Monday, April 9, 2018

Taxes - Return on Investment?

If you're a homeowner, you recently relieved property tax notifications. Most of us tend to grumble about them. Taxes are painful. For some, the taxes are a real struggle. It's taken me many years to get it planned right so it would be less painful. And it's taken me years to see it differently.
This year, as I stared at those papers sitting on the desk, images came to mind. They were much clearer as I focused on the city taxes. I thought of every time the streets were plowed. The city worker who hand delivered the water issue notification came to mind. I saw the friendly faces at Town Hall, our city manager, our mayor, our council, our police, our fire fighters, our events planner, our code enforcer. On some very cold winter days, there were city crews working on some trouble areas on the streets or in the water lines.
How many times can I count hearing sirens of first responders? When did those Christmas decorations magically appear? How did the leaves disappear? When did they sweep away the remnants of winter street treatment?
If my tax dollars were divided among all the services and employees serving this city, how does it get applied? As I consider the many services provided in this beautiful town, I'm supporting a great team of dedicated servants. I'm getting a great return on investment. Looking at it this way made writing the check easier. (That, plus super help from my financial institution, Franklin Oil Region Credit Union, to plan better for it.)
Our taxes really are an investment. When we can measure a great return on investment, it's less painful. In my humble opinion, Franklin, PA, is getting it right!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

In Search of Universal Truth

A few years back, on a business trip in China, my hosts in Wuxi honored me with a trip to see the Big Buddha and visit the temple. Together we climbed the many steps leading to the foot of the giant Buddha and paused there at a table to visit. Through our interpreter we exchanged questions and thoughts. I was the first American woman they had ever met in person. They marveled that I was over 55 and still working, in this case traveling to videotape in many factories. Women in China retire at 55. They asked many questions about American women.
Then, sitting under Buddha's shadow, the conversation turned to religion. "Our Buddha and your Jesus are much alike," One said. I agreed and said something like this; "Please understand that I am not a typical American woman. Many are not like me. And I believe I was born into a Christian family to help me understand how Christians think and I don't understand it yet." To which they laughed. What followed was a wonderful discussion of how we can learn from one another if our hearts are open to learning.
Cross cultural experiences such as these with Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Pagans, Wiccans, Atheists, Agnostics, Spiritualists, Humanists, Native American teachings, and others have added greatly to my life. The universal speaks to us all in different ways. Among us all there are universal truths. For me, it is those universal truths that are the "word of God". If they are not universal and universally true, they are not from God. At best, those things not universally understood as true are simply man's interpretation of God. God's word must be universally understood and accepted. Why? Because God perfectly understands how man thinks. Only God can perfectly communicate so that man understands universally. Name God whatever you desire. God is universal truth. "God" is simply my name for it.
My love for search of that truth is unending. One book, one set of doctrines, one set of teachings, one religion, one practice cannot possibly contain an understanding of all universal truth. When confronted with someone insisting that there is only one way, my inner spirit asks "Why is your God so small?"
Every day I am searching these truths and an understanding of how I need to apply them to my life. And then today, I did a thing. Dear friends would like me to conduct their wedding ceremony. And so, I sought the path that would lead to my ability to do that. And so, this day, I am officially ordained through the Universal Life Church. They require just two core tenets:
  1. Do only that which is right.
  2. Every individual is free to practice their religion in the manner of their choosing, as mandated by the First Amendment, so long as that expression does not impinge upon the rights or freedoms of others and is in accordance with the government’s laws.
I am now officially titled "Minister of Peace". I do indeed believe in those two simple tenets. My simple intent and motivation is to honor my friends wishes. For many the ordination process is intense and I respect that dedication. My objective is not to start a church or in any way diminish any established denominations or ordained ministers. My intent is to serve. And I will continue to search truth. And I chose the title "Minister of Peace" to be my compass.
While this was easy to do, I do not take it lightly. It is simply another step toward a greater cause.   

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Addressing Gun Violence

When you are certain you know the solution to a problem, the best thing to do is work on the solution. If you don't, others will and if it's not the solution you endorse, you may not like the direction it takes.
That's what's happening with the issue of gun violence. Those focused on protecting "second amendment rights" have pointed to many reasons for our mass shootings that they insist have nothing to do with guns; mental health issues, parenting issues, movie/game violences, lack of enforcement of existing laws, etc. If identification of these causes would have been followed by action to correct them, and it actually solved the gun violence problem, we would all be happy.
It's the lack of any constructive actions that led to the marches and the movement that is being led by young people. The issue can no longer be ignored and these people cannot be dismissed. Not listening and trying to discredit them will only deepen their resolve. They see this issue as central to their very survival.
Interestingly, second amendment advocates, at the extreme, also believe their very survival is at stake. There is a deep belief that the right to bear arms is a protection from government tyranny. As long as this group views government as the enemy, or potential enemy, their fears will grow with any attempted actions viewed as infringing on those rights.
Ultimately, neither side of this issue wants to see more dead children. Neither side of this issue wants to see mass killing in public places. We need to start the conversation with that acknowledgement. From there, it will be the ones who actually roll up their sleeves and get to work on solutions that will lead the day. Today, it's a few million young people and those who are supporting them.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Fearless Healing

