Category: Christianity

666

Dear editor:

America is awash in an eschatological frenzy of flummery. So when news about Mueller’s investigation of our pouty POTUS’s son-in-law began focusing on shenanigans surrounding foreign financing of his building in New York City, my end-times spider sense began to tingle!

People, you cannot make this stuff up. The address of that building is 666 Fifth Avenue. For all you nimble numerologists and prognosticating prophets, does the number 666 sound familiar? Ever curious, I went to Lord Google and beseeched him to reveal the mystery of “jared kushner 666 5th avenue antichrist.”

Lo and behold, Google returned 46,700 hits! The very first was “Is Jared Kushner Being Positioned As The Antichrist Of Revelation?” I guess that trumps (pun intended) all those wacky conspiracy theories about the black man in the White House, the usurper from Africa who somehow showed up as a baby in Hawaii…

Ringy dingy, people, your gilded television evangelists are calling. Fox News and hate radio are calling. Forget about Mueller, forget about whatever dirt ex-KGB thug Vladimir Putin may have on Comrade President! Apocalypse be a-coming, people. Time for white robes and waiting on rooftops for that magic bus ride called the rapture…

Except that what you believe about rapture is based on really bad exegesis. Really, really bad! Guess what? Your precious rapture has been a topic of frothy speculation for less than 200 years. But you’ve seen all those “Left Behind” movies so you know better, right? You know what’s coming next, right? Planes falling out of the sky, cars crashing, and empty cribs in the night, right?

Wrong. Today’s Christians aren’t suddenly smarter than all those dead apostles and saints and monks and scholars who were much wiser (and calmer) than us. 1948 was not the prophetic wind-up of some sort of magic countdown clock to Armageddon. Neither was 1967 or 2008 or any of the other so-called signs like blood moons and red heifers. It’s entertaining, but it’s nonsense.

So what is right? Legend has it that once upon a time, an itinerant rabbi gathered a rabble of ordinary folk and set in motion a movement not even the mighty Roman Empire could crush. He said crazy things like “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” and “as you did it to one of the least of my brethren you did it to me.” Other men who came before him said equally insane things. Things like “the alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself.” They asked awkward questions like “what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

I don’t know about you, but I like this sort of crazy. A lot more than the foolishness I see on TV, and hear on the radio, and read on these pages…

Jacques d’Nalgar
Hot Springs, Arkansas

Photo of 666 5th Avenue in New York City: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-16/kushner-plan-for-fifth-avenue-tower-is-being-blocked-by-partner

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2018/02/21/666/

Response to the Muslim

 

Support for Morgan

Sentinel Record Letter to the Editor, Sunday, January 28, 2018

 

Dear editor:

This is my response to the Muslim, Mahmoud El-Yousseph’s letter (Sunday, Jan. 21) which was highly critical of Jan Morgan, owner of the Gun Cave Indoor Firing Range. Mrs. Morgan has declared her business a “Muslim free zone,” which made the national news in 2014.

Mr. El-Yousseph called this a cheap publicity stunt to help her to get more support for her running for governor in Arkansas as a Republican. I respectfully disagree with your criticism concerning her policy, for I believe that she has good reasons for this restriction!

It is not true that most of us believe that all Muslims are terrorists, but it is a fact that almost all terrorists are either Muslims or Muslim converts and sympathizers!

Muslims have no one else to blame but themselves if most of us don’t trust them! There really is no easy way to know who is who and who is going to do what among this group of people.

When the twin towers in New York were destroyed by two jet airliners crashing into them and killing almost 3,000 innocent American citizens, the pilots of those jets were … surprise — Muslims! A lot of us aren’t forgetting 9/11! We must not.

Also, it is worth remembering that these two Muslims were trained here in America to fly those jet airliners. Yes, America trained them how to fly, so that they could kill many of us! Wow!

I truly believe that Mrs. Morgan sincerely believes that if she helped train Muslims to become more proficient in shooting guns, that some of them might use these skills in acts of terrorism. It would be the same thing as training them to fly those jets! She is just using some good common sense concerning this matter. Who can trust them after their many acts of terrorism? This is about national security, not racism, as you claimed.

And it is actually a myth to claim that Islam is a religion of peace! That is a myth and a lie.

The Koran has a provision in it that says that it is acceptable for Muslims to lie and deceive in order to achieve their purposes! You can’t trust them to tell the truth!

The Koran says to “kill the infidels!” Who are the infidels? Everyone who isn’t of the Islamic faith. All the rest of us!

