Category Archives: current affairs
My soul hurts when I think about the incident at a local church. Apparently, the minister provoked a member of his congregation with a sermon about racism. The individual was so offended, he actually left in the middle of the service. As he walked out, he loudly muttered, “George Floyd was a criminal.”
This happened in a Christian church.
I may not be a Biblical scholar, but the last time I checked, the Christian church is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ. You know, that guy who taught about mercy, forgiveness and taking care of each other? I’m fairly certain that Jesus wanted us to interact kindly with all human beings – not just the people we like or respect or who make us feel comfortable.
I know that’s not always easy, and sometimes I feel as though it’s almost impossible. But labeling someone a criminal and then using that label to rationalize their mistreatment hurts all of us. That’s because we are all connected.
No one lives and shares that message more loudly and bravely than Father Greg Boyle. Father Boyle is a Catholic Priest who founded Homeboy Industries, a gang intervention and rehabilitation program in Los Angeles. I had the privilege of hearing him speak a few years ago, and his words resonated. Like him, I am incredibly fortunate to have a job in which I can learn from people who others might dismiss.
There is the woman experiencing homelessness who once proudly told me she was featured in a documentary about women in prison. She was, and I’ve since watched it. I’ve had her bags of medication for various mental illnesses in my office. I unintentionally taught her to beg in Spanish when she asked me how to say “I’m hungry” and “I need money” in Spanish. She recently stopped by the office to tell my coworkers and me that she had a place to live. When I opened the door, I had to firmly tell her she couldn’t hug me because of COVID 19. I don’t call her a criminal. I call her a fellow human being.
There is the man who showed up in our office lobby loudly declaring “I just got out of prison and I don’t know where to go for help.” He had grown up in foster care and is functionally illiterate. He is demanding and difficult, but he was also sweet and helpful. He’d give staff cards and help clean our offices. After he went back to jail for rape, he still called the office on a regular basis. I don’t call him a criminal. I call him a fellow human being.
There is the young man with no place to live because his family kicked him out. Before COVID-19, he would stop by the office almost every day to make a cup of coffee. Occasionally, he would use the shower and do his laundry. He was always polite and followed the rules. When my co-workers and I hadn’t seen him for several days, one of us would look on the jail site. His mugshot would be there, and his charges ranged from battery to robbery. He stopped by the office last week to ask for a tent. I don’t call him a criminal. I call him a fellow human.
These individuals, like thousands of others, have stories to tell about what they have endured and survived. These individuals, like thousands of others, don’t have the support, resources, and connections that many of us do. And these individuals, like thousand of others, are so much more than a label or a criminal record.
Do I believe they should be held accountable for their actions? Absolutely! But I also believe that I should still care about them.
As Father Greg Boyle says, “There is no us and them, only us.”
I care about us.
When I was growing up, my mom baked a cherry pie every February in honor of George Washington’s birthday. The tradition was tied to the story about how, as a child, the first President of the United States chopped a cherry tree with his new hatchet. When his angry father confronted him, young George admitted what he had done because he couldn’t tell a lie.
The story was the basis of many elementary school lessons, and only as an adult did I learn that the story of the cherry tree was itself a lie. Author Mason Locke Weems added it, along with other heartwarming stories, to the fifth edition of his book The Life of Washington. Historians believe that Weems included the story to make Washington a virtuous role model that could influence the behavior of children.
He wasn’t alone. The history I learned in school almost always portrayed honorable men who built a perfect country on unquestionable values. In truth, the men were imperfect humans who built this country on the backs of others.
But for more than a century, history was written by people like Parson Weems, who wanted to shape it into a tool that could be used to control what people believed, and therefore how they behaved.
My elementary school classmates and I were taught that Christopher Columbus discovered America. We used crayons to color pictures of the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria while reciting “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” No one taught us about the genocide he perpetrated on the people of Haiti.
In Junior High, I had to memorize the presidents of the United States and their accomplishments. I was taught that Andrew Jackson was the seventh president, was nicknamed “Old Hickory” and founded the Democratic Party. I was an adult before I learned how he abused his power to remove Native Americans from their homes and was responsible for what is now known as the Trail of Tears.
