I’ve seen the enemy: too often it’s us

It’s 11:00 pm, on a Saturday night, and I’m at my laptop. I’ve been having some difficulty sleeping the last week or so. I’m normally an early-to-bed person. I’ve been that way for many years; however, here I am trying to tire myself to the point that I can easily fall into slumber when my head hits the pillow. Tonight, that probably won’t be possible.

The world has been experiencing a dark chapter this past three months. The pandemic has had its way on global populations. In addition to that, there was the apparent senseless taking of a George Floyd’s life by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota that has resulted in emotionally troubling conversations around the world. Those conversations have evolved into protests in the streets. It’s fascinating how small the world has gotten during my lifetime. I think that has happened because many of us are global citizens. We jet about the globe with the convenience our grandparents experienced walking down to the local mercantile. But even if we don’t commute by jet, we have access to all that’s going on around the world with our choice of digital devices. Look at how quickly the Coronavirus spread to the far reaches of the planet. It has no legs. It cannot fly. It was carried by us.

I’ve been a benefactor of God’s graces for almost seventy years. I’ll be seventy next month, and during that time, I’ve seen many demonstrations in the streets. There have been demonstrations for the civil rights of those with Americans of African ancestry; demonstrations against the Vietnam War; demonstrations against politicians who have been elected to certain offices. It seems every imaginable constituency has felt the need at some point to demonstrate. I think people believe-to various degrees-in the promises contained in the documents that established the republic called the United States of America, but when these promises aren’t forthcoming for some, people take to the streets when they are sick and tired of being sick and tired.  Why aren’t these promises (life, liberty, and happiness) reigning down on all, 24/7 like manna in the wilderness for all Americans? I could go into a long  diatribe as to why, but simply put the dream is always better than the reality, especially when factors such as race, class, economic status, and other categories of the human existence are viewed in light of justice and equality.

For some reason or other, we always seem to have an external enemy. Is that because the powers that be create common enemies to whom our attention can be diverted, resulting in us not continually looking at ourselves in the mirror?  America has not seen a prolonged period of peace since it came into existence. Ninety-three percent of the time since the Declaration of Independence was signed, this republic has been embattled; four of those years were spent in war with itself. Oftentimes, I feel as though the Civil War is yet going on.

As we go about what too often seems like a miserable existence, wasting resources on endeavors such as war, policing ourselves against crime against ourselves, imprecisely addressing injustice and inequality  through legislation, and just being downright inhumane to each other, we fail to realize how better things would be if we became true keepers of each other.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

There’s honor at the feet of elders

Today is Father’s Day, 2020. I thought I would reblog a piece I did two years ago about my maternal grandfather, who had a big part in raising me. I hope you enjoy it.

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I was born in 1950. This was a time that now seems ancient. This was a time when built-in obsolescence was unheard of; when dependability and long-term utility were common. This was a time when I used to sit at the foot of my maternal grandfather, along with a couple more of his grandsons and listen to him tell of times before us. My grandfather didn’t have an ounce of formal education, but he was wise beyond any notion he harbored. He told us stories of times when he was a child. These stories were sometimes reassuring, sometimes funny and sometimes scary. The scary ones usually were laced with the realities he dealt with surrounding racism. Although he never got close to being lynched, he knew someone, who knew someone, who did. The sheer scariness of my grandfather’s stories was also enhanced by the reality that my cousins and I…

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The American dream also has episodic nightmares

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The first six months of 2020 will go down in history as one of the most dramatic. The world has been shaken with a pandemic, and in the last few days it has been awakened to act as the result of an atrocity on the streets of the United States. An atrocity, the likes of which isn’t new to the disenfranchised black and brown denizens of the country. The murder, and I purposely choose not to say alleged murder, of George Floyd by a white police officer on the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota has been the proverbial straw that has broken the backs of millions of people. People are sick and tired of being sick and tired.

I normally use this space to muse about things that are on my mind; however, this time I bow to words penned by my 22-year-old granddaughter, Kennedy Hill. Kennedy just graduated from the University of Arkansas, and is about to enter graduate school there, pursuing a double program of degrees in Political Science and Law.

As you read the following, I ask that you consider the circumstances in which Kennedy was raised. She was blessed to have grandparents who are well educated, and although she was born into a single-parent home, her mom is college educated. She is also a business owner and recognized in the broader community of her hometown as a person with an opinion worth seeking on issues of the day.

Kennedy has been blessed to have all the material accoutrements any child in America could want, and a good amount of love to boot, but listen to the frustration in her words that follow:

This is my story:

I am a black woman, born in Fayetteville, Arkansas, but raised in Jonesboro, Arkansas in a single parent household. I attended a white church, predominantly white schools, but the only time I ever heard a conversation about race was when I was around black people. I felt confused.

