The Other Beautiful America

I have always loved what America has the ideals to be.  As my friend Jen apparently knows as a history teacher, those ideals can be found somewhere between the Magna Carta, The Plymouth Covenant, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Constitution — each laid claim to in Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” Speech and his understanding of “the Beloved Community”. Since King, there have been moves toward equality of the sexes, and President Obama’s decision to support gay marriage, as a new generation stakes its claim to America. So much of this is under threat with the current administration, but the ideals of the country still hold in many places among people who care for each other, who still believe that human beings have dignity and worth, that they are “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

“Seek first the community where God reigns” — my paraphrase of Matthew 6:33

As of this week, my blogs  “Like It Matters”  and “Because It Matters” have reached a combined 20,000 hits so I want to celebrate those people who make up the America I believe in . 

This should in no way diminish the incredible natural beauty of America — the one of song and story. Having toured America and  written about it in the blogs, I can tell you that the Grand Canyon is a miracle of nature and there is so much more which reminds you that no human being could keep up with God’s creativity. Yes, the natural beauty is also threatened by the current administration, but everybody talks about that. This blog began out of frustration that I wasn’t hearing opinions or stories I could relate to. I was astounded after writing the very first blog that other people shared my opinion. I had begun to believe that good religious people and liberals no longer existed. They do. This blog has become about them and their stories, their thoughts, for all 20,000 hits. 

So, enough about me. Let’s talk about the other beautiful America.

Every church in America — if it talks about Jesus — has the right intent. Nobody starts a church with the intention of hurting people. If it takes Jesus seriously, however, it is part of the beloved community that makes the world –via the people around it– better off. Most every church in the UCC and liberal Protestant denominations believes in kindness and taking care of each other — until recently the norm, now radical concepts.

When I want to listen instead of talk, the Society of Friends (Quakers) is where I go to be filled.

Certainly, without a doubt, all of the clergy or ministerial types mentioned in these pages do that. People with specific stories here (or mentioned) include:

Gordon Sherman and Cy Sherman, Rick Fowler, John Hudson, Jeff Brown, Pat Speer, Lynn Carman Bodden and her husband Peter, Char Corbett and her sister Sioux Wilusz, Greg Coles, David Ratz, George Harris, the late Prophetess Gerry Claytor and her late husband, Rev. Benny Claytor, their daughters, Kim and Bennyta (now called “Bee”), Caroll Cyr  and the staff of Silver Lake, Cat Chapin-Bishop and her husband Peter, Peter Wells, my wife Michelle Madsen-Bibeau, Todd Farnsworth, Linda Lea Snyder, Lisabeth Gustafsen, Ken Ferguson, the entire staff of CYC Senior High camp, and Camp Wightman, staff and campers from the now defunct Deering Camp and Conference Center, the late Newt Perrins and his still very  alive wife, Val and the staff of Skye Farm. The late Charlie Crook .

While I like them doing “charity” work, my friend Pat Speer (covered in a blog) and his organization Christian Activity Council believes the church is called to push for justice, so that churches don’t need to do charity. Until Jesus returns, I’m ok with both.

********************************

“People are people, so why should it be, that you and I should get along so awfully?” — Depeche Mode

(thoughts on beautifully American groups…)

There’s a group of people I grow to respect more and more in this country, precisely because they have no reason to be kind, but do it anyway: the LGBTQ community. A few weeks ago, a lesbian saved the life of a Senator in Washington. She’s married. He doesn’t believe in gay marriage. If it were up to him, she’d have a much harder life. When it was up to her, he got to keep his life. She could have forgotten how to use her gun, or lost her way to the Senator’s location, but she didn’t because it would be a dereliction of duty and apparently out of character for her. After this event, she could go home and look at herself in the mirror. Could he?  Of course, not all gay people are like her  and not all Senators are like him, of course. It’s just that there’s no reason for either of their behaviors and she did the Jesus-type thing.

I make the case also, because I know my friend Leigh McCaffrey — an ordained minister in the UCC and a lesbian herself. She lives near Orlando, Florida and when a hateful man from another religion killed a room full of gay folks, that community came together. They didn’t go Muslim-blaming. They didn’t flip out about terrorism, they didn’t attack back. They came together, became tighter, supported each other, celebrated life and grieved the loss. Given that there still many place where Leigh and her partner Sue can’t go, for fear of death, that seems incredible to me. Still, Leigh knows Jesus personally, so I shouldn’t be surprised. I just am.

In these pages, I have talked about Patty Bucchieri, whom I called “the nice lesbian” because she was, and is, good to our children. In our church, there are lots of nice gay folk. Patty is just so kind and a good Christian, I wanted to highlight her . In these pages, there are also in-the-closet gay folks covered — but of course, I can’t say who they are, just that they changed my life.

NAACP, Bridgeport’s IMA, Black Lives Matter, Jeff Brown’s ministry of peacemaking in Boston, Bridgeport Food Pantry, The Geraldine Claytor Magnet School in Bridgeport, CT, Boys and Girls Clubs of Rochester, NY, Beyond The Moment

I’m old. I like old causes, obvious causes, things that make sense to me. Race relations makes sense to me. Promoting harmony and rights for some of the coolest people I know makes sense to me. It seems like many of my friends have moved on to new causes, but this one still remains  unfinished. We ended the war. We’ve had the sexual revolution. We have had the equal rights movement, but pretty much racism has gone unchanged in this country. Yes, the women’s movement has lost ground for years. Yes, it seems that every single good thing is being threatened by this administration. But somehow, after the Civil Rights movement and MLK’s death, everybody else realized they could get their rights, and the fight against racism went untouched by the White community. Like the last case of smallpox, it came roaring back stronger than ever over the last few years , as some pockets of America want to go back to straight-out oppressing Black folks. Call me old-fashioned, but I like to finish one project before I move on to the next one so I have tried to write blogs about racism and racist violence whenever it happens. I now write prayers at night because it took too much out of me to write and grieve that much — sometimes 3 times in a day. There is so much to treasure about Black culture (No, I still don’t like most rap, or dance songs that are only about sex, but my kids do) that I hate to lose it. The groups above or individuals, like the rest of beautiful America, cares when it’s hard and still talks to White culture even though the abuses of that culture should have had us written off years ago.

