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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resisting with Peace,

John

To All The Wounded Healers I Know…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resisting with Peace,

Joh

Not A Good Time for “Not All Men”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resisting with Peace,

John

Re: Blasey Ford v. Kavanaugh

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

There are many questions to be answered:

1) Do politicians play politics?

2) Do men rape or attempt to rape women?

The answer to both of those questions is “yes”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resisting the Trump agenda with peace,

John

Hate CAN NOT Win: BlackkKlansman and Our Times

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

— Exodus 1: 8 – 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resisting with Peace,

John

 

Really?! How Hard Is This?!

I walk down the street, I drive in my car, I go to work and I never, ever accuse a Black person of swimming in a pool, or of breaking into a house, or of raping a member of my family, or robbing a bank. It doesn’t seem that hard to me.

There are a bunch of reasons for this:

1) Swimming in a pool isn’t illegal.

2) There are no laws against being Black

3) No one (of any color) has raped a member of my family that I know of.  If they have or had, their color of their skin is not the important thing. The fact that they were assaulted is.

4) I’ve never seen a bank robbery in real life. Again, if I’m at a bank robbery, the color of the person with the gun is the least of my concerns.  Being dead, losing money — those things would be concerns.

The same goes for brown, yellow, or red skinned-people. The same goes for people of different sexual orientations, different genders, different states of mind, and physical abilities. I don’t get why this is hard for people!

This in no way is to suggest I’m a saint. I have stupid thoughts on occasion, but I keep them to myself! Just as there are guys who “can’t keep it in their pants”, it seems like there are more and more people who just can’t keep their idiocy in their own minds. In addition to thinking racist,sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, ableist things, they now feel free to say them. Furthermore, they now seem to be lining up to act on those thoughts. Really?! Is it that hard?!

People are allowed by law to walk down the same streets, swim in the same pool, shop in the same stores, go to the same schools, cook the same food, lead the same lives as you do! If they’re not doing anything wrong, leave them the hell alone! If they’re minding their own business, mind yours!

I try to tell people all the time that the person with the problem needs to learn to cope or learn another way to cope. If it bothers you that Black people exist, go somewhere where they don’t! If you don’t like people using the public pool that they have a right to be in, go to another pool! If you don’t like people shopping in “your” store, shop somewhere else. You’ve got the problem. If you don’t like gay people, don’t go to gay bars to harass them. If you don’t like abortion, don’t have one! (By the way, if you don’t like White people, don’t go where they go just to pick a fight. Go because you belong there. If you don’t like heterosexuals, for whatever reasons, don’t hang out with them. If you don’t like people of a certain religion, don’t do business with them, certainly don’t go to their Place of Worship and harass them.) Honestly, have some boundaries, people! Get lives of your own, instead of worrying about what other people are doing! Just stop.

That said, the whole generalizing thing is just a bad idea. If you worry about Muslim terrorists, but you’re on a bus with a friend of Timothy McVeigh, you’re worried about the wrong people! If you think Black folks with guns are scarier than White folks with one, you’re wasting your anxiety on frivolous things. If you’re worried about 200 members of MS-13, and you take it out on children, or asylum seekers, or even just Mexicans, you’re beating up the wrong people! And in your misdirected anger or fear, you’re wasting money, time, and, most of all, people’s lives (including your own!)

Solve actual problems, not made up ones! If you can’t do that, you are the one with the problem, as will as the one who is the problem. Figure it out people! Really, it’s not that hard!

(Did I get some of this wrong? Probably. It’s a rant. If it hurts you, tell me and I’ll apologize. Or correct me. I’m cool with that, at least for awhile. Then let me think about it.)

Resisting with Peace,

John

Peace,

What They’re Going To Find and What We’re Going To Find…

As the Mueller investigation gets deeper and deeper, from what I read, this is what they will find:

There is a whole bunch of people who have most of the world’s wealth and they got it through illicit means. Not everyone who has wealth is evil, but those who are evil continue to chase money. Some of these people believe that they are the best people and that they bring dignity to countries by living within them (Fascists) Others in this group are just thugs who want legitimacy (criminals — money launderers, sex traffickers, arms dealers and others who hide in the shade and prey upon society.

This bunch of criminals knew where the money was kept, where the bodies were buried, what the dirty secrets were in government officials’ lives. They solidified power by getting into seats of power and changing the rules, so that they would make even more money and divide it up among fewer and fewer people.

