This S— Has Got To Stop. It Just Does.

Today, more people died in a school massacre. I don’t need to publish the date, because — unless we do something NOW that first sentence will still be appropriate.

Apparently, there have been  142 (One Hundred and Forty-Two!!!!) School shootings since Sandy Hook.  This doesn’t include Columbine or the Colorado movie shooter!
This has got to stop.

“Our thoughts and prayers are not enough. It’s not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel, and it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America — next week, or a couple months from now,” said President Obama. The President has been trying to do something since Sandy Hook. When a problem of this magnitude can’t be solved by the “leader of the free world”, there’s something wrong — seriously wrong — with our society.

Apparently, the NRA has more power to govern (at least regarding gun laws) than our government does. I don’t know how many members the NRA has, but as a percentage of the US population, it shouldn’t be enough to overcome majority rule. It’s not. That’s a problem. Money in our political system has made things this way. We need to get money out of our electoral process. Overturn “Citizen’s United”? If it’ll help, let’s do it.

Gun control is next up. Clearly, we can’t agree on anything regarding guns in this country, but we need to take the health crisis of “lead projectile enters body and causes death” seriously. I’m not making this up. The CDC has said this for a long time. For whatever political reasons there may be, no one can justify the sale of assault rifles, machine guns, gattling guns or anything like them to a civilian population. They are weapons of war. Unless we want to live in a war zone, we need to stop selling them, period. Another means to control this here would be to stop selling bullets that go in those type of guns. This is not a solution to gun violence, but it is solution to mass gun violence.

To those who say that the Constitution says that people need guns to overthrow corrupt governments, I will even give them that. Yes, the Constitution seems to say that. The Revolution that started all this — the American one that those people are so in love with — was fought with single shot rifles and their leaders told them to wait “until they see the whites of [the British Army’s] eyes”. If you can’t have your modern revolution with single shot rifles, maybe you shouldn’t be considering it at all. If that’s all it took the first time, that’s all it should take now. The idea that one weapon can get off more shots  in a shorter time than all the guns at Lexington and Concord suggests we don’t need it. Enough is enough. Ban Assault weapons now. Ban the bullets that fill assault weapons now. Either one of them will work. I’m for both.

For those who say, “those shooters are mentally ill”, you’re probably right. Either that, or they’re simply evil. I’ll get to the “evil” option next. If they are mentally ill, then cutting services to the mentally ill as part of our plan to build a safe nation is not going to work. Stopping Obamacare will mean that the mentally will have less chance at services than they have now. Insurance rates increasing or not covering mental health services also isn’t going to work. We have a Mental Health Parity Act in place but the desire to enforce it isn’t always there. Besides that, therapists need to understand that poverty (or simply the inability to pay bills) is one of the greatest stressors I know of. The AAMFT used to have a rule that said we couldn’t turn away people for the inability to pay. I don’t know if we still have that rule, but there are a lot of folks in my profession who don’t deal with the issue because they would like to make a good living, rather than simply making a living. Mental Health Care in this society MUST become a priority. Making it less of a priority makes it more likely these shootings will go on.

If these school shooters are simply evil, then there are more evil people in our society than we ever had before Sandy Hook. When you add in Church shootings, theater shootings, gang shootings, terrorist shootings, native-born terrorist groups like White Supremacists carrying out shootings, that’s an awful lot of evil out there. We have to figure out why this is. In addition to long-term biological studies which we will need, we need to do something now. At the very least, let’s stop teaching hate. Let’s affirm that every life matters. Let’s stop having flame wars about poor people vs. rich people, Black people vs. White People vs. Korean, Japanese, or Chinese people. Let’s stop dividing ourselves into the deserving and the “not deserving”. Let’s teach our children (maybe even at a church,  synagogue or mosque) to have the values that give life rather than the ones that lead to death. Let’s actually raise our children. All of us. All of them.  Let’s teach them right from wrong. In addition to looking for outside causes for evil, lets look for inward causes of it.

