Friday, May 27, 2016

"We say we came into this world, no you didn't you came out of it."

The title of this post is a quote from Alan Watts.

We are part of this world, made of the mud even. We live by her water, we breathe her air, and eventually we decompose like all other organic matter. We die and become a compost hummus, which a seed, likewise dead, falls into. And from death springs life which then proceeds toward death again. You are, as Watts has said, part of the same ink blot as every other reality that you see. A cosmic calamity and here you are, part of a beautiful opera that often hurts quite bad, as Joseph Campbell put it.

thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
-Genesis 3:19           

Friday, April 29, 2016

Reviving Old Scratch- A Review/Recommendation

So, let me begin with a confession, I have a man crush on Richard Beck. His blog Experimental Theology has been a constant source of quality thinking, prophetic challenge, and palatable/authentic Christian reflections. It would not be a stretch to say that he has served, all the way from Abilene TX, via blogspot and books, as a mentor to me. I am grateful for Richard. 

I was able to preorder his new book Reviving Old Scratch and get a hold of it before its May 1st release date. I read it immediately and loved every page. While his work is always very accessible, this one, which was dedicated to the "Men in White" at the prison where he leads a bible study, seemed to have been written with accessibility as a very clear goal. It is filled with big theological ideas and yet is written in a way that might be understood and accepted by both skeptics or conservative believers of any educational level. 

The book takes the potentially doubting and disenchanted reader on quite a journey as he makes the compelling case that we talk far too little about the Devil. Whether you're a holy ghost filled Pentecostal who sees the devil everywhere or a secular skeptic that cannot even begin to imagine what the point of such language could possibly be, I cannot recommend this book enough. 

While there are those who scoff at the very notion of a devil and others who seem to go on and on about Old Scratch, Beck does an amazing job at offering up a corrective to all. To the liberal Christian who would flatten any talk of 'spiritual warfare' to a political battle for social justice, Beck pushes you to reconsider. To the more conservative Pentecostal position that imagines disembodied spirits floating around in the sky screwing with folks, Beck offers a very biblical invitation to Reconsider. 

Whatever it is you imagine when you read passages of the NT like Ephesians 6:12,
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Beck follows the tradition of Walter Wink and William Stringfellow in breathing new life and understanding into these passages that so often baffle our 21st century minds. His offering gives fresh lenses based in very concrete realities that we all experience. It presents us with a very sober interpretation of the language of scripture and the realities to which that language points. Regardless of where you stand on questions about God, the supernatural, or religion in general, this book engages the reader in a compelling reflection on evil in the world and issues a serious call to an authentic spiritual vocation of love. 

Using everything from Scooby Doo to the our feeling that we haven't had enough sleep or don't have enough time, Beck brilliantly uses our everyday realities to illuminate something we might be missing everyday. Beck's own narrative about being reintroduced to the Devil will serve any and all who would also like to make his acquaintance. Consider yourself invited.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Tampa's Local Food Mythology- A 'Farm to Fable' Reflection

Cover picture by Steve Madden for original Tampa Bay Times Article 

Tampa’s foodies were sent into a frenzy last Wednesday afternoon as Laura Reiley dropped her well researched investigative report on Tampa’s ‘local’ food scene. The article pulled no punches as it ran through a litany of local restaurateurs and unveiled their fibs and fables. I deeply appreciated the unveiling of these specific places in town that have moved quite a bit beyond hyperbole and yet I also can’t help but wonder what hope there is for that longing in consumers toward which these places are appealing. For years I have been growing more and more conscious about the foods we eat and the ways in which our sourcing of food affects everything from our bodies to our planet itself. 

Whether we are consuming genetically modified products or produce that has been bathed in chemicals or flown across the planet and back before it is served to us, the idea of eating sustainably seems to become more and more of a utopian dream as time passes. As somebody who has wrestled with this tension for years I share in the pain of all of those who realized Wednesday, thanks to Reiley, that your consciences have been salved by lies and your righteous food choices have actually been something closer to naïveté and gullibility. Many have been aware of the ways that large corporations ‘greenwash’ products to make them seem more environmentally conscious in response to growing conscious consumer demands. While the consumers’ consciences do affect corporate behavior it is only insofar as the corporate profit motive, which knows no conscience, can convince consumers to buy. It seems that perhaps we expected better from our small, local corporations. 

