Do Not Despair!

DO NOT DESPAIR!
I have a question for you. If you found a time machine and could go back either to the gala victory celebration on the night of Ronald Reagan’s election, or you could go back to sit with Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King on the night of their worst defeat, which would you choose?


I ask that question because I believe most of us would choose a life of dignified suffering rather than one of personal success that served no higher purpose. We all die and so the most important question we can ask ourselves is for what value will we spend our days?


In some ways, the worse times get, the greater our opportunity to do the things that really matter. In this time when some seek to dominate our streets, we have an historic opportunity to work for human liberation. In this time of sickness, we have an historic opportunity to work for universal health care. In this time of brutality and lies, we have an opportunity to express our highest values through those very problems.


For example, there are still brave souls working for some of the issues Martin Luther King died for. “The Poor Peoples Campaign” is a living breathing embodiment of the historic struggle for human dignity in America. If you are looking for a way to get involved, go to their website and explore. But there are also so many wonderful movements right now that could use your help. Instead of choosing despair, why not think about a cause you most care about and find kindred spirits who are doing the work you would find most valuable?


There is a saying that the life of activism only gives two rewards: loving friends and living dreams. It seems to me these are perhaps the greatest treasures of the human heart. Why choose to spend our brief days in despair when, in this dangerous time, we can choose to unleash our souls’ greatness instead?

Clergy Rising

For the first time in my life, I Googled the word “clergy” and found a majority of the news items were about clergy speaking in resistance to the injustices of our day.

When I was first ordained it was quickly apparent people wanted me to say blessings over the status quo, but not to talk about seeking a fairer world. I could tell that, as clergy, we have to choose between being chaplains to the status quo or prophetic voices for a better world.

There have always been prophetic voices coming from religious leaders, but words cannot express the joy and relief of reading so MANY clergy friends on Facebook who are risking their denominational relationships in order to line up behind Black Lives Matter.

The Pflugerville clergy had an online prayer gathering the other night where we white clergy listened to our Black colleagues calling for us to go beyond our easy prayers and enter into their struggle for liberation.

Last night our Presbytery had a prayer gathering where our General Presbyter Sallie Sampsell Watson broke down reading the names of Black lives lost to police violence. One could feel everyone speaking last night had cast their fate with those on the margins seeking justice.

Episcopal and Catholic clergy are speaking with a moral clarity I don’t remembering hearing in these numbers. Here in Austin, Methodist minister John Elford reports that one of our local Imams, the noble Sheikh Islam Mossaad, took the unbelievably brave stand of refusing to serve as chaplain for the police department so he could clearly be seen to be on the side of the vulnerable and oppressed.

How ironic would it be if the presidency of Donald Trump resulted in transforming clergy from officiants of the capitalist culture to one unified prophetic voice on behalf of all humankind?

SPIRITUALITY AND ACTIVISM

SPIRITUALITY AND ACTIVISM

 

These are traumatic times for people whose humanity is still intact.

 

It seems corruption, violence and greed have seized the highest halls of power in our nation. Conservative media pulses with hateful calls to protect white, male, Christian, heterosexual, nationalistic privilege. Liberal voices too often sulk from the outside and speak of “resistance” without seeming to be able to offer a positive alternative.

 

Another way to interpret theses times is that old dominions of power have become visible to an awakening people but we have yet to chart a new course that will set us ALL free.

 

Xenophobia, Sexism and violence have been foundational elements of western culture for eons. It is not a bad thing that we are realizing these truths, but like a formerly drunken man wakening from his stupor, the first thing we may feel is the pain from the devastation we have caused as a result of our former numbness. Hope comes later.

 

This June, I will be doing a workshop at Zephyr Cove Retreat Center at Lake Tahoe on spirituality and activism. In fact, I am using every opportunity to share conversations about ways we can nurture peaceful happy inner lives while we engage fully in the struggle for a better world. I have been fortunate to work with lifelong activists who found ways to strike a balance of inner peace and outer activism.

 

When I use the word “spirituality” I don’t necessarily mean “religion” or even “theism.” I am trying to find a vocabulary for the that deep, intimate, undefinable depth in us all.

 

I am including the blurb for the Zephyr workshop not because I think you can get to Nevada, but as a way of encouraging conversation about how you and I can tread this difficult path ourselves.

