills, Graham Nash, etc.)

Yes – Harold Land (’69)

John Lennon – Give Peace a Chance (’69, with Yoko Ono in the Plastic Ono Band), Imagine (’71), Happy Xmas (’71)

Buffy Saint Marie – Moratorium (’71)

Cat Stevens – Peace Train (’71)

Grand Funk Railroad – People, Let’s Stop the War” (’71)

[Jefferson] Airplane – Rejoyce (’67), Crown of Creation (’68), Volunteers of America (’69)

The Steve Miller Band – Never Kill Another Man (’70)

Guess Who – American Woman (’70)

Deep Purple – Child in Time (’70)

Edwin Star – War (’70)

Chicago – It Better End Soon (’70)

Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On? (’71)

Neil Young & Graham Nash – War Song (’72)

O’Jays – Love Train (’73)

Johnny Cash – Don’t Go Near the Water (’74)

Tom Paxton – Born on the Fourth of July (’74), Whose Garden Was This?

Bob Marley and the Wailers – War (’76), No More Trouble (’97)

The Ramones – Commando (’77)

This list is a “who’s who” of the most popular performers of that time – and not just in terms of protest music. These songs sent many of us out into the streets, and still exert great influence in music and on our musical consciousness. (How, for instance, can anyone listen to “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” and not be changed?)

As we look back this week with affection on the passing of two musical greats, I wanted to raise a question – not “Where have all the flowers gone?”, but “Where have all the protestors gone?” Now, I should say that I talked to enough people at Zuccotti Park (before “the man” shut it down to protect “the establishment”) to know that plenty of people who are out protesting now were doing it “back in the day”, or perhaps, ever since “the day.” But, it seems to me like what is probably a much greater number who were outraged and moved to action back then by racism, injustice, police brutality, corruption in government and the injustices and terrible human (and economic) cost of war, are now distracted by other things. (Typically, activists come from the ranks of the young, so that is also an obvious factor.) Even so, is that what we want? To leave the fight for justice to only the young? To be remembered as youthful agitators but then comfortable, sleepy oldsters? Is it fair for us to leave all the hard work to the young – and can they even succeed without us? (For protest is much more than holding up signs outside Goldman Sachs or letting yourself be arrested for sleeping on the sidewalk.)

So, here’s what I suggest if it’s been a while since you’re really been stirred by a problem bigger than paying the mortgage (which granted, today is no small problem for many). Put on some of your old LPs, or simply click some of the links in this article to revisit some amazing and great old musical places. See if the idealism of those days doesn’t grab you. See if you may have forgotten some things that are sacred to you. See if you may indeed want to do something “for the cause.” I’m not saying it has to be with Occupy Wall Street. I’m just saying that your country and your planet needs you. Don’t do it for Dylan or Baez. Don’t do it for Morrison or Lennon. But do it because you still share the values they sang about. Do it for yourself, your children, your grandchildren and for your neighbors near and far.

* I want to emphasize that my review is obviously subjective and therefore somewhat arbitrary. If I’ve left out your favorite song or band, I apologize in advance. Obviously,  I’ve limited my selections to a certain era (basically 60s and 70s). This has meant refusing the urge to look back to some great songs (e.g., “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holliday), or to later years either (“Rockin’ In the Free World” by Neil Young). I’ve included as many actual clips of the groups singing as possible, and avoided posting those “collage” type “videos” with the music in the background –  with only a few exceptions (i.e., “Ohio”). I hope you enjoy the article (and the music!), that you think about my question, and that you leave a comment. I’m interested in your responses.

P.S. I want to thank Tom Carnacchio for his contributions to this article.

Pat Buchanan on “Whipped-up Hysteria” Over Trayvon Martin Killing   2 comments

Pat Buchanan claims that when it comes to the killing of Trayvon Martin, Black leaders – like Jesse Jackson, Maxine Waters, Representative Hank Johnson and “former Black Panther” Bobby Rush – have “whipped-up hysteria”, making the case, which apparently wouldn’t have been about race, as it is “now.” What they’re done, he says, has been designed “…to turn this into a national black-white face-off, instead of a mutual search for truth and justice….” and into an “exacerbation of and the exploitation of racial conflict.”

It would be naive to argue that this was or would ever be purely “a mutual search for truth and justice.” Politicians always have their own agenda, and are often quick to sacrifice the truth to exploit a situation for their own benefit. Media outlets want to keep a story going because they have a profit motive. Even so, I don’t believe that either of these forces is sufficient to explain why all this, and why now. In other words, why is everyone so “whipped-up” and in “hysteria” over this?

Buchanan’s explanation is that what we’re seeing is “… an irreconcilable conflict of visions about what the real America is in the year 2012.” And here is Buchanan’s analysis of America today. American 2012 is a place …

1) where Black men are suspect, because black men between 16-36 are responsible for 33% of all US crime, and because their crime rate is seven times what it is for whites. Indeed, in some U.S. cities, 40% of black males “… are in jail or prison, or probation or parole, or have criminal records.”