As a Christian, I certainly try to convince everyone that faith and trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior is the only true way to be reconciled to the one true God found in the Holy Bible. However, there is no place in the Bible that commands Christians to kill anyone who won’t convert to Christianity. What a radical difference in these two religions!

Bravo for Mrs. Morgan! Those folks are on a mission to ultimately kill all the rest of us! Thanks for your courage in doing the right thing on this, Jan!

Nothing is more important than our safety and security.

You’ve got my support.

God bless,

Lloyd Hoffman
Hot Springs

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2018/01/28/response-to-the-muslim/

We’re developing a national cataract

Cardinal Tobin, Am I a Christian?

By Nicholas Kristof, Dec. 22, 2017

 

What is Christmas about, anyway? Can I be a Christian if I doubt the virgin birth? Can a woman become a cardinal? What would upset Jesus today? I put these blunt questions and more to Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, who was appointed by Pope Francis and is in his mold. Here’s our conversation, edited for space and clarity.

KRISTOF Merry Christmas! Let me start with respectful skepticism. I revere Jesus’ teachings, but I have trouble with the miracles — including, since this is Christmas, the virgin birth. In Jesus’ time people believed that Athena was born from Zeus’ head, so it seemed natural to accept a great man walking on water or multiplying loaves and fishes; in 2017, not so much. Can’t we take the Sermon on the Mount but leave the supernatural?

CARDINAL TOBIN – People are, I guess, free to take whatever they want. Just like there’s wisdom in non-Christian religions that Christians appropriate.

The most mind-boggling miracle is the incarnation. We believe that the Creator of the Universe, the one who existed before time and before anything else, became one of us. If you accept that, then there are a lot of other things that don’t seem to be quite as unbelievable.

It’s not a magic show. All of the miracles were not isolated or simply altruistic events. They were actually pointing toward who God is, and who this carpenter from Nazareth really was.

One area where the Catholic Church seems to me antiquated is gender. If Jesus trusted women like Mary Magdalene, if Phoebe could be a leader of the early church, then why can’t women be priests or cardinals today?

Those are two different questions. Regarding priests, it really is a stumbling block for people, and especially in this country and in this culture, as all areas of life are opening up to women that this particular ministry in the Catholic Church is not. So I understand the consternation. I have eight sisters. I know for some women this sort of stumbling block takes them away from the church.

As for cardinals, most are bishops but not all of them. As recently as the 19th century there were lay people who were cardinals.

So will we see women cardinals soon?

Maybe my theology isn’t sophisticated enough, but I don’t believe that there’s a compelling theological reason why the pope couldn’t name a woman cardinal.

Pope Francis has promised to find a more incisive role for women in the church. There are isolated incidents of women being appointed to fairly influential posts in the Roman Curia. I think it’s got to be more than that.

I have huge admiration for Catholic nuns, priests and laity working on the front lines all over the world to fight poverty, disease, injustice. Those people are doing exactly what Jesus talked about. But, so often, religious leaders, including those in the Vatican, seem less focused on the needy and more on issues that Jesus never breathed a word about, like gays, or abortion, or family planning.

It’s fair to say Jesus did not make pronouncements on those three hot-button issues. I think, though, that he gave us an ethos and a moral direction, so we don’t have to sit down and say, “Jesus, what do we do?” Catholic tradition didn’t fall out of the air and decide something capricious. It’s based on all sorts of lived experience of people trying to follow Jesus closely.

Can I ask about prayer? I accept that prayer has spiritual, healing value, but why is it that God answers prayers only in ambiguous situations, such as curing cancer, but never to, say, regrow a leg?

It’s interesting you mention that, Nicholas. My dad grew up strong and big, played football for Boston College, went into the service and lost his leg in World War II.

One night he was looking at his prosthesis. He said: “I was thinking I’ve had that thing half my life now. But if I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t have your mother, and I wouldn’t have you.” So he discovered something in that tragedy. Faith got him through it.

Sometimes I think when I don’t receive an answer to what I’m praying for, maybe what I’m asking for actually is something that could be harmful for me. I do believe God hears all prayers, and I believe God answers in some way.

In previous Q. & A.’s, I asked Rev. Tim Keller and President Jimmy Carter whether a skeptic like myself, who admires Jesus’ moral teachings but doubts the virgin birth and any physical resurrection, counts as a Christian. Basically, Keller said “no,” and Carter “yes,” so you’re the tiebreaker. Am I a Christian?

I would think that if you haven’t completely closed the door on the possibility that God has more to say to you, then I think you’re in the tent.

Let’s turn the tables. Anything you want to ask me?

