Division and What To Do About It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, that’s my proposal.

Peace,

 

John

 

 

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“Craftspersonship” — for Michelle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace,

 

John

 

 

 

Kesha and “The Girl In The Book”

My daughters often listen to music that I can’t imagine listening to, sometimes with lyrics I can’t imagine or don’t approve of, but — after sharing my distaste (and I always do),  their rolling their eyes — they continue to listen to it. I have parented, they have been kids, and it’s their music. I trust them to make their own decisions.

For example,

Let’s make the most of the night like we’re gonna die

Young hunks, taking shots
Stripping down to dirty socks
Music up, gettin’ hot
Kiss me, give me all you’ve got
It’s pretty obvious that you’ve got a crush (you know)
That magic in your pants, it’s making me blush (for sure)

Looking for some trouble tonight (yeah)
Take my hand I’ll show you the wild side
Like it’s the last night of our lives (uh huh)
We’ll keep dancing till we die (till we die)

The music seems like “rape culture” to me. This week I learned why. It is.
Ke$ha as she’s known, has had a contract with her record label, a part of Sony records. She wanted “out” of the contract, not because she wanted more money or didn’t sell enough records with Sony. She wanted out because her producer, according to her, had been sexually abusing her and she no longer wanted to have that happen at work. This is not the portrait of a rich brat wanting more. This is a portrait of a victim fighting back. The court said no, she couldn’t get out of her contract. (They didn’t rule that her reason was true, so that may be part of it), but it came down to “it’s a business decision” according to the court, and she had to abide by it.
As one who works with sexually abused women and men frequently (often the underlying trauma for addicts), my head wants to explode.  It sets an incredibly horrible precedent. It says to women that they have to put up with abuse or they lose their job and their fame.  It says to employees that they have to put up with abuse or lose their job. It says to abuse survivors, “we don’t care”. It says to the rest of the human community that business is more important than human beings. Everything I know and believe tells me this is wrong. Remember, slavery was the law, but many people never asked if it was a good law. Abuse was allowed, and if the slave said “no more”, they were on the wrong side of the law. This is the same thing.
To have a client of mine work with her abuser every day is like sending her to hell. Triggered people can’t live with themselves, with the memories, and everything. Therapists teach them to stand up for themselves and take back their lives, including going to court. But what if going to court only makes it worse for the client? The sense of helplessness here is palpable and people slowly kill themselves acting out in one way or another. This includes denial that they dislike by pretending that they LOVE sex MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE. It includes promiscuity. On the other side, it includes isolation, depression, and loneliness because relationships invariably lead to sex and sex is just too darn freaky to be engaged in.  The only way to avoid sex is to avoid relationships. The only way to avoid relationships is to not see or talk to people or be mean to them to proelltect yourself.  Can you imagine being forced to face this kind of anxiety every day?  It would be hell. What kind of a world do we live in when the law’s “justice” looks “hell” and that’s fair? The judge’s ruling needs to be overturned for all of our sanities, not just this one. But, then one person’s sanity should be worth fighting for.
Abuse survivors tell lies so as not to hurt their perpetrators, Abuse survivors tell lies to themselves so they can cope. Sadly, abuse survivors also tell lies to society. This court and the press re-telling of the verdict are why. So we get rape culture.
A prime example of the lies and bad coping skills — and the damage it does to everyone — is found in a movie you’ve probably never seen or heard of — “The Girl In The Book”, which can be found on Netflix this month. I came across it because I was bored one night, was planning to wind down, and didn’t want to see anything too loud like buildings blowing up or car chases. An “art film” seemed like just the thing, so I started it and decided to watch the whole movie, to see how the story resolved the issues that it’s character has.
There are two actresses that play the lead character, Alice: 1) Emily Van Camp who places the adult Alice and 2) Ana Mulvoy-Ten who plays the younger Alice while she is being victimized by an author. Both do an excellent job of explaining how complex trauma victims  are, and how poorly this can be dealt with by parents, businesses, and the victim themselves. I suspect that this is what Kesha’s life is like.
If you watch it, you’ll understand why I call it “hell” to be living inside their heads and in the presence of others. Alice’s boyfriend, Emmet, (played by David Call) has to set limits with her, as do all of her friends. It is only that type of loving reality-giving that forces Alice to confront her issue.
This is a movie for everyone old enough to handle the subject matter.  Abuse victims are nearly everywhere around us, and people who have to deal with it — knowingly or unknowingly — seem to include our entire population. It will make sense of rape culture. It will make sense of life as survivors/victims and of survivor victims. It will certainly make sense of Ke$ha’s case.
Though it doesn’t show actual recovery (e.g. with a therapist or a group) which is sometimes a long process, it does show the beginnings of recovery and I highly recommend it. It’s a good movie to watch, but it’s not an easy movie to watch.
Back to real life: assuming that Ke$ha’s reason for wanting out of her contract is true — and yes, I believe it is — The verdict in that case needs to be overturned, and when it is, that needs to be publicized for the lessons it teaches.
Peace,
John

