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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

CONNECTED TO FAITH BY DOUBT

‘When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” Matt 28:17

The older I’ve become, the more complex the response to the question of what is it that connects me to my faith. From the crucible of my recent past, however, the simplest answer is doubt.

The only absolute belief I hold today is in the supremely creative and redemptive power of love, and I will always be a disciple of Jesus, the messenger of love. Any act of love stirs in me my sense of connection to the divine; because for me by definition, all love emanates from the divine.

Because of my culturalization my faith was rooted originally in an acceptance of certainty about doctrine, from the existence of God to the details of the Bible. But the circumstances of my life did not square with this and I began a youthful search for absolute truth that evolved with ‘maturity’ to a quest for spiritual principles with which to live consistently.

Scholarship exposed the divergence between religion and spirituality.  I discovered that religion, however sincere, is the product of humanbeings. Every culture creates God in its own image, and expresses its understanding in their image rather than God’s image being expressed in them.

For someone who once believed there was an absolute truth this was a difficult passage to navigate. I lost faith in my religion. This was extremely troubling because I had to chart my own course through uncertainty, and I was distraught from my doubts.Among other things reading Mother Teresa’s own painful words of doubt helped me.

Where is my faith? Even deep down … there is nothing but emptiness and darkness … If there be God—please forgive me.” Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. New York: Doubleday

I realized doubt and weakness were consistent with our mortal existence, and turned to the certainty of my personal experience for places where I felt a tangible connection to the divine. Not surprisingly, those were in places where I shared in unconditional love. So, now embracing my doubts I try to orient all my life around unconditional love.

JE SUIS CHARLIE

Charlie Hebdo rallies across France

I stand with the people of France.

I stand with all people who advocate for justice. Justice, someone once said, is what love looks like in practice for all people, and I believe it is the only way to peace for us all.

The terror attacks this week in France are shocking; perhaps no more so than other acts of terror that have taken place in other cities, or the reprehensible violence which occurs in the many wars, in places such as Syria, Iraq, Palestine or Afghanistan, or even the annual loss of 30,000 plus lives from gun violence on the streets of the United States, but nonetheless, they are shocking.

But what is different this time is the character of the response. The groundswell of the response across the spectrum of French society, and beyond to the broad swath of humanity has been remarkable for all the right reasons. It is not simply the universal condemnation, but more important, the strength of the demonstration that we as a people will not be afraid, and we will not be divided. There is a tidal wave of energy to include, to tolerate, and even to accept.

Charlie Hebdo rallies across France

The millions unified in the streets is a forceful affirmation that we overcome evil with good. The enlightened path of our cultural traditions all teach that evil is overcome not by resisting it, which usually excuses us doing more evil, but by doing justice, and bringing everyone into community.

There is no question that there are many different and even contrary agendas present. To some this is about freedom of speech, or freedom of the press, democracy, shared values, or our way of life. Some are simply political, or opportunistic. I do not think it matters.

These acts of violence were wrong, however provocative or offensive the cartoons may have been to some. This most basic human right must transcend all humanity. The taking of life may be excusable but it is never justifiable. And this time the people of France got that right.

Citizens carrying a banner which reads, "We're all French today" take part in a Hundreds of thousands of French citizens solidarity march (Marche Republicaine) in the streets of Paris

The world is more crowded and grows smaller every day. It is our destiny to become more multi-cultural. This is a good thing. Our evolutionary experience makes us afraid of change, keeps us tribal, and afraid of the other. But life is change. Our very bodies are changing at the cellular level.  Not to change is to die.

The problem of religious extremism is complex. Religious conflicts are rarely ever really about religion. Their root cause, as with most conflicts, is injustice. Injustice is the engine that drives these conflicts, religion is simply one of the high octane fuels used.

We keep responding with more security, and greater violence. These alone have only spawned more conflict, less security and less freedom. Standing in solidarity with the marchers in Paris will not solve this crisis, but it is an important, and often overlooked first step to finding a solution.