That said, there are other organizations that make the world better and deal with some of the issues: The Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU, N.O.W., People For The American Way and National Coalition Builders Institute in Washington, D.C.

Some organizations making the world better every day aren’t run by anybody, or anybody you’d know: Alcoholics Anonymous and every other 12-Step group in the world is an incredible gift to humanity.  You can change your life, find meaning, and be a part of change for free at these places.

In the same vein, there is Celebrate Recovery that my friend Dave Ratz (mentioned in blog years ago) ran a local chapter of in New Britain, CT. Also a fine group, the religion piece of it might be off-putting to some and life-saving to others. In New Britain, at 500 Main St., there is an offshoot  of CR called Recapture Healing and run by Marie Bachand.

Jean Milo is now a big mucky-muck with Save The Children.

Organizations don’t have to be big to do good things. Cunningham Tire in N. Reading, Massachusetts, will balance and install tires for free. Bob and Derek are brothers who want to help motorists for free. They consider it a ministry, and it is. They are great guys.

I know I have already discussed churches, but under groups, I want to acknowledge the no-longer kids of Center Church Lynnfield, MA, Union Congregational in Hall, NY, and Mountain Rise UCC who have grown up to make the world better in so many ways. I remain in awe of them for the kindness and intelligence they share in the world.

Also covered in a blog: Ability+ Sports who get people with any number of disabilities to the slopes in Vermont and do incredible work creating spiritually/emotionally whole people who are better skiers than I am.

Finally, I have decided recently to get involved with “food justice” issues. Who could be against people eating? Let’s not go there…. Who is for people eating? WhyHunger, started by the late musician Harry Chapin and Bill Ayres, its mission is to end hunger, by connecting up with grassroots folks all over America. They do incredible work and their monthly newsletter is full of agencies and organization that connect to the cause. Literate and intelligent and caring all in one organization.

***** healers and helpers *****

“There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul” — hymn

America is full of teachers,therapists, social workers, nurses, doctors who help people every single day. This became apparent especially after a Deering Reunion where people talked about what they had done with their lives since camp. Shout outs to:

Dawn Cunningham in Massachusetts is a great school teacher. Liz Solomon Wright is a college professor in Texas. My friend Cat Chapin-Bishop won the non-existent  “Mary Lou Brewer Award” for teaching in these pages, honoring both Cat and Mary Lou, ML is my favorite teacher of all time.  Barbara “Bobbie” Fox at Manchester Community College in Manchester, CT is a teacher of healers. All of the staff at Charter Oak Elementary, Sedgwick Middle School, and Conard High School have taught my daughters to be fine citizens. Pam Shuman is a psychiatrist and teacher at Brown University (or was).

My former sister-in-law Marlene Sanford has worked with the developmental delayed for 20+ years.

My mother, Donna Rae Zoller Bibeau, was –and wanted to be — a nurse for most of her life. Deb Bercovici is a nurse. Maryanne Maccullagh is a chaplain to nurses … and patients. Karen Ross Gardener Gatchell has been a nurse for years.

The staffs of River Valley Counseling in Chicopee, MA, Petaluma People’s Service Center in Petaluma, CA, South Bay Mental Health in Attleboro MA, BHN in Springfield, MA and the staff of the Institute for Living in Hartford, CT ( at this age, I’m old enough to have worked at most of them) help clean up the messes life inflicts.

The Virginia Satir Global Network is, for me, the mother lode of all good things in family therapy and systems theory.

****** Arts and Artists**********

“Paint a pretty smile each day./loving is a blessing/never let it fade away/it’s all about love” — from “All About Love” by Earth, Wind, and Fire

“If I had a hammer/I’d hammer in the morning” — Pete Seeger

In the blog, I have featured/reviewed many an artist’s work.

MIchelle Beebs is one of the kindest people I know. She has an incredible ear for music. Both solo and with her band, the Money Makers, they are enlightened indiduals who kick butt as a tight-knit group with a groove.

Joan Osborne has a musical dexterity and a love of the world of roots music I admire. I have yet to pick up her new CD tribute to Bob Dylan, but I will.

Chapin, Chapin, Chapin…. The late Harry Chapin is one of my heroes. I have had the absolute pleasure to interview Jen Chapin, whom I admire in so many ways. The Chapin Family, The Chapin Sisters, Tom and Steve Chapin, the Jen Chapin Trio, Howie Fields, and Big John Wallace have all been positively reviewed here.

The Blues Brothers changed my life.

Larry Baker is a great author.

Ron Bottitta is involved with 99-seat theaters in L.A. And does good, provocative work with Rant and Rave out there.

Comic book and comic book movies show us the best in ourselves. The most recent one, Wonder Woman, is incredible.

TV show “Chuck” is a great show about kind people thrown into a very unkind world of danger.

This is the America I know, the beautiful human America. There isn’t a militarist or a corporation or Russian spies among them. They are just people with a belief in a just and kind world. And these are just the people I know or know of. No doubt, reader, you know people just like these. On this 4th of July, 2017 acknowledge and celebrate this beautiful America. Feel free to add organizations or people who also in the comments section. If any of it has typos or you’d rather not have it included, let me know that as well. 

Resisting with Peace,
John



Advertisements

Willing Sacrifices vs. Willing TO Sacrifice…

Tonight, as the Kurds are left to twist in the wind and Turkey attacks, and as a friend of mine wrote a lovely poem about ministry, I struggle with my pacifism, sort of. I find myself thinking, “What kind of person willingly lets someone get butchered, especially when that person or group has been a good friend and a strong supporter?”. It’s almost a trick question as it is one of those “prove you’re a conscientious objector/real pacifist” questions the military asks to make you go into the service.

