Yet One More: A poem for Parkland et al

Yet One More

Yet one more shooting
Followed by more thoughts and prayers
To be followed by more rhetoric
With no action anywhere.

Blame guns
Blame the politicians
Blame the NRA
Blame the parents
Blame the system
Blame and blame away.

Refuse to speak of it
Refuse to see the cause
Refuse to take an action
Refuse to take a pause.

Say we need more God
Say we need more guns
Say we need more safety
Say we need more done.

Our words, they hold no meaning
Our words fall empty at our feet
Our words are simply worthless
Our words, they have no meat.

More lives lost through inaction
More lives lost whilst we debate
More lives lost through no reaction
How many more must meet that fate?

We must awaken once again
When tomorrow’s sun breaks the plane
We must rise up and do something now
Or be forced to mourn again.

Immigrants are US

Immigrants Are US

Care to know a little history behind immigration to the United States? Here is a time line with numbers showing legal immigrants to the United States, some coming of their own freewill and others who did not.

1607: Jamestown Colony in Virginia
1619: Approximately 20 Africans forced into slavery in Jamestown.
1620: Roughly 100 people, later known as Pilgrims, come to what is known today as Plymouth, Massachusetts.
1630 to 1640: Approximately 20,000 Puritans arrive in the region.
1680: Roughly 7,000 African slaves in the colonies.
1790: Approximately 700,000 slaves in the US, with between 500,000 to 650,000 brought between 17th and 19th centuries.
1821-1830: 143,439 immigrants to the US.
1831-1840: 599,125 immigrants to the US.
1841-1850: 1,713,251 immigrants to the US.
1851-1860: 2,598,214 immigrants to the US.
1861-1870: 2,314,825 immigrants to the US.
1871-1880: 2,812,191 immigrants to the US.
1881-1890: 5,246,613 immigrants to the US.
1891-1900: 3,687,564 immigrants to the US.
1900-1910: 8,795,386 immigrants to the US.
1911-1920: 5,735,811 immigrants to the US.
1921-1930: 4,107,209 immigrants to the US.
1931-1940: 532,431 immigrants to the US.
1941-1950: 1,095,039 immigrants to the US.
1951-1960: 2,515,479 immigrants to the US.
1961-1970: 3,321,677 immigrants to the US.
1971-1980: 4,493,314 immigrants to the US.
1981-1990: 7,338,062 immigrants to the US.
1991-2000: 9,095,417 immigrants to the US.
2001-2010: 13,900,000 immigrants to the US.

Between the years of 1820-2000, the following numbers of immigrants came to the US from each of these countries:

Germany: 7 million
Mexico: 6 million
Great Britain: 5 million
Ireland: 5 million
Italy: 5 million
Canada: 5 million
Austria & Hungary: 4 million
Russia: 4 million
The Philippines:2 million
China: 1 million
Sweden: 1 million

Take a moment to let these numbers sink in. In the last 70 years, approximately 41,758,988 people immigrated to the United States. Those numbers are the legal immigrants. There are likely thousands more undocumented people who have immigrated to the U.S. in those years, including prior to the 1940s. The vast majority of those people came to make a better life for themselves. Many, came due to war, persecution, and famine in their home country. I find it both depressing and ironic that now, under the new administration, there is a movement to deport people and a demonization of immigrants, particularly when many of those people advocating this were either immigrants or the offspring of immigrants only a few generations ago.

Demonizing immigrants isn’t new. After all, the Irish were demonized as they brought a very large influx of poor and Catholic people to the country. The majority Protestant population distrusted them based primarily on their religion. Now, we have the same occurring to people who are immigrating who practice Islam. We also have negative rhetoric about people of Hispanic and Asian decent occurring as well. It’s not the first time Asians have been discriminated against either as many Chinese immigrants were blamed for the decrease in wages when the railroads were built in the 1800s since they would work for lower wages. Hispanics, in particular, are demonized for similar reasons, but not many non-immigrant or non-Hispanic people care to become migrant farmers/pickers either.

The present administration promised to get the “bad hombres” out of the U.S. Yet, we see and hear news reports where people who have been in the U.S. for 20+ years are being deported for something as minor as a DUI that took place decades ago. Hardly the hardened criminal element. In fact, if having a DUI were punishable by deportation, then there are likely plenty of people who should be deported, illegal or not.

Rather than eliminating criminals, what is occurring is the breaking up of families of people who have done nothing major or even nothing at all, except for entering the U.S. without proper documentation. Many of these people have worked since they arrived and done jobs that will go unfilled if they are deported simply because former immigrants and the children/grandchildren of those 41,758,988 people who came to the U.S. since 1940 won’t do the jobs the illegal immigrants do because those jobs pay little and are under extremely harsh conditions. I challenge the unemployed white person to go out and pick vegetables or fruits for 12+ hours a day for low wages. Some may attempt it, but many more won’t even try.

Rather than eliminating criminals, there are children who live in fear that their parents will not be home when they finish school or fear their parents will be arrested when taking them to school or checking in with U.S. immigration services. What happens to these children, some of whom will be orphaned for no good reason? Some will live with neighbors or relatives, but the trauma they experience will not end as it will always be with them.

The United States is a country of immigrants. There is no question as to that, especially if you look at the numbers above. Legal or illegal really doesn’t matter in the long term, especially when you consider that the people we know as the Pilgrims were illegal immigrants. They did not ask permission to stay from the First Nations/Native Americans when they arrived. Instead, they simply stayed and took advantage of them to the point where First Nations/Native Americans were driven from their lands through wars and broken treaties. Imagine if they had the power to deport those who did that or the progeny of those who did that to them. Would that be fair?

