hatred

Neighbors and Lives

Pope Francis was famously approached by a non-believer and told him, “We must meet one another doing good.”  That is to say, what matters most is not a professed belief, but instead it is about how we live our lives.

Those of a certain age and others who actually read their history book in high school know about Dr. Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech.  He delivered it to several hundred thousand Americans gathered on the National Mall before the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 in what became known as The March On Washington.  What is less well known is that others spoke on that day, at that event, among them Rabbi Joachim Prinz, who spoke in his own way to the very same thing about which Pope Francis instructed us more recently.  Rabbi Prinz said, “‘Neighbor’ is not a geographic term.  It is a moral concept.”

Neighbor, he believed, is not restricted to the people who live next door, across the street or down the block.  It is about how we treat those people, of course, and we typically treat them better than we treat others, simply because we know them and have some level of personal relationship with them.  But Prinz told us that neighbor is a moral concept and not limited to those whom we know personally.  We must meet one another doing good.  It is about how we live our lives.

We live in an age when so many powerful people inveigh against connection, who use their power to separate us, to demonize those “others,” the ones we don’t know, and to take away their rights and even their tools for self-sufficiency.  They tell us that wealth, health and even nutrition – everything – is a zero-sum game, where others advancing will somehow diminish you.  Theirs is a dark and false religion that serves to frighten and divide us and ultimately to impoverish us.  But life with others is not a zero-sum game.

What if Pope Francis and Rabbi Prinz are right?  What if those “others” are our neighbors?  What if we have a moral connection to them, perhaps a moral obligation in how we treat them?  What if we were to meet one another doing good?  It is about how we live our lives.

Christmas is just behind us and surely it was a day when the stories of long ago were repeated from pulpits all across the land.  But what of the messages?  Were they perhaps less about scriptural belief and more about how we live our lives?  In fact, that is all we can control.  And those stories told every year really are all about how we might live our lives throughout the entire journey.  That is what matters.

We are faced with challenges that seem to be more vexing with each passing day and solving them becomes more difficult with each of us who gives up in frustration and no longer yells back at the television or the radio or the newspaper over injustice done to some of our neighbors.  A sense of powerlessness grips us, as those in power continue to self-serve, all the while labeling their infidelity in manipulative, patriotic sounding terms.  We’ve been made to feel afraid and no longer consider our extended neighbors, so we disconnect and hunker down and things get worse.  Even so, what is important is how we live our lives.

It is about whether we pick up the trash in the park and put it in a waste can.  None of us will get a merit badge for that, nor will someone come to pat us on the head and tell us how good we are.  On the other hand, we will have changed ourselves for the better and even changed the world with such a simple act.  Let that be a place holder for any act of doing good, doing what needs to be done and meeting one another there.  It is about how we live our lives.

Each day presents us with another 24 hours to use – to live – as we choose.  If Rabbi Prinz was right, that neighbor is a moral concept, and if we were to remain mindful of that, which of our choices might be different?  If Pope Francis is right, that we must meet one another doing good, then our choices matter not only to the people we are and to the people we will become, but they matter enduringly to those we touch as well, including our children and their children.

We are, indeed, neighbors, and we must meet one another doing good.  It is all about how we live our lives.

What if that applied to our politics?  Things might be better.

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Ed. note:  There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better.  It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better.  That is the reason for these posts.  To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.  Please help by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

I Get It – At Last

Why would senators and congressmen intentionally force the United States to the brink of financial disaster?

Why would legislators drive us to default on our national debt and tell us that default will be a good thing?

Why would billionaires fund grass roots organizations that have their members wave Confederate flags and spout hateful lies?

Why would Bible thumping go on everywhere, such that no speech can end without invoking God?

Why would otherwise sensible people in Kansas, Texas and elsewhere deny verified facts and long proven theories and instead be promoting science as seen through the eyes of relatively ignorant people of thousands of years ago?

Why has congress been gridlocked for so long?

The answers to those questions and more can be found by taking a step back from vilifying the (insert your own epithet here) extremists and railing at the stupid things they say and do.  Instead of thinking they are (re-insert your epithet here) irrational, assume that they are sensible and determined warriors fighting for their desired goal.  What would their goal be?

That is the answer I found in reading Deborah Caldwell’s article in the Huffington Post.  The insanity of current events disappeared with the clarity that hordes of powerful people want to eliminate our government and put in its place a Christian theocracy.

