Thoughts on the horrifying shooting of Republicans in Alexandria, Illinois today

Words to think about after the shooting in Illinois today

Words to consider after five people are shot today, including majority whip Steve Scalise, in Illinois in what appears to be an attack targeting Republicans.

We’re all in this together

The violence in Illinois this morning, when Republican majority whip Steve Scalise was one of five people shot as they practiced for a Republican vs Democrat charity event that will take place this Sunday, was inevitable. It’s the natural outcome of our insistence of defining who’s “us” vs. who’s “them.” We need to remember we’re all “us.”

My thoughts and prayers go out to Congressman Steve Scalise‘s family; Zachary Barth and his family; Matt Mika and his family; Special Agent David Bailey and Special Agent Crystal Griner, along with all others affected by today’s shooting. The shooting was apparently motivated by political antipathy. Reports say the gunman asked if those practicing were Republicans or Democrats before opening fire.

It’s not us vs them: it’s unity vs division, progress vs regression, overall gain vs overall loss

We’re buying into a false narrative when it comes to our choices. The division is not rich vs poor; black vs white; men vs women; LGBTQ vs straight; Republican vs Democrat; Christian vs Muslim; or gun owners vs gun control advocates – though there are those in each group who would make it so. The real contest is between anger and logic. Peace and violence. Self-centeredness vs open-mindedness. Unity and connection vs division and indifference. Thoughtless heckling vs useful problem-solving. Openness vs sneakiness (because if you don’t discuss your ideas in the open, you cannot hear opposing views that may challenge and enrich or even change those beliefs.)

This kind of overheated, exaggerated rhetoric needs to end on both sides. Verbal personal attacks have become the norm. Many of my friends - people I love and respect - regularly say things on Facebook I know they would not say in person. It's not political activism - it's the online equivalent of a middle school slam book.

The attacker’s Facebook page indicates he was vehemently anti-Trump.

If you flame people online, you’re encouraging the dysfunction

The kind of overheated, exaggerated rhetoric found in James T. Hodgkinson’s social media needs to end. Vicious online personal attacks have become the norm. Many of my friends – people I love and respect – regularly say things on Facebook and Twitter I know they would not say in person. That’s not political activism – it’s the online equivalent of a middle school slam book.

Those verbal attacks call to those who are unbalanced enough to launch physical attacks. The physical attacks lead to outrage from most, but chilling indifference, like this from others.

Online attacks call to those who are unbalanced enough to launch physical attacks. The physical attacks lead to outrage from most, but chilling indifference, like this, from others.

Don’t assume everyone who reads your posts is as balanced as you are

The real choice is always between love or hate. The worst – and easiest – choice is corrosive indifference. If someone doesn’t matter to you, you may more easily opt to call them names online, revile their intelligence, reject their beliefs, diminish their humanity, and, eventually, be indifferent to their fate. 

People who are unbalanced for whatever reason may hear this rhetoric differently than the rest of us. You and I hear snark. They hear a call to action. They do not have the same boundaries. People get hurt.

Perhaps victims are “only” shamed and vilified online. What’s the harm in mockery, a meme, a rumor, a misrepresentation that is repeated over and over? Their reputations may be damaged, but hey – it’s legal so it must be moral. Everybody else does it. Except we don’t. Plus,the blame-and-shame mindset, along with the idea that one person’s immaturity makes mine okay, should be discarded by the end of elementary school. In extreme cases like today, people are physically harmed.

Time to move forward

Let’s stop this. It is purposeless to gin up strangers’ anger, to rally people around personal attacks and accusations, to ratchet up the emotional volatility. We have to stop the drama and come together. It’s a lot more boring to intentionally decide to respect each other and have occasionally tough discussions from a basis of mutual respect, but let’s do it anyway. We have to commit to discuss issues, not people. We have to pressure our news outlets to simply report the issues and quit making politics so personal.

 

Deterrence

So, how do we stop similar future occurrences? First, we have to detox the environment that allows the hate to thrive. In order to do that, we need to ratchet down our political antipathy toward each other. Republicans and Democrats need to work together, find common ground, and quit tearing each other apart. Elections, local to national, need to quit being so viscerally personal. Otherwise, we will not ever get a diverse pool of qualified and motivated candidates – who wants to run for public office only to be vilified and possibly have their lives genuinely threatened?

Some genuine geniuses undoubtedly voted for Trump. Some voted for Hillary. Some voted for Bernie. Time to find points of agreement.

