Saturday, April 7, 2018

Powers and Principalities: King and the Holy Spirit And Why Today’s Activists Need the Power of Pentecost

This post by Eugene F. Rivers III appears in the Spring 2018 issue of Plough Quarterly No. 16: America’s Prophet

“I will pour out my Spirit on all people and your sons and daughters will prophesy, and your old men will dream dreams and your young men will see visions.” —Joel 2:28


The night before his death, Martin Luther King Jr. preached his last sermon in Mason Temple. A monumental brick-and-stone edifice in downtown Memphis, Mason Temple is the mother church of the second-largest black denomination in the United States, known as the Church of God in Christ. Near where King was standing was the marble tomb of the church’s founder, Bishop Charles Harrison Mason, who had been born a slave and had gone on to become black America’s foremost Pentecostal leader.

Pentecostalism, now the fastest-growing branch of Christianity, emphasizes the power of the Holy Spirit to transform every aspect of the believer’s life. The movement originates in the multiracial Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles in 1906. Just months after the revival began, Mason traveled to California to see what was happening with his own eyes; it proved to be the turning point of his life. As Mason would later recount, “The Spirit came upon the saints and upon me.… Then I gave up for the Lord to have his way within me. So there came a wave of glory into me and all of my being was filled with the glory of the Lord.”

Mason, having now been “baptized with the Holy Spirit,” as Pentecostals describe such a conversion experience, became a fearless evangelist for the new movement. By the time of his death seven years before King’s sermon, the Church of God in Christ counted four hundred thousand members in four thousand churches in the United States and around the world.

Your Sons and Daughters Will Prophesy


This sanctuary, then, was the place in which King rose to deliver his farewell “Mountain Top” address: at an epicenter of global Pentecostalism. In retrospect, this seems powerfully symbolic. For Pentecostals, a central scripture is the promise of the prophet Joel, which the apostle Peter quoted at the first Christian Pente­cost in Jerusalem: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people and your sons and daughters will prophesy, and your old men will dream dreams and your young men will see visions” (Joel 2:28). Heard in this context, King’s last sermon can be understood as a fulfillment of this ancient promise. He, too, was one on whom the Holy Spirit had been poured out, one empowered with the gift of prophecy.

As we mark a half century since King’s death, few tributes acknowledge that the spiritual and political movement he led was a movement of the Holy Spirit. Yet secular accounts of his life and message are inadequate to explain what happened to and through him. Nor do they recognize that the forces he opposed – white supremacy, economic oppression, and militarism – are spiritual realities in their own right, demonic powers that must be combatted with spiritual weapons. As the New Testament puts it, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12).

This is not just a matter of historical interest. Whether or not the Holy Spirit inspires our political and cultural activism is of urgent importance today. The virulence of white supremacist discourse is at a new low, while white supremacist action is at a new high, with innocent people being attacked in Charlottesville, Virginia, and at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina. This reality demands that the church reclaim the power of the Spirit to discern the most effective response. We must name, unmask, and engage the invisible powers that threaten human existence.

King the Christian


Throughout the 1960s, King waged a political struggle against the macrostructural forces arrayed against black people. His genius was to recognize the power of the black church for organizing resistance to white supremacy, a dynamic that none of the secular intelligentsia had foreseen. None of the social scientists, black or white – W. E. B. Du Bois, E. Franklin Frazier, Gunnar Myrdal, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. – had predicted this. King insisted that the word Christian be part of the title of what was originally the Southern Leadership Conference, because he knew that blacks in the South would be strengthened by Christian solidarity, and that for them the church would be the most powerful organizing base. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference went on to become one of the leading institutions in the civil rights movement.

Just as insightful was King’s commitment to the Christian ethic of love, based in the teachings of Jesus. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught nonviolence, love of enemy, and unconditional forgiveness. For King, Jesus’ way of love had a deep kinship with the strategy of nonviolent resistance that he learned from Mahatma Gandhi.

There is no doubt that King sincerely believed in the principles of nonviolent action. But the strategic brilliance of using Gandhi’s methods is also unquestionable. In the American South, with its terrorist, totalitarian Jim Crow regime, nonviolence was the perfect weapon.

The gains that the civil rights movement achieved as a result were unprecedented – and God-given. Yet by the end of the 1960s, King’s reliance on Gandhian ethics alone was proving insufficient. A Protestant liberal by training, he was only dimly aware of the invisible principalities and powers that lay behind the violence of white supremacy. In the end, this restricted theological vision limited the longevity of the movement and its ability to adapt to radically different political circumstances, such as urban life outside of the South.

The Influence of Liberal Theology


Martin Luther King Jr.’s liberalism, in fact, might be seen as an accidental byproduct of the supremacist totalitarianism of the American South. Raised in his father’s church in Atlanta, Ebenezer Baptist Church, he was taught to believe in the authority of the Bible. But his understanding of the New Testament’s teaching about the Holy Spirit, with all its potential political implications, remained underdeveloped. He was educated at Morehouse College, the favored institution for the training of elite black men, where he was mentored by the legendary but theologically liberal Benjamin E. Mays.

He then went on to Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland, Pennsylvania, where he absorbed the theological liberalism of 1950s Northern Protestantism. Here he was taught a low view of biblical authority – and a suspicion of the miraculous and supernatural. The historian Taylor Branch, in the first volume of his Pulitzer Prize–winning trilogy, Parting the Waters, captures the theological world of the young King as a Crozer seminarian. The ­standing joke among Crozer students who survived the first term was that “the biblical image of Moses was destroyed in the first term and Jesus was finished off in the second.” This milieu distanced King from a purely biblical vision of the Holy Spirit.

“Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the  heavenly realms.” —Eph. 6:12


There is, however, more to this story of King’s theological evolution. In the 1950s South, theologically conservative seminaries, regardless of denomination, were largely segregated. Unlike Northern seminaries, they claimed to hold a high view of the Bible – and used it to justify Jim Crow by interpreting Noah’s curse on his son Ham’s descendants as referring to blacks. Thus, they espoused young earth creationism while also, with rare exceptions, tolerating if not endorsing the terrorist program of the Ku Klux Klan.

Herein lies an amazing irony, that the racism of white Southern seminaries drove the most talented future black leaders to integrated Northern seminaries, which were at least less explicitly racist. In this way, conservative Christians’ sin of white supremacy planted the seeds of resistance in the hearts of a rising generation of black church leaders. Not surprisingly, however, these precocious black students emerged with a decidedly liberal theological and social orientation. Thus, for the first half of the twentieth century, the intellectual leadership of the black church would be educated in an environment that inhibited them from fully tapping into the Pentecostal movement’s radically biblical vision of the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Movement after King


The failure of King and his church-based movement to fully recognize the spiritual character of the unraveling of a coherent political left during the sixties had significant cultural consequences. During the next decade, various forms of an ingenious and complex art form, hip-hop and rap, emerged. It spoke as much to the pain of devastated inner cities as to the creativity of those who had been abandoned there.

