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The personal blog of Frank Lesko. Award-winning writer. Non-profit entrepreneur. Activist. Religious professional. Foodie. Musician. All around curious soul and Renaissance man.

See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Our Wedding Ceremony

Our Wedding Ceremony
Sunday, July 10th, 2016 - Wild Goose Festival    



1.  Opening Song

Down in the River to Pray (traditional)    

As I went down in the river to pray 
Studying about that good old way 
And who shall wear the starry crown 
Good Lord, show me the way   

Oh sisters, let’s go down 
Let’s go down, come on down 
Oh sisters, let’s go down,  
Down in the river to pray   

As I went down in the river to pray 
Studying about that good old way 
And who shall wear the robe and crown 
Good Lord, show me the way   

O brothers, let’s go down 
Let’s go down, come on down 
Oh brothers, let’s go down, 
Down in the river to pray   

As I went down in the river to pray 
Studying about that good old way 
And who shall wear the starry crown 
Good Lord, show me the way   


2. Welcome   


Good morning. I’m Frank, and I’m the groom!

I’m Andrea, and I’m the bride!

[laughter]

Andrea and I have been coming to the Wild Goose now for three years in a row. One of the first things we do, we developed a tradition. On the first day, we go down to the river, take off our shoes, and just stand there in the river.  And it has a lot of meaning to us. It’s hard to put words to it.  It’s like remembering who we are, something about ourselves, to refresh, to renew, to reenergize, it’s cleansing. And there’s something about the bare feet, in the bare earth, with the living waters around us, breathing in the mountain air, holding each other’s hand, that just takes us back to some point that reminds us who we are... and who we are to each other... and to the community.
 
So it made perfect sense to come here to the Goose to come down to the river and to start our marriage from this place. We also…
 
The ceremony will be conducted by people from a variety of faith traditions, interfaith and Christian, and we figure what better way to witness to the wholeness of the community here than through that. 
 
We just want to get started with a symbolic act of what we do on our first day at the Wild Goose.


3.  River Immersion & Cleansing   

Andrea and Frank both wash each other's feet using water and sand from the French Broad River collected that morning.

 

4. Opening Prayer

Frank and Andrea have come here today to make their commitment public and to repeat their  vows out loud and in the presence of God, community, and creation.       

Let us pray.   

     Dear God,

 As Frank and Andrea embark upon this miraculous journey, may their hearts be lifted up in joy.  May they truly see in their beloved the beauty and innocence in which you created them.  Remove from them any barriers to love. Deliver them to the brightest light where forgiveness is their constant guide and peace their constant friend.  Bless their relationship;  bless their marriage taking place today, and through them, bless the world.  Amen.   


5. Readings 

a. A Reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians   


If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self ­seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.  
 

b.  A Reading taken from Thomas Merton’s ​No Man Is an Island 

A happiness that is sought for ourselves alone can never be found:  for happiness that is diminished by being shared is not big enough to make us happy. 

Love not only prefers the good of another to my own, but it does not even compare the two. It has only one good... that of the beloved, which is, at the same time, my own. Love shares the good with another not by dividing it with him, but by identifying itself with him so that his good becomes my own.

Love seeks one thing only:  the good of the one loved. It leaves all the other secondary effects to take care of themselves. Love, therefore, is its own reward.
 

c.  "The Tale of Two Wolves" - a Cherokee Story

One evening, an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self­ pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a moment and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
 

d. A Poem by Hafiz - a Persian Sufi Mystic


It happens  
All the time in heaven, 
And some day 
It will begin to happen 
Again on earth ­  
That men and women 
Who are married,  
And men and men 
Who are 
Lovers 
And women and women 
Who give each other
Light 
Often will get down 
On their knees 
And while so tenderly 
Holding their
Lover’s hand, 
With tears in their eyes 
Will sincerely speak, saying,  
“My dear,  
How can I be 
More loving to you; 
How can I be more 
Kind?”


6. Vows 

The time has come for Frank and Andrea to make their promises to one another,   



Frank, please repeat after me. 
     I, Frank, ask you, Andrea 
     To be my partner, my lover, my friend, and my wife 
     To have and to hold from this day forward 
     I announce and declare my intention 
     To give you my deepest sympathy and love 
     I further announce before God and those present
     That I will always seek to see the Light of Divinity within you
     And seek always to share the Light of Divinity within me
     I promise to be true to you in good times and bad 
     In sickness and in health 
     I will love you and honor you all the days of my life 
     May we do God’s work together 
     Sharing all that is good within us 
     With all those whose lives we touch 
     All that I am, I give to you 
     And all that I have, I share with you 
     Whatever the future holds, I will love you 
     And stand by you 
     As long as we both shall live 
     This is my solemn vow.    

