Sunday, June 17, 2018

Measuring Truth: A Lesson From My Father


In July of 1989 I had my bags packed and was bound for college. I had been accepted to Nyack College, a Christian liberal arts college just outside of New York City.  You would assume a parent would have no reservations or concerns as they sent their child off to a religious school.  But you would be wrong.  My dad (an alum of the college), sent me off with one piece of advice.  He asked me to measure everything I am taught by what I know to be true.  He would repeat that same advice a few months later as I began to search for a church.  My father simply said, just because a preacher says it, doesn't make it true.


Understand, my father (a smart man) was not a deep intellectual nor someone who could be classified as counter-cultural.  My father was genuine and everything about him rang true.  He was sincerely interested in all the people he met.  There was a finesse to how he communicated truth.  Those who knew him, trusted him.  And so it came as no surprise that he would implore me to seek truth and to weigh the lessons of those that would teach me.
This past week I have thought of him often.  Not because it was the run up to Father's Day - but because more scripture was thrown about on cable TV than ever before.  When Jeff Sessions so frivolously invoked Romans 13:1  - with a smile mind you - I could see my dad sitting in his recliner arms crossed in front of him and shuttering.  And even though he would have never been a Stephen Colbert fan, he would have found his approach in considering Roman 13:10 more in keeping with how the scriptures are to be read - you are to consider the full text.


Here are two words to add to your vocabulary:

Prooftexting:  the practice of using isolated, out of context quotations from a document to establish a proposition in eisegesis.

Eisegesis:  the process of interpreting text or portion of text in such a way that the process introduces one's own presuppositions, agendas or biases into and onto that text.

This is the very thing my father warned me against.  Scripture could be used to defend nearly anything. For example, let's say some wife has had it up to here with her husband and decided to kill her husband by driving a blunt instrument into his skull.  Well, had she coincidentally read Judges 4:21 (But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died.) she could very easily say God made me do it.  But we know that per the 10 commandments we are not to murder.  Now, this example may be rather absurd - but is no more dangerous than leaders removing scripture from its context and weaponizing it for their own agenda.
The Holy Bible is the inspired word of God.  Through my life I have seen characters treat the word of God as if it were their own word - pasting together one verse after the other to defend their point of view.  This just rubs me the wrong way, as I was used to the expository preaching of my Father.  Expository preaching is teaching the scripture in a comprehensive manner - taking context very seriously. 

As leaders spout off scripture verse after scripture verse we must take Matthew 7:15 very seriously, "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves."  As the chapter moves on (Matthew 7:23) we are reminded what fate befalls those "prophets." "Then I will tell them plainly 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!"  And for those of you that are hunkered in and are digging up verifiable outward actions as proof do me a favor check out Matthew 7:22.

We need to be so very careful when we see scripture being used as a defense. Historically speaking we know that scripture has been used to defend some of  this worlds greatest travesties.  The obvious examples are slavery and the holocaust.  But a memory from my childhood that is burned into my mind is Jonestown - 909 people died a third of which were children.  All because these folks followed a man that quoted scripture and promised utopia, a return to a better life.



Lastly, we need to understand that in the scripture leaders are held to a higher standard. "It is an abomination for kings to commit wicked acts, For a throne is established on righteousness" Proverbs 16:12. And this idea of accountability comes full circle in James "Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly."  (3:1) And our hope would be that the teachers and leaders that come our way would take their roles seriously and seek the truth.  And this isn't "relative truth."

Too often, we don't consider the information that comes our way.  If it fits our perspective it must be true. But it isn't.  For example, the children in cages image that was widely reported did not happen under this President. However, the reports of children being taken from their parents for a "bath" and not being returned is very true.  So even though I am immigrant sympathetic - I want to ensure I've got the story right.  There is no merit to an argument that isn't grounded in truth.  Take the assertion from the President that many parents of  US soldiers from the Korean conflict asked him during the campaign to bring their child's remains back from Korea is just wrong. Do the math.  My dearly departed grandmother had two sons in that conflict. She passed away in 1996 and was 93 years old.  We simply need to pause and as my Father asked of me, measure everything.  And I would add to that - when you are wrong - own it.



Saturday, May 12, 2018

A Different First Mother's Day

The following blog post is about my own personal journey.  Each of us travel the road of parental loss in very different ways.  And none of them are to be measured or judged.  No one way is right or better.  It is a journey and anyone in my city can tell you  - you can take the same journey 6 days in a row and its length and obstacles differ each day.  


