Monday, August 22, 2016

When Was America Great?

By  Diane Vogel Ferri

The slogan “Make America Great Again” puzzles me. No one will tell me when America was great and the assumption is that it is not great now.  The state of politics makes one feel that things are definitely not great, I will agree. The notion of when America was great depends on your own personal experience and perhaps your refusal to accept that it wasn’t great for everyone even if it was for you.

Was it back in the thirties during the Great Depression when millions of Americans lost everything they had and were starving to death? No?  Was it in the forties when  405,000 of our young men died in World War II? Oh, but remember all those romantic war movies? It seemed great in the movies. 

America must have been great in the fifties when we all lived in little middle-class towns like Mayberry and all our neighbors and teachers were white and went to the same church?  We like watching the Cleavers and the Ricardos because that’s the way it was in the Good Old Days, right?  Oh, wait! That was before the Civil Rights Movement, so there were many Americans being discriminated against, segregated and excluded from voting, from going to restaurants, public schools, and of course, being hanged and beaten for being black. Was that when it was great—when you only had to believe in what you saw on TV?

How about the sixties—all peace and love, right?  But that was when those black Americans started fighting back and Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated for it. Riots in the major cities of the country.  John and Bobby murdered too.  Then there were the 58,000 men and women that died in Viet Nam—for reasons that are still debatable today—and those same young people came home to be spat upon and treated like dirt.  No one said, “thank you for your service” back then.

The seventies seemed pretty cool. Although in the early 70s disabled children did not have the right to attend a public school. They either did not go to school or were relegated to special schools. Hillary Clinton was instrumental, working for the Children’s Defense Fund, in preparing a landmark report called “Children Out of School” which led to the enactment of  Education for All Handicapped Children Act (which is now the Individuals with Disabilities Act) ensuring all children the right to a free public education.  But even then, disabled Americans had no access to public buildings and parking—not so great, huh?

The 80s brought continuing issues with the Cold War and a massive rally of over a million people in Central Park for a “nuclear freeze,”  AIDS began to kill millions of Americans, we were in a big recession. The 90’s brought more involvement in the Middle East with the Gulf War. It was only in 1990 that Bill Clinton passed the Americans with Disabilities Act. So less than three decades ago people in wheelchairs couldn’t get into public buildings like concert venues or restaurants, or use public bathrooms.  Before 1990 life wasn’t so great for disabled Americans, including our wounded vets.  By the end of the Clinton Administration 1.7 million new jobs were added, there was a federal budget surplus, unemployment was at 4% and the Dow Jones closed above 10,000 for the first time.  Ok, the 90’s were pretty good, but the people who want to make America great again reject the policies of the Clinton era so I’m not sure how we’re going to get back to that.

September 11th, 2001 changed America forever and brought real fear into our lives for the first time. We suddenly became vulnerable and more new wars began. We lost over 4400 Americans in Iraq and over 2000 in Afghanistan. American life wasn’t even close to great if you were an LGBT person until 2015 when you finally got the rights to marry and have a family like everyone else in this country. There are over 30 million children that go to bed hungry in America every night and many of our public schools are failing for lack of priorities and funding by  our present Congress. There is a lot that can and should improve. I think we can all agree on that. But to suggest that going backwards will make us great is to ignore how far we’ve come.

So that brings us up to date.  Which decade or era do you choose as great? When was it great for you personally?  Is the fact that it wasn’t always great for millions of other American citizens make a difference to you?  Is it okay that so many Americans have been discriminated against, disrespected and hated through America’s history?  America thrives because we do move forward—not quickly enough for many of our citizens—but we eventually pass laws and change attitudes that make life better for many Americans.  All of the legislation I’ve mentioned have happened just in my lifetime.   So we are great now, and can become even greater, but that will only happen when we choose to be united and not divided by our own ignorance and we accept the beautiful diversity of this country, acknowledge that we are more alike than different, and respect the right of all Americans—not just the ones like ourselves. 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Summer of Cicadas and One Lonely Wren

There is the whistling tinnitus like a not-so-distant siren,
the bulging red eyes, the crunchy wings under our feet, 
dogs snap and snack, I duck and dodge 
their aimless flight on my daily walk.

They are ugly and stupid as they wander through the air
until smacking into something solid
upon discovering it is not a lover they move on
finding refuge on a mailbox or a telephone pole.

A lonely male wren sings every moment of daylight
somehow confined to the hemlock tree near my window
his loud tenacious call is incongruent with his tiny bird-body
always prepared for his lady, he wakes me each morning at 5:15.

Owls and coyotes in the dark 
birds and bugs in the light
in the jungle of my suburban wooded backyard
everyone just wants to get laid.

Friday, April 29, 2016

I Want to Party Like It's 1999

Well, it's happened again. I don't really believe in the supernatural, but I can be open-minded. Someone is haunting me. This has happened two other times before. First, Michael Jackson, then Whitney Houston and now Prince.  This time is most surprising because I didn't even know I was a Prince fan.

I awake in the morning with his songs in my head and it goes on all day. With Michael it went on for months, and they weren't just songs that I had recently heard in the overwhelming news coverage of his death. They were just songs from my life—from everyone's life, because Michael had always just been there. That was the shock of it. People who grew up in the 60's like me had never been without his music, his presence, his sad I-missed-my-childhood story. I found that women my age had maternal feelings towards Michael Jackson.  His talent was vast and unique, but his story was just as compelling.

Michael was mysterious and that is the trademark of Prince as well.  They both knew how to create striking and memorable visual images of themselves—often wearing things no one else would wear.  There's Michael in his white socks, flood pants and his mother's sequined jacket.  There's Prince with his make-up, high heels, a scarf on his head and a boyish bare chest.

I think we all feel an extra sense of loss when someone dies with so much talent left to give. Musicians that we love are simply a part of our lives. Music, as we all know, can bring a sense of deja vu. Oh, that song was playing during my first kiss. Someone sang that at my wedding, or we danced to it on that special date.

