TO BE AND NOT TO BE

20 “I ask … also on behalf of those who will believe in me …,(21) that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us…”. John 17: 20-26

I listen to the discord of Mozart’s String Quartet No. 19 in C, K. 465,

I am overcome by the struggle I feel.

I hear the Beatles Revolution 9 and it evokes confusion in me.

Both at their core are my search for peace to balance the conflicting forces of my life.

The Buddhists say all life is suffering.

I suffer;

in my struggles with the unresolved, incompatible chords of successes and failures; lack of courage to come out, disdain for my cowardice that keeps me locked in,

To be or not to be me.

Success is not trusted, the prologue feels forever my epilogue; will I ever be me?

I am committed to Christ. I try to love everyone, yet I can’t accept me. I lose my way;  disharmonious wounds slay my spirit.

The Buddhists seek enlightenment contemplating, “who was I before I was in my mother’s womb”?

I sit and meditate.

Life stands still in the flickering moments of rest between its cacophonous sounds. In the silence between notes, the oneness with the God spirit is known.

The miracle of God’s peace is not in the absence of discord but in the midst of it. Peace that is sufficient. Peace that is everlasting.

In between the conflicts of to be and not to be, God in me conforms outward disharmony to inner harmony, and in the same life enduring moment I experience how to be and not be.

WELCOME TO THE PRESENT: HAPPY 2018

The sun rises, the clock ticks, the sun sets, the clock ticks, the nights turn into days, the clock ticks, the days into weeks, the clock keeps ticking, on and on, weeks turn into months turn into years, and the years turn, 2017 to 2018.

I’m an elderly man. At 65 somewhere between the afternoon and evening of my life depending on the date it will end which happily is unknown. I don’t feel 65, I’m stuck somewhere between 30 and 35 in my mind. But at 65 I finally realize the numbers don’t matter, because linear time is an illusion that does not matter.

Even when I panic and think it does, when I  think about not having the financial security I wanted for retirement, or not finishing the book its been my life long passion to write, or any of the many things I’ve resolved to accomplish and have not done, time really doesn’t matter. Or at least it no longer the most important thing for me.

Ironically the present is a difficult place to inhabit, but I’ve discovered that life is about this moment, the only reality I have.

I forecast and I plan. I look at the past and consider the future, but from cradle to grave, all living is experienced in the moment, and it is in the now where I’ve been fortunate to observe the elusive truths of my life. Here meaning and significance lives, and in its stillness, the  awareness and acceptance of all its energy brings an enduring joy and peace I know is available to all.

Last year I had emergency abdominal surgery and convalesced at the home of friends with my 90-year-old mother for whom I care. I was guilt ridden the entire time we were there about all the people that had been affected by my illness because I did not have the resources to independently provide  these services for myself. I was obsessed with regrets about the past and fears about the future. I vainly calibrated the results of my past actions vowing to navigate the dangers of future ones.

But I found no peace, no ability to balance the dissonance between the heights of my expectations and the depths of my realities.

Fortunately, through mindful meditation and devotion, I experienced a glimpse of life through the eyes of my subconscious observer. That inherently spiritual view appears in the awareness of the now; its sights, colors, tastes, smells, breath, sounds, and feel. In the moment is life, all of it, the fullness of its length and breadth of everything from love to hate, and most enlightening to know gratitude for it all. It taught me understanding that all my actions mattered, big, little, good and bad. Each one affected me, and each one affected others, and all life matters.

All life takes place in the present.

From here I write a book that I won’t finish because I think it’s not good enough, and blog posts that I think are unimportant because I think no one will read them. I make resolutions I won’t keep, and expound principles I sometimes dishonor. I feel useless. I feel I do not matter.

But even when I am weak and sick my friends adjust their intimate family routines to help, my family members carry out all I cannot until I’m well, and my elderly mother makes a difficult move 1000 miles from home.

My reflections and insights notwithstanding, it’s the effect of each thing I do in the present that matters. Every pebble dropped in life’s pond sends ripples. I understand now with my heart as well as my head that all I  seek however noble or vein, lives only in the present, so there I must remain.

