Thursday, December 31, 2015

Make a Happy New Year

All day I see people wishing others a good new year when a friend posted on her facebook page that she is has "2016 by the balls".  I think while maybe cruder than many of my friends might say, it is a great attitude.  She clearly wants to take the year on head on become the author of her own fate.  It really is what we can do.  There are plenty of ways that we don't have control of our universe but we always have control over how we react to the random and sometimes not-so-random events that befall us.  However we can set up situations that help make our lives not so random.  I hope that you will take the new year in hand, regardless of how you think about the metaphor, and create your new wonders.  Here are some ways you can change your world for the better. Pick one, a few, all, but help you find a better world.

1.  Tell someone you love that you do if you haven't in a while.
2.  Call an old friend just to tell them about your day.
3.  Have lunch with someone you don't know well who may be a different faith or culture, have not agenda just eat together and let it be organic.
4.  Find out what an old roommate is doing these days if you haven't stayed in touch.  (Facebook will find them I promise).
5.  Eat something you have never tried before, hell, make it.
6.  Stare into the eyes of your partner for at least 2 minutes, say nothing.
7.  Turn off your phone for an entire day if you don't do it already.
8.  Spend time with a toddler, pretend with them.
9.  Or just pretend play on your own...regardless of age.
10.  Go find a place you have never been and go.


Happy New Year and have a good one.  

Monday, December 28, 2015

Climate Change is Real,And Other Things That We Should Worry About

So a few nights ago I sat up listening a thunderstorm that blew through Indiana a few days before the new year.  It has ignited more conversation about climate change as the weather around the country has been remarkably unusual.  But these flashes of weather are not enough to be considered conclusive evidence, no more than when a dimwitted Senator brought a snowball to floor in the Capital was a sign climate change isn't occurring because it was cold last winter.  But here is the thing, 2015 will likely be a new record for global temperature.  We see massive changing patterns in glaciers, ice fields and over all weather.  At the Paris Climate Conference heads of over 150 countries agreed the climate in changing and that human action is involved.  And yet there is a small group of individuals, mostly in the the United States, who are actively calling this a global decades long hoax.  Some of them are running for President of the United States.

How is this possible?  Seriously, there is a certain level of arrogance to be an elected official to suggest that the massive majority of scientists working in the area of climate studies are just making this up.  People should value skepticism but in this case there is a growing class of people who seem to be angered by information, reality and facts.  We can see it reflected in the way followers of a candidate for President, Donald Trump, justify his factually inaccurate statements as just another strategy.  They seem to feel that being wrong about important issues is unimportant because he makes them feel good.  And that is part of what I think is cultivated by the anti-climate change crowd.  Working to combat climate change will not be easy or cheap.  It is easier to pretend that it is not real and not worry about.

While a majority of the world and virtually all the scientists doing work in the area agree that human activity is causing real problems in world's climate the loud voice of a tiny minority has whipped up a group that is ignorant of reality. Truth becomes fluid in this world.  The leading Republican candidate for President has had his campaign considered the lie of the year, his entire campaign.  He spoke of thousands of Muslims cheering in New Jersey that he personally saw, when in fact the rumor that this was happening was debunked in real time.  Others have said they have seen videos of live births during abortion procedures only to have the baby's organs harvested.  That didn't occur.  More and more people fall prey to ridiculous ideas because at the highest levels of discourse truth is considered a liability.  So we believe that Mark Zuckerberg is giving money away to people who share post on Facebook, or commenting on a picture will motivate some corporation to donate to the health care of a child or veteran. We have become an uncritical people and there are those who will take advantage of it.  Now forwarding a post on social media is not a big deal, but when people who want to lead our country and by extension the free world just make things up, we should be ready to hold them accountable.

The climate is changing, we have evidence that human action is contributing, the results could be very devastating and we should be concerned.  Facts are important in the world, especially want you want to lead it.  
  

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Happy Holidays

There is a meme going around the interwebs that says

If you're Christian, wish me "Merry Christmas!"
If you're Jewish, wish me "Happy Hanukkah!"
If you're Pagan, wish me "Happy Solstice!"
 If you're African-American, wish me "Joyous Kwanzaa!"

I won’t be offended, just happy you took the time to share your joy.  

But here is the problem with this notion.  Wishing someone Merry Christmas who is not celebrating that holiday is like wishing someone Happy Birthday on your birthday.  Think about it.  Why would someone wish me a Joyous Kwanzaa?  Why?  I may recognize it is happening but it doesn't belong to me. Frankly what I think is that we should get to know our neighbor, know who they are and wish them a meaningful holiday for them.  If you are confused by the holiday they celebrate, ask.  It isn't really hard.  Too often we don't take the time to understand the people around us.  That is wrong.  
Now what is missing from this meme is the fact that in many cases you won't know the person well and there is no place to really ask.  If you are a clerk or a customer at a store, when you are in a cab, or simply walking down a busy street.  So the one thing that is a catch all that would plow the way to what might become a conversation is to simply say HAPPY HOLIDAYS.  Many people are celebrating something in our culture from late November to early January.  In more American/Secular holidays take place like Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.  We also slow down as December goes on and people take vacations and celebrate the breaths they can take for a minute before the gearing up again in the New Year.  Saying Happy Holidays opens a door.  It is really that phrase that has caused the most disruption and offense.  Boycotts of stores that use the phrase have been common in recent years, worse for Season's Greetings another wonderful catch all.  Fox News and their army of outrage have said the is a War on Christmas, often citing more inclusive celebrations and expressions this time of year.  All with the intent of trying to homogenize the culture that is deliciously diverse and wonderful vibrant.  
So at this time of year, wish someone a joyful and meaningful holiday they celebrate.  Accept the greetings of others, especially if they try to be inclusive, Attend Hanukah, Christmas, Solstice parties if you wish, or nothing at all.  But remember, the world is full of wonderful people who offer wonderful things and sometimes those things are outside of our normal everyday experience.  Those are the coolest.  
For those who celebrate, may your holiday bring you meaning, joy and perhaps some wonderful treats.  For those who don't have any celebration, may the fact the most do give you a few days of deeper breaths and calm in life.  And to all, each year we strive to do better than the last, take time to get to know someone very different from you.  You may learn something, especially about yourself.  
  


