Open Letter To Our President

Wow.  You are in some serious trouble.  Let me see if I can explain how it went wrong. You wouldn’t be in this kind of trouble…

If you didn’t sell BS about a former President’s birthplace, religion, etc.

If  you weren’t trying to do business in Russia under Putin.

If you hadn’t hired a campaign manager who was a foreign agent.

If your son and a bunch of your friends hadn’t met in Trump Tower with the Russians.

If you had read the Constitution and actually tried to enforce it.

If you hadn’t slept with multiple women who weren’t your wife.

If you had showed people your income taxes.

If you hadn’t assaulted any number of women… and bragged about it.

If you vetted the people who worked for you.

If you didn’t lie all the time and get caught.

If you didn’t threaten the press.

If you didn’t call for a Muslim ban… the first 10 times or so.

If you didn’t threaten Black folk.

If you didn’t mock the handicapped.

If you say that Mexicans are rapists.

If you didn’t believe that there were “good” neo-Nazis

If you paid attention to the emoluments clause.

If you didn’t put family members in charge of middle-East peace.

If you had listened to Obama when he told you not to put Flynn in the government.

If you hired people that weren’t in it for themselves — or people who hated the agencies they were put in charge of.

If, on day 1, you hadn’t sent Sean Spicer out to lie for you.

If you didn’t write your own health letter.

If you didn’t make Steve Bannon your friend and listen to him.

If you didn’t increase the debt by an incredible amount — and call it a “tax cut”.

If you actually “drained the swamp”.

If you didn’t divide the rich and poor further than they had been.

If you actually knew what the 10 Commandments were, and tried to follow them.

If you hadn’t tried to pay women for sex.

If you kept your word about almost anything.

If you weren’t so hateful.

If you didn’t try to prevent people from voting.

If you didn’t go golfing so much.

If you didn’t watch so much TV

If you listened to people who knew what they were talking about because they’ve been studying a subject all their lives.

If you didn’t try to take money away from children’s food, education, insurance, and ultimately, their lives.

If you hadn’t fired Jim Comey, lied about it, then told the truth as though it didn’t matter.

If you didn’t think that having a “fixer” for a lawyer was normal.

If you didn’t betray all the people who have tried to protect you by lying for you.

If you actually believed in God.

Wow. You’re really in a lot of trouble with a lot of people.  Goof luck with that.

Resisting Trump peacefully,

John

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All God’s Children Are Getting Streets of Their Own

The Rev. Bishop Ivory Holden today has a street named after him in Bridgeport today. As I saw the sign and at the corner of North St. and Clinton Ave., I thought of the streets of gold that people have believed to be awaiting the faithful in heaven. Bishop Holden Way now joins Prophetess Geraldine Claytor School as marks on this city’s map.

I am convinced there are corresponding marks in that Place Beyond The Pearly Gates as well because these faithful servants of God are there. Now, that may sound overly dramatic or pompous. But as the crowds gathered, none of us were there for drama or to say we were anything. People who want that need not show up, nor would they even consider it.

As the speakers spoke, it became clear that they had the same perception of Ivory that I had. Neither Ivory, nor Gerry, whom I miss and was lucky enough to call friends were doing their work for their own adulation, but because they followed Someone Else, and took His words to serve others as the way to live. They served because there were needs to be met. In making sure that children got education, that families got food or clothing or money when they needed it, or in speaking truth to power and seeking peace in the community, and by providing a safe place to be — church — in the midst of violence, drugs, and corruption– they made a name for themselves.

Being recognized or acknowledged is a primal need. From a kind greeting to stickers and plaques to buildings and books, there is a need to be recognized. “It says we are here!”, and it is why taggers put graffiti on walls, or countries put up flags and walls. It is why YouTube and reality shows are popular … we need to be noticed. 10 years from now, though, nobody will care who Omarosa was. I still can’t name YouTube “stars”.

