Citizenship In The Reign Of God

Christ came to church this morning. He looked different than previous pictures I’d seen, but I recognized him. At South Church’s annual Martin Luther King Day service — one of their quarterly series of ecumenical worships between four churches — an old Black man in what amounts to a wheelchair came out and spoke about immigrant children and “dreamers”. He spoke about sharecroppers and Martin Luther King, Jr’s family history. The preacher talked about the police pulling him over in his own life, and he talked about children in his own neighborhood. It was then that I recognized him.

There is a part of Christian theology called “incarnational” theology, and it talks about the outrageous idea that God became incarnate — was put into a human body. Christians believed it was true in Jesus because he had certain characteristics, including a sense of eternity and justice which is different than the world around them, where God’s chosen people were oppressed by the militarized Roman Empire, he told the truth, and his stories connected him with a wide variety of people, among other things.

When Bishop Dr. Allen Wilkins preached yesterday, each of those things were true. His sermon was, as he said, “raw” — off the cuff, with some preparation, but no notes or written text. He also said that he doesn’t like to preach on Martin Luther King Day “because it brings up too many emotions”. His sermon went to a whole bunch of topics, but all of them were in accord with the Spirit of Christ.

His themes: 1) “Bullying is bad”. Sounds sweet enough, doesn’t it? But this was no “after school special” version of an anti-bullying message. Bishop Wilkins connected bullying to economic justice when he said, “There’s the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. The haves bully the have nots”. He connected it to immigrant and children’s rights. Bullying is bad when some people have rights and others don’t. He connected it to racial justice when he spoke about the police pulling him over because he was Black. When the Law treats some people like they are citizens with rights and others as citizens without rights, this, too is bullying. The Bishop believes that bullying , in all its forms, is wrong because God sees us all as citizens of God’s Kingdom. Furthermore, he said, when we see someone being bullied and we have to choose between the the bullies and the bullied, we must always choose to care for the bullied.

2) Truth affects our children. When we speak up in truth about bullying /injustice we see, we teach them that they have the right to be heard, and that the truth is powerful. When we speak the truth in church, we say that God knows the truth, and listens to it when people speak it. The truth is that Martin Luther King’s grandfather was a slave/sharecropper. The truth is that King’s father was a preacher who had it a bit better, and that King himself turned that pulpit into a way to change the world. God shined on all of them, even when society’s bullies didn’t. The truth is that our children are worth protecting.

3) Progress towards all people’s citizenship is possible and we know it because we have experienced it. The Bishop spoke of a White woman who died because her family didn’t want to hear the truth that Blacks have value and rights around the time of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. She was an ally. He continued on with a reminder of the history of our own South Church and its leaders in the struggle for civil rights in New Britain. He said we were allies, and that everyone in church that morning — any of the four churches there — was blessed because of it.

On a more personal note, I am an old preacher whose body has taken some hits and whose body is sore often enough. When the Bishop preached, he reminded me that I, too, still had purpose — that I, too, could speak the truth and stand up to bullies and remind people of Christianity through my own preaching when the Spirit hits. His story could be my story because we both could tell God’s story .

I have to say, though, as I heard that, that it didn’t seem like such a big deal. Ooooh, we let them use our church! We said they were human beings! We thought they should have rights! Of course we did. The church was sitting around empty otherwise. They are human. They should have rights. This is basic humanity and basic Christianity. The amazing thing is that — in this day and time — I guess these basics are radical things. Kindness has power. Truth has power. Doing the right thing has power, and our world is messed up enough that that kind of power is a stark contrast to our world.

Is yesterday’s preacher, Bishop Watkins, Jesus the Christ? No. He himself would tell you that. But as sure as we are that God’s spirit could miraculously fit in Jesus’ body, we can be sure that Jesus’ spirit could miraculously fit into the bishop’s body. The incarnation of Jesus is recognizable all of the time in the human beings around us, if we open our eyes to see it. They don’t need to be preachers, but in this case, it was.

Resisting with Peace,

John

New Year’s Resolution 2020: Let’s Not Worship Ignorance

For years now, we’ve been on a kick that we’ve seen before. The kick was dangerous before and gotten more dangerous as time has gone by. In the 1960s, one of Martin Luther King’s teachers at Boston University School of Theology wrote a book called The Religious Revolt Against Reason”. In 2019, we pushed the idea to its limits, and we will pay for it for years to come.

So, for 2020, here’s the resolution I hope we’ll all follow: In 2020, let’s not be stupid. Let’s try to not be stupid. Let’s not say “stupid is smart”.

In 2020, let’s believe our own eyes and ears. Let’s see what is , whether we like what we see or not, and whether our leaders like it or not.

In 2020, let’s not hate anyone we don’t know. Let’s not avoid the gifts people bring to our lives because they look differently than we do. Let’s not attack anyone because they are different than us. Let’s not jail anyone because they are different than us. Let’s not hurt anyone if possible. Let’s not kill anyone because they are different than us.