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Interfaith, Multifaith, Shared Faith.

Last week many people around the country gathered in interfaith commemorations of the tragic events in Paris earlier this month and at annual celebrations of gratitude around the American holiday of Thanksgiving.  I have a long history of participation and attendance at such events.  I can tell you that one of the most special interfaith service I attended was in of all places the grounds of Georgia College in Milledgeville, GA.  The piece of land owned by the state of Georgia and grounds of a former penitentiary and now a university brought together a variety of religions for a service that honored all and shunned none.  Great attempts were made to be inclusive enough for a Southern Baptist and Jew to stand next to each other and get a feeling of connection.  But that is not the norm. Often through ignorance or cultural myopia there are times that those who are charged to speak for the entire congregation of mixed faiths might pray in the name of, or invoke their vision of godness to the exclusion of others.  Other times there are those who chose to focus on Scriptural passages that exclude or denigrate the other.

Multifaith expressions in services are difficult.  In part because prayer is highly personal even when one is a prayer leader.  Our faith traditions are remarkably segregated when we gather for prayer. Even within a single faith the diversity of expression of prayer can be enormous.  A Hasidic synagogue looks nothing like a typical Reform synagogue but may have expressions different from even other hasidic synagogues.  Think of all the denominations of Christianity.  In that same Milledgeville it took me weeks to figure out the two Baptist churches may not always play with each other on issues of theology.  How then can we expect people to work together on creating something that feeds those who believe in one God, many Gods, No God or are unsure of what God is?  Actually it is quite simple.

The term interfaith is not how we should focus our energies, but on Multifaith.  The true goal of interfaith work is not to blend us all into one lump of an indistinguishable bland worldview, but to celebrate the many paths people take in there pursuit and/or relationship with God or Godness.  So why not celebrate it.  A model would be to allow for many person expressions of prayer in the service.  Have an invocation, benediction and if there is a sermon or message be strictly for all faiths.  Wipe it clean of any sectarian references.  Try to be universal and if a speaker can't or won't then find someone who can.  It is not hard to not make those things about yourself or your faith.  Don't leave someone out.  But then allow room for people to express themselves in their own faith tradition.  Allow for prayers in Jesus' name as long a there are prayers from many places of faith. However make those explicit that these are not prayers that we are looking for the whole group to say "amen".  Diversity is not about simply including minority faiths in a majority service nor is about taking deeply held beliefs off the table but embracing that which we all find comes from our heart.  That which we all find most precious.

I am never comfortable when at a meeting someone prays to Jesus for me or worse expects me to pray to Jesus with them.  But I can understand that they feel the need to pray to Jesus, and it is simple to leave me out of it.  However if the intention is to be inclusive then it would be rude and counter-productive to do that as much as it would be for me to pray the Alenu as a vision of the future.  (A prayer that calls on all the world to believe as we do).

Multifaith is difficult but not impossible if only we can have open dialogue about what it truly means and how we can express it in our actions and services.  People coming together around the idea of being thankful for the gifts we have, giving to those whose cups are less full, or remembering those lost in a tragedy and holding out hands to comfort those grieving are wonderful.  Maybe when we are away from the last time we did it we can think about it seriously and try to do better the next time.  If need help, 20 years ago there were some clergy and lay people in a small college town in Georgia who got it right.  Let's look for that.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Joseph's Granaries, Trump's Wall and Carly's Hallucinations.

Every time I have started a blog post about the Republican Presidential race and its candidates someone  has given me a reason to stop and rethink, and not in a good way.  I feel like so many times this particular group of supposed leaders has been not only disappointing and down right frightening and the media has been worse.  From the fawning over Donald Trump to the ridiculousness of debate moderators the media has failed miserably to inform the public over just what these candidates are actually saying and doing.  I could single out several people and may in a future post but let's just say that there are questions that are not being asked and it is disturbing to think that debates have now become profit centers for networks.  This has led to them being more a show and less a chance to see the candidates as potential leaders of our country and by extension the Western world.

However the leading candidates have not done anything to help their cause, because it looks like to get a bump in the polls one has to disassociate yourself from reality.  Lies have become the norm when the GOP gathers to pick the person that they think will be Secretary Clinton in a general election.  They appear to believe that the electorate is just plain stupid.  The list of things is remarkable from Trump saying that he didn't say something quoted on his own website, Senator Rubio talking how the stories of his finances are made up when court papers are public record, and Carly Fiorina describing a video she watched that doesn't exist.  And the list goes on.  Senator Ted Cruz in the last debate even lied about what happened in that very debate as he attacked the moderators for trying to pit the candidates against each other.  And so it goes.

So in a week where the new front runner is finally being fully scrutinized for ridiculous claims I have some advise for the media and for the average member of the Republican party.  Hold your candidates accountable and do it from a position of knowledge.  So let's take a look at how one can do that.