People who want adoration can get it now. Fame can be bought. Attention can be gotten by acting *outrageously!!!*. But fame for fame’s sake fades. Deserved fame , such as today’s ceremony lasts. Goodness gets eternity. Kindness gets warm hugs and handshakes. Taking care of others, as quiet work, often goes unnoticed here on earth. During the ceremony, while people were glowing with memories of Ivory, big trucks , construction equipment, drivers in a hurry, and loud motorcycles went by. And yet, long after the noise and chaos of the day are gone, Ivory will be here. Gerry will be here.

It is this upside-down world that God calls us to. As the map of heaven’s streets is built here in Bridgeport, the actual streets of gold, light, and music and the people named are the ones who get to spend eternity with Holy God. May we understand this, as Ivory and Gerry did.

Resisting in Peace,

John

Still Grieving Martin

I recently had my spirits raised when my daughter’s school put on a production of “Urinetown”, that reminded me of a part of me, long-ago forgotten: as a Utopian. In 1978, when I was a freshman in college, I discovered the lifestyle that I thought I would live forever. Quiet, communal living, sharing a house with a bunch of people, not having many needs and so not having to work that hard, but building up the world until it was right and free and loving. I would later learn that I believed in Martin Luther King’s “Beloved Community”.

Even then, the beliefs were labeled something like “socialism” or “communism”, by people who believed in those things, and — later — by people who hated those things.  The community of early Christians in Acts 2 was labeled as “communism” or “socialism  before Marx”. But, having thought about it for 40 years now, it misses the point. “Communism”,”Socialism”, and “Capitalism” (which I’ve never believed in) all miss the point. They are about economics. They are about money, and — for years — they have been about anger.   Communism is a critique of capitalism, Capitalism is a critique of communism, both think they know about socialism, and neither really do.

The early Christian community in Acts 2 was not about anger, criticism, or critique of the social or political or economic order (though many of my friends believe otherwise). It was about living toward the good. It started with the question, “What if we believed in love for all of humanity?” “What if everybody deserved to eat and have a place to be with God, and took care of each other”?.  It wasn’t so much about arguing with the culture as it was about trying something new, living a life based in Jesus’ teachings.  Nowhere in the text does it say, “F–k the empire!” or “Jews are inherently racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-immigrant and so on”.

The community in Acts wasn’t about the Jews or the Romans or the Egyptians or anyone else. It was about Jesus and how he would have us be toward each other. I have been in that community. I have experienced that community 2,000 years after the people in the early church did. I have experienced Deering. My love for Virginia Satir’s work came out looking for healthy community, not out of anger at unhealthy or dysfunctional forms of community, but in seeking a place where community was good, where we had hope, with or without money. Chasing things that mattered rather than being what Jackson Browne  called  “caught between the longing for love and the struggle for the legal tender”.

Loving one another, valuing one another,  treating each other kindly, and living simply in God’s world. Those were my goals, because, as I understood it, those were Jesus’ goals, which brings us to someone else trying to live Jesus’ goals: The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. My Deering utopia and Dr. King’s beloved community were cut from the same cloth as I understand it.  Gordon Sherman had gotten the directorship at Deering because he was tired of teaching Sunday School as an intellectual exercise and one day thought to himself, “What if I actually tried to live this way?”  King’s words were him asking the same question of all of us. 

Ten years before I went to Deering, I heard the words of Martin Luther King, and felt their call to act and speak and be in a certain loving, active, open, non-violent way. After hearing the words of King, and Dick Gregory, and Andrew Young, it was impossible to believe that Black was anything but beautiful. After hearing King, it was impossible to believe that African-Americans could be un-educated, violent people. It was impossible to hear his soaring voice and believe they weren’t spiritual or strong or brave or living Jesus’ faith. When he was killed, I didn’t understand why anyone would want to do that to him. I was 8 years old and knew nothing about politics. I knew nothing about racism or sexism or classism except that they were wrong because God loved everybody.

