Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Fallout from Harvard Professor's Arrest

It was unsettling to read about the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts the other day. Conflicting stories make it difficult to determine what, exactly, took place and whether the arrest was justified or not.

What should not be in question, however, was the legitimacy of the police response to the report of a suspected break-in at Gates' home. All the complaining and finger-pointing has caused the Cambridge police to back down on pressing charges against Gates and this will inevitibly lead to an increasing reluctance for people to report or for the police to respond to suspected breaking-and-entering situations, especially if they involve African-American suspects.

As a result it seems that if you are an African-American burglar you should consider Cambridge, Massachusetts to be a great place to ply your trade right now. Just be sure to break in at the front door or through a front window of a home in full sight of neighbors. Or, better yet, be sure to choose a home owned by African-Americans. Even if a neighbor had the audacity to call the police you would most likely be able to get them to back off by refusing to show them your ID and threatening them with a law suit.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Michael Jackson--RIP

Along with millions of others I watched this morning's memorial service for Michael Jackson and was very surprised and very pleased to find it dignified, moving and completely non-exploitive. The Christian context for the service became apparent at the very beginning as Jackson's casket was brought on stage with a gospel choir singing, "Soon, very soon, we are going to meet the King." There was an intentional irony in this insofar as Jackson was the "King of Pop" and, in a sense, we were all meeting him today for the very last time. But the image of a greater King to whom we must all give account continued as the memorial service was introduced with words from the family pastor, who also closed the memorial event with a closing prayer (after several networks had already cut away and had begun the usual blathering commentary) that contained the words, "the King of Pop must now bow down to the King of kings," and ended the prayer "in the glorious name of the Lord Jesus Christ . . . and will those who agree, say 'Amen!'"

Although 99% of the service was a tribute to Jackson's extraordinary talents as a creative writer, producer, choreographer, singer and dancer . . . "the greatest entertainer in history" as one speaker put it . . . there were two times when his humanity showed through with great power. First, when one speaker (I cannot remember who and I cannot remember his exact words) mentioned "the difficult times" that Jackson had to go through and "the sometimes wrong? decisions" that he had made. The second moment was the closing comments made by Jackson's 11 year-old daughter. She spoke of how he had been a wonderful Daddy to her and that she loved him. It was hard to hear her sobbing these words as she spoke them in the past tense.

How sad that we all too often turn mere human beings into "idols" and "stars"--as if they were truly heavenly luminaries! Jackson, like the tragic tale of Elvis Presley who preceded him in celebrity catastrophy, was a mere mortal like the rest of us. I beleive that the world expected too much from Jackson and that he did everything that he could to live up to the world's expectations. He did well . . . but no one could have been everything that was demanded and expected of this man who was, by nature, one who needed to please others as well as to love and be loved by them.

I am quite possibly wrong in my personal opinion that Jackson was innocent of molesting anyone. Jackson was the most a-sexual person I have ever seen. His love of children was profound and he invested much of his considerable fortune in creating a world where some of them could enjoy a respite from the hardships and disappointments of troubled neighborhoods and disfunctional families. I believe that the thought of sexually abusing one of these children would have been unthinkable and perhaps even unimaginable to Jackson. I take Jackson at his word when he said that he shared a warm glass of milk, tucked children in bed and shared the bed with them in a way that, in his own words, he described as being "sweet."

This is not behavior that we should condone as appropriate but it does not necessarily follow that Jackson's motives and behavior were anything less than well-intentioned and, in his own mind, honorable.

While I have not been a big fan of Jackson I have always been in awe of his considerable talent. His career acheived most of the greatness that was celebrated at today's public memorial.

In the end, however, the "King of Pop" must indeed bow before the "King of kings." In this he is no different from you or me. Yet we made him out to be somehow different from us, perhaps even thinking of him as being immortal. His death reminds us that we were wrong. Today, as we gazed at his casket on the stage of the Staples Center in Los Angeles, we saw ourselves in the mirror.