As the first Mother's Day approaches since my mothers passing, I am oddly not filled with loss as many would expect.  I know this isn't normal.  And as my husband would confirm I've not been normal for a very long time.  But, I don't feel far from her.  And my heart is so full for having had her.  In essence my heart is just as overwhelmed on this Mother's Day eve as it was last year.  
In my home I am surrounded by things that bring her to me.  The piano that I now use as a tool to prepare my daughter for her first NYSSMA solo competition.  Many Sunday afternoons were spent at that pianos side learning from her.  The pictures of my family that hangs from the wall above that piano.  Each and everyday I look into the faces of her brothers and sisters.  The large very old old Tupperware measuring cup I use so often, I wonder how I ever did without it.  Every Summer we would use that measuring cup to make her freezer jam.  I wrap my hands around her knives as I slice into my morning bagel.  One of them has a plastic melted plastic handle that I presume got that way on my account.  

After my mothers passing select items of hers became mine. She would love the placement of one of her paintings in my bedroom.  And every time I open my drawer of kitchen utensils that barely closes - ok sometimes it doesn't - I can hear her saying to me "Honey, I know you want to keep it all - but I wouldn't be offended if you got rid of my things - you make things so hard for yourself."  

Oh  and the voice of my mother.  It is forever in my head. It's like she's my conscience - the reason I pause before I speak or speak too loudly - ok yell too loudly.  I hear her reminding me that children don't see the world as we do - to measure their actions and words accordingly.  She always encouraged my parenting.  By encouraged I mean challenged.  She would provoke me by asking questions that would many times bring things into focus for me.  I assume her voice will be with me forever, as she often shared her mothers voice with me.  

Then there are her grandchildren.  Her granddaughter Katheryn, that wears grandmas necklace to school every day - except gym days.  Or Anastasia who likes to remind me that I sound like my mother.  They are amazing in that they love reminiscing about grandma.  And when they do they smile and they don't even seem to approach sadness.  They loved her dearly and realize how lucky they were to have had her.  

Yes, there are times when I wish I could pick up the phone and call her.  We always tussled over politics.  So the news that Paul Ryan was not going to seek re-election or that yes I was right that Tillerson is now gone, or did you see that Comey interview.... We would have discussed all of this in length.  But in a deeper reflection, I think she enjoyed the back and forth merely bc it gave her time on the phone with me. It really was of no deep consequence to her otherwise.   

And yes, I would have loved for her to have known that I sang at Carnegie Hall recently. Or better yet, that I am four weeks into my  Diet Coke elimination experiment.  She hounded me over that for years.  But, I reflect on these things and am just so satisfied to have had a mother that would push me forward towards a better me.  

When she died I knew the best way I could honor was to continue living. I could hear her saying to me, "I died, you didn't."  And when I reflect on how hard she worked to move to NYC, 21 days before she died  - she was not going to let one minute pass where she wasn't persisting onward.  She was so weak - yet so determined. And living honors her.  

So tomorrow as the sun rises on Mother's Day - I will do what I do every Sunday.  I'll get my family ready and out the door and head to church. Then we'll go out for a nice lunch.  Maybe settle in to watch an old movie.  Then I will start to get my tribe ready for the start of a new week.  And that, will honor her. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

A Lament


The heat that floods my body from my head to my toes.

The heart pounding so hard that individual beats collapse upon one another.

The emotions that tangle up the pain, the anger, the sadness, and the fear.

The mind attempts to untangle the mess, but mystification overtakes all sense of reason.

Wisdom, seems outside the scope.

The burning flame of racial hatred.

The chilling chants of deluded racial superiority.

The manic'd masses so fearful of the browning of America, and yet cowardly won't accept the role their ancestors played when they tore families from their homes and treated them like cattle.  

The utter lack of repentance as God has lifted His children out of shackles.
Bringing to light the brilliant, innovative, hard working souls
that for generations laid in ruin crushed under the feet of oppression.  

You still act as if you don't hear the voice of the Creator screaming

I am the God who shows no partiality, I accept no bribes.

I am the God the maker of them all.

I am the God who does not show favoritism.

I am the God who commands that the foreign born
be treated as the native born.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

True Normal New York City Conversations




Yesterday Chris Christie, the Governor of New Jersey asserted that the conversation Donald Trump had with James Comey was just a normal New York City conversation.  It is fair to say that most saw that conversation as assertive at best, bullying and nearly mafioso at worst.  After living here since 1994, I can now call New York City home.  And during that time I have had some memorable conversations that sounded nothing like the one characterized as "normal" by Chris Christie.  In fact the only time I ever had a conversation like that was with a misogynistic bully of a man that I refused to work for and at great risk walked away.  For I too was asked to to do something that would risk my integrity and would risk the career of an esteemed colleague.   




