Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Let the means justify the end...

One of the oddest things about we humans is that if someone asks for equality - equal access, equal time, equal say - we take it as an intrusion into our equality, access, time and say. If someone pushes us, we push back. We are really bad at trying to walk in the other person's shoes. We seek hierarchy. We measure ourselves against what other people have, how hard they do or don't work, what we believe they have accomplished more or less compared to us.
It's the "rights" fault. It's the "lefts" fault. It's her fault or his fault. She isn't contributing enough. He doesn't deserve... Blah, Blah, Blah. In the end, the only thing that is going to matter is whether or not you did the best you could with the situations that faced you. Once we blame others, hate others, for the struggles we encounter, we are lost in a trapped world. And much of the world is trapped. It's not a "left" problem or a "right" problem. It's a human problem.
We need to spend less time trying to shut one another up and more time trying to understand one another. People who feel misunderstood and marginalized will express themselves in un-healthy ways over time. If you are the one feeling misunderstood or marginalized, you need to find healthy ways to express yourself. If we want others to care about us, we have to care about them. Otherwise, life remains a tug of war. You pull one end of the rope, I pull the other. You push me, I push you back. It goes on and on and on. The pendulum swings one way, then back.
The only way it changes is for forces to pull upward together. The end does not justify the means. The means justifies the end. Pulling someone up beside you doesn't pull you down. It gives you an ally in the effort to pull up the next person. The amount of effort required to pull one another up grows much lighter than all the energy expended to pull against or push against one another.
Choose a means that justifies the end. Be clear about the desired end result. If it requires throwing people over the cliff, be ready for the next group to be working to throw you over the cliff.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Some suggestions for improving our Democracy...

If our Democracy is going to work, we the people, need to be very involved. Meanwhile, we need to ensure that our representatives are actually focused on serving the people in their districts.

Here are a few ideas getting us better focused in that direction:

1) We need to tie our representatives more closely to the population they serve. State and Federal representative's salaries should equal the average wage of the population of their district. If the average income is $34,000, that is the limit for that representative. This would provide incentive for them to increase the economy in their district and ensure that government is not adding a burden to the tax system in payment of representative's wages.

2) An outrageous amount of money is being poured into our elections. Let's demand that half of all political contributions on the state and federal level go into the Social Security fund, the Medicare fund, and a general health and welfare fund. We would have plenty of funds to provide social programs without adding to the deficit. If there's enough money to fund campaigns at this level, there is enough money to fund our country.

3) We need more transparency and accountability while, again, tying our representatives more closely to the the population they serve. Before voting on any bill requiring funding, representations must survey their districts to determine the populations position. Once they vote, they are required to publish the survey result and their vote. Publication must include a local news organization and must remain posted on their website.

4) All US citizens who reach the age of 18 will be automatically registered to vote. When you vote, you receive a receipt proving that you voted. With the receipt, you receive a $100 tax credit on your federal income tax.

5) Civics classes must be part of all education curriculum from grade 6 through college. That curriculum must include how the local government, state government, and federal government operates. We need a more educated population to participate in elections and the entire system.

6) During elections, 75% of all news coverage must be restricted to specific policy positions of each candidate. News outlets are further required to fact check any statistics provided by the candidate. Any outlet positioning itself as a "news source" must adhere to these restrictions. If they are found in violation, they must pay significant fines into the general health and welfare system of the country.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Spirit calls us to serve...

The most humbling experiences I've had in my life came from learning how other people live and seeing first hand what challenges they face. If you open your heart and give your time to others, even for just an hour, it changes you. It humbles you.
Service to others is so very important. And service to others who are not like us, who have had vastly different life experiences, is key to our spiritual experience. No ritual, no prayer, no confession, can replace service to others in awakening our spirit and connecting us more fully to the eternal, omnipresent, omnipotent spirit that binds us all.
Jesus said,  'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." He led his followers to places they would have never gone - to serve. His overarching message, shown in parable after parable was deeper. What you do unto others, you do to yourself. "Judge not, lest ye be judged".
We need to be so very careful with how we approach all things. If we approach all that we do with a spirit of service, with the spirit focused on actually learning something, we will grow spiritually. The further we go from selfless service, the further we go from the the eternal, omnipresent, omnipotent spirit that binds us all.
It's not enough to do nice things for the people we like and the people like us. It's not enough to memorize passages, follow prescribed rituals, repeat "directives". If we do not serve, our connection to the universal spirit will wither away.
Our directive is to "Fear not". It's fear that keeps us divided. It's fear that keeps us from stepping outside of our comfort zone to do what we should be doing. Open your heart. Free you spirit and believe in something greater. Give your time to others, even for just an hour. It will change you. It will humble you.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

What is "Great"?

