A first step in breaking down barriers

Many of us have written about how divided we are as a nation. We are more divided than ever, but what does not get written about enough are what brings us together. We do not hear or read as much about the good news stories or people just getting along. Our friend Jill does a weekly post on these kinds of good news stories, but her frequency of covering good news is greater than that of most news publications.

One of the things I have observed in my many years is people will set up we/ they groupings, even when they do not need to or it serves no purpose. I recall a true story from 1987, when a large housing development we moved into had a North side and a South side. At a party, I heard someone make reference to “those folks in the North side” not being good people like us. Really, I thought. This person made up an artificial group to fear and ridicule. Now that is inane.

So, the first step to breaking down barriers is not to create them. Try to avoid we/ they groupings. If we do that, there is no one to blame for our troubles but us. A good step down this path is do not identify yourself as a member of a group unless you actually have to in response to a question. I am guilty of taking pride in being an independent voter, but even that is a grouping. I do that to get my message heeded by members of political groups, but it is still a banner I am waving.

When I hear or see people put down someone for the way they look, worship or love or their heritage it builds off we/ they barriers that have been created. For a diverse country, we tend to complain about the most superficial of things. Just taking food as a counterexample, think of the rich diversity of choices we have as consumers to eat a variety of foods from around the world. We even have “fusion” restaurants that blend together tastes from Asia and Mexico or Italy and Greece, for example. A Hawaiian pizza did not originate in Italy and Fried Chicken and Waffles is alleged to have started in California not the south.

If we can eat these wonderful foods from diverse sources, I think we can break down a few barriers. Think of it as breaking bread with people with different backgrounds. If we did not eat a variety of foods, we would certainly live in a bland world. And, think of how more seasoned the conversation will be as we delve into histories and mutual interests.

So, test yourselves. Lessen the identification of groups. Don’t define yourself by where you go to church and especially not how you vote. An old line comes to mind that is less applied now, but don’t ever bring up religion or politics at a party, as it will start an argument. If you must, focus on an issue at hand, not the grouping. The one group that matters is the human race. Let’s be better human beings.

There are no caveats – a mantra from a help-oriented church

We were catching up with an old friend whose wife had passed away earlier this year. He is a devout man who sings in the choir of his Baptist church. His church is not an evangelical church as he notes their mantra is “God loves everyone.” He added, “there are no caveats.”

As evidence of their mantra, his choir will be singing with a LGBTQ+ choir at an upcoming event. I think this is very cool. It is a big tent approach to sharing their faith. They are walking the talk so to speak.

As further evidence, a charitable organization I was involved with has benefited greatly from working with this church. The organization helps homeless working families to get over a rough patch and place them in housing with a temporary subsidy and social worker support. The church provides space for the administrative staff of the organization and one of its shelters which can house seven families until they get placed.

In my advocacy work with churches for this organization seeing churches who focus on outreach to those in need is a joy to see. I have seen exemplars like this one. I have also seen some that are not so organized. That is unfortunate.

To me, there is a psychic income to helping others. The giver gets as much good out of the encounter as the recipient. So, when I see churches focus on being exclusive, it makes me sad. Using the Bible as a weapon to divide does not serve its mission very well. Using it to invite and connect with people is a far better message. The same goes for other religious texts. Inclusion is a much better sales approach than exclusion.

We should remember our desires as humans are the same regardless of religion – love and raise our families in a safe environment where we can feed, clothe and house them. That is the mission we should enable. Remember, there are no caveats.

A Real Life Star Trek Hero Nichelle Nichols passes away

The following is an encore post to someone who deserves an encore – Nichelle Nichols – who passed away yesterday at the age of 89.

After the first season of the original “Star Trek” television series, African-American actress Nichelle Nichols was speaking with a prominent public figure about her role as Lt. Uhura. The public figure noted “Star Trek” was the only show he watched regularly with his children. Nichols told the man she was leaving the show, but he encouraged her to reconsider, which she did. He said you are a role model showing Blacks and Whites that there is a place for women of color in key roles in the future .His name was Martin Luther King.

