Faith In Things Not Seen:

A Long-Form Interview With Rev. Jeffrey Brown About The Killing of Black People By Police

[Author’s Note: This is an in-depth conversation, which necessitated a lengthy interview, that I hope will reach a larger audience than just this blog’s regular readership. After considering any number of ways to edit it for a wider audience, I have decided to just let Jeff speak. If you have any interest in publishing sections of it for your organization, I would be happy to help with that. I just ask that you let me know by email @]

The Past few weeks or so has been horrible in American race relations and police forces. In a week, we saw the trial of Derek Chauvin for the horrendous killing of George Floyd, the traffic stop that could have turned deadly for an army lieutenant, the traffic stop that did turn deadly for Daunte Wright, and the killing of 13 year old unarmed boy, Adam Toledo. None of it made any sense from a moral, psychological, or sociological standpoint, and it continues.

The killings were in different places, different departments, and different times. One officer was a woman, and the killing possibly an accident. Derek Chauvin, apparently, meant to kill George Floyd. Two of the dead were young-ish, two were adult men. What can we do to just make such tragedies end? How did we get there in the first place? To get more of an understanding of the issue, I called the only expert I knew – Rev. Jeffrey Brown.

Jeff was involved in the creation of President Obama’s 2015 report of The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, has 30 years of work on violence reduction, and is on staff at King Boston, as well as on the staff of 12th Baptist Church in Roxbury, Mass. On Sunday, April 18, 2021, before the George Floyd verdict was decided, I discussed the situation, causes, and possible solutions with Jeff.

The Interview

Part One: Causes and Solutions


John: It’s been a tough period in the last week or so. These things seem to come in seasons, or bunches… Is there a reason for that that you know. Is there a season of the year for this stuff?

Jeff: No…within the African-American Community, we’ve seen this impulse happening in all time. I think there are waves of media attention on it, but we’ve been going on like this for quite some time.


John: So, regarding this continuing problem, does it happen because of sin? Is it just because humanity is “fallen”?

Jeff: Well, you know, you and I, professionally, go down that line… When you think about the human condition, the human condition has the capacity for both…for both good and evil. So, if you look at it that way, then one would say, “Yeah, Of course.”

I think in any system, like Paul said, “we fight not against flesh and blood, but powers and principalities”… There’s always the tendency for systems to become so insular that the protection of the system sort of comes at the cost of the reason why the system was built in the first place. I see that happening for the United States. So, you can talk about sin, but not necessarily in the Evangelical sense of sin … It’s that collective sense of responsibility and …

John: So, then, this wouldn’t disappear if we, all of a sudden, we became Christian then?

Jeff: No. [pause] It might get worse…

Me: depending on what your version of Christianity is…

Jeff: Absolutely…

Gender and Gender Roles?

John: So does it have to do with… um, … “toxic masculity”?

Jeff: Hmm. I think there’s a piece of that when we’re talking about policing culture, and how that is driven in our society. I’ve done, as you know, lot of work with police departments throughout the country and, although you have some progressive elements, there’s a general culture that embraces that kind of masculinity that would treat differently. Them and the people that perpetuate the system …. The people of the community …..  as “other” . The folk that you stop aren’t human beings, they’re vermin, they’re scum, they’re …  things are always seen in such stark imagery. You know, there are “good people” and there are “bad people” and it’s you who determine who is good or bad, because you are… the one charged to uphold the law. There’s no consideration of personal biases that may creep in, you know.

Just about every state in the union when they are hiring police officers, they have given preferences to military veterans. So you come from that out of that particular environment into a semi-military environment that is the police department. Although it’s supposed to be completely and totally different from, than an army, you know, you still have some of the same elements there, sometimes the tendencies that are inherent in military forces creeps in to the police department.

Love of Guns?

John: “Is it gun culture, police culture… If we– forget about the second amendment — if we were like other countries and we didn’t have guns everywhere, would that make a difference here?

Jeff: You know, I think that the current swirl around gun culture and the second amendment sort of takes attention off of what the real issue is, and I think the real issue is the yawning chasm of inequality that continues to persist in our country, you know, the gaps between the “haves” and the “have nots”, the way the system is put together and how it consistently keeps people at one level and other folks in another level. I think the reason gun culture is held up as a major issue is because of the power that’s inherent in a gun. So, if you have a gun, you shoot it. You take a life. So, control over life makes it a major issue.

But nobody on that side really wants to talk about how we got there … got in this situation in the first place. You know, when we talk about the second amendment, and the issues around gun control, that was created in the 60’s.

Jeff: It was created when the Black Panthers were on the rise, they were carrying guns like everybody else was doing. And then, all of a sudden, people wanted to have gun control, right? You know, they were trying to control elements that was trying to help the …. And so, but panthers were walking around with weapons because of the same issues that we have today, in 2021, which is police were, unfairly, stopping African-Americans and shooting and killing them with impunity. When the same things happen in White communities, they were met with a different outcome. So, the idea of “we have to protect our community” was really the generating idea that produced organizations like the Black Panthers. So, again, it was actually those movements…

John: So, “protect our communities against them, then? Wow.

Jeff: Absolutely. And you got some folks today who are looking at what’s happening in communities across America, you have folks crying for police reform, and yet the killing of Black and Brown bodies by The State through law enforcement continues to persist. And, when you talk to any rank-and-file police officer, they’re just waiting for this “phase” to be over… of people rising and protesting, so they can get back to business as usual. But I think in this particular instance, it’s not going to happen. Something has got to give.

John: I agree.

Policing Culture In General?

John: How do you handle it when … do Black cops shoot unarmed Black kids, or tase them or … and what do you do with that?

Jeff: Yeah. Yeah… There have been, on occasion, when you do have Black cops involved with shooting of Black kids, but – as I said earlier – it really is the culture that foments the allowance of that. Those same Black cops wouldn’t be able to go into a White community and shoot unarmed White kids.

John: Why would a Black guy want to join the police force at all?

Jeff: Well, because you have some folks who actually live in the community and are from the community, who want the community to get better. The work that I did, in Boston, in the 90’s, the officers that I worked with were both Black and White, and the Black officers grew up in Roxbury, as well as in Dorchester, because they saw what was happening and they also realized that the normal tactics of round[ing] updozens and dozens of youth in these early morning “actions”, wasn’t working. The shooting persisted.

So, they were willing to team up with Black ministers, Brown ministers, in order to…together craft a way where we can deal with the shooting that was happening. You have folks who believe in their community. Despite all the issues and all of the issues and all of the changes that have been imposed upon the Black community, it’s still a community – a community that we love, and we want to see the best for it. So that’s the reason you have Black officers join the department.

John: What about police who are domestically violent? I hear about them.

Jeff:  Right, the policing culture is intense in and of itself. I work with cops and I do work with, some people who were the finest people I’ve ever …

John: Oh, yeah, absolutely.