We Need to Reign In Deadly Force…

There has been some interesting news lately regarding the rash of police shootings of citizens that plagued our country in 2015.

  1. In a study of Chicago police and a wider policing, many of the police who have killed people recently have a history of abusing their power.  That means that fewer police are actually involved in the shootings we saw last year.
  2. Today, the Huffington Post noted that none of the fifty states have laws regarding when deadly force is appropriate/ is not appropriate.

I have struggled with what to do re: racism and police treatment of Blacks in this country which became so much an issue last year. There are so many forms of racism to deal with that it was difficult to know where to start, and how to make any strides against it — specifically how to change people’s hearts and minds and treat each other decently.

At the same time, there were so many mass shootings last year, it appeared that the world had gone off the deep end. While, as a pacifist, I’m not a big fan of guns or killing in general, I can understand people’s need to feel safe and the world felt very unsafe last year.

It is bad enough to feel unsafe and out-of-control, but to be made to feel unsafe and out-of-control by the very people who are supposed to keep you safe and society in control is beyond my comprehension. I see every day what happens, and its lingering effects, when I see clients who were or are abused by their parents, who are supposed to protect them.  What must it be like to be a victim of a crime and not be willing to call the police, because they’ll abuse you as well? This is the plight, apparently, of African Americans who already don’t trust the police (e.g. “driving while Black”, laws written with minorities in mind for more persecution (ever wonder why powdered cocaine had one penalty and rock cocaine had another?)).

How can we love each other, care for each other, see each other as Americans if we have two sets of standards and two sets of laws or two very different applications of the law? And how do we define morality — good and bad — when the good guys do bad things and get away with it?  We expect the bad guys to do evil things. When the good guys do evil things, what does “good” even mean?  None of us feel safe in a society like that.  If we equate “good” with being violent — via guns, choke holds, tasers, intentionally had driving — we had them all from police last year — then the more violent we are, the more “good” we claim?

The problem isn’t that bad cops are the norm. They aren’t. The problem is that cops are — by definition — supposed to be the good guys. When they aren’t, it’s a larger drop in our confidence, a larger drop from what we expect. In short, it messes with our heads and our sense of order in the universe.

If there’s anything that last year taught us, it’s that between corrupt Grand Juries, rebel police who shoot innocent victims in the back, Chicago’s “black ops” station, and ridiculously strong police unions, it’s almost impossible to convict a bad/killer police officer.

Society needs to make a statement that no one is above the law, that the law applies to everyone, that violence is a bad idea. For states or the Federal government to create laws about when “deadly” violence  might be appropriate — and therefore isn’t appropriate, is to make all of those claims, and to restore some portion of justice to America’s racial problems.

This is something we can and should do.

Peace,

 

John

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This S— Has Got To Stop. It Just Does.

Today, more people died in a school massacre. I don’t need to publish the date, because — unless we do something NOW that first sentence will still be appropriate.

Apparently, there have been  142 (One Hundred and Forty-Two!!!!) School shootings since Sandy Hook.  This doesn’t include Columbine or the Colorado movie shooter!
This has got to stop.

“Our thoughts and prayers are not enough. It’s not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel, and it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America — next week, or a couple months from now,” said President Obama. The President has been trying to do something since Sandy Hook. When a problem of this magnitude can’t be solved by the “leader of the free world”, there’s something wrong — seriously wrong — with our society.

Apparently, the NRA has more power to govern (at least regarding gun laws) than our government does. I don’t know how many members the NRA has, but as a percentage of the US population, it shouldn’t be enough to overcome majority rule. It’s not. That’s a problem. Money in our political system has made things this way. We need to get money out of our electoral process. Overturn “Citizen’s United”? If it’ll help, let’s do it.