So, I take exception to a Governor from another state trying defend and define how New Yorkers talk to each other.  Yes, we are opinionated and aggressive.  But there is a reason why nearly every tourist purchases some souvenir with a big read heart that proclaims I Love New York.  New Yorkers have heart. To help you further understand what I'm trying to say I wanted to share with you some truly normal conversations that happen with great frequency in my daily life.  




Yesterday
On the R train with my girls after a long day of fun the train approached Roosevelt Ave and on came one of my local CVS pharmacists, a 60 or so year old woman.  She sat next to me and for the rest of the ride we spoke about her day at the Bronx Zoo. That conversations included sharing photos, talking about her work schedule and the fact hat she hit her 10,000 steps for the day.  

Last Friday Morning
Working on some writing at Starbucks that morning, two older Jewish women told me that they thought my laptop looked really nice. She proceeded to share with me how her laptop was so heavy she never moves it. Except this one time, when she went to her sisters because she was sick. Then it wouldn't work, so she used her sisters.  The other woman then helped her realize, by telling her 3 times in 3 different ways,  that she just wasn't connected to the Wi-fi.  (FYI - My laptop is a low end Lenovo) 

Starbucks, 2016
One of my baristas shared with me how he never worked on Sundays because no matter what he does on Saturday night his abuela (grandmother) wants him in church and he goes.  Then he shared how much his life will change when she and his parents move to Florida the next year.  He is both excited and anxious.

Uber Driver, 2015
Heading to my local mall on a random errand run with my girls, my driver shared with me about how grateful he was to be here.  When I inquired as to why, he explained it was because he could practice and observe his Christianity with much more freedom than back in his home country.

NYSC, 2014
One day as I came into the gym the receptionist shared with me her worries about her son - his struggles with school, their upcoming move to Michigan etc.  The only thing that gave her peace was that her church the Jehovah Witness Hall was helping her get set up.   

Waiting Room at Memorial Sloan Kettering, Early 2011
In 2010 and 2011 I would accompany my dear friend to chemo and on one occasion I got there early.  As I waited I met Despina.  She was a women in late 70's waiting for her chemo appointment all by herself. She had children but she was always there alone.  At the end of our conversation, she handed me a change wallet with a dollar in it.  It was a thank you for merely visiting with her for 15 minutes. I still have the wallet and the dollar. I'll never spend it.



 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Dissent - A Tenet of Democracy



Dissent according to Google means "to hold or express opinions that are at variance with those previously, commonly, or officially expressed." Dissension in its truest form is a tenet of democracy. It is one of the sweetest fruits of freedom.  Starting on on December 19, 1773, when the most important act of dissension took place in the Boston Harbor.  The Sons of Liberty, revolting against the previously accepted practice of paying taxes to England, threw chests of tea overboard into the Boston Harbor.   Dissension was the only way.  They didn't necessarily know what was coming next.  But what they did know, without a doubt, was that taxation without representation was just wrong.  This was a pivotal moment of dissension for our country, and there were many more to follow.


Now, 244 years later that country can't seem to disagree without having a nervous breakdown.  Any act of dissension is deemed unpatriotic. There is an expectation to get in line.  There are those who are quick to remind you of the soldiers who died for what - for you to spit on the country.  These days online it is like the age of McCarthyism.  Friends argue incessantly, un-friend each other,  and hide each others posts if opinions don't align with their own.  To be clear arguing is not the same as ideological sparring. Sparring does not evoke name calling. All of this madness is simply confounding. Edward R. Murrow made it clear when he said, "We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it."


The nation we call home, right now was built on the backs of dissenters.  We have not descended from a line that merely gets in line. Dwight D. Eisenhower reminded us that, "Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionists and rebels - men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine. As their heirs, may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion." There were two pivotal workers strikes in Pennsylvania - one in 1889 the other in 1909.  Both strikes were to protect workers wages and in one instance to protect the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers union.  In both cases there was violence. Yet, both cases resulted in the preservation of workers rights and the continued existence of the steelworkers union. These workers had to dissent. In one instance the railway car builders were being paid via a pool system that changed daily at the whim of the foreman.  They had to eat, they had families and wages that weren't set were prohibitive.  What these workers did was in perfect alignment with the dissension that founded this nation.