Christian philosopher Cornel West provides a brilliant and important analysis of this environment. In his book Race Matters he asserts, correctly, that “the proper starting point for the crucial debate about the prospects for black America is an examination of the nihilism that increasingly pervades black communities.” He then proposes a definition: “Nihilism is to be understood here not as a philosophic doctrine that there are no rational grounds for legitimate standards or authority; it is far more the lived experience of coping with a life of horrifying meaninglessness, hopelessness, and most important, lovelessness. The frightening result is a numbing detachment from others and a self-destructive disposition toward the world.” His analysis finds its most creative empirical confirmation in the words of Grandmaster Flash’s classic, “The Message”:


You’ll grow in the ghetto livin’ second-rate And your eyes will sing a song called deep hate The places you play and where you stay Looks like one great big alleyway You’ll admire all the number-book takers Thugs, pimps and pushers and the big money-makers . . . And you’ll wanna grow up to be just like them, huh . . . Turned stick-up kid, but look what you done did Got sent up for a eight-year bid . . . ’Til one day, you was found hung dead in the cell It was plain to see that your life was lost You was cold and your body swung back and forth But now your eyes sing the sad, sad song Of how you lived so fast and died so young.



Such an attitude of nihilism reflects the triumph of the demonic in the surrounding culture. What, then, is to be done about it? West, drawing on the teachings of Jesus, ­proposes an answer: “If one begins with the threat of concrete nihilism, then one must talk about some kind of politics of conversion.… Nihilism is not overcome by arguments or analyses. It must be tamed by love and care.”

West understands that a “love ethic must be at the center of the politics of conversion.” One needs the supernatural power of God to resist the power of the evil one and to accomplish the transformation required to live a life of love. At this moment in history, the church must once again engage in the spiritual warfare that will transform society and renew culture.

To Demolish Strongholds


The spiritual reality of the civil rights struggle was grasped early on by the theologian William Stringfellow. At the first National Conference on Religion and Race in 1963 – where King, Sargent Shriver, and Abraham Joshua Heschel also spoke – Stringfellow argued that white supremacy had to be understood as a demonic principality. This conference was the first time mainline denominations seriously engaged the freedom struggle, and Stringfellow’s remarks were controversial, especially his excoriation of the meeting as “too little, too late, and too lily white.” But just as provocative was the following claim:

The monstrous American heresy is in thinking that the whole drama of history takes place between God and humanity. But the truth, biblically and theologically and empirically, is quite otherwise: The drama of this history takes place amongst God and humanity and the principalities and powers, the great institutions and ideologies active in the world. It is the corruption and shallowness of humanism which beguiles Jew or Christian into believing that human beings are masters of institution or ideology. Or to put it differently, racism is not an evil in human hearts or minds; racism is a principality, a demonic power, a representative image, an embodiment of death over which human beings have little or no control, but which works its awful influence in their lives.



In asserting this, Stringfellow advanced a much more radical understanding of the nature of racial injustice in the United States and implicitly proposed a more Pentecostal reading of these historical events.

What Stringfellow missed, however, is something that the former slave Bishop Mason would have pointed out: that human powerlessness in the face of demonic racism is transformed into potency by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is not the power of the Holy Spirit as an abstract concept. Rather, it is the power of the Holy Spirit that Luke describes in the Book of Acts with the occurrence of miraculous signs and wonders, and that Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 2: “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”

“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” —2 Cor 10:4


Although I am sure that in many of the churches in Montgomery and Birmingham and throughout the South, particularly in the small churches of the poor, there were saints engaged in Spirit-filled intercessory prayer, more of that power would be needed as King moved to larger cities where he encountered more powerful territorial spirits. In opposing white supremacy in small cities, the prayers of scattered believers invoking the Holy Spirit proved adequate. But in a larger metropolis much greater power would have been needed. To say this is not to dismiss the impact of institutional and structural factors on the movement in large cities. From a spiritual perspective, these structural forces are an integral part of the operation of the demonic principalities.

To the extent that a biblical conception of supernatural forces informed King’s analysis of the challenges he faced and his strategic decisions regarding the direction of the movement, this aided his success. And whenever the movement failed to reckon with the entrenched principalities it was up against, this contributed to its failures.

What’s at Stake Now


Christians today must likewise adopt a more discerning posture and a supernaturally informed wisdom, recognizing the hold that the principality of white supremacy still has in the United States. We need a political theology of the Spirit building on the best traditions of King, incorporating both a radically biblical understanding of intercessory prayer and solidarity with the poor.

Half a century after King’s death, how does all this apply to today’s social justice movements, such as Black Lives Matter (BLM) or Antifa, which are led by secular activists? BLM, the leading movement against police violence, has mobilized tens of thousands of young people across the country and internationally and brought much needed attention to the issue. Their work highlights the moral and political failure of the black church to speak prophetically against the use of excessive force against black people, especially in the inner city.

Yet in some ways BLM is an example of George Santayana’s axiom that those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. For the most part, BLM activists – like the post-1965 SNCC activists, the Black Panther Party, and assorted other radical black groups before them – exhibit little interest in, or comprehension of, the larger lessons of history. This is because they lack the deep spiritual and moral insight that must be the grounding for any sustainable movement. Having rejected the God of their fathers, they have also rejected the fatherhood of God.

This philosophical rejection is an act of spiritual and cultural suicide. Failure to discern the demonic character of white supremacy limits these activists’ ability to understand the fight they are engaged in, and hinders their efforts to develop long-term strategies. They can only describe the sadistic violence they witness and never fully understand or conquer it, so long as they ignore its spiritual source.

More importantly, they fail to use the only means of combatting the demonic: intercessory prayer. Instead, they are easily sucked into the spirit of the demonic themselves as they resort to violence, anger, and hate – a failing less common in the BLM movement than in Antifa, though the danger applies to both.