In 2020, let’s believe in facts. Let’s believe in science. Let’s believe in climate science. Let’s believe in science in general. Let’s even teach science. Let’s expect our children to learn science. Let’s never have a government official who says, “I’m not a scientist” and is fine with that. Let’s never have a leader who doesn’t listen to scientists.

Let’s not blame “the elites” in 2020, if — by elites, we mean intellectuals. Let’s use our emotions, but with our brains attached. Blaming smart people is usually because we’re ashamed of our own lack of smarts. The answer is not for “them” to be less smart. It’s for “us” to try and be smarter.

Let’s try to be logical in 2020. Let’s try to be kind. Fairly simple rule here: if you don’t think you would like it done to you, don’t do it to someone else. If something is immoral, consider it to be illegal.

We’ve been plenty stupid in 2019. For 2020, let’s do something different. Let’s have a future.

Resisting with Peace,

John

The Truth Before The Impeachment.

I was just on Twitter and it’s getting thick over there. Both to keep my head clear and remind others what it used to be like, I thought I’d write this down.

There are 3 co-equal branches of government: 1) The Executive 2) The Legislative and 3) The Judicial. By “co-equal”, it means each keeps the other from overshooting their rightful power. The Court and The congress can check the President. Congress and the President pick judges. The President can over-ride a veto. Congress can impeach the President. It’s all there in the Constitution. It’s not a glitch. It’s not a way to have a coup. It’s the way it was designed. If a President gets unethical, or breaks the law, the only consequence Congress has for the President is impeachment and possible removal from office.

Though apparently the Attorney General is a part of the Executive Branch of government, they are supposed to be independent from the President’s office, so that the President can’t punish people they don’t like with the law enforcement community. In short, the President doesn’t get an enforcer.

Donald Trump has been lying since the day of his inaugural. Remember Sean Spicer and “the biggest inauguration EVER? That was day one. People have been mad at Trump since the day he was in office? Yes, they have. He’s been lying to people (being unethical. Did you raise your kids to lie? No? Why? Because it’s immoral/unethical. If it’s immoral or unethical for you, it’s immoral or unethical for the President.

Donald Trump admitted on live television, shortly thereafter, that he fired James Comey because Comey was investigating him in “the Russia thing”. Remember Lester Holt’s interview? I’m sure it’s online somewhere. After being told that taking information from foreigners about his political opponents was wrong, he told George Stephanopolis that he would do it again. When caught doing it again in Ukraine, he said publicly that China should do the same. In the first case, he obstructed justice. Do you and I get to fire the police for a crime we’ve committed ? No. Neither does the President. The second is intending to willfully break the law. If you or I have been told that robbing banks is against the law, and we say we’re going to do it anyway, especially if the bank later gets robbed, can we expect to not at least be investigated? No? Neither can the President. The third is asking another country to look for dirt on his opponent, which he has been castigated twice before for. If you or I are accused of doing something, say we’d do it again, and then do it in public yet again, would we go to jail, or lose our jobs? Yes, we would. So should the President.

If you or I do something wrong, it’s bad, if a leader of a country does that thing, it’s even more wrong. I can mess up five or ten people’s lives if I do something wrong. The President can mess up five or ten million lives if he does something wrong.

Oh, and children are in cages, separated from their parents in various places across the country. This is a crime to anyone with a conscience. International courts think this a crime. Would a Trump like having Ivanka put in jail for wanting to live freely? If he wouldn’t, then he shouldn’t do it to others, and he knows it’s wrong.

Returning to this President’s impeachment, those who will be jurors in a Senate trial, if there is one, are supposed to swear to apply the law impartially. Anyone, from either side, who says in advance how they will vote cannot take that oath in any meaningful way. They would be lying. If Mitch McConnell or Lindsay Graham or any other Senator says in advance what their vote will be should not be able to take part in the trial in any way.

To sum up:

1) This President has lied since he got into office.

2) He has obstructed justice.

3) He has asked our enemies to help him get elected, publicly and after being told not to publicly.

All Republicans so far want you to believe that the President isn’t corrupt, that he can be trusted, and — in fact — is a crusader against corruption. He can not have done any or all three of the things listed above and be innocent. Those things are mutually exclusive. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you.

Hunter Biden is not being impeached. Joe Biden is not being impeached. Their guilt or innocence is not the issue here. If they did something wrong, then they did something wrong and there ought to be penalties for that. That’s another matter. For anyone in the impeachment hearings or trial to talk about them at all isn’t right and should have no bearing on the case.

Last and final point: If you or I commit a crime, can we defend ourselves by saying “the guy down the street did it, too!” Does that matter? If someone else commits a crime that you committed, does it suddenly become less wrong? No, it does not.

I’m writing this down on December 15, 2019 in case anyone needs a reminder post-impeachment, whatever happens. And I’m also …

Resisting in Peace,

John Madsen-Bibeau

Do You Want My Help Or Not?

