“I’m Fine, Thanks”

Living with chronic pain occasions the question, “How are you?”  People often respond, “I’m fine, thank you,” because others don’t always want to hear or talk about it. This is also an honest answer, for what is true in the moment.  However, behind this answer are a few things people who live with chronic pain have in common.

Chronic pain never goes away.  It waxes and wanes; some days it is unbearable and other days it is manageable. It is unpredictable and different for everyone.  It is hard to make and keep plans. Chronic illness and pain are very isolating. However, it means a lot to not be forgotten.

The same disease does not produce the same symptoms in everyone. People with the same disease have different symptoms and issues. Don’t assume that knowing someone with the same disease means you understand what it means for another person.    

Fifty million Americans live with chronic pain. Of that, twenty million have high impact pain which limits their work and social life.  This is just over twenty percent of the population.  You know someone who lives with chronic pain.

People living with chronic pain do not want your sympathy or pity.  What is needed is understanding and compassion.  Please don’t say, “Tomorrow will be a better day,” because there is just as good a chance that tomorrow will be a worse day.  Please don’t try to fix it or say just the “right thing.” Often people are uncomfortable with the changes that come in the life of a person with chronic illness. It is understandable. Know it is enough if you just express your care and compassion.

Fighting for needed health care is a part time job.  Keeping track of medical billing, paying co-pays and bird dogging our dysfunctional health care system is a task that takes time most weeks. 

Energy is a limited commodity.  There are no reserves to “suck it up” and do the next thing.  When energy is gone, it is gone and there is no more.  Pain saps energy.  Some days getting dressed and eating take all the energy there is.

Pain causes brain fog. Some days it is difficult to do just about anything except watch mindless reruns because following a story line in a book or having the energy to do something enjoyable is just not there. 

A sense of humor is crucial for living through most days. Smart ass remarks and sarcasm can be a helpful coping mechanism. It helps to get through the day.  It can also deflect unwanted pity and sympathy.

Most people who live with chronic illness and pain don’t look sick.  Saying so is not helpful. It feels minimizing. Much chronic illness and pain is invisible.  It is more helpful to say, “I’m glad you could be here today. Thanks for coming.” Or, “Thanks for making the effort; I know it isn’t always easy for you to get out.”

The accountability of close friends who inquire about self-care and well-being are helpful. Please don’t assume you are the person to challenge someone to live differently with their limitations. It’s a small circle and you know if you are in it.  If you have to ask, you probably aren’t.

It’s not helpful to say, “I am praying you will get better and I’m sure you will.” Please don’t say, “There are so many others who are worse off.” Yes, it is true and no, it is hot helpful. Please don’t minimize chronic illness with global statements about it not being terminal. No, it’s not life threatening cancer; however, such comments undermine the very real limitations that are part of every day.

So, when you ask a person with chronic illness or pain how they are, and they say they are “fine.” They are. They are managing and coping as best they can with a host of things that are not visible to most people.  They are enjoying life as best they can. Hopefully, they are also discovering a new richness to life that comes from being present to the moment even when the moment is not what they hoped for their life.  They are as fine as they can be in the moment.

I Pledge Allegiance to the Flag

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.

And to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God,

Indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”

The pledge has not always read this way.  The original text is:

“I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands-

One nation indivisible-with liberty and justice for all.”

It was written by the socialist minister Francis Bellamy (1855-1931), and published in the Youth’s Companion in 1892.  In 1923 the words were changed to, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…”

In 1954, President Eisenhower encouraged Congress to add the words “under God” creating the pledge we say today.

Section 4 of the Flag Code (yes, there is such a thing) states the protocol to be used when saluting the flag, “…standing at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart…Persons in uniform should remain silent, face the flag, and render the military salute.”

The Bellamy salute began in 1892 with a military salute and ended with the arm outstretched, palm up toward the flag.  In World War II it was decided that the salute looked too much like a Nazi salute and was changed to the right hand over the heart.

When patriotic holidays roll around it is good to be reminded that our pledge of allegiance did not drop out of heaven like the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments.  It was written by a socialist.  Let that sink in.

For all the hoopla that the people create around however they understand socialism, one of the statements we hold most dearly was written by a socialist.  His intent was that it would be used by citizens of any country as a way of showing their loyalty to their country.

I doubt he envisioned it would become the mantra of patriots and nationalists alike.