Gun control is next up. Clearly, we can’t agree on anything regarding guns in this country, but we need to take the health crisis of “lead projectile enters body and causes death” seriously. I’m not making this up. The CDC has said this for a long time. For whatever political reasons there may be, no one can justify the sale of assault rifles, machine guns, gattling guns or anything like them to a civilian population. They are weapons of war. Unless we want to live in a war zone, we need to stop selling them, period. Another means to control this here would be to stop selling bullets that go in those type of guns. This is not a solution to gun violence, but it is solution to mass gun violence.

To those who say that the Constitution says that people need guns to overthrow corrupt governments, I will even give them that. Yes, the Constitution seems to say that. The Revolution that started all this — the American one that those people are so in love with — was fought with single shot rifles and their leaders told them to wait “until they see the whites of [the British Army’s] eyes”. If you can’t have your modern revolution with single shot rifles, maybe you shouldn’t be considering it at all. If that’s all it took the first time, that’s all it should take now. The idea that one weapon can get off more shots  in a shorter time than all the guns at Lexington and Concord suggests we don’t need it. Enough is enough. Ban Assault weapons now. Ban the bullets that fill assault weapons now. Either one of them will work. I’m for both.

For those who say, “those shooters are mentally ill”, you’re probably right. Either that, or they’re simply evil. I’ll get to the “evil” option next. If they are mentally ill, then cutting services to the mentally ill as part of our plan to build a safe nation is not going to work. Stopping Obamacare will mean that the mentally will have less chance at services than they have now. Insurance rates increasing or not covering mental health services also isn’t going to work. We have a Mental Health Parity Act in place but the desire to enforce it isn’t always there. Besides that, therapists need to understand that poverty (or simply the inability to pay bills) is one of the greatest stressors I know of. The AAMFT used to have a rule that said we couldn’t turn away people for the inability to pay. I don’t know if we still have that rule, but there are a lot of folks in my profession who don’t deal with the issue because they would like to make a good living, rather than simply making a living. Mental Health Care in this society MUST become a priority. Making it less of a priority makes it more likely these shootings will go on.

If these school shooters are simply evil, then there are more evil people in our society than we ever had before Sandy Hook. When you add in Church shootings, theater shootings, gang shootings, terrorist shootings, native-born terrorist groups like White Supremacists carrying out shootings, that’s an awful lot of evil out there. We have to figure out why this is. In addition to long-term biological studies which we will need, we need to do something now. At the very least, let’s stop teaching hate. Let’s affirm that every life matters. Let’s stop having flame wars about poor people vs. rich people, Black people vs. White People vs. Korean, Japanese, or Chinese people. Let’s stop dividing ourselves into the deserving and the “not deserving”. Let’s teach our children (maybe even at a church,  synagogue or mosque) to have the values that give life rather than the ones that lead to death. Let’s actually raise our children. All of us. All of them.  Let’s teach them right from wrong. In addition to looking for outside causes for evil, lets look for inward causes of it.

If we do all of these things, these school shootings won’t happen. If we do some of them, it’s a start, but not enough, I suspect. However we get there, this s— has got to to stop. It just does.

Peace,

John

Reforming our Justice System: What It Should Look Like

Yesterday, some sheriff said that “Sandra Bland” wasn’t a model person/prisoner. Instead of getting a trial, she got killed. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Sandra Bland or anyone else (unless, of course, you are her family). It shouldn’t matter if she was Black or anything else. It shouldn’t matter if she’s a model prisoner, citizen, or American. That’s what the system is set up to determine. Good, bad, or otherwise, she’s still supposed to get a fair trial.

When a person gets a trial, it’s supposed to be a fair one. We’re all supposed to be equal under the law. Rich or poor, you should have the best lawyer you can. Justice should not depend on your ability to pay.

When a trial is completed, justice should be done. This is, after all, the justice system. At the end of the system’s process, there should be justice. Punishment is not necessarily the same as justice. Restitution is always justice.

Among other things, people ought to be able to truthfully tell who the victim was and who the criminal was.

If, at the end of a trial, the actual criminal didn’t get tried, then they should be.

If there wasn’t a victim, maybe it shouldn’t be a crime.

White collar crimes should be punished as often as blue collar ones. If the top 1% are the people who are committing those crimes, there ought to be 99 blue collar crimes and 1 white collar crime, just as a measuring stick, maybe.

Punishments should fit the crime. Not all crime requires a punishment, though. What all crimes should require is restitution.