Jeff: But I can tell you. The policing culture is a really intensive culture. And one of the secrets, the hidden things, is the effects it has on the individual, the effects it has on the family. You know, you’ve got instances of suicide happening within the police, within the departments, among individuals, these rising and alarming … issues around domestic violence that you may have encountered, as a therapist, continue to persist in the precincts.

And I think the worst malaise within police officers is, in fact, a sense of cynicism, where you’ve seen so much about the community and so much about the underbelly of the community that you just don’t care. And that’s really the worst part of policing: that when I talk to cops and they want to talk to me, that’s what we want to fight  — that level of cynicism and despair that can dwell and even degrade into nihilism You have to work with cops. It’s tough to be a cop, It really is.


John: Do you think the George Floyd [policing] bill will make a difference?

Jeff: You know, I hope, but there are folks who feel on the one end, that we just need to get rid of the whole ball of wax over and start reimaging and re-doing the whole thing. Then there are those on the other side who have real hope for the George Floyd bill. I think I’m kind of in the middle.

I’m one of those people who, um, is always hopeful for change, but I’m also practical, and I know that, as long as the system continues to persist the way that it is, that we’ll always have resistance to that, that we’ll always have those folks who will fight for that continuing.

You know, Black people didn’t get to the place where they are because of who they are inherently. That’s a racist notion, right? If you think about, you know, failed housing policy over decades, poor educational institutions, fewer educational resources that fund the schools in Black communities versus schools in White communities. If you think about poor healthcare in Black communities, chronic unemployment and chronic underemployment, then you throw in guns, then you throw in drugs, then you have this culture that emerges with the negative elements in society, but it wasn’t something we created. It’s been something that was handed to us and we’ve had to deal with it. I’ve always been amazed at the stories of resiliency, and folks who were able to overcome, despite all that’s been thrown at us since the beginnings. So, until we start dealing with those structural issues that continue to keep a community where it is, then we can do as much reform as we wish, if it continues to persist, then it’s not going to work. That’s how I see it.

Part Two: Trauma and the Black Community’s Coping

John: Given what you’ve just said, and as somebody who deals with trauma all the time, lately there’s been a lot of stuff on Twitter about “don’t watch the videos, don’t watch this video, because you’re just going to be triggered and it’s not going to help and …. What do you tell congregants or… I don’t know. Given that there were four videos this week, and all of them were horrible…. What do you tell them?

Jeff: Right. I’d say that there are folks that come to me, and they are traumatized because of the video, I tell them, “Please. Don’t watch these videos.” I’m someone who, for thirty years, has been to crime scenes, and I’ve seen the results of what violence has done to a person’s body, and I have seen these instances. I was down in Ferguson when Mike Brown was killed and just talking to his mother, you know, and seeing, even a month after her son had been killed how, every time she went to that place, it was like it just happened. She’d just start crying and could not speak, you know, I saw it with my own two eyes. And so, I say, that that has such a toll on your spirit, that it really hurts. And there are some folks who watch it because they’ve had their own personal experience . They’ve had their sons and daughters killed in this manner, so it’s like they can’t help but watch, and I understand that, but you know, trying to find ways to help people through those periods is really tough.

Churches And Trauma

One of the things that I’ve been advocating for is for churches to get more involved with trauma care on a regular basis. So, it’s not just having a pursuit on a Sunday morning , a visit with a congregant, in a pastoral care moment, but it’s some kind of programming impulse that would happen in churches on a consistent basis , where churches can help people through their experiences of trauma.

And if you know anything about trauma-informed care you know that bringing churches in would be ideal. The only thing that gives me pause around this is that most congregations want to see this as an evangelical tool around  this, and I tell pastors, “You’ve got to minister to the pain first before you minister to the soul” and then they get upset with me because they say, “oh, but that’s not the gospel. That’s not the mandate of the gospel…” I say, “Listen. I believe it’s somewhere in James that it says, “if somebody’s hungry, you know you don’t give them the gospel. You feed them first. So, there are levels in which we can deal with the evangelistic piece without automatically doing a Billy Graham style, “do you know Jesus?” bit, because the honest truth is, the way I see it, that age is past. We’ve got to figure out what we can do for the here and now. And for the here and now, people are looking to be the Bible, rather than we give them a Bible.


John: So, when trauma happens from a psychological perspective, there are four responses. There’s fight, there’s flight, there’s feed, and there’s … um, have sex. Finally, they’ve added a new one, which I had not heard of which is, basically, to basically to … disappear [actually “freeze”], you know, like if you pretend you didn’t see it, it’s not there. So, given that, why are Black people still in America? If this is the way that they live, why haven’t they just, you know, escaped?  

Jeff: Because there’s this idea that I don’t even think the founding fathers understood, you know, about how it should be. But they founded it because they, ironically found themselves in the same position that Black people find themselves in. You know, it’s different because we were brought here in chains, but the whole notion of this diversity becoming one, was a very important notion.

I always tell people, you were brought here in chains, but you’re here, and your forebears built this country. The legacy of slavery is the legacy of America today. You had millions, five, six million African-American bodies to build this country. The industries that were built were built off of the backs of my ancestors, so this is not one of those ideas like “well. They treated us so bad, that we should go… that we should find ways to live somewhere else. There used to be a drive in the 19th century, you know…

John: Yeah, the back to Africa movement.

Jeff: Also, in the 20th century as well, you had Marcus Garvey. His whole thing was that we should go find a place where they will accommodate us. But, as far as I’m concerned, this is our country. This is where we are from – for good or for bad. And this country owes us the hearing of our voices, the taking  of our voices seriously. And, it continues to avoid and evade that. And so, it’s our responsibility, I think, on behalf of our ancestors, to continue pushing that. That was the impulse that drove the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King and all those luminaries of the civil rights movement, that you can’t force us out of our country. This is as much our country as it is yours, and we need to put a mirror up, so that you can see what this country is like, so that we can begin to have a reckoning with it that will ultimately be better for us all. We’re still in the process of that.

Insanity and Not Coping?

John: OK, the follow-up question is then “Why aren’t you all insane by now?

Jeff: (laughs) yeah, I always ask that question.

John: Because, this much trauma, as just a part of life, has just, I can’t imagine.

Part 3: The Past, Hope And The Future

Jeff: When I was teaching, I used to tell my students, “I wish you could ask that question of your forebears, your great-great-great grandparents, you know. What was it? And what kept them going was the fact that one day we would be born, you know, that would be in a position that – that is, anywhere, that we would be able to do something about this.  That gave them hope.  I mean, if you look at any of the narratives that were written by any of the 19th century abolitionists – you know, the slave trading and all that.  People ask me what kept me going in the 90’s and the honest truth is I knew we would get to this point, where we are right now in 2021. You know, I’m about to be 60 this year, and I’m getting “long in the tooth”….     

John: I hear that, believe me!

