Confessions of an addict

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Copyright Dillon Naber Cruz

My name is Dillon Naber Cruz and I am an addict. As an addict, I know that when I act upon my addiction, I hurt other people, I hurt the planet, and I hurt myself in the process. Though I know these things, I seemingly remain powerless to stop the cycle of addiction and I continue to use of all of the things that are causing so much damage to me and others.

I am addicted to having electricity on demand. It doesn’t matter if I wake up in the middle of the night, which is a frequent occurrence with me as a result of PTSD, I want to be able to turn on EVERYTHING that I own at will, regardless of the costs to my global neighbors, my local bioregion, and the planet itself. I am addicted to having electrical power whenever and where ever I am. I use that electrical power to write this blog, cool my bedroom at night, have lights on in rooms sometimes even if no one is in them, amongst many other uses of electricity. Sure it’s true that I do pay extra to purchase my electricity from suppliers who provide it from renewable sources, but the fact remains that I am addicted to on demand electricity, which is seriously contributing to climate change and will make it all the harder to adjust to a time when on demand electricity is no longer available due to resource depletion.

I am addicted to entertainment. Spectator sports, sitcoms on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, movies, video games, podcasts, books, and the occasional night out to see an concert all make up the overwhelming amount of choices that I as an American take for granted when it comes to being entertained. Of course, all of this entertainment comes with a price in terms of electricity, electronic devices to watch it or play it all on. Then there are the questionable cultural practices resulting from the entertainment world that skews reality such as the absurd amount of money that athletes, film and TV stars make in relation to their actual societal contributions and the amount of waste that is generated by the press as they report even the most mundane and quotidian details of their lives and livelihoods. We are able to be entertained 24 hours a day 7 days a week and as a result I am addicted to it.

I am addicted to cheap gasoline that allows me to drive all over the place, whenever I so choose. It’s true I do walk a great deal more than most Americans and I ride a scooter that gets “excellent” gas mileage as my personal primary transport rather than buying a second car,  but sometimes I just jump in our truck and drive around the county for no other purpose than to pass the time and take in the scenery. I do this despite knowing that burning fossil fuels is contributing to rampant climate change by adding too much carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and knowing that we are well above the 350 p.p.m. of atmospheric carbon dioxide that ensures a relatively stable climate. I’ve lived most of my life in America where we as a culture seemingly feel entitled to fill our vehicles up with ludicrously cheap gasoline to drive, drive, drive, our outsized SUVs, sports cars, and pickups without regard to anything or anyone. Our nation fights wars, deposes democratically elected leaders, and essentially steals the wealth of other nations to feed our heroine like addiction to gas and oil. Millions of lives are lost so I can drive with or without real purpose. Like drug dealers who peddle their poisons to children, politicians get paid handsomely to enact laws that ensure the maintenance of the fossil fuel status quo, keeping the citizen’s addicted to oil, while hindering any real, achievable change in terms of advancing transportation technology, environmental safety, and innovation while actively ignoring the incredibly real phenomenon of peak oil. My habits and patterns of transportation prove that I too am addicted to oil and gasoline.

I am addicted to feeling comfortable. Sure, sometimes during the day I wait until it is over 80 degrees on the first floor of our modest two bedroom home before I turn on the window unit air conditioner, but many summer days I choose to turn it on so I can feel cooler despite the fact that I grew up in Texas without air conditioning. In the winter, I turn the thermostat on the heater up to 65-67 degrees so I can be warm. The colder it is outdoors, the harder my heating system has to work, thereby burning more natural gas, just to keep the indoor temperature up to spring like levels even in the dead of winter. I also shower frequently, sometimes everyday, thus using up and potentially polluting precious water (depending on the personal hygiene products used) as well as burning  more fossil fuels to heat the water. In so doing, I am allowing vanity to override my concern for the planet and its people.

I’m addicted to convenience, ease, and choice when it comes to food and drinks. Though I lament the packaging that much of the food I buy comes in, I buy it anyway contributing to the massive amounts of waste that ends up filling the landfill in the southern area of the county where I live. Rather than exclusively buying whole foods and cooking things from scratch, I often purchase prepackaged items like frozen pizzas, cookies, pastas, condiments, sauces, beverages, and so on seemingly ad infinitum. Though I do grow some of my own produce, mostly vegetables, I also buy fruits and vegetables even when they are out of season and have to be shipped hundreds if not thousands of miles from where they are grown to my plate, so I can eat whatever I want at any time of the year, which is definitely working against nature. I know that eating seasonal, local and organic produce would be far better for my local economy and the planet in general but I remain addicted to choice and convenience.

Some people reading this may be thinking, “What are you talking about? That’s basically what everyone in America does.” Those saying that would of course be correct, most everyone does do those things, and herein lies the problem. As Bill Bryson notes in his excellent book At Home: A short history of private life we are profligate in our use of resources in a way that globally speaking is avaricious. To give the gist of Bryson’s point, the average person in Tanzania takes an entire year to use the resources that it takes the average American to use in less than 29 HOURS. Our rapacious greed in consuming resources is incredibly wasteful and also hinders the potential and quality of life of billions of our global neighbors, all of whom are equally worthy of comfort, safety, and convenience as we are. Of course, many people in America have no idea about this disparity in resource utilization and the quality of life it engenders for us nor does the average American know a great deal about the comeuppance we in the industrialized world  will receive when peak oil (along with peaks in natural gas, uranium, and coal) becomes unquestionably the reality if we choose not to transition to a much more intelligent and resilient way of life that must include personal and societal sacrifice. We can do better, we are called to do better, and if we want to survive, we sure as hell better do better.

One of the principles of permaculture is to make the least change for the greatest effect. Despite the confessions outlined above, I have made many changes to my life and continue to make them in order to live more lightly on the Earth and to treat my global neighbors better. Clearly though, I have a long way to go, and identifying my addictions to what I call “American Privilege” is a good first step. This is not said in order that I sink into a torpor of self loathing and guilt–nor is it to guilt trip for you who may reflect on your own life and patterns of consumption as a result of reading this. Rather it is in the spirit of the self audit, as outlined by David Holmgren in his book  Permaculture: Principles and pathways beyond sustainability, which is an excellent tool for self assessment so one can begin to make changes both large and small to live more equitably with our global neighbors thus embodying the Golden Rule- or the Rule of Reciprocity as it is also known. The twelve principles of permaculture as presented in Holmgren’s book could be seen as a great 12 step program for humanity to design a world that is free of fossil fuel addiction. I pray for the strength to implement it in my own life.

Peace be with you.

 

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A Marine’s call to remembrance on Memorial Day

130G

Me operating a USMC Caterpillar 130G road grader at Pohaku Loa Training Area in Hawai’i.

My senior year of high school was 1989-1990. About midway through that year, I went to the school to get on the bus to go to a town nearby to play in a basketball tournament. Before getting on the bus my teammate Allen’s father was talking to a group of people about how Allen had just signed up for a 6 year commitment in the Marine Corps Reserve. I stood there in rapt attention and because I wanted a way out of town and a way to get away from a less than ideal family situation, I impetuously asked to be put into contact with the recruiter. It was not long before Sargent Holmes was in our dining room in the small North Texas town where we lived extolling the virtues of life as one of “the world’s finest.” I decided to join for four years of active duty and based on my Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test scores, I had my pick of occupational specialties with a few exceptions. Sitting in the recruiters office I picked three different potential fields and was later given the M.O.S. (military occupational specialty) of 1345-heavy equipment engineer. A few months after my high school graduation I went to boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, CA. We arrived on August 13, 1990, a mere 11 days after Saddam Hussein had foolishly invaded Kuwait.

