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Valerie Elverton-Dixon
Valerie Elverton-Dixon
Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar studying ethics, peace theory, public discourse, and the civil rights movement.



Merrick Garland, a Good and Decent Man

Mar17

by: on March 17th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

He had me at tutoring elementary school children.

Before President Obama’s official announcement that he would nominate Hon. Merrick Garland to the United States Supreme Court, the news had leaked, and cable news networks were already giving information about him. His is an impressive Curriculum Vitae. So, when the president began to give Garland’s credentials for the court, I had heard much of it before. What I had not heard was that he tutored elementary school children in math and reading. This is when I learned forward and started to pay more attention.

Very often when searching for someone to fill a position, after a certain level of achievement, there are any number of people who are competent to do the actual job. This is where other factors enter into the decision-making process. That this man would take the time to tutor elementary school children is a testimony to his character. It would be a good thing if a news organization spoke to some of the students he tutored. Garland has been doing this for 20 years, so some of these children are adults now.

We have heard about his clerks who have gone on to clerk for other judges. We know that their time with him served as good preparation for their next career move as lawyers. What do the children he tutored have to say? I am impressed with this aspect of his life because it is something that he does not have to do. I know from my own experience that elementary school children can be challenging. It requires patience and skill that many adults, myself included, do not have. It is a challenge he chose that demonstrates a willingness to walk the extra mile to help another human being. It embodies the moral imperative: each one teach one. It is an example of the African-American saying that we all have an obligation to reach back and lift someone else as we climb the ladder of success.

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One God: Dr Larycia Hawkins, Wheaton College, and Presidential Politics

Mar11

by: on March 11th, 2016 | 3 Comments »

God is Love, the rest is commentary.

This is an a priori presupposition born of faith. When I contemplate the simple sentence – God is Love – I contemplate the power and the mystery of a life force that defies words. We give God, this Divine Love, anthropomorphic qualities so that we can make God thinkable and speakable. We make God father, mother, friend so that we can wrap our minds around the concept that we are in relationship with a Love that existed before the beginning and will exist after the end, a Love that is as vast as the still expanding universe and as finite as a single grain of sand or a single drop of water, a Love that contains within itself all the laws of physics and mathematics and biology, a Love that loves us personally, knows our names, who understands the language of our laughter and of our tears.

God is Love, the rest is commentary.

The Gospel of John tells us that: In the beginning was the Word. I say the Word is Love. The Word, the logos is at once a signifier pointing beyond itself to the stuff of creation and to a divine logic. It is the logic of love. When the Word becomes incarnate in humanity, when the Word becomes flesh, the is-ness of Divine Love becomes a statement, a sentence, a subject and a verb. It becomes Divine Love loving through nature and creation, through flesh and blood.

God is Love, the rest is commentary.

When we think of the oneness of God, we also ought to think about the question of theological reconciliation between religions that say God is one and Christianity that says that the one God contains three persons. One way to think about the Trinitarian God – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – is to think about God in three dimensions – the height, breadth and depth of God. Imagine walking into a beautiful room. We walk into a singular entity, but when we look at the ceiling, that is one perspective. When we notice the walls on either side, that is another perspective. When we notice the front and back of the room that is yet another view. No one would say that we are standing in at least three different rooms. It is one room with different aspects.

God is Love, the rest is commentary.

So it is with a Trinitarian idea of God. We can understand the Father God as our relationship with the creative transcendent aspect of God. Our relationship with God the Son is analogous to our divine connection to humanity, nature and creation. God the Holy Spirit can be understood as God the Mother, the Comforter, the wisdom, the fecundity of God.

Three aspects, three kinds of relationships three perspectives do not mean we are not in relationship with a divine unity. This is a unity with many names. Christians call God by many names, some of which originate in the Old Testament sources. Various names of God include: Jehovah-M’Kaddesh, the God who sanctifies; Jehovah-jireh, the God who provides; Jehovah-shalom, the God of peace; Jehovah-rophe, Jehovah heals; Jehovah-nissi, God our banner; El-Shaddai, God Almighty; Adonai, God is Master and Lord; Elohim, God is strength or power.

God is Love, the rest is commentary.

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Unarmed Truth and Unconditional Love

Jan13

by: on January 13th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

In his final State of the Union address, President Obama spoke of unarmed truth and unconditional love. I was happy to hear him utter in public the four-letter L word. We hear politicians speak about love of country, but we rarely hear them speak about unconditional love. Too often love of country translates into love of people in the country who are like ourselves. Too often it means disrespect, distrust, paranoia, and even hatred of the Other.

