Suppose I am a philanthropist who gives one million dollars each year to a certain charity. I love their cause, I identify with it in some way, and it does good, so I in turn, do good.
But every time I see you, I punch you square in the nose. Hard.
Not like my brother and I growing up messing around sort of pop, but reconstructive surgery on your face sort of right cross between the eyes. And not just once, but pretty much every time we see each other, which is a lot, because you live in the basement of my house.
Would you care about my charitable giving? How would you feel about me?
Now what if the charity I loved, was one that helped people with broken noses get their faces reconstructed, and I, was a plastic surgeon? Every year I donate that million dollars and 10,000 children with deviated septum are made to be able to breathe through their noses despite their inability to afford the surgery otherwise. Then, on top of that, I grow wealthy doing the work of fixing people’s faces, whether it be from damage, or maybe just some elective cosmetic touch ups, because I am a plastic surgeon. That is what I do.
But every time I see you- pow! And not just you, I punch your family too. Your grandma, your kids, your little sister, every one of you who live in my basement (it’s a big basement), get socked in the face. I go straight-up Tasmanian devil on you and your loved ones till everyone within my reach are bloodied and battered.
How would you feel about me?
Would you care about my charity or vocation?
I am a white man and as such I am the beneficiary of my Uncle Sam’s charity. He gave me the vote and a bill of rights. He gave me land grants, and Pell Grants, a HUD home, and the GI Bill. He built me public schools and universities and reduced my work week to 40 hours. He taught me that I belonged in his home.
All the while this same uncle was punching other people in the face. He denied them citizenship and the vote, kept them out of schools, red lined them, barred their testimony from courts, allowed their murderers to go unpunished, and he took their money.
Who am I to tell these other people to look past all of that abuse and praise this uncle for the charity he gave to me?
In 1774, two years before the declaration, delegates from the 13 colonies met in Philadelphia’s Carpenter’s Hall. They met to discuss what could or should be done regarding their collective issues with England.
In 2013 you can gather to the same location to see National Park employees in period dress wander around. They will tell you stories, answer questions, but mostly they are ambiance.
Just a few blocks away is a small row of homes that have continuously housed private citizen’s from the days of the tri-cornered hat, all the way through our Phillies hat wearing present. Once or twice a year the residents open their homes up for tours. It is a mix of history and modern home and garden. When we went we hung out drinking wassel with Ben Franklin.
Christ Church was built in 1695 and is the original home of the American Anglican faith. Ben Franklin is buried in their grave yard and anyone who was ever important while wearing knickers and stockings worshiped here at least once. Joseph Smith, who I doubt ever wore knickers, even preached a sermon here.
On the first Friday of every month the place is surrounded by homeless looking artists and street performers. We love Christ Church on first Fridays.
City Tavern, was in fact a tavern back in the days of George W. and the other revolutionary types. Legend has it that more got done at the tavern over a pint of mead than was ever accomplished over at Independence Hall. I accomplished eating orange braised duck and leg of lamb with mint jelly. The last time I was there our waitress was a PhD student in history. She should talk to her advisor about that stipend.
We park right next to City Tavern all the time. There is a movie theater across the street; the independent kind that shows artsy stuff.
The most American part of town is called China Town. I’m not exactly sure what was there back in the colonial days, but I do know that the colonials came here seeking the freedom to seek their fortune. That’s the same reason folks come to China Town.
On one side of the street is Independence Hall, where they signed the declaration, and on the other side of the street is the Liberty Bell. We rarely go in to see it, there is a large window right on the sidewalk. But the bell is turned so that if you want to see the crack you have to go inside. Sorta like the media. America is great, but we have some issues, but we don’t really like to show those off.
We drive past the bell all the time, usually while looking for a parking space to go to the park. There is a park a block away that has a carousel and a playground that is all fenced in. Ya know, the kind where you can set the kids free and not have to worry about them escaping. Which is ironic since most kids don’t want to escape a playground. Playgrounds are awesome.
I am fat. No really, I know how big I should be, how big I am now, and while not always the most self aware I have a pretty good idea of what my mass is made. I am not ignorant of how I got this way or how to fix it so I am not open to suggestions on what worked for so-and-so or what I should do. I think my lifestyle has become affected by all the academics I have been reading in that I know all the answers but don’t necessarily want to actually put those answers int0 practice. I leave that to those lab rats that I see through the foggy glass as they run on treadmills at gyms.
Now that my academic life is mostly over it is time for action. I went jogging.
Cities are great for running; lots of even surfaces with lots of things to keep your mind distracted. Last Tuesday these distractions included members of the occupy movement.
I was unaware they still existed.
It felt appropriate that they would be at Independence Hall the week of the Fourth of July and I was happy to see them there. I sympathize with much of what the occupiers claim to stand for, I am in fact a member of the lower half of the 99%. I happily kept jogging.
That next morning we loaded up the kids and staked out a claim on Market St. from which to watch the parade. Kids love parades. My wife and I decided that one fire engine is quite enough and that the dramatic level of police presence where we were must have put the other side of town in great jeopardy. There were marching bands from Michigan, a Latino dancing group from Virginia, and about half way through, there were occupiers.
