Thursday, June 28, 2018

My Dear Friend

My dear friend,  

After decades of an easy and loving friendship we find ourselves on opposite sides politically.  You recently expressed an opinion that you know I disagree with and I said very little in fear of it coming between us. I have strong opinions with cogent reasons too, but I’m not sure you want to hear them. My beliefs do not come from a radio pundit, a political news channel or any particular columnist, but from experiences that slowly changed my views without me even being aware of it. It was a natural evolution for me, based on my life and my faith, so the conundrum is that we are both Christians yet see things so differently.

My own experience of struggling financially for a time (even though I went to college and had done all the personally responsible things), and teaching poor children for 20 years in a diverse district gave me a new perspective. The adults I now tutor often had no choice about leaving high school but were forced to to care for younger siblings or to get jobs. There is so much judgment of those whose lives we know nothing about. The richest country in the world should help their own, but the current administration seems determined to take every good thing away from us: public schools, the EPA (which has greatly improved our lives and health for decades), arts funding, women’s health care, children’s lunch and after-school programs, being irresponsible stewards of God’s creation by allowing pollution to take over again to name a few. They want to reduce food assistance even though it is a minuscule part of the budget. Ohio wants to defund the Positive Education Program for emotionally disturbed youth, to say nothing of defunding Planned Parenthood whose services prevent unwanted pregnancies. I could go on and on.

I am sincerely curious about how Christians reconcile these types of efforts with the teachings of Jesus. Breaking up immigrant families, putting the arguable right to own an assault rifle over the safety of American schoolchildren, unnecessarily raising rent on the poor, are all contrary to repeated commands of Jesus who showed us how to feed and care for the poor without question, to live peacefully and turn the other cheek.  He told us not to worry about tomorrow, that all people are our neighbors which includes Muslims, immigrants and the poor. And of course, to love our enemies. The words of politicians and the Second Amendment have superseded the words of Jesus.

You say you need guns because you fear “they” are coming for you. I don’t even know what that means. “Fear not,” is the most repeated command in the Bible, supposedly 365 times, one for every day. The commandment to not kill I take literally and don’t think there are exceptions. I do not find the promotion of guns pro-life. Just the opposite. “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body and not the soul.” Mt 10:28. 

I do not oppose a conservative viewpoint but there is one news station that has done great damage to our country. Everyone I know who watches that station seems to live in fear and believe in conspiracies that never materialize.  I saw it happen to my own parents. They went from being happy and content to constantly worrying and even obsessing about things they heard on television.  Of course, none of their fears were realized. It was sad to me to see that change in them. They had the station on most of the day so I was exposed to it.  I heard daily ranting and vicious name-calling of Democrats. Don’t tell me that doesn’t have a divisive effect on people. There may be liberal viewpoints on other stations but I have never heard the ugly vitriol that I’ve heard on that station.

The thought of abortion repulses me, but I also do not judge those who feel they need one. I do not know their circumstances and believe judgement is left to God. There is great hypocrisy in wanting babies to be born, but not cared for after birth. When we remove help for those children, defund public school resources, food programs and the like we are just pro-birth, not pro-life. I have never walked in the shoes of a gay or transgender person so I do not have the right to tell them how to live their lives or what their human needs should be. It is only when we dehumanize people that we insist on our preferences over their civil and human rights.  

One of the most divisive ideas is that this has always been a White Christian country and what we saw on 1960’s television was the “way it’s always been.” Think Mayberry. But that is a false image. That was before the civil rights movement when black people were segregated in every way in this society,  when Japanese were interned, when what we saw on TV did not reflect reality for many Americans in any way.  Life wasn’t great for everyone in decades past so there is nothing idyllic to go back to.  Even though I attempt to live my life by Christian principles I do not believe this is a Christian country. It began as a Native American country and for a long time everyone was welcome here. Building a wall to keep people out and travel bans are in direct opposition to the freedom America stands for.  I have the right to worship as I want in America, but so does everyone else. 

Liberal and liberty share the same root word. It is defined as: marked by generosity, broad-minded, open to new opinions, and believes in political change. I am not ashamed of that and no one has convinced me of any of these views except living the life that God gave me and coming to know people unlike myself. There cannot possibly one right way to live among the billions of people on this planet. If God is the Creator then He made all of us.

So maybe we should find our common ground and stick to that.  All over this country relationships are strained by the deep divisions that we are exposed to 24 hours a day. Let’s not be one of them.







Sunday, June 17, 2018

Father's Day 2018

Dad

I want to touch your hands again.
I memorized the shape of every finger;
the ones that held, fixed, carried, loved.

The hands I clutched on your last walk on this earth
after sixty years of steps
across the living room and back.

Then for two days we circled, spoke in your ear,
held those hands, wept, questioned,
and we were one—covered in your final gift.

You know the glory now, Dad,
the reward for always choosing love,
and we are bereft here 

on the surface of this incendiary planet 
to wait
and wonder.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Depression and Suicide

Last week two prominent, widely admired, successful people committed suicide.  I heard a lot of misconceptions from people who most likely have never been there. The first thing you think is why anyone with money and fame would do such a thing, but money and fame have nothing to do with what is happening in the depressed person's mind. It's a physical imbalance. It is not rational.

Many years ago I was diagnosed with clinical depression (and two other temporary mental illnesses) that occurred for a very specific reason in my life.  I had counseling and medication. I got well and it is not a chronic problem for me.  I can't really imagine living through it again or what it would be like to battle this disease all of my life. Some people do and this is why they cannot take it any more.
  
Depression is not sadness or discouragement—it is utter hopelessness. It is not feeling anything, not caring about anything, it is like already being dead. When you are hopeless and cannot feel human feelings your life does not matter to you and you cannot imagine that it ever will.  This, of course, is not true. It is not rational thinking. 

You will hear things like - remember how many people love you, think about your children, it will get better. The problem with those thoughts is that they involve emotions and reasoning and when you are clinically depressed you cannot understand those thoughts and cannot feel hope in them. If you've never felt complete hopelessness it is almost impossible to comprehend.  

I did not seriously contemplate suicide. I do remember wanting to get away from myself, but there was no way to do that.  I hated myself. I hated being so weak, so sick, for worrying the people who loved me and I would have done almost anything to end that experience. I thought about how everyone would be better off without me, which is pretty close to life-ending thinking. In my mind I knew hope existed but I could not feel it or sense any light at the end of the tunnel. That's exactly why it's depression.

So when you wonder how someone could do such a thing to themselves or to their family remember that at the moment of their decision it didn't matter at all.