Category Archives: Social Responsibility

Love Your God; Love Your Neighbors

My thoughts have been pinging on the phrase “your God.” More specifically, Matthew 22:37-39 has been on my mind: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. … Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus proclaimed these…

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Do Merton’s Observations on American Myth and Frontiers Apply Today?

 Asher B. Durand (American, 1796-1886). The First Harvest in the Wilderness, 1855. Brooklyn Museum.

Thomas Merton proposed in his 1965 book Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander that a widely accepted U.S. myth was that “America is the earthly paradise.”

“When a myth becomes a daydream, it is judged, found wanting, and must be discarded. To cling to it when it has lost its creative function is to condemn oneself to mental illness,” Merton wrote.

Read the Full Article at Good Faith Media.

What About “What About Easter?”

I wrote “What about Easter?” several months ago posting it to a local media blog The Tyler Loop Babble before posting it here. Not long after it went live on the site, probably within minutes if not seconds, I had this mind-rattling thought, Oh, my, what have I done! The thought was disturbing enough, but the accompanying feelings were downright unsettling.

The feelings of vulnerability and exposure surprised me. Those feelings had little if anything to do with the content of the piece, and a whole lot to do with the fact that I said it out loud – well, I wrote it down. I threw my questions, thoughts, and belief journey out into the ether world for all to peruse, analyze, criticize, and judge. Now, I suppose that’s not a really big deal since anyone – aka yours truly – writing editorial and/or opinion content knows that it’s the nature of the beast and comes to expect analysis, criticism, and possible judgment. Thus, the need for a “tough skin,” a steadfast stance on said opinion, and/or solid supporting empirical evidence where applicable and available.

So, what was the vulnerability and exposure about? Hum! Reflecting on that question, the best answer I came up with regarded cultural context. I/We live, work, and play in the East Texas Bible Belt where the faith tenets of traditional and evangelical Christianity abound. Texas as a whole ranking #11 in the 2022 Most Religious States with 64% of adults reporting as religious.

I doubt that my thoughts expressed in “What about Easter?” reflect those of most East Texas religious folks. Or I wonder? Does our fear of vulnerability and exposure when going against the grain of perceived or real public opinion thwart the expression of our genuine thoughts and feelings? Maybe there are more folks with questioning, outside-the-box thoughts and beliefs, but keep them to themselves. Does that fear shroud our genuine selves? If that fear did not exist, how many of us would risk stepping out and going against the grain for the sake of freedom of expression and an authentic life.

I found it interesting that not long after my bout of vulnerability and exposure, a group of friends posed the question, how do we help folks with different, against-the-grain, outside-the-box thoughts and feelings on any issue be able to step up and speak out? I don’t know. However, I do have an opinion on that: As more of us step up, risk the vulnerability and exposure, and respectfully express our against-the-grain thoughts and feelings, others will as well. There is encouragement, motivation, and power in knowing one is not alone.

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An Antidote for Our Ailments — Dig Deep!

I attended a meeting of our Tyler Public Library Board last Wednesday, June 1st, at Liberty Hall. The purpose of the meeting was to conduct a public hearing to discuss and consider a Library Patron Request for Reconsideration of Library Materials. The meeting turned contentious, with hostile comments and threats, verbal and possibly physical as I heard “don’t touch me” several times from an encounter which I did not turn to observe.

Library staff were accused of “handing out pornography to our children” which is blatantly false. The book in question, Blue is the Warmest Color by Jul Maroh, is classified as an adult graphic novel and is shelved on the second floor. All children’s books are shelved on the first floor.

Also, the library does not “hand out” books of any kind. Books are chosen and checked out by individuals exercising freewill and freedom to choose or not to choose — adults, young adults ideally with parental guidance, and children surely, hopefully with parental supervision and limits. I hate that our professional, dedicated library staff are being viciously maligned and caught in the crosshairs of our current cultural and societal chaos that is far more significant and way more insidious than any book – even this one, Blue is the Warmest Color by Jul March

The atmosphere and actions during the meeting were not shining examples of our perceived serene, congenial, and lovely rose and azalea adorned community. I was both appalled and deeply saddened by the display of toxicity and entrenched divisions. Yet, given the current political and social state of our nation, I can’t say that I was surprised. Whether we wish to face it head on or not, Tyler is a microcosm of all that is both ill and good with our nation politically, racially, culturally, and spiritually. Seeking refuge in our bubble of sweet-smelling roses and azaleas while ignoring the growing rot of division and its root causes is a hazardous path destined for debacle.

We are at a pivotal juncture at all levels of our being. Is it not time for us as individuals, a community, and nation to dig deep, take a long, hard look inward – individually and collectively — to discover and address the root causes of our anger, hate, and divisions? Can we the people not call upon our better angels for the courage to dig deep, the boldness of heart to transcend our differences, and the firmness of purpose — “to form a more perfect Union.”

I know, digging deep is hard. I hope we are up for it. I cringe to think of where we might be headed if we are not.

Another School Shooting — What now?

