Division and What To Do About It

Have just turned 56 years old, I had kind of planned to stop trying to write The Big Piece That Will Change Everything. I thought I would try to influence my church people and my clients, where possible. The world was just too nuts to make any difference, in so many ways that I didn’t even know where to start.

This week, it got too weird not to care. As 2/3 of the UK decided to secede from the European Union, it became apparent that the whole human family was dysfunctional. Shortly after that election, one of our Presidential contenders (I can’t believe I’m using that term at any time in my life time) said, “Good!”. Shortly after that, there was talk that Texas was considering voting to secede from the U.S. I don’t even like Texas, but I have friends and in-laws there, so I have reasons to care.

Of course, last week was terrorism in Orlando, and our inner cities still are gun wielding war zones, crooked police are still running afoul of justice, as they are found innocent by law. Bernie supporter men get tesy with Hillary supporter women and we bicker daily on Facebook about liberals and conservatives, whether Black Lives Matter, gun control, and bathroom usage by people of uncertain genitalia. Jan Brewer, a bigot if ever there was one, said today that she is so sick of being called a bigot. Really? Yes. But lots of white folks are sick of being called bigots, lots of men are sick of being called sexist and lots of straight folks are sick of being called homophobic while lots of people remain really dead.  What we are doing is not working. Something is deeply wrong within our society. 

I think liberals and radicals are agreeing to the wrong premises while many reactionaries are speaking false premises.  In this morning’s lectionary text, the apostle Paul says this: the desire of the flesh is “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” The Right focuses on the regular type in that list while we ignore the parts in bold. What if enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, and envy are the products of what we are doing on both sides of the coin?

In the old days, the goal was to be united as a people with things like the UN, the Hague. The World Council of Churches and my own denimination, the Unied Church of Christ were born of the desire to unite under ecumenism. It has been years since anyone wanted to unite  as a goal.  We fight among ourselves everywhere because we want our own way. Pride rules our existence because “we don’t want anybody to tell us what to do!” (even if nobody cares).

So here’s my suggestion. Instead of talking about men, women, black, white, hispanic, asian, abled and disabled, straight, gay, bi, trans, British, American, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Egytian, and so on, why don’t we talk about humans or human beings or human life? Why don’t we stop giving credence to bigots who say, “I shot them because they’re different”.  Why don’t we stop giving credence to people who say “my country” is better than “their country” or “my religion” is better than “their religion”?

Let’s remember that all life is sacred. From God’s perspective, or from space, there are no countries, there’s just our planet. From the same perspective, there’s just humanity. There are people in every group I disagree with and people in every group I know that I like. It is not the group that makes me love them, it never has been. It is not the group that makes me hate them, and it never has been — or if it is, I have a problem, and I should be fighting that urge to divide us into “us” and “them”.

And let’s hold each other accountable to that ideal. As doctors take an oath that says, “first do no harm”.

Let’s see how this changes our worldview:  Last week 50 human beings were killed by another person. Tamir Rice, a 10-year old child, was killed by police, while playing with a toy gun. Michael Brown was shot by police after stealing cigars.  Human beings living today on a reservation in the southwest had their rights taken away from them years ago by force. Maybe when people who don’t want to pay taxes fear their freedom being taken away, maybe they have something to compare it to.  When a girl is sold into slavery or has her genitals mutilated, why don’t we say that a person was sold or a person had their genitals mutilated?  Remember all the squeamishness when John Wayne Bobbitt had his penis cut off? Maybe we men could understand the issue better if “they” were “us”. The list goes on. We didn’t kill Arabs for oil. We killed human beings for oil.

A human being is President of our country, and President of many countries on earth. Let us not limit the possibilities of any group of human beings, for any reason. When Britain votes to leave the EU, we should remind them that they can’t leave the human race. When Donald Trump says Mexicans can’t come here, let us remind him that he’s saying human beings can’t come here.

Let us talk about being one people, so that all the stupid acts are us, and all the noble acts are us. Let us talk about being one species, because we are.

Anyway, that’s my proposal.

