This morning, I could write about the sickness of gun culture. I could write about the incompetent presidential administration. I could write about another nation working to sew discord in ours. I could write about yet another white mass murderer captured alive. I could write about politicians who value job security over lives. I could write about many things for many people…
But today, I’m writing specifically to the people of color in my chosen faith tradition of Unitarian Universalism asking us all to invest in better direct communication with one another. I believe that we are uniquely positioned to lead the change that the world needs to embrace. We have the creativity, the diverse and divergent views that don’t abandon each other in crisis and frankly we have the trans-generational resilience to stick it out, however long the struggle takes. If we want to see a healthier world, it must begin somewhere and I believe it can begin with us.
I am a casual student of the history of war. I am fascinated by the human desire to destroy the one thing that we all share…life. In that study, I have learned that the primary difference between warfare before WWI and afterward was the proximity of combat. WWI was the first widespread use of weaponry that allowed for anonymous killing. Machine guns, more powerful rifles, advanced bombing techniques and air power allowed mass killing to be faceless. Although there were plenty of horrifically deadly conflicts prior to “The Great War” none had previously been so impersonal.
As I see it, the latest iteration of that anonymous battlefield has become social media.
My personal prayer is that Unitarian Universalist people of color learn to lead the way in detoxifying our own discourses, de-emphasizing the veil of social media and remembering that if it can be said on a smartphone through Twitter, Facebook or YouTube, it can also be said by dialing someone’s number and talking directly to them. And even if it is not about talking in real time, or face to face, we can at least work to recapture the art of deep listening in social media spaces. I am not “calling out” any specific situation or person/people. I have been wrestling with this for a few years now. What is more, I also acknowledge that everyone has different ways of communicating for any number of reasons both physical and technological. But none of us can afford to forget that people of color have already had their faces and their identities too frequently erased by the dominant culture. It does none of us any good to be doing it to ourselves whether it be by shutting each other down, shutting each other out, or shutting each other up. We have an opportunity to model the multi-cultural, interfaith world that everyone else just talks about as a pipe dream. But we must actually be in conversation with each other in order to do so.
Starve the sickness of self-righteousness; feed the fever of love.
While I was waiting for my laundry to finish this morning, I sat in my car writing. Across the street from the laundromat is a residential care facility. I’ve often sat in this spot and I watched as women, who I will assume are mostly Muslim (by their headgear) and possibly immigrants, walk in to this facility also wearing the typical care facility garb of scrubs and comfortable shoes. This morning, I realized that in all the time I’ve looked at this place, it hadn’t registered in me that there are people living there, and possibly living out the end of their lives there. I thought of the vibrant world around this place: gentrifying hipsters, long time black, Latino and Asian families, young people on skateboards, politics, street fairs, muggings, joggers, commuters, busses, bikes, all literally passing this place by and with it the people inside. The women in scrubs, caring for each, maybe doing their jobs well, maybe not
, but doing what they can to both earn a living and to actually accomplish some small part of caring for someone who cannot care for themselves. And it made me cry.
There was a recent article (PolicyMic, May 15 2014 – Eileen Shim) that looked at the quality of tears based on why they were being shed. Rose-Lynn Fisher goes into wonderful detail of this phenomenon on her website. As I recall there were several types that were easily identifiable, but never did it mention the tears of mixed emotions. My tears would have been a good sample for this. Seeing this care facility, my tears were angry…that there weren’t bigger windows or more family visiting; my tears were touched by the dedication of the staff who may not be making more than minimum wage to deal with the messy bodies and emotions of the sick and dying; my tears were filled with sadness…for the families that had been lost by the people inside, whether physically or lost in the lack of commitment from others for their care; and my tears were the memories of having seen my own mother in such a care facility.
The first shooting death of 2014 in Oakland was a 13 year old boy.