Patriotic holidays like the fourth of July are great opportunities to be reminded of the greatness and the shortcomings of our nation.

We celebrate unity, liberty and justice for all. But let’s not forget that:

  • Women still make eighty cents on the dollar compared to men.
  • Unemployment for people of color is many times the national average.
  • Our country is running concentration camps at the border with inhumane conditions.
  • Similar to slave times, children are ripped from their parents arms.
  • The political system envisioned by our forbearers has degenerated into self-serving, wealth focused favoritism.
  • The number one cause of bankruptcy in the United States is medical expense.
  • We are the only developed nation without single payer health care.
  • Environmental protections that have kept our great country beautiful are being rolled back at an alarming rate.
  • Climate change is real; ignoring it will not make it go away.
  • There is no place in the United States where a person can work full time at a minimum wage job and afford basic necessities.
  • Areas ravaged by natural disaster, especially Puerto Rico, have still not recovered and federal dollars have dried up despite desperate need.

People panic when they hear the word “socialism”.  However, Social Security, federal disaster aid, infrastructure grants and state aid for education are all forms of socialism that we welcome because they benefit us.

Let’s be clear; the fit people pitch about socialism is a fear based response to someone getting something WE don’t think they deserve.  We blame the poor for being poor, and somewhere deep inside we believe they are lazy.  If they just worked harder…

We look with pity on the sick who can’t afford health care and think it has nothing to do with us. We pay our premiums and don’t have to choose between eating and buying medication.

We are big fans of “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” as long as we are recipients of the liberty and justice.  Our absence of outrage is the most telling statement of what we think of our country and its citizens.

Before you pledge allegiance to the flag, think about who it includes and who it excludes.  When it comes to who is worthy and who is not, remember it is not ours to decide.  The ultimate strength of any society is how it treats its most vulnerable members.  Whether or not our country is great depends in large part on where one falls on the socio-economic continuum.

If you are going to pledge allegiance to the flag, pledge allegiance to all the people who are part of the republic.

Thoughts on Patriotism

Here are some quotes on patriotism as we celebrate the 4th of July.  The thoughts of previous leaders and commentators is an invitation to reflect on what the US has become and encourage critical thinking at this moment in history. 

Patriotism at the expense of another nation is as wicked as racism at the expense of another race…Let us resolve to be patriots always, nationalists never.  Let us love our country, but pledge allegiance to the earth and to the flora and fauna and human life that it supports – one planet indivisible, with clean air,…soil and water; with liberty, justice and peace for all.

William Sloane Coffin

Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.

Howard Zinn

Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.

Mark Twain

The real patriots are those who…carry on a lover’s quarrel with their country.

William Sloane Coffin

We, the People, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which only asks what’s in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.

Barack Obama

Patriotism consists in not waving the flag, but in striving that our country shall be righteous as well as strong.

James Bryce

Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.

Charles de Gaulle

The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.

Alexi de Tocqueville

You’re not supposed to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality.  Wrong is wrong, no matter who says it.

 Malcom X

Patriotism is love of country. But you can’t love your country without loving your countrymen and countrywomen.  We don’t always have to agree, but we must empower each other, we must find the common ground, we must build bridges across our differences to pursue the common good.

Cory Booker

I do this real moron thing, and it’s called thinking.  And apparently I’m not a very good American because I like to form my own opinions.

George Carlin

I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.

James Baldwin

A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.

Edward Abbey

We are adrift with nationalism, misplaced pride and prejudice.  We have a petty, selfish, incompetent leader in the White House who brings out the worst in so many people.  Patriotism is not blind loyalty.  It is a loving critique of the moment, a willingness to speak truth to power, a willingness to stand out in a crowd as you call out leaders for their misguided notions.  This is not a time to be silent and complacent.  Truth patriots love their country and are not afraid to criticize their government. Happy 4th of July.  

 

The Eroding Line Between Church and State

In yet another blow to the narrowing line between church and state, the Supreme Court ruled that a twenty foot cross was essentially a secular symbol.

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito outlined a position stating the twenty foot cross at a busy intersection in Bladensberg, MD, could remain on state property. Positing that the Latin cross was a strong symbol from the World War I era, it primarily honored the men who died in the war and did not conjure a particularly religious sentiment.

Other war memorials surround the huge cross on the small spate of state-owned land. The state has maintained it for some time at a cost of over $117,000 to taxpayers.  In 2014 the American Humanist Association filed a suit in District Court that alleged the cross on public land and the use of public money violated the First Amendment Establishment clause.

