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King Stephen and Herr Trump: thoughts on the inauguration

Today Donald J. Trump will take the oath of office to become the 45th President of the United States. He does so as the most hated and distrusted person to ever swear that oath, an oath that he refuses to uphold and will never uphold beyond his ability to use the government of the United States for personal profit, something explicitly forbidden by the Constitution of the United States and therefore the oath he is about to take.

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Taking an oath of office you have no intention of upholding is nothing knew.  Nearly every king and queen regnant of England, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom has sworn a coronation oath.  Here is that oath and coronation ritual as King Stephen swore it on 26th of December, 1135 when he usurped the throne of King Henry I’s daughter and heir, Empress Matilda:

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“Do you Stephen de Blois solemnly swear to uphold the three duties of the king of England? Will you swear first, that the church of God and the whole Christian people shall have true peace at all time by your judgment; Second, that you will forbid extortion and all kinds of wrong-doing to all orders of men; Third, that you will enjoin equity and mercy in all judgments?” asked the Archbishop of Canterbury as he stood before the assembly at Westminster Abbey.

“I so swear!” promised Stephen.

The archbishop turned to the nobles assembled before him, “Do you, members of the Witan council consent to this man ruling as your king?”

“We wish it and grant it,” confirmed the Witan.

“Stephen de Blois, it is the will of the English people that you are to be king!  Receive now the anointing from God through me that you may be blessed in your reign!” proclaimed the archbishop as he anointed Stephen on his hands, breasts, shoulders, and arms with holy oil prepared for the coronation. In honour of the king’s duty to protect his people, he girt Stephen with a mighty sword before placing the royal crown upon his head. The royal ring he placed on Stephen’s finger. The sceptre and the rod he placed in Stephen’s hands. Finally, and at long last King Stephen sat down on his throne, his ambition fulfilled.

 

Trump’s coronation today (for there’s nothing democratic about his “presidency”) will resemble King Stephen’s in many strikingly similar ways–as will his reign. Stephen of course did not have nuclear weapons.  But like Trump, Stephen was a sort of puppet, a weak-minded monarch who allowed shrewder and even more ambitious men to use him for their personal gain — at the expense of not only the English people, but the entire island of Britain. King Stephen’s reign and its impact on England, Scotland, and Wales is an important part of “Empress Matilda of England.”  

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Empress Matilda of England tells the story of Henry I’s sole surviving legitimate child.

Matilda herself did not cross the Channel to assert her birth right upon hearing of Stephen’s treachery for she was heavily pregnant at the time and crossing the English Channel was a dangerous matter.  Stephen of course did not have nuclear weapons at his disposal.  Four hours from this writing, Donald J. Trump will.

We cannot afford delay in Resisting. We cannot afford to wait and see and hope that maybe Trump isn’t as bad as he seems.  Do not let the gas-lighting convince you to mistrust your own eyes, ears, and judgement. Do not get lulled into a false sense of security.

King Stephen inflicted eighteen years of civil war upon Britain, years called “The Anarchy.” They were among the worst years in British history.  Let us not allow history to repeat itself here.  Let us learn from history. Only our lives and liberties are at stake.

 

 

 

Discussion: Is Jesus’ birth worth celebrating?

manger-620x412This morning I found this fascinating article entitled “Is Jesus’ birth worth celebrating?”  In it Valarie Talerico takes us beneath the surface of the Christian celebration of Jesus’ birth and looks at the inherent messages about female sexuality.

“A woman used is a woman soiled. A woman raped is a woman ruined. A girl who explores her body with a boy is a licked lollypop.  A divorced woman shouldn’t get married in white. Only an unbedded and so unsullied female—a virgin—could be pure enough to birth a perfect child, the son of God.”

The article goes into depth into the cultural and religious history behind these ideas that a woman who has never been sexually touched is superior to all other females.

Looking deeper than the article does, I must point out that these same cultures and religions often employ rape as a sort of weapon:  once used by the rapist, a woman is considered wholly unsuitable for marriage.

Though rape is a traumatic experience for the girl or woman, in societies and religious traditions where female conduct reflects on her male owners, the intent of the rapist is revealed to be more an attack on the men in her life, a way of dishonouring them through her.

Boudicca artist concept chariotThat is, in fact, the primary reason why Roman soldiers raped Queen Boudicca’s daughters:  they were sending a terrorist message that just as they ruined and shamed the Iceni (to rape their princesses is to shame the entire tribe), they were perfectly prepared to shame and terrorize any Briton daring to stand up to them.

And so we must examine in our own hearts what our values are and what we really want them to be.  Do we want to continue to measure a woman’s worth based on how many male genitals have touched her body and in what fashion?  Do we want to continue to weigh a person’s worth based on another person’s behaviour or experiences?  Do we still want to confuse service/nurturing with subservience and demand women treat themselves as inferiors to men?

Libby bird iconOr do we want something better for ourselves, our families, and our societies?  Do we truly believe in the equality of all people and the rights of every person to act according to her or his own conscience and convictions or will we persist on judging and condemning others for choices and circumstances that differ from our own?

