A revisit to words of Martin Luther King on violence

This is a reprise of an earlier post. It still resonates, especially after the recent shooting of Ahmaud Arbery.

Martin Luther King once said, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very things it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, it merely increases the hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

These aspirational words ring true even today. A historian made a comment on the news the other day, saying the only thing man has been very good at since the beginning is killing people. Too many people have died when leaders say I want what you have or you are different from us or you worship the wrong way. On this latter point, one of the keys to our founding father’s separation of church and state in the US constitution and bill of rights was a comment made by Thomas Jefferson who noted that Europe had been awash in blood due to religious zeal and he did not want religious zeal doing the same in our country. This runs counter to self-proclaimed constitutionalists who want a national or state religion and don’t realize they are advocating against the constitution.

My blogging friend and missionary George Dowdell has written a thought-provoking post about “No More Us and Them.” A link to his post is below.* When religious leaders exclude, they create this kind of divide. Yet, when religious leaders are inclusive, religion is at its finest. Just witness the actions of the people’s Pope Francis to see what one leader can do. We should follow his lead. We must do our best to be bridge builders. We must do our best to condemn intolerant thinking and action. We must do our best to not condone violence. We must do our best to control the proliferation of violent tools to people who should not have them and govern all owners of them well, as these tools are designed to kill. We must do our best to work toward civil discourse when disagreements occur. And, we must not tolerate treating women as second class citizens or even assets, which is even further demeaning.

I recognize we all cannot be like Atticus Finch (see Emily J’s post on “The Perfect Book: To Kill a Mockingbird” with the link below **) and wipe the spit away borne from someone looking for a fight, but he shows us what real courage looks like. It takes more courage not to fight back when it would have been so easy to do so. I recognize we cannot all be like Gandhi whose example was studied, admired and copied by Martin Luther King showing that civil disobedience is far more powerful than violence. I recognize we call cannot be like Mother Teresa who just went around helping people and praying with them not caring how they worshiped. And, I realize we cannot all be like Jesus who uttered the words we should all live by and can be found in other religious texts – treat others like you want to be treated.

We must treat others like we want in return. We must elevate women in a world to equal footing with men. We must challenge our historical texts which were written by imperfect men to diminish women. We must be the ones who lift others up. We must teach our children those Jesus words. If we don’t then we will continue to be our own worst enemy and do what we are good at – violence and killing.

* http://georgedowdell.org/2014/06/10/no-more-us-and-them/
** http://thebookshelfofemilyj.com/2014/06/09/the-perfect-book-to-kill-a-mockingbird/

Two lanterns for the south and humanity

Two of my favorite authors have died in the past weeks – Harper Lee and Pat Conroy. They both were lanterns into southern life, showing the world our love, anguish, bigotry, eccentricity, manners and eccentricities. Yet, they showed all of humanity these same attributes and asked us why must we have these barriers to each other?

Harper Lee wrote the best and most impactful novel I have ever read about the south in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” She created through Scout’s eyes a hero in her father, Atticus Finch, that she had to learn how great and brave a man could be. She had written a previous manuscript, which was initially not accepted, but it was released this past year as “Go set the Watchman.” I have this book, but have not read it, as it paints a different version of Atticus, a journey I do not want to take.

In her Pulitzer Prize winning Mockingbird, we learn what racism under Jim Crow looks like. She sneaks it up on you, so by the time the reader understands what is going on, they are hooked and ready to take up for Atticus and Tom Robinson, just like Scout and Jem did. I have written before about the novel and movie, but let me repeat my favorite parts. First, when Atticus leaves the court room after losing the case, the minister admonishes Scout to stand like everyone else is because “Your father is passing.”

The other is when the female neighbor is consoling Jem after the loss. She notes “There are people who are put on this earth to do our unpleasant tasks. Your father is one of them.” Yet, that is what makes the book so marvelous, we are seeing Atticus and racism through a child’s lens. And, it also confirms what is noted in the Rogers and Hammerstein “South Pacific” that bigotry has to be carefully taught. Scout and Jem have been taught not to be bigoted.

As for Conroy, he put in words stories and characters who make the south live. Critics have noted that he has written novels around his father being a very abusive man. It is true that many of his novels, like “The Great Santini,”  “The Prince of Tides,” of “South of Broad,” have elements of his father therein, with Santini being a thinly veiled biography. Yet, his books are much more than that.

My first Conroy book was “The Lords of Discipline” which is about a young cadet being asked to look after the first black cadet at a southern military school, which looks and smells like The Citadel, where he went to college. I normally like to read the book before seeing the movie, but the latter lead me to the book. The Bear was the grandfatherly mentor at the school referring to his mentees as “his lambs.” And, he called the lead character Bubba, which is a nickname for brother, usually because a younger sibling could not pronounce brother.

“The Water is Wide” is great auto-biographical read and was made into a movie called “Conrack,” which is how the Daufuskie Island children, who spoke Gullah, pronounced Conroy’s name. He set out to teach these kids how to read and expose them to new things, rather than just shepherd them along. Eventually, he was fired for being rebellious, as the principal did not want these kids getting aspirations.