When I was a little boy, I was a “cry baby.” I was constantly criticized for responding to every challenge and every confrontation no matter how small, with tears. It was eventually impressed upon me that this was inappropriate behavior for a “man” and I remember consciously turning off that part of my reaction and suppressing my tears, adding a healthy dose of guilt and shame to my natural reaction. Nevertheless, I learned how to be remote and stoic. Never mind that I also became an enormously angry teenager who channelled that anger into compulsive and destructive levels of over achievement, often pushing himself well beyond his physical limits. Never mind too that I developed esophagitis and the early stages of an ulcer.
All of this changed a few years later one day in college when the movie Diva was shown on campus. In the scene where “La Diva” and the young man walk around Paris to the haunting melody by Vladimir Cosma (Sentimental Walk) there was something triggered in me; the combination of the tune, with the lonely light and the two characters in their shared isolation…it made me bust out sobbing. It was the first time I had really cried in 7 or 8 years and something in me said that I shouldn’t let it be the last.
Having so consciously cut this part of myself off and then just as consciously reclaiming it, I have thought a great deal about what happens inside me when I cry ever since. Something happens within all of us when we cry. I suppose we try to hide it because it can be as intimate yet universal as a sexual orgasm. It bubbles to the surface, it swells and wells up until it bursts in us and we can’t and don’t want to stop it. Yet, terrifyingly, it can also feel so much like falling. There is an uncontrollable feeling of cascading that comes with surrendering to the emotions that bring tears. But where do we land? This is the trouble for men. Our culture doesn’t tell boys and men that it will catch them when they fall down this well of tears. In so many ways, men are asked to bargain with society in order to justify their emotions and that bargain rarely includes tears.
Tears for Western men are a sign of weakness; that is, not being physically strong enough to overcome the emotional tide of tears is contradictory to our misshapen male identity. With the extreme emphasis put on men to have a monosyllabic physical strength, there is no place for that strength to be vulnerable. Be strong = hit, push, run, jump, lift. But if that physicality shows any opening to the inner world (dance, sway, rock, hug, kiss) our culture looks at it as a hole that should be plugged, like an opening in the hull of a boat.
74 school shootings in 18 months; almost all young white males; mostly teenagers; We are training killers.
I remember well the feeling I had in high school before my Diva moment. I used the word “trapped” to describe it. I felt as if there was no way out, that even once I graduated, I would be stuck in a way of living, on a path that I hadn’t chosen. Always, I had this feeling as if I was supposed to be living up to an ideal “male” pattern that I increasingly didn’t fit within/live up to. I hated that feeling. I imagine that with all of the images of “ideal” men with all of the talk about what men are supposed to be and with all the competition for increasingly fewer resources of all kinds, young men today must be in a constant dance between devastation and desperation. I can’t imagine being told to not cry in those circumstances.
But, we are too familiar now with the images of fathers crying on newscasts; the fathers of teenage boys who have been existing in today’s pressure cooker of a world, being told to “suck it up” and “man up”, not maybe in so many words, but in the shape of a world that still looks to Superman as the male ideal. We are all guilty of creating this generation of murderers. Every time we defend a classic “strong silent” type or tell a boy to be a “man” and assume that that means somehow acting less vulnerable. Every time we look the other way when a parent puts a tool instead of an experience in a boys hands….a bat instead of a flower. Every time we joke with our teenage boys about objectifying girls and women. Every time we use the word “fag” as a term of derision; and definitely every time we tell a boy or a man either through our own embarrassment or actual words to stop crying.
1 Samuel 20:41 – After the boy had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together – but David wept the most.
The Bible is full of men crying and expressing themselves. I don’t recall a single passage where the Bible says “thou shalt not show emotion if you have a penis.” Quite the opposite. Men express joy and love (even for one another) and frequently cry to God, to Christ, with other men with women…
How can we re-imagine a male equation that no longer holds on to emotion? Like canned goods in the sun, boys and men without emotional outlets (beyond anger) are bound to explode some day: maybe in dangerous behavior, or in aggression toward those who are weaker, or in a career spent proving ones “manhood” over and over and over again. Or maybe they will literally explode in the chamber of a gun.