Memorial Day: Apology and Dream

I am sorry. To the brave men and women who have given their lives in service of this country I call home, I am sorry.

You sacrificed for the ideals of this nation, for the ideals of freedom and liberty and justice. You gave your lives with those ideals in mind, sometimes defending the freedoms I enjoy, other times fighting to enable others to enjoy those freedoms. And I am sorry that I have not done my part.

On this Memorial Day, I am sorry that I have not been brave enough to take a stand for what America is truly supposed to be about: the truth that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I have not stood up as the rights of people in the LGBTQ community (rights endowed upon them by our mutual creator) have been threatened. I have not stood up as the rights of Muslims (rights endowed upon them by our mutual creator) have been threatened. I have not stood up as the rights of the poor, of people of color, of immigrants (rights endowed upon them by our mutual creator) have been threatened.

Dear brave, fearless fighters we remember today, I have been so distracted this past year by the ugly, cruel bigotry I see growing throughout this country. And I have been reminded that it’s nothing new. The country some of you fought for in 1776 was a country that enshrined the sin of slavery. The country some of you fought for in 1941 was a country where Jim Crow was the law, and women were expected to stay in the home, raising the children. From the very beginning of European settlement in America, the story of “freedom of religion” was the story of “freedom of religion for Puritans, but nobody else.” There has always been nastiness in America, there have always been fear and bigotry. And I am sorry that that’s all I’ve remembered lately; I’ve just given into that, and started to bitterly accept that that’s just who we are.

And while our nation does indeed have this underbelly, that’s not all that we are. And I believe it’s not at all what you fought for.

I believe you fought for something better. You fought for the America that declared independence from a “tyrant prince,” not seeking selfish gain, but seeking freedom for a whole people. You fought not for the America that has kept people of color down, but for the America that has actively fought that all along, breaking down the chains of slavery, of Jim Crow, of segregation; the America that continues to proclaim, despite any evidence to the contrary, that black lives matter too. You fought not for the America that kept women in their place, but for the America that has actively fought that all along, the tens of thousands of women who have always persisted; and those certain men who saw that the women were right, who supported them or quietly stepped aside to make room. You fought for the America that is always growing in its understanding of what liberty really means, always growing in its understanding of who is included in those who are “created equal.” Always growing, and always pushing and pulling and fighting if necessary.

I think you fought not for America as it was, or as it is, but for America as it could be. This grand experiment is one that will never be fulfilled; this shining beacon on a hill is always just around the corner, never here now. For there will always be injustice. There will always be poverty. There will always be bigotry. But America always pushes itself forward. The true hope of America is that tomorrow might be a little more just than today. Tomorrow, life might be a little better for an immigrant than today. Tomorrow, the people who are oppressed might be more free. Tomorrow, the people who enjoy power over others might be toppled. I had almost given up on that hope. I’m sorry for that. I’m sorry that I let your sacrifice be in vain in my life.

I thank you for your service, your sacrifice, your belief in the goodness of the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I will try to do better in the coming year. I will try to do my part to make this nation worthy of your sacrifice. I will try to believe in the tomorrow of America, and do what I can to make that tomorrow a better day. The Dream of America is something that we need to work for. And I think it’s worth it.

Battle of the Grown-Ups

I will own this: I am politically left of center. I’m not sure I’d call myself a liberal, but maybe. I am definitely sad and scared about the election results, and the candidates I voted for for president and senator were not elected. I am definitely not happy about federal legislation I expect to see in the next 2+ years.

But I am also very saddened by the childish bullying, sarcasm, and demonizing that I am seeing happening on both sides right now. I am sick and tired of being called a “libtard.” I am sick and tired of jokes about orange skin and small hands. This whole brouhaha about attendance at the inauguration is sickening to me. Saying that attendance was low because “Trump supporters actually have jobs” is a childish response. Saying that a white area in the middle of one of the inauguration photos was actually people in Klan outfits is a childish response. Making an issue about the size of the inauguration crowd is, quite frankly, childish. Liberals are doing it, conservatives are doing it, the media is doing it, and the president’s press secretary is doing it. This is not a helpful focus for us to have.

Claiming that the Women’s Marches were just a bunch of people complaining and whining is a childish response. That said, some of the signs that were carried were also childish: “super callous fascist racist extra braggadocious”? “I’ve seen smarter cabinets at IKEA”? These don’t help.