Andrea, do you choose to grant Frank’s request that you be his wife?  (I do!)   



Andrea, repeat after me. 
     I, Andrea, ask you, Frank 
     To be my partner, my lover, my friend, and my husband 
     To have and to hold from this day forward 
     I announce and declare my intention 
     To give you my deepest sympathy and love 
     I further announce before God and those present                
     That I will always seek to see the Light of Divinity within you      
     And seek always to share the Light of Divinity within me      
     I promise to be true to you in good times and bad 
     In sickness and in health 
     I will love you and honor you all the days of my life 
     May we do God’s work together 
     Sharing all that is good within us 
     With all those whose lives we touch 
     All that I am, I give to you
     And all that I have, I share with you 
     Whatever the future holds, I will love you 
     And stand by you 
     As long as we both shall live 
     This is my solemn vow.

Frank, do you choose to grant Andrea’s request that you be her husband?  (I do!)   


7.  Song ­

All That I Am (Sebastian Temple) 

All that I am 
All that I do 
All that I’ll ever have 
I offer now to you.   

All that I dream 
All that I pray 
All that I’ll ever make 
I give to you today.   

Take and sanctify these gifts 
For your honor, Lord. 
Knowing that I love and serve you 
Is enough reward.   

All that I am 
All that I do 
All that I’ll ever have 
I offer now to you.   

Take and sanctify these gifts 
For your honor, Lord. 
Knowing that I love and serve you 
Is enough reward.   

All that I dream 
All that I pray 
All that I’ll ever make 
I give to you today.   
   

8.  Lakota Prayer

The following is a Lakota prayer.   

Frank and Andrea, please repeat together after me. 
     Teach me how to trust my heart, my mind, my intuition 
     My inner knowing, the senses of my body, 
     The blessings of my spirit. 
     Teach me to trust these things 
     So that I may enter my sacred space 
     And love beyond my fear 
     And thus walk in balance 
     With the passing of each glorious sun.


9. Exchange of Rings 


 
Please take the rings you wish to give to one another as symbols of the promises you are giving and receiving today.

Let us pray.   

     Lord,  
          Bless these rings which we bless in your name. 
          Grant that those who wear them 
          May always have a deep faith in each other. 
          May they do your will 
          And always live together 
          In peace, good will, and love. 
          We ask this through Christ our Lord. 
                                                      Amen.   

Frank, place the ring on Andrea’s finger, and repeat after me:
     Take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity 
     In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.   

Andrea, place the ring on Frank’s finger, and repeat after me. 
     Take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity 
     In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.   

Please join hands.  Repeat together after me. 
     With this ring, I thee wed.

Now that you have stated your intentions before God, the gathered community, and all creation, we pronounce you husband and wife!   

                                                                      Kiss!
 

[Woo-hoo!]


10.  Closing Blessing & Presentation   

Let us pray.   

God, 

Out of this whole world, two souls have found each other. Just like the labyrinth, it has been a journey to this spot. Their journey back into the world shall be together.

Frank and Andrea, may your home be a place of happiness for all who enter it; a place  where the old and the young are renewed in each other’s company, a place for growing and a  place for sharing, a place for music and a place for laughter, a place for prayer and a place for  love.

May those who are nearest to you be constantly enriched by the beauty and bounty of your love for one another; may your work be a joy of your life that serves the world, and may  your days be good and long upon the Earth.

Amen.

Gathered friends, we present to you… Mr. & Mrs. Frank Lesko!

[Cheers! Yay!]


11.  Recessional Song ­ 

You Fill the Day (Joe Wise)   

You fill the day with your glory and your power.  You fill the night with your quiet and your deep love.
  
Run with your head up in the wind 
Run with your head up in the wind 
The wind 
Your head held high 
Your soul an open door 
And breathe the wind that makes you free 
And breathe the wind that makes you free   

You fill the day with your glory and your power.  You fill the night with your quiet and your deep love.   

Stand with your face up in the sun 
Stand with your face up in the sun 
The sun 
Your head held high 
Your soul an open door 
And feel the warmth that makes you free 
And feel the warmth that makes you free
You fill the day with your glory and your power.  You fill the night with your quiet and your deep love.

Lay with your face up in the rain 
Lay with your face up in the rain 
The rain 
Your head held high 
Your soul an open door 
And drink the rain that makes you free 
And drink the rain that makes you free

You fill the day with your glory and your power.  You fill the night with your quiet and your deep love.

