Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

Elevated Terror Threat for LGBT Community

The Department of Homeland Security needs to raise the terror threat level to Severe Bloody Red.   The escalation of attacks, intimidation and threats against the LGBT community is on the rise and taking a bloody toll.  The most recent consequence of escalating harassment have resulted in the tragic suicides of two young teenagers and the curiously deranged and dangerous social media stalking of a gay university student leader by an assistant attorney general from the State of Michigan.    These attacks pose a clear and present danger to the physical safety and emotional wellness of the LGBT community.  It exemplifies the prevailing climate of intolerance and bigoted hatred exponentially spawning in the polluted vitriol of America’s political culture.  It is clothed in the righteous banality of religious fundamentalism.  Justified with the certainty of theological platitudes  and enforced with the zealous sword  of biblical scripture.  It presents an extreme risk to the civil liberties of all citizens.  It assails our right to freely associate, compels behavior and demands conformity of thought and adoption of a common belief system.  It is a grave and  looming threat to our democratic way of life.

Tyler Clementi was a college freshman at Rutgers University.  Tyler, a gifted musician, diligent student, good friend and loving son jumped off the George Washington Bridge after Dahrun Ravi, his roommate of three weeks, surreptitiously videoed a sexual encounter Tyler had with another male and broadcast it on a social media site. To ensure the video attracted wide exposure, Mr. Ravi Tweeted to his followers that they should log on to the live stream.  The horror and shame of being victimized by a vicious hate crime and personally violated in such a manner was too much to bear.  Mr. Clementi chose to end his pain by taking his own life.

Understanding this event as the result of a misguided college prank gone wrong or an unfortunate consequence enabled by the misuse of powerful social media technologies misses the point.  To do so would absolve Mr. Ravi’s distorted and heinously warped value system.  His punitive glee in perpetrating the offense.  His demonstrative lack of capacity to feel empathy or acceptance of his roommates sexuality.  His failure to recognize his right to privacy.  His lack of any sense of compassion.  Mr. Ravi’s prurient pursuit of degradation and defamation of his hate crime victim and his intent to do extreme harm to Mr. Clementi is evidence of his deep rooted and socially acceptable homophobia that is shared with many people.

It is curious that one would expect that as a person of color, Mr. Ravi would have a heightened sensitivity to the poison of prejudice and the destructive capacity of  hate crimes.  Trying to understand Mr. Ravi’s motives for his action is an impossibility for anyone to fathom save himself; but one can surmise that as a person of color Mr. Ravi may have experienced a situation where he was cast as “the other”.  The other is always an uncomfortable and dangerous geography to inhabit.  The alien outsider, one who stands apart and is different from the dominate ethnic, racial, creed or sexual orientation is usually cast in shrouds of suspicion, fear and ridicule.  Perhaps Mr. Ravi’s attempt to revile an LGBT person because of their sexuality was an attempt to gain acceptance with his classmates by victimizing Mr. Clementi in league with other straits?   Mr. Ravi gets a pass and is welcomed into the inner circle as one of the good ole boys whose prejudices, fears and bigotries mirror the dominant culture.  The price of admission for Mr. Ravi was the death of his roommate.

The other disturbing factor in Mr. Ravi’s assault was the use of social media technologies.   Many youths enabled with powerful communication platforms like You Tube, Facebook and Twitter have a difficult time perceiving the boundaries of private and public life.  The domain of the public persona and private life has become obscured and confused by the ethical vagaries and accessibility of a multichannel digital life.  Since the time of their birth, today’s youth have been totally saturated, empowered and enraptured in the world of digital technologies and media.  It has become the necessary open source to project your ego, display your passion and live out your angst as a real time avatar.   The reality of interpersonal connections and human skills erodes in a universe of self seeking holograms guided by a radical social ethos to project power through the aggressive pursuit of self will with the ultimate objective to seek aggrandizement and demand  instant gratification.  Mr. Ravi used that power to devastating effect.

Mr. Ravi may believe that his technical prowess provided him license to pursue the character assassination of his victim.  Questions will arise about the harm these social media technologies can cause.  Many believe the power of the technology is to vast and dangerous for teens and children and provides tools for stalkers, predators and criminals to aid their enterprise to exploit others to do harm.  A great example being the recent clamor about Craig’s List and its promotion and support of child prostitution and sexual slavery.  The proliferation of online bullying, sexting and other pernicious uses of social media technologies are problems with no easy solutions.  No doubt these are real concerns but it is not the inherent nature of the technology that is at fault it is the values and intent of the users of technology that are cause for concern.

