Palm Sunday, 2018, And Those Kids

(Editor’s Note: This is a sermon given at North Congregational UCC, in New Hartford, CT)

Wow. I was prepared to describe Palm Sunday to you from the text. I was prepared to explain the different versions in the four gospels, the subtle differences between John’s gospel and Mark’s gospel, both of which were optional texts for this morning. I thought I might add in the versions from Matthew and Luke just for good measure. I thought I might talk about Jesus and revolution, or about Jesus being allowed one good day for all his hard work. I thought I might prepare you for what’s coming later in the week religiously, in Jesus’ day. I expected I would do all of this just to give you a sense of Palm Sunday and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  And sure enough, I will do all of those things in this service, and this particular part of it. But you have already witnessed Palm Sunday. You have already gotten a sense of Palm Sunday. It’s no longer head knowledge or book knowledge, nor is it “street smarts” and the primal reaction that goes along with them.

If you watched the news yesterday, if you watched any of the protests on TV yesterday, if you went to any of the protests yesterday, you have experienced Palm Sunday. You know, in 2018 America, what it was like to be in Jerusalem in 33A.D. The same Spirit that caused one caused the other. Let me explain. It doesn’t matter what your politics are. It doesn’t matter what your thoughts are, nor does it matter whether you’re on the right side of history. What happened when ¾  of a full million people appear and are united is a force to be reckoned with. It just is. When Martin Luther King held a rally on the mall in 1963 (?), everyone knew that that moment had come. People are still fighting it today, but that moment came… and it changed everything. When, last year, the Women’s March happened, again, everybody knew that the moment had come and that things would never be the same.

If we go back to the Civil Right movement, we can see that it has brought about change. According to a recent study, Overall, nonwhites (including blacks, Hispanics, Asians/Pacific Islanders and Native Americans) make up 19% of the current Congress. By comparison, nonwhite Hispanics and other racial minorities make up 38% of the nation’s population.  Now, that sounds pretty pathetic. But prior to 1963, there were probably zero percent minorities.

Minorities, however, account for 20 of 59 new members (34%) of the House and Senate. This represents a notable jump over the 114th Congress, when just 11 of 71 new members (15%) were a racial or ethnic minority and the Senate had no newly elected minority members. This year, three freshman senators are a racial or ethnic minority, along with 17 new members of the House.

If we look at the women’s movement, For the first 150 or so years of our country. We had ZERO women in congress – House or Senate — Until 1917, when Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana became the first. Now, in 2018, There 105  women hold seats in the United States Congress, 22 women in the United States Senate, and 83 women in the United States House of Representatives.

In the 2018 midterm election coming up, twice as many women are running as were running just two years ago.

At least 431 female candidates are running or are likely to run for the House, compared to 212 in February 2016, according to NPR. In Senate races, 50 women are running or are likely to run, compared to 25 in 2016

Their moment has come. This will be, according to an article I read, the 5th wave of women attempting to get into Congress.

So yesterday, when all of those people marched on the nation’s capital and marched on any number of state capitals, a moment had come. What was once unthinkable is now … thinkable. And once it’s thinkable, it becomes possible. Gun control, of one form or another, will become the law of the land, maybe not now, maybe not in the near future – but gun control will come. There are at least a million people who say so, and – of them – some of them will take their place as leaders in our government, and gun control will happen.

Now, back to the original Palm Sunday story and why I said what I said about yesterday… Yesterday, the world stood on its head in more ways than one. For example, silence spoke louder than words. Yesterday, with an estimated 800,000 people in front of her, Emma Rodriguez  said absolutely nothing for 6 minutes. If you know anything about kids at all, you know that it’s hard to get silence in a room full of them, for 6 minutes! This was a crowd estimated at 800,000 people. In an America that’s getting increasingly busy and distracted, yes, the crowd’s anxiety broke in a couple of times, not sure what to do. But it was quelled. And in six minutes of non-speaking, she had the same impact today that Martin Luther King had at his rally 55 years ago. You know the phrase, “If these were silent, even the rocks would begin to sing”? That is what happened yesterday. Just as it had when the women’s march came, and whatever happened when Stonewall happened, and King’s march on Washington. They are all moments in time when the previously voiceless believed in themselves enough to speak The Truth as they felt it. And in their spontaneity, they all spoke as one.  Part of what makes Palm Sunday spectacular is that there were no organizers, per se. The text says that “when people heard Jesus was going to be in town for Passover (“the feast” in the text), they came out and took what they could. Tree branches, coats, etc. Palm Sunday just happened. The disciples might have told people Jesus was coming, but they didn’t tell them that it was important that he was there, and they didn’t tell the crowds what to say. They knew that this man who had listened to them, who healed them, who taught them a new way to live was “He who comes in the name of the Lord!” And to that, they said. “Hallelujah!”.  The interest, the zeitgeist, the Spirit of the times was already there, so when they heard, they knew where they wanted to be. It is the same way that news spread around the Women’s March. People were getting on busses the minute they heard about it. Yes, there was co-ordination, but the crowd was never in doubt. The size of it far surpassed anyone’s expectation, and the crowds in each statehouse were representative of the same Spirit. Women’s speech, oppressed, or repressed or suppressed before this was louder than can be imagined. They had had enough, and with something like a giant “sigh”, they appeared, never to go into the woodwork again. When someone tried to pick on them about the …um, hats, because they were “probably manufactured in China, it became apparent they didn’t understand. All those hats were hand-made by the women who were there.

No matter whether you supported the movement or didn’t, you had to take notice of it. That same thing was true as Jesus rode through the gates of Jerusalem. Whether people disagreed theologically, like the scribes, Pharisees and Saducees, or felt like threatening Jesus with  political violence, like the Roman Occupation Army, you couldn’t help but know what was happening. Victor Hugo is quoted as saying, “There is nothing so powerful than an idea whose time has come”. The idea that gun violence has to end – its time has come.

