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Lord, make me an instrument of your peace . . .

04 October 2012

From Gospel to Life - A New Politic

As I write this piece the National Election is before us.  No matter what the results are, I think that all of us will agree that this was the most bitter, contentious election in our memories, and not just at the National level.  One really doesn't have to wonder why the people of our Nation have so little faith in their elected leaders when everyone is calling everyone else liars, cheats, and so on.  Something needs to change and change soon.

Secular Franciscans stand in the perfect place to begin this change. They are called by their motto to move from Gospel to Life and Life to Gospel.  For that matter, all people of Good Will really apply this ethic to their practice of a good life.  No matter how much all of those politicians claimed their Christian faith, the way they acted is not the Gospel that we know and love. I seriously doubt that this approach confirms to the purer form of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Shintoism, and so on.  Peace, charity, concern for the less fortunate, faithful citizens, and so on.  These are the values that all People of Good Will profess.  We need to get these values back into our political life so that we really have someone to choose for instead of vote against!

What can we do?  We must become involved in our community’s political life.  We must insist on positive campaigns.  We must insist on collaboration between existing elected officials to resolve the pressing issues of our time rather that spouting a rigid view about whatever issue is being considered. 

We must let our candidates and elected officials understand that negativity and opponent bashing will no longer be accepted.  We must insist on folks bringing us positive choices to select from rather than who is the most "evil".  We must insist upon honesty in all campaigns including who the donors are for whatever political message is broadcast.  How can we properly evaluate a message if we don't know who is sponsoring it?  Partial truths and partial quotes, all out of context, must no longer have a place in our public discourse. 

We need to strongly let our civic leaders, legislators, and Congress folks know that we have had enough of all of the bickering, posturing, and innuendo.  Give us positive choices; choices that actually reflect what they want to do for us and how they plan to accomplish those goals.  We need to insist that our media quit the sound bites and provide us with valuable information for making our choices, not slanted stories that promote their owner's views.

In all, peace, collaboration, respect, civility, justice, and intelligent debate is what we seek in our political and community life.  Those who wish to provide something else need to understand that they will no longer receive any support.

I could even suggest that we look at eliminating the political party system, especially in state politics as a start.  We can still have primaries.  Folks have to get nomination petitions anyway.  So, they just do that and then have a run-off primary and select the top three.  Then, the General Election can select from those three.  Naturally, the campaigns would follow the principles outlined above.  Campaign donations should only come from the constituencies within the state and be fully open and visible - no secrecy.  No outside influence or donations.  Oh, and by the way, companies are institutions not people, so their executives can openly and visibly make contributions, but not the institution.  We can solve our own problems without "Friends of the North Pole" or "Taxpayers Anonymous" sticking their noses in.   (Those are made-up groups.)  

The whole campaign could begin in June 1 with the primaries in August and the election beginning October 1 ending on the second Tuesday on November using mail in ballots, walk-in voting and voting on Election Day.  Absolutely NO campaigning or election activities before June 1 of the year of election.  Oh, and just for kicks and saving a couple of coins, let's do all elections, school, county, city, municipal, and state at the same time.

How would this work in the legislature you may ask?  Well, the elected representatives would collaborate and devise real solutions the the problems of the state without being hampered by some preconceived notion or adherence to a party line, just like most city council do now in my state.  The elected officials could actually represent the people who voted for them instead.  Did I mention term limits?

I think that this could be adapted to the National elections as well.  Yup, you bet that the powers in the existing parties at all levels would scream and holler about all sorts of things.  Well, their system isn't working, so we really need to try something else.  I think that these ideas would create a more representative government in the first place.  

We probably have way too many people in every state to do a town meeting an vote on everything.  Our founders recognized that reality when they created our form of government.  I don't recall the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence saying anything about political parties. So, why not try an apolitical system.  Why do we have to have a party that tells people how to vote?  I'm no political scientist but that may actually be part of what is wrong with our system.

Also, make recall easier.  Create an easy system where people in the state can petition for a bill (note that I said "people in the state.").  Maybe all of these ideas will actually create an interest in our system of government and folks, realizing that their ideas are actually worth something, will participate once again.  I've already said it, " It isn't working now, so why not try something more representative."

We People of Good Will are the seed, the light on the table, the leaven, and the salt.  As we lead in this way, others will realize that there is another way to conduct our public affairs and join our efforts to create a more civil and just society.

