Foolish Friday

After an interesting few weeks of the election season and legislative comments, I feel obligated to note some foolish behavior that we need to highlight and cease.

– I recognize that one of the Presidential candidates is quick with demeaning remarks and labels for people who dare criticize him or are good foils, but that does not mean others should do the same with him. Howard Dean said Trump’s sniffles at the debate may have been caused by his being on Cocaine. We do not need that Mr. Dean. I read an entertaining post where commenters used every bad word to describe Trump. That gets us in the mud with him. Set aside all of his remarks and focus on two things – his history and his economic plan for our country. The former tells you all you need to know about how he will operate. The latter is rated by several groups to place us in a malaise or recession, with Clinton’s being rated as neutral to positive.

– President Obama experienced the first override to a veto when Congress overwhelming decided to do so. The law which is now passed allows 9/11 victims’ families to sue Saudi Arabia, which may or may not had any fault. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Obama pleaded not to do this, at it will endanger Americans and our military abroad. Now, Senator Mitch McConnell and Speaker Paul Ryan want to amend the new law as they said the President should have told us all of this. He did and vetoed your law. Trying to blame someone else for your failure is highly annoying to me.

– Not to be out done, now that North Carolina has gotten huge push back on its discriminatory HB2 law, with the business lost and the NBA All Star game, NCAA basketball tournament games and ACC tournament games being pulled, Republican legislators continue to blame the City of Charlotte for its transgender bathroom law which the state law changed and went further to take rights away from all LGBT people. But, one state legislator noted that we did not know our law would have such a negative reaction. Please note the law was rushed through in twelve hours in a special session. You did not know as you did not take the time to know.

Accountability and responsibility are important. We must be accountable for our decisions and responsible for their impact. When we name call or label, that means our arguments are lessened. Focus on the issues and acts. And, we need to stop the blame game, especially when the finger pointers have more culpability than the one pointed at.

Truth be told, it would be amazing to see results if we worked together more and discussed our real problems with real information. In this election, we have let one candidate define our country as in pitiful shape, but it is not. Yes, we have problems, but our economy is on its 4th longest economic growth period in its history, we have net new jobs under this President of 11 million, an unemployment rate of under 5% (and not 42% per the candidate) and we have a doubled stock market since the President came in office. And, more cars were sold in the US in 2015 than ever before.

We do have problems, though. Let’s work together and not against each other. Otherwise, Pogo would be correct – I have met the enemy and he is us.

Bigotry in our Leaders is not the answer

My heart goes out to the victims and their families in Orlando. Let’s keep them in our thoughts and prayers. And, as Frank Langella said at The Tony Awards last night, let us not let this tragedy define or diminish us. Let it strengthen us, as the reaction to Charleston’s terrible church shooting did last year.

Even before the horrific tragedy which claimed the lives of at least 50 Americans, we have allowed bigotry, racism and xenophobia to have too pervasive a place in our dialogue from so-called leaders. Whether they are political, business, governmental or religious so-called leaders or wanna-be leaders, we cannot allow bigotry to go without shining a spotlight on it. Political incorrectness does not mean we can be bigoted.

Conservative columnist Michael Gerson wrote last week about the toxic racism of one of our presidential candidates, saying loudly we cannot have our leaders being and saying racist things. Gerson has been a consistent voice for reason. He notes, historically over the last forty years, that being a racist is a non-starter for a national candidate. We need our leaders to be exemplars of treating folks fairly, not condemning folks for being different.

Yet, it goes well beyond that. One of my pet peeves is when I see bigotry from the pulpit regardless of the religion. Religious leaders should not be using their persuasive powers to divide. To me that is a significant dereliction of duty and is certainly not WWJD, at least in the bible I was taught from. There are no caveats to treating others like you want to be treated. People are listening to these comments and, in the words of Oscar Hammerstein, bigotry has to be carefully taught.

Further, we have too much attention paid to discriminating and even demonizing folks who are diverse. In our country, all freedoms are important, whether they be LGBT, Black, Hispanic, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, etc. citizens. No one’s freedoms should be more important or infringe on the rights of another’s. Our LGBT friends now have rights like other citizens in America, but there are efforts to restrict those rights, even taking away rights that are older than same-sex marriage. That is unconstitutional.

Our best defense against violence is to celebrate and promote our freedoms. The new Muslim mayor of London noted he is the best kind of argument against Islamic terrorists groups. He shows a Muslim visibly succeeding in the western world. This success counters the divisive narrative of groups like ISIS.

