Calling B.S., Gun Violence and Blameworthy Voyeurism

Two tragic events played out in front of our eyes this week – overwhelming old and new media alike with the most profound depth of pain and pathos, both with chilling effect.

In a scuffle with a fleeing suspect, a Chicago police commander, Paul Bauer, was killed – shot six times as he wrestled to detain the man.

Pallbearers place Chicago Police Cmdr. Paul Bauer’s casket into the hearse after the funeral at Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018. Cmdr. Bauer was shot to death Tuesday outside the Thompson Center, where he had confronted a man who was fleeing other officers. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Bauer just happened to be nearby when he heard a call for officers to aid in a pursuit. He wasn’t a beat cop, he just happened to be nearby. And when Bauer encountered the suspect, his life was ended in a hail of gunfire – six shots in a shadowy stairwell.

Then came the wave of anecdotes and story, one on another, demanding sadness, eliciting sympathy and encouraging pride and indignation. He was beloved, a cops’ cop, a 31-year veteran of the force, devoted man of faith, father to an adoring teen daughter, and just 53 years old. He had a version of movie star looks in the photo shared by all media. If anyone was worthy, it was Commander Bauer.

And days later it seemed like the whole city mourned as first-responders of all stripes lined city streets, in uniform, saluting a fallen comrade. The pageantry was televised, the governor and mayor spoke, and the older you were the more involved you were in the story.

Onlookers chimed-in with sentiments like, “There are not many things which unite this city, but a good man like Bauer might just do that.” It seemed that the city’s sentiment was an obvious reason to televise Commander Bauer’s funeral for several hours – we need something to save us and we can’t let this good man die in vain.

Cook County Jail inmates applaud the appearance of Commander Bauer’s alleged killer

In stark contrast to this display, a video surfaced of the Bauer’s suspected killer arriving at Cook County Jail being greeted with a smattering of applause from several inmates. They were quickly singled-out and swiftly transported to a downstate facility, and promises were made by prosecutors this video would used at sentencing to demonstrate the wanton disregard for the law and human life – especially those who dared to mock the killing of Commander Bauer.

And in the funeral mass for Bauer, a homily argued his life wasn’t given, it was taken – taken by a four-time convicted felon, taken by someone who should not have possessed a firearm, taken by someone who should not have been allowed to be free. A good reverend even compared Bauer’s killer to a leper in a vain attempt to approach the ‘what would Jesus say’ type of rhetoric: “[This killer is like a leper in Jesus’ day,] he should have been segregated from society long  before the shooting. Jesus had compassion for lepers, but they were still kept from the public during biblical times.”

And about the Commander, “He encountered the leprosy of our society: one who did spend time away from the camp … in prison … in isolation because of a violent past. One who should have never have been out in society, but who was due to a broken system, a system that Paul [Bauer] himself very publicly and loudly spoke out against.”

A lot of should not’s and ought not’s – the thoughts and prayers of our hand-wringing culture on full display.

As this was unfolding in Chicago, teens – survivors of the Parkland, Florida high school shooting and killing of 17 – were voicing their own tragic stories and adding their own indignation at the indolence of national politicians. Chicago endured homilies and eulogies from politicians who have failed to stem the tide of gun violence, as students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High took their turns at the microphone as the nation watched and listened and prayed for children to lead us.

“This isn’t about the GOP. This isn’t about Democrats. This is about us creating a badge of shame for any politicians who are accepting money from the NRA and using us as collateral.” But since the great majority of recipients of NRA money are Republicans this doesn’t ring true, does it? It IS about the GOP when talking federal regulations and the 2nd Amendment and the NRA – even if we’re told by a sincere teen grieving the loss of classmates it is not. And it isn’t about the lack of NRA money in Chicago somehow alleviating our problem with gun violence. NRA supporters elsewhere mock Chicago at times like this – so many gun laws… so many gun deaths… (they can taste the irony).

