|Another in the line of "Good Friday" moments begun by Jesus.|
After shedding my winter layer and situating my work space I set out to the counter for my cup of warmth and clarity. It just so happened that on that morning, it was one of those owner-visionaries (she could have been my aunt were my skin the same color as hers) who stood ready to serve, and when she so graciously handed the cup to me, I enthusiastically wished her, "happy Martin Luther King Day!" She grinned gladly—something totally on cue. What totally caught me off guard though, was her reply: "well, happy Martin Luther King Day to you sweetie!" Based on my script, I expected something along the lines of a cheery "thank you!" Instead, this Auntie made a point I didn't see coming . . . How did I ever that this holiday didn't pertain to me?
That teachable moment has stayed with me these years since, and today, this MLK Day 2017, I would like to make something of it by enlarging the context of his work and meaning to include not only me, but any of us who aspire to love this life of being human. So dear reader, please accompany me while I shift from this quaint tale of my meant-well awkwardness to some Auntie inspired thinking that will hike through some of our common landscape but point out features not commonly seen. While seeing these features can't change landscapes established in the past, they could very well transform future landscapes in need of our transforming before we get there. One such feature, among others as you'll see, is the work Martin Luther King Jr. . A question that arises on this "hike" is, What exactly was it that "gave birth" to his work? The answer is more than commonly thought... .
With this introduction, let's start out.
Regardless the color of your skin or character of bank account—by way of being human besides being biological—the daily engagement of your life actually takes place in culture more than it does in nature. Which is why the natural need for a coat during a Minnesota winter usually takes a backseat to its brand. This strange way that brand takes the front seat, is one of our peccadillo's that makes for an everyday indication that culture is something more than customs of dress or manners by which oatmeal is stirred: Culture, you could say, is to the living of human lives what nature is to its flora and fauna. Adding to the mix, are two key features important to this landscape that especially make this culture/nature comparison stand out: The first is, nature makes the need for coats but can't make the cultures in which they're designed. The second, and less obvious, is that the act of seeing happens differently for us than it does for any other organism in nature... .
In Nature, seeing takes place through the biological pathways that begin with eyes and end in brains. In humans however, seeing takes place through pathways that begin and end in ideas. If you don't believe me, take a minute and try looking around you without them. You see a chair because you first have ideas about chairs. Without those ideas, your brain might register that object in space, but it could just as well ignore it as something benign as it could with the attention of threat. By way of ideas though, and our ability to fashion them, we make chairs—even whole worlds— that nature can't. Culture in a sense, consists in the "flora and fauna" of the ideas that we create together.
As you can see, before a chair can be made, its maker must fashion an idea. This goes for anything we humans make, including cultures. And since it's impossible to humanly see reality apart from the ideas we fashion for ourselves, and since culture is in essence, the bond created when people share in the ideas through which they wish to see reality, it's impossible to engage reality apart from culture. This arrangement is one we humans can't escape (except through something like lobotomy) and, has within it, both an ever present benefit and danger: Reality is big and infinite. Even so, culture affords us the ability to live normal daily lives by it's capability of transposing that infinite bigness to a scale more amenable to our own (we can fret over brands rather than our place in the universe for instance). That's the benefit. The danger? we forget that culture is ALWAYS a convenience, and is NEVER reality itself. When such forgetting happens, we're lulled into believing that we've got reality by the tail when in fact, all we really had, was a tale of culture.
All right; let's continue on and look for some other "hidden" features that have enabled me to see Martin Luther King Jr. as a champion to humanity regardless of skin color (and why I picked the image heading this introductory essay).
As we all know, a pernicious culture took root throughout the southern plantations of America. Southern Plantation Culture, let's call it "Plantation Culture," or PC for short, fashioned a set of ideas for themselves that enabled them to see "things" in a certain way: a way to feel with certainty that their particular view of the world was justified by something that was in "fact", larger than they—as any humble, pious, and rational people are wont to do.
With their "bonafide certificate of justification" in hand, PC immediately put their newly minted culture to work by tearing fellow men, women, and children from the fabrics of their lives simply to enrich the personal "glory" of self-declared "captains" of America, and thus, the human race. Plantation Culture (PC) justified the righteousness of their ideas through the authority of both God and Science—all the while operating within the realm of Reason. Of course, those same means are employed by any of us who recognize the evil present in pernicious acts whenever we see them. So if both sides lay claim to God, Science, and Reason, then we're in need of something more to sort this out aren't we? What I've been seeing with growing resolution, is that we need skills for separating out the words in service of truth, from those in service of propaganda. The, "my God, Science, and Reason is better than yours" battle can never be more than a stalemate because this battle begins in words—or more importantly, how they're employed. Martin Luther King Jr. in my book, aptly embodies the skills of discernment as well as the proper employment of words that we desperately need for ourselves as we create our culture together.
"Currency" is a word used in the disparate worlds of electricity and money; both worlds involve flows and making things happen. In the case of words, because they flow and make things happen, they do more than contain definitions: even though words make for a powerful currency that can be neither bought nor sold, they still require our vigilance because there remains a way for their currency to be counterfeited; which when you think about it, seems really strange doesn't it— I mean, why counterfeit something that's both free and inexhaustible? What's the pay off for employing words to fashion propaganda instead of fashioning truth?