And, of course there is the notion that all three of these artists died much too soon. It was unexpected. The fact that there are drugs involved does not seem to alter our grief. As I write this, we don't know about Prince, but prescription painkillers have been mentioned.

I have a theory about why people so iconic, so loved and so in demand take drugs. Simply because it is not normal to be idolized.  Yes, they asked for it, maybe craved the attention. I think the way they must give to everyone around them every day of their lives just wears them out.  I myself cannot imagine never being able to be anonymous, to never have peace, to always be sought after, to have to hide to have anything resembling a normal life.

So why do they continue to lay themselves out to the public? Because they must. They were given a singular gift of music and unbounded talent, and in my estimation, they had no choice.  It was what they were born to do.

I  have a small, meek comparison to share. I have been singing solos, mostly in a church setting, since I was 14 years-old.  I still am a nervous wreck before I sing. I  have anxiety dreams without fail in the few moments of actual sleep I get before singing.  I question why I torture myself. At this age, I could easily give it up—but something inside me will not let me. I don't think I'm a great singer, but time and time again people have been touched by my songs. So I have been given a gift by God, however small, and I believe I am meant to share it.  Just imagine if my gift was enormous, unique, powerful enough to move millions of people.

This society is celebrity obsessed and we treat these people like they are there to serve us and meet our expectations. These three particular artists didn't mean to leave the earth so soon, but they left us with an abundance of memories and music. It just could have been so much more...



I am waiting for a Seals and Crofts reunion,
waiting for those days of decision to reverse,
waiting to feel like the adult I thought I saw in my elders,
the sense of consolation for a life well-lived.

I am waiting to see dignity in the mirror, not a fallen face,
waiting for my children to be all I am not,
searching for an understanding in them I did not possess,
waiting to find myself in all the reinventions and good intentions.

I am pondering what I didn’t do when I was being good,
what I slammed doors on without ever peeking outside,
wondering where all the prayers went,
and measuring my worth by my lack of change.

I am strip-mining now for a whole soul.
I am in love with my abstruse dreams.
The confounded past wakes me at night,

and the day is all too peaceful and resolved.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Remnants of Life

February 10, 2016

I spent the day going through the remnants of my parents’ lives.  Every bill and check with their names, every list and note in their handwriting, sixty years of photos and piles and piles of clothes—that is all that is left of the two people I loved every day of my life. 

I lost them both within fourteen months and I am grieving for the set of two, the unconditional love that no one on earth will ever have for me again, the smiles every time I came into their presence. That love and that joy is known to me because I have it for my own children. It is irreplaceable and eternal.

They lived their last days in the home they built sixty-two years ago, the house I came to from the hospital in the beginning of my life. I will grieve that house too—the place that has always been home no matter where life took me. When life brought upheaval and fear I could walk in that door and find solace. Now it is just empty space. No one will come home there ever again because they are gone. 

As the day wore on I became enveloped in their presence. I discovered that the mother I thought was not very sentimental kept every note, card and letter I ever wrote to her. Copies of every poem and article I wrote as an adult were kept in labeled envelopes.  An ancient box was hidden with the memorabilia of her wedding and honeymoon in 1953.  

My dad’s bowling and golf scores pads, my mom’s inspiration for all her artwork, Dad’s meticulous checkbooks dating from 1980, cards and letters saved from friends and relatives, scrapbooks and photo albums I made for them, cards and artwork from their grandchildren, fifty years worth of manuals and warranties from everything they ever owned—it is overwhelming. It is all that a life is made up of. 

All of it is precious and none of it matters at the same time. I felt their presence so strongly today that it is all I need for now. So many memories and relationships fade with time, but I do not think the people that created and loved you from the day of your birth can ever fade away. We are one in the same.

I bring home boxes of photos and tangible items that will always remind me of them, but I think about my own children having to go through all of that and more someday and I wonder if it really matters at all. 

Never have I sensed the presence of love as strongly and deeply as I did today. Amidst my sorrow and tears I have had a revelation of the eternal that I have never experienced before. My mother and father were there with me today just as they have been every day of my life.  That is not something I am creating to comfort myself—it is something I experienced deep in my soul. 

Monday, February 8, 2016


(song lyrics) by Tori Amos

Love, hold my hand, help me see with the dawn
that those that have left are not gone

But they carry on as stars looking down
as Nature's Sons and Daughters of the Heavens

You will not ever be forgotten by me
In the precession of the mighty stars

Your name is sung and tattooed on my heart
here I will carry you forever

You have touched my life
so that now cathedrals of sound are singing

The waves have come to walk with you
to where you will live in the Land of Youth

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

My Mother

For Martha Jane Vogel 
July 28, 1929- January 19, 2016

My Mother’s Art

She does not compromise what she alone sees.
The generosity of her hands on the canvas or the piano,
the counterpoint of her brushstrokes and her voice,
the walls become a pastiche or hold a rhapsody.

Moving through eras of little expectancy, rising up
out of her service, when her world turned to face 
the sun she did not rebel but floated forward
and now beauty exists where there had been voids.

We are juxtaposed in the choir lofts for decades
and still there are songs we haven’t sung.
When her fingers were on the piano keys for me
my small voice strained to equal the passion,
the music eternally suspended in me.

What my mother can do always has a future
without a murmur of leaving it behind.
So I understand what I can become, what I must become
for the infinity of mothers and daughters

for her mother, for my daughter.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

What is a Living Will?

My dear mother had a massive stroke five days ago. The only ability she has is to open her eyes. Otherwise she is trapped in her body, unable to express herself in any way, and we have no way of knowing the extent of her suffering.  She looks at us as we cry and speak of our love, but are we just adding to her pain? As a mother I know that the worst thing in life is to see your children suffer.

My mother was my accompanist on the piano as I sang from the time I entered my first solo and ensemble contest at age 14, up until she sent me a resignation letter about thirty years later. She had arthritis and was afraid she would make a mistake as I sang in church. (She never made nearly as many mistakes as I did).  About 15 years ago I recorded a CD for my parents for Christmas. So yesterday I played the CD and sang along for her. Her eyes were open and focused on me for a solid half hour. She is unable to make a facial expression, but her attention allowed me to communicate with her in some small way.