Anger and outrage cannot sustain a movement over the long term; only prayer and the power of God can. King was right to emphasize the importance of enemy-love and nonviolence. He was much more than a civil rights leader; his political philosophy was grounded in the biblical prophets and the ethics of Jesus. In the final analysis, it was the Holy Spirit, which he allowed to work in and through him, that made Martin Luther King Jr. the most influential voice of conscience and religious freedom in the United States in the twentieth century. His life and witness can continue to inspire and challenge all of us who call on the Spirit to move in our communities and across our nation.


https://www.plough.com/en/topics/justice/social-justice/powers-and-principalities


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Don't Fence Me In Mr. President

by Jon Dunnemann




Dear President Donald Trump,


Please don't build your blankety blank wall. Need we remind you that what we stand for is liberty and justice for all. Of course we completely understand that you believe that you know it all but man you frankly and openly don't get to make that frickin call.

A national decision of this magnitude should be left up to the people. Handling it in any other way for me seems to be down right illegal. Just because you got voted in as the 45th President doesn't give you license to negate the voice of an entire nation of residents.

Mr. President, let me ask you, what are the racial, income, and gender specifics of those who want you to address such a bill or have you failed to take the time or make an effort to look at these factors up there on capital hill?

Allow me to give you just a bit of advice, the majority of American people do not care for you because it seems that despite all those fine schools that you were blessed to have attended you never learned how to play nice with others and follow the same rules.

Lastly, why the heck should the U.S.military have to pay for a wall behind which all American citizens will be trapped and thereby forced to deal with your mindless crap.

No, Mr President we don't need no stinkin' wall. What we really need is to finally be rid of you once and for all.

There is no need for thanks.


Yours truly,



An American Citizen


https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/dont-fence-me-mr-president-jonathan-dunnemann/?published=t


Monday, March 19, 2018

UA professor's book explores hip-hop and religion

This post by Isaac Andrews was originally published Oct 9, 2017 6:00 am on The Daily Wildcat


In his new book, University of Arizona professor Alejandro Nava shines light on the enigmatic concept of “soul” and relates religious practice and history to the influence of soul on Latin and African American music, specifically hip-hop. 

"In Search of Soul: Hip-Hop, Literature and Religion" discusses the history and significance of soul found in traditional and contemporary art and literature, particularly within Christianity and Judaism. Nava, a professor of religious studies, suggests that this sense of spirituality is largely present in early and modern hip-hop and is heavily tied to perceptions of struggle, justice, liberation and self.

“Hip-hop opens a window into so many issues of our day,” Nava said.


These can be Issues of race, culture, injustice, inequality, poverty, gender issues and spirituality, as Nava’s book suggests.

The book is structured in two sections: “Sacred Histories of the Soul” and “Profane Accents of Soul.” The first section of the book is an exploration of soul through traditions, literature and recorded histories of the dimension of soul. Nava said the study of these histories began to shape his understanding of soul and what it means to gain a spiritual sense of self. Largely including the expression of soul in Judaism and Christianity, Nava analyzes the concept of soul as a human and spiritual discovery.

The second section explores soul as more of a cultural product, relative to traditional and contemporary hip-hop, R&B and Latin-influenced music. Nava points out the spiritual influence that the concept of soul had on traditional Latin and African American-inspired music and contemporary hip-hop. Musical styles like blues and gangsta rap are a product of each artist’s reality and represent their feelings toward the way their environment perceives and treats them.

Some of these styles may reflect a total absence of spirituality, while others adopt significant reference to spirituality and the finding of soul, according to Nava. The early use of sampling during hip-hop’s origins was a way for artists to pull particular sounds or verses from earlier songs and then deliver poetry and add their own lyrical representation of self-worth, self-redemption and self-appreciation.

According to Nava, during the 1950s and '60s civil rights movements, soul regularly surfaced in music and art; often, the result of segregation and prejudice on the human soul were expressed in music. Nava said these expressions sometimes seemed explicit or extreme because they were the product of overwhelming oppression.

Nava said the notion of soul was used to “resist and to oppose histories of mistreatment and oppression.”


While the common perception of hip-hop is that it's a secular genre, Nava said “it’s surprising how often the idea of God surfaces in the music."


Hip-hop has gone through stages of absence and then resurgence of spirituality and religious language, according to Nava. More recently, he said, this preoccupation has surfaced in artists such as J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper and Kanye West.

“I would say that there has actually been a resurgence of the kind of religious dimensions of hip-hop in the contemporary scene,” Nava said.


Nava said that, especially with artists who wrestle with suffering and injustice, the idea of God is particularly pervasive. Nava said the hip-hop generation fits the mold of “spiritual but not religious, so that there is still a very profound preoccupation with spiritual questions."

Nava said a key moment that influenced his decision to write the book was when he was working on his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in the 1990s, when he wandered into an “On God and Hip-Hop” lecture by Michael Eric Dyson, a now well-known scholar.

“That was the first time that I actually heard somebody speak really thoughtfully and intelligently and provocatively about the intersections of religion and hip-hop,” Nava said. “From that moment on, it kind of planted a seed in my head.”

He said Dyson’s lecture helped him realize that hip-hop commented on some of the issues in the neighborhood he was living in.

“Many of the issues that hip-hop was addressing and speaking of were issues that were profoundly relevant to the world that was just a stone throw from the University of Chicago,” Nava said.

The University of Chicago is located within southside Chicago, where Nava witnessed situations of poverty and crime. He said universities do not always do a good job of addressing the problems and needs of the community they are surrounded by.

“What is the value of knowledge and university education if it can’t somehow make a difference in the world that we find ourselves in?” Nava said.

Nava said he thinks the administration at the UA could be more vocal in representing the concerns of the Tucson community, particularly among underrepresented groups like first-generation and DACA students.

A UA grad himself, Nava said studying at a university is a time to develop your soul, or human spirit. He said he hopes readers will gain a greater awareness of the world and their spiritual self by reading the book, while also developing more capacity for compassion and empathy.

Nava created the Africana Studies and Religious Studies course 335 “Rap, Culture, and God” at the UA in 2005, during a time when hip-hop was not really being studied at universities. Now, there are several courses at the UA that include hip-hop analysis. In 2012, the UA introduced the nation’s first hip-hop minor at a major university. Nava said the last 10 years has seen a huge growth in hip-hop studies.



Sunday, February 25, 2018

White Evangelicals, This is Why People Are Through With You

This post by John Pavlovitz originally appeared on his blog on January 24, 2018




Dear White Evangelicals,


I need to tell you something: People have had it with you.

They’re done.

They want nothing to do with you any longer, and here’s why:

They see your hypocrisy, your inconsistency, your incredibly selective mercy, and your thinly veiled supremacy.

For eight years they watched you relentlessly demonize a black President; a man faithfully married for 26 years; a doting father and husband without a hint of moral scandal or the slightest whiff of infidelity.

