maga

What I Believe: Children Are Ruling The Playground And The Religious Right Is Wrong

Hiking at Ceasar Creek State Park during first snow of the season.

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.)

Versa reflects on the condition of her soul.

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.

Looking forward to 2018….

Categories: 8th congressional district, Age of Discontent, Life In A Red State, maga, My America, Ohio

‘Get A Job’ A Familiar Phrase Of The Politically Lazy

Shuttered K-Mart store in Eaton, Ohio.

Everyone should read Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl twice in their life: once in their 20s and once in their 50s. I say this, not just because I happened to do it this way, but because the book changes over the course of one’s life.

When I read the book decades ago, I was enthralled by the first-person account of the cruelty inside Germany’s concentration camps. I was taken back by the reality that Frankl lived through it, lost his family, yet managed to write about the experience with searing details.

Today, although I still notice the details, my mind zeroes in on the minor moments to learn how calloused a person, any person, can become given the ‘right’ set of circumstances. But, others, as Frankl points out, survive the worst possible scenario and still find a way to be humane.

Victim Blaming

Shortly after finishing the book, I watched a documentary on Reading, Pa. It has the distinction of being the city with the highest poverty rate in the U.S. Although there is no comparison to a concentration camp and unemployment or poverty, what struck me was the similarity in the way the ‘enemy’ (in this case the poor) were treated. Once they were labeled — poor, lazy, unmotivated, etc. — it was easier to treat them as inferior. It was easier to blame them for their situation — and not the corporate citizens who bailed — and with their exodus dismantling the local economy.

Former high school in Preble County.

We’ve done the same thing here. We label the poor. We blame them for their situation — as we ignore the lack of economic opportunity. I first realized I lived in a poor community two or three years ago as I stood on the sidewalk watching my daughter march with the high school band in a Memorial Day parade. Despite our green porch lights, flags (U.S. and Confederate) and patriotic rhetoric, the sidewalks were sparsely filled. As I stood I watched a man, probably in his early-to-mid 60s, shuffle along the sidewalk across the street in front of one of our bars. The somewhat feeble-looking man was peering along the ground, stooping and picking up cigarette butts. It seemed oddly out of place at a parade celebrating the country’s greatness.

Systemic Poverty

After that, I started observing and listening more. Although I do not know that particular man’s story, I do know poverty is a multi-leveled narrative. It is not as simple as ‘they are lazy’. And, telling a homeless or poor man that they need  “to work 12 hours a day if they want a ‘handout'” may feel moral to a political tool, but the statement is indicative of ignorance. The barriers for those ‘at the bottom’ cannot be solved with a one-liner or a regurgitated (and debunked) belief system.

In places like Preble, which has become a region like too many in America, there is a need for a cooperative effort by the social safety networks, employers, law enforcement and political leaders to address the issue. In my hometown, a wide range of issues is causing our poverty — including: low educational levels, lack of affordable housing, loss of livable-wage jobs and a failed approach to our drug problem. The last is especially taxing. We can blame the end user “til the cows come home” while we arrest low-end users instead of suppliers, but if employers can’t find drug-free workers, they will go somewhere else — taking jobs and tax revenue with them — leaving us with the empty buildings.

Some say it’s the church’s responsibility to help the poor. After all Jesus commanded it. But the poor cannot help the poor — at least not enough to exit the poverty. In Preble County, our well-meaning churches have been stretched too thin.

Not My Problem

But, the real problem with poverty is a lack of political power which keeps institutionalized poverty intact. We have been taught from our youth that ‘if one works hard, it will work out.’ The wise eventually learn that is not true, at least it’s not true for everyone, and in Preble it’s not true for an expanding population.

The roots of our apathy run deep. In a 1915 history of Preble County, one resident feared he would be coerced, through taxation, to support someone else’s child.

The 19th century man, described  as an ‘upright, honest and respectable man and a good and generous neighbor,’ said,

“…Eaton was likely to grow to be a big city and that it would contain many people who would be great sinners and law breakers; that very probably there would be many bastard children, and that, as the townships had to bear the expenses of punishing the lawless, and to furnish support for the bastard children, it was unjust to tax them down in the country to pay for such things.”

The plea to not be his brother’s keeper ‘caught the fancy of the county commissioner’ and a township was named in his honor — a township not taxed for Eaton’s abandoned children.

This unwillingness to help is also connected to our deep-seated belief that the poor cause their own misery and that our systems are sacred. We know the poor are responsible for their plight. We have to believe that or repair the institutions.

While reading American Character by Colin Woodard, which is a ‘history of the epic struggle between individual liberty and the common good,’ I came across an 18th century quote that could easily be spewed in my county today. Woodard quotes social commentator Arthur Young, who said.

Everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor or they will never be industrious.

This ‘make them work’ mantra is an act of deflection. Of course able-bodied individuals need to work, but pushing residents into low-paying jobs will not lift them, or the community, up. The situation is more complicated than a ’12-hour a day job.’ In Preble County, we’ve done an excellent job creating poverty. We’ve paired our belief that the poor are lazy with a century-old belief that government intervention is always problematic.

It’s a very ineffectual belief — we have the empty buildings to prove it.

Categories: 8th congressional district, Broken Promises, Life In A Red State, maga, My America, Ohio, Preble County, Understanding Trump Counties

Is Ohio A Cesspool Of Hate, Fear And Ignorance?

Steve Newman, a Clermont County native, gained fame for walking the globe between 1983 and 1987. He details the trek in Worldwalker. Newman picked a good time to walk, Ohio’s unemployment rate in 1983 was 12 percent. Ronald Reagan was two years into his first term as president.