She is in ICU attached to multiple IV's that contain medications, nutrition and hydration. There are inflatable wraps around her legs for circulation. There are boots on her feet to prevent sores. There are pillow and  pads surrounding her to keep her in place because her body randomly moves in instinctive or reactive movements.  Her right side is paralyzed and still, but her left arms flies up in distressed movements as she seems to try to remove the paraphernalia attached to her body. There is a feeding tube in her nose because she cannot swallow.

She pulled the feeding tube out last night. The feeding tube is keeping her alive. Is she communicating with us?

My mom has a living will. It says that if she in unconscious she wants no life-sustaining measures, but she is not unconscious.  It says that if she in a terminal condition she wants no life-sustaining measures. But is a massive stroke a terminal condition? One doctor says yes because her body is shutting down and it may be a matter of hours or days. But another doctor walks in the room and says it is "in the realm of possibility" that she could get better.  What is better? Is it being able to keep her eyes open all day? Is it being able to eat and speak again?  No one knows. Every specialist has a different opinion and perspective.  Is a feeding tube even considered a life-sustaining measure if she is still breathing on her own?

So if you have a living will maybe it needs to be much more specific.  What if you are permanently non-communicative?  What if you can never squeeze a hand or blink an eye again.  Everything we do all day long as a humans is communicate our thoughts, feelings, and desires. Are you living when that is over?

It is too late to ask my mom. We thought everything was in place but life has shown us otherwise.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Decline of American Politics

I recently heard an interview with David Brooks, a conservative columnist for the New York Times.  He made some succinct points about our political climate right now. As much as I want to be apolitical and stop reading about it and ignore it—I can't seem to stop. I can't seem to stop being disappointed in the "United" State of America.  In my lifetime it has never been like this.

Brooks said that politics now is making us cynical and that some people go to certain channels so they can be reminded how right they are all the time. Constant political reporting on these channels turns politics into a team sport—it's just my team, my team.  He stated that politics has come to replace morality and when we talk about things now we do it through the guise of politics. It turns politics into a holy war.

In my view all of these statements are both true and disturbing.

There was a similar discussion on NPR's Dianne Rehm show this week.  Diane said that when she covered the campaigns of George H. W. Bush and Michael Dukakis in Iowa in 1988 she recalls people discussing issues through the respectful discourse of facts.  Those in her discussion proclaimed how people now seem to hear the shouting and not the facts—that we are, in fact, less informed because of all the outrageous statements on the news each day.

I will not write the name of the person who has made our presidential process a joke. I am sick to death of him.  Whenever I challenge someone who says they are voting for him because "he says it like it is"  they cannot give me one policy or idea that they agree with except building a border wall as if that will solve all our problems. Will that solve poverty, our education failures, foreign policy, the economy etc etc. Does anyone really think that immigrants are the only problem?  Many pundits on both sides are calling him a demagogue.

A demagogue is a leader who make use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power. He preys on people's fears and bigotry.

How are we allowing this? When has fear and blaming solved anything?  When did bullying and name-calling become a presidential trait?  What happened to civility?  And most disturbing of all to me—are we really a nation of xenophobic, bigoted citizens completely lacking in compassion and dignity?

I wasn't going to rant on this blog any more but Facebook often provokes arguments and anger. People act like you do not have a right to your own opinion on Facebook. This is MY blog.  No one has to read it and I know very few do any longer—so there it is.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

My Memories of Tamir Rice (published in Scene Magazine November 18, 2015)

My Memories of Tamir Rice': A Personal Essay

Posted By  on Mon, Nov 16, 2015 at 10:08 am

    You never expect to open the newspaper in the morning and see someone you know. Especially not a former student. Certainly not a child. It took me a few moments to comprehend what I was looking at when I saw Tamir Rice’s smiling face in front of me. I had last seen Tamir a year and a half earlier, when I was his fourth grade math teacher.

    As I slowly processed the information that he was dead and had been shot by a police officer in a neighborhood park, I felt a deep and disturbing indignation. Someone was to blame for the killing of this child—and it was not the child. I was sure that those who blamed this 12-year-old did not know him.

    I remember a tall and handsome boy. Tamir looked older than his years but he was emotionally immature for his age. The thing about Tamir was that even if he gave you a hard time you still liked him. I don’t remember the tough days as much as that smile I frequently see on the news. He had a keen sense of humor and I sensed the capacity in him to achieve and even be a leader if life went his way—which it didn’t. What a waste.

    Tamir was in my special-needs classroom, but, unlike most of my students, Tamir did not have a learning disability. He did well in math on the days that he chose to participate. On some days he wanted to answer every question and would become frustrated if he was not allowed to do so. He was placed in my room, in part, for the extra attention that he craved, for the attention he could not get in a larger classroom and, on certain days, could not do without.

    Tamir, in his best moments, had a wonderful personality. He could be charming and funny. I believe his childhood had been a confusing one. Tamir enjoyed attention and, like some other children I have known, negative attention can sometimes be as stimulating as positive attention. So you can imagine the attention he was getting in the park that November day as he wielded an airsoft pellet gun, pointing it at passersby and other kids. The orange cap on the tip of the barrel that was supposed to indicate it was a fake was missing, so it appeared to be a real gun.

    He’d been playing in the area of the recreation center gazebo when one of those passersby called 911. We later learned the caller had stated that the gunman was probably a juvenile and it was probably not a real gun. The dispatcher never relayed that part of the message to the police. We will never know if those words would have changed the deplorable outcome of that day.

    What we know for sure about that day was caught on a park security camera. We saw a police vehicle drive up within feet of the boy and within two seconds he fell to the ground. There was no audio to tell us whether he had been asked repeatedly to drop the gun before he was shot (witnesses said they did not hear that). We did not see the police officer use a taser to get the child to drop the gun, or get assistance in any other way—we just saw the 12-year-old’s life end at that moment, never to use those leadership skills or engaging personality again.