She took that inspiration seriously and did far more than I ever knew until a recent documentary enlightened me. The Scyfy network has written an important piece called “NICHELLE NICHOLS’ NASA ‘WOMAN IN MOTION’ DOC BOLDLY BLASTING OFF FOR ‘BLACK HISTORY MONTH.’” Here are a few paragraphs, with a link to the full article below.

“A new documentary is boldly tackling one of actress Nichelle Nichols‘ greatest achievements. In addition to playing the iconic Lt. Nyota Uhura on the original Star Trek TV show, Nichols used her pop culture influence as a fictional space-farer to help pioneer a NASA recruitment program in the 1970s and ’80s that hired the first astronauts who were women and persons of color.

Directed by Todd Thompson (The Highwaymen), the documentary features exclusive interviews with Neil deGrasse Tyson, George Takei, Pharrell Williams, Martin Luther King III, Al Sharpton, Vivica A. Fox, Walter Koenig, Rod Roddenberry, Michael Dorn, Guy Bluford, Charles Bolden, Ivor Dawson, Frederik Gregory, Benjamin Crump, and, of course, Nichols herself.

The movie’s title refers to the company Nichols founded (Women in Motion, Inc.) that brought over 8,000 African American, Asian, and Latino women to NASA. Thanks to the actress’ work, the agency became one of the most diverse institutions of the U.S. federal government.

‘We are thrilled that Woman in Motion will be getting its U.S. premiere and launching the Fathom Events Celebrates Black History Month series next month! This is a great American story with incredible global impact,” Thompson said in a statement. “Nichelle Nichols helped create the brighter future we are living in today by proclaiming that space exploration is for everyone. It’s a simple but very strong statement that opens doors and allows all humankind to boldly go!’   

‘We are proud to bring pioneer and role model Nichelle Nichols’ inspiring story in cinemas across the nation,” added Fathom CEO Ray Nutt. “It is an honor to have Woman in Motion as the debut film in the inaugural Fathom Events Celebrates Black History Month series.”‘

To see Nichols speak of her efforts later in life is a treat. She is a very dignified person and understands the importance of these earlier efforts. A key comment was during a speech she made in the 1970s to a large group of NASA people. She looked out in the audience at all of the white men and observed “Where are my people?” The NASA leader heard her and asked for her help. She said she would do so, but did not want to be a figure head. She wanted to help make a difference. And, she did. She did her part to help NASA “boldly go where no man (or woman) has gone before.”

Nichelle Nichols/NASA ‘Woman in Motion’ documentary boldly blasting off (syfy.com)

Christianity without Jesus is an empty suit

John Pavlovitz is a minister who writes a blog that speaks to the key tenets of treating people like you want to be treated. He is not too keen on performance religion which is too closely aligned with politics. A recent blog called “Actual Followers of Jesus Don’t Want Conservatives’ Compulsory Christianity” is a good example of his work.

“There’s nothing more dangerous than professed Christians who have no real interest in Jesus. They’re rather easy to spot if you’re paying attention.

They’re usually the ones most loudly claiming things like religious liberty while methodically swallowing up the personal freedoms and elemental rights of other people.

They incessantly broadcast their devotion of God on their bumpers and bellies, while living antithetically to the compassionate heart of Jesus actually found in the Scriptures.

Their spirituality is largely performative: a showy firework display of culture war talking points and religious buzzwords that distracts from the truth that their lives are yielding almost nothing truly loving to anyone but people who agree with them on everything.

This blog caught my eye as the key tenets of Christianity surround that Jesus fellow. Absent that, Christianity is just an empty suit. Gandhi once said, he admired Jesus, it was just Christians he was not too keen on. I understand his point as too many ministers in our history had a fear-based ministry, rather than a love-based ministry.

Teaching people to fear the other is not inclusive. Religious scholars have noted Jesus probably spoke four languages. He needed one language for trade as a carpenter, as well as others to communicate as a Rabbi and to his followers. Where he preached and worked had numerous types of people. So, he spoke inclusively. It is a message we should emulate.