Judges ought to be able to use discretion about sentencing. They are called “judges” for a reason. They are to make “judgements” and “judgement calls”.  What they are now is a referee in the Game of Law.

Being Black — or anything else — is not a crime. It should never be prosecuted as such. Doing something is a crime, being something is not.

Laws ought to be equivalent — Crack Cocaine and Powdered Cocaine are the same drug and should be penalized the same way.

Just because a person is a man or a woman doesn’t make them better people than the other gender — not more reliable, not more deserving, not more anything.

If a person is found to be innocent after they have served jail time, they should be immediately let out. There is no process which needs to be gone through to determine if a person gets out. Criminal = in jail, not criminal = not in jail.

Even if the above changes were put into place tomorrow, there would still be a problem — the human heart. Yes, there are systemic issues to be solved, but a police officer, a judge, a jury member cannot make a reasonable decision if they view they case through an unreasonable prejudice. All prejudice, by the way, is irrational and therefore unreasonable. So, then, our justice system requires change from outside its walls and inside our homes.

Peace,

John

Who Are The Police Responsible To?

Jesus called them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.  It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant”. Matthew 20:25 – 26

Today, the  Baltimore Police Commissioner was fired, in the wake of the recent riots there, which came in the wake of Baltimore citizen Freddie Gray. According to the Huffington Post:

“The announcement about [Commissioner] Batts comes just after a report was released by the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 detailing the lack of structure in the Baltimore Police Department during riots in the city that followed the death of Freddie Gray, an unarmed man who died in police custody.

The union “received many reports from members who were deployed to the defensive efforts, stating that they lacked basic riot equipment, training, and, as events unfolded, direction from leadership,” according to the report. “The officers repeatedly expressed concern that the passive response to the civil unrest had allowed the disorder to grow into full scale rioting.”

I’m confused. The Police Commissioner was fired because he wasn’t good enough to the police? The Police Commissioner wasn’t fired because the police killed a man on his watch and then lied about it. He was fired because the police didn’t receive enough training to handle the riots they caused? The police response was too passive, according to the Police UnionTheir killing of an already injured man didn’t seem too passive to me.

The problem wasn’t that the police weren’t trained in riot control. The problem was that there was a riot in the first place! It was caused by the very police force that had to control it later! If the police force can’t figure out what the problem is, they can’t solve it.

In a situation like this, one has to ask, “Who do the police work for?”, “What are they trying to do (aka “What Is Their Job?”). Finally, “Who are they responsible to?”.

Frequently, I hear interviews where police say, “This isn’t a matter of Black-and-White. This is a question of Blue”. Blue and who? Police seem to isolate themselves and draw ranks/circle the wagons when they are involved in a conflict. The fact that police whistle-blowers become pariahs and are attacked/killed says that there’s a code of “honor” and the police are responsible to … each other? their image? I’m not hearing the citizenry in any of that. If that is true, then “what are they trying to accomplish?” and “how are they compensated”?. Usually, people are responsible to their boss, and their boss is the person who pays them, but they don’t see that. Is their boss their union rep? Is their boss the commissioner? The mayor? I seldom (if ever) hear of police forces welcoming a citizen’s advisory board. What I hear frequently is “We don’t want people who aren’t us to tell us how to do our jobs”. I understand this impulse very well, and I believe that being a police officer is difficult.  At the same time, though, the people who give you your job and whom you’re sworn to protect ought to have some say in how you do your job. Further, if you can’t live with that, you shouldn’t have your job because you can’t serve someone without asking them how they want you to help.

This is a rant, yes, but it is not a rant against any individual officer. It’s about a dynamic I see and the tragic consequences of that dynamic. I am against the culture that police officers seem to have created. I think they need to have a different identity than “order keeper”. I think they need to think of themselves as civil servants that the community likes because we’re on the same side. I think “respect” is given way too much importance as a goal. If people like you, they’ll respect you.

A piece of steel on your chest gives you instant authority. It doesn’t give you instant respect. Respect is earned over time, through the judicious exercise of authority. In other words, if you use your authority well, you’ll get respect. If you use it poorly, you should be fired because you work for us — all of us. To blame the commissioner for not giving the police enough authority or training in authority makes no sense when you can’t handle the authority you’ve already been given. When the police prove that they can handle their authority, they should be given respect. Until then, I think it’s unrealistic to expect it.

