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

 

 

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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

Greetings from The Land of Kindness

I’m writing from the kind of thing pastors do — retreating and learning. I’m at the Interim Ministry Network Interim Training , part 2, a 5-day training, in a retreat center in Parrish, Florida. I’m surrounded by clergy, and there are 15 or so of us in our group. Interim ministry is not what I’m talking about, specifically, though.

What strikes me here is that I’m spending 5 days, being productive, keeping busy, but I’m not stressed. The President doesn’t run this place, and I don’t have to pay attention to him if I don’t want to. I check in, I listen daily to my news podcasts, but it doesn’t take more of my brain space than that. My colleagues are aware of politics and the outside world. But it doesn’t get to us.

Ministers aren’t perfect. Many of the people here have horrible childhoods, some have, or had, mental health issues. Ministry can, of course, be stressful. Any of these people could explode, given that, but they don’t. I have no fear here, there are no sudden loud noises here. There is no PC Police here, but people are ok with that. People don’t verbally abuse each other because it wouldn’t occur to them to do so. People are tender, people are intense, people do important work with their lives… and we like each other.

So why I am telling you this? It’s simply a reminder that we don’t have to be the way our society is. We don’t have to treat each other harshly, or argue, or fight over small things. We don’t have to pick on the gay men or the lesbians, the women or men, the rich or the poor, the saved and unsaved, those who baptize as children and those who only baptize adults.

This is my experience when Christians get together, almost anywhere. Whether it’s a Youth Camp or a Family church retreat, or this kind of thing, people who are intent on being kind can be kind. A Christian church, in theory, should be intent on being kind to each other.

So here’s the thing: Christianity workswhen we try to be Christian. It doesn’t matter what kind of denomination you belong to, at least here. Peace and quiet, kindness and caring, equality and respect are all options, no matter what the world out there says. Neither internal chaos nor external chaos of people inevitably leads to chaos for everyone.

Until recently, this is how life was for most of us, most of the time. We had norms, if not rules. The expectation was that we wanted to get along. The expectation was that we wanted to get things done for each other. The expectation was that no one Group was unequal or more important than the other.

By this, I don’t mean politeness or piety. The people here are like anyone. Most of us drink alcohol. Some of us play cards, some of us might even gamble, I suppose, though I haven’t seen it here. I assume most of us have sex on occasion, but the expectation is that we don’t sleep with each other’s spouses. No one here grabs the butt of someone else.

Of course I could be wrong, but I think most communities away from here have the same values. When we do this, life doesn’t hurt as much. The fact that life in this era does hurt this much means that something is wrong, not that this is normal.

So here we are, in the land of kindness. You can join us, or not, but if you don’t want to be kind, don’t come here. You’re not welcome. You can live in the same land, in your location, or you can kill each other, slowly or quickly. We have choices. Our leaders have choices. Me? I like it here.

Resisting with Peace,

John

Guest Blogger: Rob Horne

[Editor’s note: Every now and then, someone writes/says something on Facebook that strikes me as so amazing, I want to give it a wider audience than it originally would normally have. Time has proven me right. Cathi Chapin-Bishop and Joe Roberts had a conversation about energy. That post continues to be seen frequently. Todd Farnsworth talked about guns. That piece was one of the most popular posts last year. Rob’ piece, printed here, is such a piece. Rob Horne is a long-time friend from my Deering years, though I haven’t actually seen him in years. The piece is unedited, printed just as it was written.]

We’re all dreamers. We can all love and be loved. We’re all refugees. We’re sick, we’re broken, we hurt and we grow. We’re all human. Or we aren’t. That’s really what’s underneath our path forward as a wealthy and powerful nation. We are either Humanists or Nationalists. The history of all humanity proves the two can not co-exist. One strives to preserve life for the lucky, the entitled; and the other strives to provide for all. When we only care for our own kind, we fall short of our highest potential as humans. It’s undeniable where God and Love and Charity and Welcoming the Stranger and Feeding the Hungry fall in this human struggle. We either see humanity as one sacred body, or we don’t. It’s that simple, and a matter of which you will choose. This Administration strives for the preservation of our way of life. Our prosperity, our health, our privilege and our safety. And it can be hard to argue against those things for your very self and family. However, when we fail to strive for the ideal that every human deserves these things, we fall short. Most of us don’t know true hunger, or what it’s like to live in fear of harm, day after day, year after year. To live with the oppression of brutal dictatorships, void of human rights, free speech and expression, prejudice, rape, murder and ethnic and moral cleansing. As Americans, our problems, (for the most part,) exist in safer realms. We are scratching the surface of the culture of rape and sexual harassment in our society, how much worse must it be in places where every woman’s voice is silenced by law, every man the legal and enforced power of the innocents around them, every child unseen and un-protected. These exist in America, and the pain and tragedy is real and present for many of us, but we are ahead of the world in the struggle, and must continue in the direction of protecting all of God’s creation. We either lead this struggle, or we face moral emptiness and stagnation. It starts with the moral backsliding this Administration brings under the familiar guise of rousing the fringes of Fundamentalism and fear, re-enforcing the non-humanity of the “Other,” the “Shithole.” I will always believe that given a pure and clean choice, the vast majority of Americans will choose to help their neighbor, to help the Other. I know my Conservative friends and family are people more generous, more giving and more loving than I could ever be. Yet we are missing the mark. I encourage us all to rewrite our American history this mid term election, and in 2020. I don’t think this debate even lives in the arms of Democrats and Republicans. It exists in a United States. Providing for our selves and our families and owning the Stewardship of humanity that comes with great wealth and privilege. I was born white, (and poor,) but I am comfortable. I am safe, I am employed, I can provide for my children. But living in this bubble of relative wealth without awareness of the plight of Humanity will be an empty life. The only reason most of us in America were not born into Shithole countries, or into situations where we were faced with the worst survival options, is that our ancestors came here. They came HERE. They came for jobs, to provide for their families. As we wiped the indigenous population off the face of the country, (led by Populist, de-humanizing Presidents and Administrations,) for the sake of progress, prosperity and the preservation of the White race. Shall we return to these roots? Or do we continue to evolve as humans? Moral Evolution is one of our greatest assets as people. It separates us from the rest of creation. We are created in God’s image, (I believe anyways;) an image that is a call to hope and challenge. Challenge to always do better, to soften where we are hard, to warm where we are cold. My prayer and hope is that we embrace this opportunity as a country. Our days of prosperity will always be numbered. A legacy of caring for others as we care for ourselves and our loved ones endures, it is the greatest manifestation of being gifted with human life.