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.

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“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



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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


The Possibilities Are Endless: An Advent Starter

I was watching what amounts to a comedy round table this morning after watching a political round table show. Of course the comedy was better, but neither was too far off of the other. The lesson that I got from both of them: for the first time in a long while, it’s time to have hope.

A little bit over 2,000 years ago, a baby was born in a little town the powerful didn’t care about — not the politically powerful Romans, nor the religiously powerful leaders in Jerusalem, nor even the locally powerful owners of an inn. Still, the owners of the inn gave what they had, Jews at least knew what “the city of David” was, while Herod thought life was fine and he was in control. The closer to a situation you get, the more important it becomes.

The child would grow up to not travel much, not write much down, not have a house, not marry — not any of the things on most of our “bucket lists”. Ultimately, he would die a failed preacher, a failed prophet, a dead political person, hung on a cross by a world of cynics that felt hope, but submerged it in their personalities so far that they came to hate it.

When he was dead, the people who followed him were devastated. Their world had fallen apart. They had actually held hope in their hands when he touched them. He had talked to them, or listened to them, had paid attention to them and healed them. How could someone so good be killed as an evil troublemaker. Why was their hope a trouble to their leaders? Apparently it was, though, because Jesus was dead. Still, he seemed to be so right about the way the universe should run, and when he was around, it had.

The world now knows the rest of that story and we are the better off for it. God refuses to let hope die. God knows the way the world should run. Jesus told us all about it, and the Spirit helps us recognize it regardless of which side of Truth we are on. Evil does not ultimately win, but proving that takes an act of God — more than we believe we are capable of, but far less than God knows is possible. The Truth of the power of kindness calls to us, and the possibilities are endless if we follow the love in the world that God has said God wants… and it started with a little baby no one cared about but animals and shepherds.

So what does this have to do with Bill Maher, a noted atheist, and Meet the Press, a political round table? And how does that lead to hope? Here’s how: an atheist, a Christian, possible a Jew and possibly a Muslim, a Republican and a Democrat all agreed on something. Capitalists and Socialists agreed with each other that some people can’t be trusted, that actions speak louder than words, and that there’s a lot of work to be done.

Ten or twelve people on two different networks knew right from wrong — and they chose for people’s interests, not profit’s. They called out those who would hurt their brothers, sisters and non-binaries alike. They acknowledged corruption when the saw it and –at the end of it all, Bill Maher said that not all of life is political and we should enjoy our families, even if we disagree politically.

For pastors and theologians , hope is born because they’re asking the right questions. People are not asking about party or political expedience, they’re not gaining more power or more wealth. They are talking about people (our species) and they are talking about right and wrong, good and evil (our area of expertise). Personally, I long for the days when we could preach about justice and humility and peace without someone saying “You can’t say that about my President!”, even when he-who-shall-not-be-named …wasn’t.

This past election cycle has brought me more and more hope as the winners have been announced, because of the people who are represented in Congress. We listened and took to heart the message of teens who were shot at. We elected people who aren’t lawyers or stockbrokers or White Supremacists (for the most part). We elected women so their experience can be heard. We elected Muslims and Native American people so their experience can be heard. We elected poor people (or relatively poor) so their voices can be heard. I can’t tell you how excited about that I am or how healing I believe it will be!

As I said earlier, the closer to a situation you are, the more important it becomes. The people who have stepped forward bring wisdom that comes from experience. Yes, they will have blind spots. Yes, they will make mistakes, but their intent is to care and to do the right thing. In the old days, we used to complain that Republicans and Democrats were basically the same. Today, former Republicans are joining with newer Democrats to agree on right and wrong — on morality, with or without piety.

For those who grew up in the past 40 years or so, the new/old questions being asked will require different answers, answers which cannot be found on Google or on Wall Street. The answers they seek can only come from thoughtful discussion by loving people seeking a loving Way. We in churches have that. I think we need to prepare for what happens when they come looking because there’s a lot to be done in the name of this Spiritual revolution for more and more people. The pendulum of hatred and mistrust has swung a long way in the last 40 years or so. The Spirit calls us back the other way. Let us make the most of it, celebrating people’s experience and wisdom, seeing people’s value as God sees it. Let us celebrate the new day treasuring those the powerful have yet to see.