The same holds true in our country, with our elected officials and military members from diverse groups. Muslims are part of our fabric and that community has every right to be an American as any other. LGBT folks have every right as well. We defeat hate by being inclusive and standing up for each other. We defeat hate by all of our citizens being watchdogs for those who may want to perpetuate hate. We also defeat hate by not ostracizing groups of people such as those in the LGBT community.

There are over 1,000 hate groups in the United States that have nothing to do with Islam. These hate groups include folks who are disenfranchised. Yet, we also have Muslim folks who are disenfranchised and are being recruited on line. The Muslim and non-Muslim communities must be vigilant to watch for folks who may be so inclined. The enemy is those who would do violence, not broad groups of people who are trying to live their lives like all Americans.

What I don’t care for his posturing by folks, who say they are going to be tough, but who have made comments to demonize folks and make the world a less safe place before they take office – these are the concerns of our allied leaders and retired US military generals, not just mine. I don’t support the argument of those who do not see the freedom of gun acquisition as not playing a role in mass shooting deaths. With our gun access in the US, there is very little that can be done to stop a evil minded SOB from killing people.  I am tired of tough talk from folks who do not realize their words and resistance to change are part of the problem.

We must involve all Americans in the due diligence looking out for violent extremists, whether they are Muslim, Christian, or merely a hate group unrelated to religion. We must have serious conversations about better governance around guns. And, we must stand tall with our LGBT community and say demonizing this group is not right. And, in my bible, it is not the answer to WWJD. It certainly is not electing bigoted leaders.

The liberty to discriminate is different from being discriminated against

There is an important, but subtle difference between the argument of liberty to discriminate and being discriminated against. The latter is what we have fought for and evolved to over time. No citizen should be unfairly discriminated against because of a group he or she belongs to including, but not limited to, race, gender, religion, ethnicity, disability, sexual preference and gender orientation. To do otherwise, goes against the essence of who we are as a country .

Yet, the right to be not discriminated against unfairly, does not give us the right to unfairly discriminate against others because of our beliefs. That is a bridge too far and is a reason Religious Freedom bills run afoul of our constitution.

Let me use an extreme example. Suppose I am a Jewish dressmaker and own a shop. It would not be constitutional to pass a law that permits me to not make a wedding dress for a Christian wedding. Suppose I am a a Muslim baker. It would similarly not be constitutional if a law permitted me to avoid making a wedding cake for the same wedding. The same would hold true for Sikh photographer.

The last time I checked, I live in the United States of America. That first word is United. If I am a gay Atheist, I have every right that a heterosexual Muslim and a lesbian Christian have. That right is what our soldiers fought for. I do not have the right to persecute Christians or Jews or Hindus or Muslims or Sikhs or gays or lesbians or women or Latin Americans or Blacks, et al.

This week I was utterly ashamed of our US Congress and its Republican leadership. In a narrow vote, the House decided it was OK to discriminate against gays and lesbians who federally contract with the federal government. Legislative leaders in our elected US Congress said it was OK to discriminate. This is on top of my state’s Republican led General Assembly excluding gays and lesbians from a protected group within an already unconstitutional transgender bathroom law.

Folks, we live in the United States of America. If this is what it looks like to make America great again, then those who are pushing this agenda deserve every bit of ridicule they are getting. This does not make us great. It makes us petty and small. We can not be the shining light on the hill, when we push people off of it.

Learnings from a Baptist Minister (about transgender people)

Our blogging friend Michael Beyer at https://catchafallingstarbook.net/ guided me to an article penned by Baptist Minister Mark Wingfield which is posted on the Baptist Global News website. I found the article compelling and feel it is worth reading by all Christians and non-Christians. The article speaks for itself.
 

Seven things I’m learning about transgender persons

OpinionMark Wingfield | May 13, 2016

“I don’t know much about transgender issues, but I’m trying to learn.

How about you? How much do you really know about this subject beyond all the screaming headlines and concerns about who goes to the bathroom where?

The truth is that I don’t know any transgender persons — at least I don’t think I do. But with the help of a pediatrician friend and a geneticist friend, I’m listening and trying to learn. This is hard, though, because understanding the transgender experience seems so far outside what I have ever contemplated before. And the more I learn, the more theological questions I face as well. This is hard, even for a pastor.

Here’s some of what I’m learning from my friends who have experience as medical professionals dealing with real people and real families:

1. Even though LGBT gets lumped together in one tagline, the T is quite different than the LG and B. “Lesbian,” “gay” and “bisexual” describe sexual orientation. “Transgender” describes gender identity. These are not the same thing. Sexual orientation is about whom we feel an attraction to and want to mate with; gender identity is about whether we identify as male or female.