    Inevitably I feel compassion for the wounded, the underdogs, the young men whose lives have been taken, and for the families who will never stop grieving for them.

    In personal conversations, most people I spoke with blamed the black parents for teaching their child disrespect for authority—specifically white police. How do you know that, I wondered? Why is that the assumption? Would you be saying that if it was a white child?

    Tamir’s academic and emotional development was most likely affected by transience. Tamir left our care abruptly right before the end of that school year. Many children in low-income areas are constantly on the move from school to school, neighborhood to neighborhood. They lose their apartments for various reasons and move on to another dwelling or move in with a relative—often in a different school district. The work educators do with a child is often interrupted and negated at another school. The principal, Tamir’s mother, and other teachers, as well as myself, spent many heartfelt hours and much energy trying to meet Tamir’s individual needs and help him be successful in school.

    A generation ago it was acceptable for children to have toy guns to play cowboys and Indians. It’s a shame that toy companies have created more realistic weapons and that so much focus is on guns in our society. Very few television shows or movies exist without guns. What else would we expect a young boy to want? It was reported later by an FBI agent who happened by that while lying on the ground wounded, Tamir asked for his gun back. Maybe we, the collective American society, are the ones to blame for constantly glorifying all types of guns and emphasizing the rights of everyone to own one.

    To me, Tamir Rice is not a news item or a conversation starter. He was an unforgettable student I taught and cared for during a brief period in time. He was a kid who struggled with being moved from school to school. He was a child who needed a significant amount of attention. Like many inner city children, Tamir had probably seen and experienced more than his 12-year-old brain could process. On November 22, 2014, he was simply an innocent soul who just wanted to have a good time as most children do.

    What I imagine from knowing Tamir was that he was having great fun that day. He was a child pretending he had a real gun. He was a young boy who was getting the attention he craved. And he will never know the attention he received after that fateful day.

    Tuesday, October 27, 2015

    10 Ways to Determine if Your Christianity has been Americanized

    I found this article so on point. I don't think my Facebook page viewers could handle it so I'm posting it here:

    10 Ways To Determine If Your Christianity Has Been “Americanized”

    While the word “Christianity” ought refer to a single religion, the reality is that many cultures have succumbed to a process of syncretism where there are actually many, many forms of Christianity that look nothing like the original picture on the outside of the box. Pointing this out is painful for many, as it often pulls the rug out from some of our deeply held beliefs– things we thought were Christian beliefs and values, but ultimately turn out to be just cultural values and beliefs.
    America is no different. The powerful influence of American culture has, for quite some time, seeped into the Christian faith to the point where we have an entirely new product. Instead of Christianity as it was passed onto the disciples and early church, we have a uniquely American version– and one we’d do well to dissect until we’ve found freedom from it, and freedom to return home to the life and message of Jesus.
    Is the version of Christianity you’re living out the real-deal or is it the Americanized version? Here are ten ways you can tell– but there are undoubtedly many more:
    1. If you look at the early Christians and are in disbelief over what you find. 
    If your primary identity is legitimately that of a Christian, you’ll be open to learning about Christianity as it was taught and lived by the earliest Christians. However, from an American mindset, original Christianity and the first Christians appear nuts: they were universally nonviolent (against capital punishment, abortion, military service and killing in self-defense), rejected individual ownership of property in order to redistribute their wealth (Acts 2:44-45, Acts 4:35), and rejected any involvement with the government. When reading about them they seem rather un-American, and this will cause frustration or disbelief among those in Americanized Christianity.
    2. Your chief concern with Muslims is how to defeat them instead of how to show them the love of Christ. 
    The chief calling of a Christ-follower is to love others. Whether a neighbor across the street, or an enemy across the world, Christ’s command is abundantly clear: we are to love one another. If your initial posture toward Muslims is that of viewing them as a threat instead of viewing them as people Jesus has commanded we radically and self-sacrificially love, then your Christianity might be Americanized.
    3. If you can recite more of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights than you can the Sermon on the Mount.
    Love the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights because they set the foundation for our country? Well, did you know that the Sermon on the Mount serves the same function for the new, otherworldly Kingdom principles that Jesus followers are supposed to be living by? If you’re more familiar with America’s founding documents than you are the foundation of Jesus’s teachings, your Christianity might be Americanized.
    4. If you’re going to spend more time focused on the presidential election than serving real people around you. 
    Jesus calls us to get busy serving the least of these– to get our hands dirty, to embrace the position of “servant of everyone,” and to pour ourselves out as we endeavor to change the world right where we are. America on the other hand, invites us to view political power and force of government as the solution to the world’s problems, and that’s a tempting offer for both liberals and conservatives. If you’re more focused on what they could do than what you can do, your Christianity might be Americanized. (And here’s one similar: if you judge the heart of fellow Christians because you don’t like the political candidate they voted for, your Christianity might be Americanized.)
    5. If you advocate cutting government programs for the poor but don’t actually tithe yourself.
    An American value is small government and low tax rates, but a Christian value is the elimination of poverty– which is precisely why the early Christians shared their wealth instead of hoarding it. However, while many American Christians fight for lower taxes, the average American Christian doesn’t give money to charity. Where the early church shared everything, statistics show that Americanized Christians share almost nothing- less than 5% even tithe to their church. When we reject the Americanization of Christianity, we become focused on how to give more, not on how to give less.
    6. If you say “we’re a nation of laws” in reference to immigrants faster than you quote what the Bible says about immigrants.
    For a nation of immigrants, American culture has a shockingly hostile posture toward them. When this bleeds into our Christianity, we see Christians adopt a hostile posture as well– and that’s the last possible posture a Christian should have. The Bible has plenty to say on immigrants, and consistently lists them as one of the vulnerable groups of people God-followers care for. While the government has a right to determine who can come and who must go, the primary posture of a Christian is that of radical love towards immigrants of every type.
    7. If you think Paul’s prohibition on female teachers is straightforward, but Jesus’s teaching on enemy love is somehow open to a thousand degrees of nuance. 
    People often forget that Paul wrote letters to specific churches addressing specific problems that had a specific context. Yet, in a society that is still wrestling with patriarchy and sexism, we take Paul’s letter to a specific church and make it a blanket prohibition for all times and cultures. However, when we get to Jesus saying “love your enemy” and “do not respond to an evildoer with violence” we abandon that same hermeneutic and say, “Well, Jesus couldn’t have meant we’re not supposed to kill our enemies.” Why? It’s Americanization- we interpret scripture in a way that is consistent not with authorial intent, but our own culture.
    8. If you only see sexuality in the admonition to be modest.
    We are a society that sees sex in everything– and we see it in Paul’s admonitions for modesty as well. However, if you look closely you’ll see that Paul isn’t talking about sexual modesty, but is prohibiting Christians from flaunting their money with expensive clothing and jewelry. However, we don’t see that in the text because Americanized Christianity would reject the idea we aren’t supposed to own expensive and flashy things. So, we make the passages about sexual modesty so that we can enjoy our expensive and unnecessary toys without a guilty conscience– all the while policing women with yoga pants.
    9. If you think defeating gay marriage is the most pressing issue of our time. 
    Somewhere along the line, the Americanized version of Christianity taught us that defeating gay marriage was perhaps the most pressing issue of our time. Sadly, as Americans we’re taught to be self-centered and this is an incredibly self-centered view that completely ignores the global issues of our time. It is the mistaken identity that our issues are the issues. The most pressing issues of our time? Let’s start with the fact that 750 million people around the world don’t even have access to clean water or that 805 million people are chronically malnourished.
    10. If your church honors soldiers more than the elderly woman who has been quietly teaching Sunday school for 30 years. 
    Because of the blending of America and Christianity, many of our churches sure do love them a man or woman in uniform. Back in my military days I remember wearing my uniform to church when I came home on leave– you get treated like you’re the most important person in the room. But you know who is the most important person in the room? It’s the person who is not in the room at all– it’s that little old lady who has quietly and lovingly been teaching the kids about Jesus while the rest of the church forgets she even exists. Americanized Christianity loves to fawn over those who fought, but the Kingdom of God teaches us the real heroes are the ones who are quietly serving in our midst to the point we are almost unaware they’re even among us.