Walk hand in hand with one you love 
Walk hand in hand with one you love 
You love 
Your head held high 
Your soul an open door 

And hold the hand that makes you free 
And hold the hand that makes you free

You fill the day with your glory and your power.  You fill the night with your quiet and your deep love.

Beloved musicians!
Wedding party consisting of ministers and pastors
of various Christian and non-Christian traditions.

Basking in the afterglow!


Our original comments from 2016:
 
We did it! Andrea and I got married at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, NC, on Sunday morning!
This has been a special place for us these past three years. We go “down in the river to pray” (our opening song!) to be refreshed, revitalized, to remember something about ourselves and what we mean to God, community and creation. The Wild Goose is a little slice of Heaven to us, a place where amidst all the brokenness of the world around us, for a short time that Biblical ideal of full unity in full diversity is realized right here on earth, and people radiate in positivity and goodwill. What better place to begin our marriage together! We are so enormously grateful.
We began with a foot washing ceremony, using sand and water from the banks to recreate that river immersion. New life, reconciliation, soul to soul. We were barefoot on the grass the whole time.
We were married by no less than seven faith leaders who all took turns co-officiating and participating in the ceremony! These ministers identify as Baptist, United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, Non-Denominational and Interfaith, as well as Episcopal and Roman Catholic priests. It was a blessed assembly. We wanted so much for this wedding to represent the wholeness of all the people of God, and we are so grateful for their presence. We’ll be blogging about the details shortly!
Our ceremony took readings from across the faith spectrum: 1 Corinthians 13, a reading on love from Thomas Merton’s No Man Is An Island, a Cherokee tale (appropriate since we were in Cherokee ancestral lands) and a poem by a Hafiz, Muslim Sufi mystic, which has beautiful passages celebrating love between men and women, men and men and women and women. Our vows were a blend of Conversations with God (a book that has been hugely important to Andrea) with traditional Catholic/Protestant vows woven in seamlessly.
After we took vows as individuals, we recited together a Lakota prayer:
"Teach me how to trust my heart, my mind, my intuition, my inner knowing, the senses of my body, the blessings of my spirit. Teach me to trust these things so that I may enter my sacred space and love beyond my fear and thus walk in balance with the passing of each glorious sun."
- Lakota Prayer
When we found that prayer online, we were both stunned—it was perfect.
In addition to “Down in the River to Pray”, two very old favorites from my childhood arrived right on schedule, and their lyrics were also reflected in the ceremony: “All That I Am” by Sebastian Temple (who you may know as the composer of “The Prayer of St. Francis”) and “You Fill the Day” by Joe Wise. I remember those songs from my Catholic childhood, two brilliant pieces by folk pioneers, songs I have never forgotten.
A friend also “just happened to remember” that she had 20 mini bottles of bubbles in her car, so we were treated to bubbles during the closing song! That’s how this wedding came together—everything was just at the right place at the right time—Andrea’s outfit which we found a couple days before at a local store when we weren’t even looking, the local flower vender at the Festival when there had never been a flower vendor in prior years, and the readings which popped into our minds or on our laptop screens just when we needed them. For the days and weeks beforehand, we were stuck and we were unsure how this would all come together. But the day before the wedding, it all came together.
The only sadness, and it was a big one, was that family and friends could not be there, but we plan to have a reception at home in the coming months.
There are so many people to celebrate—from the musicians to the photographers to the ministers. As more pictures roll in, we’ll do that. In the meantime, I just want to take a minute to savor the moment between us. And realize that I feel ontologically different.
Pictures are still rolling in, and we’ll write more about it in the near future!

Bubbles!
Our rings and our ring bear-er!
Our invitations to guests as well as ministers who wanted to co-officiate
left strewn around the festival!
 
Comments from July 10, 2019:

Andrea and I had only a vague idea that we might get married when we drove down to Hot Springs, North Carolina, for the Wild Goose Festival in July 2016. We had been engaged since January of that year. Even as we starting putting plans together with the festival organizers, we weren’t exactly sure how this was going to go. We were working on vows literally the night before! But it all came together right on time.

In our previous comments, we talked about a few places where everything seemed fall into place. Re-reading that now, we realize that was just a short list! Friends who recorded the event, a professional photographer who just happened to be at the festival for the event, the date, the location, the guests and ministers who saw our invitations left scattered around the festival and responded, our musician friends who were super busy organizing all the festival musicians but still made time for us on short notice, the beloved stuffed animal who was bravely lent to us by total strangers to be our “ring bear” and all our friends and strangers who blessed our wedding with their support and presence… it was all just… perfect. People plan weddings for months or even years and ours came together in just a couple days.