Roughly a week after Charlottesville happened, resulting in the death of Heather Heyer, my wife, dog (Versa) and I spent the weekend hiking in a Ohio state park in Clermont County. As we traipsed through the woods we were not disappointed, spotting deer — including a large buck that ran across the trail five yards in front of us — a gaggle of turkeys and two water fowl I’ve never seen (possibly King Rails).

On Saturday evening as we read inside our tent before falling asleep — the calm and quiet of the evening was interrupted by a loud truck barreling down the main entrance with its occupants yelling ‘white power.’

As the rebel yell pierced the night, it was a sign of where we are as a nation. Current polls suggest 65 percent of Americans believe hate and prejudice have increased since the November, 2016 election.

Childhood Friends, Family

We have 35 hate groups in Ohio — ninth in the nation. The man accused in Heyer’s death (James Fields) is, of course, from Ohio as is Daniel Borden, accused in the racially motivated beating of DeAndre Harris.

When I browse Facebook it’s easy to understand how we arrived at this place. In my part of the world, and Borden lives about 30 minutes south of me, fear and ignorance are the foundation too many build their worldview on. For example, a childhood friend, who attended the same church I did, posted a meme from an organization that views liberals, like myself, with disdain. The site revels in dividing the country into red versus blue — with the reds being the ‘good guys.’

One of their memes, promoting a odd-looking wrist decoration, says:

Send the liberals running for the hills with our handmade Six Shooter Leather bullet bracelet.

I’m not sure what ‘fearful’ liberals they are targeting with the text because I would be more apt to mock an individual childish enough to wear such a ridiculous looking bracelet — a leather bracelet designed to hold six bullets. But, I do wonder how someone taught the same brand of Christianity as me arrived at a place in midlife where they view the rhetoric as healthy or sensible.

How did they get to the point that threatening — or implying violence — toward a fellow citizen feels natural, Christian, American or humane? Do they live in a constant state of fear, convinced that someone, like myself, is hell bent on destroying them or the country? What information does one have to consume — and how long must they consume it — before they feel this type of statement is normal (let alone ‘Christlike’).

Another individual posted a ‘I’m proud to be white,’ meme apparently oblivious to the atrocities committed by our race. This particular individual also posts a lot of Native American ‘wisdom’ memes making me wonder if they have read any American history.

History Is Not Holy

My first realization that the past is a toolbox and not a pedestal came while I was researching my paternal line. I was looking into the life of Jesse Claywell, a War of 1812 veteran, who also served in the Black Hawk War (Illinois). As I researched the Black Hawk War, I came to understand three things about the white settlers that fought in it (including Jesse Claywell).

  1. They were thieves. They willfully stole the property of Native Americans.
  2. They were cowards. In the first ‘act of war’ the white settlers, significantly outnumbering the Indians, retreated.
  3. They were murderers. After successfully driving the Indians out of the region, they trapped a handful of escaping women, children and elderly crossing the Mississippi River. The white soldiers engaged in a ‘turkey shoot’ shooting the retreating Indians in the back.

Not much to revel in if you’re proud of simply ‘bein’ white.’

Let Freedom Ring

A ‘persecution complex’ meme loses some of its momentum when Christian is misspelled. But one local gatekeeper is convinced that the struggle is real.

Just a couple blocks from my home, the Confederate flag flies in front of two houses. This is in Ohio, a state that was in the Union, a state that lost more than 35,000 men to the war. It is the state that produced Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman.

I’m doubting the owners of the Confederate flags know their state’s role in the Civil War. They are undoubtedly more interested in ‘their right’ to fly the flag, than in Ohio’s history. Preble County has a significant population with ties to Kentucky and Tennessee, so I’ll let Tennessee comedian Trae Crowder set the record straight on the flag. In his book, Liberal Rednecks — written with fellow comedians Corey Ryan Forrester and Drew Morgan — Crowder says,

The flag issue (unlike the flag’s defenders) is a little more nuanced than you might think at first, but, regardless, the flag is done. There’s no getting it back. There’s no repairing its image. It’s irredeemable. Any possibility of the flag ever being seen as a benign symbol of regional pride vanished forever on June 17, 2015, the day of the hate-fueled massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina.

Political Hate

Some of the hate, though, is being pushed down into our society. Members of the Trump team have definitely validated it. Recently, political operative Roger Stone, a Trump confidante and champion, went after Senator John McCain on Twitter after McCain denounced Trump’s decision to pardon sheriff Joe Arpaio. Stone said,

Karma about to get you, John McCain, and you will burn in hell for all eternity.

Stone who, like Jim Bakker, said a civil war would occur — and implied that members of Congress lives would be at risk — if Trump was impeached, has a long history of unsavory tactics.

But it is the words of support from evangelicals I grew up with that I find even more troubling. I expect Stone to be an evil POS, but Christians are applauding Trump’s decision to pardon a man who oversaw ‘Tent Camps.’ One hundred and sixty people died in those camps.

One evangelical, commenting on Arpaio’s pardon (and not the deaths), wrote:

Illegals aren’t American citizens. I am very happy about this!

The comment makes me wonder if I was given a alternative version of the Bible to read when we attended church together. The statement, at the very least, puts an ill-conceived national interest over a humanitarian one. My inner cynic finds the statement completely understandable had a politician said it. I understand why Trump pardoned ‘Sheriff Joe’ — it’s cronyism 101. They are fellow ‘birthers.’

But, it’s an unfathomable position for a person who follows ‘the Prince of Peace.’

Afterthought

After browsing Facebook the past couple of weeks, I do understand Gandhi’s viewpoint on Christianity. He said,

I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.

Categories: Life In A Red State, maga, My America, Politics, Preble County, Understanding Trump Counties