    Is the version of Christianity you were taught the Americanized version? What has it been like for you to transition out of it? What else would you add to the list? I’d love to hear your stories.

    Wednesday, September 23, 2015

    My First Amendment Rights

    Under the protection of the first amendment I have the right to express myself on this blog as I have been doing for the last seven years.  Recently I have been attacked for certain viewpoints I have posted on Facebook.When I say attacked I do not mean that someone disagreed with my opinion - that is certainly acceptable.  Attacked means that my character as a human being is slandered because of a viewpoint.  And I can guarantee you that I have never posted on Facebook or on this blog anything evil, vicious or malicious towards anyone.   I often forbid myself from posting again since I'm tired of being told I am wrong to have an informed opinion. But then I ask myself - why should I be bullied into not posting things I believe in?

    I do not argue with things that other people post because I believe in their right to have an opinion. I have been accused of not being able to have a "discussion," but a discussion is not one-sided. It is not someone telling me I am wrong and they are right. A discussion requires respect. I have, in fact, have those types of discussions with people whose political viewpoints are the opposite of mine and who do not get enraged over the issue.

    I have cogent reasons for what I believe. My opinions are almost exclusively based on personal experience—on my life—not something someone told me or some pundit on TV telling me how to think.  I read extensively, and while I am sure I am not always correct—opinions are just that—opinions, not facts.

    I probably have always had a stronger than average need for self-expression. I have accomplished that through art, music and writing. In each of those cases I have been told I have touched people at times. But you can take it or leave it. I am no one special, but I am also not a immoral human being because I do not agree with you. I am a progressive Christian and I  not find any dichotomy in that.  This is what I identify with and to me this is an ideal that I continually work towards.  And I am not ashamed of it.

    Thursday, September 3, 2015


    All I want to ask right now is what ever happened to civility?
    If I could stay off the internet and Facebook maybe I would still believe that we live in a civilized society.
     A certain party of politicians and pundits have obliterated the concept in this country.
    They are nothing but rude, disrespectful, bigoted, insensitive, egotistical, judgmental bullies.
    All the things we tried to teach our children not to be.
    I am truly afraid where this boorish rhetoric is leading us.

    Civility:  polite, reasonable and respectful behavior.

    Thursday, August 6, 2015

    Religion in Our Politics

    For all the political debaters tonight (and throughout their campaign) who will use religion, specifically Christianity, to make their moral judgements on the citizens of this country which was founded on religious freedom - freedom of religion means freedom from it as well.

    Monday, July 13, 2015

    Why Are Symbols More Important Than Unity?

    I don't understand why we need symbols to live out what we believe in. Yes, I know everyone has the right to self-expression in this country, but it seems to supersede any sense of unity in these UNITED States.

    Why do some need a flag to say they're proud of being from the south? The north, east and west don't have one.  Won't you still be a southerner without a flag?  Why insist on something that hurts other fellow Americans?  Won't you still be free with or without a flag? If it's still the south against the north than we haven't made any progress in over two hundred years.

    I don't need a flag, a bumper sticker, a motto, the name of God in documents or even a church to live out what I believe in - and I certainly don't need a stranger to wish me a Merry Christmas to celebrate Christmas with meaning and joy.

    What would happen if everyone stopped fighting about the SYMBOLS of our freedom and beliefs and just enjoyed having them in this country? We keep saying America is so great but all we do is defend our right to offend each other.

    Other countries with much less freedom than we have probably find our petty arguments laughable.

    Even though we have the RIGHT to express ourselves - why is it more important than proving that we are in fact UNITED in any way?

    Friday, June 26, 2015

    A Great Day in America

    This morning I read in the paper that the US Supreme Court has upheld the subsidies for the Affordable Health Care Act so that deserving Americans can continue to seek out health care for their families.