Peace,

 

John

 

 

A Survivor Responds to the Stanford Rapist’s Father

[Editor’s note: Every once in awhile, someone else’s words are so eloquent and important that I know they need to be shared . This is one of those times. I share it because Callie Farnsworth’s words needs to be said, and society needs to hear them.. This kind of thing happens all the time, to so many people that it is no wonder we have such problems in our society. In fact, a friend I discuss cases with anonymously has come to understand that the more complex a person’s case is, the more likely that rape or sexual trauma is involved. Nearly every female addict that comes to my office (and many male ones, as well) have the experience of rape or sexual abuse as the underlying cause for their behaviors. It is a devastating experience with ripples in every aspect of the person’s life. To that end, I have shared the experience of the Callie’s  father — Rev. Todd Farnsworth–  as well. Please know that if you are a survivor of rape or sexual abuse, new and better treatments and coping skills are available, but it it still a difficult thing. Text size varies here in acknowledgement of importance, with the rape survivor largest of all].
Prelude — Todd: As the father of a beautiful young woman who is surviving (and many days thriving) post rape, I am stunned by the letter written by the Stanford rapist’s father. The complete lack of awareness of what his son did to the victim, and the impact that will have on her life, is staggering. It could have been written by the victim’s father. The loss of appetite. The constant reminders. The interruptions of work because something triggered the individual. The life sentence that carries a burden of “living with it.” The court rarely provides justice in these cases. Until laws are written with a new sensitivity, the same insensitive verdicts will be awarded. Praying for change. Praying for peace….for my daughter, and all the daughters who carry this pain.

Callie Farnsworth: A Survivor  Responds to the Stanford Rape Verdict…

I have tried to read the articles about Stanford through the past few days but I can’t. I have started them many times, read half way through, and had to stop. The event is horrific, the sentence is horrific, and it makes me sick. I walked around in a haze today, peeking at my newsfeed, reading headlines, trying to make sense of it. And I can’t. I can only hope that this is the straw that breaks the camels back.

I thought Cosby would, but we barely talk about him now. I thought the Columbia girl with the mattress would be, but she graduated last spring and I’m pretty sure that wasn’t shared on my newsfeed. I thought Kesha might hit a mark, but she has been slipping back into the cellars of social media. Those ladies who posted the Charlie’s Angels photo for stopping a date rape? They were active, and did something outside of their social media. But what next?

I think rape needs to stop being just a ‘trending topic’. It is wonderful to share and post and talk about it. It makes a difference. But what are the thousands of people who shared the article doing a week from now? Two weeks from now? Where are they when this woman is sitting at home on a Tuesday years from now and she smells pine needles? That stuff scares me.

A little boy I babysat told me he knew the worst word in the dictionary. It was four letters. It was the worst thing you could do to a person and he believed it had only happened in ‘olden times’. I hope when he grows up rape will only have existed in his ‘olden times’ and it is universally considered the crime that it is.

 

Let’s Try Something Old…

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” — Jesus

“Know you got to run,
Know you got to hide
Still there is a great life
Lingerin’ deep within your eyes.

Everybody, I love you
Everybody, I do
Though your heart is in anger
I need your love to get through
When I tell you I love you
You can believe that it’s true” —

Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young

When I get in moods like this, I sing the song above, and I remember what it feels like to love everybody. Joan Baez, in an early autobiography, wrote “dear reader, I love you” and she seems to both be “out there” and authentic, which seems impossibly weird and yet isn’t. The sentiment is about intention and open-ness and your default position with humanity.

My friend Joyce posted an anguished thing this morning about bigotry this morning, and how aware she is of it. Another friend of mine posted disliking Obama’s speech in Hiroshima. Yet, another friend posted just the text of that speech and loved it. More often than not lately, I am like Joyce — aware of the bigotry we seem to all manage right now and saddened by it.