They were not in the parade but parading down the sidewalk along side the floats and bands. They stopped on the walk right behind us and stayed. “Money for fighting forest fires, not for fighting foreign wars!” they shouted in unison. One white man with dread locks and no shirt walked laps around us, filming the group with his digital camera, I believe we were being streamed live to the web. O yay!
The group that made me smile yesterday caused me to cringe today. My ideals were at that moment tested. My wife tried to explain to the kids that the loud people saying mean things about the parade were part of what make America great. I believe she is right though at that moment I admit my thoughts were mostly retorts of things akin to “yeah, free to be an idiot.”
I looked one way and saw a group of mostly young, mostly naked, people shouting that the parade we were seeing wasn’t patriotic, only to turn and see a contingent of buffalo soldiers marching past. At that moment of annoyance and frustration I appreciated what I hold sacred about my country and my constitution.
There is a tradition in my faith that states this country’s founding was inspired by God. I believe that. I call it a tradition because it has come to mean differing things to different people within my faith. I have had my religious devotion questioned when I have written or spoken about the moral failings of our founding fathers. There are those who see such discussions as an affront to the God inspired work they played part in. I don’t see it that way.
Saul, before he was Paul, was not good or nice. My experience with humans tells me he was not perfected after his name changed. Peter, the chief disciple, denied knowing Jesus as he was being sentenced to death. there has only been one perfect person and that was not me, nor was it George Washington.
God, through necessity of working with his children, must inspire imperfect people to do His work. Knowing this I proceed with caution when looking at their lives to see which parts were the inspired ones. I’m not sure I, nor you, are really qualified to say which is or is not.
Watching the occupiers intentionally annoy my family I witnessed an element of the American ideology that I have no doubt is in line with divinity. Freedom.
I am not inclined to believe that capitalism is any where near inspired or sacred. I am also not a Marxist. Both theories are too much entrenched in the failures of human nature and our tendencies to inhibit the freedoms of others. I am not comfortable placing my destiny into the hands of a collective or into a central redistribution system nor am I comfortable with tying my choices and freedoms to the numbers of dollars I posses. In capitalism you are as free as you are rich and history has shown that those “with” (be they private or governmental) cannot be trusted to share.
My jog the other day took me through China town. It was strewn with American flags flying over Chinese characters. I love it. I love the hope and opportunity possible in our system.
I also jog through North Philly and Kensington. I spend time with many who are truly impoverished and have seen that these people are no where near free. Many live in situations where they make choices but none of the options before them are actual opportunity. They cannot afford a path to freedom.
I believe we as a nation, and a world, are indeed on a moral decline. But I deeply believe this to be a “we” and not a “they” decline. The poor and the rich are a problem. The right and the left are a problem. Black and White both perpetuate the problem.
But that is the risk of freedom. If one is given the right to choose, there will and must be failures. This is part of the sacredness of freedom. My faith teaches that at one time we all lived with our family in divine glory. Heaven, all of us, together. Happy, holy, and untried. We chose freedom. We chose this mortal existence to be provided opportunity to choose for ourselves the existence we wanted. Our Father granted us that freedom and I consider it holy.
Later that evening, after watching fireworks, I walked past those same protesters from the morning as they swarmed over the fountains in Logan Circle. They still had their megaphones, chants, and appeared mostly absorbed in themselves. Seeing them made me sad.
I agree with them. I think unfettered capitalism is placing the levers of freedom, money, mostly into the hands of those who are willing to do anything they can to get it. I do not trust those thus motivated to control my freedom. I should be an ally but in watching them I am most certainly not motivated to join. Nor do I think they want me.
Yelling at my children with a megaphone while they watch a parade is not the way to gain my sympathy. I believe your tactics hurt your cause. I believe your lack of evolving past the 60’s form of protest has doomed the cause to fall into the same hole as the American economy. Protesters and manufacturers can rest in that same pitfall together due to lack of evolution.
But both are a byproduct of freedom. So is my spare tire; both it’s excess and existence. I have started jogging and it is about time I also ate less. Sounds reasonable. Reason? How novel. I think there may something sacred about reason.
In this season of national celebration I realize I do love my country. I have known this all along, just like I knew I shouldn’t have the second helping of cake. It is this country that both provided me the cake and allowed me to eat it to. It is this freedom that also requires me to get off the couch and jog.
We sang the national anthem in church today. We do this every year and it has always made me pause to think, always bothered me just a little.
Today as I sang and I thought, I came to the conclusion that if I was bothered, the problem was me.
I suppose I was bothered by the idea that being American makes me better than anyone else; it does not.
I know plenty of Americans who are very likely worse people than any third world dictator. I’m sure that I could easily find people of greater character than myself in both Palestine and Israel.
I have long looked around at sleazy politicians, crooked cops, and entitled workers complaining that they must in fact earn their living, all the while waving our common flag. I don’t like it.
But I realized today, while I’m sure I have always known it, that these are not what makes America worth singing about, because she is in fact worthy of the songs.
The framework that suffers these aforementioned fools is greater than any of us in that it allows for the possibility of us not remaining fools.
While not always to my satisfaction, bad politicians can be replaced, crooked authorities can be prosecuted, and the entitled can be humbled. Here, despite our ugly past, collective or individual, we can in fact get better. The system was written with the idea that we would become so.