If we do all of these things, these school shootings won’t happen. If we do some of them, it’s a start, but not enough, I suspect. However we get there, this s— has got to to stop. It just does.



Who I’ll Vote For

Someone posted on Facebook “Why in the richest country in the world do we have the second highest poverty?” This spurred me to think about politics and candidates and what’s there and what not.

I’ll vote for the person who:

Wants everyone in America to eat.

Wants everyone in America to have a place to live

Wants all those housed people to have heat or cooling when they need it.

Wants everyone to have clothes, not expensive clothes — good clothes.

Wants the right people to “step up and do their part” so that those who are tired now can take a break.

refuses to let their own people die at the hands of those who are supposed to guard their rights

believes in the worth and dignity of all people.

will not destroy the planet in the name of … well, anything.

wants more people’s voices to be heard, not fewer.

wants children to be children and learn about reality

doesn’t foster hate or division or fear in order to gain votes.

treats all the people of the world as worthy of dignity.

Find me That candidate and I will vote for them. I have to think that when we take care of the people and the environment, regardless of policy or persuasion, we will have better lives.

Mike and The 10 Year Old

In my ongoing quest to be rational, I will apologize. I called Mike Huckabee’s opinion “stupid” on my Facebook post yesterday in the case of his saying that his planned policies, should he be elected, would deny an abortion to a 10 year old girl who was raped by her stepfather.

As I have friends who are anti-abortion (aka “pro-life) — Hi, Caroll! Hi, Claude! —  whom I do respect, let me change my tone here. I respectfully disagree with Mr. Huckabee’s position and wish to point out that not all Christians agree with him. Mr. Huckabee’s position is at the far end of the spectrum and — as one who’s opinions on war, are on one end of that spectrum, due to my Christianity– I must allow for his extreme position on abortion.

With that said, as a therapist, I cannot imagine a worse thing to put a child through than sexual abuse. I can’t imagine a worse thing to put a woman through, or frankly any human being. Incest, rape, and sexual abuse of all sort (yes, it happens to men) and it manages to do incredible damage in so many areas of life — especially those that involve interaction, communication, or contact with the rest of humanity.

Abuse survivors frequently spend their whole lives dealing with the reminders of their abuse — the house where it happened, the clothes of the perpetrator, the smell of the person who hurt them. The list goes on.

To have to give birth to a reminder of your abuse usually makes things even more difficult for the mother and the child. Women who give birth to a child of an abuser often see the face of their abuser (of whatever sort of abuse) in their child every time they look at them. This makes it far more likely that they are going to abuse that child in some way or another if they are forced to have the child — and that’s with teens and adult women! A 10 year old likely hasn’t developed any coping mechanisms for having or raising a child. A policy that says, “this is the way it should be” is so antithetical to mental health and physical health (can a 10 year old deliver a child physically without injury?) that it cannot possibly be good for human beings going through it. Virginia Satir says that good decisions, healthy decisions are made when we take into account “self”, “other”, and “context” (i.e. The Rules, usually). Mr. Huckabee’s policy takes none of the three into account. The girl delivering the baby isn’t taken into account, the unborn child’s mental and physical health aren’t being taken into account. While his proposed policy might be The Rules, it allows no dealing with the actual situation, substituting Mr. Huckabee’s moral values for the girls’.

Beyond that, there are two other objections I have to his plan. First, it tells half of the American population what it is allowed to do with it’s own body. And the person telling that half of the population is someone whom the policy doesn’t apply to.

These rules violate some of the most democratic values we have. If someone in America has to pass a test of some sort to vote, their voice is worth less than the unborn child, whose rights haven’t been established yet, and are still protected.
How is that possibly Constitutional or even part of a healthy democracy?