A while ago, during the Ferguson riots I think, I wrote a blog post called “An Open Letter to My African-American Friends” that explained I didn’t know that things had gotten that bad, and how incredibly sorry I was that I hadn’t known. Since that post, I have been paying attention and I am astounded just how deep into the American psyche hate has become. Violence, incivility, mean-ness, bullying — and not caring that we’re doing it — seems to be the order of the day.  If Donald Trump “says what we’re all thinking”, then we’re all thinking some pretty ugly things right now. The fact that so many congratulate him for doing so means that we’re congratulating him and ourselves for being xenophobic, Islamaphobic, homophobic, transphobic, racist, sexist, and now climate-change denying — not all at once, I assume, but what do I know?  Then the people outside of Trump rallies get into clashes with the people inside, and the people who are angry inside get defensive and say “see, we’re being attacked”!

Meanwhile, over in the Democratic party, there are “Bernie bros”, who seem to not like Hillary because she’s a woman. What’s that about?  Frat boys who hope to get wives at some point aren’t starting off the future very well. Does anyone remember that we’re are all stuck here in life on the planet?

So, here are a few suggestions, just for my sanity:

  1. Start with the idea that people are holy, just like you.
  2. Treat them like they are.
  3. If you can’t comprehend the concept of “holy”, think about how you would like to be treated.
  4. Treat others the same way.
  5. If people aren’t doing anything to you, leave them alone.
  6. If people are doing something that doesn’t concern you, let them do it.
  7. Don’t assume that if I like someone else, that I dislike you. Whether I like, or am talking to, or enjoy anyone doesn’t mean anything about you. It means I like them. Ten minutes from now, I might be talking to, and enjoying, you.
  8. If someone is male, female, Black, White, gay, straight, in some form of transition between those two, or speaks another language or has another religion, it’s none of your business. It may irritate you. That’s your problem. Figure it out and get over it, without taking it out on them or someone else.
  9. If it’s someone else’s body, leave it alone, unless they actually say they want to share it with you for nice things.
  10. Assume decency and good motives from everyone, unless you learn otherwise.

 

We all know how hateful people can be right now. Let’s try something different, maybe something old.

Peace,

 

John

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wolf, Ram, and Hart: Playing Politics For Centuries

The group in the title is from the TV Series “Angel”, a show spawned from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. They are the legal team for The Big Bad — the shiny suits that work  evil at it’s most primal. They are, of course, fictional, being from a TV series and all, but sometimes I wonder…

Tonight, while I’m laying in bed with a fever, my wife says that Congress has voted to allow women into the draft. I just want to cry. Just when it feels like we’ve tried to put out the various political “fires” in the world, a new cause/problem comes along that I didn’t see coming. Really?

Let’s see:

Donald Trump is no doubt the front-runner for the Republican Party. The next closest candidate is called “Lucifer in the flesh” by one of his own party. He chooses a female VP to garner votes and people trash her website. That means that a personality-disordered man is a candidate to run my country.  He wants to deport Mexicans and others! He wants to ban Muslims!  He blames intelligent women for asking reasonable questions, and then implies that she did it because she was menstruating! He says that the former Secretary of State “only has the woman card”!  Worse than that, he’s tapping into something in America, so it’s not just him!

Meanwhile, reactionaries and liberals duke it out over who can use the bathroom, where. I hear that this is a response to the existence of Caitlyn Jenner, who is a Republican! Does any part of that sentence seem real to you?

Meanwhile, in local news, a gifted friend of mine is being told she should teach another way than she is — for less money and with less prep time.

In other local news, a principal of an elementary school nearby (in another town)  is on leave, because her brother (whom she lives with, who “volunteered” at her school) has a child porn collection that has been discovered.

In national news, Sandra Bland’s mother says we’re not paying enough attention to women who were killed in prison/died in prison. She’s right. Oh, and yesterday some Black kid with a B-B gun that looked real was shot by police, just days after the police in Chicago blamed Tamir Rice for his own death. And the governor of Maine vetoed a bill making it cheaper to save lives of people having heroin overdoses.

Now this… I wasn’t aware we had a draft anymore. This White house hasn’t made such a big fuss about it, but then we’re not looking to start a war right now. I thought it was stupid for gay people to fight to be in the armed services, as though killing is a political right that people shouldn’t be deprived of. I’m sure there’s some systemic reason that somebody thinks this is a good thing.