I’ve had this “button” for years. It’s always driven me nuts, and it continues to this day. I hated it when I used to hear, “It’s a ________ thing. You wouldn’t understand”. I still hate it, but now I mostly hear it from liberals and members of “the oppressed” (non-White, non-male, not Cis-gendered. In other words, people aren’t like me and who don’t know me. The implication is that I can’t understand and I don’t want to. I believe with all my heart and soul that both of those things are false. This has many levels to it, both personal and professional.

I consider myself a “Christian” — a follower of Jesus— first and foremost. I may be other things as well, but all of them, as I understand it, are supposed to be subsumed by that particular characteristic. I’m one of those people who hears “I don’t see color” and translates it in my head to “I’m not supposed to see color”, trying to give people the benefit of the doubt. Even as I say that, I can picture the eye rolls in response. Oh, well.

And why is it that if I say “I don’t see gender” no one gets offended? Because no one does say it? Well, I think everyone should. If a woman wants to be a pastor, I think “Should that person be a pastor?” There are more than enough people saying “No”, like they are God, and it’s their place to judge. And what if I’m working with a poor person? Should I say to them, “I’m not poor, therefore I can’t understand or help you? Of course not! In fact, I think that’s at least partially what’s wrong with society — the rich don’t know the poor and say things “they need to pull themselves up by the bootstraps they don’t have”. Is not helping them helping them? If so, only indirectly. They can develop a sense of identity, but they’re more likely to do so if they don’t have to worry about dying of starvation or the elements first.

One of the further challenges faced by those who work with categories/demographics in determining identity is that people are more complex than that. One of the challenges in the town I live in is that many children have mixed race parents. When the town is counting diversity, we don’t have a box for that. Why? What does it mean. What’s an identity? It’s what ever people say they identify with.

If someone needs support and I don’t give it, that leaves the person who needs help either a) not getting any help or b) getting help from someone else who claims my religion but is a jerk or c) someone who claims to not believe. If I’m supposed to be speaking up for/aligning with the narrative of “help = follower of Christ”, then that’s my job. If I don’t do it, I’m not doing what God wants. It is as simple as that.

Furthermore, I’m supposed to be kind to people that are not like me and/or people I don’t even like. That means anyone. LGBTQ+? Yup. Trans? Yup. Black, White, Red, Yellow, Brown? Yup. Crazy? yup. Sane? Yup. Poor? Yup. So, if you tell me I can’t be your ally, I disagree. If you tell me that I don’t want to be, again, I respectfully disagree, because I know me. If you tell me that you don’t want my help, then I must respectfully agree. You know what you need. I don’t.

In no place in the Bible do I remember Jesus telling the parable of the Polite Liberal Who Refused To Help. Instead , we see the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Two religious people refuse to help their “neighbor” and one of questionable ethics for the time does. Who are we supposed to be like? The one who helps. The one who acts out their faith, rather than simply proclaiming that they have it.

In fact, I don’t know of any parable where Jesus refused to help others — any others. There’s an odd argument with a woman but, even there, Jesus capitulates, and helps her. As I understand it, the apex and core of my religion is this: If you ask for help, I’m supposed to give it. It’s very simple. If I see a problem, I’m supposed to ask if that person needs help. If they say “no”, that’s fine. I did my job. If they say “yes”, I’m supposed to help them.

THE SUPREMACY ARGUMENT

In more modern culture, in the place where I have most felt my faith, Bill Withers sang, or we campers sang, ” Please swallow your pride
If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill those of your needs
That you won’t let show. You just call on me brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you’ll understand
We all need somebody to lean on”

If I help you, I’m not saying I’m better than you. I’m saying that you need help now. At some point, I’m going to need help, too. My aim is mutuality. And if you can’t do that now or in my way, so what? Everybody has something they can do, something they know, that I can’t or don’t. I will benefit from you in some way, at some time. I’m still supposed to help you when I can. In the communes friends used to live in during college, there was one pickup truck. It was important that someone have one, but it didn’t make them more important than anyone else. There might also be one cook, or one dog to play with or one person who could play guitar, or one with knowledge about farming. 

I don’t assume that my culture is better than others I know. In fact, there are parts of many cultures other than mine that I like better than my own. I’m more familiar with mine. In that sense, it might be more “normative” but that doesn’t mean I like it. If you think I’m claiming that I’m better than you, — that I have or want supremacy — then that’s on you. I don’t think that, so I don’t want you to think that. We’re all not God and we’re all talented in something unique.

THE PERFECTION ARGUMENT
One of the implied things in identity politics is that people should only work with their own kind. More nicely stated, people who understand a culture do the best work with that culture.  I agree, in theory. In fact, I agree in reality, most of the time. But what if there’s no one “of their kind” to work with them? Am I not supposed to help them? Even assuming I’ll do a less than good job, aren’t they somewhat better off than they were if I help? If I waited until I was exactly what they needed, I’d work a lot less, maybe not at all.

Then there’s the idea that people of any demographic can be jerks. Just because someone fits one demographic for understanding, doesn’t mean that they have the one that counts.

