A Christmas Song for a world on fire…

I really enjoy Christmas music. Even though I get frustrated when I hear holiday melodies before Thanksgiving Halloween, the familiar songs fill me with warm nostalgia. My memories of Christmas and Advent are good memories. My house would be filled with the smell of tamales and baked goods. Lights and nativity scenes would appear. Records that laid dormant for a year would be pulled out and played after dinner. Church would echo with carols and hymns to the coming celebration of the Christ child.

I have my old favorites: The Little Drummer Boy (specifically the one with Bing Crosby and David Bowie), O Come All Ye Faithful, Carol of the Bells. And I have some new ones. But my most favorite Christmas song is Do You Hear What I Hear? It breaks me every time in all the ways I need to be broken for the Holiday season; toward hope, giving, forgiving. Most importantly toward peace in a time overcome with the threat of destruction.

The song’s creators, Gloria Baker and Noël Regney, wrote the song in 1962 while the world was reeling from the Cuban Missile Crisis. And after it was recorded by Bing Crosby in 1963, it quickly spread across the world. Baker and Regney’s message was prophetically powerful in a time that needed a message of hope. Which is probably why I have always gravitated toward this simple Christmas classic. It reminds me to live in hopefulness.

The song, like the Nativity story, is subversive. It begins with a message whispered from creation to people on the margins: “Do you see what I see?” “Do you hear what I hear?” And then from the margins to the powers that be: “Do you know what I know?” How I long for those of the halls of power to suddenly realize that out in the freezing night, there are children who need silver and gold; who are homeless and hungry and in poverty. For the wealthy to realize that these children will bring goodness and light. For our leaders to announce peace; turning away from greed, racism, and bigotry.

55 years later, Do You Hear What I Hear? is in the background of a Holiday Season set amid chaos. I am clinging to it in desperation. I want some small whisper in the night wind. I want a voice bigger than all the hate in the world. I want an intervention, reminding the world: “Glory to God in the highest, peace on Earth, and good will to all!

This last Sunday, one of the children at my church came up to me and asked, “Do you want to know something?” I nodded with a smile. He told me, “God is everything. In the wind. In the trees. In the world. In you. In me.” I asked him how that made him feel. He smiled at me and said, “It makes me very happy.”

Do you hear what I hear?

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My friend, my family, I love you; please don’t do this…

13567_tallTo my friends and family who are supporting Donald Trump: I love you. Which is why I’m writing this open letter to you. If you continue supporting this man for president, you are putting a strain on our relationship. You are jeopardizing our connection to each other. And I want to tell you this before it is too late and our bonds are broken.

I believe we are in each other’s lives because, at some point, we connected deeply. Whether it was through genetics, things in common or a shared experience, you are more than just a random person on the bus or a person I’ve just met in a bar. I saw something amazing and awesome in you and you saw something similar in me. This spark has allowed us to share our lives in intimate ways and I know it’s still there. Which is why I feel it is crucial I tell you this now: you are supporting a very dangerous hatred and it is causing me to question our relationship and friendship.

This is more than just a political disagreement. Most likely we’ve disagreed with each other in the past over a lot of unimportant and very important issues. Whether it was about economic policy, taxation, or parenting styles, we’ve had our arguments and our connection has survived. We’ve shared food and drink and debated religion and are still able to hug each other. Our bonds of friendship make it possible that we survive deep divides. And I think it is healthy to disagree and still love each other. It shows that we can be vulnerable with each other; listen to and perhaps even understand each other a little more each time we’re together. Our disagreements have made our relationship stronger.

But this is more than just a disagreement in politics or religion. You have made this about us; or rather, what you think of me and people like me. By supporting Donald Trump, you are telling me that you are a racist and a bigot who overtly supports racism and bigotry.

And your first reaction is probably, “Bullshit! How dare you call me a racist! I’m not racist! I have black friends! I treat everybody equally!” But you’re lying to me and to yourself. You see, I’m a racist too. I was socialized in a society that was built on slavery. I am aware that I have an inherent bias that equates white with goodness and black with evil. I have inherited racism from my family system and I have participated in it with thousands of macro and micro aggressions. It’s inside you and inside me because we were raised in the United States and in systems steeped in racism and bias.