Resisting with Peace,

John

(People With) Guns Kill

This morning, I heard that there had been a mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, California. Because it was a mass shooting (20+ people), I assumed that there was an assault rifle. Apparently, there wasn’t. As luck would have it, I had meant to say something at least as clearcut as “Can we at least admit that guns kill, or is that too much reality?”. I decided to tone it down to something more reasonable, something more palatable to more people. Once again, my liberalness (“Be nice, John. Reach out. Don’t be so negative ) got I’m the way of my true feelings (a collection of expletives, punctuated by disbelief, followed by more expletives, followed by something between rage and deep sadness).

So, here is what I want to say: Guns kill people. Guns kill many things. That’s what they are designed for. Sometimes those “things” are people. Guns do damage. Guns do damage to anything they are aimed at. That’s what they are supposed to do. Sometimes those “things” are people.

Put another way: tires roll, hammers hit, scissors cut. That’s what they are supposed to do when working right. If tires started killing people in droves, we’d do something about it. If people were attacking each other with hammers, we’d make laws against them or at least regulate them in some ways. If scissors were the weapon of choice, we’d do the same. Why can’t we regulate or outlaw — yes, outlaw– gun use? Pistols are used for killing people — in self-defense or otherwise. That’s what they do. Can we ban them, please? Aren’t there other ways to defend ourselves? In relation to the whole “only criminals would have guns” thing, what if we simply didn’t make them? Then no one would have them, because they wouldn’t around to be had.

On the other side of the spectrum are the assault rifles, which are designed to cause major damage. You don’t need them to hunt animals. You need them to take over countries. I know all the rhetoric that says you can hunt with them, but really, there’s not enough meat left afterwards if you do. If you want to take over a country, it probably shouldn’t be your own. If you try to take over a country and it’s not your own (and you aren’t part of an army), you’re called a terrorist. That’s as it should be. You are causing terror among the people that you are shooting at. That’s why it’s worse if you shoot your own people. You’re killing people that you believe are on your side.

So, what if we didn’t make or sell pistols or assault weapons? That would leave rifles. For those who hunt animals or see it as a sport, rifles are ideal. For walking across town undetected, they are not. If the police see a person with a rifle, they can avoid trouble before it starts. If there are no police, you can at least run away from a rifle, again preventing trouble before it happens. This is common sense gun control.

At this point, I hear all the gun nuts screaming in my head, “I have the right to own a gun! The Constitution says I do!” Yes, you do. I have no argument for that, except this: the Constitution also acknowledges that we are “endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. Does your right to own a gun over-ride my right to live, or vice-versa? No, No it doesn’t.

If you can own a rifle, I am allowing your right to have a gun, while I keep my right to life. Seems fair to me.

I suppose people might have a right to own a pistol or an assault rifle. People have the right to do all kinds of stupid things. That doesn’t mean they should do them. At this point in our history, human beings haven’t shown that they know how to use pistols or assault weapons in any responsible way. Maybe because there is no way to use a pistol or assault weapon in a responsible way or maybe I’m just not seeing it. But wouldn’t it be best if only people who could prove they were responsible in the first place could have guns? Isn’t that a better way to think about it. Let’s start by limiting the number of guns out there, and make you earn the right to use one. Common sense requires common people to be sensible. Right now, as people die more and more often, we can’t seem to manage that. Something has to change.

Resisting with Peace,

John

I Want An America That… (Why I’ll Vote November 6th)

I just listened to Joe Biden giving a speech in Hartford, Connecticut and I’m feeling a little nostalgic and patriotic, so I thought I’d channel his energy to write this …

I want an America that treasures all of humanity.

