What I want for Christmas: Be nicer, folks

Christmas-wish-listIf you could have anything you wanted for Christmas, I’m often asked, what would it be?

OK, if I could have anything, of course I would ask for world peace. I’m a priest – what else would I ask for?

But I don’t get to have just anything, any more than anyone else does.

So I’m going to make a realistic list of things that are entirely within the realm of human gift giving.

What do I want?

I want a restoration of civility in the world.

I want us to be nicer to each other.

I want the excruciating rudeness and nastiness and boorishness to Just. Stop. Now.

I want us to remember that we all come from ancient space dust, that we were all created in God’s image from that dust, and that we are all related. Whether we like it or not, we are all related. And that in the end, we shall return to that dust. Whether we like it or not.

I want the name-calling and the insults and the sneers and the snark to stop. Right. Now. Just. Stop.

I want people to stop separating the world into “us’s” and “thems.” There are no “thems” in God’s very good creation. We all belong to God, and there’s not a damned thing we can do about it.

I want all of us to remember that we could all be wrong. As in, what I believe about God and what you believe about God not only could be different, but we both could be wrong. And we will not know the answer until we meet God face to face. So stop with this nonsense about my religion being better than your religion.

In the same vein, kindly remember that because one of us says “God” and another says “Allah” and another says “Jehovah” and another says “Dios” and another says “Bwana Mungu” and another says “Wakantanka” doesn’t mean that we worship separate gods. It merely means we speak different languages. There is only one God. Deal with it.

I want there to be fewer weapons in the world, and no more of this so-called “I can carry a gun wherever I want so I can scare the bejesus out of you because it’s my right.” You have the right to carry the gun. I have the right not to be intimidated.

I want our so-called leaders and candidates to stop talking about carpet-bombing people. And no more of this “let’s kill all their family members just because we can.” No one can be a leader whose solution is simply to murder, in cold blood, anyone on earth.

I want people to stop drawing lines in the sand and to start walking together to make the world a better place. United we truly will stand together. Divided? We shall fall. Every. Single. Time.

I want Black Lives to Matter. And Native Lives. And Hispanic Lives. And All Lives. Because all of us are created in God’s image, and all of us deserve to be treated well. All of us.

I want less complaining and more complimenting. Stop bitching about how others have more, or have what you want. Start building up those same people, because they have succeeded.

I want more helping and less demanding help. Really, it’s not that hard. As Robert Fulgham said in his book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, “Share everything.” How hard can that possibly be? Remember, you can’t take your toys with you when die.

I know … I want a whole lot of things, most of which I will not be given as a gift.

But I can give these same things as gifts.

I can be more polite and more affirming.

I can give more, and demand less.

I can work harder to get more people across the finish line.

It is all up to me, and I know that.

Oh, and a few more kettlebells would be nice.

So would some silver earrings.

Those would go so well with my ever-whiter hair.

• • •

I wrote this column for InsideSources.com.

 

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This war on the poor makes no sense

 

 

What, I wonder, did the poor ever do to the rich?

Why, I ask, do the rich seem so hell-bent on hurting the poor?

What, I want to know, will it take to end this seemingly endless war on the poor and help people out of poverty so that all of us – and I do mean all of us – will benefit?

As I write this, the government has just shut down – all because a small group of people who claim to be representatives of the people refuse to recognize reality. The House of Representatives repeatedly is trying to get rid of the Affordable Health Care Act, despite the fact that Congress passed the law, the President signed it, the Supreme Court upheld it, and the people say they want it. (A note on those polls: If the act is referred to as “Obamacare,” some polls show that the American people don’t want it. But when those same people are asked about the act by its formal name, they want it. Just goes to show how polls can be skewed so easily.)

This same group of Republicans in the House also has voted to slash the food stamp program – officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – over the next 10 years.

Again, there is no recognition of reality, no recognition that people in this country need help because the jobs that do exist often do not pay enough to feed a family. Approximately 47 million Americans receive SNAP, and of those, 72 percent of those families include children – children! Never mind the fact that most of the recipients are working Americans!

Somewhere, someone decided that saving that $40 billion over 10 years was more important than feeding people.

Somewhere, someone decided that balancing the budget – as if $4 billion a year in $3 trillion dollar budget would do that – is far more important than helping 4 million low-income Americans keep food on their table in 2014. Or 3 million additional Americans in 2015. Or another 3 million Americans in 2016 and every year thereafter for seven more years. Those are the numbers of people who will be cut off, if those mean-spirited folks in the House get their way.