If only this strange use of words were just a peccadillo. Especially when a future can be transformed by ordinary men awakening one morning, not to the start of an alarm clock but to an aha! moment that whispers, "you know, if you could get free labor, you could build yourself a kingdom!" And then whole-heartedly, set out to spend the rest of their days building the infrastructure they need (especially cultural buy-in) to fulfill what felt to them, a monumental strike of genius and providence—The Southern Plantation! What does it take to convince a culture to pursue such an obviously twisted vision?! One thing is for sure— something like this can only happen through the commandeering action of counterfeit and propaganda carried out by pirates who rip words from their familial bond with truth, then enslave them into the servitude of their private schemes—the schemes they hide in plain sight under such names as, "State's Rights;" "Private Property Rights"; "Separate But Equal;" "Southern Heritage"; "Jim Crow Laws"; "Right To Work"; "Free Markets!" (they're omniscient); "American Exceptionalism"; "Death Panels" etc.; when such pirates raise their skull and crossbones, watch out! The very beauty and soul, which is exactly the richness that god is forever inviting us into— is about to be raided, plundered, and replaced with shiny doubloons and Napoleonic baubles, or in this case, a horror ridden facsimile: the world of Southern Plantations was built on the fervent belief that they were the stewards of "god's kingdom". In fact, it was only God's.
[Author's note: Too often, the word, "God" is in reality, a means of self justification and worn like a badge. In those cases, I write God- capital G. When I refer to the reality of "god" that is ever beyond any privateering grab, I use the lower case g.]
In light of the ease of madness from which human piracy takes place by fellow people, there's a question lying in wait for its begging: Who or what concocted this potentiality to be human in the first place? However your answer, god or otherwise— it certainly has never been, nor will ever be, a human person!
Let me explain. Before ANY human person shows up, there has to be the potentiality for being human in the first place. This priority of potentiality before actuality, goes for any thing in this universe, including chairs. If something doesn't have the potential to exist, how then, can it ever come into existence? This means that the one absolute we ALL share in together—regardless of time, place, skin color, religion, or science—is that we inherit this potential to be human from an estate made of a reality that is eternally beyond the capturing grasp of any human person—including pirates.
Which leads us to what I believe is absolutely astonishing: though our humanness originates somewhere else than any human person ever, by way of this bestowed capability, we have a miraculous ability to pursue soul and beauty as we create the environments (cultures) for ourselves that nature can't. Our environments, and their underlying cultures therefore, are made by us through a means for humanness that is tethered by an unbreakable chain to an eternal, immutable, and original truth that forever underlies any concoction we could ever possibly dream up: being human originates from a realm of potentiality that no human culture can shackle apart from an act of collective delusion, propaganda, and brutality. Because of this fact, our human ability to pursue soul and beauty exists in a state of reality that can never be privately owned: Truly human cultures require mutual cultivation because truly human life isn't wrought by mastery—or piracy— it's wrought by stewardship.
How sinister is it then, when despite this immutable and bottom line truth—from which we daily create our lives and culture together—there have been those who incessantly work to plunder
Back further in our history, in Jesus' day, it was the one to whom Jesus stood in contrast, the Roman Caesar, who usurped god and hijacked humanity for private gain and glory. However, while The Caesar is no longer, Southern Plantation Culture continued the way of Caesar into our time. And whatever it is, that was first embodied by the Roman Caesars and then by PC, it hasn't stopped its incessant insinuation into human culture today as it continues itself through any guise it can i.e., when race-based slavery is outlawed, wage-based slavery becomes their next best "Natural and Godly" vision. You can spot its insinuation where and whenever words are put into service of propaganda rather than truth, as in their claim that Free Markets transcend culture and so are as Omniscient as god.
Another example. In order to instantiate the private agenda for building private prosperity on the backs of fellow human people, a prevailing idea taking root in our culture is the "job creator". Meant to convince us that some men deserve placement in a higher category for being "the ones who make human lives possible", "job creator" is one of those counterfeited words mentioned earlier: it disguises the true intent fueling this proffered idea, which is to make culturally normal, our feeding the cravings of regular men who long for and feel entitled to thrones and worship.
At this junction dear reader, let me ask— do the words "job creator" as typically asserted so loudly today, strike you as an idea in service of truth— or of propaganda? Again, how do we go about the work in telling the difference?
Hopefully, you're convinced of our need to see Martin Luther King Jr. in this larger context. The immediate work against the Jim Crow laws embedded in white culture ("civil rights" is the the sanitized name) led by MLK is enough of a cancer to eradicate. What I'm suggesting here, is that the cancer is even more widespread and more insipid than usually noticed through American history books and today's political arena. The context deserves to be larger because the cancer is: American Slavery is but a symptom of the cancer that Jesus hoped to eradicate: Cancer and its symptoms are not the same entity.
As we end this short hike through our common landscape, I'd like to point out one last feature. Based on what you've just read, you'd think that a picture of MLK in his oratory (re)finery would have better adorned the top of this page wouldn't you? Of course. And that's why those pictures are commonly displayed. Here's why I chose this one instead: In the historical moments embodied first by Jesus, and then in our day by Martin Luther King Jr., all they each needed to do, in order to avoid their "Good Friday Lynchings", (yes, I'm saying Jesus was lynched) was to back off from their faith in the possibility of being truly human, and instead, simply give in to the demands placed on us by the pirates and hijackers at work in their own times. Thank god they didn't.
I now give to Martin Luther King Jr. a credence that I have given to Jesus because they both loved this life of being human with a love that I feel a kinship with. Also, they both stood their ground as they punctured the delusions of cultures gone horribly awry.
To us all, a