To: He Whose Moral Compass is Kaput
Yesterday the Twitter-verse had a scare because Dionne Warwick was trending so people thought she must have died. She very much has not died and the reason she was trending was that she reached out to Chance The Rapper and teased him about including “The Rapper” in his name, saying she was going to call herself “Dionne The Singer” from now on. Chance The Rapper, for his part, was floored and honored that she knows who he is so the exchange was incredibly sweet – at least until she said it was time to go watch “Lucifer” (the show, not you); that was a little odd.
DW trending prompted Laura to play a few of her songs while I was cooking dinner; “Say A Little Prayer,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” and “What the World Needs Now is Love.” Then she segued to The Fifth Dimension’s “The Age of Aquarius/Let the Sunshine” and I lost it. I was on the verge with the World-Love song since the world is hurting so badly, but damn if the next piece didn’t put me over the edge thinking about how much we’ve f*cking squandered since the 1960’s.
I was grateful that Laura had her back to me because for some reason it didn’t feel ok that I was crying about all this. But when we talked later about the music, she asked if I’d known she was over there crying. I hadn’t, because as I said, her back was too me and I was busy trying to pretend I wasn’t crying. Of course that got us both going again.
Carrying on this (loose) theme, after Zoom church today I listened to a dharma talk by Thay Phap Khong, who spoke on “Moral Courage.” Here’s the youtube link on the very off chance you want to learn about moral courage from a revered Vietnamese Buddhist Teacher: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2tMdxK950p0. Thay PK starts out by reminding us that before one can really behave in morally courageous ways (e.g., speaking out about injustice, taking direct action to address disparities, etc.), one must first get a bead on morality, which isn’t always straightforward.
He described immigrating from Viet Nam as a young man and arriving in Philadelphia in 1976. He shared that at that time everyone was focused on the Founders – Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin – and their wonderful deeds associated with all that founding. Then he described having taken a trip to Mount Vernon and being confronted with the fact that Washington and his wife enslaved hundreds of human beings, and later going to Monticello and learning that Jefferson did too. He noted that this part of the story hadn’t been taught in his high school in Viet Nam or his college here in the US and that while this part of the story is better known now, there are still millions of us who do not know it or who choose to relegate it to the past, as though it has no bearing on the present.
At the end of his talk he showed us a crude map of the US where he’d marked a blob of states in the mid-Atlantic and Southeast with red hatch marks. He talked about how most other states shift back and forth between blue and red or shade purple, but that the same 11 states that were willing to secede from the Union over slavery (later joined by Missouri and Kentucky) still reliably vote in ways that promote injustice rather than justice. There are some details to quibble with and Georgia is among those original 11 states so things aren’t quite as locked in as he depicted, but the larger point is that millions are still attempting to uphold a racist, morally corrupt world view and that we need to have the moral courage (backed by moral clarity) to change this.
May we safeguard and not squander our moral convictions.
May we be willing to take risks on behalf of them.
May we study history and be awake to the present so our moral courage is strong and has heft.
May we accept that there are dialectics to navigate as our understanding shifts and deepens.