Now, if we look at the different versions in the Gospels about Jesus’ march into Jerusalem, you can see that no one knew what to make of the energy of the day. This morning’s text says that Jesus’ disciples took a donkey for him to ride on. That’s in John. In Mark, the disciples take a horse/colt. In Matthew, as my professor used to say, we have “Jesus the trick rider, who rides both a donkey and a horse, at the same time. In Luke, it’s a “colt that’s never been ridden” – a wild animal.  Which of these is true? Each storyteller wanted to tell you something about Jesus. Mark wanted to have him be the triumphant (or ironic) military challenge to Rome by riding on a horse. John wants him to be humble, riding in on a donkey – a beast of burden. Matthew can’t make up his mind and takes them both. And Luke wants him to be slightly out of control.

At a moment of high energy like this, people don’t know what to expect, ot what to make of it. I’ll bet there were people at yesterday’s march that wanted to storm the NRA offices to prove they had the power now. There were people that are generally quiet and made a fuss because they had to. Violence is never going to be an option for them. And  there were those who understood the anger, but actively chose non-violence.  Some version of that happened in the crowds on Palm Sunday. Which one is “true”? Whichever works for you.

Now finally, about the title to this morning’s sermon: For years, when I have read the story of Holy Week, I wince and think, “Oh, Jesus, man.… It’s a great day, and you deserve it, but if only you could do something different, Good Friday would have been better for you”. We see that in hindsight, knowing how the story ends. But today, I wanted you to experience Palm Sunday as those people on the streets of Jerusalem did. I wanted, as Shirley can tell you, for Jesus just to have his big day, with no worries about the future… riding in to town on the biggest day of his life. All of this morning’s songs are glorious, upbeat songs today. The psalm gives you some understanding of what the people thought was going on. If something were to happen to Jesus now, after this point in the story, it’s going to really hurt, really be a blow to the disciples, and us. Just when we think good has triumphed, evil will raise its ugly head once again, in the pendulum sweep of history. On Good Friday, it will feel like evil has won. But it hasn’t. What once was a group of 12 guys is now approximately 2.1 billion Christians around the world (about one third of the total population of the planet)! The number of people worshipping Zeus and Athena and all of the Roman Gods is now down considerably, and no one is afraid of Caesar anymore. On that Palm Sunday, 2000 years ago, Christianity was an idea whose time has come. Amen.


On School Safety, Guns, and Us…

I’m writing this to sort things out in my own head. Today, the son of my cousin went to school with his normal head-load of issues. I’m not totally sure of it all, but — in addition to school subjects and being a teenager, I think he has trouble with change and he doesn’t particularly like people. So, in addition to four things making his life more complex, some idiot added a fifth today by shooting up his school, and dying at the hands of a gun-using school resource officer. I want to change the debate to terms that make sense to me: sin, freedom, community, and our responsibility to one another. Politics, it seems to me, asks the wrong questions and therefore, yields the wrong answers.

I don’t know how my cousin, or the community she and her son live in, feel about guns, so I will not claim to speak for her. Personally, I hate guns when they are used to huntpeople. It doesn’t much matter if it’s a handgun, a rifle, or a sub-machine gun. My grandfather hunted most of his life, and fired 1 million rounds in his 30 years as a gun tester at Remington Arms. He had a giant bullet trophy in his living room when I was young, so I know. His idea of fun on a Saturday afternoon was to go to the Rod and Gun Club in town and shoot skeet, so I understand there are safe gun owners, or there used to be. My grandfather stopped hunting in the woods near his house in about 1972, because there were two many idiots out there who would shoot at anything that moved. Shoot first, ask questions later. It was a stupid idea with deadly consequences then. It hasn’t gotten any better since. It seems to me that his was a different day, when people respected forces more powerful than them — oceans, storms, and bullets come to mind first among them. When people started thinking they were more powerful or more important than nature is the day that death came to America. When ego overcame reality, reality, not surprisingly, fought back and continues to not give in. This is the sin of pride and we make mistakes as soon as we indulge in it.

Jimi Hendrix once said, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, we’ll have peace”. He’s right. What do we chase? Power. Not internal self-esteem, but power over others. My grandfather was a man. He peed standing up. He put in his pants one leg at a time. He knew he was a man, so he didn’t need to prove it. When men use a gun to impress you with how powerful they are (we don’t have a lot of women mass-shooters), they tend to pretend that gun is their penis. It makes them feel manly. My grandfather kept his penis in his pants. Using a gun to prove your manliness is idolatry: you are substituting a representative object for the real thing. Idolatry is a sin. If someone thinks a gun makes them manly, or proves how manly they are, they are already mixed up. Mixed up people shouldn’t have guns.

Killing, (actually murder, or intentional killing), is wrong. It’s in the 10 commandments. All those Bible thumpers who enshrine the 10 Commandments need to remember that when they think the NRA’s thoughts on AR-15s is the right way to go. Killing is a sin. Here’s the problem: in America, we don’t take sin seriously. We’re number 1! There is no sin! We’re above sin! We’re number 1… except that we’re not anymore. Not in much of anything. We don’t live in reality. We live in image — the image of propaganda and sales. If we were above sin, if we lived in reality, kids wouldn’t be getting shot at school.

So, let’s acknowledge sin — that there’s a part of us that gets it wrong, that makes nasty, petty, or violent choices. And when we acknowledge that, the simple reality of that, let us make laws and regulations that say that we don’t want to make anger permanent, or psychosis real, or vengeance a value of ours. There are those who say, “You can’t legislate morality”. In fact, morality is the only thing worth regulating , especially when we’re this far from where we should be, when it becomes a life-and death issue. That’s where we’re at.

