Power: Donald Trump, Pat Speer, Me, and Superman

Years and years ago, when I lived in Bridgeport, I met a man at a diner and we discussed organizing, Jesus, and making the world a better place. Still getting my feet wet in ministry, and finding my way around in Bridgeport, I struggled with my authority as a pastor. Wanting to mostly be a nice guy, I didn’t believe in coercion or telling people what to do. I should have known better. My psychology model, Virginia Satir, says that politeness is a good way to make sure things never change (and, therefore, never change for the better). Still, I was young and not sure of myself when Pat Speer introduced himself and said, “Don’t be afraid of power. Do you know what the definition of power is? It’s ‘the ability to do work’. ” Furthermore, he added, “there’s a lot of work to be done”. On that we agreed. Pat had a strategy on how to do that work, and I never really bought in with my heart and soul. My friend Leigh did and she and Pat did incredible work in New Haven, Connecticut. 

I tend to live by my instincts and, even if I never really took him up on his offer, I liked Pat. I still do. Pat sees Jesus as the model for social justice, and I agree, but I like to see Jesus as a model for life — personal vs. collective. By this time in my life, I think I have given up politeness and worrying about what others think, so I’m closer to Pat’s view of life now, but I’m an introvert (I think) so… well, who knows. In any case, I have learned that Pat is right — power is the ability to do work. I’m still not a big fan of “power over others” in the slightest, but my own power — my own ability to do work– that I believe in. 

On the other side of the spectrum, there’s Donald Trump, who also believes in power, and loves his ability to make things happen. Just today, he decided to undo years of work which allowed us to live on this planet via repealing EPA regulations and the Paris Accords on climate change. Trump wants you to know he has power and can do anything he wants with it. The man wanted  tanks for his inauguration parade. He has money. He likes winning. He wants you to know he’s a man! Furthermore, he’s President and you’re not. 

So, Pat, Trump, and I are all men. We each have power and all of us are leaders. Pat and Trump like winning. I’m more into accomplishing things than winning over others. Neither Pat nor I have money, but that’s our choice, somewhat and — as my wife would point out–we both make way more than most people in most countries. What wealth Pat and I have in comparison to someone in Zimbabwe, for instance, is what Trump has in comparison to us. 

At the end of my life (and all during it, as well), I’d like to be closer to Pat Speer than Donald Trump, regarding power. That’s because Pat and I use Jesus as a model. Donald Trump, whatever else you may say about him, clearly does not use Jesus as a model for anything. He and Pat will be fighting as long as they both are alive. Maybe they should be. 

The thing that I have, that neither Trump nor Pat (I think) have is… a love of Superman comics… or, frankly, any superhero or super heroine . Here’s why: Superman, like Pat, Donald, and myself all have power and yes, we’re all men. We can all get things done. We all have the ability to — the power to, if you will — do work. We all believe we have a mission in the world. 

Superman holds the key for me. It’s not whether or not you have power(s). It’s whether you use them for good or evil. Pat uses his for good, Trump for evil. Pat, to build. Trump, to destroy. Pat, to serve. Trump to be served. Pat, to follow God. Trump, to pretend he is God. Pat, to be a part of humanity. Trump, to be above humanity. 

As I write this, it occurs to me that Pat may get more accomplished in life than I will, because he’s more … mature  than I am. For now, that’s ok with me. I want to be the best me I can. If folks agree and think I’m leading, that’s ok. Pat wants us to to be the best us we can be. Trump calls us to be the worst he can be. We all find our way in the world. Whichever works for you (well, ok not Trump’s way) is fine with me. 

If you want to check out Pat, he’s at the Christian Activity Council in Hartford. He’s a good man, doing good things. Trump is in Washington, of course, and people like him will keep people like Pat and me busy for a long time. 

Me? Still in West Hartford, now preaching in Goshen, CT and doing therapy in Springfield, MA. 

Whatever you do, whatever you choose to do, always use your powers for Good, and not Evil. Ask Superman…. and maybe ask Jesus which is which before you do.

