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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.



On Trayvon Martin and the George Zimmerman Verdict

Jul30

by: on July 30th, 2013 | 11 Comments »

I waited.

My tears waited.

In March 2012 when the story of Trayvon Martin’s murder became national news, I waited to comment. Like those who took to the streets in hoodies, I could not understand how George Zimmerman could shoot and kill an unarmed teenager who was simply walking home from the store, be taken into custody by the police, and then go home to sleep in his own bed the same night without being charged with a crime. Zimmerman told the police that he acted in self defense, and that was enough. Trayvon Martin’s family had to hire a lawyer and the lawyers had to contact national civil rights leaders before a prosecutor brought charges. I did not comment.

Trayvon Martin’s parents said they had faith in the criminal justice system. They wanted a trial. When I learned of the verdict on Sunday morning, July 14, my delayed praying tears ended their wait. I wept. I grieved for Trayvon Martin and for all the teenagers whose lives are lost to gun violence, and I grieved for our criminal justice system and for our nation.

Before the trial

Nothing happens outside of a context, and the context for this tragedy is race in America. Race is not nature. It is a construction. It is a way to order the world in ways that allow a particular system of power relations to stay in place. It came into being and remains so to allow people to continue to make money from inequality. Human beings have always defined ourselves in relationship to group identities. Race understood as a biological classification based on physical characteristics was a way to understand the differences between Europeans and the various other peoples they met in the Americas, Africa, and Asia. When slavery became racialized – the black African could not run away and easily hide among the indigenous people or among the white population – a human hierarchy took hold where the enslaved were thought to be not only different but inferior, even vicious by definition.

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The Summer Solstice and Ordinary Time

Jun21

by: on June 21st, 2013 | Comments Off

In the northern hemisphere, the summer solstice — the longest daylight day of the year — happens in ordinary time. There are times in the Christian calendar that signify specific aspects of the mystery of Christ. Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany celebrate the birth of the Christ child and the visit and gifts of the magi. The time from Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, through Easter and on to Pentecost celebrates the temptation, death, and resurrection of Jesus, then the coming of Holy Spirit to dwell with and within humankind. Ordinary time is the space between Epiphany and Lent, between Pentecost and Advent. This is usually between the end of May, or the beginning of June, until December.

So the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere saunters into our lives with no muss, no fuss, each day giving a little of its daylight back to the cosmos until the winter solstice arrives with the promise of longer daylight days.

The birds have been singing since spring. And to my untutored ear, the various tweets, chirps, piping, squeaks, and squawks together make a beautiful cacophony of anonymous nature that reminds me that there is a wondrous world beyond the banality of human affairs. A bird’s nest on the patio has been occupied for weeks. We watched the parents sitting on the eggs; then one day there were baby birds peeking over the edges. They are a family of robins who are our most immediate neighbors. Mulberry stains in the birdbath remind me of nature’s provision for her own. Birdsong and bird family and mulberries are ordinary.

The summer solstice comes when the summer garden is already planted: Basil, rosemary, thyme, peppermint, oregano in one box with cabbage; big boy tomatoes and cherry tomatoes along with cucumbers in another box; turnips, Swiss chard, and romaine lettuce in a third; and marigolds in all three. The summer garden is ordinary.

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Juneteenth 2013: President Obama’s Speech at the Brandenburg Gate

Jun21

by: on June 21st, 2013 | 2 Comments »

Every moment is a particle of the eternal that contains within itself the past, present, and future of now.

When President Obama stood on the eastern side of the Brandenburg Gate on June 19, 2013, a historic moment, he spoke of the past, present, and future of the struggle for freedom, justice, and peace. The first African American president is a living example of the hopes of enslaved African Americans, and June 19th – Juneteenth – is the day we set aside to commemorate that day in 1865 when Major General Gordon Granger and federal soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas. Granger delivered the news of the end of the Civil War and of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Granger also announced General Order #3 that said in part: “This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves. . . .” That moment contained the seed of freedom that would grow to allow the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States. Juneteenth remembers the past and looks with earnest expectation to the future. Juneteenth.com says: “It is a time for reflection and rejoicing. It is a time for assessment, self-improvement, and for planning the future.” (http://juneteenth.com/)

Intentional to Juneteenth or not, this was the spirit of the president’s speech at the Brandenburg Gate. He acknowledged a distant German tribal past, Reformation, Enlightenment, the philosopher Immanuel Kant, World War II, the Marshall Plan, NATO, the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the restoration of Germany. He said: “For throughout all this history, the fate of this city came down to a simple question: Will we live free or in chains?”(http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/19/barack-obama-berlin-speech-full-text/print)

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Memorial Day 2013

May27

by: on May 27th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

Memorial Day is a day of gratitude, memory, and faith.