When the vast majority of people leave their homelands, it is not done on a whim. It is done to survive. It is done out of fear. It is done out of hope for a better life. It should not matter whether they come with papers or undocumented because they come and enrich our culture and our country with their culture. The only reason people want to deport them is fear. Fear of the unknown that could easily be known if folks would simply step up and be welcoming to them. It’s amazing what a smile and a kind gesture can do to further understanding.

It is also ironic and depressing that many of those who wish to deport or demonize immigrants claim to be good Christians. They seem to forget that one of the most important commandments given in Christianity is to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” There is no commandment to hate others. There is no commandment to fear others. There is no commandment to deport others. Love your neighbor. That means to love your fellow humankind regardless of his or her immigration status, religion, skin pigmentation, or any other label placed on other people.

So, what are the solutions?

First, for politicians from both parties to stand up against the administration and end these needless deportations. Then, for them to create a fast-track way for immigrants to remain in the U.S. and obtain citizenship more easily.

Next, and slightly less than legal, for churches and people who care to create a network not unlike the underground railroad to shelter and provide sanctuary for people who need it. These same people need to stand up and speak up for immigrants, legal and undocumented, to stop the deportations and assist immigrants, recalling that their ancestors were immigrants themselves.

A key to all of this is not seeing people as immigrants or undocumented immigrants, but as people just like we are. As such, we are to treat them as we would like to be treated.

Mr. Keating, you inspired me and will be missed

There are a number of tributes coming, as there should be, for Robin Williams. He was a great person, from what I’ve read and heard over the years, and one of, if not the, funniest people to grace our lives. I am no different than most people eulogizing or recalling how much Mr. Williams made us laugh, cry, and think about life. However, I too wish to add my thoughts on the affect he, in one of his roles, had on me and how it relates to my currently former career as a teacher.

In order to do this, I have to go back to when I was in high school. I had a friend who, out of respect for him, I will simply call Ted. Ted was a fellow member of the band with me in high school and ahead of me in grade. He was part of a section in the band who was favored by the director, who shall also remain anonymous. As a member of this favored section, he believed that he could confide in the director about anything and be assisted. He thought the director cared about him as well as everyone else in the organization. I thought this as did most people in the group.

I learned otherwise.

Ted chose a day when I was working in the band classroom for some reason to come in and state he needed to speak with the director. I told him that Mr. Smith (also not his real name) usually came in around a certain time to check on things. Ted asked if he could wait in an adjacent practice room and if I would tell Mr. Smith that he was there to see him. No problem. This happened on occasion where a student would want to see the director out of class time, especially during one of the lunch periods. So, Ted went into the room and I continued with my usual routine of setting up for band later in the day and making certain music was in each folder if new music was being assigned.

Mr. Smith came in and I told him that Ted was waiting to talk with him. Mr. Smith went into the practice room. A few minutes later, he stuck his head out and asked me to get another teacher or principal to help him. As odd of a request that it was, I did so. When I returned, I heard the sound of glass shattering from within the practice room. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Smith came out and returned rather quickly with the school’s security person. Soon, the janitor arrived as Mr. Smith, the security person, and Ted, who was now wearing handcuffs, were leaving the room. I could smell alcohol coming from the room. Ted had gone into the room to drink. But it was more than that. Ted came asking Mr. Smith for help. Rather than attempt to help him, Mr. Smith chose to only see that Ted brought alcohol into the school and see that he was disciplined for this illegal act. I’m certain that Mr. Smith may have thought he was helping, but what Ted needed was someone to listen to him. Mr. Smith did not have the time to do that.

A couple of days later, Ted committed suicide with a gun while sitting in his car in a rural area of the county. I had asked Mr. Smith if Ted had said anything about wanting to do this, but Mr. Smith ignored my question. He also showed little remorse for Ted. At that point, I decided that if I ever became a teacher that I would never allow a student, if I could help it, to feel as if at least one person in their life cared.

Fast forward a couple of years when the movie “Dead Poets Society” came out. In that movie, Robin Williams played an English teacher by the name of Mr. Keating. In this role, he portrayed a teacher who cared about his students beyond the book knowledge of the subject he taught. He cared about them as people. He wanted them to think for themselves and live their lives for themselves. In this movie, a student commits suicide and the administration of the school, after coercing a few students, pin part of the blame on Mr. Keating. The final scene shows Mr. Keating cleaning out his belongings from the room as class is being conducted by the head dean. As he starts to leave, one of the most shy students stands on his desk and calls to Mr. Keating with the words from the Walt Whitman poem, “O Captain, my Captain.” Mr. Keating turns to find this student and a number of others also standing upon their desks and calling out the same words. His words to them were, “Thank you, boys.” He did what every good teacher sets out to do with their students, teach them to think for themselves as well as learn the subject. Beyond that, teach them to stand up for what is right and to learn about themselves as much or even more than the subject being taught.

I know this was simply a role that Mr. Williams played, yet there seemed to be something in his eyes that showed he too, outside of the role, cared about people. I wanted to become a teacher like that. I also became an English teacher. In some ways, I hope I was a teacher like that for my students. One who cared about them outside the classroom and whom they knew would be there to listen to them for more than just my subject.

Robin Williams was a great comedian. He was also a father and a humanitarian. The Armed Forces of the United States acknowledged how he brought laughter to troops asking nothing in return. His involvement with the St. Jude’s Research Hospital for Children is evident, even in one of the roles he played when he portrayed the real person Patch Adams in the movie of the same title. Always in his eyes there seemed to be this loneliness or sadness of a sort. Perhaps he wanted to make the world laugh, but realized that those who wish to make the world feel pain outnumber the abilities of just one man. I’ll remember him as a man who made me laugh, cry, and think about life a bit more deeply. I’ll also remember him as the man who helped me find my calling to teach, if even for a short while.