I want an America that treats every person with dignity and respect

I want an America that listens to its people, that allows itself to listen by encouraging the vote.

I want an America where all people have a place to live, food to eat, clean water to drink, and clothes on their backs.

I want an America that thinks, and sees thinking as a good thing.

I want an America that wants our planet to exist.

I want an America that loves and cares for children.

I want an America that doesn’t lie, cheat, or steal from its own people.

I want an America whose government understands that it works for us.

I want an America that works for all its people, not just some.

I want an America with dignity because it lives and acts morally.

I want an America that knows what’s real and what’s not.

I want an America that doesn’t make it illegal to be poor.

I want an America that takes care of itself.

I want an America without mass shootings.

I want an America where people are interested in each other, not afraid of each other.

I want an America where being in love is a good thing and the sex lives of others are none of my business.

I want an America that welcomes people not from here.

I want an America that wants peace.

I want an America where no one is above the law, and the punishment fits the crime.

I want an America that sees itself as part of the world.

I want an America that doesn’t have Republican judges or Democratic judges.

I want an America that, if you take a walk and you aren’t doing anything wrong, police leave you alone.

I want an America that acknowledges that people get sick.

I want an America where no one gets raped.

I want an America that I can be proud of.

Yes, it’s a long list, but I don’t think I’m asking for that much. In these times, though, it seems that many of us have forgotten these things or never believed in them at all. Because it feels so far from who we are right now, I will vote for people who share my values.

I will live against those who believe in a divided, hateful America with my every breath. But, on November 6th, I was will do the one thing that matters. I will vote.

Resisting with Peace,

John

Existence Is Not Futile!

There’s a story in the New York Times Thank says “Trans Category May Be Erased From Forms” if the Trump administration has its way.

I am not amused, nor amazed by this news.

What I have found in the last two years is the number of people who already don’t exist to our government. I liked to think I knew history, but clearly, I didn’t.

If your island can be decimated and the President can withhold aid, you don’t exist. You have no voice that matters.

If you don’t like having your body parts grabbed, fondled, mutilated, or otherwise handled with your consent, Brett and the Boys don’t think you exist.

If you’re escaping from criminals in your country, you can’t exist in ours.

If you’re a child separated from your family for no reason but your skin color, you also don’t exist. The law knows you are in a camp, but the law doesn’t apply to you. You do not exist.

When one white man in Georgia can take away the votes of 50,000 people in an instant, those voters don’t exist.

When a town in Texas can keep an entire college community from voting 30 years after they won a Court case, those people are silenced. They don’t exist in our democracy.

When a pipeline can destroy Native American lands because our government says so, those people have no voice in America. They, too, do not exist. That’s not a new thing, but I thought sovereign governments had to respect other sovereign governments.

….. But here’s the thing….

For years and years now, people have been suddenly appearing in our world.

In 1954, Black folk appeared at lunch counters, and on busses, and in our neighborhoods. Before that, the world was made up of White men. We survived it and thrived as a country because of it.

In the late 60’s and early 1970’s, women started materializing on the scene as human beings with their own thoughts and feelings. We are a better country because of it.

In 1972 or so, at Wounded Knee, Native Americans appeared on our continent, not as TV caricatures, but as people with a history, and pride, an appreciation for the earth that we didn’t have. If we survive on the planet, it will be because we saw our land as sacred, something we learned from them.

In the early 1970’s, in a corner of New York City, people who had sex with the same gender began to appear. Shortly thereafter, gays and lesbians existed all over the country. As they became full human beings in our minds, they became people who love each other, adoptive parents, husband and husband, wife and wife, artists, and musicians, and sports players. Now they’re here, they’re queer, and most of us have gotten used to it. Those of us who have taken the time, are better for knowing them.

After September 11th, there were suddenly Muslims in America. We hadn’t noticed them before, and they were scary for a long time, but then they became classmates, neighbors, store owners, and people with regal-looking headgear.