 

“In this toxic political environment how can we balance inner peace and outer activism? We will look for direction from some of the great lifelong activists from history: We will learn from Dr. King how to stay focused on what we want and not become fixated on what we hate. We will learn from Thich Nhat Hahn how to look at our spiritual practice as breathing in, and see our activism as natural as breathing out. We will learn from Dorothy Day how to throw our pebble in the pond and trust the ripples to spread. We will learn from Mr. Rogers to remember the strength that comes from looking for the helpers. And finally, we will learn from Emma Goldman the importance of having joy even as we struggle for a better world.”

What the high and mighty fear

I’ll tell you what the high and mighty fear, they fear conservatives and liberals will stop hating each other long enough to realize we have more in common with each other than we do with them. They know the moment we stop believing the propaganda of nationalistic hatred and capitalistic greed, their spell over us will be broken, and we will seek freedom and equality together over and against their tyrannies.

Bathroom Bills

As I understand it, Anchorage, Alaska has become the first U.S. city to actually vote on an anti-transgender bathroom bill. That city has made the historic decision to allow people to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity and not their birth certificate.

There is much about issues of gender fluidity I do not understand; but I do understand the number 28, which is the number of human beings who were murdered last year because they were transgender.

Violence toward this vulnerable population can only be aggravated by a co-ordinated campaign to make Americans afraid of people who are transgender, even though there is not even one example of an actual bathroom assault by someone from that community.

When I was in seminary and still embedded in the homophobic culture I had been taught as a child, I happened to look up at a huge book in a medical library. I approached the book because of its immense size, and was surprised to find the book was about surgical techniques for infants born outside the polarities of “male” and “female.”

I still knew next to nothing on the issue, but I realized I had been taught a lie about the binary nature of sexual morality. If people are born outside our binary human categories, surely it is the categories that must go, not the human beings.

When sexual assault centers all across the nation tell us that our transgender neighbors are not to be feared and are much more likely to be assaulted themselves than to hurt anyone, I believe we should pay attention to the experts and not to vicious politicians and televangelists who regularly use fear of the “other” as their primary fundraising tool.

Let’s make sure that Anchorage is the first step in a movement to overturn the religions and politics of hatred toward gender fluid people who are just looking for a safe harbor in this all too intolerant culture.

APOCALYPSE AT TRUMP TOWER

APOCALYPSE AT TRUMP TOWER
 
Jewish and Christian prophets were not fortune tellers who just predicted the future. These ethical visionaries would use the events of their age to teach the larger ethical principles that set human destinies toward life or death.
 
The word “apocalypse” originally meant to take the lid off a container in order to reveal what is inside. The fatal fire in Trump Tower is just such an “apocalyptic” moment.
 
It is an old, old story. A billionaire owner, it only happens to be Donald Trump, successfully lobbied against installing sprinklers in his high-rise apartments. Within the mindset of capitalism untethered from human obligations, it made sense to protect the billionaire’s profits by letting him work around safety regulations. And because the unscrupulous rich have convinced Americans that lawsuits are often frivolous and need to be capped, it is sometimes “cheaper” for owners to pay off lawsuits from someone dying than it is to prevent such deaths in the first place.
 
The price of human misery doesn’t show up on the ledger.
 
After the tragedy, the billionaire owner showed more concern over the reputation of his building than the human who burned to death under his watch. If the prophets were to speak to us today, I suspect they would tell us to take the “lid” off this event. I think they would say this one event tells us everything we need to know about our future under a form of predatory capitalism. Even our most agonizing and preventable deaths may be just a cost of doing business for someone who has surrendered heart and mind to this completely artificial system of values.

FACEBOOK FALLACIES

FACEBOOK FALLACIES

“Someone who lies and someone who tells the truth are playing on opposite sides, so to speak, in the same game. They both respond to the facts as they understand them, although the response of the one is guided by the authority of the truth, while the response of the other defies that authority and refuses to meet its demands. Bullshitters ignore these demands altogether. They do not reject the authority of the truth, as liars do, and oppose themselves to it. They pay no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.”
-Harry G. Frankfurt, professor emeritus of philosophy at Princeton University (Paraphrased to remove gender references)

It is very difficult to communicate in the age of Trump. It behooves us all to learn and teach such basic foundations of communication as recognizing logical fallacies. What follows is a list of common fallacies found every day on Facebook. Feel free to add examples of your own.