Sophomore year of high school, I was told I was “pretty for a black girl.” It was meant as a compliment, but what I heard was “black girls are ugly, but you are the exception.” I felt disgusted.

In the eleventh grade, my best friend, in front of our entire class, told me that racism wasn’t “that bad” today as it was fifty+ years ago. I felt belittled.

My senior year in my AP US History class, we were on the topic of the slave trade. A girl ignorantly compared the buying and selling of human commodities to Black Friday, and the teacher chuckled. I felt unseen.

When my ‘friends’ discussed race matters, a rare occasion, and more specifically black people, and would say derogatory things with me in the room, they would look at me and say, “oh not you, the others.” Why? Because I was the exception. Because I didn’t show them the black stereotype that they have been brainwashed to only see, I was accepted into their world. I was non-threatening. I felt disrespected.

Fast forward to college. As I got deeper into my major and my classes became smaller, I found that I was the only black person in my classes. I felt lonely.

For most of the four years I spent on the cheer team, I was one of two black cheerleaders. And I had to hear comments that I was “the whitest black girl” my teammates knew. Or I was asked if my skin had the ability to tan. I had to hear someone call HBCU cheerleaders’ way of cheerleading “ghetto.” I felt lost.

Now it’s June 4th, 2020. I realize that most of these experiences are deemed ‘micro-aggressions.” Coined by Harvard professor Chester M. Pierce, a micro-aggression is “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group.”

So, I say all of this to make this final point- you may not be racist. You may be one of the ‘good ones.’ But I challenge you to truly look within and unearth those prejudices we all hold in our hearts. It is not enough to not be racist; you must be a c t i v e l y challenging every stereotype that has been engrained in you. Because when you are talking about the black community, calling blacks thugs, criminals, etc., you are talking about me, my mother, father, brother, sister, papa, mema, aunt, uncle.

You may be a ‘good one.’ But are you continually striving to make a difference? Do you call out your friends and family that make misguided, uninformed, prejudiced statements? Or do you sit in silence, scared to rock the boat, scared to speak out because you’re ‘uncomfortable’? Become an actual advocate for human rights. That, my friends, is the only way we can move forward.

And if my post makes you uncomfortable, I hate to sound rude, but deal with it. I have lived in this black skin for 22 years and have been uncomfortable my entire life.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

Listen to yourself

The third voice

Being home now, trying to do my part to flatten the curve of the Coronavirus, has sealed for me something that I already knew. There are people from all corners of the world who want our attention. They want to sale us something, convince us of something, make it unquestionably clear that what they have to say should somehow be construed as the irrefutable truth. One thing is obvious, if we don’t have ideas of our own, these hawkers of opinions can get inside our heads and lead us about like a tamed animal with a bit in its mouth.

Have you ever really paid close attention to the 24/7 news cycle and the purveyors of its content? Not only is there so-called unbiased news reporting, but there’s a good amount of opinion being injected into the minds of listeners, too. We really can’t watch television, read a newspaper or a magazine, without listening to advertisements that have been psychologically tailored for our senses to solicit a specific response. How do written advertisements get us to listen? Come on, don’t you hear something when you see a written message that attracts you? Upon hearing, can’t you see something, and even desire something if the message sparks interest for what it’s hawking?  Sometimes, we may not give a whole lot of attention at the time we first encounter an advertisement. It might be sometime later when the jingle, the sound, the image replays in our minds, and we may not remember from where we were exposed. These conversations are one-sided and often not for our benefit.

I want to ask you something. When was the last time you had a meaningful conversation with yourself? No, I’m not talking about some schizoid mental short circuitry that someone might hear and wonder if you’re ready for the folks in the white coats, or whatever color they’re wearing these days. I’m talking about thinking, mulling over things with which your senses are dealing continually. Let me say here that if you’re reading this, I’m grateful that you’ve taken some of your valuable time to listen to what I have to say; however, I implore you to do more than listen.  I ask that you do what the title of this musing indicates: listen to yourself, too. What do you have to say about what I’m saying? The opinions of others should never be the end all on any subject, even when the truth about what is being said is overwhelmingly obvious. Invite that third voice to the conversation to interpret, give feedback, to let you know whether this makes sense or not.

One of the unfortunate things I see happening these days is too many people don’t have that most intimate of conversations. As offensive as this might be, there are folks who defy the adage about leading a horse to water only to discover it won’t drink. Maybe the horse is smarter than its usher, maybe the horse doesn’t want any water, especially not that to which it’s being led. There seems to be masses of people these days, who listen, get drunk with emotion and act in a manner that’s not of benefit to themselves or the greater society. I’m sure the conversation you’re having with yourself right now has garnered some examples.

