Another World

I have been to Arizona before.  But this time, the landscape seems unfamiliar – almost alien.  I know this is still America, so perhaps the purpose of my journey offers a different and even a little scary perspective.

I am here with other Unitarian Universalist ministers and seminarians for a week-long border witness program, coordinated by the UU Service Committee’s College of Social Justice.  Our goal is to explore the circumstances affecting people seeking to live in the United States who lack the money and other privileges that make such travel easier.

Tucson is flat, desert country.  Saguaro and other cacti grow everywhere.  In the distance, the rocky Tucson Mountains jut quickly into the blue sky.  Definitely not the mountains of Appalachia.

I am not a tourist, nor am I here to effect any lasting change on the people of this arid clime.  I am an outsider, an observer, but I am not neutral.  I have set aside the routine matters of church and life to expose myself; to open myself to new perspectives.  I expect some of my worst fears to be confirmed – the immoral treatment of refugees; the heartlessness of a racist system of incarceration; and the madness of using centuries-old solutions to address a nonexistent problem.

But, I also seek signs of hope.  I want to see firsthand how people combat this injustice; how we can welcome the traveler without fear or reservation.  I want to find how to reverse my growing pessimism caused by the erosion of American ideals and basic tenets of human decency.

It is only a week, but I am ready.

The Elephant

Americans marched last week. Across the country, millions expressed fear of a neo-Fascist in the White House, and solidarity in seeking change in our political system.

ct-womens-march-national-pg-20170121People marched for many reasons. They marched for equal rights for women, People of Color, immigrants, LGBTQIA individuals, and others. They marched for our planet, recognizing that human action harms our global climate. They marched for a fair and just society that truly offers complete access to the American Dream for all.

And many marched for reproductive freedom – the issue that represents the key lynch pin to every political discussion in this nation. People will vote against their own self-interest when it comes to taxes, jobs, immigration, schools, the environment, even national security. But the one issue on which most voters will not compromise is abortion. Any candidate claiming to be “pro-life” running against another candidate labeled as “pro-choice” can count on thousands of committed votes regardless of any other political stand they take.

The majority of white American women just voted for a President who believes women are property to be mauled, who mocks the disabled, who opposes living wages, and who casually banters about nuclear war. But, he claimed to be pro-life, and he now sits in the White House.

“Pro-Choice” is a myth

In my experience, women who support reproductive freedom do not simply support abortion on demand. In fact, many would like to see the need for elective abortions reduced to zero. However, our laws and social systems remain heavily anti-woman. Abuse of women remains at shockingly high levels. The objectification of women in the media trains girls and boys from an early age that striving toward an unachievable norm of beauty defines a woman’s worth. The continued acceptance of our rape culture leaves women living in constant, daily fear of discrimination, molestation, assault, and worse.

American men take little responsibility for sexual relations. We routinely expect women to control the use of contraception and yet men often overrule women to suit their desire for sexual gratification. Birth control is expensive, hard to access, and has many side effects. We label men who bed many women as virile and desirable role models. We label sexually active women as promiscuous sluts and whores unworthy of marriage and motherhood.

planned-parenthood-about-us-who-we-are-mission-1920x1080Even when women take every possible precaution, this pernicious double standard too often produces pregnancies where the men bail out and leave the woman alone to bear a life-long responsibility with little if any support. The legal system does little to hold men accountable as equal partners in procreation, but hurdles mountains to control a woman’s body and medical choices.

Pro-choice does not equate to pro-abortion. Many women – and I believe most women – see abortion as a tragic last step necessary only because our country lacks proper education and affordable access to birth control. Most women accept the necessity of abortion only because our commitment as a nation to the rights of men over the dignity and worth of women leaves women without viable alternatives.

In a perfect world, elective abortions would disappear because the circumstances that lead to unwanted pregnancies would not exist. What would this world look like?

  • No man would ever dream of forcing himself on a woman.
  • Women and men would be true equals from birth through school to the workplace and into retirement.
  • Beauty would be defined by one’s character, goodness, authenticity, and conviction – not body shape.
  • Every child would know the facts of human reproduction, and learn the complexities of loving relationships.
  • Government would play no role in determining what any person chooses to do with their body.
  • Individuals’ personal religious beliefs regarding personhood would be respected, but no one would be permitted to discriminate against others on the basis of those personal beliefs.

