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So let me say this. Leslie’s a little tired of my so-called “friends” finding the worse possible picture of me online to use as head shots on flyers and websites. I tend to avoid pictures, so it’s not hard to understand why there aren’t a lot of great ones of me floating around, but one doesn’t have to settle for the gaping mouth buffoon shot or the creepy black man poking his head out the closet shot, when everyone else on the ad is smiling pleasantly and looking straight into the camera.
To help make this a non-issue going forward, Les has recently done 2 photo shoots with me. All I’m saying is that, if you ever want to share an unanxious meal with the Brays ever again, you will use one of these .
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Over the pass year I been involved with multiple organizations trying to figure out its stance on this, that and the other thing. I want to put myself on record. What it comes down to for me is grace and graciousness. If you can walk in grace and graciousness toward others, then we can roll together. If you can’t, then we probably can’t walk together–at least not for long, because you’ll get tired of me inviting so many others to roll with us who think, feel, act, believe, care and are concerned differently from you.
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You’ve gotta come. Get your tickets here.
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Every once and a while I’ll google my own name to find out who has been impersonating me. I’ll even, on occasion, look at the photos of these other quacks to see whom I’m up against. Today I ran across this. I’m not sure I’ve ever used the word “surreal”–I definitely don’t use it often–but if ever a situation were, this would have to be. Wow! I wonder who this guy was, where he came from, how he ended up in New York. What are the chances that we share the same name and don’t trace our history back to the same plantation? On which side of the color line did he reside? What was it like living with that name and his background at the turn of the 20th century. He didn’t even make it to 40. Why?
My grandfather who shared my same name and lived at that time (he was a little younger from what we can surmise) died at the ripe old age of 80- or 90-something. Folks responsible for record keeping didn’t keep good records on black folks back then. I’ll have to ask my dad, but I think the birth date set for his eulogy was 1909. However, that was the same year Walter Reed Hospital opened, and according to my dad, my grandfather had stories of helping to build Walter Reed. So he was likely born closer to 1900, maybe a little before.
Anyhow, I wonder…
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I watched the movie Looper this past week. It stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt (the kid from 3rd Rock from the Sun, who apparently likes sci-fi) and Bruce Willis as Gordon-Levitt’s character’s older, future self. I initially dismissed it as “typical,” because of the ending. However, this morning, having not been able to sleep pass 5:00, I have a somewhat new take on it.
It seems to be based on this notion of one’s future being a tyrant over one’s present. You can find the whole plot elsewhere. Suffice it to say that Willis’ character, Future Joe, comes back in time and attempts to take the lives of 3 children because one of them, Future Joe doesn’t know which, will grow up to become a mysterious character called the Rainmaker and initiate a series of actions that results in the death of Future Joe’s wife, the woman who found him morally bankrupt and gave him a reason to be a better man. Even if he must himself die on the day the Rainmaker’s men come for him, he wants his wife to live. Admirable indeed. Gordon-Levitt’s character, Present Joe, saves the last child, the one who actually would have grown up to become the Rainmaker, by ultimately taking his own life, thereby eliminating the existence of Future Joe and (here’s the head rush) precluding the circumstances that turn the last child into the Rainmaker. It’s like that Brotha Ali verse from a few years back (Freedom Ain’t Free):
I’ll kill the devil wherever he resides.
Even if he’s hidin’ in me, he’s gotta die!
Giving my life, whatever its worth, to save an innocent–making the ultimate sacrifice–is boring to me, even a bit self-aggrandising and glory-seeking. Now, resurrection, on the other hand, that’s interesting–having to live beyond the moment of “sacrifice”. But this movie is about neither. It is about moral agency. It’s about recognizing that my future or present happiness isn’t a morally neutral divine right. There is some–maybe all–present and future happiness, comfort, ease, opportunity that comes to me as a cost to others outside of myself, and perhaps I have some moral responsibility for that. Now that’s interesting too!
I’ve been applying for different types of fellowships to put myself back in the game of social entrepreneurism at a different level. The vision I believe God placed in my heart 19 years ago was always bigger than I personally had the skills or connections to accomplish. That is why I’ve had to dip in and out of it over the pass 16 years. I’d carry the ball as far as I knew how, then would have to lay it down for a while and go learn some more, acquire more assets to leverage on the vision’s behalf, give the vision time to mature.
So here I am coming up on 40, and I finally know enough people who know enough people who can help me make this thing happen. They aren’t any smarter or more driven than the people I was blessed to know 16 years ago. They just have a different set of resources and relationships. It’s like that book Who Moved My Cheese? by Spenser Johnson that was so popular in the late-90s. The people I’ve come to know in recent years are folks who tend to know where cheese is at any given moment and have the resources and relationships enabling them to access it.
So here’s the question for me: Who does it cost for me to access the cheese; whose place might I be taking, or who is excluded because I am deemed more acceptable in this particular moment… and does it matter? I can stand at a distance and critique those who by birth or conniving or sweat-and-tears knew where the cheese was before me and didn’t bother to tell or told only those with whom they had affinity or made the threshold for admission too high for me to reach or had the means by which to make their own cheese…. The harder thing is to examine myself. Were Future Melvin or his children’s children able to come back in time, they perhaps wouldn’t care about the cost, only the benefit, but I do. The only moral sense (which is not quite the word) I can make of embracing the opportunities I see on the horizon is with the commitment to leverage the privilege it will afford me on the behalf of others by drawing others into it.
