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The Difference Between Like and Respect

I was having dinner on a friend’s deck with a group of like-minded women when we got the news: Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died.

We all reacted differently even though I’m certain we were all feeling the same way. One of us burst into tears. Another just sat silent while a third stood up and started clearing dishes. Me? I cussed. I cussed because Notorious RBG was a role model and a heroine. I cussed because I know what is at stake. And I cussed because some people I know will see her death more as an opportunity than a reason to  mourn.

The following words are for those people: I may like you, but I can’t respect you.

I like you because we might laugh together or share common interests or talk about our children.

But I can’t respect you because your vision of what our country’s future holds for those children isn’t one of diversity and inclusion and equality.

I can’t respect you because you believe your narrow definition of Christianity is the only legitimate religion.

I can’t respect you because you can’t discern the difference between journalism, opinion pieces and fake news.

I can’t respect you because you share information on social media that validates your opinion even if when the information is a complete lie.

I can’t respect you because you support political candidates and listen to pundits who claim that liberals aren’t real Christians.

I can’t respect you because you are a one-or two-issue voter who makes decisions at the ballot box based on dogma rather than on the scope and impact of a variety of policies on people’s day-to-day lives.

I can’t respect you because no matter how many times someone has tried to explain the difference between “gun control” and “taking away your guns,” you choose to listen to propaganda from the NRA,

I can’t respect you because you are voting for politicians who care about money more than they care about the well-being of people.

I can’t respect you because you think patriotism is marked by saluting a flag rather than by honoring the first  amendment.

I can’t respect you because you throw around the word socialism when what you are really saying is that you don’t want your tax dollars being used to provide services for people you have decided are “undeserving.”

And most of all, I can’t respect you because you are supporting politicians who have shown general disrespect and even criminal behavior toward women.

I know these words will offend some of you, and now you probably won’t respect me. I don’t care.

I’m 53 years old, and I’ve fought hard to become a strong, opinionated woman who cares about minorities and immigrants and the poor and people of different faiths.

I’m writing this because even though there are a lot of people I don’t respect right now, I couldn’t respect myself if I left these words unsaid.

Also, I’m fairly confident that Ruth Bader Ginsburg would approve.

The Experiment

When I was about five years old, my mother pulled a chair up to the kitchen counter so I could watch what she was doing.

She got a soup bowl out of one cupboard and a container of cornstarch out of another.

“We are going to do a science experiment,” she explained.

She poured the cornstarch into the bowl then slowly added water. When the mixture was exactly the texture she wanted, she told me “stick your finger in until it touches the bottom of the bowl.”

I tried, but the mixture was solid, and my finger didn’t even dent it.

“I can’t,” I said.

“Yes you can, ” she replied. “Try again.”

I poked at it again with the same results.

“It doesn’t work,” I complained.

“Yes it does. Look.” she said as she put her finger in the bowl. I watch in amazement as what had felt like a rock to me oozed around her finger.

She removed her finger and told me to try again. I did and was once again met with resistance.

“Don’t poke it. Instead just lightly touch it.”

I followed her instructions and was delighted when my finger began to sink into  a gooey substance.

I don’t remember if my mom talked about the science behind our experiment, but apparently it had a lasting impact as I’ve been thinking about it recently.

From an early age, my approach to dealing with problems has never been subtle. I’ve been called blunt,  forthright and outspoken. I’ve taken in pride in the fact that I always let people know where I stand and, most of the time, exactly what I’m thinking. I’m not good at quietly expressing my thoughts and then letting them soak in while I patiently wait for a response. As my husband knows, when I don’t get a response, I keeping poking until I get one.

Generally, that works, but sometimes it doesn’t.  Recently, I’m not only getting resistance when I make a stab at addressing a situation, I feel as though every effort is bouncing back and bruising me. I guess that’s why I’ve been thinking about that experiment at the kitchen counter with my mother more than 45 years ago.

Maybe my mom was attempting to tell me that sometimes you have to stop trying so hard to make something happen and  just need to let the situation unfold. In some circumstances, that may be the right approach.

But here is my other take away from that long ago experiment: when you let things rest and happen at their own pace sometimes all you get is covered in muck.

