The Robust Lines

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November 8, 2022, El Mirage- The quiet, unassuming woman took her place in line, outside the polling station, in this thriving western suburb of Phoenix. One thing distinguished her from the rest of the voters: She sported a sweatshirt, with a logo that several people have found threatening. The lady was not intimidating; she just wanted to cast a ballot-and so it transpired.

I was here as a Poll Chaplain, from 3 p.m. until closing. My role, as I explained to the site manager, was simply to sit outside-just past the 75-foot barrier prescribed by law, and be there to provide reassurance to anyone who might be upset or anxious about the atmosphere at the site. I reassured several voters, a few of whom were first-timers, and mostly presented a calm demeanour to the nearly 200 voters who passed along in line, over that four-hour period.

The participation of voters was heartwarming, and the decorum exhibited by all in the lines was even more so. No one saw any point in being less than gracious to those around them. For that, I have never been prouder to be a citizen of this country. There are those who have commented that the concept of the United States is outmoded, and that conservative areas should be split from progressive areas. Such a ridiculous proposition ignores the fact that there are conservatives and progressives in every state, community and, often, within families. Showing respect and regard for another human being should not take a whole lot of energy-yet the wire-pullers have convinced far to many that it is impossible. The fact remains that the majority of people in my life, regardless of ideology, are loving individuals, who mainly want to be heard and understood. If that sounds like the former president talking, after the Charlottesville incident of 2017, so be it-but I will never excuse acts of violence committed by anyone in my ever-widening circle. It does the perpetrator’s soul no good, whatsoever, to not be called to account.

The day itself was full, beginning with a drive from Prescott to the small city of Avondale, about ten miles west of Phoenix and equally south of El Mirage. There, I paid a visit to some old friends’ coffee shop and bakery-enjoying a light lunch. Coldwater Coffee House and Bakery is also a community gathering place. The Martinez de Aragon family is committed to strengthening the civic pride that their neighbours feel in Avondale, and in its subcommunities. After lunch, I got my bearings, and did a week’s worth of laundry at a shop near the school, in El Mirage, where Penny and I both worked for several years, in the 2000s.

The chance to serve as Poll Chaplain was the icing on the cake of a very fine day. Even the forecast rain and wind held off, though we are told it will definitely take place tomorrow.

The Hard Work of True Unity

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May 19, 2022- I was raised to listen to legitimate criticism and to own my mistakes. I was taught that the only real path to peace, in a family or in a community, comes from the commitment of everyone involved to personal growth. My parents said that anyone can be unified with those who say nice things to him/her or who have common opinions and interests. It’s the differences of opinion, however, that teach us the most.

Throughout my life, there have been a smattering of nefarious people, but for the most part, those who have been a challenge have also had useful lessons to impart. Their takes on life was simply different from my own and actually have helped balance this life, often in ways I did not anticipate.

So, I see that there is little for conservatives to gain by shutting out progressives. The converse is also true. The fact is, none of us corners the market on perfection. We don’t deserve to be castigated or made to apologize for our existence nor do we deserve a free pass for actions that will only hold us back later. The same is true with mindsets. Looking at things through different lenses, as long as it does not result in overthinking, or mental paralysis, can help us make more complete decisions.

The other thing about unity is that it never gets very far along, if a decision-maker assumes that his/her way of thinking entitles unilateral action, from a place of privilege. Witness the recent, supposedly informed decision to close an infant formula plant in Michigan. This appears to have been made in haste, based on unverified reports of contamination-which subsequently proved unfounded. Such errors in judgement, especially by government agencies which have scant oversight, only feed concerns-and conspiracy theories, that government is running amok. This is a rough parallel to concerns about police actions that seem to have been done in haste-though it is a fair point that the police are often under far more pressure to decide quickly than are the overseers of public health.

True unity recognizes the dignity, the worth of every soul. It does not excuse wrongdoing, nor does it invite self-serving individuals to subvert the process of consultation for their own ends. Rather, it sees that each one who does make such misguided efforts actually ends up hurting selves as well as the rest of humanity.

So often, it is easy to be fooled by glitz, by sweet promises or by appeals to one’s own long-cherished beliefs. In reality, there is no substitute for rolling up one’s sleeves and getting the hard work done. We’re in this together, and for the long haul.

Embracing The Whole

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March 8, 2022- Two widely-circulated photos of recent vintage have circulated around the Internet. One is the shot of two conservative Congresswomen loudly heckling the President of the United States, during a point in his State of the Union address, last week. The other is that of a small group of Russian teenagers, sporting a nationalist, presumably pro-war, symbol on their outfits.

