A little bit of this and that for 2022

Happy New Year everyone. May your resolutions last longer than your hangover. I have celebrated New Year’s in a number of ways, but this old soul is less inclined to stay up until midnight these days. Living on the east coast of the US, we have resorted to celebrating the New Year’s on Greewich time, so we are done early.

I learned yesterday the legendary actress Betty White left us just shy of her 100th birthday. She has always been a character and has played many different types of roles over the years. She played nice girl roles for the longest time, so when she played the back-stabbing Sue Ann Niven in the 1970s on the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” it was a shock. Yet, she went onto many other roles in the 1980s and 1990s on the “Golden Girls” and “Hot in Cleveland.”. And, she was a terrific humanitarian and friend to animals. May she RIP.

Going in to 2022 and its insane campaign season which started about eleven months ago, we must try to regain some level of civil discourse in our society. Since changing politicians and opinion entertainers seems nigh impossible. we will have to make this a ground up change and force them to notice.

Here a few rules of the road that might help:

-if someone speaks or writes with name calling, labelling and cursing as their modus operandi, do what I often do and stop reading and do not respond. If this is the how the person wishes to argue, then his or her argument is poor.

-cease watching opinion entertainers who are dressed-up spin-doctors at best and disinformation peddlers at worst. Some do their homework more than others, but you are being told an opinion, often times not a well-supported one.

-if you are getting your news from someone on social media who you like because you agree with them, please do not consider that news and refer to the first two items above.

-if you are getting your news from a politician, check other sources; some have more veritas than others, but too many are just spouting BS without doing much homework. I used to think elected officials knew more than we do (and some did), but I stopped thinking that long ago. They also expect us to have short memories.

-you have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion. Ask more questions of people and listen to their answers. Listen to understand, not to respond. Only then can you follow-up with comments, but make sure you give like you want to get. Calling a person an idiot is not a good sales pitch.

-be civil to each other. Sometimes the best thing to say, is not to say it. Look for common ground, by doing that listening thing noted above. You may disagree on five points, but agree on two. That is a start.

One final thought to drum in your head. An old friend used to say “you can never have enough cups of coffee with people.” Engage. Converse. Catch-up. And, thank the other person for their time and interest. Time and interest are the best gifts someone can give you.

Be safe in 2022. Be well and be wise.

Happy Easter, too – a reprise of an old post

While I did not grow up Catholic, my best friend did. So, one of our rituals that lasted about ten years was going to midnight mass on Christmas Eve. One of the traditions of that mass was the Father would also wish Happy Easter, as he knew he would not see more than a few parishioners until next Christmas.

While fewer people are church goers than before and some check the box “none” when surveyed, Christmas remains an important holiday for the promise it brings. Whether you believe that Jesus is the son of God, there was a man by this name who walked the earth and spoke to gatherings of people of all sizes. He reminded us of four key themes among his many parables and lessons. And, these themes can be found in other religious texts.

– Treat others like you want to be treated.

– Help people less fortunate than you.

– Recognize each of us is imperfect.

– Forgive those who trespass against us.

To me, if we live our lives doing our best to remember these four things, Jesus’ words will help us be better people. And, if enough of us do this, the world just might be a better place.

Mormon leaves the church taking his money with him

A technology billionaire has sent a letter of resignation to the Mormon church noting the reasons why he and his family are leaving. Jeff T. Green notes while there are some fine people in the church doing good things, the church itself is doing harm to people. He said the Mormon church is antagonistic to women’s rights, civil rights and the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.

In an article in Newsweek called “Utah Native Billionaire Jeff T. Green Quits LDS, Says Mormonism ‘Hindered Global Progress” by Danny Villarreal, the following excerpt can be gleaned:

“Jeff T. Green, thought to be the wealthiest person hailing from the state of Utah, recently wrote an open letter to Russell Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), announcing his resignation from the church along with 11 family members and a friend.

I believe the Mormon Church has hindered global progress in women’s rights, civil rights and racial equality, and LGBTQ+ rights,’ Green’s 900-word letter stated.

Although the Mormon Church has made modern efforts to publicly atone for its past policy positions, the church has funded anti-LGBTQ initiatives, including a 2008 ballot measure to overturn same-sex marriages in California. The church also has a long history of demonizing people of color. Official LDS policy banned Black people from entering Mormon temples until 1978.”

Green will be making an immediate $600,000 donation to support LGBTQ+ issues, but has promised the lion’s share of his $5 billion fortune will go to causes shunned by the church.