That said, school safety is about more than guns, as I’m coming to understand. For instance, there are ways you can build a school, and certain materials will make the place safer — bullet proof glass, for instance. Certain designs of buildings make school safer regardless of how crazy the person is. That would be possible to implement — if we supported our schools with real funding. We don’t. If it’s a bomb, it gets money. If it’s a student or a school, it doesn’t. When we’re willing to actually prioritize education enough to fund it, our schools will become safer. Any time we want to decide to do that, I’ll be happy. Until then, no.

A couple more points, from friends. My Facebook post about the shooting brought out many sad faces. At first, only one friend — one who works for peace — used an “angry” emoticon . As the days go by, more and more angry faces show up. We should be angry that this continues to go on, even as people organize against it this week, as Congress hasn’t refuses to deal with the issue. I’m writing this because I’m angry about kids dying. Let my cousin be sad. She has every reason to be. Let the people of St. Mary’s County be sad. They have faced tragedy. I may get to that later, but right now I’m angry. I’m sick of seeing traumatized children grow up to be traumatized or traumatizing adults. As a therapist, I have more clients than I can handle now. I don’t need more.

Oh, speaking of that, we need more therapists, and more therapists need to be paid, so if somebody could make that happen, that would be great. If we’re going to create monsters, we should have some way to fix them as well… preferably before they shoot up a school. One more thing on mental health: Chuck Grassley and Donald Trump and anyone who supported giving guns back to mentally ill people ought to be ashamed of themselves. Have they fixed that mistake yet by re-instituting that law? I don’t think so. Vote them out!

Next, my friend Joe Roberts said it’s about kids getting revenge for being bullied. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that bullying destroys lives. People who have been hollowed out by years of abuse begin to feel they have nothing to live for, and they’re angry enough about the abuse, they don’t care if they die and they’re sure as hell going to take someone with them into that “great beyond”. Whether there’s a direct correlation between bullying and mass shooting or not, bullying is wrong, it hurts, and it must be stopped. Hollowed out children are no fun. We should stop making them that way.

Lastly, as I said already, we need to fund mental health services, so that the wounded in all of this can get un- wounded. Until we do that, our schools will never be safe. Also, something that covers physical trauma, like universal health care would be nice. Do kids who get shot and have no insurance get what they need, even if it’s not their fault. I don’t know, but I suspect not.

All of this is about priorities and will. So let’s get our priorities straight and use our will to make laws that care about people more than guns.

There. I think I got it all out now. I feel clearer, and thus, better. How about you?

Resisting with Peace,


The Will To Live: A Political Platform

I was listening to a podcast of “Morning Joe” this morning. It was from a few days ago and they were complaining about how the Democrats didn’t have a message but “You’re oppressed. These people did it” and they related it to “identity politics”. While I have my own misgivings/questions about “identity politics” , the idea that there’s no clear message that could unify the country is simply false, on a gut level. Gay rights, Black Lives Matter, the kids in Florida and gun rights, unions and their right to exist, the women’s march, income inequality and the tax cut, medicine, college, and so on…

What’s the common theme that binds all of these together? The will to live. Of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, it’s not Liberty (gun laws and the right to have guns) anymore. People think about the “pursuit of happiness “, regarding social issues, but something is wrong there: people in this day and age take it to mean “The pursuit of pleasure”. and one side of culture wars wants pleasure and convenience and the other side complains they do. So what’s left? Life — the will to have it, and maybe, just maybe, to have a good one. In the meantime, the great movements of the last few years boil down to the same thing: the ability to stay alive. This was brought home to me by one of my clients who has $90,000 in student debt — and I thought, “how does anybody live like this?”. My client has a full-time job.

In the same vein, my wife said to me the other day, “well, we have had health insurance for two years. That’s about the best we can say for now”. My wife and I both work, and work hard, and make good money, I think. Still, I wonder, “How does anybody live like this and send their kids to college, besides?” When I pay for my meds every month, I think, “If we can’t pay for this, I’ll die”…and I immediately think of my clients who are poor, or senior citizens, or children with illnesses. How can they afford their medicines? If they don’t get them, they, too, will die. None of us wants to die if it’s preventable … and it seems to be.

Let me go down a list of movements and their causes:

Black Lives Matter — they don’t want to die if it’s preventable … and it clearly seems to be.

Parkland: Student Lives Matter — they don’t want to die if it’s preventable … and it seems to be.

The Women’s March and the MeToo movement: Women’s Lives Matter –they don’t want to die. Women’s Bodies Matter — they don’t want to die, either mentally or physically, if it’s preventable … and it seems to be.

Trump voters and poverty — The White Poor Matter — they don’t want to die of starvation if it’s preventable … and it seems to be.

The Poor People’s Campaign — The Diverse Poor Matter. They don’t want to die, if it’s preventable … and it seems to be.

Occupy Wall Street– the majority of us matter — we shouldn’t have to die when 5 or 10 people have more resources than all all of the rest of us together do. We don’t want to die if it’s preventable … and it seems to be.

Teachers in West Virginia are on strike, (Teachers Lives Matter) because they and their students can’t afford to live. Hey shouldn’t have to be poor while they’re making the world better… If it’s preventable … and it seems to be. While they are on strike, they feed the kids lunches to replace the ones they would be getting if they were in school. Hungry Students Lives Matter and they shouldn’t starve or die if it’s preventable … and it seems to be.

LGBTQ students and anti- bullying campaigns (Gay Kids Matter, Nerdy Kids Matter, Unpopular Kids Matter) None of them want to die (and, yes, it’s a genuine fear that they might) if it’s preventable … and it seems to be.

Our present government doesn’t seem to think anyone’s life matters, and frankly, we’re fed up. So there it is, the theme for any politician who wants to get elected: The Unifying Theme for any leader that wants to get elected– Democrat or Republican, I don’t care though I don’t hold out much hope from Republicans really. Look at the people you represent and say, “Your life matters. You don’t deserve to die if it’s preventableand it seems to be. Here’s how we’re going to fix it…”

If you can’t say that and mean it, get off the stage, get off the ballot. You’re wasting my time and you don’t deserve to be elected.

