George and Trayvon …and Justice

Trayvon Martin Protest - Sanford
Trayvon Martin Protest – Sanford (Photo credit: werthmedia)

 

 

OK. What is self-defense?

 

In the George Zimmerman trial, the defense is that George shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense. One witness last week said that Trayvon was on top of George Zimmerman. Proof, they say, that the horrific outcome of their encounter was self-defense.

 

But this is where I get stuck.

 

How can the incident have been self defense for George Zimmerman when it is HE who apparently followed Trayvon, in spite of being told by police not to do that?  Did he get out of his car and approach Trayvon, or did Trayvon go over to his car and confront him? If  Trayvon did that, then maybe we can say George was acting in self-defense.

 

But, unless I’ve missed it, nobody has said that. In fact, nobody has said how it is that George and Trayvon got into their encounter! Trayvon wasn’t shot and found at the side of George’s car. The pair was found on the grass. If Trayvon was on top, couldn’t that be indicative of Trayvon having had to fight for his life?

 

Though the criticism of Rachel Jeantel has been met with mixed reviews, and though her appearance in court was unpolished and unsophisticated, her testimony was consistent and honest. This young woman, it seems, would have had no problem saying that Trayvon encountered George, at his car. Her testimony, to the contrary, has her saying to Trayvon, “run!”  From what I’ve read and heard so far, it just seems that George and Trayvon were fighting because George continued to follow Trayvon and finally, got out of his car. One wonders if that happened if Trayvon turned toward what was his father’s apartment, and George, fearing the teen was going to do something wrong, decided to stop him.

 

That some of the television defense attorneys seem so confident about this self-defense claim of Zimmerman is upsetting. There seems to be a great deal of disdain that the case became “political.” But the case begged closer examination from the start. In the history of law enforcement officers and black people, there have been far too many suspicious deaths and questionable arrests with no accountability from law enforcement. That ongoing reality in black, brown and poor neighborhoods has created a spirit of distrust of law enforcement …but in this case, it was law enforcement that told Zimmerman not to follow Trayvon, and it was a detective who wanted to arrest Zimmerman at the outset for manslaughter. In spite of the complaints that the case became “political,” it was a politicization that needed to happen. Zimmerman needed to be held accountable.

 

In the history of black people and the law, the latter has been woefully unjust. If one reads Michelle Alexander‘s The New Jim Crow, or reads the story of how Emmet Till‘s mother pressed for the world to see what the men who killed her son did, one gets a snippet of what has been a painful reality for black people. Historically, it didn’t matter that facts may have clearly indicated that a black person was innocent, or a law enforcement officer had clearly been wrong; blacks were declared guilty and sentenced to long prison terms or death; law enforcement officers went on doing what they had been doing. The system protected them, in a way no less heinous that the Catholic Church has protected priests who molested little boys. That is a hard reality, but a reality nonetheless. If one reads Slavery by Another Name it is again fascinating to see how black people were systematically criminalized as the Convict Lease System sought to have blacks continue to be available for hard labor, in spite of the fact that what was being done by law enforcement – in cahoots with industrial and agricultural enterprises – was illegal. Blacks do not cry salt-less tears; the pain wrought by being treated as criminals by a system which is supposed to mete out justice, is and has been, very real.

 

So, this case, in spite of the complaint of things being “political” needed to come to be. Trayvon’s parents demanded, rightfully so, that there be an arrest so that their son just didn’t disappear and be categorized as just another troubled, trouble-making black kid. Now, if this thing about self-defense can be clarified. Did Trayvon confront George at his car, or did Zimmerman get out of his car and confront Trayvon on the grass?

 

It is a small point, but one that will help some, like me, understand what really happened that evening. Without that, if Zimmerman is acquitted, there will be just another layer of hurt added to the already present history of hurt that black people have carried because of the injustice of the justice system when it comes to blacks.

 

That kind of hurt doesn’t go away. It represents a dream,deferred. The dream is that, in spite of racism, there can be justice for black people. Who was acting in self-defense, really? If we can get that cleared up, then maybe some of us who are not understanding how anyone can say that what has been described is or was a case of self-defense, can relax…and wait for justice.

 

A candid observation …

 

 
 

New Pope Caught Between Sacred Past and New Present

Pope Francis Portrait Painting
Pope Francis Portrait Painting (Photo credit: faithmouse)

The whole world rejoiced when the new pope was named, myself included. No, I am not Roman Catholic, but I looked for the white smoke, and when it showed, I rejoiced.

When former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio emerged from the security of the cardinals into the insecurity of the world, everything seemed in balance again.

Though confused as to why the Roman Catholic church continues to elect such old men to an office that has behemoth responsibility, there is something to be said about the peace that the world could possibly be feeling this morning because that important office has been filled.

Now what?

Can an old man address the newness of an old world, with old religious beliefs and practices?