22 August 2012

Midaeval Times

As I have thought about our society today, I am troubled by how easily some folks would just as soon leave the poor behind.  We have so many people who are unemployed, homeless, mentally ill, hungry, underemployed, and strangers in our land.  Yet, we keep hearing about those who continually increase their private fortunes as a result of the folks who work for them.  There are those who are calling for the end to  unions, because their benefits are too magnanimous.  We have returning service men and women who can't find a decent or any job.  We have people who have made a fortune over the collapse of our financial system.  We have people who have be evicted from their homes as a result of that same collapse.  We have people who think that elimination of all social net benefits is a good thing, because "they" (whatever that means) should just go out and get a job.  "They" are just laying around expecting a handout from the government, so these folks say.  Yup, it probably WAS said by that fairly well known author during the 19th Century, "we have the best of times, we have the worst of times."

In a country like ours, doesn't something just seem amiss with these starkly polarized conditions?  How can one of the richest nations in all of history have so many homeless?  So many without medical care? So many unemployed?  So many unattended mentally ill?  So many soldiers wondering what to do?  So many working poor?  So many underemployed for their skills?

I may be a little  progressive, OK liberal, (liberal is NOT a dirty word) when I state that I don't really believe all of these marginalized people are there because of choice.  The unfortunate events of the last few years has displaced so many people while a few padded their bank accounts.

We have been so proud of our accomplishments as a nation.  Certainly, we have done a lot since World War II.  Computers, jet planes, internet, iPhone, iPad, & iPod, robots assembling our autos, and the list is countless.  Yet among all of this splendor and wealth, we persist in hiding the scourge of these marginalized people.  I have been fortunate to visit New York City.  I noticed, not only there, but in other large cities, people who are just plain ignored, because they are dirty looking and pushing baskets.  Why are they there in the first place?  Does anyone care?

We have also been proud of our mostly Judeo-Christian values system in this country.  Now, we have many other faiths residing here too.  One thing nearly all of these faiths have in common as a guiding principle is how a society takes care of its marginalized people demonstrates the maturity of that society.  (I mean maturity in the grown up sense.)  Societies who ignore these marginalized people by sweeping them under the rug, or eliminating them (Hitler during WWII) end up wondering what ever happened to the good old days.

Perhaps we need a renewed commitment to thinking of others first.  I truly believe that if all people thought of another before themselves, we could see great strides in well-being for all people.  Just imagine how much less stressful driving would be!

So, I challenge our leaders to renounce power and privilege.  Do what you were elected to do!  Care for all of the people of the United States.  Again, my progressive side is showing through - I don't believe anyone whose sole purpose is to work toward the ending of the term of another leader has the right to continue in that position.  That approach simply has nothing to do with any faith's tenets, except perhaps those radical minorities that exhort war and conflict.

Oh, the title.  Yeah.  The society of the Middle Ages was largely composed of the very "haves" and the very "have-nots".  It kind of seems that we are on the road to returning to that wonderful time of our past.  Is that what we really want?  