Will we take the dark road of hate and judgement or will we take the harder road of love, acceptance, and peace?

I cannot answer that question for you; only for myself.  I choose love and peace.  I choose to accept you just the way you are — free of judgement.  You are wonderful just because you are you.

 

Merry Christmas!

–Laurel A. Rockefeller

 

Not so innocent: Israel, genocide, and the myth of the “chosen people”

Growing up in Lincoln, Nebraska and attending Temple Baptist Church, I grew up with the same beliefs that many Evangelical Christians hold towards Israel:  Israel is the promised land of the descendants of Abraham.  When I read in the books of Joshua and Judges about the legendary conquest of Palestine by the Hebrews after their 40 years wandering in the wilderness, no one seemed to even notice that these military campaigns of conquest amounted to GENOCIDE where civilians, including and especially women and children, were put to the sword so the Hebrews could come in and take their land.  This was GOD’S WILL and therefore it was okay.  If God wants it, the killing is moral and just, right?

In my 20 years in the Church, no one ever questioned this doctrine.  No one ever said “hey, wait, these are war crimes.”  Instead since it was divinely mandated, it must be right — and historically true, of course.

This sentiment is echoed in temples, both reform and orthodox, especially at Hanukkah and Passover.  Israel belongs to the Jews as a right forged in an ancient covenant with God.  Jews are the Chosen People.

Being the “Chosen People” of God carries a lot of weight.  Being chosen means you are granted a measure of special grace from God, the right to do certain things without consequences.  You can kill as you please because God wants you to.

Now before anyone gets in a huff and calls me anti-Jewish, let me be very clear:  I love Jewish culture, food, tradition, and especially my many Jewish friends and acquaintances.  I lived for over four years in a orthodox Jewish neighbourhood in Brooklyn, New York as not only a gentile, but one of the Old Religion of Britain and Ireland who strives to honour and embrace the British-Irish part of my heritage in my day-t0-day life.

As a historian who often favours being the outsider because of the objectivity this offers me for learning and study, I was able to listen, learn, and observe without the social-psychological chains that often blurs most people’s perspective.  I have no agenda except discovering the truth.  This is why my writing is so powerful and my books are to be believed.  I’m not a slick politician or sales person trying to sell something to you; just an honest researcher looking for truth.

The Bible of course covers ancient history — legendary or literal is a matter of debate.  Yet in Christian churches and in many Jewish congregations as well this doctrine that Israel is the God-given promised land of the Hebrews/Jews persists.

This Zionist idea that Israel rightfully belongs to Jews transcends denominational differences and enters the realm of politics.  Israel has certain rights to behave in whatever is perceived as its own interests.  To gainsay Israel’s decisions is to be anti-Jewish.  I am here to say that nothing could be further from the truth.

Last week I found the above video in a facebook feed exploring the modern state of Israel’s history.  In it and you discover that Israel is hardly this innocent and moral God-blessed nation who can do no wrong.  Far from it.  Objectively speaking, the Israelis are guilty of genocide and war crimes such as the West typically condemns when done by any other nation — except Israel.

Indeed anyone from any country who even remotely questions what Israel does is quickly labelled as anti-Jewish, especially politicians.  It would seem that to be pro-Jewish means not noticing Israel’s faults — or its war crimes.

 

I stand here asking you to now question that dogma.  Take a step back towards objectivity. When Iraqis do this to its peoples, when Syrians do this in its civil war, when Russia treats a minority group this way, DO WE NOT CALL THEM WAR CRIMES and CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY?

 

Perhaps it is time to abolish this whole “chosen people” propaganda and instead look at all human beings as humans.  No one is expendable.  Life is life!  Every single human in this world deserves a decent and safe home, clean and nourishing food and water, the best possible education, decent clothing, safety from harm, and the chance to live a satisfying life.  Anyone who steals any of these things from anyone else needs to be sanctioned and dealt with.  Everyone has the right to live.  Everyone.

Mid-night musing: I watch in horror at human complacency

America Poverty CoverI watch in horror the way that human life and human creativity‬ are regarded as worthless. Not since just before the black death swept the world in the 13th to 17th centuries have we seen such a poor regard for life, for human dignity. Books that take years to write are sold for pennies. Music that take 10,000 hours to craft are not even acknowledged as worth paying for. We have an epidemic of complacency, where no one relates to anyone, where everyone takes everything for granted. There is no more thanksgiving to our cultures. There is no more any sort of appreciation for the hardship of others. We are all calloused. We simply no longer care. We want to each live, but few around us respect who we are nor that we should continue to live.

In Star Wars episode I, Anakin Skywalker said, “The problem with this universe is that no one helps anyone.” He was right.

Instead of treating everyone else as “surplus population” we need to understand that there is abundance all around us. We only need to come together, to care about each other, to help one another instead of judging people to find it.