After attending Deering, I knew that King/Jesus’ vision could be real.  It was a few years after screaming with Peter Wells, “I am somebody! You are somebody! Together, we are somebody!” that I learned he stole that from Jesse Jackson. Peter and Jesse came from the same cloth as Gordon and Martin and Jesus. I like to think I do, too. I like to think everyone else does, too.

That’s what I believed in 1979, and what I remembered profoundly in the last month or so. With that memory, though, life in America makes less and less sense. It has made less and less sense for almost all the time between 1980 and today. I don’t understand why people would hate their neighbors, or hate their sisters or brothers or anyone else. I know that the Beloved Community can exist because it has existed before.

I know, over the years that I have become bitter and angry at times, both ironic and cynical. Mostly, though, I am sad. I would never have believed that Martin Luther King’s message would be forgotten that day, April 4, 1968, when he was shot. I would never have believed that a bullet could end a trajectory of history. I would never have believed that, given the choice, that they would choose to be against equality, that they would choose to fear people they didn’t know, that they would be openly hostile to women, and be actively against them, rather than simply loving them and wanting the best for them.

As I typed this, a White man came in and said he’d been attending an AME (African-American) church in the South when another AME church people were shot at a Bible Study  in South Carolina. He was embarrassed to go back to worship with them, because he didn’t know what to say to them. They were gracious and wanted to talk to him. That’s Martin’s community and the choice to live his way.

Today, America is living on hatred, led by a hateful man, who seeks money, power, and fame without anything like searching for a soul. We produce more and get less for it, unless we’re rich, and therefore “special”. We are anti-intellectual and have been pro-gun.  Our authorities beat up, or kill, people because of their skin color.  Our leaders “put up with” a woman who spoke for hours and hours in defense of women’s health rights, so that they could move on to “real business”. We play with people’s lives and citizenship as though it was of no consequence. We ask about people’s religion to separate ourselves from “them”.  Every day brings more news of the choice to hate.  We have a whole TV network that sells hate as though it were the heroic thing to do. 

A few years ago, we had a vice-Presidential candidate say about Hope and Change, “How’s that working out for ya?”. She chose to be against hope because her racism against the man who suggested it got in the way of her having hope. So, today, I say to her, and the people at Fox, and the people at the NRA, and the people in Congress on both sides, “How’s that hate working for you?”. It’s not — not for you, not for any of us. Hate, cynicism, worshiping race, or sex, or power, or money, or anything other than love, is a choice that’s killing us — and you, and everything America was known for. We are number one, alright, for making bad choices.

We can choose the Beloved Community, non-violence, and love or we can choose chaos, violence, and hate. Having experienced the first, I don’t understand why anyone would choose the second . I remain grieving for Martin’s dream. I miss Gordon and I wonder what Jesus it is that Trump is worshiping because it’s not anyone I recognize, and doesn’t yield anything I would want.

Hatred, ignorance, and lies are the choices people seem to make. I don’t want to know why. I just want them to do something else.

Resisting with Peace,

John

 

 

Jen Chapin, Citizen

Every once in awhile, I’m in the mood to write a blog post for someone I think highly of. On days like today, I like to think good thoughts, as a backdrop of heinous-ness seems to envelop the world. As I write this, I am coping with a mass shooting in a Maryland H.S., where relatives live, and, today. someone else I know whose husband tried to murder them. Oh, and did I mention we’re still in the era of Trump and everyday our country digs further into a hole in so many ways? Yeah, that, too.

With the sense of death encroaching, I wanted to think about someone normal, or someone who gives me hope for the world and, since I like to relax via music, it should probably be someone in music. Lo and behold, Facebook says “It’s Jen Chapin’s birthday! Wish her well!”. I knew what I had to do…

About 40 years ago, one of my life-goals occurred. I met my hero, Harry Chapin, for a few brief seconds after a show. My girlfriend at the time had me take a picture of her and Harry, so I have no documentation to prove it, but it’s true. For years, I wanted to do something to continue that connection and support the incredible aura of goodness and humor Harry brought to the world. About 3 years ago, I think, I got to fill that need by meeting Harry’s daughter. As a blogger, I had questions about faith, music, and politics… and Harry. I asked for an interview for my blog and she agreed.

