Religious freedom laws give me concern

As a Christian and American citizen, I have concerns over the religious freedom laws and movement. Why? There is a subtle, but important difference between being given the freedom to discriminate and those seeking protection from discrimination.

While our forefathers purposefully included the separation of church and state in our constitution, religious mantras have caused troubling discriminatory practices in our country as well as others. During the unfortunate Jim Crow era, too many ministers preached exclusion and segregation, with some even speaking of white supremacy, using the bible as a weapon not as an invitation.

The following example happened in the UK, but is germane to the US as it easily could havd happened here. Alan Turing is a key figure in the creation of computer analytics. During WWII. Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower said Turing led a group of people who shortened rhe war by two years and probably saved 750,000 lives. They broke the Nazi Enigma code. Yet, Turing had to hide the fact he was gay and was even arrested after the war. If he had been arrested before breaking the code, we may be speaking German as a second language.

Vivien Thomas was a black carpenter who was quite skilled with his hands. This led him to wanting to be a surgeon, but his efforts were frowned on, he was denied access and was grossly under paid due to the Jim Crow south, even at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Thomas was not allowed into operating rooms, until a white doctor (he partnered with) said he needed Thomas there. Thomas’ delicate hands and sharp mind helped pioneer the repair of hearts of the “blue babies” in a way that the repair grew up with them. Before, these babies turned blue due to poor citculation and died early on in their lives.

The Vivien Thomas story is captured in the movie “Something the Lord Made” given the groundbreaking nature of the heart surgery. I cite this title, as contrary to ministers who faclitated Jim Crow, a black man was the messenger of a miraculous technique. Overcoming Jim Crow discrimination is also the theme of the movie “Hidden Figures,” as three black women helped NASA land on the moon with their mathematical, engineering and leadership skills.

Along these same lines, a significant amount of groundbreaking mathematical ideas evolved out of predominantly Muslim countries. And, after European Jews escaped fascism before WWII and fueled a piece goods industry in New York city, a high percentage of their offspring became professionals – doctors, lawyers, etc.

Religious freedom laws permit and have permitted unhealthy discrimination in our country. Lately, these laws are permitting discrimination against LGBTQ and Muslim, Jewish and Hispanic Americans. My mantra is when religious leaders promote exclusion, religion is at its absolute worst. When they preach inclusion, religion is at its finest. Jesus said to treat people like you want to be treated – he did not list any caveats. We should not add any to this beautifully succinct golden rule.

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This must stop

I hope everyone enjoyed their weekend, yet we had another event which we cannot let define us. The tragedy in Sri Lanka sheds a spotlight on what must stop. The three recent Black church bombings in Louisiana do the same; this must stop. The many shootings at churches, synagogues, and mosques must stop.

The victims do not deserve this, no matter where they worship. The perpetrators have some warped view of extremism. They are terrorists irrespective of what religious master they serve. They are hate mongers and murderers. They will not build a stairway to some perverted view of righteousness. Their names should not be mentioned, as they do not deserve recognition.

These actions of hate must stop. The underlying hate must stop. If someone’s view of religion inspires them to hate or kill others, that is not God or Allah talking. That is a narrow-minded form of extremism. These folks are murderers,

We need these actions strongly condemned by all leaders. We need religious leaders to promote a message of inclusion. A ministry of exclusion is religion at its worst. One person’s exclusion becomes another person’s hate. And, to a small subset, the words inspire violence. This also holds true with political leaders,

What can we do? If your spiritual or political leader speaks of exclusion, ask them to stop. If they don’t stop, vote with your feet and leave. Our leaders need to be our better angels – if they are not, find another leader and call them on the carpet.

If you see some followers who are echoing or speaking of violent acts, tell the authorities or more even-tempered religious leaders. Zealotry can lead to violence. If you hear unproductive words, push back or tell someone. This is even more true if they come from leaders.

But, most importantly, we must be civil to one another. We must demand civility from our leaders. Fear sells, but is an unsustainable governing approach. We deserve better from our leaders. We must also demand peace. We need more diplomats, not fewer. We need to value the mavens and dot connectors. Relationships are to be courted and nurtured.

This has to stop. Stop the words of exclusion. Stop the words of hate. And, let’s do what we can to stop the violence.

Let me close with one of the greatest examples of faith I have witnessed. After the Charleston AME Zion church shooting, the surviving family members forgave the shooter. That is powerful. Let’s be like them. But, let’s stop it from happening the next time.

