The unliberated Christmas tree

I attended Brandeis University in the early 70s. For my freshman year, there was some controversy about the mass acceptance of “townies” – those from the same town of Waltham, MA – into the school. I knew of no one who applied who did NOT get accepted. It was hypothesized that the school wanted to make some amends for recent political stirrings on campus. Anti-war sentiments were very high at the school, and among the offshoots of those leanings came a group of students who robbed a Boston bank and killed a police officer. They intended to use the stolen $26,000 they gained to overthrow the US government.

I am very grateful for the blessing of attending the school; it was a great experience. It was agreed that I should live on campus, at least originally, and so I moved into a dorm room in September 1971. My roommate was Oliver, a gay Puerto Rican man from Brooklyn. Getting to know him and both communities he represented was a very rich part of my time at Brandeis.

Among the Latinos I befriended were many who had not just liberal, but radical politics. Hailing from some of the most repressive nations in the Western Hemisphere, many of them had family or friends wiped out by those regimes. They were also largely anti-American, at least anti-American government (in that they were in the right school). They were uniformly poor people by US standards. Yet intelligent and good students. Many had lived in NYC, though some came from Latino communities in the south. They were almost all on hefty scholarships, which I thought and still think was great.

I remember one instance when the older brother of one of my friends came to visit the school. A strong anti-government, anti-establishment discussion was brewing and I recall his objection, saying “No! I love my boss. I have a good job and it pays for my family to eat and someday my children will go to a school like this and I will pay for it!” He was regaled by most as a traitor to his people and culture, though his point was made nonetheless.

Most of all, I remember the love.  They would address each other and speak of another in the third person as ‘dito Lydia, ‘dito Edwin.  It was short for “bendito” – blessed.  The closest thing to it in English would be “dear” or “dearest” which was and is so foreign to common speech as to invite skepticism or even ridicule.  But it was completely authentic – they meant it.  From the heart.  And then they started to call me ‘dito John.  It was so beautiful it made me cry.   I had taken Spanish in high school, so I knew a little of it.  But I never heard “simpatico” used in a sentence.  Though it sounds like “sympathetic” it is much more than that.  It’s love that condescends without shaming or belittling.  Today I would say it’s Jesus coming to earth and dying for us.

Part of their culture, part of their group mindset, held that stealing was okay. They reasoned that since everything good in life was out of reach financially, they were themselves the victims of theft, so “liberating” (code for stealing) goods was perfectly ethical. And they would have actual examples of being targeted by agents of “the system” that were perfect descriptions of corrupt government and policing. So, they would sometimes show me clothing they had left on while in the changing rooms at clothing stores, sneaking it out under their outer clothing. And they had other methods.

Since I was a townie with occasional means of transportation, I would act as chauffeur to my friends, though they would humor my gringo presence well enough. We loved each other; let’s be plain about that. I don’t remember whose idea it was – certainly not mine – that my family car would serve as a getaway vehicle for the liberating of a Christmas tree, but it somehow blossomed into a plan without my having much say in it.  The dorm had a need, and no one had the money so ..

I believe it was a Sunday night that we were to do the deed, and we pulled up to the unguarded lot where the trees were. Suddenly I was unanimously nominated to do the actual stealing. It was a moment of truth for me – a true double bind. I wanted these people to be my friends but come on, I’m no thief. Part of the latter conviction came from the grace of getting caught 100% of the times I had tried to steal as I grew up. And I didn’t share the same mentality about theft.

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The Christmas tree remained unliberated.  And I guess I let them down.

My parents later revoked my rights to using the family station wagon to drive anyone around, another grace.

Given today’s biggest qualification – back then it didn’t matter to anyone – I have no idea as to their legal immigrant status at the time. Many were Puerto Rican and were certainly allowed to live in the US.

But I will say this. I loved and still love these people. Stealing is wrong, not because you might get caught. And if your politics justifies it, you need to adjust your politics.

Proverbs 6:30-31 Men do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving.   Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold, though it costs him all the wealth of his house.

That is, though there exist reasons that people might resort to theft, it is wrong.  Period.

As a result of knowing my friends in school, I do understand that mentality. They weren’t making up their stories of poverty. Nor were they trying to establish their culture or Spanish language over English. They were just struggling for an identity as a people – without shame and without stigma.

Much later I would learn about a theological branch called Liberation Theology.  Even in that, I would learn, there is imbalance and a hardened, corporate victim mentality.  The balance is that God does move on the hearts of people to help the poor.

Though I have lost touch with them all (that actually happened by senior year), in my little way, I was glad to give my friends my love. And I was glad I chickened out with that Christmas tree, because that was a small gift to them as well.


Can we learn from Bruchko? Please?