When I was child, one of the first life-saving pieces of advice adults gave me about crossing the road was: stop, look, and listen. The next opportunity you have to sit down to read, turn on the television to look and listen, or have a conversation with someone who seems interesting, have that intimate conversation and listen to that third voice giving you feedback about what you’re  hearing from the outside.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

What’s in the numbers?

As of 11 pm Central Standard Time, May 12, 2,000, there were 4,261,955 cases of the Coronavirus worldwide, and 291,964 deaths. In the United States, 1,369,574 cases and 82,376 deaths. In my tiny state of Arkansas, U.S.A., with 3 million people, the numbers were 4,164 cases and 95 deaths. Each day, I look at these numbers when I read my local newspaper. Early on, I would read them with an attitude of shock, and some fear of the sheer enormity of the increasing statistics. This morning, and for a few weeks now, I’ve focused on another aspect of these numbers. One that the media probably has no ability to address. These numbers represent losses, losses to the fabric of humankind.

The daily report of the numbers of souls, who have succumbed to the onslaught of the Coronavirus, can seem cold and sanitized. I’m sure there are data collectors around the globe who do their best to give us accurate data on how the virus is culling the peoples of the world. In my mind, I can see strikes through numbers of five at a time. Of course, I know the data are kept in a more sophisticated manner than that, but that’s how my mind works at times. I see marks on a poster board with strikes through them. Each mark has a head, a torso, arms, legs, rudimentary representations of bodies.

Sadly, I have found myself also thinking about who these people are whenever I hear reports of the increasing tally of victims. These are assets to the world that we will no longer have; one of them  could have found the cure for all the cancers that plague us, one could have discovered a way to produce energy that no longer pollutes the planet, one might have found a common rallying point for global solidarity. Alright, maybe those are just too highfaluting, but they were wives, husbands, sisters, brothers, neighbors of all kinds, people who made the world a better place within their small circle of influence.

Quite frankly, it has become just to darn depressing to listen to the updates about Covid-19. The numbers of victims seem almost like the work of an advancing army, equipped with weaponry that makes defeat too far out there for us to even envision what victory is likely to look like. Last night, I had difficulty nodding off for my nightly rest. I got out of bed more times than I can remember. I even found myself on the back deck of our house lifting weights, in hopes that my fatigued body would surrender itself to much needed sleep. It didn’t work, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Chris told me what I already knew, I was suffering from anxiety. The mind knows what’s on it even when the body doesn’t. There’s one thing I must come to terms with via body, mind and soul: The Covid-19 victims are more than numbers; however, what I can do is make contributions to foodbanks, volunteer to help in whatever safe manner I can; practice social distancing to help prevent spread of the virus and pray to my Creator that this tool of the reaper will become dull and ineffective as soon as possible. My anxiety offers no help at all.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

Nothing new under the sun (Son)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2The same was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. 4In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

The preceding, of course, comes from the preamble to the fourth book of the New Testament, the Book of John. I’m finding myself turning to the Bible to seek light from ageless text to help me in mitigating the spiritual, emotional and mental strains the worldwide pandemic has brought to bear. I call it ageless, because although it was written during ancient times, its applicability is timeless. It deals with issues humankind has struggled with sense before historical records were ever produced. These are the strangest of times that I have ever dealt with. Sure, I’ve gone through other times of challenge, such as the civil rights movement; the Vietnam War; civil unrest, resulting in burning and destruction in major urban centers; the horrors of 911; however, nothing like this. Just to give you a sense of scale, I draw your attention to the fact that more Americans have died during this pandemic than perished during the Vietnam war. God forbid we matched the 675,000 souls lost during the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918.

The current pandemic is like a world war with no clear battle plan. No one seems to be able to figure out the logistics necessary to effectively deploy the troops. All the world leaders are trying to fight this war, but they don’t seem to be in concert. If there’s a common enemy that’s posing a major threat to humankind, shouldn’t there be a common rallying point for all corners of the world? Look at us, we’re still involved in local and regional scrimmages all over the place. Geopolitical dynamics are unfolding as normal as anyone would expect. We talk about a new normal; however, folks are talking about getting back to business as before.