Now, in the 2010’s, there are all these “non-binary” folks with thoughts, feelings, actions, and preferences that I’d never heard of, and still don’t always understand. Those are the ones the government says might not exist on forms. Still, if history serves as any kind of measure, these people will become human as our eyes change. They will exist as surely as we do. They will be us, and our lives will be richer for knowing them.

Life was a lot simpler when only White Men existed or mattered. It wasn’t just or fair to others, but it was simple for us and some of us, sometimes, wish it could be simple again. At least we’d know what we’re doing. Still, those “other” people exist now, and we can’t exactly put them back. We have to cope. We don’t have a choice.

Try as they might, this administration cannot put them back in a bottle or closet or out of existence or keep them out of sight for long. I like oatmeal as much as the next guy, but after awhile, spaghetti and burritos and General Tso’s chicken come into memory. When things get too spicy, oatmeal still exists. I now refuse to let those other things be taken away. More so, with people.

…. and then there’s this other thing…

God knows those people exist — all of them — and if you try to erase them, even a single one of them, God, whose eye is on the sparrow — will be very pissed at you for destroying what God has created. No one gets removed from this earth — no one — and God doesn’t see it. God saw Cain and Abel. God knows anytime a life, or freedom, or a voice is taken away by human hands or hearts. God doesn’t forget. Neither can we.

Resisting with Peace,

John

Hidden Misunderstandings: Pain, Anger, Truth, and – Isms

There’s a meme going around the internet that says, in essence, that women prepare for going into the world in a certain detailed way that attempts to protects them from being raped. I don’t know that it’s true. I don’t know that it’s not true. I am certain that it never would have occurred to me to ask. Why? I don’t know what I don’t.

None of us know what we don’t know, but I was reminded, as I read this, of the stories a few years ago, of Black families that gave “the talk” to their kids about how to behave when pulled over by the police so that they didn’t get shot. Again, until I asked, I didn’t know if it was true or not (it is). Again, I wouldn’t have even known to ask. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

While I’m on the topic, I know many blackout drunks who will tell you, on one hand, that they had blackouts. On the other hand, they’ll say, “But I never hurt anyone while I was”. An honest assessment of this, via an alcoholic I know, is that if you blackout, you don’t know what you did or didn’t do. Again, you don’t know what you don’t know.

Whole classes of people have factual experiences that others don’t. For many of us who don’t have those experiences, there is often shock and horror that such things happen. For others of us there is shock and denial that such things happen. Such is the case with sexual abuse victims and those who have never been sexually abused.

Here’s the pattern: 1) X event happens and it is sooo horrific (literally “unimaginable”) to those for whom it has never happened.

2) The listener says, “Why would anybody do such a thing? It’s too horrific to think about.

3) The listener searches their memory and thinks, “Have I ever done such a thing or thought of such a thing?”

4) If the listener has done or thought such a thing, and they have any emotional capacity to do so, they will feel ashamed. I have seen examples of this in male friends recently regarding the #MeToo movement re: unwanted sexual contact — not rape, necessarily — but things akin to it. Those who are ashamed apologize.

5) If the listener hasn’t done or thought to do such a thing, the experience remains “unthinkable” and often comes out like “That couldn’t happen” or “I can’t imagine that!”. These are two, for them, “true” statements and their revulsion to it makes it powerfully true. The problem, of course, is that for the victim of such a thing, these are the very words you should never say. Their experience is sooo powerful to them, and true, that denying their truthfulness creates absolute chaos — anger, sadness, confusion all at the same time — in the experienced person.

++++++HERE’S WHERE THE ISMS AND BLAME HAPPEN +++++++++++++++++++++++

The experienced, hurt party (understandably) says, “because you can’t see this, you are racist, sexist, ageist, classist, homophobic” !

The inexperienced, previously un-hurt person (understandably) says, “I am not a racist, sexist, ageist, classist, homophobic person! And now they are hurt, having been now accused falsely.

[Note here: confusing matters, people with no ability to, or interest in, feeling shame also do this, making things worse]

But here’s how the divide happens, and it happens all the time in each respective camp.