May he rest in peace and bring laughter to the hereafter.

Thank you, Robin Williams. For everything you did and everything you left us.


It’s Not A Weapon

I recently read an opinion article where a minister was decrying the death of ‘religious etiquette’ where he complained about wedding dresses being too risqué and people carrying water bottles to church and those things he sees are the death of respect for church. I read another article decrying how people being tired or afraid of being judged by their appearances as to why people are not attending church anymore. I have also read hundreds of articles and opinions how our country is going to Hell because of same-sex marriages, birth control, abortions, lack of organized prayer in schools, gun control, and a myriad of other things. Some churches have gone as far as giving guns to people to entice them to attend church. This got me to thinking that one of the problems that the Christian faith, in particular the Christian faith in the United States, is that religion is being used as a weapon against other people rather than as a bridge. Somehow, I do not believe either our Creator or Jesus advocated faith being used as a weapon. That seems utterly absurd when you stop and consider it, doesn’t it?

The Christian faith, including the Bible, is not a weapon. Stop using it as such! Jesus taught that his disciples were to go out and make disciples of the faith. He did not say to do that under duress, torture, or hatred, yet Christians have done this for centuries. Rather than obeying the two greatest commandments to love God with all your being and to love your neighbor as yourself, Christians have been trying to promulgate the faith by yelling, screaming, torturing, and even killing others who refuse to comply with their faith or their particular form of faith. This is not Christianity! This is abuse. This is cruelty. This is inhumane. This is downright un-Christian like behavior!

There are people hurting in our world from the wounds caused by those who are supposedly ‘good’ Christians. Need a few examples? If you need examples, then you are already part of the problem. However, out of kindness, I will give you a few.

The LGBT community. People who are born Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transsexual have been persecuted for centuries. The excuse is that what they are doing is sinful according to the Bible. When one tries to argue using one of the two greatest commandments, they get the “you cannot pick and choose what you’re going to follow and not going to follow from the Bible” crap. Yet, these same people likely have no issues with tattoos, perfumes, jewelry, material wealth, eating seafood, eating pork, working on the Sabbath, etc. Talk about picking and choosing which scripture to follow and which not to follow, these people are doing it themselves. If a person identifies themselves as part of the LGBT community, it’s because the Creator made them that way. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 14:13-14,

Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean (NRSV).

Simply put, don’t stand in another person’s way saying he or she is somehow bad or sinful as that is not our place as humans. If we say something, such as a person’s sexual preference, is disagreeable for us, then that is our personal viewpoint for ourselves. If a person does not like the idea of someone else being born LGBT, then that’s their issue, no one else’s. It is not up to the straight person to judge the LGBT person or for the LGBT person to judge the straight person. Our Creator made humankind in His/Her image; therefore, all humankind is clean and part of the Creator.

Now, before anyone jumps to other conclusions about allowing for horrible things such as murder, rape, or child abuse, let me be clear, those things are wrong. The same passage goes on to say that if a person does something that causes someone else to be injured, then they are “no longer walking in love” (Romans 14:15 NRSV). Once again, the point is love. Love. Love. Love. The point of the Christian faith is love and love is not a weapon.

It does not take a history major to understand how many times well-meaning, but misguided Christians persecuted non-Christians and Christians who espoused dissimilar beliefs for not being Christian or not being their own particular form of Christian. The Puritans came to what we call the United States to escape religious persecution. However, they persecuted the Catholic Christians and the Quakers when they arrived in the colonies. Go back further and there are the Crusades to rid the Holy Land of those who follow the teachings of Islam, the cousin of the Jewish and Christian faiths. Add to that the countless times the Jewish people were persecuted throughout time by Christians. Add to that the treatment of the Native Americans as they would not assimilate to the Christian faith, even though their faith in some ways is far more Christ-like than the way most Christians practice.

There are many paths leading to the Great Spirit of the Universe. People follow whichever path to which they are led. Just because that person practices their faith differently does not make them wrong. I was raised in a home where religion existed on a rather casual level. My mother sometimes attended church at a United Methodist Church or a Church of Christ-Disciples. My father attended at Church of God. Certainly different ends of the Christian perspective. I went to these three, but also attended for a while in my youth, an Apostolic Church and was baptized and confirmed as a Roman Catholic. In my adulthood, I have attended Lutheran (ELCA, Wisconsin and Missouri Synod versions), Presbyterian, Episcopal, Jewish, Southern Baptist, Church of Christ-Independent, Buddhist, and now United Church of Canada. I hope to be able to at least attend a service in a Mosque as well, but have no idea how to go about asking if I may.

What I have learned is that people are all seeking something in life, a meaning of life greater than what they experience in their day to day lives. For some, a belief in a Higher Power fulfills that need. I think it is a human need to know we are not alone in times when we feel so very alone. It can be comforting to feel the presence of our Creator even if the presence is simply another person sitting with you that cares about you as a person.

Religion is not meant to build walls up between humanity, but rather help to build bridges of understanding and cooperation. Religion is not a weapon to be used to harm others, we have far too many weapons that do that already. Isn’t it time to care less about a person’s exterior or if they bring a drink or snack to church or who they love and more about one another and how we can work together to live this crazy thing called life?

Supporting Our Troops

Supporting our troops, but not supporting a war sounds contradictory to some people; however, by taking time to consider this it is easy to realize the validity and possibility of it.

If a person supports a war, it means he or she values war over peace. What that also means is that if given a choice between war and peace, he or she would choose war because they feel conflict is a good thing. A necessary thing. Perhaps even a thing that will make the world a better place provided his or her side win the war.

If a person says they support our troops, it means something entirely different. This means that he or she supports the men and women who choose to wear the uniform of our Armed Services and know that the sailor or soldier fighting does so because our government tells them to do so. It means that the supporter would rather see a war come to an end, so that those fighting in it may come home to their families and friends. They care about the people involved in the war more than the war itself.

