e pluribus unum

OUT OF MANY, ONE

Ultimately, America’s answer to the intolerant man is diversity, the very diversity which our heritage of religious freedom has inspired. ROBERT KENNEDY

If, during our time of national crisis, we cannot answer intolerance with understanding, if we cannot answer racism with deeper efforts to end division, if we cannot answer hatred with love, then we are probably no further enlightened than the intolerant one, the racist, the hate-monger.  

paying final respects

From her solitary island abode
we believe she spoke assuredly of the people passing before her,

“They will never abandon me,
because I am offering them freedom.
They will never reject me
because I am showing them kindness.

They will never revile me
because I open my arms to all of them –
the Jews, the Catholics, the Germans,
the Irish, the Italians, then the Muslims,
blacks, browns, Asians and Hindu –
none are excluded.

They will never persecute me
because I extend  mercy to all.
They will never despise me
because in their time of need I welcome them equally.

They will never forget me because they stand before me
as the abandoned, rejected, reviled, persecuted, despised
refugee and immigrant refuse from other shores.”

Sadly many years have passed, America’s people have forgotten
from whence they arrived.
Generations have prospered and they, today’s empowered ones,
today’s angry and disillusioned,
today’s wealthy and privileged
look upon our Lady with scorn and derision.
They dishonor the words which have accompanied forever
her island’s welcoming message.

Thus they reject Lady Liberty standing forlorn on her island in the harbor:

“We disown you because you are not today’s American spirit.
Our nation is full, we have no more room.
Your comforting words to immigrants and refugees
are not meant for those on our borders today,
your justice is no longer revered,
your welcome is no longer our voice.
Your words are dead,
cold,
a vestige of an America which has passed.
We no longer need nor want you as our beacon.”

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She sinks into the harbor – just a memory to those of us who have loved and cherished her beacon of hope, her burning torch, welcoming all people regardless of race, creed or nationality.  But, she is not flesh or blood like us, she is spirit and she will resurrect when America’s people once again deserve her charity and blessing.

Until then, may a gracious God find reason to redeem a thankless people.

 

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

EMMA LAZARUS

idols & flags

If you do not change direction, broken hearted
you may end up
where you are heading – Lao Tzu

“Today consider who is not free in the place you call home.  Pray for them and then take one step toward the way you can become an answer to that prayer.”

“WHAT WE PLEDGE OUR ALLEGIANCE TO must look like Jesus:  who turned the other cheek, welcomed children, engaged the outcast, blurred lines of religion and family for the sake of his neighbor, absorbed violence, disarmed hate, moved toward the sick, included the poor, reorganized the recipients, and loved his enemies.  We can celebrate where we live without worshipping it and while challenging the parts that look nothing like Christ.”

RED LETTER CHRISTIANSgod bless america

EXODUS 20:1-4

 

yoked

jesus in prayer

Being serious about life is hard work and soul-wearying.  Have you ever asked yourself if the entity you name as God truly wants life to be a burden?  Just look at Jesus, the one Christians revere as Savior.  Regardless of his divinity or not, regardless of his virgin birth or not, regardless of his bodily resurrection or not, he was presented as a portrait of compassionate and joyful fulfillment by the ancient writers.  He enjoyed a good wedding celebration with friends, he ate foods forbidden by his Judaic upbringing, he did not wash his hands ceremoniously before breaking bread, he counseled and healed lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors and others considered unclean and immoral by his contemporaries.  He exhorted his friends and disciples to follow his example.

The Book of John, chapter 14, says that Jesus responded to his disciples, who were dismayed by his pending departure, saying, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  I have never been able to believe that he was telling his disciples to establish a new religious cult or that church fathers centuries later should create a revolutionary theology and call it Christianity.  No, Jesus was teaching them how to live a contented and peaceful life in a cruel and savage 1st century, Roman occupied culture.  Very simply the Way, the Truth, and the Life was his path of spiritual enlightenment shared with fellow Jews within the parameters of Judaism.

Through parables and stories he provided an ageless example for all of us to practice in pursuit of a meaningful existence in this life’s experience.  It has nothing to do with religion or correct theology or a list of “thou shalt and thou shalt not.”  Jesus was Jewish yet he rebelled at the litany of doctrines and laws which Judaism embraced.  He knew the penalty for his heresy would be death yet refused to denounce his truth within his own heart, an indwelling God.  That’s the example passed on to us – know the heart’s truth and live by it even unto death. 

“Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest.  For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I put upon you is light.”  MATTHEW 11:28-30

I have been struggling recently – with personal issues, with faith, with the horrific injustices of government and institutions.  My answers were not forthcoming because I had chosen to take my own yoke upon me.  It’s a yoke of concern and worry, of control and judgement. I failed to remember that there is only one who can fix my crazy world.  His yoke is easy, his load is light.  He showed me how to do this with the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Lord, here’s my yoke; I want yours instead.  Lay it on me.