So as not to be an idiot, I did my research and I listened to her albums/CDs/whatever you call them. I was impressed, and surprised. Her music wasn’t really anything like Harry’s. Its roots were jazz and reggae and soul. After the perfunctory (now) Harry questions, we got into discussions of race, music, and faith. It was a rollicking conversation with challenges aplenty. Mostly, though, I was impressed with her brains, and her knowledge of Africa and her activities with WHYHunger and the arts on Long Island. It’s a lot for one person, but it doesn’t seem to bother her. I don’t get it, but I can be impressed by it.

Since then, I follow her on Facebook and make contact on occasion. She wrote a supportive song for my daughter. I’m pretty sure my daughter’s the first kid on the block that can say that. So Jen has my admiration, right there. She did right by my child. Anyone who does that gets a gold star in my book. I like human people. By human, I mean, caring, doing good things in the world.

Jen is a teacher. Yes, in addition to being a musician, a worker for justice, she is also a teacher. Doing good in her local area, doing good in the world. It’s two-for-two. Did I mention that Donald Trump is still in office? She’s against his policies. She’s human. I swear, he’s not. Betsy DeVos is still in office, threatening to destroy everything I love for children I care about. Jen’s a teacher. The government wants to send food to poor people that it chooses, because it doesn’t think they can make choices. Jen works for an organization that says that’s wrong. Oh, yeah, and she’s a mother, too. She hasn’t shot anyone with an AR-15 this week. I’m guessing she thinks it’s better that way. I don’t have any way of knowing, but I bet she didn’t marry a man who hits her. She’s too spunky for that. On a day when our country is going the wrong way, she’s going the right way. I admire that. We all need that right now, and the news tells us that there’s precious little of it to be found. People like Jen make the world better. I like knowing that the world still has people like that.

On Thursday, August 16th of this year, the Jen Chapin Trio will be performing at North Congregational Church in New Hartford, CT, where I am the interim pastor. In discussing fees, and plans, and logistics, Jen asked who the band will be supporting by playing. What agency that does good things in the world will get the money she brings in. It occurred to me that anything I said my church was interested in, Jen would support, because we think like Christians and so does she. We try to act like Christians, and so does she, whether she’s active in a local church or not, whether or not that’s even her faith. Did I mention she wrote a song about protest and called it “Gospel”? She gets it.

When Harry received the Medal of Freedom, someone — I think Ralph Nader or Jimmy Carter — Harry was the best thing an American can be. He was a citizen.” Jen Chapin is a citizen. I’m glad there are people like her in the world.

Resisting with Peace,

John

What Are They Worried About?

Ted Cruz woke up to reality yesterday… sort of. The reality is that Republicans– due to their own actions or inaction– are going to be swept from all levels of power in the 2018 elections, and may not get up again for a long time. Yes, he is right about that. But the rhetoric about the “far-left” running things and destroying the country? I’m the same old lefty I’ve always been, as are the other lefties I grew up with. His fear that we are “far left” is only because the country has pulled sooooo far right that people like Cruz believe they’re normal. They are not. That’s why they’ll get voted out.

If people like President Obama are their biggest fear, let’s look at that. Did he threaten nuclear war with anyone? No. Than he’s already passed the level of Trump. Did he impose sharia law? Did he take away everybody’s guns? Did he make us a Muslim country? No, no, and no. And yet, for the last 6 years of his Presidency, that’s what they screamed at Fox News. Did he make us get insurance and be nicer to gay people? Yup. But if that’s your biggest fear, I think you’ll survive.