And yet, I remain a justice-oriented pacifist, following in the ways of Jesus and St. Francis, Gandhi and Dr. King. There are those who are cowards, and passive evildoers, and then there are pacifists. As I work with more and more traumatized clients, I realize that one can be both a Christian and an apparent coward. The disciples, when Jesus died on the cross, willingly let the Christ get butchered, not out of any good motives, but simply out of fear and a sense of powerlessness before the Romans and the crowd. Jesus, at the same time, willingly died for them despite a knowledge of his power, while being his best self.

This is the difference between what’s happening now in Syria and what should be happening, between Donald Trump’s actions and Jesus’. We should be willing to protect others. In doing that, if we lose our own lives for what we believe in, well, that’s okay — not great, mind you, but ok. For Christians, it doesn’t end there, and our love for humanity and God’s love for us remain for eternity.

For soldiers, I don’t know anymore. I know that I cannot kill, and that the judgement was never mine to make, but I am more aware of parallels between active pacifism and active soldiering. I suppose it depends on what you think soldiers do. Do they protect or do they attack? Do the defend or do they kill? There are some of both out there, but most people that I know who end up being soldiers plan to protect and defend, and are mentally destroyed when they think (or find) that their government wants them to attack and kill.

In therapy, I try to teach people to live in reality and make the best choices under the circumstances that they can. The reality tonight is that soldiers have to watch as their compatriots of another nationality die, because that’s what they have been ordered to do. Nothing about the decision to stop defending the Kurds seems in any way courageous or moral. It seems like cowardice or active evil. It is a horrendous situation for all involved, with everyone suffering but the person who made the decision.

Trump will not be traumatized by this situation, because it doesn’t affect his life and he doesn’t feel powerless. That puts the disciples who actually followed Jesus far above this man who is falsely believed to be God by his followers. Trump is abusive. They were not. The Christian’s life is joyous but acknowledges pain and sometimes agony on the way. It doesn’t deny reality, It tries to rise above the evil and choose for the good despite it.

Sometimes, death simply can’t be avoided. For us, it’s just not permanent.

The powerful are supposed to understand that, and not inflict it on others. In short, the powerful should be willing to sacrifice– themselves, not others. That is where this particular President has missed the moral of the story. But then, I hear he doesn’t read, either.

Resisting with Peace,

John

A White Guy Looks At Racism, Again…

I have spent the day hearing news report after news report saying that Donald Trump is a racist. Even the people at FOX News seem to agree, Mick Mulvaney notwithstanding. At this point, no one believes that Trump isn’t racist, that his tweets aren’t racist, that his policies aren’t racist. Even those people who go on the Sunday shows to defend him really can’t. So, there it is: no more doubting. No more defending, no more believing B.S. No more trying to figure out what he meant. Trump is a racist. Period. Let’s waste no more time with the craziness, or the intent questions, or whatever other guesses we might have. He is a racist. He means to be a racist. He will be a racist unless something changes. He would have to change because he present state is… racist.  Now the question comes: What are we going to do about it?

I’ve been thinking about it a lot and this is what I have come up with. Donald Trump is a hateful man. He hates cities, he hates children, he hates immigrants, he hates people in the military who are trans, he hates Muslims. He hates all kinds of people that decent people love. Who does he care about? Himself. We can all spend time defending the people that we love and their issues. He has a shorter list, and that makes it easier for him, so I see no solution. I used to believe in impeachment and the rule of law, and those are fine choices, if we choose to, and can, use them.  Again, he hates the law. we have to defend it.  His task is easier.  Short of his death, I don’t see him leaving office. Hating him seems to be an option… except it’s not. Becoming hateful ourselves just means more hate in the world. Losing our own souls isn’t worth the effort.

Now, defending good people, that’s a different story. That we can all do. By “good”, I’m going to cheat here a little bit.  By good, I’m going to mean, “anyone who hasn’t given me reason to dislike them”. That means anybody I don’t know, and a whole bunch of people I do.  You can’t pick on people I love, or care about, or don’t even know simply because you don’t like the color of their skin. Doing that is racist, judgemental, and dumb — all things not to be.

Now, here’s where it gets weird… There’s a Twitter hashtag going around, #AnotherWhitePersonAgainstRacism. Blowing my own horn is seen, in my culture (Yankee New England White culture), as bragging. I haven’t used the Hashtag yet because 1) I don’t think hashtags do much and 2) I don’t like to brag.

I want to be another White person against racism. I don’t want to say it. I don’t really care if my White, liberal friends think I am or I’m not. What I do care about is that my Black friends know and believe that I am a White person against racism. If I’m not doing what it takes to be considered a White person against racism, then it doesn’t  matter what I say. If it’s not apparent already, then I’m not who I want to be. In the same way, if you can’t tell by my actions that I’m a Christian, there’s no point in saying it. With each person from each group, I want to genuinely care and act like you matter, no matter what category you represent (unless its intolerance or bigotry).

But there’s a problem with the way I like to do things. Given the way the world is right now, especially in America, if I don’t say it, people could confuse that with my agreeing with racism. I want the entire world to know that am against racism. So, I’ll say it to anyone who I see: I hate racism. I think it’s demeaning to human beings that I care about. I think it doesn’t allow them to be their best selves, or us to see their best selves. Because of that, it just seems dumb, as well as unethical and wrong and not what God wants from us.

NOW, HERE’S THE PART WHERE I ADDRESS WHITE FOLKS… (not snarky, I promise)

Lately, the words have changed. Instead of talking about “racism”, there’s a lot of talk about “White Privilege“. Before anybody gets their knickers in a twit, let me explain that it’s not meant to hurt or deny anyone’s pain. White folk have pain. Lots of folks suffer injustice and problems of all sorts. Talking about privilege means this:

If you go to buy a house, and you’re not steered away from the one you want because of your skin color, you have privilege. If they’ll only sell you a home in a certain zip code, you don’t.

If people don’t fear you because of your skin color, you have privilege. If people do fear you, you don’t.

If people let you dine in any restaurant you want and the waiter doesn’t look at you funny when you come in, you have privilege. If they won’t, just as a general rule, you don’t.