The first Memorial Day was a day when freed slaves in South Carolina exhumed bodies of Union soldiers from a mass grave to bury them individually. It was an act of respect and thanks. Black hands executed an ancient African spiritual imperative to honor the dead, to decorate their graves, to remember their names and deeds. Theirs was a cosmology and a definition of community that survived the unspeakable horror of the Middle Passage and the dehumanizing intent of slavery, an understanding that the community is composed of the not-yet-born, the living, and the dead remembered. When the work of reburial was done, the occasion was made sacred with sermons, singing, and a picnic.

Today Memorial Day is one of the high holy days of the American civil religion. We pause to honor, with gratitude and with memory, those who have given their lives in service to their country. And, along with the solemn ceremonies, we fire-up our family grills, making offering of worship and devotion to the gods. Lady Liberty, Blind Justice, the Goddess Columbia, Nature and Nature’s God enjoy the sweet savor of meat and fish and a variety of vegetables cooking over smoke and flame. We gather with friends and family to eat and drink, to tell tall tales, to enjoy each other’s company and to celebrate the de-facto beginning of summer. Some of us who live near the ocean will go “down the shore” to keep traditions of summer fun alive.

The gods of the nation are pleased. Their favor, however, is a dangerous idolatrous thing because they require blood sacrifice, or at least they live because women and men are willing to sacrifice themselves and their children for the sake of the nation. Idols require blood and tears because they have none of their own. Warriors die for love of country, but the country cannot love them back. Only human beings can love other human beings in return. Only a God that is Divine Love itself can love in return.

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The Power of Moms

May16

by: on May 16th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

Once upon a time in America, drunkenness was cute. We smiled at the loveable town drunk. In Mayberry, USA – the fictional town of The Andy Griffith Show – Otis Campbell, the town drunk, would stumble into the jail, voluntarily enter a jail cell, and sleep off his inebriation. There was the period of the Rat Pack cool boozers where Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and others had a Las Vegas good time with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other. And then, there was George Carlin’s Hippy Dippy Weatherman who gave the impression that he had smoked just a little too much marijuana.

All the while in the real world, mothers were losing their children to automobile accidents caused by people driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. In 1980, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) started to change the culture. When Cindy Lightner’s 13-year-old daughter Cari was killed by a drunk driver in May of 1980, she decided to channel her grief into activism, and she turned Cari’s bedroom into an office.

Others joined her and the organization is now one of the most successful charities and social change organizations in the country. The history of MADD shows the kind of persistence it takes not only to change laws but to change a culture. Through the years MADD has worked for stronger laws against drunk driving, to raise the legal drinking age to 21, and for a federal .08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) standard. It faced strong opposition from the liquor and hospitality lobbies. The organization was accused of wanting a return to Prohibition. Yet, while MADD continued to work on the legislative front, it also became a support network for families who had lost loved ones to drunk driving. Now, its mission has expanded to stop underage drinking. Its mission statement reads: “The mission of Mothers Against Drunk Driving is to stop drunk driving, support the victims of this violent crime and prevent underage drinking.” (http://www.madd.org/)

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Exodus (the movie) A Passover Maundy Thursday Reflection

Mar28

by: on March 28th, 2013 | 6 Comments »

When Holy Week and Passover are the same week, the simultaneity reminds us that Jesus was not a Christian. He was a radical Jewish rabbi who called himself the Son of Man, teaching his followers to understand their tradition at its basic purpose – love for God and for all of God’s creation. The Last Supper, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist began as a Passover meal, the purpose of which is to remember Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt. Jesus instructed his disciples to use the table meal to remember him, and he gave a new commandment: Love one another.

Maundy Thursday commemorates this mandate to love. Thus, a Passover Maundy Thursday commemorates liberation and love.

Exodus (the movie)

I became interested in Israel/Palestine when I was a girl, and I saw Otto Preminger’s movie Exodus on television. The fine Paul Newman and the too cute Sal Mineo were fighting for the establishment of a Jewish state so that Jewish refugees from World War II could have a homeland. Their characters were handsome and brave and able to at once fall in love personally and remain committed to a larger cause. Newman, playing Ari Ben Canaan, and Mineo, playing Dov Landau, were the good guys. Dalton Trumbo wrote a screenplay that gives us much to contemplate, even today.

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Thoughts on St. Patrick

Mar17

by: on March 17th, 2013 | 3 Comments »

St. Patrick first came to Ireland as a slave.

He was captured in England at age 16, brought to Ireland, and tended livestock for his master. Like many of us, he questioned the meaning of his life situation. He wanted to understand the meaning of his captivity, and he decided that his enslavement was God’s chastisement. He writes in his confession:

“I did not, indeed, know the true God; and I was taken in captivity in Ireland with many thousands of people, according to our deserts, for quite drawn away from God, we did not keep his precepts nor where we obedient to our priests who used to remind us of our salvation.”

Patrick, at least in this text, does not challenge the morality of slavery itself nor denounce the evil of man stealing. He does tell us that he prayed for hours night and day. He fasted. God only knows the content of those prayers. Not unlike enslaved Africans in America, I imagine he prayed for his own liberation. The first thoughts of freedom no doubt came to him as he entered into relationship with transcendence.