“We are going to be the last mass shooting,” another teen asserted, and added proof this impossible assertion is possible with “I found out today there’s a website….”

Yes, the teen spoke of what they’d learned that morning as they searched online for ‘school shootings’ and ‘mass shootings’ and ‘gun laws’ and everyone born before Google secretly mocked their newfound knowledge and the wisdom accumulated an hour or two ago – online. That’s another breach in our collective angst over so-called senseless violence – newfound knowledge that’s tweetable is more virulent, more compelling, and more provoking than the accumulated wisdom serving as a mask for inaction. But there is a sense to this senseless violence – we’d just prefer to watch.

And another student’s “We call B.S.” is now a rallying-cry for indignation at the indolence of parents and politicians who promise something and deliver nothing. For a generation of world-changers, their parents’ and politicians’ hollow words should be an embarrassment – as hollow as the phrase ‘it is what it is.’

But ‘It is what it is’ is the new religion of passive-aggressiveness or acceptance or Niebuhr’s serenity prayer of wisdom to accept the things I can’t change, or the ‘all politics is local’ of areas where NRA membership is a civic duty. ‘It is what it is’ has become the watchword of generational compliance – in Chicago in particular where the best fashion is hand-wringing and angst-fueled political rhetoric that keeps electing an irredeemable political class and appointing those who warn of economic bankruptcy of police-shooting settlements in the name of cultural bankruptcy, and single-party politics with no accountability and majority-minority unemployment, and no lack of churches and community centers who are doing much more than offering their thoughts and prayers like the rest of us watching funerals and protests on a Saturday.

In Chicago we’re told gun violence is a cultural problem with a racist hint hiding politely under the skin of these recriminations. Criminal justice reform and gun control laws are given little voice, while the brazen ‘it is what it is’ is met with sympathetic political slogans of ‘we’re doing the best we can’ and even ‘this must stop’ assertions and thoughts and prayers.

‘This must stop’ is as hollow as the teen’s last mass shooting avowal. It won’t stop. This won’t be the last mass shooting. And as ‘it is what it is’ voyeurs offer their thoughts and prayers, our city will continue to die – one thought and prayer at a time.

This is a very public fight of ‘it is what is’ versus ‘enough is enough’ – and which will prevail depends on more than sloganeering.

CHICAGO, IL – Police investigate the scene of a quadruple homicide on the city’s Southside on December 17, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. Three people were found shot to death inside a home in the Fernwood neighborhood, another 2 were found shot outside the home, one of those deceased. Chicago has had more than 750 homicides in 2016. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Our culture of death is alive and well in the poorest, most under-served neighborhoods of Chicago and likened to a contagion – as predictable as an infectious disease spreading among those with compromised immune systems, and just as deadly. Blighted and ignored by those elected to lead and provide – those entrusted with the power to zone and TIF creatively not just in Uptown and on Michigan Avenue but in Englewood and Austin and Lawndale as well. If you want to do business in Wrigleyville, maybe you should do business in Austin too?!

My apparent complaint is that Chicago’s hundreds of annual gun deaths and thousands of shootings don’t rise to the same level of anger and anxiety as a single mass shooting in a Florida high school. And those students found it safe (and the national media as well) to vent and protest in Parkland. They wouldn’t feel that safety (or receive that attention) to vent and protest in Chicago. Who will have the nerve to tell us righteous indignation doesn’t save lives?

While others focus on assigning blame, I’ll add to that the multiplier of blameworthy voyeurism. It’s all we can do if ‘it is what it is’ is our new national religion of thoughts and prayers.

Two tragedies – two pageants, and too much equivocation – that’s the lesson of Saturday’s eulogies. And we are all just voyeurs.

Sunday, February 18, 2018 – looking out my window at the Austin neighborhood of Chicago.

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Learning and Unlearning…

outhouse“Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.” – B. F. Skinner

There is a strong and resilient tradition of anti-intellectualism in America. It attributes vanity, pride and ignorance to too much learning, and takes pride in a lack of formal learning that avoids ignorance.