In summary judgement the court maintained there is a difference between erecting such a monument and maintaining a long standing memorial.  Since the cross was erected in the early 1900’s it was impossible to know the original intent of the founders.  The judgement also said the purpose multiplied with time, meaning that even if the original intent was religious, the purpose was obscured by time.

An additional point was that the message of the monument evolved with time. Finally, the judgement asserts that as time passes there is a strong presumption of constitutionality. 

This is legal bullshit at its best.  The main point of the judgement is that the cross originated as a Christian symbol and retains that meaning in many contexts. It does not change the fact that the symbol took on added secular meaning when used in the World War I monument.  It represents the symbolic resting place for those who never returned home.

Writing the dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg commented from the bench. This is a sign of profound disagreement in Supreme Court practice. “The majority vote undermined the Separation of Church and State.” Citing a decision from years ago, she noted that the Court “…recognized the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment demands neutrality among religious faiths and between religion and non-religion. Today the Court erodes that neutrality commitment, diminishing the precedent designed to preserve individual liberty and harmony in favor of a presumption of constitutionality for long standing monuments, symbols and priorities.”

Could it be that a feisty Jewish woman has a better grasp on the meaning of the cross than most of the bench? Justices Kagan (Jewish) and Sotomayor (Catholic) joined the dissent.

The cross has no place in the public sphere in a country that supports individuals’ right to religious practice or to no religious preference at all.  If this were a twenty foot Torah scroll or Koran it would have been history a long time ago.

None of this is good news for the Christian faith. By co-opting the central symbol of the faith, the Court has essentially emptied the cross of its power and promise. In the mind of the Court, the monument could be a hand flipping the bird to motorists.  While the primary meaning has been “screw you,” the meaning has evolved with time.  

The cross is NOT a secular symbol.

While the theology surrounding the cross is widely divergent among people of faith, the truth remains that it is a religious symbol associated exclusively with the Christian church in its many forms.

The cross was a symbol of torture and an agonizing death, the instrument of Roman oppression and the collusion of religious leaders. Jesus’ death on the cross was the embodiment of complete love and commitment to God’s realm that refused to be co-opted. Jesus was single minded in purpose; he came to establish the reign of God as the power and promise of justice, peace and wholeness for all people.

The empty cross is the central symbol for much of the church that focuses on Jesus’ ongoing life in the lives of his followers.  Those who choose to follow in his way are God’s instruments of peace, justice and wholeness for all people in the world. 

To make the cross a secular symbol shows the degree to which the Christian church is captive to the culture of our time. Abandoning the way and will of Jesus, the Church embodies lack of commitment to the truth for which Jesus lived and died. 

It’s a travesty of the first order.  The lack of outcry from the Church serves to further drive home the point.  It is time for the Church to be the Church, take back what is ours and speak truth to power in the name of the One whom we claim to be Christ. 

 

The Good Old Boys Network

In a stunning and unconventional move the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (D.C.C.C.) moved to protect centrist incumbents. They did this by formally breaking business ties with political consultants and pollsters who go to work for primary challengers.

The D.C.C.C. policy bars poling agencies and other political consultation firms from conducting business with a primary opponent of a sitting Democrat.  If you aren’t nervous yet, you should be. 

In a recent New York Times article, the Democratic challengers to incumbent centrists were called “insurgents,” a highly inflammatory name usually reserved for military challengers to sitting regimes in battle torn areas.  While some could reasonably argue that politics is its own unique battleground, it isn’t a helpful image.

The strategy of the D.C.C.C. is to keep seated democrats in place in traditionally leaning blue states. The argument is that it decreases the potential loss of Democratic votes on unknown or more left-leaning candidates.  It also allows incumbent candidates to focus on re-election and not divide efforts with primaries. It is also a direct assault on our political process.  Choice among candidates in the primary process is a hallmark of our political process. And we can’t afford any more assaults on our democracy.

 The D.C.C.C. policy assures a lesser known candidate or more left-leaning candidate will have a far more difficult time mounting a legitimate challenge to an incumbent. It also, more importantly, insures that entrenched power brokers remain in place.  Such a move also keeps the democratic majority male and white.  It keeps the good old boys’ network firmly in place in the name of stability and certainty. 