The second thing, akin to it, that drives me nuts about the whole situation is that the same people who have anti-abortion values generally refuse to support programs that help people survive once they are born. In other words, that child will get far more support from the government prior to its birth than it will get after its birth.This is insane. Being “pro-life-before-it-gets-here” and “not supportive-of-life-after-it’s-really-here” makes no sense. It’s making policy of fantasy.

Lastly, there are those who tell the child that she should have the child, love it, forgive the father of the child, and prove that good can come out of an evil situation. This is a truly pro-life Christian position for deeply spiritual people. Though I can’t imagine an abused child making that decision, such things have happened: one of the 3 women who were abducted and held in chains recently has said, she is trying to do that very thing. She is incredibly brave to try to do such a thing, and — as much as many of us believe that it is impossible — no one is taking away her choice to have the babies. Why should we take away the choice of any woman to make her own decisions? If we think she’s capable of making THAT decision, why do we not think she’s capable of making other decisions about her body, what goes into it, and what comes out of it?

Let me state again for the record, I am not “pro-abortion”. I don’t think “gee, they look fun and everyone should have one”. Nor is it my experience that women who have them aren’t affected by having them. They seem to invariably grieve. In that case, it abortion is a brave and difficult decision to make.

The idea that women can make one brave and difficult decision and not the other is absurd, especially when men are the ones who determine which decision women are allowed to have.

Mr. Huckabee knows that the “Golden Rule” of Jesus’ teaching — “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you”, and yet he claims to be a Christian. Does this sound like Jesus’ Christianity to you? It doesn’t to me.

Huckabee is free to support the life of the “unborn citizen” if he wishes. He is free to support all lives if he so chooses. What he is not allowed to do is destroy the lives of citizens who are alive or negate their rights to make a decision for themselves.

There are so many levels of my disagreement with Huckabee’s plan,it is hard to be calm about it. Is his plan “stupid”? No. Un-democratic and Un-Christian? That’s a different story, even if he generally seems to be such a nice man.



Keep Hope Alive With Planned Parenthood…

Sorry to borrow/appropriate “keep hope alive” but I am writing today because I feel that it is urgent and important to support Planned Parenthood during this very weird moment in their history. Their work actually does keep hope alive for the people I work with and know.

As you may know, there’s a scandal there because of some secretly recorded video tapes that effect stem cell research and may be technically illegal. There has been an injunction that prohibits more of these videos from being released and some members of the government want to do an inquiry or defund Planned Parenthood because of it.

I neither know enough to make a case one way or another, nor care to enter an abortion debate. Let whatever inquiries happen, I’m fine with that. 

Where I draw the line is defunding all the rest of what Planned Parenthood does, a great deal of which is intangible good.

Planned Parenthood serves at least two different functions. The first thing it does is provide gynecological medical services for women.  By that, I don’t mean code words for abortions.  Yes, I believe that they do those or co-ordination for them or something along those lines. But more than that, they provide contraceptives which make the lives that already exist worth living. 

I understand that there are people who believe that women should “keep their legs closed” until marriage and who believe in “abstinence” as a moral choice/imperative, but –as a man who respects women — that’s not my decision to make. If a woman wants to experience her sexuality in some way, that’s her decision. 

Even if you buy into that arguement, it is an incredibly dangerous world out there for my clients– rape, incest, domestic violence, drunken or drugged sex are all part of their lives:  To know that they can prevent unwanted pregnancy before (or even if) they get pregnant, means thdat they have to worry less about it. It needn’t destroy their lives or their goals. They have choices about what happens to them.  If they have choices, they can make plans. If they have plans, they have hope. If they have choices, it means that someone thinks they have a brain and can be trusted to use. That is what Planned Parenthood’s existence does. 

Regardless of the outcome of any investigation or scandal, Planned Parenthood’s future can’t be left swinging in the wind. Support it for all of the good things it does. Support its existence for all that it means. 

Closing it over this scandal would be like closing down Home Depot because there’s a possible problem with a hammer in aisle 11.

For all that it does for women and men, give to Planned Par for and, yes, keep hope alive.