It is often tempting to think of women and children as universally being the nurturing and the nurtured, thus lending one’s thinking towards their being universally progressive and all-accepting. Such a mindset, not giving allowance for them as complete, complex human beings, besides being somewhat condescending, misses the chance to connect with a sizeable group of people who simply view the world differently-and not always in a bad way.

Those who resist progressive thought may have a thousand different reasons for their views. Not all of it, in fact very little of it, has to do with being brainwashed by men who are seeking dominance and obedience. I have several women friends who have stood up and thrown domineering, abusive men out of their lives-and who hold true to very conservative, traditional values. Many young people have done considerable research, across a variety of viewpoints and media, and still adhere to a traditionalist take on public affairs and personal business.

Where I draw the line, for those at any point on the political spectrum, is seeking to deprive those of differing viewpoints of their right to free expression. Thus, the whole idea of rolling back voting rights is anathema to me, whereas a return to the practices of respect for others, following a modicum of social order, that is based on civility towards one’s fellow humans and taking responsibility for one’s actions, are central to the core of my being. The first concept is a progressive value: Everyone over the age of 18 who is a citizen in good standing should be able to cast a ballot in their community’s elections, clear to the national level. The rest are identified with conservatives, but really do justice to every human being, regardless of where they stand ideologically.

I think of these matters today, as the world celebrates International Women’s Day. Let everyone live their truth, and seek to gently educate those whose statements and actions show want of adjustment, in light of facts.

Ten Gratitudes

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November 25, 2021, Grapevine- One of the inherent goodnesses of this day, that is so strangely placed one month after the last harvests have been completed in most parts of the Northern Hemisphere, is that so many people nonetheless stop to count their blessings. There will always be those who say they have none, but that is a topic for another time. The Universe will see such people along, in its way.

I spoke with my mother and each of my siblings, earlier today, and being comforted by the overall spirit of optimism that was conveyed. My little family and I had a lovely Thanksgiving Dinner, which they put together nicely, within the framework of the usual lunch hour. The meal set me to thinking of those aspects of my life that generate gratefulness. These are what come to mind, in this time of ongoing crisis and victory, and in no particular order of importance:

  1. I am more accepted and honoured, by more people, than at any time in my life. Those who once found me strange have expanded their own viewpoints, either by dint of enlightenment or by virtue of going through life’s inevitable grind. I also find it easier to understand their pain.
  2. My judgment is clearer, more focused than it has been in times past. A good part of that comes from moving away from overthinking.
  3. Every person dear to me is in generally good health. Some are getting over mild cases of COVID, but that is more incidental than chronic. They are recovering and will be back in good stead, very shortly.
  4. Humanity is moving in an essentially positive direction. Problems of living will always be with us, and there will ever be the challenges posed by the wayward, the disgruntled and the egocentric. By and large, though, we have as a species made great strides in facing the gauntlet of a harsh world.
  5. I find much to admire, in a broad cross-section of humanity. The groundedness and tradition of conservatives meshes far more easily, in my mind, with the inclusiveness and innovation of progressives than either group sometimes can countenance.
  6. The youngest generations, even in the one-step forward, two-steps back matter of overcoming prejudice, are showing more maturity, at a younger age, by and large.
  7. It is easier to ignore the wirepullers and shrill voices of negativism than it once was for me. Keeping eyes on the prize of a better world is the only true path.
  8. People at the grassroots are taking back their communities, and not in an exclusionary or hierarchical manner. The elites will find that they must meld with the vast majority of humanity, not the other way around-despite the temporary trends in some areas towards control by artificial intelligence and autocratic structures. As people get over their collective fears, they are banding together in a united front.
  9. The growing awareness that the human body has what it needs to heal itself, and that all that is supplemental to this healing may be found in nature, is a corollary to this grassroots renaissance.
  10. The great Spiritual Teachers, speaking with one Voice, are showing us the way towards an even brighter future for this abundant planet.

The Snails Keep On

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April 26, 2021- India, I hear, is bleeding. Brazil is getting restless, with its government’s perceived inaction. Canada is still locking many visitors out. Europe and east Asia seem to be making progress-and there is not much word from Africa-with regard to the pandemic. Many are more concerned with trying to get work and pay their way.

Here, we are making a fair amount of progress, and across the U.S., there is rising hope of getting back to some semblance of a post-pandemic life. COVID is a whipsnake, though, and its opponents, whether allopathic or naturopathic, are snails. Sooner or later, the snails will triumph-but they remain snails, and can’t help but be slow and meticulous. Even a whipsnake will get tripped up, sooner or later.

