Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

Raising My Country’s Flag

Today is the 234th birthday of the United States of America and I’m struggling to articulate my feelings and concerns for my country.   This morning like millions of Americans I walked outside to hoist the flag to honor my country and convey support for its principles and ideals.  I still believe in those principles and ideals but I am having a tremendous crisis of faith on how those principles and ideals are put into action.

When I removed the flag from its draw my first thought was a tinge of personal shame because the flag was not properly folded in the requisite three star triangle.  This former Boy Scout knew of the proper way to fold the flag but when I lowered it after Memorial Day I had no one to assist me in the proper way to fold it.    It takes two people working in common purpose to accomplish the task.  One to fold while the other holds the flag taut.  It brought to mind my country’s ossified two party systems inability to administer effective governance.   Its time we call other care takers who have the conscience and maturity to sacrifice partisanship for the greater good of the country.

Holding the flag I was struck by its age.  I date the flag to the late 40’s.  The flag was given to me by my father and has only 48 stars.  When it was sewn Alaska and Hawaii had yet to join the grand union of states.  They would join in 59 four years after my birth. This flag boasts strong double stitches that holds the stars, stripes and blue field securely in place.  A united conglomeration of shapes, symbols and colors manufactured by top notch craftsmen guided in their work by care and skill to assure quality.  I surmise that  the workers who crafted this flag were inspired by a love of country and pride of workmanship now long gone.  Blue collar workers and the unions that represented them have been crushed by the immutable power of global capital.  In the greater cause of profits workplaces have been dismantled and livelihoods off shored to the outer regions of the global economy.  I wonder how the 11,000,000 people who are unemployed today perceive our flag this morning?  Surely most will  bless the grace of daily bread that is placed on their table today.  I  also wonder if the big time financiers who profit from grief will pause with a moment of reflection during their extravagant soirees on the source of their wealth and the price of their amusements.

My flag has but 48 stars.  In my short lifetime of 54 years my country granted statehood to two states.  Fifty states is a rounded number suggesting a divine hand that predetermined a Pax Americana halfway to a celestial century mark.   I worry that this glorious symbol of Federalism is at danger of unraveling again.    Texas, Alaska, Arizona and a few other stars  have expressed a desire to withdraw their stars from the sacred blue field of our flag.  Seditious murmurs from opportunistic politicians.  They eagerly dip their political cookies into the toxic brew stewed up by pissed off  Teabaggers and other deranged Falangists.  This new confederacy condemns them.  They complain that the rights of individual states are being trampled upon by an oppressive authoritarian government.  They shout  prayers from rooftops, wave hand guns, tote rifles and salute the Don’t Tread On Me flag.  They want the right to be left alone to create a personal version of a world unencumbered by responsibility to anything but a selfish self.  They damn the collective needs of the union and condemn its necessity to operate as an interconnected link in a world fraternity of nations.  The ability to express an  unencumbered will in the pursuit of self interest is their idea of citizenship.  They are prepared to defend it with guns and preemptive aggression to assert the right of the stronger.  They prefer barbarity to civility, selfishness to fraternity, personal affectation to civil rights, sameness to diversity, vigilante tribunals to social justice.

With care and reverence I wrapped the flag around my tree, envisioning flag draped coffins being off loaded from C-130 transport planes onto the impersonal gray tarmac of  a military airbase in Dover.  These selfless souls are reunited with the ground of the land they gave their last full measure of their devotion offered up to senseless conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The fallen will receive a reverence in death that our politicians failed to offer them in life by condemning them to a wasteful demise, wholly avoidable and absolutely unnecessary.  No these unfortunate patriots have not shed their blood in vain.  Their stars will forever burn bright on a blue field of valor as condemnation of the blasphemous  chicken hawks whose screaming squawks for war are nothing but hallow patriotic pronouncements spoken to secure political careers and profit financial backers.

Arranging the flag around the tree the bark of the Black Oak clings to the fabric of Old Glory.  It allows me to run a finger along the long red strip at the base of the flag.  The blood shed for the cause of this flag continues to flow.  When will it ebb?  In the cause of this flag seemingly righteous blood mixes with the awful blood of innocents.  Both stain the hands and conscience of our nation.  My two sons just entering young adulthood  are  proud members of the armed forces.  One in the Navy the other in the Army.  Their blood is my blood.  They speak of  deployment to the “Sand Box” a euphemism for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  A future raising of this flag lays on my brain like a nightmare, praying that their blood doesn’t stain the grim crimson of our national symbol.