Unconditional love, like radical love, is a way to adjudicate the contestation of ideas that leads to consensus on public policy. In his use of these terms, President Obama not only echoed the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., but he also demonstrated the same faith in the power of unarmed truth and unconditional love. It was one Nobel Laureate expanding the reach of another laureate. In his Nobel lecture, King said in part:

“I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”

I have supported President Obama since he announced his candidacy in 2007 because he did not have is fingerprints on the Iraq war, and because as president, he is, for the most part, a just peace president, a just peace pragmatist to be exact. He spoke about just peace principles and practices in his Nobel lecture, and while he has rarely used the term since, his actions are just peace actions.

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Human Sacrifice and the Idolatry of the Gun

Jan11

by: on January 11th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

“God turned into an idol requires the shedding of blood.” —Gustavo Gutierrez

When we survey human history and the various societies that practiced human sacrifice, ritual murder, for the sake of the propitiation of some god, we ask: what god required such? Then, we congratulate ourselves that human moral evolution has brought us to a moment when we no longer purposely kill one or thousands to please some divinity. I say: not so fast. In the United States, we commit what amounts to human sacrifice at the rate of almost 90 men, women, and children a day to the god of the gun.

When we put our faith and trust in a created object to keep us safe, when that inanimate object becomes the source of our confidence, power, and even our self- respect, we have turned it into a fetish, an idol god. The problem with an idol is that its power is illusion and delusion. Holding a gun, we suffer the delusion that we are powerful, that we have some control, that we have evaded, for a moment, one important fact of the human condition: we are weak and vulnerable creatures.

Moreover, in the United States, people who worship the gun have lifted the second amendment of the Constitution to the level of holy writ. They use it to proof text the position that every American has a right to own a gun with few restrictions. They will not entertain the notion that the second amendment could be or ought to be repealed.

The problem with the idol god of the gun is that it is a dead object; it is an instrument of death. When we worship the gun we participate in the worship of death that derives its power from a constellation of lies, magical misdirection, smoke and mirrors that hide the deep injustice of a political-economy where one percent enjoys extraordinary wealth and everyone else lives on the edge of survival.

Make no mistake about it, gun violence, resistance to gun regulations, toxic them versus us politics, and income inequality are related. A political-economy that erodes the middle-class cannot tolerate unity among the various groups in society who, if they worked together, and voted their economic interests, would overturn that death-dealing system. Rather than working and voting in solidarity, various groups acquire weapons in the name of self-defense from stranger danger, self- defense from the dangerous Other. We are told that our lives and livelihoods are in jeopardy because the dangerous Other, the evil Other, wants to come and take our possessions and harm our families. In this political season we are told that we need to keep our guns to defend ourselves against mass shooters, terrorists, and even from a tyrannical government.

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Four Santas

Dec24

by: on December 24th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

I am late returning from the North Pole this year because Santa has been on the road. I am one of Santa’s helpers who come to the North Pole every year to help with the preparations for Santa’s Christmas Eve work. I help track and locate children who have moved since last Christmas, so I watch migration patterns closely. This year has been awful for so many children.

One might think that the Syrian refugee crisis, the kidnapping and murder of children in Africa, and the immigration of unaccompanied children from Central America to the United States would not concern Santa, but it does. Many of the children who, with their parents and siblings, have left their homes in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other places to find shelter in a safe country are not Christians, and they do not observe Christmas. The good news is that religion is of no concern to Santa. His care for children extends beyond Christians, beyond the Christmas season, and beyond whether or not the child has been naughty or nice.

Santa cares that children can live in safety, that they have food, clothing, shelter, health care, and education. He cares that children are protected from both structural and personal violence. He cares that children are protected from the hypocrisy and vulgarities of adult life. Children ought to occupy a zone of innocence and of Christmas magic for the few fleeting years that they are children. I say and say again that childhood is so short, and adulthood, if we are blest, is so much longer. The obligations, anxieties, disappointments, competitions, and struggles of adult life last for decades. We rob our children of a precious gift when we rush them into adulthood, even when they seem to want it and seem to be ready for it.

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On Frank Sinatra

Dec12

by: on December 12th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

I have been a Frank Sinatra fan since before I can remember. My parents told the story of me during my terrible twos: I would be screaming about something that had gone wrong in my little girl toddler world, but when Frank Sinatra came on the radio singing “Three Coins in a Fountain”, I would stop screaming, listen to him sing the song, and when it was over, I would continue screaming.