Can I ask a favor? I’m really worried about this country for a lot of reasons, but I’m particularly concerned about refugees and immigrants. I really think this present administration is moving clearly toward a mass deportation. My people are already terrorized. I am so afraid that unless we can find a way of changing hearts, they’re going to go ahead with it.

So is that God’s work here on earth? Is that what Jesus would be criticizing today?

I never hear Jesus going out of his way to point an accusing finger at people who are oppressing the poor. What he does criticize in very stark terms is the ones who don’t see them, who don’t see them as they are. I think that’s what happens. We’re developing a national cataract.

Thanks! And for all my skepticism, this I believe: Merry Christmas!

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/22/opinion/sunday/cardinal-tobin-christian.html

Photograph of Cardinal Joseph Tobin at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican last year, Alessandra Benedetti (Corbis, via Getty Images).

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2017/12/24/were-developing-a-national-cataract/

Believing like Jesus

A wonderful time of year

Monsieur d’Nalgar:  Mr. Lindholm informed me of several corrections that are now reflected herein.  These corrections were made via social media after the letter was published in the Sentinel Record…  The comments that follow were also harvested from social media.  Vendredi 22 décembre 2017 à l’ère commune.  Joyeux Noël à tous!

Dear editor:

It’s a wonderful time of the year.

The world is captivated by the story of the birth of Jesus. It is a story about a baby born in a feeding-box. He did not come in royal splendor as a king. He was born to an olive-skinned, Middle Eastern man and woman. His mother, pregnant and unwed and looked upon as property, delivered her son into a world that would undeniably see him as an illegitimate child born wrapped in rags and placed in a smelly feeding trough in a dark foul-smelling barn. A young mother giving birth to a son that later, as an adult, people believed to be of the Son of God.

I find wonderful meaning in the imagery of the Christmas story. This is a legend about something that happened in a time that was cruel and ruthless with an authoritarian social order and culture. One where men executed unlimited control and domination. They abused their power and authority. It’s a story authors wrote many years after Jesus died. They really believed this man had a genuine connection to God like no one ever before or after, a story about a liberator coming to set his people free, a story about the birth of a kingly prince who, in fact, is the Prince of Peace.

We are told singing angels appeared out of nowhere. A new bright star illumined the babe in the manger. Shepherds came and observed. Wise men seeing the brilliant star traveled a great distance to see what was happening. They brought gifts and honored the newborn child. Today, more than 2,000 years later, the birth of Jesus of Nazareth is worshipped and celebrated all over the world.

What happened that day? I believe this is what the beginning of liberation for the broken and oppressed, the marginalized, poor, needy and sick looks like. It doesn’t come from those who hold power and authority, it comes from ordinary people, the followers who think and believe like Jesus.

Christianity’s most quoted Bible verse, John 3:16, was translated from Arabic Aramaic to Greek to English. The English “American Standard Version” reads — “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes ‘in‘ Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” The Arabic Aramaic translated directly to English reads “whosoever believeth ‘like‘ Jesus shall not perish but have everlasting life.” It is not until we begin to live and believe ‘like‘ Jesus that we are ready to follow and walk in the footsteps of Jesus, serving, healing, feeding, sheltering, clothing, respecting and always loving everybody always.

Believing in Jesus is a choice. Believing like Jesus is a gift from God. It is then that our sacred journey begins experiencing eternal life in the here and now.

Merry Christmas.

George Lindholm
Hot Springs

 

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2017/12/21/believing-like-jesus/

Everyone else

The Black Community in Alabama Saved Us From White Evangelicals

By John Pavlovitz, December 13, 2017 (updated December 14, 2017)

 

As news of Doug Jones’ victory came in last night I initially rejoiced.

Watching one of the reddest places in America turn blue, and seeing voters there reject one of the most reprehensible candidates in recent memory certainly seemed like cause for celebration. It felt in that moment like a victory for the nation, for the state of Alabama, and for the Resistance movement pushing back for a year against the bigotry of this Administration and badly needing confirmation that our efforts were bearing fruit.

Trump was Tweet silent and reportedly furious.
Steve Bannon was all dressed up for a nazi afterparty that never happened.
Roy Moore was quoting Psalm 40 and blaming the horse he rode in on.
Equality, Diversity, and Justice had won the day.
A bit of light was breaking through.
There was reason for dancing again.
I joined in that dancing.

Then I looked at the numbers, and the party was quickly over:

68 percent of white voters chose Roy Moore.
96 percent of black voters chose Doug Jones.

63 percent of white women voted for Roy Moore.
98 percent of black women voted for Jones.