Will I know everything I need to know  about a particular person? No. One of the prime beliefs I bring to therapy, for instance, is that I only know the part of you that you choose to reveal. Another is that it’s my job to figure out as much as I can and check in with you to see if I’ve got it right.

OTHER SPECTRUMS OF CARE

Engage, watch/ listen, disengage or vice-versa

If there’s a group that I want to help or be a part of, I have come to understand that they may not trust me at first. Oppression is all around us, and many people are more abused more frequently than others. If you don’t trust me, but you think you might want to, I can wait. I can watch and listen to see how it all works. Under no circumstances, though, am I to take advantage of your trust. I try to ascertain where you’re at, and then I approach and wait for more input.

Good at it, bad at it

There are some populations that I just cannot work with. People with OCD, for instance, drive me up a wall. People who like hurting others? I don’t know what to do with them. Actions, I don’t have to like. Identity, I’m supposed to, because your identity is “human” and/or “created by God”. That said, even I have my triggers: a person might look like someone who hurt me once. As I understand it, the goal there is to get over myself. If I can’t do it right now, it’s my job to let you know that and work towards getting over my issue. If that’s the best I can do, then it’s the best I can do.

 

 

So, here are my choices as a Christian: 1) help and be helpful or 2) don’t help and be a jerk. I also have the choice to 1) be an ally, 2) be an enemy, or 3) not be in relation to you. As a Christian, I’m really only allowed numbers 1 and 3. If I feel myself becoming your enemy, it’s my job to disengage before it gets violent: “First, do no harm”.

So, that’s my “button”: If you want my help, don’t tell me I don’t want to, or that I can’t. If you don’t want my help, I’m ok with that. There’s plenty of other stuff to do and other people who need my help. Just don’t tell me I’m bad for wanting to.

Resisting With Peace,

John

R.I.P. Elijah Cummings

For the last few years, it has become clear that there are different types of political leaders. There are those who relish power. There are those who enjoy the money that comes along with the job. There are those who are good at politics, using words and deals and polls to get what they want. There are those who have the job as leader but no one knows how or why. Lately, we have seen the absurdist leader — the one who says “up is down” and the sky is below our feet. There are idealists and skeptics and those who simply want to burn the place down. Then, there are the great ones. Elijah Cummings was a great one.

I’ve been listening to the news this morning and — to a person — those who remembered Cummings said his death is not just a loss to his party and Baltimore which he represented and our Congress, it is a loss for the whole country. Mr. Cummings transcended politics while, oddly, living politics. How did he do this? By serving a higher goal, a higher purpose than politics. Beyond politics, there were two things that guided his career: Service and Representation of others.

I am sure that he could have chosen other fields where he represented groups of people — unions or corporations or not-for-profits. I know for a fact that there are millions of ways to serve or help others. Politics was the field which Cummings played on, and he played it well. But it was only rules and a structure on which to do the work he wanted. In others words, Elijah Cummings became good at politics so that he could use politics for good.

I also suspect that he was considered “great” because he tried to be simply good. In a world where “show” and popularity is what’s important, Cummings was quietly good to other people because they were people. He lived out Jesus’ injunction to not put on a public show while doing good works. This is how, as a Black Democrat, he is beloved and noted by White Republicans as well. He saw them all as Americans, and worthy of his time.

Because he had done this with them, he could make a case that he should also be able to bring his constituents to the table as they were also Americans. If he could see the humanity in them, they should be able to see the humanity in those in Baltimore. This understanding is why so many people were so offended by Trump’s attacks on Cummings this last year. He had been fair to them, he saw their ethics and their humanity. An attack on him was an attack on them and the belief in goodness in general.

I don’t know much about his religious life, but I assume that his church was important to him, because he acted in ways consistent with the words of Jesus, as did so many other leaders of his time. One of the best experiences I have had at a speech was listening to Dick Gregory, a comedian who was part of Martin Luther King’s close associates. Gregory also wrote an incredible commentary on the Bible I would later learn. But that day, at a protest of nuclear power, it became clear that Gregory had soul and was formidable all on his own. I remember thinking that King’s power must have been powerfully scary when marching with Dick Gregory, Andrew Young, and Jesse Jackson with him. The holiness felt with each of them individually multiplied exponentially when they were together. I would add Elijah Cummings to that group of men. Their vision of an honest love for humanity came from some place deep within them all.

I grieve personally because of the loss of such a soulful man of a certain generation to which I belong. There is no doubt where he is tonight: spending the rest of his life with the saints who have gone on before. Their gain is our loss. May we pick up the mantle with what’s left of our own lives.

Resisting with Peace,

John

Willing Sacrifices vs. Willing TO Sacrifice…

Tonight, as the Kurds are left to twist in the wind and Turkey attacks, and as a friend of mine wrote a lovely poem about ministry, I struggle with my pacifism, sort of. I find myself thinking, “What kind of person willingly lets someone get butchered, especially when that person or group has been a good friend and a strong supporter?”. It’s almost a trick question as it is one of those “prove you’re a conscientious objector/real pacifist” questions the military asks to make you go into the service.