When I was a child, we did a little play called “stone soup” about a traveler who tricks a community full of people only concerned for themselves into working together as a community, of sharing what they had with those around them.

We need some stone soup. We need to care about each other once more.

Breaking the Religious Code of Silence in Rape, Incest, and Domestic Violence

May 16, 2012

May 10, a New York Times article reports, “Ultra-Orthodox Shun Their Own for Reporting Child Sexual Abuse.” The story details the dire consequences many Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn continue to face for daring to report child molestation and abuse to secular authorities. As we have all heard reports about for the last few years with the recent controversy over Roman Catholic clerical sexual abuse, the incidents, and the religious community response to anyone daring to break the code of silence that keeps victims hidden and perpetrators un-noticed, transcends religions. Blaming the victims and protecting the abusers is not just a Roman Catholic problem, or an Orthodox Jewish one for that matter.

I know all about this from my personal life. I too grew up in a very conservative religious community. In my case, it was Evangelical, “Born-Again” Christian. I grew up hearing sermons from Jack Van Impe, Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, and countless others whose names I’ve forgotten across the years, all of whom would probably be considered Tea Party today for their ultra-conservatism. When I was in junior high I remember an older, teen peer being shunned in a formal church service, ex-communicated and banned from our church for pre-marital sex. With so much hidden (or not so hidden) pain of my own to go through, I did not process at the time (or perhaps could not in that religious environment) exactly what I had witnessed in seeing that shunning.

It is time our organized religions stop this conspiracy of blame and conspiracy of silence. No one makes a man or woman beat another. No one makes someone rape anyone. Responsibility for these terrible things lies on the person who does them. Surviving doesn’t make you dirty or sinful or evil or corrupt or anti your religion. When you suffer this, you are NOT to blame, no matter what someone says. Churches, synagogues, temples, religious communities of every theology and structure all need to stop this behavior. No matter how many weapons a perpetrator has or how powerful s/he is physically, not one abuser can continue without the silent consent of the group. When the group stands against these horrible things, the violence STOPS.

Violence is not the victim’s problem; it is everyone’s problem. We are all diminished every time a person is verbally demeaned, every time someone is forced into a non-consensual sexual act, every time someone is physically assaulted. Responsibility lies with all of us. If we do nothing to help the person in jeopardy, if we ignore the screams, if we turn away instead of intervening, then we have only empowered those doing these things.

From Martin Luther’s Sola Scriptura to Modern Biblical Literalism

May 17th, 2012

Politicians swear by it. Conservative Christians insist upon it. It has fueled debates on evolution verses creationism in public schools, civil rights legislation (everything from slavery to racial equality to gay marriage and beyond), and shaped archaeological expeditions to the Middle East. It is Biblical Literalism, the belief that the Bible is the literal and infallible “word of God” that must be read and interpreted as absolutely and literally true-down to every single word.

Biblical literalism is not confined to Christianity. It is also a common position in both Islam and Judaism, both of whom also use, to one extent or another, Biblical texts as part of their theologies. In 2011, Stephen Tomkins of the UK’s “The Guardian” tackled the question of how and why Biblical literalism is so prevalent in our culture in his article “How Biblical Literalism Took Root,” explaining the roots of the Biblical Literalist movement with the Protestant Reformation and its anti-papist viewpoint.

In 1521 Martin Luther was called upon to answer for his previous writings against papal abuses of power at the Diet of Worms, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me.” (http://www.luther.de/en/worms.html) This doctrine of Sola Scriptura (only the Bible), does not actually dictate how the Bible is to be read, interpreted, and applied; it only dictates that the Bible alone is authoritative. Contrary to later Protestant tradition, Luther’s position was that scripture plus reason-not the rulings of the church-should guide a Christian’s life. This focus on reason precludes a truly literal reading of the Bible, particularly as science and technology revises earlier understandings of Nature.

In the centuries after Luther, the Bible came to be perceived as so infallible that every word can and should be taken literally. Modern Biblical literalism was born!

Yet perhaps the modern version is not as productive as we all thought. Perhaps it is time to return to Luther’s intended sola scriptura-scripture alone (as opposed to focusing on outside interpreters)-but viewed through the lens of reason-not blind literalism.

 

 

The Myth of Perpetual Trauma

Originally posted June 25th, 2012

“You really need to see a therapist” advises a perfect stranger responding to my comment on a news blog where I discuss the gross under-reporting of sex crimes and domestic violence. My remark is sociological in nature, referencing data I learned in my university education which included sociology, social psychology, and pre-counseling psychology courses. The person reading it regards my data as “angry” and “hurt” in nature and assumes that I am a survivor of some sort of domestic violence or sex crime who needs professional help.

She was correct in assessing that I survived something, but completely off-base in her assumption that surviving something automatically means that the person is so traumatized by the event(s) that she presently needs professional therapy. Knowing nothing else about me, she could not know my personal medical history, much less the details of the crimes, yet she felt it appropriate to stick her head into very private personal business. Her underlying assumption was “if victimized, then need help.”