80 percent of self identified White Evangelicals voted for Roy Moore.

In other words, black voters saved us all from white Evangelicals. By simply voting their consciences, in ways that may not have intended, they did something redemptive for all of us.

They almost singlehandedly spared us from a vile, hateful monster of a man—inexplicably, one that white Bible-thumping, God-is-love-ing, family valuing, professed followers of Jesus overwhelmingly embraced—again.

Just as they’d done in November of 2016, 81 percent of caucasian born-again Christians stepped into a voting booth and affirmed a man whose racism, homophobia, misogyny, and contempt for people of color was on full display in the weeks that led them there.

Excuse my language—but what the hell, white Evangelicals?

Alabama just gave you a chance to course correct from the God-awful decision you made a year ago.
You had a golden opportunity to stand in solidarity with marginalized people and to remind them that this is where Jesus would be.
You received an early Christmas gift in the form of an openly racist, brazenly homo/transphobic, historically predatory candidate—who you could and should have opposed as a no-brainer.

And to it all you said, “No thanks, we’re good.”

With his almost cartoony, nonsensical buffoonery, Roy Moore lobbed you all up a softball to at least ceremonially denounced bigotry—and 81 percent of you struck out swinging.

And you wonder why the Church is shrinking.
You wonder why people are fleeing organized Christianity in droves.
You wonder why more and more Americans see the term Evangelical as something devoid of Jesus and more akin to terrorism.

There will be all sorts of rationalizations proffered today and in the coming weeks; ways Bible Belt Christians will justify their vote, excuses evangelists and pastors will make, sermons about a perverse culture, conversations about whether people believed Roy Moore’s accusers—all in an effort to escape the obvious: White Evangelical Christianity in America is horribly broken and it may not be fixable. It is an exclusionary, divisive, deeply racist presence in a nation that wants and needs an expression of religion that doesn’t further divide an already terribly fractured people.

Those of us who are white and come from a Christian tradition, need to admit that White Evangelicalism is now the thing most antithetical to the message of Jesus.
We need to openly lament and condemn the supremacy embedded in it because the Jesus of the Gospels did.
We need to oppose it because it is now the very Roman Empire that Christ spent his days on the planet pushing back against.

Yes, Alabama is reason for celebration, but it isn’t only that.
It is an occasion to grieve the racism that still infects the blood stream of the White Evangelical Church.
It is a moment to lament how the message of Christ drifted in 2,000 years, from radical love for the poor and marginalized—into a haven for gun-waving bigots on horseback.
It is a moment to deeply express gratitude to the black community at large for affirming the things White Evangelicals should, but simply refuse to: compassion, equality, diversity, justice.

Alabama shouldn’t even have been this close, given the overt racism on display and the ugliness of the candidate.

Sadly, far too many white people still haven’t figured out that diversity is this country’s greatest asset—and that for Christians it should be a flat-out non negotiable.

Perhaps the most startling graphic in the Washington Post’s breakdown was this one:

White born-again Christians—and everyone else.

Everyone else seems to get it.

Everyone else seems to have this “love your neighbor as yourself” thing down.

Everyone else seems to realize how much White Evangelicals have lost the plot.

As a white Christian living and serving in the Bible Belt, someone who is trying to excavate Jesus from the ugly stuff he has been buried in, today I gladly stand alongside Everyone Else.

Thank you to the black community for representing Everyone Else—when white Evangelicals again refused to.

 

https://johnpavlovitz.com/2017/12/13/black-women-alabama-saved-us-white-evangelicals/

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2017/12/14/everyone-else/

We all have so much work to do

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: ‘Trump is where he is because of his appeal to racism’

By Donald McRae, Friday 8 December 2017 13.26 EST

 

Like all people my age I find the passage of time so startling,” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says with a quiet smile. The 70-year-old remains the highest points-scorer in the history of the NBA and, having won six championships and been picked for a record 19 All-Star Games, he is regarded widely as being second only to Michael Jordan when the greatest basketball players of all time are listed. Yet no one in American sport today can match Kareem’s political and cultural impact over 50 years.

In the 90 minutes since he knocked on my hotel room door in Los Angeles, Abdul-Jabbar has recounted a dizzying personal history which stretches from conducting his first-ever interview with Martin Luther King in Harlem, when he was just 17, to receiving a hand-written insult from Donald Trump in 2015. We move from Colin Kaepernick calling him last week to the moment when, aged 20, Kareem was the youngest man invited to the Cleveland Summit – as the leading black athletes in 1967 gathered to meet Muhammad Ali to decide whether they would support him after he had been stripped of his world title and banned from boxing for rejecting the draft during the Vietnam War.

Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who has been shut out of the NFL for his refusal to stand for the US national anthem, is engaged in a different struggle. But, after being banished unofficially from football for going down on a bended knee in protest against racism and police brutality, Kaepernick has one of his staunchest allies in Abdul-Jabbar.

At the Cleveland Summit Abdul-Jabbar was called Lew Alcindor, for he had not converted to Islam then, and he became one of Ali’s ardent supporters. When Ali convinced his fellow athletes he was right to stand against the US government, the young basketball star knew he needed to make his more reticent voice heard. He has stayed true to that conviction ever since.

“We’re talking about 50 years since the Cleveland Summit, wow,” Abdul-Jabbar exclaims. “We were tense about what we were going to do and Ali was the opposite. He said: ‘We’ve got to fight this in court and I’m going to start a speaking tour.’ Ali had figured out what he had to do in order to make the dollars – while fighting the case was essential to his identity. Bill Russell [the great Boston Celtics player] said: ‘I’ve got no concerns about Ali. It’s the rest of us I’m worried about.’ Ali had such conviction but he was cracking jokes and asking us if we were going to be as dumb as Wilt Chamberlain [another basketball great who played for the Philadelphia 76ers]. Wilt wanted to box Ali. Oh my God.”

Abdul-Jabbar’s face creases with laughter before he becomes more serious again. “Black Americans wanted to protect Ali because he spoke for us when we had no voice. When he said: ‘Ain’t no Viet Cong ever called me the N-word’, we figured that one out real quick. Ali was a winner and people supported him because of his class as a human being. But some of the things we fought against then are still happening. Each generation faces these same old problems.”

The previous evening, when I had sat next to Abdul-Jabbar at the Los Angeles Press Club awards, the past echoed again. Abdul-Jabbar received two prizes – the Legend Award and Columnist of the Year for his work in the Hollywood Reporter. Other award winners included Tippi Hedren, who starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, The Birds, and the New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey who broke the Harvey Weinstein story two months ago. As if to prove that the past can be played over and over again in a contemporary loop, we saw footage of Hedren saying how she would not accept the sexual bullying of Hitchcock in the 1960s just before Kantor and Twohey described how they earned the trust of women who had been abused by Weinstein.

Abdul-Jabbar explained quietly to me how much of an ordeal he found such occasions. He was happiest talking about John Coltrane or Sherlock Holmes, James Baldwin or Bruce Lee, but people kept coming over to ask for a selfie or a book to be signed while, all evening, comic references were made to his height. Abdul-Jabbar is 7ft 2in and he looked two feet taller than Hedren on the red carpet.

The following morning, as he stretches out his long legs, I tell Kareem how I winced each time another wise-crack was made about his height. “I can tell you I was six-foot-two, aged 12, when the questions started,” Abdul-Jabbar says. “‘How’s the weather up there?’ I should write down all the things people said when affected by my height. One of the funniest was at an airport and this little boy of five looked at my feet in amazement. I said: ‘Hey, how you’re doing?’ He just said: ‘You must be very old – because you’ve got very big shoes.’ For him the older you were, the bigger your shoes. That’s the best I’ve heard.”

In his simple but often beautiful and profound new book, Becoming Kareem, Abdul-Jabbar writes poignantly: “My skin made me a symbol, my height made me a target.”

Race has been the primary issue which Abdul-Jabbar has confronted every day. In another absorbing Abdul-Jabbar book published this year, Coach Wooden and Me, he celebrates his friendship with the man who helped him win an unprecedented three NCAA championship titles with UCLA. They lost only two games in his three years on campus as UCLA established themselves as the greatest team in the history of college basketball and Wooden, a white midwesterner, and Kareem, a black kid from New York, forged a bond that lasted a half-century. Yet, amid their shared morality and decency, race remained an unresolved issue between them.

Wooden was mortified when a little old lady stared up at the teenage Kareem and said: “I’ve never seen a nigger that tall.” Even though he would later say that he learnt more about man’s inhumanity to man by witnessing all his protégé endured over the years, Wooden’s memory of that encounter softened the woman’s racial insult by saying that she had called Kareem “a big black freak.”

Abdul-Jabbar nods. “He would never see a little grey-haired lady using such language. When it doesn’t affect your life it’s hard for you to see. Men don’t understand what attractive women go through. We don’t get on a bus and have somebody squeeze our breast. We have no idea how bad it can be. For people to understand your predicament you’ve got to figure out how to convey that reality. It takes time.”

