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

HATE

The following is message I typed in comment to a post which spoke of the hating of Asian-Americans that has been growing over the last year. Further, the BLM movement has also highlighted that hate and demonization has been harmful to African-Americans as long as this country has been in existence. The following are words from an old white man (me) who grew up in the south. They need to be shouted from the roof tops.

IF YOU BELIEVE EVERY GOOD THING THAT HAS OCCURRED IN THE US RESULTED ONLY FROM WHITE MEN, THAT COULD NOT BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH. IF YOU BELIEVE HATING OTHER PEOPLE MAKES THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE, THAT COULD NOT BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH. HATING IS COUNTERPRODUCTIVE AND TAKES TOO MUCH ENERGY TO UPHOLD. SO CALLED LEADERS WHO TELL YOU TO HATE THE OTHER OUT OF FEAR, ARE NOT WORTH FOLLOWING. THEY ARE LYING TO YOU AS THEY DO NOT HAVE ANYTHING BETTER TO SAY.

That Jesus fellow said something about treating people like you wanted to be treated. He did not have any caveats about treating people whose skin was darker or whose heritage was different any worse or better. In fact, Jesus tended to hang out with those who were disenfranchised and needed Him the most. He said helping someone in need was akin to helping Him. So, Jesus led by example. Remember this when a so-called leader tells you to hate someone.

A Christmas wish – do our part to break down barriers

The following is an edited version of an earlier post that remains relevant today. In the spirit of the Christmas season, it is worth a revisit.

Last night, my wife and I attended one of a series of “talks” around improving racial relations. It is a weekly chat sponsored by a multi-faith group based in our city. In essence, it is facilitated small group and large group discussions on breaking down barriers and listening to others who do not look like you do. It was well done and very meaningful.

To hear stories about small and large examples of racism is very important. To hear about how assumptions can be made and, if not corrected, can be become more concrete in the eyes of the beholder. Children learn lessons whether you want them to or not, even when you try to do the right thing. So, it is imperative to have open conversations about treating people like you want to be treated and listening to comments, so that they can be reinforced or amended.

Yet, it is we adults that need to do better. A few themes we discussed include:

– do not indict a group for the actions of a few;

– recognize that small sleights can be hurtful, as well;

– try to walk in another person’s shoes; understand that a white person has more liberty to go anywhere, while a black man, even when dressed-up, faces more restrictions and risk;

– shine a light on hateful speech or behavior; tolerance must be viewed toward a greater good, so it is OK to be less tolerant of those who use words to demean and diminish;

– speak up and speak out to people who share your skin color, ethnicity, religion or politics who are indicting others who are different just because they don’t look, think or worship as you do;

– be the change you want to see and see people for whom they are; and

– recognize that racial injustice is also the result of a larger poverty issue, which affects people of all colors.

There are many more lessons that were conveyed during the session, but one of my takeaways is this is religion at its finest. Welcoming, including and helping. Let me end with one more tidbit on how religion can help provide solutions and create a welcoming dialogue. Walk the talk. Words are easy. The person who gets up out of his or her chair to help people is admirable.

Jesus said it so well in his Golden Rule. Treat others like you want to be treated. If we do this, we are way ahead in the game. So, welcome, include and help.

Reaction to hate speech – two posts from today

Two fellow bloggers have written today about online hate speech they have received. One lives in Australia and the other in America. The latter focuses on some anti-semitic comments she has received. Each post can be linked to below. They are must reads.

Below are my comments offering up a few thoughts from someone who detests hate speech and sees it for what it is – fear of the other.

First comment –  “I was chatting with my sister about how some folks are just looking for a fight online. I love the Aristotle saying – ‘There is only one way to avoid criticism: Do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.

Let me add one that a friend and guidance counselor used to tell her high school students. You are the boss of you. Don’t cede your power to anyone, especially someone trying to provoke a reaction. If you do not take offense, you are not offended.

I just love her words, even more especially since she passed away early. It is my tribute to her to remember them.”

Second comment – “I am sorry you have to go through hateful and spiteful denigration and persecution. It is not right and never has been right. When I see one group of people, pick any, that is taught to ‘fear the other’ and shun them, dehumanize them, punish them, and persecute them, thinking beyond the obvious hate, I am reminded of one thought – how could one group be so arrogant to think they can do without other groups of people?

This point is not focused on enough, so let me. The Jewish people have contributed so much to the world in every community they chose to be in (or were forced to be in). They value family, faith, hard work, education and community. One of my favorite part’s of Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Outliers,’ about successful people, is when he focuses on the children and grandchildren of the ‘piece goods’ workers who migrated from Europe to New York City (piece goods are zippers, button holes, collars, belt loops, etc. that make finished products easier to produce). Looking at these hard working people’s descendants revealed lawyers, doctors, pharmacists, etc. Their forebears valued hard work and education.

My point is simple. If a group practices an exclusionary belief system, then they may be a self-fulfilling prophesy and wither away. Simply, we need each other. If that does not do it for these folks, just think Steve Jobs was the son of Syrian immigrants. African-American Vivian Thomas had a heavy part in curing the blue babies syndrome, and the contribution of Jewish folks is an exhaustive list, but picking only two, Jonas Salk gave us the polio vaccine and actress and scientist Hedy Lamarr invented a technology that exists in every cell phone. Just think of where we would be without our diversity.”