God bless 2018 and all our aspirations and hopes. May we claim them fully in the present for the past and future are but delusions we behold.

CANADA, OH CANADA

14455067-rocky-mountains-at-whistler-canadaI spent New Year’s in Canada and an ear infection sent me to the doctor where in very short order, although a visitor from another country, I was examined, diagnosed, treated, and even without insurance the cost was 48% of what it would have cost me in the US.

The Trump administration and its Republican cohorts have made it clear that they intend to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). There are problems with the Act, but what the naysayers never mention is that the reason for those problems was their obstructionist efforts to derail the law when it was being drafted in the legislature. Most of the stakeholders, the drug companies, the insurance industry, the Republicans, and many corporations with large workforces, rather than work with the administration, opposed it at every turn.

So, it’s no surprise that we’ve ended up with a system that has been the bone of so much contention. For the most part the criticism has been partisan rather than constructive, but say what you will, increasing coverage cost and all, Obamacare has been a massive improvement to what we had before.

I have personal experience regarding the benefits of the ACA. I had a pre-existing condition and could not afford the cost of the medicines I needed which was approximately $3,000.00 per month. Although I had a decent income I still had to rely on assistance to afford my medications. Fortunately, because of Obamacare I could afford my prescription expenses.

There is no public option in the ACA, and the public mandate is one of the most criticized parts of the legislation. We need both. The former to keep the costs down and available to everyone and the latter to be able to pay for it.

I was visiting another state and developed a hearing problem that required flushing wax from my ears. At home this would have been covered as a regular doctor visit but because I was out of the area my insurance covers only emergency care and this was not. Therefore, I would have to pay the full $130 charge.
I declined the treatment there and sought it at the next stop on my trip which was Canada. There would’ve been no charge to a Canadian but as a U.S. citizen I was charged US $37.00, and the medication for the infection was $24.50.

I am confounded by the fact that representatives who claim they are working for the interests of the common man are so shamelessly disingenuous. The ACA is not perfect but it does work and it is better than the no-protection-nothing-but-unfettered free market system we had before that left nearly 40 million Americans without access to healthcare readily available to every citizen in every other developed industrialized country in the world.

So, I challenge our political representatives, for the sake of the constituents you took an oath to represent, fix the system; change the name if you want to, but do so with the spirit to work in the interests of your constituents and not solely the big moneyed lobbyists and special interests.

TRUMP: THE NEW NORMAL…HE AIN’T

Martin Luther King Memorial, Washington DC
Martin Luther King Memorial, Washington DC

HAPPY NEW YEAR.

Donald Trump has won the White House.

He’s played by the rules, bending them, pushing them to extremes, avoiding them, and dissing them, but playing by them nonetheless, so at least for now (now being the next four years) he is our president. And with all the branches of government under Republican control he is most certain to believe that he is free to do whatever he chooses to do.

He may be right. We must make sure that he isn’t.

He is my president, but I didn’t vote for him and I abhor the lack of principles for which he stands. By myself I have no power to stop him, but by sticking to the principles of malice towards none and justice for all, I believe that he can be curbed.

People of good will, DO SOMETHING, anything, no matter how small to advance the cause that you care about. Justice is what we call love for all, so work towards overcoming injustice in some way. And it isn’t simply about the direct human condition, there are issues of justice that involve the environment, the earth,  or any attention to the natural world which in its complexity impacts the lives of all of us on this planet.

Be intentional, and do something more than you’ve done before, and make it in the interest of something greater than or beyond yourself. And it cannot be just a one-off event.

Commit yourself to full time engagement in advancing your chosen cause. If enough of us take this step wherever we are a movement or movements will coalesce that will protect an advance our cause even in what seems certain to be difficult times ahead.

The corollary to this effort is that we must not to sink to playing by any standard less than the ideals embodied in the golden rule. There has been a tendency to forget this on the part of progressives disheartened by the results of the elections. We must resist this temptation or risk becoming a caricature of those principles we oppose.