Reforming our Justice System: What It Should Look Like

Yesterday, some sheriff said that “Sandra Bland” wasn’t a model person/prisoner. Instead of getting a trial, she got killed. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Sandra Bland or anyone else (unless, of course, you are her family). It shouldn’t matter if she was Black or anything else. It shouldn’t matter if she’s a model prisoner, citizen, or American. That’s what the system is set up to determine. Good, bad, or otherwise, she’s still supposed to get a fair trial.

When a person gets a trial, it’s supposed to be a fair one. We’re all supposed to be equal under the law. Rich or poor, you should have the best lawyer you can. Justice should not depend on your ability to pay.

When a trial is completed, justice should be done. This is, after all, the justice system. At the end of the system’s process, there should be justice. Punishment is not necessarily the same as justice. Restitution is always justice.

Among other things, people ought to be able to truthfully tell who the victim was and who the criminal was.

If, at the end of a trial, the actual criminal didn’t get tried, then they should be.

If there wasn’t a victim, maybe it shouldn’t be a crime.

White collar crimes should be punished as often as blue collar ones. If the top 1% are the people who are committing those crimes, there ought to be 99 blue collar crimes and 1 white collar crime, just as a measuring stick, maybe.

Punishments should fit the crime. Not all crime requires a punishment, though. What all crimes should require is restitution.

Judges ought to be able to use discretion about sentencing. They are called “judges” for a reason. They are to make “judgements” and “judgement calls”.  What they are now is a referee in the Game of Law.

Being Black — or anything else — is not a crime. It should never be prosecuted as such. Doing something is a crime, being something is not.

Laws ought to be equivalent — Crack Cocaine and Powdered Cocaine are the same drug and should be penalized the same way.

Just because a person is a man or a woman doesn’t make them better people than the other gender — not more reliable, not more deserving, not more anything.

If a person is found to be innocent after they have served jail time, they should be immediately let out. There is no process which needs to be gone through to determine if a person gets out. Criminal = in jail, not criminal = not in jail.

Even if the above changes were put into place tomorrow, there would still be a problem — the human heart. Yes, there are systemic issues to be solved, but a police officer, a judge, a jury member cannot make a reasonable decision if they view they case through an unreasonable prejudice. All prejudice, by the way, is irrational and therefore unreasonable. So, then, our justice system requires change from outside its walls and inside our homes.



Who Are The Police Responsible To?

Jesus called them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.  It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant”. Matthew 20:25 – 26

Today, the  Baltimore Police Commissioner was fired, in the wake of the recent riots there, which came in the wake of Baltimore citizen Freddie Gray. According to the Huffington Post:

“The announcement about [Commissioner] Batts comes just after a report was released by the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 detailing the lack of structure in the Baltimore Police Department during riots in the city that followed the death of Freddie Gray, an unarmed man who died in police custody.

The union “received many reports from members who were deployed to the defensive efforts, stating that they lacked basic riot equipment, training, and, as events unfolded, direction from leadership,” according to the report. “The officers repeatedly expressed concern that the passive response to the civil unrest had allowed the disorder to grow into full scale rioting.”

I’m confused. The Police Commissioner was fired because he wasn’t good enough to the police? The Police Commissioner wasn’t fired because the police killed a man on his watch and then lied about it. He was fired because the police didn’t receive enough training to handle the riots they caused? The police response was too passive, according to the Police UnionTheir killing of an already injured man didn’t seem too passive to me.

The problem wasn’t that the police weren’t trained in riot control. The problem was that there was a riot in the first place! It was caused by the very police force that had to control it later! If the police force can’t figure out what the problem is, they can’t solve it.

In a situation like this, one has to ask, “Who do the police work for?”, “What are they trying to do (aka “What Is Their Job?”). Finally, “Who are they responsible to?”.

