Jim Loomis

Experiences, Observations, Opinions

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Charlottesville: What comes next?

First, let me state clearly that I do not share the views of the alt-right, nor do I subscribe to their actions. Nevertheless, what I am about to say might sound like I am an apologist for them.

Although the Governor of Virginia stated that the protest in Charlottesville was completely non-violent until counter-protesters arrived, the events of last weekend confirm the deep divide in our society, in all of us really — the divide between Caucasians and people of color, rich and poor, liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats — the list goes on. This division seems to be built into our DNA, and pre-dates the Revolutionary War.

The current issue of removing Confederate statues is just one more symptom of this. Having lived in both Georgia and Virginia, I believe that the history of the Confederacy is inbred into many Southerners – not so much the issues that led to the Civil War, but rather a need to preserve their heritage, the fact that the North destroyed their homes, their way of life, and their economy. Those of us in the North share a similar fundamental inbreeding — a belief in an indivisible, strong Federal government (a government which in fact is not as unified and strong and dominant as we would like to think), and a lack of understanding of why Confederate symbols are so important to many in the South still today. Removing Confederate flags and taking down statues of prominent Confederate soldiers will not solve our differences, but only exacerbate them. It takes a strong Southern leader, like the Mayor of New Orleans, to do so.

Perhaps Mr. Trump had it right when he initially condemned “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. We are all Americans first,” he said, “and must love each other and cherish our history.” Instead, he buckled under the pressure from all of us and from politicians of each party to clearly name the alt-right groups that we wanted him to “call out.” This may be necessary in order to move forward, but it pits one group of us against another, and simply perpetuates our centuries old divide. That is, unless we follow up with a way to reconcile our differences. The President might have seized the opportunity to nudge us toward a greater understanding and acceptance of each other and our shared heritage. A President with strong moral values, a clear sense of his own personal beliefs, and a positive popularity rating might have been able to do this. Alas, we do not have such a person in the White House.

Perhaps we need our own “Truth and Reconciliation Commission.” If prominent religious leaders and political figures like Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell, Dianne Feinstein, and Jerry Brown all came together to jointly call upon our clergy and our elected officials to form such a commission, we might be able to move forward in mitigating, if not resolving, our historical differences.

However, we do not have our own Desmond Tutu to lead such a commission. And I’m not sure that we have any one person who enjoys the admiration and esteem of enough of us to be able to do so. I wonder if a co-chair approach might work, with two people leading such a commission, each working closely in unity with the other — let’s say Barak Obama and Jerry Falwell, Jr.

What do you think?

LETTER TO SEN. MITCH McCONNELL

Dear Sen. McConnell,

I have some ideas for getting us out of our health care quagmire.

PREMISES

  • The debate and attempt to change the ACA is leading nowhere. Emotions are running too high and political positions are too entrenched for a successful resolution in the next week or two. However, time is rapidly running out. Unless this is resolved quickly, it needs to be put on hold so that more pressing issues like the budget and the debt ceiling can be dealt with.
  • You cannot repeal the ACA without help from the Democrats; you have already said as much.
  • You will not get enough votes for any “replacement” plan given the projections that the CBO puts forth.
  • President Trump has no health care policy in mind, except a generic “repeal and replace.” All that he wants is a “bill that I can sign,” and then he will be able to proclaim victory. You cannot count on him for any meaningful assistance. You must find a way to keep him from commenting on the negotiations. But you can play to his need to be able to say that he “made a good deal.”
  • A law to “repeal in two years,” giving time to craft a “replacement” in the interim, is doomed to failure. It will just “kick the can down the road.” Congress can’t meet any deadlines now, even those set by law, such as approving a budget. In two years the situation will be unchanged, except that the ACA will be a more significant part of America’s DNA, and will be even harder to replace. In the meantime, the health care market will continue to respond negatively to the uncertainty about payment, resulting in even more Americans left without health insurance and health care.
  • Despite the President’s comments to the contrary, the Republicans now “own Obamacare.” The ball is in your court.
  • We are using the wrong paradigm and words to frame the health care debate. We see it as a bilateral contest. The paradigm needs to abandon the “us vs. them” model, and shift to a model that ONLY addresses what is best for the American people. Therefor, the way we talk about this issue also needs to change.

PROPOSAL

  • First, meet one-on-one with Speaker Ryan to tell him what your plan is. You will need his full support to reconcile the House and Senate bills.
  • Do not hold a vote to “repeal in two years,” unless you need that to clearly demonstrate that nothing can be done without help from the Democrats.
  • Then ask Sen. Schumer to appoint a few Democratic Senators to work with your Republican task force to craft a health care bill.
  • Ask Mr. Trump to stop making public comments about this debate. This means NO tweets, NO criticism of any member of Congress, and NO press conferences whatsoever until the bill is ready for approval. However, he MUST provide “political cover” for you when you negotiate with Democrats. This should be the ONLY time he publicly comments on health care legislation. It may be most effective to have Secretary Price and/or Mr. Kuschner deliver this message to him.
  • Ask the President to call those Democrats who will work on the task force to encourage their efforts. This will allow him to later tout his ability to “make a deal,” as he can then claim that he was the one who caused some Democrats to “cross over” to approve the new legislation.
  • Change the language that is used. This will require an experienced politician like yourself. Stop talking about “repeal” or “repeal and replace” as the only options. Lead your colleagues to accept the fact that the only politically viable possibility is to amend the ACA.
  • Lead members of Congress to say things like, “replace the flawed funding mechanism,” and “reinstitute the beneficial programs that Americans have come to rely on,” such as portability, coverage of previous medical conditions, and care for those unable to obtain health care coverage (obviously this is a euphemism for Medicaid). This new paradigm and new language may satisfy those fixated on “repeal and replace,” as it essentially says what they want to hear, but actually means that you will amend the ACA to keep the good and repair the bad. It may have broader appeal to those of all political persuasions and entrenched positions.
  • When you have a bill that will garner enough bi-partisan support for passage, then ask the President to publicly praise the Republicans and Democrats who have made this happen and to give his full support for the bill.
  • Then hold the vote.

Given your extensive experience and reputation for pulling together legislators with diverse viewpoints, I am sure that you can improve upon this suggested course of action. I hope that these ideas are useful in moving the country forward to resolve this very heated and controversial issue.

Thank you,
James F. Loomis, MPA

 

Letter to Rep. Upton, and the President’s punching bag

I had not intended to post another blog article so soon. But the President’s video tweet on Sunday has compelled me to do so. Please note that he posted this tweet on the eve of the G-20 summit this week which focuses on international cooperation, international trade, and climate change, issues that are central to Mr. Trump’s agenda and standing with other world leaders. I thought that he would have been studying briefing material and preparing for this important summit rather than tweeting an out-dated video of himself in a wrestling match.

The First Amendment of the US Constitution states in part, “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” Congress has not passed such a law, but the President’s video suggests that abridging or curtailing freedom of speech is an acceptable behavior. In my opinion, the video that he posted violates the oath of office that he took to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Following this introduction you will find the text of a letter that I am mailing tomorrow to my long-term Congressman, Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI). Yesterday I left a nearly identical message on his personal voice-mail in his Kalamazoo office.

In my November 18 letter to the President-elect, I pledged to do what I can to make his presidency successful. I am seriously reconsidering that pledge. Unless there is a marked change in Mr. Trump’s behavior in the near future, my goal will be to hasten his legal removal from office, by lobbying those in positions of authority, participating in protest marches, joining with other legitimate groups calling for him to step down, and/or encouraging my friends and readers to take similar action.

Some will think that I am an alarmist in my view of this situation. However, if you read through my blog posts dating back to the Presidential campaign, you will find that my observations and predictions have been fairly accurate. I sincerely hope that I am wrong this time. Meanwhile, I urge you to consider taking similar action.     Jim

July 3, 2017

Rep. Fred Upton
350 E. Michigan Ave.
Suite 130
Kalamazoo, MI 49007

Dear Fred,

I am writing about the President’s video tweet yesterday of him physically assaulting a person meant to represent CNN, or the “Fake News Network,” now the “Fraud News Network,” as he calls it.

Despite the efforts of his staff to explain this latest bizarre behavior, it shows the President inciting violence against those who disagree with him, in this case the press, or at the very least, condoning such violence. I am sure that the action that he displayed in this video does not rise to the level of a crime. However, I am also sure that if I posted a video of me beating my fists against the White House door, I would be immediately arrested and charged with the Federal crime of threatening harm to the President.

This latest tweet greatly increases my level of concern about Mr. Trump’s fitness to serve as President. Thus far, his tweets have been mostly sad in their content and context, sometimes amusing, and nearly always indicative of his extreme need for acclaim. This latest tweet is different. I am now scared. His vitriol seems to increase each week. Next time I fully expect him to tweet or say that some reporter should be “silenced,” or “removed,” or words to that effect. Such words can easily be misinterpreted by those prone to solving grievances with violence.

The leadership in Congress MUST reign the President in, especially those of you in the Republican Party. Given your length of service in Congress, I consider you to be one of those leaders. I urge you to confront the President regarding his behavior and to carefully consider his future behavior to determine if any of if constitutes “high crimes or misdemeanors.” I urge you and the members of the House of Representatives to be prepared to impeach the President if it does.

This man is no longer just an incompetent President requiring a long “learning curve” due to his novice status and lack of political experience. He is a danger to our country and our citizens!

Thank you for taking the time to listen to my concerns.

 

 

PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN ???

Earlier this month I attended a country music review in Osage Beach, Missouri. As is common lately at the end of such shows, tribute was paid to military veterans. The performers sang parts of The Marines’ Hymn, The Army Goes Rolling Along,  The US Air Force song, and Anchors Away.  As usual, the fifth branch of our military, the US Coast Guard, got left out (Semper Paratus – United States Coast Guard Marching Song).

And of course the show ended with a rousing performance of Lee Greenwood’s song, GOD BLESS THE USA.

We were asked to stand to be recognized when the song of our branch of service was sung. Most of those who stood were men my age or older. A proud gentleman behind me stood at attention, ram-rod straight, when The US Air Force song was performed. I served in the Army during the Viet Nam War, and although I have somewhat reluctantly stood in the past, I did not stand this time. There are three reasons why.

  • In part, this ritual seems to be obligatory and has become rather meaningless to me.
  • I was not proud to be an American during Viet Nam. Yes, it feels good to be recognized decades later for the sacrifice that my family and I made at that time. But, like many others, I opposed the Viet Nam War. I would have avoided serving if there had been any way to do so, short of fleeing to Canada as many did. It seems inappropriate to mix the “thanks” that I am receiving with something that I did only because I had no choice. Such “thanks” is strangely mixed with the glorification of war. The “thanks” presumes that my contemporaries and I fought for some noble cause, or to keep America “free,” which was not the case.
  • I also feel uncomfortable because I was able (quite legally) to receive a commission as a Social Work Officer in the Medical Service Corps while many of my contemporaries where drafted into the service to become infantrymen fighting in Viet Nam. I never went to Nam. I did serve in South Korea in the Second Infantry Division that guarded the Demilitarized Zone, and I was in Panmunjom, the heavily guarded, now deserted, truce village on the border between North and South Korea. But I was providing substance abuse and mental health counseling to soldiers, and the risk of losing my life was fairly minimal. I was not shooting at anyone, and no one was shooting at me. I am proud of the work that I did in the Army, but now, years later, I feel that somehow I cheated the system, that I was privileged by my education and career choice, when others were not. It’s hard to simultaneously hold these conflicting emotions.

Since the inauguration of President Trump, as it was for me during the Viet Nam War and the ill-advised invasion of Iraq, I am not proud to be a citizen of the USA, which is rapidly becoming the laughing stock of the world. Please don’t misunderstand; I am grateful that I am free to write this without fear of being arrested. But the President’s values and the domestic and international policies that he is pursing are diametrically opposed to what I believe to be the nobler ideals of America. I’m sorry, Mr. Greenwood, and those of you who find this offensive, but I will not “stand up” for repression, repeal of health care benefits, a larger military with reduced funding for diplomacy, xenophobia, and immigration policies that separate American born children from their parents. These policies do not square with the lyrics of God Bless the USA,” Where “I am free,” all people should be free. “I love this land,” but so do many others who would also like to call America home. Yes, I will “stand up to defend this land” by striving to make America more just, more compassionate, and more welcoming to others. Formulating and defending American values begins and ends at home. We ourselves pose a greater threat to our freedom than do outsiders.

Independence Day represents an idea yet to be fully realized, not simply a celebration of something that happened 241 years ago. I hope that in the coming years that idea will come closer to fruition, and that I can again more honestly say that, “I am proud to be an American.”

In the meantime, I have chosen to no longer stand for these military tributes honoring my time of service in the Army.

 

Physics and Politics

I don’t understand physics. Sure, I get the basics of how a series of pulleys reduces the energy needed to move heavy objects, and how teeter-totters work. But if you ask me to explain why energy equals mc2, you will get a blank stare in return. I also don’t understand the complex relationships between electro-magnetism, gravity, quarks, hadrons, black holes, the Higgs Boson, the bending of space and time, how the Big Bang nucleosynthesis is related to cosmic microwaves, and a whole host of other physics-type things.

Most of the time I think in a linear, cause and effect fashion that makes logical sense to me. It is easier for me to see how one thing is related to another, or not, than it is to try to conceptualize how multiple things simultaneously all relate to one another and exert influence upon one another.

