Freedom is Calling

 


Freedom Is Calling – Let Us Go Out To Greet It

God brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand, an outstretched arm, with great awe, signs and wonders. (Deuteronomy XXVI: 8)

For many of us the re-telling of the liberation of the Children of Israel from bondage echoes the stories of our struggle for liberation from persecution and hiding due to our sexual orientation. As with the telling of the Passover story, it is incumbent on each of us to consider ourselves as if each one of us personally was part of all of the struggles for liberation. To remember and honor those who gave their lives so that we might face a brighter future.

Like the Children of Israel before us we come out to freedom from bondage through a mighty hand, an outstretched arm, with great awe, signs and wonders.

With a mighty hand… We are discovering our voices and our political strength

With an outstretched arm… We are reaching out to embrace our families of origin and our families of choice

With great awe… We are reclaiming our religion and finding our spiritual home

With signs and wonders …  God set a rainbow in the sky as a sign of an eternal covenant that the waters would no more become a flood to destroy life.  We have adopted the rainbow as a symbol of our covenant to one another that hatred and bigotry will no longer be allowed to flood our world and destroy the lives of our people.

This year weak and vulnerable
Next year courageous and united in strength

This year afraid and alone
Next year comforted by the warmth of community

This year in darkness and hiding
Next year in freedom and light

This year in searching for meaning and direction
Next year leading our way toward a dream of acceptance, peace, hope and healing

-Carl Josehart
Passover, 1998


 

Legacy

Legacy
by Carl Josehart

When enemies attack
and our brothers and sister are in danger
Let our legacy be courage

When the world cries out in pain and anguish
sorrow threatening to overcome hope
Let our legacy be compassion and comfort

When passions flare and cry out for blood
threatening the fabric of society
Let our legacy be justice

When our faith falters
and God seems distant
Let our legacy be prayer

When the world is lost in darkness
and we stumble to find direction
Let our legacy be the light of courage, compassion, justice and prayer

-2001


You might also appreciate Out, Out Damn Spot

Alcatraz

On a visit to Alcatraz I was struck by the contrast between the view of the San Francisco coast and its unparalled beauty and the lives of the prisoners who were once held on this island. In addition to losing their freedom, it seemed a special kind of cruelty to face their internment with a view of such welath and beauty – close enough to almost touch but permanently out of reach.

As I reflected on this experience, it seemed to be a metaphor for many of our cities. Neighborhoods of immense wealth butting against neighborhoods of abject poverty. The view of those living with abundance an added humilation and burden to those living with sacrcity, hunger and fear.

If Mahatma Gandhi’s words are true that “The measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members.” then I fear for how we will be judged.

Perhaps it is time for us to imagine a time when we turn all of our prisons into parks, and neighborhoods of despair into communities of caring and hope.


ALCATRAZ
by Carl Josehart

Sailing on his parents
yacht
the little blond boy
with clear blue eyes and
bright future
glides effortlessly
freely
past
a rock fortress
jutting out from
the gently rolling
water

High above him
caged in a dark cell
a blond man/boy
presses his once
innocent
youthful face
against
unforgiving iron bars
he imagines a faint mist
of salt spray
brushing past his lips
and he dreams of open spaces

the little blond boy with
chestnut
sun kissed legs
climbs high atop the mast
leans out and looking toward the horizon
the boat vanishes
he is alone
flying above the
blue ocean
keeping pace with
a silvery seagull

straining
rust cutting into his skin
from bars on the window
man/boy squints one eye closed
and tries to imagine his
cage gone
just for a moment
to be outside the bars
sunlight warming his skin
gone pale from
dank
damp
darkness

one
atop another
they live
cramped
into
too small cells
too narrow almost
to stand
too small almost
to breathe
too drab almost
to live

one
aside another
they exist
mute
in enforced silence
tapping in tempo
to talk
whispering down
empty pipes
which carry their thoughts
hopes
and dreams
alongside
sewage
out so sea
washed away
like lives
too broken to fix
too heavy to float which
sink like stones
skipped on waves
by a little blond boy
with clear blue eyes
and chestnut
sin kissed legs
sailing
on his parents’
yacht


 

I Count One

If you are like me, there are times when the news of the day – wars, conflict, hunger, disease and suffering – is so overwhelming that I feel paralyzed. It is easy to feel too small to make a difference. During those times I try to remember the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” In that spirit, I try to start where I am and pick one thing because each “one” counts and leads to the next…