As well-meaning as her intent was, it is faulty in its logic. Every single person and every crime is different. We each respond to the stressors in our lives differently.
Sometimes a stressor like domestic violence or rape un-nerves us, undermining our capacities to live normal life. In these cases, it is probably advisable to seek professional help in getting back to a more productive mental state.

But the point of therapy is not to stay in therapy forever; the point of therapy is to get BETTER and NOT be in therapy any longer. The point of therapy is to HEAL – just as you heal from a physical woundIt is SUPPOSED to end; if no end is in sight, then the treatment isn’t working and a new therapist and/or approach is needed, just as you would do for any physical condition – like my chronic migraines where prescription drugs didn’t help, but a change to holistic therapy DID in reducing my physical pain.

Just as a stressor may unnerve us, it may equally INSPIRE us; we can and typically do respond to stress POSITIVELY. Surviving domestic violence or a sex crime often provokes us to make positive changes in our lives, allowing us to break destructive habits, increase in wisdom/insight, and grow deeper in our chosen spirituality. We learn from every experience in our lives; the most stressful events are generally the best teachers.

Despite living my life today with physical scars on my body that will never really go away from the crimes I suffered, I can honestly tell you that I would not change anything about my life, even and especially the mistakes I’ve made.
I am not less of a person. I am not weak for surviving criminal behavior. All of these experiences have given me insight, forced me to grow religiously, and developed inner resources and skills I would never have been able to. Through the crimes I suffered, I came to finally overcome several bad habits I’ve had that, in hindsight, have been rather self-destructive. Under the stress of coping with these hurtful events, I have discovered that I BLOSSOMED as an individual. My insights and understanding of the world is rooted in them.

Have I ever gone to therapy? Absolutely, many times over the course of my life, and using many different approaches. But therapy did its job: to help me cope and move on.

Surviving a crime is not a life sentence, no matter how brutal, horrible, or long-lasting. We all heal and move on. Surviving is not weakness, not something to be pitied. The strongest people in the world all survived some sort of serious trauma. Remember that next time you hear someone suffered something; odds are really good they are tougher inside than you are!

Medieval Militias: a Brief History of England and Europe’s Primary Defense Forces

This article published on June 21st, 2012 was originally written in response to the raging gun control debate exploding at the time.  In that debate, I kept hearing ardent defenses of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution which states in full, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Being a history person, I therefore took the time to look into the history of militias in hoping of shedding light onto the context behind these most controversial words in the US Constitution.

 

Medieval Militias: a Brief History of England and Europe’s Primary Defense Forces

When most people hear the word “militia,” Colonial America minutemen probably come to mind. Others may remember that it was the Massachusetts militia that Congress adopted and assigned to George Washington in 1775 in order to free Boston from occupying Crown forces. To this Massachusetts colonial militia, Congress merged the colonial militias of the other twelve colonies, forming what became the “Continental Army.”

But this new Continental Army was not an army in the modern sense nor did it form in a historical vacuum. Instead, the American militias that became George Washington’s forces all evolved out of a much older tradition that goes back more than one thousand years before the Founding Fathers and Founding Mother’s time.

It all began in antiquity, as most things ultimately do. Celtic and Germanic peoples competed for resources across Europe, each with very distinct war traditions. Medieval England would take most of their traditions from the Germanic tribes.

Ancient Germanic cultures maintained a tradition of calling forth every able bodied man to fight in times of crisis; professional soldiers were not part of this equation. This tradition became part ofEnglish Common Law even as a more codified feudal system emerged. These first militias were the backbone of defense across Europe; mercenaries were hired sometimes but were so expensive that they were particularly rare in the first millennium of the Common Era. Starting in the eleventh century, the numbers of professional, mercenary soldiers grew thanks to the evolution of a new practice called “scutage.” In scutage, a vassal pays money to his liege lord in exchange for being excused from personally providing military service. With this money, kings and nobles bought more mercenaries than they ever could before. As with most things, Europe’s transition from barter to money-based economics facilitated that shift. Soon it became common for the wealthiest to pay their way out of putting their own necks on the line on the field of battle, increasing the number of mercenaries a king or noble could employ.

But mercenaries were no solution to the problem of how to defend a nation. In England, non-feudal militias were encouraged through laws requiring every able bodied man to keep weapons and train with them. The Welsh longbow became the natural weapon of choice; they were relatively inexpensive and could be owned by even the poorest Englishman. Laws were passed to encourage proficiency with bows. By the Hundred Years War, the result of generations of encouraged archery proficiency rang clear with English victories against the French rooted in the skill of English bowmen – nearly all of these longbow men serving in the militia. As mercenaries became more ruthless in their treatment of civilians, resentment against professional soldiers grew; only the militia made up of their peers could be trusted.

This belief that militia, not professional soldiers, could be trusted stayed with English society through the 17th and 18th centuries, becoming part of colonial American attitudes towards professional verses non-professional soldiers and, ultimately made its way into the United States Constitution through the Second Amendment guaranteeing, just as 13th century English law, the rights of ordinary citizens to defend the country instead of a professional army.

