Blessed…

A Facebook friend this morning was talking about the atmosphere over the holidays between friends, family and themselves post-election. She explained that it had gotten nasty and that people around various tables and in various places were telling lies about what she thought — and what it meant to think that way — in the world of fake news and hysteria we find ourselves in.  Scripture popped out at me:

Matthew 5:11-16 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. ”
If you are standing up for right during this post-election, if you’re being attacked for caring, if people are misconstruing your intentions so they can attack you, Jesus says you’re on the right side of things. 

Feeling better now? Not really? Me, either. It’s clearly no fun in the moment. Jesus on the cross is the ultimate example of both how un-fun it is, and how much of a blessing to the world we are, ultimately, when people bully us or harass us for doing the right thing. Is it hard to remember at the time? Absolutely. Are you right to do it? Absolutely.

Speaking of hard to remember, Jesus’ next lines are:  “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 

“Losing your saltiness” sounds like a bad thing. Losing your essential nature is what it can feel like. Certainly we lose our spiciness and twinkle during tough times, but our essential nature? Sure seems possible, but here’s the thing: no one ever has thrown out salt because it’s not salty anymore. Our essential nature, our soul, our strength, our core being is never destroyed.  It takes a while to dust it off and find it under all the stuff being said and all the pain we’re feeling, but it is still there.

And if it is still there, dust it off, find the gem of truth within you and remember what Jesus said next:  “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”.

People remember God’s beauty and truth when they see yours! Speak your truth! Continue to speak your truth! Find your spiciness again! Then speak your truth some more! In the end, love wins, and pettiness looks like the pettiness it is. Lies are seen to be lies. Goodness is seen for the goodness it is. Truth is seen for the truth it is. 

Rest up if you must, to uncover the Truth within yourself, and yes, it stinks that you need to, but you are the light of the world! You are already blessed.

Resisting with peace,

John

Joy For Thanksgiving !!!!!!!!!

It was the perfect storm of what I needed this morning. While I was waking up, my wife screamed “South Dakota has a float!”. It was as though normal had returned for a brief moment. This happened while I watched a Harry Chapin clip where Harry talked about kids, education and sustainable eating for everyone. There was a dream.  A minute later, I received an email from Elizabeth Warren’s new organization for progressives on how to listen to Trump voters to look for places where we agree. It was like we were one humanity once again. 

Wait! It’s like there are good people in the world — people who want the world to get better! After my shower, I saw some of them — my family! 

In all of the traumatic news of the week — and there is a lot of it — it is easy to think that evil is stronger than good. It is not. 200 people in a room with their hands saying, “Heil!” Do not outnumber the millions of people who love and care for the people around them. Watching the parade this morning, there were millions of people of all races, genders, nationalities, orientations, religions, and so much more — and there were no burning crosses, skinheads, hateful rhetoric to be seen. There was simply people and their loved ones next to each other in a huge line that went on for miles. 

These people exist the rest of the year, as well. We just pay attention to the scary. Maybe we should focus on the loving people, the joyous people, the faithful people, the people we actually know. Joy, love, peace, hope and doing caring things will strengthen us for the work ahead. There is lots of work to do, but there are enough of us, and enough love to fight the hate around us. Living lovingly is the best revenge.

Resisting with peace,
John

Impeach Rick Snyder (Governor of Michigan)!!!!!!!!

OK, one of the reasons I’m on a “food justice” kick, to be honest, is that I’m sick of the political bantering, hatred, and fighting over politics. Like many a church, I wanted to do something “safe” from politics. Seriously, I thought, who could be against food?  I’m sure I’ll find out in the next few months or years as I study and do what I can regarding the issue, but honestly, what kind of a person is against people eating?

If you include “water” in the category of “food”, and I’m sure my food justice friends do, I have just found the poster-boy for anti-humanity.

Seen on my friend Cat’s Facebook page, here’s the original article: http://www.theroot.com/articles/news/2016/11/state-of-michigan-calls-water-delivery-in-flint-burden/

“The state of Michigan filed a motion Thursday seeking to be relieved of the “unnecessary” and “insurmountable burden” of delivering cases of bottled water to Flint, Mich., residents affected by the lead-contaminated water crisis.