While there are periodic calls for term limits for congress, the primary process is one form of term limits that is effective and amplifies the voice of the people.  Washington continues to be broken and breaking, especially under the lack of leadership and moral compass of the occupant and his cronies.  Many residents of Kentucky would jump at an opportunity to vote in someone with fresh ideas and finally replace that spineless puppet of the occupant, Mitch McConnell.

It’s not like some fresh new voices can break Washington any more than it is already broken.  They might actually be helpful.  But, that’s just too scary for the powers that be.

Perhaps the most stunning gain of the last election was the increased diversity in the Democratic Party.  Women, people of color and divergent religious traditions have brought new and refreshing perspectives to our stagnated political process.

Last year Representative Ayanna Pressley, (D Mass) defeated a ten term Democratic incumbent.  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D New York) defeated veteran Joseph Crowley.  Both Ms. Pressley and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez are women of color.  They defeated the kind of white male power brokers who are the backbone of Washington.

According to the New York Times, the fifty longest-serving House Democrats are two-thirds white and male.  Challengers are often women of color.  The Democratic Party claims non-whites and women as part of their base strategy. They want to draw this demographic more fully into the Democratic fold. This appears to be true as long as the current white male power structure is not challenged.

Who knows, if we vote a few of these good old boys out, they might have to go out and get real jobs. In a real job one has to work more than 138 days a year and pay for health insurance. Rank and file workers can’t vote themselves a raise. I would love to see a few of these career politicians work for minimum wage and then try to grocery shop, pay rent and pay for health care.  I would buy a ticket for that show. 

Who knows, the NRA might lose its stranglehold on Washington by having new servants of the people who are unwilling to sell their soul to the strongest lobby in the United States.

Who knows, maybe politics might actually become the servant of the people again, rather than the self-perpetuating dysfunctional system of made millionaires who are beholden to all the wrong people for all the wrong reasons.

Political entrenchment that fails to serve the people has been the downfall of every great civilization from the beginning of time.  In Jesus’ time it was the Romans, an occupying force that taxed the already poor into oblivion while making profits for themselves and their political bosses.  Part of what got Jesus in so much trouble is that he regularly spoke to the poor and dispossessed and assured them of their value as human beings, not just financial pawns in a game they could never win.

We are a declining society.  Our political process is further and further removed from the people. Our society is weakened by diminished loyalty to a political system that no longer serves “We the People.”  Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” In the aftermath of the Civil War, the United States was deeply divided. So is our country today. The further Washington gets from the people, the more divided we become.

Mark Twain wrote, “Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.”  Support the primary process and let’s change some political diapers.

The Forgotten Victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse

As the sex abuse crisis continues to unfold in the church we are learning it is the one interfaith thing we share.  There is no church or denomination that is exempt. While the Roman Catholic church has a higher percentage of pedophiles and child molesters than any other church, there are plenty of instances of child abuse in other denominations and traditions.

What is often overlooked is another population of victims: adult women.  These are women who go to their pastors for help and get sex.  These women go to their pastors for pastoral care and their pastors allow or initiate sexualizing the relationship.

This is often dismissed as an “affair.”  Nothing could be further from the truth.

First, the relationship between a clergy person and his/her congregants is professional in nature. This means that clergy have a responsibility to use the special knowledge, skills and gifts of their call for the benefit of those they serve, namely their congregants. It also means that clergy have a responsibility to establish healthy professional relationships. Because clergy carry moral and spiritual authority, as well as professional power it is ALWAYS their responsibility to maintain an appropriate professional boundary.

In practical terms this translates into clergy not pursuing or initiating sexual relationships with congregants (regardless of marital status of either party) and not responding to the sexual advances of congregants who may be interested in a relationship with their pastor. It also means that clergy will not engage in sexualized behavior with congregants. Sexualized behavior includes jokes, inappropriate touching, pornography, flirting, inappropriate gift giving, etc.

Since the ministerial relationship is professional in nature, it is inappropriate to call a sexual encounter an affair. “Affair” is a term used to describe a sexual liaison between peers, or equals. In addition, the term affair focuses attention on the sexual nature of the behavior rather than the professional violation. It also places equal responsibility for the behavior on the congregant. Since clergy have a responsibility to set and maintain appropriate boundaries, those who are violated by clergy’s inappropriate sexual behavior are not to be blamed even if they initiated the contact.