We are really proud of the ceremony we wrote. Andrea's experience officiating weddings sure came in handy! We borrowed from some of our favorite readings and authors. We wanted to affirm all people and all creation. We wanted to affirm all love and all relationships. We wanted to affirm different religious traditions. Most importantly, we wanted to do all this in a way that was true to us.

Most of all, our wedding speaks of our hopes and it speaks from our hearts. It felt like us. It was a deeply personal, transformative, gentle and powerful event. In reading this, you might think with all the readings and the setting that we were being a bit showy, but I would be surprised if anyone present felt that way. It was just us, and this is who we are. It was real and authentic and most of all deeply personal. Andrea and I both traveled long, sometimes hard roads to get there. It was a sacred moment.

The day before, we participated in a Cosmic Mass facilitated by Matthew Fox. It was a divine liturgy that brought us closer to the earth and drew from elements from many religious traditions as well. In a mystical way, we truly felt that our wedding was like another installment in this grand cosmic mass—this eternal liturgy that just keeps unfolding and unfolding through all time and space with many more installments along the way. Some might say our wedding was a rebellious break from religious tradition, but by following our hearts and being true to ourselves, I have never felt more sure of sacramental presence and more sure that we were connected to the deepest, most eternal traditions. I never felt more connected. Maybe you have to break away to realize that deeper connection, as Jesus himself did. Jesus himself shows us how grace is often found most often in the margins, among the castaways and in the out-of-the-way places. And we found it in our wedding. So while some would call what we did a break from tradition, you could also say it was a deeper embrace of tradition than ever.


Click to watch the Video of the Wedding!
NOTE: Video stabilizes after the first few minutes!

Monday, October 29, 2018

So I was arguing on the internets today...

So I was arguing on the internets today... Some guy shared some internet meme, I presented an article that directly provided evidence against it. He responded with:
 
"if I had time to look I could probably find something to refute that."
 
I just about lost it. Hilarious. Isn't that the internet in a nutshell? Or rather, our society in general? The sad part is he probably COULD find something for or against any point out there. It's the era of post-truth. You get to choose-your-own-reality. Pick whichever fantasy you want and then believe it and by that simple decision it will be true. Red pill or blue pill, you get to pick.
 
It's not just a poetic allusion, anymore. In the past, if you said you were "creating your own reality," it might mean you were choosing to be an optimist instead of a pessimist or choosing to see the good in people instead of bad or something like that. That's not what I mean here. By "reality" I mean the nuts & bolts of facts and verifiable data. That's the kind of reality which is a matter of personal choice these days. And your opinion is equal to my informed facts. It says so right there in the Constitution. Even if... well, it doesn't actually say that in Constitution, you know, with like, words. Doesn't matter, I believe it to be there. It's got to be there somewhere. Or at least, in the intentions of the writers of the Constitution, you see. And I know this because, well, it's the reality I want to believe in.
 
Perhaps it started with modernism, as fundamentalists intuitively feared. Or post-modernism. Or post-post-modernism. Or maybe it started with Bill Clinton saying, "It depends on what your definition of 'is' is..." But I don't think there's any question that the true masters of this craft are the Republicans of the past 40 years, in particular the current manifestation of Trump and his minions Yes, there is fake news on "both sides" but that doesn't mean that both sides are equal. It's been going since Rush Limbaugh started spouting his diatribe and far too many people couldn't tell the difference between his lies and reality. After all, he preached a version of reality they WANTED to believe, so... they did.. Then with the rise of FOX News we have a 24/7 propaganda machine that doesn't even hide that fact, all the while calling everyone else "fake news" or the "liberal media" or other smokescreens to hide what they are them doing. It doesn't need to hide the fact that it is basically a propaganda machine with little true journalistic credibility because people don't want to believe that, so they... don't believe it. Even though people have told them.
 
So perhaps the anti-modernists were right a couple centuries ago when they predicted this mess. Their best response, however, was just to keep their heads lodged firmly in the proverbial sand and try to delay the inevitable, and that just wasn't plausible (religious fundamentalism being one primary manifestation of this approach). But then again, a population being easily manipulated by their fears by a 2-bit dictator and worked into a mob-like frenzy is not exactly new. It's not like we can solely blame post-modernism for that phenomenon, as human beings have been falling for that for as long as we have records of human conduct.
 