Resisting with Peace,


Play Review: “Raisin In The Sun”, Cabaret Theatre, Bridgeport, CT

My wife, who studied anthropology, told me that starving people reach this point where they no longer want to eat gruel, and now want a meal with spices or just flavored. This is a sign of health, because the person now believes that they will survive and they want more out of life.

“Raisin In The Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry, as performed by the Bridgeport Cabaret Theatre, is the story of people who are starting to refuse to eat gruel. It is the story of a family, a culture, and individuals who will no longer settle for mere existence, who are experiencing the economic or civil version of “sick and tired of being sick and tired”.

The story features a mother/grandmother who grew up as a sharecropper (LaMarr Taylor as “Miss Lena”) , her two children (Walter and Beneatha, played by Jahi Kasssa Taharqa and MayTae Harge, respectively), Walter’s wife Ruth (played by Noelle Ginyard), and Walter and Ruth’s son, Travis (played that night by Abijola “Keeme” Tajudeen). They all live in a cramped Chicago slum together, and there is so little room in the apartment that Travis sleeps on the couch at night. Strolling through as a form of character development are George (Avery Owens) and Mr. Asagi, (played by Garth West) .

All of the family members are shaped by two other unseen characters: Lena’s late husband, who creates dreams at the beginning of the play, and a con man named Willie who could potentially take them away in the end (no spoiler here. You have to go to see the play).

For good or bad, as I watched, I tried to connect with each of these Black characters set in the late 50’s, early ’60’s characters as “familiar” or “not familiar” to me today about 50 years later. Whether that is pompous of me or not remains to be seen, but that’s where I went. Sadly, amazingly, I recognized all of these people, and their downsides, their struggles, and ultimately their faithful determination to see themselves as worthy human beings. Some I understood from the past, and some from the present. It is the contrast of the two which gives the play its meaning in this millennia. Still, all of it is about survival and the meaning of gruel.

I understood the hurt and anger that is Walter, with the world changing, and women’s growth passing him by, who believes he is supposed to be in charge, make the decisions, and have the respect of the family. I understand, but don’t respect, his anger, his drinking, his hanging out, all while dreaming of being more in the world of men, fighting the nearly unbeatable tide of racism out there, only to come home to women who are going somewhere. He wants to be given just a chance to get ahead, and have some worth. For him, not eating gruel anymore means having an easy life and being seen as respectable, just like the White men he sees. The White version of Walter is the formerly middle-class Trump voter .

I recognized the young boy who is born into the world, with no other expectations than the ones he sees, while his peers haven’t learned “the rules” yet, who hasn’t been scarred enough to be disillusioned yet. Young Travis is still innocent and playful, dreaming … yet wondering about a few things around him, protected by his parents to the best of their abilities. Travis has never eaten gruel and can’t yet imagine its existence at this point in his life. He will be the activist of the late 1960’s, the believer that tells his children “Black is beautiful”, and “[says] it loud, he’s Black and Proud!”. Middle aged at Obama’s inauguration, disappointed at the backlash, he is the one now blamed by society for dreaming too much, and thinking he deserved more than gruel, in the current climate.

I recognized women like Ruth, faced with changing culture that now offers a range of decisions, all of them requiring hard work and hard choices, which she is willing to do if men will let her. She is perhaps the strongest of anyone there, the one with little or no cheerleading to call her on, driven only by her internal drive, but gaining daily strength from it. As she overcomes the challenges, she gains experience of her wisdom which can’t be taken away with the “logic” of men and will prove unfathomably strong over time. She has heard stories of gruel, and knows it is not for her, yet has to prove this to others.

I recognized the soon-to-be Angela Davis that is Beneatha, who says “Hell, no, I won’t eat gruel!”, who believes her time has come, who has the intellect to prove it, but at this stage believes it will be easy to live the life she can picture in her mind. She can picture a life of equality under the law, less than no other person, White, Black, male, female, rich or poor, nappy-headed or straight-haired. Life will not be easy for her, if she survives at all. Despite what she believes in her college years, playing “We Shall Overcome” on the guitar won’t be enough. Still, if she makes it, she will become an icon in the feminist/Womanist movement and lay the groundwork for gender studies and the upcoming understanding of “more than binary” sexuality. White liberal women will idolize her, White men will respect her and fear her in equal measure.

Finally, I recognize Lena, the Matriarch of faith, who has eaten gruel, because her awakening was that she simply deserved to live. God told her that — when White society wouldn’t. She reminds me, financially, of my grandfather, who grew up in the Depression and always ate the last pea on his plate out of remembrance of times past. He ate liver or chipped-beef-on -toast or bread and milk for a meal because it was food. Lena and my grandfather shared that sense of having nothing, but my grandfather was told that of course he deserved to exist. He was White, Male, German, and Protestant. While God loved him, he didn’t need to be told because society told him that every day. Lena, on the other hand, would have needed to hear about her worth from something beyond this sphere. When she did, she never gave up. She, like my grandfather, never believed that money and self-worth were the same thing.

Beneatha’s two suitors are also recognizable as pathways to coping: George, as a “buppie” from the 1980’s who believed White culture and capitalism were right, as long he could “pass” for White. He is rich and educated, and does what he should. The Nigerian-born Asagi is the fantasy that gives pride to a nation in exile. He is dignified and gracious, wise and humble. He is regal in ways that George — An American — doesn’t even contemplate.

Which person does our society focus on? The one who never appears on stage — Willie, the con man — is our present culture’s icon for the Black man as represented by the White one. He is the image of opportunity being fed to America’s secular Blacks — the one for whom the lottery, the hustle, or selling drugs are the only opportunities for pride, and “making it”. He is the criminal we can arrest because “he’s only causing harm”. He is the symbol of “Black on Black crime” that Jeff Sessions wants to lock up, while claiming it’s about “safety” or “law and order”.