Jeff: There will be younger people who would be cool with, you know, appreciate the strides that we made and take the baton from there. You know, keep pushing through. That gives me hope. and I think that hopefulness, added to the resilience, added to the deep well of spirituality in Black folk, persisted, in the 19th century, especially now that we’re starting to uncover the real history of what happened, where you have Black folks being subjected to the theology and preaching of White folks and instead embraced the ones who they thought the Spirit was giving them. To nurture that, and pass that along, is so very important. It’s the reason why …. All … the …

And even then, saying all of that, there are folks who have been driven crazy… you know, as a result of this onslaught. It’s not universal, because overall, I think that God has blessed us with a resilient spirit where we can keep going along, keep standing…

John: Ok, in what you’re saying, if I understand it, historically, the folks who came here were persecuted by the British, but in their brilliant wisdom, persecuted slaves… just by making them slaves and so the system is set up to achieve one purpose, which is, I don’t know, freedom, liberation, whatever… but only for White people originally.

Jeff: Right.

John: Given all that we’ve just talked about, it seems to me that African-Americans, or Blacks people, because there’s so many of them in this country because they’re from different countries, are more “patriotic” than White people who, because people don’t want them here.

Jeff: Yeah, there are people who believe in an America that has not emerged yet. I think that that’s a really important idea to put out there. It’s um, the challenge of the Good Samaritan parable, when the lawyer looked to Jesus and said “Who is my neighbor?” because you have a society that determines who is neighbor and who is not neighbor, and Jesus’ response was “the one who helps one another, regardless of ethnicity, and his heritage. So you have this America that only benefits a certain few, but there are Black people who believe in an America that hasn’t emerged yet, that would benefit everybody, regardless of sex, gender, sexual preference, you know, the whole nine yards and so those people who are patriotic, push for that ideal, you know, hope for that ideal. And what they fight against is cynicism, from our young people who say, “Ah, that’s never going to work”. That’s the root of the patriotism that you hear, I believe, from Black folks who believe in America.

John: Well, thanks.

Resisting Racism With Peace,

Rev. John Madsen-Bibeau, LMFT


I Don’t Care Why. Just Don’t Do It.

I have tried to think about it. I have tried to parse out the reasons why cops kill Black people. I have prayed. I have marched. I will continue to do those things, but it won’t stop because I’m not shooting people. I’m not assaulting people of any color. Police are. I’m done trying to understand. How do we stop police from killing innocent— or even not so innocent — Blacks? Here’s the answer:

Police, don’t shoot Black people.

That’s it.

Don’t’ “shoot first and ask questions later”, as cool as that might seem on TV or the movies. Don’t shoot because you’re scared. Don’t shoot and learn about racism later. Don’t shoot and learn to manage your anger because a judge said to. As citizens, we’re often told to “show some self restraint”. You need to show some self-restraint! The first thing that should happen in any situation should not be to pull out your weapon. Police in Britain don’t, at least I think that’s still true.

If someone ran a red light, or was driving erratically, or fleeing, none of those things require guns. Don’t shoot. Be careful, of course, but don’t shoot! There must be some way to stand and get the license and registration without getting anyone hurt or killed. As a therapist, I can say that if people want to figure something out, they can. Actually figuring it out will prove that you, as police, want to.

Is a car , even a stolen one, worth a life — of another Black person or a police officer? Do you want the country to blow up for the sake of a license plate? Really?

Seek peace in our streets by making peace in our streets. I don’t care why, but the tack being taken now isn’t working for anyone.

Resisting with Peace,


Let’s Not Miss The Point…

I’m listening to Morning Joe and the pundits are talking about the trial of Derek Chauvin for allegedly killing George Floyd. Even as I write the word “allegedly”, I want to throw up. There is no way around the fact that one man kneeling on another man’s neck was at least (partially?) responsible for that man’s death. This is gravity and the laws of physics, which over-rides human laws and police policy. Given that, Mr. Chauvin’s knee on the neck of Mr. Floyd caused the death of George Floyd. Anyone with even a remote bit of knowledge knows that.

Apparently, the defense will argue that Floyd had a heart attack, secondary to his use of the drugs that were in his system, and that Chauvin felt frightened of this “drug-crazed” man who passed a fake $20.00 bill minutes before. Even if Floyd did have a heart attack (others have testified he died of lack of oxygen), and even if he had drugs in his system. It’s a long way from passing a $20 bill to “he’s violent and needs to be restrained”. It’s a longer way still from “he needs to be restrained” to “he needs to be restrained until —and after— he stops breathing”.

One has to ask if the officer hadn’t been involved whether Mr. Floyd would still be alive and we wouldn’t know how or care about who George Floyd of Minneapolis, Minnesota even was. Without the type of police involvement here, George Floyd would still be alive. With it, George Floyd is dead.

None of that is the point, really. The granular argument looks at the individual tree but avoids the forest altogether.

The point is that one man wanted to kill another man for no apparent reason other than he could. Did he want to because he was White and the man was Black? That’s certainly a good possibility. Did he want to because he was police and Mr. Floyd was a civilian? This is also a distinct possibility. So far, we don’t know what was going on the mind of Chauvin and even if we do hear it, we won’t know if it’s the truth., as he’s already tried to hide the truth of what happened.

The law usually talks about “if a reasonable person saw X, what would they think?” So ask anyone who has had dealings with the police, have they ever seen police use too much force for a given situation ? Yes, they probably have. Ask any Black person in America whether they believe a White man can, or will, try to kill them simply because they are Black and the answer is probably yes, as well.

That’s the point. It’s a scary truth that police and White people —White policemen in particular — have killed enough people that a reasonable Black person could assume they might try to kill them. When it’s reasonable to assume that a person might do an unreasonable thing, that’s a problem.

The fact that pretty much every Black person I know saw George Floyd die and they think of their own brothers, fathers, friends, and selves in the situation and can picture it gives us some idea of the scope of the the problem.

This brings us to the second thing that the pundits talked about: Major League Baseball’s decision to move the All-Star Game from Atlanta after Georgia lawmakers passed a series of restrictive laws that will make it harder to vote. The argument made is that it will actually hurt the community of Atlanta due to the change in laws and make matters worse. People are mad at the commissioners of MLB for the decision, but it seems he didn’t really make the decision as much as the players did.

So we’re back to the “reasonable person” test for players. Would a reasonable person who plays baseball think that Georgia might have made changes in the law for racial or political reasons? No one truly believes that the laws were changed for any other reason than racial and/or political reasons. As the former candidate in a Florida race once said, “even the racists think it’s racist”. The idea that Georgia lawmakers have a lengthy history of making racist laws, that Georgia might be a historically racist state and these legal changes do nothing to assuage that guilt is all the explanation needed for reasonable people, including baseball players, to assume bad intent and a bad experience there. That’s the problem and that’s the point of the action,

Is it the right/proper/correct decision? Is it the right tactic? Stacey Abrams, John Ossoff, and Raphael Warnock — Democratic leaders in the state disagree with the action, but every one of them knew that it was a possible, if misguided, reaction. Why? Because reasonable people can easily believe that the White men in power in Georgia are racist and do things for racist reasons.