Frequently, I hear interviews where police say, “This isn’t a matter of Black-and-White. This is a question of Blue”. Blue and who? Police seem to isolate themselves and draw ranks/circle the wagons when they are involved in a conflict. The fact that police whistle-blowers become pariahs and are attacked/killed says that there’s a code of “honor” and the police are responsible to … each other? their image? I’m not hearing the citizenry in any of that. If that is true, then “what are they trying to accomplish?” and “how are they compensated”?. Usually, people are responsible to their boss, and their boss is the person who pays them, but they don’t see that. Is their boss their union rep? Is their boss the commissioner? The mayor? I seldom (if ever) hear of police forces welcoming a citizen’s advisory board. What I hear frequently is “We don’t want people who aren’t us to tell us how to do our jobs”. I understand this impulse very well, and I believe that being a police officer is difficult.  At the same time, though, the people who give you your job and whom you’re sworn to protect ought to have some say in how you do your job. Further, if you can’t live with that, you shouldn’t have your job because you can’t serve someone without asking them how they want you to help.

This is a rant, yes, but it is not a rant against any individual officer. It’s about a dynamic I see and the tragic consequences of that dynamic. I am against the culture that police officers seem to have created. I think they need to have a different identity than “order keeper”. I think they need to think of themselves as civil servants that the community likes because we’re on the same side. I think “respect” is given way too much importance as a goal. If people like you, they’ll respect you.

A piece of steel on your chest gives you instant authority. It doesn’t give you instant respect. Respect is earned over time, through the judicious exercise of authority. In other words, if you use your authority well, you’ll get respect. If you use it poorly, you should be fired because you work for us — all of us. To blame the commissioner for not giving the police enough authority or training in authority makes no sense when you can’t handle the authority you’ve already been given. When the police prove that they can handle their authority, they should be given respect. Until then, I think it’s unrealistic to expect it.

This is how the individual police officer should be able to distinguish themselves — by not being violent, by not adhering to racism in their jobs, by not using their authority as a weapon against random parts of the citizenry. By the way, we as a society need to stop telling police that violence is heroic, that they should “shoot first, ask questions later”, and that we need protection from “those people”. Those people are us.




Existential Angst — 55 and Still Not “Normal”?

“Let’s face it. You’re not exactly normal…” Vicki Vale …. “It’s not exactly a normal world, is it?…” Bruce Wayne/Batman

” Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole life believing it is stupid”. — attributed to Albert Einstein.

I have been preparing mentally to write a blog about what it was like to be 55 for awhile now, but as I thought about it, as I measured my life, combined with some other things, I became depressed, and burnt out and angry for reasons that seemed stupid. This morning, after a lengthy vacation and in conversation with my younger daughter, I have finally figured our what was going on. Mentally, I had brought a knife to a gun fight and couldn’t figure out why I lost all the time.

It started like this: As I watched Rev. Jeff Brown’s work and the depth of it, I felt like I wasn’t doing my best work, somehow. I was jealous — not of Jeff or his job — but of something else. He had made something of himself and I… hadn’t? My friend Todd Farnsworth, a pastor nearby, is incredibly successful, it seems to me, but not necessarily in “bringing thousands to Christ” or “making a bazillion dollars”, but in something else that I was supposed to be. I wasn’t sure what that was, but … I wasn’t it, or hadn’t become it… whatever it was.

As one who suffers with depression, I knew that it made no rational sense. I was successful at the things I wanted to be. I have a thriving therapy practice a good, long marriage and two incredible children who seem to prove I know something about parenting. People say I write well. I certainly write a lot. By any measure that I could come up with, I was successful. Work was hard, but rationally,  I was “successful”.

I began to think about “making a difference in the world” and whether I had done that, and I thought about my friend Pat Spear who had urged me not to go into psychology because I could on;y change one life at a time, and that mental health was directly related to the conditions people live in. I could help more people by being a leader of people than I could by myself. I haven’t actually led anybody in years. I had causes that were dear to me, but couldn’t get followers for the life of me. I wasn’t in a parish. Did I now want to go back into the parish? Maybe, just to see what it was like. I have been blessed suddenly with parish preaching and ministry duties for the entire summer, so there was something there, but I still felt like I had done absolutely nothing with my life. I had lots and lots of friends, people who treasured me, but I still was a failure? To whom, you might ask? The answer was me.