If police can’t kill you and say they were afraid of you, even without a gun, you have privilege. If police can kill you and suffer no consequences, you don’t.

If companies won’t even consider putting toxins in your neighborhood, you have privilege. If companies will put the most heinous and toxic crap in your neighborhood without even thinking about it and then say your IQ suffers naturally, you don’t.

I have privilege in all of those same ways. Our Black brothers and sisters don’t. If you didn’t know, it’s not your fault. Now that you do, try not to be offended when they say you do. I have always said the problem isn’t that we have privilege (that’s the way life is supposed to be). The problem is that they don’t.

I hope everybody’s clearer now.

 

Resisting with Peace,

 

John

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Trump Means

When all is said and done, some good may come out of this administration, but only as a by-product and only if we live long enough to learn the lessons, of course. It seems to me that there are two lessons here: one factual, and one moral.

The first one, pointed out by the great George Carlin, is economic : there is an “owner” class. If we look at the man himself, and his cabinet and some of Congress as well, you see no one who looks like you. The chairman of Trump, Inc has the chairman of Exxon Mobil as his Secretary of State, he has a billionaire real-estate developer as a son-in-law. He is friends with the CEO of Aetna, who made individually 46 million dollars while withdrawing his company (or threatening to, I can’t remember) from Obamacare. He has a Secretary of Education from an unimaginably wealth family, and a brother who made a “killing” literally and figuratively by founding Blackwater, the “defense contractor” (read ‘mercenary’). Tom Price has benefited from Big Pharma in some incredible amount.  Even Ben Carson, I bet, has made more money than most of us can imagine, but he’s probably the least wealthy among them. On the Russian side, there is Putin and his lot — Putin possibly being the “richest man in the world”, according to Rachael Maddow. On his staff are people — while supposedly making a government pension —  who own Chalets and yachts all over the world. The man from Aetna and the Putin staff are the same type of people: decrying the national debt and the failing economy while they make billions by causing that debt and bad economy. If the economy is doing well enough that you can make $46million, and your salary could pay for health insurance for more than 2000 families at $15,000 per year, the problem isn’t saving money and getting ahead, which most folks are told. It’s not even doctors or nurses asking for too much money which is the more “in-depth analysis” version of this. It’s that one man has 8,000 times the money he needs. In Russia, the economy suffers because there’s not enough money to build things for The People who are all supposed to be equal. Companies are taken over by the the government all the time, and yet, amazingly the government has no money. Two systems, same problem.

Remember when Mitt Romney believed it was fair that he paid no federal taxes because he was only taking what was legally allowed and “everybody should do that”? Remember during the Obama administration, when people noticed that most elected people were millionaires and/or lawyers, while they have free healthcare and pension for life for just serving one term? There’s a connection between all of this. The connection is that some people who make decisions for the rest of us also make make policies which benefit themselves financially — and they don’t believe in a limit to their wealth. Remember the old “Military-industrial complex”? Now it’s the military-financial-industrial complex — what Carlin called the “owner class. Their way of living and being, under Trump, is now public: out there for all to see. Now, the rules don’t apply to them because they’re in politics. Before, the rules didn’t apply to them because they had money. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss, but now they’re doing it in the light of day. That’s the factual piece. 

The moral piece is this: there isn’t anything inherently bad about money. In the old days, there was a sense of “nobless obliege” which is the obligation of the rich to give back to society that they had taken from. No matter how rich you were, you were a part of society. You were connected morally to “the great unwashed” outside your door because of faith and/or The Rules of Good Society, the way Old Money largely still acts today. But now, the point of wealth is to not be connected to The Rules or each other. As long as money is used to untether you from society, there will be problems. 

The man who owns Chobani is taking the opposite tack. The more he makes, the more he shares. He has human connections to his community. Work satisfaction is high. The community does well and everybody does better as the company grows. At the same time, the company grows because everybody does better! There was a factory owner in Lynn, Massachusetts who paid his employees when the factory burned down, because of his wealth (he could) and because of his connection to his workers and his community (he wanted to). 

Owners with class have no interest in being in the Owner Class, because of their values. Ben and Jerry, media darlings that they are, and the owner of Starbucks are owners of a corporation, not owners of people. They are people first, at once constrained by their communities and welcomed in it. The type of people closest to Trump have always existed. Maybe now, for the first time ever, we get to see what they look like and how they operate.

Resisting with peace,
John

Decriminalize Poverty!

Today, I saw a news article that said the administration was going to try to cut 3.1 million people’s Food Stamps. The idea, said the man who proposed it, is that only the truly needy can get them. This may well be the final battle in the war on the poor. There will be casualties.

For at least 40 years,the poor have gotten poorer, and worked harder to stay poor than in any time I can remember. Years ago, I had a client whose children were in DCYF custody because she had 3 or 4 children and she couldn’t afford them. She couldn’t afford to feed them. She couldn’t afford to clothe them. What money she had was taken by the drunken father of her children.

Could she work? Not and raise her children in the poorest section of a working class town. The neighborhood she could afford wasn’t safe, so she didn’t want to leave them alone. She had a car, but it didn’t pass inspection, so the police ticketed it. She couldn’t afford to pay the ticket, so it put her into debt. Down from a zero net worth to less than that. Another resource gone. If she drove it, they’d take it, impound it, and she’d be further in debt.

Some of her children tried to feed the family by getting into the local industry — drug dealing. That brought the police to her door and DCYF took her children. I remember saying in a conversation with the social worker that “poverty wasn’t against the law — yet.”

While her case sounds harsh, any other person in her neighborhood could easily be in the same predicament. That case was 20 years ago.

Recently , I had a similar case: this time involving 3 different medically children and a single mother. In order to make ends meet, she filled out the forms for renewing their food stamps. A definition was changed on the form and she was disqualified from getting Food Stamps for 60 days until they processed her brand new renewal!

That’s the legal/policy part of this story. Somewhere in Washington, some policy-maker thinks this is a great idea, consistent with their philosophical viewpoint. Let me suggest that that policy-maker has never been poor. If they had, this would not be happening.