So how do we heal the divide? First, maybe not do so many horrible things in the world.

Other than that: Here’s how to break the cycle of blame/shame:

1) Never, ever say “I can’t believe that” or “I can’t imagine that”. Instead, try, “That’s hard for me to understand, but tell me more so that I can”.

2) Believe that the experienced person is not saying this to hurt you. Their experience is not your guilt. It is simply their experience. Them labeling you “racist, sexist, ageist, classist, homophobic” isn’t helping matters, but understand that they are hurt, and they probably have been for quite some time. Say, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I’ll think about it, but I don’t think so”. Then think about it. If they are right, apologize. If not go back and tell them you’ve thought about it and disagree. This keeps you engaged.

3) On the other side, be able to imagine that the other person isn’t racist, sexist, ageist, classist, homophobic, or isn’t aware that they are. The possibility that they are just being a jerk shouldn’t be the first “go to” response. Assuming they are intentionally being a jerk — racist, sexist, ageist, classist, homophobic — isn’t helpful . It may be true, but assuming it always is just isn’t helpful.

I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on this. I’m just coming to grips with some of the ideas in it.

Resisting with Peace,

John

To All The Wounded Healers I Know…

(This was going to originally be a post for Clergy, but I realized its needed for my therapy colleagues as well…and so it is.)

Last night a good friend of mine SCREAMED in anguish about the Kavanaugh/Blasey Ford hearings. She is a survivor of sexual and/or physical abuse. I wanted to reach out to her and comfort her in whatever ways she needed. I still do, and to the extent that it’s possible, I hope to do that here.

When I was in seminary and people were just starting to talk about sexual abuse, it began to seem like it was an admission requirement to have been abused. It seemed statistically impossible that so many of us were abused. Thirty years later, with the Access Hollywood tapes and the ensuing #MeToo movement, it seems it was statistically reasonable, if morally repugnant, that my seminary class had so many survivors. Some didn’t make it through seminary, their PTSD symptoms and fragile minds unable to handle masters degree work.

For those of us that went on, we had some period of screaming ourselves, either before or after seminary. If we were in churches, we lost jobs and our congregation lost its leader(s). The church, the body of Jesus Christ, suffered again, as it had the first time, and continued to every time a person is victimized by sexual, physical, or emotional assault. If you are one of those people, know that Jesus weeps for you and with you and doesn’t abandon you to your grief.

The God of the ‘Apiru (remnant, the word that became “Hebrew”) loves all of the people of the world that were “picked last for softball”, or passed by in life by the powerful. That God is on their side. In Jesus, we see that, and we choose to work for the one who would have us, later realizing that we were actually lovable all along — it’s just that Jesus knew it first.

In picking up our own crosses, we took on the belief that we, in Jesus’ name could heal and love and welcome all the other ‘Apiru out there. Among people of this generation, there are many places where feel like “the sandwich generation”. We take care of our elders and we take care of our adult children. We take care of Security Security, hoping there will still be some left for us, and that things will get better for our children. And, psychologically, we take care of others’ anguish while we feel the pull of our own.

These past few weeks have been hard, really hard, for survivors who are also “people helpers” — clergy, therapists, social workers, or anyone who sees trauma in their daily lives. After yesterday’s session between the woman and the judge, that daily anguish reached a peak and then broke while we waited for the Committee to vote. I, for one, don’t want to listen to the news, because I have only so much room on my heart left for bruising. I will take a break for a few days before I engage The Powers That Be.

After that break, I will go back to the fray. I pray that you will do the same. It will take all of us to build a goal-line defense against the forces of evil until our country can be sane again.

That said, to quote Jesus again, “the meek shall inherit the earth”. We saw that yesterday in the clash of the devastated vs. those who devastate the world around us everywhere. Mr. Kavanaugh’s anger, nay, fury didn’t seem to hold any more weight than the shivering anxiety and truth-telling of Ms Blasey Ford. The truth held out, even in a weakened state. Her simple shakiness, stood against the bluster of the rage and her apolitical truth stood against the political games the world is wont to play. God was not distracted. Now, neither is the world.