A person supporting our troops wants to bring them home rather than send them out. In fact, they would rather not have to send our troops into harm’s way in the first place and advocate peaceful resolutions to conflicts rather than sending troops to war in the first place.

A person who supports our troops also advocates that there is assistance for our troops when they return home. He or she pushes for programs to help returning troops to readjust to civilian life. The supporter demands that there be programs in place to help returning soldiers and sailors deal with the emotional and psychological baggage that comes from being involved in war. They also advocate for jobs, healthcare, affordable housing, and even a fair pension for our returning veterans.

Those who support our troops are there to lend an ear to the veteran who needs to talk about what happened, because veterans need to talk about and process what happened to them in a non-judgmental climate so he or she can exorcise the demons of war from his or her mind.

Supporting our troops is more than a ribbon on a car.

Supporting our troops is more than a wreath or wearing an armband or a poppy on the lapel.

Supporting our troops is more than waving a flag.

Supporting our troops is more than just saying ‘Thank you’ to them or applauding them for their service.

Supporting our troops is a lifestyle.

Supporting our troops is remembering all our soldiers and sailors in our thoughts and prayers on a daily basis, from the young recruit to the seasoned veteran in the foxhole or retirement home.

Supporting our troops is more than lip service given to sound patriotic.

Supporting our troops is very different from supporting a war. It is not just semantics or rhetoric. It is valuing human life over a bloodied field.

The REAL War Against Christmas

In some parts of the United States, snow is falling and the weather is colder. Stores have already started hoping that customers will flood their aisles and purchase enough merchandise to help them have a good year of sales. Department store Santas are listening to children tell them their wishes for presents as parents listen in to determine if they can help to make their child’s material dreams come true. Churches are finalizing their Christmas pageants and some schools are having their concerts.

While all of this is happening, there are certain groups and media outlets who are decrying that there is a war against Christmas because some stores insist on their personnel saying the phrase, “Happy Holidays,” rather than “Merry Christmas.” These same people and media outlets are demanding that this is a liberal conspiracy to take Christmas out of our season. After all, these same people ride around with bumper stickers stating, “Keep Christ in Christmas” and that we should “Remember the Reason for the Season.” They are quick to point out that there are places within the United States where traditional Christmas songs are banned from school concerts and even places where there are no Nativity scenes on government property and say these too are signs of the de-Christianizing of our society. Oh, the shame of it all.

Yeah. Right.

I am a Christian. It is where I feel the Creator of the Universe has led me to be in my faith journey. However, I do not feel that the mere mention of the phrase “Happy Holidays” is impeding on the existence of my faith. I am well aware of others who are of different faiths than I who also celebrate holy days around this time of the year whether it is Yuletide, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or some other holiday of which I am not presently aware. As such, I believe that it is the right thing when the faith of another person is unknown to say the phrase “Happy Holidays” out of respect for him or her. If I happen to know his or her faith, I wish that person a Happy whatever their following may be. It is polite and respectful.

Yet, I do agree that there is a war against Christmas. However, the people waging that war are not the ones people expect. In addition, the war against Christmas is not just this time of year either. It extends to a war against Easter as well. To be honest, it is simply a war against the ideals of Christianity altogether. The guilty in this war are those who are screaming the loudest about the war existing in the first place.

Yes, I said it. The ones waging the war against Christmas and even Christianity are the ones saying there even is one in the first place. They are the modern day Pharisees. They are the ones who believe that Christianity is so narrow-minded that there is only one particular way to get to salvation and the way happens to be only that which they espouse as being the correct way. They have lost sight of the true nature of what being a Christian truly asks of its followers. The essence of what it means to be Christian boils down to only two commandments taught by Christ—only two. Yet, these two are so hard for anyone to fathom and live that they are almost impossible to believe. For the sake of clarity, I will quote the New Testament in order to be clear for those who need to see the exact quote from the Christian Bible.

When asked what the greatest commandment is from God, Jesus replied:

The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31 NRSV).

This seems simple to understand, does it not? Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Yet, how many of those who decry the war against Christmas also fail to live out these two commandments each day? There is nothing here about believing only one way. There is nothing here about race. There is nothing here about how one should or should not worship. There is nothing here about which religion is right and which is wrong. This should be an obvious fact, as there was no such thing as Christianity while Christ was alive. The entire religion of Christianity is based upon the divine personhood of Christ who uttered these words and He was, at least in part, Jewish. Christ did not follow Himself. Even as Jesus was crucified, he did not do so for any certain group of people, but for all humankind. According to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NRSV).

Some people who are saying there is a war against Christmas and even Christianity are the real perpetrators as many of them support agendas that are against the poor, against children, against the suffering, and against the weak. They want an end to poverty, but support businesses that do not pay their workers a living wage. They do not see the starving except during the holiday season when the commercials air to ask them to donate. They look down on people who are forced to collect welfare. They believe in stronger penal responses to crimes, rather than programs that could practically eliminate crimes in the first place by helping others with the problems they face. Many of them support sending troops into war, but not for the care of those troops when they return with scars that are unseen.

Many of these people, who believe they are caring and Christian individuals, do not see beyond their own circumstances. They like to make a show out of their giving to others, rather than remain anonymous. They give when asked, but not without some reluctance. After all, they earn a living are not deadbeats like those to whom they are giving their hard earned money. They say there are programs out there to help people, yet fail to realize that those programs are being cut because those who are the wealthiest do not want to have to pay the taxes to keep those programs running. Again, many believe that they worked hard for what they have and everyone should be able to do that if they did it. Yet, they fail to see the ravages of the cycle of poverty that consumes so many people in the world.