Abdul-Jabbar made his first high-profile statement against the predicament of all African Americans when, in 1968, he boycotted the Olympic Games in Mexico. After race riots in Newark and Detroit, and the assassination of King in April 1968, he knew he could not represent his country. “Dr Harry Edwards [the civil rights activist] helped me realise how much power I had. The Olympics are a great event but what happened overwhelmed any patriotism. I had to make a stand. I wanted the country to live up to the words of the founding fathers – and make sure they applied to people of colour and to women. I was trying to hold America to that standard.”

The athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos took another path of protest. They competed in the Olympic 200m in Mexico and, after they had won gold and bronze, raised their gloved fists in a black power salute on the podium. “I was glad somebody with some political consciousness had gone to Mexico,” Abdul-Jabbar says, “so I was very supportive of them.”

Does Kaepernick’s situation mirror those same issues? “Yeah. The whole issue of equal treatment under the law is still being worked out here because for so long our political and legal culture has denied black Americans equal treatment. But I was surprised Kaepernick had that awareness. It made me think: ‘I wonder how many other NFL athletes are also aware?’ From there it has bloomed. This generation has a very good idea on how to confront racism. I talked to Colin a couple of days ago on the phone and I’m really proud of him. He’s filed an issue with the Players Association about the owners colluding to keep him from working. That’s the best legal approach to it. I hope he prevails.”

Over dinner the night before, he intimated that Kaepernick knew he would never play in the NFL again. “We didn’t get that deep into it,” he says now, “but he has an idea that is what’s going down. But he’s moved on. He hadn’t prepared for this but he coped with different twists and turns. Some of the owners in the NFL are sympathetic, some aren’t. It’s gone back and forth. But he appreciates the fact that kids in high school have taken an interest. So he got something done and this generation’s athletes are now more aware of civil rights.”

Kaepernick has been voted GQ’s Citizen of the Year, the runner-up in Time magazine’s Person of the Year and this week he received Sports Illustrated’s Muhammad Ali Legacy Award. Considering the way Kaepernick “has never wavered in his commitment”, Abdul-Jabbar writes in Sports Illustrated that: “I have never been prouder to be an American … On November 30, it was reported that 40 NFL players and league officials had reached an agreement for the league to provide approximately $90m between now and 2023 for activism endeavors important to African American communities. Clearly, this is the result of Colin’s one-knee revolution and of the many players and coaches he inspired to join him. That is some serious impact … Were my old friend [Ali] still alive, I know he would be proud that Colin is continuing this tradition of being a selfless warrior for social justice.”

In my hotel room, Abdul-Jabbar is more specific in linking tragedy and a deepening social conscience. “I don’t know how anybody could not be moved by some of the things we’ve seen. Remember the footage of [12-year-old] Tamir Rice getting killed [in Cleveland [in 2014]. The car stops and the cop stands up and executes Tamir Rice. It took two seconds. It’s so unbelievably brutal you have to do something about it.

“LeBron James and other guys in the NBA all had something to say about such crimes [James and leading players wore I Can’t Breathe T-shirts in December 2014 to protest against the police killing of Eric Garner, another black man]. They weren’t talking as athletes. They were talking as parents because that could have been their kid.”

If the NFL appears to have actively ended Kaepernick’s career, what does Abdul-Jabbar feel about the NBA’s politics? “The NBA has been wonderful. I came into the NBA and went to Milwaukee [where he won his first championship before winning five more with the LA Lakers]. Milwaukee had the first black general manager in professional sports [Wayne Embry in 1972]. And the NBA’s outreach for coaches, general managers and women has been exemplary. The NBA has been on the edge of change. I was hoping the NFL might do the same because some of the owners were taking the knee. But they’re making an example of Colin. It’s not right. Let him go out there and succeed or fail on the field like any other great athlete.”

Abdul-Jabbar smiles shyly when I ask him about his first interview – with Martin Luther King 53 years ago. “As a journalist I started out interviewing Dr King. Whoa! By that point [1964], Dr King was a serious icon and I was thrilled he gave me a really good earnest answer. Moments like that affect your life. But my first real experience of being drawn into the civil rights movement came when I read James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time.”

Has he seen I Am Not Your Negro – Raoul Peck’s 2016 documentary of Baldwin? “It’s wonderful. I saw it two weeks after the Trump election. It was menacing for my soul. It made me think of how bad things were for James Baldwin. But remember him speaking at Cambridge [University] and the reception he got? Oh man, amazing! I kept telling people: ‘Trump is an asshole but go and see this film. Trump doesn’t matter because we’ve got work to do.’”