We have just celebrated the American holiday of Thanksgiving.  Along with the general attitude of gratitude suggested by the holiday is a the history of least a single point-in-time harmony of Europeans and Native Americans.  The image of the two groups in fellowship, enjoying a share meal is seared into the minds of young American children from early age.  And it’s not that inaccurate:

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But it’s also not complete as a story.  Because the whole story mostly features the two group not getting along well at all.

Native Americans were misnamed “Indians” by the wave of southern European explorers who found themselves landing in the shores of the Americas. “America “ itself was a name bestowed upon the new world, after the explorer Amerigo Vespucci.

By most DNA and historical analysis, the tribal groups inhabiting the Americas at the time of the “discovery” by Europeans had migrated from eastern Asia thousands of years earlier. Their distinction as the earliest inhabitants establishes a context for what would follow, but their real origin makes the moniker “Native American” a bit less sticky.

Whoever or whatever existed in the American continents prior to their arrival would be more “native” than they. This does nothing to soften the horrible tale of brutality later practiced against them. I mention their origin only to note that their discovery and settlement of the same land traveling from the east had at least the same aspect of people movement as that of the discovery and settlement from the west by Europeans. And we’ll never know what else it had in common.

I have thought and hard about how the ensuing conflict between the two cultures could have been avoided or lessened. Aside from the Europeans sailing back and leaving the Americas and their residents alone – maybe establishing trade partnerships, say – there was going to be conflict. Consider:

  • The Europeans who came to the New World were discoverers and settlers. Negatively they could be called conquerors, though the European version of conqueror was quite different than these settlers. They were not diplomats or people sensitive to other cultures. There were traders for sure, and perhaps these were the most likely strike a harmonious balance with the indigenous people.
  • Cultures were going to clash. There were many difference, but the principle one causing conflict concerned land. Owning and permanently settling on land was a foreign concept to Native Americans. And restrictions of where could live, hunt, fish and farm were also foreign.
  • There was a profound technological advantage. There has been much said and written about the forgotten (or repressed) advances of the Native American people. In spite of this, the Europeans held a 800-1500 year advantage in development upon their arrival. I do not say that to say that made them better as a people group, though that’s exactly what they concluded. The racist attitudes created an atmosphere that squelched any move for reconciliation.

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Now, Native Americans were not the only people treated poorly by the westward moving whites. Mexicans, Asians and Africans also received prejudice and brutal abuse.

So, beginning with King Phillip’s War, there would be conflicts between the peoples. The Europeans prevailed, supplanting their culture over the land. It is in the wake of that prevalence after conflict that we live today. It can also be said that the conflict is not over – there have been skirmishes that persist even today.

Native American population is thought to have decreased from 12 million to about 250 thousand by the end of the 19th century. Most of the decrease is attributed to disease, but loss of life due to conflict and relocation was awful.

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Saying that conflict was inevitable is not to say that cruelty or maltreatment was. The war had atrocities like many others, and after a point, neither side cared much about the culture or even survival of the other.

There have long been voices calling for restitution and restoration but I would hold that neither can occur without allowing Native American culture to dominate, at least provincially.  And yes, that means the war for cultural dominance is still with us.

I will assign value to advancement in technology for the benefit of people without it, divorced from its often-linked cultural domination. Some might call this culturally insensitive; I really just want the best for all people. I believe that the advancement of the human race through innovation and invention is a blessing for all humankind. And yes, not all technology is good or used well, of course. Like all people who are exposed to new things, we do well to be suspicious of the motives and practices of those introducing us to new things.

So how can Culture A be brought up to speed with the blessings of Culture B? And how can the differing elements of culture be reconciled?

I thought about this and one story came to mind.

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It was Bruchko – the story of Bruce Olson who sought out a reclusive tribe of Native South Americans in Venezuela – the Motilones – and not only brought them into the 20th century, but made them a political force to be reckoned with in the nations of Venezuela and Colombia. They kept their land and evolved their way of live mostly peaceably.

And please, if you assign him a stereotyped role as “missionary” you will miss a very important story of compassion and cultural sensitivity.

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How can this story help us today with Native Americans in the US? I don’t know, but I want to believe it can be done. Because it has been done.

Online friends – a brief synopsis

It’s an interesting study in social media interaction that chronicles patterns in people’s interactions:

  • There are some “Friends” who want to hear nothing from you – literally. It’s like “Disgust” from Inside Out is in full force whenever you dare like or comment on anything they write.