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PRIDE – men & monkeys

 

pride4

As a younger man, about 28 years old, a friend and I had a house-painting/paperhanging business. (Yes, for those of you under 50 years old, wall paper was a popular decorative choice and could be very lucrative.)  We landed a contract with a successful building contractor.  He had several dozen employees, he was a respected community leader and  he was a member of good standing in the local church.   This job offered the promise of significant future work.

We arrived on the job site at his house just before he himself left for work.  Very affable and likeable, Tom always took a minute to talk with us before leaving the house.  One morning he offered the usual morning pleasantries before sharing a bit of information garnered from his church family:

“Boys, did you know that a study was done on a group of monkeys exposed to daily hard rock music?  Yep, the monkeys turned queer.”

My partner, a happily married heterosexual man guffawed and snickered.  I just smiled because at that moment I knew I would have to give up the hard rock which I loved or live my life as a gay man.

Here are two of my all-time favorites.  I promise, listening to it will not make you queer.

 laughing emoji2

IT’S A GREAT DAY – be successful

success is not the destination – it is the journey

You and I have within us the ability to make this day part of a successful journey or a meaningless struggle leaving us weary and eager to simply bring the day to an end.  We have that power when we first arise in the morning.  Don’t grab the phone to check messages, don’t turn on the TV to catch up on news, don’t open the newspaper to front page headlines – just don’t.  Say no to all that noise and listen to your own voice for a few minutes.  What do I want this day to be like?  How will I make this a day that will be memorable?  What can I do for the next hour or two hours that will set this day apart from all the others?

We have been designed to live our lives with unimaginable success and contentment.  It all begins before throwing back the blankets and swinging our legs out over the bed.  Just be still for a moment and open the day with a gratitude list.  Listen to your breath, feel your heartbeat, wiggle your toes, then hear the voice inside which says, “I love you, I really do love you.  You are worthy and you are perfect just as you are in this moment.”

Confirm that inner voice and plan a perfect day.  It will be one in which everything that happens leads to another leg of your journey to success.  Namaste. 🙏

ain’t going back no more

I spent too much of this past weekend reflecting upon my stint in the Navy as a hospital corpsman during the Vietnam era. I returned to the insanity and chaos of the war years as I remembered and honored my brothers who died in those jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam. Tonight, my soul aches anew. I still sometimes feel guilt for not being one of them. I should have been there beside them. For many years I thanked the God of my understanding for keeping me safely out of harm’s way. Today it’s easier to simply say I was just one of the lucky ones. My number was not drawn, my reassignment orders did not say Marine Corps training for assignment to Vietnam. But, was I really one of the lucky ones? They paid the supreme price, the family received condolences, insurance money, a flag, and a medal, and another warrior found eternal peace having died a war-time hero.

My duty station was the Philadelphia Naval Hospital. Having completed training as a psychiatric tech, none of the schooling prepared me for the pain I saw of returning warriors broken in limb and mind. They shared their horror stories, stories of terror and fear in the rice paddies and the jungles where they stayed high on dope just to survive the craziness that filled their minds. Those who lost arms and legs were rehabilitating in the orthopedic wards on the other side of the hospital grounds. They visited my wards in their wheelchairs and together the broken ones tried to heal one another.

One of my special assignments was that of body escort for a returning corpsman killed in action. My military bearing was never up to snuff from my first days in boot camp and it did not improve with time, but I somehow stayed out of trouble and made rank. It was considered an honor to escort a fallen warrior. I had lots of time to think as I rode with the dead young man to his funeral site in Virginia. I met the grieving family at the funeral home and began doing what body escorts are supposed to do. After the body was lowered in the ground, after the volley of gun fire, and after final taps from a nearby hillside, I returned to my motel room, cried like a baby and got drunk as hell.

I friggin hated war, I hated Vietnam and most of all I hated the government which had sent thousands of courageous men to their graves for the enrichment of the privileged, white boys back home in the safety of the USA. From that day forward my life tail-spinned into the drunken story of a sorry-assed man who couldn’t forgive himself for still being alive while too many had died. My untimely discharge from the military gave me ever more reason to pursue a new found career in drinking. Espousing anti-government sentiments from my barstool pulpit, I spent many nights with Jack Daniels and Cutty Sark informing other barroom patrons of the inherent evils of ‘their’ government.

I have detailed my sobriety story many times on this blog. It is indeed a miracle which has led me to self-forgiveness and acceptance of things which I cannot change. My drinking was my way of leaving my personal jungles and rice paddies behind and I am OK with it. I titled this post before I started writing it and now I know it’s a lie. I must go back remembering those who died, those who came back broken in spirit and body, and those who never again had a chance to live normally. They are all a part of my story and I can never forsake them.