So what does all this mean? I have no idea. I guess it means... whatever you want it to mean.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Thanksgiving Muffins

Thanksgiving Muffins have cross-species appeal!

This is one our favorite meals!

It all started when we threw some leftovers together in a pan with some butter and broth. We liked it so much that we now cook it intentionally from scratch.

Ingredients:
  • Mashed potatoes (made with butter, salt and milk)
  • Mashed butternut squash (mixed in with the potatoes)
  • Baked chicken (we prefer thighs (cooked with skin and bones). We bake them until the meat falls off the bone and is swimming in juices).
  • Sweet corn
  • Quinoa
  • Boxed stuffing (we prepare it in butter per the directions but use bone broth instead of water).
The only seasoning we add is Himalayan pink salt in addition to the seasonings that come with the stuffing and broth.

Pre-cook everything separately then assemble: Mash up the potatoes and squash first. Then add the quinoa. After that, it all goes in: chicken, corn and stuffing. Drizzle in some juices from the chicken pan. That's pretty much it!

For a crispy texture, fry it in a pan with some butter or bake it in buttered muffin tins.

Serve with a dollop of cranberry jelly!

Yum!

Why make muffins?

You might ask why we would take the extra step to mix all these ingredients together instead of just enjoying them separately like a regular Thanksgiving-style meal.  Here's why:

1. It's great toddler food!  Our 18-month old can grab little chunks of muffin mush and handle them very well. She would not have quite the same luck with, say, a serving of cooked quinoa by itself or mashed potatoes. Also, she probably wouldn't eat some of these ingredients unless they were disguised:  For example, she generally refuses most meats but will eat them in this way.

2. It's portable. My wife gets looks of envy from her colleagues when she brings a couple of these muffins to work for lunch. Once they are made, they're easy grab-n-go food.

Variations

We have incorporated sweet potatoes and baked beans at various times and still loved it. You can pretty much experiment with whatever is in the fridge.

It's so tasty! Yes, it's a carb-heavy meal, but the stuffing adds some necessary texture so that it can be toddler finger food. It's an otherwise perfectly balanced meal with meat, veggies and starches. The boxed stuffing is the only thing with any processed ingredients, but everything else is just simple whole foods. We might look for less-processed options in the future for the stuffing portion.

The consistency is mushier than a typical muffin but firmer than a glob of mashed potatoes.

Bon App├ętit!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Of Walls, Iron Curtains and Other Lessons from the Cold War

The Cold War was still going strong when I was growing up. The nightly news would regularly feature stories about the Berlin Wall and the infamous "Iron Curtain" that tightly hid the USSR and its satellites from the western world.

My dad would always shake his head and say, "They don't realize that the reason America is great is because we don't have to do that." Instead of forcefully trying to control all of its citizens like the USSR, the USA found that it was much more stable and powerful by granting freedoms.

The USSR tightly controlled and monitored its citizens. It severely limited travel and only allowed it by permission of the state. By contrast, the citizens of the USA never needed to be kept in. The fact that we were free to go meant that we always wanted to come back. It's a paradox. Or just common sense.

Free speech. Free movement. Freedom to even protest. It all made us stronger, not weaker. That was the promise of America. We didn't have to deplete ourselves trying to control everybody. The USSR eventually imploded partly because this effort drained it of resources that could have been used elsewhere. In addition, this effort severely stunted growth of its industries, its experiences and its reach. So not only did it deplete resources to do this but it prevented the growth of new resources. Double whammy.

We were better than this. There is little strength when you are curled up in a fetal position with a clenched fist and your whole body continually tight. A perfect example: Experts tell us that you are more likely to be injured in a car accident if you tighten up your body during impact.

Real strength is relaxation and being loose. Real control only comes with letting go. This is the spiritual lesson. I thought we knew this in the USA. This was one of the most glaring faults of the Soviet experiment.

This analysis is steeped in American mythology, as we were never quite as benevolent as this makes us seem. Nevertheless, there is plenty of truth here.

Now, we are in a period where many Americans are justifying building our own versions of Iron Curtains and Berlin walls: Trump's wall with Mexico. The so-called Muslim travel ban. These are nothing but replications of history's failed experiments.

I'm just so shocked because I thought we already knew this.

Further, I believe the risk these populations bring (Muslim ban, Latin American immigrants) has been overstated if not completely fabricated. I think what may be happening is two things: First, Trump is currently working to bomb and starve places like Yemen into oblivion and doesn't want refugees appearing on our shores. Second, Trump's base is motivated with stage 1 spiritual thinking, which means they love black-and-white thinking and they need an enemy to rally against. Appeals to authoritarianism make them feel reassured at some instinctive, reptilian level where logic cannot reach.