Frank SinatraGenius music and musicians populate the soundtrack of my life. Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, The Beatles, Motown, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Weather Report, Barbra Streisand, Whitney Houston, Patty LaBelle, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Michael Jackson, Sting, Al Jarreau, and more. I learned classical music from Leonard Bernstein’s children’s concerts and from my piano teachers in East St. Louis, Illinois. I was, and I am still proud of African-American opera singers such as Leontyne Price, Jessye Norman, Paul Robeson, William Warfield, and the young opera singers that prove the saying – strong women and men keep coming. I loved the three tenors – Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras. I thrilled at the singing of the tree mo’ tenors – Thomas Young, Roderick Dixon, and Victor Trent Cook. Every year I ride around with that year’s version of the WOW Gospel collection playing in my car.

Still, Frank Sinatra was and remains one of my favorite singers, always somewhere in the background waiting with a voice that makes me pause a moment, put my troubles on hold, and just listen. There is a mystery to great art and to great artists. A great singer may not have the most astonishing voice, or the most pure technique, yet, they have a mysterious X factor that touches our humanity in an indescribable, inexplicable way. Frank Sinatra is such an artist.

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When It Is Difficult to Love

Nov23

by: on November 23rd, 2015 | 1 Comment »

How does one love Daesh?

How does one love a racist who uses expletives and excrement to show disrespect for an entire group of people?

Before the tragic terrorist attacks on Paris, Friday November 13, 2015, my mind was occupied with the recent events at the University of Missouri. As a black woman in America, I have been on the receiving end of hateful racial slurs thrown my way, so I know how that feels. I know the sense of vulnerability. However, I must confess the insults never make me feel less about myself, and it always takes a few seconds before I realize that I have been insulted. I am usually lost in thought about what I am doing, where I am going, and what I will do when I get there.

I never feel less about myself because my sense of self is rooted in my faith. When I was a little girl in Sunday School, my teachers told me that I was a child of the king, meaning King Jesus who was one with the Father, the Creator God. I believed them then, and I believe them now. Since then, I have often thought about who or what God is and the character of God’s love for us. I believe that God was before the beginning and will be after the end. God has created all that there is on the earth and in the earth and all the galaxies inside an ever expanding universe. I believe that this creative life force in its essence is Divine Love, and this Love loves me personally. It knows my name and cares about me in the most mundane ways. I pray for God to help me find earrings and parking spaces.

So, I do not take insults personally. I usually wonder: what is wrong with the person who has tried to insult me. Similarly, terrorists do not frighten me. I believe that the same God who protects me every day from “all hurt harm and danger” will protect me from the terrorists, and if S/He does not, I will still give God all the glory and honor and praise. I wonder the same thing about terrorists that I wonder about the racist who wants to insult with words: what is wrong with these people?

What would make a person think it is a good idea to use human excrement to smear a wall at a university dormitory? Do they realize that the first person they must offend is themselves? They have to handle the feces. They have to smell it. They have to lower themselves to pick it up. What do they get in return? Do they think that the insult to another person in any way asserts their own superiority? I do not get the logic because in the end, these actions only make the perpetrator look small and ignorant and more than a little pathetic.

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The Land of the Stupid and the Home of the Scared

Nov18

by: on November 18th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

If we follow the lead of the GOP presidential candidates, the governors of 31 states and various candidates for higher office, we may as well stop singing the national anthem, or to be honest, change the words. Politicians who want to exploit the terroristic tragedies in Paris and in other places around the world to win votes based on fear are reprehensible. They have shown their true priorities, a willingness to say anything for a blessed vote.

On Friday, November 13, 2015, 129 people were killed and more than 300 were wounded in coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris, the city of lights. Ongoing investigations have shown that one of the dead terrorists may have been carrying a Syrian passport that, at this writing, is thought to be a forgery. With that scant information, presidential candidates and the fore -mentioned governors have been rushing to say they do not want Syrian refugees coming to their states because the Syrians pose a security threat.

PLEASE. Give me a blessed break.

These people must think that We the People of the United States are stupid or that we have the memory of a mayfly, and its entire life expectancy is only one to twenty-four hours. These politicians must believe that the late Gore Vidal was right when he called the USA the United States of Amnesia. When we consider the acts of terror in the United States, I do not know of any that were perpetrated by refugees. The 9/11 attackers were not refugees but had come into the country as visitors. The Boston Marathon bombers were not refugees. Timothy McVeigh was a United States citizen.

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A Trip Through the Inferno (A Short Story)

Nov1

by: on November 1st, 2015 | Comments Off

Halloween dawned with gray rain falling softy. The sound was soothing, urging her to stay in bed. It was Saturday, so sleeping in was a possibility. She got out of bed just long enough to turn up the heat a little, enough to take the chill out of the air. It was one of those mornings made for staying cozy under the covers, listening to “Weekend Edition” on NPR and falling asleep again if the body says so. She made it as far as the Sandra Bullock interview before she dozed off. The second awakening called for food and something hot to drink. Potato chips and fun sized Snickers along with green tea comprised the breakfast menu because she needed to consume something healthy.