Even budget-wise, they are only seeing the smaller picture, if that much. Here’s why:

I have seen this client for more than two years now. She has made extraordinary progress which has allowed her to stay sane enough to raise her children, despite the hardships. She simply refuses to go down. And yet, when she lost her food stamps, she melted down for the day, because she couldn’t feed her kids and she couldn’t work harder and now what was she going to do? Financial stress is a killer. It just is, especially if you’re trying to live within the law. So, for this simple policy change, the government saved a few hundred dollars not feeding her children. They lost money paying for her mental health. They could easily have lost money paying the police to come to her house if she lost her temper. They could further lose money paying for, housing, and paying DCYF staff to deal with her case. And if, as many do, she had chosen illegal ways to make money, the state and the feds would have paid for all of her time in the justice system. I don’t know prices, but I could easily see those services costing thousands of dollars by “saving” a few hundred.

None of that economic stuff is the point, though. This simple policy change could have — and for a day — did destroy lives. This woman was frozen in fear, anxiety and grief, so her mothering skills were down that day. If she wasn’t the solid person she was, her life, and those of her children would have been destroyed. That is the tragedy here.

What the government is now proposing will guarantee that same outcome, for a longer period of time. People’s lives will be destroyed. It is as simple as that.

Of course, the other option is to ask the rich to pay their fair share so that people who can’t lose a dollar, or make a mistake, or have misfortune dealt to them one more time, can have something that looks like a life. There is a distinct connection between poverty criminality. If people can’t survive legally and don’t have other legitimate ways of paying for things, they will seek illegitimate ways of doing so. We can avoid much chaos, much violence, much mental health care if we let people have enough to eat, and enough money to buy the things they need.

When we criminalize poverty, we create desperation, we create havoc and instability in an already unstable world. In short, we create criminals.

When we are compassionate towards those whom life kicks —often and hard — we bring some stability to our society, and create people who can add to the world, willingly and with joy.

The choice is ours. Let us choose wisely for all of us.

Resisting with Peace,

John

The ERA … because “Duh!”

I watched a snippet of Patricia Arquette testing before Congress about the Equal Rights Amendment. In that minute-and-a-half, she said:

I come here not as a constitutional lawyer but as a citizen. As an American woman to advocate for what I feel is critical for our. I come with good will and the faith that when we examine the reality of American women today and remember the historic injustices women have faced in our country, we will all feel compelled to do what we must to ensure that women are afforded every legal right and equal protection in our country. Women have waited for 232 years to be enshrined as full and equal citizens – Why? Because in 1787 Women were left out of the Constitution – intentionally.

While the Constitution says nothing about deadlines for amendments, Congress put a deadline on the Equal Rights Amendment when it was passed in 1972.

I am here to appeal to you to remove the 1982 deadline placed by Congress on ratification of the ERA.

In those few seconds, she explained something I’ve never understood before: what happened to the ERA.

According to The Hill magazine/newspaper “It was the first congressional hearing on the Equal Rights Amendment in 36 years.

Congress passed the amendment in 1972, but it failed to be ratified by enough states before a March 1979 deadline.

I thought the Amendment had died a natural death, that it stalled because people just didn’t want it anymore. I hadn’t known that there was a deadline, as I had never heard of a deadline on an Amendment. I still don’t know if other Amendments have “sell by” dates, but an idea whose time has come doesn’t stop coming on its own. If Amendments are relatively permanent after the vote, shouldn’t they be permanently open for debate, once the process has started? And — as I suspect — this Amendment is somehow different, why is it different?

One of the reasons I write about racism and rights is because I like to make sure we’ve finished old issues before I move on to “the new issue”. It became apparent years ago that the rights of African-Americans — despite all of Dr. King’s work and a voting rights act in 1964 — were no longer of interest to people in power. In fact, the government in the 1980’s was trying to take away those gains that were a part of our democracy’s best ideas.

The issue of equal rights for women is the same thing, it seems to me. Sexism, and the belief that some people are inherently of less worthy of rights — in this case, women– is not an issue we have conquered yet. Just as I will believe in, and fight for, equal rights for my Black brothers and sisters to my dying day, so I will believe in, and fight for, women being seen as equal until I die.

We cannot celebrate as a society unless we take everyone in the democracy car. We cannot claim that America is the Land of the Free if everyone isn’t free. Democracy requires as many voices to be heard as possible. Cutting off half the population doesn’t do that. We can make better choices when we have more information. We get more information by asking for/welcoming more opinions.

I keep hearing that American companies want and need more highly trained workers. If America offers full rights according to the law, we would have an influx of educated women from around the world coming to our shores. Women would leave Saudi Arabia and never go back. Women would leave any oppressive regime — Afghanistan, Iraq, countries plagued by Boko Haram — and so many other countries, if we offered a beacon for them to come here.

And, of course, women here would have all their rights as well, and presumably be happier for it. We would be a beacon, but we would also have the light for ourselves. No one loses when more voices are heard.

Now, what if individual women don’t want to have equal rights? I know that may seem absurd or silly, but Phyllis Schafly didn’t want the ERA. Neither did my mother. She used to say, “I’m already equal with men. I don’t need a law to tell me that!”. There are, I assume, many “traditional” women in culture who — for whatever reasons — like patriarchy, like the traditional roles, like being stay-home mothers, like making fewer decisions, and so on.

There’s a reason that there are conservative women and, though I don’t understand it, it is simply true that they exist. So what about them?

Rights are like credit — you can have it and never use it. It’s still good to know it’s there. But for all the women who want to do new things, who want to be something other than traditional roles, legal equality is necessary to get things done. It used to be that women couldn’t get a loan without their husband’s signature. I once knew a man who didn’t let his wife drive and when he was dying, he realized that he had crippled her ability to cope without him. It used to be that husbands could have their wives put away at an insane asylum if they disagreed. It used to be that women had no rights over their bodies. If they didn’t want to have sex, the law said they had to anyway. If a husband got s job in another city, of course “the little miss” was going. If a woman wanted to keep her family name alive, too bad if she got married. In all of this, I have never understood how you could hurt someone that you love, so equality with a spouse, or at least considering them in decision making, was simply a matter of fact. I suppose that it’s that way for most men I know.