Do the people who made this decisions realize that for the working poor, their wages are so low – so incredibly, insultingly low – that they can’t afford to feed and house their children?

And now, the latest insult: The government is shut down.

Oh, some portions are not shut down – those deemed necessary.

But most of the workers and contractors are not being paid, even those who are deemed necessary.

(Except, of course, for those folks in Congress, who still get their paychecks even when they are engaged in a massive attack on this country and its people.)

Which leads me to ask, once again, what did the poor ever do to the rich?

Make no mistake: The attacks on the poor in this country are relentless, as though being poor is a sin, a crime, or both. Testing welfare recipients for drug use – even when every shred of evidence says that only the smallest minority of them use drugs – is an insult at best. Don’t the powers that be in this country realize that it takes money to buy drugs?

Cutting off unemployment benefits – at the same time that the richest business owners are making more money than they ever could have dreamed of – is an insult.

Trying to defund the Affordable Health Care Act, which will benefit … wait … you guessed it … the poor, is an insult.

Shutting down the government just to make a point that makes no sense and which overwhelmingly affects the poor, is an insult.

In reality, each of those actions or attempted actions is an attack on the poor, meant not only to keep them in their place but to starve them, force them out of their homes and make damned sure that they will die of easily preventable and treatable illnesses.

What is going on in this country?

To those who say that poor people should work, I answer: Hire them! Create the damned jobs, pay a living wage, and we wouldn’t need to worry about the size of SNAP! If you’re not willing to do that, then be still!

To those who say that the poor shouldn’t get health care, I answer: You first! You give up your health care, and live with the worries of what one illness will do to your budget, and then – and only then – do you get to cut off health care for others. If you’re not willing to do that, then be still!

We are only in the first hours of the government shutdown. Already, its ripple effects are being felt. Go talk to the small business owners, who are watching their profits fall, because those workers who have been furloughed? They aren’t spending. Profits fall, more people get laid off, the economy reverts to recession and guess what happens next? SNAP soars! Brilliant move, eh?

Of course, the shutdown mainly affects the poor and the working class. The rich won’t have to worry, because they still have work, they still have paychecks, they still have investments.

But … if this shutdown continues for even a few days, watch what happens with those same rich folks: Their investments are going to fall precipitously. Their profits then will fall, which in turn will cause their investments to fall even more, which in turn …

See how this works? It doesn’t make sense, yet some ideologues believe this is how you run a country.

Well, I have news for those folks: This is not how you lead a country. It is how you lead a country back into a recession.

Complete intransigence on the part of a small group of people who haven’t gotten their way and who refuse to recognize reality is hurting the vast majority of people in this country who are poor.

There’s no way around it:

The rich in this country are engaged in a war on the poor.

Who did nothing to deserve this … except to be poor.

What is going on this country?

 

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Dear NRA, Part II …

Dear NRA, Part II:

Oh, my … I am so disappointed in you, the leadership of the National Rifle Association.

I. Am. SO. Disappointed.

The NRA's Wayne LaPierre at Friday's news conference. (Photo via NBCNews.com)

You had a chance to take the lead in making this country a safer place.

You had a chance to say, “Yes, there are reasonable limits to be had.”

You had a chance to say, “Yes, we agree … private ownership of weapons created solely to kill other human beings do not belong in the hands of private citizens. And no, there is no reason for private citizens to have large-capacity magazines.”

You had a chance to do so much.

Instead, you sent out Wayne LaPierre, who blamed everyone and everything but the culprits – those who think that every gun is a good gun – and who called for a cop in every school – and then had the audacity to ask the federal government to pay for that.

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” Mr. LaPierre said at your news conference on Friday morning in Washington.

Laws that established gun-free schools zones have, your man said, told “every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.”

Your man claimed that “20,000 other laws have failed,” so why pass any more? (Talk about giving up … or is that a diversion to keep us from doing the right thing …?)

And oh, it’s all the fault of the media, the movies, the video games … (as if you, the NRA, doesn’t support the ownership of these weapons that glorify death and destruction) …

That’s the best you can do?!?!

As the leading organization for guns and gun safety, the best you can do is dig in your heels and pretend that you’ve done nothing wrong? And that there’s nothing good you can do

May I say, again, how disappointed I am in you?

Please do not tell me, once again, that “guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” Well, no duh, nimrod!

I’m well aware that guns don’t load themselves, point themselves, pull the triggers themselves. I know people do that.