Which person really runs the American world right now? It’s the minor, and unsuspecting character, Karl Lindner, who offers the family a “legitimate” way to save the family (not like Willie offers) if they simply accept the rules. Of course, the rules are that Blacks are “those people” — yes, they are people, but they don’t belong with “us”. Lindner is at once the most hateful man in the play, and the most pleasant. If you ask him, he’s only doing his job, and making “everyone” happy. He doesn’t swear, he isn’t a criminal, he just “fills out the forms”. Lindner is the Faustian bargain offered to people with no hope — people of all colors, both Walter and the Trump voter (and the Latino gardener in California, or snow-plow driver in the Northeast).

But back to gruel: Gruel is simple sustenance, a step up for people withnothing, who have been told they are nothing. No one who has something, or believes they are something eats it willingly. Each of the characters in “Raisin in the Sun”, have begun to expect more from life, as they should — emotionally, financially, spiritually. They believe, on some level, what God believes — that they can be their best, fullest selves. Our current ruling class is determined to eat all of the “real food”. They believe that the only way they can “have it all” is to make sure others agree to have nothing, and accept gruel as a step up. They are willing to give the scraps from their lives so that we can exist on those. In doing so, they don’t have tofeel bad.

We who are not the ruling class must fight this with every fiber of our being, because our simply being is at stake. We must not believe that they are the only ones who deserve food, education, health, self-esteem, that they are the only ones who exist.

We must believe in ourselves and each other. We must treat each other as though we believe that we are somebody. We must see ourselves as God sees us, and trust in the vision of who we can be. Accepting gruel makes it impossible to become our best selves. The Youngers, in this play, show us ways to be beyond that, and the risks inherent in the choices we think we have. It is a great, yes, classic, play because of that.

The production in Bridgeport featured first class actors . As I waited to see Noel Ginyard after the show, each of the actors walked by and were recognizable vaguely as the people they portrayed, but I had to strain myself to actually see them as their characters — the sign of good acting being that the person, in their role, is as believable as the person off stage. They all were.

I would recommend it to all.



Sort of Not My Business — About Abortion

I am aware at this stage of my life that I will never have an abortion. At her age, I’m pretty certain my wife won’t either. As Congress considers limiting abortion to 20 weeks from conception, I thought I’d write about the topic,

Both my and my wife’s lack of experience are good starting points for discussion, but they are not the same starting point that others have, and I think that’s part of the problem. This is one of those things where I don’t get conservatives, who are all about fewer laws, except when it comes to sex. (Yes, sex, but also gender. I’m sure we don’t want women to have sex. I’m not so sure we don’t want women to be women.)

Anyway, I’m all for having fewer laws, I’m all for assuming people are “big people” and can make up their own minds about things. They can take responsibility for their own lives. The difference is that I think of women as people. When men — or women — make laws about what others are allowed to do with their own bodies, we have problems. I have never assumed that a woman’s body was mine to police, or mine to hurt.

So, there it is: what I believe. I’m pro-choice and I’m anti-hurt. Anytime a women gets hurt and a baby is the result of that hurt. The man who did the hurting has lost all right to say anything about the baby or its existence. Time’s up. Thanks for playing, now go directly to jail.

After that, whether a man and a woman want to terminate or keep a pregnancy is up to them. If there’s a question about the decision, the decision should go to the one doing the work: The woman. If the man wants to raise a child by a woman he loves (whether she does or not) that should be taken into consideration,but ultimately, since the baby is located in her, she should make the final call.

Ok. That’s what I believe, from my lack of experience. Take it for what it’s worth.

Here’s the tricky part. I know a whole lot of women who have had abortions, and have grieved it their whole lives. I have also known a few women who have had them and didn’t regret it, but those seem to be the minority, by far.

Having seen my wife be pregnant, and listening to her experience, I have absolutely no clue what it’s like to be pregnant, Women and their embryos — later children– are literally connected, or attached, in some way that I just don’t get. They feel things that I don’t (and vice-versa. They don’t understand having a teenage — or adult –erection).

Some of the things they feel are joy, sadness guilt, relief, loss, gain, helplessness, power, and all the other things they are capable of feeling. When they choose to have an abortion, they need to be aware of all of the possibilities of that, and live with their choices. I assume that they can because, well, they have to.

You will note that I haven’t said anything about the life of the baby. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know when it’s a baby, when it’s viable, a fetus, or a mass of cells. Again, it’s a woman’s experience of it that matters, because I don’t have any experience to draw from.

What I do know is that once a baby leaves the birth canal, no matter what, we as a society are responsible for it. It has always bothered me that the same people who say a woman should have the baby because it’s sacred refuse to give it the necessary food, clothing, and shelter it needs — as though it’s not sacred anymore. You can’t have it both ways, it seems to me.

Yes, I believe that all life is sacred. I just don’t know when it becomes a life. I also believe that because such a decision has so many effects on a woman’s life that the decision shouldn’t be made lightly… ever. Women are capable of making those decisions. They are capable of living with the consequences of those decisions, as well.

Resisting with Peace,


Questions For The Next Presidential Candidate

Skipping ahead to 2019, assuming we make it that far, and taking into account the lessons of the present administration, here’s what I think we should be asking:

1) Who do work for?

2) Have you read the Constitution?

3) Tell us why Democracy is a good idea…

4) How do you feel about the press?

5) Is there ever a good use of nuclear weapons?

6) Have you ever been called a liar?

7) Have you ever groped, harassed, or sexually assaulted another person?

8) Define the word “Americans”

9) Who will cabinet members work for?

10) Define “racism”. Are those behaviors you have engaged in?

11) Do women deserve equal pay for the same work?

12) How will you fix wealth disparity?

13) Do you agree with”Citizens United”? What can be done to fix it?

14) How will your Presidency reflect the diversity of modern America?