They watched you deny his personal faith convictions, argue his birthplace, and assail his character—all without cause or evidence. They saw you brandish Scriptures to malign him and use the laziest of racial stereotypes in criticizing him.

And through it all, White Evangelicals—you never once suggested that God placed him where he was,
you never publicly offered prayers for him and his family,
you never welcomed him to your Christian Universities,
you never gave him the benefit of the doubt in any instance,
you never spoke of offering him forgiveness or mercy,
your evangelists never publicly thanked God for his leadership,
your pastors never took to the pulpit to offer solidarity with him,
you never made any effort to affirm his humanity or show the love of Jesus to him in any quantifiable measure.

You violently opposed him at every single turn—without offering a single ounce of the grace you claim as the heart of your faith tradition. You jettisoned Jesus as you dispensed damnation on him.

And yet today, you openly give a “mulligan” to a white Republican man so riddled with depravity, so littered with extramarital affairs, so unapologetically vile, with such a vast resume of moral filth—that the mind boggles.

And the change in you is unmistakable. It has been an astonishing conversion to behold: a being born again.

With him, you suddenly find religion.
With him, you’re now willing to offer full absolution.
With him, all is forgiven without repentance or admission.
With him you’re suddenly able to see some invisible, deeply buried heart.
With him, sin has become unimportant, compassion no longer a requirement.
With him, you see only Providence.

And White Evangelicals, all those people who have had it with you—they see it all clearly.

They recognize the toxic source of your inconsistency.

They see that pigmentation and party are your sole deities.
They see that you aren’t interested in perpetuating the love of God or emulating the heart of Jesus.
They see that you aren’t burdened to love the least, or to be agents of compassion, or to care for your Muslim, gay, African, female, or poor neighbors as yourself.
They see that all you’re really interested in doing, is making a God in your own ivory image and demanding that the world bow down to it.
They recognize this all about white, Republican Jesus—not dark-skinned Jesus of Nazareth.

And I know you don’t realize it, but you’re digging your own grave in these days; the grave of your very faith tradition.

Your willingness to align yourself with cruelty is a costly marriage. Yes, you’ve gained a Supreme Court seat, a few months with the Presidency as a mouthpiece, and the cheap high of temporary power—but you’ve lost a whole lot more.

You’ve lost an audience with millions of wise, decent, good-hearted, faithful people with eyes to see this ugliness.
You’ve lost any moral high ground or spiritual authority with a generation.
You’ve lost any semblance of Christlikeness.
You’ve lost the plot.
And most of all you’ve lost your soul.

I know it’s likely you’ll dismiss these words. The fact that you’ve even made your bed with such malevolence, shows how far gone you are and how insulated you are from the reality in front of you.

But I had to at least try to reach you. It’s what Jesus would do.

Maybe you need to read what he said again—if he still matters to you.


About

I’m a 20-year ministry veteran trying to figure out how to love people well and to live-out the red letters of Jesus.
I enjoy songwriting, exercising, cooking, hiking, and eating emotionally.
This is a place where I say stuff that I think needs to be said.
I welcome you to say what you believe needs to be said in response, knowing that ultimately the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Thanks for stopping by, and for reading the musings of a flawed, passionate, work in progress.

John

https://johnpavlovitz.com/2018/01/24/white-evangelicals-people/?
utm_campaign=coschedule&utm_source=facebook_page&utm_medium=John%20Pavlovitz

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Problem of Self-centeredness and the Paradox of Religion: Religious teachers have been battling egoicism for centuries.

This post written by Mark Leary, Ph.D. originally appeared on the Psychology Today blog on Feb 11, 2018


I started this blog ("Toward a Less Egoic World") to focus on two central themes – first, that many of the personal and social problems that plague human life are rooted in people's pervasive tendency to be excessively self-centered and, second, that we can minimize many of these problems by promoting a less egoic world. This is, of course, not a novel insight; people have been discussing the problem of self-preoccupation at least since the beginnings of recorded history, long before psychologists started adding their two cents to the discussion.

As evidence that people have recognized the problem of excessive egoicism for millennia is the fact all major religious traditions share the conviction that egoic preoccupation is a major impediment to moral living and admonish their followers to be less egoic. Various religions construe the problem differently, but they agree that excessive egoicism is a primary contributor to a wide array of antisocial behaviors, "sinful" actions, and social strife. And, they all maintain that their devotees should take steps to work on their self-centeredness.

This theme can be traced to the earliest written records in Hinduism, Taoism, and Buddhism, and indigenous religions probably held this view even earlier. The major religions of the West – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – have likewise confronted the problems that arise when people behave egoically.  Whatever one’s personal religious orientation – whether you are a theist, pantheist, atheist, or agnostic – the fact that religious visionaries throughout history have wrestled with the problems created by self-preoccupation is both intriguing and potentially informative.

Most religions agree that egoicism creates two distinct problems. First, most religions link self-centeredness to sinful thoughts and behaviors. Being self-focused, self-centered, and selfish leads people to act without regard for the well-being of other people. In most religions, self-centeredness, selfishness, and pride are singled out as particularly evil attributes. And, conversely, most religions teach that the spiritual person is “selfless,” although they often aren’t clear on exactly what that means.  

Second, most religions teach that paying too much attention to oneself interferes with spiritual insight and connecting with the divine. Of course, various traditions construe spiritual insight in different ways, but most religions regard excessive self-focus as a hindrance to making contact with God and pursuing other spiritual goals. According to the teachers of almost all religions, spiritual truths are difficult to discern when people are excessively focused on themselves. 

Most religious and spiritual traditions not only view excessive self-preoccupation as an impediment to moral behavior and spiritual insight, but they also offer ways to counteract its negative effects. In fact, religion itself may have arisen, at least in part, as a system for counteracting the undesirable personal and social effects of excessive self-preoccupation.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam tend to confront these problems by admonishing believers to change the nature of who they are. Although differing in specifics, these traditions agree that people can transform their sinful selves through faith, rituals, divine intervention, or diligently following moral commandments. Western religions try to change people’s selfish nature so that they will obey moral directives and live ethically.

The major Eastern religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Sikhism, and Jainism – as well as many indigenous religions, tend to use a different approach. Rather than trying to change or control the person’s beliefs and behaviors directly as the Western religions do, these traditions generally try to reduce people’s self-preoccupation. These religions have moral precepts that should be followed, but the assumption is that quieting the egoic self will reduce self-centeredness and selfishness, leading the person to behave in a more moral and compassionate way.