I sat in on a Zoom conference call recently with several leaders of my local church. The purpose of the call was to figure out a strategy for getting back together physically for worship and fellowship. The discussion was far reaching, but it seemed a bit unfocused. That’s not meant as a negative criticism, but rather a definition of a stroll through unfamiliar territory. But was the territory unfamiliar? Didn’t our great grandparents have to deal with many of these same issues during and after the Spanish Flu pandemic, previously mentioned? Didn’t they wrestle with the strain of being locked in at home? Didn’t they get back out too soon in some cases, causing pockets of resurgence of the disease? One would think we would retrospectively learn from what they did wrong and not repeat it. One would also think that the improvements in public health systems would put us in better position to weather this worldwide storm of 2020 than the folks of 1918.

If there’s one thing life has taught me it’s that the human model and how we address all issues of existence, remains basically the same. We continue millennium after millennium to be driven by the same things, greed, love, lust of all kinds, hatred and all the motivational seeds that grow in the garden of human experience. How will there ever be anything new under the sun, given that normality?

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

Senseless, plain senseless

I just finished my morning read of the daily newspaper. I’m not having a lot of success at forgetting an article that is still weighing heavily on my mind. It was about some people in Mexico being upset with healthcare workers to the point of physically attacking them. The article highlighted a nurse, on her way home from working a shift a hospital. Some deranged individual threw a concoction of bleach and something else at her, in an insane protest that she was spreading the coronavirus.

I have tried, with what I consider little accuracy, to understand human behavior, especially when community is faced with a threat. Of course, the coronavirus is a threat of global, even Biblical proportions. I can appreciate fear, but fear expressed in a violent manner against those who are on the frontlines, putting their lives at risk to protect the life and limbs of others is more than mind boggling. The article I read, which reported the incident of the nurse, detailed other cases in Mexico where this is happening.

This article caused me to think of other instances of irrational behavior that exemplifies our inability to act in one accord whenever threats occur. When I read the newspaper, watch news reports, it’s obvious to me that there isn’t a cohesive world approach to fighting this viral, invisible onslaught against humanity. Politicians, you know those government folks who are in those stately chambers, put in place to serve, seem to be just too nationalistic in everything they do regarding the coronavirus. What would it take for the world to come together when a threat emerges, aliens from out of space? Hollywood has given us many a saga where such threats have resulted in a consolidation of efforts, across national boundaries to fight against threats to humankind. Logic becomes the best approach. You know, the coronavirus is a case of life imitating art from a negative perspective. Maybe we could imitate art positively: Come together globally, despite our differences, and throw everything we have at this deadly enemy that’s killing us. Something tells me that our scientists would flourish in their research if this were to happen.

Instead of focusing on the apparent enemy, the coronavirus, we have fingers being pointed: Who’s responsible for developing this thing? Was it a laboratory experiment gone awry? Can we indict some one in the eye of world public opinion? Meanwhile, I see little effort being directed toward the possibility that the coronavirus is symptomatic of all the wrong stuff we’ve been doing to the environment. Maybe nature is fighting back, or simply reacting as would a secluded room of vipers, if one carelessly ventured into their space.

Although I’m not that sure about most of what I’ve penned here. One thing I’m confident in is my stance on: We should not be hostile toward those on the frontlines, who are risking their lives to care for us.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

2020: The year that wasn’t?

As I write this, it’s April 22, 2020. People around the world have been staying at home to stunt the spread of, or flatten the curve of the deadly coronavirus. We’ve all been bombarded with news reports, daily press conferences from government officials, fake news and news that’s not so fake. At times, I just want to stay in the house, watch videos and hope that the whole thing will go away mysteriously one night while I slumber.

As I think about the year 2020, I realize that years are often defined by what occurs within their calendrical confines. When many of us think of the year 2001, we think of the bombing of the twin towers in New York, 2016 brings to mind the election of Trump as POTUS, the bombing of Pear Harbor conjures up the year 1941 (if we have some appreciation for history that’s more than fifty year past). We’re now into the fourth month of the year 2020. There have been countless events individuals, communities, governments have had to cancel because of the dirge of the coronavirus. At this point, we have no definitive knowledge of when this thing will lessen its dreadful effects on our lives.

My family had several memory generating events on our calendar for this year: a trip to Ghana, West Africa, our annual Fourth of July family gathering with lots of family, another family gathering during the Christmas Holidays are just a few. It’s things like this that give year’s their meaning, their identity. When I think back to the July weekend of 2019, I still feel as though I’m enjoying the family outing we had at my cousin Junior’s spread. It was one of the largest ones we’ve had. There were five generations present. The old folk were relaxing under shade trees in the hot and humid weather conditions, but the kids were running and skipping and having fun to no end. The weather didn’t bother them at all. My mom wasn’t present. She died the year before. Her last surviving sibling was there. I’ve christened her with the moniker, clan matriarch.