I received my specialty training at Camp Lejeune, NC and then was stationed to the Marine Corps Air Station at Kaneohe Bay on the island of Oahu in Hawai’i. In 1993, while on a routine training operation on the Big Island of Hawai’i, I was severely injured while performing preventative maintenance on a DTC 8606, a rough terrain fork lift, that we used to load ammunition and other military gear in support of the Third Marine division’s war games on the island. As a result of the accident I sustained muscle damage to both legs, tore a ligament in my right knee, developed back problems, and also ended up with post traumatic stress disorder. As a disabled veteran I was able to get a B.A. in history with financial help from the Veteran’s Administration. Those studies informed me in a way that the Marines and high school never had and are largely responsible for the following paragraphs.

Fast forward to 2017, and Memorial Day. As a former Marine (once a Marine, always a Marine) I want people to truly engage in remembering on Memorial Day.  What do I want you to remember? Several things that fall under the umbrella of “the costs of war.”

The first thing I want people to know and to remember comes from the pen of Major General Smedley Butler, who at the time of his retirement from the Marine Corps, after a 33 year active duty career, was the most decorated Marine in the history of the Marine Corps. He received two Congressional Medals of Honor, the highest honor a member of the military can receive, along with a “fruit salad” of other medals (so called because of the various colors of the different ribbons of the medals.) He wrote a book entitled War is a Racket after his retirement. In the first chapter he wrote:

WAR is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

In the World War [I] a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows.

How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?

Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious. They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few — the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill.

And what is this bill? This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.

For a great many years, as a soldier, I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not until I retired to civil life did I fully realize it. Now that I see the international war clouds gathering, as they are today, I must face it and speak out.

(Full text of the book can be found here) War is a Racket

So the first thing I want all Americans to know and to always remember is the wisdom of General Butler who said that war is a money making scheme in which the rich profit and the poor pay with their lives. It is NOT about preserving freedom or protecting us from enemies bent upon our destruction. The U.S. has not been invaded by a foreign power since 1812 and the enemies we fight are most often small countries whose militaries are incapable of attacking New York City, Des Moines, Iowa, San Francisco, CA or any other place on American soil.

The second thing I want people to remember is that the costs of the wars America engages in are enormous in terms of lives lost. We are often told to honor our veterans and those who gave their lives to protect our freedoms, which as previously seen is a completely spurious notion, but we are never asked to remember the millions of civilians maimed and killed as a result of American bombs being dropped or American troops invading countries full of poor people and resources that serve “American interests.” Those interests include oil, favorable taxation for American businesses, or land to put military bases on for strategic purposes. We are seldom told about the war crimes that occur (look up General Norman Schwarzkopf as one example) and often are kept from the truth about how many innocent lives are lost both directly as a result of bombs, missiles, bullets, and tanks as well as indirectly due to the loss of infrastructure, medical services, and the chaos of war in areas with deep seated, historical conflicts that are exacerbated by U.S. military interventions such as Iraq and Syria. Nor are we often aware of how the US government both engages in state sponsored terrorism like the “shock and awe” bombing campaign in Iraq and supports those who engage in similar acts of state sponsored terrorism such as our continual support of regimes in Israel and Saudi Arabia as well as a plethora of horrific dictators on nearly if not every continent.

How many innocent lives are lost? It’s incredibly difficult to say. During the Korean War, between 1.5- 2.5 million civilians were killed depending upon the source. The county I live in now in Pennsylvania only has around 600,000 people in it by way of comparison. For the war in Iraq, according to the website Iraq Body Count, between 175,000 to 195,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed, though the Washington Post notes that the number could be much higher (see Why do we ignore the civilians killed in American wars? ) My point is this, millions of people have lost their lives because of wars instigated by American foreign policy, wars that never needed to happen in the first place. The lives of the Koreans, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, Iraqis, Yemenis, and Syrians are all every bit as valuable as the lives of Americans. None of those people was a threat to American soil, American lives, or American infrastructure. They were killed so someone, somewhere could make a profit. Our troops, whom we are constantly told to support, were used to kill and maim them in acts of state sponsored terrorism that are condoned by the American public in the name of “patriotism” and sold to us on the nightly news by media companies greedy for the advertising revenue that invariably comes in by the bucket-load when America goes to war.

So on this Memorial Day, I beg you to remember the millions of innocent victims of America’s wars. The millions of women, children, fathers, wives, husbands, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and dear friends whose lives were robbed from their families, all in the name of protecting “American interests.” Remember them, put yourself in the shoes of their family members, and think how you’d feel knowing that your loved one died so someone in a foreign country could make even more money.  Then demand that the U.S. end their proxy wars, end their support of state sponsored terrorism and dictatorial regimes, stop the sale of arms to nations around the world, and use to use the troops solely for defense and infrastructure improvements. These wars are fought in the names of all Americans, using our tax dollars, while infrastructure in America crumbles, and social services are cut. There’s nearly limitless money for war but little for the poor and that is a travesty.

Remember.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Multi-ethical Response to the Universal Health Care Debate

Please note: Due to my inability to format this well, footnotes will appear in parenthesis within the text and the sources at the end.  Right click to open links in a new tab.

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copyright by Dillon Naber Cruz

The issue of providing single payer universal health care for all American citizens is surprisingly contentious and has lead to many heated arguments among people who find themselves on opposite sides of the issue. I have heard everything from the idea that healthcare is a human right and that no one should go bankrupt because of a medical issue to arguments from others who proclaim that universal health care is socialism and takes away or limits our freedoms. The arguments against it are surprising to me given that our neighbor to the north provides universal coverage to its citizens as do many of America’s allies in Europe, many of whom rank much higher in the indices of happiness as measured by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network of the United Nations. (1) America is experiencing a drastic drop in rates of happiness, in large measure because of an insistence upon policies that promote economic growth while subsequently cutting social support benefits thus creating angst among American citizens. Nordic countries experience much greater happiness despite lower GDP (2) and the long, cold winters of their northern latitudes. Scandinavian countries feel happier in some respects because they need not fear losing everything as a result of injury, illness, or the birth of a child.

The focus of this essay is to answer the question, “Should the U.S. guarantee health care to all of its citizens that is sufficient to cover all of their medical needs?” I will be arguing in favor of so doing from both the deontological and teleological ethical frameworks. Briefly defined, deontological ethics are those focused upon rules, and teleological ethics are based upon the consequences of a given action. For example, from a deontological perspective one might say, we must drive the posted speed limit regardless of circumstance because that is the law; while from a teleological perspective one might say, it is important to drive the speed limit because doing so lessens the number of accidents and helps to save our limited fossil fuel resources. Thus my argument in favor of single payer universal health care for all Americans from a deontological perspective will be focused on certain rules already in place within the government and within Abrahamic religions and from a teleological perspective will be focused on a variety of outcomes some of which have already been shown elsewhere to be favorable.

The Deontological Case for Universal Health Care

The law in the United States requires its citizens to pay income taxes based upon how much one makes in wages, salary, interest earned on certificates of deposit or savings accounts, as well as earnings from the stock market, inheritance, or winnings from legalized gambling. Because this is the law of the land we as citizens must pay our taxes whether we, or the Republicans and Libertarians amongst us, like it or not. Taxes are a fact of life and the money generated in taxes goes towards a wide variety of social services that make the United States a “first world nation.” From a Kantian perspective (3) then, the intention is for the government to use the revenue generated from income taxes to run the machinery of government for the benefit of American citizens while providing services to the public in the areas of national defense, veteran’s programs, the State department and foreign aid, disaster relief, social welfare programs such as food stamps, infrastructure, medicare, and medicaid, as well as transportation, social security, and funding NASA amongst others. Americans therefore have a moral obligation to pay their taxes to help run the government so that the government can provide the services to society that it intends to provide.