This is a difficult concept for many people to grasp. We want to blame the congregant (usually but not always a woman) for the sexually inappropriate behavior of the minister (usually but not always a man). As tempting as this may be, it is wrong because it is always the responsibility of the minister to maintain the integrity of the ministerial relationship. The temptation to blame the congregant is also a reflection of the difficulty people have believing that a person who carries moral and spiritual authority, who is respected and trusted, can also be guilty of misusing the power and authority of the office. This denial and confusion causes tremendous damage to victims who need understanding and support as well as to churches that need clear, ethical, theological and faith based intervention to understand their betrayal. Blaming the congregant also means a failure to call the abusing pastor to genuine accountability. The focus needs to remain on the violation of the ministerial relationship.

The term “consenting adults” also reflects a misunderstanding of sexual behavior between clergy and congregants. It is assumed that because two people are adults that there is consent. In reality, consent is far more complex. In order for two people to give authentic consent to sexual activity there must be equal power. Clergy have more power because of the moral and spiritual authority of the office of pastor. In addition, education, community respect and public image add to the imbalance of power between a clergy person and a congregant. Finally clergy may have the additional power of psychological resources, especially when a congregant seeks pastoral care in the midst of personal or spiritual crisis, life change, illness or death of a loved one. This precludes the possibility of meaningful consent between a congregant and their pastor.

During the years I worked with adult survivors of professional misconduct I often ask the question, “Would this have happened if he/she was your neighbor and not your pastor.” Overwhelmingly the answer is “no.” The witness of survivors underscores the truth that the clergy role carries with it a power and authority that make meaningful consent impossible.

When speaking of sexual contact between clergy and congregants, the term professional misconduct or sexual exploitation is more accurate. It keeps the emphasis on the professional relationship and the exploitative nature of sexual behavior rather than placing blame on the victim/survivor. “An affair between consenting adults” is never an appropriate term to use when describing sexual contact between a minister and congregant. Accurate naming of the behavior is an important step to reshaping our thinking about this troubling reality in the church, how we name it reveals our belief about it. Holding clergy accountable with compassion and purpose and providing healing resources to churches and survivors is dependent on an accurate starting point. Only when the behavior is named accurately can there be a healing outcome for all.

Whoever You Are and Where Ever You Are on Life’s Journey, You Are Welcome Here

When it comes to churches, look for the rainbow or the Open and Affirming sign.  It is the church’s proclamation to the world that it is welcoming of GLBTQI people.  It is the radical statement of the United Church of Christ. Not every church in the UCC is open and affirming, sadly there are homophobes and bigots in every tradition.

In the United Church of Christ Open and Affirming stance we acknowledge, without exception, that every GLBTQI person is a beloved child of God.  Nothing can change that.  It is the nature of who God is, to love all the people God created. There is nothing “wrong” or “sinful” about being gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, queer, inquiring or non-binary.  All sexual orientations and expressions are welcome.

The over-arching message of scripture is God’s eternal love for all people and all creation. It is the thread that runs through all of Scripture and weaves the big picture of who God is and what God is all about. We are one human people, knit together in divine love and excluding no one. Sure, it is possible to take scripture out of context and make it say whatever anyone wants.  But the consistent message is unwavering love for all God has created.

In a practical way what this means if you are GLBTQI, cis-gender but not narrow, if you believe that all  people should have equal human rights and be treated with dignity, you are welcome in body of Christ in the expression that is the United Church of Christ, Open and Affirming:

  • You are welcome at our table for the Sacrament of communion, the sacred sharing of memory and hope.
  • You are welcome at the waters of baptism. In this Sacrament there is no original sin from which to be absolved.  Rather, baptism is the acknowledgement that God lays claim to your life and calls you a life of discipleship and service.
  • You are welcome at our altar to pledge you love in the covenant of marriage.
  • Your children are welcome to the waters of baptism. Your family is welcome.

The only change you will ever be asked to make is to grow in discipleship and service to the realm of God as embodied in Jesus.  Jesus hung out with the poor and dispossessed, the marginalized and ignored. He was committed to living a life that healed and loved and extended an unconditional welcome to all people and invited them to live as God’s people in the world.

What underlies much of the “welcome” in some churches is the notion that it is some kind of sin or disappointment to God if you a LGBTQI, but the church welcomes you in the spirit of “love and tolerance.”  Tolerance is a very low bar for God’s people.  Nothing short of radical inclusion and unfettered acceptance will do.

