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.

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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.

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.

My Christmas Promise

I blog because I love to write. I enjoy the artistry of words, the creative process of writing prose to the heartbeat of a poet.

One of my core beliefs is that the value of a life is measured by the contribution we make to community. This has given me a passion to contribute to my community, and mine is the world, I’m a child of all of it.

I’ve allowed insecurity and fear to prevent me contributing my talent to write. It may not be very good, but it’s the pursuit that gives me the greatest joy. I can write all night and welcome daylight refreshed.

I don’t have anything new to say.

This is the story I’ve told myself to come to rest with the neglect of my talent. But my rest is troubled by two of my other core beliefs. I believe there is a God, and I believe she gave me the joy of this talent for her own purpose which is always, and only, love.

I’ve learned from history that the pen has more power to do good than the sword has ability to do evil. I do not know the big picture. Perhaps what I have to say will be of no importance to anyone but me. But even so, I will still gain the satisfaction from acting on my trust in the supreme force of creation. It may well empower me to fulfill some other purpose of hers.

I may not see the big picture but I trust the artist’s ability to complete painting her portrait of love.

My promise this Christmas is from this moment to use the words she’s given me to strike the pose she wants for the work she’s creating.

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.