Resisting with Peace,

John

The Curse of Getting What You Want…

This one’s going to hurt. Republicans are going to have their rear-ends handed to them in 2018, and they will deserve it. John McCain and Lindsay Graham will retain their seats, possibly. Mitt Romney might come out of wherever he’s been, but the Republican “brand” will be done. Time’s up. Thanks for playing. Couldn’t happen to nicer guys! (The Republican women I know of seem to be sane, but ask Fox News: they’re not real Republicans. They are Republicans In Name Only (RINOs).  

Those people out to prove they are real Republicans are psychopaths. The election season featured a time when Republican candidates for President tried to see who could say the most absurd thing. Then they elected the most absurd among them.

 I don’t  know that they won via chicanery, but things they did didn’t make things better.  Voter suppression that they called “just checking up” — is a non-issue, literally. Voter fraud is almost unheard of in real life America. Then, there was redistricting — making votes count in a certain way that benefited them. Then there was the governor of one of the Carolinas who tried to cripple the winner’s position and was told “no” by the court later. All of this, we’re told, was to stake the claim of White men in the world, and to save the jobs of miners in Kentucky or steel workers in Michigan so they would feel important again.

And sure enough, those White men who want to hold power over others, and the wives who believe they’re right to do so, voted for Donald J. Trump — the P.T. Barnum of Presidents. There may be “a sucker born every moment”, but no one likes to discover they were a sucker. In fact, once the shock wears off, suckers are going to be really, really angry.  That’s why I wouldn’t want to be them in 2018.  The one thing everybody in America wants is to “drain the swamp” of lobbyists, corrupt officials, and nothing happening for the actual people of America. So, did Trump bring in people who understood “the little guy” ? Nope. He brought in people who barely know the little guy exists, except as someone to enrich themselves by. People didn’t like Hillary Clinton taking money from Goldman Sachs, Trump has taken the entire Board of Directors from there. 

People didn’t like Obamacare. Now those people see into the hearts of the people in government who hated it. Turns out it wasn’t just Obamacare they hated. Turns out they also hated the people who got in the way of any profits they could make — people whose life and death decisions would be forced because they had an illness but didn’t have money. Infrastructure still needs to be built. But unless it has a defense department contract attached to it, it’s not going to happen. Coal miners can have their jobs back. They just can’t live off their pay or drink from the water nearby, because money was the issue, not them. 

Steel workers? Well, they could get work if they would be willing to build The Dakota Access Pipeline and destroy Native American lives. Now the pipeline is going to be built, but –guess what? — no American Steel. Money can be made elsewhere. They traded in their morality for a chance at dignity. Now, they have neither. 

Now, we get to the Supreme Court, where Mitch O’Connell and the Republicans changed the rules — while oddly claiming that they wanted respect for morals again. People with morals don’t have to break the rules. Now they have a Supreme Court Justice who was nominated by a con man. Even if Gorsuch gets the job, his judgeship will always be tainted. He got a job through cheating and was nominated by a man who (we’ll find out) was colluding with the Russians. He’ll get the title, but none of the respect. 

When cheating, they ripped off most of America. The only suckers left were the desperate people who voted for Trump. Now they know they are they have been lied to, and taken advantage of. As my wife was told about an ex-boyfriend, “they’ll have to move on. No one else will date them”. 

And finally, none of this will be the Democrats’ fault. The Republicans will have gotten everything they wanted. They got the White House. They got the Senate. They got the House. They got a shot to pick someone for the Supreme Court. They showed their cards and the cards were diseased. The Titanic is sinking with all the “best”, “most deserving” people on it. The people with the best seats on the deck will see the ocean first, just like they wanted. The only people who will be left will be those who thought they got left behind. Bon Voyage! The boat launches in 2018, even sooner if they try hard enough.

Resisting with peace,

John

A Moral Budget

Jim Wallis, the man who gave us Sojourners magazine, was the first I ever heard talk about budgets being “moral documents”. Since the present Congress and President can’t seem to grasp the concept, here’s a template to consider.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 

So moral budget priorities might look like this:

1) Programs that feed the hungry.

2) Clean the water for Flint, Michigan and fully fund the EPA to clean our water.

3) Give refugees a place to live.