Here’s where politics comes into play.  (If you understand this better than I do, please write a comment and pass this post on to others.)

During his trip to the Middle East last month, President Donald Trump reportedly praised the country of Qatar, “Qatar is really an important partner and actually combating terrorism and money laundering and the war.” *

Then on June 5, four Arab nations (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain) broke diplomatic ties and shut down air and sea links with Qatar, citing Qatar’s support of terrorism. President Trump took credit for this, tweeting on June 6, “During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar — look!”  and  “So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”

I think that I understand this apparent contradiction. It’s the teeter-totter principle at work.

Then this week Mr. Trump approved the sale of $12 billion worth of F-15 fighter jets to Qatar.  Qatar?  The state sponsor of terrorism? The nation that he took credit for isolating? I’m sorry, but now my simple, linear brain is just not working. I’ve lost his line of reasoning.

Although, I suppose that we most not forget that Qatar is an important ally of the United States. Their Al Udeid Air Base hosts the largest US military presence in the Middle East and is the home of our Central Command, which is responsible for US operations from Egypt to Pakistan and north through Afghanistan. Nor should we forget that Qatar’s state-owned airline, Qatar Airways, occupies leased office space in Manhattan’s Trump Tower.

Hmm…things are beginning to get a little complicated. Lack of a clear foreign policy? A lack of understanding that the world doesn’t work like my linear brain? Competing national and personal interests? Who gets what from whom? For sure, one big winner is Boeing, the company that builds the F-15. Their stock hit a record high after the announcement of this deal. They will hire hundreds of new employees. “JOBS, JOBS, JOBS.” I’d be willing to bet that the person who takes credit for that will be the same person who took credit for isolating Qatar.

Well, I get lost trying to understand all of this. The logic of the events of the past month regarding terrorism, Qatar, and the selling of fighter jets to Qatar escapes me. But then, perhaps President Trump understands the complex nature of physics and its application to foreign policy better than I do.

  • Tom DiChristopher and Hadley Gamble, Sunday, June 11, 2017, CNBC.com. (Bear in mind that this report is based on statements made by Qatari Finance Minister Ali Shareef al Emadi).
http://www.cnbc.com/2017/06/11/trump-praised-qatar-for-combating-terrorism-qatari-fin-min-says.html

MEMORIAL DAY – 2017

A time of family fun, cookouts, parades featuring the local Boy Scout troop, the high school marching band, and a few scruffy Viet Nam veterans with gray pony tails, the playing of Taps at the local cemetery, a 3-day holiday weekend heralding the beginning of summer, and VFW members hawking red poppies in the middle of street corner intersections. (What’s the deal with the poppies?)

We celebrate the holiday, to be sure. But where did Memorial Day come from, also known as Remembrance Day in Great Britain?

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World War I: 10 million military troops died, 7 million civilians died, 350,300 US soldiers died. My wife’s grandfather convalesced in a sanitarium after the war fullsizeoutput_41dedue to lung problems caused by being gassed in the trenches of France. Of the approximately 200 soldiers in his unit that went overseas, only 28 returned alive! Had he not returned, my father-in-law, my wife, my sons, and my grandchildren would not be here today.

The company at Camp Custer, Michigan prior to going overseas (at top).        Those who returned (above). 

World War II (barely 25 years later): Our fathers’ war, both drafted into the Army. Total dead: 16 million military troops and 45 million civilians, including 407,000 US military personnel and 12,000 US civilians.

Followed immediately by the Korean War.

Then the Viet Nam War: The war of my generation. My brother-in-law loaded bombs onto US war planes in Viet Nam. I served in the Army in the Asian theater during the war. 58,300 US military men and women died. My high school classmate died in the early years of the war. My wife’s classmate became an alcoholic as an aftermath of the war and was killed in a shoot-out with police a few years later. In total, an estimated 450,000 to 1,170,000 died.

And since then, innumerable “minor” military actions, and now the War on Terror, lasting over ten years (longer than both World Wars combined), now morphing into a war to “wipe out militant Islamic terrorists.” I wonder if war in the Middle East will ever end. If we fail to heed what history teaches us, I fear not.

Lest we forget why we celebrate Memorial Day, I invite you to take a few minutes to watch and listen to these videos – click on the titles of the songs.

(You will also find out what the red poppies are about.)

WILLIE McBRIDE

also known as “No Man’s Land” and “The Green Fields of France”

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 (written by Eric Bogle following his 1976 visit to military cemeteries in Flanders and Northern France)
The song references two other melodies, the Last Post and Chorus and the Flowers Of The Forest.

THE LAST POST

During the 19th century, the “Last Post” was carried to the countries of the British Empire where it has been incorporated into military funerals and played as a final farewell, symbolizing the fact that the duty of the dead soldier is over, and that they can rest in peace.

“They shall not grow old, as we who are left grow old.  Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.  At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”

THE FLOWERS OF THE FORESTfullsizeoutput_41dc

A lament written for the army of King James IV (“the flower of Scottish manhood”), the army that was slain with their king on the Field of Flodden, September 1513.

You may remember the iconic protest song of my day, written by Pete Seeger, and made famous by the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul, and Mary.

WHERE HAVE ALL THE FLOWERS GONE?

“Where have all the flowers gone, lone time passing…gone to young girls everyone…where have all the young girls gone, long time ago…gone to young men everyone…gone for soldiers everyone…where have all the soldiers gone…gone to graveyards everyone…gone to flowers everyone.”

– And the cycle repeats –

“When will they ever learn…Oh, when will we ever learn?”

fullsizeoutput_41eeFor our Willie McBrides      a century later

it still happens again, and again, and again, and again!

Have a great holiday weekend, but

FIRST…REMEMBER! 

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An open letter to the President

On Monday I am mailing the following letter to the White House. I wrote it in a way that I hope will appeal to the President’s ego, just in case there is any chance that he or his staff might read it. I think that this approach is the only way that he might consider what I have to say. Depending on your political leanings, you might read this letter as a flattering account of his accomplishments, or as a veiled, satirical criticism of his handling of his job. Either way, I am truly serious about my proposal. I sincerely believe that both Mr. Trump and the country would benefit greatly if he were to resign. Please share with me and those who read my blog your thoughts and reactions, and your agreement or disagreement with my proposal (comment at the bottom of this page).   Thanks, Jim

 

May 20, 2017

Dear Mr. Trump:

Have I got a deal for you! Here’s how it works:

You declare victory and resign as the President.

Why should you do this now so soon after your inauguration?

  • You can legitimately say that you have turned the country in a new direction. This is what you set out to do, and it is a great accomplishment. Your name will go down in history as one of our most notable presidents.
  • You can say with pride that you came from behind to win the election in an unprecedented way. The last President who even came close to this was Harry Truman, and that was 69 years ago.
  • Your health care bill is off the ground.
  • The Supreme Court justice that you nominated was approved in record time, an accomplishment that will preserve the conservative interpretation of our Constitution for decades to come.
  • Wall Street has responded very favorably to your proposed tax cuts.
  • Unemployment is at its lowest level in years.
  • You executed a new trade deal with China that will increase our exports and reduce our trade deficit.
  • Major manufacturers are promising to bring jobs back to the US.
  • And, you have done all of this in just four months. No president can claim such accomplishments in such a short period of time. (We’ll just forget about FDR; that was a different set of circumstances anyway.)

What do you get out of the deal?

  • You can avoid this whole nasty, special prosecutor thing, saving yourself untold headaches and millions of dollars in legal fees.
  • Your detractors will no longer have anything to complain about; you won’t have to spend all of your time defending yourself against their short-sighted, limited ideas.
  • You can get back to doing what you do best: making lucrative real estate deals.
  • You can get out of that confining White House, and enjoy your many magnificent homes without having to commute every weekend.
  • Jared and Ivanka can get back to minding the business of their businesses.
  • Melania and Barron won’t have to be uprooted from your resplendent home in NYC.
  • You can play golf every weekend, wherever you want, without the press criticizing you for it.
  • But perhaps most importantly, you’ve clearly identified the big picture for our country, and gotten the ball rolling. You won’t have to muddy your hands getting all of your programs through Congress. Politics is all so messy anyway. Let those who have nothing better to do with their lives slave away at all of that minutia. That sort of grunt work is far below the dignity of a man of your stature.

What do the rest of us get out of the deal?

You will have given us a most generous gift that we will not soon forget. The specifics are innumerable, so I’ll only mention a few.

  • All of our news outlets will again report the significant events happening around the world, instead of their incessant torrent of fake news about the alleged shortcomings of your Administration.
  • We can break our addiction to checking your tweets the first thing every morning.
  • Our legislators can get back to work on the important business of passing the laws that will make America great again. They will no longer be bombarded with requests for interviews about their latest thoughts on your actions.
  • Mike Pence will be so boring as President that we won’t even pay attention to him.
  • This will allow him and Congress to fully implement your agenda — our agenda — without outside interference.
  • You will have given him a sure lock on the Presidency in 2021, allowing patriotic Republicans to ride into Congress on his coattails at least until 2025. That is a legacy that will last longer than President Reagan could have ever hoped for.

Mr. President, please don’t think that this offer is a tongue-in-cheek joke. I am very serious, and I am in good company. Even John Moody, the Executive Vice-President and Executive Editor of your beloved Fox News, suggested the same thing earlier this week. (In case you missed his editorial, you can find it here.)

This proposed deal has the added benefit of letting everybody think that they came away the “winner.” Of course, you will have outsmarted your critics and those far-reaching liberals, who will come up empty-handed without even realizing it. However, the longer you wait the less likely it is that this deal will achieve its fullest objectives.

Think it over. There aren’t many deals that get any better than this!

Sincerely,

James F. Loomis

CRISIS du JOUR

It’s been an interesting week in Washington. I wanted to write something profound about the President’s firing of FBI Director James Comey. But all of the newspapers, broadcast networks, and social media platforms seem to have covered every last detail ad nauseam, including each day’s new revelation. So I will just offer these thoughts:

As sensational as this is, this is just the latest crisis du jour. Every week during Mr. Trump’s infant presidency a new crisis or urgent situation has arisen, commanding the attention of the nation and the world. Consider, in less than four months:

  • two judicial injunctions stopping the implementation of the President’s Executive Orders banning immigration of persons from certain Muslim-majority countries;
  • the firing of Acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she determined that the President’s ban of immigrants was unlawful;
  • the appointment of Gen. Mike Flynn as the National Security Advisor, followed three weeks later by his resignation due to his failure to completely disclose to the Vice-President his contacts with Russian officials — this appointment having been made by President Trump despite Gen. Flynn’s dismissal as the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014;
  • Mr. Trump’s repeated allegations, without any supporting evidence, that President Obama wiretapped his offices during the campaign;
  • the inability of the House of Representatives to put together a health care bill within the unreasonable timeframe demanded by the President;
  • the President’s convoluted explanation of how Mexico will pay for the border wall that he wants to build, now that Mexico has emphatically said that they will not pay for it as Mr. Trump promised they would;
  • Congress’s reluctance to include any significant funding to even begin feasibility studies on how to build the wall;
  • the President’s retraction of his suggestion that he would withdraw from the North American Trade Agreement the following day, after receiving phone calls from the Prime Minister of Canada and the President of Mexico that evening — announcing instead that he would renegotiate the agreement;
  • the Syrian bombing, quickly forgotten;
  • dropping the “Mother of all Bombs” in Afghanistan;
  • the President’s flip-flop on his pledge to pronounce that China is manipulating their currency;
  • the North Korean nuclear crisis and the botched reporting of the whereabouts of the US aircraft carrier fleet supposedly steaming toward the Korean peninsula — now also seemingly forgotten;
  • the unprecedented, jubilant Rose Garden celebration when the House finally passed a very controversial, partisan health care bill, which has no chance of clearing the Senate in its current form;
  • the near government “shut-down,” prevented at the very last minute when Congress passed a continuing budget resolution;
  • the President’s suggestion that South Korea pay for the THAAD antimissile system that the US installed in their country, contrary to our agreement with South Korea;
  • the on-going investigation of the possible collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russians who may have interfered with our election — a problem for Mr. Trump that just won’t go away;
  • the President’s continual insistence that the election was fraught with voter fraud, apparently needing to prove that he won the popular vote;
  • and now this week, the sudden firing of the FBI director while the FBI is conducting an investigation into the possible Russian interference in our election.

Weaving its way through all of these incidents is the President’s obvious need for adulation, and his habit of blaming anybody else for anything that does not portray him in the best light possible, manifested in part by his accusations that the media is making up “fake news,” even though he himself proclaims inaccurate and conflicting information to support his fragile ego — also manifested by “throwing” his press corps and the Vice-President “under the bus” this week as they tried to explain Mr. Comey’s firing while Mr. Trump changed his stated reason for doing so on a daily basis.

I wanted to conclude these thoughts by saying that we should not impart too much importance to this latest crisis in Washington. The firing of Mr. Comey will only dominate the news until the next crisis arises, either bona fide or of the President’s own making.

I wanted to say that the news media should spare us the excruciating details of each new crisis and tone down their sensational rhetoric, leaving us room to respond in a thoughtful and informed way. I wanted to say that instead they should focus on the underlying problem which exacerbates each of these crises. That’s what I wanted to say.