Thus, Eastern traditions tend to use self-quieting practices such as meditation and yoga to minimize egoic thinking, leaving the mind clearer to perceive spiritual insights and removing the source of selfish behavior.  Other practices take the opposite approach.  Rather than calming the mind, believers subject themselves to sensory overload through chanting, drumming, dancing, or physically painful activities, all of which reduce the capacity for self-relevant thought. A person in the throes of ecstatic dancing, drumming, or chanting can not easily dwell on his or her  selfish desires.

Although most religious and spiritual traditions recognized the problems associated with egoic self-thought long before psychologists arrived on the scene, ironically, the institutions and dogma that accompanied the development of organized religion also created a new venue for egoic beliefs and actions.  Even while teaching about the evils of self-centeredness and urging their adherents to reduce self-preoccupation, organized religion often encouraged followers to view their own beliefs as superior to everyone else’s, to condemn those who did not share their views, to force their views and practices on others, and even to go to war against those who disagreed with them.  The fact that teachings and practices that initially arose to counteract the evils of egoic preoccupation led to systematic and widespread increases in egoic thought and action is undoubtedly one of the greatest paradoxes of human history.


https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/toward-less-egoic-world/201802/the-problem-self-centeredness-and-the-paradox-religion#_=_

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Are We Being Short-Changed On Our Democracy?

by Jon Dunnemann


What is it about the American way of life that requires this level of expenditure on militarism and an expanding arsenal of weapons of mass destruction to protect ourselves and others? 

Is it really what is best for the average citizen? 

Is a decision to take funding away from other important areas the morally responsible thing to do? 

Unsurprisingly, the illustration below makes one feel short-changed rather than like highly valued citizens who are being developed into the greatest possible human capital in the world, who are being provided with safe bridges, roads, train tracks, drinking water, a stable economy, good jobs, fair wages, and comprehensive healthcare and a world-class public education system.



Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Shame On You America

by Jon Dunnemann




Please don't attempt to make me feel ashamed of being who I am because of the way that I praise my God, or how it looks, sounds or feels so different from the way that you do.

Kindly withhold the insensitivity of making me feel completely empty inside because my hair, eyes, skin color or physical size does not match your own self-image. Just like you, I am here to add beauty, diversity, and uniqueness to a world filled with so many wonders and opportunities. 

Don't crown me with thorns because I have come here with a different message, or don't wear a suit and tie to the house of worship or because I am a more feminine male or masculine woman. I deeply love humanity along with all of God's other creations. I even love you despite the cruelty that you are so inclined to display towards me.

Please don't make me feel as though I am some sort of mistake, evil or to your mind a worthless human being. How can this really be so, how can you if you genuinely care be so easily satisfied with this, and how can you continue to go on adding more greatly to my pain and suffering by damning me and yet still call yourself a decent person, great nation or sacred space in which to live?

Have you no shame? Shame on you America!

But, I will tell you now, today, that I forgive you, that I love you, and will continue to do so long after you have exhausted all possible excuses and justifications for being very unloving towards me: your native son. It would please many to see you behave less offensively toward others our beloved America.


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

America Land of the Free

by Jon Dunnemann




Let us stop laboring at being democrats or republicans and simply be Americans.

This requires a willingness on our part to let go of our past positions and to start anew.

Really good progress can be made if we accept the common understanding that we all wish to be seriously listened to, to be treated with loving kindness and a sense of fairness, to uphold civility, to be protected from the misdeeds of self and others, and to acknowledge and respect the morality we each find in our inherited culture and belief systems, thereby acting as full-fledged members of a much broader humanity.

This outlook completely changes how we see and respond to the dilemmas that we presently face (i.e., alcohol and drug abuse, child prostitution, fraud, greed and misconduct, domestic violence, gang culture and gun violence, homelessness and poverty, prejudice and religious intolerance, the result of feeling forsaken by parents especially fathers, and war).

This is our America, Land of the Free. And we don't have to settle for anything less than who we are, what we equally deserve, and the fulfillment of our greatest shared potential.

It should be clear by now that favored special interests never were and never will be in the best interests of all Americans.

That is what presumably makes the American idea an exceptional one right here in the land of the free.






Thursday, January 25, 2018

Seek After That Which Is Spiritual

by Jon Dunnemann




Try to live your life as one who has chosen to walk unobstructed and in the direction of truth.
Abstain from every form of evil.


Do not permit yourself to seek after fame, glory, and other things that are of no real lasting value.


If ever you find yourself being victimized, ostracized, and left wondering I humbly appeal to you in the very name and spirit of all that is holy and sacred in this world, to continue onward steadfastly in the pursuit of that which is highly known to be righteous and true.


Above all else, do not allow the manifestation of evil to occupy space within you nor fall prey to becoming the sort of human being who would simply standby idly while cruelty is horribly heaped upon others.


For your own protection and sanctification, begin this day to build a solid fortress of character around your heart. May you be divinely empowered and well-equipped to best fight battles on behalf of those who come to depend on you for both their overall well-being and our collective sustainability.


In darkest of times, whereupon, bold, daring, and self-sacrificing examples are few and a cold, callous and deceitful kind of evil mindedness is a foot may you always remain aware, active and intentional about living your life in a manner that is deemed fruitful, life-affirming, nurturing, and universally pure thereby spreading the greatest measure of comfort, joy, and warmth throughout the entire world.


And yes, I claim openly if not you, then who else shall I and others turn too, to take on the responsibility of willingly creating this greater good?


Seek always then, after that which is Spiritual! And in doing so, may blessings of a thousand-fold be fully bestowed upon you and not only those whom you love out of familiarity but those others who are in desperate and urgent need of love as well.


For this unselfish service unto others, thank you and may your heart forever remain full of gladness and inexhaustible strength.



Chucho Valdes & The Afrocuban messengers - Begin To Be Good







Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Practicing Martin Luther King Jr’s 6 Principles Of Nonviolence

This post originally appeared on IL improvised life.com the archive of possibility thinking on 1/15/18


William Lovelace/Express/Getty Images)

We’ve often wondered at Dr. Martin Luther King's ability to maintain his non-violent stance in the face of numerous threats and arrests.  Was he born with it, or was it driven by his powerful faith, or was it something he had to work at daily… a practice?




Practice is, most likely, what it would have to be for us mortals. We found some insight into how we might do that at The King Center, as we read King’s 6 Principles of Nonviolence, and actions he advocated based on them. We’re taking the day to think about how they work in our life. What would it be like to truly live non-violently, in even the smallest interactions?