In another public display to get the Mormon church to treat the LGBTQ+ community better, Mormon Dan Reynolds, the lead singer of Imagine Dragons, helped lead a concert for at risk youth in the church. He has been trying to push the church in the directions that Jeff Green sees far too slow movement. Here is a write up from the online press Vulture in 2018 about Reynolds’ efforts.

“Dan Reynolds did everything right. He served as a Mormon missionary and attended the Church-owned Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. He then got married and fathered three children. Reynolds also started a band, and now, at 31, he’s the singer in Imagine Dragons, arguably the biggest rock band in the world. Plenty of rock stars have nontraditional pasts, but Reynolds is different: He’s using his platform as a very famous straight man to advocate for LGBTQ rights, and in the process he’s alienating his band from its fans and himself from his own faith.”

This is how change occurs. It takes a grass roots effort embraced by some very public figures who can use their money and gravitas to get people’s attention. Regardless of faith, the words of Jesus can be found in multiple religious texts – treat others like you want to be treated. No caveats. No ifs, ands or buts. Let’s truly honor Jesus’ birthday by doing our best to remember those words.

https://www.newsweek.com/utah-native-billionaire-jeff-t-green-quits-lds-says-mormonism-hindered-global-progress-1661959

https://www.vulture.com/2018/11/why-imagine-dragons-is-fighting-for-lgbtq-rights.html

Be kind, be safe, be wise

With a new holiday season upon us as well as a new variance of COVID, we must remain cautious. My wife and I just learned her cousin and her cousin’s husband have now contracted the virus, with her cousin in the hospital getting treatment. Both were naysayers and neither got the vaccine. This makes us sad and concerned, and we are hoping for a recovery.

Since we Christians are celebrating the birth of Jesus in a few days, let me take a few minutes to encourage the deployment of the following three “wise men.” In my story, these three magi are kindness, safety and wisdom. Be kind, be safe, be wise.

Be kind. One of my favorite quotes is do not mistake kindness as weakness. As we travel and intermingle with others, do what Baby Jesus taught us later in life – treat others like you want to be treated. This rule is so important, Jesus called it “golden.” Jesus had no caveats regarding being selective or discounting those who are perceived enemies. And, Jesus was no weakling, as he agreed to be tortured to save us from ourselves. Please think of these golden words when you are considering being a jerk to someone because you do not like the rules you should have known beforehand.

Be safe. There is no plan B. You and your family only have one life. So, be safe. The best piece of advice I heard is you are better protected against COVID if you practice all of the layers of protection. Be vaccinated, get the booster, wear a mask indoors, practice safe distancing, and wash your hands. If not for you, think of your children. I would hate to have a loved one die from COVID. I would hate it even more, if they chose not to get the vaccine only to realize too late, they were just being stubborn as six naysaying radio shock jocks realized. It is akin to the people who died from AIDS who chose not to use condoms after clearly learning how it was transmitted.* It makes you sad.

Be wise. There are many people smarter than me. Full stop. But, I do know when people realize how much they still don’t know, they have reached a stage of enlightenment. I see way too many people speak with certainty about things they should not, me included. Please do not take my word for anything. I am sharing my opinion. Do your homework through reputable sources. Speak with your doctor. This is especially true if you have other medical issues you are dealing with. We will continue to restrict our travel. We have not been on plane since before the pandemic. Yet, we do drive and take day trips.

So, during this holiday season and even afterwards, be kind, be safe, be wise. That is the best gift you can give you and your family. Peace be with you.

* Note: It should be noted for the longest time, it was unclear how AIDs was transmitted. Because of this, there was a lot of confusion and misinformation bantered about and people died. Lessons were learned and eventually communicated, but once it became clear that using condoms helped, it would have been a community service for the wider dissemination of that information and free condoms – these last two tools were deployed in Third world countries to much success.

Just a few truisms (and a word about Joe)

As my wife and I traveled to a funeral for an extended family member, I had time to reflect. on a recent post about the “Second time you die,” meaning when the last person who remembers you passes away, you die for a second time. The point of the post is how do you wish to be remembered?

My cousin Joe passed away after a life well lived. He was a devout man who loved his wife and family. He also gave back to his community, his church and his profession. One of three wonderful eulogies noted he was a “servant leader” meaning a leader is measured by how many people he helps, not vice versa. That is a wonderful way to be remembered.

Remembering Joe reminded me of some truisms we should not forget. Here are a few to digest and offer feedback on:

If you get up with an attitude of let’s make it a great day, you have a better chance of fulfilling that prognostication. The opposite attitude is also true.

If you have the impression kindness is a weakness, then you could not be more wrong. Reread the comment above about servant leadership. A great leader deflects credit to others and asks how can I help?