Why the current obsession with "citizenship"?

It's time to celebrate non-citizens, who are part of (and have always been a part of) our society.


The Supreme Court decision to uphold Trump's travel ban was made yesterday. Critics say it resembles too much the infamous Korematsu Supreme Court decision in 1944 to allow internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. They say both decisions allow a wholescale discrimination of people based on ethnicity or religion with trumped up (pun intended) irrational fears for national security. In other words, both a racism and a denial of human rights in disguise. Supporters of the ban say that it is very different because this ban does not target citizens.

So I'm left to ask: Why is citizenship such a big deal here? I don't understand the current obsession by some on the right with "citizenship." Non-citizens make up a significant portion of our society--and always have. The political right has been making this issue of citizenship into a golden calf. Just like in Ancient Rome, there were many people who made up Roman society besides "citizens." A lot of people contribute and have rights besides citizens. They are not the only people who matter. Citizens are not the only ones who have rights.

Who makes this country what it is? I know many people who live here who are citizens. Some are permanent residents (i.e. green card holders). Some are immigrants in various stages of immigration. Some are temporary workers. Some are here on student visa. Some are undocumented. Some are travelers, wanderers, hobos and homeless.

ALL of them enrich and enliven our society.

For example: Every single university in this country is substantially and significantly improved and enriched by international students. American education would not be the same without them. American culture would not be the same without them. Certainly our academic and technological achievements would be far diminished without them. Yet, they are not citizens. Many only stay a few semesters and some a few years. Still, they have a significant impact on our society, and we should respect them and their role in our culture for it. They should be treated as honored guests. The same holds for the other groups mentioned above. They all make us who we are.

Citizenship matters, but I'm very wary of attempts to make the dividing line between citizens and non-citizens too deep especially as we enter this scary phase in history where Trump has tweeted that non-citizens should not have the right to due process (i.e. human rights). The Supreme Court ruling yesterday is basically arguing along similar lines: It diminishes the rights of non-citizens. That's what it's really about. It dovetails into a larger cultural movement going on now to dehumanize and denigrate non-citizens and immigrants. It is widening the gap between citizens and non-citizens and in my opinion no good can come of this.

Citizens and non-citizens are going to have different rights to some degree and certainly different responsibilities as a matter of definition. But we must be very wary about making sure that whatever non-citizens lack in rights they make up for in a gracious welcome and hospitality by the rest of us to make sure no human rights violations occur. We should honor the place of non-citizens in our society and recognize the significant role they play in making us who we are. This is not happening right now with Trump's tweet mentioned above about denying due process to undocumented immigrants and in this recent Supreme Court ruling.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

White Americans and Meanness



Census charts show us that it won't be long until non-white people are the majority of the U.S. population. Personally, I can't wait. I just hope that when it happens the non-white populations do not take on the characteristics of white folks.

I've been all around the world and know people from all races and walks of life, and there is a meanness among American white folks that you just don't find anywhere else. I've never seen a group of people who had so much power and privilege and were just so cold, hard-hearted and nasty for no reason. Even when they are nice, there is a coldness that you just don't find anywhere else.

I know I'm considered white and most of the people I know are white and there are some fantastic, great people among us. But as a whole, we are a pretty miserable bunch of people, always walking around like someone ate our cheerios. Especially white men. My gosh! Mean-spirited, insecure, walking around with a constant chip on their shoulder... they don't even feel whole unless they are packing a firearm. What a way to live! I'm not blaming them as individuals, just saying the mix of culture and history has not produced a very good result.

A perfect example is all the Nazis trying to take over our country right now. What an unbelievably miserable bunch of people! I can't for the life of me see what is attractive about it, other than maybe "misery loves company"? Have you tried the smile test? You can't support most of Trump's policies with a smile on your face. if you can't, that says something, doncha think?

The ironic thing is that so many white folks (especially men) think that it's all the other races, ethnicities and genders who are "always complaining" but they can't see the obvious truth about themselves.

So for all the people out there who want to share in our power and privilege... are you sure? Maybe it's a privileged thing to even ask that question, but let me tell you it may not be as green on this side of the fence as it seems.