We start by leaning toward each other, rather than draw further away. Though this may be obvious, here’s some truthiness for you. People who voted for President Trump are not a monolithic bunch of racist, homophobic, sexist misanthropes. They had a wide variety of valid reasons for voting for him. Likewise, people who voted for Hillary Clinton are not all ignorant, arrogant “feminazi” liars. They thought she was the best and most experienced candidate for the job. Nor is every Bernie Sanders supporter a “commie” or a “snowflake.”  They saw him as the best candidate to lead the change they wanted. There are areas where we each agree. We have to talk to each other and find that common ground, then move from there to work on the areas where we disagree. 

Five ideas for personal change

  1. Talk more about what we each support, less on what we are against. It is easy but not that useful to protest the status quo. It is very difficult but infinitely more useful and lasting to work to enact meaningful change.
  2. Focus on making the changes we can. It’s easy to bemoan things that are beyond my control. It’s harder to commit to work to make things better than I know I can affect.
  3. Personally commit to discuss issues, not people, especially online. 
  4. Pressure our news outlets to simply report the issues and quit making politics so personal. Post requests on their Facebook pages. tweet to them. Less editorializing, more unbiased news, please.
  5. Ultimately, define each problem statement – poverty, violence, mental health, health care, terrorism – and find common ground on solutions rather than deliberately moving further apart.
So, perhaps, we should consider this. I have intentionally not posted the wrongs of others, the insults to Hillary Clinton, the ridicule of Bernie Sanders, and on and on. It's all wrong. It all has to stop. The idea that one person's immaturity makes mine okay should be discarded by the end of elementary school. We are so much better than this. Please, let's encourage the greatness in each other. We are all connected. (Hat tip to F W Rick Meyers for the though-provoking slide show he posted yesterday, which is where I found this slide on change and perspective.)

So, perhaps, we should consider this.  (Hat tip to F W Rick Meyers for the though-provoking slide show he posted yesterday, which is where I found this slide on change and perspective.)

1. Define and agree on the problem before insisting there’s only one possible solution. 2. Problem solve rather than self-promote.

Today, many in the Twitterverse did not stop to mourn but immediately started debating gun control.  “If the Sandy Hook massacre had been GOP congressmen instead of children at school, we’d have had #GunControl a long time ago.” versus “Today, good guys with guns bravely prevented a mass political assassination. Let that be your only take away from the events today.”

Instead of moving immediately to a solution that we may assume is best for all based on our individual experience, let’s define the problem we want to solve. Neither of those posters wanted this guy to shoot those people.  They could find common ground on how to prevent future incidents if their goal was to do that rather than to score points with like-minded people.

 

A final prayer

Last, my thoughts and prayers also go out to James Hodgkinson’s loved ones. I just saw a gentleman on television who was his childhood friend, who said he was a nice guy, and that he did not think was capable of such an act. It’s much easier for the rest of us to revile the sinner than the sin, because then we can hope the sin dies with the twisted, unknown individual. But the hate that infected James “Tommy” Hodgkinson lives on and continues to corrupt. We have to each decide to actively discourage the environment that encourages it to fester. We have the choice to be so much better than this.

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Aaron, the time-traveling purple alien – a sad blast from the past

Here's to Darryl, the time traveling purple alien

Here’s to Aaron, the time traveling, sea-faring purple alien, and all childhoods haunted by abuse and loss.

“I got a story ain’t got no moral…let the bad guys win every once in awhile…”

Billy Preston, “Will it Go ‘Round in Circles”

 

(Aaron’s name and a few other details have been changed out of respect for the privacy of all involved.)

In the late 1980s, I worked with children who lived in a group home. They ranged in age from eight to twelve, and most came from abusive backgrounds. Aaron was one of those children: eight or nine years old, a sweet, tow-headed, funny, fiercely loyal little boy, with loving mischief and a unique abundance of childhood magic soothing and lighting his wounded soul.

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Mother love

Each day is a little life: every waking and rising a little birth, every fresh morning a little youth, every going to rest and sleep a little death. ~ Arthur Schopenhauer

Today, one of our cashmere goats gave birth to a tiny, new and utterly perfect kid. I helped, after we determined it looked like it was breech. I took those little hooves in my clumsy hands and pulled carefully, gently and consistently as the mama strained and bleated until the little one emerged.

The birth of our kid

The birth of our kid

Once out, she was not feet first. Rather, she entered the world in a perfect pike position, nose almost touching her ankles. We should name her Greg Louganis.

My beloved husband asked me later if goat midwifing was on my bucket list and my answer was no. That’s an incomplete response. It wasn’t on my bucket list because I had no idea how amazing it would be to help another mama guide her new little one into the world. Seeing the miracle of  a living, breathing, alert little soul emerge was an unasked-for, now treasured, privilege. It evoked a reverence that came from some timeless place within me.

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In support of school choice

Every child should have the chance to attend the school that best encourages their particular gifts. Period.

