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.

Interesting quote about church going

Sometimes quotes come at you from surprising sources. The following quote comes from a good movie called “Burning Bodhi” about old friends grieving the sudden death of one of their own from an aneurysm. The character was from a God-fearing community in West Virginia with a number of churches. When asked if she went to church, her reply was priceless.

“Going to church does not make you a Christian any more than hopping into a garage makes you a car.”

The profound simplicity of that statement floored me. It also reveals the act of going to church is not as altruistic for everyone as it is for a group of truly devout people. Having grown up going to not only church, but Sunday school as well, I saw all kinds of people there. Just like in general society it was a collection of imperfect people with biases, faults, and sins.

There were good lessons to be learned as well as some that were not so good. This church had an excellent youth program called “Tell it like it is,” where young people could get excited about their faith. Yet, on the flip side the church eventually split in half over an argument regarding the overt nepotism of the pastor in hiring practices. I have seen churches and synagogues have active outreach programs even starting charities to help people in need, while I have also seen churches led by ministers whose ego and greed got the best them.

Having worked with church and synagogue leaders on outreach programs to help those in need, I have witnessed both sides of the coin as well. I have met the most wonderful and kindest people who want to help, but I have also witnessed some who were there for themselves, not the people in need. The charity has to be about helping people help themselves, not doing something that makes you feel good about yourself.

I am no longer a church going Christian, so many would not even call me such. I am imperfect just like everyone else, but I do feel we should walk the talk. I do feel it is more important to help people climb a ladder out of the hole they find themselves in. I do feel we should treat people like we want to be treated with no caveats. And, if a church leader does not espouse those things, I would suggest finding a different place to worship.

Wednesday wanderings on a spring day

It is certainly a great day to wander about, but I think I will mow the grass first. Mowing has always been a chore I don’t mind, as you can see your progress as you go. Plus, freshly cut grass has a fresh smell. Since I have a battery powered mower, I don’t have to worry about inhaling gas fumes.

As I mow or wander, I can do some good thinking. I find myself thinking about past events and friends, since some of the current day issues are puzzling at best. I read a post (it may have been Jill or Joy’s) that some celebrity said “act like a grown up” used to be an admonition to misbehaving children. Now, we have too many grown-ups that act like spoiled toddlers. Of course, when some stand firmly behind one of the biggest acting toddlers as a former and possible future presidential candidate, it truly shows how low we have fallen.

We have too many that forget there is a responsibility that comes with our liberties. When my freedom to do things could be harmful to your freedoms, then we must cease or reconsider those actions. The opposite should be true. It reminds me of the caution to the newly launched Spiderman, when his grandfather said “with great power comes great responsibility.” Our freedoms to do things that are not permissible in some countries is a great power. Yet, we must honor it, nurture it, protect it for all.

Some have taken reaction to actual or perceived offenses to an awful degree. Just because someone disagrees with you, does not entitle you to hurt, threaten or kill the other person. Full stop. Just because you cannot tolerate failure, does not entitle you to turn over the chess board, throw a tantrum, claim cheating or instigate an attack on a branch of government. Full stop. Just because you are in a position of authority does not entitle you to ignore the people you represent. A good leader listens to others. A foolish one does not. Full stop.

There are many old lessons that are getting ignored these days. A key one is if someone has to tell you how great he or she is, then maybe we should look a little deeper as to why he or she is having to tell us such. When a colleague was complaining about being removed from marketing to a prospective client, unsuccessfully over several years, he said “I have known John for twenty years.” The thought running through my head was “And, he has known you.”

Whether you are religious or not, in many religious texts is some variation of Jesus’ golden rule. Treat others like you want to be treated. Let’s be responsible to each other. Let’s be civil in our discourse. Let’s protect their freedoms like they were our own. Let’s try not to be blowhards and listen to each other. Spiderman’s grandpa has a good lesson for us all.

Build Bridges not Chasms – a redux

I wrote the following about ten years ago and repeated it a couple of years ago. I edited it some, but the message is still needed today. Please offer your thoughts and reactions.

The title is a quote I heard recently from a new hero of mine, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She was being interviewed on PBS Newshour about her book “My Beloved World.” She said we should “build bridges not chasms” which is a tremendous life lesson. This one resonates with me and echoes my admiration for the “dot connectors” in the world. It is also the serum for the toxic fever of chasm building our legislative and some religious leaders seem to be infected with.

Well, how do we go about living this lesson? How do we build bridges and not chasms?