If you go looking for trouble, don’t be surprised if you find it or it finds you. Some people place themselves in harm’s way and are surprised when harm befalls someone, even them.

If you surround yourself with people who care less you about you and more what they can use you for, get new friends or acquaintances.

If you feel you are the odd person out, then you often are. There is an old saying that when three adolescents find themselves alone, one often becomes the foil. Don’t be anyone’s fool.

If you treat people the way you want to be treated, do not be surprised if you are treated well in return. A very old book called this rule “golden.” You can actually disarm people or lessen tension with kindness.

If you remember this saying, people will pay more attention to what you have to say. You have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion.

If you give to others, it usually pays you a psychic income in return. Feeling better about yourself, especially when you give anonymously is an amazing gift to you and the recipient..

If you put someone down to elevate yourself, it will usually come back to haunt you. One thing is for certain, the person who is being put down will always remember it. Some may be slow to act, but they won’t forget.

If you work for an employer who treats people poorly when they exit, get your resume together and look for another job, as that could be you someday. Treating people with dignity matters.

If you take away only two things – remember that golden thing and the two ears and one mouth proportion and you will do fine. These are just a few thoughts to contemplate. Let me know what you think. Tell; me a few others that spring to mind.

Joe, you are remembered well by many. If there was any doubt, I have rarely if ever witnessed a minister choking back the tears during a eulogy.

Simple stuff for the Sabbath

Having been raised a Southern Baptist and married to a Catholic woman, I have been exposed a great deal to two different types of Christian sects. Further, my best friend growing up was Catholic, another good friend was a member of the Church of Christ, I had a Jewish roommate in college, and I have spoken in front of other church and interfaith groups to advocate for working homeless families. These churches include Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Universalist.

With this context, I offer a plea to ministers, Rabbis and imams, to keep it simple. Too often, the message gets overcomplicated and even taken out of context. Too often, the message has too many herbs and spices thrown in that ruin the mission. Here are a few simple thoughts or stuff for this Sabbath, recognizing my Jewish friends will have to wait a little less than six more days.

  • Treat others like you want to be treated. There are no caveats to the word “others.” Full stop.
  • Take care of those folks that Jesus fellow called the “least of these.” He also noted in so doing, we honor Him, which is a nice “pay it forward” suggestion.
  • Jesus told us to turn the other cheek, which almost every human simply cannot do, but the thought is nice. It goes hand in hand with that Golden rule noted above, but my suggestion is to walk away or diplomatically pushback for yourself or others who get slighted.
  • Always remember, the religious books were primarily written, interpreted and translated by “imperfect men” even if divinely inspired. So, we should remember, these imperfect men wrote in the context of the times, with knowledge of the science of the times.

While this last point may seem out of place, I mention it because it behooves the religious leader to update the references to today’s times. Medical and scientific advancements are truly a miracle in their own right, but compared to when these religious texts were written, would look God-inspired. Plus, while women played a key role in keeping families faithful, the rights of women have advanced to equal footing with men in many societies. To continue to diminish women using religious texts is not only wrong, it is economically suppressive to a community.

That is all I have to say on this Sabbath. These are my opinions, so they are not the gospel truth. I would love to hear yours.

Find your moments

The talk has turned political. You are at work, a reunion, a party, at church, etc. What should you do? Do you exit the conversation voting with your feet? Do you lean-in with disagreement? Or, should we channel our inner Daryl Davis and listen? Listen not to respond, but listen to hear first, understand second. Then, you can respond..

Who is Daryl Davis you may ask? Davis is a black man who has had numerous discussions with members of the KKK, actually convincing over 200 of them to quit the KKK and give him their robes. How does he do it? He asks them questions. Then he listens. He said people just want to be heard. If you listen, then you have the opportunity to ask questions.

What you choose to do is your call, but if you give like you want to get, you might get heard. If you look for some common ground, you might get heard. If you avoid name calling, you might get heard. If you do the opposite of the above, you will be just getting a glazed over look. I also recognize you must pick your audience and time, as some folks are more strident in their views. Plus, being critical in a large group puts people on the defensive.

On this latter point, one could say “That is an interesting viewpoint, let’s talk about it after dinner?” I have spoken with friends and relatives who are ardent MAGA fans. I have also spoken with some relatives who like to argue.

But, even with these folks, you can find common ground. The most strident of MAGA fans will usually agree with this statement, “I wish Donald Trump would tweet less as he is his own worst enemy.” I can usually say something like this without getting someone’s dander up. When he was removed from Twitter, they did all of us, including the former president, a favor. We now hear fewer of his divisive opinions.