They know where the tax shelters are offshore in places like the Caymen Islands, the Seychelles, maybe Switzerland. They created tax shelters for themselves in Congress. There is no end to their greed.

The NRA, the supposedly “most American” organization ever, was infiltrated by the Russians years ago. It’s leaders are leading the charge to break up America by turning Americans against each other. This is not why the NRA was started, and what we are seeing is the “regular folks’ NRA which hunts for sport vs. the new NRA leadership, which wants violence.

These same people make money off of privatized prisons and control the stock market (s). If they can ratchet up the stress on people by making them work more and more and paying them less and less under the guise of capitalism, which we’re told is the ultimate good, then people will start shooting each other. When people shoot each other, they go to a private prison, and the group in power makes even more money, which is spread out among fewer and fewer people.

Manafort lived in this world. So do the Koch brothers. So does the Saudi Royal Family. And, yes, so does Donald Trump, and Jared Kushner. Also, Rudolph Guilianni, parts of the FBI, Putin, and Netanyahu. Erik Prince and Betsy DeVos and their family for generations. Michael Cohen is sort of a bagman for the American contingent.

All of these people made a major push recently to achieve their dreams when Donald Trump got elected.

When all of this comes out, what we’re going to find is that:

1) We don’t like families being torn apart.

2) People do better when they eat, and sleep and rest and spend time with their families

3) People do better when they’re medical needs are met.

4) Better decisions are made when we use facts. Science works.

5) The ice caps are melting, and we’d better do something about it soon.

Once the money is found and put to good use on the things above, there will be less stress in the world, and we will find we like each other, that we’re so very much the same and there is more of “us” than there are of “them” around the globe.

After that, we have a lot of work to do, and we will, hopefully, do it.

Resisting in Peace,

John

Does That Star-Spangled Banner Yet Wave O’er The Land of the Free? Or the Home of the Brave?

Fourth of July has always been strange, but good. Unlike Memorial Day or Veterans Day, which celebrate war and the need to make veterans, the Fourth celebrates an idea. It represents freedom or the attempt at freedom, and a new outlook on the way things should be.

No, it wasn’t perfect, but it was a first try at overthrowing Empire. No slaves weren’t freed, but a few people thought suddenly that they should be, and ultimately they would be. Yes, all men were considered equal. But the idea of freedom, once seen and experienced, cannot be undone. The idea lays dormant until there’s a chance for it — and us — to sprout again.

As surely as Princess Leia had an “only hope”, people who have experienced freedom and independence will continue to survive with only that much, and yearn for the time when it comes.

We’re there again. We hope Robert Mueller will save us. We hope Susan Collins will save us. Time and time again, in the past 18 months, we have hoped that someone sane or decent would save us from the inhumanity of Trump’s crew of fearful loyalists. As the Roberts court ends, I am not so sure that we will be saved by anyone. I’m not convinced some part of our country doesn’t want Freedom to die… except for their freedom, their right to make money, and their right to own guns.

Independence must be matched with caring for others or it becomes self-indulgence. We, as a nation, have become better and more complex when caring for others is a rule. We become worse and simpler when we stop doing so. “Purity” calls for inbreeding — genetically and regarding ideas. It yields a drop in overall intelligence, and a decreasing of coping mechanisms which require creativity. Authoritarianism yields, then, more anger and less ability to cope with it. It makes us dumb, but we’re comfortable with a world that looks and thinks just like we do.

Independence, then, is uncomfortable. When Anglo men, and only Anglo men, are the only people that matter, we move backwards in history. I don’t agree with those who that they were only oppressors, but we were not at our best ever in 1776. I think that we were on top of the world under the Marshall Plan, got better when we listened to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and on the edge of open frontier in the days of the women’s movement. At that point, people who refuse to accept that they lost the Civil War want to bring us back to the last time they were comfortable: with pre-Civil War slavery.

They want things to be simple and ‘pure”. Simple is fine, except when it’s not. Thoreau chose to live simply. We are not all Thoreau.Solar panels are a form of living simply — but they required an Einstein to see that they were possible. Complexity is fine, except when it’s not. Eating food grown without preservatives is a form of living simply that ultimately makes more sense, I think. There is a time and a place for simple and a time and a place for complicated things. Having the option to figure out which is which is a part of American freedom, or it has been, in the past. In short, when people have choices, they are free — free to make mistakes, and free to be years ahead of anyone else. Freedom and choices, require diversity — a diversity of thoughts from a diversity of people with a variety of experiences. That is not the goal of this Congress, and it certainly not the goal of a President who demands loyalty above all else, and is willing to fire people who have a different opinion.