15) Is any citizen above the law?

16) Is the Department of Justice an independent agency?

17) Define the difference between “voter” and “citizen”. Will you work for both?

18) Explain for us the “separation of Church and State “.

19) What is your view of Global Climate Change? If you believe it exists, will you fix it?

20) Do you believe in public schools? How will you address any issues with them?

21) How will you pick your Cabinet?

22) Do you believe we can prevent mass shootings? If yes, How will you do that?

23) Why should we trust you?

24) Do you believe healthcare is a human right?

24) What do our children need? How will you help them get it?

25) How will you address hunger?

26) How will you address homelessness?

27) How will you address addiction?

28) Do you believe in mental health parity?

29) What do you think America’s role in the world should be?

Many of these used to be easy questions.…We can’t take their answers for granted anymore.

Puerto Rico and The U.S. : Us At Our Worst?

Puerto Ricans are human. That ought to be enough for us to help them after a natural disaster. People who live in the U.S. Virgin Islands, who I never hear about, are also human beings. They, too, deserve help if they need it. In addition to that, of course, they are our human beings. Is it better to neglect a child who doesn’t cry or one who does? Both are unconscionable if they are your family.

I say “child” not because the Puerto Rican people are “babies”, but because they are –for better or worse — dependents. We have a moral imperative to help them if they are equals, we have more than that if they are our dependents. We have still more ethical crisis if we made them dependent.

Before all of this, I knew nothing of Puerto Rican history, but a fair amount Puerto Rico today from clients over the last 10 years. As I understood it, Puerto Rico is loved by people who live there. I gather it was busy, teeming with life, but often hard to make a living in. People come to Massachusetts because there is work and education on the mainland, but they frequently travelled back home to see relatives. They are proud of both lives. There are long, white beaches there.and houses with tin roofs and crime and gangs.

Among White people here, there is a legend that there is a sign at the San Juan airport that says, “Fly to Holyoke, Mass. They give out the most in Welfare payments” (“I seen it!” Or “My cousin’s uncle saw it once!” is always added, just to make sure you believe it). I have heard that story hundreds of times in my life, but, amazingly, never from my Puerto Rican clients. I tend to trust experience over “knowledge”, so I’m going to guess that there isn’t really a sign there… I say this, because I bet Donald Trump has heard this story all of his life as well, probably replacing “Holyoke” with the words “New York City”.

Prior to the hurricane last year, the above was all I knew about the island off our shores. That, and I knew there was a controversy over statehood vs. independence, but I didn’t know much about why.

Since the hurricane, I have learned that many people don’t think of Puerto Rico as American because of that messy status of “not really a colony but not really a state”. I have also learned that there is an arcane shipping rule that makes it difficult to get aid or other things shipped there. Regarding tax policy, we once made it almost tax free for corporations to move there, and that Big Pharma did. When that tax break was removed, many of the businesses immediately left at the prospect of having to pay any taxes to be there. They used the resources of the labor but gave little or nothing to the country/state (though, to be fair, I bet Puerto Ricans pay income taxes to the island, so it wasn’t totally unfair to the island). To make matters worse, when the money dried up, big banks restructured their loans to make it nearly impossible for the government there to get out of debt. This is colonialism at its worst.

We say we own them, we mess with their laws, and our own, to bankrupt their economy, and once that’s in place, we claim no responsibility for them until they can pay their debt. We told them they are dependent on us, we made them dependent on us, and now when they want us to be dependable, we refuse. This is a chapter in U.S. history to be ashamed of. The country of Puerto Rico would have been better off if we had never claimed them in the first place.

So, months after a natural disaster hit the island, 1/3 of the Place still has no power, and our government blames it on them. Then there was a scandal about who we gave a contract to fix things. (Yes, we tried to screw them once again — when they were down). Their debt is more important to our government than the lives of their people. This is unconscionable. This is not how we are supposed to treat human beings!

Let us live up to our responsibilities. Let us live up to the morals that allow us to believe we’re a Christian Nation. At least two churches, the United Church of Christ and the American Baptist Churches,USA have made long-term commitments to be their with them, and bring aid. That’s the difference between a moral view rather than an economic view. We need, as a country, to fix this whole mess, and I hope we will. In the meantime, though, people die and get illnesses that will read havoc there. If ever there was a way to make gangs powerful, this is the way to do it. We raise crime, while ending lives, through our actions. This must change!

Resisting with Peace,


A special shout-out to Bruce MacCullagh for reminding me of this moral crisis.

Liberal Clergy: It’s Good We Are Here

I’m sitting here on Christmas Eve trying to get all jazzed for Service tonight, and Christmas tomorrow and I keep thinking about President Trump and the current set of Republicans in Congress and all the damage to God’s world and God’s people that they have done. I’m thinking, “If it’s hard for me to get past, and I’m clergy, it’s got to be a killer for those who aren’t”. Those with no faith, a faith that hates them, or discourages them from becoming their best self, it’s got to be worse.

We have let a fox into the henhouse and he/they are making a real mess of things, destroying the hope symbolized by the eggs that are lying around. The administration seems bent on hiring people who either hate the organization they run or are incompetent to run it. Every day brings a new choice between neglect and abuse of our people and the people around the world — all of whom God created.

Into this we walk, as we always have– seeing the people that Trump would rather we forget — the immigrant, the poor, the female, the intelligent, Black people, Puerto Rican people, South and North Korean people, the mentally ill, the physically ill, Palestinians, Muslims, the elderly and children. Did I miss anyone? They’ll be “up” tomorrow.