Stepping back to examine if the flag is properly hung I notice a paint stain on the field of stripes.  The splotch of beige paint now darkly blanched was splashed from a careless paintbrush I used to coat the walls of my boyhood bedroom.  I did not take the proper precaution of removing the flag from the wall before proceeding with the task of painting.  It was a small blotch about the size of a couple of 50 cent pieces lying on a dresser drawer.  It reminds me of the gushing oil spill flowing into the pristine Gulf of Mexico.  This catastrophe will forever alter the ecology and lives of the many social and ecological communities that comprise the Gulf.  This stain will remain on our flag for many generations.  The dimensions of this disaster are still beyond measure or comprehension.  It threatens to forever alter the colorful fabric of our culture, economy and political lives.  The inexorable march of corporate power in pursuit of profit threatens to crush a sustainable human habitat.  We the people alone can call them to account and require that human needs take precedence over corporate greed.

Yet today is not the day for a recitation of what I believe to be wrong with my country.  Readers of this blog can click  any subject on the cloud tag a get my doubled barreled critique of America’s behavior in a rapidly changing world.  But I have been struggling for the past few days about a theme for today’s post.  And it finally came to me when I was dutifully hanging the flag on this meaningful day.  I really want to believe in the correctness and goodness of my country and its people.  Its my country warts and all.  The warts are growing big and uglier everyday.  My country and countrymen have lost their way.  Two seemingly endless and pointless wars, the economic debasement of  “The Great Recession”, the egregious assault on the delicate ecological communities of the Gulf of Mexico, a voracious Falangist movement, the juggernaut of corporatism, the continual erosion of civil liberties, careless concern for social justice and rapidly accelerating slide into an aggressive self seeking raises my sense of outrage.

As a boy growing up this flag hung on the wall of my room for many years.  I put it up on my wall when I was an adolescent still playing with toy soldiers.  I was enamored with national pride by America’s WWII triumphs, John Wayne war heroics and Victory at Sea news reels.  I was a staunch Cold Warrior.  During grammar school I imagined myself dying a hero’s death as I fell in the victory over the USSR’s Red Army at the decisive battle of Washington School.  That patriotic zeal would continue throughout most of the Vietnam War springing to attention at Sargent Barry Sadler’s Ballad of the Green Berets.  On Saturday evenings I would watch the  Channel 5 News.  I can still hear the solemn grimness of the haunting trumpet dirge as the weekly Honor Roll scrolled the names of the fallen from the conflict in Southeast Asia.

As we grow the meanings of symbols change.  Symbols can never remain immutably fixed because its subject changes.  Failure to understand  this the symbol becomes a fiction of stale dogma unconnected to a living reality of real living things in an ever changing world.   Inane nationalists content to swaddle themselves in the flag believe their fervor and force of statement is the test of love of country.   But in fact these unfortunates  trod a dangerous path and in fact pose the greatest risk to the continued wellness of our nations ideals.

As the Sixties gave way to the Seventies the meaning of my flag  evolved.  It became a symbol of  imperial power and distrusted authority as the Vietnam war  droned on.  It became a symbol of naked repression as it quelled urban rebellions.  It became a symbol of  reaction when assassins silenced beloved reform leaders.  It became a symbol of deadly suppression when the Ohio National Guard murdered students at Kent State.   this flag would evolve into the sacrilege of a Warholian commercial symbol.  To my horror this flag became a  weapon in the hands of white racists threatening to use it to impale an African American man during a school busing demonstration in Landsmark in Boston.  During college as my political activism grew, Peace flags, Earth Day flags, Liberation flags, Rainbow flags all captured my imagination and had profound personal meaning but they would never replace the preeminent position the American flag holds in my heart.

I wish my countrymen well on this July 4th.  I behold my incomplete, paint stained, 48 starred Old Glory.  Its in a proper place on a good and proper day.   The white colors tinged in a yellow fade its getting on in age.  But I have hope.  I take consolation from  a voice  resonating in my ear.  As a slight breeze ripples the posted colors I recognize the not so distant call of the great abolitionist Frederick Douglas.  He’s whispering “agitate, agitate, agitate”……..

You Tube Music Video: Bruce Springsteen, Born in the USA

Risk: democracy, civil liberties, country, culture

July 5, 2010 Posted by | class, culture, democracy, ecological, Federalism, LGBT, manufacturing, psychology, seasons, unions, war | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Prison Ministries: Speaking for Those Without a Voice

MARK 13:1-8 – Restorative Justice Sunday – November 15, 2009

Submitted for the John Hines Preaching Award by the Rev. Pamela Bakal

I recently came back from a Prison Ministry conference and one of the exercises that the participants were asked to do was, “Build the kind of prison that Jesus would want.” They gave us all wooden blocks and we worked together to come up with the ideal prison. We thought surely there should be a large worship space, and a place for multiple classrooms so that the inmates could learn job skills and education. We created an area for a garden so that the splendor of God’s creation would fill both guards’ and inmates’ souls with beauty and peace.  We constructed bridges so that the men and women could physically walk through the emotional changes and transitions they would be making in their lives. No matter what we tried the presenter kept shaking her head. And then it dawned on us; Jesus would have torn down the walls of the prison and set the captives free.