19 July 2012

A Open Letter to President Obama

Dear Mr. President,
We are so used to rapid change in our world today. I just got my iPad 2 just a few months ago, now there is an iPad 3 that is even more fantastic than the one that I bought.   One year ago there were several “one” ruler countries in the Middle East, and now we have experienced the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street.  We have come to believe that everything must change just like all of the technological and social things around us.  What we fail to recognize as a society is that there are some things that are transcendent, some things that do not change and cannot change, i.e., gravity.  We have allowed ourselves to be caught up in the haze of transformation to the extent that we believe that we can control everything and that there are absolutely no situations or conditions that are not relative in our lives.  "It depends," is a common response to questions these days.
Well, I'd like to suggest that if one really believes that all things are relative, just go jump off the local river bridge and see if they don't fall into the water.  For some reason, maybe our experiences of the sixties, we have come to have the same beliefs about individual rights and moral choices.  I remember from my Civics class in junior high (you remember Civics don't you?) that we were carefully taught that with every right comes a responsibility.  I don't hear much talk about the latter part of that equation anymore.  I propose that would be like leaving off the "c" in Einstein's famous equation.  It won't work that way.
I believe that much of our problems today are inherently caught up in our quest for "my" rights and neglecting what should be "my" responsibility that is the mate of that right.  Yes, I said mate.  The responsibility is married to its right and they cannot be divorced without severe consequences.  We are seeing the results of this attempted divorce every day in our society.  Just like trying to overcome gravity when you jump off that bridge, we believe that we can forgo our requisite responsibility when we claim a right. “It's my right to own a gun.  So, I can defend myself” - and an innocent child is killed.  “It's my right to express my opinions” - so a college coed becomes the center of a national discussion with a marred reputation.   “It's my right to decide what I do with my body, so I can do whatever I want” - no matter what the consequences. 
All of these ideas and many more are born out of this "free association" and "relativistic" mentality.  It has nearly become a national religion.  But, you can't subvert gravity.  I maintain that for everything there is a certain overarching "law" that controls the results of choices.   Personally, I find it extremely difficult to believe that no matter what I choose to do, there will be no consequences, whether good or bad, for my choice.   At the junior high where I taught, we taught our students that there are consequences for their actions.   Do you really believe that those consequences end when we turn 21? I don't think so!
My faith teaches and I believe that, just like there are immutable physical laws to the universe, there are also immutable moral laws.  Just like when the planets and other celestial objects were placed into their orbits and confined to certain rules whether through the Big Bang or by the finger of God, so our social and moral lives are subject to a similar set of rules.  Oh, yes, we can choose to violate those rules, but just like the guy jumping off the bridge hoping to fly, we will fall down.
So, when you and your HHS department proclaim that a women’s right to choose to keep her baby is hers alone and that that baby is just like any others women’s illness, e.g. breast or cervical cancer,  I cannot agree with you.  Unless she was raped or a victim of incest, she freely chose to participate in the act which created that baby.  That baby is not an illness.  That baby is a living human being who should be protected by our laws, not an illness like cancer that needs to be snuffed out.  The death of that baby is a serious violation of the moral law, just like the decision of the women to participate in the sexual act for “fun” without accepting the responsibility of her decision.  I’m sorry, but two wrongs still do not make a right.
These words may sound overly moralistic, but my faith teaches me, and I believe that the sexual act is not some relativistic activity that we use solely for our own personal enjoyment.  Back in the 60’s, I heard women say that they wanted all of these rights so that “they could be just like the guys – participate in intercourse without having to take the responsibility of having a baby.”  Well, my faith teaches and I believe that is not a correct moral decision.  Yes, a person can choose to do that, but they are contravening the moral law.  Sexual activity was intended for the creation of new life, not play. Certainly, there are some resulting feelings of well-being as a result of this activity, especially when used for the correct purpose.  The consequences of this decision to use sexual activity as a just a toy are grave, for the person’s soul and the result of such unions, especially now, because our country allows women to use abortion as a tool of evading the concomitant responsibility of sexual activity.  
I am not against women’s rights.  In fact, I believe that all people, everyone, should be accorded that same rights, e.g., equal pay for equal work, to achieve high positions in business and government, to freely associate.  Rights do not come without a relating responsibility, as I mentioned earlier.
Just in case there is some confusion in your mind, let me state clearly that I am not a Bishop, a Cardinal, a Priest or the Pope.  I am just an ordinary citizen who has supported you from the beginning of your first campaign because you told us you cared about the common, ordinary person, and believed that you could make a difference for all of us.  I was warned by some who said that you were an evil man.  I never believed that.  I still don’t.  You have much good to do for our county and I applaud your efforts.  But in this area, with respect, you are wrong.
When I wrote to you at the White House about this matter, I received a polite reply; but it was clearly a computer generated form letter.  That letter informed me that I should look elsewhere on the website to find how you responded to complaints about this HHS ruling.  I had already done that and that’s why I wrote in the first place.  Your “exception” doesn’t really change anything.  Through my premiums and my donations to charities and schools you are requiring me to pay for something that I do not support or believe.  Because I hold these beliefs as a consequence of my religion, you are forcing me to subvert my beliefs for those of the state.  That, sir, with respect, is a direct violation of my rights and responsibilities under the First Amendment to our Constitution.   You, sir, do not have the right to do that. 
You see, Mr. President, my faith requires me to help others. (Please see Matthew  25 among other citations.)  So, it is important to understand that all People of Good Will who support schools, hospitals, and social service agencies are impacted by the narrow definition of the HHS mandate for religious institutions.  Being People of Good Will and subscribing to the beliefs of a specific church is NOT the only way that we express our faith.  For Christians, our role is clearly defined by at least the words of Jesus in Matthew 25.  Other faiths have similar requirements, e.g., the Jewish prophets’ references to “caring for the widows, orphans, and aliens.”  To define religion as only worship is circumventing what we believe and what the original founders implied in the First Amendment of our Constitution (“…or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,”).  What the HHS mandate does is to prevent us from freely exercising our own mandate to care for the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, ill, and imprisoned.  This we must do as an essential part of our religious belief!  Our schools, hospitals, and social service agencies accomplish these important activities on our behalf.  Our Constitution wisely restricts anyone from abridging this freedom.
Many have tried to discuss this issue with you.  As a Franciscan, I too would hope and pray that you would sincerely discuss this issue with us, understand our concerns, and reverse the mandate, thus restoring the longstanding conscious clause under which we have operated in our country for such a long time.  I’m afraid that the other party will use this issue to fabricate reasons for opposing your re-election and many people will buy it.  Then, we will be stuck with an untenable situation for the middle class.
Without a reversal of this mandate I am no longer able to support your re-election campaign.  Fear not, I will not support the Republicans either, because they are continually demonstrating their callousness to the ordinary American citizen’s condition and many are working from the old Jim Crow mentality (I cannot explain their clear hatred for and opposition to everything you do any other way).
Your actions force me into the situation where I will not be able to vote for the first time in 50 years.  I cannot support your campaign and I will not support the opposition.  I really have no alternative at this time.  Unfortunately, I am confident that many people actually believe the same way that I do, will withhold their vote, and we’ll be stuck with the other party in the majority and the White House.  It’s a pity that you can’t understand that our religious freedom is more important than stopping a baby’s life.  It’s a matter of moral choices and responsibilities.  My religion informs my conscious in such a way I believe that your HHS rulings are wrong and my sense of patriotism informs my conscious that this mandate subverts our Constitution.  I will continue to pray for you to change your mind and reverse these rulings.  Then, with many others, once again, I could support your re-election.