I’m pretty sure the male, the super-rich, and the fascists have a government that takes care of them. Everybody else will look to us. OK, they will look to God for relief, as they always have. But the gates to God will seem to be blocked by the Religious Right. That’s where we come in. After years of caring more about who people sleep with than they get to sleep at all, the Religious Right has shown its stripes. When they sign up with the Nazis and the swindlers, the corporate masquerading as the Just, they point the way to very different Jesus than the times call for… the same Jesus the times have always called for. That Jesus — the One with compassion, the One who redeems instead of remaining angry, the One who seeks mercy, not sacrifice — that Jesus is ours. As a therapist, I feel the same way that I do as clergy: I will never run out of work. Even if I like my job, I’d rather be out of business. If I ever doubted my job security, Mr. Trump and his cohort have certainly given me that.

It’s not that we’re better people at our core than the Right, but I’m more likely to trust a Right-Wing congregant than a massive-church-with-a-TV-ministry that always needs money. For all of our lack of Pronounced Piety, we never lack for pronounced (or, better yet, unseen) compassion.

The little baby from out-of-town, his unwed mother, and their father who “lets” them live in a barn don’t stand a chance in Trump’s world. Neither will the homeless preacher who dares heal anyone without asking to be paid for it. Since God has the final word on the itinerant preacher, it’s up to us to protect the baby and it’s family. It helps that we would be looking amongst the dregs Caesar wouldn’t even contemplate living with.

So, once again, we have have what the world needs. There are those who will argue about Jesus’ call to charity vs. Jesus’ call to justice. The Jesus that the Left knows is — and should be — both. Martin Luther King is our kind of radical. St. Francis and Audre Lorde are too, just like the little old lady that shows kindness in a soup kitchen.

There will — and in some places, there already are — a lot of people who will need help simply to exist under this government. It’s good that we are here. But because of that we need to take care of ourselves, empower others, and develop long-term strategies for coping– including prayer, exercise and spending time in nature — after we take care of the immediate needs of people our government doesn’t think should exist, or — if they do — should have no rights.

Lots of people will come to our God if things don’t change soon. We need to be ready to let them into the waiting room until the Cosmic Physician can get to them. It’s a good thing we’re here.



Al Franken Takes One For The Human Team…

I listen to two podcasts most days as I drive to and from work: last night’s Rachel Maddow for about an hour and that morning’s Morning Joe. This amounts to an hour and a half to two hours of news. Yes, Maddow is biased, but she’s intelligent, thorough, non-sensationalist, and everything I would hope for in a journalist. Morning Joe is a relatively balanced hour with a round-robin of guests and is also in-depth. I also watch CBS This Morning if I have to get up. On all of these programs, it’s been hard to watch as apparently good people lose their careers because, well, they were bad people in some part of their lives regarding sexual abuse, assault, or harassment.

Today, Morning Joe was heartbreaking, as Mika Breshinzki with two or three other women, talked about the resignation of Al Franken from the Senate after 7 or 8 women made complaints about him. The women on the panel, especially Breshinzki, were trying to cope with the loss of a senator who had crafted pro-women’s rights bill, while they were also choosing to believe the women involved. There were the questions and talk about due process, the need for The Moment in our history, and the larger question: is Franken a good man or bad person? How do you hold both of those pictures in your heart with any sense of integrity? It seems impossible, especially when you realize that the word “integrity” has the same root as “integer” — a whole number 1. In other words, to have integrity is to be of one whole mind about something. How can you have 1 mind about opposites? Bill Clinton compartmentalized, but Franken couldn’t as part of his personality/style.

The Morning Joe team played a lengthy segment of Franken’s resignation speech, which I had not been able to find anywhere. Franken’s voice shook throughout the speech as he laid out his contentions: 1) As a Senator, he had done work that supported women; 2) that he had a different understanding of events than his accusers and yes, someone was lying, though he didn’t say who, because it wasn’t relevant; 3) That he was willing to sit through an investigation to see what his colleagues thought of his actions; 4) He didn’t want to step down but …5) he worked for the people of Minnesota, and it was impossible under these conditions to do that well. Furthermore, and this is key to his testimony : “no woman should be afraid to speak out again”. The time has come to represent their interests, even if it wasn’t in his interest.

Also, of course, he noted the irony of his being asked to leave, while a President recorded bragging about sexual assault and an accused pedophile were either in power or being supported by the RNC.

Ok. What’s the take away from this? Did he do these things or not? Is he a good man or not? Should he still be in his job or should he be fired by an ethics committee? How does this work? What do we do now? What is the difference between Franken, Moore, and the President? Are they individuals with a gradient or is this proof of their sameness as men in power? Put another way, is Al Franken just as bad as Roy Moire and Donald Trump if they all did basically the same thing, or at least variations on a common theme?

Let me suggest that we already know the answer, and the answer is no… because it could be yes. Al Franken is a better person than the other two not based on his actions, good or bad. We will never know if Franken is a predator or not. Only his accusers, he, and God know what the truth really is. That part is indisputable. .We know that Moore doesn’t really deny his actions, and that Trump bragged about it.

What proves that Al Franken is a good (or better) man is that he did less wrong, took more responsibility and more loss for it. Franken sees that there are causes that are bigger than his life or his career, or just plain him. Franken was — regardless of the reality of the situation, — which, again , we will never know — willing to sacrifice a large part of his life to say that his accusers deserve respect, and that women in general do, as well.

Roy Moore can claim his Christianity all he wants. Franken acted like a Christian in his response to all of this. In fact, this is the essential irony of Christianity — that good people are willing to sacrifice themselves for a cause bigger than them. They refuse to do further harm in the world.

I don’t want to stretch the metaphor any further, but the way some women felt at the loss of Franken — respected by everyone for his work — multiplied by 100 is the way the disciples felt watching Jesus die on the cross. The difference, of course, is that we believe Jesus was sin free, and hadn’t hurt anyone, but to the extent that it fits, Franken’s resignation allows for healing in ways that Trump and Moore’s denials will never do.

A few spare thoughts: 1) Why has no one asked Roy Moore’s wife why she is standing by her man, like they did Hillary Clinton about Bill? 2) I don’t believe this is a Democrat/Republican issue. John Conyers has his own issues. His resignation, however, is shows more of a conscience than Moore or Trump have proven to yet have.