Taking this one step further, paying taxes can be seen as a Kantian categorical imperative in that doing so should always be applied to those who make enough money to pay taxes for the reasons outlined above. Do I want everyone who earns enough taxable income to pay taxes in order that the government can function as intended so as to provide the societal benefits that tax dollars finance? Yes I do, therefore paying taxes should be a universal maxim that everyone who makes enough taxable income should follow. (4)

From a deontological perspective then it has been established that we must pay our taxes. That in turn begs the question, where should those monies be applied? How to answer that question for people of faith seems relatively easy to me. What does our scriptural tradition say? Rosenstand notes that the Golden Rule is “certainly one of the most widespread rules of ethics in existence, finding expression in religions and moral teachings throughout recorded history.” (5) This is certainly the case within Judaism and its offshoots Christianity, Islam, and the Baha’i faiths. As one who is both culturally and a practicing Christian, albeit imperfectly, I will focus on the expressions of the Golden Rule as found within the Jewish scriptures and other writings as well as those in the Christian testament. (6) Leviticus 19:18b commands that Jews “shall love your neighbor as yourself” while in Tobit 4:15 it reads, “And what you hate, do not do to anyone.” (7) The Talmud says, “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary” Talmud, Shabbat 31a. (8) Jesus of Nazareth seemingly concurred with this Talmudic statement in Matthew 7:12 where he is said to have stated, “In everything do to others as you would have them do unto you; for this is the law and the prophets” and again in Luke 6:31 he offers the maxim, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (9) He further expands on this theme in the prelude to the parable of the Good Samaritan when the lawyer responds to Jesus’ question with quotes from Deuteronomy 6:5 (“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your might.”) in conjunction with the afore quoted Leviticus 19:18. Our neighbors according to Jesus are even those people whom we may otherwise despise as was the case between Jews and Samaritans in Jesus’ day. These passages show that the Golden Rule and its close scriptural cousin, the Greatest Commandment, are foundational to the Christian faith and find their roots in the the Jewish scriptures and other writings that Jesus quoted. They are also nearly, if not completely universal maxims as is attested by their presence in some form in faiths as disparate as Hinduism and Satanism. (10) Because these rules are so foundational to Christianity and Judaism it is incumbent upon Christians and Jews alike to follow them for it is a religious duty for adherents of those faiths.

According to the Pew Research center, Christians as of 2014 make up almost 71% of the U.S. population. Other religious faiths make up nearly 6% of the population while those who identify as atheist, agnostic, or nothing in particular make up the remaining almost 23%. (11) Those numbers point to an overwhelming majority of the American population who by their own admission identify with faiths which have as a foundational tenet the Golden Rule. Because this is the case then, it follows that the adherents of those faiths, be they political representatives or constituents, should as a matter of course want their tax dollars to go towards programs such as universal health care. I know of no person who would want themselves or family members to be at risk of going bankrupt due to inadequate health insurance. I know of no person who would like to face paying the excessive costs of buying out of pocket health coverage in the wake of losing a job during difficult economic times. I know no person who would want a loved one or dear friend to die simply because the costs of treatment are too high to pay for. In other words, I do not want myself or any of my family members to be put in the position of financial ruin or premature death because healthcare is too expensive. Therefore, I want my tax dollars to be reallocated so that all Americans regardless of age or economic status are fully covered and according to my understanding of the Golden Rule all Christians should want the same thing. We cannot avoid taxes so let us pay taxes in ways that allow us as people of faith to follow our faith more assiduously.

The Teleological Argument for Universal Health Care

We now turn to the teleological or consequentialist ethical argument for universal health care. One of teleological ethics champions was Aristotle who believed that to be virtuous was to be happy. (12) Utilitarianism’s proponents on the other hand see their “moral guideline a rule that encourages them to make life bearable for as many people as possible.” (13) Another way of looking at teleological ethics is to say that “the ends justifies the means” and do those results save more than the harm potentially created. In other words, does it work? (14) What would be the consequences of Americans applying the Golden Rule in regards to providing single payer universal health care for all American citizens?

As previously mentioned, Americans are becoming less happy despite comparatively high income levels and standard of living. In 2017, the predominant global superpower and self styled greatest nation on Earth ranked 14th in happiness having dropped down one place from 2016. Co-editor of the World Happiness report, Jeffrey Sachs, stated, “As demonstrated by many countries, this report gives evidence that happiness is a result of creating strong social foundations. It’s time to build social trust and healthy lives, not guns or walls. Let’s hold our leaders to this fact.” (15) Given that health and happiness go hand in hand (16) it is not surprising that Scandinavian countries with universal health care rank so high on the list of World’s Happiest Countries (though that is not the only reason for their happiness.) (17) Also notable is the fact that in rich nations mental health issues are highly problematic (18) and it can readily be inferred then that without adequate health care those mental health problems cannot be addressed appropriately thus leading to further unhappiness. In light of these facts, it stands to reason that one of the consequences of universal health care would be an increase in the happiness of American citizens and with all the benefits being happy provides, that can only be a good thing.

Looking beyond the borders of the United States, implementing single payer universal health care could benefit the global community as well if the budget for national defense was drastically reduced in order to pay for the implementation of single payer universal health care. In recent years according to Politifact.com, discretionary spending on the U.S. military takes up 54% of the budget while overall spending on “defense” is at around 16% while discretionary spending on health and human services is at 9% and overall spending in that category is at 28%. (19) For 2017, the discretionary spending budget for the Department of Defense proposed by the Obama administration was $582.7 billion. (20) If Christians take Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount seriously, this number must needs be seen as obscene in light of the fact that U.S. has not been invaded by a foreign power since 1812 and was last attacked by a foreign country on “American” soil in 1941. (21) Additionally, the United States outspends the next several countries combined in terms of “defense” spending.

Further consideration too must be given to the fact that war is a money making scheme and often robs military members of their lives or all too frequently leaves their bodies and minds irreparably damaged. Major General Smedley Butler, who retired from the Marine Corps after 33 years of service as the most decorated Marine in history, proclaimed that war is a racket that seeks only to enrich a few people without regard to the cost in lives. (22) The consequences of America’s interventionist military policies at home and abroad is absolutely staggering in terms of lives lost, physical and mental injuries such as PTSD, not to mention the ecological degradation, infrastructure destruction, and loss of historically and culturally important sites and artifacts that results from dropping tons and tons of ordinance on poor people in countries who are no threat to the people or landscape of the United States of America. In President Barack Obama’s last year in office alone, the American armed forces dropped 26,171 bombs (23) and just this week it was reported that in Mosul American bombs inflicted an estimated 200 civilian casualties there, (24) one of many such murderous incidents within the past several decades. This kind of state sponsored terrorism is a direct violation of the Golden Rule, the Greatest Commandment, and Jesus’ other teachings regarding peace and treatment of the poor and marginalized, who are most often the hardest hit by war as is evidenced by the current refugee crisis. I know of no sane person who would want bombs to be dropped in American cities,  nor do I know anyone who would want to sacrifice a family member or friend so that a defense contractor can increase its earnings for its shareholders. I can imagine no one if full possession of the facts that would say adding another $50 plus billion to the DoD budget would be a good idea. Why then would Christians sanction the dropping of bombs upon our neighbors elsewhere?

