Creating a New Normal that Works for Everyone

I wrote a guest column that was published in my local newspaper (“What or Who is Behind the Reopening Protests”) and it prompted a strong response from a neighbor in my community. I wrote this follow up column as a way for us to continue that conversation.

This man and I volunteer together as election workers and we have worshiped together. I consider him a friend so it’s important to me that I clarify some misunderstandings he seems to have about what I said. When conversation partners correctly understand each other’s position, then we can move on to discuss issues more constructively. 

First, I am not arguing against reopening. Rather, I am asking the question our nation is struggling to answer: Do we reopen quickly or do we reopen safely? I say we should reopen as safely as possible even though it may not be as quick as we all would like. I say we should prioritize the needs of those who are working on the front lines of this pandemic and find ways to support their health, safety and well-being; to use their concerns as our guide.

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What (or Who) is Behind the Reopen America Protests?

I’ve been angry.

And then frightened.

And then terribly sad to watch the various protests clamoring to reopen America.

I’m sad that too many of these people seem to be protesting out of selfish motives; protesting their own inconvenience rather than showing concern for the health and welfare of their neighbors.

I’m sad that people who used to tout the rule of law whenever they argued about immigration, now brazenly break the law because they disagree with the legal directives issued by their governors, mayors and county judges. 

I’m sad that these people believe they are free thinkers, part of a grassroots movement, when actually they are being manipulated. Ample evidence and solid research demonstrates that well funded, special interests groups are behind this current protest movement. Power brokers and king makers control the board and they are quite happy to sacrifice their pawns in order to maintain their own power and influence.

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Will our County be a “Sanctuary” for ALL our Constitutional Rights?

Now that Lamar County, Texas has become a “sanctuary” for Constitutional amendments, I propose several more.

(You must admit it is only fair for our County Commissioners to adopt these proposals so they won’t be guilty of promoting and privileging the Second Amendment over other amendments.)

My Proposal Number One:

Whereas Lamar County, Texas seeks to protect the First Amendment rights of all of its citizens, hereby let it be known that this county will be supportive of the active religious freedom of Muslims, Jews, Native Americans, Hindus, Sikhs, Atheists, Wiccans and all people who seek to exercise their Constitutional rights of worship, prayer, dress and speech.

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Curiouser and Curiouser

The current political-religious theologies and ideologies of the White Evangelical Right are immensely curious to me. And as I watch the unabashed adoration of this president and his policies, these evangelical allegiances only grow curiouser and curiouser.

In 2019, journalist Elizabeth Bruenig published an essay about her travels to my own state of Texas and her conversations with some Trump supporters here in “God’s Country.”

In her insightful article, Ms. Bruenig pondered the marriage between conservative politics and evangelical Christianity, a union that was consummated in the 1970’s and has become even more co-dependent, convoluted and curious within this past decade.

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Another New Hope

In 1977, I was a young woman whose firstborn was still new born and whose husband was deployed to the Philippine Islands. While Jerry was overseas, my baby and I flew to Florida to spend time with our family. That was when I went to see this new space movie getting a lot of attention, a movie they called: Star Wars.

From the opening moments, I was hooked.

  • Instead of a futuristic flick, it was “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”
  • Instead of a story with a beginning and an end, this was Episode IV, clearly a tale with much more yet to tell.
  • The good-guy aviators wore flight helmets that were scuffed and scarred; they obviously had seen hundreds of flight hours – much like my Navy husband.
  • There was a bar scene with aviators telling sea stories with hand motions – much like every gathering we Navy wives had ever attended.
  • Unlike so many other plot lines of the day, there was a strong, outspoken woman giving orders and strong, brave men following her lead.
  • Like so many other plot lines, there were sidekicks – but Oh. My. Goodness! such sidekicks!
  • And like every classic story every society has ever told – there was evil. And there was good.

As I watched Episode IX, I wept.

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The Rule of Law

Here in Lamar County Texas , we are fortunate to have a healthy criminal justice system.

Sheriff Scott Cass and Charlotte

Our Chief of Police and County Sheriff are honorable men who lead their deputies to follow the law as they protect and serve us. Our judges know the law and use their authority carefully and wisely. Our District Attorney leads a department of prosecutors who function with deep integrity, people for whom the rule of law is foundation and guide. Our defense attorneys serve their clients conscientiously, ensuring that the entire system abides by the rule of law and those who are accused receive fair and just treatment.

As a CASA volunteer, I am in court regularly watching human drama play out before my eyes. I continue to be impressed with the professionalism and decorum of these public servants. We are fortunate that they are our neighbors.

Because of my experience with our county court system, I have been astounded and dismayed by what I have seen during the legal proceedings in the House of Representatives during this impeachment process.

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Which Story Will We Choose?

Generally I try to resist Black/White dualities in my thinking and speaking. I’ve discovered that endless greys (or maybe a rainbow pallet) is a much better way to paint our human family.

That said, we humans do tend to think in Light/Dark, Good/Bad, Up/Down, In/Out categories; they are convenient handles that help us conceptualize the Big Picture of our world.