Beyond the question of restaurant integrity though, lies a more fundamental and local question for you locally minded foodies, can local and Tampa ever be a thing? Five years ago, a friend and I did a local food experiment that has left a lasting impression on me. We had heard of folks doing a 100 mile diet in which they only ate food that had been sourced from within that distance of their doorstep. We pulled out a map of Florida and then drew out a 100 mile radius circle from my address in Ybor Heights. Half of the circle was the Gulf of Mexico and we wondered to ourselves if it could be done. Could the two of us eat only food that came from within this circle for 30 days? Within the first day of this experiment we began to realize just how difficult it was going to be. We decided to be strict and therefore not allow any salts or oils or anything else that was not 100% verifiably local. This proved to be problematic as we realized how desperately we needed to find sodium sources and finally we ended up dehydrating water from the gulf to meet this need (probably not advisable). Perhaps most difficult of all was not having coffee (obviously this extreme posture was part of the experiment that could never be sustained long term, and that’s why trade exists). In any case, we sought out local farms, neighbor’s fruit trees, and any markets that might carry local products. Needless to say it was a full time job to figure out how to eat like this. Even at the Tampa Whole-Foods, which turned out to be one of our best chances of finding something, items labeled “local” were from farms that stretched quite a bit beyond our 100 mile marker. Every time we found an item that might work we would hold our breath in anticipation as we googled the location of the farm. Occasionally, we even found a potato or zucchini that qualified. It wasn’t long before we became regulars (perhaps even annoying pests) to places like The Dancing Goat Farm or Sweetwater Farm. Here is the thing, Tampa doesn’t produce very much food. On day 6 of our experiment I posted on Facebook:

What I was realizing is just how little local resources there actually are in and around Tampa. If everyone decided they wanted to eat this way, or if for some reason the trucks stopped delivering food to our city, there would be gunfights in our gardens.

Our self published reflections on our experience eating local in Tampa.
This powerful experience came flooding back to my mind as I read Reiley’s ‘Farm to Fable’ article. I just kept thinking to myself, these false labels and lies at our restaurants are related to a kind of mythology of local food in Tampa. The idea that there could be regularly sourced and available local food at a restaurant that was not telling you ‘sorry we are all out’ more than they were delivering on your orders, is a fairytale in Tampa. 

Nobody could do better than The Refinery’s “as much as we can” posture. If everyone was honest that’s all any of us can do, and we should. We can recognize the challenges to ethically sourcing products and not throw our arms up in despair and concede that it isn’t even worth trying. Of course it is! I am glad to see these restaurants called to task on their integrity because lying about what you are selling is, well, unethical. Doing your best and being honest about that struggle, that’s admirable. 

The 'F**k Monsanto Salad' pictured in Laura's article is topped
with watercress that was grown organically, by a
working poor community,  at the Well on Florida Ave.

In the years since this local food experiment that we dubbed ‘Surviving Tampa,’ I have been working hard with my local community to grow our own produce. Planting garden after garden and forming a network of gardens throughout Tampa that we call the Tampa Eden Project, which is an initiative of The Well, a not-for-profit committed to working with and among the poor in Tampa. Gardening has fit in with our cause well as we labor alongside many who don’t have work or secure food sources and we have been trying to help demonstrate ways that we can work together to grow food. Over the last year and a half The Well community has been working with Joo Lee, a local aquapon who’s been partnering with initiatives like ours and the Sustainable Living Project to raise fish and grow produce in symbiotic relationships in aquaponic systems. While working to teach our community how to grow our own produce and tilapia he has also been developing relationships with places like Mermaid Tavern, who has recently been purchasing some of our watercress and other greens that were produced in the system. While these products are local, organic, and produced in the neighborhood by struggling neighbors, there is hardly enough to meet the demand of their every salad at this point. We are excited about the relationship though and working hard to grow more as they have been encouraging us to expand and promising to continue purchasing our produce. At this point it is a symbolic gesture toward an intention, a hope for things to come, and they are not marketing our story as there is not much to tell at this point. There is however, a seedling that is being nurtured. It means a lot to a community like ours that a local restaurant would take an interest in our work and our potential as a grower. Our community is full of people in need of earned income and Tampa is full of scarcity when it comes to local food, perhaps there is a good fit here for a potential business that creates jobs for those who most need them. Joo and Becky, one of the owners of Mermaid Tavern, have been in discussions about a potential partnership that would provide a much larger space for Joo to scale his production capacity. Joo and I have been in discussion about how this might be a great opportunity to continue our work in the community and possibly create some meaningful and gainful employment for some of those that are unemployed with whom we have been working each day. As Rebecca Krassnoski was quoted in the article as saying “I think a lot of times farmers with a good story are used as billboards.” Local, organic, food grown by a community working with Tampa’s poorest is a great story, and one that perhaps should be used as a billboard. At this point though honesty would have to say, it’s a hope, a dream, an idea that we are working toward, but even that is worth investing in. It might be one of the only ways for Tampa to take seriously its own food insecurity, lack of local production, and the need to plant and nurture righteous seedlings.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Wisdom & Will- Why do we do things we know are bad for us?