– First, we should look for ways we are similar. While we remain diverse, as humans there our similarities that cross all faiths, ethnic groups and countries. We want a safe and secure future for ourselves, but especially for our children. When I look at various religions, I am not surprised by the common thread of the Golden Rule which permeates them.

– Second, find these common threads. When I walk into someone’s office or home, I search for common experiences. I look at pictures of children, diplomas displaying education, trophies or pictures of sports or activities, etc. What can I talk about that will connect us better? Also, I take delight in finding out a similar passion or story. The other day I learned of a similar passion to help the homeless people among us from an unexpected source. We are now sharing information, books, etc.

– Third, an old boss said, “you have two ears and one mouth” use them in that proportion. We cannot listen if we don’t hear. We need to know what people’s concerns are before we can begin to help them. We have far too many people who like to hear themselves talk. My wife is the best listener ever. As a result, people flock to her as she will listen to their issues, interests, aspirations and problems.

– Fourth, look for the opportunity to compliment someone or reinforce an action. I am not advocating false praise, but I am advocating a supportive word or gesture. When you step up to the counter to be served by the exhausted clerk who is doing the best he or she can when the boss understaffed a shift, you can make a world of difference by some acknowledgement of their tribulations.

– Fifth, along this same line, you can never thank people enough. We tell our kids “people don’t have to do anything for you.” So, when they do, you should thank them for it. And, mean it. Even in this Twitter, text, Facebook and email world, a call or handwritten note speaks volumes. Yet, use whatever media you prefer to say thanks.

– Sixth, an old colleague used to say “you can never have enough cups of coffee with people.” Remember that and reach out. It is a low-key investment of time as it is not as intrusive as a meal. And, conversation will occur.

– Seventh, never hesitate to include others in meals or outings. Especially meals. If a friend of your child is over, ask them to stay. My wife and I made a conscious decision to have a house the kids like to come over to. Our kids love this. Their friends do as well as we make them feel welcome. Trust me on this. There is no greater sound on earth than hearing your children laughing.

– Eighth, laugh at yourself. Let me say this loud and clear, “you are not perfect.” Neither am I. So, be prepared to laugh at your mistakes and don’t be afraid to tell the stories. It will truly endear you. I found that my kids like me telling about the times I screwed up. We sometimes are in stitches. Why? Because they see it is OK to screw up. The world will not end. And, the old line is true, “laugh and the world laughs with you.”

– Ninth, LTFU. This is a pre-Twitter acronym. It stands for “Lighten the F**k Up.” We take ourselves too seriously. We make mountains out of very small mole hills. Many of the things we fret over are not that important. Trust me. Those folks that are reading texts and emails at stop lights (and God forbid in traffic), I can tell you right now, that text is not that important, even without reading it. I told a colleague one day, “I am going to take your I-Phone and throw it in the ocean.” He was constantly reacting to the messenger and not the message. So, issues got blown out of proportion.

– Tenth, help people in need. You both benefit from the transaction. Those in need benefit if you are helping them climb a ladder. You benefit from the psychic income of helping someone. It is a powerful elixir.

– Eleventh and last, getting back to the Golden Rule, treat others like you want to be treated. That is by far the best lesson in the bible and the ones some religious leaders tend to forget. If we do only this, the world will be a better place. This is especially true in dealing with folks who are serving your needs and are more overwhelmed these days. You may not like their efforts, but please remember you are no day at the beach either. Kindness is not a weakness.

These are a few thoughts on how to build bridges. I am sure I have left off several good ones, so please feel free to share. We are a planet of fixer uppers. We should give each other a break as we need a break from them. Justice Sotomayor has it right – let’s build bridges.

When religious and other leaders are intolerant – a reprise post

I wrote this post almost ten years, so some of the references are dated, but the gist is still relevant in today’s headlines.

I have written several posts in the last few months around the subject of intolerance and exclusion in religion. The issues have tended to be around my support for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. Like many Americans, I am religious, but not evangelical. I am less strident in my views and favor inclusion and treating all of your neighbors well. These are the greatest teachings of Jesus and the themes find their way into other religions, as well.

When religions are inclusive they do wondrous things for people. They lift the spirits of those who worship and send them off to do good deeds as stewards of this inclusive mission. When they are exclusive and intolerant, they can become about as bad a group of people as you can find. They are bad in that their piety and general kindness overshadow the intolerance that lies beneath the surface. Last night, my daughter and one of my sons joined my wife and me as we watched “The Help,” a movie that looks at how African-American maids were treated before the Civil Rights Act in the early 1960’s. There are many lessons therein, but the one that strikes me most is how presumably pious people can treat others the way they do and how people who have distaste for this treatment remain silent. These silent witnesses are how intolerance foments and grows into something more.