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Forgiveness: A Presidential Example of Spirituality and Pragmatism

Mar13

by: on March 13th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

I must confess that forgiveness is difficult for me.

I think about it, speak about it and write about it. (See: http://justpeacetheory.com/files/Thoughts_on_Forgiveness.pdf) When the time comes for me to forgive, I pray the prayer of Jesus on the cross: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34 KJV) I pray this prayer until I am able to say inside my own soul: “I forgive.”

President Obama continues his “charm offensive” this week with trips to Congress to speak with members about a compromise on various important issues – the federal budget, immigration, gun control to name a few. On March 6, 2013, President Obama invited a group of Republican senators to dinner at a fancy Washington DC restaurant at his own expense. He wanted to speak with them in an informal setting about how to move forward on various pieces of legislation that would benefit the country. This is the kind of effort that I advocate in my work on just peacemaking. I say that just peace requires the ethics of commensality, the ethics of the table meal where the bread and wine of communion not only help us to remember the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, but also become symbols of sustenance and joy which are the ethical goals of life.

The senators came from the dinner with good things to say about the evening and prospects for a better working relationship with the president. I trust and believe that this will be the beginning of a less toxic atmosphere in Washington, the beginning of a new and better working relationship between the president and Congress.

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A Lamentation

Dec24

by: on December 24th, 2012 | 3 Comments »

O God, do you see this?

I do not ask why an all-powerful, all-knowing, ever present God has allowed the tragedy of the mass killings in Newtown Connecticut. I do not ask why 20 children and 8 adults are dead at the intersection of mental illness and semi-automatic assault weapons. God gives human beings free will. So, my cry is a human cry to humanity. The correct question is: why do we allow this?

The National Rifle Association continues to insist that easy access to semi-automatic weapons is not the reason for the series of mass shootings that this nation has witnessed. Their spokespeople claim that culture, mental illness, and not enough guns in schools are responsible for the recent tragedies. Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, says the only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Such thinking is nonsense. Bullets cannot tell a good guy from a bad guy, and there is no guarantee that when the smoke clears, the good guy will be the one left standing.

We have genuflected too deeply and given too much power to a misanthropic, misinterpretation of the second amendment of the United States Constitution. A fusion of past, present and future horizons provides a necessary context for a correct interpretation of this amendment. When we consider the past, it is important to know that the founders thought that a standing army was a threat to liberty. They thought it would be too costly.

This was the historical moment of citizen soldiers who would take up arms when a specific threat arose. Moreover, the idea was the citizen soldier would be a part of “[a] well regulated militia.” Writing about the bill of rights, James Madison said government existed: “for the benefit of the people; which consists in the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the right of acquiring and using property, and generally of pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”

The founders believed in natural rights that inhered in our humanity before the establishment of positive law. Such rights included: conscience, religion, property, happiness and safety, speaking, writing, publishing, peaceable assembly, and petition of government. The purpose of the second amendment is “the security of a free state.” Its purpose is not to protect the individual from the government. All of our friends who interpret the US Constitution according to its original intent ought to understand that it does not give ordinary citizens an unlimited right to bear arms. One could argue that only those who are members of their state’s national guard have the right to keep and bear arms.

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Unicorns Exist

Dec21

by: on December 21st, 2012 | 2 Comments »

The following is an excerpt from the introduction of my recently published book – Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation. This book is a collection of essays, many of which were first published here at Tikkun Daily. Today is the Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year. Our country has experienced two major disasters in the past few weeks – Hurricane Sandy that took children away from their parents and left many people homeless and the horror of the mass killings in Newtown, Connecticut.

I am exhausted from grief.

Yet, this is the season of hope in the midst of the gloom. It is the season when we look into the dark days and know that each day following brings more light. It is the season of the miracles of Hanukkah, of praise and thanksgiving for God’s goodness. It is the season of peace on earth and goodwill toward men and women. It is the season of remembering the Seven Principles of African Community. It is a season that celebrates a New Year and the gifts the wise men brought to the Christ child.

There has also been much discussion about the end of the Mayan calendar. A Mayan spiritual leader explains that this does not portend the end of the world, but it does signal the end of an era. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/guest-voices/post/dec-21-2012-marks-the-shifting-of-eras-says-mayan-spiritual-leader/2012/12/19/524a068e-4a23-11e2-b6f0-e851e741d196_blog.html) I say let this be the end of the era of violence and war and confusion and fear. I say let this be the beginning of an era of faith, radical love, and peace.

Unicorns are often used to speak about that which does not exist. However, I say that unicorns exist as a symbol of a utopian ideal of a better world that does not require violence. It is a symbol of the moral “ought” that we imagine when the “is” that we see is not moral enough anymore. The unicorn dances upon the horizon of our righteous dreams, and like the future horizon leads us ever on in our moral evolution to be better today than we were yesterday and better tomorrow than we are today.

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