Then yesterday I read an editorial by John Moody, the Executive Editor of Fox News, wondering if Mr. Trump really wants to be President, citing “his random tweets, his crude public use of insults and threats and his blatant disregard for decorum and the integrity of the office of president,” going so far as to suggest that the President should announce a date that he will resign. Yes, that Fox News, the only media outlet that Mr. Trump seems to believe is credible!

Then I noted the President’s tweet yesterday threatening Mr. Comey, now a private citizen, stating, “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

I also took notice of the President having Henry Kissinger sit in the Oval Office with him while he defended his firing of Mr. Comey. I found myself wondering why he would do that and then allude to the possibility that he may have secretly taped his meetings with Mr. Comey — distinctly drawing parallels between himself and President Nixon’s Watergate scandal and the “Saturday night massacre.”

Then this morning I noted that James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence, told MSNBC that there “could be evidence” of collusion between Russia and Trump’s campaign — this following Mr. Trump’s tweet yesterday morning stating, “When James Clapper himself…says there is no collusion, when does it end?”

I recall that President Reagan was referred to as the “Teflon President,” because problems arising from his handling of matters of state just didn’t seem to stick to him. Given the long list of problems attributed to President Trump that are forgotten as soon as a new crisis occurs, I began to think that he might have Teflon skin also. But a friend suggested to me that each of these problems may be like a barnacle that attaches itself to the hull of a boat. Taken alone, they are not noticed. But when enough barnacles collect they can no longer be ignored, for they will ultimately destroy the vessel. Now I’m not so sure that this week’s crisis will go away as easily as the many others that preceded it did. Mr. Trump is collecting a lot of barnacles.

Finally I concluded that the reporting of the excruciating details as they unfold does in fact allow us to focus on the underlying problem which exacerbates each of these crises, if we can see the forest for the trees. Such reporting does give us the information that we need in order to respond in a thoughtful and informed way. We simply need to exercise our ability and our obligation to do so.

After all, crises effecting the US occur constantly. When they do, how our leaders handle the crisis makes all the difference in the world — literally.

Colbert, Trump, and Putin

On Monday evening CBS “Late Show” host, Stephen Colbert, blasted President Trump for his remarks to CBS “Face the Nation” host, John Dickerson. Whether staged or not, Colbert’s monologue was a tirade of the first order. At the end of his tirade, he told the President that the only thing his mouth was good for was…..well, you’ve all read the news and watched the video.

In his monologue, Colbert bluntly told the President, “When you insult one member of the CBS family, you insult us all.” This may have been a joke, but it was sweet music to my ears. It’s about time that somebody so forcefully told Mr. Trump that his insults are felt not only by the person he insults, but also by all those who are related to that person, and by those of us who trust our leaders to govern in a civil manner. I keep waiting for the other “Fake News” media, like the “Failing” New York Times, CNN, ABC, MSNBC, and time-tested, credible polling organizations, like the Pew Research Center, who deliver such “biased” reports on the public’s feelings about the Trump presidency, to respond in such a forceful way to his insults and bullying.

Stephen Colbert’s two-word comment at the end of his monologue, vulgar though it was, does not make him homophobic, as many are now claiming. Nor does it even begin to compare in scope to the scores of derogatory accusations that President Trump has made toward others, before, during, and after the Presidential campaign, and which he continues to make while in the Oval Office. Although sexually insulting, Mr. Colbert’s comment is as far removed as night is from day to equaling the sexually inappropriate and demeaning behavior that Mr. Trump has displayed for so many years.

I like political satire. Political figures need to understand that being the brunt of satirical jokes is part of the job. They need to understand that there is an element of truth in every piece of satire. They need to have enough self-awareness to parse out that truth and examine it in the light of day. They need to be able to roll with the jokes made at their expense, and they especially need to be able to make fun of themselves. Sadly, our President does not seem to possess any of these characteristics, which makes him a perfect target for late-night comedians.

I also like Stephen Colbert. I enjoy his satire. That said, his two-word insult Monday evening went beyond the bounds of political satire. It was vulgar; it was vicious; it undoubtably was untrue (at least in reality; figuratively is a question for another time); it was uncalled for, and it has no place on a national television network of any stripe. Mr. Colbert should apologize! And, he should do it humbly, sincerely, and SOON.

Last evening he did address his remarks by asking jokingly if he was still employed by CBS, and that, after listening to a tape of his monologue, he “would change a few words that were cruder than they needed to be.” But he also stated that he did not regret the “few choice insults” that he hurled at the President at the end of his monologue. THIS IS NOT AN APOLOGY. This is side-stepping a blatant error, a tactic that politicians have turned into an art form.

Colbert’s monologue was surely written in advance. The scriptwriter(s) and the editor who allowed this text to be used should be reprimanded as strongly as possible by their superiors at CBS, and Mr. Colbert needs to make a heartfelt, straightforward apology to the President and to Mr. Putin. Sooner rather than later, Stephen. Tonight would be a good time!

TRUMP – 3, THE REST OF US – 0

Last week, after viewing images of Syrian residents dying from the aerial gassing by their own President, Bashar Al-Assad, President Trump ordered the bombing of a Syrian airfield. The President has since been both hailed and condemned for this action by political pundits and members of both political parties. In my opinion, Mr. Trump scored three times in his decision to order this response to Assad’s action.

First, he showed that he is a President who is not afraid to use military force when he feels it is necessary. This highlights his “power” after two months of numerous defeats and miscues in his new administration, specifically the judicial blocking of his two immigration bans, the failure of his party to agree on a plan to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), the threatened filibuster by Senate Democrats of the vote to approve his Supreme Court nominee, his decision to deal with health care first instead of new infrastructure which would have gained bi-partisan support in Congress, his failure to deliver on any of the actions that he promised to implement on “Day One” of his Presidency, and conflicting policy statements by members of his administration. This flexing of his power as Commander-in Chief completely overshadows all of his other failures as President.

Second, Mr. Trump’s action restores Russia as our “enemy,” in contrast to his numerous statements of admiration of President Putin’s rule. Mr. Putin’s harshly negative response to this bombing diverts attention from the possible collusion by the Trump campaign with the alleged Russian interference in our Presidential election, and diminishes its importance if proven to be true. This is significant since Rep. Devin Nunes has now recused himself from the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Russia’s involvement with the election, which will surely lead to the resumption of this investigation following Congress’s Easter recess.

Third, Mr. Trump’s action on the first day of China’s President Xi Jinping’s visit with him sends an unmistakable message to Xi that China must take some action to halt North Korea’s development of atomic weapons. The fact that Mr. Trump did not even wait two days for the United Nations to respond to Assad’s heinous action before taking unilateral military action against Syria underscores his previous statement that the US will halt North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons alone if China does not act to do so.

As I see it, US and Syrian citizens lose all the way around.

  • It is clearly evident that President Trump acted emotionally and impulsively, in contrast to his previous numerous statements that the US should not become militarily involved in Syria.
  • It is obvious that the Trump administration has no strategic plan for dealing with the crisis that continues in Syria year after year. Should Mr. Trump decide to topple Assad, the US will be left with an even more destabilized Middle East. As with Saddam Hussein, it would be easy to topple Assad. The important question is, “WHAT THEN?” a question that President Bush did not have an answer for when he invaded Iraq. Some fifteen years later the world is still paying the costly price for that lack of planning and basic understanding of the dynamics of politics and extremism in the Middle East.
  • Mr. Trump’s action clearly breaks faith with those who voted for him based on his pledge to put America first and not become entangled in foreign affairs.
  • Despite his assertion that Assad’s chemical attack against the Syrian people posed a national security threat to the US, it is hard to make that case in any sort of convincing way.
  • Reportedly Syrian planes flew over the gassed city the very next day, from the same airport that we bombed. Our bombing did nothing to divert future chemical attacks against the Syrian people.
  • In the event that Mr. Trump takes unilateral action against North Korea, our relations with China (North Korea’s strongest ally) will be severely damaged, threatening further escalation of military involvement in the region, and dealing a severe blow to our trade with China.
  • Finally, Mr. Trump has shaped the news for the media and the public yet again, successfully diverting attention from his own ineptitude.

President Assad lobbed Mr. Trump a slow ball by gassing his own people. By my tally, the score at the end of the week is: Trump – 3, the rest of us – 0.

The “Sacrifice Bunt” and the President

Last week I had a bit of hope. It was only a bit, and it only lasted until the weekend, but it was hope, none-the-less.

During the campaign Donald Trump promised that, if elected, he would be so “presidential” that we wouldn’t believe it. After a tumultuous first month in office, he delivered a speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday evening, in which he sounded and acted “presidential.” Reportedly, he had spent hours practicing the speech, and he clearly delivered a polished performance. Afterwards, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan opined that the President had “hit a home run.”

A friend of mine disagreed, stating, “That was no home run!  That speech was a bunt or a walk at best!  A home run happens when there’s some runs scored and to date, as I see it, no runs have been scored, as nothing of any productive value has been accomplished, only executive orders that can and will be contested, if not in the courts, then in legislative bodies.” However, a bunt, if well executed, does put the batter on first base, an accomplishment to be sure.

This being the Lenten season, my mind was drawn to the idea of a “sacrifice bunt,” in which another player on base is able to advance at the expense of the batter. Often, a “sacrifice bunt” is made so that a runner on third can score, actually producing something of value. The “sacrifice” is that the batter is tagged out. To complete the analogy, Christians believe that God, in the person of Jesus, offered himself up as the “sacrifice” in order to score a home run to put right our human brokenness, or sin.

Mr. Trump’s “presidential” appearance deceived me. That is, until he resumed his barrage of accusations this weekend. Around 3:00 a.m. on Saturday he started “tweeting” that President Obama had ordered wiretaps on his phones during the election campaign, with no credible evidence to back up his claim. He likened this alleged event to the Watergate scandal and the McCarthyism scare of the 1950s, and he demanded a Congressional investigation.

3:00 o’clock in the morning! I would think that if the President were up at that hour he might be studying security briefings, or planning thoughtful implementation of his policies, or considering our nation’s foreign relations. Instead, he reverted to his ego-centric, impulsive attacks on others, based on spurious evidence at best.

On October 8, I posted an opinion on my blog, stating that a person aspiring to be our President needs to demonstrate integrity, proper temperament, and experience. I must now add to that list judgement, defined by the Apple Dictionary as, “the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions.”

It saddens me that Mr. Trump does not seem to possess that characteristic. He does not seem to understand that the President must often “sacrifice” his personal pride for the good of our country. Instead, he blames anyone within reach for his own shortcomings. His initial 3:00 a.m. “tweet” was simply comical, except that he followed it up with additional “tweets” that demonstrate a complete lack of “presidential” judgement. His well-executed “bunt” on Tuesday was a good start. He would have done better if he had not then tried to hit a “grand slam” with nobody on base.

I am saddened. But I am also becoming increasingly frightened! Our President controls our military and our nuclear weapons, and he has considerable influence on the global economy and the stability of the world. If his ego is so offended by the idea that President Obama wiretapped his phone that he must let the whole world know about it at 3:00 a.m., what might he impulsively do if he concludes that the US is threatened by some nebulous entity or fantasied action?

On November 19 I wrote to Mr. Trump, pledging to do what I can to make his Presidency successful. However, I do not know what to do to accomplish that goal except to call upon Congress, especially Republican members, to reign in our President to the best of their ability, in order to limit his erratic actions.

I have begun to do that with a call to my own long-term member of Congress, Republican Fred Upton.

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL ABOUT LENT ANYWAY?

Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent

Lent….the time of year before Easter for personal reflection, prayer, and repentance.
Although, I’m not sure that I really have anything that I need to repent of.

Well….truth be told, I was not the most pleasant person to be around in 2015.
But last year I was really very congenial.

BINGO

Still…..there were those few times when I disciplined my 10 year-old son pretty harshly.
But he deserved it. He had it coming to him.

BINGO

Okay.…so I got really upset with my boss for acting like a jerk, and making us all look like fools in front of the CEO.
But I bit my tongue and never showed my anger.

BINGO

And those Presidential candidates….what a lousy choice we were given!
But I didn’t “TWEET” any derogatory comments about them, and I didn’t “LIKE” or “SHARE” or “COMMENT” on any Facebook posts that portrayed them as idiots, which they really were. I was very restrained, and I refused to fall into the mud being slung around.

BINGO

You know….I thought that Easter was all about forgiveness being freely given by God, especially for those of us who try to act like Christians.

So, what’s the point of all this repentance stuff?

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL ABOUT LENT ANYWAY?

BINGO

WOW….Five in a row.  BINGO!  What did I win?

Oh shoot….another trip to the confessional booth.

Who controls what happens next ?

Again, I must confess. I am still addicted to the many, daily “tweets” from our President, and the non-stop news articles, comments, Facebook posts, YouTube videos, and sketches responding to his actions, from both those of us at home and those abroad. I find some of what I see and read to be humorous, although they are always at the expense of someone else, and at the expense of my better judgement. I especially enjoy Alec Baldwin’s SNL sketches portraying Donald Trump. I see them as simply good-natured satire, and they provide me with some comic relief, which is a good thing. However President Trump clearly doesn’t see them that way. I guess that I wouldn’t either if I were in his shoes. I imagine that for him and for the half of our population who voted for him, they are not funny, but instead quite offensive. But mostly, the vast majority of what I have read and seen is simply very discouraging. It saps my energy and leaves me with a hopeless feeling.