Shaming Poverty: One Person’s Stereotypes Leads to Personal Humiliation While Buying Food

This was another one of my Yahoo Voices articles where the trolls lingered.

 

Shaming Poverty: One Person’s Stereotypes Leads to Personal Humiliation While Buying Food

Myths Concerning Unemployed, Poor Persist Despite Prolonged Great Recession

November 3rd, 2013

Saturday October 26th. After working all week at my holiday temp job, I go to my neighborhood Dollar General to buy some milk and a couple frozen dinners for work. Earlier this month I stocked up on groceries, knowing my work schedule offered little time for cooking, reducing my food stamp total to less than $15 for the rest of the month.

At checkout, my total exceeds my remaining balance by about three dollars — nothing major — until the clerk asked me a question no one asked me since I was six years old buying a soda from my allowance. “Do you have money to pay for that?” she snarled unapologetically.

What? I thought to myself, keenly aware she was talking about just three dollars and change.

Caught off guard, I replied yes simply, showing her my debit card while she scowled over the split payment transaction. Leaving the store, the humiliation set in. Despite my professional dress and demeanor, this woman assumed (incorrectly) that I had no way to pay the three dollar balance owed, something no one ever communicated to me since I was a child buying small items from my allowance. Across dozens of mixed food and non food purchases at the same store, my capacity to pay for the non food items never came into question — until this purchase.

So why assume I could not pay — especially in face of my clean, well-cared for clothes and professional conduct?

The answer has to be rooted in persisting stereotypes about the poor, working poor, andunemployed. Despite the length of this Great Recession and high unemployment numbers, especially here in Johnstown where the unemployment rate in August was 8.7% (1.4% higher than the national average, and 1% above the Pennsylvania average), our culture still equates poverty with laziness, criminal activity, mental illness, and drug addiction — none of which apply to me, something self evident in my prolific work for Yahoo Voices and the seventeen editions of my twonovels, all self-published within a span of just eleven months.

On the flip side, my white cane leads to the assumption by those with little experience with the differently abled that my sight loss is sufficient for me to be dependent on federal disability payments. Few people realize that the federal definition of “legally blind” is 20/200 vision — compared with Pennsylvania’s 20/70 threshold which my 20/80 vision meets.

That is to say, I’m too blind to drive and too blind to work in industrial settings (where most of the few local jobs are) — but not blind enough to receive cash assistance from the federal government, Instead, the assistance I’ve received comes through Pennsylvania’s vocational rehabilitation program offering me some adaptive technologies (such as my white cane, large ruled paper, and a special desk lamp) designed to help me re-enter the work place.

No matter how you cut it, the words cut sharply at my pride. For I understand that while abuse of unemployment assistance, food stamps, and other programs designed to support the poor happens, the number of people who actually fit the stereotypes are very small — despite what politicians may claim. Most people receiving food stamps do so because the alternative is starving, not because they do not want to buy their own food.

Given a fair chance, most people receiving government assistance would prefer not to — regardless of age. Ask anyone struggling to scrape by on social security if they would rather be living off saved money in a pension or IRA — or off social security and nearly every person would prefer the former. Ask any long term unemployed person (such as myself) if she or he would rather be working or trying to make do through the help of others and nearly every person would rather be working. As any person working for minimum wage and not able to feed her or his family despite working full time if she or he wants food stamps and you will also hear a resounding “No!”

Americans do not want entitlements. Americans want to pay their own way. We want jobs and living wages. We want to support ourselves. And we want the system to be fair — rewarding hard work, education, and good choices instead of bad choices. For it is truly ironic that a heroine addict on the street readily gets disability assistance from the federal government — something that person chose to do — but my sight loss and hearing loss only affords me scorn and shame.

We can and must do better.

Sexism, Bullying, and Devaluation of Women by Women

Sexism, Bullying, and Devaluation of Women by Women

February 1st, 2014

On NBC’s “Meet the Press” Senator Rand Paul argued against the so-called “War on Women” and Hillary Clinton’s qualifications to become the next president of the United States by attacking Bill Clinton’s infidelities.

Women know these arguments all too well; the fight against laws denying women recognition of existence separate and different from fathers, husbands, even sons form the core of women’s movements around the world and across centuries. From the dawn of American history and stretching back centuries before, thousands of pages of women’s history tell the tale of women’s efforts to be recognized as full and equal human beings, history rarely even taught in our schools.

One of the most damaging arguments in western cultures argues that a woman’s value as a person, her character, and her professional abilities are defined by her appearance. We see this music, television, and films when female performers (including “extras” in music videos) feel compelled to wear as little as possible and behave as sexually suggestive as possible in order to attain “success.” We see this in the way we evaluate athletes like British gymnast Beth Tweddle are labelled as “ugly” or criticized for not being sexy enough.