 

I remember when

As I dressed for a long walk this morning, I was reminded of an old dressing habit. This prompted a reflective post (you can hum Nat King Cole’s “I remember you” as you read with me):

I remember when we used to cut the tops off athletic socks to make footies, as they did not make those when I was growing up, at least for boys and men.

I remember when phones were dialed and not keyed; if you did not complete the dial, the phone might call the wrong number.

I remember when there were three serious US news anchors whose words were gospel; Nixon once said when he lost Walter Cronkite, he lost the country.

I remember a time when we lived in blissful ignorance that all priests, pastors and evangelists were above board and not participating in criminal behavior.

I remember when both parties cared that the US President was exactly what he said he was not; Nixon said “I am not a crook,” but that was a lie.

I remember when Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assasinated, but was too young to remember JFK’s,

I remember the moon landing and Neil Armstrong’s words of “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Sadly, I remember the Challenger blowing up with citizen astronauts aboard. It showed how difficult it is to leave and return to our planet.

I remember when the US celebrated its bicentennial and when we prepared for computers programmed in Cobol to recognize the new millennium.

On this last comment, my wife and I hosted a New Millennium Eve party. We got so interested in shooting fireworks with the kids, we forgot to put the lamb in the oven. That was the only time we cooked lamb, and almost did not then. We were eating at midnight when the year 2000 rolled in.

I hope I spawned some memories. Please share a few of yours. I remember when…

Renewable energy has become cheaper than coal

An article in The Guardian caught my eye yesterday, entitled “‘Coal is on the way out’: study finds fossil fuel now pricier than solar or wind.” This is not surprising to me as the production costs of solar and wind energy have significantly dropped over time, yet it likely catches some as a big surprise. Per the article:

“Around three-quarters of US coal production is now more expensive than solar and wind energy in providing electricity to American households, according to a new study.

‘Even without major policy shift we will continue to see coal retire pretty rapidly,’ said Mike O’Boyle, the co-author of the report for Energy Innovation, a renewables analysis firm. ‘Our analysis shows that we can move a lot faster to replace coal with wind and solar. The fact that so much coal could be retired right now shows we are off the pace.'”

When all of the costs are factored in, coal is even more expensive than indicated above. For example, coal energy continues to be costly long after it is burned through ash maintenance, leakage and litigation. Yet, now production costs are largely higher for coal than renewables. As the article notes the decline of coal is passed the tipping point.

But, don’t just take the word of this article. In the first two years of the Trump Presidency, more coal plants have been closed than in the entire first four-year term of Obama’s Presidency. This would have happened anyway regardless of who was President, but I mention Trump as even someone who campaigned on keeping coal plants open cannot stave off this trend.

If that is insufficient, note there are currently more than four times the number of solar jobs than coal jobs in the US. And, the wind energy jobs are growing very quickly in the Midwest, with Texas, Iowa, North Dakota, and Minnesota among others leading the way. In an article called “Will 2019 be the year of the turbine – wind energy continues to surge in Texas” in the Caller Times, in 2017 Texas provided about 15% of its energy through wind and has and will continue to increase that percentage in 2018 and beyond.

I feel for the coal miners, but they are owed the truth and help in retraining for new jobs and some transitional financial support. In the same areas where coal is found, the wind blows and sun shines. I implore legislators to help invest in the new economy in these areas. This should have been happening all along as this trend is not new.

 

 

Radical kindness

Last week, the excellent documentary called “Would you be my neighbor?” on the life and mission of Mister (Fred) Rogers, won an award from AARP’s Movies for Grown-ups annual ceremony. Morgan Neville, the producer/ director summed up his reflections of Mister Rogers with the words “radical kindness.” He noted we need his wisdom more today than ever.

In the film, Rogers, who was an ordained minister, puppeteer, and musician made it his mission to teach children about how to understand and address their feelings. His shows focused on issues that were previously avoided with children – anger, hurt. grief, confusion, jealously, greed, love, etc. He told these kids it is OK to be angry, but you should not hit others in reaction.

Through words and examples, often delivered through his puppets (and his modified voice), he discussed death, divorce, bullying and bigotry. A key example is his having an African-American in a recurring role as his Officer Friendly and friend. This sounds rather innocuous now, but he did this in the late 1960s. He made a further point of having both share the same wading pool to wash their feet, a purposeful lesson that could come straight from the bible.