Try to imagine what could possibly drive you away from your home, your friends and your family and motivate you to go to a foreign place where you have no one and don't know the language. Would you do that because you are lazy? Really?
Have you ever moved? Have you ever tried you make your way around in a place you have never been and could not speak the language? Really? Think about it. What would drive you to move from your home, your family and all that is familiar?
Humans, by nature, are not quick to change from the familiar. Something has to be pushing so hard that change is the only solution that seems rational. Whatever it is that they are leaving has to look much more dangerous than where they decide to head.
Hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing war zones, criminal areas that feel like war zones, and poverty that is overwhelming in hopes of finding refuge. They flee because they have not given up hope. These are the ones determined to survive. These are the workers, the makers, the creators and the visionaries who are in need of work, things to make, a place to create and a place to grow their vision of a better life.
Once America held that hope. While we have faltered in our welcoming of these travelers and many of our huddled masses, homeless or tempest tossed, throughout our history, we were seen by the world as a nation that aspired to be so great. A gift from France in 1886 to commemorate the 100th year of the Declaration of Independence, the Statue of Liberty is inscribed with that aspiration.

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

If we abandon this aspiration, we will never be great. We need to always aspire to greet those who cross into our country, and all those within our country, by lifting a lamp to a golden door. That golden door is one of equality, hope, education, wellness and kindness. Anything other is not great.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Yes, There is Great Cause for Alarm!

Many are saying there's no great cause for alarm about our next president. "Get over it," they say. Some argue that a president can only do so much. And ordinarily, this would be a legitimate argument. But these are not ordinary times and the events leading to this have not been ordinary at all.
Our founders carefully crafted a democratic system with a balance of power between the executive, the legislative and the judicial branches of government. If there was over reach in one area, the other branches had power to balance out the others. Soon, those three branches will be a united force with the full and total power of the justice system, the legislative branch, the United States government and military behind them.
Our justice system is at risk of being skewed to interpret and rule in favor of the extreme right. Our legislative branch and the president elect have clearly expressed that they will ONLY have a Supreme Court replacement that they can be certain will vote extremely conservative. Dozens of lower court positions have been similarly left open, unfilled, and it is a certainty that they will follow the same extreme right agenda in filling these positions. Anyone with a centrist or liberal view of civil rights has great cause for alarm.
The party claiming to be in favor of small government and deregulation, has been clear in wanting big government intervention in limiting civil rights for "certain" people. A barrage of new legislative actions will come that will focus on limiting voter rights protections, strike down marriage equality, threaten immigrants, question and limit religious practices, eliminate minority protections and set women's rights back 30 or 40 years. Protections for our land, our poor, our food, our freedoms will be "deregulated". Anyone who is "different" has great cause for alarm.
Meanwhile, the legislature will lock step with the president in limiting dissenting voices. This president elect believes he should have equal time on comedy shows if they make fun of him. He wants to expand libel laws to prevent the media from saying things he doesn't like. This man, who has claimed not to be beholding to anyone, is indebted to China and other foreign nations wanting us to believe that will not influence how he governs. He is so lacking in self control, he can't stop using twitter to attack people that get under his skin.
There's plenty of reason for alarm. This is not an ordinary transfer of power. This is not an ordinary time. It's alarming! We need to "say it how it is". We need to call it what it is. No, we shouldn't just shut up and get behind this. The foundation of our democracy is crumbling. It's crumbling because of a willingness to overlook what should have never been overlooked. It's crumbling if we overlook the greatest decline in honesty, decency, transparency, and balance we have ever faced. A supposed billionaire just bought the nation and he's not beholding to the people who voted for him and certainly is not beholding to those who didn't.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

I will

You want to question/blame the "illegal" immigrant for something.
I won't own it.
I won't like it.
It's not mine.
You want to question/blame the "free health care" recipient for something.
I won't own it.
I won't like it.
It's not mine.
You want to build walls.
I won't own it.
I won't like it.
It's not mine.
If you are migrating toward something - if you are giving something, - if you are building something that bridges all divides -
I will connect with it.
I will like it.
I will be part of it.
Let's build something that lasts. Let's heal. Let's give something to the next generation. Let's build bridges not walls.
I will be connected with it.
I will like it.
I will be part of it.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Do it because you can!

What should you do when you don't know what to do?
Do more of what you know how to do best.
If music is your strength, do more music. If writing is your strength, do more writing. If teaching is your strength, do more teaching. If cooking is your strength, do more cooking. Use your gifts to do more with a focus of doing it where you do more good.
We are only hopeless when we stop providing hope. Focus on your strengths. Someone needs you. Someone needs to see you doing what you do best. Do it. Do it well. Do it because you can.