So, moving on, when the Blue Wave comes — and yes, it will come — what are us “far-left nuts” going to do.

On DACA: we’ll let people stay here.

On insurance, we on our most powerful day, we might give everybody insurance and tax the ultra-rich to pay for it.

Afraid of “political correctness”? Ok, we’ll polite you to death.

On abortion? Yep, we’ll probably let any woman who wants one to have one. Why? Because more women will be in power than ever before.

Like that “commie” FDR, we’ll probably put people to work on bridges and roads. Like that Catholic guy, Kennedy, we’ll dream new things in space. guy, (remember when we we were afraid of Catholics ? Look where that got us…) Like Johnson, that radical, we’ll feed people and try to meet their basic needs. Like Carter, we might bring about a New South and never go to war — or maybe we’ll just build houses until we die.

Race relations? We’ll make the police stop trying to shoot Black people. We might have to jail some crooked cops to do it. Be warned!

Climate change? We might try to save the planet for future generations.

THAT’s it folks. That’s the “far left” agenda! If that scares you, I suppose you ought to be scared. You might, in fact, want to flee the country. The only problem is that you’d be moving to… Canada — and they’re a lot scarier than we are.

Resisting in Peace,

John

Elwood: a Dog’s Life and Ours.

People will tell you it’s not supposed to be this way, but they are wrong. My friend Derek messaged me this afternoon to tell me that his nearly 15 year old dog, Elwood, had passed away, and my heart broke. My heart broke for Derek and Dawn, his wife, for Emma their daughter and their other daughter, Abby, because I know how hard it is to lose a pet. I say “pet” because I’m notoriously a dog person, but my wife and I have had cats pass on, and they hurt when they died as well.

Elwood, named after Elwood Blues, a character Youth Ministry allowed me to introduce Derek to all those years ago, was a great dog, for all the right reasons. He was a companion. He was a member of the family. He was Dawn and Derek’s first child… the one you have to see what kind of parents you’ll be. It turns out they are very good parents, and it shows in the temperament that Elwood displayed. Kind and compassionate, fun and protective.

Elwood wagged his tail for years, looking out the front door of the house, when I came by. At first, he would bark because he was nervous around people, but then — after the girls were born — he would bark louder and even growl until I offered my hand to sniff and he remembered me. Then the tail wag would begin, and the simple “dog energy” could come out. Everyone was safe, and now he could have fun.

On the occasions when I visited, or stayed overnight, I got to walk him to the nearby park and play “chase the ball” or “chase the Frisbee” with him. It was a spectacularly normal time when the madness of life among humans drew me to seek refuge.

As I type this, I feel dumb saying things like, “he barked” or “he chased a ball” or “I took him to the park”. These things are certainly true, but they don’t describe the bond between a human and their dog — not even close. There is nothing like having a dog curl up in your lap (even if the dog was not a lap-sized dog). There is nothing like a dog laying by your bed when you’re sick. There is a connection between a dog and an owner that transcends the rest of the world. There is physical skin contact that can only be experienced as comfort. This is why seniors do so well with dogs– they activate our largest sense organ, and the one that gets the least use.

Elwood was like most children — goofy and silly for many years, connected spiritually by that puppy pout that means “I want what you’re eating” , or “take me for a walk” or “pay me attention”. Dogs don’t require electronics or electricity of any sort. By definition, they connect us to the natural world that doesn’t require such things. They force you to connect with it every time they have to go out, no matter what the weather is. Derek and Dawn are very much outdoor people, and Elwood was good for them in that way, too. He was a companion who was already close to the place they wanted to be.