Living in North Carolina, I was not surprised, but discouraged by the recent vote to reiterate that the LGBTQ+ community cannot marry in this state. The equally troubling part of this Amendment One gives the license to deny civil unions in place for both gays and non-gays. The lone positive to be taken away is the Amendment was defeated in the larger Metropolitan areas (Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, Greensboro) where centers of education are located. At the same time, I am very encouraged by the stance of President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary of Education and NAACP on gay marriage in the future. I just wish the President had made his statement before the NC vote.

During the lead-up time before the NC vote and since that time in early May, let me reiterate some of the less tolerant things that have been reported, some in NC and some elsewhere. These trouble me as they are forewarning of how intolerance can manifest into something ugly. As citizens, we need to call out this intolerance. We can say you can choose to believe the way you do, but you cannot denigrate and step on the freedoms of others. For the Constitutionalists out there this is for what our Bill of Rights stands.

Here are a few lowlights of late from my perspective:

  • Reverend Franklin Graham besmirched the name of Billy Graham, his father, by demonizing the gays and lesbians and promoting intolerance. I realize Billy Graham is still alive, but I personally feel he has always been about inclusion and tolerance and if he were alert, he would not let Franklin do this. Franklin’s earlier stances against Muslims showed how intolerant he can be. When Graham says things like this, it detracts from the all the good his ministry does.
  • The day after Amendment One, a county commissioner in NC’s largest county requested the elimination of domestic partner benefits for the county employees. This was less than 24 hours after the vote. This commissioner has a public record of intolerance, so his personal stance is not unusual, but this is the kind of action that was feared by those who were against the Amendment as they saw similar examples in other states.
  • A minster in a less metropolitan, but not rural NC county advocated this past Sunday about putting homosexuals behind an electrified fence. This is fueling a fire and could be construed as abetting a future crime in my view and he should be called out on this.
  • In Mississippi, a commissioner and reverend posted on his website his belief that the only ruling on gays is Leviticus 20:13 which advocates the killing of both men who are gay sexual partners. When pressed, he said he does not advocate the killing of gays, but this occurred after the backlash he received. Some say if you ever want to create an Atheist, have them read the bible. In my view, the bible was written and re-written by a lot of imperfect men who sometimes placed their imperfections in the bible to interpret God’s word. I personally do not want to worship a God that people believe feels this way.
  • Finally, after the Amendment One vote, I was doing some prep work for a meeting in a hotel lobby. A nearby conversation between two lesbian women started as they lamented the passing of this discriminatory amendment. One asked the other if her mother was supportive of her efforts against this bill. She responded that her parents no longer speak with her due to her sexual preferences. This made me terribly sad as no parent should disown a child for who she loves. This is your child.

We must call out intolerance. We cannot remain silent when we see it. Otherwise, the intolerant ones will feel more emboldened. Whether it is the people above, the Koran burning minister in Florida or the family of bigots whose church pickets military funerals because it allows gays to serve, let these people know intolerance does not have a place. As Americans, we must support the right for people we disagree with to voice their beliefs. That is one of the tenets of our Bill of Rights. Yet, when their rights damage or infringe on the rights of others, that is when we must step up.

When leaders, religious and non-religious, are intolerant and exclusive, they will drive people away. Even the silent witnesses will eventually vote with their feet and leave. The Catholic Church is seeing that as their church is on the demise north of the equator. More and more Catholics are staying home due to its intolerant positions not to mention its hypocrisy in masking criminal pedophilia in its priests. Please remember, religious leaders are human just like the rest of us. They can be full of crap just like you and me. So, when they are, tell them just like you would tell one another. I think if you said, “Minister, I hear what you are saying, but I don’t think that way,” you will get your message across. If he does not get your message then you can make an informed choice to leave. There are many inclusive, tolerant ministers who would welcome you.

Silence abetted the denial of the civil rights of African-Americans for the longest time. Let’s not be silent on the denial of the rights of LGBTQ+ citizens. Our children read history about the civil rights movement and ask how could people have tolerated that behavior? They see injustice and they know treating LGBTQ+ people differently is not right either. Let’s make our children proud and do the right thing. Don’t be silent.

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.