In their motion, officials for Gov. Rick Snyder likened the requirements of a court order issued last week to a large-scale military operation, and said that it would cost the state at least $10.45 million a month or $125 million a year, the Detroit News reports.”

I don’t know much about the situation — for instance, I don’t know people simply don’t leave Flint. But I know that taking care of people that you poisoned, or you are responsible for (the citizenry) is the right thing to do. Refusing to do so is simply wrong.

I get that $125 million per year is a lot. I do. Too bad. 

Budgetary reasons are important to take into account, but maybe if they actually fixed the pipes in Flint, they wouldn’t have this problem. Maybe if they hadn’t poisoned people in the first place, they wouldn’t have this problem. Maybe if they bought new houses for people so that the residents of Flint could move, they wouldn’t have this problem.

Maybe if they took responsibility for their actions, the government might have the moral right to tell others that they should.

I hate to even talk money, because people are the issue, but it’s a pay-me-now or pay-me-later situation. Lead poisoned kids are going to require special-ed resources for the rest of their lives. Do you know how much that’s going to cost? Lead poisoned people are going to have impulse control problems. Do you know how much that’s going to cost to deal with it in police and jail? And disability claims? Those are going to be incredible!  …Or you can pay for clean water now, Mr. Snyder.

I’m tired of governments having money for bombs, but not books, but one could almost, with a heck of a stretch, claim that books and education aren’t necessary to life. Water, like food, is necessary to life.  Get it done, Mr. Snyder, or resign and let someone else do it.  If he doesn’t, the people of Flint should simply, on the grounds of human decency, impeach him.

Resisting oppression with… peace,

John

 

Good People: The Chapin Family and Friends

My good friend Rick Fowler and I went to a concert last night billed as “Harry Chapin: A Celebration in Song” at the Quick Center in Fairfield, CT. The music was incredible, as I had expected. The politics were great, as I had hoped. What wasn’t expected by me and my compatriot was kindness.

When we arrived, we had people pointing out parking spots. These were not paid professionals. They were concert-goers with bags of food they were bringing to the show. Our neighbors in the seats seemed friendly. Even the lines in the men’s room was friendly with people willing to wait for the old guy behind them. The audience was just that way. It wasn’t exciting! It wasn’t angry! or radical! All of these things that require our limbic system to get going feel normal now, but they’re supposed to be signs of danger.

Here was a group of hundreds of people and the danger in the world was buffeted by kindness. We knew it was there. We acknowledged it, and we were angered by it, but evil didn’t feel normal in that room. Harry, years ago, sang “Remember when the music came from wooden boxes … and set our hearts on fire”. During this concert, I remembered when kindness was the way it was supposed to be and was, in fact, the norm.

Either Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger had an instrument that said, “this instrument kills fascists”.Banjos and acoustic guitars aren’t exactly scary things, but the warmth that they bring to us, with the human voice lifted in love, do indeed kill fascists. It is joy without rancor, love without anger, the cry for justice because it’s right that kills fascists because it conquers fear, which is at the very core of all this chaos.

During the concert/celebration, Sandy Chapin — Harry’s wife spoke about the things the Chapin Foundation is doing, and the incredible work people are doing because of Chapin Foundation grants. Speakers explained that hunger comes from poverty and poverty comes from hopelessness. Organizations that help people feel less hopeless, then hopeful, and then in charge of their own lives — done at the grassroots level — are so much a part of Harry’s dream for the world and they were represented here.

For instance, Operation Hope of Fairfield County was begun as a place to get food. Then it became a place for the homeless to find basic needs. Those basic needs are met by educational or training programs or counseling and require many people with many skills. It is the warmth of those kinds of people that forms a community where kindness is the norm. We need more of those kinds of places, where real people take care of real people in real life rather than from behind a computer. In places like that — whatever they do — the world feels good again.