I Count One

by Carl Josehart

I count one
against the numberless
nameless
throng
graves unmarked
by unwilling eyes
trying not to be witness
to magnitudes of suffering

And I count one
and one more
and one more too
if but one at a time
then let it go on
til one and one and one again
yield to many and many more
forced to see and hear and
touch the souls
of the numberless
nameless
throng

I count one
and raise my voice
to count one more
and raise my hand
to touch one more
and raise my eyes
to see one more
and raise my head
to listen to one more
and raise my mouth
to taste the dread
and my nose
to smell the fear
and my lips
to kiss the frightened
feverish head

And I count one
plucked from the reeds
who will lead us home
through parted waters
and parched sands
til we finally arrive
at the the gates of
the promised land


You might also appreciate I Wait For A World

Scream

Scream

by Carl Josehart

We live in a time that it seems that free speech is under attack. The freedoms we enjoy today are the gift of previous generations that have spoken up against tyranny and oppression. In the coming weeks and months I am going to try to highlight and celebrate these brave individuals. One of these heroic voices is Nadezhda Madelstam. She famously said:

“I often wondered whether it is right to scream when you are being beaten and trampled underfoot. Isn’t it better to face one’s tormentors in a stance of satanic pride, answering them with contemptuous silence? I decided that it is better to scream. This pitiful sound, which sometimes, goodness knows how, reaches into the remotest prison cell, is a concentrated expression of the last vestige of human dignity. It is a human’s way of leaving a trace, of telling people how he lived and died. By this scream he asserts his right to live, sends a message to the outside world demanding help and calling for resistance. If nothing else is left, one must scream. Silence is the real crime against humanity.”

Nadezhda Yakovlevna Mandelstam (1899 – 29 1980) was a Russian writer and a wife of poet Osip Mandelstam. Born in Saratov into a middle-class Jewish family, she spent her early years in Kiev. After their marriage in 1921, Nadezhda and Osip Mandelstam lived in Ukraine, Petrograd, Moscow, and Georgia. Osip was arrested in 1934 for his Stalin Epigram and exiled with Nadezhda to Cherdyn, in the Perm region and later to Voronezh.

After Osip Mandelstam’s second arrest and his subsequent death at a transit camp “Vtoraya Rechka” near Vladivostok in 1938, Nadezhda Mandelstam led an almost nomadic way of life, dodging her expected arrest and frequently changing places of residence and temporary jobs. On at least one occasion, in Kalinin, the NKVD (The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs a law enforcement agency of the Soviet Union that was closely associated with the Soviet secret police) came for her the next day after she fled.

As her mission in life, she set to preserve and publish her husband’s poetic heritage. She managed to keep most of it memorized because she did not trust paper. After the death of Stalin, Nadezhda Mandelstam completed her dissertation (1956) and some years after was allowed to return to Moscow (1964).

In her memoirs, Hope Against Hope and Hope Abandoned, first published in the West, she gives an epic analysis of her life and criticizes the moral and cultural degradation of the Soviet Union of the 1920s and later. The titles of her memoirs are puns, Nadezhda in Russian meaning “hope”.

 

Witch Hunt

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

― Edmund Burke

Witch Hunt

by Carl Josehart

The court was hushed as he walked in. It was a silence that came from a respect for the place in which the people sat. A court of law equipped with all of the symbols that had given the defendant a feeling of security, patriotism and pride in his country as he was growing up. He looked at the flag and thought of the years in school when he had pledged his allegiance to his flag and his country never once thinking to ask for the country’s pledge in return – thinking that the pledge was implicitly there.

Looking at the deeply lined face and graying hair of the judge in his black robe he saw the face of a solemn and serious man but grown hard from years of seeing and hearing what a judge sees and hears from the bench. The cold indifference belied that he had long since relinquished seeing the defendants who came before him as individuals. He had surrendered his struggle with the law, its intent, and his youthful yearning to play a role in creating a fair and just society. Now he presided over his court with a comfort that came with years of practice and an efficiency born of a verbatim knowledge of enough precedents to mete out sentences that always held to the letter of the law but rarely its spirit.

The prosecuting attorney by contrast looked nervous. Repeatedly wiping sweat off his young brow with a handkerchief in a courtroom that was not hot. The defendant thought to himself that this must be his first witch-hunt almost felt sorry for him. Then, remembering the seriousness of the consequences if he were found guilty, decided he had no reason to feel sorry for him. Still, there was something about the way he kept looking at the defendant. Something about the way he carried himself that almost suggested…no, it couldn’t be, surely a witch, even in disguise, would never be a part of a with-hunt.