I would like to learn how to have discussions with people whose thoughts and opinions differ from mine. But that is so hard. Because here’s where we seem to be right now:

  • If you disagree with me, you are STUPID.
  • If you disagree with me, the media you pay attention to LIES to you and IS FAKE. And you are STUPID for paying attention to them.
  • Only people on my side are patriotic. The rest of you either hate America, or hate what America truly stands for. Definitely, if you disagree with me, you are a HATER.
  • The people on my side are the real VICTIMS here. YOUR PEOPLE have been victimizing us, and we’re tired of you telling us you’re the victims.

Both sides are saying all these things! And none of it is helpful! We’re all dividing the country into two categories: STUPID HATERS vs. PATRIOTIC VICTIMS. And we aren’t recognizing that the other side has divided it the exact same way, but with the labels switched.

I don’t know. It’s like watching a baseball game. At a baseball game, of course half the crowd is happy when the home team scores, and the other half is happy when the visitors score. Of course, your preferred team is the “right” team. That’s sports. That’s the way it is. But if you’re a huge fan of one team, and you start proclaiming that the other team, or its fans, are stupid and hateful, and that they have victimized you, then you’ve taken it way, way too far. I can remember when my father took me to my very first major league baseball game, in Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. The Phillies (our preferred team, of course) lost to the Dodgers. I remember afterward having this daydream of Mr. T going to the Dodgers’ dugout on my behalf and beating them up, because it wasn’t fair that my team lost. I stand by this daydream: this was actually an appropriate thing for me to expect. You know why? Because I was eight years old.

But this isn’t sports. This is our nation. This is about what laws are passed to increase or decrease taxes, how those tax dollars will be used, who is going to receive assistance through them, who is going to have what rights. And we aren’t eight years old. It’s time for us all, on all sides of the political spectrum, to grow up. Not to let go of our values and beliefs. Not to “accept that the other side won, and shut up.” But to find ways to talk about this that don’t devolve to schoolyard name-calling and bullying. To stop saying that any news that you disagree with is therefore “fake.” Fake news is not partisan…fake news is clickbait garbage on the internet, moronic headlines that any adult should be able to see through. Use your brain: Hillary Clinton is not running a child sex ring out of a pizza shop. Use your brain: Donald Trump suppporters did not chant in Manhattan, “We hate Muslims, we hate blacks, we want our great country back.” That’s fake news. CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News: those are partisan news sources (less so CNN, but certainly the other two), not fake news. Take what they say with a pinch of salt, but don’t throw it out.

I didn’t want to write this post. I am so scared that I’m going to get attacked for it. I’m so scared that someone else will view it as an attack. I find it so tempting to just keep my mouth shut. But that’s a childish response too, running away from things that scare me. And I am trying to do things that scare me. I’m trying to do things I’m not good at. I guess I’m doing this with the tiniest bit of hope that I can find some hope out there that we can actually talk about these things like grown-ups. I’m trying to find the tiniest bit of hope that being a grown-up actually means what I thought it did when I was young. I hope this hasn’t come across smug or self-righteous. If it has, I’m sorry. It wasn’t my intention. Feel free to tell me to grow up!

Scared of this election

Is it normal to feel frightened, actually scared, by all the campaign signs this election? Is it normal to feel frightened of going to work on election day, because my workplace is a polling place? Because I am scared. I’m scared of talking about whom I’m supporting, unless the other person brings it up first. I’m scared of how angry people are, how self-righteous, how indignant, how completely dismissive of people who are on the opposite side. It feels as though this has gone beyond, “I can’t ever vote for him/her. No matter how bad the other one is, as least it’s not him/her.” It feels like it’s gone to, “I cannot comprehend how a thinking person would ever vote for him/her. If you are planning to vote for him/her, then you are either stupid or evil. And I hate you.”

And that scares me. I’m so scared that this is what we’ve become. I find it very hard to be proud of America right now. Proud of what we once were, yes. Proud of the ideals we were created with, yes. Proud of what we can be one day, yes. But right now? Look at who we’ve become. We all complain about, “Are these the best candidates we could find?” The answer is yes. Yes they are, because we nominated them. We gave them the most votes. You certainly can’t claim that they were nominated by smoke-filled back rooms. (Well, maybe you could argue that on the Democratic side, but never on the GOP. The RNC and the Republican establishment wanted nothing to do with Trump. That was all votes, nothing more.)