2. What you see is not always what you get. For the vast majority of humanity, the presence of male or female genitalia corresponds to whether a person is male or female. What you see is what you are. But for a small part of humanity (something less than 1 percent), the visible parts and the inner identity do not line up. For example, it is possible to be born with male genitalia but female chromosomes or vice versa. And now brain research has demonstrated that it also is possible to be born with female genitalia, female chromosomes but a male brain. Most of us hit the jackpot upon birth with all three factors lining up like cherries on a slot machine: Our anatomy, chromosomes and brain cells all correspond as either male or female. But some people are born with variations in one or two of these indicators.

3. Stuff happens at birth that most of us never know. It’s not an everyday occurrence but it’s also not infrequent that babies are born with ambiguous or incomplete sexual anatomy. In the past, surgeons often made the decision about whether this child would be a boy or a girl, based on what was the easiest surgical fix. Today, much more thought is given to these life-changing decisions.

4. Transgender persons are not “transvestites.” Far too many of us make this mix-up, in part because the words sound similar and we have no real knowledge of either. Cross-dressers, identified in slang as “transvestites,” are people (typically men) who are happy with their gender but derive pleasure from occasionally dressing like the opposite gender. Cross-dressing is about something other than gender identity.

5. Transgender persons are not pedophiles. The typical profile of a pedophile is an adult male who identifies as heterosexual and most likely even is married. There is zero statistical evidence to link transgender persons to pedophilia.

6. Transgender persons hate all the attention they’re getting. The typical transgender person wants desperately not to attract attention. All this publicity and talk of bathroom habits is highly disconcerting to people who have spent their lives trying not to stand out or become the center of attention.

7. Transgender persons are the product of nature much more than nurture. Debate the origins of homosexuality if you’d like and what role nature vs. nurture plays. But for those who are transgender, nature undeniably plays a primary role. According to medical science, chromosomal variances occur within moments of conception, and anatomical development happens within the nine months in the womb. There is no nature vs. nurture argument, except in cases of brain development, which is an emerging field of study.

This last point in particular raises the largest of theological questions. If Christians really believe every person is created in the image of God, how can we damn a baby who comes from the womb with gender dysphoria? My pediatrician friend puts it this way: ‘We must believe that even if some people got a lower dose of a chromosome, or an enzyme, or a hormonal effect, that does not mean that they got a lower dose of God’s image.’

I don’t know much about transgender issues, but I’m trying to learn — in part because I want to understand the way God has made us. For me, this is a theological quest as much as a biological inquiry or a political cause. How about you?”

I felt this was a sincere attempt to understand transgender people. I think it will speak to many folks who have been preyed upon by fear in this discussion opened up by the recent North Carolina law which generally discriminates against the LGBT community and specifically targets transgender requiring them to use the bathroom per their birth gender.
My wife and I attended a celebratory dinner for a friend’s daughter this past weekend. We sat at a table with a delightful, unmarried heterosexual couple. She oozed with Southern charm and wit and is a very attractive woman in her fifties. We traded stories about Charlotte (the city) and had a delightful time. My wife had met her before and shared with me later that this lovely woman used to be man and had an operation many years ago to align her physical gender with her internal make-up.
As the new law in North Carolina stands, this beautiful woman would be required to go in a men’s restroom. Even if she had not had such an operation, the identification as the opposite sex from a birth identification, should not preclude this woman from going into a woman’s restroom.

Just a song before I go

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young sang the following words:

“Just a song before I go,
To whom it may concern
Traveling twice the speed of sound
It’s easy to get burned.”

I use this initial stanza of the song entitled in the first line, to note we need to not make hasty decisions, as we will end up being burned. I am thinking of the backlash against my home state of North Carolina for an unconstitutional law it passed against transgender people, specifically, but also slipping in LGBT restrictions, in general. The law also said any employee could not bring action in state court, if their rights were violated, leaving the only recourse in lengthier and more expensive Federal court.

The song comes to mind, as the state General Assembly and Governor Pat McCrory passed and signed the bill in twelve hours after the City of Charlotte passed a law allowing transgender folks to use the restroom they identify with. This law jives with that of 200 other cities. Many legislators did not realize the LGBT restrictions were added to the law and some were unaware of the state court restrictions for all employees.

Now, my formerly progressive state, continues to become more like the southern states of the pre-Civil Rights era. Now, we are mentioned in national news in a negative and unwelcoming light, as opposed to how the Chamber of Commerce would like to present us. Since fear was used to sell this hasty law, the General Assembly and Governor are having difficulty making changes to it. You cannot scare people as your main selling point and then walk it back.

I would wager the General Assembly would like to hit the “undo” button.