4) Create a program to make sure people have appropriate clothing. Maybe pay textile workers a good wage  or keep prices low so people can afford them. 

5) Give everyone healthcare.

6) Reform prisons so that they actually reform people, model mercy and teach restorative justice. 

Further:

Matthew 5:3-10 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven? Full parity for mental health coverage. 

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted? Try not to create more widows and widowers.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth? Support peacemakers. Maybe create a department of conflict resolution or… easier still, fully fund the State Department. 

 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled? Support legal reform, teach civics, support legal aid for all?..

 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy? Already done in all the other things…

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God? Teach children how to not be racist, sexist, homophobic or anything else

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God? Support the UN and maybe The Hague

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven? Release political prisoners or those imprisoned but innocent. Stop punishing the Press for telling the truth.
Does this look like your budget? No? Build one like it. Note that I didn’t mention a political party. I don’t have to. This is what a moral budget might look like, regardless of who builds it. Just try to do that, and I’ll vote for you.

Resisting with peace,
John

Let’s Talk About Treating The Mentally Ill

“Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”… Genesis 4:9

There is a video going around of Congressman Joseph Kennedy III “making GOP lawyers admit that GOP repeal plan will cut off coverage to millions of Americans suffering from mental illness and substance abuse disorders”.  Incredible kudos for Mr. Kennedy… for doing his job.  Still, to my amazement, no other Senator or Representative seems to have noticed. This is typical of American culture and it breaks my heart.

There has always been a tendency among politicians to care least for those who don’t or can’t vote. There has always been a tendency among insurance companies to pay for as little as possible in covering care. This is how they keep costs lower (and profits up). There has always been a tendency to hide your crazy uncle or crazy aunt in their room, away from the rest of the world. None of this is new. The attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act is just the most recent and severe form of atrocity against the mentally ill, and it must stop. Rendering the mentally ill in this country invisible and hopeless is wrong on so many levels that I can’t even begin to count.

The public process began under then-governor Ronald Reagan in California in 1967 under the Lanterman Petris Short Act, which was hailed as a vote for freedom for the mentally ill when it began closing down all of California’s state mental hospitals in favor of “community-based treatment” — mental health clinics, psychiatrists and the like. It was that, as no longer could people be “warehoused” away from the sunshine and civilization, families, etc. In typical Reagan style, it also had the added effect of cutting costs from the budget of the state. No longer would the state have to pay for upkeep of buildings, staff, and so on. The mentally ill could get their treatment without it. It was a win/win situation.  What no one counted on was that many of the families of these patients didn’t want them back. They were embarrassed by the craziness of their relatives already. Some had shipped their wives off to get rid of them permanently, using the system in place at the time. Most people had simply moved on with their lives and simply didn’t know how to have another person in their home.

The simple solution to this was homelessness. The state didn’t have to pay, and families didn’t have to deal with family member they couldn’t handle. Of course, the only people this didn’t work for were the long-term mentally ill, who were now “free” to be invisible and struggling with the challenges that daily life brought. They became “those bums who live in the park or under the bridge” — still not a part of society, but now no longer cared for either. Add to this the men coming back from Vietnam with PTSD and you had an ever expanding population of invisible homeless. Add to that the population of homeless vets who were addicted to opiates — shooting heroin or smoking opium — and there were more invisibles who needed help. With the war on drugs imposed by Nixon, the state took responsibilities for some of them in a different institution — prison.

Those addicted or mentally ill people who weren’t imprisoned began having families. Growing up with genes for mental illness, raised by either addicted or mentally ill parents pretty much guarantees  more mentally ill. The 12-Step movement of the 1980’s became a place where people could cope withe addictive part for nearly free and became a gateway into fuller mental health care with therapists and psychiatrists and the like.We began the age of Big Pharma as new drugs were developed to treat various illnesses  like schizophrenia or mood disorders. Psychiatrists moved toward this medical model and more patients could be seen/helped. Other types of therapists, MFCCs and MFTs and LICSWs could do the talk therapy part and mental health was becoming more common among insurance needs. Care seemed to get better and more available for most people who had short-term needs for therapy. “Medical neccessity” for treatment being the decision making tool here, when you were done with your 12 sessions, you were supposed to be “fixed”. With your meds you could stabilize what ailed you and you were good to go, according to the insurance companies.  They couldn’t be expected to treat people’s illnesses forever. They weren’t set up for that.