Burnout came on, and I needed rest. 12 days of time with no real schedule, no burning questions, no saving people’s lives or sanity, just time with my family made a major change within me. Still, I wasn’t settled. “I mustn’t be asking the right question”, I thought. God was still talking to me, so it wasn’t that… What?

Last night, as we were nearing home, my daughter got into a discussion with the family about what she was going to wear to school the first day of freshman year. People suggested to her that, though she was an incredible person, she should dress “normally” to fit in, rather than as the “nerd” or “geek” or “fan girl of Harry Potter” that she sees herself as — at least for a day. Given that teenagers “try on” identities as part of their development, it didn’t bother me, but neither my wife nor I wanted her to have problems with her peers. Been there. Done that.

But that’s not what my daughter was saying. She didn’t care if she fit in. She didn’t care if she wasn’t popular, She didn’t care if she was “normal”. She didn’t want people to think she was normal. She was answering a different question than we were asking. This morning, it hit me that that was the issue. I was trying to be “normal” when I wasn’t. I didn’t used to care about being normal, or what other people thought about me, like my daughter. Then I did. Now, all these years later, I find that that’s not enough for me.

As far as I can tell, a “normal” person couldn’t hear what I hear every day in the office and survive. A normal person shouldn’t have to. Jeff’s work that impressed me wasn’t “normal” parish work. Todd’s parish work — joyous and loving and wonderful — wasn’t “normal”, if by that you mean “average”. It was better than that. The work I myself did in Bridgeport with the Black community wasn’t considered “normal” by anyone, including me. It was faithful, though. Most people agreed on that.

There were people who told me then that I shouldn’t do it — that it wasn’t proper — because it wasn’t my work, and that I would undercut the community’s sense of itself. Because I didn’t care what other people thought of me, and because I knew my motives, I did it anyway. Because I did, I have been blessed with friendships beyond my wildest imagination (and I don’t think I’ve undercut anyone — if I have, let me know, please). I’m not sure, but I don’t think I did “normal” youth work, simply because I did youth work. When my seminary colleagues found it beneath them, I found it thrilling. They went on to great careers, doing great things in churches, I’m sure.

What my daughter doesn’t get, and I didn’t for a long while, is that there’s nothing wrong with being “average” or “normal”. It works for most people. Statistically, that’s why it’s “normal” or average. Gravity applies to all of us. There are only 24 hours in a day for all of us. We all make mistakes, most of them minor.  Normal life works for most people. Those parts work for everyone. What actually is, in the present, works for all of us best if we don’t fight it.

But if you want better, if you want the future to have new things, if you see things that others don’t even see as a possibility, if you can’t do anything else but be creative, then “normal” is not going to work for you.  If you need things to be better than they are, for whatever reasons, then normal’s not going to do it.  If life has made you “odd”, then  some of normal is going to be helpful, but worrying about if your clothes match or if you’re allowed to care for someone seems like a colossal waste of time.

I have confused helpful “reality’ with “the real world”/”the way it’s supposed to be” for years, and I have had “help” getting into all of those boxes — the litmus tests, the advertisements, the shame, the “standards”, the books of etiquette and politeness, “the way things have always been” are presented every day by the world. For the times I have chosen to get into them, or agreed to go into them, I have slowly diminished my soul, diminished myself. If my life were average, that might be enough. If I wanted my life to be average, that might be enough. I actually believe God calls most of us to be unworried, okay with “normal”, and happy.  God called others of us to be creative, hopeful, joyous, silly, frivolous, experimental and I’m okay with that. If you’re not, I’m also okay with that. But know that it doesn’t work for me — and it hurts my soul when you try.