Maybe it’s the faces of hundreds of third, fourth, and fifth-grade students intruding into my mind’s eye? Maybe it’s their voices filled with joy, wonder, laughter, giggles, and delight as well as questions, fears, disappointments, sorrows, and hurts reverberating in my ears? Maybe it’s just them – children being children full of vitality, spontaneity, curiosity, vulnerability, and innocence all the while flexing and testing their limits of influence and control in and over their world? Maybe it’s just my memories – cherished memories – of those children and my experiences with them juxtaposed with the horror of 19 children just like them being senselessly, viciously gunned down that claw and rip into my heart today?

At this moment the lives of these 19 precious children of Uvalde, Texas, feel just as real to me as the hundreds with faces and names whom I experienced and often embraced, literally and figuratively, in my years as a school counselor. My sense of loss and grief is no less real. The loss and grief borne by their parents, family members, and community friends is unfathomable.

Even as I grieve the senseless loss of our children, I can’t escape asking, “How am I, are we, complicit? What have we, as a people, done or failed to do that makes us all complicit in their deaths? Will we once again point our fingers at a single, mentally ill, emotionally disturbed man – not much more than a child himself – and absolve ourselves of any culpability? Will we again, bemoan the abhorrent level of gun availability and lack of gun regulation in our nation railing against our government’s inaction and questionable, if not corrupt, lobbying practices? Will we continue to ensconce ourselves in our polar political ideologies and do nothing, claiming powerlessness?

Or will we garner the moral courage to come together regardless of ideology to stand up and speak out with such fervor as to truly initiate change on behalf of our children’s lives and the common good with both efforts to address our national mental health crisis and our epidemic of gun violence. I can’t help but believe that we, as a people, and a nation, are at a crossroads. I am reminded of Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. After decades of increased gun violence and school shootings, will we finally do something different? Or will we continue to spiral down into greater national insanity? We, the people, hold the answer.

Guns — A Terrible Thing Happened!

The Smith County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a shooting incident at Starrville Methodist Church.
.ZAK WELLERMAN/TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH

           Pastor Mark McWilliams (no relation to me) was shot and killed in his home church, Starrville Methodist Church, last Sunday morning. Starrville is a small, rural community approximately 15 miles northeast of Tyler in Smith County, TX.

            Upon entering the church and preparing for the morning services, McWilliams, his wife and another church member opened the bathroom door and found a young man hiding and holding the church bank bag. According to authorities, the young man had been the focus of an unsuccessful police pursuit and man hunt the previous night.

            According to the arrest affidavit, upon finding the intruder in the bathroom, McWilliams, who was armed, started telling him to leave and pulled out his handgun. The intruder lunged at McWilliams, and a struggle ensued in which the intruder seized the gun and shot McWilliams. He also shot at Mrs. McWilliams and a third man who was approaching the church after hearing the gunshots. She was not hit, but the third man was shot. The intruder fled the scene in a truck belonging to one of the victims. He was caught later in the day by Harrison County deputies and returned to Smith County where he was treated for a minor injury and booked into the county jail on numerous charges including capital murder.

            When I first heard about the shooting, I was shocked that something of this nature could happen so close to home and in the sleepy little community of Starrville. I began my teaching career 50 years ago in Winona just up the road from Starrville. Many of my students had lived in Starrville. I was saddened by the pastor’s death and the loss for his family, the church family, and the community. I felt sorrow for the intruder, undoubtedly a troubled young man. Yes, a terrible thing happened! 

            As I considered the incident more, my thoughts began to dwell on the gun. If there had been no gun at the scene, there is a very good probability that the pastor would still be alive, the third man would not have been shot, and a young man would not be facing a capital murder charge. Granted, it was not a good situation, the young man had committed a crime for which there would be consequences, but the presence of a gun compounded the danger and contributed to a tragedy for all involved.

            I can remember a time in the not-too-distant past when carrying a gun was an oddity, an exception to the accepted norm. Carrying a gun to church while worshiping the Prince of Peace was never considered a possibility! Today, our society seems to be enamored with guns – concealed carry, open carry, shooting ranges, and long guns slung over shoulders while walking down the street. Yes, such a tragedy!

             I just wonder what might have happened if the pastor had approached this troubled young man as the Prince of Peace, the Christ of turn the other cheek  — in peace, with grace, love, and compassionate confrontation.  Maybe something we all might want to think about as we keep all involved in this terrible thing in our prayers.

We are Breaking or Broke! Why?


UnknownIn my recent reading of My Beloved World, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir, I halted at this statement:

Was it so hard to see himself in the other man’s shoes? I was fifteen years old when I understood how it is that things break down:  people can’t imagine someone else’s point of view.