History tells us that change only happens when people are willing to poke their fingers at the problems and keep poking until they make cracks.

I don’t need muck. I need change.

The Criminal

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.

The Racist In Me

My kindergarten school picture

Nearly fifty years later, I don’t clearly remember my first day of kindergarten, but I know I was miserable and complained that I didn’t fit in.

What I really meant was that I was the only white student in my class.

That didn’t last long.

On the second day of kindergarten,  Mike Donahue switched classes and joined mine.

I have a few other memories from that year: sitting on the floor at the feet of an elderly tribe member who taught us her native language; participating in the annual root feast; wearing the wing dress my mom had sewn, and being chased and taunted when I was walking home from school. My tormentors, a group of older children, told me I didn’t belong and I needed to move off of the reservation.

The next year I did. I started first grade in a classroom full of white students like me.

When I was younger, I used to tell people that, because of those experiences, I knew what being a minority felt like and that I had experienced discrimination.

I didn’t and I hadn’t.

When I complained about being the only student with my skin color, my white, well-educated parents stepped in to ensure I had a friend in my class. When I lived in a place with a very different heritage than mine, my professional parents bought a house elsewhere among people with similar backgrounds.

In other words, what I actually experienced as a child was white privilege.

I’m still experiencing it.

I guarantee that no one has ever clutched their purse a bit tighter when they’ve seen me in a  parking garage. No one has ever called the police because I look suspicious when I’m walking my dog in their neighborhood. I’ve never been patted down or had my car searched when I’ve been stopped for speeding.

But I have been the person who has clutched her purse a bit tighter when she’s seen a black man in a parking garage.

And I absolutely hate that.

My parents raised me better. They taught me not to judge people by the color of their skin. My education specifically addressed prejudice. I am a licensed social worker whose professional ethics are grounded in fairness and equality. My children and friends, who are all strong advocates for diversity, expect more from me.

And yet, I’ve had those moments when my immediate reaction is to clutch my purse tighter.

Living in a racist society has influenced my reactions, but, I am still responsible for them. I am responsible for acknowledging them and I am responsible for changing them.

America should be too.

People Who Don’t Like Dogs (And Other Warning Signs)

My husband told me to write this.

Well, he didn’t tell me to write these exact words.

I was complaining that I can’t relax because I can’t stop thinking, and he told me that I should write. When I said no one wants to read about what is currently going on in my head, he suggested I discuss the weather.

Since today is stormy and perfectly reflects the thoughts cycling around in my brain, his suggestion wasn’t very helpful.

Here’s the thing: the devil on my right shoulder wants me to write about the people who I prefer weren’t in my life right now. The angel on my left shoulder is telling me I can’t always control who is in my life nor can I control their behavior. I can only control my reaction to them.

And right smack dab between my right shoulder and my left shoulder is my head with all those thoughts blowing around like the gusts of wind currently rattling the windows. Since my brain is centrally located in the neutral position, I guess I should feel safe sharing some thoughts about the types of individuals who are currently setting me on edge – people I don’t trust.

I don’t trust people who never challenge authority. History provides dozens of examples of what happens when people blindly follow the leader rather than do what is right. When people are more concerned about protecting their status than they are about protecting those who are most vulnerable, I will never be able to trust them,

I don’t trust “suck ups” and “brown nosers.” Anyone who uses a significant amount of time and energy trying to impress those in power is doing a disservice to people who actually have integrity. If your words and behaviors don’t provide any evidence of your personal values, I can’t trust you.

I don’t trust people who don’t like dogs. According to my baby book, one of my first words was “doggy.” When my mom took me to the library as a toddler, I gravitated to the books with pictures of dogs.  The worst moments of my life have always improved when I’ve been able to wrap my arms around a nonjudgmental furry friend and sobbed uncontrollably.  And yes, I do have human friends who don’t like dogs, but they’ve had to earn that friendship and my trust.

I don’t trust people who have college degrees but still don’t use proper grammar or punctuation. I understand language is learned, but going to college requires a lot of reading and writing. It should also involve professors who demand the use of correct grammar. If you leave college still using mismatched verb tenses and confusing “wonder” and “wander,” you either didn’t truly earn your degree or there is something significantly wrong with your education.