The REAL war on Christmas is not the semantics of saying either “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas,” but the not living out of the ideals and tenets of what Christ taught in the first place.

What’s Happening to Our Country?

Events unfolding and having already unfolded in the United States cause me, and I am certain others as well, great concern as to where our country is heading. The horrible racist rants against the recently crowned Miss America. The racist rants against anyone who is not white and sings our national anthem. The recent shootings at the Navy base in Washington, D.C. The proliferation of weapons, particularly guns and automatic rifle.  The lack of funding for social programs such as aid for children and education. The attack on education and classroom curriculum, especially in the area of science. The actions of one political party to hold our country hostage through blocking all efforts to create a budget as well as not allowing for universal healthcare. The attacks on women concerning healthcare that is particular for them. All of these things and more are causes of concern about where our country is heading.

What happened to the United States as a melting pot for all of us to become one? E Pluribus Unum.

Excuses are being made that the rampant racism is due to whites being tired of having to take a backseat to other races. I believe it is due more to some whites, particularly the narrow-minded and socially isolated ones, finally realizing that they are no longer comprise the majority of the people in the United States. This scares some of them, as they have never needed to learn about other cultures. One of the pillars of prejudice is ignorance. It is easier for some people to hate rather than branch out of their comfort zones to embrace cultures different from theirs. Sometimes they go as far to accuse people who do not look like them as being foreigners and even terrorists, even though those people were born in the United States and have been nothing but good citizens.

A case in point is the recently crowned Miss America, Miss Nina Davuluri of New York. She is an American whose parents immigrated, prior to her birth, from India. She is an intelligent and beautiful woman. However, at the announcement of her as Miss America, there were hundreds of racist comments calling her things like “Miss Terrorist”, “Miss 7-11”, “a foreigner”, “Miss Arab”, etcetera. These comments come because she is not Caucasian and she now represents our country for the year to come at pageants, especially the Miss Universe pageant.

Since when did a person’s skin color dictate their nationality? The last I heard anything like this was the idea of the master Aryan race promoted by the Nazis. Is our country coming to this? We have been bombarded for the past five plus years by the political “birthers” who accuse our president of not being an American due to his skin color and that his biological father was from Kenya, yet our president was born in the State of Hawaii and that has been proved countless times including through the release of his birth certificate by that state. Yet, there are those who perpetuate his not being a “real” American.

A funny term, “real” American. What is a real American? For all sake of argument, the closest anyone comes to being a real American are the Native Americans who we have relegated to being second-class citizens through broken treaties and forced moves to reservations. Americans are a mixed bag of different races, cultures, religions, lifestyles, and such. We come from all parts of the world. Our ancestors came from all parts of the world. Over time, the cultures and races started to mix. Therefore, there is no litmus test for who is and who is not a true American, except for being those who were born here and those who immigrated to the United States and have worked for citizenship.

We should be past actions that raise up the ghosts of the era prior to the Civil Rights actions of the 1960s and 1970s. If a closer look is taken, though, it can be seen we have a long way yet to go before we get to where we should be when it comes to how we relate to one another.

The terrible shootings that occurred at the Navy base in Washington, D.C. serve as another cause for concern on two levels. The first is the proliferation of handguns and automatic weapons backed by the politically powerful National Rifle Association and their paid politicians who attempt to wrap themselves up in the second amendment of the Constitution as their reason for that proliferation. The second amendment calls for a “well-regulated militia”, not a well-armed, untrained bunch of gun nuts who own any type of firearm ever made. There is no need for private citizens to own automatic or semi-automatic weapons. If the argument is that they hunt with them, then those people seriously need to consider hunting lessons. If you cannot hit a deer with a regular shotgun, then you are a really bad shot and a hazard to society.

Along these same lines, what is wrong with having background checks and registration of individuals who purchase firearms? The argument backed by the NRA claims the registration of firearms is a way for the government to know who has what type and how many weapons and will use that to confiscate those weapons from law-abiding gun owners. That argument is egregious at best.

First, the United States Armed Forces are better armed than any gun owner can be. If the government wanted to take your guns, then they could do so quite easily regardless of whether you have registered them or not.

Second, if the gun owners are law abiding, then they should want someone aside from themselves to have a record of what they own in the event of someone stealing their weapon and using it to commit a crime. If the law-abiding gun owner notices his or her weapon is missing, they can report it to protect themselves from being accused of the crime. If they sell it, then they can switch registration to the buyer much like is done when a car is purchased and the registration is switched. It is a way to protect the gun owner rather than a potential way to punish them.

Background checks for all weapons purchases are to protect people, not to harm them. The argument is made that it is an invasion of privacy to check the criminal and mental health background of a person who purchases a weapon. How much sense does that really make? If a person is a criminal or is mentally unstable, then why should they be able legally to purchase any weapon? It would make it a great deal safer if certain people never owned firearms. Might they still be able to obtain them illegally? Yes, but those weapons either likely would be stolen (and have been reported as such through registration) or brought into our country illegally.

The second point the shooting brings up is the lack of care for veterans who suffered emotional and psychological damage while serving our country in the Armed Services. We are willing to send troops to fight, but not to fund the care they need when they return, unless their wounds are physical in nature. That is ludicrous! I covered this a little while ago in another blog post, but it bears mentioning once again. We need to provide psychological assistance for our veterans as well as physical assistance for them. There are thousands of people who are returning to our country who witnessed atrocities that have left them scarred for life psychologically and they need care for those scars. Without that care, some may become a danger to society through no fault of their own. It is shameful that we can allocate money to send our young men and women to war, but we cannot afford to assist them when they come home shattered in more than a physical manner.