What that means is that if your problems lasted more than 12 weeks per year, you were pretty much out of luck with your average insurance company. The only way to get more than that was to get federal disability (a long, drawn out process) or state insurance which only certain doctors took and standards of care could be lower. Interns, for instance, can treat at an agency that takes state insurance.  At least we had a safety net… until we didn’t.

All those “entitlements” that the government and American citizens don’t want to pay for? Disability, welfare, food stamps, etc.? If you already can’t handle stress, and can’t get help to handle stress, wondering where your next meal or your rent is going to come from isn’t going to help. So, less money = more stress = more mental illness.

How do we handle it? We blame them for their poor choices, not ours. The problems with this logic is that some people are simply born predisposed to mental illness and with anything like an overwhelming life, they become mentally ill for life. In addition to that, sometimes things just happen: 9/11, for instance, happened. People got overwhelmed, and needed more therapy than 12 weeks and meds.

Because only bad people take drugs, (see “blame”, above) if people actually needed them, there was a problem. Poor people got theirs on the street, or grew it in their backyard.Many of them went to the alternative to the State Hospital we call “jail”. Rich people got theirs from their psychiatrists. The problem there? There was money to be made off of addictive meds, and Big Pharma reps weren’t telling anyone the truth about it. At first it was valium and xanax for anxiety. Later Oxycontin, which frankly should never have been on the market for general use, was given out like candy for pain. But they couldn’t be addicted (again, see blame, above) because they hadn’t made bad choices. they were only taking their meds as prescribed. When the doctors stopped giving them meds, those people (who couldn’t be addicts, but were)  ended up going to the same dealers for heroin. Enter the opioid crisis and laws to protect the “good people” who were suddenly addicts. Big Pharma had  made their money.

Because Big Pharma had made its money, Big Insurance didn’t want to pay for it. Between Obamacare and Ted Kennedy’s Mental Health Parity law, the government said they had to. So, many of my clients now come to me with $5,000 deductibles, because the insurance doesn’t want to pay, and wants to make something like a profit and they need revenue. Now, people pay for insurance and don’t get any coverage until they spend $5000 (on top of paying for their insurance in the first place! — a reasonable critique of Obamacare, but maybe a better critique of Big Insurance (or Big Pharma…?).  In this case, under Obamacare, fewer and fewer people actually get mental health care because their insurance won’t pay for it.

The only thing worse would be for nobody to have coverage. So that’s what repeal of the ACA means. Fewer and fewer people with mental illness can get treatment or afford their meds or both. Regarding the long-term mentally ill, we have closed down the State Hospitals and replaced them with jails — sometimes “for profit” jails, as though profits haven’t been the problem at any other step along this path.

This is what the situation is now, after all our government policies: We have homeless and jails where we used to have State Mental Hospitals, we have a society addicted to meds — either to cope with the stress of being poor or the privilege of having mental illness and being rich. Insurance is nearly unaffordable for the mentally ill, and thus, treatment is hard to come by. Big Pharma is taking its money and running because we can’t punish  corporations because they would get hurt.

Oh, and the one thing the mentally ill can get more easily? Guns. Congress, in all its collective wisdom, backed by this President, and driven by the NRA, has made it easier for the long-term disabled mentally ill to get guns by repealing common sense gun legislation. Apparently, guns are more important to freedom than mental health is. And tragedy with guns never happens to “good people”, right?

None of this seems to be working. So, what’s the solution?

  1. First and foremost, and foremost, repealing The Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare) is not the answer.
  2. Fixing Obamacare, if that’s possible, is a start.

The rest of it lies in the human heart.

1. We have to realize that there will always be a need for mental health care. Some people, between being born a certain way and having lives that include stress, will become mentally ill for life. There have always been mentally ill people and there always will be. That’s a fact.

2. Stop blaming people for needing help or having mental health issues in the first place. Delaying treatment out of shame only makes things worse because then you have a bigger problem to deal with.