1. “We won the election, you lost, get over it!”
This is called the “ad populum” or “appeal to popularity” fallacy. A claim is not necessarily true because it is popular. Few conservatives believed that Obama’s victory proved his principles, few liberals believe that Trump’s victory proved his principles, and they are both right. Political victory is no guarantee of ethical integrity. We must learn to communicate person to person with those with whom we disagree and forget the imaginary crowds in the back of our minds we feel validate our arguments.

2. “Oh, yeah? What about Bill Clinton/George W. Bush”
This is the “tu quoque,” or “you, too” fallacy. This fallacy consists of “refuting” what someone says by producing a bad example from that person’s group. Every group has bad examples. Finding bad apples from someone’s group doesn’t disprove what that individual is saying.

3. “That’s what I would expect a liberal/conservative idiot to say!”
Obviously this is the “ad hominem” attack where, instead of refuting what someone says, you insult the the person speaking. One response to this fallacy would be to say, “even if that were true of me, how would it refute what I said?” If someone is obviously trying to bully you, it might be helpful to point out that they would not need to resort to insults if they really believed they had a strong argument. The point is, shooting your opponent in a chess match is not the same thing as gaining a checkmate, and ridicule is not the same as refutation.

4. “We know the Bible is true because of all the miracles recorded in the Bible that prove it is true.”
This is known as “petitio principil” where speaker appears to be proving a truth claim, but are actually just rephrasing their assumptions in the form of a conclusion. This is known as a circular argument, or “begging the question.”

5. “I think the president knows a little more than you do about this.”
We rely on experts in certain fields to help us navigate through life, but no expert is beyond accountability. The “argumentum ad verecundiam” or appeal to authority attempts to end investigation by appealing to what Popes, generals, or other authority figures say. Always ask how any authority knows what they are claiming.

6. “I think you’ll understand what I’m saying better if I fill your Facebook page with emojis and articles I’ve cut and pasted from dubious sources.”
When someone co-opts a topic or produces irrelevant examples it is known as “ignoratio enlenchi” or a “red herring.” It is sometimes called the “Chewbacca defense” after a South Park episode where a lawyer distracts the jury by continually bringing Chewbacca into the conversation.

7. “Any attempt at gun control is an attack on the brave soldiers who died”/ “Any defense of gun ownership is an attack on the poor students who died”
Painful topics are particularly susceptible to what is called “argumentum ad misericordiam” or appeals to pity. The casualties of an earlier war do not justify the policies behind a war in our own day. While I would love to reduce the number of guns in our country, I know there are many gun owners who are as offended by gun violence as am I. The world is a complicated and painful place and that isn’t the fault of either side of an argument.

8. “You can’t prove that the abominable snowman DOESN’T exist!”
This is the appeal to Ignorance or “argumentum ad ignorantiam.” We are at a real impasse because conservatives and liberals are having trouble finding sources of information both sides can trust. Poking holes in someone else’s theories can be an endless treadmill. At some point we must consider what might be trust worthy sources of information for all sides of the divide. Anyone who is not open to that search for objective criteria is not serious conversation partner.

9. “All our problems began when prayer was taken out of the schools” /”All our problems began when Ted Nuggent wrote “Cat Scratch Fever.”
This fallacy is called “post hoc ergo propter hoc” meaning that just because one event happens after an earlier event does not mean the first event caused the second. It is human nature to look for simple causes, but we must help one another remember that life is never as simple as our human melodramas would pretend.

As I say these are difficult times to communicate, but for that very reason it is invaluable for us to model the kind of reasonable communication for which we aspire.

5 GREAT QUOTES FROM TODAY’S NEWS

“But it’s clear who the real profiteers of the opioid epidemic are. If Trump wanted to get real about curbing incentives for selling opioids, he’d turn away from street dealers and target the real opioid-producing industry. Big corporations, not street dealers, are the true authors and profiteers of the opioid crisis… If you want to kill drug dealers, start with Big Pharma.”
(Domenica Ghanem)

“Trump’s stunt politicizing the National Guard ‘is 100 percent about securing his base, not our border.” (Gabe Ortiz)

 
Allowing (transgender) youths to use their chosen name at home, school, work, and with friends also helped affirm their gender identity, The study showed a positive effect on kids who could use their chosen name even in one those places, with a 29-percent decrease in suicidal thoughts, compared with peers who couldn’t use their chosen name.”
(Jenna Amatulli)
 
“From where I sit as both a scientist and former EPA adviser, the motivation behind Scott Pruitt’s actions is as clear as day: He isn’t reforming the agency; he’s trying to kill it.”
(Joe Arvai)
“When he can’t think of anything to say, Trump starts chanting it and you sit there and you think, ‘Does he think I was elected?  …Fox News is always trying to impeach me, so someone needs to tell them that it doesn’t apply to a private citizen.”
(Hilary Clinton)

LET’S SPEND THIS DAY IN SOLIDARITY WITH STRIKING TEACHERS

“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” -John Dewey
 
No one denies that public schools are in a crisis. And few would deny that some private schools can perform better than some public schools, but that is largely because they can also turn away students with special needs.
 