To straighten out this mess, one doesn’t have to fix the politics of baseball players, one has to fix the politics of Georgia’s current Republicans in power. That may take a long time to do or it may take as few as two years.

If Georgia’s Republicans want to not be punished politically for being racist, the answer is not to act in racist ways. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, If policemen like Derek Chauvin want to not be thought of as not being racist or murderers, they need to stop doing things that a reasonable person could see as racist … or murder.

Yes, it’s that bad, but George Floyd didn’t make it this way, and voters in Georgia didn’t make it this way. Those who made things this bad must take responsibility for doing so must fix the problem.

Resisting with Peace,


Cuomo, Franken, Jordan, Trump, And What To Do?

[Author’s note: I write this not because I want to “mansplain” anything. I write it to clarify my own thoughts about all of this. There are so many pieces to these issues. I share it for people’s thoughts and feedback.]

My wife and I were talking the other day about Gov. Cuomo’s predicament and the issues swirling around on Twitter. A lot of folks on Twitter saw it Cuomo being “Frankened” that is, dealing with a host of allegations designed to remove a strong and intelligent leader on the Democratic side, while Republicans never step down, no matter what.

My wife reminded me that “actions have consequences”, no matter which”side” you’re on. “We’re talking about women being harassed and sexually assaulted”. Of course, she’s right…. except when she’s not. So am I, because we’re talking about at least two separate issues in this context. All issues should be talked about here. I say this because once Cuomo was accused, someone on Twitter said, “What about Tara Reid (who accused Biden during the election)?” After President Biden has given us the most progressive bill in decades, and defeated the former guy, preventing the spread of fascism here in America, I’m not willing to throw him under the bus for anything without a whole lot of proof.

So, with all of that said, let’s make clear the basics of morality, in the political sphere and everywhere else.

1) Sexually abusing, harassing, and/or raping anyone is wrong. Statistically, and sociologically, of course, it’s more likely to be a man abusing or harassing a woman. Still, men and women can get harassed or abused by any gender, any person, any preference, any anything… There are feminist theories about why these things happen, and they need to be taken seriously, but I’m not the right person to make those cases because, well, I’m not a woman. I’m also trying to be clear about proactive steps we can make.

2) Anyone who has abused, harassed, raped another person should be held accountable and face serious consequences for this because people who have this happen to them suffer for long periods after it does. It’s a big deal, and it requires big consequences in order to have justice.

3) There must be a way to fairly figure out what happened. Generally, that would be the court system, but it doesn’t have to be.

4) What justice looks like in these cases must include the victim’s idea of what it is for them.

Now, where it gets tricky…

There seems to be a conflict between politicians and the legal system. Politicians don’t seem to believe — for whatever reasons, some codified into law or regulations — that their work is too important to be interrupted by accusations, court days, etc. In short, because their work impacts a lot of people, the questions that any one person might have raised can’t be dealt with now. Good, bad, or otherwise, this seems to be the calculus for the public, the press, the politicians, and the legal system.

Also, of course, is the spectrum of charges that go under the category or “sexual [whatever]” from harassment to touching to sex with or without consent, to full-on abuse or rape or child abuse and pornography, using prostitutes and sex trafficking. All of these go under the heading of “Sexual…” Once that word is used, reaction gets heightened. Curiosity gets piqued. The press gets involved and chaos ensues.

Here, we add in what we want to believe. In this category, I will never believe that Al Franken did anything worthy of his losing his seat or giving it up. Kristen Gildebrand has stated multiple times that there’s a lot more to the credible allegations against Franken than is known, that she, too, likes Franken and misses his presence in the Senate. I don’t care what she says. Until I know differently, I will always see this as a political decision. In order to keep Sheriff Roy Moore from getting elected, Democrats required the perception of purity when challenging him, and Franken “had to go”. This is a political tragedy that did not have to happen. [Just to be clear my biases are: Franken is ok. Cuomo, I don’t want to be true, but may be. Jim Jordan and his knowledge of athletes being molested in college by their coach? Hell, yes, I think he’s guilty — but very little press coverage has been given to this. Why? I don’t know. Finally, Trump has admitted such on the famous “Access Hollywood” tapes, and — with 20 plus women accusing him of deeply disturbing behavior, some of it violent — I absolutely believe that Donald Trump should be held accountable for what he’s done. Getting into the weeds further, I believe Christine Blassey Ford that Brett Kavanaugh is guilty. I also believe that Roy Moore is a pedophile, that Al Gore hurt some woman, Bill Clinton had an affair (multiple affairs?), and that the guy that was going to be Gore’s running mate was a sick man who hurt a lot of people with his affairs and coercion].

Whether Cuomo is being “Frankened” is yet to be determined in three ways — 1) What is the motivation of the accusers at this time and place in history? Are they paid political shills or are they actually accusers? As much as I would like to believe that all accusers are actually accusers, the way politics has been played for the past 40 years, I am not sure that political operatives aren’t involved. More on this later… 2) Whether Cuomo is guilty of the same level of things that Franken was, and 3) Whether Franken was “Frankened” or if there’s more that we don’t know. As yet, we don’t know if any of those things are true. That’s a problem.

Here are my conclusions:

  1. There shouldn’t be a difference between politicians and elected officials. For justice to be served, there should be The Law, and it should be applied to all cases. If somethings warrants an investigation, it warrants an investigation. If it warrants a trial, it warrants a trial. If it warrants jail, it warrants jail. If you can arrest Joe the Janitor while he’s at work, you can arrest Jim the Senator while he’s at work. It’s as simple as that.
  2. Politics and importance to the wider community do need to be considered in case of a sexual scandal when dealing with the political side of things. It should not regarding the law.
  3. Accusations, investigations, etc. should not be done in the press only. If a lawyer wants to say that their client is making accusations, the first stop shouldn’t be a press conference. It should be to the law. In political circles, there may also be ethics committees and such, but each allegation should be taken seriously and the law should make a determination as to whether there’s enough to file charges. The legal system should explain why or why not. If there’s not enough “there” there, that should be explained. If the accused is innocent, that needs to be acknowledged to and by the press. If the accused is found guilty, that needs to be acknowledged by the Press. The public deserves closure on these stories. Sexuality, Violence, Politics, and the Law are all different things. They should be seen as different combinations in different systems. Each should have it’s own lane.
  4. Public pressure absolutely needs to be applied for removal of a politician if they actually did something wrong. If they didn’t, then more people like Al Franken — good people, to my knowledge — will be lost in the political sphere. We need real justice, not just shame, for authorities who commit crimes.

So, did Governor Cuomo hurt women sexually? I don’t know. Should the accusers be believed? Yes. But if the truth is that the person is innocent, believing a lie isn’t justice. Politicians of both parties should be dealt with the same way, and anybody who hurts people should face consequences for those, at least somewhat determined by the victim.

That’s all I can come up with for now.