Not funding social programs harms our country deeply and creates future problems that arise, but are ignored in the present. Recently, legislation that traditionally allocates funds for food stamps held cuts to that program, including to the SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Food Program) program. This affects primarily those who have children, are elderly, or are disabled. The number of Americans affected by this could be well over 300,000. It is simply wrong to deny the ability to eat to the old, the infirm, and to children. It is a heartless and callous act taken by those who have against those who have nothing. The excuse is that the program needs fixed, as there are people who take advantage of the system. There are corporations and wealthy who take advantage of the tax system, but the politicians who receive money from them do not seem to care about that very much and would rather attack the elderly, the disabled, and children.

Along this same vein is funding education. While most education funding comes from individual states, the federal government supplements that funding though tax dollars as well. However, the funding to education has decreased significantly over the years at both the federal and state levels. There are schools that have outdated textbooks and buildings that are falling apart. The solution that some politicians are advocating is to privatize our schools and run them like businesses. That is a recipe for disaster. Unlike public education that is free and obtainable for all children, private schools are run like a business. Are there protections for students who do not test well or for whom the standard format of school does not work? Doubtful. The United States needs a strong and free public educational system that treats all students equally and affords everyone with a chance to succeed rather than a select few. As citizens, whether we have children in the schools or not, we need to demand that our schools be funded and should be happy to pay our taxes to make it so.

Within education, there is an attack against sound scientific education being waged by those who believe that our schools should teach a curriculum that is based upon the Christian bible, especially when it comes to science. The advocates for this claim that Creationism needs to be taught alongside Evolution. Creationism has no part in a public school as it is based on faith rather than on the logic of science. If parents want their children to learn the story of creation as told by the Christian scriptures, then they should attend a church and have their children enrolled in a Sunday school class to learn it, not in a public classroom where there are children from different backgrounds and religious preferences. That simply falls under the separation of Church and State guaranteed by the Constitution.

Our country has been held hostage for the past few years by a faction within one of the political parties that wants to cut government funding to its bare bones. They want extremely low taxes and fewer regulations in order to save taxpayer money. Sounds great on the surface, but it is not practical in reality. No one wants to pay more taxes. No one likes to pay taxes. Neither of these are arguable statements. However, if we want safe roads and bridges, good schools, to be protected from enemies without and within, fire and police protection, and a myriad of other items provided by our government, then we need to pay taxes for them. Basic high school government and economics dictates this as needed by a government like ours.

The reality of this faction is that they want to create a utopia for the wealthy on the backs of everyone else. They want the wealthiest to pay less and make the argument that this will create jobs. It has not yet, nor will it ever do so. By having the wealthy pay less, all that is being done is making them wealthier while those who are not wealthy get poorer as a result. Yes, I know this is a rather simplistic view and economics are far more complicated, but this is the agenda in a nutshell that is being shoved down the throats of the American public by this radical political faction. We need to stand up to this faction and the elected officials who are being paid off by the select few and demand that the wealthy pay more in taxes. We need to demand a budget be passed that is fair to all while also reducing the deficit in manageable increments that do not cause harm to the most vulnerable in our society.

Another one of the major reasons why this particular political faction wants to cripple the government has to do with the Affordable Care Act sometimes called Obamacare. They make comments that it will cause insurance premiums to cost more and that people will be denied basic medical services. Most of the information I have read, even from independent sources, state that it will actually save money and more people will have access to care. While it may be true that certain procedures may be delayed in being performed, all should have equal access and be cared for even better than is now available. Those against universal healthcare primarily are so due to it leveling the playing field for all Americans and that those who earn more will fund the care of those who earn less. I find it ironic that many of those against universal healthcare claim to be Christians as well since Jesus healed all people and taught that humans were to love and care for one another. For them to be against universal healthcare that would benefit so many people seems rather hypocritical.

Of particular concern in the realm of healthcare is how much a certain faction is bent on limiting the access women have to healthcare. There are Planned Parenthood and other clinics that are geared toward women’s health issues that are closing down for lack of funding all due to this particular factions attitude toward abortion and access to birth control. Seems odd that this faction also wants a smaller government, but they want to regulate a very personal part of a woman’s life. It should not be surprising that the majority of these people calling for limits in birth control and contraceptives are males, as most males want the ability to procreate until the cows come home. If they had to endure the pregnancy and delivery, then they might think otherwise. (In addition, I say this as a male, by the way). If they truly care about women, not to mention potential children, then they should wholeheartedly back these clinics and access to care for women in particular. As far as the issue of abortion, it is the woman’s decision. The government has no right to regulate moral choices for people’s personal lives so long as they do not harm other beings that are able to live outside the womb.

All these things being said, it is a difficult time to be an American who has a conscience and who engages in thought deeper than what is expected by certain news outlets. We need, as a country, to join with one another and reach out across racial, ethnic, gender, and religious barriers and embrace our diversity in a grand fashion to drown out the racist rants of the few. We need, as a country, to demand strong gun laws to include mandatory background checks and possibly even psychological testing before weapons are allowed to be bought and sold. We need, as a country, to adequately fund education and social programs that assist all Americans and not count the cost as a negative, but as a positive as we can rest assured that we are caring for our neighbors and creating a healthier and happier citizenry. We need, as a country, to demand that our elected officials represent us and not special interests. We need, as a county, to demand that our elected officials pass a budget that helps all people and decreases the deficit in a systematic and responsible manner that does no harm to those who are in need of assistance to survive. We need, as a country, to demand that all people be given access to affordable healthcare regardless of their station in life. We need, as a country, to demand that government stop trying to regulate what goes on in a person’s bedroom or with their bodies.

I love my country, but shake my head in disbelief at the actions going on in it. Maybe I should seriously consider running for public office. Hmmm…

On this date…

As I now join in with the sentiment bandwagon on this the 11th of September 2013, I am lost in rather non-flag waving thoughts. Before I get to those, I will recount where I was on this date in 2001.