Every child should have the chance to attend the school that best encourages their particular gifts. Period.

Today, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled against the proposed school voucher program here in Douglas County. This is a shame, particularly because the ruling focuses on upholding something called the Blaine Amendment, a piece of religious bigotry found in state constitutions dating back to the Grant administration in the 1870s. Its original intent was to keep poverty-stricken Catholics out of the public school system and simultaneously deprive them of any public assistance to set up their own parochial schools. We now link it to the Establishment clause, the separation of church and state, in the Constitution. But Blaine Amendments are quite different: they’re more restrictive and more discriminatory.

Fast forward one hundred years. When I was in fifth grade at Mary B. Austin Elementary School in the early 1970s, my neighborhood school was the most wonderful learning environment in the world to me. We children came from various religious, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, but I don’t remember those even being mentioned. Austin was a meritocracy, lacking much if any social stratification. Our talents were encouraged, challenged and supported.

In sixth grade, our little class moved to a larger middle school that was being desegregated. These new students, white and black, were behind us academically, but far ahead of us in worldliness. At that school, I remember:

  • A teacher coming to school drunk and going to sleep during class.
  • A student with a hypodermic needle chased a terrified friend of mine around the gym.
  • My father correcting teachers’ grammatical errors when I brought assignments home for parental signatures.
  • Classmates telling graphic stories about sexual experiences when most of us Austin kids, pre-teens all, had yet to even hold hands with someone.

The next year, my parents sent my older brother and me to St. Paul’s Episcopal School. Thanks to St Paul’s excellent academics, my brother and I were both National Merit Scholars. We both went on to obtain advanced degrees. We’ve had good careers (well, he’s had a great one.) We’ve seen the world as one of opportunity.

I wonder just how many of those children at that middle school perceived similar opportunity. They did not have the chance to move to a private school like we did. (For one thing, at that time, few private schools in Alabama had many black students. Now, thankfully, most are more diverse.) Mostly, though, private schools were, and are, expensive. School choice may lessen the limits poverty imposes on opportunity, irrespective of race.

I’ve followed this issue in my native Alabama and now in Colorado, for years. The Blaine Amendment continues to perpetuate the segregation of expectation and opportunity, just like we saw in 70s Alabama. Logistical challenges will arise however we try to improve our education system.  However, vouchers provide children with expanded educational opportunities. They let parents choose the best environment for their families. They are a good idea.

Here are some common misconceptions.

Vouchers promote religion.Most, if not all, voucher programs have restrictions in place to ensure voucher students are not required to participate in religious instruction and activity. Vouchers are not about evangelizing religious beliefs. Vouchers are about making educational opportunity available to all. Some private schools have simply figured out how to better prepare their students for college than the current public school system. Students deserve the opportunity to attend these excellent schools.

Vouchers are meant to give rich parents discounts at private schools. They are meant to do the opposite – to give students whose parents have aspirations but not the financial means to achieve them the chance to broaden their children’s options. We can break the poverty cycle through better education. These schools provide better education. We can give more students access to better schools.

Vouchers are meant to get rid of the entire public school system, starve neighborhood schools, and change the system to a for profit model. The vast majority of parents – me included – support  neighborhood schools. My son has attended public schools throughout his academic career. I loved my own neighborhood school. However, if a neighborhood does not have a good school, do we just count those children’s lost academic opportunity, their trajectory, as a sacrifice that has to be made to sustain the overall current public school model? Or do we look at ways, including vouchers, to make sure each child gets a great education?

Bad schools are only a problem in <fill in the state, but usually Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi… anywhere but the state where a voucher program is under consideration.>There are bad public schools everywhere, in every state. This argument can only be made by someone who lives somewhere sheltered from the challenges in other less secure, less affluent, neighborhoods.

Times have changed. Your experience in 1970s Alabama is no longer relevant. A few years ago at a middle school football game with my son, I fell into conversation with the wife of the coach of the opposing team, which was from Denver. In the course of our conversation, she mentioned that some of the boys’ parents were addicted to crack, so she made sure to pick those kids up and give them a ride to a safe place each night after practice. She said that they had a team sleepover each year, and it was quite a sight when the boys lined up “out the front door” to use the one bathroom in the coach’s home.

Her quiet courage and commitment were awe-inspiring. All played a rousing game of football that day, and everyone had a great time. But I was left with the knowledge that the challenges her boys faced here in supposedly wealthy Colorado were akin to those in 70s Alabama. Their life experiences were just as alien to my son’s safe suburban life, much further away than the 20 miles we drove to the game. Vouchers could help some of those boys, aided by a committed adult like that coach’s wife, escape bad family backgrounds, aspire to more, and someday help someone else.