If you follow my blog or pay attention to what I LIKE or SHARE on Facebook, you know that my political views lean left. Not surprisingly, I find our new President to be woefully unqualified for his job. See my posts of October 8 and November 1, where I outlined my criteria for the person who aspires to be the President, specifically characteristics of Integrity, Temperament, and Experience. Mr. Trump’s job performance thus far confirms my prediction that he fails to meet those criteria. At best, he only very minimally meets the criteria of Integrity, in that thus far he has done exactly what he promised to do.

That said, our response to his actions, either supportive or critical, have taken on a reactionary, obnoxious tone, leaving little room for civil discourse. Rather, they demonize the person(s) whose thoughts differ from ours. This is not the way to make our democracy work. Our government is already fractious and dysfunctional. We do not need to add fuel to that fire and/or to our own differences.

I am not arguing for inaction or passivity. We need to respond to our discouragement and feelings of hopelessness. It helps me to write this article to you, and I regained some sense of power when I participated in a peaceful demonstration in my community celebrating diversity and inclusion of others not like ourselves. But demonstrations alone are not enough. Yes, they give hope and a means to discharge strong emotions, and they can serve as a good starting point. But by themselves they do little to actually change anything. This is especially true when they only express outrage and negativity.

I am reminded of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. There were anti-segregation marches and protests, and many of my contemporaries participated in them. Many of those marches were led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. But there were four other essential elements to the success of the civil rights movement besides protest marches.

  • First, there were clearly defined goals.
  • Second, there was a strategy. Many marches were carefully planned to take place at a specific time and in a specific, symbolic place.
  • Third, there was much constructive work done behind the scenes. Let us not forget that Dr. King worked with President Kennedy to modify the original plans for the 1963 march on the National Mall in order to avoid violence. He also met with officials in the Johnson administration to plan how civil rights for African Americans could be codified into law and implemented.
  • Finally, the civil rights movement was firmly rooted in the basic principles of morality and hope. This is perhaps best exemplified in Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

At this time our protests are not only against Donald Trump’s actions, but also against him personally. While many find his character to be reprehensible, never-the-less he is, and will be, our President for the next four years. Of course, it is still too early in his Presidency for those opposed to his policies to form strategic plans to counter his actions. But such will be necessary in order to effect change. Meanwhile, the more we sling insults at him personally, and at each other, the greater our divisions will be.

Fortunately, there are some who are already following up their opposition with targeted action. Examples include the ACLU filing suit against Mr. Trump’s immigration and refugee proclamation, acting Attorney General Sally Yates’s refusal to defend the President’s ban on immigrants coming into the US, the cities that have affirmed that they are “sanctuary cities,” and the legislature of California hiring former Attorney General Eric Holder to prepare for litigation to thwart possible deportation of undocumented immigrants. These actions have reportedly prompted President Trump to consider modifying his order on immigration and refugees. If we wish to change Mr. Trump’s policies we will need to hone our objectives and organize our actions in a non-emotional fashion, similar to the examples above. Our current vitriol will do nothing to help our nation move forward.

Enough “trash talk” already!

Those who do not agree with the direction our new President is taking must not let him set the national dialogue by always jumping to respond to his vacillating pronouncements and incessant, reactionary, offensive “tweets.” Instead, let’s step back, refuse to participate in the vicious conversation, roll up our sleeves, and get to work in a coordinated, constructive way to reclaim the American values and policies that we believe in.

POMP and CIRCUMSTANCE

Enthusiasm despair
                disillusionment
                                   hope

Torch passed lucid
                torches perhaps torches
                                  snuffed wrong premises

Promises broken
                pledges reality
                                  blame

Truth rigged
                retaliation
                                   lies

Self-esteem porous
                epidermis doubt reaction
                                  formation fabrication

Hubris humility power
                pompous politics
                                  populist posturing
                                                who

Possibilities chances limited
                imagining hiatus never
                                  in my lifetime convictions
                                               who

Opportunity
                obstinance
                                 consequences
                                               who

Torch passed vision
                potential torches
                                 macular degeneration
                                                who

Position crystallizes future but
                 conviction my
                                  conviction my
                                                position guilty
                                                              as charged.

Tweet…Tweet…Tweet

Oh gee, I got caught with my hand in the cookie jar,
and the lame duck punished me.
But the new guy says that I am a very smart person,
So, I’ll invite all of his diplomats’ kids to my holiday party at the Kremlin.*

Does anyone else smell a set-up here, or am I just having olfactory hallucinations?


When we got caught doing something bad in grade school, the teacher made us write a statement of repentance on the chalkboard multiple times.

I am not the President; he is.
I am not the President; he is.
I am not the President; he is.

He implements foreign policy; I don’t get to do it yet.
He implements foreign policy; I don’t get to do it yet.
He implements foreign policy; I don’t get to do it yet.

I am not stupid; therefore I shouldn’t act ignorant.
I am not stupid; therefore I shouldn’t act ignorant.
I am not stupid; therefore I shouldn’t act ignorant.

I will attend intelligence briefings before I tweet again.
I will attend intelligence briefings before I tweet again.
I will attend intelligence briefings before I tweet again.


Dear Mr. Trump:

On November 19, I wrote to you pledging that I will do what I can to make you a successful President. HELP ME OUT HERE. I can’t do this all by myself. You only have to wait twenty more days. Until then, could you please keep your fingers on the chalkboard, and off of the keyboard. I’m sure that you can do it if you really try. Thanks for your help.

Wishing you a sobering new year,

Jim Loomis

* Reported December 30, 2016 by the Washington DC bureau of Agence France-Presse (AFP)

GOD IN A BOX

On Christmas Eve (this Saturday), after four weeks of expectant waiting called Advent, Christians around the world will celebrate the birth of Jesus.

I imagine that at the moment of his birth, Jesus’s mother Mary must have felt what I experienced in the delivery room when my children were born — a profound, indescribable change in your very being.

A newborn child breaking into your life, fragile, helpless, totally dependent,
yet powerful beyond imagination,
powerful enough to change your life, your dreams, your purpose….forever!

A glimpse at the mystery of the divine.

And yet…

“It is not over,
this birthing.
There are always newer skies
into which God can throw stars.

When we begin to think
that we can predict the Advent of God,
that we can box the Christ
in a stable in Bethlehem,

that’s just the time
that God will be born
in a place we can’t imagine
and won’t believe.

Those who wait for God
watch with their hearts and not their eyes,
listening, always listening
for angel words.” (1)

This Christmas let’s not do what so many religions do, what so many people do, what I am prone to do. Let’s not put God in a box and leave no room for the mystery of the divine. Let’s not deceive ourselves, believing that this is the final “birth” of God. The creator, sustainer, and redeemer of all that we know, and that which we can never know, is certainly much larger than a baby born some 2000 years ago in a barn in a backwater town, sleeping in a box meant to feed cattle. Let’s watch and listen with our hearts, not only with our eyes and our Scriptures.

Divinity, however little of it that we can comprehend, is powerful beyond our wildest imagination!

(1) This poem, written by Ann Weems and copied from a booklet of Advent devotionals compiled in 2103 by Portage (MI) Chapel Hill United Methodist Church, is from “Alive Now,” a publication of The Upper Room®, Inc., P.O. Box 340004, Nashville, TN 37203-0004.

O come, O come, Emmanuel ???

O come, O come, Emmanuel ???

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xtpJ4Q_Q-4

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Emmanuel (literally “God with us.”)

This familiar hymn is sung nearly every Sunday during the Christian season of Advent, the four weeks of waiting prior to the celebration of Jesus’s birth. The hymn is based on the prophecy of the birth of a boy to be named Emmanuel, who will carry the government on his shoulders, as recorded in the Old Testament book of Isiah. According to the New Testament Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus was born. The words of the prophecy are familiar to most of us from George Frideric Handel’s magnificent oratorio, Messiah.

However, in the context of the Book of Isaiah, the first verse of this hymn refers to a national leader, one who will free the pre-Christian Hebrew nation from their captivity. It is only in some of the later verses that the hymn could be inferred to point to an Emmanuel that will save us from hell and ensure our entry into heaven. It is this meaning which gives rise to the use of the hymn by the Christian church during the season of Advent.

O come new leader that we hold so dear.
And free us from our ills and all our fears.
Discouraged? YES! But soon we will be blessed.
You’ll fight for us; you told us you know best.
Rejoice; Give thanks; our lonely wait is o’re.
You have arrived upon our careworn shore.

My rewrite of the first verse of the hymn is my interpretation of how I think many of us view our soon-to-be 45th President, Donald J. Trump. It seems to me that many are so enamored with Mr. Trump that they see him as the “savior” of America, the person who will set us free from all of the problems that he proclaimed during the campaign. President-elect Trump claims that we are (in essence) in bondage to other nations, nations whom he says are taking advantage of us. He has promised to take decisive action to undo the international entanglements that he believes the US is caught in, and to dismantle or dramatically change the governmental programs that so many find onerous. Therefore my rewrite of the lyrics could be words of hope for those who support Mr. Trump, the kind of leader that the ancient Hebrews longed for.

But my alternate words might be read as sarcasm by those who disagree with our President-elect’s understanding of America’s current programs, policies, and foreign alliances. For those who are looking for a different kind of “savior,” my words and their juxtaposition of current politics with ancient theology could be seen as blatantly irreverent, although they are not meant to be so.

ADVENT

O come, O come, Emmanuel.
O come, O come, be with us God ???

The answer to that question depends on which Emmanuel you are looking for, and which Emmanuel you are expecting.

– a leader who promises to reclaim our national pride and fight against our foes, both domestic and foreign,

– or a spiritual leader who champions inclusion, peace, and forgiveness as Jesus did,

– or perhaps both,

– or perhaps neither.

DEAR MR. TRUMP

Donald J. Trump
President-elect of the United States
725 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10022

November 18, 2016

Dear Mr. Trump,

Congratulations on your election victory. But please remember that half of those who voted did not vote for you. Therefor, will you allow me to offer these suggestions?

  • Do not build the wall. Isolationism is not productive in today’s global world. Rather, work with Mexican leaders to establish a just way for citizens of both nations to cross our border in safety.
  • Do not ask Congress to repeal “Obamacare” that has brought insurance to millions who could not obtain health care insurance on their own. Rather, lead Congress in fixing the flaws in the program that need to be fixed.
  • Do not deport millions of immigrants without considered thought, especially children of undocumented aliens, and refugees from countries at war or with a history of terrorism. Rather, focus on ways for those persons to obtain US citizenship.
  • Do not revoke our pledge to support the Paris Agreement on global warming. Rather, heed the scientific evidence of our destruction of our environment. Work to increase our use of renewable energy sources. Support those whose jobs are eliminated by the expansion of renewable energy. The WPA and CCC might be models to consider while we find ways to retrain those workers for jobs of the future.
  • Consider carefully and seek expert advice on any action regarding our international trade agreements and military alliances. While these arrangements are always in need of review, changing our involvement with any of them can have far-reaching unintended and unforeseen consequences.
  • Appoint Supreme Court justices who will determine cases objectively based upon the Constitution, and not based upon any particular ideology or position that they might hold. Appoint justices who have the wisdom to apply the Constitution to today’s America, which is certainly much different than our founding fathers could have ever imagined.

I wish you the very best and will do what I can to make your Presidency successful. All of us, and indeed the whole world, depend on your wise leadership. Thank you letting me share my thoughts with you.

Sincerely,

James F. Loomis

Who will I vote for, and why?

In my October 8 post, “And the winner is…,” I laid out three criteria to consider to determine who is the best candidate for President. Those criteria are: Experience, Integrity, and Temperament. I suggested that INTEGRITY and TEMPERAMENT were most important, and EXPERIENCE only if the candidates were very similar in the other two. Following is my assessment of how Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton fare on the criteria that I listed. Rather than restating each of the sub-categories here, I refer you to my October 8 post for that detail. I will simply summarize my overall assessment for each of the three attributes.

INTEGRITY: defined by the Apple Dictionary as, “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.”

Mr. Trump has been shown to lie on many occasions during the campaign. His marital infidelity, and the discrepancy between his rhetoric and his actions (e.g., claiming that he will bring jobs back to the US while simultaneously furnishing his new hotel with goods made overseas) show him to be dishonest, and to lack strong moral principles and uprightness.

Multiple “Fact Checks” on what the candidates have said during the campaign show Secretary Clinton to have lied or misstated the facts far fewer times than Mr. Trump. He often seems to be ill-informed, making statements based on his own ideas, and demonstrating little or no effort to learn the facts.

Both candidates are plagued by bona fide issues that they cannot seem to shake: Mr. Trump’s dishonesty and his sexual behavior, and Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server while Secretary of State and the persistent antipathy that many feel toward her husband. Many might argue that Secretary Clinton’s action with her email server is far more damaging to the US than Mr. Trump’s sexual indiscretions and dishonesty. I disagree. Secretary Clinton has acknowledged her mistake and apologized for it. To me, this represents integrity and an ability to learn from past mistakes. Mr. Trump has not acknowledged any of his mistakes. Instead he has denied them and accused others of lying about him, even threatening to sue them. If he were President this characteristic will have a far-reaching, negative impact on the integrity of the US, and is much more egregious than a “reckless” mistake of procedure. In addition, when her husband was impeached Mrs. Clinton showed amazing loyalty and determination to deal with their marital problems, thus saving us from the embarrassment of having the First Lady walk out of the White House in the middle of the President’s term of office. I call that integrity.