Purity, on the other hand, will never work. All the blonde-haired, blue-eyed people in the world can’t understand the problems facing people who aren’t them. That’s most of the world. In addition to that, most of the people wanting White People to rule, don’t want women ruling. Those guys can understand and fix even less. The more a system strives for purity, the less it can function. Mr. Trump’s statements like, “I alone can fix it” will only lead to more chaos. Other countries who give absolute power to one person’s ideas will ultimately fail as well, simply out of necessity. In fact, any group of two which gives absolute power to one will yield misery. It’s just bigger on the nationwide scale.

So, as we face Independence Day in 2018, we need to ask if we are more free than we have been in the past. Children in cages is pretty much the definition of not free. A majority of any one group in prison, or in power is not free. People who support these things do not encourage freedom. America will be free in an ultimate sense when those people are free to be themselves.

All of this brings us to the issue of “bravery”. Bravery is necessary when freedom is undermined or lost. Bravery is required any time we need to stand up to bullies. By bravery, I don’t mean bombs, bullets, or bayonets. Bravery is the ability to say “no” when people want us to be less diverse. Bravery is the ability to tolerate a diversity of opinions and hear them out. Bravery is not the ability to let people hurt others or yourself.

So, here’s the deal: people in power right now either want to make this country function well, or they want to own it. Each and every time they attempt to own it, we must be brave enough to say “no”. If those in power want America to function again, they must be brave enough to say “no” to those who want one man or one party rule. Right now, that’s the Republicans. Brave Republicans need to step up and say no to the hatred of others, no to single party rule, no to letting people die, no to putting people in cages for no reason.

Is that happening? In the Senate, perhaps. In the House, no. When all it takes is one Republican to block a judicial appointment — and we have no guarantees from any of them, we’re hoping for bravery from people who aren’t inclined to give it. That’s not going to work. If we want America to be the home of the brave, we must be brave. We must say no to those people who won’t be brave and stand up for the functioning and free America. We cannot give an inch.

And if we make it through this, those in power — whichever party they are from — must make us the land of the free and encourage us to be brave.

Resisting with Peace,

John

Radical Jesus Is Not Happy With The U.S.

Jesus’ ministry begins with John:

 “ Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to [John], and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Matthew 4: 3-10

 

If we put this in the modern context and apply it to us (See Robert MacAfee Brown’s The Bible Speaks To You)

The country is at war (never a good thing) — Spiritual war, but war nonetheless. This, in fact, may be worse for those in power.

Our current government has shown its stripes.  The Muslim Ban (“Let’s call it what it is… a Muslim Ban”, said Donald Trump) was the first step to the Mexican Ban, the asylum ban, the brown-on-the-border ban, the immigrant ban.   This policy is simply an extension of that policy.  We didn’t like all- of- them then and we don’t like all -of-them now.  Any “them” will do.  “Them” is whoever people define as “not real Americans”.  Now, after 17 months, those politicians who supported The Man all along are  have realized that they are in deep trouble with the voters because the vast majority of people know it is immoral and wrong to rip children away from their parents as punishment for wanting a better life.  The voters are the least of their concerns in this spiritual war…

So let’s try this again:

“Then the people of Texas and all of America were going out to  and all the region along the Rio Grande,  and they were washing themselves before the TV cameras, confessing their sins.  But when the people of God saw many the Haters and Those who Supported Hate For Their Own Power coming to say it was wrong,  they said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance.  Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have the Pilgrims as our ancestor’; for I tell you, these are the Pilgrims Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

 

Then Jesus himself speaks:

“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely[b] on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Does anyone in this current administration think that they are poor in Spirit? The people who did this, did this because they think they are right and righteous. Donald Trump has said about God, “I’ve never had to apologize”, and Jeff Sessions quoted scripture. There people do not believe they are poor in Spirit. The people on the other side of their assaults think they are poor in spirit. Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”. Guess which side Jesus is on.

Does anyone in this administration mourn? They seem to delight in their power to hurt others. The administration says, “Blessed are those who make others mourn”. The people they hurt mourn. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn”. Guess which side Jesus is on?

Is there a meek one in this government? I haven’t seen one. These people own the earth right now. Jesus says, “the meek shall inherit the earth”. Guess who wins in the end?

Are our policymakers “hungering and thirsting for righteousness”?  Donald Trump and his supporters thirst for power.  Jesus said blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”. Guess who is on Jesus’ good side?