He also penned “My Losing Season,” which is a true story of his basketball playing days for a very poor and inconsistent coach. Reading this book led me to a realization that I actually saw Conroy play basketball in the mid-1960s, when The Citadel played Jacksonville University. He spoke of the players I saw for the Jacksonville team, as my father would take us to the games and this is where I learned what The Citadel was.

Yet, my favorite is “The Prince of Tides,” which also was made into a movie with Barbra Streisand, Blythe Danner and Nick Nolte. The movie was good, but left out the best example of a character in a Conroy novel. The grandfather was so religious, every Easter he would drag a cross around town to suffer like Jesus did. When he got too old to do this, the family put the cross on roller skates, so he could wheel it around. That is classic eccentricity.

If you have not read them, please give them a chance. The movies are excellent, but the books have so much more to offer. These two will be missed.

 

Movies I cannot get enough of

My wife will walk through the room where I am watching television, observe and ask “how many times have you seen that?” The correct response is “not enough.” I have always enjoyed movies, but not all movies. I like plot and dialogue above all, but like action as well as conflict. I tend to shy away from the movies where the actors are dwarfed by these computer generated things, but that does not necessarily mean those movies are bad.

There are some movies I have seen over ten times. And, if it is on, unless there is a better option elsewhere, I will take a peek. The nice thing about movies you have seen is you can leave them at any time. Sometimes, I have seen the final two-thirds of a movie more than the start, so I will watch the starting one third and then stop. Yes, I know I am weird.

Top of mind, a few that fall into this category include:

  • The Dirty Dozen, a great movie with great actors like Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Donald Sutherland, Clint Walker, John Cassavettes, et al.
  • Casablanca, a movie that was not supposed to do well, but stands the test of time. It also has the most movie quotes in the top 100 list with six.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, is a must see anytime, and is one of the few I own. Atticus Finch is such a hero to many and the father-children talks are wonderful.
  • Apollo 13, the tense movie about a successful failure with Tom Hanks, Ed Harris, and, of course, six degrees of Kevin Bacon, who is in many ensemble movies.
  • Diner, about young adults finding themselves in Baltimore, with Mickey Rourke, that Kevin guy again, Ellen Barkin, Daniel Stern and others.
  • The Last of the Mohicans, whose scenery, plot and action are matched by one of the best soundtracks ever made. Daniel-Day Lewis and Madelaine Stowe star, the latter of whom is breathtaking to me.
  • Witness for the Prosecution, a terrific English court movie with Charles Laughton playing the crusty old defense lawyer, also with Marlene Dietrich and Tyrone Power, where Dietrich steals the show.
  • Ben Hur, the best biblical based movie, starring Charleton Heston and some of the best actions scenes, that are well filmed and play a key role.
  • True Grit, the one with John Wayne, Glen Campbell, Robert Duvall and Kim Darby. Wayne is a crusty old drunk of a marshall, but the movie is about his relationship with the Darby who has as much grit.
  • Four Weddings and a Funeral, I love this movie about good friends as the movie tracks them through these five events. Hugh Grant and Andie McDowell star, but the movie is more about all of the friends.

I have left off many from my list, but would love to hear your thoughts and movies that you must see over and over again. I tried to pick a eclectic mix of movies to start some conversation.

What would Atticus Finch be thankful for?

One of my favorite and most admirable characters in a fiction novel is Atticus Finch, the father and attorney in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” As we approach my favorite holiday of Thanksgiving, I was wondering what the reserved Atticus would be thankful for? Here is a man who was rolling a boulder uphill against the downhill racism that would eventually convict and kill an African-American client, Tom Robinson, during the Jim Crow era of the south.

– Atticus would be thankful for Boo Radley who saved his children’s lives from a hateful racist Bob Ewell whose actions led to the conviction of Robinson. Ewell, in a drunken stupor, attacked Scout and Jem in the woods, to pay back Finch for defending a black man against the Ewell version of the truth.

– He would be thankful for Calpurnia who was the housekeeper, cook and surrogate mother to his children. Like many in the south, Calpurnia represents the many African-American women who greatly helped southern households. Atticus would have been lost without her.

– He would be thankful for Scout’s passion. She would likely be getting into mischief the rest of her youth, but she would make errors of commission not omission. It would never be dull with Scout around.

– He would be thankful for Jem’s determination. Jem would not let his father go by himself to see the Robinson’s, nor would he and Scout let Atticus stand down the lynch mob at the jail by himself, knowing they were his protection.

– He would be thankful to his outspoken friend and kindred soul, Maude Atkinson who explained so well that Atticus was one of the people put on this world to do our unpleasant tasks. She was the spoken conscience to Atticus’ unspoken one.

– He would be thankful for Sheriff Heck Tate, who saw injustice at the hands of racism, but went quietly about doing his best to find what little justice he could for the disenfranchised.