I’ve recently experienced this same sexism in remarks made to a recent article I wrote about the inner transformation I’ve found by making some small changes to my looks.

The consensus: the quality of my writing, professional success, and personal worthiness as a human being has everything to do with my looks (hair, makeup, clothing) and little if anything to do with my education, my talent, and my personal accomplishments.

None of these scathing remarks bother to look at the underlying message of the piece: that the smallest change to your appearance affords the opportunity to change how you look at the world. Instead, the focus sits on which cosmetic changes I made. Or put another way: surface over substance.

I am not bothered by these remarks as such. People are entitled to their opinions. But it speaks volumes to me that one or more people are willing to equate my worthiness as a human being and talent based entirely or almost entirely on what amounts to a haircut and my first attempts to apply makeup.

This is sexism in its most basic and often vicious form. Sadly, it is almost the rule in our culture and not the exception. From preoccupation with the shoes and clothes worn by women in Congress to the way we label professional women according to how “hot” they look to the prevalence of bullying women of all ages over hair, makeup, fashion, weight, and body shape, we as women are rarely judged by our inner persons.

What is perhaps more alarming is the way we women are the first ones to judge and bully based on appearance. The trolls who equate my professional worthiness with the way my hair looked on one day when I was not spending much time styling it are not men — but women.

If we as women are the first to bully and demean, how can we expect men to see us as more than just sexual objects? As Elizabeth Cady Stanton put it, “We are the only class in history that has been left to fight its battles alone, unaided by the ruling powers. White labor and the freed black men had their champions, but where are ours?”

We have the world we want to live in. We create it by our attitudes, our beliefs, and our actions.

But we can change this world with a single thought: I/we are not less human, not less worthy of love, success, and happiness than anyone else.

Perhaps one of the most empowering quotes of all comes from Mohadesa Najumi which I saw on one Facebook wall proclaiming, “The woman who does not require validation from anyone is the most feared individual on the planet.”

Live by this mantra, my friend. For we can and must do better.

From Orthodox to Reform: an Introduction to American Judaism

Changing gears, here is a post exploring Judaism in America.

 

From Orthodox to Reform: an Introduction to American Judaism

Exploring the Basics of Judaism in the United States

 September 6th, 2013
Growing up in Nebraska I knew almost nothing about Jewish cultures — even after taking a full year of Hebrew/Jewish history as part of my history major at the University of Nebraska. It took a 2005 move to Midwood, Brooklyn and a concerted effort on my part to discover and appreciate the enormous diversity in Jewish life, diversity most gentiles never explore. In the news, all Jews (ethnic and/or religious) are portrayed as the same. But in fact, there is at least as much diversity in Jewish life as there is Christian life, if not more so. There are Jews who live by very strict guidelines set by their denominations and Jews whose religious lives (or lack thereof) have absolutely no correlation with their heritage — and everything in between.To further enhance my understanding of my neighbors, I took time out in 2010 to regularly attend services at Temple Beth Emeth located only a few blocks away from the Church Avenue Station on the Brighton line (B/Q trains). Here are a few things I learned along the way:

  • Dietary rules vary greatly across Jewish denominations. The secular Jews I know usually eat no different than others in mixed Jewish/gentile groups. At Beth Emeth, the Reform Jews I met ranged across the dietary gambit from absolutely strict kosher to non-kosher. By contrast, the most orthodox and conservative congregations tend to practice a kosher diet.
  • Gender segregation, while common in orthodox congregations, is not practiced in reform congregations. At this time, I have not located definitive information one way or another concerning segregation or a lack of segregation among conservative congregations.
  • While there are certain cultural and core theological ideas across the gambit of Jewish congregations, how these ideas manifest greatly depends on both the denomination of Judaismand the specifics of an individual congregation.

 

Jewish Congregations tend to fall in one of three categories: orthodox and ultra-orthodox sit at the most traditional end of the spectrum. In the middle are conservative congregations that retain many of the ideas and practices of the orthodox, but not all of them. At the most liberal end of the spectrum are reform congregations like Beth Emeth. The European equivalent of “reform” Judaism is called “progressive.”

 

Not surprisingly, conservative and reform Judaism are both more popular in the United States than orthodox.

 

In day to day life, these differences can be dramatic. In orthodox Judaism, the rules for living can be very exacting and detailed, especially during shabbat or during a particular holiday like Yom Kipper. So as you might expect with anyone whose life experience centers on interacting with people of the same cultural and religious background, I noticed it was difficult for my orthodox neighbors to understand why I would, for example, go off to catch the train on a Saturday — or even take the train to go to Temple.In reform congregations, there is no problem with driving or taking public transportation during shabbat. So no one blinked an eye when I took the B train to get to services. Under orthodox Judaism, it is not allowed to travel by train or bus during shabbat; orthodox Jews tend to walk to services.

These sorts of rules are probably one of many reasons why American Jews often prefer conservative and reform temples.