I also know that having guns around people who are upset, who are arguing, who are depressed, who suffer from mental illness, makes it far more likely that someone will be shot.

That is, after all, what happened at Columbine High School. At Virginia Tech. In Tucson. And that may be the reason that 28 people lost their lives in Newtown, CT.

Someone who really should never have been near a gun got a gun – and a spit-load of ammunition, and large-capacity magazines – and shattered the lives of so many. No, he didn’t buy them. His mother did. And then Adam Lanza killed her. With her own weapon(s). Do you not see that this in and of itself is a good reason for people not to own these guns? Don’t you see this?????

Radio 104.1 WMRQ

Do you not see, NRA, why so many of us have had it? Why so many of us are saying, “Please help us stop this violence”?

We don’t want an OK Corral set up at every single school. We don’t want the next disturbed person to decide that shooting up a school with police protection would be a pretty cool way to prove that cops can’t stop bullets any better than 6-year-olds, and that shooting up a school protected by cops will make the shooter’s name live in infamy.

What we want is some sanity.

What we want is some safety.

We want it to be harder to get a gun license than it is to get a driver’s license. (I mean, really … there are no tests necessary to get a license to own an item that’s sole purpose is to take a life, human or otherwise?)

We want mandated instruction … you know, just like for driver’s licenses.

We want every loophole closed. And no grandfathering of guns already owned.

BAN those bloody assault weapons! BAN the large-capacity magazines! REQUIRE safety courses! REQUIRE testing before licensing!

And hear me clearly, NRA:

I AM NOT SAYING AMERICANS CANNOT HAVE GUNS.

So don’t you dare come out and attack me as a lily-livered liberal who hates guns!

Do. Not. Go. There.

I want sanity. I want safety.

I want there to be fewer places to buy guns than there are McDonald’s or Starbucks.

I want a sane approach to gun ownership.

And I want assault weapons gone.

Period.

Hunting rifles? Fine.

Guns used for target shooting? Fine.

Shotguns? Fine.

But why …why … does anyone need a 9mm handgun? Or a weapon developed for the military? Why?

Oh, my dear NRA:

I had such high hopes for you.

But since you are choosing to ignore the calls for sanity in gun laws, we will move forward without you. We will not give in to your bullying and your threats. We will not attempt to accommodate you.

We will, instead, do what God is calling us to do: To care for each other. To look at what the community needs. To set aside our desires for the good of all of God’s children.

I do hope that at some point – preferably sooner rather than later – you join us in this effort.

Really.

There is so much good that we can do together.

As Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said at the National Religious Leaders Press Conference in Remembrance of the Newtown tragedy: “The indiscriminate distribution of guns is an offense against God and humanity. Our gun-flooded, violence-prone society has turned weapons into idols. And the appropriate religious response to idolatry is sustained moral outrage.”

Which, whether you like it or not, we are going to show – moral outrgage, I mean – until we win this fight.

As The Rt. Rev. Mariann Budde, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, said on Friday, on the One-Week Anniversary of the Newtown Massacre, commemorated at the Washington National Cathedral, “It is only natural to wonder in our worst moments whether God has abandoned us. Yet the more compelling spiritual question isn’t where God was last Friday morning, but rather, where we were. For God has no body on earth but ours.”

That’s what you don’t seem to get, NRA. We are God’s body on this earth.

And we have had enough.

 

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It’s not the economy, stupid – it’s the PEOPLE!

Sigh.

For some reason, the bigwigs in Washington Do. Not. Seem. To. Get. It.

They are concerned with scoring points, with making sure “their” side “wins,” with “defeating” the other side.

What they are not concerned about is the American people. You know … us. The folks whom the bigwigs are supposed to serve.

Actually, it's NOT the economy, stupid!

We, it seems, are not part of any equation for solving the financial crisis confronting this country.

Well, “we” as in, those of us who are in the middle class or the lower class, or who, alas, actually live in poverty.

If we were part of the equation, then some of these dingbat ideas under discussion in Washington would never have seen the light of day.

I’m talking about the idea of extending the retirement age – again. Only white, privilege males who receive the best health care in the world would think this is a good idea.

The rest of us? The ones who work in factories or stores, who physically labor, who are the grunts of the work force? Who spend our time outside in all the elements? Who climb up and down ladders, or tote heavy items, or deliver things that have been ordered online?

Please. Our bodies break down a whole heck of lot earlier and easier than do the ones of so-called leaders who work, yes, but do not labor.