There are some who would argue against the ERA using the Bible, and it is their right to believe what they want. They can quote the Apostle Paul until they’re blue in the face for all I care. I believe that everything God created has value, and all humans are equal in the eyes of God. Why would I think this? God gave women brains. God must want them to use them. If God values them, I should. Regarding women clergy: if God decides that a woman is called to ministry, and all appearances say that, who am I to say otherwise? Ordain women or stop baptizing them.

It is the same in any field. We ask “Is the world ready for a woman in this position or that? Can a woman be ….., fill in the blank)?”. The answer should be, “I don’t know. Let’s see.” There are those who say, “Is America ready for a woman President? They said the same about a Black President and Obama proved he was more than up to the job. Whether we are ready or not, they are.

Finally, on the human level, I have two daughters. I never want to say to them “you can’t do that because you’re a girl or woman”. I never want to hear anyone else say it to them either. I want them to dream and believe in themselves and all of their possibilities. Reality will wear out their inappropriate dreams as life goes by. That’s enough. Woe to those who would put stumbling blocks in front of my daughters. Let ‘Em try! Right is right, and, as long as I’m alive, I will believe in, and fight for, what’s right.

Making a law — an Amendment to our Constitution– that states that women are of equal value in the eyes of the law is simply stating what is. There is still plenty of freedom within the law, and democracy is served better by valuing the voices of all its people. Let’s have an ERA and let’s have it now.

Resisting in Peace,

John

A Note To The Dems on 2020

This is our present situation:

The US debt is beyond preposterous.

There are children in cages. Some of the children that used to be in cages are… we don’t know. Families are torn up by this. Children are dying. Asylum seekers are dying.

White nationalism is on the rise. People are dying.

Women’s rights to control their bodies are being taken away. Women will be dying.

Our Vice President doesn’t believe in gay rights.

Farmers in the Midwest are losing their farms due to storms, and the administration’s trade war.

The cost of medicines means people are dying.

Our military are being used as police in our country.

We have 12 years to save the planet.

The Republicans want people to not have health insurance.

… and that’s just off the top of my head!

=> If we don’t want these things to be true in January of 2021, you need to win. There is no other option for America. < =

So how can we make sure that happens?

I beg you for civility toward other Democratic candidates. You don’t have to attack them if they make an error — even if the media wants you to. If somebody messes up, say “That’s up to them to explain, not me to judge”.

I beg supporters from “rival” camps to simply get off Twitter if they want to attack. My grandmother used to say, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”. Our only rival is the man in the White House. “Eating our young” does no one any good.

Encourage voting … not voting for your candidate, just voting.

Then let the voters decide. If Mary wins Ohio, let her have Ohio. If Bill wins Utah, let Bill have Utah.

When all of the votes are counted, as we head to the convention, let that be our answer about who is the candidate. Let the candidate pick their Vice President. Frankly, I’d rather we not choose our own version of Sarah Palin or Dan Quayle. Let us have the best Vice President who can fill in any policy areas the President might be weaker in, but let us trust our candidate.

Then, when we have the candidate that the most people voted for, get behind them.

Then, in the ensuing melee between the Democrats and the Republicans, the candidate should take no BS from them. If they verbally abuse, don’t pretend they didn’t. If they lie, call them on their lies. If they use a “dog whistle”, ask them to clarify. If they say “I’m going to do X”, make them prove that they can. If you doubt them, doubt them publicly. If you think they’re cheating, say they’re cheating. If they use FOX news for a bona fide treat it like it’s Wikipedia.

Don’t be afraid to be intelligent.

Don’t be afraid to be kind to the American people.

Don’t be afraid to be brave for the American people.

Don’t be afraid to be you. If you got this far based on that, we already like you.

Always tell the truth. It’ll stun them at first, then they’ll be impressed.

Acknowledge your mistakes, but don’t dwell on them. Explain how you’ll do better in the future. If you need help here, ask an appropriate other candidate. How do women feel? Ask one. How do Black people feel about a mistake? Ask one.

The problem here is not that we don’t have a qualified candidate. We have 20 of them. Bernie and Warren understand economic corruption and economic decency. Kamala is brilliant, ethical, and knowledgeable about the law. Joe knows about international issues. Beto is the hardest working man in the business. Pete is kind, and intelligent. Others are veterans, and war heroes. I don’t even like Gildebrand, but she surpasses Trump simply by getting up in the morning. And she sticks up for women, and veterans. If that statement seems hypocritical after all I’ve said, note I don’t have to like everything someone says or does to vote for them. Also, any of the candidates is better on a bad day than Trump is on a good day. The point here is that If our candidate doesn’t know every answer, we have plenty of people who do. We are all in this together. We have to be. The fate of our country depends on it.

Ultimately, the fate of the world depends on it, but let’s win the country first. Seriously. Ok?

Resisting with Peace,

John

Halena and Her Kidney

Intersectional” is a word the cool kids use nowadays. It’s used to describe movements that overlap in their movement toward justice. For instance, Black Lives Matter might support the Parkland Kids and the Parkland Kids might support Sandy Hook Promise – because everybody wants to feel safe, no matter the color of their skin or their ability to vote or how much trauma they’ve suffered.

Halena Sajko’s life is intersectional. I know her from church, others know her from her job of 30 years at University of Hartford, others know her as someone who stands against hate in their community and active in any number of Christian activities, including Family Promise, which works with the homeless.. Still others know her as a kind and fun person to be around. In short, Halena’s time is pretty much available to anyone, so she knows a lot of people in a lot of places. 

Two years ago, life was as it should be, all of the above things were true, but she was retiring, so she’d have time to enjoy whatever she wanted, and could choose to rest… or not, as it pleased her. She could hang out with her friend Ellen. She could play with Yogi the dog.  Life was a joy.