Duane, Bryan, Joe – I’ll see you when I get there. SEMPER FI

ADAGIO FOR STRINGS – samuel barber

“the first casualty of war is the truth.”  SENATOR HIRAM JOHNSON – 1917

I’ve been sitting here at my desk for over an hour trying to compose an appropriate, patriotic weekend post for this Memorial Day.  I’ve been sitting here remembering past holidays when I proudly displayed American flags in the front yard for Memorial Day and July 4th.  And, sadly, all that fills my mind are the mournful strings of Barber’s Adagio for Strings.  I remember those sounds from the movie, PLATOON.  It was a somber commentary on the truth of our 1st defeat as a country in battle.  It was  a story which needed to be told about Vietnam, the divisive war which lined the coffers of the American munitions/defense/industrial complex at a cost of 1.4 million casualties of which 58,220 were courageous American warriors.

I won’t put my flags out this year and probably not for years to come.  I may die never again displaying those flags.  Absolutely, I continue to honor and revere those who serve and those who gave their lives in service, but today I kneel with sadness rather than salute with respect the flag which represents a once proud nation led astray by greed and corruption.

A friend recently reminded me that we don’t have to agree politically or theologically to continue loving one another.  I hope he is right and for today I will hold on to that thought for the comfort needed to survive this darkness.

MAY GOD BLESS OUR NATION AND MAY WE ALWAYS SALUTE THOSE WHO SERVED AND DIED.

MAY GOD BLESS ALL THOSE WHO SACRIFICED COMFORT, SECURITY AND LIFE TO DEFEND FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND EXPRESSION.

 

$$ MONEY $$ – is it overrated?

banknotes-cash-currency-545064

Lord knows I have carried a basketful of stupid decisions and irrational choices in my lifetime which have determined my ‘prosperity’ status.  But truly,  my recollections from years past point simply to a contented life earned and learned by living a simple life.

We were not prosperous by today’s standards.  But, in my eyes, we were the most affluent and blessed people on earth.  Stuff and money did not matter.  We did not compare to the Joneses.  I never went to bed hungry, never walked to the school bus in rags, never slept without a blanket.  Life was good.  In retrospect, what made life good was the fact that just about everybody we knew lived as we did.  We counted our blessings everyday, helped those neighbors who had fallen onto tough times, worshipped in a beautiful country church with other folks who knew the meaning of sharing, compassion, and humble faith.  Oh, a few thought they were special and had the inside track to God, but most of us just accepted that maybe we didn’t really know all the answers and we tried to live a life that pleased family, friends, and neighbors and in doing so, hopefully pleased God.

Yes, we had abundant security even if we did not have money.  We depended on each other knowing that the world would have to end before any one of us would abandon the other.  Do we have that security today?  Do you know your neighbors’ names or where they were born?  Would your community feed you, house you, and clothe you if hard times hit or would you need to pitch a tent in the woods and eat bugs and lizards?

Compassion prevailed back then because we were a community of individuals who knew each house and family along the country roads leading to church, to the general store, to the Ford dealer, to the Grange hall, to the telephone office where an operator manned (or womanned) the switch board 24 hours a day, and to the undertaker’s house to which  each of us would someday take a quiet journey.  Everybody knew everybody else – Mrs. Johnson’s bouts with depression, the Mitchell children needing new shoes, the insurance agent’s penchant for Jack Daniels, and the milkman’s weekend trips to the city to walk on the wild side.  We did our best to live right, but none of us were cocksure of eternity and none of us claimed to have the answers.  Life was a mystery and we knew it was wise to leave it as such.  In that simple, uncomplicated, unsophisticated bygone community of farmers, our lives had meaning.  Life was precious and each member of that community had a sense of belonging.

Today’s times are troubling.  The ones who proclaim to be spiritual leaders seem to be speaking from both sides of the mouth, their lives betray the words coming from the pulpits.  Some houses of worship have become palatial with a senior pastor, junior pastor, assistant pastor and a staff of office help.  Preaching hell and damnation for those who don’t adhere to their narrow litany of thou shalts and thou shalt nots, they go home to an equally impressive mansion with amenities and ‘stuff’ which most of the congregation cannot afford.

The gospel of prosperity and exclusion which I am hearing from numerous religious leaders nationwide starkly contrasts to the teachings of Jesus that I remember from my little country church years ago.  Humility is lacking, compassion is lacking, love for every member of humanity is replaced by an attitude of tribalism.  The strident position of excessively cocksure Christians evidenced today is alarming.  “You are going to hell, but I’m not because I have discovered the path to salvation.  I am a believer, you are lost.”

I don’t remember in my younger experience that Jesus taught any of those things which extreme-right fundamentalists are pumping from their pulpits.  Maybe I wasn’t listening well enough, maybe I missed the spiritual boat just as I missed out on the prosperity boat.  But, you know what?  I would not trade the soul security and contentment which I learned in that country church attended by simple folks who practiced a gospel of humility and social justice.  I would not trade the peace of mind I have for all the promises today’s prosperity preachers dangle from their pulpits of hypocrisy and intolerance.

Just a few thoughts from a simple man who still believes there is more to life than money.