I have never seen Secretary Clinton treat others dishonorably or with disrespect, although I am sure that there must be some instances of this. In contrast, Mr. Trump has publicly done so multiple times before and during the campaign. Examples include his public dispute with the Khan family, his disdainful mocking of a person with a physical disability (which he subsequently denied even though we all saw it on video-tape), his numerous negative characterizations of those of other countries, ethnicity, and race, his alleged unwanted and uninvited sexual advances toward several women, his many lawsuits, and his occasional failure to pay his contracted employees for work that they completed.

I believe that members of Congress will find it hard to work with either candidate who is not a member of their Party, which is very discouraging. I fear that many members of a future administration would find it hard to act with integrity when that is necessary in the face of an over-bearing President Trump. I find it significant that so many Republican leaders have distanced themselves from Mr. Trump during the campaign, leading me to believe that they are also concerned about his integrity.

Given Mr. Trump’s personality style and the way that he has run his campaign, I think that world leaders would see him as having much less integrity than Secretary Clinton, who has had a great deal of personal interaction with those foreign leaders in her position as Secretary of State. I believe that world leaders will take seriously Mrs. Clinton’s articulation of US positions and policy. Frighteningly, they may also take quite seriously Mr. Trump’s positions and his threat to act preemptively on his beliefs, thus producing anxiety for our allies and the possible knee-jerk reaction by our adversaries.

TEMPERAMENT: defined by the Apple Dictionary as, “a person’s nature, especially as it permanently affects their behavior; the tendency to behave angrily or emotionally.”

Mrs. Clinton has a much great degree of self-awareness than does Mr. Trump. His thoughtless reactions to situations, his lack of understanding of how his behavior comes across to others, and his inability to change that behavior accordingly, except when he reads his comments from a script clearly written by others (which appears very unnatural and out of character to me), demonstrates a near total lack of self-awareness of his temperament, despite his claim that his temperament is his “greatest asset” (which in itself shows a total lack of self-understanding).

The defection of so many Republican members of Congress from Mr. Trump suggests that he will have more difficulty working with Congress than would Mrs. Clinton, even if Republicans hold a majority in Congress. Secretary Clinton’s experience as a Senator and her intimate knowledge of former President Clinton’s successful adjustment to working with Congress, dominated by members of the Republican Party after the mid-term election, give her an edge in being able to successfully work with Congress to enact needed legislation.

Mr. Trump’s philosophy toward most situations seems to be one of retaliation. He acts reflexively without giving careful thought and study to situations that arise. He fails to see the danger in this behavior. Secretary Clinton’s demeanor is composed; her thoughts reflect careful analysis of a situation, and her rhetoric is calm and measured.

MY OPINION

It is obvious that I believe that Mrs. Clinton has a significantly higher degree of INTEGRITY and TEMPERAMENT than does Mr. Trump. However, not all will agree with me. Some will judge that they are equally qualified in these attributes (or not qualified, as I have often heard). If that is the case, let’s look at my final criteria.

EXPERIENCE: Does the candidate have the requisite knowledge and experience to understand the duties and responsibilities of the Presidency, and if the candidate has never been President before, is their experience and skill set transferrable to that needed by the President?

Based on Secretary Clinton’s experience as First Lady of Arkansas and the US for 19 years, her leadership role in the health care reform effort during her husband’s first Presidential term, her role in passing the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), her service as a US Senator, and her four years of experience as Secretary of State, I believe that she has ample experience to be President, certainly significantly more than President Obama, President Reagan, and even her husband had when they became President.

Mr. Trump has no experience in government or any elected office. He does not understand that we are operating in a global economy and that the prior strength of America, based on blue-collar manufacturing, cannot be reinstated. He does not understand that world peace and our strength as a world leader cannot be achieved by overpowering military might, but rather by international diplomacy. Secretary Clinton understands these facts well, and her policy positions reflect that understanding.

Mr. Trump states that the defeat of ISIS and “Islamic terrorists,” and establishing even more stringent immigration policies will result in the accomplishment of many of his campaign promises, even his domestic promises such as the return of American jobs from overseas, and the greatest growth of our economy since Ronald Reagan’s presidency. He ignores the fact that our economy has been steadily growing for some time now, that we already have in place a rigorous vetting program for immigrants, that more immigrants were deported in the Obama administration than the George W. Bush administration, and that under President Reagan our national debt ballooned.

Although he professes that he can #Drain the Swamp in Washington, that he alone can fix the country’s problems, and that he knows more than our Generals, in my opinion, based on his rhetoric in his campaign, he knows none of this, let alone how to make the Federal government work. His late-in-the-campaign release of his “Contract with the American Voter” appears to be a vain attempt to shore up his negative poll ratings, rather than a thoughtful explanation of what his action plan will be to implement his policies. Given that one of his closest advisors is former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (who was reprimanded by the House for ethics violations, and who was subsequently forced to resign from Congress by his own party’s caucus), and given that the form and even some of the content of Mr. Trump’s “Contract with the American Voter” is so similar to the 1994 “Contract with America,” authored in part by Speaker Gingrich, I can only conclude that Mr. Gingrich was the architect and quite possibly the author of Mr. Trump’s “Contract with the American Voter.” This does not impress me.

During the final debate with Secretary Clinton, Mr. Trump refused to say that he would accept the results of the Presidential election, telling the moderator that he would “leave you in suspense.” Last week he said at a rally that we “should just cancel the election and declare him the winner.” I watched him say both of these comments, and am not simply reiterating what the news media reported. Either he was joking, which did not seem to be the case except for his “suspense” comment, or he is so conceited and ignorant of our system of democratic government that he fails to understand the significance of our long-cherished history of peaceful transition of power. I have trouble reconciling these comments with one of his many campaign promises: returning our country to a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Like Mr. Khan, I sometimes wonder if he has read the Constitution which the President swears to uphold and defend.

Finally, Mr Trump’s extensive business experience, both at home and abroad, has not provided him with a skill set that is transferrable to that needed by the President.

TO VOTE, OR NOT TO VOTE?

Some have told me that they find both candidates so objectionable that they may “sit out” the Presidential election this year. I urge you not to do that. Either Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton will be our next President. Our voices will be wasted if we fail to vote or if we vote for a third party candidate or a write-in candidate (even if that vote is cast in good conscience). Voting is our privilege, our right, and our obligation as US citizens. If we fail to vote for either Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton, we will let others choose who will be elected President, and that person may be the most objectionable of all of the candidates. Our country, and indeed the whole world, depends on us to make the best choice that we can, and that choice requires each of us to vote based on the most informed decision that we can make, as difficult as that might be.

WHO WINS MY VOTE?

With some reservation, I will vote for Mrs. Clinton for President. I hope to see all of you at the polls next Tuesday.

TRUMP: CONTRACT WITH THE AMERICAN PEOPLE

With less than three weeks before the election, Presidential candidate Donald Trump presented his ambitious “Contract with American People” this weekend in Gettysburg PA.  He laid out action plans that are quite specific, indicating what he plans to do, rather than repeating his usual negative rhetoric of blaming of others for his declining standing in the polls.  We will have to decide if his plan is the path that we want the American government to take.  His action plan is here.

At long last, he has give us something substantial to consider.

Civility ???

I watched the third and final Presidential debate this evening. I was highly encouraged that Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton, for the most part, treated each other civilly. Their policy positions and vision for America could not be more starkly different, and they articulated those clearly. Each of us will have to determine how close our own vision aligns with theirs.
Since our own opinions about their policies and vision are not likely to change, I submit to you that the three criteria I outlined in my October 8 post, “And the winner is….” are the primary criteria to consider. Specifically: experience, integrity, and temperament.
That being said, despite my encouragement after watching the debate, I am saddened to see that in the past three hours since the debate ended, Mr. Trump has posted 27 tweets, all critical of Secretary Clinton. In those tweets he referenced #Drain the swamp 15 times, and called her “crooked Hillary” 5 times.
So much for civility!
Since their respective experience is a given, it will be interesting to see how each of them measure up to my criteria of integrity and temperament in the last few days before the election.

“AND THE NEW WINNER IS….”

As Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign experiences a rapid free-fall this week, taking the Republican Party down with it, the vitriol surfacing in the campaign is some of the worst that I can remember. Yet, in my opinion, there is one Republican in the campaign who still stands tall and strong. That person is Gov. Mike Pence, the party’s Vice-Presidential nominee.

As Republican candidates and office-holders withdraw their endorsement and/or support of Mr. Trump, Gov. Pence has stood by him. Throughout, Gov. Pence has carried himself with dignity. To the degree that he can support Mr. Trump’s positions in good conscience, he has done so all week long. He has skillfully side-stepped those topics where he cannot, without coming off as being disingenuous.

When he accepted Mr. Trump’s invitation to be his running mate, and when he accepted his party’s nomination to be their Vice-Presidential nominee, he made a commitment to faithfully fulfill that role. He continues to do that with integrity, despite what I imagine must be a very difficult time for him — a time very likely to end his career in politics.

Dignity, loyalty, integrity. When I posted “And the winner is….” last Saturday, I said that integrity and temperament were characteristics essential to the person holding the office of President. In fact these are characteristics that I think are important for all of us to possess, especially in difficult times. Dignity, loyalty, integrity: the same as integrity and temperament.

Thank you Gov. Pence for your example as we endure this circus-like nightmare.

Prayer for the election

I share this prayer with you written by Sr. Joan Chittister, as posted today by the Sisters of the Congregation of St. Joseph.

“Give us, O God, leaders whose hearts are large enough to match the breadth of our souls, and give us souls strong enough to follow leaders of vision and wisdom. In seeking a leader, let us seek more than development for ourselves – though development we hope for – more than security for our own land – though security we need – more than satisfaction for our own wants – though many things we desire.

Give us the hearts to choose the leader who will work with other leaders to bring safety to the whole world. Give us a government that provides for the advancement of this country without taking resources from others to achieve it.

Give us insight enough ourselves to choose leaders who can tell strength from powers, growth from greed, leadership from dominance, and real greatness from the trappings of grandiosity.

We trust you, great God, to open our hearts to learn from those to whom you speak in different tongues and to respect the life and words of those whom you entrusted the good of other parts of this planet.

We beg you, great God, give us the vision as a people to know where global leadership truly lies, to pursue it diligently, to require it to protect human rights for everyone, everywhere.

We ask these things with minds open to your word and hearts that trust in your eternal care.

Amen!”
– Joan Chittister, OSB

“AND THE WINNER IS….”

Political pundits seem prone to declare a “winner” of Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates. By definition, winning and losing require a clear set of rules and objectives. Declaring a candidate the “winner” of a debate requires that the objectives of each candidate be the same, and that their performance be measured by the same standards or set of rules. Clearly this is not always the case, as was evident in this week’s Vice-Presidential debate. Each candidate may have “won” the debate based on what their goal was, but they were obviously not playing the same game. The general election has only one finish line, and the rules of the election are clear and applicable to all. Every “winning” moment prior to the vote on November 8 is largely irrelevant.

Before casting our vote, each of us must determine the set of criteria by which we will judge who is best fit to be our next President. I submit that there are three characteristics worth considering. Within those three each of us must define our own set of specific criteria. Mine are these:

EXPERIENCE

  • Does the candidate have the requisite knowledge and experience to understand the duties and responsibilities of the Presidency?
  • If the candidate has never been President before, as is the case in 2016, is their experience and skill set transferrable to that needed by the President?

INTEGRITY

  • Is the candidate a person of integrity (defined by the Apple Dictionary as, “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness”)?
  • Does the candidate treat others with honor and respect?
  • How accurate are the claims that the candidate makes? If they are not accurate, is the candidate deliberately lying, or simply ill-informed? In either case, how does the candidate correct that?
  • Given that none of us possess total integrity all of the time, or are totally devoid of integrity all of the time, what is the relative integrity of each candidate? What effect will previous lapses of integrity have on the candidate’s ability to perform the duties and carry out the responsibilities required of the President at this time?
  • Will others in our government view the candidate as having integrity and be able to work with him or her in a way that is trustworthy?
  • Will other world leaders, both allies and adversaries, view our next President as having integrity?
  • Consequently, how likely will those world leaders be to take seriously the positions of the United States, and our resolve to follow through on those positions, as articulated by our President?

TEMPERAMENT

  • Does the candidate possess the appropriate temperament to be President (defined by the Apple Dictionary as, “a person’s nature, especially as it permanently affects their behavior; the tendency to behave angrily or emotionally”)?
  • Does the candidate possess self-awareness of their temperament, and are they able to adjust their behavior accordingly?
  • Based on the candidate’s temperament, how successful will Congress be in working with the candidate to pass needed legislation?
  • Likewise, how successful will bureaucrats in Cabinet departments be in implementing the laws that the President is charged with carrying out?
  • How will the next President’s temperament be perceived by our citizens, our military commanders, those in uniform, and others around the world? What effect will that temperament have on those persons and their actions?