Reallocating funds from the bloated $582.7 billion discretionary budget for the Department of Defense to a comprehensive single payer universal health care program for all Americans would doubtless have a substantial effect on the nation and the world. Americans should have an informed say in where their tax dollars go and currently that say is far too small because of politicians in league with war profiteers and the media outlets who are enriched by increased advertising revenue when reporting on military actions abroad. A healthier America would be a happier America and we could use a boost in happiness as is plain to see by the anger being shouted from people of various political views. With universal health care people with preexisting conditions could get them treated, and those who are waylaid by illness or injury would know that they at the very least have true access to excellent care and therefore a good chance of recovery if the conditions are not terminal.

The ripple effects globally would be far reaching once the U.S. contracted the size and scope of its military and military operations around the world. As of 2015 there were over 150,000 members of the U.S. Armed Forces stationed overseas. (25) Bringing those troops home and having them serve here in a variety of capacities such as infrastructure improvement, disaster relief, and other ways of utilizing their military occupations would benefit local economies and communities as well as costing less. Fewer military operations and dropped bombs benefits everyone and would no doubt go a long way towards improving America’s standing internationally. America’s Christians would also be able to implement more faithfully the basic tenets of the faith personally and at a national level thus becoming more virtuous Christians that treat their neighbors with the love that Jesus said we are to enact towards our neighbors and our supposed enemies. Providing universal health care is a good place to start that process.

My View

The above arguments constitute my actual view regarding universal health care. I  lived in the United Kingdom for two years and while their system at that time was not perfect, it was far superior to the system in the United States in that no one went bankrupt or died because they could not afford to pay. I believe that healthcare is a human right that should be given to all people without regard to ability to pay out of pocket. As taxes are a fact of life, I want to see tax dollars going towards things that are uplifting to individuals and to our society at large. I take the Greatest Commandment and Golden Rule seriously. These basic tenets of my faith are the rubric from which I attempt to live my life and how I want to see Christians around the world engage with our neighbors. I am also a firm believer that to be a Christian is to be a pacifist because that is what Jesus explicitly taught and he is my locus of authority in matters of faith. Though I am only just beginning to understand mimetic theory, I have enough of a grasp on in it to believe that we must make non-violence the root of our behavior so that it can be mimicked by people around us thereby ending the horrific cycles of violence around us thereby making more people agents of shalom. (26)

Being non-violent as a nation would mean that we could spend hundreds of billions less on warmongering and resource grabbing around the world and use that money to take care of the ‘least of these’ along with everyone else in America. We have systems in place that can facilitate the allocation of funds into a single payer universal health care system. America can benefit from looking at the models in place in other nations whose universal health care programs are already successful and serving their citizens well.

In addition to major cuts to the DoD budget, it is imperative to increase the tax income from corporate profits. Too many companies are making huge sums of money and then exploiting loopholes to avoid paying much if anything in taxes. (27) Once again Norway can provide knowledge in this area because their corporate tax revenue as a percentage of their GDP is the highest in the world and four times higher than the United States’ rate. (28) They also taxed corporations at 25% as of 2016. (29) If companies making billions in profits annually were taxed at 25% then tax revenue would clearly increase exponentially making funds available for programs of social uplift rather than war. We as a nation are approaching spiritual death as a result of the nation’s spending habits and constant cuts to social safety nets. (30)

Cutting the “defense budget” and taxing profitable corporations responsibly would move the US political scene from the Randian ethics espoused by Republicans such as Paul Ryan to a much more overtly progressive one that would finally put people over profits. I firmly believe too, that those who have been duped by the Randian wolves in sheep’s clothing, would soon see the virtue in social safety nets when people become happier, healthier, and less riddled with angst and anger. It is of course anachronistic to suggest that Jesus would have been a progressive politician but I cannot read the gospels and be anything other than a progressive in today’s postmodern world and that for me means advocating for single payer universal health care among other social safety nets designed to help the least of these who are Christ’s children.

(1)  Jeffrey D.Sachs. “Restoring American Happiness” in The World Happiness Report eds. John Helliwell, Richard Layard, and Jeffrey Sachs.  https://s3.amazonaws.com/sdsn-whr2017/HR17-Ch7_lr.pdf,  accessed 3/27/2017.

(2)  Jeffrey D.Sachs. “Restoring American Happiness” in The World Happiness Report eds. John Helliwell, Richard Layard, and Jeffrey Sachs.  https://s3.amazonaws.com/sdsn-whr2017/HR17-Ch7_lr.pdf,  accessed 3/27/2017

(3) Nina Rosenstand. The Moral of the Story: An Introduction to Ethics 7th edition, (McGraw Hill: New York, NY, 2013,) 282-3.

(4) Rosenstand, The Moral of the Story, 286.

(5) Rosenstand, The Moral of the Story, 573.

(6) I use the term Christian testament as opposed to New Testament because I am uncomfortable with the term “Old Testament” to refer to the scriptural writings of the Hebrew people. Without an old there can be no new.

(7) Leviticus 19:18, Tobit 4:15, quoted from The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha, (NOAB4) ed. Michael Coogan, (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2010,) 171, 1375.

(8) Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. “The “Golden Rule” (a.k.a. Ethics of Reciprocity)Part 1: Passages in religious texts in 14 faiths from the Bahá’í Faith to Satanism” http://www.religioustolerance.org/reciproc2.htm, accessed 3/27/2017.

(9) NOAB4, 1756, 1841.

(10) ReligiousTolerance.org http://www.religioustolerance.org/reciproc2.htm, accessed 3/27/2017.

(11) Pew Research Center, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape.” http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/, accessed 3/27/2017.

(12) Rosenstand, The Moral of the Story, 457.

(13) Rosenstand, The Moral of the Story, 231.

(14) Dr. Lee Barrett, Ethics class lecture, Lancaster Theological Seminary, 2/15/2017.

(15) Katia Hetter. “Where are the World’s Happiest Countries,” http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/20/travel/worlds-happiest-countries-united-nations-2017/index.html, accessed 3/27/2017.

(16) Carol Graham. “Happiness and Health: Lessons-and questions- for public policy.” on http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/27/1/72.full, accessed 3/27/2017.

(17) New York Health Insurers Daily blog roll.  “The world’s happiest countries and their health care systems” September 13, 2013, https://www.nyhealthinsurer.com/2013/blog/the-worlds-happiest-countries-and-their-health-care-systems/, accessed 3/27/2017.

(18) Richard Layard quoted in “Where are the World’s Happiest Countries,” http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/20/travel/worlds-happiest-countries-united-nations-2017/index.html, accessed 3/27/2017.

(19) Lois Jacobson. “Pie chart on ‘federal spending’ circulating on the Internet is misleading.” August 17, 2015 on http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2015/aug/17/facebook-posts/pie-chart-federal-spending-circulating-internet-mi/, accessed 3/27/2017.

(20) U.S. Department of Defense Press Release. February 9, 2016 Release No. NR-046-16 https://www.defense.gov/News/News-Releases/News-Release-View/Article/652687/department-of-defense-dod-releases-fiscal-year-2017-presidents-budget-proposal, accessed 3/27/2017.