As the girls grew up, Elwood was a family member that talked to them as well, in whatever ways dog talk. Other than the bark, there was the whiny, howling-like, sounds that meant “play with me”. When children are still trying to figure out how to talk, there is a four-legged family member that doesn’t speak English either, so the bond begins… and it continues until a day like this, when Elwood is no more, or gone to heaven, or wherever dogs go when they leave us. I like to picture them in an open field in heaven chasing balls around with the other dogs. Simply due to the number of experiences we have with a good dog like Elwood — a family member– this loss will hurt for a long time, and it will hurt deeply. Such is life for anyone who cares for an animal this way. I have noticed this more and more with my friends who are pet owners. They say things like “I shouldn’t feel this way. It’s only a “….. cat,dog, fish, guinea pig, or whatever. But we do feel this way, and the more time goes by, the more I think it’s because our pets make us better people and we know it. In our self-centered world, they require our attention. In a sometimes cold world, they bring us unquestioning love. In a world disconnected from others, a dog connects us to nature and other people as they go for a walk with us. In the same way you develop friends with your children’s friends’ parents, you develop friendships with other dog owners because they give you something to talk about. Elwood was such a dog.

It occurs to me as I write this that not everyone experiences dogs this way. Black Southern friends of mine remember being chased or attacked by guard dogs or hunting dogs taught to be mean, taught to growl and bite. Those dogs are a reflection of their owners’ personality just as much as Elwood was a reflection of Derek and Dawn and the kids. Dogs and other pets want to love, want to play, want to connect. Mean and primitive owners create mean and primitive dogs, no matter where they live… in the Deep South or in the coldness of the city.

There is a controversy among dog owners about Pit Bulls. Some say they have locking jaws and are, therefore, dangerous. Others say they don’t and that they are only mean because they are taught to be. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to untangle those thoughts because the people in the city who get them seem to all use them for protection. The weird thing is that my clients who have them all talk about them as though they are the cuddliest animals ever,and they bring a smile to their face. Sometimes pets are better people than we mean them to be. The same is true with our human children when they transcend the attempts at parenting by inattentive or abusive parents. I can’t imagine liking any human singer named “Pitbull”. Who would want to be that? It’s like calling yourself “abusive”.

Derek and Dawn are anything but that, and so Elwood was a good dog… for a long time, until it was time to go. On days like this, I grieve for the loss of Elwood, and I know how much it hurts, because I still remember Cindy, and Betty, and Dutch, and Tiglath Pileaser (aka “Tig”) myself. I have seen friends cry for Pumpkin and others cry over their pets. But these animals remind us that it is “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”. We are all the better for Elwood, Cindy, Betty, Dutch, Tig and all of the others. Still, it’s time for a good cry.

Resisting with Peace,

John

Through Being Cool

Years ago, when the earth was still cooling, the band Devo put out a song called “(We’re) Through Being Cool”. It was for nerds everywhere, with its highly robotic sound. It was about what happens when nerds have “done had enough”.

Through Being Cool.

We’re through being cool

Eliminate the ninnies and the twits

Going to bang some heads

Going to beat some butts…

Spank the pank who try to drive you nuts

Time to clean some house

Be a man or a mouse

Waste those who make it tough to get around…

Put the tape on erase

Rearrange a face

We always liked Picasso anyway

Mash ’em

Now, in 2018, it is the prescient song of the times.

In essence, those kids in Florida have said,

Enough B.S.

We are sick of pretending that conspiracy theories make sense.

We are sick of being told it’s un-American to complain about being shot. We’re sick of the distractions, and the crooks telling us to behave nicely.

We are sick of money having more power than morals.

We’re sick of being told it’s patriotic to be at war with ourselves.

We’re sick of being told our friends are our enemies, and our enemies are friends.

We’re sick of being told how Democracy is supposed to work and — in the same breath — why it can’t work that way.

We’re sick of being told that we have to tighten our belts and work harder one more time

so that you can take away college, or thought, or nutrition, or our lives.

So that you can get richer.

The news people are starting to say,”This feels different”. It feels different because it’s truth.

People are scared because we seem angry. We’re sorry that the truth is scary, but…

We’re through being cool.

Resisting in Peace,

John