Many of those students’ special needs are related to poverty.
 
According to Stanford University’s Center for Education Policy Analysis, students whose parents make more than $200,000 typically score 300 points higher on the SAT than students whose parents make less than $20,000. And their study finds the gap to be widening. Without strong free public education, children born to poor parents will often face a bleak future.
 
The governor of Oklahoma dismissed striking teachers from that state by saying they are like teenagers who want a new car. To drum up irrational fear of the teachers’ strike, the governor claimed without proof that striking teachers are being manipulated by the anti-fascist group “Antifa.”
 
Striking teachers in Oklahoma aren’t just asking for modest pay raises, they are asking the state to reverse decades of neglect when it comes to public education. One middle school teacher, Jami Beshear, said, “We’re not interested in a better car, we’re interested in our students having a better future.”
 
After adjusting for inflation, schools in Oklahoma have lost 30% of their funding over the last decade. While Oklahoma teachers receive some of the lowest salaries in the nation, they are also concerned that students are having to share duct taped textbooks with missing pages. They are concerned that funding cuts have resulted in four day school weeks to keep the lights on. They are concerned that on certain days of the year students must try to concentrate without adequate heating or cooling because the state legislature values private profit of rich adults over the education of the state’s children.
 
Education is more than learning job skills. A proper education teaches students to think critically, to feel humanistically, and to act in solidarity with the common good. No wonder some politicians want public education dead. Who will believe their corporatist propaganda if the public is well educated?
 
We must not leave our public school teachers out on a limb by themselves. These are the people who hold the future of this nation, our children, in their hands. We must rise up with them.
 
Jefferson taught, democracy rises or falls with public education. To paraphrase the old bumpersticker, if you think the cost of education is expensive, you should consider real the price tag for ignorance.

On the Sinclair fiasco

By now you have probably seen outtakes of a bunch of supposedly local news sources all reading from one script sent down to them from their corporate owners.

Their script read:

“We’re concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country. Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think. This is extremely dangerous to a democracy.”

After watching this horror, Dan Rather tweeted, “News anchors looking into camera and reading a script handed down by a corporate overlord, words meant to obscure the truth not elucidate it, isn’t journalism. It’s propaganda. It’s Orwellian. A slippery slope to how despots wrest power, silence dissent, and oppress the masses.”

Most Americans weren’t paying attention over the years as unscrupulous politicians slyly removed protections against public sources of information being taken over by monopolies.

Now that there is a authoritarian President in place, decades of hard work begin to pay off as more and more news sources discredit real investigative journalism, as well as scientists who dare reveal the damage being done to the earth, or actual doctors who challenge the misinformation told about abortion, or any intellectual whose critical thinking skills might shed light on what lies behind the corporatist party line.

Sinclair Broadcasting Company now owns or manages something like 170 television stations. Unscrupulous politicians are helping them purchase 42 more stations which will give them a foot in the door of 72% of American households.

As always we must keep a cool head and not rush into the trap of trying to counter rightwing propaganda with leftwing propaganda. The real problem is not conservative verses liberal. The real problem is group think, and a lack critical thinking skills. We need to learn and teach each other to ask certain questions of any news source. Like:

-Are they giving me information I can trace to its source, or are they trying to manipulate my emotions?

-Are they trying to get to the roots of our problems, or are they continually scapegoating vulnerable parts of the population?

-When I tune in to this news program, do I already expect to feel righteously angry.

-Does this news source present unproven accusations and untestable conspiracy theories?

-Does this news source reduce controversial issues to a moral melodrama of villains vs. heroes?

Nothing would make our “corporate overlords” happier than for us to get frustrated and to give up. Instead, let us use this time to learn and teach the thinking, artistic and ethical skills that actually would make America great- because they would make us fully functioning members of the world community.