Dr. Ben Carson has claimed that he believes that the pyramids were built under the instruction of Joseph, the son of Jacob in the Bible, while viceroy of Egypt.  For Carson they were how the Egyptians had long-term grain storage, a part of the story of the Jews that drives a great deal of the narrative in the Book of Genesis.  It sets up the climatic Exodus story to come later.  Carson, a devout Seventh-Day Adventist and Biblical literalist believes  this theory which held sway in middle ages and images are seen in art of that period and in fact adorns the dome of an old church in Venice.  While I personally believe that his Biblical interpretation and potential impact on policy makes him someone I could never support, focusing on this and not the fact when he was faced with the reality his tax plan of tithing to the government would leave a huge whole in the budget and that his math was wrong he simply said that this reality wasn't true.  He basically said he believes that math works differently then it does.  While Senator Cruz suggested that the moderators of the debate challenged the good doctor's ability to do math, they really didn't.  Next week when the GOP puts on their circus again watch that Dr. Carson will be asked more about his view of Bible and not his math.  But here is the thing.  Dr. Carson's view of the pyramids is not really a big issue, but it is sexier than pointing out he has no idea how the government works.  Policy is boring, making fun of someone's religious beliefs are what sells airtime.  But the ignorance of so many who have no idea that Joseph's granaries is a belief held by many over the centuries is stunning to me.  That is where too often the media drops the ball.  Shiny objects are fun, real research isn't.

Which brings me to the shiniest object of them all.  Donald Trump!  Trump has been the most interestingly handled candidate so far in this race.  Trump, who acts like he is running for student council promising ice cream for lunch and less homework has made outrageous statements.  His approach to the race has been one of making insane statements and attacking people personally, including media, when they question him on them.  It has led the media to treat him like he is royalty hardly questioning his meager policy statements and focusing on ways of explaining away his bigoted and misogynistic outbursts.  In fact the enable him to write grand fictional stump speeches that include one of the single most ludicrous  assertions I have yet to hear a candidate make.  That he will build a wall on our southern border and have Mexico pay for it.  When asked for specifics he shuts down and just says how great he is.  What if Fox News next week at the debate asks him straight out armed with facts, figures and you know law, about this.  Show him where his flawed idea will simply fall apart and force him to bring forth something of a plan to get to where he claims he is going?  Again bad television but great for the American people.  Sadly they will find a way to either goad him into attacking someone on the stage or ignore him because when it comes to policy Trump is great for Saturday Night Live, not the White House.  But when CNBC asked him if he was a comic book character they weren't that far off from reality, however they should have pushed more for specifics.  Instead it was just there way of driving the plot of their show.  Frankly, if you believe in Trump's rhetoric I would like to know why.  Nothing he has says makes sense from a governing point of view but is what your drunk uncle might say at 8:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving night after his 3rd Tom and Jerry.  It would be funny if so many people didn't take him seriously and if the people who should stand up for us and challenge him weren't so bad at their jobs.

Which leads me to Carly Fiorina.  Her plunge in the polls is not the result of people learning more about her, though I wish that were true, it is more because no one is talking to her.  But she did get a brief bump after one debate where she talked about a Planned Parenthood video about a living baby as the result of an abortion being kept alive as an incubator for organs.  The video simply didn't exist. It didn't.  In fact, a Super PAC linked to her actually created a video to fill that void so she didn't look like a big liar, but as of this week she was clinging to lies about Planned Parenthood.  It is sickening that a news organization simply can't ask her to prove her lies.  I mean The View, a daytime talk show did question her on it, but that will only reinforce the lie in the minds of voters.  Whoopie Goldberg will never be a Ted Kopel or Tim Russert.  But then there appears to be no one in the news that is.

We are going to elect a President that is going to face amazingly important challenges and whoever we elect will be stronger for being forced to air real concerns in front of the electorate as two, and maybe more,  party candidates square off.  Which ever candidate comes from the GOP they should be vetted in a way that we know a great deal about how they might react to the growing world-wide threats to security, a growing but fragile economy, a crisis in higher education and the very real and very serious effect of climate change.  So far the biggest stories about the candidates are either made into punchlines or not explored fully.  Dr. Ben Carson has destroyed the aphorism about brain surgeons all being smart.  Donald Trump has become a classic example of a nationalist ID in human form running for President and Carly Fiorina is, well, the GOP's attempt to pretend that they have a woman candidate as well as the Democrats.  The media should be on that more.  They aren't.  So in the next 90 days or so, until the first ballots are cast for the nomination hold those in charge of the air time to task.  Try to keep them honest. We are a great nation and should have great leaders.  The process works when we all play our role.  If the media won't play theirs then we should help them do it.  In the age of the internet it is easy.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Trying to Be Happy

We are in midst of the holiday of Sukkot and we are commanded to be happy.  But once again we find ourselves dealing with the all too common events of another mass shooting.  This time I watched the President of the United States show a measure of anger that many of us feel but it was quickly beaten back by the legions of voices who think the answer to gun violence is more guns.  At least I have so far avoided the evil rhetoric of Wayne LaPierre of the NRA.

What is amazing is that I had a busy day yesterday and I got home later and watched the so-called news channels to get more information.  I switched over to Fox News during a commercial to see the same old tired nonsense.  One woman was saying that gunmen choose these targets because they know no one else there has a gun.  I heard the same thing repeated on a couple of morning shows.  However in Oregon, the law allows for students with concealed carry permits to bring guns onto state campuses so it not only wasn't a gun-free zone but the gunman had no way of knowing that someone wasn't armed.  I don't think he cared if they were.  Most of these shooters are not stable enough to think through the situation and frankly are looking for glory that may well involve them ending their own life and taking others with them.  That is there desire.  They want to stop whatever pain they feel and for once in their life be someone.   They really want to feel important and leave a mark.