(21) I place American in quotes here because while Hawai’i was a U.S. territory in 1941, it was illegally annexed in 1893 largely at the behest of Sanford P. Dole, the pineapple magnate. Having lived for 7 years in the Hawaiian Islands studied Hawaiian history and being a liberation theologian I am sensitive to the injustices perpetrated against the native Hawaiians whose lands were stolen without recompense and without giving Native Hawaiians the same federal recognition that other indigenous peoples get.

(22) Smedley Butler. War is a Racket, https://www.ratical.org/ratville/CAH/warisaracket.html, accessed 3/27/2017.

(23) Medea Benjamin, “America dropped 26,171 bombs in 2016. What a bloody end to Obama’s reign.” The Guardian Online US ed. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/09/america-dropped-26171-bombs-2016-obama-legacy, accessed 3/27/2017.

(24) Tim Arango and Helene Cooper. “U.S. Investigating Mosul Strikes Said to Have Killed Up to 200 Civilians” New York Times Online, March 24, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/24/world/middleeast/us-iraq-mosul-investigation-airstrike-civilian-deaths.html, accessed 3/27/2017.

(25) Julia Zorthian and Heather Jones. “This graphic shows where US troops are stationed around the world.” Time. October 16, 2015. http://time.com/4075458/afghanistan-drawdown-obama-troops/, accessed 3/27/20107.

(26) For more on mimetic theory from a Christian perspective see Michael Hardin’s The Jesus Driven Life: Reconnecting Humanity with Jesus 2nd ed. (JDL Press: Lancaster, 2013.)

(27) Mike Krantz. “27 giant profitable companies paid no taxes.” USA Today, March 7, 2016. http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/markets/2016/03/07/27-giant-profitable-companies-paid-no-taxes/81399094/, accessed 3/27/2017.

(28) Mark Provost. “US Fiscal Debate Could Learn From Norway.” Truth Out, February 8, 2013. http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/14434-us-fiscal-debate-could-learn-from-norway, accessed 3/27/2017.

(29) Trading Economics. “Norway Corporate Tax Rate 1981-2017.” http://www.tradingeconomics.com/norway/corporate-tax-rate, accessed March 27, 2017.

(30) Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Beyond Vietnam: A time to break the silence.” April 4, 1967. http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/documentsentry/doc_beyond_vietnam/, accessed 3/27/2017.

 

Donald Trump: Blessing or Curse?

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This blog is copyrighted by Dillon Naber Cruz

Recently, in the readings for one of my seminary classes, I came across an ancient Chinese fable that left me thinking deeply about the state of the country and the world. The gist of the story is this: In a village a farmer came into possession of an excellent horse, a mare, and his fellow villagers were quick to praise the animal and declare the farmer to be very blessed. His response, “How do you know this is a blessing?” The horse runs away and the same villagers return saying that the farmer has been cursed. “How do you know this is a curse?” he replies. Days later the mare returns with along with a magnificent stallion causing the villagers to proclaim that the horse’s return must be a blessing for now the farmer has two magnificent horses, to which he replies, “How do you know this is a blessing?” Not long afterwards, his son attempts to ride the powerful stallion and in the process is injured, breaking a leg.The villagers return saying, “You were right, this is a curse!” The farmer replies, “How do you know this is a curse?” While the son recuperates from his injury a band of raiders is seen advancing on the village and all of the able bodied men meet them in battle. As the battle rages on, the raiders and most of the village men are killed. Meanwhile the farmer and his son are safe at home as the farmer tends to his injured son who likely would have been killed had he not had a broken leg.

By now you have likely figured out the moral of the story, which is, do not be too quick to label something either a blessing or a curse, for both things can come disguised as the other. Which brings me to today’s inauguration of Donald Trump, nee’ Drumpf, as 45th president of the United States. On the face of it, this is no doubt, a curse. The man is blatantly racist, misogynistic, a sexual predator, bigoted towards Mexicans, Muslims, immigrants and so clearly narcissistic that one wonders how he ever leaves the side of the pool into which he gazes at his reflection, basking in the delusions of his own grandeur. He has surrounded himself by far right wing ideologues who are hell bent on maintaining white supremacy and privilege while simultaneously attempting to destroy the planet in their lust for power and money. He denies the science of global climate change and makes dangerously provocative statements regarding other nations. He gives the appearance of  being a puppet controlled by Vladimir Putin all while throwing hissy fits on social media because he cannot handle it when people lampoon him despite the fact that his words and actions make him low hanging fruit for comedians to pick. Many people in America and around the world  are afraid and justifiably so because of his rhetoric and actions. How could the presidency of this orange skinned, dim witted, reality TV personality possibly be a blessing?

The emperor wears no clothes. Nor does the American Empire any longer. It now stands naked for all the world to see, with all of its systemic racism, systems of oppression, war mongering, and its capatialistic lust for money that threatens the very existence of humanity, in the open. Donald Trump represents the worst of America and American life. No longer can we as citizens pretend that all is well simply because the president is a “likable” person with seemingly boat loads of “integrity” while our nation drops tens of thousands of bombs per year on poor, brown people on the other side of the Earth. As much as Barack Obama did for America domestically, he undermined his legacy by being an agent of Empire and last year alone as Commander in Chief ordered that 26,171 bombs be dropped on people who are no threat to you or me. They were just pawns in a geo-political power play, a modern day Game of Thrones, with tragic consequences for those whom Jesus named, “the least of these.” We can no longer afford the complacency that so many of us, myself included at times, have indulged in simply because the bombs were not dropping on our streets.We can no longer afford to not see the world through the eyes of the oppressed and the marginalized. We can no longer stand idly by and watch as our neighbors of color are rounded up and put into for-profit prisons while white offenders get off either scot-free or with a slap on the wrist. We can no longer buy into or be duped by the “gospel of individualism” which is a divide and conquer strategy that only serves to keep systems of oppression in place by keeping people complacent, separate from and suspicious of our neighbors. In no ecological system in the natural world does a living thing exist without cooperation from other living things. Human beings do not, simply cannot, exist outside of the natural laws that govern life on this planet.  We are made to be in community.

As I see it, as I MUST see it, Donald Trump’s presidency Can Be a blessing if we refuse to take this shit lying down any longer. It will be a blessing if we as citizens build community with our neighbors, helping them through times of pain and  suffering, and celebrating in life’s victories together. It will be a blessing if we take to the streets and absolutely refuse to prop up systems of oppression, whether those being oppressed are our fellow Americans, or people from other parts of the world. It will a blessing if we find our niche in the non-violent revolution that must needs come if we want to have a habitable planet to live on without the constant threat of war and ecological destruction. It will be a blessing if Christians stand up en masse to live out the teachings of Jesus–loving God and neighbor, calling out corporate sin while refusing to judge individuals, embodying the beatitudes, and standing up to Empire for the sake of Shalom, instead of letting the atrocious theology of American civic evangelicism to “speak for Jesus” instead of Jesus’ words speaking for themselves. It will be a blessing if people of all faiths or no faith at all stand together and say no to Trump, no to hatred, no to division, no to war, no to bigotry, no to racism, no to misogyny, no to American exceptionalism, and YES to humanity, yes to love, yes to community. This is the only way to truly make America great again, which it hasn’t been since 1491…

We now have a choice that is perhaps more crystal clear than ever before because the scales should have now fallen from our eyes. We can make his term as president be a curse by trying to muddle through, not getting involved, not rocking the boat, and just wishfully thinking it were all different. Or, we can make it a blessing by banding together for humanity’s sake, and creating a society where both the rhetoric and the reality of “all people being equal” is the same. I pray we can all have the strength to do the latter because as Bob Marley once sang, “We’ve been trodding on the wine press, much too long, REBEL. REBEL. We’ve been taken for granted much too long, REBEL. REBEL.”