It seems that is the way with most issues of social import. Progressives act like one can just snap the fingers, and voila, the barriers to social justice will disappear. Reactionaries wish the progressives would just disappear. The rest of us will keep doing what we have always done-move forward, but in measured, sensible ways. Police will always be needed-just not in tyrannical form. Thugs will try to force their will upon the vulnerable, and will need to be opposed-thus, a firm, but fair, police force. (I read Mitch Albom’s account of life in lawless areas of Port au Prince, Haiti. That sort of thing could happen anywhere, if people adopt an attitude of self-centered insouciance.) An attitude, and practice, of listening to, and learning from, people with differing points of view will be needed-if our steps forward are not to be followed by a pell mell retreat backwards-as almost happened on January 6. A respect for people and, by extension, their property, will need to be re-instated. The stance that “They’re only THINGS” cannot be maintained in perpetuity. This is a material life, and even the monk needs assurance that his rice bowl will remain intact. What is wrecking a Boys and Girls Club, or a historical museum, going to do to advance social justice, anyway?

The snails move on, and will not be deterred.

Insurrection Is Not The Way

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January 6, 2021- After getting a welcome adjustment from my chiropractor, this evening, I happened by downtown Prescott, where a small group of Trump supporters were standing on the northeast corner of Courthouse Square, as they have been doing, at least once a week, since 2015. Quite often, there will be a group of progressives standing either across the street or on the northwest corner, at the same time.

I have seen the two groups even mingle, at many public events on the Square, since I moved here, in 2011. The only times there has been tension have been when rumours, of mobs from out of town coming this way, have circulated. There are always a few disquiet individuals, usually driving by in their vehicles and shouting profanities at whoever is in view, or egging on those they sense might be easily drawn into a fight.

That is not the Prescott way. Many have growing up to do, with regard to getting along with people of colour or with those whose politics differ from their own. The larger community, though, has adopted a “Live and Let Live” ethic. That was how I was raised, in a hybrid Conservative/Liberal family, albeit in one of the most conservative communities in Massachusetts.

The main divide, as I see it, has two parts: 1. There is a sense, among those who get up early and turn in a full day’s work, rely on their own efforts and have a strong sense of tradition, that “Socialists” are aiming to take from them and give to others. In fairness, this comes from high rates of taxation and the extent to which the workings of government entail secrecy. If people don’t know the rhyme and reason of matters that affect them, it becomes easy for manipulators and grifters to move in and get them stirred into a frenzy.

On the other hand, are those whose forebears, or selves, have been shoved to the back of the line, repeatedly, by self-styled elites, in terms of full participation in civic and economic life. These elites have not been shy about simultaneously turning to the group that may be one rung higher than those on the lowest level, and cautioning that group against trusting those underneath. The argument has always been, “Look, those _______________ are coming for what’s rightfully yours”, whilst either the taxes go up or rights and privileges, for ALL those under the elite groups, are systematically snipped away.

It is human nature to let others handle certain aspects of life which are viewed as either boring or distasteful. When those chores have to do with rights and freedoms, such “delegation” can, and does, get rather dicey. It has, especially in modern times, become analogous to the shellfish in a pot of cold water, that is slowly heating up and which will turn the shellfish into a meal. There is always a quid pro quo, when someone comes to us and points out discrepancies, “which only they can fix.”

Those who are genuinely worried about losing rights and freedoms can’t afford to let clever or manipulative people of privilege, whether liberal or conservative, sweet-talk them into doing dirty work. This was done before, by the Planter Class of the antebellum South, who had little trouble recruiting lower-class white and First Nations people to do the dirty tasks associated with the system of enslavement and , later, to fight in the insurrection against a Federal government that was moving away from supporting that system. Conversely, a similarly cynical and rapacious Industrialist Class had little trouble engaging that same Federal government to recruit lower-class white and African-American people to try and subjugate First Nations people, both during and after the Civil War.

I saw today’s actions on Capitol Hill as reminiscent of the French Revolution, which, as we know, did not result in wholesale gains for the downtrodden masses. There are those who wanted only to take a deep dive into the electoral process of 2020. But for the lateness of the hour, and the fact that it has already been done, in several modes, that would have hurt nothing.

There were those who have long felt unheard and unloved by society, their only misfortune being that they have not been “in vogue” as a protected class. If each such group were to look carefully at history and look ahead to what is likely to transpire, long term, there would not be a rush to the feet of demogogues. There would be quite a bit of coalition-building, and it would very likely NOT involve the elites, at least for quite some time.