In high school, the lessons about World War II covered how America helped defeat Germany and end the Holocaust. There was never any mention about the Japanese internment camps on U.S. soil.
For the most part, what I was taught was factual. It just wasn’t truthful. America may have been established on the principles of equality and freedom, but those principles only applied to white men. When the south tried to leave the United States to preserve slavery and its economy, the Confederate message was clear: equality and freedom weren’t the most important values; power and money were.
As a nation, we are still struggling with those conflicting values.
On Thursday as I was leaving work, a pickup truck stopped in front of my office. A large confederate flag with the handwritten words ‘heritage not hate” was flying from the back. I winced. I wanted to stop and ask what heritage meant to the driver, but I knew that would be pointless.
Some people think they have to hold on to relics of the past to justify their belief system.
Instead, we need to distinguish between erasing the past and learning from it.
We can still eat cherry pie on Washington’s birthday because we like eating cherry pie. We just shouldn’t eat it because we think it makes us more patriotic. Taking care of each other and honoring our true history is the only way to do that.
I am writing this on a Saturday that is the punctuation mark on what is perhaps the longest week of my life.
The Covid-19 pandemic has elicited some of the same raw emotions as September 11, 2001. Only instead of witnessing the amount of damage human beings can intentionally do to each other in a matter of hours, this week felt like watching a failed rescue attempt in slow motion. I can see a person standing on railroad tracks in front of an oncoming train. That person is not only oblivious to the danger, but he’s inviting all of his friends to join him. And that scenario repeats itself over and over again.
Because I work at a social service agency, this wasn’t a week of self isolation or working from home. I oversee four offices that provide a variety of programs, including two food pantries. So this was a week of making plans, then changing plans then making new plans. It was a week of worrying about keeping staff safe, and clients safe and volunteers safe. It was a week of witnessing leadership failure and self-serving decision making. It was a week of hearing fear in the voice of a learning-disabled client with autism who had been living in his car when he first arrived at our office. He had finally been able to get his own apartment by working two jobs at two restaurants as a dishwasher. And this week he lost both of those jobs.
All of that was weighing heavily on my mind when I took my energetic puppy Jasper to a local park for a long walk in the woods on Thursday evening. The temperature was unseasonably warm, so a lot of people were taking advantage of one of the few recreational venues still available to us. Several fathers and sons were fishing. Athletes were running around the parameter of the park. Families were walking their dogs. And several people were standing still just listening to the spring peepers.
The tiny frogs were raising their voices to welcome the evening and provide me with a reminder that no matter what is happening in the world, we can always find beauty, peace and comfort among the chaos.
Amid the challenges of this week, family and friends reached out via phone calls not just text messages. Volunteers went beyond the call of duty to make sure our clients received the help they need. My amazing co-workers never complained about the increasing demands on them. When life gets scary, there are always kind people to help navigate it.
The sky was almost dark as Jasper and I finished our walk. As the last person in the park, I stopped for one last time at the edge of the pond. I took out my phone and did my best to capture a short video of the moment. The ducks called to each other as the peepers raised their voices in a joyous chorus.
“It’s okay,” they chimed. “It’s okay.
I woke up on Sunday morning to the news of yet another mass shooting. It wasn’t the one in El Faso Texas that I went to bed hearing about. It was yet another one – this time in Dayton Ohio.
After texting to check on the safety of a college roommate and her family, who live in Dayton, I almost thew up.
I’m not exaggerating. I was literally sick to my stomach.
I felt completely powerless and angry.
When a friend called to check on me, she expressed the same thoughts. She was on her way to church and said she’d be praying.
“Pray that people actually elect leaders who care more about people than they do about money.” I said. “Because right now? They obviously don’t.”
We are both furious at the NRA, which is all about ensuring the gun industry continues to make money, that ignorant people fall for its propaganda, and that politicians remain in its pockets.
The current resident of the White House is no exception. Like so many politicians who think they need the support of the NRA, he’s pointing his fingers at mental illness and not at a problem with gun availability. In fact, too many so-called leaders do everything they can to avoid addressing the fact that there is a huge gap between responsible gun ownership and arming citizens with semi-automatic weapons. If they did, they’d be admitting there is plenty of opportunity for compromise.
