Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Reflections on the start of a new year

August, tomorrow is my birthday. I will be turning 32. I am married with a child on the way. I'm losing my hair and gainfully employed. I have degrees and certifications and job experience. I'm an adult. But, at the same time, I still love to play with Legos and have a pretty impressive Star Wars toy collection. I've got plans for the future and history to reflect on. I've got a good idea of what my limitations are and what people think of me. I've seen the world for what it is, and I've decided to be one of the good guys, as best as I can understand it. I try to remember what I would have expected from myself at this age when I was 17. I think I imagined that I would be successful, as far as I could have understood success at the time. Atlanta was never on my radar. It still isn't, really. I probably expected that I would have beaten my addictions by now, and that I'd be writing books or making speeches about one thing or another. But, here I am: average in most ways, clinging on to some false narrative that I'm Daniel Boone or Kit Carson; an explorer that knows no fear and strikes out on his own in search of adventure, to put his name on things. There was this tradition when I was working at a camp in Colorado. Every Tuesday, the staff cooked made-to-order pancakes right in the dining room. I remember putting in a fair amount of effort into getting the staff to name a particular mix of pancake batter with strawberries and white-chocolate chips "The Mondo." It never caught on.
But age is a funny thing. We live in a time when adulthood doesn't exist like it used to. My generation cling to our childhood desperately. We're afraid to let go, to grow up. Growing up is a curse, it's boredom, it's insignificance. We thought we saw these traits in our parents and we want nothing to do with such characteristics. So we cling to the past, when our expectations for the future were lofty, to say the least, if not impossible. I still imagine that I will live a life of adventure and excitement, not submitting to the reality that my adventurous days are behind me. Now, I settle in. I raise my children and provide for my family and learn to love my wife more and more. I give up on the dreams and aspirations that I was never capable of in the first place. I fade.
It sounds hopeless, but I don't feel hopeless. I don't feel despair. I'm optimistic, I see a new world, a reality that is more true than the lies I believed when I was 17. There is good to be done, there is a world of hurt surrounding me that I can speak into. There are refugees that need community. There is family that I can soak in love and mutual experience. I have students that need a man to admire and respect. I have a system in which I work that is broken, and I can fight for justice within that context. There is a God that swirls in and through the corners of my being, making life worth living. I can chase that. I can swim in the potential that his plan whispers, anxious for the coming about of something better, of life that is more full than the one I currently experience. Jesus has reached out to me and invited me into a better story. And though I'm terrible at taking whatever step is required of me, the invitation persists. I want to learn how to accept it.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

at least it isn't me

Seconds swelling
Ridiculed reductionism
Curbs and coattails
a laughable excuse for revolution

and we, swimming in our apathy
casually concede
"at least it isn't me"

all the elements awakened
history, hysterically
sings its sordid sentiments
stand up, take arms
tell these tyrants "no"

for the fortunes have faded
the oppressed omitted
the tawdy, tiring tumult
weep in their weakness
falter and fail
beneath the breadth of the behemoth

at least it isn't me
the comfort of the cul de sac
the capital gains tax
they smile,
certain everything will end alee
"at least it isn't me"

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

On President Trump's Immigration Ban

I tried to make this concise, but I couldn't. I organized it into three main points, at least. Please let me know if you want me to clarify anything or if you want additional resources.

Since September 11, there have been 36 individuals that have perpetrated Islamic terrorist attacks in the United States. 

According to The State Department, The UNHCR, and the Center for Immigration Studies, over 16.7 million immigrants and refugees have entered the U.S. since 2001.

This suggests that .000216% of all immigrants and refugees (assuming the aforementioned 18 individuals were immigrants or refugees [some of them were naturally born US citizens]) have perpetrated acts of Islamic terror since 2001.

Point A: The system is not failing, as it admits enemies of the state at almost a 0% rate (.000216%).

Continuing Point A, I have worked closely, and had in-depth conversations with Refugees from Iraq and Syria, among other countries, who are Muslim. The 20-step vetting process (which involves security and background checks by four Federal Agencies, as well as the United Nations, and lasts two years) to admit this demographic is already arguably the most extensive vetting process undertaken by any country in the world. Hearing the stories of the levels that they have to go through to reach asylum in the US has made the depth and the degree of the refugee screening process a reality for me.

Point A.1: Extreme Vetting is already the reality.

I shouldn't have to continue beyond points A, but assuming that the system does need to be overhauled, the executive order stipulates that no immigrant visas will be issued from the 7 identified (Muslim-majority) states and that no refugees will be admitted during the three month period. It also claims that when resumed, the US Refugee Admission Program will "prioritize (victims of) religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual's country of nationality." This is a clever way of saying that Christians will take priority over Muslims. We know that he advocates for anti-Muslim immigration and refugee admission policies because Trump called for a Muslim immigration ban during his campaign.