Bill Ayers of WhyHunger spoke as well. The incredible work that they do lasts because it is built on long, slow, quiet work. Yes, it is work and in our world it has to get done. Harry and Bill and Sandy did it, and now we must do the work that is required. In an atmosphere of human kindness, and at a human pace, we build things that last. Much like craftsmen making things by hand, groups like WhyHunger craft the human spirit and apply it to our society and somehow it doesn’t feel as much like work.

Much of folk music, blues, and country music came from work songs to make the time pass. The work of making a better world slowly was certainly supported by the music we heard in Fairfield. Steve Chapin brought humor and style to the group on stage. Tom Chapin brought the deeper voice of Harry to the music. Jen, Harry’s daughter, brought passion and rhythm almost like beat poetry. The Chapin Sisters, Tom’s daughters, brought incredibly beautiful harmonies and hope to the evening in ways that I think only youth can. Martin Tubridy , the man who inspired Harry’s song “Mr. Tanner” was there, and brought the house down as a symbol of hope that endures through tough times because of the kindness of strangers. “He did not know how well he sang. It just made him whole” says the song, and Tubridy sang well at the concert. It is amazing how much kindness and caring give to us when criticism and harshness try to kill our spirits.

In addition to these stories, there were stories of old friends who couldn’t be there, like Big John Wallace, and the musical virtuosity brought by Jamie Fox on guitar, Howie Fields on drums, plus a great bass guitarist who replaced Big John for the night, and another Chapin on backing guitar. A rich textured life requires a collection of textured, skillful people. Yes, “the circle keeps spinning ’round”.

From all of this warmth in the room came the encore of sorts, a cry for justice called “We Will Not Stop Singing” written by The Chapin Sisters. Again, it was a call for justice born out of the knowledge that caring and kindness were possible, and now — for all of us — expected.

If you want to be a part of any of the organizations mentioned above, click on the links below for their websites:

the Harry Chapin Foundation

WhyHunger

Operation Hope of Fairfield

 

Resisting oppression with peace,

John

 

 

Cat Chapin-Bishop Wins First Annual Mary Lou Brewer Prize for Real Teaching 

I know a lot of teachers who do great work. I also know of a lot of teachers who don’t even like kids. Teachers, like everyone else, run the gamut from excellent to horrible. Today, I’d like to announce something new: a celebration of not only good teaching, but exceptional humanity in the classroom. 

Every year from now on, I will award the Mary Lou Brewer Prize for the teacher I know who best educates their students, teaching them important things about life and empowering them to make a difference in the world, while being kind and caring to their students.

For those of you who don’t know, Mary Lou Brewer was my history teacher in 11th and 12th grade. She also has the distinction of being my favorite teacher ever. She believed in me when I didn’t believe in me. This earned her a spot in my ordination service and a place in my heart forever. She has met my children and my wife, because I wouldn’t be where I am in life without her help. This is not a memorial award. To my knowledge, ML is still alive and is a snowbird, living in  Massachusetts and Florida some portion of the year now. She is retired, though, which brings us Cat.

Cat has been through  long, difficult period, recently, and I suspect that  she will be tetiringretiring at some point. More’s the pity. I have known Cat since I was 14 years old and in that time, she has remained radical and kind. Aware of the important things in life, faithful and aware of spirituality, interested in the welfare of others, and a lover of the best parts of the human spirit.

Though she began late in her life, she brought   joy and challenge, pride and love of  literature to students once she got there.

 She expects great things from her students because she sees great things in her students. They believe her and, because they do, great things happen for them and to them.

In her personal life, she fights racism, sexism, homophobia, religious intolerance and other things that divide us. She sees the worst and supports the best in the world. Some of this, of course, goes into her classroom.

Now, about the prize: it is a classic Stan Lee “no prize”. There is no trophy and no cash award — the traditional teacher’s gift. What she wins, however, is the acknowledgement of her fine work, the admiration of her students, and a hug. Plus, as a special bonus, she gets to help pick the 2nd annual Mary Lou Brewer prize recipient.

Peace, 

John

The Day It All Changed For Me — Race in America 

I haven’t thought about these things for years, and I seldom talk about them, but my friend Sean Murphy brought them to mind when he shared an article on inner city violence that attributed that violence to racism.