We act as though this election is the one moment that will decide the fate of America. (“If he/she is elected, then America as we know it will be destroyed!”) Bullshit. This election will decide a lot of things about the next four years, yes. But our republic is too strong to be destroyed by any one person. Our checks and balances are too strong to allow that. We’ve had some bad presidents in the past. Harding. Buchanan. Jackson, perhaps, depending on whom you talk to. Did they destroy the republic? Of course not. America will survive, whoever takes the oath in January. And sometimes I think that the worst part is that we no longer have respect for the office of president. We no longer have respect for authority and for the will of the people, even when we ourselves disagree with the majority. But this has happened before. Abraham Lincoln was an incredibly unpopular and divisive candidate and president. Hell, seven states left the United States between his election and his inauguration. I find it hard to believe that that will happen in 2017. Yes, we’re having a cultural war, but I can’t believe it would turn into secession.

But I am scared of this cultural war, because I do find myself clearly on one side of it. I know what I believe, and I know what I stand for, and I find it so hard to relate to and communicate with those on the other side. It saddens me that there are such clear sides. It saddens me that there is such mistrust, not only of opinions and ideas, but of facts. I’m scared to show my support for a candidate, because I don’t want to endure the insults and name-calling, the anger and indignation, I’m scared will follow.

I don’t know. Is this normal? Do a lot of people feel this way? Will this feeling end on November 9?

Sentences on Which I Would Like to Declare a Moratorium

  1. “We sure could use it.”
    Every single time someone says, “Looks like rain this week,” the response is always “We sure could use it.” And it’s not just when the grass is brown like right now. It seems to be a kneejerk reaction, like “How are you?” “Fine.”
  2. “How are you?”
    There’s no point in asking this. The answer is always, always, always, “Fine.” I guess it’s just a complicated way of saying hello.
  3. “I was going to say…”
    This sentence creates its own paradox. If you were going to say something, that implies that you’ve changed your mind. And yet you have now said it.
  4. “I wanted to thank you for…”
    Then do it. Just thank me for whatever. I don’t need to see your work.
  5. “Are these the best candidates we can come up with?”
    Yes, I know the unfavorable polls are historic with Trump & Clinton, but still…I recall this question being asked every four years going back at least to Mondale vs. Reagan.
  6. “When you assume, you make an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me.'”
    I remember the first time I heard this pearl of wisdom. I was in Cub Scouts, and my den mother told this to all the boys. She said it in a conspiratorial tone, like she was imparting some deep gnostic wisdom upon us. We were all in awe, but that was mainly because we heard a grown-up say a potty word. (And by the way, I’ve never understood how I make an ass out of you in this situation.)
  7. Anything complaining about “new math.”
    For one thing, “new” math has been around a long time. I distinctly remember a joke being made about it on The Cosby Show. For another thing, the strange-looking math that a lot of our kids are learning is actually fantastic stuff, and it’s not new. I was the kind of kid who took books about math out of the library, and I recall learning a lot of shortcuts and techniques to do math quicker in my head. Some of them are great tricks that I still use in adulthood. They’re the same things that kids are being taught in class now! I can add and multiply large numbers in my head because I was lucky enough to stumble onto these tricks…my kids will be able to do it because our educational system has improved!

And one sentence I like a lot, which I think should be repeated more frequently:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” – John F. Kennedy, 1962

This is the most famous line of one of Kennedy’s most famous speeches, the speech in which he announced a goal that Americans would land on the moon before 1970. I absolutely love this line when it’s taken out of context like this, because of the phrase “and do the other things.” Just a moment before, Kennedy had just compared the lunar challenge to climbing the highest mountain and to flying the Atlantic. Those are the “other things.” But I just love it without that context. I would like to add the phrase “and do the other things” to my sentences more often.

 

O Political Correctness, Where Art Thou?

I am frightened. I am honestly frightened for America right now, frightened for our collective soul. Frightened for what we’re becoming. I have been listening to a podcast called Trumpcast, and I should probably stop. On this podcast, the hosts look at Donald Trump’s candidacy as a phenomenon, what this phenomenon says about Mr. Trump himself, what it says about the GOP, what it says about us as a nation. In a recent episode, a psychotherapist was interviewed, regarding the way his patients have developed anxieties that are in some way based on the Trump phenomenon. I am wondering if I ought to give that therapist a call.

I’m certainly not thrilled at the idea of a President Trump, but that’s not what frightens me most. There are enough checks and balances in our political system to prevent him from destroying the country, no matter what the demagogues say. We survived Nixon. We’ll survive Trump, if it comes to that.