So, “pro-choice” does not mean pro-elective abortion at will. Pro-choice means supporting a society with reproductive justice – the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.

“Pro-Life” is a myth

ireland17For years, Congressman John Moolenaar has staunchly defended what he calls the “sanctity of life.” This week, Harvard researchers revealed that the repeal of the Affordable Care Act without a replacement program will result in 44,000 unnecessary deaths each year. It is irrefutable fact that more than 20 million Americans will lose their health insurance if Republicans repeal and do not replace the ACA, an action Moolenaar voted to approve.

Can a person legitimately call themselves pro-life if they only apply their moral standards of sanctity of life to fetuses? No. In fact, voting to repeal the ACA without a replacement represents an “anti-life” action. Other anti-life attitudes include:

  • Sending men and women into combat, but fail to provide them world-class mental and physical medical treatment once they return from the trauma of war;
  • Using drones that indiscriminately kill innocent men, women, and children in search of a possible enemy target;
  • Murdering prisoners convicted of crimes, given the inordinate number of mistakes that have been made in capital punishment sentencing, its inherent racism and classism, and the cruel processes used to take those lives;
  • Cutting funds for food stamps, school lunch programs, early childhood education initiatives, and public education of equally high quality for all, when more than enough is available in our bloated federal military budget to easily meet these needs;
  • Passing into law the most intrusive and medically unnecessary invasion of a woman’s body, while offering young people little realistic education about sex and obstructing their access to birth control;
  • Denying victims of incest, rape, and medical complications threatening the life of the mother with means to terminate those pregnancies;
  • Failing to speak out in opposition to “slap on the wrist” punishments for rapists and those committing domestic violence and sexual assaults on women, and excusing the behavior of beasts for violating a woman by blaming her for the crime; and
  • Failing to be repulsed that this nation has done absolutely nothing to create mandatory background checks for all gun purchases, or to limit access to weapons whose sole purpose is the mass murder of humans — and not pressuring you legislators to do so.

If these apply to you, then stop calling yourself pro-life. You are not pro-life – you are pro-birth and anti-woman.

Reclaiming American citizenship

The seeds of America spread wide through the soil of injustice and tyranny. Our ancestors fought for a host of freedoms and civil rights. They proclaimed those rights publicly in documents central to our national core. For the Founders, being American meant supporting the full American agenda, a social system unmatched in history.

How long would America last if citizens based their vote solely on a single issue? That kind of thinking led to a bloody civil war that decimated our nation. That kind of thinking condoned the genocide of millions of indigenous peoples whose descendants still suffer our oppression. That kind of thinking normalized the incarceration of thousands of Americans of Japanese descent, along with the theft of their property and livelihoods. That kind of thinking supported segregation, lynching, Sundown Towns, and continues supporting a racist criminal justice system.

Make no mistake; Donald Trump is unfit to serve as President of the United States. If you voted for him because Hillary Clinton supports a woman’s right to choose, then you have contributed to the possible decline of our nation and our way of life. I understand your feelings about the unborn. Most people do. But electing a President already committed to destroying our environment, eliminating key safety net programs for the poor, taking health care away from millions, and dismantling industry regulations is an act of social suicide.

If you marched last Saturday, I implore you to reach out to those who oppose abortion. Engage in dialogue with them on the realities of conception, fertilization, fetal anomalies, and religious belief. Help those seeking to defend the rights of the unborn understand that you agree with their cause as part of a larger package of social programs that defend the right of all persons to life.

2013-02-08-perezIf you opposed the march last Saturday, I implore you to look at the broad picture of what it means to be an American citizen. Standing up for the rights of those who cannot defend themselves is courageous, noble work. But the defenseless include not only fetuses, but refugees, children of undocumented parents, innocent people dead due to excessive police violence, and victims of institutionalized racism, gender bias, homophobia, and other forms of bigotry.

Whether you consider yourself pro-choice or pro-life, you are an American. Our American principles demand of us a high standard of citizen participation. We are called to resist authoritarian rule and defend the civil rights of all. We are called to expose acts of foreign agents seeking to undermine our most precious liberties. We are called to hold our elected officials accountable when they lie, obstruct the search for truth, hide pertinent information, and behave in foolish and reckless ways.