In 2015, after Abdul-Jabbar wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post, condemning Trump’s attempts to bully the press, the future president sent him a scrawled note: “Kareem – now I know why the press always treated you so badly. They couldn’t stand you. The fact is you don’t have a clue about life and what has to be done to make America great again.”

Abdul-Jabbar smiles when I say that schoolyard taunt is a long way from the oratory of King or Malcolm X. “If you judge yourself by your enemies I’m doing great. Trump’s not going to change. He knows he is where he is because of his appeal to racism and xenophobia. The people that want to divide the country are in his camp. They want to go back to the 18th century.

“Trump wants to move us back to 1952 but he’s not Eisenhower – who was the type of Republican that cared about the whole nation. Even George Bush Sr and George W Bush’s idea of fellow citizens did not exclude people of colour. George W’s cabinet looked like America. It had Condoleezza Rice and the Mexican American gentleman who was the attorney general [Alberto Gonzales] and Colin Powell. Women had important positions in his administration. Even though I did not like his policies, he wasn’t exclusionary.

“Look what’s going on with Trump in Alabama [where the president supports Roy Moore in the state senate election despite his favoured candidate being accused of multiple sexual assaults of under-age girls]. You have a guy like him but he’s going to vote the way you want politically. That’s more important than what he’s accused of? People with that frightening viewpoint are still fighting a civil war. They have to be contained.”

Does he fear that Trump might win a second term? “I don’t think he can, but the rest of us had better organise and vote in 2020. I hope people stop him ruining our nation.”

Abdul-Jabbar also worries that college sport remains as exploitative as ever. “It’s a business and the coaches, the NCAA and universities make a lot of money and the athletes get exploited. They make billions of dollars for the whole system and don’t get any. I’m not saying they have to be wealthy but I think they should get a share of the incredible amount they generate.”

In Coach Wooden and Me, he writes of how, in the 1960s, he was famous at UCLA but dead broke. “Yeah. No cash. It’s ridiculous. Basketball and football fund everything. College sports do not function on the revenue from water polo or track and field or gymnastics. It’s all down to basketball and football. The athletes at Northwestern tried to organise a union and that’s how college athletes have to think. They need to unionise. If they can organise they can get a piece of the pie because they are the show.”

The legendary Michael Jordan never showed the social conscience of Abdul-Jabbar and other rare NBA activists like Craig Hodges. But Abdul-Jabbar is conciliatory towards Jordan and his commercially-driven contemporaries. “I was glad they became interested in being successful businessmen because their financial power makes a difference. I just felt they should leave a little room to help the causes they knew needed their help. But Jordan has come around. He gave some money to the NAACP for legal funds, thank goodness.”

Abdul-Jabbar defines himself as a writer now. As he reflects on his LA Press Club awards he says: “To be honoured by other writers is incredible. I’m a neophyte. I’m a rookie.”

He grins when I say he’s not doing not too badly for a rookie who has written 13 books, including novels about Mycoft Holmes – brother of Sherlock. “Yeah, but I still feel new to it and to get that recognition was wonderful. I was very flattered that the BBC came to interview me about Mycroft because the British are very protective of their culture. Arthur Conan Doyle is beyond an icon. So I was like, ‘Wow, maybe I am doing OK.’ When I was [an NBA] rookie somebody gave me a complete compilation of Doyle’s stories. I went from there.

“People were amazed because I always used to be reading before a game – whether it was Sherlock Holmes or Malcolm X, John Le Carré or James Baldwin. But that was one of the luxuries of being a professional athlete. You get lots of time to read. My team-mates did not read to the same extent but I’m a historian and some of the guys had big holes in their knowledge of black history. So I was the librarian for the team.”

I tell Abdul-Jabbar about my upcoming interview with Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics – and how the 21-year-old has the same thirst for reading and knowledge. While enthusiastic about the possibility of meeting Brown when the Celtics next visit LA, Abdul-Jabbar makes a wistful observation of a young sportsman’s intellectual curiosity. “He’s going to be lonely. Most of the guys are like: ‘Where are we going to party in this town? Where are the babes?’ So the fact that he has such broader interests is remarkable and wonderful.”

Abdul-Jabbar acknowledges that his own bookish nature and self-consciousness about his height, combined with a fierce sense of injustice, made him appear surly and aloof as a player. It also meant he was never offered the head-coach job he desired. “They didn’t think I could communicate and they didn’t take the time to get to know me. But I didn’t make it easy for them so some of that falls in my lap – absolutely. But it’s different now. People stop me in the street and want to talk about my articles. It’s amazing.”