But what is upsetting me is how it seems like the kind of rhetoric that Trump engages in is spilling over to the general public. It seems more and more acceptable to demonize people, to verbally attack people, to talk about how much of a “victim” we are, and how we need to “take back” what was ours. I don’t like Trump’s stated policies, but I can accept that perhaps I’m wrong about them. I don’t think it’s a good idea to build a wall on the border with Mexico, but I’m no expert…I could be wrong. However, it is just plain wrong to claim that Mexicans are mostly rapists and criminals.

Trump has proclaimed that he’s above and against “political correctness.” And I’ve heard people, regular people, people I see regularly, say that “political correctness has gone too far.” To be honest, I really don’t understand that at all. To me, political correctness means being polite. (I never noticed that “polite” is related to “politics” before. Interesting.) What does “political correctness” involve?

  • It involves altering our language to refer to people by the terms they themselves would prefer. I don’t understand how it hurts me to learn to say “African-American” instead of “colored.” If it makes other people feel better, and feel more welcome, how is it an infringement upon me? When white people complain that they can’t use the “n” word, but African-Americans can, I just shake my head. There are a few people in the world who can call me “Mikey,” and when they do it’s a term of endearment. But I’ll be really annoyed if someone else refers to me that way. We have different words we use in different contexts. Being a grown-up member of society involves learning which words are appropriate and helpful when.
  • It involves allowing a certain level of freedom and latitude to groups of people who have been oppressed in various ways. It’s why Gay Pride parades are appropriate, and Straight Pride parades are not. Straight people don’t need that. Every day is straight pride day. When was the last time anyone insinuated in any way that you’re gross or evil or sinful for loving someone of the opposite sex? Gay people experience that daily. Give them a break. It’s why “Black Lives Matter” is appropriate, and “White Lives Matter” is absurd, and “All Lives Matter” just misses the point. Everyone knows that white lives matter. Just ask Brock Turner. Not everyone seems aware that black lives matter.
  • It involves recognizing that the scales are not balanced. And until they are, the people in power and privilege need to be compassionate and thoughtful. And yes, whiteness, maleness, straightness still have privilege. That doesn’t mean that white straight cis-males always get what we want! I know that! For God’s sake, read the rest of my blog. I have multiple suicide attempts in my past. That doesn’t change the fact that I have privilege. Privilege doesn’t mean perfection…it means I have a leg up…and I do. For instance, I’m a pastor, not a “man pastor” (unlike the many “women pastors” there are.) I’m never, ever expected to speak on behalf of my race, nor is my race judged by my actions. And when I am in public holding my wife’s hand, nobody ever says, “Why do they need to flaunt that.” I have privilege. I’m not going to apologize for that, because it’s not my fault, but I will try to be aware and compassionate about it.

It would be stupid to have “Green Eyes pride day” or “Dimples Matter day” (unless they were light-hearted and silly…fine, whatever). Eye color or presence of dimples have never been a source of oppression in our culture, at least not that I’m aware of. But race, gender, sexual identity, religion, disability all have. Blue and brown eyes are equal…black and white skin are not. They should be, and hopefully one day they will be. But right now they are not.

Don’t even get me started on this ludicrous “War on Christmas.” I already went there.

Anyway, I started this post by saying I was frightened about the way our country is going, about the soul of our nation, and I think it’s because I am seeing such a sense of anger and self-righteousness, such a sense of victimhood and vengeance, and I see it cloaked behind words like “I’m tired of all this political correctness. I just call it as I see it.” Which to me is code for, “I don’t want to put any thought into why things are the way they are. I just want to yell and yell and yell, and blame other people.” And that scares me. For years, there’s been an anti-intellectualism at the core of America. (Does it go back to the beginning of the nation? I don’t know.) There’s a pride Americans take in being uneducated. And it seems like that pride is doubling down now. And I’ll tell you, Donald Trump knows how to stir that pot. I am so frightened at what we’re turning into. I’m wondering if we’re headed for a reprise of the 1950’s…what a great time in America. If you were white, straight, male, and Protestant, anyway. Eh, who cares. I’m all those things. The hell with the rest of you. Hey, I’m just calling it as I see it!

Or, to read a much briefer, more amusing, less angry version of this post, go to author Neil Gaiman’s Tumblr. He’s got a great idea there about political correctness.