Why I write...

We are our own creators. We create our world. We create the life we live.
Yes, there are external forces and others around us are creating something as well but we hold great power of our own. We control OUR thoughts, OUR words, and OUR actions. No one MAKES us do anything without our consent. We need to take responsibility for our own feelings, our own thoughts, our own words, our own actions.
I write to create. I write carefully to create my world. I write to keep myself focused on the direction I intend to act. I write to focus my thoughts, my words and my actions. The more I am processing my feelings, the more I write. Lately, I'm needing to write a lot.
I'm writing for clarity. I'm writing to stay on the path I know, in my spirit, is the right path for me. It gives me strength. It gives me hope. I share these things in hope that others will also be lifted but if no other living soul reads them, I will still write. The words are my prayers, my roadmap, and my vision. If they lift you as well, I am a thankful servant.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

My trump card...

Recently I was asked how I stay positive. "You make it look easy", he said. It isn't easy but it's easier than it was for me some years ago. I am tempted to make snarky remarks. I am tempted to poke someone in the eye now and again. And sometimes I cannot stop myself from simply asking "why" while knowing that single worded question will cause a frenzy.
I've had my moments of fixation on wrong and wrong doing. I had to make a conscience effort to disengage and, instead, focus all my energy on the positive. It doesn't mean I don't see it. It doesn't mean I don't desire to overcome it. It means I will not let "it" control me. I will not let "it" be central to my thoughts, words, or actions. I will not compromise myself for "it".
The more I hear of harm, the more I am determined to do good. The more I hear of hatred, the more I am determined to love. The more I hear of separation, the more I am determined to connect. The more I hear of hopelessness, the more I am determined to offer hope.
That whole idea of an "eye for an eye" just means that a whole lot of blind people will be running around. Perhaps there will be a last one-eyed person if none of the blind people figure out which eye he still has.
If you are fearful of the hate, be determined to love more. If you are fearful of the harm, be determined to do more good. If you are fearful of the separation, be determine to connect more. If you are feeling hopeless, find those who have hope. Be hope for someone else.
It's not easy. It requires conscious effort. It requires discipline.  It requires empathy.
You won't always get it right. You will face criticism. You may be mocked and called weak. But determination to do good, to love more, to connect more and to provide hope will always be the right choice to make. It will calm your spirit while raising your spirit to greater things.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Study well! Our time is now!!!

Have you ever imagined a historic time and where you might have been - what you might have done?
During this nation's revolutionary war, in the many long months that it seemed the British had all the odds for them, where would you have been? What would you have done? Who would you aspire to be in those times?
As you witnessed the slaughter and broken treaties of Native Americans - the march that was the Trail of Tears - what would you be doing? Where would you stand?
During the Civil War as the bodies piled up and the horrors of war raged, what would you be doing? Which side would you be fighting for - States Rights or Abolition of slavery and preservation of the Union? Where would you stand? What would you be doing?
As the stock market crashed followed by Great Depression, and the devastating results of the dust bowl grew, where would you be? What would you be doing? Where would you stand?
As thousands of Japanese American neighbors were rounded up and in prisoned during WWII, what would you do? Where would you stand?
If you were living in any of the countries invaded by the Nazis during WWII with threat of rounding up thousands of people, where would you be? What would you do? Where would you stand?
Would you, white man or woman, volunteer to drive boycotters of the buses in Montgomery in 1955? Would you risk the wrath of friends and neighbors? Would you have ever walked with Martin Luther King?
During the Stonewall Riots of 1969 - the Assassination of Harvey Milks in 1978, where would you stand? If given the chance today, would you march?
Study these events and the leaders of these times. Study well. We face these same moral choices today. Where will you stand? More importantly, what have we learned from how they stood? Let them lift us all to higher ground. Find stories of the helpers - the ones who made the greatest impact - the ones who made the difference. Study! Study well. Our day is here!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Don't "Unfriend" people.