This is not going to be easy. We face difficult times. The rights of the working-class, poor, middle-class, people of color, women et. al. are going to be under a level of assault unknown to recent generations.

However, this is not the time to despair or disappear. Martin Luther King said it well and we must keep it in mind, ‘the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.’

THE BEAUTIFUL GAME: Why I Became a Warriors Fan

WR.Blog.KlayThompson GSWGolden State Warriors Orchestrating Victory                                     Ezra Shaw/Getty AFP. Yahoo

I’ve fallen in love with the Golden State Warriors.

I’m a homer. I root for my home teams from Washington, DC; the Bullets turn Wizards (big props), and the Redskins turn a blind eye to racist symbols (huge boo). Sorry Caps and Nats, I’m simply not passionate about your sports. But in this era when loyalty follows celebrity and people become fans of teams on a global level, like the Bulls circa the Jordan era, I’ve become a Warriors fan.

I realized it last night, Game 2 of the series with the Portland Trail Blazers. It’s simple; when you see these guys play, basketball becomes a beautiful game.

A game or spectacle is beautiful to me when it’s orchestrated so skillfully that the onlooker needs no knowledge of the rules, no explanation of what is unfolding to understand the intricacies of the game and be swept away on a tidal wave of joy and excitement at feeling its beauty in their heart. To understand the objective of basketball, the concept of teamwork, the discipline of strategy, the beauty of honed talent turned into skill, and the magical joy of achievement, one only has to watch the Warriors play.

This spectacle is the ultimate balm to the human spirit. It goes beyond sport and that is why in this moment this team is on the cusp of becoming a YUUUUUUGE deal.

With no apologies to my Christian siblings it’s like watching the life of Christ. You don’t need an explanation, you don’t have to hear the words he spoke, you simply have to look at the way he lived to get his message. His life and his message are one and the same. He lived by the rule he preached. He loved God’s creation unconditionally in everything he did and with everyone he encountered. Take away the words and the message; to love your God, and your neighbor like yourself, is just as clear.

The amazing thing about the Warriors right now is that they are doing it without Curry. And what about that genius artist is there not to love? As great as his play throughout the season, it’s his joy on the bench, the childlike enthusiasm and love with which he supports his teammates that has blasted him into the pantheon of my personal sports heroes.

Portland Trail Blazers v Golden State Warriors - Game OneStephen Curry                                                                                               Ezra Shaw/Getty AFP Yahoo

I thought I loved watching him play. I do. I do I do I do. And I can’t wait for him to get back out there. But by God, it’s been a straight up bromance for me watching him live and die on the sidelines, the consummate teammate to his brothers on the court.

I can’t wait for the next game these guys play and I haven’t felt like this about a basketball team since Michael Jordan. And here’s the deal that must truly warm Adam Silver’s heart, I want them to win a second Championship so badly, but I’m gonna love them even if they don’t.

It’s All Over But The Voting

I’ve stopped watching the debates. Yes there’s still some drama left to be wrung from the candidates but the outcome seems obvious. For the Republicans it’ll be the reign of Machiavelli v the Dem’s optimistic (in small letters) hope.

Yes this is the view through my ‘progressive’ prism. From here the only question left before the vote in November is how much wealth will be transferred to the 1% owners of corporate media in the advertising orgy to come as the campaign rolls on.

Trump is the presumptive GOP’s candidate, and in the unlikely event it’s another, their agenda will be as disingenuous regarding the interests of the middle class, not to mention the poor which no one has bothered to mention for the last two election cycles. In no particular order the Republicans views on the issues making the headlines are virtually indistinguishable.

Immigration: They are are all against comprehensive immigration reform, except for Kasich, though he joins in the call for border control, which is their watchword of the day, with building a ‘beeyootiful’ wall the ultimate solution to the problem. Never mind that just like the anti-voting rights agenda where they’ve been obsessed, since the Obama presidency, with solving a problem that doesn’t exist, illegal immigration has been on a downward trend in recent years and is currently at a statistical trickle. If there are those that do not seek whole scale deportation of the undocumented they’re not in favor of a path to citizenship either. Regardless of the candidate, addressing the real issues of the undocumented immigrants’ value to our economy, their humanitarian needs, and the long term issues of poverty and violence in the countries from which most of these immigrants are fleeing are off the table as long as the current group of Republicans in Congress hold sway over the legislative agenda.