To be frank, Judge Kavanaugh will never be taken seriously as a respectable judge until this is cleared up. He, and, only he, has the power to bring honesty to the story via a full investigation. Whatever there is to this story, her honesty makes her powerful and his lack candor makes him weak. Truth wins out, even from the abused, especially the abused. The arc of justice is bending, and in the right direction– and you have made that happen. There is chaos in Washington which reflects the chaos in our souls. The way to clean up the first is to clean up the second. That will come.

In order to do that work, my brothers and sisters, we need to rest up as much as possible and take care of ourselves. Then, we need to speak God’s truth and people’s experience until the actual truth, which we know in our hearts, comes to bear on a world bent by lies. When we care about those who need care, when we acknowledge those that the powerful tell us not to, when we refrain from bigotry, and encourage love, we will win and God will win.

Regardless of politics, we can see quality and we respond to it. After 18 months of lies and craziness, our former President reminds us what intellect and truth look like. The world stops to pause when kindness and truth speak. People choose well when they see that choices exist.

Do what you need to do to take care of yourself , tell congregants what you’ve been going through and why you’re so exhausted. If you’ve been empowering your people, let them test their wings for awhile. Share the burden. Even Jesus knew the work was easier with twelve or seventy-two than by himself. Use his wisdom.

If you have strength, keep up the battle of souls against Powers. When you don’t, dont. God wants us always at our best, because a) God likes to see us happy and b) we bring our “A game” to the world when we’re at our healthiest. Put on the breathing mask first so that you can find the mouths that need to be fed more of Oxygen of Truth.

Get a hug when you can, if that works for you. Receive God’s Spirit if that works for you. Sleep and rest, if that works. Laugh if that heals you. Create! Whatever gives you strength, do that. Be healed and don’t give up hope, because you are hope, and you shouldn’t give up on yourself. God doesn’t and neither should you.

Resisting with Peace,

Joh

Not A Good Time for “Not All Men”

Years ago, my friend Margo Moten, who is Black, pointed out a Black man hanging out on a street corner near her house, and she said, “I hate that guy. He makes all Blacks look bad”. I had never thought of it before, she clearly wasn’t him, and I don’t like to generalize, but I could see her point. In a world where Blacks were already painted as lazy, or bad, or whatever, that guy wasn’t helping the cause by supporting the narrative she was trying to break. In that same spirit…

It’s difficult enough for men who protest that “men don’t all” oppress women, or rape them or beat them, or whatever. In a sexist world, as some would call it, this week or two have been particularly difficult. In an America where a statistically significant portion of women say “#MeToo”, the chance that you’re in a room with a survivor is high, no matter where you go.

Of that number , a high percentage of women (and men) have been triggered, making them deal with their trauma all over again. Given that atmosphere, I just want to say a few things:

1) Judge Kavanaugh, if the accusations are true doesn’t make me proud to be a man. Actually, even if the accusations are not true, the stories surrounding him happen so often that the allegations just make life harder for everybody to see the good in each other.

2) The entire Republican White Male defenders of Kavanaugh on the Senate Judiciary Committee who seem to have absolutely no interest in the truth, or finding out what it was/is don’t make Republican White Men — or men in general — look very good. It’s hard to convince your spouse or coworker or classmate that they are safe with guys like them around.

3) Lest it needs to be said, the President is no role model, either, when it comes to men and women. His lifestyle, his acts, and his words make men look horrible. If there was a way to have him and men like him thrown of my gender, I would. If, as he says, he “has no attorney general”, then I have no President.

Now, here’s the thing I want to say: most men are not rapists, molesters, abusers or such a thing. I’m not being defensive here. I’m not saying “not all men do this”, I’m saying that most men don’t.