Insurrection, done in the heat of the moment, requires a different sort of power coalition. It involves making deals with those already holding certain levers of power. The original American Revolution succeeded partly because European enemies of Great Britain jumped into the fray. The aforementioned French Revolution is one example-it being whipsawed by the external enemies of the House of Bourbon. Sudan’s recent revolution was eased by manipulative elements in the country’s military, who now, wonder of wonders, are holding the balance of power. The same would happen here, and those fearful of socialism would find a different set of external totalitarians calling the shots, were today’s events escalate into full-blown rebellion.

There is always a quid pro quo, when one turns to power groups with their own agendas to do one’s baleful tasks. The only way forward is to adhere to the basics that were provided us, by the Framers, and later the Amenders, of the United States Constitution, a time-honoured, and much emulated, road map of governance. That, and the common people talking and listening to one another, across lines of ethnicity, class, religion and way of life.

Insurrection is not the way.

The Summer of the Rising Tides, Day 68: Staying Authentic

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August 7, 2020-

There is a fact of life, especially in today’s America, that owning one’s viewpoint, life choices and spirituality comes at a cost. There are always going to be those who think they know your needs better than you yourself know them. Being in charge of own life is not a cakewalk. Others, especially online, will appear, with demands, expectations and preferences, which may or may not dovetail with what one has planned.

You may say, “Well, isn’t that how it is, in ANY social situation?” Yes, and with seven billion and umpty-ump million people on the surface of the Earth, it will get more intensely so. The fact remains, however, that at the end of the day, it is whether I can look in the mirror and honestly say that I lived the day in a state of integrity, hopefully tempered with humility, that makes the day well-spent, or not.

I have been questioned, recently, as to why I might agree with points raised by conservatives, on one day; then agree with points raised by progressives, another day. The answer is easier than it looks. Neither group is qualitatively engaged in refuting the other’s points, with regard to those points with which I am agreeing. For example, if I say an unborn child ‘s life is worthy of EVERY reasonable effort at maintaining its efficacy, that does not mean I am advocating vicious hounding of a woman who is heading into an abortion clinic. In reality, that person should not be HOUNDED or pressured by EITHER faction in the matter. She should be enveloped, bathed, in love and have all options presented to her, in a pressure-free, NON-MERCENARY atmosphere.

If someone asks me to approve or disapprove of the current sitting President, I can honestly say I approve of his work in stemming the trafficking of women and children. I honestly approve of his working with the governments of Latin American countries, in stopping the flood of people from out of those countries and stemming the influence and aggressive behaviour of gangs-especially in Central America. There are other policies of his, of which I vehemently disapprove- such as the sending of a large corps of armed DHS agents into some of our cities-without first coordinating the effort with local governments. That situation seems to be getting more consultation-based. The COVID-19 response is a whole other can of worms-and much of the difficulty lies in both individual mindsets and in the diversity of local situations, across the country-but I digress.

Essentially, my life is not meant to be lived by going about and seeking to be a font of agreement, with each person, on each issue. I have, however, the conviction that each person who crosses my path does have points to offer, that may well be of help, in making my life more authentic. This life is still a work in progress, as is everyone else’s.

My Faith will remain as is; my heart for people will stay in place; my mind will remain flexible, as we have learned that anything can happen.

The Summer of the Rising Tides, Day 53: Commonalities

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July 23, 2020-

I was just sitting around today, writing two more chapters of my memoirs, and musing about what it is going to take to push the dry air out of our area, after two days of looking at heavy, dark clouds that are five miles to the east. (Prescott is alot like Ojai, or Reno, a dry bubble in the middle of a rainforest).

I also think about what I like about the two seemingly opposite groups, on our social scene. Here are things I like about progressives:

  1. Value of courtesy
  2. Acting from the heart
  3. Thinking of others, before themselves
  4. Planning ahead
  5. Work ethic
  6. Inclusivity

Here are things I like about conservatives:

  1. Value of courtesy
  2. Acting from the heart
  3. Thinking of others, before themselves
  4. Planning ahead
  5. Work ethic
  6. Inclusivity

The differences are there, but we need not dwell on them. Individual initiative may be found in both groups. The welcoming of change is greater among progressives. Cherishing of tradition is greater among conservatives. Yet, both groups find room in their worlds for adaptation and preservation.

That’s where I find the state of what matters most.

The Summer of the Rising Tides, Day 26: Why Is The Ground Itself Steaming?