    Then later in the morning the Supreme Court once again did the right thing and made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.  From this point forward it should be simply known as marriage.  I found myself in tears thinking about all the dear friends and family members who will finally have this affirmation of their rights. The sad part is that it has taken so long for all United States citizens to have the equal rights in the area of marriage. (There are still many issues to be addressed ).

    I will not argue the case here because I have written about my beliefs a number of times. Those of us who understand that we were ALL created in God's image and that love is just love need no explanation of my tears of joy today. Anyone who knows and loves a gay person needs no explanation.

    THEN !!! After all that - I had the television on and they broke into the show to broadcast the funeral service of Rev. Clementa Pinckney who was murdered last week in his sanctuary by a 21 year-old racist along with eight other parishioners.

    President Barack Obama got up to speak and he didn't just speak he preached a sermon - a beautiful, passionate and uplifting sermon. Then to top it off Barack began to sing Amazing Grace.

    What a day in America.

    Monday, June 15, 2015

    What Makes A Woman

    Well, I am not going to mention her name because it's been over-sensationalized, but there is a famous person who suddenly became a woman. We have been bombarded with photos of her looking very much like a statuesque beautiful woman. But is she a woman just because she looks like one?

    I am all for people being who they want to be. I do not know why some people are born in the so-called wrong body or why some people are not solely heterosexual, but I am sure that none of them would choose their circumstances (unless they enjoy being bullied, hated, judged, and discriminated against personally and in the law, or living a lie.)

    Allowing other people to be who they want to be without any harassment or judgement seems to me to be the least we can do for each other as human beings. So, I am totally fine with this famous person finding her happiness and stop living her lie.


    I am going to quote Elinor Burkett who recently wrote a piece in the New York Times.

    People who haven't lived their whole lives as women shouldn't get to define us. That's something men have been doing for much too long….they cannot stake their claim to dignity as transgender people by trampling on mine as a woman.

    Their truth is not my truth. Their female identities are not my female identity. They haven't traveled through the world as women and been shaped by all that this entails.  They haven't suffered through business meetings with men talking to their breasts or woken up after sex terrified they'd forgotten to take their birth control pills the day before.  They haven't had to cope with the onset of their periods in the middle of a crowded subway, the humiliation of discovering that their male work partners' checks were far larger than theirs, or the fear of being too weak to ward off rapists.

    Hmmm, interesting, right?  As a woman, can't you think of dozens of other emotional and physical experiences that men have never had?

    Developing large breasts by the age of 13 completely changed me and affected every day of my life after that. I did not want them (that big).  I hated the attention they drew. It stopped me from continuing things I loved like gymnastics.  Throughout high school I never knew if a boy liked me or them. I couldn't wear the same clothes my friends wore.   THAT, for example, is an experience only a female can understand.

    This article did not change my beliefs about people who struggle with gender and sexual identity issues at all but it did make me say - yes, being born a female is a completely different experience than this particular person saying at the end of an interview that she most looked forward to wearing nail polish.  I never wear nail polish and yet, I have lived a lifetime of being a woman.

    Wednesday, May 27, 2015

    The Shocking Facts About America's Children

    Marian Wright Edelman recently spoke at the City Club of Cleveland. She is the president and founder of the Children's Defense Fund. Her accomplishments and credentials are too numerous to include here. She spoke on the issue of child poverty in the United States.

    "A nation that does not stand for its children does not stand for anything and will not stand tall in the 21st century or before our God."

    This so-called great United States of America has the second highest child poverty rate among 35 industrialized nations despite having the largest economy in the world.  Shocking. Shameful.

    There are 14.7 million poor children in this country.  This exceeds the population of Ohio and Iowa put together.  An American child has a 1 in 5 chance of being poor.
    Six and a half million are in extreme poverty. This exceeds the population of Connecticut and Mississippi put together.

    Cleveland and Cuyahoga County:
    Over half the children in Cleveland are poor (54%) with 28% considered in extreme poverty.
    Twenty-four percent of Cleveland's children were food insecure in 2013.

    Poverty has life-long consequences.  The younger the child the poorer he or she is likely to be - this is during the time of crucial brain development.  Growing up poor decreases the likelihood of graduating from high school, and increases the likelihood of having poor health, being poor in adulthood and being  involved in the criminal justice system.  It costs this country dearly everyday.

    As Edelman said - these children did not ask to be born, did not choose their parents, their country, state, city, faith or race but in 35 other nation they would be less likely to be poor only ahead of Rumania whose economy is 99% smaller than ours.

    "Saving our children is about saving our country. I hope we will begin to counter the fact that too often our politics trumps these policies, moral decency and responsibility for the next generation."

    Edelman stated that there are nine programs, already proven successful, that could eradicate at least 60% of child poverty. Her organization has detailed them and shown what they would cost.  The cost would be 77.2 billion dollars as opposed to the $500 billion that poverty costs this country every year.   These programs would include things like basic housing (which would in itself eliminate 2.3 million  children from poverty), food availability for children, early childhood programs, school nurses, and home intervention programs.

    (These could easily be paid for if only our leaders would allow it.  If they simply eliminated tax breaks to the rich in America we could save $84 billion.  Congress just voted to repeal the estate tax for the wealthiest 5400 Americans at a cost of $269 billion. They just voted to give the Pentagon $38 billion even though it was not asked for.)

    WHY can't our government do what's right?  Why wouldn't they want to eliminate our citizen's suffering? Why wouldn't they want to improve children's futures? Why wouldn't they want to actually save money by spending some on the poor?  Why wouldn't they want to reduce the billions of dollars spent on mass incarceration in our country?

    The answer is moral judgement.  What other reason could it be?  They are against "hand-outs". They want people to pull them up by their bootstraps - but children don't have bootstraps - they are victims. And what poverty does to children will simply be passed down to their children. Poor health, poor education, prone to crime.

    And moral judgment includes that those who have comfy lives think they deserve it. They've earned it. They do not recognize the advantages they started out with because they do not want to admit that they could have been born into poverty as well, but were simply fortunate not to be.  They do not want to share what they have. It is greed. It is entitlement. It is discriminatory.