The fact that racism is a part of me and most likely will never go away terrifies me. But I am committed to challenging it with every fiber of my being because I believe racism is wrong. I believe bigotry is wrong. And you, my beloved friend, are wrong. By supporting Donald Trump you are telling me that you believe every Muslim is an American hating terrorist, every Mexican is a rapist drug dealer, and that every African American is a lazy welfare criminal. That you agree Russia should have a role in our political system and that Hilary Clinton should be assassinated because she is a political opponent. These are the policies you want for our country. This is who and what you are willing to vote for. This is what you want for the United States of America.

By supporting Donald Trump, you are telling me that you are a racist, a bigot and that on some level you hate me and people like me. You know that I am a person of color. You know that my grandmother was a Mexican immigrant. You know that I am not a Christian. You know that I support Black Lives Matter. You know that I am a feminist. You know who I am and for the life of our friendship you’ve been willing to accept me and love me even if these are all things you haven’t agreed with.

Yet when I see your support of deporting Hispanics and Muslims, I see your support of deporting me.

When I see your support of abuse against Black Lives Matter protesters, I see your support of abuse against me.

When I see your support of an America that would hate me, I see your hatred of me.

I see where this political narrative is going. I paid attention in history class. My friend, my loved one… you are beginning to sound like a Nazi. Which terrifies me. Not only because I know that this isn’t you, but I can envision a day when you would support my arrest, detention, and execution. Just for disagreeing; just for dissenting.

Perhaps you think this is a bit hyperbolic; perhaps you think this would never happen in the United States of America. But take a long, hard look at the candidate you are supporting. On what he has said. On what he wants to do. My beloved, this is not you. Please tell me this isn’t you.

I get it. You hate Hillary Clinton and what she represents. You hate the idea of another Democratic administration. You hate progressive politics. You hate marriage equality. You hate taxation. You hate Black equity. You hate gun control. These are all issues we’ve struggled with in the past. But it has become bigger than just the issues.

This now involves people; specifically people like me. This is a deep wound you’ve created and most likely will deny. And I don’t want to believe it either. But your actions and words are like cards on the table; I see your real hand and in this game, nobody wins. So please, try to understand what I am saying to you. I love you. I want you to be a part of my life. But you’ve proven to me that you hate me, you hate people who are like me, and that you want us beaten, arrested, deported and dead.

So I’m writing you this letter. Please don’t do this. We loved each other, or at least I thought we did. And I’m willing to keep trying. My hands and heart are open to you. Please turn away from your hate. Please, my friend, my family, my beloved: will you not stand on the side of love with me?

I pray we can learn how to love each other again. Amen.

First, they came for the immigrants,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t an immigrant.
Then they came for the Muslims,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Muslim.
Then they came for people who were Queer,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t Queer.
Then they came for the people of color,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a person of color.
Then they came for the protesters,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a protester.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak out for me…
-inspired by the words of Martin Niemöller

 

What can I teach my son about violence?

3811620119_american_flag_gun_xlargeWith another mass shooting by an armed white male, I am once again reminded (as if I could ever forget) that I live in a society with the potential for murderous violence. And no matter what the NRA and Fox News or any other pundit tells me, I agree with President Obama’s assessment: “Now is the time for mourning and healing, but let’s be clear: at some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.”  It doesn’t. Not with the frequency as it has been happening. Not with the body count. There is something wrong with us as Americans.

I’m at a loss, because I don’t know what else I can do. I already work for a peace and justice non-profit. I am studying in ministry so I can work and preach out against violence and promote systemic change. I try to be an active part of my neighborhood and community. But it is not enough. None of it seems to stop the killing; not in a park or a school or even a church. I confess, I am afraid not for my life, but for the life of my partner and son.

flat,1000x1000,075,f.u2No amount of armed escalation on my part is going to keep them safe. I cannot be with them 24/7. I am also not arrogant enough to believe, should I ever own a gun, that my preemptive killing of an assailant will make things better. One thing I’ve learned through studying ancient texts; violence only begets more violence. So what else is left other than being a man of peace? I can raise my son to be a man of peace, too.

I will teach my son that Black Lives Matter.

Tobias will also be taught that all lives matter. But in particular, he will know from an early age that specifically, black lives matter. Because it is black lives that have been put through our cultural meat grinder. I will make sure he understands, at least as much as he is able, what the black community has gone through in our country. I will not sugar coat the history or the reality of the killing and the incarceration and the lack of educational and economic opportunities his black brothers and sisters have had to endure. I will raise him to acknowledge his own prejudices when he finds them, and to challenge the prejudice around him.