Yet today, whenever an act of dissension turns even remotely uncivil there is a high brow clearing of the throat elitism that reveals our collective ignorance of what real dissension and nation building looks like.  We are still a nation under construction.  Yet we act like any act of disturbance is beneath us as a nation.  Instead of understanding that discord brings about a new day. We find proof of that in music - harmonic resolution can only occur with discord.  We find additional proof in science  - with the smooth finish of a stone that only happens when friction takes place.  Yet, we treat the state of the nation as if it were as fragile as a fresh egg.


This is a nation that has endured one movement after the other.  Each movement found its footing in the act of dissension. Dissension can be a petition, a letter to a leader, a blog, a strike, a walk, a boycott, and according to google dissension can be merely "holding" an opinion. If your daughter participates on a schools sports team she can thank Bernice Sandler and the 269 letters of complaint she filed that eventually led to Title ix.  The simple act of boycotting grapes grew to a boycott that included 14 million Americans in 1969, causing the Delano growers to sign with UFW - which brought much relief to the farmers and workers that were paid poorly and treated unfairly. Each act has led to a necessary change.  In the words of Antonin Scalia  "A good, hard-hitting dissent keeps you honest."


As we move through this time of true national division - we have to stop pretending that dissension is unpatriotic. Just the opposite. In order for our union to remain strong we must dissent when the situation calls for it.  We need to be able to sit around a table with eight seats and eight different opinions.    If you can't do that, if you can't support the ideal of dissension, then I fear that it isn't democracy you love. Simply put, democracy is a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members..... Democracy represents the whole, not the faction, not the squeaky wheel, not the richest, not the poorest, not the most religious, not those who have been here longer, not the newest of us, but all of the above.  And from time to time, dissension must occur, ensuring and proving the durability of a free and strong nation full of the truest of patriots.


Monday, January 30, 2017

My Outrage


This time last year as the Presidential Primary process was just beginning in all of my imagination I could never believe that today we would be where we are right now.  Seriously, of all the outcomes - this was dead last on my list.  Now, on this side of history I understand it and hate it all in one breathe.  The electoral process as designed I have deep respect for.  Politics and the nuisanced dances it takes to make a country and the world work have long captured my attention.  But this - this bastardized process, the permanent case of amnesia that seems to plague both sides of the electorate, and the persistent intolerance of exercised freedoms that are so sacrificially fought for is at the core of my outrage.

As snow fell last Winter, rumors fell like snowflakes that Debbie Wasserman Schultz was repeatedly interfering with both the caucus system and debate scheduling.  Despite the inability to substantiate these claims - the conservative media ran with the story calling Hillary Clintons ascension a coronation.  It would become clear in the heat of Summer, as the DNC Convention was about to begin, that these claims had legs and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, would soon find those legs cut off.  But it was too late.  Bernie Sanders was forced to get in line and his supporters were bullied into doing likewise. And yet after all that, there was an air of arrogance, a sort of counting your chickens before they hatch, that allowed the campaign of Hillary Clinton to overlook and under-address real voter concerns.



Meanwhile over on the RNC side a more complexing story was unfolding.  As the snow melted away and the Republican candidates withdrew one by one. It became very clear that both the party and the media were out of touch with deep issues that were plaguing the very constituents they were trying to woo. They (Republicans) were loyal through 8 years of George W Bush and still ended up with nothing to show for it. Then after eight years of President Obama, a man who they villianized and refused to legitimize, they were ready for a real Maverick.  Before we knew it, all the other candidates were gone and Donald Trump remained victorious.



In years past, the religious right would played the role of Scrutinizer In Chief. Mitt Romney's failure to secure the GOP's full support rested solely in his Mormon faith.  Despite the alignment in values - the division that doctrine created made Mitt Romney the wrong man for the job. But this time around - the church was done with loosing. They were willing to look past Donald Trumps failed marriages, rumored romps, foul language, massive ego, and policies that fail to align to Christian values in order to secure the White House. The end goal is the overturn of Roe V. Wade at all cost. And if you ask some, this will cost the church current members and the ability to reach future members. 



 Now in this bleak mid-winter we are buried in a blizzard of hypocrisy.  At times it feels like we the citizens are stuck between two first graders that are screaming  - He Did It  - No She Did It.  The GOP wants everyone to move on when their current Commander in Chief didn't move on until about a year ago.  The Dems are outraged at being lied to out-rightly. Lest they forget how the media was misled about a certain videotape and country called Libya.  The party that elected a Commander in Chief who at the onset of his campaign was so fouled mouthed is now feigning offense at a foul mouthed Pop Star for protesting doesn't reconcile.  What neither side is willing to admit is that they both use the same methods and they both characterize those methods as audacious.  