    You may not believe in helping poor people that, in your judgement, have no reason to be - but children don't have those choices.  Yet, they are the future of America.

    Tuesday, May 12, 2015

    A New Kind of Bucket List

    Being retired I feel like I should have a bucket list. I am pretty much open to doing anything I haven't done before and traveling anywhere I have the chance to go. A bucket list has to be feasible to be successful and I am a practical thinker so we'll see.

    I already wrote a novel and published a lot a of poetry but I would like to find a way for more people to read what I have labored over for so many years.

    I mostly think about traveling, but my husband is not retired and time and money are a factor. (We are planning a trip to Italy, but we have planned that trip before and life got in the way.)

    I truly feel like this is the time in my life to just become a better person - the person I've always wanted to be but couldn't always focus on. My time is not filled up with raising children, building relationships or working full time.  I believe retirement gives you time not just for yourself, but for others. I am currently caring for my mother and tutoring people studying to get their GEDs.  But there is so much more I would like to do. I don't want to spend every day purely focused on myself. (Also, spending time with my grandson, but that's just pure fun.)

    Cleveland's popular local writer, Regina Brett wrote a column about a new kind of bucket list. These are excerpts from her column of April 29, 2015.

    What if you turned your bucket list into a bucket life? Instead of making a list of things you want to do once in your life, how about a bucket full of gifts for others?  

    Instead of risking your life for a thrill, save a life. Learn CPR, the Heimlich maneuver and how to use a defibrillator.  Donate blood, be an organ donor or a bone marrow donor. Become a disaster action volunteer with the Red Cross.

    Instead of learning something new, teach someone to read, to speak Spanish, sew, bake, play guitar, change a tire, or to hit a home run.

    You want an adventure? Become a foster parent or adopt a special needs child.

    If travel is your thing, spend Sunday in a church with people of a different race or religion. Build a home with Habitat for Humanity. Spend a week living with the poor in Africa, El Salvador or India, not to fix them, but to learn from them.

    If you love challenges, try this one: Forgive everyone everything.

    Instead of writing a book, write a will so your family isn't left confused over who gets what. Write thank you cards to every teacher who shaped your life. Write love letters to everyone you love.

    Write your eulogy, then live a bucket-list that will make it all come true.

    Thursday, April 30, 2015

    A Good Eye

    I have been like the little bird
    with one good eye.
    As I moved to the feeder 
    to refill the seeds
    she didn’t see me.
    So I poked her purplish wing
    once, twice.
    She hopped about to face me
    with her one good eye
    then flew away.

    Even with two good eyes
    I have only seen half
    of what can be seen.
    But year by year
    my callow vision improves,
    like veils being lifted away
    one by one or
    like a foreign language
    that sounds like nonsense
    until you learn it, speak it
    understand its beauty.

    Thursday, April 16, 2015

    There is No Reality (The coming election year)

    Many years ago I read a book by Dr. Phil.  (Life Strategies) This common sense book had a big impact on me.  In the book he gave some basic life strategies and two of them changed my thinking.  I think these are particularly pertinent in light of the political animosity that this country is currently experiencing and certainly will be in the coming year.

    There is no reality - only perception.
     My first reaction to this was, of course there is reality!  But think about a time when you and another person have been at the same place at the same time but have interpreted what happened there differently.  It's almost like someone telling a joke and one person finds it hilarious and another person doesn't. No one is right and no one is wrong. It's just their perception.

    Everyone's perception is colored by a lifetime of personal experiences and observations and it is quite common for two people to view the same thing in two different ways.  Just look at the way the bible can be continually argued. One of us reads a passage to mean one thing and someone else sees it another way.

    Here's an example:
    One of my friends has managed his rental properties for many years. In that time he has witnessed people sitting around watching television while collecting government assistance. So naturally what he has seen influences his viewpoints.

    I spent 22 years teaching children living in poverty. I saw firsthand the devastating effects on their lives. I listened to the single mothers whose husbands had left them with no financial support for their children.  The mothers who wanted to help with homework or be at conferences but had to take a third shift job and weren't home for their kids - just trying to put food on the table. So my viewpoint has been highly impacted by years of seeing those situations firsthand.

    Those stories are simplified versions of the problem - but even though I did not agree with him I could understand my friend's viewpoint based on his life experience - not mine.

    We teach people how to treat us
    This is a tough one to accept but I've found it to be true.  The premise is that you must take responsibility for how people treat you and react to you.  It's YOU, not THEM.  So if you feel like a doormat at home or work, maybe you have allowed yourself to be treated that way. Maybe you have even subtly rewarded the other person for doing it by giving them what they want.

    The same goes for being ignored, disrespected or being treated in a rude way. What have you done to bring this behavior out in the other person?

    So as we enter a volatile time let's remember that we will receive what we send out. How often do we criticize someone for being judgmental when we are actually doing the same thing to them? Everything goes BOTH ways for all of us.

    Even though many of these problems seem to be human nature I know I am going to try to keep these truths in mind much more in the coming years.

    It's all part of COEXISTING. :)  It's not my expertise - it's my ideal and hope.

    Thursday, April 9, 2015

    The Gift of Stressful Times

    These past two years have been heartbreaking, revelatory and soul-changing.  It has also been stressful, exhausting and confusing.

    I have been through several heart-wrenching and life changing times in my own life - divorce, depression, difficult relationships, stressful work situations - and yet I have discovered that a painful experience in your own life is nothing like watching someone you love going through trials.

    Even after so much turmoil in my own emotional life I have discovered that being a daily participant in the end-of-life struggles of my beloved parents has been much more stressful.

    I keep asking myself why I am not handling this better. Why it has completely consumed me and I cannot separate myself from what they are going through even when I am not with them.  My life revolves around their needs, physical and emotional.

    The natural reaction seems to be to try to keep something of your own life intact.  Try to find stress relievers, a little joy amidst the sorrow.  That in itself is a huge effort and one that constantly gets slapped down as needs change, as unexpected crises arise.  You can never truly get away from your grief and concerns.