Most of all, in his eighth decade, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar “loves to lose myself in my imagination. It’s a wonderful place to go when you’re old and creaky like me. I see myself working at this pace [writing at least a book a year] but it’s not like I have the hounds at my heels. Since my career ended I’ve been able to have friends and family. My new granddaughter will be three this month. She’s my very first [grandchild]. So my life has expanded in wonderful ways. But, still, we all have so much work to do. The work is a long way from being done.”

 

https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/dec/08/kareem-abdul-jabbar-kaepernick-trump-interview

Photograph by Austin Hargrave (AUGUST).

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2017/12/08/we-all-have-so-much-work-to-do/

War

 

Hedd Wyn: the shepherd poet whose story shows the stupidity of war

By Giles Fraser, Thursday 9 November 2017

 

When the first world war broke out, the poet Ellis Humphrey Evans was working as a shepherd on the family hill farm in north Wales. Generally better known by his bardic name, Hedd Wyn, which means blessed peace in Welsh, Evans initially refused to sign up. While the Anglican establishment was calling on young men to do their duty for God and country, there were others, particularly in the Welsh nonconformist tradition, who refused this dangerous combination. “Why must I live in this grim age,” writes Evans in his poem War, “When, to a far horizon, God / Has ebbed away, and man, with rage / Now wields the sceptre and the rod.”

But when the army came for his younger brother, Evans took his place, despite his Christian pacifism – or perhaps even because of it. He joined the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. In France, trudging towards Passchendaele – a three-month battle that was concluded 100 years ago on Friday – Private Evans composed his final poem on the theme of the hero and posted it back home as an entry in the national Eisteddfod competition.

Twice in the last few months people have spoken to me movingly about Hedd Wyn. First was Paul Flynn, the veteran Labour MP for Newport West. Flynn’s father was a machine-gunner at Passchendaele. Believing all the nationalistic propaganda, he enlisted and fought through the worst of the mud and death. He survived, but was never the same again. Which is why, even at 82, Flynn still burns with righteous anger at the stupidity and pointlessness of war; and why he was so exercised when Tory MP Bill Cash foolishly described Passchendaele as “a wonderful battle” in a Commons debate earlier this year. As he was explaining to me what his father went through, Flynn reached for a copy of Hedd Wyn’s poems and started reading them out in Welsh – a language I do not understand. But the way he read was so intense, so focused, there was no mistaking the moral seriousness of what he was doing.

A few weeks later, I mentioned how moving I had found this to Rowan Williams, whom I had gone to visit in Cambridge. At the name of Hedd Wyn his eyes lit up. He took me into his study, where, on the bookshelf, he showed me an image of the great Welsh poet painted in the form of an orthodox icon. I knew very little about this poet beforehand, but it was clear this young shepherd from Trawsfynydd had profoundly touched the lives of many.

Hedd Wyn was killed on the first day of Passchendaele. “It was a nosecap shell in his stomach,” wrote a soldier, with him on Pilckem Ridge in the notorious Ypres salient. During the 100 days of the battle of Passchedaele, the allies gained just five miles of ground. For this they lost 310,000 men; the Germans 260,000.

A few weeks after Hedd Wyn’s death, the poem that he’d sent back from France – as tradition has it, submitted anonymously under a pseudonym – won the coveted bard’s chair at the National Eisteddfod. The prime minister, David Lloyd George, was in attendance. As the trumpets sounded, they called on the winning poet to reveal himself. After three such attempts, the archdruid stepped forward and gave the grim news that Evans had been killed in action six weeks before. The empty chair was draped in a black sheet. To this day it is remembered as the Eisteddfod of the black chair.

I will stand in silence with my poppy during the act of remembrance. But I am always conscious that remembrance is a little too easily purloined by those who want to celebrate precisely the sort of militarism and nationalistic chauvinism that led so many young men to pointless deaths. So during the silence, I will be thinking of a peace-loving man walking the hills with his sheep and hundreds of thousands like him whose lives were needlessly taken by the failure of politicians to figure out a better way for human beings to live with their differences. And I will think of that empty black chair, a haunting symbol of the total futility of war.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2017/nov/09/hedd-wyn-the-shepherd-poet-whose-story-shows-the-stupidity-of-war

Photograph of stretcher-bearers struggling in mud to carry a wounded man to safety on Pilckem Ridge, Ypres, on 1 August 1917. The day before, Hedd Wyn had been killed in this area. IWM/Getty Images.

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2017/11/21/war/