Notwithstanding, there are definitely other ways to hold such opportunities. Ways that exclude others, not maliciously, but exclude some nonetheless. Does it matter that continued exclusion lacks malice? Even if no one bore any hard feelings toward others because of race, gender, nationality, origin, religion or sexual identity, if those same people remained en masse for the most part to be underrepresented in the places where cheese is found or made, is that type of exclusion any less harmful. And how should one (or groups) react to being repeatedly harmed? At what point should they move to stop the harm from happening?
The part of the movie I left out earlier is that the Rainmaker came after Future Joe because Past-Present-Future Joe for the next 25 years is a mob hit man, called a looper, who on Future Joe’s original timeline had not succeeded in killing the last child but had killed the child’s mother. So when the child grew up and became the Rainmaker, he wasn’t just coming after mobsters indiscriminately, he was specifically coming after loopers who might have been the one who took his mother’s life. Is that any more wrong than the crime, the exclusion, that was perpetrated against him? Had Present Joe not finally stepped in to include the child, even at the expense of his own future happiness, I imagine that people in Future Joe’s world would have been flabbergasted at the Rainmaker’s lashing out against their loved ones, these former loopers who had now gone straight. Are we equally as blind as to believe that those who have been historically systematically excluded from our cheese making systems and structures have no cause, no rationale when they finally lash out at us?
Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I want to live a life of worth.
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I miss my friend, Troy, today. He and I hung tight for several years here in southwest Atlanta learning what it means to be men and husbands and fathers and creatives. We dreamed and hoped, created and grew, laughed and cried, triumphed and failed… together.
He and his precious family moved to Ohio last year. I try not to think of the distance, but every once and a while I do. This evening I did, so I put on some of his old music. If you haven’t found it, you should check out his most recent album, Songs to Pray By. But I reached back before that to be reminded of dreams forgotten. Here are 6 songs that spoke to me.
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I had the distinct privilege of interacting with students and faculty at Southern this past Thursday. I was invited by a new friend, Lisa Diller, a history prof par excellence whom I met along with her husband, Tommy, at the Wild Goose Festival this past summer, to offer the winter convocation for the university’s history and political studies department. I talked about pressing beyond our usual non-responses to the realization that our privileges often come at the expense of others (e.g. environmental racism). It’s a part of the list of topics I explore when it comes to sustainable living in my work with Kid Cultivators.
The response to privilege I advocated was learning to exploit our privilege on behalf of others–an intuition that arises for Christians out of the Zacchaeus and Abraham myths (myths being stories around which we organize our lives).
The visit included time to talk about food systems with Mindi Rahn‘s geography class and a tour of the new natural garden and greenhouse her classes are cultivating. What I enjoyed most was the time yappin’ with students in the lunch line and during and after lunch. It was fabulous to encounter students thinking deeply about their lives, their faith and their places in the world. Although Southern is predominately white, that more intimate time included just as many black students as white kids, which was great. I also need to shout out the SAU chapter of the Black Christian Union for promoting my time on campus and putting a good many brown faces in the audience of about 80 who packed out the lecture room in Brock Hall where we gathered. Standing room only, baby! You know how we do it!
True to form, something managed to go wrong with my video equipment right as I was getting up to speak (not to mention I somehow stabbed myself with an exacto knife as I was reaching to put my camera back in my bag). So I have no documentation of the moment, except my own memories which are clouded by everything I woulda, coulda, shoulda done differently. The footage I will post in its stead is the song I couldn’t help but play as I came over the mountain into Collegedale. Yeah it dates me and solidifies my corniness but what better song to play crossing the state line, “Tennessee…”
After that, I jumped to AD’s newest album Standing at the Crossroads to help me get up for the moment. Like me, Speech is knocking at middle age, passing back something he hopes those stepping into adulthood right behind him might find meaningful. The songs that epitomize my hope for my time with young adults is “Living” and “My Reflection”. I don’t quite bring it like this yet, but a brotha can dream. Enjoy!
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Sherry Turkle, a scientist from MIT, in conversation with Krista Tippett, noted an axiom that has become in psychology “If you don’t teach your children to be alone, they’ll only always know how to be lonely.”
I think it is also true that, if we don’t teach our children to engage lived experience by attending to what can be learned from that which doesn’t directly involve them, they’ll only always know how to be bored. My students so struggle with this. They seek to fill every pause with noise, and completely ignore anything I’m doing with another student. The ideas of overhearing or learning by observation are completely lost on them more often than not.
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Paul West of the Los Angeles Times nailed what I believe won Obama the race in 2012:
“The president built his winning coalition on a series of election-year initiatives and issue differences with Republican challenger Mitt Romney. In the months leading up to the election, Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, unilaterally granted a form of limited legalization to young illegal immigrants and put abortion rights and contraception at the heart of a brutally effective anti-Romney attack ad campaign.
“The result turned out to be an unbeatable combination: virtually universal support from black voters, who turned out as strongly as in 2008, plus decisive backing from members of the younger and fast-growing Latino and Asian American communities, who chose Obama over Romney by ratios of roughly 3 to 1. All of those groups contributed to Obama’s majority among women. (Gay voters, a far smaller group, went for Obama by a 54-point margin.)”
A college friend of mine, Travis Claybrooks, articulated it even more succinctly on his FB wall:
“The GOP has for decades dismissed the minority vote (because they didn’t need it) and thus dismissed the issues that are important to minority demographics. On Tuesday night for the very first time it bit them in the butt. Here is what the democrats understood very well and the GOP utterly failed to understand: That the sum total of the population with those minority demographics is greater than the shrinking sum of what used to be the majority demographic. Here’s the crazy thing: The same was true in 2008 and the GOP still missed it in 2012. Talk about out of touch.”
The problem is, however, that neither has figured out how not to use of the conservative language constructs of us-vs-them when naming what they see.