I will teach my son to respect Women.

I want Tobias to learn the history of patriarchy and the importance of equality. He will learn about women who have shaped the world through religion, science, literature and politics. I will work to make sure he sees women as partners who are just as capable as he is in everything from sports to education to work to family. I will make sure that he understands that a woman’s body belongs only to her and that he has no right over it at all. I want to show him that taking away the rights of women and girls only hurts our world. I will raise him to be a feminist ally.

I will teach my son to respect Sex.

I can teach my Tobias to respect his own sexuality and the sexualities of others. He will be shown a healthy respect for his body and that the bodies of other people are just as sacred as his. I want him to see himself as beautiful, and acknowledge that the beauty in others comes not from their appearance but from their humanity. I will teach him that sex is good and fun and healthy and so very special that he should never be ashamed of sharing intimacy with another person.

I will teach my son about his Privilege.

Not the kind of privilege that makes him better than other people. I will teach him about the responsibility that comes with his access to education, a safe home, new clothing, clean water, healthy food, electricity, and access to computers and information. I can impress on him that, because he was born to my partner and I, he has already won the lottery and lives better than most of the world. I hope he can understand and accept the guilt that comes with receiving what he has not earned. I pray that he uses that guilt to change the world; to understand that with great power comes greater responsibility. I will raise him to know that his privilege requires him to be a servant leader.

11406657_709812235797484_1988572270914461636_oThis seems like an impossible task. He has everything working against him, from history to mass media, education to religion. And as much as we want for our children, I know that I can only do so much; he is his own person. But if I can make the world a better place through my son, I will. Along with my partner, through gentleness, love, guidance and prayer, I will try to shape his young mind toward justice. I will teach my son how to be a better man than I could ever be, for him and for his future.

Life isn’t (un)fair…

universe-hd-photo95-JPGA long time ago I stopped believing in a fair universe. From everything I’ve observed, life is a mix of intentionality, chance and inevitability. I have a small amount of agency; I work hard and pay my taxes and volunteer all of which come with their own rewards. But for the most part, life is just as likely to kick me in the balls as it is to let me win the lottery. Nature has no sense of justice outside of its laws of cause and effect. It is up to me to create fairness from an otherwise apathetic life.

When I believed God was in charge of everything, I had mantras like “it’s all part of God’s plan” or “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” to fall back on whenever undeservedly bad things happened to good people. (let’s be honest, bad people deserve it, right?) Eventually they all became platitudes. Because as more curses and blessings stacked up, most of which without any catalyst, God’s plan began to look like trying to read tea leaves and God had a funny sense of what people could handle vs. what they should have to handle. In the end I was forced to reject the notion of a just God because a just God wouldn’t stand idly by in the face of so much injustice.

free-willNot just the kind of injustice that people intentionally cause; not crime or war or corporate greed or any of the millions of ways we dehumanize each other. I’m talking about the stupid everyday injustice, like car accidents and slipping on a patch of ice and breaking your leg. Accidents with horrible consequences. The butterfly effect of causality that reaps human life. I can’t even buy into the “free will” answer: God doesn’t intervene because he loves our free will more than he loves starving children. It’s bullshit, because that’s not love or justice, that’s an excuse. Therefore, I was left with either rejecting my preconceptions about God or believing in a lie.

Recently, my father-in-law passed away. While he was not perfect, he lived a good and clean life. He didn’t smoke. He drank less than occasionally. He was a runner. He attended church, was married more than 30 years and was an overall good man. He was diagnosed with throat cancer, which spread to his brain and eventually to the rest of his body. The doctors originally gave him 6 months to live. He fought for over 4 years until May 11th, 2015. There it is; blessings and curses all wrapped up in a whole ball of intentionality, chance and inevitability. If a just God did exist, this wouldn’t have happened.

BristleconeThe ironic part is I wish I still believed in a just God because right now I could really use something to blame. I want to look God in the eye and say “You are wrong! You did this! This is your fault and how dare you proclaim love and justice and mercy and compassion when you let good men suffer and die!” I am angry because Andy didn’t deserve to die. Not this way; not like this. He deserved better from his God than he received. There are millions of other people in the world who are more deserving than he was to die of cancer. This is a horrible statement but right now I feel horrible and selfish and hurt and confused and broken. And tired.