I have obviously written these characteristics and criteria with the 2016 election in mind. But they are applicable to all Presidential elections. Notice that I have not listed any policy positions in these criteria. Policy positions are important, but I think that the above are necessary prerequisites for the aspiring President prior to considering political persuasions and policy positions. In other words, experience, integrity, and temperament are more important than policy positions or ideology, and integrity and temperament are more important than experience.  If both candidates are roughly equal in meeting the integrity and temperament tests, then it is appropriate to consider experience and policy in our decision of who to vote for. But if one candidate exceeds the other in that test, there is no point in looking further. Our republic has survived dramatic shifts in policy in the past. What is more important than policy is the experiential and personal capability of the person steering the ship of America.

Before declaring a “winner” of this or that debate, or applauding a political rally or endorsement, or a statement of opposition toward a particular candidate, let’s consider the characteristics and criteria by which we judge the candidates. Let’s be sure that we are applying the correct set of “game rules” to their run for office. Let’s strive to not simply react to the ideological positions that match or do not match ours, or to whatever the latest misdeed or indiscretion is that the morning news reports.

Style or Substance

I am an addict. I find that I am addicted to the presidential campaign. Rather, I’m not so much addicted to the campaign itself, as I am to the style of the candidates. I get a rush each day when I read the latest tantalizing things that the candidates have said and done the day before. I enjoy watching them on social media, even though I know that I am seeing only biased footage based on which news network I am watching. And I tend to watch those networks that deliver the most sensational material. I’m addicted.

Style verses substance. Or, shall we say: style verses significance. Significance: the importance of something, and the value that an individual places on that something.

But style also contains substance. How a person presents himself or herself tells us something about the things that the person says are important (whether they believe it or not). For example, polls show that Secretary Clinton’s style and ideas appeal to a certain demographic group, those more likely to have a college education, good jobs, and prospects for a bright future in a global economy. But some find her style to be elitist, and her rhetoric to represent the faults of a government insider who does not understand the needs of ordinary Americans.

Polls tell us that Mr. Trump’s style and rhetoric gives voice to a different demographic group, those more likely to feel disenfranchised, with dead-end jobs or no jobs, and those struggling to keep their heads above water. But some find his style to be egotistic, bombastic, and insulting.

My problem is that I am addicted to the sensationalism of the style, and often fail to evaluate the significance of the matter that the person is giving voice to.

Many agree with Secretary Clinton’s belief that we must reduce our use of fossil fuels and increase our use of wind and solar energy. They would argue that global warming is a very real and present danger to our planet and our survival as a species, even more so than random acts of terrorism. They would agree with Mrs. Clinton’s proposals to train people in ways that will increase our use of wind and solar power.

Many of those who support Mr. Trump might agree with this belief. But their agreement does little to help the coal miner whose job was abolished, who is unable to put food on the table for his family. Being retrained for a job of the future may sound good in theory, but it doesn’t pay the mortgage today. Mr. Trump’s style and beliefs tend to appeal to those who feel powerless in this rapidly changing world, and who would like nothing better than to be the picked-on kid in the school yard who finally has the ability to turn and punch the bully in the nose. Mr. Trump identifies specifically who the bully is, and he is ready to punch him in the nose for us. His bully is not some nebulous set of global interactions that are hard to identify and hard to control, a bully that we must learn to work with.

Style and substance: not distinctly different things. But it’s often hard to see the one in the other. I need to work harder on breaking my addiction in order to do so, because IT IS IMPORTANT to see the significance of both sides of this coin.

HUMPTY DUMPTY

“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall,
All the king’s horses, and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.
– English nursery rhythm

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
– President Ronald Reagan, June 12, 1987

It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women…to do the same. When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue…new opportunities open up for all. This…requires courage and daring.  A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism.
– Pope Francis, Address to a Joint Session of Congress, Sept. 24, 2015

“I’m going to build a wall.”
– Donald Trump, 2016

Our relationships with other countries of the world, including our neighbors, is often fraught with tension. Currently there is a debate about how best to control the border between Mexico and the United States. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump proposes to build a wall across the entire US-Mexican border in order to keep out illegal immigrants.

Walls serve a useful purpose. They keep unwanted things out, and they keep in those things that should not get out. But eventually they outgrow their usefulness and are almost always breached.

We shared a backyard with a former neighbor, and our kids played together in this joint yard. When our neighbor put in a swimming pool he built a six-foot high privacy fence along the property line in our backyard. It prevented the risk of accidental drowning in his pool. But it also dramatically reduced our neighborliness, and it ended the relationship that our children had with each other. Unfortunately, we were not able to breach that wall, and our kids were seldom invited to swim in our neighbor’s pool. Thirty years later the wall still stands.

The Ming Dynasty completed the Great Wall of China in order to keep out foreign invaders and to control international commerce and tariffs. It worked, more or less, but, along with Communism, it kept the Chinese isolated from the rest of the world. The wall now stands as an engineering marvel and a tourist attraction. It was breached when it no longer served a useful purpose.

The Soviet Union built the Berlin Wall to keep East Berliners from crossing into West Berlin. The wall also split families, separating kinfolk who lived on opposite sides of the wall. It was famously breached in 1989. The result was the reunification of Germany, which is now the recipient, by far, of the largest number of Syrian refugees in the European Union. This is a very dramatic, 180-degree shift from the atrocities committed by Hitler’s Germany. Portions of the Berlin Wall are now simply display pieces in museums.

The Soviet Union built the “Iron Curtain,” subjugating the countries of eastern Europe. That wall was breached by the will of the people and by courageous leaders like Lech Wałęsa and Pope John Paul II.

President George H. W. Bush built a wall around Iraq with the enforcement of a “no-fly zone.” That wall was effective in preventing Saddam Hussein from spreading his reign of terror beyond the borders of Iraq. That is, until the second President Bush breached the wall by invading Iraq with no follow-up plan, launching the quagmire of the “War on Terror” that seems to have no end. Sometimes breaching a wall comes too soon.

On August 31 Mr. Trump visited Mexican President Nieto. They discussed mutual goals, including how to control illegal immigration and how to stop the trafficking of drugs through Mexico into the United States. He referred to Mexican Americans as “spectacular hard-working people” who are “beyond reproach.” For a moment it appeared that together we could work toward a solution to these problems that we share as neighbors. Then, that evening Mr. Trump gave a rousing speech on immigration, repeating his plan to build a “physical, tall,…beautiful southern border wall,” and stating that Mexico would pay for it.

Mr. Trump is not Humpty Dumpty. Our standing as a good neighbor, our history as a nation of immigrants, our foreign policy, and our skill in diplomacy is Humpty Dumpty. How ironic it would be if Humpty fell off of the very wall that Mr. Trump believes will protect us.

Fortunately, we are a resilient people, and we have experience putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. If it is ever built, Mr. Trump’s wall will be quickly breached. But how much more productive we could be if we simply stopped pushing Humpty Dumpty off of the wall in the first place!

World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation

Today is the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. On this day Roman Catholic Pontiff Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew jointly issued prophetic letters urging all people of every faith to pray for and to take action to care for the Earth, the only home that we have been given. How gratifying it is to have these two Christian leaders, whose churches have been split for a thousand years, come together to call our attention to the effects of our misuse of the Earth, and to call us to prayer and action for its sustainability. The text of their letters is here.

Earlier this year I wrote extensively about the effects of global warming (Reflections on the American Christian Church).  I called on the prophetic church to engage in the sort of action taken by Pope Francis in his Laudato Si’ encyclical, and the continued action that these two Christian leaders have shown again today.  I urge all of us to follow their lead.

THE TRAP

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump presents dilemmas all around. Earlier this week he suggested that “second amendment people” could stop Secretary Hillary Clinton (the Democratic presidential nominee) from appointing Supreme Court justices. His comment was widely interpreted to implicitly suggest that she could (or perhaps, should) be assassinated. Consequently he has been soundly rebuked my most media networks, politicians (past and present), Democrats and Republicans. More Republican high office holders are issuing public statements saying that they cannot support and will not vote for him. Meanwhile, he claims that his comment was only a joke and never meant to infer what others have interpreted it to be.

There are many who are calling on the Republican National Committee to withdraw his nomination as their presidential candidate, an action that they can apparently take under their rules. If they were to do this, who would they chose as their candidate to replace him? And who would want to accept their nomination? While such an action might restore their position as a party with some credibility, it would almost assuredly give the presidential election to Secretary Clinton, as well as victory to a host of Democratic candidates on down the line. There is a chance that the Democrats could regain a majority in Congress, especially in the Senate. But keeping Mr. Trump as their candidate also poses the same risk.  What to do?

Those Republican politicians who have publicly condemned Mr. Trump’s comments, while still voicing support for his candidacy, are finding it increasingly difficult to reconcile these two seemingly contradictory positions. More and more they are being called upon by to justify their action. This poses a particularly difficult dilemma for House Speaker, Republican Paul Ryan, who is charged with the task of leading his party in the House, and thus being the champion of the Republican presidential candidate. Yet, he is a leading candidate to be the party’s nominee for president if Mr. Trump were to have that position taken from him.  Catch 22!  Does he support Mr. Trump for the sake of party unity, while that unity seems to be disintegrating around him? Or, if he believes that Mr. Trump is unfit to serve as president, which I think that he increasingly believes, does he pursue his own gain to “save” his party and the country?  What to do?

The Director of the Secret Service is equally caught in a bind. I have no doubt that if I had publicly made the comment that Mr. Trump made about Secretary Clinton and “second amendment people” that I would have received a visit from Secret Service agents posthaste. How do you investigate a person who has made such a remark when you are also charged with protecting him? And if you do investigate Mr. Trump, who made this remark at a political rally, how do you maintain your credibility as an impartial public servant, especially when your boss is President Obama? How do you keep from adding fuel to the fire of those who believe that the Democrats and the government have “rigged” the election? Would such an investigation inspire that one individual who strongly believes that Secretary Clinton must be stopped at all costs to attempt to assassinate her?  It only takes one.  The Director must be having a lot of sleepless nights this week.  What to do?

What do you do now, Mr. Trump? Do you continue your inflammatory rhetoric? Or do you abandon your beliefs and speak from the scripts written by your campaign staff in order to sound “presidential?” Could you do that for the next four years?  What to do?

What to do, America?  Where do we go from here?

Decency

Throughout the primary presidential campaign I have deliberately refrained from commenting on the candidates or things that have been said about them. Hence I have not “liked” or commented on any Facebook remarks, invitations to be With Hillary or Bernie, or other such posts. I did not want to thoughtlessly be reactionary or affirmative, such as is often the case when scanning through the posts and tweets that one receives on Facebook and Twitter each day.

However, now that the Democratic and Republican conventions are over and Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump have been nominated as their party’s presidential candidates, I will use this blog from time to time to share my thoughts about them and their campaigns. I will attempt to be respectful and non-partisan in my comments. But in the spirit of full disclosure, let me say that, “I am with Hillary,” and I oppose the election of Mr. Trump as President.

If you find my posts to be thought-provoking, I invite you to “follow” this blog to receive email notices when I post additional comments. I also invite you to share my blog with others.

According to my Apple Dictionary, the noun “decency” means: behavior that conforms to accepted standards of morality or respectability (e.g., “she had the decency to come and confess”). The adjective “decent” means: “not likely to shock or embarrass others,” and “kind, obliging, or generous (e.g., “take the most honorable or appropriate course of action, even if it is not necessarily in one’s own interests”). When I consider presidents and presidential candidates during my lifetime, regardless of their success or failure, or my agreement with their policies, those who come to mind as “decent” individuals are John McCain, George H. W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Gerald Ford. Mr. Trump does not even come close to making the list.

The short speech by Mr. Khizr Khan at the Democratic convention has taken on a life of its own, with numerous follow-up interviews on news shows over the weekend. The Democrats’ use of the Khans to attack Mr. Trump is no different from the Republicans’ use of Pat Smith, the mother of a Benghazi victim, to attack Secretary Clinton. Presidential campaigns are rough and tumble and not for the faint of heart. This is okay, as it gives us voters the opportunity to see how the candidates handle tough situations, where they or their beliefs or their country are challenged. For us, differentiating fact from fiction in emotional situations, and seeing those situations in their appropriate context, is often difficult. But for the moment, Mr. Trump’s reaction to Mr. and Mrs. Khan is center stage. Mr. Todd Starnes opined in a FoxNews article on August 1 that, “There is a clear and present double standard in the mainstream media, and Mr. Trump walked right into their trap.”

There is an old adage that says, “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” Mr. Trump seems not to have learned this lesson, as he tweeted retaliatory comments immediately after Mr. Khan was interviewed on CNN Sunday morning. He regularly tweets his thoughts and reactions immediately after an event. This behavior raises serious questions about his ability to react calmly and thoughtfully, and not in a knee-jerk fashion, when faced with situations of great national and international import, a concern that has been widely expressed by others. I also question his ability to recognize a “trap” when he sees one, or doesn’t see one, as seems to be the case here. Imagine how tantalizing that must be for our adversaries, and how worrisome that must be for our allies. Mr. Starnes offered this advice to Mr Trump, “…just because you can respond to hateful attacks doesn’t mean that you should. Sometimes it’s best to take the high road and say nothing.”