23 June 2012

A personal letter to President Obama

Here is a copy of a personal letter that I sent to President Obama at the end of March.  I had intended to keep this just a private letter, but the response let's me know that they are not really interested in my ideas or beliefs (see response below)

I am a Catholic who has supported you ever since the early days before the Iowa Caucuses in 2008.  I believed you then when you laid out your plan for our country's future, which included changing the conditions that lead to abortions in our country.  I believed you when you offered to straighten out the mess in Washington and restore our government to one that addresses all people’s needs. I believed you when talked about the bright Hope of our future as a country.  I have contributed to your campaigns - granted only small amounts - but I am a very small person.  I have defended your administration against the bigots who claim that you have trampled over the Constitution.  Despite the overwhelming resistance by the Republicans, I support the progress in helping the poor and weak lift themselves from their desperate situations.

However, the “Preventative Services” mandate by HHS deeply saddens and disappoints me.  All people of Good Will in our country have long enjoyed the protection of our Constitution’s First Amendment, but this ruling removes that protection.  What you effectively do is to replace our beliefs with those of the secular state, thus establishing a “State Religion” that is forbidden by this Amendment.  Through this ruling, you are stating that, “I don’t care what you believe; you have to do it my way.” 

“The Catholic Church defends religious liberty, including freedom of conscience, for everyone. The Amish do not carry health insurance. The government respects their principles. Christian Scientists want to heal by prayer alone, and the new health-care reform law respects that. Quakers and others object to killing even in wartime, and the government respects that principle for conscientious objectors. By its decision, the Obama administration has failed to show the same respect for the consciences of Catholics and others who object to treating pregnancy as a disease” (Tom Bello)

In view of the recent Supreme Court decision (Hosanna-Tabor), it appears to me that this restrictive ruling is contrary to what many people of Good Will believe and in direct opposition to the provisions of the First Amendment.

I know that you have received many letters and I am only a single voice, but I am hoping and praying for you to direct the HHS to restore the long-standing conscience rights of all faith-based organizations in these matters and to find other ways of meeting these needs without abridging our Religious rights.

Here is the response from the White House:

Dear Friend:

Thank you for writing.  President Obama has heard from many Americans about contraception and women’s preventive care, and he appreciates hearing from you.

The President is committed to creating the most open and transparent Government in American history and values your input.  Given your interest in this matter, you may be interested in reading a recent official White House response to a petition on this issue.  To learn more, please visit www.WhiteHouse.gov.

Thank you, again, for writing.


The White House

It's clear to me that this is just a standard, computer generated response to this issue.  Come on, "Dear Friend".  That's about as impersonal as one can get.  It's really time for individual people of good will to take a strong stand against this ruling.  At the very core is the undermining of our First Amendment of the Constitution.