The System is Down!

So, I have an interesting opportunity to reflect on the need for structure and systems in order to embody concrete ideas and beliefs, thus bringing the ethereal world of thought and spirit into the our physical world.

I have this opportunity because the power cord for my laptop is no longer working.  I don’t understand why.  It was working just find yesterday.  But now it does not, and the computer is out of juice.  So I am unable to update the blog the way I had wanted to for today, including a huge array of pictures and updates of the awesome things I have seen and done over the last three weeks.  Instead, I am in the library in between classes, struggling to remember that the “y” button and “z” buttons are switched on the German kezboard.  Keyboard.  See…it is annozing.

But it’s an interesting coincidence because my brain was going in that direction anyway: how our lives are governed by a series of human-made structures, birthed and inforced by nothing more than our own imagination and will.  That is how it is looking to me, anyway.  The laptop is a great example of what I am talking about.  The cord that gets power from the wall and puts it in my computer has failed to serve that function.  There is nothing wrong with the computer itself (unless the actual problem is that the computer is refusing to take a charge?), and there is plenty of electricity around…but I am missing the connective piece, the part of the system that transforms electricity into power that my computer can consume.  And because of that one weak link, the entire world that is my computer–complete with iTunes and podcasts and internet and photos of the last several weeks and blog notes and all kind of projects at various stages of completion–is trapped in a little box, nothing more than plastic and wires, severed from the rest of reality.

I am currently reading The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson.  It is a historical work she put together, telling the story of The Great Migration, when millions of African American citizens fled the segregated southern states for the promise and possibility of a better life in other parts of America.  We learn about segregation all the time growing up, but I was in college before I ever heard about the devastating violent history that accompanied Jim Crow laws.  I was 20 before doing  research papers on folks like Ida B. Wells, an African American teacher who fought to put an end to mob violence and the lynching of African American citizens.  Wilkerson’s book, told through the eyes of four main characters–real people who, at various times from the 1920s through the 1950s–fled their homeland to run to freedom.  This book is essential reading, especially for those of us who are too young, too privileged, or just too white and ignorant to remember or properly understand what this period of American history was like.  Every page reveals a hidden travesty, an untold history, a forgotten and covered-up reality.

If I could upload a photo here from the last few weeks (and maybe i will find a way to do that in the next couple days), it would be an image I captured in Leipzig, a city in eastern Germany.  We went there a couple weeks ago and while we were walking around the city center, we stumbled on a giant platform that had row after row of chairs.  We couldn’t figure out what they were, if it was some kind of art exhibit, what was going on…until we found a plaque that explained this was a memorial site that was erected where a Jewish Synagogue was burned to the ground during the Nazi Zeit in 1930s Germany.  Each chair representing scores of people from their community who would be exhiled and annihalated, the entire platform laid out as a bare wound for all of Leipzig to see.  This last weekend, we were in the South of Germany, completely on the other side of the country, and while we were out for a walk, we saw a sign that identified a city park as the location of another synagogue, this one, however, was not violently destroyed but closed when the Jewish community of Duisburg–whom, as the sign said, lived for 200 years within the community as “friendly neighbors”–was ostrocized and forced to flee their homes under the threat of economic injustice and physical violence.

Wilkerson’s book expressly points out the similarities between the Jim Crow south and the lives of Jews in Nazi Germany…in both these times and places, entire peoples were stripped of rights and privileges which they had previously enjoyed.  African Americans in the south enjoyed an all too brief time of freedom, after the war had ended and the Constiution was ammended, and as soon as the Northern military left the south, leaving the southern people to their own devices, everything established to empower African Americans was rolled back, new laws were passed to restrict their access to the civilization enjoyed by white southerners, and African Americans were plunged into a socio-economic reality that was, in many ways, actually worse and more dangerous than the time of slavery had been.

That is an incredibly brief synopsis.  Read the book.

All of that is to say…our world is run by systems.  Some folks are the powerful, the electricity that fuels the machine.  Others are denied access to that power, and all the promise and hope and potential of their lives is left stuck in the confines of their own spirits and minds, with no way of escaping into the world.  Without some kind of translator…without some kind of mechanism that extracts power from the main source and funnels it into the power-less…then we have a world divided.  Without appropriate forms to help embody our bright hopes and brilliant ideals…we go from computer to paperweight.

When I say that I am on “a road to Wahnfried,” what I really mean is that I am not satisfied with my place of power and privilege in the systems that govern our world.  But the complete rejection of those systems leaves me ineffective and nonfunctional…all my promise and potential locked up in my own brain.  Rejection of old forms is not enough.  I am looking for something new.  I am looking for a mechanism that gets me plugged into those who have no power of their own, the ones who we are taught to reject and refuse, the ones demonized by the lies of the world and the illusions of my own heart.  I won’t be able to find peace, I won’t be liberated from the world’s illusions on my own, I need a way to connect to those outside of myself, and outside the places of power…and it is in those connections that we can all be liberated. In the words of Freddy Mercury, I want to break free.


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