When my daughter was in utero and I saw her first sonogram, I marched around the doctor’s office saying “if anybody hurts that kid, I’ll kill them!”. Right now, I have a daughter who will be going to college in a year and her student loans will probably be attached to this. My other daughter, far more genius than I ever was, deserves a chance to save the world, and I think she wants to. One way or another, she probably will. Not if she’s dead, though.

I’m not gay, or trans, or Black, or Mexican, or a female, or a drug addict. Maybe if I didn’t know so many people who are, I wouldn’t care.The hate swirls around me daily in the news. The American people seem bent on self-destruction, and the craziness of that drives me nuts. That’s bad enough, and depressing enough. But this thing about girls and the draft, whatever it is, that’s just a knife in my heart.

Bernie Sanders the other day said that the wealthiest 20 families in America make as much money as half of the rest of us. Did the Waltons hire Wolf, Ram. and Hart? The Kochs? Donald Trump? If they weren’t fictional, I’d believe they were real.

Peace,

John

Bernie in Hartford: Speaking Kindness To Power

 

Bernie Sanders is the kindest “radical” I have ever heard speak. I suspect that’s what makes him scary to The Powers That Be — the extremely wealthy and the extremely powerful who make up 1/10th of 1 percent or 1 percent of America today.  Contrary to Larry David’s Saturday Night Live impersonation, today at a rally in Hartford, CT, Bernie told it like it is but never said a violent thing in his hour-long speech. There were no “bomb Iran”, there were no “kick out this group or that group”. There was no hatred for anyone, but there was truth.

As the rally began, I was actually worried about his chances, because — contrary to 20,000 people in New York City or on a college campus, it seemed like there were maybe 1,000 people here. By the end of the rally, though, that number had doubled or tripled in size.The early people looked very much like the people sent to the sofa in the frat house of the movie “Animal House”. They were — for the cameras to see — weird. There was a person in front of me with a black coat painted with a transgender rights symbol and painted on words like, “Stop thinking clothes have a gender”. There was a guy on my right with a marijuana headband  who kept saying “Light one up for Bern!”. There were tired men and women in the bleachers behind the podium. There were women wearing Islamic head scarfs in the same bleachers. There were more piercings and ear holes and colored hair than anyplace I had seen in a long-time. I grew sad as I saw their numbers and their composition until I realized that these were the hippies of today’s generation — the great unwashed intellectuals fighting The Establishment of today. They are the people that no one else cares about winning their vote. In short, these are the people that Jesus cared about — the ones who threw palms at his feet because that’s what they had. As I saw the Muslim women, I grew said because I realized in that moment that these are the people who will die  if Trump gets elected. They were there not just to support Bernie. They were there for their own self-preservation.

An African-American minister came out for a few minutes and spoke about his local church and the incredible unemployment around his church. He spoke as a community organizer about things in the local neighborhood that nobody ever talks about because nobody knows his neighborhood, because no one ever goes to his neighborhood. In short, he was just a local guy who cared about his community. Later, Jim Dean, of Democracy for America came out and he spoke about why DFA was supporting Bernie: because they had asked people who they wanted between Hillary and Bernie and — when 3/4 of people said they wanted Bernie, that’s who they supported. He lost a little street cred when he mentioned he was from Fairfield (a rich city here) but gained respect with his rolled up sleeves and rumpled suit jacket. He was a worker, and a tireless one, in the old mold of community organizing.

Then the man himself spoke. He looked tired and was a bit hoarse, carrying his handwritten notes to the podium. Once he got going, though, any tiredness was gone. He was speaking from his heart about things that mattered to him. Lots of things mattered to him.  Lots of people mattered to him.  He wants things like families that can support themselves on one income while someone raises the kids. He wants marriages to succeed because people don’t have to never see each other while they make enough money to live. He spoke of money being poorly spent on Big Banks and the Walton Family through our system while workers at Walmart had to get food stamps at most people’s expense. He spoke about fairness over-and-over. Clearly having read the Constitution, he talks about things like “one person, one vote” and “equal justice under the law” and believing that the law should apply equally to everyone — from the kid who got busted with a joint to the CEO who didn’t serve any time for destroying the lives of millions 8 years ago. Sanders questioned and didn’t support the new anti-LGBT laws being passed and said “That’s the state’s right, but there should be no federal support for such things (he acknowledge the actual limited power of the president as written in the Constitution).