– He would be thankful for the integrity of Tom Robinson, who in the face of lies and deceit, stood as tall as he could, until he could no longer. Robinson is the tragic figure in the story and represents a long line of African-American men who have been maltreated.

– He would be thankful for Reverend Sykes and others who found value in what Atticus did for those in need and who were stepped on because they were black. The line that makes me tear up more than any other line in a novel is when Atticus leaves the court room after fighting so hard for Robinson and Reverend Sykes tells Miss Jean Louise (Scout) to stand up with them as “your father is passing.”

True heroes do not have to carry weapons. In fact, the greater heroes are those who do not. They fight for what’s right, usually against difficult odds. I am thankful to have read and watched the movie version of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I have seen how a real hero acts.

 

 

A much needed return to civility in 2014

Happy New Year. As I contemplated my first post of the year, I kept coming back to a theme that we need to be more civil with each other. We need to check our filters between our brains and mouths or send button fingers, before we say or submit something that should have been left unsaid or unsent. I was reminded of this when I saw the comments made by a panel of MSNBC commenters regarding an adopted child of color in the Mitt Romney family portrait. The panel decided to make fun off the adopted child who looked different from all of the other Romney family members. Whether I voted for Romney or not (I did not), this is out of line for people to be critical of one of his sons adopting a child.

I was reminded of how one of George W. Bush’s campaigners effectively derailed John McCain’s momentum in the 2000 Republican presidential primary season. McCain was coming off some early wins and Bush was reeling. Yet, one of Bush’s campaign people leaked to the South Carolina press and voters that McCain had fathered an African-American child out-of-wedlock and was raising her. The truth is John and Cindy McCain adopted their Bangladeshi daughter Bridget in 1991. Yet, this lie caused McCain to lose the election in SC and Bush used that momentum to eventually win the nomination. His daughter later in life found out about this story from Googling her own name, so the false story caused her anguish.

In the US, since the marketers and campaigners have segmented our citizens into cliques, we have tended toward a less civil, combative tone. We use words intended to inflame or label people, when people and the issues are more complex. You see the terms Conservative and Liberal or Progressive thrown about to indict people. These words are akin to a one word smear tactic, which is grossly unfair as most people are a quilt of perceptions, beliefs and thoughts. I find myself with views similar to many Americans as someone who is fiscally conservative, but socially progressive. So, what does that make me? Am I wrong to want a Return on Investment on our spending or am I wrong when I want to help people climb a ladder out of poverty or who got laid off by their employer at the age 53 because their salary was too high?

Our friend Roseylinn at www.roseylinn.wordpress.com has an interesting quote from the character Spock in Star Trek on the lack of veracity of name-calling. So, my advice to people is to name call less when people disagree with you and be civil in your disagreement. When people raise their voice or name call or both, I tend to discount their opinions. I would much prefer to watch a panel where people civilly offer their opinions and let the person with an opposing opinion speak. Someone who must shout over the person with opposing view, per the Spock quote, is proving the other’s argument.

On day-to-day matters, we have taken a horrible page from sports participants. Fans have begun taunting the opposing fans, borrowing an extremely poor example from the players. There have been people beaten to death because they pulled for the opposing team. We have seen folks get in arguments over whose team deserved to win, pull a gun and kill someone. We have seen family members kill each other over whose favorite on American Idol won or lost. As a former high school athlete, we were told not to taunt or we would be benched. That may be old school thinking, but it does not make it wrong. If an opponent taunted you, the best way to get back at him would be through playing well. I took particular pride in guarding a taunting basketball opponent by not letting him touch the ball the rest of the game.

Your actions speak more volumes than your words. You vote with your feet. Your kids watch you, your spouse sees you and your co-workers observe you. But, even if no one sees you, you know what you did. What behavior do you wish to show them and yourself? If you are patient and civil with the overworked store clerk, first you will get better service, but you will also be an exemplar for others. If people see you bump a car in a parking lot and go back inside to find the owner or leave an informational note (not a faux note), then people see this. When you return to the Chick-Fil-A to return too much change, then people see this. When you defend the absent like Dr. Wayne Dyer advocates, people hear this.

If you read my posts on gun deaths, I often note that one of the many causes of the increase in gun deaths in America is lack of civil discourse. When people perceive they are being treated with disrespect and have access to weapon, an impulsive act can end one life and ruin another. Here is the trick – if you don’t take offense then you are not offended. There are many life teaching scenes from the movie “To Kill a Mockingbird.” But, when Atticus Finch is spit on by a vile man trying to get him to fight, his courage to walk away is significant. What many do not realize is the easiest thing for him to do would be to fight back. Yet, Atticus did not showing a much greater strength of character. From the trial, it was apparent his assailant had beaten his own daughter, so if someone had it coming, it would have been him.

Let me close with comment I use often and there is no better exemplar than Atticus Finch. Do not mistake kindness for weakness. Gandhi was a great example of civil disobedience, but he fought very hard for people in need in South Africa and India. You can have strong convictions, but treat others like you want to be treated. Kindness is not a weakness. Civility is not a weakness. Acting poorly to others is a weakness.