This is how the individual police officer should be able to distinguish themselves — by not being violent, by not adhering to racism in their jobs, by not using their authority as a weapon against random parts of the citizenry. By the way, we as a society need to stop telling police that violence is heroic, that they should “shoot first, ask questions later”, and that we need protection from “those people”. Those people are us.

Anyway…

Peace,

John

The Lessons of History?

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” — George Santayana.

“Head-desk” — a UCC Minister

It’s the 50th anniversary of the March in Selma, Alabama, a turning point in American history in which African-Americans made strides toward voting rights and civil rights. The history of the day is described poignantly in the movies “Selma” which came out in the past few months.

It is the story of hard hearts and closed minds of Southern Whites and the resulting hard and hurting hearts of Southern Blacks, the pull toward violence in the Student Non-Violence Coordinating Committee (SNCC) overtaken by the non-violent love, dignity and respect for persons given by Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Confrerence (SCLC) and King”s leadership.

In the same era as The March on Selma was happening, White Southerners wouldn’t let what were then called  “Negroes” or “Coloreds” the right to sit down in the same restaurants and coffee shops,  From the sit-ins that were a response to the coffee houses and the March came two of the most united times as a people and two of the proudest moments in American history.

In remembrance of these significant events, three stories have come to the fore:

1) The party which now controls Congress has made a point of refusing to send its leaders to the remembrance.

2) Oklahoma Senator Joseph Silk has stated that LGBT people “don’t have the right to be served in every store”.

3) The Ferguson, MO mayor whose city was besieged this past summer, has seen a report by the Department of Justice that says there were widespread abuses and policies which created the situation and resulting problems says that even though “The report stated there was probable cause to believe the police and court routinely violate people’s civil rights. But, Knowles said, “that’s not proof.” He added that “there is probably another side to all of these stories.”

Is anyone seeing a pattern of absurdity here?

To give some perspective here, this would be like this happening:

On the week prior to July 4, 2016,  as the Prince Harry and Kate Upton are preparing to come to America to celebrate American Democracy and Independence and what it has mean to the world,

Members of the Labour Party state in a press conference that they would not send a letter of congratulations to the US on the Fourth of July because they didn’t want to stir up hard feelings. I don’t know if they normally would, but going on record as saying they wouldn’t is a statement in itself.

Following this, A member of Parliament states that Americans are not welcome in England because “many of them” are traitors. Further, people with both American and English citizenship would be sent back to America, because their citizenship in Britain was no longer considered valid.

Shortly thereafter, The Prime Minister states that regardless of what history has said, democracy has not succeeded in America despite the list of grievances in the Declaration of Independence, there were no “repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States”.  Therefore, the supposed Revolution isn’t legitimate because “there’s no photographic evidence that the events described by the Americans ever took place”. Even if they did happen , the PM went on to add, it would be a matter of “They said, We said” because there are two sides to every story.

Every day that week, there is a new story that tells the decline of relations between the two countries, even while the Prince and Princess represent the “official version of history” and are embarrassed by the news from home.

Can you feel the craziness coming on? This is what it’s like to live in America today  as a “minority” of some sort, or as a supporter of a minority.

Here’s the reality and good news of the Civil Rights movement:

1) There was a problem of civil rights for some Americans.

2) When Americans of all stripes saw how bad the problem was, they fixed it. White people (LBJ and Congress) gave to Black people what was due them and felt proud of themselves for doing so,

3) The option for violence was presented again and again and — for a time — the minorities remained non-violent and looked to heal America.  When the leaders of the movement who had tried so hard to love were killed. Violence erupted against those in power and divided us again.

Those are the facts of history. We became a better people because we faced our own issues and dealt with them. We were proud to be Americans. When we didn’t deal with our issues, there was violence.

Now, there are people in power who say that we should be divided, that we shouldn’t be proud, and that violence will not erupt as we revoke the civil rights of some of our citizens, because our democratically elected (twice) president might have a bias. Those who can’t remember their past…

There are usually two types of hurts: Intentional hurt of others and ignorant hurt of others (someone didn’t know the situation and, as a result, hurt someone unintentionally.) While many of us are trying to argue the latter of those two regarding Ferguson and others, leaders have now added a third category — refusal to acknowledge the hurting of others and blaming them for being hurt.

So these are our choices as I see it: 1) Pride, dignity, and respect for us, unity, support for each other and belief in one America or 2) chosen ignorance, no respect for us by other countries, a diminished sense of unity, less pride in what we have accomplished, less love and more violence.