Resisting in Peace,


Back To Basics, Politically and Economically

Nothing has changed, in my 60 years of life, on the basic questions of politics and economics. We used to ask “What if the military had to have a bake sale to buy weapons and teachers had what they needed?”. The same question applies now, but we haven’t asked it in years. We used to talk about the “military/industrial complex” and believe that it took food from our children’s mouths. It’s still a thing, but now it is just an assumption, figured into budget plans. We used to talk about corporations as being inhuman and our “being just a number” as being a bad thing. Now corporate profits are at all time highs, and we are all Facebook algorythms. The questions still need to be asked and thrashed out before we make policy decisions. Is war more important than education, food, and housing? Are human beings valid, in and of themselves, or are they only cogs to make the machinery of the economy work? What is freedom? Who is human? Who matters in a democracy?

These questions need to be asked again, so that we can get our bearings as a society.

I was listening to Morning Joe this morning and they had an economist from the New York Times on, talking about the $1.9 Trillion bill being passed by the House and inflation and its effect on the national debt. The complaint was that it was trafficking in play money and fantasy and we would get to inflating both the debt and prices, and the Democrats weren’t worried enough about these things. Joe Scarborough went on to talk about how the deficit had gone up under each successive President: Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama… He used numbers from the end of each President’s term, I believe. If, in fact, those were real numbers (and I assume they were. I like Scarborough.) They told a story, but didn’t tell the whole story, or even most of it.

Under Bush the First, we had a war which put us into debt, as wars will do. Under Clinton, the deficit started high and became a surplus. Under Bush the Second, we went back to war, spending all of the surplus and putting us back into huge debt and leaving us with a horrible economy. Obama spent a lot of money to bring back the economy, and save the auto industry, etc. Under Trump, the “promise” of free-market capitalism was simply let loose. The Republicans reduced taxes again and the income/outcome of government was again thrown off balance, but the deficit and the debt were not issues, according to the sitting President and the Congress of Paul Ryan. The deficit went through the roof!

In all of the above, at no time did teachers, or education budgets or the average person in general get mentioned. The only operators were the government, corporations, the military, the debt, and the deficit. There’s no farm worker. There’s no factory worker. There’s no teacher, or hunger policy. After 40 years of “those people” making all the decisions about their lives and what’s best for them, and what it means, teachers started striking, students started marching against guns in our streets, but not in the military. Black people had to start marching just to say they mattered. Implied in all of the above were that Whites could be in the military, could run the economy, could determine what patriotism was, and so on. Until Obama, the discussion in the halls of power wasn’t even about Black people. In fact, the one powerful Black man in the halls of power — Colin Powell — was told to lie to the UN. He sacrificed his reputation, so that we could go to a war with no justification.

The problem is not debt, or deficit. It’s about human will, and political will. It’s about what we’re willing to go into debt about. When there was a surplus, the money went to the rich. When there was debt, it was caused by the rich and benefited the rich. The rich, and the military/industrial complex (Not soldiers, by the way, either. The money went to arms manufacturers who invested in the stock market). In short, the question to ask is: “Who owns democracy?” Who does the government work for? Asking these questions means there is a question to ask, and that there is a choice to be made.

The time has come, after all these years, to say that if the government is going to spend money, then we want it to spent on people, and not just one set of people. If we’re going to go into debt, let’s do so for people who don’t have what they need, rather than for those who have more than enough. If we’re going to go to war, let us do so because we have to, because it’s the last option we can think of, and let’s take care of the soldiers more than Haliburton or Blackwater or Wall Street. If we want schools, let’s give them what they need. If we want firefighters, let’s give them what they need. If we want roads, let’s use our money for that. If people want jobs that don’t require education but do pay enough for them to live on, let them get to work on infrastructure, building roads and bridges and other things that need to be done.

I don’t care if we talk about abortion, but I want to talk about the living first. I don’t mind talking about being liberal or conservative, if we can first talk about whether people eat. I don’t care if we talk about capitalism vs communism, after people have housing. Politics right now, and for at least the last 6 years, is about … just politics — talking and arguing. It’s not about people who aren’t in D.C. And yet, 99% of the people don’t live in D.C.! Let those people’s lives matter. Let them vote. Let their votes count. Then, if we go into debt, at least it’s about things we have chosen to go into debt for, and people we have gone into debt for. Our budget reflects our priorities as a nation. Let’s actually reflect the nation, rather than 1% of the people. Maybe after we get what we need, we’ll stop spending so much, and get the budget back to where it should be. Until people get their basic needs met, there will always be arguing, and impulse buying, and raising debt and chaos.

In the words of Larry The Cable Guy, “Let’s get ‘er done”. (Oh, and by the way, even I can’t believe I’m quoting Larry The Cable Guy, but that’s how far back we have gotten).

Resisting With Peace,


FYI: Lots of People Get Raped

I’m watching a video from CBS This Morning and they’re saying there’s a new movement called #WeAsOurselves, whose purpose is to acknowledge that Black women get raped. I guess the point they are making is that Black women don’t acknowledge it for complicated reasons. If you’re being oppressed everywhere, I guess personal abuse is the last thing people think about. If there’s pressure to not talk about the community you’re apart of because White folk will blame your entire race, that’s a complication that they think should be taken into account. As a therapist who counsels Black women, I can assure you Black women get raped. Why? Because they are alive, they are women, and they know horrible people who do horrible things to them. I don’t know if the perpetrators are Black, White, or any other color. I don’t care. If you are a Black woman and you have been raped, I’m sorry that happened to you. It shouldn’t have. It’s not your fault. You are not alone. You need to talk to somebody about it, so that you can process it. I don’t care if that person is professional or not, though I think it’s preferable that they are. They must be someone you trust. Your community (however you define it) needs to know you’re in pain, so it can deal with it and make sure it never happens again. If you’re not up to that, okay. It’s your life. You deserve to be healed. You deserve to feel safe. Your deserve to feel loved.

While I’m on the subject, though, I want to tell you that there are plenty of people who get raped that you probably can’t imagine. Men, for instance, get raped when they are boys or sometimes when they are men. They just do. I know men who have been raped, or sexually abused. I don’t care if they’re supposed to not be. They are. Men face particular challenges about being believed because 1) Myth says “men want it all the time”; 2) Myth says that men have all the power in society; 3) Myth says that men can only be raped by men; 4) Myth says that gay society is worse that everybody else on the planet. I suppose if you’re responsible for climate change because you’re gay, or the collapse of Western civilization, then that makes sense — except you’re not responsible for those things, either!

Trans people also get raped. Gay people get raped. White people get raped. Asian people get raped. Native Americans get raped. Children, teens, and seniors get raped. Rape is a thing that happens. In absolutely no case is it their fault. Rape is the fault of the rapist. It may be suggested as acceptable by a certain culture or another. It’s only a suggestion. Most men don’t rape. Most women don’t rape. Most Black people don’t rape. Most children don’t rape. Most gay people don’t rape. Most trans people don’t rape. Most people with any sense of compassion at all don’t rape. In fact, most people who survive rape don’t go out and rape. There is no excuse. If you were raped, it’s not your fault. If you did the raping,you need to take responsibility for your actions. It’s as simple as that. The people who are responsible for it happening are the people who are responsible to make sure it never happens again.