2) where these realities are “not a product of white racism but of prosecutions and convictions of criminal acts.”

3) where, if you’re black and you wear a hoodie, you’re only asking to be mistaken for a perp, like those who hold up convenient stores and are captured on hidden video cameras.

4) where America is a safe place for young blacks, not  “… a terrifying place for [them] to grow up in because of the constant danger from white vigilantes.”

In this world (Buchanan’s world), it only makes sense that George Zimmerman suspected sixteen year old Trayvon Martin (who just barely made the 16-26 year old cutoff).

Buchanan offers no links or sources for his statements, but I’ll have to leave the fact-checking to someone else. I’ll only say that when I was reading the article, the old saying “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.” came to mind. And I’m not accusing Buchanan of deliberately lying. I just think his world view is “skewed up” enough to create a lot of doubt about his analysis. For instance, if everyone knows that you gotta watch out for young black males because so many of them  – almost half! – are criminals (points 1 & 2), then doesn’t that mean that they probably are treated with suspicion everywhere they go, and that they are put in danger more often as a result? (contra point 4) Maybe they’re not so much in danger from white vigilantes, but plenty of times “average” Whites have killed Blacks without any repercussions (like in the famous case of Emit Till in 1955, and the March 3, 2012 killing of Bo Morrison). We also need to consider fear of the police (think “stop and frisk“) that is part and parcel of the lives of many Blacks in troubled neighborhoods, and increase in the danger level that goes with that oppressive approach. And now, with the Stand Your Ground laws are spreading through the states, the perceived and actual danger has increased dramatically.

I’d like to interact briefly with three of Buchanan’s points about America:

1) Agreed, lots of blacks are in prison, and lots of Blacks have been arrested.

2) To say that this is “not a product of white racism” is a sweeping generalization, and by no means obvious. Here’s America in 2012 the way I see it (and someone else can fact-check me as well):  Blacks are very often stopped when whites wouldn’t be (again, stop and frisk). Blacks are very often charged when white’s wouldn’t be. (They don’t all have PDA cards like my four white sons do – and lots of friends who are cops.) Blacks are convicted more often and serve longer sentences than whites in the same or similar circumstances. And, when “things go wrong” in police action, somehow it seems like blacks (and the mentally ill like Ronald Madison – but that’s another story) are often the dead victims. (Think Rodney King, Sean Bell, James Brisette, and many others, including, more recently Kenneth Chamberlain Sr.) Looking on from the outside, it seems to me like Blacks are considered “more disposable.”

3) If it was only natural for Zimmerman to be suspicious of Trayvon Martin, then it wasn’t about his hoodie (according to Buchanan’s criteria) but because he wore a hoodie – and he was a black man. From moment one then, this story has been about race, no one needed to make it about race. (And yes, as Buchanan himself says, it’s likely that if the victim had been a white man shot by a black man “…the black guy would have been arrested.”) But Zimmerman wasn’t arrested, and again, in the light of such stories as I’ve linked above, it seems like race is a factor.

Perhaps Buchanan states the obvious when he says that Jesse Jackson and others like him wouldn’t be “whipping-up a frenzy” over this story “… if Trayvon had been shot dead by a black neighborhood watch volunteer.” No one can know that. Maybe Jesse Jackson isn’t as hard-hearted as Pat Buchanan. Maybe though, the issue would have still been young blacks being unjustly executed by careless or bigoted cops – or armed civilians – no matter what their color. It’s really the same story. The point is that there is a significant possibility that a young black man was unjustly killed, and also originally, failed by the criminal justice system which seemed to do nothing. I think that would have been enough to stir up black leaders, especially since it’s happened plenty of times before – and perhaps (finally) plenty of White’s too, like those who have been showing solidarity with Trayvon’s cause in Occupy Wall Street in Manhattan, and in Miami, D.C., and in other major cities.

Finally I said earlier that Paul Buchanan seemed heartless, and I’d like to explain why. Equating advocacy for justice in the case of the possible execution of a sixteen year old with “whipped-up frenzy” is shamefully inconsiderate. I think that if I were Trayvon’s parents, I would find this an incredibly callous and very hurtful dismissal of the value of my lost child. I know we don’t, but I wish we lived in an America where the killing of any innocent child would bring forth a flurry of passionate protest. Sadly, it happens too often to engender such a response. Nevertheless, using the phrase as he has, only seems to reflect the attitude that is at the heart of this troubling story. I’m White like Buchanan, but I think that the killing of Trayvon Martin was an outrage – even if it just turns out to be what Zimmerman’s lawyer says – “a tragic case of self-defense.” Pat Buchanan’s comment shamefully demeans the discussion, and falls short of showing the appropriate honor that should be given to any and every human being – black or white – simply because each is created in the image of God.

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