trump

From “The Week” website

Babylon System

 

Our Most Important Holiday

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copyright by Dillon Naber Cruz

Today in the United States we as a nation pause to remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. the iconic civil rights leader whose activism and powerful oratory inspired millions to stand up against white supremacy, racism, militarism and white privilege. As a historian and a practicing Christian, I believe that Martin Luther King Day is the most important federal holiday on the calendar. This may draw gasps from some, if not many Christians, for whom Christmas and Easter are of paramount importance, yet I cannot join them in so thinking. Unlike Christmas and Easter, Martin Luther King Day speaks to all Americans. There are millions of non-Christians in America and for them Christmas and Easter are not holidays. Christmas has been so overwhelmingly, paganized, secularized and commercialized that many people could care less that is ostensibly a season to celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Nor do most people realize that it actually lasts for more than one day. Easter has become more and more commercialized as time as gone on as companies vie for consumer dollars selling baskets filled with chocolate bunnies and Easter eggs – both of which are pagan in origin. (I for one have no problem with paganism.) The celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, whether one believes it is symbolic or literal, has for most Americans been lost in the consumer shuffle. Not to mention that as a nation founded upon the separation of church and state, that to create federal holidays for Christians and not for Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Native Americans, Pagans and Wiccans, Agnostics and Atheists, et al is both ridiculous and genuinely unfair.

A similar response of shock may come from those Americans for whom patriotic holidays are sacrosanct. Again because of my historical education and  my understanding of Christianity  through the lens of liberation theology, I cannot join in those celebrations of American patriotic holidays because I have learned too much about America’s persistent war mongering against the poor and weak, its propping up of brutal regimes around the world to benefit its capitalistic enterprises, and neo-colonial economic perfidy that allows hyper consumption in the U.S. while exploiting the rest of the world for cheap labor and resources. In my view there is literally nothing Christian about American foreign policy and very little that resembles Jesus’ teachings in its domestic policies which favor the wealthy and leave the poor out in the cold to shift for themselves while they are being demonized for being poor.

Martin Luther King Day however should speak to ALL Americans regardless of their political views, religion or lack of, skin color, or ethnic background, for he spoke of liberation from the mindset and systems of oppression that pitted human beings against one another based upon skin color, nation of origin, and economic class, just like Jesus did. In 2006, I found an audio book copy of A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. edited by Clayborne Carson as well as a copy of The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. which was also edited by Carson. These two books are two of the most important books I’ve ever read or listened to as audio books. Listening to Dr. King’s incredibly powerful, Spirit filled, speeches filled me with awe at the strength of those who were struggling for human rights and to be treated with equity. Tears fell and goosebumps covered my flesh as I listened and the Spirit moved in me to become a more loving, justice seeking person. and an advocate for “the least of these.” As a result of my historical education both at the university and seminary level and my own intellectual seeking outside the classroom I have been led to understand Christianity from a bottom up perspective and to agitate for the liberation of all of those whom Empire oppresses at home and abroad. I too long for the day when human beings are judged for the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. To quote Bob Marley, another liberationist hero of mine, I want to live in a world where the “color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes.”

Sadly, America is still a place where political and civil policies are driven by systemic racism. People of color are discriminated against in matters of voting through gerrymandering and spurious Voter ID laws.White privilege is exhibited in law enforcement as people of color are targeted in the “War on Drugs” and in unequal sentencing for similar crimes. People of color get “the book thrown at them” while whites often get a slap on the wrist (see Brock Turner).  The president elect is attempting to fill his cabinet with known bigots, racist, and extremists. Trump’s campaign rhetoric left no doubt that he wants to maintain systems of oppression that favor the wealthy and most of all those who are white. Millions of people are unable to see clearly through the coded language of “political correctness”, a trope used by those who want to maintain their privilege. Sadder still were all of those who denied that Trump was using blatantly racist, sexist,  and bigoted hate speech while it was obvious to those tuned into those things. If Americans were taught history appropriately instead of the white-washed, Empire Christianity version peddled in American schools, then his campaign would have be laughable. To the horror of millions of people of color, immigrants,  LGBTQ, and those who practice faiths other than mainstream Christianity however, he has been elected and Dr. King’s dream is as yet unfulfilled. My hope is that celebrating Dr. King’s legacy will educate others and bring about an end to white privilege and systemic racism. Listening to his speeches and learning the true history of America is a great place to start.

i-have-a-dream-speech-p

Audio of his speeches can be found here:

The Landmark Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.

More about my personal journey to undo the systemic racism and white privilege that were inculcated in my life can be found here:

Confronting racism in my life

A Day without…

This blog is copyrighted by Dillon Naber Cruz

This blog is copyrighted by Dillon Naber Cruz

In the 2004 film A Day Without a Mexican, a mysterious fog disables communication systems in California and Mexican immigrants begin to disappear. Farm laborers, restaurant workers, domestic servants, skilled and unskilled workers all vanish in an all Mexican “rapture” style event leading to confusion, chaos and a crippled economy. The satirical film raises the issue of just how much all our lives are entwined with those of Mexican immigrants and to the enormous benefit they play in the American economy.  Nativist, xenophobic rhetoric would have us believe otherwise as Spanish speaking immigrants from throughout Latin America are vilified and scapegoated, saying these hard working people are undermining the economy and stealing American jobs.  Donald Trump and those of his ilk never seem to look beyond their myopic blindness to see what the root causes of people leaving behind their families, culture,  communities, and way of life to come toil for American capitalism nor do they look to all the people who hire them once they arrive. So much easier to feed fear and to scapegoat.

Trump and a significant contingent of his supporters are overtly racist, bigoted and xenophobic. There have been multiple reports of Trump banner waving bigots celebrating his victory as a legitimization of their ignorance and throughout the campaign some Trump supporters, at the behest of Mr. Trump, engaged in violence against those who tried to stand up to his bullying, racist antics. Millions of people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, immigrants, women,  the differently abled, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, and their allies, families, and friends are now justifiably afraid of what may happen as America turns back the clock to the make America white again. What if on a national level there was a nation wide, mass non-participation event where all of those whom are marginalized by entrenched systemic oppression refused to go to work, school, to shop, or participate in any other way that supports systemic oppression? How quickly would the economy start to suffer in ways that hurt the elites, the politicians, and the mindless minions who buy into their hate based ignorance? We need a nation wide repudiation of racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and systemic oppression. The time is now. The beginning is near.

So in that spirit, I pray for A Day Without -immigrants,  LGBTQ, People of Color, People of all faiths, The Differently Abled, Women, and all others who want to see systemic racism and oppression dismantled once and for all. I pray for a massive movement of non-violent protest against white supremacist, patriarchal, capitalism that perpetuates oppression, for to paraphrase musical artist Nahko Bear, we must not go gently into these darkest of days…

I highly recommend this film.

I highly recommend this film.

Peace be with you.

 

 

The year of gardening poorly.

The garden is a great place to learn the permaculture principal of “Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback” as espoused by permaculturist and co-founder of the concept, David Holmgren in his book Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability. I had to learn that lesson this year. For the past few growing seasons I have maintained four garden plots at a local community garden here in Lancaster, PA. This year I signed up for the same number of plots so that I would have ample space to grow all the wonderful vegetables and flowers that I could possibly want. Each plot is 200 square feet so I had 800 square feet of growing space to work with. I felt like that was completely manageable even if my wife was less involved than in years past due to her new job. Life however has a way of changing our plans as well as our thinking.