Are there societal structures that make it more or less likely? Sure there are. Even they aren’t totally to blame. They must become less likely to lean toward rape culture. But those structures will never change until we accept that rape happens to a lot of people within them.

Resisting rape with Peace,


A Lenten Reflection For The Politically, Psychologically, or Religiously Inclined

[Author’s introduction: I find myself pulled in three directions these days, each of them a form of service and caring: As a therapist, I care deeply about my clients. As an American, I care deeply about my country and its politics – especially regarding the lives of those very same clients in the area around Springfield, Massachusetts. Underneath it all, or over-riding it all, is my faith in Jesus of Nazareth and his expression of God’s will for us in the world. I treat my clients in the ways I think Jesus would want me to. I treat my country in the ways I think Jesus would want me to. I treat Jesus in the way I think he would want and deserves. Since I don’t have a church right now, I write this as an expression of my belief in that Jesus of Nazareth and the faith which he inspires in me.]

The Christian church has two periods of year specifically for reflection, in preparation for a biblically Big Event – The Birth of Jesus (called “Advent”) and the Death and Resurrection of Jesus (The events of Good Friday through Easter, called Lent)

On this day where Donald Trump has been impeached twice and not convicted either time, it seems like a good time to reflect on the first text often used in Lent:

Matthew 4: 8 -11

“…The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.”

The text is about knowing who seems to run the world, who inevitably does run the world, and the choices I think we all have to make in our lives about the two.

To be clear: Donald J. Trump is not a bad person because he is a Republican. He is a bad person because he is a bad person. One can make the case that is the logical extension of Republican politics in the same way that murder is the logical extension of anger. While Republicans traditionally have stood for Conservative Values, Trump stands for Fascist values.

He embodies everything that is wrong in the world and he is loved by parts of the world for it, including people in my own beloved faith. Trump’s brand is about saying hateful things to people who live in fear and hate. Trump’s brand is about raping women, because he believes he is in a position of power. Trump’s brand is about running the country not “just like a business”, as many churches do, but with the worst that Capitalism has to offer. Trump’s brand is about saying he’s a Christian, but never acting like it. It’s about holding up the Bible as a symbol of force and authority, but never having the good sense to open it up and read it. Trump’s brand is about oppressing anyone not exactly like him… and everyone is not exactly like him. Racism? Trump loves it. Sexism? Trump loves it. Wealth, especially at the cost of others? Trump loves it.

Contrast this with Jesus: He embodies everything that is right in the world and he was hated by parts of the world for it, including people in his own beloved faith. Jesus is about saying kind things to people who live in fear and hate, and challenging those who do the hating without fear. Jesus never raped anyone, though he knows he is in a position of power. Jesus didn’t run anything “just like a business”, and in fact owned nothing. Jesus is Christianity incarnate, but never acting like he’s above anyone. Jesus is the Bible as a symbol of authority, but not as a symbol of oppression. Jesus is about caring for anyone not exactly like him… and everyone is not exactly like him. Racism? Not Jesus.  Sexism? Not Jesus. (Jesus argues with a woman of another nationality, and loses the argument, and gives to the woman anyway. Trump, is, notoriously never wrong.). Trump’s wealth at the cost of others? Nope, not Jesus, not even. They are opposite sides of the same coin: power and authority.  Jesus uses his for justice and healing. Trump uses his for injustice and hurt.

At the end of Lent, just before Jesus is crucified, the people of Jerusalem will be offered a choice between Jesus, the Son of the Father/God and Barabbas, literally, “the son of the father” in Hebrew. The people of that day chose the lesser version of the two – the criminal Barabbas. We are offered the same choice. Kindness, justice, caring, truth, and love for all or the “earthly” values of power over others, injustice, indifference to pain, lies, and hatred.

The choice is about who we think is running things here. If we think that Trump runs the world, we accept the offer to bow down to him and hope he will give us what is his because that is what he promised. If we think that God runs the world, like Jesus, we won’t take that bet. Jesus knows who he is, and who ultimately will have the final say on everything.

So what does this have to do with my clients? Everything. I see so many people who are victims of trauma and oppression. Some have come to oppress themselves through addiction, and forget the truth that lies within them. But all of them are oppressed. It is my job to show them who they really are, where their power is, and what they can do in the world. If they know how incredibly and wonderfully made they are, they experience that love can rule their lives. Survivors of all forms of oppression — physical, mental, sexual, and spiritual — come to realize that they are more powerful than their oppressors, whether that is a single person, a group of bullies, or a system. They ultimately outlast their oppressors and they ultimately see themselves as worthy of a rich life. And, I believe, at the next life, they experience all of the beauty and potential that they were born with and deserving of, seeing where they ultimately fit.

In political systems, it is our job to do the same – to value, and not disparage, all of God’s people, to let them experience and speak the Truth as they know it. A fully functioning democracy is a place where all people are free to (in the words of Virginia Satir) “see and hear what is here, instead of what society says should be, was, or will be, to say what they feel and think instead of what the system says they should, to feel what one feels, instead of what others say they ought to, to ask for what they wants, instead of always waiting for permission, to take risks in their own behalf, instead of choosing to be only ‘secure’ and not rocking the boat”.

From those freedoms, we can make democracy or society all it can be. Those freedoms, that mental and physical health, that spiritual ability all come from believing that we (because we are worthy of God’s love and mercy) can take charge of our lives and be more powerful than The Oppressor, who convinces us that they have it all and that we should bow down before them.

That caring, because of The Powers That Be, will insure our suffering at times, much as those who told the truth suffered Trump’s wrath. The more oppressive the systems created by people are, the more goodness looks radical. At times, it may look like the Trumps, or Mussolinis or Hitlers of the world will win. January 6th was one of those days. Maybe today’s acquittal seems like one of those days, but – like all days – we have a choice. We can feel our worth and tell the truth, or we can forget our value and give in to cynicism, racism, sexism, phobias of all sorts and believe they won. Certainly, the temptation has been there, but we can also experience the calm and joy of a more diverse system that attempts to care for more people. Let us know who is really in charge of our lives, and let us choose wisely. Amen.

Resisting with Peace,


Why Impeachment Matters In America

I can’t speak about other governments, but it seems to me that American government was supposed to be a different than the rest of the world. We used to speak of American exceptionalism. I still do. American exceptionalism doesn’t mean we’re better just because we are American. It means we have an exceptional form of government and we’re all a part of it, and important to it. As I understand it, it was inherently different at its inception because it was the first and only “democracy”. We had decided in our Revolution, we weren’t going to have a king anymore. Why is that?