Fortunately there is a lot more to Jewish life an culture than just rules and theology. In my five years in Brooklyn, I discovered the many beauties of this culture — along with delicious cuisine that all gentiles should really give a try to.

For some reason, Jewish culture and Judaism remain mysterious among gentiles. I would like to suggest to you that it is time for that to change. Regardless your opinion about the particulars of one denomination of Judaism or another, the wonderful truth is that Jewish culture is beautiful and precious, its food delicious, and its holidays of value to all cultures around the world. As we enter the high holiday days that fill September, I wish you peace, joy, and enlightenment.

Shalom! May you have peace.
Learn more about Judaism at:

http://www.world-religions-professor.com/orthodox-jews.html
http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/conservatives.html
http://www.policymic.com/articles/41113/israel-orthodox-laws-why-is-israel-moving-away-from-them
https://sites.google.com/a/bethemeth.net/templesite/
http://www.jewfaq.org/beliefs.htm
http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/2001/06/What-Orthodox-Jews-Believe.aspx

Less Than Human: Complacency, Poverty, and Human Rights

More about poverty.  You see a theme going?

 

Less Than Human: Complacency, Poverty, and Human Rights

A Look at Conditions Face by and Attitudes Regarding the Poor and Unemployed

September 16, 2013

 

Sunday September 1st was a beautiful day. A friend came over and together we went to an area golf driving range, my first opportunity to leave my home for a reason other than grocery shopping or job interviews in over six months. After a full year of not practicing, my hits were off, but I enjoyed the practice, never thinking anything was wrong with using the natural grass section to learn how to hit a golf ball off an actual tee.

Monday, September 2nd, the first bites came. I changed my bedding and started the arduous process of trying to hand wash my sheets, still clueless fleas hitched a ride in my things and on me while golfing. Until, that is, around one am on Wednesday morning when twelve bites woke me. Using a flashlight I found the culprits: fleas! At dawn, I stripped the bed and started washing, the other set of sheets barely dry. At as soon the management office for my public housing community opened, I phoned the manager and asked for help with the bugs, spending all of the day washing as best I could from a bucket and leaving 90% of my blankets unwashed for the lack of access to washing machines.

Thursday September 5th, the exterminator came. When I spoke to him, he chided me forvacuuming my bed, one of the well-established techniques advocated in a multi-pronged approach to eliminate fleas. Instead, he insisted it had to be bed bugs, despite my descriptions of what I found each day and despite my solid research (which included his company’s own website). When he found my bed clean of bed bugs, he seemed almost mad at me, especially as I asserted myself and asked him politely to please please spray for fleas. Even showing him my dozens of bites did no good. It never entered this man’s mind that I could be intelligent, educated, and pro-active about my life — just because of where I live right now. Just because I am poor and still unemployed.

Poverty and unemployment does not signal a lack of intelligence. It does not mean a person dropped out of school. It does not make a person a drug addict, drug dealer, or even an unwed parent creating child after child to collect government benefits. Poverty doesn’t make a person mentally or even physically deficient in any way.

Poverty only means a person lacks money sufficient to provide food, healthcare, proper housing, and so forth. Unemployment simply means you are looking for work and have not found it yet. No more!

Are there people who are unemployed or are poor because of some sort of “deficit” such as just described. Yes, of course. But any connection between the aforementioned and poverty/unemployment remains limited. That is some poor people deal drugs. Some poor people have different fathers/mothers for each of their children. Some poor people have some sort of mental or physical challenge.

The problem socially is the bad habit of generalizing to the overwhelming majority of the poor, unemployed, and working poor who do none of those things.

These are the people who work for minimum wage. These are the moderately disabled like me who have physical limits due to accident, injury, and/or illness — but do not meet the Federal definitions for “permanently disabled.” These are the huge numbers of people laid off by the Great Recession from industries and in geography still waiting for the recovery to start.

We number in the millions.

So why are we less than human?

Less than human because we need nutritional assistance. This means struggling to feed our families on the meager allowances from food stamp programs constantly assaulted by politicians who feel “entitlements” such as food are not deserved by those receiving them. This means our children failing in school because school-based nutritional help reaches too few children on too few days of the year. This means obesity created by a lack of whole, fresh food availability.

Less than human because we cannot afford pristine houses with big yards. Instead, large numbers of us live in sub-standard apartments, public housing, and subsidized housing. These homes tend to be cold in the winter and hot in the summer. They amplify and transmit low frequency noisefrom neighbors. They distribute toxic air from neighbors, traffic, and beyond. Inadequate, infrequent vermin prevention and treatment leads to disease and misery such as mine.

Less than human because employers assume internal defects, not the recession, create long term unemployment, compounding the problem and ignoring the talents and professional backgrounds of the long term unemployed. Recent job gains in low-paying sectors mean most of those previously laid off and now in new jobs now work too few hours for too little pay to afford the most basic of human dignities.

Those of us lucky enough to earn enough money to avoid all this squalor complacently respond to these conditions with condemnation of those afflicted, seeing those suffering from poverty as little more than “surplus population” to quote Charles Dickens rather than as humans living under inhumane conditions.