And yet, I remain a justice-oriented pacifist, following in the ways of Jesus and St. Francis, Gandhi and Dr. King. There are those who are cowards, and passive evildoers, and then there are pacifists. As I work with more and more traumatized clients, I realize that one can be both a Christian and an apparent coward. The disciples, when Jesus died on the cross, willingly let the Christ get butchered, not out of any good motives, but simply out of fear and a sense of powerlessness before the Romans and the crowd. Jesus, at the same time, willingly died for them despite a knowledge of his power, while being his best self.

This is the difference between what’s happening now in Syria and what should be happening, between Donald Trump’s actions and Jesus’. We should be willing to protect others. In doing that, if we lose our own lives for what we believe in, well, that’s okay — not great, mind you, but ok. For Christians, it doesn’t end there, and our love for humanity and God’s love for us remain for eternity.

For soldiers, I don’t know anymore. I know that I cannot kill, and that the judgement was never mine to make, but I am more aware of parallels between active pacifism and active soldiering. I suppose it depends on what you think soldiers do. Do they protect or do they attack? Do the defend or do they kill? There are some of both out there, but most people that I know who end up being soldiers plan to protect and defend, and are mentally destroyed when they think (or find) that their government wants them to attack and kill.

In therapy, I try to teach people to live in reality and make the best choices under the circumstances that they can. The reality tonight is that soldiers have to watch as their compatriots of another nationality die, because that’s what they have been ordered to do. Nothing about the decision to stop defending the Kurds seems in any way courageous or moral. It seems like cowardice or active evil. It is a horrendous situation for all involved, with everyone suffering but the person who made the decision.

Trump will not be traumatized by this situation, because it doesn’t affect his life and he doesn’t feel powerless. That puts the disciples who actually followed Jesus far above this man who is falsely believed to be God by his followers. Trump is abusive. They were not. The Christian’s life is joyous but acknowledges pain and sometimes agony on the way. It doesn’t deny reality, It tries to rise above the evil and choose for the good despite it.

Sometimes, death simply can’t be avoided. For us, it’s just not permanent.

The powerful are supposed to understand that, and not inflict it on others. In short, the powerful should be willing to sacrifice– themselves, not others. That is where this particular President has missed the moral of the story. But then, I hear he doesn’t read, either.

Resisting with Peace,

John

A White Guy Looks At Racism, Again…

I have spent the day hearing news report after news report saying that Donald Trump is a racist. Even the people at FOX News seem to agree, Mick Mulvaney notwithstanding. At this point, no one believes that Trump isn’t racist, that his tweets aren’t racist, that his policies aren’t racist. Even those people who go on the Sunday shows to defend him really can’t. So, there it is: no more doubting. No more defending, no more believing B.S. No more trying to figure out what he meant. Trump is a racist. Period. Let’s waste no more time with the craziness, or the intent questions, or whatever other guesses we might have. He is a racist. He means to be a racist. He will be a racist unless something changes. He would have to change because he present state is… racist.  Now the question comes: What are we going to do about it?

I’ve been thinking about it a lot and this is what I have come up with. Donald Trump is a hateful man. He hates cities, he hates children, he hates immigrants, he hates people in the military who are trans, he hates Muslims. He hates all kinds of people that decent people love. Who does he care about? Himself. We can all spend time defending the people that we love and their issues. He has a shorter list, and that makes it easier for him, so I see no solution. I used to believe in impeachment and the rule of law, and those are fine choices, if we choose to, and can, use them.  Again, he hates the law. we have to defend it.  His task is easier.  Short of his death, I don’t see him leaving office. Hating him seems to be an option… except it’s not. Becoming hateful ourselves just means more hate in the world. Losing our own souls isn’t worth the effort.

Now, defending good people, that’s a different story. That we can all do. By “good”, I’m going to cheat here a little bit.  By good, I’m going to mean, “anyone who hasn’t given me reason to dislike them”. That means anybody I don’t know, and a whole bunch of people I do.  You can’t pick on people I love, or care about, or don’t even know simply because you don’t like the color of their skin. Doing that is racist, judgemental, and dumb — all things not to be.

Now, here’s where it gets weird… There’s a Twitter hashtag going around, #AnotherWhitePersonAgainstRacism. Blowing my own horn is seen, in my culture (Yankee New England White culture), as bragging. I haven’t used the Hashtag yet because 1) I don’t think hashtags do much and 2) I don’t like to brag.

I want to be another White person against racism. I don’t want to say it. I don’t really care if my White, liberal friends think I am or I’m not. What I do care about is that my Black friends know and believe that I am a White person against racism. If I’m not doing what it takes to be considered a White person against racism, then it doesn’t  matter what I say. If it’s not apparent already, then I’m not who I want to be. In the same way, if you can’t tell by my actions that I’m a Christian, there’s no point in saying it. With each person from each group, I want to genuinely care and act like you matter, no matter what category you represent (unless its intolerance or bigotry).