3. We can’t throw them away. They are still people. They have families. They come from somewhere. We are responsible for them. Shirking that responsibility only makes the situation worse for everyone.

4. Out-of-sight, out-of-mind costs money. Treatment in the community costs money. If we want to give people mental health care, either in our community or out of it, it will cost money.

5. Anytime profits get mixed up with care, there will be a problem. The government needs to stop being bought by Big… Pharma, Insurance, Jails, or others which increase the cost of treatment. If you want us to pay less, stop being bought and blaming the victim. 

6.  Reinstate the law that keeps guns from the severely mentally ill. Guns create mental illness in many situations. They certainly don’t cure it.

7. Build houses for the homeless. New studies are showing that a stable roof over their head allows for people to work on their mental health issues.  Addicts and PTSD victims without a place to live seldom get better.

In the end, the only thing that will work is caring enough to help the mentally ill and paying the money to do it.   Treating human beings as the responsibility of the community  — part of the bill for being civilized human beings — is the only way they’ll get care. Not making things worse, while trying to make them better is the answer.  

Still resisting with peace,

 

John

 

 

 

 

 

I Like Women! They’re My Species!

My friend Steve Klass used to say, “I like people! They’re my species!” Women are half of my species and none of my gender. (It may or may not be as simple as that anymore, I know, but you get my drift).

Years ago, at Deering (where every great thing in my life started), there was a workshop, “women’s liberation” and girls could go to it, and maybe guys. I dont remember. It lasted two days. Then there was another workshop, “men’s liberation”. It lasted two days. Of course, the groups combined and had “human liberation”, where each of the first two groups shared their info about how to be free from gender stereotypes. That cemented what I already knew: women can run things. Deering also taught women how to change the oil on a car (Bonnie Aronian’s VW).

Having grown up for much of my childhood raised by a single-parent, my Mom, it would never have occurred to me that women couldn’t do this or that, because she had to … all the time. I understood that part of President Obama’s psyche because of our shared experience. There are many men, and women, who have that same experience and they know better than to think otherwise. 

Given these experiences, the idea that a woman couldn’t do anything simply wouldn’t have occurred to me. What’s weird to me is that so many people think women shouldn’t. I still don’t understand the concept. If a woman can do something, why shouldn’t she? If she has to, she can. Why not let her anyway?

Now, I don’t like all women. I don’t like all of anybody. I don’t like Ann Coulter, for instance. I mostly don’t like Kelly Anne Conway. Didn’t like Margaret Thatcher much, either, or Phyllis Schlafly. I don’t like mean people. From the just snide to the abusive and sociopathic, I don’t like mean people in my species. That includes the half that are women.

Something Kelly Anne said the other day made sense to me. When she was speaking at CPAC , in a part where I could bear to listen without wanting to throw up, she talked about speaking fees and, thinking about  “When Harry Met Sally”, she said about a male colleague, “I’ll have what he’s having!”. 

The idea that women don’t make the same money as men — or don’t have the same worth as men in any way– doesn’t make any sense to me. If they’re going to have the same bills, shouldn’t they have the same pay?  

So, yes, I would call myself a feminist if by that you mean, “they can do anything they want to do” and “they have the same worth that men do”. Beyond that, or different than that, I got nothing in the “feminism” department. Still, That will do me. 

I don’t find it surprising that women can be great. What I do find surprising is that anyone –male or female– can think otherwise. It’s unacceptable to me that anyone could.  

On this International Women’s Day, I hope that we will notice, see, and stand up for all that women do.

Some of my heroines? Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Gerry Claytor, Gloria Steinem, Mary Lou Brewer, Marlo Thomas, all of the women from Deering, my kind and caring clergy colleagues  (for whom this list would take all day), Malala, Joan Baez and Janis Joplin. Of course, my wife and daughters, but also my psychology colleagues, including Liz Solomon Wright and Bobbi Fox, Cathi Chapin-Bishop, Joan of Arc, Carole Fontaine, my sister MIchelle and Bunky, her bandmate, Bev Rheaume… the list could go on all day. A day without these women in the world or in my heart is a tragedy.

Resisting with peace,
John