If we’re going to be friends, your vote really does matter…

45485641_1746095872183715_6350298731287412736_oNow that we’re in an election cycle, there’s an image floating around the interwebs advocating for friendship across politics. On the surface, this is a great idea when candidates relatively agree on similar end goals: like freedom or upward mobility, but perhaps not in the means – progressive vs regressive taxes. I may not like the other candidate, or their political party. But we’re all trying to build a better society for ourselves and our children. We’re both adults. We can agree to disagree and still be friends, because our friendship is more important than politics.

Except when your candidate wants to, say, remove my citizenship because my grandmother was from Mexico. Or wants to deport my uncle because he’s Muslim. Or wants to take away my sister’s right of choice. Or wants to erase my partner because they’re transgender. Or wants to disenfranchise my brother because he’s Native American. Or wants to segregate my father because he’s African American. Or wants to kill my cousin because they’re Jewish.

When your vote comes at the cost of significant human life, we’re not friends anymore.

“But I don’t believe in any of that! I’m not racist! We’ve been friends for years and you’re brown!” you say. “I just voted for the guy because I agree with his economic policy. You’re being really petty and judgmental.”

Sure friend. I hear what you’re saying. We can totally agree to disagree on economic policy. But you also voted for a racist/fearmonger/bigot/misogynist/homophobe. Which is a deal breaker. What you just demonstrated was that you put politics ahead of our friendship, and that while you may not be any of those hateful qualities, you’re willing to let them slide because they benefit you. If we’re going to be friends, and adults, then we are supposed to have a relationship that supports one another. That cares for one another. That will show up for one another when we really need help. And you voted for the guy who wants to kill people like me, all because you wanted lower taxes. Which tells me that we were never friends in the first place.

You see, friend, how you vote doesn’t just tell me about your politics. It tells me about what kind of person you are. What the foundation of your ethics and morals looks like. And when you vote “pro-life” and at the same time ignore the racism, the hate, the bigotry, the violence, and the death, you tell me all I need to know. That we were never friends. Because politics and party really were more important to you than my wellbeing; and my actual life.

Being an adult means having healthy boundaries which sometimes requires removing people from my life who are toxic and destructive. It means having firm ethics and morality rooted in empathy and compassion. It means choosing to hold people’s worth and dignity above petty politics and disagreements; in seeing your humanity and loving you and showing up for you when things get hard. Being an adult is having the courage to say: “No more!” to evil, even at great cost. Being an adult means making hard choices, like say, voting against your party when their candidate supports putting immigrant children in cages at internment camps.

But I don’t hate you. I’ll still show up for you if you need help. I’ll say hello at work and if we run into each other during the holidays. I’ll still uphold your dignity and worth, even when you don’t uphold mine. Because that is what myself, as an adult, am called to do; be kind to the people who hate me. And to know when to walk away.

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.

Why we (should) celebrate Memorial Day

Happy national grilling day!
Happy national grilling day!

Yesterday I was shopping in our local grocery store. The shelves were lined with American flags. Signs shouted discounts on hot dog buns and grilling supplies. Cakes were decorated with stars and stripes. Everything shouted, “America, f-yeah!” Now buy all the stuff!

This isn’t surprising. However, I can’t remember Memorial Day being so consumerly coopted like 4th of July, Halloween or Christmas. The day was always set aside to remember men and women who died for our country. Its meaning should be immune from our usual gluttony and debauchery. It is a “memorial” rather than a “celebration.”

Every time I see this I am moved to tears
Every time I see this I am moved to tears

Memorial Day serves as a reminder to me; that people routinely give their lives serving community and country. I want to believe this ultimate price was paid, not so I could have a three day weekend, but so I could live in peace and freedom. It is inspiring, humbling, and motivating. It is in many ways sacred.

Our military men and women have high ideals to live up to. They are Christ figures: called to serve others before they serve themselves, to protect human life and dignity, help the weak because they are strong, and perhaps have to die so others may live. It is not an easy job and comes with a heavy burden of responsibility and commitment. They must live the life of a hero.

What inspires you?
What inspires you?

They inspire me to do the same. I may not be called to military service; that ship passed me by. But I can still live my life by the ideals I like to believe these men and women died for: justice, liberty, and freedom in the spirit of community and country.