In all the history books I’ve read, I don’t remember one that claimed America’s sordid history of racism is linked to mental illness. Can you imagine claiming that every member of the Klu Klux Klan or of a lynch mob was diagnosable? They weren’t. They were full of hate and fear.
The reign of terror carried out by the Nazi’s prior to and during World War II wasn’t linked to mental illness. Sure, the case can be made that Adolf Hitler was mentally ill, but not every single Nazi. They were full of hate and fear.
And now, do we claim that every perpetrator of domestic violence or that every racist is mentally ill? No. They too are simply full of hate and fear.
I can’t predict the future, but I do know that our present times will soon be history. And I can only hope that my grandchildren don’t have to read about how mass shootings became an acceptable risk of every day life. Instead, I hope they read about how concerned and compassionate citizens refused to let corporate interests control America and voted out the politicians who allowed that to happen.
There’s an old saying “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The saying may be old, but it’s more relevant than ever. From the world stage to the community stage, too many people use the slightest bit of authority to benefit themselves. Sometimes they do so with no thought to the damage they do to others, sometimes they tell lies to hide their true intentions, and sometimes they just don’t care.
But those left in their wake do care.
I should know.
In the last few months, weeks, and even days, the fallout from multiple instances of abuse of power has seeped into both my personal and professional life.
But, like so much in life, I’ve had to make a choice. I can either ignore the problems or I can can learn from them.
I’ve chosen to learn, and here’s what I’ve figured out: people only abuse their power because other people let them.
Sometimes, people allow the abuse of power because they think they too will benefit. They realize what is happening is wrong, but the potential gains outweigh the immorality of the situation. So they say and do nothing.
Sometimes people are afraid to call out the wrong doing. They fear they’ll be hurt, someone they care about will be hurt, or that an institution or organization in which they are invested will be hurt. So they say and do nothing.
Sometimes people believe more in institutions than they do people, and they will do all they can to protect those institutions. So they say and do nothing.
Sometimes people are in such awe of power that they truly believe that the abuse of power is justified. Or they believe that those who are abusing the power somehow earned and deserve to be where they are and to do what they do. Or they were taught not to question authority. So they say and do nothing.
These may be excuses, but they should never be excusable.
In the end, people who abuse their power only do harm: to people; to communities; to organizations; to institutions; and even to countries.
And while their behavior is reprehensible, looking the other way when abuse occurs is what allows it to continue.
It’s the sin that sits next to power.
Last week I questioned the educational background of Eric Porterfield, the Trump-loving, MAGA hat-wearing, WV State Delegate who made national headlines for railing against the LGBTQ community. The information I found through my “sleuthing” (aka Googling) wasn’t impressive. In fact, I was left wondering whether Porterfield actually had a legitimate post high school education.
This week, he revealed a bit more about his educational background.
In a Charleston Gazette Mail by Jake Zuckerman, (How Porterfield Went Blind in a Bar Fight,) Porterfield said he earned his divinity degree at Hyles-Anderson College in Indiana. Since the article was about how Porterfield was blinded in a bar fight after leaving a strip club, I doubt most people paid much attention to that nugget of information.
But I did, and it inspired me to do some more sleuthing. (In other words, I did some more Googling. Writing is my hobby, not my profession, so please don’t judge me.)
At first glance, Hyles-Anderson College may seem more legitimate than taking a correspondence course from Belle Meadow Baptist College. However, on further research, it raised numerous red flags.
Hyles-Anderson College is operated by the First Baptist Church of Hammonds, Indiana, which has a sketchy history of sex abuse (Let Us Prey ) and misogyny (Video of Anti Women Sermon) as well as accusations of investment schemes (Lawsuit against First Baptist Church).
Interestingly, despite all this, now Vice President and Former Indiana Governor Mike Pence has visited there on more than one occasion. (Mike Pence visits First Baptist Church in Hammond)
I spent some time looking into the non-accredited Hyles-Anderson College, and I wasn’t impressed. But my opinion about the school isn’t as relevant as my concern about how such schools and their affiliated churches are creating a version of Christianity that people like Eric Porterfield embrace and want to force onto others.
It’s a type of Christianity I don’t recognize.