So the argument is that he wouldn't be able to kill as many people.  That is not proven by facts.  There was a fire fight with campus police at Columbine.  But studies show that the vast majority of civilians when confronted with an active shooter do not have the ability to react fast enough and in some cases not only make themselves a target if they pull their weapon but helps keep the shooter armed.  In some cases we hear of brave people who do fire back and subdue or kill the suspect, but in many of those cases the hero was an off duty police officer or military.  Again the vast majority of people hesitate or are in shock when faced with a loaded weapon pointed at them and the idea of a room full of confused or scared armed individuals does not comfort me.

Even more so is the idea that these so called good guys with a gun as the NRA likes to talk about are not great shots and sometimes do more harm.  Early this week an armed person tried to stop a car jacking and instead shot the victim in the head and fled the scene.  Think about it.  You are being car jacked and you give up the keys and the perp is about to leave you alone, all you lost is your car and someone thinking they are a hero shoots you.  How is that better?

Like I have written before American gun violence occurs on many fronts and has many causes and the answers to stem this violence is not easy.  Be it gang violence of the inner-city, mass shootings like this one at the college in Oregon, heat of passion violence that is so common in domestic situations we don't see it on the news if not in our neighbors or any kind of dispute that ends with shots being fired, the common denominator are the access of guns by people who may not have the capacity to handle such a lethal piece of equipment.

We must find a way to stop these kinds of attacks while preserving the rights that helped make this country what it is.  But like I have said time and again, it starts with a conversation.  The vast majority of this country agrees with me if polls are to be believed.  Let's hold our elected officials to it.  We don't need to ban all guns or violate the 2nd amendment in its current interpretation to talk and find compromise.  Hell, leave the NRA and the Brady people out of the conversation but have the damn talk.  Children are dying for no reason, we can't call ourselves a great country anymore if houses of worship, college and high school classrooms, and movie theaters require armed guards and metal detectors.  We are talking about sending people to Mars how is this harder?

Get involved, be you and anti-gun advocate or a gun owner you can help by just talking, not being a jerk and thinking for yourself.  I promise you will lose nothing just talking.  Who knows you may have the brilliant answer that is eluding all of us.

Ufros Aleinu Sukkat Shlomecha ופרש עלינו סכת שלומך — Spread over us Your shelter of peace  May this Shabbat find peace for all of us.


Thursday, September 3, 2015

And So This Happened...

Kim Davis is the elected county clerk of Rowan County Kentucky.  Among her duties is to issue marriage licenses to those who qualify by law to marry.  Recent Supreme Court ruling on this issue of people of the same sex marrying means those laws, already on the books apply to same sex couples and those that the block same sex couples from getting married are null and void as they violate the Constitution of the United States.  Davis has decided that her religious convictions do not allow her to issue these licenses.  That is her right, but the thing is that since her job as a government official is to allow others to have access to their rights the conflict should not be resolved by her not doing her job, but getting out of the way so someone else can do it.  She can resign and walk away from the situation she can’t comfortably do or face the legal consequences. 
We found out today that those legal consequences are jail.  I am sure this is what she wanted.  She seems to be edging toward becoming the martyr that the anti-gay marriage crowd wants.  It didn’t take long until there were people all over the airwaves and social media saying that this was persecution of liberals.  Included in those voices were people who want to be President of the United States. 
Davis is not going to jail for being Christian, she is going to jail for defying a court order. She is going to jail for contempt of court. She chooses to be a county clerk, she must follow a legal order or face consequences. People supporting her are using fallacious arguments and are missing the point. She can claim her Christianity and stand on any street corner and preach but she can't use her government office to enforce her vision of Christianity on the entire county.
There are plenty of times when we must stand up for our religious freedom.  The government should not stand in the way of worship or belief.  But that is not what is going on here and this is not a case of someone standing up against the tyranny of the state.  This is about someone who has decided her particular view of Christianity supersedes the law.  That is not an American value and anyone who tells you it is, is either lying or ignorant. 

So this county clerk will sit in a cell.  People in Rowan County will be able to get marriage licenses from deputy clerks.  The right wing noise machine will have faux outrage, and people will explain the role of the Supreme Court and the 14th amendment.  In the meantime, real religious persecution will go unreported and people who claim liberty as the center of our culture will argue that discrimination is a Christian value.  Is that really what our country needs?  

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Mourn the Death and Fight Like Hell for the Living

Earlier this week we were all stunned by the live on TV murder of a local Roanoke Virginia news team while doing a remote report.  The stunning video of the news feed quickly bounced around the internet and news directors had to decide to play it or not.  Then came the video taken by the gunman posted by him showing his point of view as he took the lives of two young people.  It wasn't long until we realized that this man, a highly disturbed individual, did this in a twisted form of revenge.  A former colleague who had been fired for his belligerence and failures as a reporter.  In fact we learned he was known for out bursts and difficulty and had threatened some of his co-workers.  When he was fired he had to be escorted from the building by the police.  In his manifesto he cited his world view that racism played a role in his failure and that the reason church shooting where a young white man wanted to start a race war was the straw that broke his proverbial camel's back.  He was going to further that cause.  

This story struck me hard because in fact the angry man, failing and fired, blaming racism, is the story that 28 years ago changed my life.  When Jamie Morton reached out to the white guy that lived across the hall only to find his soon-to-be fiance.  He killed Linda and later stated because of how the white folks treated him and having just been fired from his job.