I was teaching 8th grade English at Denn John Middle School in Kissimmee, Florida. It was my first teaching assignment in Florida and, to be honest, it was a tough school in which to teach when it comes to the baggage the student body had—low socioeconomic level, absentee and abusive parents, etc. The majority of the students were on free or reduced lunch. Some even had children of their own. Rough place to teach. However, I loved my students. Sure, there were the routine class clowns and gang wannabes, but overall, these kids knew that if they wanted out of their current situation they needed to work for it. I digress.

I cannot recall if it was during my planning or when I was finishing lunch as I usually kept in my classroom avoiding the lunchroom gossip and peer gripe sessions. What I do recall well was that when word came out about the events unfolding in NY, PA, and DC/VA, we were advised NOT to speak about the events with our students and to act as if nothing unusual occurred. Stay the course, to put it another way. However, there were a couple of problems with keeping the status quo and obeying that order from administration.

The first problem was that the kids already either heard a little about it or saw teachers weeping and heard them talking in hushed tones about what was happening. Students are not idiots, they can sense when something is not right. Unfortunately, my administrators either feared mass panic or who knows what else if we talked about it.

The second problem was that many of the students at this school had relatives either in New York City in particular and/or were from there themselves. While the majority of the students were Hispanic, from primarily the Caribbean, they either passed through New York on their way back south to Florida or had relatives who had stayed in New York. As such, it did not surprise me when students entered my classroom clamoring with questions and fraught with emotions. Some were eerily silent. There was no way they could focus on class. They knew what happened from either having overheard it or through text messages they received from family.

The maelstrom of panic was already thick in the air; therefore, I did what any self-respecting real educator would do.

We talked about it.

As we talked, announcements came either by the intercom system or through runners to the classrooms stating parents were arriving to pick up their students. As classes changed, we kept talking through it as necessary. Some students asked to come back to my room so they could feel safe and discuss what they were feeling rather than try to focus on classroom work and pretend all was the same it had been when they arrived at school that morning.
Many students expressed fears that our area would be attacked since it was a heavy tourist area and thus a prime target. I assured them as best I could that we were safe and would remain so and that our government would protect us. I heard stories about their lives and their families. Even those not from the areas attacked felt worried as they had loved ones in the Armed Forces and were concerned that they would have to go to war somewhere or that war was being waged in our own country. Again, as we talked through it, I noticed students starting to calm down more and more rather than panic.

The administration gave me a stern verbal reprimand when school was over for the day. The amusing part was that in the days that followed, many students and parents thanked me for listening to them or their students and not discounting their feelings or trying to make them focus on academics when clearly they could not.

That day changed America. It changed the lives of my students. It changed be a bit as well. I defied my administration for the sake of my students. While they considered me less than professional for doing so, I was probably more professional at that point and beyond than I was before when it came to teaching.

I made the choice to allow the students to see me as a human being rather than a cold professional who could not be flexible or caring enough to listen to them, to their fears. Was my behavior somewhat insubordinate? Yes, it was. I defied a direct order from my principal. Do I regret doing it? Hell, no!

Too many teachers do not allow themselves to be themselves around their students. They see the job and the professionalism of that job, but lose track of the humanity that is an overreaching important component of being a teacher. When a teacher lacks empathy and chooses only to focus on the academics, then they lose having a relationship with their students that makes those students want to succeed, even want to please the teacher because they know the teacher is fully invested in them as people first and students next. Teachers need to be humans first, then teachers. It is not being unprofessional unless the teacher abuses the trust that builds with having a good rapport with his or her students.

Now, for the part where I may seem less that patriotic about this day. Xenophobes, please feel free to stop reading at this point.

Okay. Now, for those of you still with me, I will proceed.

This is not a national holiday.

There is no Patriot Day authorized by Congress.

It is a day of Remembrance. Cowards bent on destroying us as a nation attacked our country.

Notice, I did not call their religion or nationality into this discussion. These people were terrorists. Plain and simple. They just so happened to be from the Middle East and just so happened to be followers of Islam. Too many people mention their religion or cultural background first and make it seem like people from their religion or cultural background are all terrorists bent on the destruction of the United States or the West in general. There are even a few wingnuts out there who threaten to burn the Koran or who terrorize people from the Middle East (or who look like they are from the Middle East), especially on this day.

This is completely unacceptable. More than that, it fails to recognize that we have also been the perpetrators of what should be seen as terrorist acts in the past in order to get what we wanted for our country.

What? The United States engaged in terrorism?!? No! Never!

Tell that to the Native Americans who lived here before our forbears arrived on the North American continent. Our government, in order to expand our territories and gain wealth that was on Native American lands, engaged in acts of terrorism against the Native Americans. There are incidents of giving smallpox infected blankets to Native Americans, the infamous Trail of Tears, and the forced assimilation of Native Americans including the taking of Native American children from their parents and placing them in boarding schools to teach away their culture. How about the involuntary sterilizations of Native American women that took place between the 1930s and 1970s? How about the continued suffering of Native Americans on reservations that have deplorable living conditions? These atrocities continue to this day, albeit on a smaller scale than deliberate murder of innocent people.

How can we as a country dare to flex our supposed grand morals at a country such as Syria with regard to its government’s use of chemical weapons to exterminate innocent people while ignoring our own past? How can we, as a supposed Christian nation, have people here who say that only other religions and/or cultures are brutal toward others and ours is not? The answer is simple. Ignorance coupled with an unwavering belief that we are somehow better than everyone else. We are not. We are humans too. Just like I mentioned earlier, we need to look on the world as human beings first, then as Americans or else we are doomed to do the same atrocities yet claim they are justified because it is for our good.