National Security: In varying degrees their solutions are to turn up the anti-Muslim rhetoric and fan the flames of hate and fear. Not all are as direct as Trump but their solutions in essence are the same; baton down the hatches at home, increase the military response and go on the attack abroad.

This is a complex problem and I don’t pretend to have answers but there are lessons from history that point to the comprehensive nature of any strategy needed to reach a long term solution. There is a legitimate need for an effective cooperative military strategy, but such a strategy must reflect our core national values, otherwise the terrorists will have already won. I have nothing but abhorrence for their violent tactics but in order to defeat them we must understand clearly what motivates them, and stop relying on convenient platitudes such as ‘they hate our way of life. More often they couldn’t care less about us. It’s a power struggle between our cultures and what they hate is that we are in their countries and they’re losing control to us over their way of life, and they want us to leave them alone.

This is not to suggest I agree with them; sometimes yes, but not always, especially on basic issues of human rights particularly to minorities and women. But they’re humans not animals and if we treat them as such we will never be able to exemplify the difference in our values and and counter the narrative they use to attract their followers. When for short term goals we dismiss values such as justice under law and resort to unrestrained violence of torture, it gives the terrorists a platform from which to undermine our moral claims in the eyes of their potential recruits. And make no mistake, this is a war over the moral core of our cultures. In addition to military and police actions we must address the conditions of corruption, poor governance, education and poverty that create the milieu from which acceptance of their vile use of violence and hate arise. We must be willing to listen and learn as well as to attack and impose. There are times when our military might is needed but as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars show, winning the peace is more difficult than winning the war.

The Economy: The GOP recently began giving lip service to the problem of inequality of wealth, yet their solutions are all variations on an old and discredited theme; trickle down economics. Cut taxes for the wealthy so that they’ll create jobs for the many. Throw the needy off entitlement programs that only increase the deficit, while tax loopholes remain for the wealthy, and ‘yuuge‘ transfer payments take place for wealthy corporations in the defense industry, energy sector, agribusiness, foreign aid, and manufacturing. Their austerity scalpel is prepared to slice away only at the weakest and most marginalized sectors of the social fabric.

Health Care: GOP candidates are uniformly dead set on blowing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to smithereens without any credible plan to replace it. Health care for their constituents is not a right but rather another commodity to be left to the forces of the market without any check on the greed of the drug and insurance companies, and the corporate healthcare providers despite their history of gouging the market with massively overpriced medicine and services and leaving nearly 40 million Americans without access to comprehensive healthcare prior to the passage of the ACA.

Climate Change: The most serious problem facing humanity but it doesn’t exist in the parallel universe of the Republican Party.

This is the unfortunate state of affairs in the divide between conservatives and progressives. Never mind the current rhetoric of prejudice and scapegoatism that overwhelmingly comes from the right and which has become a real threat to the stability and health of our democratic process. If there’s any substantive change in the position of any GOP candidate I’d be happy to reconsider my position, but in light of the above, I’m ready to vote right now, not so much for those on the left, as against everything coming from the right.

Down and Out: Time to Know Yourself

Eric Clapton croons a familiar lament, that ‘nobody knows you when you’re down and out’. But I’ve recently realized that the more meaningful concern is, to get to know myself better when life knocks me off my feet.

I’ve been down and out before, and I’m down and out again, and as much as I know better the hardest issue for me is finding the way to love myself again.

Life’s a complicated business. The moment I think I’ve figured it out the god’s conspire to test my conclusions. Now my life’s been good, even great by comparison to others, but it’s been filled with challenges that threatened emotional and physical death. I overcame one such period of the dark night of the soul by discovering power in the simple act of trying to learn ‘something’ and growing from the experience.