I have lived an entire life since then, a generation has passed and still the same story comes out.  Only now, social media and 24 hour news channels make this a far bigger story and a way for these people to promote their own personal struggles and delusional visions.  We will never end this kind of violence because it doesn't make sense.  The way the mind of some of these individuals work is not rational and cannot be reasoned with at all.  We often talk of people snapping, but later we realize that is not the case.  We see signs in many aspects of their life that lead us to think there is something wrong and yet it isn't our business so we move to a safe distance.  In the case of the recent killing the manager of the station were the victims and the killer worked had to have police physically remove him from the building and other workers feared for their lives for months after he left and still, nothing.  But time did not mitigate that threat and two years later he killed two people on live television in what I am sure to him was a crowning glory.

Our country and culture is based on a set of personal freedoms that allow for a wide variety of ways of living one's life as long as other's rights are not violated.  While that is a simplistic statement for sure, we do require a high level of evidence of danger of a person to isolate them from society.  A person who gets angry upon being fired and forced from the building is not guilty of a crime that would require incarceration.  But what is threats were?  What if simply suggesting that you were going to come back and kill people was enough to get you locked up?  Sounds extreme I know.  The last thing I want to see if more people in prison.  But we lock people up for far less and some for their entire lives for far less.  Can we at least have a conversation about it?  I hear Presidential candidates talking about tracking people in the country on Visas, and hunting down those in our country without proper documentation to deport them, even revoking birthright citizenship to applause and cheers.  What if we did a serious effort to find, engage, treat and/or isolate in a humane way, people who have a track record of threatening behavior and are prone to violence outbursts?  What if we developed a culture that instead of ignoring and pushing aside people like this to stew in their delusional world view we tried to help them crush their demons?  What if we didn't laugh about the guy who took offense to a joke and teased him behind his back but asked the questions to understand why he was offended?  There is a lot there to think about.  But when we look at the news the stories are boiled down and dumbed down to a few platitudes about race or guns.

The world has changed a great deal since I lost my Linda, but the way we think really hasn't.  Since that horrific live TV murder we have heard many stories of violence taking lives, including the assassination of a deputy sheriff in Texas.  Each new story washes away the horror of the previous one and replaces it with a new patina of outrage.  But do we ever really get into the cause and more importantly the stem the tide of these events.  All I know is that I will keep the Linda's memory in my heart this week as I think back on the life not lived.  This year carrying that of others who were cut down by a failed culture that cannot seem to find its way to true peace.  But I also know that we should never stop striving for it.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Donald Trump is Frenchy Martin

Donald Trump is turning the GOP campaign for the Presidential nomination into an old style Pro-Wrestling show.  A show where everyone pretends what is being done and said is real but we all know that it is simply theatre.  While as entertaining for many it will be to see Trump rage on TV and tell us how good he is at everything, there is a certain amount of seriousness that needs to be addressed by those wanting to lead this great country.   Instead we have this despicable misogynistic drowning out the debate.  He has taken on a role of a heel that would thumb his nose at the fans, the referees and the crowd.  Any everyone loved it.

The character he is playing however is not the big name heel of the heyday of wrestling but he is a caricature and the perfect person is Frenchy Martin. A Canadian wrestler,  Frenchy Martin,  was a wonderful wrestler who became a manager speaking for his beloved Quebec, bringing French Canadian wrestlers out to fight the American babyfaces.  Frenchy was known for carrying a sign that said "USA is Not Okay".  He would called the American political leaders stupid and rail against America's failures, sound familiar?   He would tell people how smart he was and would attack anyone who questioned him.

But even more Frenchy once wrestled as the Masked Cyclops and when unmasked one time he ran around the ring as the announcers said "It's Frenchy Martin", he said, "It's not me".   This is Trump, says stuff and when caught says "I didn't say that, It's not me.".

I said earlier that the media, and specifically the right wing media, has created this guy.  His tone is typical of the loud mouths that are not attacking him.  Erik Erickson is a great example, Google his misogyny and bring a bucket.  Trump is taking the model that has screamers on the radio and Fox News making millions and bringing it into the arena of real life politics.  But here is the thing.  Back in the day of Frenchy, the wrestlers all pretended that everything is real.  All knew they were playing a character.  They were all actors and some very good, with the intent of drawing out emotions without showing just how scripted and structured it was.  Trump seems to be like those all style wrestlers who got angry when someone challenged their so-called sport.  I am still convinced the Trump is not only not a real candidate but is simply enjoying the attention.  When asked questions he deflects, doesn't answer and attacks the questioner.  Just like Frenchy would do both as a wrestler and a manager.  Maybe someone should ask Vince McMahan to call him and tell him in the 90s the current was pulled back and we all know that the wrestlers are putting on a play.  Oh and maybe he can tell Trump to tone it down, I mean wrestling and politics have become family shows.

Monday, July 27, 2015

God Was In this Place

Yesterday I made my annual trip to North United Methodist church for a service led in part by our Duke interns to the Global Interfaith Partnership's Umoja project.  For those who do not know the Umoja project is an interfaith program that provides support for infants and vulnerable children in Western Kenya.  As a long-time board member I have seen the project mature and every year.  As part of that growth,  we have two interns from Duke Divinity School spend several weeks in Kenya at the project schools where we support these youth. Elizabeth Styron and Kadeisha Kilgore were the two women who went this year. They offered their ability to minister to the families in Kenya, give an American presence that helps continue to cement the relationships we have developed with our congregations, the teachers and the guardians in Kenya that make the program work.