SIX PRINCIPLES OF NONVIOLENCE

  1. PRINCIPLE ONE: Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. It is active nonviolent resistance to evil. It is aggressive spiritually, mentally and emotionally.
  2. PRINCIPLE TWO: Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding. The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation. The purpose of nonviolence is the creation of the Beloved Community.
  3. PRINCIPLE THREE: Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people. Nonviolence recognizes that evildoers are also victims and are not evil people. The nonviolent resister seeks to defeat evil not people.
  4. PRINCIPLE FOUR: Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform. Nonviolence accepts suffering without retaliation. Unearned suffering is redemptive and has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities.
  5. PRINCIPLE FIVE: Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate. Nonviolence resists violence of the spirit as well as the body. Nonviolent love is spontaneous, unmotivated, unselfish and creative.
  6. PRINCIPLE SIX: Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice. The nonviolent resister has deep faith that justice will eventually win. Nonviolence believes that God is a God of justice.

SIX STEPS OF NONVIOLENT SOCIAL CHANGE

The Six Steps for Nonviolent Social Change are based on Dr. King’s nonviolent campaigns and teachings that emphasize love in action. Dr. King’s philosophy of nonviolence, as reviewed in the Six Principles of Nonviolence, guide these steps for social and interpersonal change.
  1. INFORMATION GATHERING: To understand and articulate an issue, problem or injustice facing a person, community, or institution you must do research. You must investigate and gather all vital information from all sides of the argument or issue so as to increase your understanding of the problem. You must become an expert on your opponent’s position.
  2. EDUCATION: It is essential to inform others, including your opposition, about your issue. This minimizes misunderstandings and gains you support and sympathy.
  3. PERSONAL COMMITMENT: Daily check and affirm your faith in the philosophy and methods of nonviolence. Eliminate hidden motives and prepare yourself to accept suffering, if necessary, in your work for justice.
  4. DISCUSSION/NEGOTIATION: Using grace, humor and intelligence, confront the other party with a list of injustices and a plan for addressing and resolving these injustices. Look for what is positive in every action and statement the opposition makes. Do not seek to humiliate the opponent but to call forth the good in the opponent.
  5. DIRECT ACTION: These are actions taken when the opponent is unwilling to enter into, or remain in, discussion/negotiation. These actions impose a “creative tension” into the conflict, supplying moral pressure on your opponent to work with you in resolving the injustice.
  6. RECONCILIATION: Nonviolence seeks friendship and understanding with the opponent. Nonviolence does not seek to defeat the opponent. Nonviolence is directed against evil systems, forces, oppressive policies, unjust acts, but not against persons. Through reasoned compromise, both sides resolve the injustice with a plan of action. Each act of reconciliation is one step closer to the ‘Beloved Community.’


04 Sep 1958, Montgomery, Alabama, USA — Police officers O.M. Strickland and J.V. Johnson apply force in arresting the Reverend Martin Luther King for loitering near a courtroom where one of his integration lieutenants was on the stand. King charged he was beaten and choked by the arresting officers. Police denied the charges. —© Bettmann/CORBIS via history.com


improvised life archive of possibilities thinking

Friday, November 17, 2017

Unfatigable, Unforgettable, And Unshakeable

By Jon Dunnemann


Elisabeth (Nana) Greene
Feb 12, 1911 to Nov 15, 2017

We are like the moon. The moon shines anyway, but it does not produce its own light. It reflects the light illuminated onto its surface by the Sun and is never proud to say "I am the source of light". God shines through us, hence He deserves the glory; not us.
Israelmore Ayivor

God, who is all seeing and knowing, gave Mrs. Elisabeth Greene a long, fruitful, and cherished life because he knew that in her he had chosen a faithful and obedient servant who would forever be both willing and able to operate in the world, in her church, in her community, and in her family as one whose work was seemingly never done. Yes, as we continue to witness, God is good. All the time. 

Though little in stature, Nana was unfatigable about finishing the long and hard work of being a devoted daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, great, great grandmother, great, great, great grandmother, an unforgettable matriarch, and a good neighbor and friend to all. Even now, her divine light continues to shine ever so brightling because she has always been first and foremost a believer without a trace of doubt in her mind. She knew and routinely acted in accordance with her Christian identity and the complete understanding that miracles are always possible when you consciously choose and purposefully act as a child of God holding firmly to an unshakeable faith. The kind of faith that is impossible to change, rattle, or beat down. 

However, to complete or fulfill your responsibility to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, you absolutely have to talk to him. It’s not complicated but it is inescapable. How many times can we each recall Nana telling us to take it to the Lord in prayer? What should by now be indisputably obvious to a good number of us is that every relationship worth having on any level requires an investment of commitment, dialogue, and sincerity. Is that not what her life has vividly demonstrated for us, that she would be there through thick and then, hear us out, not judge us, forgive us, and always find a way to come alongside us and aid us in some measure with clearing whatever obstacle may have temporarily blocked our path, caused us to stumble or possibly led to the questioning of our sensibility and worth, and foremost that she would always out of unconditional love appeal to the Lord on our behalf? 

There was never a failure on Nana’s part to demonstrate what Jesus would do. Now that Nana has "gone up yonder" to be with her Lord we have but to ask ourselves what would Mrs. Greene, Mother or Nana have us do in all manner of circumstance and situations? She earned this honoring and it is the collective inheritance being gifted to all of us: One hundred plus years of grace, faith, hope, love, and joy. The mantle that she held for so very long is ready and awaits being passed on to us with the fullest expectation of all of our ancestors, Nana, and her Lord and Savior, for us to continue to build Thy Kingdom, here on earth, as it is in heaven. Accomplishing this mission requires nothing less than the maximizing of the fruits of the spirit for each and every one of us.




Let me leave you with a great source for continuous inspiration which can be found in the New Testament of the bible in the book of Matthew Chapter 22:37-40
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and greatest commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. 

May you find the way to live a life that Mrs. Greene, Mother or Nana will be especially delighted to view through the eternal eyes of God!

Thank you and God bless you.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

One thing doesn't make a man

By Jon Dunnemann



In 2016, Kaepernick gained nationwide attention when he began protesting by not standing while the United States national anthem was being played before the start of games. This decision was motivated by what he viewed as the oppression of people of color in the United States. His actions prompted a wide variety of responses, including additional athletes in the NFL and other American sports leagues protesting in various ways during the anthem. Kaepernick's current free agency status has also been the subject of discussion and controversy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colin_Kaepernick).

It takes a great deal of courage for a person to decide to take a position on an important matter knowing full well that they will be criticized, misunderstood, and possibly even rejected by past friends and others alike. Nevertheless, it is and has always been an important part of learning to be "true to oneself and to others" for any young man or woman regardless of the platform on which they may some day find themself standing.