So I have just ventured into the video blog world. Here is my second video which is the first that I publicly posted. There is a link to the first, which is unlisted, at the end of the video in case you are interested. -Enjoy.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Civilian Police Review Board Discussion Unveils Power Dynamics at City Hall

Follow @Tampa4Justice on Twitter

Yesterday was quite the day at city hall. Below is what I shared during my public comment during the council meeting. I was just one of many citizens who turned out to demand accountability. I was so proud of everybody who came out to represent their communities. Of all who spoke, not one spoke against a review board (duh) nor in defense of Buckhorns mockery review board.
Accountability in this City is a much deeper question than a few bad apples. The problem in this city has to do with power, It's been Tampa's struggle since it's inception. People, with concentrated wealth, which...equals concentrated power, who can basically buy results and who are using physical force and violence to subdue the poor.
It's a question of power;
  • who has it?
  • who made it that way?
  • and who is it we see doing anything necessary to keep it that way?
The police are the fruit at the end of a long chain of command.
The mayor is just as much in need of accountability as are his local troops policing our neighborhoods. You see what the mayor just did, with his preemptive executive decision, demonstrates the very unilateral abusive power tactics that characterize the values that manifest themselves in abusive policing in our neighborhoods.

In fact just yesterday more 10 squad cars decended on Homeless helping Homeless to raid the place and execute a search warrant. They were looking for tax records. I'm not even that interested in the question of guilt or innocence as much as the unnecessary and overwhelming demonstration of force and the intimidation tactics used at the place run by a guy who just sued the city, forcing your hand to repeal your panhandling legislation rather than try to defend it as constitutional.

Our police need acountability, yes, but that accountability needs to be independant and have the authority to follow leads right up that chain of command.

We need to take decisive legislative action so that the few, with concentrated wealth and power in Tampa do not further enshrine their privilige in policy.

In a democracy power is supposed to be in the hands of the people. But when the people of Tampa organized to demand accountability for forces that seem to only act on behalf of the wealthy and terrorize poor communities, what did we see? Mister big shot privilege and power himself making executive decisions that mock the demands of the people AND that were meant to put you, our city council in your place.

Is this the way we are going to let power work in our city?

Power must be guided by conscience
We cannot abide a strong mayor with weak character.

So we're here today putting the whole of city gov't on Notice. The people of Tampa are uniting to take power back from those who are abusing it and to demand justice. Holding police accountable is just the beginning.

Attorneys are in here debating the charter about who has what power.... So go ahead and argue, meanwhile we will organize and remind you who it is that really holds power in a democracy.

The people of Tampa...demanding justice.

Also here are two related blogs that I posted over the last few weeks in case you want to follow along

  • First are my comments from the last council meeting discussing the revew board
  • The second is me having a bit of fun retelling events in mythological language. I enjoyed doing that and really hope you enjoy reading it too. (this post also has many links embedded in it to related news if you are trying to catch up on things)

Finally, here are links to news stories that came out yesterday about the council meeting:

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Between the Storm & the Serpent in Tampa

As I sat along flooded brick streets, a messenger approached and gave me a fine cigar which he told me to light and draw deeply. With the inhale I felt bitterness and pain in my chest, and yet as I exhaled the smoke, I saw a whole scene open up before me in that cloud.

Behold, from the south a menacing storm pushes nearer as lightning crashes, the temperature increases, and the streets flood with tears. To the north still lies that old serpent, slithering through our city and feasting on the forgotten as it grows fatter and fatter. It has divided communities and continuously stares menacingly at neighbors to either side through its two hundred and seventy five eyes.

It was there in that mist, between the storm and the serpent I saw that the streets were flooded with crowds chanting demands and crying. As though standing upon them all, I saw a large beast with horns upon which sat a Red rider. The beast was violently bucking against this Red rider who seemed to be trying to subdue or tame him. The Red rider was taking a thrashing and feeling a pain, not unlike that so many before him had felt riding while Black. The horned beast, finally bucking off the tenacious rider, rose on his hinds with a legion at his side and clumsily began swinging kangaroo marionettes in the faces of those who were dying. He smiled and said you are welcome as he had offered what, judging by their reaction, could only be a mockery of the thing which they most needed. Beneath his hooves, in the streets, there was weeping and gnashing of teeth. Cries of the Green’s among many other colors were heard, united by want and outrage. They are crying for their lost ones, fathers and brothers, crying for justice and fairness and mercy.