This spring my wife Christina and I began the process of buying our first home. The process went smoothly and our realtor, Tami Shaub of Hostetter Realty in Lancaster County, PA, was absolutely fantastic. Christina and I knew nothing about buying a house and Tami walked us through each step in a gracious way that made the entire process a breeze from the initial viewings of available homes to the closing and signing of all the paperwork. That said, it was all time consuming, which meant I got a late start in the garden. Prior to buying the house, I didn’t have a place to start seeds so I direct seeded everything in the raised beds. Some of the seeds actually germinated and did relatively well. Others, didn’t germinate at all. Once the house was purchased, moving in, getting settled, and painting projects further limited the time I had to spend gardening.

I also started having frequent back spasms beginning in the spring and carrying on throughout the summer. At our community gardens, we do not have a well or a water line to hook up a hose. Instead we have three 300 gallon tanks that get filled from a hose line running from one of the other plot holders and the organization pays the owner for the water. Each plot holder then fills up water cans and waters their plot or plots by hand. With 800 square feet to hand water it took over an hour just to splash everything with a little water. Watering effectively would have taken closer to two hours or longer. I quickly learned that my back was simply not up to that much lifting and carrying. After every watering session my back rebelled against me by going into spasm again which would take several days to recover from. I once read a Gene Logsdon book in which he recounted that a local Amish farmer told him that he would only farm as much land as he could farm well. This growing season I learned that 800 square feet of hand watered garden was more than I could garden well. Next season, I’ll drop that in half and that size will hopefully be more manageable and therefore better managed. It may turn out that I get more food as a result!

Having said all of that, I want to iterate an important point, which is that even gardening poorly can yield an abundance of food. I harvested many pounds of winter squash that are now in my basement to be eaten this fall and winter. There are still more to get from the garden as I write this. We got all of our summer squash and most of the tomatoes and peppers that we ate this summer all from our garden. I also harvested a modest amount of potatoes, cucumbers, and turnips along with a steady supply of various leafy greens. All of this abundance of organic vegetable yumminess grew despite the incredibly “hands-off” approach that I had to take in the garden this season and the lack of adequate water in weeks without any rain. So next year, take the plunge and grow some of your own food because doing so is one of the most important things we can do in an age of post peak oil. We can all participate in the transition to a more sustainable agricultural model, starting in our own yards or in local community gardens.

One harvest from the year of gardening poorly.

One harvest from the year of gardening poorly.

Ode to Joy

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The Summer Concert series of free concerts put on at Long’s Park is one of the cultural offerings that makes Lancaster, PA special. In addition to having a unique bioregional culture influenced by the Anabaptist sects, the rich fertile soil and the mighty Susquehanna River, the area also has many ways to celebrate the uniqueness of being human as expressed by artist both local and from far flung places. From First Friday art walks downtown, to Music Fridays on the third Friday of the month, to the glorious Fulton Opera House, the Ware Center, and Franklin and Marshall College people from our small city have abundant opportunities to enjoy the arts. Art enriches our lives in myriad ways and makes them much more interesting. Enjoying these types of events is a great way to truly connect to the bioregions in which we live. It is a fantastic way to cultivate a sense of place and when we do that, we learn to love and protect our life places.

Music is one of the most powerful expressions of human culture.  Listening to music can move us in deep and profound ways. Sometimes it gives us chills such is the powerful effect of the notes and lyrics. Sometimes it can elicit sheer unadulterated joy. Such was the case last night as I went to see March Fourth! Marching Band at Long’s Park thanks to my friend Jena who is a huge fan of the band.  Unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, March Fourth!  puts the super-cool into marching band and plays their music with volume, skill, and a tremendous amount of gusto. It was a joy to behold for the eyes and the ears.The vibrancy of the costumes, the acrobats and dancers, and the skillful musicianship all made the night one to remember.

Enjoy the pics and if you get a chance to see March Fourth! live then by all means go.

The crowd eagerly awaiting the band.

The crowd eagerly awaiting the band.

Unique costumes add to the joy.

Unique costumes add to the joy.

Bringing the jams.

Bringing the jams.

Sequins and saxaphones

Sequins and saxaphones

Shakin' thngs up.

Shakin’ thngs up.

Tutankhaman on the flute.

Tutankhaman on the flute.

I could do that if I wanted to...go to the hospital

I could do that if I wanted to…go to the hospital

JOY!

JOY!

Joy part deux!

Joy part deux!

The splits.

The splits.

Oh my neck...

Oh my neck…

Put your hands in the air.

Put your hands in the air.

Making trombone cool.

Making trombone cool.

 

The permaculture seminarian fundraiser

Please consider buying a photo to help me raise funds for seminary.

Creation Care, Neighbor Care, Future Care- The world through a permaculture lens

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Beginning in August, I will be a student at the Lancaster Theological Seminary, here in Lancaster, PA. It wasn’t that long ago that such a notion would have seemed absurd to me but now it makes perfect sense. I am a spiritual person and spent my formative years (from 12-18) in the Bible belt, in the rural north Texas town of Blue Ridge. The messages that I learned from church in those days instilled in me a desire to follow the Golden Rule as well as to be a good Christian. These days,  I still have that desire to follow the Golden Rule, and see it has dovetailing seamlessly with the ethics of Permaculture, which to me are Creation Care, Neighbor Care, and Future Care. I also have the desire to “unlearn” many of the things I learned from well meaning pastors and…

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Confronting the racism in my life.

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Copyrighted by Creative Commons. User permission required.