Among several powerful moments in the movie, three stand out. The first is his testimony in front of a Senate committee chaired by the ornery Senator John Pastore to petition the committee not to cut $20 million funding of PBS. He focused on what he tries to do and asked if he could say the words to the following song:

“What do you do with the mad that you feel? When you feel so mad you could bite. When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong, and nothing you do seems very right. What do you do? Do you punch a bag? Do you pound some clay or some dough? Do you round up friends for a game of tag or see how fast you go? It’s great to be able to stop when you’ve planned the thing that’s wrong. And be able to do something else instead ― and think this song ―

“I can stop when I want to. Can stop when I wish. Can stop, stop, stop anytime … And what a good feeling to feel like this! And know that the feeling is really mine. Know that there’s something deep inside that helps us become what we can. For a girl can be someday a lady, and a boy can be someday a man.”

A visibly moved Pastore said he would make sure the funding continued.

The other two moments are more visual. He filmed an episode with Coco the gorilla who could do sign language. This enormous beast was quite visibly moved  by Rogers. Coco seemed to feel the radical kindness that exudes from Rogers, hugging and petting the man and signing that he loved Mister Rogers.

The other visual is of Rogers inviting Jeff Erlanger, a wheel chair bound young man on to his show. Erlanger explained to the audience what had happened to make him a quadriplegic, the result of a spinal tumor. In a very poignant manner the two sang a song together that left both my wife and me a little teary eyed.

Mister Rogers came along after my formative years. I would watch an occasional episode as I channeled surfed. Yet, seeing this and another documentary about his work, left me with a very favorable impression. As a producer noted, Rogers did the opposite of what other TV shows did. He talked directly to the children with radical kindness. We adults sure could use a large dose of that.

 

 

 

Civility and frankness are not mutually exclusive

I find it interesting when I get push back as folks ask why should we be civil when the other side is not? Often I respond with the simple retort – civility and frankness are not mutually exclusive. One can push back without taking the other person’a head off.

I am reminded of the story of a black man who has been able to change the mindset of more than 200 KKK members. In so doing, he collects their robes. Now, the KKK is as extreme a white supremacist group as there is. How did he do it? He spoke civilly toward them asking a few questions. He listened to their answers. Then, he asked pertinent follow-up questions. Eventually, the KKK members saw the logic of his argument. He says people just want to be heard.

Diplomacy is an art. It is a way of understanding people, but being forthright with what you believe and want. In essence, it is precisely what this black man did in speaking with the KKK members. He did not shout. He did not tell them they were wrong or bad people. He started conversations and listened to them. Then, he asked questions in follow-up. He heard them which allowed them to hear him.

A few diplomatic phrases might be beneficial. You might ask, “Help me understand why you would say that?” Or, you could use a more unnerving statement like, “I understand your points, but I do not find them to be entirely true.” Or, you could say, “I have not heard that before; tell me where did you read that?” Or, you might say, “that used to be true, but is no longer.”

Tone matters. The more measured you are, the better chance your points will be heeded. If you raise your voice, expect it in return. Avoid the use of labels and name-calling. When I hear labels, it means the other person’s arguments are not as well-grounded. Labels are short cuts to convey a derogatory meaning to less informed people. As with shouting, name-calling begets name-calling.

In today’s America, we are less civil. The current President did not invent uncivil behavior nor did he invent stretching the truth. A way to convey a position without attacking one of his fans might be “I wish the President would not tweet as much as he is hurting his message.” Another is “I wish the President would not demean people when they are critical of his efforts.” I wish the President would reconsider the tariffs he placed on our allies.” Or, “I wish he would not stretch the truth like he does.”

I am far from perfect and my poor wife hears the more unvarnished version of what I type and say. But, I will leave with one final thought I have noted before. If you want your children to really hear you, whisper.

Name-calling weakens any argument

I am an imperfect person with many faults. As an independent voter who has been a member of both parties, each party has good and bad ideas. Yet, what I find problematic are people (especially leaders) who name-call and demean others who disagree with them.

Name-calling weakens any argument and is used as a short-cut by someone whose position needs more scrutiny. Demeaning others throws water on civil discourse.

If you hear or read name-calling, dig further. Question more. Why do you say that? If you see or read where someone demeans another, dig further. Again, ask why do you use that tone or language? It diminishes your argument.

Listen more. Listen to hear, not just retort. People want to be heard. An old boss would say “we have two ears and one mouth – use them in that proportion.” After you listen, then you can question someone. “Help me understand your point,” you might say. Or, “I understand what you are saying, but I do not fully agree with your point.”

Give them the same courtesy you would want in return. Returning the name-calling gets you nowhere. Returning demeaning behavior does likewise. I am reminded of the old comment, if you want your children to hear you, whisper.