Then I saw the Red one, who had been thrown, gathering his council enthroned in their hall where they murmured and prepared their next move.  It seemed that all values had a price and only worth had any value as unappreciated treasures had been swallowed.

Then from the streets I saw a swarm of masses, uniting into a single being growing larger and larger. This mounting presence dwarfed all players that had been seen before it and it stands tall and strong as it rips the strings from the hands of the one who had held them. The marionettes then lie lifeless and drenched on the ground.

As I sit enthralled on the edge of my seat the smoke dissipates like a vapor and I cannot see the scene any longer. Once again I draw deeply of that cigar and somehow its bitterness has turned sweet in my lungs. I exhale in anticipation...

(BTW the context of time and place matters. If you live in Tampa today and this meant nothing to you, may I suggest you click some links and start paying attention.)

Friday, August 7, 2015

Tampa Police Accountability- Review Board and Community Control

Buckhorn rolls deep y'all

Yesterday morning I attended the Tampa city council meeting because the topic of a civilian review board was on the agenda and Chief Eric Ward was to appear and present. There was a great turn out and powerful stories and concerns shared by the community during public comment. Naturally nobody in the community was there to speak against the police being accountable to the community because, well, it's an obvious necessity.

Here is an article about the meeting.

Usually I more or less know what I want to say at city council and just kind of wing it but yesterday I felt the need to somewhat distill my thoughts into script to make sure I could say what I wanted to say within the three minute window allowed to each person for public comment.

So since I wrote it down I figured I might as well share it here as well.

"A few years ago my wife witnessed a Tampa Police Officer kick a five year old child to the concrete sidewalk right in front of our house. Every evening helicopters circle our block and have become the lullaby that plays while we try to get some rest and also TPD patrol cars regularly fly down lake ave at close to a hundred miles per hour without any sirens or lights and we all are thanking God that they have not run one of us over...yet

I have lived on lake avenue between college hill and robles park for almost a decade now and I love our neighborhood and I love our neighbors. I don't feel anxious or afraid and I don't feel like my neighborhood is threatening, and I damn sure don't ever wanna hear anyone refer to it as a "bad" neighborhood or part of town. But when I walk out of my house and see TPD on my street, I get nervous because of where I live. I don't get nervous because I am up to no good but because of who they are and what they represent in our community.

We live in an occupied zone and are an occupied people. It is not possible for us to trust them after the ways we have seen our friends and neighbors manipulated, violated and sometimes brutalized year after year.

So today people are demanding accountability and asking for a civilian review board. I stand with them.

Though I honestly believe that is too small of a demand. I don't want to review terrible things that cops have already done to neighbors who bear the image of God.

Really, we need to preview these officers.

We need to see real power and control put into the hands of the community. The community itself should be able to interview, hire and fire the police who are to patrol our neighborhoods. They should answer to the community and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that their jobs, security and power is in the hands of the communities in which they are working. The community itself should be setting the perimeters and qualifications and the necessary training's to work in our communities.

Poor and black and brown communities do not need or want officers who live in another world, off in town in country somewhere patrolling their neighborhoods. I grew up in a suburb of Tampa and it is a different world. It is a privileged world where the sight of the police is a comforting presence. There the police wave, smile, and draw to mind memories of Andy Griffith. It is another world out there and folks who live in that world should not be the ones patrolling urban poor and minority communities here in this city.
Our neighborhood is considered high crime but a more honest metric would be to acknowledge that it is first a community with high rates of poverty, and that is the real crime.

Poor people are often desperate and sell things... like their bodies.
Poor people face daunting and excruciating realities and often self medicate with things like narcotics.
Poor people have plenty of struggles and challenges for survival. The last thing these communities need is military presence posing a threat to their very safety and existence.

If you patrol a black community you damn sure need to answer to the black community.

Let me just add this since all we are really just discussing this little review board, if there is a review board, it better not be filled by the mayor's or TPD's selections. The community must be the ones to decide on who we want on that board, and it will not be their yes men."

It has been clear that neither Chief Ward nor Mayor Buckhorn want to see any accountability measures put in place. (That would be breaking with longstanding traditions among Tampa's money and power)

Shortly after the Council meeting Mayor Buckhorn made a public statement assuring everyone that the final decision is his and the nothing Council does will force his hand.

The story continues...stay tuned.