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  • This is not to be confused with those who spew – who write only to perform one-way communication. They are shocked with ANY interaction; it’s not part of their expectations or established protocol.
  • There are those who have their suspicions up, knowing your demographics more than they know you. These are the tribalists, who ostensibly have no real friends, only fellow tribes-people and occasional coverts.
  • And this is not to forget those who seek validation by “Likes” (or Twitter Favorites) and replies. These folks live in manic/depressed emotional tumult governed by who is online and reading (and caring about) their stuff. Often, these people vent publicly about situations and people that no one else knows about and who will never read their rantings.

The phenomenon of people writing what they would never say is in full gear online and venting, trolling and ad hominem discourse is unfortunately commonplace.

But the feel-good story of social media is the way family get acquainted, old friends reconnect and new ones are made, legitimately, openly and honestly. That’s the way I try to play and why I like an online existence.

Misogyny, misandry and misnaming real demons

The Elliot Rodger video made before the recent Santa Barbara shootings has inflamed the tribes.  It was bound to happen since it was abusive and selfish and articulated a voice that many have seen in themselves and others.  He could not understand why no women wanted him, though all reports are that he was a loner who would not allow himself to be wanted in any case.

In the ministry circles I have walked in is a group of specialists in a ministry called “deliverance”.   Their activities range from finding and removing demons that plague people all kinds of ways (and thus, get named by their activity as in “demon of lust”) to outright exorcism of demons that literally possess people.  Of course if you debunk the importance of that ministry, guess why?  Right .. you have a demon.

I don’t want to discount this activity, because I do believe in a personal devil and have seen demonic activity – stuff that can only be attributed to evil that has an external source.  Not that I believe people are incapable of evil in their own right and volition – they are capable of immense evil and they do it regularly.  But we ALL are, I insist, sinners in need of a Savior.

But let’s get back to Rodger.  It is the song of the #yesallwomen camp that his demons – which they would not necessarily call spiritual at all but rather a set of attitudes – exist in all men.  Or at least that all men are responsible for the atmosphere of entitlement and demand for gratification Rodger articulated in his video.

And of course there commences and there sustains the gender wars.

Hunger –> Loathing

All humans have desires.  They can be towards self or they can be altruistic, toward others.  And all humans have needs.  And the needs people identify and satisfy are almost all towards self – not that there aren’t needs towards others, they just remain unidentified or secondary.

It’s sometimes hard to make the distinction between a desire and a need and I guess I’d say that desires can accumulate and produce, in sum, a need, though it’s scarcely a formula.

When needs or desires go unsatisfied, hunger develops – and please allow me to use the analogy of food here.  If that hunger persists a person becomes malnourished and sick.

What Rodger needed, and didn’t get, wasn’t a girlfriend or sex.  He needed friends.  Good friends.  Friends that loved him for who he was.  Some could be women, but mostly they had to care.  He had none and so he hungered and got sick.  Yes, that’s my autopsy of a dead shooter.

People who hunger that way turn to all kinds of things to fill themselves.  In the worst cases they turn to hatred, deciding since they’ve been deprived of what they needed – that deprivation is permanent and there is nothing to be done about it except something terminal and (sometimes) violent.

Now, the target of that loathing goes two basic ways – out and in.  For every Elliot Rodger who lashed out there are thousands who “lash in” – with sinking depression and a gradual or sudden plan to do self-harm via suicide.

And THAT – the loathing, the conclusion that one’s hungry state is permanent – is the real demon here.

Not misogyny, not misandry (look it up, it’s just as bad a problem as the former, more famous gender loathing).

Truly, one can find men and women who are utterly selfless and loving towards the opposite gender.   That’s how I want to be towards my friends who happen to be women.

And there are the tribes

And one can find examples of the opposite, tribalists who find a fatal flaw in those who are different.   It’s always to promote the tribe into supposed superiority.  And the loathing unifies the tribe, takes it to war, populates death camps, sends nations to war.

Tribes must exist to fill one of the hungers we have – for fellowship and community.

But tribes can get hungry too.  For validation, prominence and power.  None of those is bad, but when they don’t come, the same loathing patterns develop.

Now what/so what?

If I know an Elliot Rodger, I need to let him know I care.  Somehow, at some time.   He needs to know he matters and he has potential.

If I know a Rebecca Sedwick or Megan Taylor Meier or Nigel Hardy or any of a thousand others that are out there for every Elliot Rodger, I need to let them know I care.   I need to use the same social media that the enemy will use and tell them they’re cool and desirable as people.  They’re dying for friends and affection.

It’s not easy; these people are reclusive (very hesitant to open up), scary, angry and/or  just not nice.  But they are are a lot less scary without guns than with them.  Or they have a veneer of smiles and pleasant demeanor but inside be a lonely, loathing wretch.

THAT’s when they need to have their real hunger fulfilled.

Jesus said it

John 13:34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

And He loves us like no one else.