If you do not have the stomach to do what it takes to "speak truth in love" about any overlooked injustice then you are probably better off moving out of the way and letting another person take the lead who can act of his or her own choosing in a free way without worrying about normal social rules. I believe this to be at the core of what Colin Kaepernick did in taking a knee. He's a young man continuing to question his ideals, as a constantly adapting person, willing to take personal responsibility for his process of values integration, and seeking to operate in a way that will hopefully also benefit others. Throughout history this has been the substance of the moral character that has distinguished American society and its contributions to the notion of justice, liberty, and freedom from that of other less democratic and emergent societies.

Sometimes it takes an actor, a comedian, a basketball player, a boxer, a musician, a singer or even another football player to disturbingly wake us up to the unfairness of things occurring outside of the more familiar sports arena. The real tragedy though lies in any rush to judgment or our mistakenly coming to hate the messenger more than the harsh realities of their message.

Colin is not the first celebrity to humbly, nonviolently, and yet radically appeal to our greater common good in the hope that it might evoke more serious attention to a gross inhumanity nor is he likely to be the very last.

Clearly accomplished as a young professional athlete it would have been far easier for Colin to confine himself to the standard role of that of a sports figure in our society whose voice we assume is only meant for selling merchandise. Albeit a valuable piece to any NFL team and a widely appealing player to fans. As a human being, it is possible that at times he may have felt like little more than another dispensable pawn piece in a chess game.  However, like a number of other elite athletes before him, he reached the self-realization that being only one thing doesn't make a man. What actually does more to enduringly "make the man or woman" is what he or she is willing to become as a person through their heightened attention to unmet needs and collaborative service unto others.

For the life of me though, what I find very difficult to understand is how the American public can so easily overlook a multitude of sinful behavior by our 71 year old sitting President of the United States of America while on the other hand being enormously unwilling to forgive a trouble free 28 year old for attempting to "man up" and find a way to protest and thereby draw the nation's attention to the longstanding and insufficient accountability that prevails when it comes to minority mass incarceration, police brutality, stop and frisk practices, and the well-established unequal sentencing.

It's altogether baffling and frankly downright shameful. For a time at least, we should all allow ourselves to feel as deficiently motivated and morally responsible as Colin Kaepernick does for what often does not but should happen when it comes to advocating for the fair treatment and uplifting of people who are less fortunate than we are.

I have no right to life's abundance until everyone has received life's necessities. - Ralph S. Cusham 


https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/one-thing-doesnt-make-man-jonathan-dunnemann/

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Let's admit we made a mistake

By Jon Dunnemann




This president's inferiority shows when it comes to healing hurts or unifying people. The primary emotion that he elicits in people is that of anger usually directed towards others or strongly felt by those being victimized by his unkind comments and loathsome conduct.

This probably stems from an attitude of entitlement, being out of his element, and a basic insensitivity. The good qualities of empathy, concern, honesty, humility, kindness, and love are generally absent from public view with the president.

Because of this he is not a giver to hope but a taker and destroyer of what is "just, humane, and whole" thereby undermining what is intrinsic to decency and democracy. Moreover, he repeatedly tramples underfoot the culture, gender, rights, traditions, and worth of persons that are different from himself. Worst of all, he is neither self-aware nor apologetic about his own lack of knowledge, inappropriateness, and harmful actions and utterances. He is blatantly dismissive and frequently vindictive toward others and yet shamelessly self-righteous in his morally bad behavior.

All of this together, is what the current President of the United States of America has become most known for. Today, I think it fair to say that his business accomplishments now pale by comparison to his striking record for cruelty, malice, and tirade in and outside of the nation's capital.

Given these troubling factors, I think that it is time for us to admit to one another that we undeniably made a regrettable and serious mistake -- And as one nation under God, we can ill afford to continue to allow a person of such egregious conduct and ineptitude to remain the standard-bearer for American leadership at home and abroad.

We, the people, must demand civility from our president and owing to his lack thereof we resolutely request his resignation. If he refuses, and we should expect that he will, then we must petition to have him impeached now on the grounds that he has become the most polarizing figure in modern American history and in doing so he has also become the greatest "internal threat" to the further development and maintenance of healthy race, religion, and gender relations, and an increasing risk to our national security and shared values, and the overall well-being of our collective consciousness.

As citizens of all faiths, races or ethnic groups, incomes, political affiliations, ages, abilities, and so on, we can no longer overlook, ignore or accept the cascading impact of Donald Trump's destructive and irresponsible violation of America's well established presidential code of conduct.

Yes, we made a mistake. It's time for us to address the absurd Elephant in the room.

Goodness is about character - integrity, honesty, kindness, generosity, moral courage, and the like. More than anything else, it is about how we treat other people. - Dennis Prager


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Happy Birthday Jonathan

By Jon Dunnemann

Today would be Jonathan William Smithers-Dunnemann's 32nd birthday. Daniel's brother and Dr. Wilda Smithers-Dunnemann's and my first child. Jonathan left this world at age 11 and I can't begin to tell you what his absence at the table has been like for the three of us and the rest of the family for the last twenty-one years.

Jonathan had enough energy and warmth of spirit for everyone. And, he was a conduit for the untapped potential in his younger brother Danny Boy.

Losing a child or a sibling is a sharp pain that never completely dulls.

Today, it is Daniel who really has the best perspective on this tremendously challenging life event. He says, "Mom and Dad, I would rather have had Jonathan as my brother for eleven years then not to have been able to enjoy him at all."

As a man, a husband, and a father I am enormously thankful that I got to see Jonathan and Daniel's tender and loving relationship for those eleven years. My two little boys are so beautiful, complementary, and unique in every way. Who could possibly ask for more?

For Wilda, a daughter, sister, wife and physician but always a mother first and foremost, it has entailed an immensely heartbreaking loss. Jonathan had his Mommy's tough will and smile . The sort that enables you to get back up after having the life knocked out of you. With help from her Dad, Pastor and Prayer, she fought through the dark night of the soul and managed to climb up and out of the pit of despair and pain to put her other baby first and nurtured him with remarkably dedication, love, sacrifice, and wisdom to young adulthood.

For other parents out there who have also experienced the loss of a child and to those of you who have lost a brother or a sister I'm thinking about you today too.  I am absolutely confident that if Jonathan were here today that he would tell you to be sure to enjoy your life, to wear your most magnificent smile, to trust in the power of the almighty creator of all things, and to always bare in mind that everything works together for good even though this is very often beyond our capacity as mortal/sentient beings to understand and at times to accept.