Let me declare in no uncertain terms: poverty does not make you less human.

Every person is born with the inalienable right to breathe healthy, clean air free of toxins. We are born with the inalienable right to whole, nutritious, healthy, quality food. We are born needing and deserving to live in safe, sturdy, healthy homes devoid of hazards such as second/third hand smoke, toxic noise, vermin, and disease. As Americans, we are born deserving the opportunity to better ourselves through hard work and education. All people who work and apply themselves need to be able to live independently and securely — regardless of physical abilities or challenges.

Whatever you want to think of me personally, I am worthy of all these things. Unemployment does not strip me of my humanity, nor does poverty. Today I live in squalor and misery under the most unhealthy and inhumane of conditions.

But I am human. I am bright. I am educated, I am talented. I deserve better than this. I am better than this. I am not the sum of my present environment. Somehow I will persevere through this — and so will you.

We can and must do better. It is time we stop looking down our noses at people and come together to make our world better. For every blessing in our lives is a gift given for but a time. Each decision each of us makes changes both our blessings and our challenges. Even the greatest wealth may disappear in the blink of an eye.

Poverty is not someone else’s problem, someone else’s pain. It is everyone’s problem, everyone’s pain. it is time to stop treating the poor as if they deserve the conditions they (we) live in, an inconvenience to our pride.

All people are human. It is time we treat each other that way.

Mythologizing America, Patriotism, and History

In honor of the American Independence Day holiday later this week, here’s a look at the American patriotic myth.

Taken July 3rd, 2008 in the heart of Old Boston

Taken July 3rd, 2008 in the heart of Old Boston

Mythologizing America, Patriotism, and History

Historical Facts Take a Back Seat to Popular Myths About Unity and Freedom

Originally posted July 9th, 2012

It’s July. This week we celebrated the 236nd anniversary of the signing of the “Declaration of Independence” with the usual fireworks, parades, concerts, and street fairs.

Throughout the day on various programs, I heard sweeping patriotic declarations about the nature of the American War for Independence and its impacts. These grand patriotic statements sound so wonderful during July 4th festivities. They are not, for the most part, remotely historically true.

One major myth I heard across numerous programs was the myth that Americans of the 18thcentury came out of the “Revolution” as one, unified, cohesive group under a strong federal government system.

This is grossly inaccurate. In Article two of the “Articles of Confederation,” we read,

“Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled. “

Across the “Articles of Confederation” the term “United States” is almost always written “united States.” This signals the dominate 18th century belief that each state – from Georgia to New Hampshire – was a country unto its own and that most persons considered themselves New Yorkers, Pennsylvanians, South Carolinians, and so forth, NOT Americans.

Or put another way, the American War for Independence created 13 countries, not one, who agreed to work together when it suited them. It took a second civil war (the American War for Independence was primarily a civil war) from 1861-5 to actually create the United States of America from “These United States.”

Other serious myths I keep hearing in patriotic declarations was that the Founders believed in equality and freedom for all. They didn’t. Washington and Jefferson were both notorious slave owners. Washington believed so much in slavery that he refused to end the war (the Battle of Yorktown was October 19th, 1781) until November 25th, 1783. The reason? He demanded all American “property” to be returned to their “rightful” owners.

As explained by Barnett Schleter in in November 25, 2010 lecture held at Fraunces Tavern (one of the best known surviving 18th century establishments in New York City), the American property Washington demanded returned were slaves emancipated by the Crown.

The Crown refused, forcing free blacks, along with those Americans who remained loyal to the Crown, to pursue new lives in Canada, Europe, and across the British Empire.

None of this is conveyed in most non-university history books. Instead, we are told the ideals, not the historical realities.

But why? History is supposed to be taught in an objective fashion. Why then are we teaching mythology when it would be easier and much more ethical to teach what really happened – all sides of the stories? Brevity is an excuse I’ve heard, but a poor one. A person can learn 18th century attitudes towards slavery, racial and gender equality, and liberty in the same amount of space as they can be taught the mythological omni-benevolence of the Founding Fathers. It takes no more time to explain that Americans did not win the American War for Independence; we simply made it too expensive for the Crown to keep pursuing. Parliament, not King George III, decided it was costing too much money and lives to keep fighting.

In teaching myth, we deny ourselves the opportunity to learn from history. This makes us easier to control by politicians -does anyone actually want that? Do we absolutely trust our politicians or would we prefer to make better decisions in choosing leaders?

Education is the key to becoming strong consumers of information, to supporting only policies and leaders that truly make common sense and serve the interests of all the people – not just their friends.

Education is worthless if all we do is teach the politically convenient version of things. Education needs to be free and independent of politics. American history education has lost its independence.

It would seem the only way to find out objectively what happened in any area of history is to become a history hobbyist, watching countless documentaries on PBS, National Geographic, the History Channel (which has certain biases I don’t approve of), and other sources for educational programming.

We can do better.