***

NOTE:  I originally ended this post with the line that went something like: "White Americans suck." It's not normally my style to think or write this way, but this post was written quickly and I decided to leave it in just to keep the original freshness of the piece. Besides, as a white American male, I feel a certain license to speak freely about my own group in a way that might be less welcome if I were to direct that kind language to a group that I was not a member of. Let's face it, our track record is pretty bad:  Colonization, ethnic cleaning of native people, slavery, continual beat down of immigrants and non-white racdes, rampant domestic terrorism of all types, and just a general chip on our shoulder which makes little sense in light of the well-documented privileges we have.  It's not far off to say, "look guys, looking at our history overall, as a collective group, we basically suck." It's a reality check that we need.

However, I read some feminist pieces that contain lines like "men suck" and I rarely find that helpful. There is real pain behind those words but my assessment is that it is not being directed in the most helpful or accurate way. The pain has become generalized to be directed to the whole population. Some get defensive, others can 't believe how anyone could be defensive in light of the real issues they want to address, and the conversation becomes all about the line "men suck" and the predictable responses. It might be more accurate to direct attention to male privilege, for example, and the fact that this privilege can manifest in all sorts of ways (in men and women), in ways that we know and in other ways that we don't know. 

Case in point: I discovered that the line "white Americans suck" became controversial with some folks. It was the defining line. Someone was trying to explain to me, and they said, "you know, the blog post that says 'white Americans suck.'" Instead of looking at the overall message of this piece that as a whole, our white American culture can stand to do some serious self-analysis to find out what is up our collective butts, people instead point to this line to distract from the real discussion that needs to happen. The message is hard to hear, so they want to control it somehow--get the author to stop, reign in the language and find some way to avoid the real topic. By using that kind of language, I play into their hands. So whether the line is meaningful or justified, the point is that it is rarely helpful.  Case in point:  I'm writing far more about the lie "white Americans suck" (which no longer even appears in the piece above) than the actually piece above.

But is there something about white American culture that we can say? Of course. If we couldn't define characteristics of a group of people, then the entire discipline of sociology would be defunct. We can and we have to talk about how we function as a group and overall features of how we function.

That being said, I'm often skeptical how much we can do to encourage people to talk about something that they simply don't want to talk about. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink, as the saying goes. some want to believe in the shadows on the wall and won't submit to a simple head turn to get another perspective. Plato's frustration over this can still be felt 2,400 years later, so it's not exactly a new problem in the human condition.  Still, I tend to believe that are better ways to bridge those divides than others, or else I wouldn't be doing the work I'm doing. 

We need to look no farther than Donald Trump to see the problems that occur when we break down our collective commitment to civility in discourse--and then call anyone a "snowflake" who dislikes it. In my own Lake County in Ohio, one of the County Commissioners--a devout Trump supporter, I believe--was complaining because he was called names at a public meeting and that his fellow Commissioners did not step up to defend him and throw out the offending party. The cognitive dissonance is astounding here, given the unbelievable, almost daily, profoundly juvenile insults coming with the Office of the President--but maybe Trump supporters need to play this out to see why it is a problem. Maybe it seems okay to sit among friends and complain about this group or that group (we all do that to some degree), but when this goes from private conversations to public, and when it is directed back at you, and when public discourse goes down the proverbial toilet, and when civility in the face of differences of opinions is gone, then we have a breakdown in how our society functions in a way that few people really want. But sometimes you have to play that out to remind ourselves why civility is important.

Monday, May 28, 2018

How To Memorialize (and De-Mythologize) Memorial Day

 
When people join the military, they promise to follow obediently the chain of command. We know this. What we rarely talk about is that there is an equal responsibility on the other side. We as a society enter into a social contract with soldiers and promise to make sure that we only ask them to do things that are good, noble and decent. They trust us with their very lives, after all.

There is a lot of talk about how our soldiers have supposedly earned our freedoms in this country through their blood. It is quoted so often it is basically assumed to be true. Yet, I don't think there is much evidence at all for this claim.

And what exactly are these "freedoms" we like to talk about? Few people can actually articulate what that even means. I see Native Americans trapped on reservations. I see African Americans harassed through mass incarceration and police brutality and lack of opportunities in employment, housing, you name it. I see forced patriotism as evidenced by the NFL banning protest. Many Americans would be afraid to say what I'm saying here out of fear of backlash for questioning the national mythology--what kind of freedom is that? I see millions of Americans in virtual third world status crippled with poverty, bankruptcies, student loans and lack of access to medical care, despite being the "richest nation on earth."

