How Many More?

How many children more

            must we sacrifice

            to Great God Gun?

How many more must die

            to feed the greed of

            Smith and Wesson, Remington, and Glock?

How many more must die

            so that their blood

            runs into pockets of the politicians

            bowing at the altar of The Gun?

How many more must scream before we hear their hopeful songs?

How many more must die before we learn to trust in love?

How many grieving parents will it take to cleanse the temple of their blood?

How many more before we drive away the fear that now enslaves us?

Come, God of Love, save us from our fear.


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Aging in our Communities

Last week I had a public conversation about aging at our local library with Dr. Michael Pass, a local physician who has helped establish a very fine hospice program and facility in our county. We were discussing Atul Gawande’s fine book, Being Mortal, which I wrote about earlier. The small auditorium was full, with about 75 people from various health care professions and the general public. Their interest was intense and, for many of us, existential.

We were examining the medical and ethical dimensions of the way our society cares for an increasingly older population who need help navigating their long tenure as old and able citizens. In particular, we older people want to remain in the homes and habits we have created over the previous six decades of our lives. Even more important, we want to remain in the communities where we enjoy friendships, community activities, and familiar services. However, our society is set up to provide resources for us that are predicated on models of illness and cure. They provide nursing “homes” when we just need some help, structured “communities” when we only need a handyman and some younger friends. Medical science and public health advances have enabled us to live longer, but we don’t have the social structures to enable us to live more fully. And living more fully is not an individualistic accomplishment. It occurs in communities over time.

Now, this observation does not belie the need for skilled medical and nursing care when our bodies really give out and our minds wander off, never to return. I know of some wonderful facilities and people who exercise this care with dignity, respect, and professional love. My brother-in-law is in one. And we are grateful. But the majority of us seek to navigate the bumpy downhill ride of our last decade or so with a suitable vehicle and some guides along the way.

Now, what would that look like? Mike and I pointed out the rise of many home health and home assistance programs that are beginning to emerge so people can live in their own communities and homes. Gawande points to some of these near the end of his book—places like Beacon Hill Village, in Boston, and Athens Village, in his home town in Ohio.

What struck me is how important churches and other religious congregations can be in mobilizing resources for older people who might need help ranging from cleaning out a gutter to helping with food, cleaning, or personal care. Most of these resources can be found or created in our local communities, but typically, and I am talking about myself here, we don’t know how to mobilize, monitor, or negotiate the help we need. At this point our churches can be used as networks for tracking these things down, but the churches don’t see this function as intrinsic to their mission. No one questions the importance of youth programs for the mission and vitality of a church. Shouldn’t the same be said for those at the other end of life’s journey?

I know that churches have launched “parish nurse” programs in years past, but my impression is that they had a more medical and clinical focus. What if they now supported a pastoral professional who would function as an ombudsman of sorts for older members of the parish? Rather than directly providing this care, they would be liaisons between members and the often confusing array of services in the wider community. They wouldn’t have to move away to find a specialized retirement community. They could stay in the church and community that has nurtured them.

I’m talking with other people in my own church about this. I’d be interested in what you know from your own experience. This is definitely NOT part of my expertise, so I’m just generating a more public conversation. I’d love to hear from you as well.


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Republican DTs

Like you, I have watched in shocked disgust the ascendancy of one we shall call DT in the Republican Party’s primary elections. For some this means delirium tremens. You know what I mean. It has felt like the fascination of drivers slowing down to catch a glimpse of a terrible accident on the highway. And, of course, the usual words rise to our lips: the classic demagogue, a playground bully, a five-year old with a billion dollar spoon in his mouth, and so on. Like insomniacs with a bad dream, we hope it will disappear in the morning fog by Thanksgiving Day.

But then, we begin to ponder not only what we can do to stop this bully from breaking more of our nation’s diplomatic and domestic furniture, but also why we have come to this abyss and what it means. Here are some of my thoughts. You can add your own.

First, it represents a further collapse of our public realm of civil argument, negotiation, and compromise for the sake of the common good. Instead of the common good we have nationalistic arrogance. Instead of the public welfare we have stark racism and xenophobia. The core ‘republican’ values of public persuasion, mutual respect, and rational debate based on common and scientific knowledge are jettisoned. Even members of the Republican Party must question in what way they are any longer “republican.”

Much of our anger and anxiety revolves around the use of speech and the way it is mediated in our society. Politics is above all a world of speech, of rhetoric, as Aristotle and Cicero envisioned it. In its debasement, genuine politics becomes impossible. With DT we see speech’s utter debasement as a tool of humiliation, exclusion and irrational contradiction. What is said today has little to do with what was said yesterday or will be said tomorrow. In a world of broken promises, promises themselves become meaningless. With the loss of promise comes cynicism, despair and reliance on the whims of The Great One from day to day.

Over the past weeks, the image of Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown returns again and again to my mind. In Schulz’s famous cartoon, she always takes the football away just as Charlie Brown puts all his effort into kicking it…and landing in renewed despair flat on his back. Lucy will not only remove the football again, but indeed, claim she was never holding it in the first place. It wasn’t even a football! This is the future for people who have suffered real economic loss as they run after DT’s show of vainglorious “Greatness.”