As this process has moved along, it has become increasingly clear to me that we don't understand how freedom works.  We have soldiers dying for our freedom to practice or not practice a religion, to speak or not to speak, to protest or abstain, to vote or not to vote, etc.  Yet, when anyone exercises a freedom that offends us, or ones expression doesn't match our own we call them unpatriotic.  And realize that if you loose an opportunity because of a freedom you participated in - understand they are free to do so.  This is freedom, plain and simple.

So currently I sit here outraged. As some would describe it, I live in an urban liberal bubble, Yet most of my huge (not bigly) extended family are proud passengers on the Trump train.  I know, that my family has been devastatingly impacted by trade decisions and I also know that they are lawful highly responsible gun owners.





My family has a long long and respected tradition of military service- my Grandfather fought in WW I, 4 uncles fought in WW 2, 2 Uncles fought in the Korean Conflict, 1 Uncle was in the service in Germany during Vietnam, and a wide variety of cousins have served and still serve.  I may not always meet them eye to eye ideologically, but understand their concerns and respect them dearly.


All the while I live in a city surrounded by people that are being dramatically affected by the new Presidents policies. Issues that if you don't live it, you may not fully appreciate it.  The older I get, and the more I learn, the more I understand that there is no black and white.  There are varying shades of grey that require contemplation.  So, here I sit outraged.  

The only way forward I see is to let the process as laid out by our forefathers play out. We must exercise the freedoms we have with the wit and wisdom that keeps us civilized.  We must remain diligent; reading always, deciphering always, empathizing always, and dissenting as required. And most of all, let's restore our respect for each other.  Because when all the dust settles, and this presidency has run its course, we have to move forward with each other.


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What We Tell Our Children



When Jimmy Carter lost to Ronald Reagan, I was in the fourth grade.  That night, I cried.  I cried because I liked President Carter, and to my little 9 year old heart I felt bad that Amy Carter would have to move out of the White House.

Tonight, as it moved into the darkest part of morning, it became painfully clear that a Trump presidency was no longer a possibility, but an absolute certainty. As we wait for the Sun to rise and wrestle with the need for sleep, the issue, as I scrolled through my feed for many parents rests in what to tell their children in the morning.  

As a politics obsessed mother of two, I was so eager to get my girls looped into the years election.  But, as the cycle droned on it became a challenge. There were times when the topics were just not age appropriate for my girls.  But, we can't hide it all from them. So eventually they caught wind of the many foibles and flaws of then candidate Donald Trump.  And now we have to face their shining faces in a few hours with an explanation that will equip them with truth and yet not destroy their faith in our country.  



So to the families that are wrestling with this, here are a few ideas to help you shape that important conversation.  

1.  Loosing is hard.  But, that should never stop us from trying again.  We don't give up. In four years, we will get another chance to vote for the President of the United States.  In the meantime, we do our best to be our best.

2.  What is right and what is wrong has not changed.  When someone who is acting badly wins - that does not mean that their behavior was/is right.  Eventually we all reap what we have sown. We need to keep listening to that little voice, our conscience, and act accordingly.  

3.  Adults can be afraid too.  Many Americans yesterday, went and voted for Donald Trump because they are afraid. They fear that we, as a country, have been making mistakes that are hurting us.  So, they voted for what they believe is a better future.  We simply may not agree on how to make our future better.  

4.  People can love this country but not agree with each other.  We are all different in so many ways and our ability to agree should never stop us from working together and respecting each other.

5.  The majority isn't always right.  Between you and me (Mom, Dad) history is rich in examples of the herd mentality gone wrong.  Again, we need to listen to our conscience.  There will be times when we need to stand alone, firmly on what we believe despite the voices that surround us.  This little lesson should be familiar to all of us.  Remember.....if all of your friends were going to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you jump off too?

6.  Depending on the age of your child, this might also be a good time for a tiny civics lesson - with a focus on citizen participation.  Explain, that they can write letters (send e-mails) to their representatives if they don't like something.  Introduce them to the concept of a petition.  

7.  Remind them that we don't just need good leaders to make this country great. We make this country great, with every kind gesture and act of charity we do. We start by loving and caring for our neighbors and neighborhood.  



Most importantly, they will look to us. They will listen to what we are saying and watch how we react.  Children hear what we say,. But, they focus more intently on what we do and how we do it.  So they will be listening....they will be watching.  And above all, be honest.  Integrity and truthfulness have been such a hot topic during this campaign.  Let them see the truth in you.  Because, when things aren't going your way, it is great to know you can trust your parents.