American anti-intellectualism is a natural response to the rejection of elitism (that birth or privilege determines value in life and society) and the strong democratic spirit of America’s history. (Yes, it sounds like a topic we’d hear in intellectual circles, and that’s ironic). There is a ‘common sense’ and ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident’ that’s as ordinary as the nose on one’s face.

It’s an everyday ‘smart’ that differs from being book-smart. And it routinely warns that books and education can easily ruin a good and get in the way of common sense. Sometimes.

So a young man went off to the university to study geology. He returned after his first year and warned his dad that the well was too close to the outhouse. The dad replied that the boy didn’t know what he was talking about and insisted that the well was fine where it was. The same thing happened after the boy’s second and third years of studying geology, and the dad said the boy only had ‘book education’ but not ‘life learning’ and said he wouldn’t listen until the boy had accomplished something.

After the boy returned with his degree in hand and made his case, once again – that the well was too close to the outhouse and that the family’s fresh water supply could be polluted by the outhouse – the dad finally relented.

He moved the outhouse and a week later the well dried up.

That Couple…

You know that couple you see and
they make you wonder, ‘How in the world
did you two wind up together!?’ but
not because one is beautiful and the
other sloppy and ugly, not an obvious
one who could eat no fat and the other
no lean pair, but just because in a world
of almost seven billion of us these two
somehow found each other and love
or comfort or even settled for, someone
who would listen or talk or smells and
sweats in an attractive way that only
this other could want; you know that
couple in the grocery store, buying cereal
and tea bags, apples and chicken thighs
and you know they’d always thought
they’d be alone if it wasn’t for the other.

6 Kinds of People

peopleThere are six kinds of people in the world,
and while that seems a few too many, it
really is just about right; most tell the story
in binary terms of thin or fat, tall or short,
boy or girl, innie or outie, lefty or righty,
black or white, but the either/or’s miss
the point that they’re there to make life
easier, remove fear and create it at the
same time, in the us/them of good or
evil, on or off, East or West; six kinds
of people is too hard for thoughtless
assumptions and is never divisible the
same way every time; the first kind of
person needs drama, enemies or gossip
to feel important and alive, the second is
passive-aggressive in an adolescent kind
of way, like adolescents are, rejoicing
in not liking much as in nothing much,
the third are the lovers of any and all
in a genuine need to love whatever
it doesn’t matter what, no matter who,
and the fourth just don’t understand
what the problem is but are unsure why
everyone seems so uncomfortable all the
time, the fifth are saddled with guilt and
consternation over what must have gone
wrong and are eager to serve as the
scapegoat of life’s troubles and unsatisfied
desires, and the sixth kind are very, very
needy but there’s nothing that will satisfy
whatever it is that may be needed; and
there is no seventh kind or perfect balance
or exact blend of all in just one, no
superhero or Mary Poppins of practically
perfect proportionality to frustrate everyone
else and solve the puzzle; all in-between
are tints, hues and shades creating
landscapes of families and clubs,
churches and schools, homes and
aways that struggle over who to admit,
to welcome, to evangelize, convince,
convert, or date or marry, love and
hate, ally with or against in this circle
of surviving constantly being twisted
into squares but refusing to hold
the edges and always opting for the
three-hundred-sixty degrees that
breathing requires; this is no
anthropology or divinity but strange
anecdotes of funny stories with punch
lines and laughs to be shared or
explained as we search for an audience
called friendship in the theatre of war.

The Truer Truth… to begin…

Begin

“There are few nudities so objectionable as the naked truth.” – Agnes Repplier

It’s time.

It’s time to transform our lives—from the ordinary that shouldn’t have become normal for people like us to the life we’ve hoped for.

It’s time to live our hopes.

Solomon said there’s a time for everything.

Everything.

That means we always live in the time for something.

And now is our time.

No more excuses, no more delays, no better-things to do. In a voyeuristic culture, in a voyeuristic world, and in the mind-game of ‘I like to watch’ it’s time to do something worth watching.

