I believe it was Ben Franklin who said that most people die at 25 but aren’t buried until 75. I strive to make each year a time of growth, and I challenge my beliefs because truth can stand the scrutiny. Part of this process means that, for the past few years, I’ve reflected on what I know for sure. (Here are my thoughts on 2015 and 2016.)
As 2017 ends, here is what I believe:
1.) Children Are Running The Playground. I’ve seen this on the national level as the Orange Menace and Congress push a trickle-down economic plan. It didn’t work the first time around for Preble County — we enjoyed a 12 percent unemployment rate in its first year (1982). But I’ve grown tired of national politics and am more interested in the local children. The policies championed by local gatekeepers are failing — entrenching our poverty. In this crimson-red county, those who hold the purse strings, especially at the county level, have become less transparent and less willing to compromise for the good of our community. Emboldened, perhaps by 45*, these ineffective leaders need to face the scrutiny of a strong media presence and/or citizens so their behind-the-scenes actions can enjoy a little sunshine.
2.) The Drug Epidemic Is A Symptom Of Our Hopelessness. The drug epidemic claimed a family member’s life in November. He was my cousin, 32, a hard-working man employed in Montgomery County. He died of an apparent overdose, coincidentally, on the anniversary of my father’s death. His death is difficult to accept. It’s a painful reminder of our abysmal approach to drug use and abuse in southwest Ohio.
In Preble County those with addiction issues are often treated as sub-human. Our abandoned dogs receive more compassion than the chemically addicted. It is a top-down problem as the hypocrisy of our political leaders, especially those who have melded their fundamentalism with their political agenda, perpetuate long debunked myths about addiction. I have met my share of chemically-addicted individuals in the past five years and the most common thread, in the lives I see, is a disconnect with the community.
Many here believe it is the church’s place to ‘help these people find a cure.’ If churches believe that, the first thing they should do is befriend a chemically-addicted individual. The second thing they should do is be quiet. When they are silent they can hear, and in listening, they may learn where we failed our community members — as too many of the chemically addicted are victims of horrific events. Save their soul, if that’s important to you, but begin by saving their life. And, as compassionate people keep our neighbors alive, gatekeepers can work to bring livable wage jobs here to help us pull out of the epidemic. It would be infinitely more valuable to our community than planning the construction of (yet another) building at the fairgrounds.
3.) Justice Is Not Blind. If court records, police reports and the local jail roster have taught me anything in 2017, it’s that justice is not blind. It despises the poor and hates the chemically-addicted, but less so in December when the jail population falls by about 25-30 percent. Although it looks like a Christmas miracle, the reduction in inmates may be more closely linked to limited court openings during the holidays. (I wonder if that’s why reformers believe all defendants should request a trial.)
4.) The Religious Right Is Wrong. I was raised in a white, evangelical church so I have a thorough understanding of their interpretation of the Bible. I’m also aware of their obsession with the afterlife as they postpone a quality life here to ensure a spot in the Treehouse in the Sky — and just as importantly — avoid an apartment in the Eternal Lake of Fire. At my age, a warm fire doesn’t sound so bad, but if there is a Hell my biggest fear is my roommate. If Hell is meant to torture, I’m stuck with Franklin Graham or Jerry Falwell Jr. — men who scream out in fear on a daily basis as they use their pulpits to decry gays, Democrats and Muslims (not necessarily in that order). If I had to listen to their impish drivel for an eternity — well, I think you get my point.
The Religious Right should sell bumper stickers that say: Believe like us — or go to Hell. But if they want a heavenly afterlife, they need to read — then live — Matthew 25. It’s not complicated.
5.) David Thoreau Was Correct. In many ways, it seems to me, Thoreau lived in a time similar to ours. There was a significant portion of the country entrenched in anti-intellectualism with a religious force ‘proving’ that the immoral institution of slavery was, somehow, ‘God’s will.’ As the political dysfunction of Thoreau’s era eventually led to the Civil War, Thoreau found peace in the woods doing his work. When 2017 began I attended a Unitarian church in Eldorado — one that, unlike the fundamentalist/evangelicals, exemplifies the inclusivity of Jesus.
In January, the minister spoke about ‘Now what’ and, referencing a scripture, she said we needed to plant our gardens, tend to our fields — or, in other words, do our work. Her message, and Thoreau’s approach of being in nature, became a practice for me. Although I was not able to attend the Unitarian church as much as planned, I hiked a lot of Ohio’s forests — finding peace and contentment despite the political mayhem created by a deplorable dotard.