The problem is not about having too much freedom, or having access to enabling technologies we don’t yet  know how to tame.  Twitter,  Facebook, and blogging sites empower the user.  Like the Luddites of old who believed machines were enslaving them the crux of the matter lied in the intent, use, control and deployment of the technology.  These technologies are powerful tools to enlighten, cultivate, uplift and empower individuals but it can also  just as easily be used as tools to harm, denigrate, enslave and oppress.  Its all about human values.  The values of a society that believes it has the license and the moral conviction to defame and destroy the lives of others because they have the means and tacit consent to do so is terrorism.   The fact that one can quote Leviticus, or find the appropriate passage from the Quran or  St. Paul does not justify nor confer the right to “righteously” expose, denounce or shame a perceived moral depravity in a secular society.

That brings us to the other tragic suicide, 13 year old Asher Brown, returned home from school last week, walked into his closet and used a handgun to end his life as a result of being terrorized by his Middle School classmates in Houston.  Classmates of Asher bullied him and taunted him about his perceived homosexuality.  On the day Asher took his own life, he admitted to his parents that he was gay.  It is startling and comforting to learn that Asher felt safe enough in his own home to admit his sexual orientation to his parents.  Asher’s mother and father accepted their son’s sexuality and did not scorn or condemn him.  They continued to unconditionally love and embrace their son as all good parents do.

It is unfortunate that the boy’s  tormentors did not share the same understanding and practice the acceptance of Asher’s parents.  Children live and emulate what they learn from their parents and communities they participate and live in.  If children are prisms of the families and communities that create them the bullying behavior and bigoted hated must have been a keystone of Asher’s tormentors homes.  Public education is under sever pressure.  Homophobia and bullying is not on the curricula of the public school system.  Tolerance, diversity and secularism are values that  public schools try to promote and are often the ideals that are derided by indidivuals and institutions that condemn public schools as propagators of these “liberal values”.   In response to their abhorrence to these unsavory ideals they choose to home school their children and teach them to fear Ungodly secularism, be wary those who are different and condemn the sinfulness and moral depravity of same sex relations.  Demonizing homosexuals and preaching distrust for people and persons who may not look or think like you do is fertile ground for a violent reaction to express the pent up fear and resentment of the alien and reprobate other.

Since No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the public school system has been directed to be a “value neutral” institution.  It is pressured to reform its curricula to better reflect the prevailing conservative culture that demands creationism be taught as a science, Darwinism is dangerous and unionized teachers are fonts of liberal ideology that needs to be silenced.  The learning  experience in the public school system has devolved  into a mundane exercise of  preparatory drills  to take commercially developed state examinations.  Teachers and institutional  effectiveness is quantitatively  measured by a students ability to retain a series of specious facts.  The quality of the educational experience, love of discovery, pursuit and exchange of ideas, respect for diversity and different points of view are lost in the “value free”  world of pedestrian test taking and fact retainment.  Had these children been schooled in the value of tolerance and the reality of diversity or had time and opportunity to interact with other children unlike themselves, the fear and resentment of Asher may have been lessened and the young boy may still be with us.

The crowning jewel in this trinity of hate has to be the State of Michigan’s Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell.  Mr. Shirvell has engaged in a cyber bullying of University of Michigan Student Assembly President Chris Armstrong.  Mr. Armstrong is openly gay and was elected by the university’s student body to represent them.  This has not sat well with Mr. Shirvell a University of Michigan alumnus and a fundamentalist Christian.  Mr. Shirvell has started a website, Chris Armstrong Watch where he unleashes a consistent homophobic fueled diatribe against Mr. Armstrong’s alleged “radical homosexual agenda”.

As a private citizen, Mr. Shirvell closely peruses Mr. Armstrong’s Facebook page to pick out posts and photo’s that raise his ire and uses the material as grist for his Chris Armstrong Watch website.  The accompanying comments and altered reproductions of Mr. Armstrong photo’s scream about his elitism, sexual degeneracy and Nazi like political tactics Mr. Armstrong employs in service to the advancement of a radical homosexual agenda.

This is truly frightening stuff.  A state Assistant Attorney General scouring Facebook pages and setting up a blog site dedicated to attacking and undermining a student leader because of his sexual identity is sickening and comes dangerously close to the abuse of office which I understand Mr. Shirvell was relieved of today.  Mr. Shirvell defends his actions on the grounds that he is exercising his rights of free speech as a private citizen.  Driven by his Christian fundamentalist faith and a reactionary political ideology,  Mr. Shirvell’s political fixation and strident personal vilification of  Mr. Armstrong are classic Rovian attack politics.  Mr. Shirvell stands shoulder to shoulder with James O’Keefe and Andrew Breitbart.  All three have shown a disdain for the truth, law and private rights of their targets in pursuit of a radical right wing agenda.