In light of all that, we have soldiers in the Middle East (and just about everywhere else)... doing what, exactly? Millions dead, disabled and in disarray in the aftermath of our various military campaigns. Just to give one example out of many: Over a million dead in Iraq with the once proud country in shambles... do you actually think we did that to free the people from the tyranny of Saddam? More of them were alive and happy when he was around, so if Saddam was bad for Iraq, then the USA is many times worse. Anyone with even the smallest hint of common sense can tell you that our military is only likely to create more anger, terrorism and fighting due to our actions--so we obviously do this by design. We do it intentionally so we can have perpetual war. That's not for our "freedoms." It's for money and power and most of us don't get to see any of that money and power.

Do you really think people in other places around the world have less freedom to move about and speak their mind than we do here in the USA? In some places, that is true, but not in many others. When it comes to freedom for its citizens, I'd say the USA is... about average. Some places are better, some places are worse. We're basically mediocre. So in light of that, tell me why we need a military is at least as large as the next 13 largest militaries combined? The math doesn't add up. If that is true, it is a terrible return on our investment compared to what other places around the world achieve for far less.

The USA does enjoy a position of unparalleled power and prominence in the world. Did we get that way because our soldiers fought off bad guys who want to take that from us? Hardly. There have only been a few military campaigns in our history that can actually justify that claim.

We are rich and powerful because:

1. European settlers strategically and systematically encroached upon native American lands and basically wiped out whole populations of people (some of the accidentally through disease but much of it intentionally). Our military did much of that.

2. European descended settled brought in African slaves to build a disproportionate amount of wealth for themselves. They have since maintained that wealth through deeply embedded systems of privilege. African Americans are still kept in a vulnerable, second-class status through various systems of discrimination, as well. Our military, police and militias have all had a hand in keeping African people enslaved and harassed.

3. The USA rose to power largely because the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans make it hard for anyone else to come here. Through the Monroe Doctrine, we have kept other nations in our hemisphere poor and fumbling by systematically oppressing them and installing puppet governments. We continue to do this today. The rest of the world knows it, but most Americans are kept oblivious. Our military does that.

4. The US military has bases in over 150 countries around the world. Are they "protecting our freedoms"? I fail to see how. No, they are defining the boundaries of the US empire, making the world "safe" for multi-national corporations to rob the world blind, scorch the environment with impunity and put down any democratic, grassroots resistance. Any country that doesn't immediately play along and bow down to US interests is labeled a "rouge nation" and ostracized and stricken with embargoes. When that fails, we went in the military and ultimately attack and destroy those places. There is little evidence that the US actually tries to encourage or establish democracy elsewhere in the world. That's simply the narrative we are fed and sadly most Americans gobble it up without question. I'm not sure why that is--maybe we like to believe the lies rather than face the truth or maybe that's simply the result of very effective propaganda. It's amazing how we believe this absolute fantasy about ourselves yet we can see it so clearly when other nations delude themselves. It's what Americans like to believe. But what if the truth is not what you have been led to believe all your lives? Can you handle it? Can you look at it square in the eye?

What I'm describing here is basically an empire. We don't like to use that word because of all the negative connotations, so pundits and journalists have created the term "superpower" to hide the truth of the situation. Most Americans have bought it unquestioningly.

Here's reality:

The USA was created through a brutal system of ETHNIC CLEANSING of Native Americans. Then we established an APARTHEID STATE through slavery and Jim Crow laws. We SUPPRESS freedoms elsewhere in the world through imperial power to keep our foot on just about everybody else, despite the widespread suffering and death that entails. This is all well documented. [Do you really think much of the third world is desperately poor just because they can't get their act together? Or do you think there are outside forces keeping them this way?] And then the sickest part is that we have created endless narratives telling ourselves that we are the "good guys" bringing freedoms and flowers to a world hungry for whatever breadcrumbs we throw to them. Let the scales fall from your eyes. The USA is not a great place unless you're rich and white and never has been. And we are shitty neighbors to the rest of the world. Whatever standard of living we do have comes at a very brutal price elsewhere.

Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, it doesn't matter. Successive administrations of both parties keep this national agenda moving along with little interruption. Obama was drone bombing at least seven nations--the same kinds of things liberals would be enraged about when Trump does it. Hillary Clinton spearheaded the destruction of Libya as Secretary of State. Most liberals can't hear this. Each administration has its own wars and campaigns.

The first step in recovery is simply being honest about who we are and what we are about. Let's give up the lies and the fantasies. Perhaps then and only then would we actually honor the people who have died for this cause. The mythology about America is everywhere, it's virtually unquestioned and many people are afraid of saying otherwise. On this Memorial Day, I grieve for all those who have suffered and died in pursuit of a very evil agenda and who have died for a lie.