Along with this is that too many fail to realize that, like so many other things that happen to our country or the world, we helped to cause the animosity that brought about the tragedy. When the Russians attempted to defeat the Afghan mujahedeen, we supplied the mujahedeen with weapons and training to defeat them. We gave monetary aid to the Afghan people in exchange for their helping us to keep Communism from spreading. When the Russians left, so did we, to an extent. Even one of the major players in the aid to Afghanistan, Charlie Wilson, warned that we needed to help rebuild the country. Instead, we continued to fund the mujahedeen until they defeated the government that the Soviets left in place. The problem was that the mujahedeen were often worse than the Soviet-backed government that was in place. The mujahedeen that were allied with the more extreme Pashtun from Pakistan soon formed what became known as the Taliban who promised to bring order to Afghanistan. The United States, as the mujahedeen and warlords within Afghanistan continued to battle with one another, decided to stop aid. The Taliban then imposed strict Islamic law and the rest led to Bin Laden to take exile there and set up al-Qaeda.

Through our interference with regional matters and wanting to stop the spread of Communism, we helped to bring about the very enemy that attacked us.

Now, as we stand on the cusp of a possible conflict with Syria, we must ask ourselves if it is worth it. Yes, the international community must find a way to respond to the Syrian government’s slaughter of innocent people. However, before we proceed, we need to look at our internal and external history to prevent even further and possibly more destructive acts of terrorism against us or anyone in the world for that matter.

Finally, on this day that we stop to remember the heinous act that occurred on our soil, we need to step out of our comfort zone and take a look at all the acts of terrorism that occur on a daily basis in the world. Daily, there are innocent people across the world suffering from acts of terrorism-both domestic and foreign-we need to remember them as well. From the child who fears being discovered going to school for she is not allowed to do so under her country’s law, to the children who are forced in marriage across the world or into the world of human trafficking. We need to remember Columbine. We need to remember those killed in Oklahoma City by a domestic terrorist. We need to remember those killed at Fort Hood. We need to remember the people in the theater in Colorado. We need to remember the children at Sandy Hook Elementary. These are terrorist acts as well.

Terrorism, as defined by Merriam-Webster as “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion”. It further elaborates through the Concise Encyclopedia by stating it is:

Systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective. It has been used throughout history by political organizations of both the left and the right, by nationalist and ethnic groups, and by revolutionaries. Although usually thought of as a means of destabilizing or overthrowing existing political institutions, terror also has been employed by governments against their own people to suppress dissent; examples include the reigns of certain Roman emperors, the French Revolution, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union under Stalin, and Argentina during the “dirty war” of the 1970s.

Rather than just focus on the act of terrorism that occurred to us on this date in 2001; we need to see the other acts of terrorism that occur each day—domestic and foreign—and work to end acts of terrorism and bring about a more peaceful world.

Memorial Day 2013

Memorial Day 2013. A day for many to have off work and cook out with friends and family. Maybe even catch a movie or a baseball game or even watch some golf. However, more than all of this, it is a day that we need to reflect on the sacrifices of those who went to war or into battle as members of our armed forces. By sacrifices, we need to remember those who have died, but we also must remember those who continue to fight the war even after they return home.
Take, for example, the soldier who has, like so many of our soldiers, endured multiple deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan with little time off between them. Yes, they were trained for combat; however, the human mind and body can only take so much stress before it has negative effects. A friend of mine told me about his commanding officer who had endured multiple deployments. He was a good man who cared deeply about his troops. They loved him for it. He would hang out with them when they would go out on the town when in Germany. He made certain they made it safely back to base. This man, when he found out he was to be deployed once again to Afghanistan, committed suicide rather than face the horrors of war again. I believe it would have been his fourth deployment. It is shameful for our country to send these men and women into harm’s way time and time again without some way for them to decompress and get the help they need to deal with the psychological scars of war.
There are thousands of veterans who have returned to their homes and jobs, but within themselves, part of them is still at war. They continue to fight the battles in their heads as they cannot get it out of their minds. It haunts them and causes many of them to take their own lives to escape the pain. These veterans suffer from what was once known as shell shock, but is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is the same thing regardless of the more politically correct moniker. It is hard to treat as many do not seek the assistance they need because they fear it is a sign of weakness to ask for help. Instead, they suffer through unknown rages or even recurring images of war that haunt them as they attempt to return to normal.
Another sad aspect of this is that, since their wounds are not in the open, many believe they have no injuries. We need to remember that although the body is intact, the mind may not be. Unfortunately, there are simply not enough professionals in the military to help these young men and women with the war raging in their minds. If someone sees a veteran with limbs lost, they want to help. Yet, those who have not lost a limb still have lost part of themselves and need our help desperately. The nightmares do not end for them. Sometimes the slightest sound or scent can trigger an episode of anxiety or panic for them. We have heard past news headlines where this has led to people being killed. While that does occur, many more veterans suffering from PTSD take their own life rather than the lives of others.
These young men and women deserve so much more than to suffer. They deserve our support. They need to be put in contact with professionals who can help them. They need to know that it is okay to ask for help. It is hard for someone who has been trained to fight and keep their pain silent to open up and tell their story, but it has happen for healing to begin. Their loved ones go through it with them, yet may not even realize what they are truly going through in their minds. We, as Americans, need to demand that these veterans get the help they need. We need to urge our elected officials to provide funding for adequate mental health services for our veterans. While many veterans may not currently show their pain, it is bound to surface sometime in their lives. They need help.
So, as you sit down to enjoy your hamburger or hot dog or the game, take a moment and also write to your elected officials and demand better for our veterans. Not just those with visible wounds and scars, but those whose scars are deeper.