Every sane study shows that upper-income white males with marvelous health care indeed can retire later. But the rest of us? Get real. (See Ezra Klein’s column in The Washington Post on Nov. 21. He does a great job of explaining this.)

And this is why I’m sighing right now.

Because those in charge seem to be forgetting that they are in charge for one reason:

To advance the common weal of all the people.

In 1992, Bill Clinton’s campaign used the mantra, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

This year, that mantra needs to be changed.

It needs to say, “It’s the people, stupid!”

As in, PAY ATTENTION TO US!!

The economy can’t get better as long as too many of us are (a) out of work or (b) working in jobs that simply do not pay enough.

And please don’t talk to me about this silly idea that increasing taxes on the rich will hurt the economy. Because that is Not. True.

The richest among us have received extraordinary tax breaks for the last decade … a decade in which they have grown much, much (did I mention much?) richer, while unemployment has grown and wages have fallen.

So … tell me again how giving the rich yet another tax break is going to help the economy?

And if it isn’t going to help the economy, how, pray tell, is it going to help the people of this country?

And if it doesn’t help the people of this country, then, I can assure you, it is not for the common good, and therefore should not be done.

I know that we are headed for a so-called “fiscal cliff” and that I am supposed to be quaking in my boots over this.

Well, I’m not.

You know why?

Because if nothing else, going over that cliff will at least serve as a wake-up call to the folks in charge. Heck, it might even get them to do something about the state of the economy, to help those in need, and to get going on doing the work that needs to be done, for our people and for our country.

I know, I know:

IF we go over that cliff, the middle-class will be hit, immediately, with a tax increase on average of $2,000 per year. In simpler terms, that means an additional $5.50 per day for each of us.

Ouch.

          But it also means that the richest people will have to pay more as well, which means that there will be more money in the budget.

Yes, drastic cuts are supposed to happen as well.

But that’s Congress’ fault, because Congress has failed to act, because Congress has been focused too much on “winning” political games and not enough on doing its actual job.

I also know that what Congress hath wrought, Congress can un-wrought as well.

It was Congress that mandated these stupid, across-the-board cuts.

So Congress can un-mandate those same cuts.

But only if Congress decides to be sane, to quit posturing and to take care of the real business of this country, which is not, as Calvin Coolidge once proclaimed, “business,” but the welfare – the common weal – of the American people.

One more thing:

Those so-called “entitlements”? The ones that conservatives like to attack with abandon, even as they and their family members collect them?

Leave them the hell alone.

No, wait.

Reform them.

In sane ways.

Social Security? It would be solvent for decades if we collected FICA on incomes above $110,000, the current cap for taxation. Really? We only tax up to $110,000? That’s totally insane, you know, from an economic standpoint. It means that the people who pay the most are the ones who can afford it the least, while those who can afford it the most pay the least.

In what economic universe does that even remotely make sense?

Medicare? Stop the insane talk about increasing the retirement age. See the argument above – only upper-class people can afford to do this, and they don’t need Medicare anyway. So they certainly are not the people to be making this decision.

Medicaid? Someone really wants to cut this? Are they, too, insane? Who in their right mind wants to ensure that sick people stay sick? In what economic model does that make sense?

Never mind the nonsense about cutting assistance to those most in need. Those ideas? They need to be named for what they are: Punishment on those who are in need, who are less fortunate, who don’t have a leg up, who can’t get a leg up.

Every sane study out there says that the better we care for our people, the better off we will be as a country.

Bingo! I say we need to catch each other ... that's what community is all about.

And those wacky ideas on closing loopholes and removing tax deductions? Be careful what you ask for, is all I can say. Let’s take just one of those deductions, the one for charitable giving: End that one and boom! Charities are in deep kimchi. I’m sure all those homeless people, and needy people, and any other people receiving help via charities would be fine with having their help cut in order to magically “balance” the budget on their backs.

So you know what I say?

I say, Go ahead. Let’s jump off the danged fiscal cliff. Let’s do so with joy and abandon.

I’m willing to suck it up and pay $5.50 day – if it means that (a) the whole community is being helped, and (b) the people who can afford this a whole lot more than me kick in their fair share as well. (And no, having a rich person pay the same amount as me Does. Not. Count.)

I am not going to like paying $5.50 a day – and frankly, it’s going to be a stretch to do so (I’m not exactly middle class right now). But dang it! If that’s what it will take to ensure that the least among us are cared for, that our government is focused on all the people, that the community will be built up, that the safety nets will be strengthened … well, yeah. I’m in.

Are you?

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