Please note, I added a few words to the comments I left. My point is “fear of the other” is not only hateful, it is foolish and self-defeating. I saw a documentary where religious scholars and historians noted Jesus probably spoke four languages (Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek and Latin), given his trade as a carpenter, his ministry as a Rabbi and where he grew up. In other words, treat others like you want to be treated were not just words – he learned languages to communicate. Think about that.

https://forestwoodfolkart.wordpress.com/2020/10/25/how-to-deal-with-internet-criticism/

The power of forgiveness and inclusion, even a killer

We have come far, but it troubles me that we have stepped back a little. Racial injustice has lessened since the terrible days of Jim Crow, but we are not where we need to be. Some folks feel emboldened to react to Black Lives Matter protests, with All Lives Matter retorts. Yet, there is a percentage of Americans, whether it is 5% or 10%, that do not feel All Lives includes Black Lives. We should not cater to that ugly voice, but understand it is present in a limited few.

Five years ago, one of those limited few was invited into a church in Charleston, South Carolina. After listening to the prayers for a period of time, this person stood up and killed nine of the people present. The killer was a self-professed white supremacist, while those dead were African-American. The killer said he wanted to start a race war.

An article called “Five years after Charleston church massacre: How ‘Emanuel’ reveals the power of forgiveness” by Rashi Ali appeared in the USA Today last month on the fifth anniversary of the mass murder. The story highlighted a movie called “Emanuel” which was released the year before. Here are a few excerpts from the article, which can be linked to below.

“Five years ago today, Dylann Roof walked into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina, opened fire and murdered nine people. Roof, a self-admitted white supremacist, was found guilty on all 33 counts lodged against him and sentenced to death.

Through this tragedy, many of the people affected by the hate crime were able to forgive Roof. ‘Emanuel,’ a documentary released last year on the fourth anniversary of the shooting finds a beacon of light in the tragedy and puts the spotlight on the power of forgiveness. The film was directed by Brian Ivie and produced by Stephen Curry, Viola Davis and Mariska Hargitay.

‘I never thought I would be able to forgive somebody for murdering my mom,’ Chris Singleton tells USA TODAY about choosing to forgive Dylann Roof for gunning down his mother, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and eight others at church.”

Watching footage of the families of the murder victims forgive Roof is one of the most powerful acts of faith I have ever witnessed. I am in awe that they could look the killer in the eye and forgive him. Yet, we should not lose sight that the people who were killed by Roof and the ones who survived invited the killer into the church to worship with them. They included him. Think about that as well.

I am reading a difficult book which looks into the mind of a white supremacist. I will share more on that at a future time. To say it is troubling to read what this character believes is an understatement. But, I would want to read this character the above paragraph and ask what is his reaction. These people that Roof and this character think are so inferior and bad, forgave their killer and invited him in to worship with them. When Christians ask that question which appears on bracelets and bumper stickers as WWJD? – What would Jesus do? – the answer is what these African-Americans did.

The God I worship is color blind. The children’s song we sang so proudly, – red and yellow, black and white, Jesus thinks we are out of sight; Jesus loves the little children of the world – still resonates. If you know people who are in that limited few, tell them this story and ask them what they think. If they claim God favors WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants), you might want to add that Jesus would likely have looked like people in the Middle East as that is where he was from. He was a Jewish rabbi and a carpenter, and would have likely had sun worn skin.

Jesus preached inclusion and forgiveness. He spent a lot of time with those who have been excluded and disenfranchised. We should not forget those lessons in the bible. Inclusion. Forgiveness. Treat others like you want to be treated (with no caveats).

https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/movies/2019/06/17/emanuel-explores-power-forgiveness-after-charleston-church-massacre/1478473001/

Strange Fruit – why that flag means hate to so many

This post was written after South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley had the Confederate flag removed from the state capitol following the Charleston AME Zion shooting that killed nine African-Americans, who had invited their killer in to worship with them. It remains pertinent today with the police and vigilante killings of young African-Americans. We cannot go back to this time of horrible racial injustice.

I applaud the state of South Carolina for making a long overdue, but nonetheless courageous decision to take down the Confederate battle flag. What many fail to realize its heritage has two meanings, neither good. It was the initial symbol of rebellion that wanted to keep the right to slavery and not be dictated by people in Washington. Do not let people try to rewrite history using the terms we southerners liked to call it “the War of Northern Aggression” or a war over “states’ rights.” That was propaganda then to get poor whites to fight for white landowners so the latter could keep the slaves they owned. And, it remains propaganda today.

Yet, it also carries the meaning of Jim Crow, a period which allowed the reinforced condemnation and control of Blacks in the south, in spite of their rights on paper. This condemnation included the purposeful killing, often by hanging, of Blacks who were deemed guilty of contrived crimes or because they tried to exercise their paper rights in practice. I would ask you to watch “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Mississippi Burning” to get a sense of what Jim Crow was all about.

Or, we could heed the words of Billie Holiday, who sang the impactful song “Strange Fruit.”

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

Songwriters
WIGGINS, DWAYNE P./PEARL, MAURICE/ALLAN, LEWIS

If you want to listen to the words, please go to the attached link. http://www.metrolyrics.com/strange-fruit-lyrics-billie-holiday.html

Taking down the battle flag is a great, symbolic step, but it has to be more than that. We need to treat everyone like we want to be treated. Jesus made no caveats with his words as to who should not be so treated. Neither should we, especially with our history that includes “a strange and bitter crop” of people who did not come close to such treatment. This is also why we should not whitewash history, as we should never allow such treatment again on our soil.

The reason Black Lives Matter is such a huge rallying cry is because for so long and still today, we have to remind everyone, that All Lives must include Black Lives.