I was taught that Jesus wanted us to love each other not to condemn people who think or live differently than we do. He wanted us to help the weak not to prey on them. He wanted us appreciate the importance of people rather than money and material possessions. He wanted us to welcome the stranger instead of build walls, care for the sick rather than decide who is worthy of care, and to turn the other cheek rather than instigate fights.
When Christians go bad, they don’t work to create Christ’s vision of a community of acceptance and peace.
Thankfully, many Christians still do.
I reflected about this Saturday night when a friend invited me to go to the Spanish Mass at a local Catholic Church, I’m not Catholic and my Spanish is limited, but I was literally welcomed there with open arms. My white skin and poor language skills went unnoticed, or at least unmentioned. Instead of feeling like I didn’t belong, I felt like people cared that I was there.
And that’s exactly how everyone should feel both in church and in America.
I’ve spent a lot time thinking about education lately.
Maybe that’s because my daughter, a senior in high school, hasn’t yet committed to a college, and her dad and I are getting anxious about her first choice. (It will require some financial gymnastics.)
Or maybe it’s because that same daughter missed school last week when West Virginia teachers went on strike for the second time in just over a year.
Or maybe it’s because the antics that led to the teacher’s strike made me want to dig into the educational background of the state legislators who think they know more about education than teachers do. Thankfully, the omnibus education bill that would have used limited public dollars to pay for private education and charter schools was killed, and the strike ended. But my curiosity about the legislators who supported the bill was piqued.
And when I looked up who voted to continue moving forward with the bill, a familiar name popped up.
I wasn’t surprised. He’s the guy who made national news earlier this month for railing against the LGBTQ community. What did surprise me was the difficulty I had getting information about his educational background.
I started by looking at his bio on the WV State legislature’s website.
There wasn’t anything there.
Faced with that roadblock, I did what any concerned voter would do: I used Google. That took some time as I had to wade through all of the news stories about his controversial comments. I finally found information on a website called “Vote Smart.” According to it, Porterfield received a DDiv from Belle Meadow Bible College in 2009.
Since I’d never heard of the college, I looked it up.
There’s a reason I’d never heard of it.
From what I could tell from the website, it’s actually a correspondence course offered by an Independent Baptist Church in Bristol Virginia.
When I showed this to a friend, she encouraged me to spend the $75.00 for the course.
I passed on her suggestion.
I didn’t, however, pass on continuing to dig for more information.
I didn’t find much.
In a self-completed candidate profile that ran in the May 5, 2018, edition of the Beckley Register Herald, Porterfield reported that he had “a BA in Religion and Arts, a Masters in Pastoral Theology, a Masters of Divinity.” https://www.register-herald.com/news/candidate-profile-eric-porterfield-house-district/article_a133ba54-51d1-11e8-a22c-5fb381dcf5e7.html.
There was no information about where he received these degrees. The only other reference to his educational background is in a September 28, 2012 article in the Princeton Times in which he says he went to a Bible College at age 20: https://www.ptonline.net/news/local_news/porterfields-bring-blind-faith-to-south-sudan/article_fa0ea72a-6f9d-5634-ad5e-fcd5a74464b1.html.
That’s it. That’s all I could find.
Which bothers me. It bothers me a lot.
As citizens, we are giving legislators the ability and responsibility of making decisions about education, and therefore the future of our children. We have the right to know if they are educated enough to do so.
There’s a reason people with good sense wear glasses when they ride their bikes. It prevents bugs from flying into their eyes.
Apparently, I don’t have good sense. Or at least I don’t have enough good sense.
Because I wasn’t wearing any protective eyewear when I was out bicycling last week.
I was heading down a steep hill and into a blind curve when a gnat flew into my eye.
There was nothing I could do about it. Stopping on the narrow road with no shoulder would have been more dangerous than allowing the gnat to stay.
So I continued pedaling and focused my mind on other things. By the time I got home, I had almost forgotten about the gnat in my eye. Almost.
But that night, when I was taking my contact lens out of my red and puffy eye, the little bug made his reappearance – both literally and figuratively.
When I finally threw him away in the toilet, I realized how lucky I was. Ignoring the irritation would never have made the problem go away. It would only have caused more harm.
My short-lived relationship with the gnat resembles my too-long relationship with the guy in the Oval Office.