It is true that the world wanted the office of pope to be filled, sooner rather than later, but the new pope has a mess awaiting him. The Roman Catholic church is in disarray, due largely to the reported incidences of sexual misconduct of priests.  That disarray is further exacerbated by the fact that the Roman Catholic church has seemed to be resistant to the way the world has changed. This is not a day and time where Catholics receive a word from the Vatican as sacrosanct, unable to be challenged.  Catholic women want to be ordained as priests. Some male priests are challenging the value of the need for priests to take vows of celebacy. More and more Catholics are speaking up for same-sex marriage, which the new pope reportedly opposes. It seems that there is a search for a new Catholic dogma and doctrinal reality, but from what has been shared about Pope Francis, it seems highly unlikely that there will be any modern or updated changes to ancient Catholic practices and beliefs.

This pope is said to be an extremely humble man, a man who gave up his house in order to live in a more modest apartment, a man who takes public transportation, and who reportedly once washed the feet of men infected with HIV/AIDS. He has a heart for the people, “the least of these,” which is endearing and encouraging to know.

But in his office as pope, it seems highly unlikely that he will be able, or even allowed, to get out and mix with the very poor and forgotten Catholics of the world. What a mark it might make on a world which is filled to the brim with countries that are severely in debt, apparently putting more stock in materialism and the acquisition of wealth, rather than with taking care of those less fortunate. In fact, in these hard economic times, lawmakers of struggling countries seem more eager to cut programs that help “the least of these,” a category of people which seems to be growing daily, than to cut into the lives of the very wealthy.

One wonders if Pope Francis will address that apparent reality? Some would ask if it’s even necessary, but in a day where morality is being investigated, especially as it regards the rights of the LGBT community and same-sex marriage, and, of course, the sexual scandals involving priests and young boys, there seems to be a need to expand the definition of morality. Surely, ignoring the poor is immoral. Surely, taking from the poor in order to protect the wealth of the wealthy is…immoral.  Will the new pope, if he believes along the lines just stated, be able to effectively communicate that widened definition of immorality to a world which isn’t all that interested in attending to the poor?

The issues before the new pope – a man enmeshed in ancient dogma which has not really helped the Catholic church in recent years – are wide and deep. Benedict remained tenaciously connected to the ancient dogma, in spite of many Catholics calling for change. Pope Francis, the first pope to take that name, and who, like so many others, has been moved by the life of Francis of Assisi, will be caught in an interesting place  between the sacred past and the formation of a new sacred present. It will be interesting to watch.

A candid observation …

Ritual vs Reponsibility

Mother Teresa of Calcutta (26.8.1919-5.9.1997)...
Mother Teresa of Calcutta (26.8.1919-5.9.1997); at a pro-life meeting in 1986 in Bonn, Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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There is something beautiful and mesmerizing about ritual, such as that we are seeing as the Roman Catholic cardinals who have processed into the Sistine Chapel, ready to begin the concave that will result in the election of a new pope.

The garb of the cardinals, their slow procession, the haunting Gregorian chants being sung, the swell of organ music…could make one settle into a spirit of piety – which I imagine people do – and actually feel closer to God for a few moments.

But ritual has its drawbacks. While many have argued that we need it, it seems not beyond the pale to believe that too many of us get seduced by ritual, leaving the work of “the church” in the dust.

We too often want to “feel holy,” but are unable and/or unwilling to “do holy,” meaning, “do” the acts and the work which bring those who are suffering into a relationship with God and a new relationship with their world.

Holy rituals, it seems, ought to inspire holy action.  The music, the prayers, the smell of candles and incense, and, finally, the taking of the Holy Eucharist, are not in place just to make humans feel good, or at least that should not be the case. All of the aforementioned ought to make humans “do” good, and “good,” for the purposes of this essay, is helping those who cannot help themselves.

My guess is that everyone reads the Bible with different eyes. Reading is as much a cultural experience as it is a scholarly venture, but when I read the first chapter of Isaiah, where Yahweh says through his prophet Isaiah: “Hear the word of the Lord…The multitude of your sacrifices, what are they to me? I have more than enough of burnt offering…Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me!…learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow,”  what seems perfectly clear to me is most probably interpreted differently by one who is from a different culture.

The old rituals are as beautiful as they are old…but they were never meant to be ends in and of themselves. What rituals, in fact, what organized religion have largely done, is boxed people into structures, bound by rules and bylaws and budget issues, leaving the “oppressed,” the “fatherless,”  and the “widow” to pretty much fend for themselves.

Someone asked me the other day, “Why, when churches,especially Catholic churches, have so much money are there so many homeless, hungry people?  Does God care about people for real?” Well, it was too loaded a question for me to answer on the spot, but that person is not the first who has asked such a question. What we forget, though, even those of us who ask those questions, is that “the church” is not a building, filled with beautiful, music-bolstered ritual, but is, rather, “we the people.” The world gets better, gets more just and right in the eyes of God by people who understand that very basic distinction and who combine faith and works.