In this age of growing right wing religious expression and decreased acceptance, there are pockets of welcome and care for the GLBTQI community and those who support equal rights for all. The United Church of Christ is one such place. As a denomination it has been on the growing edge of every important social issue since its inception in 1957.  The first gay pastor, The Rev. William R. Johnson was ordained in 1972.  Since then the United Church of Christ has recognized the leadership skills and the call of God regardless of sexual orientation. 

As Gay Pride Month unfolds around the country, I encourage people who support and welcome the GLBTQI community in their church to march in or at least attend parades and other events. Roman Catholic bishops are united in their voice against the GLBTQI community, stating that Roman Catholics should not attend Pride events.  And it doesn’t stop there.  Bishops are openly stating that gay individuals and couples will be denied the sacraments, including the rite of Christian burial.  Repentance from the gay “life style” is the gateway to receiving the sacraments again.  And all heaven just weeps. 

Churches are free (at least until the Occupant obliterates the line between church and state) to express their religious convictions any way they choose.  While Pope Francis has taken a more pastoral stance toward the LGBTQI community, the bottom line is that it remains a sin. The Roman Catholics are joined by conservative and fundamental Protestant churches which are increasingly vehement in their rejection of anyone who isn’t heterosexually married, with 2.5 children and a wood sided station wagon.  And all heaven just weeps.

  Gay Pride month began in response to the Stonewall riots in New York City.  In June of 1969 patrons and supporters of the Stonewall Inn staged an uprising to resist the police harassment and persecution to which the LGBTQI community was subjected and still face to this day. The loudest voices claim God’s judgement against the LGBTQI community.  There are other voices, voices of acceptance and welcome.  It’s high time we made our voices the loudest.  Let’s make some loving noise and drown out message of hate and bigotry.

Whoever you are and where ever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.

On Memorial Day and Mascots

In the mid-size town where I live, the Annual Memorial Day parade is a big deal.  It is a grand event with scout troops, horses, floats of varying kinds, fire trucks, police cars and red, white and blue bunting everywhere.  In my town there are several boroughs and villages, and each has their own fire department.  Many of them are staffed completely by volunteers. Women and men donate countless hours to keep our community and villages safe and I am deeply grateful to all who give so tirelessly.

My particular village is staffed by a volunteer department.  I am proud of those who marched and were part of the parade.  However, I was deeply troubled by their mascot.  It is a blow up figure of a caricatured Native American holding a fire ax.  The sight left me speechless.  All their uniforms, hats and paraphernalia bear the same cartoon image. 

What were they thinking?  Is it that people have become so numb to the insult this is to Native Americans that folks don’t notice?  Have we so fully appropriated cultural images that we think we are entitled to use whatever images we choose? After all there are teams like the Cleveland Indians, Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Black Hawks and Atlanta Braves that make use of Native American caricatures of mascots.

Pockets of protest erupt periodically to encourage sports teams to change, but to date such protests have fallen on deaf ears.  I don’t know what my little fire department was thinking, but I wonder if it’s the notion that if it’s okay for multimillion dollar sports teams, it’s okay for them.

Rhode Island has a long and proud tradition of Native American peoples. The Narragansetts, Nipmucs, Pequots and Wampanoag tribes were predominant when white European settlers arrived.  Within a few generations war, genocide and disease decimated the Native peoples. Chances are good the story is much the same where you live.

Many people see the use of Native American mascots as a harmless act, but it continues a system of domination and marginalization. It perpetuates stereotypes of Native peoples and minimizes the systemic prejudice that abounds to this day. And for the record, we who are NOT Native American do not get to decide what is appropriate and what is marginalizing.  We who are NOT Native American do not get to decide what contributes to cultural bias and prejudice. 

The Society of Indian Psychologists wrote, “Stereotypical and historically inaccurate images of Indians in general interfere with learning about them by creating, support and maintaining oversimplified and inaccurate view of indigenous people and their cultures.”  The American Psychological Association issued a resolution “recommending the immediate retirement of American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities by schools, colleges, universities, athletic teams and organizations.”  Similar resolutions have been adopted by the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport, the American Sociological Association, the American Counseling Association and the American Anthropological Association. A host of religious organizations have also called for the ban of Native American mascots.

Unfortunately, the calls often fall on deaf ears.  The economic cost of designing new mascots, making new uniforms and changing all advertising media creates tremendous resistance.  My little fire department would surely be challenged by the enormity of changing their mascot.