Just as DT has reached an almost certain victory over his Republican rivals, the country is riveted by the bizarre law hastily passed in my own state, North Carolina, to force (how?) people to use bathrooms according to the sex listed for them on their birth certificates. Would we all have to undergo strip searches to enter a public restroom? Somehow, this captures, in a very strange way, the “exposure” to which DT’s rhetoric has subjected people, stripping away all the conventions of civility that protect public argument from our inner passions. As Hannah Arendt claimed years ago, the public requires a realm of privacy, but even more it requires the exercise of self-discipline that does not reduce public concerns to private interests and the murky passions that haunt us all.

Many have been mesmerized by the outbursts of personal passions and chicanery  that have dominated our mercenary media. We now have the task of rebuilding, conversation by conversation, the public world that can rightly deal with the profound challenges to the welfare and existence of our societies and our very planet.

While the next six months will reduce our struggle to a political war to overcome the threat of the most ill-equipped presidential candidate in anyone’s memory, we also must continue to nurture the civil polities where people are actually trying to address the causes of our present DTs. I see it in churches like my own where roundtable and circle conversations are taking place. I see it in town and city councils where people come together around specific problems affecting their common life. I see it in the few places in the mass media where civil discussion and debate is being led by thoughtful moderators. There are pockets of it everywhere. Wherever you are, I hope you are nourishing and caring for these places of civility and common concern. It is from these seeds that we must replant our gardens after the elephants have passed on with their rampage.


Posted in Ethics, Public Life, Roundtable Ministries Project | Tagged , | 7 Comments

HB2, Bathrooms, and Politics

Some projects emerge out of long-desired purposes. For instance, I am now in the throes of creating as complete a catalog of Sylvia’s artistic work as I can. It spans over thirty years of work in stitchery, tapestry, mosaic, paper, mixed media and installation materials and spaces. It’s well over 300 pieces at this point and, with my daughter Aneliese’s help, will appear as a brand new Don’t worry, I’ll let you know.

Other projects simply arrive from “outside” because of the actions of others. At this juncture, most of the world knows that the Republican-dominated state legislature here in North Carolina stealthily rammed through an egregious piece of legislation a few weeks ago (known as HB2) that requires Transgender persons to use public restrooms, showers, and the like that match the “biological sex” on their birth certificate. And they did this, with other limitations on the right to sue for discrimination of this sort as well as prohibitions against raising the minimum wage in a municipality, in only one day from start to finish! Even the Governor, who clearly wanted to scapegoat Transgender persons for political persons, didn’t seem to know what he was signing.

As a result, I have joined with others in our Reconciling Conversations Group to begin a process of education and advocacy to respond to this attack. I’m going to end this blog with the letter that just appeared in our local media from the Group. Let me also expand on some of the underlying reasons we confront this kind of ignorance and bigotry. It seems to me that it is the currently predominant expression of the effort to maintain the form of political, social, and familial control that we have called patriarchy. In this region of the world, it was most powerfully articulated in the plantation system of slavery. So its sexual grounding in male power was also inextricably joined to racial domination. It is still, like an endemic disease, deeply rooted in our culture here. It is indeed a system of thought and practice that can easily be grasped at an emotional level by white males and those who depend on their power. While it is most graphically expressed in bathrooms and bedrooms, it is a system of power embracing the whole of life.

The immediate response by modern corporations against this form of domination reveals that white patriarchy (the corporation as plantation) is no longer the reigning model of economic organization. North Carolina is now struggling to reconcile these two loyalties. Though they are often reflected in the demographics between urban and rural constituencies, this is not the complete story.

Whether or not you confront this in your part of the planet, it seems to me to be the red thread connecting a lot of the conflicts going on around here right now. I hope it helps you understand the news, as well as political satire and humor, that is coming from here. Meanwhile, everyone is looking for their birth certificates in case they are questioned while heading to the toilet of their choice. I hope they’ll go on to reject this brazen assault of all our dignity.

Here’s the letter:

As members of the Reconciling Conversation Group of First United Methodist Church of Waynesville, we are striving to bring healing and reconciliation to our church family and the wider community by exhibiting love and acceptance for ALL persons regardless of sexual orientation and gender identities.  The Spirit of Jesus commands no less.

Thus, we are deeply concerned that:

  1. The recently passed law known as HB2 has deeply hurt and offended our LGBTQ members who are our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.
  2. HB2 exhibits a total lack of medical knowledge and scientific understanding as to what it means to be a transgender person in today’s society.  Without adequate investigation of the facts about transgender persons, it inflames our fear and mistrust of others.
  3. HB2 is a denial of basic human rights.
  4. HB2 ignores the precedent set by nineteen states, the District of Columbia, and over 200 cities and counties that have passed laws, without incident, prohibiting discrimination against transgender persons in public facilities.  We know of no cases of transgressions or offensive behavior occurring because of these laws.
  5. HB2 denies legal recourse to all persons who have experienced discrimination of any sort.

We need to construct laws that enable all of us to live together in mutual understanding, trust, and respect.  HB2 stands in the way of this need.   As followers of Jesus Christ who showed unconditional love to all persons, we strongly urge that this law be repealed.

For the Group:

Betsy Hardin

Kenneth M. Johnson

Douglas Wingeier

William Everett

Jim Hoyt

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