    I began canceling out my own life because I couldn’t be counted on to fulfill any commitments. I did it willingly and said to myself - this is my life now and it’s ok.  I am grateful every day that I am now retired and yet that sense of constantly being torn between my life and theirs has not changed.

    I feel like I am lost, unfocused and starting to slide into a depression.  Depression, I learned many years ago, happens when something is too much for someone to handle.
    But this can’t be too much for me. I have no choice but to care for my mother now. I am extremely fortunate to have one other sibling to share the care-taking. How can it be too much when I am so willing to devote myself to this right now?

    But on those days when I am off-duty I flounder. I still feel sad. I miss my father and want him back to help us through this.  We didn’t really have a chance to grieve his loss before we were consumed by my mother’s needs.

    The stress comes not from chores and visits or from advocating for her welfare everywhere we go - but for making choices for someone else’s life. It is heartbreaking telling her she is once again going to the hospital or the rehab facility.  We spend a lot of time encouraging her and the rest of the time agonizing over how we will deal with the next need, the next change in plans.

    There is not enough money to provide 24 hour a day home care and yet, that is what she needs right now.  Even though my father planned well for these years the money is quickly dwindling and we must make decisions about that as well. 

    I believe what is needed now is to embrace this experience for everything that it is.  To stop the battle between her life and ours. Some of the effort is in trying to avoid the most difficult situations. Times of indignity and humiliation, times when nothing goes as planned.  

    I have a praying family and I pray as well. Yet, one of my biggest life lessons has been that God does not make anything easier no matter how many prayers are sent up for you.  What will happen in this world will happen.  He does not make the elderly young again. He does not make care-taking pleasant. He does not heal the body when it is worn out. He does not follow our well thought out plans, or even give us what we are so sure we need ( which is usually to make it easier).

    I have thought a great deal about prayer in these years because so many people say they are praying for you.  Even in my life-long faith I began to wonder what good prayer is when the situation never gets better or even clearer.  What exactly are we praying for?  We can pray all we want for someone to be healed, but if they have a life-threatening illness they will not heal. They will die anyway.

    I have honestly not felt uplifted by prayer at this time in my life even though I have at other times. So what am I missing?  I am not blaming God for anything. This is life on this Earth and sometimes I long for heaven myself - something better than this.  Why is the journey to get there so difficult? Why do we never stop grieving those we have lost?

    Then I think about how I have changed as a human being during this process. How much I have accepted, how much I actually have handled. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been tears (buckets-full)  or anger or frustration - but we have made it through so far.

    We kept our Dad in his home until the end - and that was the plan. We spent two beautiful days surrounding him with love.  My mother knows she is loved and cared for and that we will do whatever we need to to help her through this transition in her life.  My own children are seeing and experiencing these years, which is something I never saw in terms of my own grandparents - and maybe they will do better than I have in the future.  I was given a beautiful, joyful grandson in the midst of the sorrow to brighten every moment I am with him.  He was and is a gift beyond measure and has probably saved me from true desperation.

    I am more compassionate to others that have gone through these same trials (and most people have or will at some point since so many people are living longer). Maybe in the future I will be able to help someone else through the same thing.  I have a husband and friends who listen and care and when I am at the end of my rope. I have learned that my life is not really mine after all. Surrendering to what is has been an on-going learning experience for me in life. Service to others is something that is part of a rich and full life.  Compassion is a divine goal. Love is always the answer. 

    Friday, April 3, 2015

    Harp of Love

    This is a painting by my mother and favorite artist, Martha Vogel . It is called "Harp of Love."
    Happy Easter to all.

    Monday, March 30, 2015


     In light of the new legislation in Indiana that allows business owners to refuse service to LGBT citizens may we remember these truths. This is no less than blatant discrimination - the same kind that refused African-Americans the right to eat in restaurants, drink at drinking fountains and go to integrated schools. No difference except it is possibly even worse to do it in the name of Jesus.

    Have we really not grown as a society since the 1950's ?

    Sunday, March 22, 2015

    America From An Outsider

    I have been struck by a series running in the New York Times Magazine by Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knaussgaard. He was assigned to travel parts of America and give his impressions.
    I don't know about you but I say OUCH!!

    Here are two excerpts:

    I had never really understood how a nation that so celebrated the individual could obliterate all differences the way this country did. In a system of mass production, the individual workers are replaceable and the products are identical. The identical cars are followed by identical gas stations, identical restaurants, identical motels, and as an extension of those, by identical TV screens, which hang everywhere in this country, broadcasting identical entertainment and identical dreams. Not even the Soviet Union at the height of its power had succeeded in creating such a unified, collective identity as the ones Americans lived their lives within. When times get rough, a person could abandon one town in favor of another, and that new town would still represent the same thing.  

    Nowhere in the world has shared culture been a more imperative requirement than in America. More than 300 million people live here, and they had descended over the course of a very few generations from a huge number of disparate cultures, with different histories, ways of behavior, world views and experiential backgrounds.  All of them, sooner or later, had been required to relinquish their old culture and enter the new one.  That must be why the most striking thing about the United States was its sameness, that every place had the same hotels, the same restaurants, the same stores. And that must be why every American movie was made after the same template and why, in this sense, every movie expressed the same thing. And that must be why all these TVs were hanging on the walls, unwatched; they created an immediate sense of belonging, a feeling of home. 

    Wednesday, March 18, 2015

    America the Beautiful

    We just spent a week in Arizona and were overwhelmed by the beauty and diversity of the landscape. We traveled by car from the Grand Canyon in the north, to Sedona midway through the state, to Phoenix in the south.

    We took a rafting trip in a canyon, loved the beauty of Sedona, saw a billion stars and the Milky Way in the darkened sky, explored a slot canyon on Navajo land, drove up a mountain to an old mining town, saw Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West and went to an Indians spring training game!

    If you leave this country for your vacations or go to the same place every year do yourself a favor and explore America.

    The vast magnificence has a story that these mere photographs cannot begin to tell.