Monday, September 21, 2015

The Ballad of Roger Fuckedbythenavele

In order to understand the following ballad, you need to read this piece in the Washington Post.

An old high school chum posted the article to his Facebook and lamented a lack of reference to the outlaw Roger Fuckedbythenavele in heraldry. I was up for the challenge:

The Ballad of Roger Fuckedbythenavele

Gather 'round ye lads and lasses
Pull up your chair and fill up your glasses
And I shall sing of a man ye knew well
The brigand they called Fuckedbythenavele

He bargained a deal with the village's whore
"I'll pay ye a pence and not one farthing more"
She agreed to the price and he gave out a yell
"All shall soon know the name Fuckedbythenavele!"

She laid on the mattress and lifted her skirt
He pulled down his breeches, unbuttoned his shirt
And as he prepared to give her all hell
He cried, "Ye'll always remember Fuckedbythenavele"

But the room was as dark as a coal-digger's arse
And young Roger's bluster was nothing but farce
He thrusted and wiggled and fumbled pell mell
And that is the legend of Fuckedbythenavele.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

All The Difference

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death today.

The process begins the infamous Boston Marathon Bomber’s death march. At some point years from now the government will strap Tsarnaev to a gurney, put a needle in his arm, and end his life.
I oppose the death penalty. I believe that the United States should abolish the practice. I believe capital punishment is more about exacting revenge than it is about administering justice. I don’t overlook the pain and suffering endured by those who were killed, maimed and injured by the bombs of the Tsarnaev brothers. I don’t overlook the grief felt by the families of those who died on April 15, 2013. But I believe in the power of grace and mercy to change lives. Tsarnaev must pay for his act. But might grace and mercy in this case prevent similar acts in the future? Might grace and mercy have prevented April 15, 2013 in the first place?

Last week another pathetic, misguided young man entered a church in Charleston, South Carolina and murdered nine innocent lives. His motives were based in bigoted fear. But after the act we learned that Dylann Roof spent nearly an hour inside the Emanuel AME Church and nearly changed his mind because the parishioners had welcomed and been kind to him.

In the courtroom today Tsarnaev spoke publicly for the first time since his trial began. He affirmed his admission of guilt. He told the court that through the process of his trial he “met” his victims. They became people to him; people with names and faces and families. He apologized for his actions. He expressed remorse.

Both Tsarnaev and Roof were “radicalized” online. They withdrew from wide social interaction and steeped themselves in doctrines of hate easily found online. They fed their fears and paranoia until they were ready to lash out in hate. But when that hate met humanity things changed. Too late in Tsarnaev’s case and not enough in Roof’s, but a change occurred just the same.

Both experiences seem to suggest that if people can be radicalized online, they can be reformed offline—in the real world of human relationships and interpersonal interaction. When we get to know others, things change. It changes from Us versus Them and becomes Me and You.

Perhaps we should challenge ourselves to meet someone new this week; someone who doesn’t look like the person we see when we look in the mirror. Or maybe simply perform an act of kindness for that person. Open a door, yield at the crosswalk, smile at them and say “hello” as you pass on the sidewalk. You may think it silly, but to that person it may make a difference.

And if it makes any difference, it might make all the difference.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

For Charleston and our Nation: Greater Love Hath No Man

In the wake of a hateful lunatic’s horrific attack on innocent, loving people practicing and studying their faith during a midweek Bible study in Columbia, South Carolina, a great deal of attention has turned to the symbolism of the Confederate battle flag that still flies over the Palmetto State.

There is something to the question of what message is conveyed by flying a banner that many associate with the South’s long and violent history of slavery, segregation and racial bigotry. It’s easy to sit here from my home in New England and look with condescending judgment below the Mason-Dixon Line and congratulate myself for having been born on the right side of that cultural boundary. But if we are to give credence to the idea that such symbols play a role in sustaining animosity in the hearts and minds of cretins who remain convinced the color of their skin imbues them with any measure of value beyond the content of their character, should we not look for and root out all such symbols not just from above Columbia, but from our national landscape?

America is in its fifteenth year of war and armed conflict in the Middle East. However that period of conflict began, the lust with which we have continued the armed campaign and justified broadening the scope of violent intervention from its start in Afghanistan into Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, Syria and Somalia—and threatening military action against Iran—sends a message to the world that our differences are best resolved at the end of a gun.