The values of a society that believes it has the right and the moral conviction to defame and destroy the lives of others because they have the ideological conviction, means and tacit consent to do so is the definition of tyranny and its pursuit is terrorism.  The US Constitution protects all citizens from zealots emboldened by personal truths derived from their holy scrolls.  A secular democracy protects the civil rights of its citizens and frees them from the righteous tyranny of others.  The Constitution stipulates that there is a single law of the land and it is a  violation of civil rights and a crime to expose, denounce or shame a person based on a theological interpretation of moral depravity.  The Constitution is the final arbiter and surest protection of individual liberty for all; damning the psychological culture of extreme political egoism advanced by Shirvell, Breitbart and O’Keefe.

Character assassination and appeal to the baser instincts of fear and loathing help propagandists to demarcate the lines that separate groups, reinforce prejudice and make dialog and the formation of consensus all but impossible.  Consider if you will a government administration populated with individuals with the temperament of Shrivell, O’Keefe and Breitbart.  America would be ruled by a government that edits reality to conform to their ideology.  It would propagate a political narrative that blindly  pursues ideology by running rough shod over the personal life of citizens while resorting to character annihilation and entrapment tactics.  It would truly be an embodiment of an Orwellian nightmare

The terror threat must be raised.  Terrorists are harming our citizens.  The world will miss the gracious presence of Asher’s beautiful smile.  Asher will never anoint another with the promise of renewal again.  The dear gift of youthful transformation is now lost to a world deeply in need of a rebirth.  The precious resource of Asher is squandered and silenced by those clinging to the old ways of ugly bigotry.   Asher’s spirit will remain with all who loved him and venerated by all who respect individual liberty.

We have also lost the exquisite melodies of  Tyler Clementi’s music.  Tyler’s silence will never weave harmony into a cacophonous world crackling in ugly dissonance.  Tyler’s violin now entombed in its case will never sing the sounds of joy, enlightenment, revelation and transcendence to those who refuse to listen to the symphonies of understanding, acceptance and appreciate the celebration of love.  The beautiful music Tyler created and brought into the world will never be heard again.  Tragic that the wonderful harmony of Tyler’s life was quieted by the deaf ears of those refusing to listen and most needing to hear it.

Rest in peace beloved.

Youtube Music Video: Janine Jansen, Lark Ascending

Risk: LGBT, civil rights, constitution, free speech

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October 1, 2010 Posted by | Bible, children, Civil Rights, community, culture, democracy, education, gay rights, government, LGBT, politics, Quran, religion, social justice, teaching, terrorism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Suicide of a Friend

mounts_bay_sunrise_2This is one of those mornings in our lives when we welcome a rising sun with grim dread. This is one of those mornings where we become loosed from our moorings of certainty. This is one of those mornings where words fail and the throne of faith is overthrown by shame and guilt. This is a morning to put on a nice suit and proper tie to attend a funeral of a friend who died by suicide. So final. So silent doth the dead speak to us. Crying out their pain with a clarity we never heard or understood as they walked among us here on earth. My friend continues to speak to us from the beyond.

This man was more then a friend. He was a father, husband, brother and a son. He held many occupations, enjoyed diversions, displayed passions and imperfections like all human beings. He was also a child of God. Though tormented and sick he was never forsaken. He deeply loved many and was unconditionally loved by many. In the end an addled brain led to a desperate alienation. Self medicating himself to find sanctuary in the hollow solace of prescription drugs and booze. It would in the end consume him. Enabling him to close the door on a life that family and friends diligently tried to keep ajar. All we wanted in return was his continued presence among us. My friend choose to slam the door shut.

Anger rises. We put so much into him. How could he slap us in the face like this? As we gathered about his coffin, in hushed whispers we sought out information, confirmation and consolation to alleviate a sense of guilt and quiet the shame that enveloped us. The deceased’s mother, shaking with Parkinson’s disease, stares down at a bare coffin holding the remains of her son. How much did she invest in this boy? She suckled him at her breast. She mothered him under her roof for two decades. She continued to mother him with a pervasive love that continued till the end. Did the child squander this love? Has this mother loved wastefully? I see no anger in her. Only a continued extension of her abundant love. “Sleep well my child. I’ll soon join you.” I could hear her coo silently to herself as she softly touched the burnished wood of her child’s casket. Any anger was mine, certainly not hers.

My friend’s sisters were his loving attendants to the end. They were heroic in a desperate attempt to save their beloved brother. They gave him refuge under their roof. They nursed him within the sanctuary of family. One may think that their deeds of heroism now matter little or count for less. But such shamelessly squandered love is what our hurting world needs more of today. I marvel and cherish their example, as I witness one sister arrange an errant ribbon on the cluster of roses sitting atop the casket. A loving touch, a caring hand, an attending heart remembered to bring their brothers beloved Boston Red Sox cap also placed on the casket.