They both arrived in my life unexpectedly and in the most unwanted manner.
My problems with then could easily have been avoided if I, or others, had actually understood the danger they posed and acted appropriately to mitigate the potential disaster.
And even though ignoring them felt like the only way to keep my sanity, that’s never been an option.
Last Sunday, an old friend asked why I hadn’t been writing recently, I was honest when I said I’ve been busy and overwhelmed with work and other responsibilities. But that wasn’t the whole truth.
I’ve also been trying to ignore the ongoing barrage of embarrassing and disturbing news coming out of Washington DC.
But I can’t nor should I.
Instead, I’ll do what I can to cope and face the problem while doing my best to address it.
And hopefully, in the near future, the bug in the White House will be flushed out of Washington DC as efficiently as I flushed the gnat out of my life.
Some places are just not intended for human comfort.
Take, for example, the concrete pad behind the building where I work. Two heat pumps and a garbage can occupy the space, which is surrounded by a waist-high concrete wall. There are no picnic tables or chairs to indicate this is a place to hang out. Nor is there any cover from the elements, which means both the sun and the rain beat down on its surface.
And yet, for the past few weeks, it’s been someone’s sleeping quarters and safe space. As I was leaving out the back door for a meeting last week, I noticed “Mark” (not his real name) sprawled out on the concrete pad in the hot sun reading children’s books.
The books were donated to my organization to distribute free to anyone who walks through our office doors.
I asked “Mark” how he was doing, and he grunted at me. I continued to my car without bothering him because, well, the grunt meant he probably didn’t want to be bothered.
“Mark” is a thirty something year-old man with schizophrenia who has been coming to our office for years.
Sometimes he is taking his medications. Sometimes he isn’t. Sometimes he has a place to live. Sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he wants to talk. Sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes, the system helps him. But most of the time, it fails him miserably.
He spends much of his time moping around town with his head hanging low and his pants hanging even lower. The police know him. He’s been arrested and even done jail time for trespassing. Many of our social service and mental health facilities know him. Even the people at the hospital know him.
One time, when he was desperate to get the demons out of his head and a safe place to stay, he actually called an ambulance to come get him at our office. That didn’t work out very well. He’s even been committed and spent a few days in a psychiatric facility. That didn’t work out very well either as he landed right back where he was before.
“Mark” isn’t capable of living on his own, but there are no facilities in our community for someone like him. From what I understand, he is an unwelcome guest at the rescue mission. He’s been robbed and taken advantage of by people who are more streetwise than he is. And much of the time, he stinks. Literally.
And yet my co-workers treat him with the same respect they treat our donors. They listen to him – even when he doesn’t make sense. They let him use the phone – even though we are fairly certain there is not anyone else on the call. And, on the occasions they’ve convinced him to take a shower in the upstairs bathroom and he’s thrown his wet, stinky clothes away, they’ve taken them out of the garbage and washed and folded them.
They don’t do any of this because it’s in their job descriptions. They do it because it’s the right thing to do. They do it because that’s what loving thy neighbor is about: loving all of our neighbors – not just the ones who smell good or with whom we agree.
I was thinking about this last week when “Mark’ grunted at me from the hot, concrete pad and I slipped into my air-conditioned car. When the radio came on, I heard the news about the Supreme Court decision in favor of the baker who refused to make a cake for a gay wedding. I’m not a lawyer or a Constitutional expert, but I disagreed with the ruling on a personal level. I also wondered how baking a cake could even became a political and legal issue in a nation where so many people define themselves as “Christians.”
But the again, I also wondered how, in a “Christian” nation, Mark’s safe place is a concrete pad behind a social service agency.
Christians are supposed to be followers of Christ – that’s where the name came from, right? And wasn’t Jesus all about breaking norms by socializing with the ostracized and caring for people who others disregarded? He never pretended it would be easy or pleasant. But he did teach us that no person is more important than any other person.
When I got back to the office after my meeting that day, Mark was gone. His belongings were out of sight, and there was no indication he’d ever been there or that he would soon be back
But I knew he would be.
Because the fact that the concrete pad behind my office is his safe place isn’t by chance. It’s because the people inside the building have created that safe place by accepting him just as he is.
You know, kind of like Jesus taught us,