None of this should be construed to say I disbelieve the woman accusers of Franken, though — truth be told — I believe the first one (the Republican Trump supporter) more than I believe the last one (a Democrat, I believe). That’s just a vibe though,

FINAL THOUGHTS: At some point, we’re going to have sort all of this out. Maybe Congress have what we in the UCC — often a Committee on Ministry will ask a person to complete a “program of growth” : therapy, etc, before they can be at full standing after misconduct. The first step in determining what justice looks like is being able to differentiate between actions, and to determine if a person is sorry for what they have done, and want to change (actual repentance, not cheap grace). Even as I type this, I can hear the question ” but what if a person didn’t do it. There’s nothing to repent for“. Without proof, we have witch hunts. In the cases of all the men here, I believe that they all did something. Others will not have.

In any case, my point here is the humble, the contrite, and the people who grow from their bad actions are better than those who don’t. The irony is, of course, that only those with enough conscience to admit mistakes will be prosecuted. The good ones are the bad ones with enough conscience to know it. Al Franken is a good one.

Resisting with Peace,


Fools Rush In…Early Thoughts On The Abuse Scandals

As a therapist, I have wanted to write this piece for a while now, but I didn’t want to seem like I was “mansplaining”. Even now, I wonder, but I promise I won’t excuse anyone, so see if this helps…

When I see clients who are beginning to deal with trauma, I describe the healing process like this: A traumatic event happens, and it’s like someone put it in a bottle. If it happens in a healthy place, you simply pour it out to deal with it. But if not, it’s like someone put a cap on the bottle. The cap is something like shame, or fear, or blame, or people pretending it didn’t happen. In any case, what was once a possibly benign thing isn’t anymore. Inside the bottle, it rots, festers, and/or ferments. The longer it does, the more pressure builds up. When the cap is lifted, the whole thing shoots out of the bottle with an explosion. There really is no way to control the explosion. It has to happen. After that, you can clean up the mess, and see what’s in the bottle, which is probably a lot smaller than it felt when it exploded — still gross, but now ready to be dealt with, and poured out.

This is what happens for the individual when trauma happens. It’s also what happens in society. For centuries now, abuse, assault and harassment have happened to women (and some men), and it felt horrible. For whatever reasons — the need to eat while having no means of support but the abuser, the fear of losing children to the system, being told that they “wanted it”, are to blame for it because they are women, or whatever oppressive systems there are, the cap was put on the bottle.

It’s a big bottle, and it’s fermented a long time, so when the cap is removed, there is going to be a big “boom”, and it will feel un-nerving and violent and larger than anyone could have imagined, and it will go everywhere. That’s where we are as a society right now. This will go on for awhile until the pus is done. Then we, as a society will clean up the mess, see what’s left in the bottle, have less fear about the stuff still there, and deal with what’s left.

During the explosive period, there really is nothing to do but let it happen. It’s natural and has to happen. It’s futile to try to put the cap back on it. It’s simply too much pressure to fight with. Moreover, we shouldn’t even try if we want to heal. When that part is over, the rest is a whole lot more manageable, and maybe there’s very little left in the bottle to be poured out. We’ll see, and then w’ll deal with it, in the end, we’ll deal with it and move on to a new and better, much more stable, place. I know this because the original trauma has already been survived. It’s already inert now, and a lot easier to deal with.

Ok. If we’re in the explosive phase, it’s going to be scary, it’s going to be stressful, some things that we didn’t mean to get broken will be broken. Good people (men who have matured), innocent bystanders (see Savannah Guthrie and Gayle King) will be effected when they didn’t even do anything wrong. There will be some mishaps. It’s impossible to avoid, and we’ll have to grieve their losses. Then, we’ll take stock and deal with it calmly and without uproar, and process it all, making sure it doesn’t happen again.

So, that’s what to expect.

Here’s what will be left:

1) Among the millions of Truths being told, there will be a few lies. People who are psychopathic or people who are trying to avoid some other penalty or truth, will use this as a time to mis-use the situation. This does not make the Truths any less real, but they will make it hard to separate out what’s what. We’re going to need a way to deal with this.

2) There will be degrees of illness in the men, (and women) because everybody has been affected by this poison. We will see that there is a difference between a comment which wears down resistance, a grope which is irritating,, and the God-awful horror of the serial rapist. This is a big deal and will take a lot of discernment on our part. None of them are right or justifiable, and both are painful no doubt, but “akin to rape” is not the same as “actual rape”, in the same way that a paper cut is not losing a limb. Different size of tragedies should create different responses and different treatments. The trick is to keep what’s saving while getting rid of the pus. This may be easier said than done, but it is worth doing. The determinant here is the amount of damage done to the victim not the supposed “worth” of the perpetrator to society. If we had relied on “worth of the perpetrator” to serve as the factor to be taken into account, Matt Lauer would still have his job, and many women would still be suffering.

3) There will be levels of apologies. There will be the person who apologizes because their publicist said to, the person who is starting to understand it was wrong, and there will be the person who really means it. Amazingly, there will also be the person who refuses to apologize, because… well, they’re evil. Apologies are necessary for healing society and relationships, but they are not the end of the process. If nothing changes, nothing changes.

4) Changes in understanding and behavior both need to be made. Many, or more most, people will grow from it.Many will not.

5) Now comes the hard part: figuring out what needs to happen from there. I’m hoping something like Truth Commissions, which believe that mercy leads to truth and justice, would be a part of it, but that’s not my call. Shame and anger aren’t going to help us heal, as much as they seem like they should.

There aren’t a lot of solutions here, but it’s not my place to offer solutions to this crisis. That’s for victims to determine. It’s only my job to say what I know about the process. I hope this helps.

Resisting Hate With Peace,