61BP89uLAbL._SX380_BO1,204,203,200_As an elementary school counselor, I read How Do I Stand in Your Shoes to my third-grade students. I introduced the story by presenting the children with an assortment of shoes and allowing them to speculate on who might wear each shoe and what their life might be like. The room always filled with “Oooh’s” and “Wow’s” when I pulled out my uncle’s size 16 house shoes. The lesson was not about shoes, but about empathy and how we can learn to put ourselves in another’s shoes and try to understand and feel how they are feeling in any given circumstance. Sotomayor had her revelation in 1969. I was teaching my third graders in 2001-2010.Unknown-2

      It is 2020, and Sotomayor was correct in her understanding of 51 years ago. Our society seems to be breaking down, if not already broke. Why? We don’t seem to be able to, or refuse to, empathize – to imagine someone else’s point of view and understand their feelings as if they were our own. If we can’t empathize with someone, then we can’t feel or even identify with how they might be feeling.  The “Golden Rule” – we are to treat others the way we would want to be treated – is often asserted as the guide for our actions toward others. But if we can’t put ourselves in the other person’s situation and feel what he/she might be feeling then how can we be expected to discern how we would want to be treated in that situation and act accordingly.

    getty_614212068_370098 Without empathy, we have lost our guide in making just and compassionate choices in our behavior. Without empathy, we become susceptible to indifference, apathy, and lack of concern for others’ well-being. Without empathy, the spark that informs our humanity is snuffed out.  Without empathy the bridges needed to traverse the chasms of race, culture, religion, and nationality for the enhancement of our greater good are absent – simply not there. Our sense of community is based on empathy, and without empathy our communities crumble. Our communities are the foundation of our nation.

      Even a cursory glance at today’s news headlines – our racial and cultural divisions, our divisive political atmosphere, our petty bickering over issues that should not be argued – illustrate how we, as a society and nation, are breaking or broke. Granted, there is the occasional oasis – oasis whose foundation is empathy – imagining the other person’s point of view and understanding how they are feeling. We have seen teenagers organizing food deliveries for seniors, a 12-year old play his trumpet for weary medical workers, nurses volunteering to serve in Covid hotspots, and moms and grandmothers joining peaceful Black Lives Matters protest. 

      This gives me hope! Hope that these and others of us showing empathy, modeling empathy for others, and nurturing empathy in others will be the incubators for more empathy among us all and the glue that holds our beloved world — breaking or broke — back together.

  

What We Reveal When Wearing a Face Covering, or Not!

      As our nation struggles to manage, mitigate, and survive the initial outbreak and the current devasting spike in COVID-19 cases, we find ourselves in an unfamiliar place. We are at the “bottom of the heap” globally due to our leading the world in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths. In the midst of this public health crisis we seem to have lost our focus on who we are, or proclaim to be, as a people and a nation. We are floundering, failing, and flailing at one another! We have allowed our ideological idiosyncrasies – be they political, economic, religious, cultural, or racial – to overshadow our moral judgement and truths which our founding forebearers espoused to be “self-evident.” This is no more evident than in the current bickering, backbiting, and bad behavior associated with the face covering issue.5e7cded7ba85ee690669c204

       It would appear that the science and medical advice purports the benefits of wearing a face covering in lessening the spread of the virus, and thus, “flattening the curve” – a vital step in re-opening our economy and returning our social/community life to some semblance of a “new normal.” So why has wearing a face covering, or not, become such a flashpoint for debate, argument, and even violence. The face covering issue has become politicized. Perhaps this is subsequent to our President and his supporters refusing, against all medical advice, to wear one. Regrettably, and shamefully, the face covering has become one more wedge in our abhorrent practice of divisive politics.

     

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 Also, those opposed to wearing face mask often justify their position claiming rights of liberty and freedom. I get that! We Americans are a gritty lot, forever exalting our independence and railing against any intrusion or interruption thereof. But lest we forget, there are limits to our liberty. In his 1859 essay “On Liberty” John Stuart Mill defined liberty as “the limits that must be set on society’s power over individuals.” That’s good! Likewise, Mill also reminds us that “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

     So, given the science and the medical advice, is it reasonable to infer that our government entities issuing orders to wear face coverings are well within the bounds of their responsibility to “prevent harm to others.” With this being the case, the refusal of some of our law enforcement agencies to enforce the face covering and penalty order would seem to be in direct opposition to their duty to uphold the rule of law and protect the citizenry from harm. What does it reveal about our society when individuals refuse to obey a lawful order, and when our law enforcement refuses to enforce that order? A governor’s executive order, though not a duly legislated statute, does carry the weight of law. Does a blatant disregard for the law border on anarchy?

     Putting political, liberty, and law questions aside, what is the bottom line to be considered when we are making the decision to wear, or not wear, a face covering in this time of global pandemic and monumental surges in the number of COVID-19 cases. Let’s remember the words and concepts found in our Declaration of Independence. Counted among our Creator endowed “unalienable Rights” are “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Let’s not get hung up on liberty and happiness because, frankly, neither are viable options without life. Imagine rounding second and third base, heading for home plate, anticipating a homerun, but failing to tag first base! Again, science and the best medical knowledge available to us indicates that in our current situation wearing a face covering is fundamental to lessening the risk of spreading the virus.

     In wearing a face covering, we are choosing life – ours and our neighbors. In doing so we are practicing our belief in the self-evident truth that life is an unalienable right for all man(kind). In choosing to wear a face covering, or not, we are revealing a basic personal truth, not about politics, liberty, or the law but about the value, respect, and regard we have for life – all lives.  Our truth is written all over our face — covered or not!

 

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