The Clinton campaign could not possibly buy better publicity. Secretary Clinton cited Mr. Trump’s behavior in her campaign speeches on Sunday, while Mr. Trump continued to tweet his way deeper into the hole of his own making. We should expect all political leaders of every party, especially those who aspire to be our president, to act in a “decent” manner.

Mr. Starnes concludes that if Mr. Trump really wants to win, “…the Trump campaign needs to knock off the nonsense and get it together. The 2016 election is not about Donald Trump. It’s about the American people.”

I could not have said it better myself.

INDEPENDENCE DAY 2016

My land. That piece of North America known as the “lower 48.” A land of plains and prairies, majestic mountains, the Everglades, the Great Lakes, deserts, the Grand Canyon, glaciers, islands, volcanoes, spirited rivers and cascading waterfalls, lush forests, and thousands of miles of coastline. A place that feels “right” to me.

Returning home from overseas, even from Hawaii and Alaska….crossing the boarder into New York at Niagara Falls after cutting across Ontario from Michigan….returning to Florida after a cruise…. there is always a sense of peace, a sense of contentment when I return to “my land.”

Native Americans also felt that inseparable bond with “their land.” First generation immigrants and refugees feel the tug, that pull back to their homeland, even when they know that America is their new and permanent “home.” The call back to “our land” seems to be inbred in all of us.

When former Roman Catholic pontiff John Paul II traveled to other countries, he always knelt to kiss the ground as soon he disembarked from his plane. It was an act of reverence, an acknowledgement that the entire world is God’s “land.” It was also a show of respect for the people who claimed that small piece of planet Earth as “their land.”

The land grabs us and holds us to her bosom. When American soldiers are buried overseas, even when we die in the US away from our home, whenever possible we bring our loved ones back to “their land” for permanent burial. I know in my heart that I will not yearn for home when someday I am laid to rest in “my land,” when her shroud is wrapped around me. For then I will be as one with my land.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMERICA

–  forever “my land”  –

My Land
performed by Celtic Thunder

Lyrics by Brendan Graham (born 1945), an Irish songwriter and novelist. Graham also wrote the lyrics to the very popular “You Raise Me Up,” which has been performed in the past few decades by numerous artists.

Letting Go

Slowly first,
barely there,
dismissed with ease,
no need to care.

Again it comes,
from time to time,
nothing really,
…yet, one more time.

Again, again,
it causes pause,
unwelcome here,
there is no cause.

Persistent now,
it dims the light,
anxiety,
and restless nights.

Go away!
Enough of pain.
What must be done,
my life to gain?

Near the end,
do I care?
Near the end,
so much to bear!

So tired now,
the fight seems o’re,
       …and yet I sense,
there could be more.

Soft voices say,
…they seem to know…
“To fight on
is to let go.”

“To fight on
is to let go.”
What does that mean,
how is it so?

Again they say,
“It is okay,
for you must know,
you must let go.”

Fighting on,
and letting go,
they are but one,
how could I know?

Letting go,
relinquishing,
let peace come now,
I’m hungering.

Letting go,
surprised by ease,
in the east
daybreak I see.

In letting go
my burdens fall,
unshackled now
from death’s dark pall.

Letting go,
it comes with ease,
in letting go
I am released.

In letting go
   we are released.

VCI APPROVED

This evening our congregation voted by a large majority to accept the Vital Church Initiative report and accompanying “prescriptions.”  Now the process of implementing these “prescriptions” begins.  This will require many changes, and a large helping of grace, as “sacred cows” are jettisoned, and new forms of ministry are developed.  The next year will be very interesting!

VCI: Yes or No?

After reading all of the books that our VCI travel and home teams read and studied, after considering our VCI Consultation Team’s report and their “prescriptions,” after attending three town hall meetings, and after talking with many others, I have come to some conclusions about the VCI plan prescribed for us at Chapel Hill.

First of all, there are some concerns that I simply don’t understand. For example, I personally feel the “spiritual poverty” that is identified as a concern. But I have a hard time wrapping my mind around that impression, or adequately describing what it is. I also have some doubts about the prescriptions for that concern, namely small group involvement. In the past I have experienced the strong spiritual growth that comes from being part of a small group. But, as was mentioned in one of the town hall meetings, Chapel Hill has tried small groups many times, and they are hard to organize and maintain. We will need to exert a concerted effort to order to make this prescription happen. We will need to think of and organize small groups in ways that we haven’t done before.

The VCI Consultation Team told us that an intentional plan for worship and hospitality provides the greatest opportunity to invite people to become disciples of Jesus Christ. The Team said things about our worship services that were tough for me to hear. But if I only look at the concern and the prescription from my point of view, I miss the point. To summarize the prescription, the goal is to plan multi-sensory, worship experiences that connect people with God in ways that are applicable to daily life, to identify target audiences for each worship experience, to determine the best presentation style of worship for each target audience, and to explore an ideal schedule of multiple worship experiences for spreading the Gospel. Yes, it’s about my need for a meaningful worship experience, but it’s mostly about other folks out there. It’s about how to reach them at their point of need. But it’s not about everybody. It’s about a “target audience.” This will force us to redefine who we are trying to reach, and will sharpen our evangelism techniques. This will require me to take a deep breath, and to learn to be comfortable with some aspects of worship that I’m not used to. But then, I guess that it’s not all about me.

Some of the concerns and prescriptions are obvious and easy to measure. We all know that our property and buildings need to be maintained and that there needs to be a plan to deal with our debt. The steps outlined by the VCI plan are challenging, but pretty straight-forward.

The prescription that our staff will “exhibit the five characteristics…(of) high trust, skill in addressing conflict, a shared commitment, mutual accountability, and a focus on results” is beyond my ability to consider. I simply have no knowledge of the inner dynamics of our staff’s working relationships with each other.

I firmly believe that our governance structure needs to be changed, and have for some time. This will be hard work, and I could help make it happen. I have the skills to do so, but it would not be rewarding for me. We need to let people do this who will have to stretch themselves in order to accomplish this prescription.

For a while now I have been concerned about our leadership develop process. I had given some thought as to how I could work to improve that process. The VCI Consultation team also identified this need, but expanded it far beyond my original conception. Improving this process is something that I think I can contribute to. I can’t do it alone, but with other dedicated people, and with divine guidance, I think that I can help fulfill this prescription. It will be a big stretch for me, but it will enhance my “spiritual richness.” This is where I need to put my efforts.

Some members of the Leadership Team referred to these prescriptions as a “culture change” and a “paradigm shift.” If we look beyond the concerns and prescriptions that we personally don’t like or don’t understand, and if we look at all of them as a whole, they indeed represent a major “paradigm shift” in how we perceive our congregation and our ministry. In the town hall meetings that I attended, the question of whether something that we do now will have to be changed or will need to be eliminated was often raised. Someone asked, “Will there be ‘wreckage’ if we implement these prescriptions?” My answer to these questions is emphatically YES. We need to sharpen our focus on who we are, how we grow each other spiritually, who we are trying to reach outside of our doors, and how we are being called to do that. Paradigm shifts always require letting go of some of the old in order to embrace the new. There will be fallout, and there will be “wreckage.” Hopefully we can gracefully minimize the pain that many of us will feel as a result of this. But we will be better for it, and our ministry will be more effective if we work to fulfill these prescriptions.

It was also asked if any other congregations have successfully done what we are being called to do. YES; and not only in the US. There is an excellent example in our northernmost UMC congregation that has incorporated into their ministry all of the prescriptions that we have been given. I encourage you to read about it in the latest edition of our UMC “Interpreter” magazine. UMC Vital Church

Our Leadership Team asked themselves, “Can we do this?” NO, we cannot do this – BY OURSELVES. But I have seen it done when Christian disciples step out in faith, not quite knowing how to make happen what God is calling them to do, yet believing and trusting that God will lead them on the journey and will help them find the resolve and the resources to make it happen.

Probably very few of us fully embrace all of these prescriptions. None of us has the time or ability to devote our full effort to all of them. But, keeping the overall goal in mind, each of us can the find the one prescription that will challenge us beyond our capability, and we can focus our efforts there. And…we can actively support those who are helping us to achieve the other objectives.

For these reasons, despite some of the misgivings that I have, I will cast an unconditional YES vote at our Charge Conference meeting this Thursday, June 2 at 7:00 p.m.

EXAMINING OUR PRESCRIPTIONS

In my last post (May 3) I suggested ways in which we could determine if we should adopt Chapel Hill’s Vital Church Initiatives’ prescriptions.  My suggestions had to do with how much we could do by ourselves versus how much we would need God’s intervention to complete the prescriptions. But I did not address another critical component of the decision making process.

In only talking about the fulfillment of the prescriptions, by default I assumed that the concerns identified by the VCI Consultation Team were correct. In fact, their concerns (or diagnoses, if you will) may or may not be correct.

The facts that the Consultation Team examined are hard to refute. To take one example, they noted that, “Many staff and leaders could not articulate a faith journey.” This was one indicator that was used to determine that we are “spiritually poor,” which was the first concern that the Consultation Team identified. Based on the concern that we are “spiritually poor,” the Team prescribed a series of activities all focused on “a concerted small group ministry.”

In the town hall meeting that I attended last week, there was a lot of discussion about our previous attempts to have small groups and how difficult they are to organize and maintain. Our discussion was about the prescription. But we did not discuss or question the validity of the concern that we are “spiritually poor,” or how the facts that were noted led the Consultation Team to make that diagnosis.

To continue with this example, the fact that, “Many staff and leaders could not articulate a faith journey,” may not indicate that we are “spiritually poor.” Perhaps those staff members and leaders live out the rich results of their faith journey each day. Perhaps they are not “spiritually poor,” but are simply not good articulators, much like Moses. The fact that they could not articulate their faith journey does not necessarily mean that our congregation is “spiritually poor.” It might, but it might not.

As a medical patient, most of us would not agree to a course of chemotherapy unless we agreed with the doctor’s diagnosis of cancer. Even then, many of us would ask what the facts are (the lab tests, the CT scans, etc.) that led to the diagnosis of cancer, especially if we had not noted any symptoms of illness.

Before we consider if the “prescription” is worth pursuing, we must first agree that the concern is accurate. In our town hall meeting I heard some of our members question the concern of “spiritually poverty” in stunned disbelief. I did not hear anybody question whether the facts used to identify our “spiritually poverty” accurately led to that concern.

I am not casting judgement on the accuracy of the Consultation Team’s conclusions. They may be right. In fact, for most of the concerns identified I think that they are. But before we consider whether or not we should accept and then implement their prescriptions, we first need to:

  • determine if the facts that they have identified are true,
  • determine if those facts accurately lead to the concerns identified by the Consultation Team,
  • decide if we will take ownership of the concerns; do we agree that these are problem areas that need to be fixed, and only then,
  • determine if their prescriptions will effectively remedy the concerns that they identified.

If we only consider the prescriptions without first examining these prior fundamental questions, we are wasting our time. We will give up our efforts long before we fully complete the prescriptions. This would be no different than the medical patient who will discontinue chemotherapy, thus avoiding the difficult changes and suffering that comes with that form of treatment, unless he or she fully agrees with the diagnosis and seriousness of the cancer.

Let’s broaden our discussion at our next two town hall meetings.

Vital Church Initiative Prescriptions

On Sunday, May 1 the on-line Upper Room devotional quoted Exodus 3:16-18, which reads in part,  “Go and get Israel’s elders together and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me.’ The Lord said, ‘I’ve been paying close attention to you…I’ve decided to take you away…to a land full of milk and honey.’”

On that same Sunday we received our long-awaited Vital Church Initiatives Report (Portage Chapel Hill’s Consultation Report) report and prescriptions designed to make Chapel Hill an even more vital Church. To summarize (in my words), the prescriptions call us to:

  1. Implement intentional faith development groups.
  2. Focus and realign our congregation’s governance structure.
  3. Plan and implement a deliberate leadership develop program.
  4. Establish a $1.2 million fund raising campaign to pay for needed repairs and upgrades to our facility, and to pay off our balloon mortgage which is due in three years.
  5. Evaluate and reformat our worship offerings.

Over the next month we will have the opportunity to attend town hall meetings to discuss these prescriptions and discern whether they are what God is calling us to do. On June 2 we will meet to adopt them in whole, or to reject them and continue with our present ministry programming.

In the most recent post on this blog I told the story of an inmate who preferred the safety of his jail cell over the new life that he was being offered. I think that this story offers a perfect analogy for considering these prescriptions.

If you respond to these prescriptions with a, “Ho-hum,” then we should vote them down.

If you react by saying, “Well, yes, I’ve known that we should be doing these things, but we just haven’t gotten around to them,” then we need to ask ourselves why we haven’t gotten around to them. If it takes coaching from VCI to prod us to do these things, then perhaps we should proceed with the VCI plan. But I think that that would be a poor reason for voting to accept these prescriptions, and a waste of our district’s time, money, and VCI expertise. We simply need to decide to do those things that we have been putting off, that we know we should do, and that we are able to do by ourselves. And then we should do them.

If our reaction to these prescriptions is, “Hmm…this sounds a bit challenging, but with some hard work I think that we can do this,” then I might be tempted to take a few steps outside of that jail cell to test the waters. I’m not sure how I would vote, but I know that I would not be very excited about following through on the prescriptions. I can do hard work, but it isn’t always very inspiring.