There is an old line that speaks the truth to me. If you want to create an atheist, have them read the old testament. In Pew surveys on religion, atheists did better on biblical quizzes than Christians did. If you want to reach more people with a message of love, start with the new testament. That is the part where Jesus’ words are found in red. Those are where the messages of love exist. I might throw in a few Psalms as well from the old side.

Treat others like you want to be treated. This rule of Jesus’ is so important it called “golden.” It is also found in other religious texts in one shape or another. Also, he threw in a few messages about taking care of your neighbor and the downtrodden. Nice words and actions he spoke and he followed. Those are among the words in red.

If you are not a Christian, the last paragraph can still offer governance of a good life. Maybe that is the beauty of what Jesus said. Something that can touch others. Inclusivity.

Check out the rest of this and other posts on johnpavlovitz.com.

Same-sex marriage protection passes a hurdle

In an article called “47 House Republicans vote to write same-sex marriage into law” by Anthony Adragna of Politico, the good news reverberated in the hall of the Congress. It still must pass muster with 60 Senate votes, but it is encouraging. Please contact your Senators and ask them to vote in favor of this bill.

The full article can be linked to below. Here are the opening few paragraphs:

“Democrats loudly cheered from their side of the chamber as the bill passed 267-157, with 47 Republicans backing it, including members of GOP leadership such as Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and National Republican Campaign Committee Chair Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.). Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) voted no.

‘This bill makes crystal clear that every couple and their children has the fundamental freedom to take pride in their marriage and have their marriage respected under the law,’ Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in floor remarks.

A 2015 Supreme Court decision required states to recognize same-sex marriages, but Democrats urged a codification of the policy in the wake of the court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade last month. In a concurring decision, Justice Clarence Thomas voiced support for reconsidering the court’s earlier same-sex marriage ruling.

The short bill, which faces an uncertain path in the 50-50 Senate, would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act passed in 1996 that defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. It would also require states to recognize same-sex marriages, as long as it was valid in the state in which it occurred.”

Note, when the two more prolific attorneys who have pled cases before SCOTUS argued for same-sex marriage when California’s Prop 8 case was in question, they noted that other folks had no standing on the issue. Plus, they argued that these are folks want to be in a recognized relationship and want to start families. I agree.

Again, please reach out to your Senators and let them know where you stand on this.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/47-house-republicans-vote-to-write-same-sex-marriage-into-law/ar-AAZLcDb

Disturbing survey result – we cannot condone violence

I read yesterday of two alarming results from a University of California survey of 9,000 people. 1 in 5 said violence to promote a political cause would be appropriate and 7% said they would be willing to kill someone toward that goal. Really? Have we sunk that low believing the divisive rhetoric of too many that so many would commit capital offenses for a politician’s gain?

The majority of these folks have felt empowered by the former president to be more public. I guess all the folks who are pleading guilty or being convicted for an insurrection on our Capitol building at the behest of the former president are not evidence enough that this is a poor path forward. Maybe when the former president is charged with sedition for his apparently more active role in the insurrection these folks will be given pause.

And, just because the right has its extremists who are promoting violence and even death, that does not give any extremists on the left a hall pass to do the same. Civil discourse and peaceful protest are more than fine. Violence is not the answer, unless your question is when can I go to jail?

One of America’s key tenets is the peaceful transition of power. We are more divided than before because a former president’s ego is so fragile, he cannot admit he lost and per his niece will “burn it all down to avoid losing an election.” It is only our democracy – we must hold it dear and ignore those sycophants who are aiding and abetting the bogus claims of the former president. I was delighted to see a bipartisan Senate bill pass to better protect the electoral process to prevent a demagogue from trying what the former president did – an insurrection.

Taking the former president at his word is a fool’s errand. Listening to his allies and sycophants who are holding cans of white paint to whitewash history is also such. But, so is taking the word of so-called leaders of any movement that condones and promotes violence. That is inane. It is also criminal. If your group promotes this, find the door before it is too late.

A solicited prayer for all

I follow a young woman’s blog she calls the Christian Tech-Nerd. Recently, she offered several biblical based prayers for various events or challenges and invited readers to submit theirs. Here is one I submitted, which is less biblical and more on treating others like we want to be treated.