Land of Hope and Dreams – Bruce Springsteen anthem for us all

There has been some push back on Bruce Springsteen by more conservative voters in North Carolina for canceling a concert in Greensboro in protest of the oppressive law that was passed that restricted the rights of LGBT folks, in general, as well as the rights of transgender people specifically. But, this is not new for Springsteen to lend his voice to fight for the disenfranchised folks in the world. In fact, if people listen to his songs, many are about those who have little voice in a society that sometime steps on them.

One of my many favorite Springsteen songs is called “Land of Hope and Dreams” which speaks of the train taking us all to a better place. To me the song lives in the chorus which is repeated often as the song winds down. This is one song where the live version sounds better than the studio-recorded one, in part as the studio version was recorded after Clarence Clemons had passed with his saxophone being overdubbed.

Here are most of the lyrics, with the chorus highlighted at the end.
Grab your ticket and your suitcase, thunder’s rolling down this track
Well, you don’t know where you’re going now, but you know you won’t be back
Well, darling, if you’re weary, lay your head upon my chest
We’ll take what we can carry, yeah, and we’ll leave the rest

Well, big wheels roll through the fields where sunlight streams
Meet me in a land of hope and dreams

I will provide for you and I’ll stand by your side
You’ll need a good companion now for this part of the ride
Yeah, leave behind your sorrows, let this day be the last
Well, tomorrow there’ll be sunshine and all this darkness past

Well, big wheels roll through fields where sunlight streams
Oh, meet me in a land of hope and dreams

Well, this train carries saints and sinners
This train carries losers and winners
This train carries whores and gamblers
This train carries lost souls

I said, this train, dreams will not be thwarted
This train, faith will be rewarded
This train, hear the steel wheels singing
This train, bells of freedom ringing

Yes, this train carries saints and sinners
This train carries losers and winners
This train carries whores and gamblers
This train carries lost souls

I said, this train carries broken-hearted
This train, thieves and sweet souls departed
This train carries fools and kings thrown
This train, all aboard

I said, now this train, dreams will not be thwarted
This train, faith will be rewarded
This train, the steel wheels singing
This train, bells of freedom ringing

Folks, The Boss’ words are compelling. We are all imperfect. We are all sinners. But, there is a place on the train for everyone. I for one applaud Springsteen’s stance. It is not a stretch for him to make it.

 

Bring me some water – Tribute to Melissa Etheridge

Several years ago, the Grammy’s had on a fresh young singer who came on stage and then belted out a very memorable and passionate song. Melissa Etheridge gave a performance of her first big song “Bring me some water,” that truly electrified the house. Now, that she is 54, she is not as fresh a personality, but very few sing with such passion. Very few move an audience like she can with her aching, yearning lyrics and raw guitar. Here is a sample of her lyrics from this first song.

Somebody bring me some water. Can’t you see I’m burning alive? Can’t you see my baby’s got another lover? I don’t know how I’m gonna survive.

Somebody bring me some water. Can’t you see it’s out of control? Baby’s got my heart and my baby’s got my mind. But tonight the sweet Devil, the sweet Devil’s got my soul.

One of her gifts is she is true to herself. You might note her songs are typically devoid of masculine and feminine pronouns. While Lesbian, she knew her songs would appeal to all forms of passionate love between two adults. I heard that the record label wanted her to make her songs more heterosexual in orientation. She refused, but said I will song about passion without regard to gender identification.

She has had many hits, but another favorite is “Come to my window.” Here is a sample:

Come to my window. Crawl inside, wait by the light of the moon. Come to my window. I’ll be home soon.

I would dial the numbers. Just to listen to your breath. I would stand inside my hell. And hold the hand of death. You don’t know how far I’d go. To ease this precious ache. You don’t know how much I’d give.

I love the metaphor of the window. Come through and help salve my aching for you. I find her choice of words, extremely inviting.

A third song I will highlight is “I’m the only one.” Here is a taste of another song of passion.

Please baby can’t you see. My mind’s a burnin’ hell. I got razors a rippin’ and tearin’ and strippin’ . My heart apart as well. Tonight you told me That you ache for something new. And some other woman is lookin’ like something. That might be good for you.

In this song, she does identify a woman as another suitor, but in this case, her love could be a man or a woman, so the songs still works. In this song, she is more direct with her ache and hell. Yet, she is very vivid that her heart is not just breaking, it is being ripped apart.

A few of her other hits include: “Like the way I do,” “I want to come over,” “Similar features,” and “Chrome plated heart.” I won’t highlight lyrics from these songs, yet each has a passionate edge. And, there are many more.

Etheridge is a force, whether it is on stage or fighting for many causes. If you ever get a chance, go see her perform or just download a few songs. Make sure you car is on cruise control, as you might get a speeding ticket.