Then something happened. She became sick with vasculitis and she stayed sick. After a while the doctor, they determined that her kidneys were now deteriorating, because of it. If things kept up this way, she could die.  Before that, though, she would have dialysis and be kept alive by that.

For those not familiar with dialysis, it basically is a filtering of your blood while you’re hooked up to a machine that is attached to your vein. After a while, the vein gives out, and they put in a “fistula”, which is a short plastic piece put in your vein that lasts for a long time. But dialysis isn’t the cure. It’s not particularly fun, and it wears you out when it is done.  A few years ago, I had a client on a dialysis machine three days a week – basically every other day. He would go in feeling kind of “cloudy” as the toxins of normal digestion built up in his system. They would put him in a chair for a few hours, let him watch TV during that time, and he would be much less “cloudy” when he was done – but he was tired. I guess having blood removed from your body and put back in it is a strain on the body. Still, it seemed like he could go on like this forever, as he was waiting for a kidney donor and a transplant. I think he was in his 50’s or so when he suddenly died. I think it was too much strain on his heart or something. In any case, he was dead suddenly, due to his kidneys having problems for many years. 

My mom had kidney problems for years and years, so I know a little about kidney transplants, dialysis and such. In order of worsening, here’s what deteriorating kidneys are treated. 1) A person has a healthy kidney, and will live a full life. 2) A person has, or gets, a disease of the kidney. The kidney deteriorates and one of two things will happen. Either the person will not get treatment and die, or they will be put on dialysis and not die. People on dialysis are often happy to be alive and are grateful for the opportunity to enjoy the life they have. 3) While the kidneys continue to deteriorate, the doctors put the person on a waitlist and look for a donor kidney. This yields the same sort of results: If you get a donor kidney, you stay alive. My mom had a kidney that lasted 25 or 35 years. If you don’t get a transplant, you die like my client did. 

But wait, there’s more! Even if you get a donor kidney, because it’s a foreign object that your body didn’t expect to see there, it tries to get rid of it, and “rejects” the kidney. Doctors generally fight this with drugs that lower your immunity, so you get sick easier and now have to take the meds for the rest of your life. That is what my mother suffered through for years, but, like the chance to be on dialysis changes your perception, having a new kidney also changes your perception. Is it better to get sick or a cold more easily with the meds, or better to die without them? If you ask the person with the new kidney, they’ll tell you that the irritation is worth it. 

Years ago, my mom got her kidney from a cadaver donor. That is, someone died, and in their dying, she got life. It’s a powerful experience and – as a person of faith – my mom had whole new worlds to contemplate because of it. Halena already has a strong faith, but will surely make meaning of the experience, even if it ultimately rejects or she has to take meds for the rest of her life. 

But what if there was less hassle? What if you could make it less likely she’d have trouble? Well, that’s the good news! You can! It turns out Hartford Hospital has a program that matches live donors. God, in God’s infinite wisdom, gave us two kidneys, but we only need one. Why we don’t get two hearts or two brains is a question for another time. We, amazingly, get two kidneys. 

If you’re healthy and have an extra kidney to give, you can give one to Halena or someone like her. If you’re willing to donate a kidney, one of two things will happen – but this time, none of them involves death! If you want to give a kidney to Halena, but yours and hers don’t match (she has A+ blood, in case you’re considering this amazing offer), they will give your kidney to someone else and someone else will give one to Halena. In this case, two people get new life– a simpler, easier new life. Nothing bad likely happens to your health. In fact, it’s done laproscopically. That means they only cut a small spot in you to take out the kidney. You’re fine,and now three people have life because of your kidneys! You can look yourself in the mirror every single day, amazed at how cool you are, for the rest of your life! You can’t even buy that kind of coolness and self-respect!  Yay, you!

The world needs good people like Halena, who make the world a better place in general. I can promise you that if you give someone a kidney, you will automatically become one of those people that makes the world a better place.

If you’re interested, contact the Hartford Hospital Transplant Program’s living donor                 co-ordinators  Kari and Azzy at 860-972-9918 or 860-972-4632, respectively. 

 

DISCLAIMER: I know theology and psychology. I make no promises medically about all of this. I don’t even like the sight of my own blood. For that, you’ll have to talk to the living donor co-ordinators listed above. They know medicine and they can help you actually be a hero! 

 

Resisting with Peace, 

 

John

 

Basic Thoughts on Morality, Including In Politics

I was talking with a friend of mine today, and we saw a military base and discussed radiation poisoning. I said to him, “Killing people always seems like a bad idea”. He pointed out that people say that until they have the same bad idea. Both are true, but it’s worth noting that there are basics like that out there.

In reading Twitter today, it occurred to me that not everyone is aware of basic morality, especially in the area of politics, which seems to be out of touch with the moral universe at the present time.

With that in mind:

1) Killing people is a bad idea in general.

2) Lying is wrong. There are often penalties for that. There should be. Even if there are not penalties for it in your particular field of endeavor, it’s still wrong.

3) We need a planet to live on. Without one, all other discussions are beside the point.

4) People should be seen as more important than money.

5) Stealing and/or swindling are wrong.

6) Threatening a witness is a crime.

7) Lying to someone, or obfuscating, in order to steal is wrong.

8) There is reality. There are facts. They may be unpleasant, but they are still facts.

9) There is a limit to how much a person needs to live.

10) Regardless of what retailers and advertisers say, you can’t have it all.

11) Lying more frequently doesn’t make something more true. It’s still a lie.

12) Mocking others for being idealists/dreamers only makes the world less idealistic and more depressing.

13) Blaming or shaming someone for something they can not change (I.e., who they are) adds nothing to the world.

14) Regarding religion: God can do any fool thing God wants to. We have to cope…God doesn’t.

15) If you don’t like people who do “x”, don’t be one.

16) Listening before speaking is polite and worth doing.

Honestly, these don’t seem very hard to live with to me.

These are random thoughts…. I’m sure I have more, but I’m tired now.

As the week goes on, let’s see how many of these simple ideas fall by the wayside in what people are doing or have done….Just saying.