Sanders wants corporations not to write trade bills, but our elected officials to do it. He wants everyone to get to vote (even conservatives!) instead of limiting voting rights. He wants people to have jobs that match their skills, he wants colleges to teach people that want to do that and jobs for people who don’t. He spoke about the criminal justice system and how bad it was, while saying clearly that most cops are good, hardworking, decent people doing a difficult job. He didn’t tell them how to do their jobs. He fine-tuned their jobs  by saying that “they should be trained to have deadly force be their last option instead of their first”. He thought we could use some of the money we’re now spending on for-profit jails to do that. When he finally got around to Native Americans and how important they were for us to learn from, he got to the heart of the matter. To my knowledge, since native Americans are from their own nations, they don’t get to vote in American ones. Here was a politician who was caring for people who can’t even vote for him. That’s not politically smart, but it is moral genius on the level of Santa Claus at Macy’s sending people to Gimbels in Miracle on 42nd Street. It brings back humanity and hope. It makes us believe in goodness again when people do things because they are right, rather than expedient.

Bernie Sanders is that guy. You should vote for him. I’m going to.

Peace,

 

John

 

 

“Craftspersonship” — for Michelle

This morning, my wife went off on a rant  about supporters of Bernie Sanders who say they won’t vote for Hillary Clinton if she gets the party’s nomination/if Bernie doesn’t get it. She and I are different in our worldviews, and she knows an incredible amount about capitalism, world markets, Rousseau, fairness and globalization than I do. She teaches such things for a living. She understands the “practical”, but I’m an idealist. Needless to say, she’ll probably vote for Hillary(though I don’t actually know) and I’ll vote for Bernie in the CT Primary.  But we agree on one thing: Regardless of who wins the nomination, we will vote for the candidate that is closest to our values among the candidates. We’re not going to take our ball and go home, because we didn’t get what we want. (OK, if Trump wins, I’m taking my ball and moving to Canada, but that’s just me).

It is stupid beyond belief to not vote just because you didn’t get everything you want in the election.  If you don’t vote, you get whatever anybody else wants, and that’s far less likely to be what you want if you don’t say anything.

Democracy requires craftsmanship, by design. Or, if we get a woman president, “craftspersonship”. My friend Craig Hames is a craftsman — he builds cabinets by hand, sands them slowly and takes his time — and they last forever. Craig has apparently had quite a business, because he’s a craftsman, not just a builder. There are few builders around to start with, in our world of high tech plastics and 3-D printing, modular cabinetry and Ikea. Beyond that, though, their are very few craftsmen out there — people who are detail oriented and able to see the larger vision, people who can’t settle for less than the best and are willing to put the time into what they are building so that it lasts forever.

Any leader in America who wants to be good at their job, has to be a craftsperson — especially if they are President. The task of building a democracy that will last requires the craft of compromise, the ability to see others’ point of view, and the strength to maintain their own integrity, while representing the people that sent them there..  We both think our candidates have that. By this view, we have a “no lose” policy. If my candidate gets in, she’ll vote for them. If her candidate gets in, I’ll vote for her.  Something to our liking will be built.If one of us — or both of us — were to not vote, nothing we wanted in a craftsperson would be built.

Having your own opinion, and wanting your own way is great — until you decide to live with someone else and be part of something more than just you. The minute you are with another person, or millions of other people, there will be disagreement and conflict. Two people in a room can invariably come up with three opinions. Millions of people have millions of needs, all vying for attention. Representatives, Senators, and the President all have to compromise if anything is going to get built at all for American Democracy. Citizens need to hold their feet to the fire. Not participating is not an option if you want anything to happen. You can’t blame Congress for not meeting with the President’s Supreme Court Nominee if you’re not going to meet with people who want to build an America like the one you want.

Don’t vote for someone who isn’t even a builder, let alone a craftsperson. But if there’s one out there, even with a slightly different idea, hire them.If you want it “my way or the highway” — on the Left or the Right, there’s the highway. Help yourself, but don’t say we kicked you out of democracy. Remember, you chose to leave.