“Thanks for sharing. My prayer is our leaders, both religious and non-religious, can act and speak as if they are among our better angels and not our worst demons. To me, it is poor stewardship when they act and speak like we tell our kids not to. 

My prayer is we can civilly disagree with one another and not hold grudges if we cannot find agreement. My prayer is we can be the best version of ourselves and treat people like we want to be treated. We are an imperfect lot and we all sin. So, let’s not forget that and do our best to learn from our mistakes.

I recognize this is not a biblical prayer, I just feel we have lost our way and we need to act better than we are. Thanks for asking.”

This prayer seems to resonate with several folks. My thrust is on walking the talk. Words are easy. Actions are hard. As someone who has worked with religious volunteers to help people in need, those outreach people are where that Golden Rule lives. Those are the people we should be following, not a minister or elected official who is using their power to act like a bully to denigrate others.

A few contradictions about the 4th

Today, folks in the US are celebrating the 4th of July which is known as Independence Day. It is an important day, but what it meant was an idea of independence from Great Britain. We still had to fight for it. And, we should not forget there were many in our country who remained loyal to the crown and did not want indpendence.

I think this last point gets forgotten, but it is a precursor to what makes this construct created by our founders so lasting. Our citizens consistently disagree with each other on issues. This disagreement is not new, nor is it always civil. And, it has been violent on occasion. But, most of the arguments have been traceable back to power.

We argued about slavery from the outset which led to a civil war. When a landowner’s human assets are his most valuable possessions, it is hard to tell him he cannot have them.

When women wanted to vote, men did not want to share power saying women did not have the smarts or temperament to understand voting. I wonder if we went back in time and said more than 50% of college students are now women would we be believed?

When the KKK had a growing influence in Congress with 25 Senators and over 100 Congressmen with some ties, it took their misstep of openly condemning Jews to make their power lessen. This was not Nazi Germany, this occurred in the United States.

When Jim Crow continued for much too long, it took pictures, horrific events and courageous souls to make people take notice. It was an uphill fight that cost many lives, but men with names like Martin, John, Medger, Malcolm, Lyndon and women with names like Rosa, Billie, Coretta, Shirley, et al made us take notice.

When a populist from Wisconsin used television and his Senate pulpit to make things up to cause Americans to fear communism, people lost their jobs, reputations, and some their lives. It took a concerted effort and time from newspeople with gravatas and a few witnesses to reveal the evil nature of Senator McCarthy. Even President Eisenhower had to tread carefully with this mean spirited and untruthful acting person.

When a more quiet movement called the “Lavender Scare” occurred, men and women who were perceived or known Gays and Lesbians were fired from their government jobs. Many of these folks were loyal, diligent and proficient public servants, but they were let go. This movement continued from the end of the 1940s throughout the fifties.

When we moved hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans to camps during WWII, we violated their rights as citizens. We took away their possessions, livelihoods and homes. The communities they served with commerce were malserved. There had to be a better way than the cold-hearted decision that was made.

Now, we have a too divided union resulting from purposeful misinformation and disinformation. We had a populist president who has used similar tactics to that of McCarthy. Make things up, sow seeds of division, blame someone, rinse and repeat. We are more at odds because a former president with a shallow ego is not man enough to admit he lost an election. So using his own niece’s phrase, he is burning it all down to avoid losing.

Folks, it is OK to disagree. Even couples and siblings disagree. But, we should listen to each other and not take their heads off. We should not demonize their opinion as that is the worst form of name calling, which is simply not a good argument. When people name call, especially if they have clout, dig deeper. Ask questions. That is what finally got McCarthy to back down. He did not have answers to questions and sweated on camera when you asked good ones.

To say it simply, our country has survived a lot because we asked questions and showed spotlights on bad behavior. We should not let our democracy crumble because of name callers who per Pulitzer Prize winning author Thomas Freidman said “Do not have a second paragraph.” Civil discourse. Civil questions and answers. Fear sells and wins elections, but it does not govern well over time or sometimes from the outset.