If any of those kids have the chance to get an excellent education, however that can be achieved, I’m in. Children who are given the chance to excel early, in the learning environment best for them, have the best chance at a fulfilling life. Parents should have the choice about where their children should attend school. Providing school vouchers for these children, giving them an opportunity they deserve and might otherwise not even know exists, seems an excellent investment of public money.

I’m looking forward to the next challenge to the Blaine Amendment –  perhaps at the Supreme Court level. It may take a few years, but so did many other great efforts when people sought to ensure equal opportunity for all. This is a worthwhile cause.

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Keeping the dream alive

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

What if a racist called for a race war, and nobody answered?

Did you hear about the racist who murdered nine       innocents, called for a race war, and caused  an         outpouring of love and unity instead?

We’re living in interesting times. A young man slaughters nine innocent people in the hope of starting a race war. What happens instead?

I wonder what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would think of this. Cynics may say that we should be further along when it comes to racial equality than we are (although those same cynics are often silent about how to create that change. Perhaps it’s easier to sit in the stands and throw “criticism popcorn” than do the work.) There’s an understandably vigorous debate about the emphasis on the Confederate flag. And yet, I marvel at this speedy and broad response.

I think that, while we mourn the senseless loss of the wonderful people who were murdered in Charleston last week, we should also note with some quiet satisfaction the complete and utter failure of the young man’s call to hate. His day is done, as is the day of racists like him.

When those extraordinary family members in Charleston came to the murderer’s arraignment and spoke with forgiveness and compassion to the man who killed their loved ones, the noble content of their character easily outshone the shabby racist lie on which the murderer based his short life’s work. In their time of grief, they gently and courageously showed us a positive way through this difficult dialogue about race, faith and violence. I find that heroic.

Their powerful example has inspired a notable, respectful response from all over the south, the nation and the world. It’s different – infinitely more immediate, unambiguous, united and supportive – than any we’ve seen to tragedies in the past fifty years. We can keep the memories of these loved ones alive as well if we, too, choose to live our lives with love, free of fear and hatred, minimizing anger and ignorance.

Those of us who are not part of the AME Emanuel church community will soon have the privilege of moving on, with sorrow and respect, but with our lives largely unchanged. We also have the option to forget this happened. Let’s not. Instead, let’s honor the lives that were cut short by building on the positive, sustainable change we can already see happening around us. It is often slow, not always visible in the moment. But it is happening, and it is the very antithesis of the race war the murderer hoped to ignite.

So, we different sorts – black, white, Hispanic, Christian, Jewish, Islamic…whatever your individual makeup is in this wonderful melting pot we call the United States – have the opportunity to grow closer, to truly be united.

We are, after all, one. On this, science and faith agree. Everything began as a single entity, whether you believe in the big bang theory, the story of creation, or “a world without end.” We evolved from a common ancestor. We are related.

The inspiring lives of the church family in AME Emanuel are thus connected to the possibly largely wasted life of the murderer, which is connected to you. You are connected to me. We’re all judged by the content of our character. I hope, myself, that I can live up to the shining example of Marcus Stanley.

“I don’t look at you with the eyes of hatred, or judge you by your appearance or race, but I look at you as a human being that made a horrible decision to take the lives of 9 living & breathing people. Children do not grow up with hatred in their hearts. In this world we are born color blind. I love you Dylann…”

So, I hope you will choose love. I hope I do. It’s so much easier to choose anger, to indulge in snark, to snipe at the person who cuts you off in traffic, who schemes for that promotion at work, who posts that obnoxious screed on Facebook, whose politics disagrees with yours, who’s just different in some strange and disturbing wayand then that disconnection simply escalates.

But then, stop and think: if a young, hate-filled man with a gun walks into your building tomorrow, will your life serve as an inspiration to your children, your friends, and total strangers?

With deepest sympathy and respect for the loved ones of The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, The Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Myra Thompson, and The Rev. Daniel L. Simmons Sr.

 

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From St. Paul’s in Mobile to Christmas in Castle Rock

Christmas in Castle Rock

Christmas in Castle Rock

“What a long, strange trip it’s been…”

I just finished a volunteer project for my church – a website called Christmas in Castle Rock.  My idea was to invite others into the joy and creativity so evident in the Christ’s Episcopal Church community – an invitation particularly meant for people who are new to the Castle Rock area.

I vividly remember how homesick I was my first Christmas here, despite how many times we’d moved before. I loved Snoqualmie, Washington, where we’d lived before. I felt bereft at starting over once again. Meeting people at Christ’s Church helped me start to put fresh roots down here as well.

Creating the site took me back to my spiritual roots, and I found it a happy journey. So, I thought I’d share those.

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