As we go through the rest of the year 2020, there will be families all around the world, who will regrettably have to cancel celebrations that would work to define the year. There will be school graduations, anniversary gatherings of all kinds, family reunions, and yes, even going home celebrations of loved ones who will no longer occupy a space at the dinning table. Well, maybe 2020 won’t be the year that wasn’t; however, one thing is certain it won’t be defined by what many of us would rather remember.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

The church building hasn’t carried us for 2,000 years

Note: The blog that follows takes its inspiration from an article written by Brian Tome (link to the article is below). A friend of mine shared it on Facebook, and I couldn’t resist sharing a thought or two. I hope it produces some thoughtful reflection.

For quite some time, I’ve had conversations with people who would belittle the value of the internet and social media. Many saw them as a pure waste of time. My argument always was that social media was simply a tool like the printing press or any other technology that has been introduced to society through the ages. It’s the manner in which one uses a new technological development that counts. The radio, the television, the automobile and so on were demonizes by many at the time of their initial introduction to society. Now, we see them as instrumental in our paying homage to the Creator.

This current pandemic has presented both us and the demons who war against us an opportunity. Satan, no doubt, revels in hearing the complaints from people about being isolated, raring to get out and about, especially back to the church building. He recognizes better than many of us that our connection with God and with each other should be characterized by Spiritual energy; energy that strengthens us and carries us through times like these. Of course, we are by nature social animals who thrive on the physical intimacy being in close quarters provides; however, what we’re going through now is temporary. Those of us who have been saved by the sacrificial blood of Jesus are already living eternal life; therefore, temporary, dark episodes like the coronavirus should have no negative effect on our relationship with God. When it does, the enemy rejoices.

I’m glad to see many, who yesterday saw little use for social media, have now recognized the value in it. It, as the pencil is used for writing, or the calculator for ciphering, can be used for much higher purposes than promoting popular culture. Staying connected in conducting the work of the Lord can indeed be furthered when physical gatherings aren’t possible.

Of course, I miss the gatherings at the Ole Church House, but they will be again. In the meantime, I should do all I can to do as Christ commanded: Worship in Spirit and Truth. This has little to do with physical intimacy.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

https://www.briantome.com/articles/the-most-effective-weapon?fbclid=IwAR0Q_2taW0hCvlFLpMHvVtaPIzIToNYx7FDDTL96djnA4kraV3CqHipgw6I

The dichotomy of it all

I’m retired. I’ve been retired for seven years. As the pandemic continues its attack, being home hasn’t caused that much of a problem for me as some people are reported to be experiencing. However, even retired folks like the freedom to go whenever they wish without having to worry about some virus lurking about. I cannot make the unplanned run to Home Depot or Lowes as I used to. As a retired person in Arkansas, I’ve always enjoyed spring. Spring is that time of year when things are coming to life. Last night was one of those rarified nights. The temperature got down to 33 degrees, cold for April 14. The pollen has been thick as usual, covering everything; however, I noticed this morning that it wasn’t as bad as it has been. With the weather being as beautiful as it was, I decided to wash our vehicles. I made a good decision. After leaving the SUVs in the driveway for the rest of the day, there was little pollen dust on them.

Being outside today was good for my soul. The skies had that all-blue, cloudless appearance of a great fall day. The northerly wind made perspiration almost nil when I exerted myself physically. After washing the cars, I puttered around the house, accomplishing little, but enjoying the weather. At some point, I found myself sitting on the back deck, doing absolutely nothing but looking at the tree line on the other side of the creek that runs about 20 yards or so between our privacy fence and its bank. It was quiet. My meditation wasn’t interrupted by even the chirps of birds. I think Ari (our Shi-Tzu) was enjoying the time as much as I. She functions as my canine appendage, closely shadowing my every move.  They say dogs choose the human to whom they want to be attached. Ari chose me the first day we went to pick her up, and she hasn’t let go since.

Yes, today was a beautiful day. One that made me forget for a little while what the whole world is reeling from now. The deadly coronavirus. For the time I was outside today, I felt coronavirus free; free from all the news updates of people infected, on ventilators, deceased. As quickly as Ari and I came back into the house, the dark side of it all hit us squarely in the face again. The television was on and news updates about the coronavirus were ubiquitously filling the interior space of our abode.

Today the beauty of spring provided an effective mask, obscuring the unseen, powerful demon lurking about, waiting to conquer and destroy. Sometimes, we can take refuge from our unseen demons, by retreating into the beauty all around us that only God can provide. That pocket of peace and calm exists somewhere between the dark and the shadow-conquering light. You should take time to find it for yourself, especially now.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.