Here's the problem with that: this amplifies the target that militant Jihadiism has already placed on the United States. I know from my time in the intelligence community that Jihadi terror groups' primary recruiting tactic is to make Muslims feel like their home country doesn't want them. When a Muslim feels disenfranchised and isolated in their home country, the Islamic State welcomes them in with open arms, and thus new Muslims are radicalized. We know this because we have expansive Jihadi publications (which I have seen and read in Arabic) that outline Jihadi recruiting tactics and isolation as the first step in radicalization. I can provide a long list of resources if you are interested in the sources of this information. This executive order plays directly into their game plan. 

Point B: This Executive Order will invariably increase Jihadi recruitment and anti-American sentiment and action around the world. 

Continuing, the argument that this is a temporary measure is one that I hear often. My primary issue with this argument (besides my contention that even a temporary rejection of an entire race of people is still un-Constitutional, un-American, and un-Christian) is the precedent it sets. If the United States accepts this method of closing our doors to people who are different than us as a means of "protecting ourselves," then the next time that it is proposed, there will be a justification for more extreme measures. This will be something that neo-conservatives can build off of, and the potential for it to become a precedent that initiates much deeper and darker atrocities against Muslims (or any one else that those groups choose to target) is too dangerous to be complacent about. Many incidents of genocide in recent history have begun with a smaller, more "acceptable" measure that went unchecked.

Point C: Temporary rejection of basic Human Rights (see Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 14; 1951 Convention regarding the Status of Refugees, Article 3; Convention against Torture, Article 3; et al.) is still a rejection of Human Rights and can be referenced to justify greater future atrocities.

Conclusion: This EO is about playing into irrational fears of brown people. While that is my subjective conclusion, we can analyze the facts and the data above and understand that the harm that this will cause to our country, our image, and our morality as a nation are not worth the results that it might possibly achieve. 

Moreover, I spoke with Rema, my Syrian student, today. Her eyes went to the floor as she told me that her Sister and brother-in-law are in Turkey, trying to join her family here in the U.S. This is the impact, real people being told that they aren't wanted, that the country in which they have placed their hope (because that country promised to welcome them in) has essentially said, "we don't want you." As anecdotal as that may be, it's why I've shed countless tears over this EO and over the country's response. Please, please, please have compassion on the victims of this. Look at the facts, not what you see in the media, not what you feel, not what your friends feel. You don't have to hate Trump to disagree with this decision that he has made. Please, please, please disagree with it.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Not a Terrorist

Rema is 16. Her family fled Syria as war was breaking out several years ago. She is impressively smart and soaks things up in class despite a limited English proficiency. She is soft spoken and mild mannered, but looks you in the eye when she speaks to you, and is constantly smiling. She has heterochromia—different colored eyes—and is beautiful, Hijab and all. She is not a terrorist.

Zadi is 15. His family fled Iraq after radical islamic terrorists bombed his town and it became clear that it was no longer safe. He is a ball of energy, practically bouncing off of the walls somedays. There’s a joy about him that is contagious. He is quick to own his linguistic limitations, often making fun of himself over his misspelling of words. His confidence and laughter brightens any room he walks into. He is not a terrorist.

Dima is 18. She may be the funniest person I know. She is learning English, a language that was completely new to her when her and her family fled Burma in 2015 amid racially-based and life-threatening persecution. New to English, she still has this ability to make poignant and hilarious jokes despite her limited proficiency. She is always making me laugh in class, and her aggressive sarcasm equals my own. She is not a terrorist.

Carlos is 18. He and his family fled Honduras seeking asylum from the growing and impending gang culture that has developed there. Darwin is relaxed and malleable, keeping his head down and only asking clarification questions when he thinks no one else is listening. He’s as smart as they come, thought, and seems determine to forge a life for himself that is beyond what his history may suggest. He is not a terrorist. 

Hader is 17. His family fled Baghdad amidst growing concerns for safety. He is on the yearbook staff and may be the most polite young man I’ve ever met. He is aggressive in asking for forgiveness when he feels he is interrupting something to ask me a question, and is constantly encouraging me in my Arabic, even though its mostly garbage. His conversation is always a welcomed surprise, as he is a deep thinker with an active imagination and problem solving ability. He is not a terrorist. 

Dina is 19. An Iraqi refugee, she is more mature than any other High School student I have ever met. There have been times when I felt comfortable leaving her in charge of her peers, knowing that the class was in good hands while I ran to the bathroom or made copies. She is extremely caring, and takes interest in the people around her to a degree that most High Schoolers don’t. She is not a terrorist.

Armaeus is 20. He spent most of his life in a refugee camp before coming to the United States, and has a story that would break any one’s heart. Despite his difficult background, he is the happiest kid I know. An elite long-distance runner, he has assimilated into American culture extremely well, and uses his assimilation as a platform to love a wide range of people. His care and concern for the people around him are inspiring, and his appreciation for life shines through in every conversation I’ve ever had with him. He is not a terrorist.