Our government pursues a “Zero Tolerance Policy”, even when it runs out of resources to do it. Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful”. Those who follow this policy refuse to be merciful. Guess what side Jesus is on?

Are those who implement or support these policies “pure in heart”? They think so.  Sarah Sanders says that being rejected from a restaurant says more about “them” than her. Piety is not the same as being “pure in heart”. Will they see God? Possibly they will. Will they be happy about seeing God? No, I think they will not.

Does the policy of a Muslim Ban or a Brown ban make for peace? I’m not seeing it. Does the country feel peaceful? Not from what I read. Do people who consciously antagonize others make for peace? Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers”.  Guess who Jesus stands with?

Who are the persecuted here? Is it those who are denied the chance to live with their families or is it those who get their feelings hurt while eating? When we understand who the persecuted are, we  can figure out which group Jesus sides with. Do you want to guess who sees the kingdom of heaven?

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account”? Trump lies all the time about people. He says Mexicans are  rapists. Muslims are terrorists. Canada is our enemy. Guess who Jesus says is blessed?

 

These two stories are from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. There’s a lot more to come. Guess whose side Jesus is on?

 

Resisting with Peace,

 

John

 

On LGBTQi? Rights and The World Right Now

For as many years as I can remember, I have wondered what all the fuss was about.

Why do I care about who is sleeping with who? Why do I care about who is in love with who? Why is it any of my business? Why is it any of my concern? Who died and left me to be judge and jury?

When I thought it was all about sex, I was in my 20’s and I thought, “People who are having sex or orgasms are happier people to be with”. Who could be against that?

When I understood that people had long-lasting relationships, I could no more imagine excluding the love of someone’s life from a get-together than I could imagine cutting off my right arm. What do people talk about? Sports, hobbies, fun things, and their family and loved ones. How can someone fully enjoy themselves with half of them missing? I knew someone years ago. After they came out to me, it was years later before I got to meet their long-term love. When I did, I felt horrible for them because of my thoughts above. I swore I would never exclude someone because of their orientation, unless someone was getting hurt or hurting others (in those “philosophical” arguments with the right wing that heterosexuals have, we used to worry about gay pedophiles as though they were the same thing. Now I know better. There are a lot more heterosexual pedophiles than anyone wants to know) In any case, it’s simpler now. I still hate pedophiles. I still welcome nice people to my house, regardless of orientation.

I have never been particularly pro-gay or anti-gay. I have been pro “people are who they are”. I generally have enough to worry about keeping track of my own family. I don’t have time to be worried about someone else’s. I always thought that the “Defense of Marriage Act” was the stupidest name for a piece of legislation. Why would someone else’s love or marriage offend mine? I only had to defend my marriage from me or my wife botching it up.

As I type this, I may very well offend some of my gay friends or my liberal friends for taking a non-positive. apologize for offending your sensibilities. Of course, I expect that my more conservative friends are offended by my not taking a more anti-gay stand. I’m sorry you don’t agree. To both of you, too bad. I don’t invite intolerant people to my house.

But now something is different. Laissez-faire is no longer going to work. In all the stupidity around immigrants that the Trump administration has managed, the latest thing is that we’re denying asylum to people fleeing gangs or LGBTQi people terrorized at home, as though gangs are somehow less deadly to asylum seekers or that LGBTQi are somehow more of a threat to America.

Leave it to a bunch of people who don’t believe in science to think that bullets only kill bad people or that gay people are a threat to national security. If DOMA was stupid, this is stupider… and way more deadly. This idea is therefore, stupid and evil. There is no logic here. There is no compassion, mercy, grace, or love — all things I treasure — in it.

So, here’s the thing: Remember that quote that said, “when they came for the Catholics, I wasn’t a Catholic so I didn’t care … until there was no one left to care about me?” Not happening here. Not now, not ever. I can see the writing on the wall. So, now if anyone asks me, I’m pro-gay. I’m also anti-gang and pro-victim.

If you’re gay, lesbian, transgender, queer, or intersex, you are always welcome at my house. If you’re seeking asylum, you are always welcome at my house. You always were, but it didn’t matter before. Now it does. I’m somewhere between the kids of Parkland at the Tonys the other night and Robert Deniro the other night in my opinion of this administration.

As a Christian, I cannot condone this blatant division of people in the human family. As an American, I hate what Trump and Jeff Sessions have done to the place.

Resisting with Peace,

John