It’s oddly exhausting and feels crazy at times, because others shout louder and lie more aggressively, but I’m going to go with option 1.

Peace,

John

Ferguson, Race, and Police: What Now?

My friend Sean Murphy was right. According to the Grand Jury of Ferguson, MO, Darren Wilson didn’t do anything wrong, or at least criminal. I don’t like the verdict, but if those are the facts, those are the facts.

My African-American train friend  and I were talking about the case and I asked her about “The Talk” with her daughter. I knew that parents had “The Talk” with their sons about interacting with the police, but I didn’t know if they had it with daughters and she assured me that they did. She spoke about what to do when pulled over and where not to go, because African-Americans “stick out” there.

You know we’re going to make a moral out of the story, right? The news will cover it, and people will write on Facebook and Twitter and we’ll all say what it means. What does this case mean, then, for life in America and whether we’re “post-racial”. Should she stop worrying? Should she tell her daughters not to worry?

I have to ask her, but I don’t think she’s going to go for it. Here’s the problem as we discussed it, with my spin on it somewhat. Most normal White people would not do anything as racist as beat someone up or shoot them simply because they were Black. In fact, most normal White people can’t even imagine doing that. Because they wouldn’t do it, and because they don’t experience it, they have a hard time believing it happens. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. It just means that it’s hard to imagine unless you’ve been there.

Still, every day as a therapist, I hear about actions that no normal person would ever engage in. Incest, rape, and molestation are a lot more common that anyone can imagine. Drug use and robbery and domestic violence and male rape and … the list goes on. Did these things happen, as my clients maintain? In reality, I don’t know, I wasn’t there, but I choose to believe them. Why? Because they can’t imagine it happening, either, and they are frequently in shock. I believe them because something happened, because their bodies and their psyches are out-of-whack and they no longer act normally. They have experienced the unimaginable and believing them seems to relieve their misery.

So, Darren Wilson didn’t commit a crime. According to our laws, that’s the fact. Darren Wilson got justice, according to the law. Does that mean that “driving while Black” isn’t a reality? Does it mean that parents don’t have conversations with their children? Does it mean that the Ku Klux Klan doesn’t exist? No, it doesn’t mean any of those things. Does it mean that we don’t need to consider what “appropriate force” is again? Does it mean that laws and consequences aren’t used more harshly against Blacks than Whites? No. It doesn’t mean that either.

Does it mean that we shouldn’t believe Blacks anymore — because of Tawana Brawley and now Michael Brown? Like everything else, we have a choice. We can listen to them and believe them and build friendships and trust or refuse to believe them and watch the divide between us widen. Listening and believing leads to healing. Not listening and not believing leads to a colder world and a divided world, and the fear that everybody’s crazy.

I am convinced that we need to reach across color lines in our day to day lives, that we need to listen and believe what we hear — not stupidly or blindly — but with open minds and hearts. If we do that, we will experience the racism which is so hard to imagine. If we see each other as brothers and sisters to start with, we can experience each others’ cultural experiences. Where we experience pain and the unimaginable, then we can become motivated to change things. Where things turn out to be lies, we have enough of a relationship to cope with it or claim the reality without the rest of the world being impacted.

These are our choices. In whatever stories we hear, this should be the process — 1) listen with an open mind 2) get the reality of the situation 3) make decisions based in the reality of the situation. That has happened in the case of Darren Wilson, as far as we know. Let’s make it so for everybody else in America.

Peace,

John

“Career Creators” vs. “Job Creators” — Education and “Reform” (for Dawn)

I have wanted to write something for my friend Dawn, who is a teacher outside of Boston, for awhile. She posted on Facebook that some new ruling/department decision was making it nearly too hard to do her job. There are two or three things you should know about Dawn — 1) She loves teaching; 2) She’s not a particularly political person; 3) She never complains. In short, she is normal, but unrepresented in the press. She goes through life, raising her kids and her students, whom she sees as “her kids”. She goes to work, does her job, and goes home. She cares about people, wouldn’t rip anybody off because, well, she wouldn’t. She pays her taxes and — though you’ve never heard of her — she makes the world better in her corner of the world.

For the world to lose such a person in such a career would be a terrible waste and a sign that something is wrong. When we make life hard for the average person who isn’t doing anything wrong — and in fact, is doing things right — there’s a problem. When the political among us write and say and do things, we expect backlash. When non-political types start having difficulties, there’s a serious problem.