I’ve been through even greater physical crises since so it was surprising that my recent health emergency, though serious, has been as emotionally devastating as it is. I had it together after all. I understood the meaning of life better than I’d done in the past. I lived from the seat of my consciousness, the serene throne of my soul, not the cacophonous clutter of my conscious mind. Although not perfect, but better than before, my living and my spirit were harmoniously aligned and I felt prepared to withstand the winds of hostile fortune.

But with one stroke I was unseated from my complacency awaking from surgery annoyed at being denied the peace of eternal sleep. It’s been a hellish month since of physical and emotional pain. I hate my mutilated belly and fear the shame that lies between me and a full recovery some day. I’ve even cut myself off from the world so I won’t have to relive the nightmarish experience in retelling the story.

Yet I’m healing, getting better, agonizingly slow, but my todays are generally improvements over my yesterdays.

I’m learning and relearning lessons, the most profound of which is that nothing teaches like being down and out.

Another is that every experience, good and bad, has the potential to provide insight into who I am and whom I should be.

When I see the lives affected by my illness, those dependent on me and those who’ve stepped up to help me, I’ve had to reevaluate the importance of my relationships with others versus my relationship with myself. My efforts at self improvement, however noble and sincere, were out of balance with the importance of my relationships with others.

Love your neighbor as yourself.   The complement to the greatest commandment to love your God.

Better to spend time practicing it, however poorly, than analyzing it, however adroitly.

One more lesson from being down and out, if I don’t learn why I’m there, life’s going to knock me over again, likely harder the next time. Looking back I see that clearly now.

So I’ll try not to despair if no one knows me when I’m down and out. It’s not about them, it’s about me. Hard as it is, it’s life’s gift. I’ll take the time to figure out what the universe is trying to teach me. It might be the greatest gift I’ll ever receive.

GENESIS OF THE TRUMP FACTOR

It’s interesting and mildly amusing to read the litany of opinions bemoaning the rise of the Donald as the standard bearer of the Republican Party. I’m as horrified as the next person that a candidate that embraces hate and division as the source of greatness of the American character is the one whose message is resonating with a large segment of the body politic.

There’s no lack of theories about how we got here. They range from a public angry with the greed of Wall Street that has robbed the middle class of its wealth, to a government in Washington that does not work, to a morally weak group of Republican candidates for the presidency, unwilling to take on the Donald and be forced to endure the scathing personal attacks that he substitutes for substantive policy debate.

All of these critiques have some merit, but there’s one factor that is being overlooked because in my opinion, it indicts so many of those now heaping coals on the Donald.

The fact is that ever since the election and inauguration of President Obama there has been a virulent strain of racism in the charged atmosphere of the opposition to him from all sectors of the Republican Party. No doubt many will deny that this was the basis of their animus towards Mr. Obama. It was his policies they will insist. But to those of us minorities long accustomed to the latent racism still present in the American lifeblood, as well as many of the unbiased observers in the majority community, there is no doubt that ever since this black man became President of the country, a license of acceptance was granted to those opposing him on open and thinly veiled racist arguments.

The disrespect heaped on him by both public and private figures, the vilification of everything about him from his birth, to his integrity for no other than personal dislike and hate of the man caused a groundswell among those on the far right. Hate groups have grown at an alarming rate, and there is no end to the most ridiculous of conspiracy theories about his motives to seize power and destroy the constitutional rights of the white citizens of this country.

Rather than disassociate themselves from this noxious bigotry the denizens of the Republican Party, including several of the candidates for the presidency, fanned these flames for their own political gain, and the division in the country is arguably at its worst since the Civil War period.

Into this putrid soup of discontent came the Donald to take the lid off the bowl and stir the pot even more by validating unequivocally the hatred and bigotry that many in the mainstream had exploited while pretending that they were engaging in serious policy debate. The Donald has openly engaged the lowest common denominator of our fears and taken the largest step in setting this country back in its march towards a more perfect union for all.