Time seemed almost frozen in the courtroom as men in crisply pressed three piece suits, starched shirts and expensive silk ties argued with each other in a language and style that was unusual and almost incomprehensible to the defendant. One thing was clear, his life, career, and happiness somehow hung in the balance to be decided by this ritualistic ceremony.

When it was his turn to be questioned, he took the stand, placed his shaking hand on a well-worn bible and swore by a god that he did not believe in that he would tell the truth and was seated. The nervous prosecuting attorney approached him in an almost apologetic manner and began to ask questions. The prosecuting attorney had the practiced style and incisive mind of one who had gone to the finest schools and had had all the right jobs and certainly had made law review. The defendant answered the questions quickly and honestly. Because he did not believe that his “crime” was a crime, he could not conceive of a defense. As the prosecuting attorney piled evidence upon evidence, substantiated fact upon substantiated fact he simultaneously became more and more nervous needing to wipe sweat off his brow at an ever-increasing rate. Coughing and clearing his throat, his gaze returned again and again to the defendant’s eyes burning with a rage that seemed to cry out to him, “Don’t make this so easy…fight me…fight for yourself, why won’t you defend yourself?”

It was then that the defendant realized that he had been right; the prosecuting attorney was a witch in disguise – hiding in plane sight. His brother was burning him at the stake to buy a false sense of security that comes from “passing” – a ransom paid to live another day.

When the jury shuffled back into the court with their verdict it was no surprise that they found the defendant guilty. The prosecuting attorney had done a thorough job and with an insider’s knowledge had known all the right questions to ask. When the prisoner was escorted out of the courtroom there was no family or friends to weep for him; they had long since abandoned him in shame. Out of the corner of his eye though he saw the prosecuting attorney, his face pale, and with the expression of one that is seeing a ghost, look over to him with eyes that pleaded to know why he had not fought.

As the guards led the prisoner away he jerked himself to a halt in front of the prosecuting attorney, locked eyes and calmly addressed the unspoken question, “The question you should be asking yourself is not why I did not fight, but rather why you did not fight.”

With that, the guards hurried the prisoner away and the prosecuting attorney ran to the restroom to become violently ill. Retching over the toilet, the cold porcelain toilet bowl did nothing to stop the throbbing in his head as the prisoner’s words echoed over and over on an infinite loop.

Expectations Matter

Expectations Matter

By Carl Josehart

Disability Rights is More Than Ramps
Expect. Empower. Employ.

In talking to someone living with a disability recently I was made aware of a type of discrimination that I had not fully understood. She described to me the poisonous impact of the absence of expectation as being almost as harmful as active discrimination.

She talked about the emotional pain and the barriers created by hearing people say, “I would rather die than live like that” when talking about her physical condition. Too often, when looking at a person with a visible disability our eyes trick us to focus on what is missing or absent rather than seeing the possibility.

I have been blessed to be have no significant disability that impacts my physical abilities but I will never be a professional runner, I won’t ever be a professional dancer, I am not capable of being a championship skier or rock climber. The difference is that no one has ever seen that as a reason to expect that I wouldn’t go to colllege or get a job or live independently.

My colleague, as someone with a visible disability says that she is rarely asked what she does for a living. In case you are wondering, yes she is employed full-time in a very high ranking position with a lot of influence, power and authority.

She described how harmful it is to those living with a disability to not have the normal things expected of them. She described her delight when she flies to a city to give a talk or a lecture and the taxi driver asks her casually what she does for a living. She explained that it is all too common for people to be surprised to learn that she has a job or at a social event to be the only person “not asked” what she does for a living.

In her experience it has become less common for those with a disability to be told that they are inferior but it is still all too common for children with disabilities “not be told” that s/he can do anything or be anything they want to be when they grow up.
Life, aging and the limits of medical science, will always lead to there being individuals with physical disability that live with extra challenges that some of us are fortunate enough not to have to overcome. Let’s not add unnecessary barriers and challenges by failing to see the capabilities and potentials of each individual. There are no extra people or unneeded contributions in society. By dismissing the capacities of a significant part of our popultation we are wasting valuable resources.

The Declaration of Independence contains the aspirational vision that, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” We have it in our power to declare our independence from the hobbling impact of low expectation because as Norman Vincent Peale would say, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you will land among the stars.” Don’t we owe it to all of our children to encourage them to dream of reaching the moon and living among the stars.