This does not mean the selfish, Darwinian freedom of the anarchist or the libertarian. It is not inspired by the justice of the dictator or the divine ruler. It is not motivated by the liberty from responsibility or duty. Memorial Day reminds me to be the same kind of servant leader the best of our military men and women are. In service to ALL Americans, wealthy and poor, strong and weak, educated and simple.

Sacrifice as an ideal..
Sacrifice as an ideal..

This means making willing sacrifices for the good of my community and country. Volunteering my free time rather than sitting in front of the television/computer for hours every day. Being frugal with my resources; living simply and in balance with others and with the environment. Giving away my excesses to those who are struggling. To be compassionate to the stranger and respectful to others. Finally, being willing to die so that others can live in peace.

Not in vain; your sacrifice meant something to me.
Not in vain; your sacrifice meant something to me.

This is what I believe our military service men and women are called to do, and I am inspired to do the same. This is the United States of America I believe in and that I want to protect. A nation of people who are servant leaders, inspiring the rest of the world, not to be better consumers, but to be better citizens and neighbors. Call me naïve, idealistic or crazy. But if Memorial Day serves as a yearly motivator not to take my own freedom and liberty for granted, and pushes me to be a better human being and citizen, then maybe we need a little more naivety and idealism and a little less hot dogs and grilling supplies.

Black Friday Blues

ahhhhh!!!!

Today is black Friday. Already there are reports of Americans behaving like animals. Somehow the promise of an extra 5% off turns people in savages. This day sickens me with its hype, materialism, and sheer gluttony. What’s worse, it follows a great American holiday based on thankfulness and sharing.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It’s uniquely American and celebrates our abundance and ability to share abundance. Families come together to break bread. Friends swap their best recipes. Thousands of people volunteer their goods and time to make sure those who usually go without, do not go without. It’s a grand example of how good we can be, in the face of poverty, brokenness, and even disaster.

I’m not homeless… I just really want another 60 inch TV!

Then at the stroke of midnight, we forget everything we celebrated the day before. People wait in the cold and rain to make sure they get the $175 HD flatscreen TV. People stampede for $50 smart phones. In total, it’s expected that $586 billion will be spent on material crap. Even though studies show that this crap doesn’t even make us happier!

When my wife and I served in Peace Corps, we celebrated Thanksgiving in Transylvania. A baker’s dozen volunteers descended into a small village with hard to find American confections like pumpkin pie, cheddar cheese, turkey with stuffing, and more. We came together for friendship, solidarity, and homesickness. We invited Romanian (and Hungarian) neighbors to share in our feast. The best part was explaining Thanksgiving.

We told them it wasn’t a religious or nationalist holiday. It was a day we set aside to give thanks for family, friends, and abundance. We celebrate with food and drink, laughter and comradery. None of us in the small house knew each other very well. But we were all far from home and thankful for what we had. Especially after two years living and working in a country that was still developing. Our Romanian and Hungarian counterparts thought this was a fascinating and wonderful idea. I agree with them.

word.

To me, Thanksgiving is the start of the holiday season. We are supposed to channel peace on Earth and goodwill to men. Rooted in Christian thought, it celebrates that the savior has been born. A savior that preached things like “do unto others as you would have done unto you” and “whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Now, I am no longer a Christian, but these are still concepts that I respect and want to perpetuate.

It disturbs me that this season is kicked off with a giant monetary sacrifice to the great god of consumerism. We sacrifice our dignity, civility, and humanity just to save a few extra dollars. Which incidentally allows us spend even more money on more stuff!

I understand how important this day is for a struggling economy. However, I do not believe we (as a nation) should be dependent on constantly escalating consumption. It’s like taking poison in hopes of curing a disease. It perpetuates our debt, increases our waste, and doesn’t benefit anybody but the 1%. Plus, it forces people to work long, odd hours, keeping them from celebrating with their families.

This holiday season, do me a favor and rethink your gifts and spending. Instead of buying the latest and greatest i-product, use that money to help relieve suffering and poverty. Save the money and invest it in a socially responsible organization or mission. My wife and I don’t buy presents anymore. Instead, we make donations to organizations in the names of friends and family. It really is a gift that keeps on giving.  Don’t you think we could always use a little more peace and goodwill and less selfishness and greed? Let’s make it happen!