However, if I want to run, not walk, back into that cell and slam the door behind me, and if I say to myself, “You’ve got to be kidding me. There’s absolutely no way we can do this. Only God can do this!” then most definitely I will vote to implement these prescriptions. I need to have my faith tested, and to be challenged to let God use me for the “transformation of the world” in ways that I absolutely cannot do by myself. If only God can pull off these prescriptions, well then, isn’t that what a spiritually rich, Vital Church is all about?

Exodus 3:16-17, “The Lord said, ‘I’ve been paying close attention to you… (and) I have decided to take you away…’”

Do we follow, or do we stay captive, as the writer of Exodus was referring to?

What do you think?

* An update of progress made as of November 20, 2016 toward completion of the Vital Church Prescriptions for Chapel Hill can be found at http://www.pchum.org/vitalchurch

EASTER’S PROMISE and the VITAL CHURCH INITIATIVE

We are in that time of year in the Christian church called the Easter Season, the time between Easter and Pentecost. This is the time of year in which we remember and celebrate the gift of life and freedom that God has given us.

During the Easter Season some years ago, I watched a short, live drama during the worship service one Sunday morning. A man was sitting on a bench inside a small jail cell reading an old magazine when the jailer arrive with a large ring of keys and unlocked the cell door. He announced, “You have been pardoned. You are free to go.” With that, he left the cell door open and walked away. A few moments later the man’s sister excitedly arrived to take him home. He looked stunned and perplexed, but with her encouragement, he tentatively stepped a pace or two outside of his cell. She eagerly urged him to come with her, but he remained frozen in his tracks, unsure of what to do. Finally, he silently walked back into his cell, sat down, and picked up the old magazine to read again for the umpteenth time. The familiarity and security of his cell was more powerful than the new life that he was being offered.

For the past year our congregation has been involved in the Vital Church Initiative (VCI) process. We are now arriving at a crossroads in that process. Our VCI teams have spent a year studying and meeting with teams from other congregations that are also going through the VCI process. Our staff members have submitted numerous reports about our congregation. We have gathered input from community leaders and average people on the street. Many of us have completed a survey about our effectiveness in carrying out our vision to “be a transforming community of faith.” Pastor Barry and our Leadership Team will meet with the VCI staff this next weekend to offer their perceptions about how we are doing at Chapel Hill. Likewise, all members of the congregation are invited to meet with the VCI staff this Saturday, April 30, from 10:00 to 3:00. Lunch is included, and childcare will be provided as needed. You can sign up here.

This coming Sunday, after evaluating all of the input, our VCI consultants will offer us five “prescriptions” designed to make our congregation more vital and relevant to our community. This is a critical juncture in our congregation’s history. In the next month we will hold several town hall meetings so that we can discuss and consider these “prescriptions.” On June 2 we will vote to proceed to implement them, or to continue on our present path. If we proceed, the VCI staff will provide us with a coach for the next year to work with us, to guide us, and to encourage us on this new journey of faith and ministry.

Still, our current ministry is good. What we do, we do well. We are comfortable with it. It’s a bit like the dilemma that faced the prisoner. Do we embrace the new, not knowing for sure where it will take us, or do we continue with the familiarity and safety that our present ministry provides?

The La Fevre Quartet sing the powerful Easter song, “Jesus Saves.” You can listen to it at this link: Jesus Saves. A repeated refrain in the song is,

“Freedom’s calling; chains are falling;
hope is dawning bright and true.
Day is breaking; night is quaking;
God is making all things new!”

I wonder what new things God is planning for Chapel Hill.

I look forward to finding out what our upcoming Vital Church Initiative “prescriptions” will be. But, like the prisoner, I might not recognize the falling chains that hold me back from fully embracing new possibilities. There is a chance that I won’t want to see the new day breaking. I may be tempted to stick with my familiar way of doing ministry.

But I hope that I will take the leap of faith to see what new things God will make through those of us here at Chapel Hill.

How about you?

“Thank You”…..“Thank You”

Check out these words in a dictionary.

Thank you: “an instance or means of expressing thanks.”

You’re welcome: “used as a polite response to thanks.”

In the past few years have you noticed how everyone seems to respond by saying, “Thank you” when somebody says, “Thank you” to them? I notice this especially in the media. For example, a host interviews someone, and then, at the end of the interview or news report, the host says, “Thank you.” And the interviewee inevitably replies, “Thank you.” This frequently seems to be true when news broadcasters get a live update from a reporter somewhere out in the field.

Or the interviewee replies with an exclamation, “Thank you!” as though they were the extremely grateful one doing the interviewing. On the other hand, responding with, “Thank you for having me on your show” is quite appropriate when the guest is promoting their latest book. Or, “Thanks for inviting me to share information about this project with your listeners.” But the one that really bugs me is, “Thanks for having me.” It just seems as though something is missing. Does the interviewee mean, “Thanks for having me on your show,” or, “thanks for having me” in some other way?

To respond by thanking someone who offers you their gratitude robs them of being able to gift you for what you have done for them. It sends a subtle message that their gift of thanks to you is of little value, nor are they worthy of receiving anything of value from you. Perhaps responding with a “Thank you” is a way of leveling the playing field, so as not to come across as being more important than the person offering their thanks to you. But I think that it belittles the proper reciprocation that is called for.

This weekend I heard Scott Simon on National Public Radio interview a reporter in Brussels where the terrorist attacks recently took place. At the end of her report Simon said to her, “Thank you,” and she very professionally and appropriately replied, “You’re welcome.” How refreshing! I would love to hear more of this proper form of verbal intercourse.

Thank you for reading this post about one of my pet peeves.

Oh, by the way, the correct response is to post a comment that simply says, “You’re welcome.”

I AM AN IMMIGRANT

Given the anti-immigration rhetoric proudly proclaimed by our candidates for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, it seems to be the right time for me to post an abridged version of a story that I wrote last summer to commemorate America’s 239th birthday.

I  AM  AN  IMMIGRANT

Xenophobia:   (intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries) Such a harsh word.  We don’t use it. It puts the blame on us.

Illegal immigrant; undocumented alien:  Much more politically correct.  It puts the blame on them.

Homeland security:   Who can argue with that?

Consider…since the 9/11 terrorist attacks Americans have been obsessed with “homeland security.”  Millions of dollars have been spent as our intelligence agencies have been reorganized.  A new cabinet Department of Homeland Security has been created.  Currently we are consumed with the idea of turning away Syrian refugees, and there are never ending calls for tighter border security, primarily the Mexican-American border.  Apparently Mexicans seeking jobs and a better way of life pose a threat to us, while our Canadian neighbors do not.

But….
Christopher Columbus, 1492:  Illegal immigrant, undocumented alien.
Jamestown VA, 1607:  Illegal immigrants, undocumented aliens.
Plymouth Rock MA, 1620:  Illegal immigrants, undocumented aliens.

It seems that homeland security wasn’t so important to our European ancestors when they came to North America.

We are all immigrants, even those that we refer to as “Native Americans” who were here thousands of years before we were.  Beginning in 1638, my family members, including our daughters-in-law, came to America from England, Canada, Germany, Austria, Poland, Scotland, Ireland, Japan, and China.  One of my daughter-in-law’s grandmothers escaped to Iran at the time of the Russian occupation of her country of Georgia following the 1917 Soviet revolution.  Her daughter, my daughter-in-law’s mother, then emigrated to America.  From Georgia to Iran to America; three countries in just two generations!  My family: immigrants from eleven different countries.  My family: for 378 years a family of immigrants seeking freedom and economic opportunity!

Yet somehow, despite our immigrant status, we have acquired the idea that we are the only rightful owners of North America.

Manifest destiny, embraced as national policy in the 1800s, was the idea that Americans owe to the world an obligation to expand and preserve the spread of republican democracy: ”that great experiment of liberty.”  As history shows, “that great experiment of liberty” was a rather incongruous idea at best!

In 1830 President Andrew Jackson gained Congressional passage of the Indian Removal Act, authorizing the removal of Native American tribes to land west of the Mississippi River in exchange for forced cession of their lands in the Southeastern United States.  The goal was to allow European-American planters to move in and develop the land for their plantations. The outcome of this action, known as the “Trail of Tears,” was the forced march westward of members of the Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations.  Enroute to designated “Indian Territory” and later Oklahoma, thousands became ill and died.

Today, due to our government’s numerous violations of treaties made with those who were here before us, bands of Native Americans must petition our governments to be recognized as an extant tribe.  This status then allows them the right to request approval to operate casinos, which provide income to fund needed education, employment, health care, and social services to their tribal members.  These casinos drain many millions of dollars from their patrons, those of us who arrived here long after Native Americans did.  Righteous retribution, I suppose.  But someday these casinos will be seen for what I believe they really are: yet one more example of our subjugation and degradation of those who occupied this land before we did.

Manifest Destiny rationalized the United States’ annexation of Texas in 1845, resulting in the Mexican-American War.

Manifest Destiny even extended beyond our Pacific border.  In 1893 the Hawaiian monarch Queen Liliʻuokalani was overthrown and replaced by a provisional government composed of members of the American Committee of Safety.  (I can’t help but wonder whose safety was in question.)  The Queen was placed under house arrest in her palace in Honolulu.  The monarchy was never reinstated, and in 1898 Congress passed the Newlands Resolution annexing the Republic of Hawaii to the United States, which subsequently became our 50th state.  The absurdity of this strikes close to home in the Loomis family, as our son and his wife now live in Honolulu in the home in which her father of Chinese and Japanese ancestry grew up.

In the meantime, while we were subjugating those whose land we coveted, the United States engaged in the most schizophrenic of behaviors.

The Statue of Liberty was dedicated on October 28, 1886.  Standing on Liberty Island, rising above the Upper New York Bay, she bears a torch and a tablet upon which is inscribed the date of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.  The Statue of Liberty is an icon of freedom: a welcoming signal to immigrants arriving from abroad.  A symbolic broken chain lies at her feet.

Inscribed at the base of the Statue are these words penned in 1883 by Emma Lazarus, a woman of Jewish ancestry, who had written extensively of the persecution of Jews:

“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles.

“From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

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

“I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Next to Liberty Island sits Ellis Island which served as the famous immigration station from 1892 to 1954.  During that time 12 million immigrants were processed through Ellis Island.  Eight million more were processed in the 35 years before Ellis Island was opened.  We welcomed freedom seeking immigrants into our country as early as 1857, while simultaneously keeping as our slaves Africans that we had kidnapped from their countries.  Today one-third of all  Americans can trace their ancestry to those who arrived at Ellis Island, a lineage of immigrants of astonishing proportion.

(From John McCutcheon: “I am an Immigrant”)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g7qx4sl52Zo

“I am an immigrant.
I am a stranger in this place.
I have left everything I own.
To everything I’ve known I say goodbye.”

During the Irish Potato Famine from 1845 to 1852 one million Irish men and women died, and one million emigrated from their homeland to the United States.

“I am an Irishman.
When the famine put us to the test
Away into the West,
Like wild birds flying,

“We put our backs to the wheel
With a heart that always yearned for home.
We have made this place our own.
And about died trying.”

Several groups of Amish and Mennonite people make their home in northern Indiana and in St. Joseph County MI, just south of where I live.  They are direct descendents of Anabaptist Christians who were tortured and persecuted in Europe by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant churches.  Thousands fled to the United States to obtain religious freedom.

“She said, ‘Give me your tired,’
Don’t you know I’m weary?
She said, ‘Give me your poor,’
She’s talking to me,
One of your huddled masses 
Yearning to breathe free.

“And I never have lost sight of
What this journey has been for.
See how she lifts her lamp
Beside the golden door.”

The United States was the destination, and benefactor, of many other groups of immigrants.  Of note in our area of southwest Michigan are the Hispanic migrant workers who harvest our abundant fruit and vegetable crops each year.

“I am a Chicano.
In your orchards and your fields
I have gathered in the yields
For this hungry land.

“I am Chinese.
I worked your mills, your yards, your mines.
I laid your railroad lines
With my two good hands.

“I am Nigerian,
I am Iranian, a Jew.
From Laos, from Katmandu.

“I am a long, long line,
One you have forgotten, that is true.
I am everything you knew.
I am your glory!”

   Xenophobia ….there’s that word again.

Perhaps Native Americans should have experienced a bit more xenophobia
and exercised more “homeland security” when our ancestors came here,
for now….

We seem to have forgotten what our journeys have been for!

*  Now we hide her lamp behind our golden door.  *

– AMERICA –

– a nation of immigrants –

May we restore her beacon-hand from which glows world-wide welcome.

And may we always bear witness to the richness of our diverse cultural heritage, a heritage both historical, and yet to come.

Therein lies our glory!

Reflections on the American Christian Church: Challenges and Opportunities

Over the past year and a half I have written a lengthy paper on my views of the American Christian Church.  I discuss:

1) the decline of the church,

2) what I see to be the primary issue that the church needs to address in the next ten to twenty years (the impact of the tools of the Information Age, how those tools are used by the church, and how those tools call into question the very doctrines of the church itself), and

3) the most relevant problem facing the world that the American church should confront (global warming).

I include a series of short articles dealing with day-to-day operational matters of the church.  I conclude with several suggestions and recommendations in order for the church to deal with the concerns that I raise.

The paper can be accessed at: Reflections on the American Christian Church: Challenges and Opportunities.

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