So much has been going on recently—not just in my own life, but in the world at large—that I have been too overwhelmed to write about it all. I have begun and abandoned several posts in the last couple of weeks. But keeping all this swirl of thoughts, feelings, and opinions inside is not healthy. Neither would a primal scream about all the hate, bigotry, greed, selfishness, or other negatives I see around me be a sufficient relief. As a self-professed thinker and writer, I must find a way to speak out about the issues that have robbed me of sleep until the wee hours of the morning; caused me to engage in vigorous conversations with family and friends; made me want to holla; and tried my patience. As always, my hope is that my words will spark positive, constructive, thoughtful discussion and action among you the readers, as well as myself.
Part I: How Can the World Go from Celebrating the Life of Muhammed Ali on Friday to Mourning a Massacre the Very Next Day?
Like so many people, I was enthralled, joyful, hopeful, proud, and humbled to witness the Homegoing Services for Ali on Friday, June 10. To understand the breadth and depth of the contributions of peace, love, and understanding to the world made by this singular, forthright, prescient (I am black and pretty) African-American man—first as a boxer, then as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War (and, more broadly, all war), later as an Ambassador for Peace for the United States, and finally, as an ambassador for humanity as he wrestled with his own debilitating illness of Parkinson’s—filled my heart with admiration and resolve to continue my own life journey with a similar generosity of spirit. Just because it is the Right Thing to Do.
In this spirit of unity, I shared an Instagram photograph (https://www.instagram.com/p/BGftmTkurcL/) that was posted on Facebook, depicting the welcoming of Muhammed Ali into the fellowship of Heaven by the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcom X, Prince, Michael Jackson, and other heroes of my lifetime—all of whom promoted respect, tolerance, and peace among all peoples. Only to see a commenter denounce the photograph because Muhammed Ali was a Muslim and therefore should not be so depicted. My mind dismissed this point of view as narrow-minded and totally oblivious to the open and inclusive point of the photograph, which mirrored the openness and inclusiveness of the Homegoing Service itself—which, by the way, Ali himself had planned!
Little did I know, then, that within hours of my Facebook share, a deranged man, also of the Islamic religion, would commit a massacre against the LGBTQ community of Orlando, Florida. But one of the first things that came to my mind after this horrific act of terrorism was that this is June—in Islam, the holy month of Ramadan; and in the LGBTQ community, Gay Pride Month. A time of great importance to two groups of human beings. It took me awhile to understand the portent of this timing.
I am a Child of God. I profess the Christian faith. But I do not believe that my path is the only path to God; He created all of humanity and is therefore above and beyond our petty divisions and limited understanding. Therefore, I respect all religions, because they all share a belief in a Higher Power that asks humans to seek Light—to aspire to be peaceful, loving, just, and respectful of each other and of the world. By inviting faith leaders from every major religion to speak at his Homegoing Service, Muhammed Ali validated my Spirit.
Unfortunately, we are now witnessing, once again, the Tower of Babel, as our nation’s partisan political leaders seek to spin these contrasting events (one of Love and Light; one of Hate and Darkness) to support their respective schools of thought and their visions for the future of America—or in the case of Donald Trump and his ilk, their conspiracy theory of the moment.
I refuse to get sucked into the muck and mire about who is right or wrong, strong or weak, sane or completely irrational within the Babel Tower of sociopolitical isms. Instead, I am focused on the larger picture: that each of us has the power and the will to be agents of Light or Darkness, Love or Hate, Freedom or Slavery, Good or Evil, Positive or Negative. It is this duality of the human psyche and spirit that informs every aspect of our lives, no matter what our belief system, culture, or background may be.
However, in every arena of our lives, there are accepted norms and unacceptable taboos, which evolve as humankind grows.
The facts that we are learning about the Orlando killer highlight the eternal and delicate balance between norms and extremes, demonstrating what happens when an unbalanced, conflicted person tries to make sense of an increasingly complex world through a lens of self-doubt, anger, fear, and loathing, rather than a lens of self-assurance, acceptance, openness, and curiosity. He apparently struggled with his own sexual identity and chose to strike out against LGBTQ people who were sure of the very identity he feared might be his own. He also appeared to harbor ethnic hatred against the Latino community (perhaps thinking of them in the context of the national immigration debate?). But in a mind-boggling twist, he found no “fault” with African-Americans, telling such victims that they have already “suffered enough”. Finally, in his need to feel a sense of religious belonging, he claimed allegiance to ISIS, rather than to the true Islam.
Sadly, in every age of our human history, this delicate balancing act has been upended by the lost and marginalized among us, too often ending in the violence of wars, power struggles, coups, insurrections, insane asylums, despots, wall builders, terrorists, and others who just don’t “fit in”.
The ultimate question is, what—and how—can we learn from these upheavals to common sense and common good? How do we summon and follow our better angels?