In 1972 or 73 my parents moved from very poor, nearly all White, Chicopee Massachusetts to lower middle class Springfield, Massachusetts. People in Chicopee were poor, not particularly complicated, but very kind. They were decent,  but I only saw one Black kid through all of grammar school, and he was detested by the teachers simply because “he didn’t belong”. I think he lasted a month and was gone.

Springfield was very different. 1972 or 73 was the time when “The Godfather” had just come out, and the Italian kids all talked tough like their parents were in the mafia. These kids were punks. I thought nothing more of it than that, until I realized their parents actually were in the mafia and they wanted to be in the family business. Now, to be fair, there were three gangs, and each had a racial piece and a part of town. But the Puerto Ricans lived in slums in the North End, the Blacks lived in the ghetto in Winchester Square, and Whites lived everywhere else. This means that local gangs for me were White and that’s who mostly acted our. In fact, I knew a white guy once — not in the mafia, but just a punk — who bragged that he had taken his brother’s new golf club and –during a rumble– had “wrapped it around Puerto Rican head” (I.e. killing someone ). 

It was punks like that that “ran” my Jr. High School. Black punks were just that — lone criminals who wanted to eat, not people who wanted a career because crime was good, but people with no belief that there was anything else for them. I didn’t know a lot of Puerto Ricans and didn’t speak Spanish, so I didn’t know them. What friends I had were Black in school and White in church. My White friends also went to my school, so there was some overlap. 

Anyway, in June of 1973 or 1974, I came home from school and my mother breathed an audible sigh of relief. When I asked why, she explained that the news was reporting race riots at my school. I was surprised to hear the news, since I had been at school all day.. I was hanging out all day with my friend David Byrd who was Black and — like me — a decent, kind, unaffiliated-with-a-gang kid, when the Italian punks had lit a trash barrel on fire and bragged about it, but that the was the extent of violence I knew about and again  had been there all day. 

Apparently, between when I left school and when I got home, the news was saying “those Blacks were trying to burn down the school” and had caused “race riots”. It was at that very moment that I decided I liked the good people who got in trouble far more than the criminals who didn’t. The “good people” in that case were Black. You wouldn’t know it from the press or the police or any “official” source. You just knew it if you were there, in the situation, in reality. I chose reality and never looked back. 

Peace,

John

The isms line up…

There’s a scene in the TV show “Chuck” where the bad guy gets a call mid-speech and is informed that the good guys are coming to get him. He immediately notifies his partners-in-crime, who try to flee the scene and are discovered and caught as well.

This week, Donald Trump’s star is falling from the sky because he says violent and disgusting things about women and acts on them by his own admission. He is being sexist. In a variation of the “Chuck” episode, let’s see who’s behind his curtain. 1) The  police union that supported him because of his stand on violence. 2) David Duke proudly supports him, because of his stance on race. 3)Fundamentalist Christians (not Evangelicals, as they would have you believe)  support Trump  because of his stance on Islam. 4) Law-and-Order politicians support Trump because of his promise to build a wall to keep immigrants out.

I’m sure are Trump supporters who are trying to be supportive of his party but not him, though I suspect they will do some soul-searching when this is all said and done, and maybe they should. The problem is that those Trump supporters who have been proud of their support probably will not. But we know what they stand for, and there’s a reason they’re all together : because hate is hate. People who treat women like things without thinking about it can treat minorities like things without thinking about it, and people who treat immigrants like things believing they are right to do so also treat followers of other religions like things, believing they are right. Terrorists have been  beating women and children for years before going off to kill masses of gay people. It’s all the same.

I’m not trying to paint a picture of all people who support Trump as being like him, to set up a witch hunt.  I’m trying to say that the  ideologies deserve a witch hunt, and a burning at the stake (sorry about the metaphor, pagan friends). Sexism is racism is terrorism is fundamentalism is xenophobia is homophobia. Hatred of other groups of people while being proud of it, and thinking you’re right is evil, no matter who you are. So while the evil leader ideology is on stage, let’s identify the rest of the cabal.

Peace,

John