But there’s a problem with the way I like to do things. Given the way the world is right now, especially in America, if I don’t say it, people could confuse that with my agreeing with racism. I want the entire world to know that am against racism. So, I’ll say it to anyone who I see: I hate racism. I think it’s demeaning to human beings that I care about. I think it doesn’t allow them to be their best selves, or us to see their best selves. Because of that, it just seems dumb, as well as unethical and wrong and not what God wants from us.

NOW, HERE’S THE PART WHERE I ADDRESS WHITE FOLKS… (not snarky, I promise)

Lately, the words have changed. Instead of talking about “racism”, there’s a lot of talk about “White Privilege“. Before anybody gets their knickers in a twit, let me explain that it’s not meant to hurt or deny anyone’s pain. White folk have pain. Lots of folks suffer injustice and problems of all sorts. Talking about privilege means this:

If you go to buy a house, and you’re not steered away from the one you want because of your skin color, you have privilege. If they’ll only sell you a home in a certain zip code, you don’t.

If people don’t fear you because of your skin color, you have privilege. If people do fear you, you don’t.

If people let you dine in any restaurant you want and the waiter doesn’t look at you funny when you come in, you have privilege. If they won’t, just as a general rule, you don’t.

If police can’t kill you and say they were afraid of you, even without a gun, you have privilege. If police can kill you and suffer no consequences, you don’t.

If companies won’t even consider putting toxins in your neighborhood, you have privilege. If companies will put the most heinous and toxic crap in your neighborhood without even thinking about it and then say your IQ suffers naturally, you don’t.

I have privilege in all of those same ways. Our Black brothers and sisters don’t. If you didn’t know, it’s not your fault. Now that you do, try not to be offended when they say you do. I have always said the problem isn’t that we have privilege (that’s the way life is supposed to be). The problem is that they don’t.

I hope everybody’s clearer now.

 

Resisting with Peace,

 

John

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Trump Means

When all is said and done, some good may come out of this administration, but only as a by-product and only if we live long enough to learn the lessons, of course. It seems to me that there are two lessons here: one factual, and one moral.

The first one, pointed out by the great George Carlin, is economic : there is an “owner” class. If we look at the man himself, and his cabinet and some of Congress as well, you see no one who looks like you. The chairman of Trump, Inc has the chairman of Exxon Mobil as his Secretary of State, he has a billionaire real-estate developer as a son-in-law. He is friends with the CEO of Aetna, who made individually 46 million dollars while withdrawing his company (or threatening to, I can’t remember) from Obamacare. He has a Secretary of Education from an unimaginably wealth family, and a brother who made a “killing” literally and figuratively by founding Blackwater, the “defense contractor” (read ‘mercenary’). Tom Price has benefited from Big Pharma in some incredible amount.  Even Ben Carson, I bet, has made more money than most of us can imagine, but he’s probably the least wealthy among them. On the Russian side, there is Putin and his lot — Putin possibly being the “richest man in the world”, according to Rachael Maddow. On his staff are people — while supposedly making a government pension —  who own Chalets and yachts all over the world. The man from Aetna and the Putin staff are the same type of people: decrying the national debt and the failing economy while they make billions by causing that debt and bad economy. If the economy is doing well enough that you can make $46million, and your salary could pay for health insurance for more than 2000 families at $15,000 per year, the problem isn’t saving money and getting ahead, which most folks are told. It’s not even doctors or nurses asking for too much money which is the more “in-depth analysis” version of this. It’s that one man has 8,000 times the money he needs. In Russia, the economy suffers because there’s not enough money to build things for The People who are all supposed to be equal. Companies are taken over by the the government all the time, and yet, amazingly the government has no money. Two systems, same problem.

Remember when Mitt Romney believed it was fair that he paid no federal taxes because he was only taking what was legally allowed and “everybody should do that”? Remember during the Obama administration, when people noticed that most elected people were millionaires and/or lawyers, while they have free healthcare and pension for life for just serving one term? There’s a connection between all of this. The connection is that some people who make decisions for the rest of us also make make policies which benefit themselves financially — and they don’t believe in a limit to their wealth. Remember the old “Military-industrial complex”? Now it’s the military-financial-industrial complex — what Carlin called the “owner class. Their way of living and being, under Trump, is now public: out there for all to see. Now, the rules don’t apply to them because they’re in politics. Before, the rules didn’t apply to them because they had money. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss, but now they’re doing it in the light of day. That’s the factual piece. 

The moral piece is this: there isn’t anything inherently bad about money. In the old days, there was a sense of “nobless obliege” which is the obligation of the rich to give back to society that they had taken from. No matter how rich you were, you were a part of society. You were connected morally to “the great unwashed” outside your door because of faith and/or The Rules of Good Society, the way Old Money largely still acts today. But now, the point of wealth is to not be connected to The Rules or each other. As long as money is used to untether you from society, there will be problems. 