Don't "unfriend" people. Often there are posts on Facebook about purging and deleting people because of views they post. Or encouraging others to "unfriend" us if we are offending. There is no need for that.
I have "unfriended" people who posted a lot of cursing. But I've discovered a much better solution that is non-confrontational and will not lead to hurt feelings. "Unfollow" someone if their posts are disturbing you.
Why is that better? First, the person never knows. You are not offending them. Second, you leave the door open to allow yourself to read their posts when your heart is ready. None of us need fewer friends and it's important to experience other perspectives. But sometimes, it's more than we can handle. Before you cut ties, "unfollow". It gives you control without causing harm. You have now taken a path of passive resistance.
When your heart is ready, check in on that person. See what they are saying. Before you do, take time to recount why you are connected with them. Reflect on the things that are good and positive about that person. Consider why and how you are connected with them. Our connections are important. It's important for us to see the perspectives of others even if we don't agree with them.
Don't "unfriend" people. Give yourself and them time. Breath in and breath out. We're sharing the same air.
Here's how to "unfollow":
Go to your own wall.
Click on Friends.
Click on the name of the person.
Under the "Following" tab, click on "unfollowing".
Voila - their posts will no longer pop up in your news feed, but you can still put their name in your search and see what they post if you are ready. And don't be afraid to check in one them when your heart is ready. Meanwhile, work on getting your heart ready to see another's perspective. It won't hurt you, if your heart is in the right place.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Stand on the Rock!

We cannot allow seeds of hatred and anger to grow within us. When hatred and anger grow, we actually allow the thing that we hate to take hold within is. It will twist us into something more like the thing we hate than the cause we started with and believed was the opposite. Acting out of hatred and anger will always create more hatred and anger. That is what we are seeing play out.
Wherever hatred and anger grows, it will create more hatred and anger. The only thing that can negate it is an equal and opposite reaction. The sooner we intervene with an equal and opposite reaction, the less hatred and anger grows.
Many of us fear the rise of the types of nationalist, populist ideals that created WWII. Many would point to that war as an example of the case for war. I can understand the reasoning that there is a time for war. But I would argue that as a human race, we are failing to recognize the root causes. We are failing to learn to prevent the reasons for war. Our efforts should be focused on solutions long before the war seems eminent. An equal and opposite reaction to hatred and anger needs to be our focus long before the seeds of war have a chance to take hold. That time is NOW!
At this moment - right now - we need to read Gandhi, Martin Luther King, the teachings of Buddha and Jesus. We need to practice their teachings in our daily lives. We need to focus our energies as they taught us. We need to act and dedicate our lives as they did. This opposite reaction to hatred and anger will not just negate it - it will overcome it as we stand together in love and peace. This is our rock of salvation. It is the only hope for humankind. This is the action to take NOW.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Why are people afraid?

Why are people afraid?
For me, the single most reason for fear is that the people in power want people to be afraid. There's a smugness that communicates "If you're afraid, you should be." "You" must be doing something wrong. "We" decide what's right and wrong and "You" need to just shut up.
The tone of those now in power is that the answers all lie in a particular order of things based on a very narrow view of the world and everyone's place in it. That order lacks empathy. It's grounded in power and control and a central theme of "survival of the fittest".
We need only look to the root from which this grew to gain an understanding of what is now growing. This grew from a question of legitimacy of being an "actual" American. My non-white friends have very good reason to feel afraid. It's not because they have done anything wrong. It's because a large portion of our population believes it's acceptable, even patriotic, to question their legitimacy. The fear is that their freedoms, and sense of well being, will be limited.
Religious beliefs are now front and center. Those who hold different beliefs than those in power now fear that their freedoms will be limited. That spans a wide spectrum of beliefs revolving around a woman's right to choose what happens to her body, actual practice of your religion, marriage equality and more. The fear is that their freedoms and sense of well being will be limited.
Smugly, some who read this will say, "Good! It's about time." Obviously, they aren't in either of the categories above. They cannot sympathize or empathize with anyone in those categories. That saddens me - for both them and those with whom they are not connected. I know they sincerely believe that they are right and doing these things will make their world better. Many also believe the rest of us will be better off if we just get in line.
To those who hold these fears, I say be strong. Stand together in peace. Rest in the knowledge that you are not alone. Don't let fear and anger grow. Feed your spirit with inspiration and wisdom of those who have faced similar odds. Seek out and grow your network of sympathizers and empathizers. They are all around you. Speak of, act on, a path of hope. The pendulum always swings back.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Walk the other way....