Our interns always bring back information that is hard to collect from shorter visits and certainly from this side of the world.  This year was no different.  They told stories of a young girl taking her national exam to earn her opportunity to further her education,while her mother lay dying at home. As this young woman was trying to advance her own life her mother lost hers.  This tragic story is an extreme one based on a common theme.  The students we support in Kenya know that education is the way that they will transform their own lives and the lives of their community.  Their energy toward getting good scores, which are necessary to move on in school, is remarkable.  This story stunned but did not surprise me.  Many of the students I met and others have seem laser focused on school, when not having to find ways to meet the basic needs of life (food, shelter and physical safety).  The interns allow for seeing those moments in a day-to-day action and thus not simply a snapshot of a moment.  We learn a great deal of how our program is doing something powerful in Kenya.

At times there are doubts about the efficacy of our program in any important way.  We can say feed 3000 children, providing school fees for 100 students, and so on is something, but we can also think of thousands more that could use the support.  Worldwide we see daily places where our time, money and energy can be put to use and even at home there is hunger, abuse, and undereducated children we pass on the way to work.  However, one of the things the interns always bring back for me is the nature of the relationship, the connection of souls.  We aren't simply providing access to food and school, we are building community together.  That girl who is working on her future, knowing her mother is dying at home teaches us the power of what we are doing.  Watching our graduates who are off to university and coming back to change their community shows me that our small, directive and personal program is doing something far more than trying to create a giant program that dumps money into a community without the connection.

There are times I have had doubts about what we are doing, when there are problems with securing food, when we hear about the failed ability to help all who qualify, when it just seems like a drop in the bucket I can listen to the interns who come back and I am reenergized.  I see it in the eyes of a girl taking a test, a guardian who proudly shows off a test score or a boy who smiles and says God will provide for me and God brought you to me.  Hope is a slippery thing to grab onto at times, but today I have hope.  Thank you to Keisha and Liz for bringing that back from Kenya for me.  It is better than any carved wooden giraffe.  

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Donald Trump, the WWE candidate

Donald Trump is at the top of several Republican primary polls going into the debate season which starts in August.  It means that he will be seen as a legitimate candidate and be on the stage when some former and sitting governors and senators will not.  Several pundits have acted like this is somehow surprising and attempt to explain it away.   I don't understand their surprise.  Donald Trump has been part of celebrity culture as long as I can remember.  He is a larger than life figure and plays that role very well.  There was a time when people looked at Trump as a symbol of American Capitalism. However his personal life, TV shows and of course his bombastic speech have made him the perfect symbol and champion of the followers of the right wing noise machine that is built on constant outrage.  Will he get the nomination or be elected?  No he won't.  In fact once votes start to mean something the more establishment Republicans will rally around a single candidate they think could win.  Likely Scott Walker or Jeb Bush, both with executive experience and good relationships inside the party and can appeal to some moderate Democrats.  But as this Sunday dawns the morning shows have made Donald Trump the opening statement across the board.   
Donald Trump is a celebrity who is acting like a candidate.  An egomaniac that has spent his life looking for adulation, telling us how good he is, how wonderful, smart, sexy and virile he is.  He in fact is like a template for a pro-wrestling heal who people love to hate but will cheer for him when he turns on someone they hate more.  And that is exactly what Trump is doing.  Tapping into an anti-establishment feeling that has been the bread and butter of the right wing radio screamers, Trump is getting the followers that feed off his fame and angry language. 
For some Trump's celebrity can be seen as a negative, but as a culture we tend to worship celebrity. Right now it is part of what drives those that show up at his rallies and tell pollsters they like him.   Celebrities have become like house gods.  People try to connect with celebrity more and more and with social media it has become easier.  We look to those people who are famous for what to wear, how to talk, and sometimes seek their divine intervention on our lives using connections to them as good luck charms.  I once saw a woman in a casino cover a slot machine with pictures of a particular boy band to the point she couldn’t even see the wheels.  As she pulled the lever she would call to the members to help her win.  While that is an extreme I think there is an unconscious idea that fame means the person is special, bigger than us.  Trump is a perfect storm in that his celebrity and wealth has been admired and worshiped for decades and now he is the voice of so many who feel put upon by a culture that is less comfortable open bigotry that Trump is embracing.  A group of people who daily are bombarded by childish rhetoric designed not to inform but to bring out emotion.  So Donald Trump makes sense in our current culture.  That is sad.  It will be fun to watch for a while.  If you aren’t the target of his hateful rhetoric.  Now we just need a face to rise up and take him on.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Let's Talk About Sex

While I know it has been a while since I have written here I feel like the world has made it difficult to actually express myself in any real way.  I cannot understand how to express myself on some matters but several recent stories in the news and in my life has me thinking once again about how screwed up our culture has become about sex and sexuality.  But the story that has pushed me out of slump is one that would make me angry if it wasn't so clearly comical.  You see it is another example of the failure of the lack of sexuality education that is meaningful.  In Texas a high school has had a huge outbreak of Chlamydia.   Their approach to sex education is "Don't Do It" and they will talk about if for a total of 3 days each year.  This does not prepare young people for the reality of the fact that we are born to be sexual beings and that those drives, feelings and subsequent behavior is often ignored. 

We are born to have sex, it is a primal drive and it extremely pleasurable.  It is also something that uncomfortable for people to fully discuss in our culture.  Virtually everyone is sexual to some extent and those that aren't often see themselves as wanting to be able to explore that part of themselves.  In fact it drives much of human behavior throughout our evolutionary history and sexual desire can be blamed for both great tragedies and great accomplishments over the millennia of human civilization.  But as we evolved as a species and as societies developed, how we approach our sexuality has changed.  Most human cultures don't simply act on sexual desire without conscious thought and we can find someone attractive and even desirable without abandoning the civility that has created our own structure of how sexuality works.  While there are in fact some communities that open sexuality are the norm, they are often hidden from the larger society and even when known are seen as an aberration and not ubiquitous.  But we know that we all have the desire and even if you are married and deeply in love you can still easily find someone else attractive but that doesn't mean you have to act on those feelings.  That is what it means to be human.  One of the things that clearly separates us from the other members of the animal kingdom is the fact that we have evolved beyond that need and we can control our desires, sexual and others.

so what does that have to do with education?  Well that is a learned thing.  The social contract that we all agree to, especially in Western culture, is that we are not rampant sexual beings and we approach our sexuality as more than a physical thing.  Our behaviors must have thoughts associated with them.  We can talk about being in love, but in the current human condition, expressing our sexuality requires us to take on responsibility.  For young people, understanding that responsibility means learning about it.  The physical, emotional, and dare I say spiritual aspects of being as sexual being are all learned and how we incorporate them into who was are as a human being is an important goal. 