The values of tolerance, respect, peace, and love are the guiding principles that will heal our divisions, and this will occur when we demonstrate justice with an inclusive and collective voice. Je Suis Charlie is a good place to begin.

HAPPY NEW YEAR

2015 Happy New Year Strands Line Glow Dark BackgroundABC News photo

 

I resolve to be more compassionate and generous to all people this year by living truer to the principle of unconditional love as I am blessed to discern it from the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

New Year’s resolutions are justly viewed with skepticism because so often we fail to keep them. But this is a mistake. We should make more resolutions not less, and remake them every time we fail. The fault, after all, is not in the resolution but in what we do to keep them.

It takes between 3 to 6 weeks of consistent action for something new to become a habit. And, this is more difficult when trying without others for support and accountability.

Generally, resolutions represent our perceptions of being better persons, and the root of their failure lies in the frustration of the inevitable backslide.

I find I’m more successful when I focus on creating new habits rather than breaking old ones. So, I focus on the positives of new behavior that contradicts or steals the time from the old habit, and when I fail, as often as I fail, I recommit to my resolution again. How often will I repeat this? As often as it takes to accomplish my goal.

I am constantly recommiting to my writing. I’m by nature a night owl, but I’ve discovered I’m more successful if I write early in the morning. Getting to bed earlier is at the top of my resolution list again. I’ve already failed, but I am resolved never to give up because writing is my passion, and this will be the year I publish my novel.

So dismiss all cynical frustrations, and refresh old resolutions from losing weight to saving the world. And when you fail, remember your resolution is a response to your better self, and in the words of Kipling, “…if you can meet with triumph and disaster (a)nd treat those two imposters just the same;… (y)ours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man my son!”

Happy New Year

A CHANGING GOD

Between Heaven & Earth
Between Heaven & Earth

‘God never changes’ is one of the religious mantras I find troubling. So often it is a prelude to a rigid interpretation and understanding of God.

I’ve been in the south recently where I began a search for a church home. I encountered several congregations who called themselves bible based to indicate they only follow rules set out in the bible.

One church in Miami, even claimed to be a New Testament bible based church. One bizarre result is that no musical instrument is used in worship because there’s no account of any being used in the New Testament. In Ft Lauderdale another pastor, while proclaiming the love of God, provided a laundry list of people, from Roman Catholics to atheists who were not going to heaven.

I understand the need for security in an insecure and uncontrollable world where death is inevitable. I understand the need for and the good that religion has done and can do. I believe that God never changes but it’s my belief, and it includes what I believe God is and therefore what it is that doesn’t change.

Modern life is confronting a paradox unparalleled in human history. Our technology is drawing us closer together at the same time that it is pushing us farther apart.

We are all now connected in a global economy and on social networks that have no borders. However, instead of the electronic media of the past that was limited, reasonably similar, and provided thoughtful editing, today we link overwhelmingly only with those who are similar to us, and the opportunities to engage with the diversity of human experience are diminishing.

The existential quest of human experience is to see ourselves in the other person.

This is the basis of our humanity. The purpose of all religions is to guide us in bridging our instinctive self centeredness and experience this spiritual birthright. This is the essence of the golden rule and loving our neighbor as our self.

God is a concept too awesome to reduce to human proof. The ancients wouldn’t even speak the name. Our individual concepts based commonly on sacred but human sources are by definition less than the whole, limited to the sources or experiences we incorporate in them.

The most fundamental concept of God, which Christians learn from Jesus, is that our Creator is love. We are not the only culture, in human history to believe this. This is the source of that spiritual birthright, and it has been available to every human from the beginning of time.

However, our understanding of the nature of God’s love should change as we grow in understanding it more fully. Not to change is not to grow.

While I have faith in what I know, the depth of my faith is in my unknown.

It is in the humility of my doubt that my humanity is born. It allows me to see in my fellow human another of the ever changing faces of God’s love.