It is easy to be cynical when we see so much suffering in the world, leading us to doubt God, or God’s presence, but the problem isn’t God. According to all I have read, God did not create nor does God require, all the ritual with which we involve ourselves. All we are required to do is “do” the work of God while we are yet alive.

Participating in ritual, though, is more fun, less time-consuming …and, well, spiritually seductive.

Discussion on this always leads to a cultural “fight” over what and who God is, and what God requires. Many will say that Jesus, sent by God, was a socialist, or at least believed in social justice as it is taught today. Others identify that same Jesus as a hard-core capitalist, come pointing to the Parable of the Talents, found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. There are the cultural “eyes” mentioned before. It is quite frustrating to both sides that the other side does not or will not “get it.”

There are so many people caught up in wretched lives, there because of a variety of reasons, but many of them for reasons over which they had little control. Like the poor in Calcutta, where Mother Teresa began her great work, there are “Calcutta” situations everywhere, and remarkably few willing to go and “live amongst” them by offering the deepest and most complete service they can. Too time-consuming. Too distasteful

So, it’s just easier to settle into a Sunday worship experience, and a little heavy ritual from time to time doesn’t hurt. It reminds us of the mysterious tremendum of God. We would rather think about that than “do holy” and minister to people who , far away from ritual, are hurting and lost. The doors of the amazing Sistine Chapel have just been closed; the work of finding a new pope has officially begun. The high ritual has ended…and the world is not changed.

A candid observation …

 

Would the World be Better Without Religion?

A report issued this week said that lobbying and advocacy by religious groups has increased by fivefold since 1970 and has become a $400 million industry.

The study, issued by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, said that religious groups are making their voices and opinions known as never before, addressing issues including abortion, marriage, the relationship between church and state, and bioethics and life issues, among others.

Religious groups include Roman Catholics, evangelical and mainline Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and other, smaller religions of this country, and all of them seek to influence both domestic and foreign policy.

But a question arises: Why? Why should religion get so heavily involved in politics and policy-making? Is there separation between church and state, or not? And, echoing a question argued this week on National Public Radio, “Would the world be better off without religion,” would it? Would there be less of a mess, less gridlock and less acrimony on Capitol Hill if religious people would simply “do God” and leave politics alone?

Some argue that there is a moral crisis in this country and in the world, and if that is the case, a co-mingling of religion and politics hardly seems the way to address and rectify the problem. Religion is supposed to be the vehicle in which rule of morality and “right behavior” are carried to people and taught. Politics, on the other hand, would scoff at such a vehicle because the aim of politics, or politicians, is to win, no matter what.

Forget the “golden rule” would seem to be the battle cry of those looking to win an election. Politicians, it would seem, push God to the periphery so that they can freely ignore all religious precepts as they go for the “big win.” The quest for salvation can come later, if at all.

There seems to be no concern for religious precepts or the will of God when it comes to politics and elections, so what are religions trying to do as they spend close to $400 million annually lobbying politicians?

In the NPR debate, which occurred on a program called “Intelligence Squared US,” a rabbi, a descendant of Charles Darwin, a philosopher and a scholar squared off over the value of religion in the world.  Predictably, the rabbi and scholar argued for the good of religion in the world, and the descendant of Charles Darwin and the philosopher saw no real need for religion.

Matthew Chapman, the great-great grandson of Charles Darwin, and A.C. Grayling,  argued against the value of religion for the world. On the cheer team for religion were Rabbi David Wolpe and Dinesh D’Souza.

Religion, the “keep-religion in the world” proponents said, organizes people “to do good things.” If that is the case, then we might assume that the lobbying going on by religious people are encouraging politicians to “do good things.” But, notes A.C. Graying, there is no one “great rule” or one model of what is good. So, what is “good” for an evangelical might not be seen as good by a Muslim, or what is lobbied as a good thing by a mainline Protestant might seem reprehensible by a Roman Catholic.

And, noted Chapman, “religion makes everyone an infidel to something.”

Those statements are baffling, seeing as how presumably there is one God who gave one blueprint of what “good things” are, but “we the people” seem to have participated in revisionist interpretation of the sacred texts, so that “we the people” decide what is “good,” according to our own values, culture and predicament, God notwithstanding.

So, what “good” are the religious groups lobbying for? What good are these religions, which have allowed so much pain, and in fact inflicted so much pain, based on their definition of “good?”  While religions are lobbying, using these millions of dollars, I find myself wondering if that money might better be spent on doing “good” for those who really need it, who have nothing to pay except extreme gratitude for being looked upon as human and worthwhile by one who says he or she loves God.

That would be a candid observation.

Would the World Be Better Without Religion? © 2011 Candid Observations