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June 26, 2020-

It’s been hot and dry here, this month, as it usually is in Arizona, during the month of June, and often during the first half of July. There are high clouds, that keep the sun from becoming too blazing in intensity, and sometimes, we get the cooler air that’s left over from the storms that are hitting the Rockies and Great Basin. The monsoons, though, come from the south and southeast of us.

The very ground, though, doesn’t usually sizzle. I feel it starting to smoke, this year, though. Earth has a memory, of how her children, whose remains lie in her near crust, have been treated- often in the name of profit; sometimes in the name of convenience; most often in the name of ego gratification-which takes the other two along for the wild ride. She also has a memory of how she herself has been treated.

Reckonings have, historically, been very hard-and are resisted by those who are being asked to face the music. So it is now. There are events that have already happened and those yet to transpire, which have caused, and may cause, me to wince. Many of the great national heroes of our past are being lumped with those who challenged our country’s more enlightened social constructs.

The Confederates, even with the attempted revisionist history of the period 1985-2015, are still relatively easy to relegate to museums and scholarly study. I have visited Stonewall Jackson House, in Lexington, VA and learned that he taught his male slaves to read and write-using the Bible as text. I have learned that he was an organic gardener and herbalist. I recall thinking that, well, Hitler was a vegetarian. There is a difference between Thomas Jackson and der Fuehrer, in terms of degree of supremacism. Nonetheless, Stonewall OWNED people.

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, and John Tyler each owned people. They did great things for the Nation, but they OWNED people. The Presidents from the northern and midwestern states didn’t own human beings, but they supported the institution of slavery, to one extent or another, right past the Emancipation Proclamation (which only freed the enslaved people of the states which had seceded). New York City even had a plan to secede from the Union, in 1864, to guard Wall Street’s investments in cotton and tobacco.

All Presidents, with the possible exceptions of William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy, had blindspots when it came to the First Nations-and, except for Lyndon Johnson, none had a true sense that African-Americans were the equals of European-Americans. There were limits to how much the country was willling to do, to set things right.

For purposes of this post, I will stop by saying that “Liberals” and “Progressives” do not have a sterling track record, when it comes to empowering and working WITH those for whom they claim to support. There are many paternalistic efforts being made, which only draw the condemnation of conservatives and their supporters among the African-American and First Nations communities. Doing things FOR people has only resulted in a lack of progress for these communities.

I remind those on the Right, though, of two things: The Democrats who actively engaged in segregationist policies, until 1970, or so, became Republicans, at the invitation of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, in the 1970’s and’80’s. Donald Trump is accelerating that effort, in the current era. Secondly, there is still a climate of fear being stoked, by the leaders of both parties, but the Republicans are in charge-and can fire up the machinery of pushback.

Personally, I see value in some aspects of both sides of the aisle. There remain these, however: African-Americans, for lack of a better collective, are not “Negroes”, “coloured people”, or even “people of colour”. There is no “Negro Problem”. Native Americans, asking for their land titles, are still not intent on destroying long-established communities with diverse populations. I was in Maine, duirng the Penobscot Land Settlement. The once and again owners of 2/3 of the state’s land did not evict anyone from that territory. The settlement was legal and financial, not socially disruptive. It was gratifying, as the Penobscot Nation includes some of my distant relatives.

Both sides would do well to get past hatred of the other and dispense with any air of superiority, especially when approaching the communities about whom they claim to care.

Here is a link to a very important, and challenging, presentation. It is worth a lot of thought, in my humble opinion. God bless America.

Two Candles

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May 8, 2020-

On a Zoom call, this evening, the moderator put forth a telling message:  “It is not necessary for me to put out your candle, so that mine may burn brighter.”

Cynics may counter-“Too many lights put each other out.”

I beg to differ.  Life is not a zero sum game.  Some conservatives want a world without progressives.  Some progressives can’t wait to rid our planet of conservatives.  I find either prospect an empty one.  There are features, of extremists on both sides, that I find reprehensible-  From the alt-right:  The murder of an African-American jogger, on February 23, by two white men; the drawings of swastikas and nooses; “Rassus” jokes, told by both whites and Native Americans; ANY hint that one race is superior to another. From the extreme left:  The caricatures of conservatives as knuckle-dragging hominids; ANY defense of pedophilia (which occurs among both liberals and conservatives, by the way); advocacy of wholesale slaughter of those in power.

I’ve covered the need for an array of responsible viewpoints, in an earlier post.  So, I will end with this:  I know plenty of respectable, responsible and loving people, on both sides of the chasm.  I know plenty of decent, morally sound people, among all ethnicities, economic levels, creeds and ways of life.  My candle doesn’t need yours to be snuffed out, in order for it to shine brightly.  Come on home.