Education reform is a complicated thing based in a lot of factors, mostly politics and money, test scores, standardization, privatization and unions and/or union busting. Given all of that, it’s hard to understand the situation and I have generally refrained from saying something I don’t actually understand.

Turns out, I know a lot of teachers and I hear from them all about the complex system that causes them pain when, frankly, they’d rather just teach. They teach because they believe in education, they teach because they like kids (on a side note, there are a lot of teachers who don’t like kids and are working out their own issues of control on students — especially inner city ones — but that’s a whole other blog piece) and their kids get smarter because of it. College professors, high school teachers, early-education teachers, elementary teachers, generally teach because they believe in education and creating fully functioning individuals who know things about their world.

Schools where students are overwhelmingly violent are not schools, really, but warehouses until those kids can be let out in into the world and society can say “Good luck!” to them. No teacher should be forced to work in a situation like that and no student should try to learn in a situation like that. So, yes, there are things that parents should be doing in this whole educational process. This is difficult when there’s one parent or when both parents work, so economics again effect things. Aside from that, though, it seems like we’re doing things wrong in schools.

This is what I think is wrong: as in much of America today, we’re too short sighted. The new basic philosophy is that students should be 1) productive and 2) ready for work in the jobs we foresee coming. In short, those “job creators” we pay so much attention to want people to fill those jobs and it’s the educational system’s job to create the people who can do that. Further, they want teachers to prove that they are doing that, so that they can keep their jobs.

Put succinctly, they want education to produce people who know things, not think about things, or create things. I think we’re starting with the wrong premise. we are aiming for people who know what we know about, rather than people who can face anything. I always kind of thought it was stupid to publish lists of careers that people should go into because a) people already know what they like to do and b) if everybody rushes toward those jobs and college takes 7 years, by the time they get there, the job market will have changed and people already in the field will have taken those jobs. Oops.

The best teachers that I know want kids to know things, to think about things, and to creatively face whatever challenges face them. They want kids to learn because they are curious more than anything else, and they see kids as full people who need to know about the world they live in.

I still can’t believe it when I see what my kids are expected to know and do in school and — right or wrong — I go back to my own childhood. Kindergarten was a half a day because kids can’t be expected to produce all day long. They can be expected to play. Our “texts” were “We Read Pictures” and we played with trucks and sand and dolls from 8am to noon.

Later, in elementary school, we learned basic fundamentals by rote. I know that this is not every teachers favorite style of learning, but it worked. I can add, subtract, and multiply in my head to this day I have a fairly good vocabulary. I do believe in learning facts and I think that may have been where the problem was that people felt we needed to reform.

In junior high, aka “Middle School” now, we started developing Selves — figuring out who we were, who we wanted to be and what we were good at. In High School, we began to think about what it all meant. We could learn about atoms in elementary school, figure out that they were cool in junior high, and think about the ways they should be used — or not — in High School. If we wanted to think more or think in depth, we could go to college. If not, we could think on our feet and adjust to life. We were supposed to be “well-rounded individuals”. Out of that, I got an undergraduate degree and two graduate degrees. I got a career or two and a way to decide what to do with my life.

In those days, though, we had recess. We had art, we had music, we had vocational and tech ed. Now, like everybody else in America, we want our children to do more with less. We take away art as not “practical enough”, we take away music as “not practical or productive enough”, we de-fund programs for hands-on learners and then we test them about what they know.

Brains don’t function that way, though. Music and beauty and fun and time to think and time to play are all important to learning, and they make the difference between smart people and wise people. It’s like an orange and orange juice are better for because of things that are in the peel than reduced to their core, processed, and put in a can. It’s the whole thing that makes it work, not just the obvious, and not minus the obvious. (Orange peel is no substitute for a whole orange, and it doesn’t make much juice).

We should educate kids as they are, and we should let teachers teach to kids as they are. They know how to teach. They know what it takes to make wise, well-rounded adults. The Powers That Be won’t let them do that. They have different goals in mind.

Kids coming out of the way of education I experienced have careers, not jobs. They have callings, not an 8 hour day. They create new industries, rather than jobs for the old ones. Let Dawn and all the teachers like her do their job. Fund education, let kids be kids, and let them use their whole Self. It might make things messier, but it’ll be a whole lot more useful.

Peace,

John