And we are ready.

It’s our time to do something worth watching.

We’re ready for whatever is next because what’s next is all we’ve got.

The past can’t be changed. We can play with it, or twist it, but if we try to ignore it we will be haunted by it. It won’t go away.

The present—our now—is ephemeral. It’s worse than brief, faster than fleeting; it’s timeless and seductive. And it’s gone… just like that. If we listen closely we can hear it laughing at us, mocking us.

What’s next is all we’ve got.

And what’s is next is up to us.

It’s time.

Our time.

Our timeThis is the truer truth.

If a tree falls in a forest…

tree fallsI am the tree that fell in the wood
with no one caring to hear,
the one at whom dogs bark
out of hatred instead of fear.

I am the one who spoke loud and clear
with no one knowing I uttered,
the door that is still a door
and not a jar unshuttered.

I am the book written but unread,
with a spine uncracked or bent,
the lure considered but dry,
un-tied, untackled, and unsent.

I am the road often taken and trod
derided in gospel and verse,
the angel that didn’t fit on pin head
in the sophistry that is so perverse.

I am the billions ten times over
who have lived and loved and died,
the everyman ignored or enslaved
and for whom no one has cried.

Spin Again…

globeMost people live where they live
and die where they die but not me
I was going places and seeing things
I’ve heard there’s so much to see
I’ve got to; I’m not one to forgive.

You can’t tell me it’s all the same
no matter where one may travel
because even paupers and kings
know to set out on paths of gravel
to search for new views to claim.

It may be the path itself I take
or it could be the capital I’ll find
I won’t know until I spread my wings
And set out to venture resigned
Even if lost, it’ll be no mistake.

I’ve waited too long to commence
had too many excuses to stay
lingering one too many springs
there’s no better time than today
I’ve no longer a good defense.

When I was young I was brave
I dreamed nothing would interrupt
my exploration for foreign beings
but I didn’t anticipate how abrupt
just staying here would enslave.

Spin a globe, see where it lands
Risk an exotic foreign destination
Cut yourself free from apron strings
Make the journey your aspiration
Even if no one else understands.

Unless where the globe would stop
the spot where your finger lands
is a plot where a hearse brings
dreamers back to dust’s demands
and that final six foot drop.

In that case, spin again.

Faith without fundamentalism…

I wish there was a way
to have the love without the guilt,
fun without the fight of heresies,
desire and passion without shame,
the comfort of the known unknown
bedside for my friend gasping
and hoping along with every tear
for a sweet bye-and-bye without,
for faith without fundamentalism
because I need life to beme more
than this, only this, I need there to be
something instead of nothing, a reason
to live that’s more than a worthy death,
no more martyrdom of cowardly
necessity to prove worth to grace,
and no more pissy, angry divine
overseeing unquenchable Gehenna,
and more whimsy and irony and
more of what we make less, please.

Quiet and loud…

imagine a time
when all’s quiet and loud
at once,
the children’s cries
of laughter crisscrossing
the air, scattering
and careening here
and there,
bills are due, money’s not,
work’s always waiting,
sleep is fleeting,
the windows are drafty,
the weather adverse,
the news is always bad,
and not every I love you
can be trusted,
but all’s quiet and loud
at once
and I don’t want it
any other way.

On learning who I am…

tree falls in the forestI am the tree that fell in the wood
with no one caring to hear,
the one at whom dogs bark
out of hatred instead of fear.
I am the one who spoke loud and clear
with no one knowing I uttered,
the door that is still a door
and not a jar unshuttered.
I am the book written but unread,
with a spine uncracked or bent,
the lure considered but dry,
un-tied, untackled, and unsent.
I am the road often taken and trod
derided in gospel and verse,
the angel that didn’t fit on pin head
in the sophistry that is so perverse.
I am the billions ten times over
who have lived and loved and died,
the everyman ignored or enslaved
and for whom no one has cried.