In a perfect world there would be no prisons. Building prisons is not the answer. If punishment really worked the recidivism rate would not be at its present statistic of more than 50%. The problem is so much more complex than using the crime and punishment formula. If we are going to solve the problem of our enormous prison population (There are as many in the prison population as there are Episcopalians – 2 ¼ million!) we are going to have to change the way we structure our prisons, and all work together to support our less fortunate neighborhoods.

How do we redesign a society that needs to put so many people in prison? That is precisely what the work of Jesus is about – changing the world and the way we understand it, so that all might be free.

Most of you have probably never seen the Essex County Jail, on Doremus Ave in Newark, New Jersey. Whenever I visit there I feel like the disciple who said to Jesus, “Look, teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!”  (Mark 13:1) That jail is huge! There are 3200 inmates housed there!  And what is Jesus’ response…” Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” Could this be the prison that was conceptualized in the Prison Ministry conference?

This Scripture passage is what we call apocalyptic Scripture. It is about the end time. It can create fear and trembling in some people because one way to read it is that the end of the world could be imminent, and when it arrives we will witness the terrible wrath of God. Those who are good and faithful will be saved, and those who are sinners will be damned forever. They say that when it comes to apocalyptic Scripture, there are two kinds of people; those who love to scrutinize it for symbols and hidden meanings, and those who pass over these texts as quickly as possible. For me apocalyptic Scripture passages contain tremendous hope. Apocalyptic Scripture tells us that God has a mission which God is in the process of fulfilling and perfecting. God is shaping our future, this world’s future, toward an end that is grace filled and loving. When we read and hear these scripture passages about “the end time,” we are challenged to bring them into a meaningful perspective of how God’s reign, God’s Kingdom will be brought in.

And who would not look forward to the end of a world that binds people and keeps them from living out their God given gifts.

Apocalyptic Literature has something in common with Restorative Justice. Restorative Justice is a process that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior, both to the victim and society. It is best accomplished through a cooperative course of action involving victim, offender, community, and government. Rather than viewing the current system of justice as reparations being doled out in dollars and cents, and the “penal” system as punishment for a crime, its focus is to be a system of healing for all parties concerned. These principles are the principles of Jesus: repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, renewal, healing. We speak of these all the time in church, and as Christians it becomes our mission to bring these values of Jesus into fruition in the world.

Jesus says, “Beware that no one leads you astray.” (Mark 13:5) Haven’t we indeed been lead astray by our retributive system of justice? Punishment is equated with revenge and revenge only multiplies anger and violence. These times look like the end time. We have “kingdoms rising against kingdoms,” (Mark 13:8) such as we might see in gang wars.  Violence is creating a vortex that drags our children into the criminal justice system, and any attempt to climb out only gets swallowed up as a tenuous earth cracks beneath them.

Ah, but these might in fact be “the beginning of the birth pangs”. (Mark 13:8) As we see that retributive justice does not work, we will begin the change. Jesus’ sense of justice asks us to respond to evil with love. God’s love for us in Christ Jesus extends grace to all; even those we do not think can be loved. Grace is unearned forgiveness and unearned generosity of spirit. Restorative justice allows a place for grace. To discover how grace operates in the justice system might just bring about the change and transformation needed. As we come to realize the old ways no longer work, as we tear down the old institutions, we allow for grace to enter in. Grace naturally focuses on the future and how things can be changed for the better, both for the victim and for the offender and the community.

Followers of Jesus do not need to fear such a time when all will be thrown down, or wonder what it all means. What might at first appear to be foreboding and anxiety provoking is now transformed into hopefulness and anticipation. We can face the troubles and anxieties of this age because we know that this is not the final state of things. We have reason to be excited that the salvation of the world draws near, and that we too can join with Christ in bringing in a time when the walls of our prisons will be cast down, and our prisoners set free. I thank God that the day is coming when Jesus will make all things new, all things right, all things just, all things infused with grace.

This is very good news.

 

The Rev. Pamela Brownlow Bakal is Rector of Grace Church in Nutley, NJ and President of Prison Ministry, Diocese of Newark.

Mark 13:1-8 (NRSV)

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” [2] Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

[3] When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, [4] “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” [5] Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. [6] Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. [7] When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. [8] For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

You Tube Music Video: Johnny Cash, Folsom Prison Blues

Risk: social justice

December 26, 2009 Posted by | Bible, Christianity, community, culture, faith, family, prisons, social justice | , , , , , | Leave a comment