Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Modest Call For Our Nation's Spiritual Rebirth

Listening this morning to the young barristas on break from Starbucks telling funny tales about their wacky encounters at work with the homeless and mentally ill people.

While I'm sure some of these encounters were unpleasant or strangely humorous, it started me thinking about where our country is at: I mean, the best thing some workers on a break can talk about is making fun of what some random, troubled homeless person did?

Of course no discussion amongst them of why the nation which has the largest economy on earth would tolerate any of its residents in need suffering so. No discussion of the need for increased resources to provide affordable housing, mental health and substance abuse counseling.

On the other hand, it's not fair for society to ask these young workers to care for people who need help. They are there to sell coffee, not to be social workers.

But it just was yet another example of people hating on homeless people and the mentally ill, instead of having compassion.

There is a stark need for a political, social, and economic changes in this country, but also for changes of a spiritual, cultural, and ethical nature.

This presidential campaign has revealed some deep divides in this country. The level of hate is astonishing. We are arguing at each other instead of dialoging with each other.

There is no way we can solve our problems with this divisiveness.

(P.S. Clearly some of these issues affect other countries too, but I'm focusing on the U.S. right now.)

Earlier this summer, I was browsing online and saw an article on the website of the (excellent) British newspaper The Guardian. It's always interesting to see how their point of view is so different from American news outlets. They cover stories in countries that rarely get coverage in the U.S. (but may be physically or historically closer to Britain) and also cover under-reported American stories.

I saw an article there about a serial killer in San Diego, California who was targeting homeless people. Although I live in California, have a particular interest in social justice issues, and am constantly reading multiple news outlets online, on radio, in print, and on TV, I had seen absolutely nothing about the case anywhere until I read it on the website of a British paper, which seemed really odd to me.

I asked an old friend who lives in San Diego, who was formerly involved with many political causes, and he hadn't heard about the case at all either, (but he may be a little less plugged-in than he used to be). Activist-attorney Jeremy Warren however, also based in San Diego, said the case "was huge news in San Diego.... Huge articles every day, front page...". I also found many posts online from the local San Diego TV news that indicated that finding the killer it was a top local priority. The pressure to solve the case was so strong that police embarrassingly first arrested the wrong person, but quickly released him and found and arrested the person who it appears was indeed responsible. That didn't get wide coverage in the press either.

This seems like the kind of story that should have gotten wide coverage, especially in California, but it didn't. Why? Because the victims in this case are not valued members of society. In fact, it seems that many people hate homeless people and the mentally ill, two groups that others would say qualify for special concern rather than hostility.

It appears that many people feel trapped in their jobs, are overwhelmed by their bills, and are sorely lacking fun, adventure, and meaning in their lives, living instead lives of quite desperation, drudgery, and resentment.

But is it resentment toward the 1%? The wealthiest among us who have benefitted greatly while others have struggled? No, it is resentment toward people who have the least and who have suffered the most under this unfair system.

That doesn't make any sense.

The only "logic" I can see in this is that people are mad about being slaves but don't have the guts to try to do anything about it... besides hating on people who are outside of the system to some extent. People appear to resent "free loaders", although the lifestyle of the homeless is not something most people would want to emulate. Don't they see that the 1% are the real "free loaders"?

It is not; however, merely a political/economic/social problem, it is also spiritual/ethical/cultural as well. People who hate the most vulnerable members of society are spiritually sick.

It is good for people to find out what they are good at. We all benefit when people realize their true potential. In the early days of the computer revolution, hobbyists spent thousands of unpaid hours fiddling in garages until they came up with the components that changed all our lives.

People need jobs that are meaningful, comfortable, and well-paid. No one should work somewhere they hate.

Homeless people need homes. Mentally ill people and addicts need help. Police need to protect and serve their communities, and stop killing minorities and mentally ill people. The police should not be here to protect the interests of the 1% (they should arrest them), nor to harass homeless people.

Bigotry and hate against people of color, women, LGBT communities, the disabled, the homeless, the poor, and others must end and be replaced with love.

People need to break the Fourth Wall that separates us - "each sequestered in its hate" as Auden wrote in In Memory of W.B. Yeats:

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice.

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress.

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountains start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise. 


A lot of the hatred comes from separation, from not knowing each other.

We need to get to know one another.

Who are these homeless people? These mentally ill? These minorities?

A lot harder to hate someone you know.

Many people say history is cyclical, and perhaps there are times where people are more or less connected to each other. Like the ebb and flow of the ocean. In the 60's, people were connected. By the 80's, people were more concerned about themselves, their careers, and their assets than in any community endeavors.

You hear of people being so open in the 60's, anyone with long hair was probably ok and you could just walk up and start talking to them. If there was a concert or party and you had no where to stay afterward, there was probably a floor you could crash on of a newfound friend.

Hard to imagine that happening today.

Yet I feel the pendulum might be ready to swing the other way. We've been so selfish and so closed. Maybe soon it will be time for people to open up again.

The music in the 60's played a vital role in connecting people. That could happen again. Not with the music we have today, but there may be some new old songs emerging soon.

Poets and artists have to dream the dream before we can make it a reality. They are the map-makers and explorers. They go into unchartered territory, as H.D. said, and send back dispatches on what they see; to guide us.

People need to be less possessive of possessions, letting go of both consumer goods and stale ideas. Greed, selfishness, and fear keep us from a happier world together.

It all starts with community. We have to build community. Together we can address our issues: homelessness, poverty, police violence, street violence, gun violence, bigotry, lack of community, lack of well-paying meaningful jobs... We need to be united to address what is perhaps the biggest problem facing us - climate change.

United we stand, divided we fall.

Um, just some morning thoughts with my first coffee.

To be continued? 

Feel free to add comments below.

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