Male Illness not Mental Illness

A better ImageAnother unarmed man shot for being black and having something in his hands.  Again, police feeling threatened and ending a life with no proof or cause.

#StephonClark #SayHisName

The problem is guns. It’s not about good guys or bad guys.  It’s not about “rights”.  It’s not about safety.  It’s not even completely about race. Human beings cannot be trusted with the power over life and death.  We don’t understand what we’re doing.  Yet we have this power.  We have the power through mechanical means to end each other’s lives in an instant and we have the power through biological means to begin life.  At both ends of this spectrum, we literally and figuratively f**k it up.

But the problem with guns is that they are the phalluses of the American mentality and frankly, no one (including many women) wants to give up their dick.  The more I have to process the issues of life and death as a religious professional in the United States, the more I’m convinced that the problem is and will always be male identity and the way men are socialized to believe that we are somehow the ones responsible for who lives and who dies.  The core of the sickness of toxic masculinity is the confusion we (primarily male cisgender beings) are taught about our power based on our physical strength and our sexual anatomy and potency.  We are taught by socialization and by the history we are shown, that it is desirable to be the “winner” at all costs; we must be dominant or project dominance in some way or we have lost.  Our history books are overwhelmingly about war and conflict (physical, geographical, political, financial and now technological) and those wars are usually named for the winners.  What is more shocking is that we are taught that unhindered access to sexual pleasure (including rape) is a natural consequence or “prize” of war. Sick.

If you “win” on Wall Street, you can pay for and pay off any sexual partner you desire.  If you “win” in terms of land ownership or turf conquest, you get all the sex partners that come with it.  If you “win” in technology, you can “get the girl” even though you are a complete nerd.  The president of the United States even said this in the Access Hollywood tape “when you’re a star [a winner] they let you do it. You can do anything*.”  And he “won” our election. 

*In truth, they don’t let you do anything, he just learned to ignore them resisting in horror and disgust.

Guns are the physical symbol of this brutal masculinity.  In our current equation, having a gun says that the person with that gun has more power because they can end your life.  So everyone should have a gun and by reasonable assessment, if everyone has a gun, no one will want to use it right?  Wrong. The playground rules of male identity say that everyone having a gun means that when one person in the toxic equation sees that yours is even a little bigger or more powerful or can shoot farther than theirs, they are probably going to try to get rid of you first so they can “win”.  “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” turns into our current reality of endless school shootings, relentless fatal drug related and gang violence, domestic abuse that belies any civilized society and Stephon Clark being shot dead in his grandmother’s yard by police because they felt threatened by a cellphone.  In the most twisted way, everyone is trying to come out on top in their mind.  If you wonder why so many of the mass shooters are young white men, if you wonder why the violent drug trade in this country is overwhelmingly male dominated, if you wonder why there can even be a Martin Shkreli or a Brock Turner or a Donald Trump for that matter, don’t interrogate their “mental illness” interrogate their male illness first.

The problem is guns, and the problem is guns because they represent weaponized masculinity. God help us that we learn a different way to embody maleness because we will not fix our gun problem until we fix our guy problem first.

An Age of Enlightenment


Paris in Morning

Sleep now.
The city of lights has gone out.
The shining beacon
The guide through the night
Of our fantasies, gone.
The Tour looms
A sleeping dark giant
The only sound, the wind in its frame.
The Arc is heavy
And silent and grave
A tomb for the gaiety
Lost in one day.
The metro is still,
The Opéra is dim,
And Our Lady sleeps
And weeps in the stillness
As she wades through the Seine.

And so you too are gone,
My light, my love
My shining beacon
Who guided me through this night called life.
My city of lights has gone out
Yet, once again it is dawn
And the morning has begun.

(For the people who lost loved ones in the recent Paris attack.)

Seeing the images from Paris makes me weep.  I’m brought back to that day when I was standing on a London street watching the twin towers collapse.  Or the summer in DC when I heard of the London bombings…or Madrid…or the Boston Marathon.  I find myself, as a spiritual leader and writer asking so many questions.  What are we fighting? Do we even know?  Why?

I am also a student of the Enlightenment.  As such, I have learned that during the 16th – 18th centuries, “identity” became fixed in the Western world as something that could not only be personally defended, but as something that could be collectively defended and celebrated as a “nation.” In an age where we saw the birth of “race,” “nationalism” and “political parties” these social constructs took on the functions that had previously been ascribed only to religion and family. This development of national “identities” created the foundation for the current state of war in which we exist.

The horror and grief over the Paris attacks is extremely accessible to us in the US.  Not only as a result of the 9/11 attacks, but as a Western nation who’s identity is in large part directly a result of the French identity, we feel this pain immediately. But ISIS is not playing the same game of “identities.” Theirs is not, as some would have us believe, a simple question of wanting to supplant the French or even Western identity. Theirs is a question of a total world view and I believe is rooted in the broader question of how they see existence. Most unfortunately, this idea about existence and the nature of human life on earth for them is rooted in their gross mis-interpretation of Islam.  We must be clear, the people behind this violence are not evil because of Islam. Rather, they are using Islam for evil purposes. To grasp this concept, you might consider turning the situation around and thinking of an organization or ideology like the Westboro Baptist Church or even the KKK.  Both are legal organizations in the United States, and both organizations would happily exterminate those who do not believe as they do (in the supremacy of white heteronormative Christianity.) A homegrown terrorist like Dylann Roof should be a reminder to us that there is little difference between ISIS and the Aryan Nation.

But, religion, specifically Islam, is not the problem here. The problem is fundamentalism that we have in part learned from religion.  Yet,  fundamentalism does not need a religion to hang itself from…although it has clearly been done in the past and will surley be done in the future. In our increasingly secular world, religion has frequently been supplanted by everything from capitalism to liberalism to atheism and even vegetarianism. The term “fundamentalism” must be viewed through a broader modern lens and as a result our current state of crisis must be as well. We are choosing the language and the tactics of “war” to counter a “nation” that is not fighting a “war” with us as much as it is reinforcing its view of existence. This is in no way an apology for ISIS/ISIL.  On the contrary, it is a call to action for us to be truly smart in how we prevent any further senseless loss of life.

The call to action will begin with the right conversation and the right questions.  Why are Western targets being attacked; why is this extremism attractive to young people, abroad and at home; why do the leaders feel like this kind of violence is productive to their ends; who are the targets…really? Part of the right conversation forces us to examine where we stand in terms of our own Western “fundamentalism” and what role we play in this conflict. No one is entirely free from accountability. We don’t want to see innocent people blown up and gunned down, but we tolerate regular mass shootings because gun companies want to make money.  We want to shelter refugees from “radical Islam” but we squabble over how to provide refugees from our own border the same protection.  We talk about police brutality and race and give little or no protection transgender people who are targeted simply for being alive.  We are horrified by the violence of people blowing up ancient shrines, yet we carved of Mt Rushmore into a sacred Native site and continue to desecrate native land for oil. We criticize somem cultures for oppressing women in the style of dress but we live in a nation that lets men legislate women’s bodies.  We cry “All Lives Matter” in a nation where blacks are 12 times as likely to be murdered than whites.

ISIS is completely and utterly wrong in what they have done. There is no excuse for the attacks in Paris or the other sickening global violence inspired and perpetuated by both ISIS/ISIL and Boko Haram. They are not Islam.

But in our response as “Western nations” we must remember that the only true victims are the dead and those they loved.