Happy Birthday Jonathan. We hope that you are proud of the way that we are carrying on in your honor while we are temporarily away from you.



Monday, September 11, 2017

What more can we do in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey?

By Jon Dunnemann



Maybe there's a good deal more that America can do to as part of National Preparedness and Response and justice reform "inside prison walls" by proactively teaching non-violent offenders between 18-to-32-years-old how to productively assist in saving lives, distributing materials, site clean-up, and rebuilding homes following natural disasters.


Below is a proposed brief outline for possibly teaching these inmates useful disaster response and relief skills so that they can stand beside and act in the best interest of their fellow Americans in a time of great need:
  1. Basic medical skills (i.e., Cleaning and Dressing Wounds, Making a Makeshift Splint or Sling, CPR, Heimlich Maneuver, Treating Shock).
  2. Food and water storage/safety and sanitation procedures.
  3. Victim coping and stress-management skills.
  4. Crisis, trauma, and grief-counseling skills.
  5. Utilization of alternative means of communication (i.e., the "Coordinated Assistance Program" (CAN), the 2-1-1 system - coordinated by the United Way since 1997).
  6. Capability of speaking more than one language (i.e., Spanish, Chinese, and French).
  7. Basic computer skills, knowing how to use a camera or take video to help document the work organizations and teams are doing.
  8. Basic survival skills (i.e., Finding and purifying water, Building A Wilderness Survival Shelter From Scratch, Starting A Fire Without A Lighter, Navigating Your Way Back To Safety, Survival Signaling To Help Rescuers Find You, Food Acquisition To Stave Off Starvation)
  9. American Red Cross, FEMA, National Guard, Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) protocol & operational systems, and quite possibly in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity get the full scope of home repair and construction training and equipping needed to become a functional, contributing member of a disaster rescue, recovery, and relief team so that you can go wherever the crisis is and provide valuable assistance under a team experts direction.
  10. Learn how to make a long-term commitment to acquiring this knowledge and the varied skill sets that leave a place and people group better off then when you first arrived.

A federal, state, and locally funded program of this nature will not only enhance our nation's National Response Plan (NRP) capacity for saving lives and rebuilding communities but it will transform the lives of former offenders and I assert that it also greatly affirms our best values and provides real and lasting second chances in sharing a good life in America for young non-violent offenders.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Ready Yourself And Walk Into Your Perpetual Groove

By Jon Dunnemann




Whenever I am given the opportunity to teach life skills to older boys and teenagers I always enjoy discussing the great importance of self-awareness, self-control, and self-improvement given how painfully difficult it was for me to not only develop a good understanding of these concepts but to also learn to effectively apply the underlying practices behind them well into my adult life.

As far back as I can recall, I was an impulsive person and someone always seeking affirmation from others regarding my self-worth. To simply blame this tendency on the absence of my father in my early years would be a big mistake and seriously overlooks the necessity of learning how to accept personal responsibility for all of the actions and decisions that we must inescapably make throughout our lives. What we choose to do or not do in every area of our daily living yields significant consequences for us both good and bad.

Let me tell you, my mother to her credit as a single parent did not overlook exposing me to many extracurricular activities and events when I was a boy all of which were intended to foster a healthy, safe, and stimulating platform for a kid's personal growth and virtues shaping.

What laid at the root of my early difficulty though was the refusal to exercise good judgement. I clearly knew right from wrong yet chose the latter anyway. Looking back, I now recognize that this stemmed from my overindulgence and a weak conscience. Experts will tell you that this is never a good thing. Because when this is the case, it’s as if you’re always just itching for a licking. Believe me when I tell you that I got plenty of spankings and whippings as a child and they proved inadequate in changing me. Sure they certainly got my attention and as intended they did hurt. Nevertheless, it was not long before I found a solution for avoiding any form of verbal chastisement or physical punishment altogether: run away! 

Initially, even as a foster youth, trouble need not look very far to find me. I always seemed to be anxiously awaiting the next adventure or dare to do something mischievous. In fact, a number of the kids that I grew up with and attended junior high school with will remember exactly what I’m talking about having routinely edged me on in my immature and irresponsible state for their own amusement or to do their dirty work. I was ignorant then of how little they truly thought of me and how lacking I was in self-acceptance as I repeatedly threw all caution to the wind and ended up engaged in juvenile pranks and reckless behavior - I was buck wild.

The bad habits that I developed were foolish, troublesome, and for me remain deeply regrettably. Fortunately, although I didn't realize it at the time, I was abruptly removed from one of my most familiar and formative settings and miraculously placed in an entirely different environment where everything that I did was closely scrutinized by a household of older African American Muslim men. The discipline that they imposed on me in terms of conduct, focus on learning, martial arts, civic engagement and political activism, and self-awareness literally crowded out the most useless and unwise actions of my past. I also received the added benefit of being made to feel good about being a young, strong, thinking, activist, and African American male. Surprisingly, they did not require that I convert to Islam and become a Muslim.

So for me the questions that I am most eager to humbly speak to with today’s youth are a) How does one begin to recognize their error, b) interrupt their patterned behavior, and c) recover a more mature sense of self? Now I am not about to mislead anybody, hardheadedness, misdirection, and neglectfulness -- these are not simple or quick fixes. In all likelihood it will take years of progressively hard work and ongoing soul searching to reach the center of your fullness and purpose. However, the sooner that you begin to explore and reflect regularly on the important business of your life path then the earlier your life will begin to yield meaning and the happier you will ultimately become with yourself.

Unfortunately, in many cases, the necessary changes will never occur and other people’s lives will be hurt or worse, and further damage may well continue to be done to your own life. On the other hand, as you become more aware of the consequences and outcomes associated with your actions, you will be better able to learn how to control your impulses and use your best judgement, and as the benefits of this inner state of being become more apparent you will also find a perpetual groove that grows out of the recurring experience of successful personal improvement. Ready yourself and walk into it!!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Courage

By Jon Dunnemann




Who is the hero?

What does s/he seek?

When do they appear?

Where does their belief in possibility come from?

How is it that some are able to do that which others would not dare?

Why is it that real courage is seemingly limited to a chosen few?

In my mind there is hardly a trace of the heroic trait.

Could it be that the door to the soul must first be made open in order for us to experience the complete fullness of our divine nature and spiritual power?

Is it then, that we become equipped to exhibit the greatest sense of courage naturally flowing out of our actions and decisions?

Only time will reveal the source of this current that is found in the answers to these unavoidable questions.

So until an abundance of courage arrives be still besides the still waters and fear not.