Doubt that?  First read Caldwell’s article.  Follow through to the links she provides.  Then test it all with your experience of hearing Ron Paul tell us he wants to eliminate government support of public education (what would that leave for our children?) and Grover Norquist wanting to shrink the government so that it can be drowned in a bathtub (what would take its place?).  Test it against Michele Bachmann glorying in the coming end times that will be hastened by the destruction of our American structure.  Don’t dismiss that just because Bachmann says crazy things most of the time, because there are thousands – perhaps hundreds of thousands – of Americans who agree with her and 50 of them are in congress right now and they are destroying our government.

I had long thought that they did that because they got off on the power trip and the attention they received that fed their self-promotion.  I had thought that the people in the streets spouting radical stuff were just venting their anger and hoping that finally someone was listening to them and that for a brief moment they had a little bit of control.  I may have been right, but that is not the big story.

The big story is that there is a huge number of Americans who want this country to be a Christian theocracy.  They will say and do anything to make that happen and they care not at all about the destruction they will cause to America and the world with their fundamentalist, literal interpretation zeal.  They think that our Founders wanted America to be that way, this in spite of the fact that the Founders specifically designed the Constitution to prevent America from being a theocracy and they wrote about the importance of that extensively.  And that perfectly captures the denial of reality that goes on for our current day extremists.

Now imagine if the zealots had all the power, that the only law of the land was the Christian Bible and that those in charge believed in a literal interpretation of the Bible.  America would look a lot like fundamentalist, theocratic Iran.  Get ready for public stonings.

Are you scared yet?

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Ed. note:  There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better.  It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better.  That is the reason for these posts.  To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.  Please help by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Melting Pot?

Melting PotSince the first immigrants arrived this has always been a Euro-centric place.  Surely that’s understandable, since it was Europeans who were the primary immigrants for a very long time.  Of course, after a while we started importing Africans to be our slaves, but there was no need to change our orientation, since Africans weren’t considered full human beings.  Some time later people began to arrive from Asia, Mexico and Central America, but the Euro-centrics were the huge majority of the population and continued to be the powerful, the culture controllers.

The Euro-centrics were something else. too: they were mostly Protestant.  The Founders and most of the immigrants and most of their descendants where Protestant, so that has been the dominant religious orientation from the start.  That the Founders inscribed freedom of religion into the Constitution (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof: .  .  .  “) had no impact on that, so white, European Protestants have been the dominant force in America.

In the early 1960’s I overheard a conversation between two men.  One was saying with obvious concern, perhaps anger, that Ernie Banks, the Chicago Cubs star, had purchased a house a couple of blocks from where he – the speaker – was living.  This was in Chicago, a starkly divided city of neighborhoods where Poles, Italians, blacks, Jews and others pretty much stayed in their own area.  It was birds of a feather flocking together for safety.  And here was good ol’ Ernie, a black man, purchasing a house in a white area.  So, I asked what seemed to me to be an obvious question: “Are you going to picket his house with your neighbors, or ask for an autograph?”

My question wasn’t received well, as you might imagine, as my irreverent attempt at humor was a poke in the eye to this fellow’s quite serious, “He’s not like us and I don’t like him and don’t want him living down the street from my children” attitude.  His ignorance led to fear, which led to hate.  He was not alone in his behavior, nor has that ever been unusual.

Seema Jilani wrote a stunning and deeply disturbing piece for the Huffington Post about American racism today.  Read this piece with the knowledge that your sense of right and wrong, fairness and even simple courtesy are at risk of feeling violated.  And know that hers is similar to the day-to-day experience of millions of non-white or non-Protestant Americans.  If you’re feeling really courageous, do a gut check on your own prejudices.  Unless you’re somehow immune to the messages that bombard you daily to fear what is different from you, stoked continuously by political manipulators, you may find something there.

We humans do reasonably well with what is known to us and typically fear what is not known.  It’s a survival instinct and it worked well when our ancestors were living in caves and every day brought existential threat.

Almost on our doorstep is something that is not known – what American life will be like when white Protestants are a diminishing minority, incrementally losing power and control.  Just imagine all that racism reversed – shoe on the other foot, so to speak – and having to endure the slicing and bleeding of discrimination a hundred times a day just to function in every day life.

Did you say that you just want to be tolerated by those who are different from you?  No, you did not say that.  Nobody wants to be tolerated.  Other than Dick Cheney, we all want acceptance.  Toleration, by definition, suggests that others are willing to hold their noses in your presence, as though that is somehow better than beating you up.

So I’ll tell you what: I won’t tolerate you and you can stop trying to tolerate me.  Let’s instead pull a Rodney King: “Can we all just get along?”  King didn’t live long enough to see that happen.  We haven’t yet either, but perhaps we can do something about it now.

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

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