There is still time to stop his march, still time for us to realize the serious threat this brand of hate filled politics poses to our national interest. There is still hope that whether or not he is the Republican nominee a democrat will win the general election. (My preference of course) But even so there will be need for all of us to work doubly hard to push back against the rise of outspoken bigotry and hate that will remain after the hoped for failure of his candidacy.

To Republicans and Democrats alike who believe that we are all Americans first, and allegiance to party is about a real conviction in choosing a different path to arrive at the same destination of a better society for us all, our work is just beginning and we will have to be committed to it not for an election cycle but for a very long time to come.

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Had a great adventure a few days ago. My first ever ride in a private jet. It was a Challenger twin engine demon that zoomed from West Palm Beach to Baltimore in under 2 hours, and it began with me pretending I was some movie star or curmudgeon billionaire Iacting as if I did this every day. Eventually my true self took over and I spent most of the journey perched at the cockpit door talking with the pilots and surveying the world below from the vantage point of an eleven year old boy filled with wide eyed wonder. In a word it was awesome.

But now a few hours later back on the ground I wonder about what it really meant. I didn’t have to wait too long to understand what it meant to me. Even while I was flying high I was thanking God and realizing how again and again he’d worked miracles in my life.

I’ve been struck down by serious illness before and now I’m struck down again. I’ve wanted to die before, wanted the pain and suffering to be over and I’ve wanted them again this time. I’ve felt lonely, I’ve felt ashamed, I’ve been convinced that my life has been a waste and a complete failure before and I’ve been convinced of it again.

Each time God has flat out saved me; rescued me and brought me back from the dead, crowded my life with angels to care and tend to me and given me a private jet ride, taking me high above the clouds to look down at the beauty of the world and show me the possibilities of what it and me can become if I would only trust him enough to take up my cross and step out in faith and follow him.

If I would put my fears aside, or better yet act on my faith inspite of them; fears of being gay, of being black, of being a fatherless, immigrant child, fears of not belonging, of not sounding right enough, of not being bright enough, of not having enough money for me to live and care for my mother and myself.

Focus on the kingdom he says, work on loving my neighor as I love myself, and leave the rest to him.

Each time I’ve tried. Never as much or as well as I think I should, but I have. This time I’m going to take another stab at it, as much as it seems easier to give in or maybe to give up. I’m going to step out on faith and simply trust when my fears would dim my courage. It’s an adventure after all into the unknown, but more and more I see that despite the pain of the lesson, the result is one awesome jet ride into the brilliant beauty of the universe of God’s kingdom of love.

Shout Out from My Colostomy Bag

One moment you’re fine, the next pain, and then you’re in surgery. Life throws you curves and you swing. I came out of surgery with a pain as deep as the near foot long incision running through my abdomen and a shame as vile as the colostomy bag clinging to the side of my belly.

No point in talking about what’s fair. It’s unfair for civilians to be running from barrel bombs in Syria, for little boys and girls to be dying on high seas trying to escape to places that don’t want them so they can have a chance to live in peace in this world that God gave to everyone. It’s unfair for millions of young girls to be victims of human trafficking, for people to be going to bed hungry in the 21st century, and the list of things truly unfair goes on and on.

So it’s not unfair for this to be happening to me, but it’s damn hard to bear nonetheless. I want to close my eyes and never wake up, to fall into a deep sleep and float away into the imagined peace of nothingness.

But I’m not going anywhere. I open my eyes and there’s the love of family, there’s the caring of friends who are family, there are the comforting words of strangers, even a woman, Bag Lady Mama, https://www.facebook.com/bagladymama/?ref=nf,  blogging about the joy of pregnancy with pictures of her colostomy bag to boot. I come home to the peace of utter chaos in the beauty of a house pulled apart to adjust to my present infirmity.

I‘m in so much pain I don’t want to go on, but I can’t go out either. The love of God is all around. It lifts me up into my seat of consciousness and I look down from the place of the observer and understand. Adversity is not about the body but the soul, and when the soul opens to give and receive love it flourishes with life even in the presence of physical pain.

So you take a swing at the curve, and discover that with love you can always get a hit.