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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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


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