When President Obama spoke at the centennial celebration of Nelson Mandela in 2018, he talked about “two different visions, two different stories, two different narratives;” two broad approaches to understanding – and living in – the world.

We now stand at a crossroads – a moment in time at which two very different visions of humanity’s future compete for the hearts and the minds of citizens around the world.

Two different stories, two different narratives about who we are and who we should be.

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Guns, Oil, Books: Follow the Money

The recent push back to the climate activism of Greta Thurnberg surprised me. And then it didn’t.

It reminds me of similar condemnations of the Parkland survivors who rallied a nation to protest our national epidemic of gun violence.

Then I wondered – what about the activism of Malala Yousafzai? Where was the outrage when she stood against the Taliban and insisted on every girls’ rights to an education?

  • Where were the photoshopped photos of Malala and George Soros?
  • Where were the cries of feigned concern that she was a child being exploited by adults?
  • Where were the fabricated stories claiming she and her parents were paid actors?
  • Where were the sniffs of indignation: how dare she scold? What does she know? She’s just a girl (and an ugly one at that).

Did I miss something?

Follow the Money
Continue reading Guns, Oil, Books: Follow the Money

When Difference Doesn’t Divide

Many families probably have some version of the old rule: never talk about religion or politics.

I’m from the South and this axiom has helped me through many a family reunion. Sometimes, there are some topics that just are not worth getting into.

But then – sometimes – open, honest conversation about the things we hold dear is very much worth it.

Journalist Elizabeth Bruenig traveled to Texas last spring to visit with Joe and Daniel Aguilar: both life long Republicans and passionate Evangelicals. Joe, the dad, supports President Trump; Daniel, the son, does not.

Ms. Bruenig invited them to traverse this religious-political minefield together and they accepted the challenge.

Research has revealed a surprising continuity between older and younger evangelicals [with] young white evangelicals voting for Trump at roughly the same rate as their parents and grandparents.

But a fraction — less than 20 percent — didn’t, and Daniel was among them.

Most of us have been shaped by people we love and so it makes sense that consistent views about countless topics, including religion and politics, will continue across generations; we are inevitably influenced by the people who raised us. Young adults often embrace the values of their parents and grandparents uncritically because of the strength of familial ties. Because “this is who we are.”

As we mature throughout adulthood however, we question, challenge or even reject this generational family uniformity.

Discovering “this is who I am” while still respecting the power of “this is who we are” is the tricky journey of countless generations of young people.

Joe and Daniel Aguilar show us how to navigate these waters.

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Alright then. I’ll Just Go To Hell

The literary and moral turning point of Mark Twain’s iconic Huckleberry Finn makes me tear up every time.

Juvenile delinquent, Huck, and runaway slave, Jim, team up on a raft on the Mississippi River, sharing adventures, sharing life. Pretty soon, Huck realizes they have become friends – an epiphany that creates an existential crisis.  

Huck’s conscience indicts him: it is wrong to steal someone else’s property. It is wrong to lie. It is wrong for a black man to go outside his proper place. And it is wrong for Huck to help him.

Clear, obvious and universal wrongs.

Right?

So the entire story turns on Huck’s decision – not only to sin against fundamental rules of his society, but also (as he had been taught) – to sin against foundational laws of God.

“All right then. I’ll go to hell.”

Growing up as a Southern Conservative Christian Woman, I know something about Huck’s world.

  • The racial prejudices of our society were baptized as God’s will.
  • The hierarchical, patriarchal order we created was presumed to be God’s universal and preordained plan for the world.
  • Time bound, culture bound social attitudes and practices were sanctioned and sanctified by the God we created in our own image.
Much like Huck, my own existential crisis snuck up on me.

First came the questions; suspicions that my Hierarchical World was built on some very shaky foundations.

Then came movement; removing myself from the echo chambers of my youth and intentionally engaging in (often uncomfortable) conversations with multiple voices.

Then these multiple voices became friends. It was the friendships that created my own existential crisis.

“Anthropology trumps theology,” my husband says.

When new and different opinions came from the mouths of trusted companions, somehow I was able to listen differently; to hear whispers of truth about the Human and Divine that had been muted by all the clamorous “No’s” of my previous world.

I began to hear truth about the Human Condition and Divine Grace that had never been able to reach my heart before: all of us are fully included in God’s unconditional love.

Once I experienced full inclusion for myself, then I realized I dare not withhold full inclusion for any of God’s other children. This epiphany prompted a new formula for living:

I would rather face God’s judgment for including everyone than to be judged for excluding any one of God’s children.

If I am to be judged, then judge me for my grace.

  • Grace for my queer as well as my homophobic family
  • Grace for the Jims as well as the Huckleberry Finns.
  • Grace for the lovers and grace for the haters.

Grace like Huck’s that will do whatever it takes to subvert the systemic powers that diminish, limit and exclude.

I hope Huck finally realized he was not going to hell because he loved Jim.

And I pray this discovery for my countless conservative sisters and brothers whose skewed theology keeps them trapped in their small, sad world of “No’s.”

I hope some day these otherwise good-hearted people will finally understand that hell is not some place we go; hell is what we create when we limit love and grace.