The United States currently has 2.2 million people behind bars. Our prison population is the highest of any country in the world and accounts for nearly ¼ of all the world’s prisoners. Our per capita rate of incarceration is second only to tiny Seychelles. The rapid growth of our prison population is not because of an increase in violent crime, but because of an increase of drug offences, the defunding of mental illness treatment programs and the closing of mental hospitals, and our politically-fueled desire to “get tough” on crime by passing mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders. Our criminal code sends the message that our differences are best resolved behind high walls.

The United States and Belarus are the only remaining countries in Europe and the Americas that exercise the death penalty. Thirty five people in 2014 and thus far in 2015 (as of June 18) seventeen have been put to death here. In Asia the death penalty is still law in 38 nations (most of which are either Islamic or autocratic) and actively used in 15. Only China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and North Korea killed more prisoners than the U.S. In Africa the death penalty is legal in 35 countries but last year only four used it. The death penalty sends a message that our differences are best resolved at the end of a needle.

The ubiquity of video on social media has resulted in a steady stream disturbing images that seem to show police resorting to the use of force—sometimes deadly—as their first resort, even under questionable circumstances. Recent high profile cases such as the deaths of Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio and Walter Scott in Charleston, South Carolina, as well as the overreaction of an officer responding to a pool party in McKinney, Texas have added to the growing perception of institutional racism within the ranks of law enforcement. The message seems to be that, when differences arise, violence is the first, best response.

Divisive political brinksmanship, played out each day on our televisions, newspapers and web sites, suggests that there is no more appetite in this country for civil dialog or respectful cooperation among people with differences of opinion. Instead we have mean-spirited, all-or-nothing negotiations stoked with heated rhetoric by politicians who seek to gain political leverage by fomenting an “us-versus-them” mentality among those who identify closely with one partisan ideology over another. The message is clear: when it comes to ideology, winning—at whatever cost—is how we determine right from wrong.

War, prison, execution, institutional brutality and the practice of partisan politics are indelible symbols that pervade our culture today. For those with weak, desperate and malleable minds who feel they are out of options for resolving their differences with others, what have they seen from Washington, D.C. or any of fifty state capitals that would cause them to temper their baser impulses? Why are we surprised to learn of more deaths?

Even if the Stars and Bars come down in South Carolina, what will we have accomplished if we fail to address these larger symbols of the way we do things around here? And if there are symbols that can encourage violence, what about those that do the opposite?

Even as one hurtful symbol yet flies above the city of Charleston, another is emerging from the sorrow of a congregation in mourning. I wept when I heard daughters and mothers and family members of the nine victims repeating the phrase “I forgive you” to the individual responsible for their grief.

"I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you.”

“You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people but God forgives you, and I forgive you."

“I forgive you and my family forgives you.”

Reverend Clementa Pinckney, murdered by a man he and his flock had welcomed into their spiritual home, had so clearly taught his congregation the message of the power of love and forgiveness that it would be a national embarrassment if the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, its nine martyrs and their strong, magnificent families did not become the enduring symbol that shows us the way forward. They, against all human instinct and impulse, have chosen a better way. Let us all determine to choose that way as well.

“Greater love hath no man…”

Reverend Clementa Pinckney
Reverend Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
Cynthia Hurd
Susie Jackson
Ethel Lee Lance
Reverend DePayne Middleton-Doctor
Tywanza Sanders
Reverend Daniel Simmons
Myra Thompson

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Numbers and Words

Numbers and Words

The scientist on my television screen
Said in the precision of numbers
Is a key that unlocks mysteries
Reveals worlds unseen
Beyond the lenses of Hubble
Beyond the antennas of Arecibo
Beyond the sensors of CERN
Dark matter
Spoken in a language
That is a mystery
Unlocked by the
Precision of words
Written by poets

Friday, April 17, 2015

Boston Strong? (Boston Marathon, 2015)

Boston Strong?

What you saw
What you lost
Was seen in
The emptiness of eyes
That had no image
Heard in a voice
That had no words
Adequate to purge
A heart that tried
To contain the agony of a city
                Even Our Fucking City
That could not understand

Tee shirts and slogans have their place
But are not adequate to fill
A void once occupied

Boston Strong?
Not strong enough
For you
Who stood at the line
On a day when
Our tradition became
Your tragedy

Friday, April 10, 2015

How and Why?

How and Why?

Your questions Why
Lurking behind every new encounter
Surprising experience
Challenging jaundiced eyes to see
The surrounding marvel

Have become How
To solve
To improve
To change
To go beyond
To challenge yourself to see
And marvel and what might be