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.

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.

The Spirit of a New Election Year

One of the blessings to the cyclical rhythm of life is the opportunity to start over again. It is present in the seasons of nature, and in the offer of forgiveness and redemption in our religious heritage. And the beginning of a new year is an opportune time to reflect on where we are individually and corporately on the path to becoming better than we have been.

Better for present purpose is being further along the path to creating a just society. Our ability to achieve this is directly related to our ability to feel connected to the other; to see ourselves in the other and recognize either through faith in the divine or our own reason that safeguarding the other’s welfare is the best safeguard of our own welfare.

One whose needs are satisfied is far less likely to threaten our own needs.

In a recent documentary on Paul Simon’s making of the Graceland album with the South African group, Black Mombaza, Simon defied an international boycott of apartheid South Africa and traveled there to record the album. He was blithely unaware of the situation on the ground in South Africa and when he was advised that the black liberationists were opposed to his efforts, ignored their opposition on the grounds that their attitude infringed on his artistic freedom. The South African black musicians who collaborated with him were vilified. Even today 27 years later, many of the liberationists remain deeply disappointed with them.

Ironically, the acclaim of the album raised the profile of the genius of South African musical talent, and did more to galvanize worldwide attention and opposition to apartheid than almost anything else at the time.

The spirit of the anti-apartheid sanctions was to benefit the oppressed people of South Africa. The breaking of the letter of the sanctions turned out to be more in keeping with their spirit than abiding by them.

This illustrates how often we forget that the spirit of the law is more important than the letter, and that we must be careful as we make choices in our personal and corporate lives that we remain true to the spirit rather than to rigid adherence to the letter of the law.

This precedent exists in Christ’s teachings. On one occasion he picked corn and fed his disciples on the Sabbath and was accused by the authorities of breaking the law against working on God’s holy day. In response he observed that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. The spirit of the law was intended for the benefit of the people’s welfare.

In this election year many of our political debates suffer the same failing. Issues from war and peace, to immigration, income inequality, racism, and gun violence all risk suffering  this flawed analysis as the populist cheerleaders forget the original spirit of our democratic experiment, to form a more perfect union with justice for all.  

This is the spirit to which we as a nation must be dedicated. The beginning of this New Year is a perfect time to push the reset button on trying to live it.

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.