Resisting with Peace,

John

A Political Hierarchy Of Needs

Years ago, Abraham Maslowe described a psychological “hierarchy of needs”, the idea being that people could only reach for the next thing after they had dealt with the developmental issues before it.

It occurs to me that Congress or our leaders need to understand the same idea for policy ideas and budgetary goal setting. Here’s my list of what seems obvious:

1) Human beings need a planet to live on. If, in fact, climate change will be irreversible in 12 to 15 years, we’d better get cracking on that one. No policy should ever be undertaken that increases climate change or threatens to destroy the planet. This should be the first and most basic of all our priorities.

2) Human beings need to be able to take in nutrients from the planet. Clean air and clean water are of vital importance. No policy should ever intentionally cause problems with breathing or drinking water.

3) Human beings need food. Though processed food, GMOs, etc, are ok as adjuncts to our food supply, I think it’s preferable to have natural/organic/regular food for people to eat. Why waste time and energy adding to or subtracting from what we have, if it works already? Policy should be such that all people eat what they need and a bit beyond that.

4) Human beings need shelter. They need to be able to stay warm or cool and dry. They need this to add to their mental stability. They need to be able to afford it as well. Policies which increase affordable housing for all should be sought.

5) Human beings do best if they are alive and stable. Things that make human beings die (guns, knives, poisons, drugs) or die early (disease, illness, war, poverty) should be addressed. By doing this, we can reduce the amount needed for mental health care and physical health care. Stable environments foster a sense of well-being. That might also decrease the need for police, and an army. Healthcare for all should be pursued as a policy.

6) Human beings generally grow in community. Note that this should be in conjunction with #5. People do really poorly when the community around them hates them, abuses them or neglects them for who they are. All of the -isms go here. When people are alive and stable and accepted simply because they exist, they grow and thrive. This doesn’t mean we accept everyone’s behavior (see above), but no one’s existence should be seen as a threat to anyone. Policies which help us work through our differences and avoid conflict should be pursued.

7) Human beings need to think about/ experience the world around them — and reflect on it in some way. Both the arts and education are a part of this. Both are vital to humanity. Also, having time to experience/think is necessary to this process. Arts for all, and education — to whatever level a person thinks is appropriate– for all should be policy.

8) Human beings need joy, fun, play, and general silliness. Comedy, sports, distractions of all sort make human beings more fun to be around, and generally less anxious. With these things, a society can be said to be thriving. This is where most of our economy is set right now. They make us happier, but we shouldn’t need to be this entertained/distracted. If priorities 1-7 were followed, we could choose to do this, rather than need to.

9) People need to have awe and wonder, and make meaning of their lives. Religion, philosophy, scientific exploration and inquiry about why things are the way they are is vital to people making the best of themselves. Finding higher purpose is finding the best life can be for the human soul. This also involves, for some people, being competent in their lives. Policies that allow us to have meaning in our lives ought never be restricted, except as they impact others negatively (see priorities 1 – 8). Policies should help people be as competent as they can be, and should inspire wonder whenever possible.

If these things were seen as priorities, we would have a budget that worked for all of us, based in a government in that worked for all of us. To the extent that they match our budgetary priorities, I think we’re going the right way. To the extent that they don’t, we’re doing it wrong, I think.

Resisting in Peace,

John

This Is Not America, This Is Not Christianity.

I knew this moment was coming, but I never wanted it to arrive. “This moment” being some form of conflict at our southern border between armed troops and unarmed people seeking asylum, or work, or simply another place to live. Today — November 25, 2018 — American citizens, American military, or police, or National Guard troops (it doesn’t matter which) fired teargas at unarmed civilians who may or may not have been trying to climb fence (that also doesn’t matter) into the United States. In doing so, the Americans broke every norm of decency that there is.

For military folks, I think, shooting at unarmed civilians goes against the Code of Honor.  For police, it goes against the idea of “least force necessary”. For the National Guard, shooting over the wall into another country makes them active duty soldiers in an undeclared war.  Americans who used to be proud of our country have lost pride in our institutions.  In a country that prided itself on morality, these acts are the epitome of immorality.

Simply put, there is no moral reason at all for any human being to attack any other human being who asks for help. None. 

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the immoral leaders ignore the man on the side of the road who needs their help. For Jesus, that is evil. We are shown that morality requires offering aid and comfort to those whom others have abused. We know that it’s wrong to kick a bum lying on the sidewalk. We know it’s immoral to mock the homeless and evil to mock the poor.  We know that anyone who does this is — on a good day — a jerk. On a bad day, we know them as “thugs”, “bullies” , “sociopaths”.  Being a Christian is supposed to mean being none of those things. In fact, being a Christian is supposed to mean being the opposite of those things.

There are those in America who claim to be “God-fearing” believers in Jesus and yet support this policy and these actions. These people have aligned themselves with Donald Trump rather than Jesus. They have aligned themselves with those who believe in white supremacy and an “America First” policy. They believe that they are following the Jesus of the United States who is, of course, White. There is no such Jesus.  Nationalism, to someone who created and rules the entire world is to shortchange God, which is what all idolatry does. White Jesus of America is a shallow comparison to a living God. 

For those who wish to claim that this is a Christian nation, there is no Christianity to be found in today’s actions. It is as simple as that. The Jesus who welcomed children did not teargas or threaten them. The Jesus who fed the 5,000  would not turn away the hungry. The Jesus that spoke to women and men from foreign countries would not avoid them or attack them. If Jesus of Nazareth is the “founder of your faith”, the Jesus you’re now serving isn’t him.

The actions that were taken today at the Mexican border are not moral to anyone who has compassion. They are not moral to soldiers. They are not moral to non-soldiers. They are not moral to Christians. They are not moral to non-Christians. They are not moral to people with no religion at all. They are not moral to anyone. I grieve for us and who we have become, but even more, I grieve with those who have been attacked. In a world of ideals, this is not “America, land that I love” and it isn’t a Jesus I would choose to worship.

Resisting with Peace,

John