Right now I am just. So. Tired. Because what is the point? Why should I work so hard for ideals that go against the very fabric of the universe? Why should I care? In a just universe I’d be able to look at my son and tell him that life will be kind. But right now all I can tell him is that he will never know his grandfather; that he was robbed of having a good man in his life because life isn’t fair.

Life just is.

It is a hard lesson and I’m left with one lonely realization; if there is going to be justice in this world then I’m going to have to be the one making it happen. It’s up to me to create justice where it doesn’t exist. Because that is what I want to do. The responsibility has been passed from God to me and it’s a heavy load. 11238228_10153338843751934_1951030714927036305_nFortunately I know a whole lot of other people who are working to lighten that load. I know miracle workers on the margins of society who squeeze justice from life like blood from stone and I want to be just as strong and powerful and tireless as them. And maybe if I can just keep trying, keep believing in love and justice, I can make my father-in-law’s death mean something.

Because I think that’s what he would have wanted. And it’s what I want. Rest in love Andy. I’ll keep working on the justice.

Why I go to church…

collapse-michael-ceraWorking at a peace and justice non-profit is an emotional double-edged sword plowshare. It is emotionally fulfilling to have a small part in making the world a better place. It is emotionally crippling because every day I am confronted with the injustice and inhumanity of human trafficking, war, ecological destruction, greed and corrupt power. Compassion fatigue is real; I can only watch/read/research so much before the pictures/videos/stories become numbers/statistics/calculations instead of real people.

My symptoms include bypassing petitions instead of filling them out; deleting email action-alerts instead of reading them; turning the radio station from KUOW to KEXP when a challenging story comes on; binging on Netflix instead of keeping up with current events. If I let the fatigue persist it would be easy to just give up. Heck, sometimes giving up looks pretty damn attractive. It would be much easier to just give in and become just another consumer who doesn’t give a f*#k about anybody but myself. But I don’t want to be this person. I choose to fight the good fight. Therefore, I go to church.

giphyWhen I announced I was becoming a Unitarian Universalist, some of my atheist friends questioned why I just didn’t give up on religion all together. They all have very good reasons; as an institution religion has been as much a problem of the world as a solution to the world’s problems. Why would an atheist or agnostic attend a church service? Those are places for believers. My answer is simple: To stay a sane, healthy man of peace, I need religion.

Religion provides me with a community, sanctuary and covenant that is focused on peacemaking. It reminds me that I am not alone in working to build a more just world. It cures my compassion fatigue because it restores my faith in people. When peace and justice work becomes too heavy, it is my church that lightens the load. In a space filled with atheists, believers, agnostics, questioners and religious refugees, our attendance shouts to the universe: “We will continue the work! We will not give up! We crave peace!”

rocky-training-oIn order to do the work I do, to continue to read the stories, watch the videos, and look at the pictures; to keep on filling out the petitions, contacting the representatives, and raising awareness; I have to feel like I’m not alone. And every Sunday, along with other justice-seekers, it is in singing our doxology that I am spiritually renewed to keep on fighting the good fight:

“From all that dwell below the skies,
let songs of hope and faith arise!
Let peace, goodwill on earth be sung
through every land, by every tongue.”

May it be so. Amen.

Walking the pro-(choice/life) line…

It just makes for a bigger headache...
It just makes for a bigger headache…

I can tell it’s around the anniversary of Roe v Wade by the amount of pro-whatever debates I hear on the radio. Which is a good thing. We need to continue to struggle with issues of life and death in the U.S. I just wish it were a bit more intelligent. Usually it’s one person pulling the Jesus card and the other person pulling the “I do what I want” card. It’s another example of the polarization of our politics and how unwilling we are to just listen to another point of view. Then there are people like myself who are both pro-life and pro-choice.

It's all about the dignity of life... right?
It’s all about the dignity of life… right?

I’m pro-life because I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every human person and I believe as a society we should respect the miracle and preciousness of ALL life. Which is why I have a problem with 99% of the pro-life camp. They’re really not about life; they’re about birth. My impression is that the pro-life camp just wants babies to be born but could care less about how they end up. Once the kid pops out, pro-lifers wash their hands of the issue and call it another day at the office. There is little mention about the quality of life for the child. What if it’s born into an abusive household? Or horribly handicapped and deformed because of drugs and/or alcoholism? What about issues of poverty, nutrition and education?