Fear is a powerful motivator. It can push us beyond rational thinking and behavior. It ignites anger.
In fear and anger, there is no love and no joy. There may be an adrenaline rush in the "gotcha" moments when we believe we have overcome an enemy, but that is evil and short lived. In those moments, we damage our soul and turn our backs to the universal power many call God.
I often return to the simple command from Jesus, "Fear not!" All his teachings revolve around this command. His ministry was fearless. He did not fear the leper, he healed them. Turning the other cheek is a fearless act. Nothing he did was based in fear.
Some point to his turning over the money changers' tables in the temple as example of justified anger. But first consider his motivation. It was based in love of the people being cheated. He did not call for rebellion. He did not stoke the fears of his followers to act out against anyone. He made his point the moved on and continued his ministry of love and healing.
Fear does not heal. Fear does not resolve problems. Acting in fear and anger can only grow more fear and anger. It is debilitating and destructive. It hardens our heart and weakens our spirit.
As fear grows within us, we seek ways to protect ourselves. We build walls in expectation that isolation will keep us safe. We angrily defend and protect those walls while others shout from the other side. It grows more fear which causes us and others to seek retribution or retaliation.
Fear cannot drive rational problem solving. Fear drives justification for destructive acts. The longer we let it fester and grow, the greater the destruction.
It's difficult to look our own fears in the face and recognize the power they have over us. We all believe our fears, and resulting anger, are quite justified. The laws of the universe (of God) are not in our favor. Fear is the opposite of love. We know we are operating in fear when we cannot look at the other and express love. Something is wrong in our soul.
If we want to heal this nation, if we want to heal this world - we must first heal ourselves.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

It's about fear...

What is conservative? What is liberal?
Long ago, as I have written about before, in a single day friends chastised me. "Don't try to convince me that you are a liberal, I know you are conservative at heart." Later that day a friend said, "Don't try to to convince me your are a conservative, I know you are a liberal at heart." Of course, most of you reading this will now say, "Good God, we all know you are a liberal!" The truth is that I am somewhat both. And so are you.
Having the great honor of working up close with a wide variety of people in leadership on boards, committees, organizations, political endeavors, I've witnessed heart. When we are faced with decisions to help someone, we do. When we know there is a need, we will. It does not matter if we are conservative or liberal. We do and we will. It's not liberal or conservative. There is a need and we do and we will.
What separates us is what we fear. When we see risk, we grow conservative. When we see little risk, we are liberal. If we want to bridge our divides, we need to address fears.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

When I grow up....

Even at my age, I'm still working on who I want to be when I grow up. Lately I'm thinking that might be to become so at peace with myself and the world around me that no storm, natural or human created, derails me from the pursuit of love and peace. What does that look like? What does that require of me?
As that's been floating around in my head over the last 6 months or so, a song sprang into my consciousness that a group of us sang out for the first time recently. Singing it with this group first in my living room brought great joy. I see so many faces when I sing these words.

But that song is just an expression of a moment and a sentiment. How do I find that peace with myself and the world in the way I desire? My friend Mary Morgan came to mind and the four agreements she shared one evening.
The Four Agreements are:
1. Be Impeccable with your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.
2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
3. Don’t Make Assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
4. Always Do Your Best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

If I can focus on these and sing out my heart, I just might be ready to grow up. And when I finally do, I know it will be time to go to the next level of understanding. Therein lies my Salvation.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

More Guns????

Gun ownership in the United States has doubled since 1968. There are 112 guns for every 100 residents. In other words, there are enough guns to arm every man, woman and child in the country and still have a surplus of guns in the hands of citizens. We are number 1 in gun ownership followed by Serbia with 75 guns per 100 residents. (2015 data and reports of exact numbers/100 vary but the overall ratio is consistent with our first place status)
Meanwhile, we also lead the world in firearm related deaths with 10.2 per 100,000 people. We are also number 1 in mass shootings with 78 compared to second place Germany with 7. We have more than 10 times the mass shooting of any other country in the world!
On the heels of each mass shooting, gun advocates float solutions that revolve around more guns in the hands of "good guys". If having more guns is the solution, why aren't we the safest nation in the world already? If the number of guns we have isn't enough, how can more fix that? That "solution" defies logic.
The issue is not about good guys having guns. The issue is that those with nefarious motives have easy access to guns - especially those designed to kill many people in a short amount of time. To me and many others, it's obvious that our first step is to make it difficult for anyone to access weapons intended to be used as mass killing machines.
Of course that will not stop everyone who is intent on killing people. Yes they may try one of a hundred other ways but let's not make it easy for them. It's too easy to obtain and use guns with high capacity. If knives and bats were as deadly as guns, we'd be arming our military with knives and bats.
The other argument for unfettered second amendment "rights" is that we need protection from government tyranny. Really? Your AR-15 may make you feel better but if our government unleashes the military in some tyrannical force against us, you won't stand a chance.
There's a better solution to government tyranny. Get engaged. Vote. Talk with your legislatures regularly. Run for office.
Limiting access to high power weapons is just the first and most obvious step to take. We then need to focus on solutions that address those who feel disenfranchised, angry, and are mentally ill to the point of lashing out at innocent people. That's going to require hard work, diligence, and deep systemic changes. We need national leadership that outlines a multi-pronged approach but it will take local muscle and resources to make those changes.
Let's stop talking about what can't be done and placing blame. Let's get serious and solve this.