Happy Independence Day. Let’s keep that flame alive.

Letter to the editor – concerns over attacks on others

I sent the following brief letter to my newspaper this weekend. It will likely go unprinted, but I want to share it with you in case you would like to modify and use. Maybe it will get printed somewhere.

Reading about the increase in verbal and physical attacks on LGBTQ+ citizens or the denigration of the rights of women or people of color concern me. This is especially troubling when it comes from people who espouse the teachings of Jesus. When he said treat others like you want to be treated, he offered no caveats. Full stop. If we would only follow that one rule, which is so important it is called “golden” and also appears in in other religious texts, we would be in a much better place with our civility. We have two ears and one mouth, we should use them in that proportion. We all deserve such treatment.

People died for our country to preserve the freedoms for all its citizens. That guy Jesus chose to spend most of his time speaking to and hanging out with the disenfranchised people in his time. We should remind ourselves why would they choose to do that. Our country has had fits and starts of trying to live up to our ideals. Yet, we should never stop trying to be the best version of ourselves.

Quiet resolve equals strength

The following poem is called “Strength in silence and sweetness: ROAR” by our blogging friend Cindy Georgakas. A link to her post is below. Following her poem, is an amended comment I made regarding my thoughts on its veracity.

“There is strength in silence, behind my sweetness;

Hear me Roar!

If you cross me, don’t be fooled
by my demure ensemble.

Cover your ears and run for the hills because I’ve hired my entourage to find you.

If you thought you could pull a fast one, think again.

Hear me Roar!

Life was made for making things right and putting an end to the injustices rendered.

Whipping cream is sweet it’s true, but if you’ve run amuck,
pucker up and deal with what life hands you, served on a silver platter.

Hear me Roar!

We gather in the name of God, where sweetness cuts to the chase.

That’s right…NEVER underestimate the silence and power of a woman,
wrapped in whipping cream clouds that smile.

We are woman;

Hear us roar!”

Copyright © 2022 Cindy Georgakas

Allow me to just focus on Cindy’s opening sentence – “There is strength in silence, behind my sweetness;” I have often quoted an old line “do not mistake kindness as weakness.” False bravado means fake bravery. Beating on one’s chest is usually reserved to someone who does not want to fight. The one to worry about most has always been the quiet, pensive one. Think Ukraine President Zelenskyy standing up to an untruthful bully in Putin.

To the point of Cindy’s poem, I am reminded of a true story from one of the most difficult books I have ever read, “Half the Sky” by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn. It is about the maltreatment of women around the globe and the title is based on the Chinese proverb that women hold up half the sky.

The example is a tribe was left to defend itself with the women and children left in the village. They were housing some injured male warriors. When the enemy came to find them, the women who commanded a lot of respect told the enemy to go on about their business and let them be. And, the enemy did. They were so steadfast in their resolve it intimidated the enemy men.

We should never forget a huge example during the 2016 GOP presidential primary. When Meghan Kelly of Fox asked the future president some tough questions in one debate, he refused to do future debates if Ms. Kelly was one of the interviewers. He was scared of her. What we learned later, he was fed questions by someone at Fox and Ms. Kelly happened to ask him questions about his maltreatment of women that were not fed to him in advance and he did not like it one bit. And, this would not be the first or last time the former president quivered when faced with a female reporter armed with good questions.*

Finally, it should be noted the election in Australia last week where conservatives were swept out was said to be due to a large voting bloc of women who were concerned about climate change action, child care funding, Medicare strengthening and integrity, rather than contrived and overstated issues to cause fear. Women can make a difference and I hope they do. If we do not think this is so, remember what happened in the United States in 2018, when the Women’s March fueled many women winning elections and a changeover in the majority in the House.

*Per Robert Mackey of The Intercept om May 12, 2020: “WHEN AN ACTUAL press conference threatened to break out in the Rose Garden on Monday, as two White House correspondents refused to let Donald Trump silence them, and a third declined his request to change the subject by asking a new question, the president abruptly turned and walked away.” Note the first two reporters were female.