Be fearless.
It is fear that divides us. It is fear that keeps us from reaching our full potential. It is fear that keeps us from trying to understand and to truly loving our neighbor. Be fearless.
Be determined to shine light and love everywhere you go.
We cannot do that if we are gripped by fear. Fear drives us to focus on the dark and dangerous. Fear drives us to work against something and not for something. We need to always keep ourselves pointed in the direction of love. If we focus our energies on a war with the dark and dangerous, we become dark and dangerous to our "enemy". We need no enemies. We need not be an enemy to anyone.
Within all of us lies a connection that binds us to all - every living soul - every object - every cell of everything we see, touch, smell, and experience. We are not apart from anything. Call that connection whatever you like - Mother Earth, Great Spirit, the Cosmos, the Universe. We are inextricably connected and what each of us does, matters to the whole in ways we cannot fathom.
Be fearless in your determination to shine the light of that wondrous connection in every way you can, wherever you can, however you can. Act out of that wonder and the love that grounds us, and we can be fearless. Don't give darkness any energy. The energy you allow yourself to feel, generates an energy in response. Don't feed it. Don't feed it within yourself and you will not be helping it grow. Go the other direction. Walk away from it, fearlessly.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Why the Affordable Care Act "Obamacare" is failing....

In business, if we want to lower costs, we need to eliminate waste and drive efficiencies. We have incentive to do that to remain profitable. We cannot endlessly increase prices and expect to keep our customers. In order to stay profitable, we have to keep a healthy balance that ultimately provides value to our customers and keeps them coming back.
Some industries are guaranteed customers. A prime example is health care. If they eliminate waste, drive efficiencies AND increase costs, they won't loose a large percentage of their customer base. We have witnessed this for decades. Long before the ACA, hospitals have consistently cut staff, consolidated, and raised prices. Drug companies have consistently increased the prices of nearly all drugs and related products. Insurance companies have consistently increased rates and lowered the types of services they insured. Deductibles and co-pays consistently rise.
The ACA didn't help because it failed to address the underlying causes of these increases. It failed to address systemic waste and inefficiencies. The ACA tried to address the cost of health care with a market driven approach. Drive more consumers into the system and the costs will go down. Indeed, 13 million more people entered the health system but insurance companies are saying those are not enough. Costs have still gone up. Now, everyone, including those 13 million are questioning how they can possibly afford those additional costs. They are asking why or blaming the ACA.
One part of the logic is entirely correct. If everyone in the country is paying into the health care system at a sufficient amount, there would be sufficient funding for everyone to have the health care needed. Currently, every working person pays into the Social Security, medicare and medicaid fund. Most of us won't benefit from that until we reach age 65.
Because the costs of health care keep rising, there's alarm that these programs (medicare and medicaid) are not properly funded. We often hear congress talk about eliminating or cutting these "entitlement" programs. Once again, they are failing to address the underlying issues that are causing these increases and resulting in underfunding.
The health care industry is profit driven. Unlike other free market endeavors that are customer driven - consumers have choices about whether to purchase or not - consumers of health care have little choice. If you have a broken and shattered leg, you can't decide NOT to seek health care. If you're in a serious car accident, have a stroke or heart attack, you will be taken to the hospital. If you need insulin to survive, you can't simply decide not to get it. The health care industry is guaranteed consumers. Consumers are guaranteed what?
If we want health care costs to go down, we need to take a systemic look at all the areas where costs are going. The insurance companies and their shareholders are taking a share. Profit driven hospitals and their shareholders are taking a percentage. Pharmaceutical companies and their shareholders are taking a percentage. The legal system and constant lawsuits at all levels are taking a percentage. What does that leave for actual direct health care?
There are certain areas of society where free market is simply not going to work. Health care is a prime example. What's sick in the United States health care system is the percentage of money going into the system that is going to profiteers. That's the largest area of waste that we need to address. The only way that can happen is with a single payer system, just like medicare and medicaid. We have to remove costs from the system and the largest areas of cost are going to profits.
The reason we have not heard about a substantive replacement for the Affordable Care Act, is that there is no other way to lower health care costs. Most of the rest of the industrial world has realized this but we're so stuck on the idea of "free market" capitalism that we'll spin our wheels for a while yet.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

How hard is it to say Hello?

How hard is it to say hello, exchange pleasantries and go about your business?
How hard is it?
When complete strangers take a few moments to share a kind exchange, both parties are left feeling a little better. There have been studies about this, but we don't need a study to tell us that it's just nice. If you have ever traveled much, you will recall the places where you felt well received. People smiled and helped you when you needed. You want to go back to those friendly places.
How hard is it to say hello, be pleasant and friendly?
For some, it seems very hard. The other person might not be worthy of acknowledgment. For some, an opinion has developed that justifies rudeness. Nine times out of 10 the justification has nothing to do with anything that person has done. If you are rude to someone else, 9 times out of 10, it's about YOU not them.
For some people, it's down right hard to be kind. Those people wonder why they are lonely. They wonder why no one is jumping on their band wagon.
Wonder no more. It's simply not a nice place to travel. It's not a place people re-visit. With a little practice, it really not so hard to be kind. One of my favorite pastor's once told me, "Everyone smiles in the same language."