Why do I say this? What facts do I have to support this? I don’t have statistics for any of this. I can say that 15% of men are molested themselves and — of that — 7/8 don’t go on to re-offend. That’s the closest thing I have to a verifiable fact I have. I suspect that most men don’t sexually assault men for two reasons

1) Somebody’s got to be raising good kids who are respectful of women . There are lots of good parents out there. Good parents raise good sons.

2) women still marry men for love. If there were that many jerks out there, women wouldn’t marry men. They wouldn’t have a second date, let alone make a permanently bad choice.

I say all of this is not because I’m a perfect gentleman . I’m sure I’m not in broad strokes. But most men I know are appalled by the whole thing, Most men have wives or daughters who they wouldn’t want anything to happen to. Most men remember Clarence Thomas’ election to the court and the whole Anita Hill thing. We’ve got to have learned something by now. With all that knowledge, any man who engages in such behavior is choosing to be a jerk.

I hope this helps women feel safer, though I understand if it doesn’t — especially this week.

Resisting with Peace,

John

Re: Blasey Ford v. Kavanaugh

Equal justice Under Law. Due Process. Right and Wrong. Each of these issues needs to be addressed by any sitting judge, let alone a Supreme Court Justice.

There are many questions to be answered:

1) Do politicians play politics?

2) Do men rape or attempt to rape women?

The answer to both of those questions is “yes”

Is that what’s going on here? I don’t know. Neither do you. Once again, the only people that know what happened were the people that were there. God, of course, knows. Beyond that, no one knows.

Are the Democrats playing politics by making the announcement. Are the Republicans trying to keep the information hidden? We don’t know, but it’s a fair bet.

Does it matter? No, it does not. Not yet. i wouldn’t vote for Kavanaugh in any case. His innocence or guilt won’t make him look any worse to me. I don’t trust the man. Am I a partisan hack? Maybe. Does that matter? No. Regardless of whether I’m a good judge of character or not, there is an issue at play here that transcends politics.

Either what Ms. Blakey Ford said is true or it is not. Either Judge Kavanaugh is telling the truth or he’s not. Is she lying? Is he lying? None of our biases matter. We have a way to figure this out. We use it all the time. We look, we ask, we question, and we get to some idea of the truth.

Here’s the one thing that we do know: Men who attempt to rape or gang rape anyone are criminals. Women who falsely accuse are criminals. People of either gender can lie. People of either gender can tell tell the truth.

We can’t make a decision about which Mr. Kavanaugh is without investigating. We simply can’t. This is the only solution:

She gets a hearing. He gets a hearing. By who? I don’t care. I’m not sure it should be a political circus, because biases and politics are what we’re trying to avoid. Besides that, a trauma victim, (if in fact she is that), needs to be screamed at, shamed, or accused of lying like they need a hole in the head. The judge needs the same response about as much.

After this hearing, after people have a good understanding of the situation and what the truth is, after that when we can make an informed decision– and only after that, should a vote be taken on the Kavanaugh nomination.

Resisting the Trump agenda with peace,

John

Hate CAN NOT Win: BlackkKlansman and Our Times

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. 10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.” 

— Exodus 1: 8 – 12

“When Mexico sends it people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people,” — Donald Trump

“C’mon. America couldn’t elect a man like David Duke president” — Ron Stallworth in “BlackkKlansman”

“And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.  Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings,  and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”– Exodus 3: 6 -10

There aren’t that many things that make me actually want to cry, but Spike Lee’s new movie “BlackkKlansman” did it.  A (White, if that makes any difference) parishioner had suggested I see it. Trevor Noah did an interview with Spike Lee and told Lee that it made all those people seem almost normal…they weren’t, but you could see their side”. So, I went.

The movie begins with a scene from Gone With The Wind” and then cuts to Alec Baldwin as man making hateful, racist propaganda. One of the words he uses is “super-predator” to describe Blacks. If the recreation is true,  I immediately thought, “If I were Black and Hillary Clinton used that phrase, I would never vote for her”. That would have left Donald Trump, or should I say, that would have left no one to vote for. And yet, African-Americans voted in large numbers. I can’t imagine.