The man who owns Chobani is taking the opposite tack. The more he makes, the more he shares. He has human connections to his community. Work satisfaction is high. The community does well and everybody does better as the company grows. At the same time, the company grows because everybody does better! There was a factory owner in Lynn, Massachusetts who paid his employees when the factory burned down, because of his wealth (he could) and because of his connection to his workers and his community (he wanted to). 

Owners with class have no interest in being in the Owner Class, because of their values. Ben and Jerry, media darlings that they are, and the owner of Starbucks are owners of a corporation, not owners of people. They are people first, at once constrained by their communities and welcomed in it. The type of people closest to Trump have always existed. Maybe now, for the first time ever, we get to see what they look like and how they operate.

Resisting with peace,
John

Decriminalize Poverty!

Today, I saw a news article that said the administration was going to try to cut 3.1 million people’s Food Stamps. The idea, said the man who proposed it, is that only the truly needy can get them. This may well be the final battle in the war on the poor. There will be casualties.

For at least 40 years,the poor have gotten poorer, and worked harder to stay poor than in any time I can remember. Years ago, I had a client whose children were in DCYF custody because she had 3 or 4 children and she couldn’t afford them. She couldn’t afford to feed them. She couldn’t afford to clothe them. What money she had was taken by the drunken father of her children.

Could she work? Not and raise her children in the poorest section of a working class town. The neighborhood she could afford wasn’t safe, so she didn’t want to leave them alone. She had a car, but it didn’t pass inspection, so the police ticketed it. She couldn’t afford to pay the ticket, so it put her into debt. Down from a zero net worth to less than that. Another resource gone. If she drove it, they’d take it, impound it, and she’d be further in debt.

Some of her children tried to feed the family by getting into the local industry — drug dealing. That brought the police to her door and DCYF took her children. I remember saying in a conversation with the social worker that “poverty wasn’t against the law — yet.”

While her case sounds harsh, any other person in her neighborhood could easily be in the same predicament. That case was 20 years ago.

Recently , I had a similar case: this time involving 3 different medically children and a single mother. In order to make ends meet, she filled out the forms for renewing their food stamps. A definition was changed on the form and she was disqualified from getting Food Stamps for 60 days until they processed her brand new renewal!

That’s the legal/policy part of this story. Somewhere in Washington, some policy-maker thinks this is a great idea, consistent with their philosophical viewpoint. Let me suggest that that policy-maker has never been poor. If they had, this would not be happening.

Even budget-wise, they are only seeing the smaller picture, if that much. Here’s why:

I have seen this client for more than two years now. She has made extraordinary progress which has allowed her to stay sane enough to raise her children, despite the hardships. She simply refuses to go down. And yet, when she lost her food stamps, she melted down for the day, because she couldn’t feed her kids and she couldn’t work harder and now what was she going to do? Financial stress is a killer. It just is, especially if you’re trying to live within the law. So, for this simple policy change, the government saved a few hundred dollars not feeding her children. They lost money paying for her mental health. They could easily have lost money paying the police to come to her house if she lost her temper. They could further lose money paying for, housing, and paying DCYF staff to deal with her case. And if, as many do, she had chosen illegal ways to make money, the state and the feds would have paid for all of her time in the justice system. I don’t know prices, but I could easily see those services costing thousands of dollars by “saving” a few hundred.

None of that economic stuff is the point, though. This simple policy change could have — and for a day — did destroy lives. This woman was frozen in fear, anxiety and grief, so her mothering skills were down that day. If she wasn’t the solid person she was, her life, and those of her children would have been destroyed. That is the tragedy here.

What the government is now proposing will guarantee that same outcome, for a longer period of time. People’s lives will be destroyed. It is as simple as that.

Of course, the other option is to ask the rich to pay their fair share so that people who can’t lose a dollar, or make a mistake, or have misfortune dealt to them one more time, can have something that looks like a life. There is a distinct connection between poverty criminality. If people can’t survive legally and don’t have other legitimate ways of paying for things, they will seek illegitimate ways of doing so. We can avoid much chaos, much violence, much mental health care if we let people have enough to eat, and enough money to buy the things they need.

When we criminalize poverty, we create desperation, we create havoc and instability in an already unstable world. In short, we create criminals.

When we are compassionate towards those whom life kicks —often and hard — we bring some stability to our society, and create people who can add to the world, willingly and with joy.

The choice is ours. Let us choose wisely for all of us.

Resisting with Peace,

John

The ERA … because “Duh!”

I watched a snippet of Patricia Arquette testing before Congress about the Equal Rights Amendment. In that minute-and-a-half, she said:

I come here not as a constitutional lawyer but as a citizen. As an American woman to advocate for what I feel is critical for our. I come with good will and the faith that when we examine the reality of American women today and remember the historic injustices women have faced in our country, we will all feel compelled to do what we must to ensure that women are afforded every legal right and equal protection in our country. Women have waited for 232 years to be enshrined as full and equal citizens – Why? Because in 1787 Women were left out of the Constitution – intentionally.

While the Constitution says nothing about deadlines for amendments, Congress put a deadline on the Equal Rights Amendment when it was passed in 1972.