One of the other things I have found will get heard is focusing on real issues, not contrived ones. Issues like concern over the decline in fresh water, the increase in plastics in the ocean, the impact of climate change making forest fires, droughts and flooding worse, the increase in food waste, the increase in US debt and deficit, the decline in our infrastructure, etc. are safer than wedge issues created to divide us.

If someone wants to speak about wedge issues or issues that you disagree with them on, find your moments. If you ask questions and listen, you may find an opportunity to discuss. But, the key is to listen – hear them first. I have found that too many people are not too keen on the why’s and far too keen on the who’s. My tribe said this, so this is what I believe.

If you listened to them articulate what an opinion show host said or what someone on social media said, then you can say, “I hear what you are saying, but do you truly believe that?’ Or, you might say, “I must confess, I don’t find that to be true.” Again, if we listened, we can push back in the manner we wished to be pushed back on. Yet, if you lead without listening, your push back may not get heard.

I recognize fully the above discussion won’t solve our problems, but if our goal is to get heard, we need to start by listening. Last night, I shared with my sons that Senator Bernie Sanders is out talking with Republicans to hear what they are saying, so he can share his thoughts. I do not agree with everything Bernie says, but I have always appreciated his candor and being forthright with folks.

Wedge issues are designed to divide us. Often they are designed to sell fear which wins elections. Fear does not solve anything, so we must move past that and speak with others who may not hold our opinion.

Thursday Threads – freedoms do require accountability

Since I am headed out the door for a day trip to garner fresh produce at a place called The Peach Stand, I thought I would pull out a few threads to twirl around our fingers as we contemplate issues.

The US Supreme Court has just ruled that freedom of speech does give you license to be an asshole (sorry folks, the real word is needed), provided you do not hurt anyone. A person now known as the “profane cheerleader” won her case, but missed the message. Just because you can be an asshole, does not mean you should. We must be accountable to each other and for our actions and words.

If the profane cheerleader never learns that lesson, she will be like a certain former president in his 70s, that remains an enfant terrible, even at his age. I mention him as the other court story is people involved with the January 6 insurrection are starting to get sentenced. Some will get light sentences, as they did not harm people or property, but others will likely receive more. As these sentences start to pile up, they will stand right in front of those Republican elected officials holding white paint brushes trying to paint over the insurrection as if it did not happen.

That accountability stuff is important, especially with folks who feel entitled to do anything they want. In their minds, it is OK to treat airplane attendants with disdain and threaten them. It is OK to show road rage which has been a growing problem even before the pandemic. It is OK to rage at slow service in restaurants, who are understaffed as they build back up their business. But, it is not OK. You can disagree without being disagreeable. You can share disappointment, without being uncivil.

Yes, the freedom of speech gives Americans the right to be assholes. But, there must be accountability along with that. That Jesus guy speaks of treating others like we want to be treated. If someone chooses to be an asshole, the offender needs to know it gives others the right to ignore you and not consider your raged filled or threatening words and actions. We need leaders to lead in this area, being representative of our better angels not or worst demons. Emulating a deceitful and bullying former president is not the example to follow.

There is an old saying that is more true than not. Those folks who are the least tolerant of others tend to elicit more tolerance from others with their own actions and words. What the intolerant ones do not realize, is people will eventually vote with their feet and not want to be around you or lessen their time with you, if that cannot totally avoid you. In other words, people tend not to want to suffer fools. So, at least be accountable for your own sake.

Sand castle virtues (a reprise)

With my recent trip to the beach, this old post is aptly titled. I think of these words often, when I am walking along the shore as yesterday’s castles are washed away.

I was listening closely to an old song called “Thick as a Brick” by Jethro Tull, when a phrase struck me more so than before. Jethro Tull is renowned for interesting and unusual lyrics mixed in with equal parts flute, guitars and piano making a unique sound. Yet, amidst the lyrics is a reference to “sand castle virtues.” Here is the stanza which includes the term, penned by Ian Anderson:

And the sand castle virtues are all swept away. In the tidal destruction, the moral melee
The elastic retreat rings the close of play. As the last wave uncovers the newfangled way.

I found this reference profoundly insightful, as many of our so-called virtues are not as concrete as we would like them to be. In other words, they are easily washed away by the waves and replaced by a modified version meeting a new paradigm. This is one reason people can support a candidate or politician who changes posture on a topic. Or, when the candidate was against an issue earlier when the opposing party supported it, but now favors it as it suits his interests today, we followers can overlook the previous stance.

The tide has washed away the previous virtuous stance and has been replaced. What is interesting to me is this song was written in the 1970s, so it is referencing that these malleable virtues or positions have been around a lot longer than today. The only difference is today we can more easily find the previous position, which may have only been stated a few years before. Yet, we don’t ask questions of why you have changed. In essence, we are “thick as a brick” by not staying on top of things and realizing when smoke is being blown at us.