Now one can argue that this should be the exclusive purview of the parents.  Frankly I wish that were something that was done. It use to be.  Parents talked to their children about sexuality, to various degrees. Mothers helped daughters understand what to expect from their first sexual encounter and some cultures, even today, teach how to pleasure a partner when they are married or coupled in the fashion of that culture.  Human sexuality was part of the education even in religious cultures that spoke of sexuality as part of the covenant of marriage.  But like many things we have professionalized the most basic of human growth and development.  I fear most people are no longer equipped to have serious conversations about sex and sexuality with their own children.  Evidence of this is a commercial for an anti-drug campaign.  A boy comes home to find his dad with a display to talk to him about his surging hormones, the discomfort is abated when the topic switches to talking about drugs instead of sex
It appears talking to our kids about sex is so taboo we would rather do anything else.  Thus we want the schools to do it, but that became classes about plumbing and disease.  The problem is there is another aspect of our culture that revels in sexuality as a sales tool and sign of popularity.  It sells so much that a horribly written fan fiction of Twilight that had a BDSM theme sold a million copies and currently is spawning two movies that we titter about.  So young people who see value given to the child stars they followed coming out of their shell and doing explicit performances like Brittney Spears,  and Miley Cyrus or the fact we have made cultural heroes of people like the Kardashians confuses students when the only learning they are given is to have a teacher emphasize waiting to experience sex until marriage.  (Leaving out the fact that many places some of those kids can still not get married).  We also question young men who pledge virginity but that is a different post.

So what do we do?  I wish I had a magic bullet, no one does.  But what we know is that comprehensive sexuality education from an early age will in fact help make our young people grow into more mature and responsible sexual beings.  Discussions of sex not as a necessary evil but as a much of a pleasure of our existence as anything else; while at the same time discussing the amazing responsibility that comes with being sexually active at any level.  That is what works in other countries including Canada and frankly much of northern Europe.  We can do better.  Perhaps we need comprehensive sexuality education for all of us, at every age.  We can discuss not only how to view our own sexuality but how we pass down needed information and support for the next generation.  I don't know.  But stories like the Texas school are not as rare as we think.  Two decades ago it was suburban Atlanta that caused a firestorm.  Then came the idea of rainbow parties and high school kids playing a scary game on the internet meeting strangers for sex in an online 7 minutes in heaven kind of game.  As a culture we must continue to try to understand the issues of sexuality and the fact that we cannot stop young people, especially with the freedom they have today, from exploring their own growing sexual desires at younger ages.  We must also not assume that saying no is the answer.  Can we get past our own discomfort and find a way to do it?  What do we need to do it? 

 

Friday, February 6, 2015

The President Was Not Wrong

So on Thursday, the President spoke at a National Prayer breakfast.  In the speech he said these words:

Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history.  And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.  In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.  Michelle and I returned from India -- an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity -- but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs -- acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation.

This, of course, sent the right wing crazy, but also several on the left.  They scream that the President was making a moral equivalency between ISIS and Christianity.  They said it was an attack on all Christians.  They said he was ignorant of the Crusades and mentioned that they were efforts to fight Muslims terrorists.  It was quite remarkable.  But what they are missing is the simple fact that the President was right.  The simple fact is that the actions of ISIS are a perversion of Islam that is not unlike perversions of other faith traditions that led to atrocities throughout history and up to very recently.  To paint all of Islam with the brush dipped in the blood shed by ISIS is silly and as silly as holding today’s Christian’s responsible for the Crusades.  But let’s be clear.  Even if you could make the argument that the Crusades were about fighting to take back land in the Middle East considered Holy to the European Christians who went to fight the Arabs there, one cannot explain how the killing of Jews along the way was justifiable and not a Christian mob who saw themselves doing God’s work.  The President is simply pointing out in this speech that we must be cautious of how we see groups like ISIS and how we generalize them to all of Islam, or even argue that Islam somehow supports this kind of brutality. 

But the noise machine and others will have none of it.  They will tell you what the President thought and how he hates Christianity and how he is making an excuse for ISIS.  But that is not the truth.  But truth and the noise machine are not friends.  In fact they conveniently ignore that he brought up civil rights in the equation so that they can so easily dismiss the clear evil that was part of the Crusades or the Inquisition as being over 600 years ago.  But what they won’t address is that it was Christian teaching that led many to not question slavery or even Jim Crowe in our nation’s history.  A history that is troubled and rarely fully addressed.  Funny story, at the same time there were preachers in pulpits saying things like enslaving savage Africans will break their will and they will find salvation, there were many in the pulpit using the same text to condemn the institution of slavery.  And that is what the President was alluding to in his speech.  That religion can be the lever to move people and that is can be manipulated to do evil and justify it as sacred. 