There are those who want to say that America is founded on Christian principals. I believe that, as well. Even the Founding Fathers couldn’t agree on what being a Christian is, so they went with Christian principles. First among those principals is that we stand as equals in the sight of God. A king isn’t the same as you and me. They are sort of semi-human. A king was above the law. A king is above the law because the king is the law. The King decides what should be law, decides when it should be applied and when it shouldn’t apply to them. If you watch The Crown, you know that there’s part of becoming king or queen when — through the ritual performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury — where the person who was just human the minute before becomes a representative of God, a person who is infallible now, and this makes all of their laws just and right.

“So let it be written, so let it be done” is a phrase that describes the way royalty works. When the Bible speaks of God as “King of Kings”, it means God is a level above the kings of the world in the same way that kings are a level above other humans. “Because I said so!” is also a phrase that describes how royalty deals relates to law, for good or bad. Little kids have their own version of “because I said so!”: “I want it!” usually is accompanied by stomping of feet and a good cry. In either case, the person wants something to happen simply because they said so. They want to be in charge of others, just because. This is the difference between a good king and a bad king — the way they view or use their authority. It’s quite possible, depending on the people or circumstances, to get an immature king or queen. Democracy, however, requires a mature leader — one who can prove their wisdom in the day-to-day leadership that is required by the job. “Because I said so!” will not work for the President of our country. Only success and wisdom can bring authority — and then only for four years.

Say what you want about Donald Trump — mature is not the word that comes to mind. He shouldn’t be given authority to run this country. During his time in office, success isn’t the word that comes to mind, at least for me. There are those who will credit him for the economy, and for mid-east peace, and other things. That doesn’t balance out the destruction he did as President, and people can disagree about that. In a democracy, we settle our disagreement at the ballot box. The President can’t weigh in, because the voters speak and what would be the King doesn’t. When Trump and his cronies tried to, any success he might have had was over-ruled by his immaturity and fits. In short, Trump behaved like a king, and we don’t have kings. Democracy is different.

Instead, we have human leaders and we have laws. The President is no different than anyone else. The President’s a human being, has no claims to divinity, and — as a human being — is not above the law. Because we don’t see divine authority in our leaders, we rely on the authority of the law. Either there’s both law and democracy or there’s neither. There are, among our Presidents, some really good ones and some really bad ones and many in the middle. All of them believed that the law applied to them, whether they like it or not. Nixon resigned because it was apparent he couldn’t respect the law and do things in the way he wanted. The law won.

Bill Clinton, the only President to be impeached prior to Trump, also believed in the law. I’m not sure what law he broke sleeping with Monica Lewinsky, but he was impeached and he accepted that because he believed in the law. He will always be impeached, having the political version of an asterisk next to his name, because he believed the law was more important than he was. Like all Presidents, Trump could be a good President or a bad President, but he must be a law-abiding President. If he’s not, he has to be stopped. Impeachment is the way to do that. If it’s really bad, the President needs to be removed, done the way the law says.

In a democracy, human beings are all equal. The President comes out of the vast collection of humans, and goes back to being a part of the vast collection of humans who make our society better or worse. Because the highest person in our country has consequences for their illegal behavior, the person who steals or assaults or whatever can have consequences for theirs. There’s a certain logic to it.

If a President can get away with murder, and they’re “just” a human being, why should anyone else be held accountable for their crimes? On the other hand, if they can be held liable, then why shouldn’t a criminal be subject to laws as well?

Life ought to make sense– for all of us. If you or I go to work and do a terrible job, we can get fired. If a President does a terrible job, he or she should be able to be fired as well. If we do well, we should get recognition. One of the odd things that this particular former President bases his argument on is that he gets in trouble because people don’t like him. “They pick on me”, he says. People aren’t supposed to be in trouble because people don’t like us. We probably should be in trouble because we’re bad at what we’re doing. If we are the absolutely worst at our job, we will get in trouble no doubt, but it shouldn’t be because people don’t like us. It should be because we’re doing the wrong thing. If the President does well, they should get recognition as well — and they do. If the President doesn’t do well, they should get in trouble as well.

When a regular person goes to court, no one asks them if people like them. The court asks if they did something. The court seldom wants to hear why the person did this or that. Yes, Trump has been under fire since the very first day of his President, because he has done bad things from the moment he arrived. That’s not singling him out, that’s treating him like anybody else. If any other President’ or his team did what Trump or his team did, I would expect them to be in trouble.

This is why impeachment is so important: It can and should happen to anyone, not a member of a party. If we are to believe that any person can be President, than any President can — and should be — treated the same under the law.

I don’t want Donald Trump out of office because I don’t like his hair, or his wife, or his friends. I want Donald Trump out because he broke the law — from the beginning of his Presidency to the end of it. Impeach him and keep him out office forever. Prove he is one of us, despite what he says. Prove that the law means something, because it does, and we do.

Resisting with Peace,


Salvation Is Messy — For Joe Biden, Kamala Harris & Us

I was writing a prayer for Martin Luther King tonight and it all came down to this: Salvation is messy. It takes work to go through muck and create something with utility. Whatever else people can say about Biden & Harris, I never want to hear anyone say they didn’t work hard enough.

In order to bring us across the finish line to Martin Luther King’s “Beloved Community” and finish our country’s revolution, we need to save ourselves. In order to save ourselves, we have to go from pre-contemplation to contemplation to action, and that’s just the start. Somehow, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have to convince us that we need saving. As excited as people are to raid the Capitol, and worship Donald Trump, Biden/Harris need to turn that energy in the right direction. They need to convince those cultists that a just society for everyone — including them— is possible. They need to convince people who love power, anger, and violence that they don’t need those things to calm their fears. They need to tell they can cope with reality fine, even if everybody’s included.

There will be some who cannot save themselves from their addiction to primal instinct. We will lose some human beings in the wreckage of that turnaround. It is inevitable, because addiction is hard to fight, and because propaganda is a deep hole. As a friend of mine says, “If you walk ten miles into the woods, you have to walk ten miles back”.

It took us a long time to get here — I would say since the “Reagan Revolution” and “trickle down/voodoo economics”. It’s going to take us a long time to live into the Beloved Community. In our consumer society, we are not a patient people. Part of the reason 400,000 people are dead is because they couldn’t wait long enough for the virus to get under control. Granted, Trump encouraged that belief, but he pushed us over a ledge we were already headed to. In reality TV, a “problem” like “I’m not super rich” can be solved in an hour. In reality living, it takes a lot longer.

So, Biden and Harris’ task is to convince people that we all live together, on the same planet, and —if we want to live at all, we’ve got to get on board with reality. If people don’t want to acknowledge reality, they will die, and they will take everyone else with them. We may be forced to cut them loose to save the Republic.

They will have to prove, with steadfastness, that stability works, even if it’s boring; that a reasonable salary for everyone is better than wealth beyond imagining for a few; that truth can be spoken and old wounds healed; and that people need to have basics before frivolity and fun can be a national pastime, By “basics”, I mean “life” for most (health care, food, and place to live, a planet not about to explode or drown in its own excess) before “liberty” and “the pursuit of happiness” can happen for a few.