Speaking through my imperfections, I find it hard to fathom why we choose virtues like we are at a cafeteria. A friend of mine uses the reference to “cafeteria Christians,” not to pick on this religion, but use it as an example. Some will cherry pick the parts of the bible they support, but overlook overarching themes. But, this occurs in other religions as well.

If we focus on the overarching virtues and endeavor to do the right thing, we will be on more solid footing. It is when we try to massage a virtue to meet an ideologue or a position, do we risk our position being washed away with the tide. Here are few that would solidify our foundation:

– Treat others like you want to be treated

– Be more inclusive, rather than exclusive

– You have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion

– Kindness is not a weakness and in fact is a quiet strength

– It is easy to love someone when things go well; only when they don’t is it hard

– Help your neighbor when he needs it, as you may be in need one day

– Pay attention to what leaders are doing and shine a light on poor behavior

– Treat our environment well for the next generation, which is even noted in the bible

I could go on, but these are a few virtues that would not be washed away. These virtues are far more than sand castles and could stand the greater test of time and barrage of waves. And, if we did these things day in and day out, they would become ingrained making us less “thick as a brick.”

Don’t Laugh at Me (a reprise)

The following was written about eight years ago, but sadly it seems to be in even more needed today. The words go straight to the heart, especially if you are a parent. We should remind ourselves that every child or even adult who is tormented, is someone’s child. Thinking of the Golden Rule, is this how you want your child treated?

Peter Yarrow, Noel (Paul) Stookey and Mary Travers made famous a song written by Steve Seskin and Allan Shamblin called “Don’t Laugh at Me.” Mark Wills, another artist has also recorded a variation along with Seskin, but it is the context and words that are embodied in Peter, Paul and Mary that makes the song resonate. When you live your lives speaking out for the disenfranchised, this song takes on far greater meaning than with any other artist, even the writers. Here is the entire song, courtesy of Peter, Paul and Mary with due thanks to Steve Seskin and Allan Shamblin. You can give it a listen after the lyrics.

I’m a little boy with glasses, the one they call the geek. A  little girl who never smiles ‘Cause I have got braces on my teeth. And I  know how it feels to cry myself to sleep.

I’m that kid on every playground who’s always chosen last. A single teenage mother tryin’ to overcome my past. You don’t have to be my friend but is it too much to ask?

Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names. Don’t get your pleasure from my pain. In God’s eyes we’re all the same. Someday we’ll all  have perfect wings, don’t laugh at me.

I’m the beggar on the corner you’ve passed me on the street. And I wouldn’t be out here beggin’ if I had enough to eat. And don’t think I  don’t notice that our eyes never meet.

Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names. Don’t get your pleasure from my pain. In God’s eyes we’re all the same. Someday we’ll all  have perfect wings, don’t laugh at me.

I’m fat, I’m thin I’m short, I’m tall I’m deaf, I’m  blind Hey, aren’t we all?

Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names. Don’t get your pleasure from my pain. In God’s eyes we’re all the same. Someday we’ll all  have perfect wings, don’t laugh at me.

Well I’m fat, I’m thin I’m short, I’m tall I’m deaf, I’m blind. In a way we’re all.

I’m black, I’m white. And I am brown. I’m Jewish. I’m  Christian. And I’m a Muslim.

I’m gay. I’m lesbian. I’m American Indian. I’m very, very young. I’m quite aged.

I’m quite well fed. I’m very, very poor.

Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names. Don’t get your pleasure from my pain. In God’s eyes we’re all the same Someday we’ll all  have perfect wings, don’t laugh at me.

My country ’tis of thee. oh, sweet land of liberty. It is of thee I that I sing.

We need to stop the bullying of others whether it be physical or mental torment. Whether it is in person or online as cyberbullying. Whether it is in the legislature or in the pulpit. But, especially the latter. One of my greatest pet peeves is bigotry from the pulpit and when bigotry is espoused by a spiritual advisor it is just like bullying. And, per Dan Savage who advises teenagers who are bullied because they are gay or lesbian, it does get better. Yet, it could be better still, as we have too many adults and hate groups (which is the extreme version) who try to divide, exclude and torment. Please heed these words and advocate by voice and example to treat all as we want to be treated.

Don’t laugh at me, don’t call me names. Don’t get your pleasure from my pain. In God’s eyes we’re all the same Someday we’ll all  have perfect wings, don’t laugh at me.

Peter, Paul & Mary – Don’t Laugh at Me – YouTube