Resist those who would divide and conquer us. Refute the false dichotomy of pro-life/pro-choice. Replace stereotypes and unfounded generalizations with facts and grounded beliefs acceptable to all. Let us unite as Americans, agreeing to disagree when needed, but in solidarity regarding the values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Truth and Meaning: What Are You Afraid Of?

Every day is a precious gift. Every person in our lives offers something of value, something to be cherished. We all have energy and abilities to help others, to make our world better.

And yet, we waste so much time, energy and potential on the negative things in life. We are obsessed with fear. We bathe ourselves in anxiety. We dwell in bubbles of doubt, breathing in the noxious fumes that only increase our unease. Even when our horizons are clear, we find a way to steer toward dismal thoughts and circumstances, as if the presence of fear somehow validates us.
Why do we allow ourselves to believe that being fearful resides in our nature as human beings? The answer is simple. Every day we are bombarded with messages through endless media of threats. Some of these threats — such as global warming — are very real. Others are manufactured notions put forth by hatemongers and radical regressives whose only goal is to scare you into thoughtless action.
And you should be scared. You should be scared that these lunatics might actually influence people; that they might convince weak-minded people to commit unspeakable acts.
You should be scared of people like Kevin Swanson, the Colorado pastor who hosted a so-called religious liberties conference in Iowa recently, attended by three current candidates for president. Among other unfathomable positions, Swanson is publicly on record frequently advocating for gay people to receive the death penalty. Yes, you read this correctly. This man actually believes that all gay people should be rounded up and executed.
Even scarier is that Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal and Mike Huckabee shared the stage with this bigot in a question and answer session. By attending and participating in this event, these men have at least indirectly condoned the ravings of man who advocates for our nation to execute millions of people for the crime of being born homosexual.
Now, we can possibly dismiss Jindal and Huckabee as unelectable candidates since they consistently elicit negligible polling numbers. But Ted Cruz is somehow a viable candidate for the Republican nomination for president. And amazingly, he is running behind one man who claims that Joseph built the pyramids in Egypt to store grain and another who blithely dismisses whole peoples as murderers and rapists.
So when you listen to the news, don’t let commentators tell you what to fear. Use your own powers of reason and look for the real threats to our lives and well-being. Fear is not a natural state for humanity. Fear is a weapon used by those seeking power over you by creating phantom enemies for you to hate.

Truth and Meaning: Idiocracy

The suffix ‘-cracy’ comes from the Greek, meaning rule or government. We all know words like democracy and aristocracy. Now, in Michigan, we have achieved idiocracy – government by idiots.

Just when you think our lawmakers can’t be more ineffective, a bill arises that is perhaps the single most stupid piece of legislation ever proposed in my lifetime. House Bill 4883 (co-sponsored by our own State Rep. Gary Glenn) will prohibit students in public schools from practicing how to use a condom with a banana.
No, I am not kidding (I wish I were). HB 4883 proposes that the current language of Michigan’s current school code be changed as follows: A person shall not dispense or otherwise distribute, AND SHALL NOT ALLOW A PUPIL TO PRACTICE WITH, A FAMILY PLANNING DRUG OR DEVICE in a public school or on public school property.
So in a state with major financial crises, job losses, crumbling infrastructure, and a host of other real issues of concern, our representative has taken the time to back a banana bill.
In a state with 14,000 children in need of a home, Rep. Glenn wants to make sure that more unwanted pregnancies happen by mandating that we not teach young people how to apply a condom. Politicians who claim to be “pro-life” want to ensure that young people who engage in sexual intercourse will do so with as little education as possible. And supporters of dismantling public education will, once again, seek to institute more restrictions that will not apply to their precious private and charter schools.
The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Midland teaches its young people about human relations and sexuality. Through the Our Whole Lives program, we teach young people about their bodies, about healthy physical relationships, and personal responsibility. And yes, we teach them how to apply a condom.
If this idiotic bill passes, we will be glad to expand the Our Whole Lives program to any families interested in securing a comprehensive education for their children without the interference of theocrats. In meantime, Rep. Glenn should confine himself to the real needs of this state, and leave the practice of religion to the individual consciences of his constituents.