My friend’s daughters and former wife arrived to the service late. One daughter entered the crowded room nestling flowers. She moved quickly toward her father’s casket. Her expression was like that of a child racing toward a Christmas tree on the blessed morning. Did Santa come? Is it really here? Has this thing arrived? Her breakdown into tears confirmed her worst suspicion. A terrible expectation realized. Her father was really dead. Now laying in state in a room full of awkward people. The other daughter fraught with grief remains in the protective arms of her loving aunt. She sobs into the woman’s bosom. Tears saturate her blouse. Women absorb the pain and transform it into strength and a curious wisdom that remembers how to endure future pains to come.

How do you approach the daughters of the deceased? What can you say that has any meaning to them during the nadir of their young lives? How do you expect them to understand the sincerity of your pain when theirs is fathomless? You fear for them. Has the actions of their father bound them to a lifetime quest to seek answers to questions that cannot be answered, motives that cannot be understood, truths that will remain forever hidden?

The grace of my friend’s former wife was sorely tested. She is devastated to discover her ex husbands casket on display at the front of a crowded room. She sobbed, embracing and kissing many as she made her way toward the casket. Her painful separation from my friend after 27 years of marriage was difficult for her but was a consequence of her husbands spiral of decline. She loved him greatly and it was greatly returned to her by my friend. College sweethearts, they joined together in a youthful promise to love and endure all things as one. I pray she isn’t consumed by the demons of nostalgia and fall into a black hole of guilt. I don’t think that will be. She is a spiritually centered, emotionally healthy woman. She does yoga. Her next life chapters are waiting to be written.

On the day they were married I wore a new gray suit and tie to the affair. During the cocktail party a man played musical glasses. It was a bit quixotic and it stamped their union as something that was uniquely blessed. I liked it very much. I also liked the open bar. I got sloshed. As I would continue to do until I got sober 27 years later.

My friend knew of my sobriety and participation within AA. I asked him to join me at a meeting one week before he died. He left a message on my cell phone. He said he was going off to rehab to start the process of recovery. He said he would call me when he got out. He left the rehab after one day because of insufficient insurance coverage, checked into a hotel room and killed himself.

When I entered the room for the funeral service my friends crying sister met me with an embrace. Her tears stained a new tie I chose for this service. She thanked me for trying to help her brother. She said that her brother called her on the terrible day asking for a slip of paper that had telephone numbers of important people. I was number two on that list. I shudder and ask myself, for the want of a phone call?

As I left the service I stopped by to wonder at a small aviary of tiny exotic birds that was in the lobby. The multicolored birds were nesting and gleefully chattering at the roil of life. They flitted among hanging flowers of verdant vines of ivy. They were beautiful. Seeing such beauty is one of life’s simple affirmations.  My friend is now winging home.

Vaya Con Dios Amigo

You Tube Video: JS Bach Badinerie Wine Glass Music

You Tube Video: Vaughn Williams, Lark Ascending

August 15, 2009 Posted by | children, culture, faith, family, life, love, psychology, religion, seasons | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Lark Ascends

Lark
John James Audubon

This weekend I attended a memorial service for a six month old child that passed this world. The service was moving and emotional. The young parents and the departed’s two year old sister were gracious and carried a quiet strength through their visible grief. The service was attended by many friends and family members that were eager to offer support and love. Life is fragile and sometimes fleeting but time spent on this earth has little to do with the quality of a life lived.  It is how one is loved and how much one has loved that marks the quality of a life well lived.

Christmas reminds us that every child that comes into this world is a profound gift. Honor the gift of life by respecting the grace of childhood. Children embody beauty, innocence, purity, the miracle of life and the power and presence of unconditional love.May we be always mindful of the special needs of this world’s children and take action to help and nurture those whose needs are apparent. By giving help and offering a hand we truly receive the grace of love.

A poem composed for the dearly departed.


The Lark Ascends

The lark ascends on light wings
Taking flight toward a heavenly home
It lingered here but a short while
Certain of the course she must go
A delicate beauty and playful grace
And twittering eyes revealed
Deep trust for love and sturdy branch
Of her verdant and earthly home
We reveled in her abundant joy
She fed our spirits and fondest hopes
Her gossamer wings a fragrance breath
Her heart angels hath divinely blessed
The lark is light!
The lark is life!
Her song forever young
The lark is kind
The lark is Thine
The lark is winging home

LAP
God Speed Beloved
12/20/08


You Tube Video: Janine Jansen, The Lark Ascending

Part 2: Janine Jansen, The Lark Ascending

You Tube Video: Josh Groban, What Child is This?

Risk: sanctity of life

December 23, 2008 Posted by | children, classical, faith, family, love | , , , , , , | Leave a comment