This does not in any way relieve them of the responsibility to do so.  There is a striking double standard in the world of mascots and identity.  No one would consider using black face as a mascot, or wearing black face to a sporting event.  However, war paint and cultural appropriation of Native symbols at sporting events is common. We have some cultural sensitivity to learn.  We have some advocacy skills to put to use in the ongoing subjugation of Native peoples.

It may not bother YOU, but it is painful to those who are minimized by the images.

Corporate and Political Entanglement in an Age of Consumer Awareness

Last week Alabama passed the most restrictive ban on abortion in the United States.  Other states (as noted in last week’s blog) have similar legislation pending.  What flies under the radar are the corporate dollars that flood into these politicians and their political positions.  Since corporations do not regularly advertise their political contributions or perspectives, this week’s blog is a public service announcement made in the interest of helping you become a more informed consumer.

This is a partial list of corporations that supported the ban through their contributions to the political campaigns of the legislation’s authors (all white men). The corporation’s CEOs and addresses are in parentheses.

Coca-Cola: Donated $2500 to legislator Will Ainsworth’s campaign. (James Kent, CEO, PO Box 1734, Atlanta, GA 30301)

AT&T: With a workforce of thirty-one percent women and management team of thirty-five percent women, AT&T donated $10,000 to Will Ainsworth, $5,000 to Clyde Chambliss, $2,500 to Nathaniel Ledbetter, $2,000 to Mac McCutcheon and $2,500 to Greg Reed. (Randall Stephenson, CEO, 208 S. Akard St. Dallas, TX 75202).

Exxon: While publicly advocating for women’s control over their own bodies, Exxon donated $1,000 to Ainsworth, $1,000 to Mac McCutcheon, $2,000 to Reed and $500 to Nathaniel Ledbetter. (Darren Woods, CEO, 5959 Las Colinas Blvd. Irving TX 75039).

Pfizer: While spouting a party line of equitable healthcare for women, Pfizer donated $1,000 to Chambliss and $500.00 to Reed. (Albert Bouria, CEO, 1 Burtt Rd. Andover, MA 01810)

Walmart: Long known for its conservative religious and political stances while publicly stating they seek to “empower women,” Walmart donated $2,000 to McCutcheon and $1,000 to Reed. (Doug McMillon, CEO, 702 S.W. 8th St. Bentonville, AK 72716).

State Farm: The insurance mogul is proud to say it is recognized for its commitment to diversity and inclusion.  However, State Farm donated $5,000 to McCutcheon and $1,000 to Chambliss. (Michael Tipsord, CEO, One State Farm Plaza, Bloomington, IL 61710).

Eli Lily: A 2015 initiative to understand the experience of women and minorities in their workforce did not stop them from donating $3,000 to McCutcheon and $1,000 to Reed. (Dave Ricks, CEO, Lily Corporate Center, Indianapolis, IN 46285).

Caterpillar: Their website has a page devoted to gender equality, specifically citing male privilege as a barrier to understanding the experiences of women.  This did not, however, stop the equipment manufacturer from donating $2,500 to Ainsworth. (Jim Umpleby, CEO, 501 Southwest Jefferson Ave. Peoria, IL 61630).

Comcast: A $2,500 donation to McCutcheon subverts any claim they may make to caring about women. (Brian L. Roberts, CEO, 1701 JFK Blvd. Philadelphia, PA).

CVS Caremark: started in Alabama in 1993, donated $1,500 to McCutcheon. (Larry J. Merlo, CEO, One CVS Dr. Woonsocket, RI 02895)

Anheuser-Busch: $1,000 to McCutcheon and $1,500 to Reed effectively silences any notion about caring for women’s rights. (Carlos Brito, CEO, One Busch Place, St. Louis, MO 63118).

In a time when it is easy to feel powerless in the face of the machinations of government and big business, we tend to forget we have tremendous power. By refusing to support businesses whose ethical stances run counter to our own, and voting out those individuals who vote against the things we hold dear, we have the power to effect change.  What corporations understand is profit for shareholders and CEO’s.  What politicians understand is votes and longevity in their political careers. We have the power to impact both.

Granted, these donations are small considering these companies make billions every year.  However, such donations often curry political favor when it comes to corporate interest at a point in the future.  Politicians and corporations are comfortable bedfellows.

