Friday, December 18, 2009

The Burden...and Freedom...of Reality

One of my favorite quotations to cite in class, post on here, and spam elsewhere whenever i get a chance is by James Baldwin:

We are capable of bearing a great burden, once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is
. – James Baldwin

I post it often but have realized that very few people engage in dialogue about the heart of the matter...what this quotation really speaks to...and why it matters.

There is no shortage of people and energy that want change...but why does it seem so fleeting? Why do imperial forces seem to always "win" and progressive efforts for a more equitable existence for all humankind seem like such a pipe dream? again, the answer lies in the quotation.

The political circus that has become health care reform is yet another lesson in why this quotation's insight is so critical if we ever want to see real change.

For me, the debates raging on blogs and FB act as a constant reminder of how far we are from this reality. For many, it is easier to debate principles, ideology and philosophy...but reality is rarely engaged. I wonder....where will this lead us?? and the answer is the same answer it has been for all times....nowhere.

And then we wonder why nothing changes? Really? How can things change in a society where we have made even reality debatable? And as long as that is the case, we will not be able to agree on the path forward.
There ain't no substitute for the truth....either it is or isn't - India Arie

Keeping the quotation above as my guiding principle, and trying to arrive where reality truly is, I am going to try to answer these questions:

So what is our REALITY?
What is the truth?

1. Change is possible...but

2. it is NOT through leadership or policy unless....

3. There is an active electorate (the engine of a true democracy = people power) ....but

4. There is no active electorate... why?

5. Fascists and Hegemonic power control not only masses but progressive

6. Fragmented/Polar interests (no unity) and Miseducation. what can we realistically do?

7. KNOW all are not fighting for the same PROGRESS so it will be a continuous struggle, ACCEPT the power within to BE the change we need by SERVING our communities and working to ORGANIZE the masses.

OKAY now this is the REALITY we must really deal with...People I have the utmost respect for are not intellectually honest with themselves or others when they do not speak to these realities. The progressive movement in this country will never succeed as long as progressives continue to follow the same script:

1. blame leadership
2. blame the "ignorant" and "disengaged" masses
3. believe progress is possible without the masses; that they can make change alone, not realizing that even if this was a true democracy and worked as such, they would still lose by the numbers and resources.

I address most of these issues in the previous post (Dis'United States of America) particularly the issue of fragmented and polar interests, so in this essay, I want to speak more specifically about the reality of miseducation in our lack of progress for a more equitable society.

The Roots of Miseducation: How the Masses were taught Powerlessness

Carter G. Woodson details how we were taught to be powerless in his classic text, The Miseducation of the Negro. Masses have been taught to accept their powerlessness; that they have no power to change things and must depend on leaders (white supremacists).

If this miseducation is not combated, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because when leaders do not bring change, masses become more cynical and disengaged believing they tried to elect change but got more of the same. They learn the "power" they thought they had (in a democracy) is of no significance so they must accept their lots in life.

Leadership, at best, brings only temporary and incremental progress (and usually with backlash), because once leaders are neutralized, so is the progress. History has taught us this lesson over and over again: well known leaders like Toussaint L'Ouverture, Nat Turner, John Brown, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and the BPP all gave their life works for black liberation, but black liberation is still a dream deferred. And while no one can deny the significant progress all their efforts made to advance black liberation, their most significant achievements were organizing the mass "followers" they emboldened to action. Alone, they could accomplish little, but leading the people, they helped us on our path from slavery to freedom...a path we still are on today.

Woodson's solution to this miseducation of looking to leadership to save our communities, comes in the chapter titled "Service over Leadership". He says we need to start serving our communities, investing and trusting in our own people to realize self determination.

Interestingly enough, this powerlessness is mirrored in much of western philosophy and traditions, and religion is probably the main way it is taught.

Manifest Destiny

Although I did not realize it at the time, the combination of growing up going to a Catholic school, and having a father who was an avid reader and student of not only the Bible, but eastern philosophy (ex. Book of Tao), and new age spirituality (exs. Wayne Dyer, Marianne Williamson, Deepak Chopra) impacted my worldview tremendously.

In eastern philosophy, much focus is placed on inner power.

Catholic training actually emphasized service and sacrifice. While evangelicals seemed to focus on Jesus as the way to salvation, I learned more of his acts of mercy and treatment of the poor.

In Mass, this is the scripture I remember getting most attention:

Matthew 25: 34-40
34Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me,I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' 37Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' 40And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'

When I listen to most evangelicals discuss the Bible, they focus extensively on this passage:

John 6: 40-46
40And this is the will of Him that sent Me: that every one who seeth the Son and believeth in Him may have everlasting life, and I will raise him up at the Last Day." 41The Jews then murmured at Him, because He said, "I am the Bread which came down from Heaven."42And they said, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that he saith, `I came down from Heaven'?" 43Jesus therefore answered and said unto them, "Murmur not among yourselves." 44No man can come to Me unless the Father who hath sent Me draw him; and I will raise him up at the Last Day.45It is written in the Prophets: `And they shall all be taught by God.' Every man therefore that hath heard and hath learned from the Father cometh unto Me. 46Not that any man hath seen the Father, save He that is of God; He hath seen the Father.

Comparing these two passages provides one powerful lesson. The first focuses on service. The latter teaches that no one is saved unless they come through Jesus; it is the script that many "Christians" use to damn all non-Christians to hell. It also basically teaches that the power comes from accepting, not doing. Salvation comes from accepting Christ as Savior, not being Christ-like. This is a very powerful lesson in teaching powerlessness.

Interestingly enough, later in the book of John, Jesus says:

John 14: 12

"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father."

This passage is hotly debated as to whether Jesus meant we could "really" do all he did now on Earth...

but in Luke 17: 5-8 Jesus also says:

5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Show us how to increase our faith.” 6 The Lord answered, “If you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘May you be uprooted and thrown into the sea,’ and it would obey you!

These last two passages speak to the same inner power eastern philosophy often speaks to, but these passages are treated as more figurative while the John 6:44 is treated more literally; again, playing down "namaste" to reinforce that power comes from an outside force.

This western way of thinking has implications in all we do...and don't do; what we believe we are capable of...and not capable of...what is possible, and impossible. The reality is this miseducation heeds progress, and this is the burden we continue to bear to this day. But this is one burden we can cast off once we accept the power within us to be the change we want and need. So in reality, the obstacles are great, but despite the interests that work against progress, our power is greater if we embrace it fully...and the truth is...the REALITY is...we REALLY can change the, let's get free. Namaste.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

----from A Return to Love, by Marianne Williamson.

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