I am here to appeal to you to remove the 1982 deadline placed by Congress on ratification of the ERA.

In those few seconds, she explained something I’ve never understood before: what happened to the ERA.

According to The Hill magazine/newspaper “It was the first congressional hearing on the Equal Rights Amendment in 36 years.

Congress passed the amendment in 1972, but it failed to be ratified by enough states before a March 1979 deadline.

I thought the Amendment had died a natural death, that it stalled because people just didn’t want it anymore. I hadn’t known that there was a deadline, as I had never heard of a deadline on an Amendment. I still don’t know if other Amendments have “sell by” dates, but an idea whose time has come doesn’t stop coming on its own. If Amendments are relatively permanent after the vote, shouldn’t they be permanently open for debate, once the process has started? And — as I suspect — this Amendment is somehow different, why is it different?

One of the reasons I write about racism and rights is because I like to make sure we’ve finished old issues before I move on to “the new issue”. It became apparent years ago that the rights of African-Americans — despite all of Dr. King’s work and a voting rights act in 1964 — were no longer of interest to people in power. In fact, the government in the 1980’s was trying to take away those gains that were a part of our democracy’s best ideas.

The issue of equal rights for women is the same thing, it seems to me. Sexism, and the belief that some people are inherently of less worthy of rights — in this case, women– is not an issue we have conquered yet. Just as I will believe in, and fight for, equal rights for my Black brothers and sisters to my dying day, so I will believe in, and fight for, women being seen as equal until I die.

We cannot celebrate as a society unless we take everyone in the democracy car. We cannot claim that America is the Land of the Free if everyone isn’t free. Democracy requires as many voices to be heard as possible. Cutting off half the population doesn’t do that. We can make better choices when we have more information. We get more information by asking for/welcoming more opinions.

I keep hearing that American companies want and need more highly trained workers. If America offers full rights according to the law, we would have an influx of educated women from around the world coming to our shores. Women would leave Saudi Arabia and never go back. Women would leave any oppressive regime — Afghanistan, Iraq, countries plagued by Boko Haram — and so many other countries, if we offered a beacon for them to come here.

And, of course, women here would have all their rights as well, and presumably be happier for it. We would be a beacon, but we would also have the light for ourselves. No one loses when more voices are heard.

Now, what if individual women don’t want to have equal rights? I know that may seem absurd or silly, but Phyllis Schafly didn’t want the ERA. Neither did my mother. She used to say, “I’m already equal with men. I don’t need a law to tell me that!”. There are, I assume, many “traditional” women in culture who — for whatever reasons — like patriarchy, like the traditional roles, like being stay-home mothers, like making fewer decisions, and so on.

There’s a reason that there are conservative women and, though I don’t understand it, it is simply true that they exist. So what about them?

Rights are like credit — you can have it and never use it. It’s still good to know it’s there. But for all the women who want to do new things, who want to be something other than traditional roles, legal equality is necessary to get things done. It used to be that women couldn’t get a loan without their husband’s signature. I once knew a man who didn’t let his wife drive and when he was dying, he realized that he had crippled her ability to cope without him. It used to be that husbands could have their wives put away at an insane asylum if they disagreed. It used to be that women had no rights over their bodies. If they didn’t want to have sex, the law said they had to anyway. If a husband got s job in another city, of course “the little miss” was going. If a woman wanted to keep her family name alive, too bad if she got married. In all of this, I have never understood how you could hurt someone that you love, so equality with a spouse, or at least considering them in decision making, was simply a matter of fact. I suppose that it’s that way for most men I know.

There are some who would argue against the ERA using the Bible, and it is their right to believe what they want. They can quote the Apostle Paul until they’re blue in the face for all I care. I believe that everything God created has value, and all humans are equal in the eyes of God. Why would I think this? God gave women brains. God must want them to use them. If God values them, I should. Regarding women clergy: if God decides that a woman is called to ministry, and all appearances say that, who am I to say otherwise? Ordain women or stop baptizing them.

It is the same in any field. We ask “Is the world ready for a woman in this position or that? Can a woman be ….., fill in the blank)?”. The answer should be, “I don’t know. Let’s see.” There are those who say, “Is America ready for a woman President? They said the same about a Black President and Obama proved he was more than up to the job. Whether we are ready or not, they are.

Finally, on the human level, I have two daughters. I never want to say to them “you can’t do that because you’re a girl or woman”. I never want to hear anyone else say it to them either. I want them to dream and believe in themselves and all of their possibilities. Reality will wear out their inappropriate dreams as life goes by. That’s enough. Woe to those who would put stumbling blocks in front of my daughters. Let ‘Em try! Right is right, and, as long as I’m alive, I will believe in, and fight for, what’s right.

Making a law — an Amendment to our Constitution– that states that women are of equal value in the eyes of the law is simply stating what is. There is still plenty of freedom within the law, and democracy is served better by valuing the voices of all its people. Let’s have an ERA and let’s have it now.

Resisting in Peace,

John