Yeah... about that...
Yeah… about that…

These are all LIFE issues. If people want to call themselves pro-life, then it’s all or nothing. You’re going to have to care about and share in the responsibility for every man, woman and child. If you’re pro-life, you better be working to address issues like economic disparity, education, workplace inequality, racism, food deserts and access to medical care that make life hard for the 50 million Americans in poverty. If you’re one of those assholes who scream about babies being slaughtered but tell your representative to cut welfare, you are doing it wrong.

One, of many, reasons...
One, of many, reasons…

I’m pro-choice because I believe if we’re going to live in a free, democratic country than we have the responsibility to provide access to safe and quality health care to ALL our citizens. It’s an issue of justice which includes women who need to have an abortion. Because let’s be honest, nobody WANTS to have an abortion. It’s not something a woman looks forward to with her morning coffee. It’s a damned hard decision that will have repercussions and ramifications for the rest of a person’s life. This is why it’s up to the individual woman, and not the state, to choose. It’s the kind of life decision where judgment and necessity exist ONLY within the person making it.

How is that iPod I helped make working for ya?
How’re you enjoying that iPod I helped make?

“But if you’re pro-life, how can you support murdering babies?” You know what, I don’t support murdering babies. Just like I don’t support children dying of starvation; yet I still have a full three-square meals a day. You can’t make abortion illegal because it kills babies and not outlaw obesity at the same time. We are ALL complicit in abortion, just like we are with child slaves mining the minerals to go in our electronics and the impoverished hands that make our clothing. We’re ALL part of the problem.

stckr-Better-futureI am NOT pro-abortion. I don’t think anybody is. However, I believe its legality is necessary for freedom, health and quality of life. But just because it’s necessary doesn’t mean I can’t work to make it an uncommon practice. Abortion will always be a part of human society and it’s not a single action removed from all the other issues of our time. To address it, I have to continue to work hard to build a better society that furthers the arc of history as it bends towards justice. Abortion isn’t about pro-life/choice. It’s about pro-justice.

Why I (don’t) support President Obama on Syria…

Yes. We. Can... invade other countries?
Yes. We. Can… invade other countries?

I’ve been an Obama supporter from the beginning. My wife and I were serving in the Peace Corps, living in Romania, desperately gobbling up any election information we could find before he was elected POTUS. It was an exciting time. Heather stayed up the whole night to watch him win. I went to bed, assured of his victory. I’ve supported his policies to reform our healthcare and immigration system. I still have hope; I still believe that “Yes, we can!”

Except for drone strikes. Except for draconian deportations that break up hard working families without criminal records. Most importantly, except for Syria. Just because we CAN do it, doesn’t mean we should. As much as I love listening to the man speak, my anti-war position was not swayed by his address to the nation last night. His points are valid; human history is filled with examples where millions died because nobody stepped in to help. I just don’t agree with them.

Anti-war Republicans? I don't believe they exist...
Anti-war Republicans? I don’t believe they exist…

Right now, the world is watching the Syrian conflict very closely. Its regime knows that it’s under a microscope and any wrong move could bring military action. Also, I don’t believe the United States should be the only superpower in the world that can throw its bombs around with impunity. We set up the United Nations and we should work within its procedures. Even the United Kingdom, one of our greatest allies, told us no. Heck, when was the last time a republican was against invading a country? So many people believe diplomacy can work in this situation that we should give it a chance.

How many more?
How many more?

Plus, I am tired of conflict. In this millennium, the American people were duped into a war and an invasion. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We never found Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Bush and his administration were wrong and United States citizens are still paying the price. Trillions of dollars spent (and not paid for), thousands of our service men and women dead, even more wounded, over one hundred thousand civilian casualties.

FAIL
FAIL

President Obama would like me to believe that these will be surgical strikes meant to punish a dictator for killing his own people. That we’ll only drop a few bombs and no actual troops will be on the ground. However, he cannot guarantee that MORE civilians will not be killed (by us) or that there will be victory. I remember Bush riding on the USS Abraham Lincoln giving his “Mission Accomplished” speech. For a man who is usually very pragmatic (and who holds a Nobel Peace Prize), I cannot understand why Obama is pushing so aggressively for military intervention.

Swords into plowshares...
Swords into plowshares…

This has been a hard decision for me. I want to support our President; I want to believe in his vision. But I cannot support him on this one. If the United States is still the greatest country in the world, I believe we should man up and act like it. If we put half as much money and energy into solving  global issues (and our own) of education, poverty, democracy and equality, I am confident we could change the world more than if we dropped a couple of bombs to slap a dictator on the wrist.

Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.