There are millons of others. If you think that immigrants or refugees are a threat, then you probably have never sat down with one, had them in your house, or heard them tell their story. They, being as human as I am, deserve the same shot at life that we all do and denying them that is the most un-Christian and un-American thing that I could imagine. This is not a political issue. It’s life and death. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Inauguration Day, 1/20/17

Swing low, sweet chariot and each my outstretched arms
beneath the tides of safety and standard I'm sinking,
weighted by my elbows shoved into sides my
fingers buried deep in other people's pockets
my arches stained by blood and nail, toes
like stepping stones. The wearing of my
welcome hopeless, haughty-hearted
buried in my blessing
confetti in my hair

Swing low, and blitz the buring, the lynch mob
awaiting crying for justice, hours to atone as I
hold to fleeting hope that, somehow, some
way salvation calls the name of this
carpetbagger, turned transcendent
trying hand at blossoming, a self-
deceiving brick layer
buried in my blessing
confetti in my hair

And where were you, you mongol, audacious and awaiting
the limits of my liberty, my chances running out
take heed and call your witness as evening's
light is fading. I slip away again
buried in my blessing
confetti in my hair

Here we stand, an army of discontent, punching clocks
and watching calendars. Concentrated effort only
several inches short of greatness commercials
promise. Slowly, with no determination
whatsoever, we crawl toward the
finish line, the tortoise to the
hare of kings and queens,
standing tall on layered
bodies, no sympathy
for the vanquished
they were smitten
weakness. And
I, chief among
them, look up
at the Italian
buried in my blessing
confetti in my hair

It's us and them, you know. Friends who share our heritages, enemies
who do not. This solidarity of interest, the interest of self, hallowed
by its treasure lucrative and luxurious so draw the lines, sweet
chariot that we may stand to face them, to sell our souls for
their limits, their beautiful ramparts, safety awaiting within
where our blood may not be tainted and our money won't
be messed with. defeat the barbaric other, suppress the
calls for fairness, destroy the precepts of same ness.
Call the devil by his name, that he will no longer
oppress us, the huddled middle class
buried in our blessing
confetti in our hair

Evil to My Shinbones

Heavy heart, my witness
here, the line is drawn
these monsters, tangible and terse
are frightened child titans
walled in and waiting

do I fear them?
is the sentiment returned?
Does it end at this line in the sand?

these fingers and toes
limitless and listening
for a whisper of the truth to swell within me
as the cavern, hollow and homogeneous
echoes dirge and dialogue
of death, death, death
and evil to my shinbones.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Awake, Alive

Awake, alive
Lit up like the fourth of july
This holding cell
This prison camp
Weighs heavy on the undertones
Of mistakes I regret
And chances I didn’t take
She is a demon, haunting the hallways
Whispering my transgressions
Slinging hateful rhetoric
About building walls and fucking them all to death

It wanes, my once cerebral assurance
That all is well, that all will resolve
Now, the sins of my forefathers
The blood on my hands
Starts to spread, to take hold of the inches
The millimeters now, separating truth from a lie
Death from  life

And I sit, unable to rise
Flooded by waves of uncertain self-loathing
Mornings spent waiting for the afternoon
Nights spent waiting for the morning
In hopes that some resolution will come
Waiting, hopefully not in vain
But most likely in vain

So, what the hell
Come lord Jesus come
Come Advent, the fires of hell
Come the New World, Westward expansion,
Space travel
The next frontier
The next beyond
That hope in something new

Until it comes

And lets me down again.

I Miss the Certain Thing

I miss the certain thing
The unending to allegiance to a word
I miss waking in the morning, steps laid out
But temporary steps
And the sound, swelling
Of all the world before me
Rooms of houses, filled to the brim
With dying voices, tearing
Into one another with reckless uncertainty

I miss the yes being yes
The no being no
The maybe being no
The later being no
But the yes
Used to be yes

I miss the quiet morning
Swimming in oblivion
Feeling guilt of the last night’s transgressions
Knowing that redemption was out there
That someday I would find it
Before i realized the truth
That my hope is unwarranted
That I have myself condemned myself
To wanton uncertainty
Hopelessly faithful to my own demise

I miss the silence
To sit and see and sense
That broken I have come, and in darkness
To this place of noise and nonsense
Of death by distraction
And never ending screen time
My greatest aspiration
When the world was dragons and lightsabers
And I was a huddled mass of potential

I miss the infinite unknowing
A cloud that hovered overhead
When not knowing was sufficient
And hope was all I had
to hang my hat upon
Now, I am captive
To the world at my fingertips
To the whispers of deceit
That tell me I am all there is
This soiled world, small and shrinking
Is ever mine to appropriate

And I miss it, insignificance
Knowing beyond knowledge
Hoping beyond hope
That I am not the means nor ends
Nor medium nor method
Just a seed on a stone

Floating through the infinite cosmos

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Christmas in a Minor Key

The minor key
the world came crashing down
we all believed
in the distractions that we found

the war we waged
from darkened shanty towns
it set the stage
for death and desolation

and in those streets
the darkness caustically
it rose to meet
our hollow pagentry

of Christmas Day
the carols from our mouths
they died away
as we saw the world for what it was

We sing
a minor key
That all is dead and dimming
I see
in effigy
This evil that’s within me

In Bethlehem
the world awaits is dawn
a diadem
to right what has gone wrong

So this is war
a new phenomenon
to right the score
Life itself has come

So stand we now, and sing a tune
come, all arise to meet it
As darkness terrible and true
is finally defeated

A turning of the tide
This baby we behold
His name is hope