Peace,

 

John

 

 

 

Martin The Forgotten?

April 4, 2016

48 years ago today, Martin Luther King was shot in Memphis, Tennessee. Sometime between then and now, all of the things that he was are gone from general society, with the possible exception of a Black leader in America.

Martin was a daring peacemaker. Martin’s “peace” looked like “rabble rousing” at the time, because he wanted the country he lived in to have the whole package of peace. He didn’t want peace that was achieved by silencing  a large part of our population. Whether that was African-Americans, (his first challenge), Veterans and Pacifists (his second challenge — the Vietnam War) or the Poor (he died while working on his third challenge — economic inequality). In the America that Martin envisioned — “The Beloved Community” — no one was “rabble rousing” because no one was rabble. We were all going together.  It was long, hard work, and it yielded love and actual peace by demanding respect for all sides of the equation, and only removing the hate. This work demanded giving up much on the part of the oppressed — their bodies, their churches, and often their lives — while demanding only sharing of those from the oppressor.  It yielded the souls of both.

Violence was easy then, and it is now. Anyone can get angry and act it out. Before Martin died, people had figured that out. What they hadn’t figured out yet is that it works about as well now as it ever did. No one ever — in a moment of passionate emotion — suddenly acted out peacefully without thinking. Peace requires thought as well as emotion. Not only did Martin want everybody to make it to the Beloved Community, he wanted every part of every person to go. People wanted a shortcut, but there wasn’t one and there isn’t one. Regarding injustice, the only way around is through.  Martin knew that.  He dared to do the hard work of making peace, and he dared us to, as well. Many of us didn’t want to hear that.

Martin was a man who dared to be peaceful. Men have historically “dared”. I still believe in daring as part of being male.  The problem is, we now tend to confuse ” being a man” with “being violent”. Donald Trump, that “man among men”, and so many other men, would have us believe that it would be “daring” to blow up people who disagree with us. Violence is the way we’re going in society today. To be “daring” would be to face into the prevailing wind and prevail against it. That version of “being a man” also requires work. It requires the hard work of listening, of caring, of forgiving, of reaching out, and yes, sometimes of dying. Daring to die for others is the opposite of daring to kill for others. Martin knew that, too. Martin was a man.  Martin’s “manly”, though, wasn’t manly enough for some then, and it isn’t even close anymore. I don’t strive to be “manly” anymore because I don’t like what “manly” means anymore. I aspire to be a man like Martin — a man who dared to die for what he believed in.

Martin was a believer. Martin believed that death does not win. Martin believed that life overcame death. Today, people are afraid. They are afraid that death wins. They believe  that evil is stronger than good. This makes sense if you understand the world that way. We all want to be on the winning side.  If death wins, “winners” want to work for death. If this is all there is, if we have no belief, then it looks like death does indeed win.You can see it win on the nightly news.

But if we believe there’s something more — if life ultimately wins — then we want to be on the side of life, ultimately. Believing the evening news makes this hard. If death ultimately wins, then we want to get as much stuff out of life as we can — souvenirs of our trip that says we were here.  If life ultimately wins, you can spend your life enjoying the ride rather than buying souvenirs .  Even without a lot of evidence in the news that ISIS will ultimately fail, I like Martin’s faith in life better than other people’s belief in nothingness or death.

So how did we get here — to this place today?  We took the easy way out when we only wanted to take some people to the future, and considered others “rabble”. We took the easy way out and we got violence. We took the easy way out again let our feelings over-ride our thoughts and decided that thinking was bad. We took the easy way out when we refused to listen to each other and tried to forgive. We took the easy way out again when we only believed in what we saw on TV and believed that death ultimately wins.

We have forgotten Martin Luther King’s ways because his ways were too hard. We have gotten what we wanted, but now that we see it, we don’t like it. Martin Luther King took the measure of a man more than twice before cutting them out of his world once. We don’t take the measure of anyone, and we just cut them out. Until we learn to do the hard work, our communities and our lives will look like poorly built shacks, while somewhere in heaven, Martin’s living in a mansion.

Peace,

 

John