And finally, I don’t trust people who try to buy my friendship or my approval. I don’t need gifts or flowers or disingenuous compliments. If someone has to give me something in order to validate the relationship, it’s not valid at all.

As I was writing these stormy thoughts, I realized my husband’s suggestion was actually a good one. Because as I went through my list of the types of people I can’t trust, I realized something really important.

In all of the aspects of my life over which I have control, I have surrounded myself with people whom I do trust. My friends are social justice advocates who always question authority. They are the people who call me out when I say or do something stupid and allow me to do the same to them. They are the people who give me the gifts of time and understanding. They are people who want to build a better world for others rather than for themselves. And yes, for the most part, they are also people who love dogs.

Horton, Jo Jo, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

For the past few month’s, I’ve been feeling like Horton the Elephant in Dr. Seuss’ classic children’s book Horton Hears a Who.

If you aren’t familiar with the story, the Whos live on a speck of dust that is floating through the air, which means their entire civilization is at risk of being destroyed.

Because Horton has such big ears, he is the only jungle animal that can hear the Whos. Initially, he saves their community by putting the speck of dust on a clover so he can carry and protect it. His efforts are undermined and ridiculed by the other jungle animals, who try to destroy the clover. Horton rightly believes the only way he can save the Whos is by ensuring their voices are heard by the other jungle animals.

Nothing works until Jo Jo, the tiniest Who of all,  joins the effort.

I may not be carrying around a clover, but I am carrying around a lot of concerns. I’m worried that something I’ve cared for and nurtured is going to be destroyed, and the people who could truly protect “my speck’ won’t listen.

Fortunately, unlike Horton who felt all alone in his efforts to protect his clover, I know I’m not alone. Many of us carry clovers. And, like Horton, we persevere because we have to. We are responsible for those who have less power.

Dr. Seuss understood this and passed the message on through his books.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. understood it and passed the message on through his speeches.

And they both understood that no voice is ever too small.

Jo Jo had a tiny voice that made all the difference to the survival of the Whos. Members of the Civil Rights movement were the voices that changed the world.  And all of us can be a voice for someone who needs our support.

Be a Horton. Or be a Jo Jo. Or be both. But most importantly, be someone who does what you can to make the world a better place for others.

Was Every Single Nazi Mentally Ill?

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.”

She agreed.

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.

The Sin Next To Power

 

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.

When Christians Go Bad

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.

Millions of Angry Women

Melina Mara-Pool/Getty Images

I’ve always had an issue with anger.

When I was a little girl, my parents would apologize to other adults by noting that “Trina has a temper. We are doing our best to teach her to control it.”

And so they did.

Sort of.

Because there are times when, no matter how I try, there’s a fire that bubbles up in my chest, rises into my throat and then unleashes itself in a fierce flame of words with the sole purpose of scorching those who aren’t in my alliance.

Now is one of those times. Only instead of the words coming out of my mouth, they are screaming out through my fingers on a keyboard.

I am so very, very angry about what happened in our Nation’s Capital on Thursday.

Like many women, I’m angry that, once again, privileged white men have more power than most people can even imagine.

Not only that, but they are ignoring and dismissing the perspective and emotions that I and thousands of other women like me are processing as a result of what we’ve endured at the hands of men just like them.

But, after witnessing Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony and outrage, the anger bubbling up in my chest can no longer be contained.

I’m not simply bothered by the accusations of Kavanaugh’s behavior in high school.

I am also outraged  that Kavanaugh’s words and demeanor demonstrate that he believes he’s entitled to be on the Supreme Court. A man representing a party that rails against entitlements believes he’s entitled. And he thinks the accusations against him are a personal tragedy.

He has no concept what real tragedy is.

And that’s why he doesn’t belong on the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court Justices rarely make decisions that impact people who attended private schools and Yale University or who grew up in big houses in the suburbs. Instead, they make decisions that impact people whose only  true entitlement has been a public education in schools with limited resources.

The power of the Supreme Court lies in it its impact on people with no power:  poor people,  minorities. the poorly educated, immigrants, criminals, and women.

But not this angry woman.

This angry woman is willing to demonstrate what true power looks like.

But I can only do that if other angry women join forces with me.

Tuesday, November 6, is a perfect opportunity to do just that.