Ta-Nehesi Coates, writing today in The Atlantic says:

Now, Christianity did not "cause" slavery, any more than Christianity "caused" the civil-rights movement. The interest in power is almost always accompanied by the need to sanctify that power. That is what the Muslims terrorists in ISIS are seeking to do today, and that is what Christian enslavers and Christian terrorists did for the lion's share of American history.

Mr. Coates points out correctly that the analogy is not only solid, but important to any discussion about religions role in defeating the evil that is ISIS.  Going back to the imagery of the Crusades and frankly the Middle Ages in Christian Europe, it was often Christian leaders who called for mass killings and their followers who would carry it out.  Jews were slaughtered in many places simply for being Jews, this time of year, near Purim and Pesach that almost always coincides with Lent and Easter, priests would rile up crowds to descend on the Jews in a town to punish them simply for a different faith.  It used made up stories of Jews murdering Christian children, known as the blood libel, to make Matzah or Hamantaschen and the murderers truly felt they were making the world better through purging of the infidels in their midst.  Sound familiar? 

But we need not look back 600 years.  Near where I grew up in Massena, NY in 1928, a young girl went missing a few days before Yom Kippur and the city officials were convinced the Jews had ritually sacrificed her.  When it was later discovered that she got lost and fell asleep in the woods (easy to do in the region even today when you get outside of town) people still believed this.  But this blood libel is alive and well today in many places including among the Christians of Poland according to a 2008 study. 

Christian actions and words have led to horrors in the past that can’t simply be ignored while holding all of Islam responsible for the actions of the lunatic death cult called ISIS. 


The President was simply pointing out these Middle East thugs are not a novel invention in human history and we must be careful of how much we draw from their invoking the name of God in their actions.  We can so easily generalize their actions to all Muslims or think that this is the definition of Islam and that somehow that is waiting for us from all Muslim.  So instead of being outraged that the President addressed the issue in a strong way, perhaps you should use this to open up dialogue to address the real issues.  That religion can be used to commit horrors beyond imagine in the name of God, and that this must be stopped.  The best way is to promote freedom and take religion out of the hands of civil authority and to focus on not trying to demonize an entire faith, but understand the struggle that faith is going through as the radical members have created such a powerful profile.  Want to screw with an Islamic radical, invite a Muslim to your seder or your child’s baptism.   Each and every faith evolves as it matures and goes through its own form of enlightenment.  We are living in the time of that struggle in Islam. But what we must understand that while the words are different and the prayers have another language this is not new and that is what the President was saying.  It may be hard to hear, but it will help in the long run to combat the radicals.  But that will only happen if we recognize them for what they are, and that they are not unique in the grand scheme of things. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Life And How to Live It

Yesterday in my hometown there are people gathering to say good-bye to a man who has passed away way too soon.  A woman who graduated high school with me lost her husband at an early age. Her close friends come together to help comfort her as her life changes so drastically.  This tragic death pushed me further to think about the role of death in our lives. I became acquainted with death as a teen when my dad died. When Linda died my entire life was thrown into complete turmoil.   Later I had colleagues and friends pass away and more recently it seems I have entered an age where all of us who grew up together are facing the death of our parents.  While we know death is always there, it shocking.  Death travels with us our entire life, like a an old dog you take with you on a road trip.  Most of the journey it sleeps in the back, we forget it is there until it barks.  Sometimes even causes us to change the direction we are headed.  Death will always interrupt our lives.  How we react to this is the trick.     

As someone who works in a religious setting I get asked on occasion what I and/or Judaism thinks about death and afterlife.  In fact Noah asked me today if I would rather have an eternal but boring afterlife or no afterlife at all.  I didn't respond well because most of the time I answer those questions from the position of an educator. In this case I told him I had been thinking about it a lot lately and I don't have an answer but I am not certain I would want a boring eternity.  

In my work it is easy for me to skirt the bigger philosophical questions about the afterlife by saying that Judaism doesn't speak much about if. Much of Judaism focuses on the now not the next life.   However there is a lot of interesting views of an afterlife in Judaism.  When I talk about them I am teaching, or explaining what tradition teaches, often I repeat the caveat that it is not what I believe, but what our tradition teaches.  You see I don't believe in the afterlife image so common in our western civilization thought.  I can't imagine a heaven and hell that is populated by people for an eternity that is like a glorified and carefree version of life today or constant torment.  There is no way that I am comfortable with a God that would create that situation.  It makes no sense to me and seems to have grown out of a composite of various attempts to understand the meaning of life that often ended so abruptly and arbitrarily.  However there is comfort in knowing or believing that those we love continue on after they no longer walk the earth.  This too I find troubling but there are ways of knowing that what was important about the person does live on.  Those we loved live on in our memory and the stories we tell give them a sense of continued life.  All they taught us and gave us when alive is still there and is manifest when we use their knowledge and wisdom in our own lives. Just the other day I made my mother's Red Cabbage dish and for me I felt her presence in the meal.   That, of course, is what is important.  How those who are gone do continue to live with us, in the actions we take they have influenced, through the lessons they taught us that we pass on and by the vision they had for the world that we continue to help make happen.  

Ultimately we will all grieve in our own way and we will all deal with loss in our own time.  But while we may struggle with the what if of the world beyond there is one thing I know for sure.  Everyone who touched me in life who have left this world continues to live on in memory and how they have influenced my life choices.  They live on in me.  I also believe  the greatest tribute we can give those who have gone is to live life fully and carry their memory and essence with us.  I am sure I will continue to struggle with these tough questions.  I am not sure if I ever will come to grips with it.  

To those reading this in mourning, may you be fully comforted and I hope one day these words will have meaning for you.    




What Is Wrong With People!!!!!

A lawyer with advertising in Manhattan the other day decided he was going to decide what language the people who work at a Midtown restaura...