Standing in the kitchen, munching on the candy, waiting for the kettle to boil, she saw a spider descend from the ceiling on a silver thread as thin as a strand of hair. There was no web, only a single spider and a single silver thread. The spider did not scare her, rather she was fascinated by the oddity of the occurrence. She reached for the broom she kept by the door leading from the kitchen to the hallway. She kept an old-fashioned broom in every room, not because she was a neatnik but because she liked the symbolism of male and female – the handle and the bristles – together in an elegant complementarity. She thought the broom was a guardian presence, reminding her of a family legend about her great grandmother, self-respect, and courage.

She swept the spider out of the house onto the patio because she always tried not to kill a spider, paying homage to the African tradition that spiders trap and kill other insects, so they are good luck. She called spiders Anansi after the West African tradition brought to the new world of Anansi the spider who was a trickster, a story-teller, and a symbol of cunning, slave resistance, and survival. Returning to the silver thread that hung from the ceiling, there was something different about it, a special shine, an unusual play of light. She wanted to touch it before she swept it away, but when she tried to, she recognized that it was not a string at all. It was an opening. This was a perceptible, touchable metaphysics more subtle, more ephemeral, something beyond anything earthly mathematics and science could calculate or theorize.

She touched it again and a portal to a new dimension opened. Her curiosity overcame her fear, and she stepped through an open door into a blinding light. She looked behind her, and her kitchen, her house, anything familiar was gone. Then, in a flash, she felt herself falling into a darkness so deep, so thick that she could feel it on her skin. Now she became afraid because this falling was not flying. It was not the free fall of a lucid dream that is terrifying until one reminds oneself that this is only a dream and that the fall with not kill. Relax. Fly.

Soon her feet touched solid ground, but there was still no light, no wall to touch, no stars, nothing to help her get her bearings. She could sense nothing. No smell. No sound. No taste. She had no guess about where in all of creation she was. She did not know whether she ought to walk, run, go forward, back, or to the side. The only thing she could think to do was to call out. “Hello”, she yelled as loudly as she could. Her voice seemed to reverberate against nothingness. Another strange impossibility. So, she stood still for the longest time until the darkness started to recede a little and become dark grey.

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Witnessing History

Aug17

by: on August 17th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

I confess.

If you ask me how old I am, I am not going to tell you the truth. Facebook has a number on my page, but call me Hatshepsut because I am queen of de-ni-al. I do not tell people how old my children are because they will know what a shameless liar I am when I talk about my age. The concept of real age was invented for me. This is where age is determined by good eating, exercise, and life-style choices. It is possible to age backwards.

That said, there are times when we must say what we know about the history that we have lived and witnessed. This ages us. Friday, August 14, 2015, I watched as Marines raised the flag of the United States of America over the US embassy in Havana, Cuba. It is a step on the road to normal relations between Cuba and the United States. This is something that is long overdue, and it is way past time to end the economic embargo against Cuba.

In the United States, we have a tendency toward what I call bogeyman foreign policy. We decide that an individual, group, regime, or nation is evil incarnate. We, the United State of America, are always the good guys in the story. We assign these roles without context or nuance. We ignore the inconvenient facts of history where US policies have made the situation worse. Heaven forbid a leader will say the truth. S/he will be accused of apologizing for the United States. Never mind that there are times when apologies are in order.

I was a little girl when Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution succeeded. I do not remember his first trip to the United States where he met Malcolm X and visited Harlem. I do, however, remember the Cuban missile crisis. My parents and the other adults in my world did their best to protect me from the magnitude of the moment. I had no idea that the world stood on the edge of nuclear war. I knew there might be a war with the Soviet Union. Before bed every night, I got down on my knees to pray while my mother listened. I remember praying that there would not be war. I worried about my Uncle A.C. who was a soldier. I had no concept of the geopolitical strategies or the import of an impending conflict. I only cared about Uncle A.C.’s safety. There was no war, and Uncle A.C. was safe.

Life moved on, and Cuba was not important to my life. In college in the early 1970s, I became aware of how the lives of people of color across the globe were connected in an anti-colonial and post-colonial historical reality. The civil rights struggle was not about civil rights alone, but it was about universal human rights. I studied W.E.B. Du Bois and the Pan-African Congresses of the first half of the 20th century. I studied Marcus Garvey, his Universal Negro Improvement Association, and the truth behind his slogan: “Africa for Africans.” I learned of Malcolm X and his understanding of the end of white world supremacy following the Bandung Conference of 1955.

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