It’s not enough to simply shop somewhere else, it’s important to let the CEOs know of your decision and the reasons for it.  None of us singlehandedly keep any of these corporations in business, but critical mass comes when we impact their bottom line which is profit.

It is complicated to be an informed consumer in this day of entangled political and corporate agendas, but there is a lot at stake.  Women and men need to unite to protect women’s right to choose. Buy wisely. 

It’s a Pregnancy, Not a Potted Plant

Representative John Becker (R) Ohio, introduced a bill that includes a clause for moving a fertilized ovum from the fallopian tube (called an ectopic pregnancy) into the uterus.  That’s not medically possible.  A fertilized egg cannot be transplanted like a geranium.

This is just one instance of an alarming number of bills being introduced around the country that limit women’s access to reproductive health, even in the most heinous of circumstances.  Here is a partial listing, all in various stages of the political process:

  • Missouri: Representative Tina Hubrecht (R) stated that pregnancy as a result of rape is a gift from God, the silver lining of the cloud. The House passed Resolution 98 which gives constitutional rights to fetuses. It is a trigger bill which would ban all abortions if there is a change or reversal of Roe v. Wade.
  • Alabama: A bill that outlaws almost all abortions at every stage of pregnancy and criminalizes the actions of doctors who perform abortions. There are exceptions for the life of the mother, but not for rape or incest.
  • Georgia: Women who abort face prison or even the death penalty.
  • Ohio: An 11 year old girl who survived rape and is pregnant is being forced to carry the baby to term.
  • Kentucky: Blanket abortion ban once there is a heartbeat, usually at six weeks. This is frequently before a woman even knows she is pregnant. It is called a Heartbeat Bill.
  • Louisiana:  Heartbeat Bill
  • Mississippi: Heartbeat Bill
  • Ohio: Heartbeat Bill
  • South Carolina: Heartbeat bill with an exception for the life of the mother, rape or incest.
  • Arkansas: Trigger Bill that would outlaw abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Other legislation bans abortion after eighteen weeks.
  • Oklahoma: The Senate approved a constitutional amendment which inserts a clause stating the constitution does not guarantee rights protecting abortion.
  • Rhode Island: A bill that would protect women’s reproductive health choices and access to abortion failed to get out of committee and reach the floor for debate.

The roll back in women’s rights is something about which all people, women and men should be deeply concerned.  These bills allow the state to essentially regulate women’s child bearing and make the private decision of a woman, her doctor and her God a matter of law.  We have fought long and hard to protect women’s right to choose.  It is in jeopardy now.

Make no mistake; these laws in various states have a direct impact on every person in the country.  They are part of a larger strategy to get one or more of these bills before the Supreme Court in an effort to overturn or essentially gut Roe v. Wade.  The ACLU and Planned Parenthood have brought numerous suits in numerous states but the appeal process is going to take time in each state.  It may be years before it reaches the Supreme Court.  And that may not bode well for the Pro-Choice movement.  In the current climate of politics, the Court is becoming more conservative and more politicized.  If one more liberal justice no longer serves, the court will most likely swing fully to the right and we will see changes that should terrify us all, and not just in reproductive rights.

People are free to believe whatever they want.  They are NOT, however free to make me believe the same thing OR institute laws that limit my practice of my religion. I should be free to act on what I think is right and what I believe about controversial issues without state or national interference.

Only someone who has never been raped can state so unequivocally that pregnancy as a result of rape is a gift from God.  Only someone who has never been molested can think carrying a molester’s baby to term at age 11 is a good idea. 

It is primarily old white men who are making these decisions.  How about some bills suggesting vasectomies?  The legislative world would go ballistic.  But, it’s a thought.  Why is this just a women’s issue? It takes two to get pregnant and men are not held accountable.

Here’s the thing. If you are against abortion, don’t have one.  But don’t tell everyone else in the country they can’t have one either.  It’s not the business of legislators, the courts or the political process. It is a private medical decision between a woman, her health care provider and her own faith which may be very different from the dominant voice.

Restrictive reproductive health laws fail to acknowledge a woman’s sovereignty over her own body.  Women have a unique understanding of their situation and the reasons for making the choice.  It is not the business of anyone else.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote, “The emphasis must not be on the right to abortion but on the right to privacy and reproductive control.”  For years women have fought for the right to keep the government out of their uterus.  The fight is far from over.  And it needs you to add your voice.