The main story begins with a Black policeman infiltrating a Stokely Carmichael/ Kwame Ture rally because White folks are afraid of him. I had never heard of Carmichael’s “Ture” years, but I suspect they were like Malcom X’s time after Mecca.  Love had pretty much supplanted hate by then in his speaking. Why had I never heard of it? Because the Stokely Carmichael who said, “Burn, Baby, Burn” was more in line with White America’s narrative.

While there, he meets a woman that he falls for who has been stopped and felt up by a White policeman.  She believes the police — all police –are pigs. Given that death is a possibility when racist police are involved, I can see why this view might be handy for survival, but it drives a wedge between the couple, and illustrates what Ture had just been saying about having to be two different people: an American and a Black person.

This turns into an investigation into the KKK who are much scarier.  Later, a colleague who is Jewish says, “I’m not a practicing Jew, but I find myself thinking about tradition more and more — and I have to say hateful things all day”. The KKK has created a division within him as well.

And so it goes, until the film ends with a cross-burning in retaliation and recent images of Charlottesville, -including our man-at-1600-Pennsylvania-Avenue and David Duke cheering him on.

So, I got to thinking: I know these people. I grew up in a time when they were sort of normal. That’s when the tears wanted to come. There is so much racism out there, kept in front of our eyes, and kept from our eyes. I have often thought that I was “too Black” for “always” talking about this stuff. Though I pride myself on my knowledge of Black culture,  the Ture thing gives me pause. If I who wants to know doesn’t know it, what about my friends who don’t even try or know to try? Years ago, I went out to eat with my friend Greg Coles (who is African-American, though that shouldn’t matter). We didn’t get served after we sat down at a table. Greg knew what was up, but I didn’t. I believed the perception that he had, but I couldn’t imagine it was true. It has happened to him many times, I guess, and I was just “lucky enough” to see it because I was there.  “What kind of a person does that?”, I thought.  It turns out that quite a lot of people think that. And yet, I was there. I saw it for myself. Denial of evil is strong in our society, especially for a White, straight man.

We feel threatened by the change all around us — we do. I feel that way sometimes, but I don’t worry about dying because women are or aren’t attracted. I have a history of bad driving, but I would be dead by now if I were Black and pulled over that much. Gay men and lesbians — and now trans folks — can be dead  if someone doesn’t like their existence.

We live in a nation and a culture that believes it’s the decent thing to do to not like another group’s existence. What is that?! The fact that people in this country have to prove they have the right to exist — that they’re not one of “the bad ones” of a group that they are supposed to hate —  means that our base line is we don’t think they have the right to. What is that?!. What this movie pointed out to me is that so much of what Donald Trump says about “them” (pick a group, any group)  is what people actually believe and what we believe is a lie.

Because we, yes we, White, Christian, heterosexual, men set up these rules, we must fix them.  When this administration lets thousands of Puerto Ricans die and we stop caring, when this administration separates hundreds or thousands of families at the border because they’re not “us”, and has no plan to care about them, even, we imply that they don’t have the right to exist because we don’t have to care about them.

God sees all of this, and like the God of the Old Testament, God sees the misery of God’s people — and God is on their side. We only think we have misery. Constant fear of death is misery. If we don”t fix these problems The Big Lie that is Donald Trump’s entire presidency, the lie winsThat I cannot tolerate.   Lies can’t win in God’s world, and if we want to be on the right side of history, we have to not let them, or fix them when they do. As a man of faith, I just can’t.

Love, reparations, healing, reconciliation, and beauty must win. Those things also come in the form of dark-skinned people of all sorts. Those things come from Asians and Native-Americans, and indigenous bush people, as well as White people, in women just as much as men. They all get to exist. If we kill them or maim them or neglect them intentionally, we do those things to God who is the source of all of those things.

May God help us if we don’t believe our own eyes.

Resisting with Peace,

John