In doing that, oddly, they will discover that sharing, caring for each other, and working for the good of others is happiness all by itself. As we reclaim our soul as a nation, we will become grateful In ways we never could have imagined. Life will have meaning again, rather than idols like money or violence and military might.

Let’s start by defining all of the challenges the Biden/Harris team faces:

1) Getting a pandemic under control.

2) Getting our debt under control.

3) Define justice once again, and stick to it.

4) Rebuild our roads and bridges

5) Get the environment clean enough to prevent global warming.

Then there’s dealing with student debt and getting everyone healthcare. Oh, yeah, those…. and they will have to do it all while people sling mud at them politically, or in media, or just in bad jokes around the water cooler. Did I mention that it will be messy getting from where we to where we want to be?

This is a gargantuan task. Did I mention salvation being hard work? Joe is willing to put his aging body to the grindstone and Harris will learn about all the things she doesn’t know she doesn’t know. I assure you, with their histories of being poor and outcast, they know the value of work and the importance of doing it.

So, liberal, Far Left, conservative, or Far Right, I don’t want to hear bellyaching or whining “It’s too much, it’s too fast, it’s too slow, it’s too …. whatever”. Cut them some slack. Listen for a while, then respond. Forget all the epithets for people you’ve never met before or seen in action. Try it for a while. Let them build some success before you finesse their programs. At the worst, we’ll survive and be closer to King’s “Dream”. At the best, we’ll have a country that works again, that lights the way for democracies around the world — not because we told them what to do, but because we got it right, and they can see it.

Resisting with Peace,


On Patriotism…

Over the next few weeks, and then months, you’re going to hear a lot about patriotism. I want to weigh in before all of the chaos deepens.

As a Christian, I have trouble with allegiance to a land or to a culture. My allegiance is, and should always be, to God. If I have to choose between my country and my God, my God has to come first. That said, I’d prefer not to have to choose. I want my country to have the same values as my God, to the extent that that’s possible.

What values are those? Compassion, care, love for creation, seeking to know each other rather than hate each other, valuing life and making sure to “do unto others as I’d have them do unto me”. While the Biblical God did engage in wars and manifest destiny and crushing empires, the Christian belief that Jesus is the best example of what God looks like in human form means that if Jesus did it, we should. If Jesus didn’t, we shouldn’t.

  • But that’s just me. In saying my piece about my religion, I’m not saying anything about non-Christians. I’m neither speaking for nor against other people. My denomination is at the root of democracy – We were the Pilgrims and Puritans way back. That means we believe in one person, one vote.

Okay, back to patriotism. Since I do live here, and do believe in democracy, American patriotism must have some standards. There must be a way to know if we’re being patriots. What do we say makes us patriots? Oaths. I looked at the President’s Oath of Office, the oath that Senators take, the oath that Representatives take, and the oaths that new citizens take.

Presidential Oath of Office:1

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Congressional Oath of Office 2

Senators, Representatives, and other federal employees: 

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.”

Citizenship Oath

In order to become a U.S. citizen, you have to say this:3

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

  1. First thing to notice, the President doesn’t officially say, “under God”. That’s a tradition, but it’s not required. Why is that? I would suspect that it’s because the President’s vision of God shouldn’t be enforceable as the vision of God. The President isn’t God, doesn’t have to know God, and should never claim to do so. In America, we want everyone’s voice to be heard. Many people who claim to not be my religion or any religion know how to be kind, know how to be fair, know how to be compassionate. Do I understand how? No, but it’s true.

Beside that, (again, my opinion) God is a mystery, and unknowable being. God is bigger that us, and knows and understands things in ways that we can’t.

2)Next thing to notice: Everyone on this list takes an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” By definition, then, that must be the definition of patriotism.

  • The third thing I noticed is that the lower you are on the totem pole, the more work you say you have to do.

The President doesn’t have to protect the country from “all enemies, foreign and domestic”. Everyone else does. The Congress doesn’t have to perform noncombatant service or do work of national importance. New Citizens do.  Finally, nobody but new citizens have to “absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen”

In thinking about this, there are tow ways to read it: People not in office have the most work to do to make this a democracy. We make the democracy, the President and Congress do the democracy. We provide the raw materials of our values, needs, and voices. They try to make something of it.

Another way to look at it is to say it’s assumed that the President will defend the country from its enemies. It’s assumed that Congress will perform service to the nation. That’s their job.

In any case,  the country is made up of more of us “regular citizens” than it is of politicians. If their going to do their job as officials, we have to do ours as citizens.

  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, people who are just born here, and are therefore citizens, don’t have to say any of these things.

What that means is that your average Joe or Mary doesn’t have to make a conscious choice about things in America. They don’t have to say what they’re faithful to, or what it means to be an American, or anything. They can go through life never thinking about democracy but getting it’s benefits anyway.

There is the problem. For years, there have been anecdotes of people reading the Constitution and thinking “ it’s some kind of socialist document. It’s not ours”. When America went to war in Iraq, Jay Leno said, “Maybe we can give them our Constitution. We’re not using it.

The point here is that your average citizen may never have thought about what it means to be a citizen, a patriot, in democracy. Those people might never know what they’re talking about. You can’t make good choices if you’re not making conscious choices. You can’t make conscious choices if you don’t know what the Constitution says.

So, in order to be a patriot, it seems, you have to

  1. know what the Constitution says.
  2. preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”.
  3. I would add, you have to “protect it from all enemies, foreign and domestic” in whatever ways you understand that.

In the coming weeks, you will hear people  — many of whom don’t know what the Constitution says – tell you they are patriots. They can’t be. They can’t defend what they don’t know.

In the coming weeks, you will see people who have read the Constitution, argue about what it means to be a patriot. If their idea of what that means doesn’t preserve, protect, or defend the Constitution”, they are not patriots. If their ideas of what that means does attempt to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, they are patriots. It doesn’t mean they got it right. They are still human after all. Still, if it’s clear they were trying to do those things, their trying makes them patriots.

In the coming weeks, you will see people take actions which either protect America from its enemies, foreign or domestic or don’t. If their actions destroy America or democracy, they are not patriots.  If their actions violate the Constitution, they are not patriots. If they support democracy and build a stronger union, they are patriots.

You will note that I never said anything about Republican or Democrat, Red or Blue. There will be people in both of those groups who will be patriots. There will be people in both of those groups who are not patriots at different times. As of this time, I don’t know of an antidemocracy (or unpatriotic) Democrat.

As a Christian, I don’t think that violence, lies, hateful actions are ever helpful. I don’t think you can be a patriot if you don’t know facts. Using your voice is your duty as a citizen. Propagation of lies isn’t.

For the future:

Every American need to have civics lessons in schools. Every American needs to have critical thinking skills and knowledge about things that are important to them.

Every elected leader needs to put that knowledge to good use, benefitting the country, not themselves, and creating a stronger union rather than “playing politics”. Politics is not something to play with or trivialize. It’s a part of our lives – all of our lives.

Resisting in Peace,