The United States was founded upon white supremacy. This is widely documented and in large swaths of society it is well known, yet it’s often completely glossed over in schools or the media where we are taught to practically worship the “founding fathers”. These founders were ALL of them white and male. They were from the upper crust of society, the so called elites,  and owned land, ensuring their right to vote and many of them were slave owners. Thomas Jefferson,  applauded as a product of the Enlightenment era, was a slave owner and rapist, who raped at least one of his slaves and fathered multiple children in so doing. Despite his so called enlightened views, he saw blacks as biologically inferior to whites and could not see a society where whites and blacks were on equal footing.  The Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves but it did nothing to overturn white supremacy. After the Civil War, which was fought ONLY to preserve race based slavery according to the articles of secession written by every seceding state, the Ku Klux Klan was formed and later Jim Crow laws were enacted. Still later, blacks were denied voting rights through a variety of means that stemmed directly from systemic racism such as gerrymandering of voting districts and impossible to pass literacy tests. It continues today with the so called “Voter ID laws” which purportedly are about eliminating voter fraud but in actuality are about suppressing minority voters. Just look at Alabama’s recent closure of driver’s license offices for proof. All the offices that were closed were in areas that are predominately black. No ID. No vote. This in a state that continues to reelect notorious bigot Jeff Sessions.  Do you see the connection?
Now in 2016 in America, we are still wallowing in the putrefying mire of racial bigotry, hatred, and white supremacy so much so that other nations are now warning their citizens who are people of color that they may be unsafe traveling in America. We’re becoming a pariah akin to apartheid era South Africa in the international community.  We have an overtly bigoted, narcissistic, sociopath with a good shot of wining the presidency despite spouting obvious racist remarks and having a well known history of discrimination against blacks and Latinos. There are myriad streets, roads, highways and other public monuments named after virulent racist, some of whom were in the KKK like the late Senator Robert Byrd,  or Confederate Civil War generals and politicians. Police are STILL killing black people in tragic numbers and profiling them simply because of the color of their skin. Is it any wonder that the #BlackLivesMatter movement is so vocal? Is it any wonder that black people are seething with rage against a system of oppression that is ignored by the media while those who point it out are denigrated and told to “get over it”. Is it any wonder that race riots have occurred in 2016?
I know that I’d be enraged if every time I stepped out my door people were suddenly afraid of me or if I had cops starting to follow me around simply because of my skin color. I’d be outraged if every time a cop killed a white guy, a bunch of black pundits on TV started deflecting the true issue of police brutality against certain groups of peopel by bringing up “white on white crime” or talking about how prone to criminality whites are. I’d be livid if white culture was celebrated and appropriated by other people who simultaneously maintained that white people were inferior to everyone else. I’d by incensed if there was a 400 year history of racially based white enslavement that built an empire and then subsequently swept all of that history under the rug, pretending that it was a minor footnote in a long glorious, black history, that had no lasting affects upon said empire and its people. This is the kind of horrible situation that black Americans deal with. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Just for being born black.
 In my 20s I evinced casual racism in my own life more than I care to admit. I was a product of my environment.  Like a fish that blithely swims through the water without knowing that it is surrounded by water, I swam in the waters of systemic racism and the deification of those with white skin. Look no further than paintings and Sunday school pictures of Jesus, so often idiotically depicted as a white hippy looking fellow, for proof of the deification of whiteness. Or at cultures as disparate as those found in Mexico and Thailand where many of the celebrities are far lighter in skin tone than most of the population. I have a photo showing my mother holding my infant sister on her lap as I stand by their side. On the wall in the background is a Confederate flag. I heard family members use the ‘N’ word to describe black people and other family members told me that it was a sin to marry outside of one’s race, and then justified this bigotry by pointing out a verse in the Old Testament as proof.  I heard the expression, “I’m free, white and 21, I can do whatever I want.”
Just prior to my 12th birthday, we moved to rural North Texas. The whole town was white except for a small number of Mexicans, who I often heard called “wetbacks” by people. After getting out of the Marines, I went back to my hometown in Texas for a football game and watched in horror as some of the people from my town launched rocks and bricks at the opposing team’s bus while shouting epithets as the County Sheriff’s deputies attempted to escort the bus off of the premises.  The other team was comprised of almost all black students from an impoverished small town.
Even with this type of upbringing,  I didn’t think I was a racist though. My best friend in first grade was a black kid named Darius and I played with a pair of black sisters who lived on my block when I was still going to that school. While in the Marines I made friends with people of color from around the country and attended an all black church in North Carolina while going to engineer school at Camp Lejuene. Later when I was stationed in Hawai’i I went to a church in Honolulu where white people were definitely in the minority. Yet, despite all of this, I was prejudiced and ignorant of my own prejudice, and ignorant about how that prejudice was evident in my life.  I remember an anti-racism class that was held in the base theater at Marine Corps Air Base Kaneohe where I was stationed. Someone stood up and asked how come it was OK for a black Marine to wear a shirt with “It’s a black thing, you wouldn’t understand” on it but a white Marine couldn’t wear a confederate flag T-shirt. The presenter said that the confederate flag was used as a racist symbol or something to that effect. I jumped out of my seat and proclaimed loudly that it was merely a “battle flag” like one of the guidons Marine Corps units use to distinguish one unit from another.  For a couple of years after I got out of the Marines I had a confederate flag bandana in my pick up. Why? Because I had bought into the lie that it was just about heritage and was wholly ignorant of how it was intentionally adopted in the 20th century as a symbol of race based hatred.
Another incident that I can recall vividly haunts me. During an argument with my boss and his wife in 1994, I became incredibly agitated due to overwork and what I saw as unreasonable demands made by my employer. My schedule was working 13 out of every 14 days, for somewhere between 70-90 hours per week on their dairy farm. I have PTSD, though I didn’t know it at the time, and quickly lost control of my mouth during the argument, at one point loudly declaring, “I’m not your nigger, and don’t appreciate being treated like one!” In one sentence I expressed so many of the white supremacist ideals that were insidiously inculcated into my being by a society built upon white supremacy. In one sentence I shattered the notion that I was not a racist and harbored no prejudice within me. In one sentence I proved right every activist who has called out America on its systemic racism. In one sentence.  When I look back upon that incident, I feel shame throughout my being.  The seeds planted by a white supremacist society unsurprisingly germinated within me as racism.  This is true I believe for ALL white people in America whether they know it or not.
Just because I no longer use the ‘N’ word, or other epithets, doesn’t mean that I haven’t at times since that argument shown the prejudice that white supremacy engenders in white people. Just because I am writing this essay now, doesn’t mean that I am not unconsciously showing my “whiteness” within these paragraphs. Just because my family never owned slaves doesn’t mean that I have not benefited in myriad ways because America was built upon slavery. Just because I have black friends and married a woman of color (my wife is half Puerto Rican) doesn’t mean that I am no longer wittingly or unwittingly
perpetuating systemic racism based upon white supremacy. I have much to learn and much to unlearn. It is only by grace that I have been able to open my eyes this far. It is only by grace that the scales have at least started to fall off of my eyes.  This grace has led me to have an intellectual curiosity to learn more than just “white history” and therefore to read books like Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and to listen to the the powerful, give you the chills, speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It led me to write research papers on Wangari Mathai the Kenyan woman awarded the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her environmental work and Toussaint L’ouveture, the former black slave who led the only successful slave revolt in the so called New World in what is now Haiti.
Grace has enlivened a desire within me to see see injustice reversed, a desire to live in a world where the color of one’s skin is of no more significance than the color of one’s eyes. That grace has given me the courage to look at my self in the mirror to see where the scars and wounds of living in a hate based system are and the willingness to do something about it. That grace allowed me to change my views when confronted with the compelling evidence of injustice through the study of history and participation, even if peripherally, in social movements. When I first saw something saying “Black Lives Matter” , my initial white, male automaton like response was to say “All lives matter”. Only after reading WHY it’s imperative to stand up and say right now that Black Lives Matter did I understand the importance of such a statement.  Now I agree 100% with the the assertion that Black Lives Matter. A simple analogy for this could be explained thus: A person goes to the ER with heart attack symptoms and says to the triage nurse, “I’m having a heart attack. Please check my heart out.” To which the nurse responds, “You know, all organs matter, not just the heart,” as she checks the patient’s liver, kidney, and spleen while completely ignoring the heart.
As white people we must confront what it means to be white in a society of white supremacy. We must dismantle all notions of superiority by rooting them out within ourselves. We must make ourselves vulnerable while being gracious with ourselves without denying their is an issue. We must deny that being white is a privilege while recognizing that society continues to confer privileges upon white people while seeing this as “normal”. We must truly love ourselves so that we may love all others without regard to their skin color, ethnicity, language, or culture. We must step out of our cocoon of whiteness and engage a world that is awash in color and become a part of it. To revel in it and to recognize the spark of divinity in every human being.
For further reading:
C.L.R. James- The Black Jacobins
Clayborne Carson, ed. – A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
and The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dee Brown- Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
James W. Loewen- Lies My Teacher Told Me
Larry Tye- Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend
Timothy White – Catch a Fire: The Life of Bob Marley
Kwame Dawes – Bob Marley Lyrical Genius
Benjamin Weiss- Environmental activism in disempowered communities
Dr. Robin Di Angelo: Why it’s so hard to talk to white people about racism