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.

Truth and Meaning: A Top 10 List That Matters

Last week, I talked about our love of top 10 lists. So, this week I offer my list of the top 10 things Americans need to do to restore sanity to our nation.

10. Labor – Establish a minimum wage that is a living wage. The endless attacks on labor undermine our economy and our democracy. No one should suffer wage or job discrimination for any reason and anyone willing to work should be able to live above the poverty line.
9. Health Care – Provide a basic level of medical and mental health care to every American once and for all. We should demand that politicians stop using our health and well-being as a political football.
8. Corporate Responsibility – Demand that the private sector pay its fair share of taxes and be held accountable when it misbehaves. Congress should overturn the Citizens United decision. The idea that a corporation has the rights of a person is not only illogical, it is social suicide.
7. Election Reform – Guarantee the unencumbered right to vote for every citizen by removing all restrictions to voting rights and making Election Day a national holiday. Enact comprehensive campaign finance reform and abolish all partisan gerrymandering, replacing current redistricting tools with common sense and reason.
6. Environment – Stop making the irresponsible assumption that petrochemical resources are unlimited. We should plan for a future where all people have access to food and clean water, and where we live sustainably.
5. Racism – Judging people by their skin color, ethnicity, or culture is a concept that has overstayed its welcome. Our mass incarceration of people of color in increasingly profit-oriented prisons is obscene. Immigrants need a clear and affordable path to citizenship.
4. Stupidity – People are free to ignore the overwhelming scientific evidence on any given topic. But we should keep such people out of positions of authority and decision making. We have tolerated know-nothings and deniers in our public discourse for too long. The Earth is round and circles the sun. Climate change is real. Sexual orientation is largely determined at birth. Evolution occurs. The world is billions of years old.
3. Guns – End our insane worship of guns. We have allowed violence and killing to be our number one national priority for far too long. We should make universal background checks mandatory and impose strict limits on automatic and semi-automatic weapons. Open Carry and Stand Your Ground may have worked on the 19th century frontier — they do not work for 21st century America.
2. Life – We should become a truly life-sustaining nation. That means no more war, an end to capital punishment, zero tolerance for police brutality, and contraception and comprehensive sex education for all so that every child is wanted. More important, it means caring about the born — eliminate hunger, provide equal education opportunities, and provide jobs, housing and social safety nets for everyone.
1. Revolution – We cannot accomplish needed changes through incrementalism. We should seek nonviolent ways to catalyze large-scale changes quickly and effectively. That means grassroots movements for policy change, boycotts, dissent and other tools the people have at their disposal. And it especially means voting for the highest quality candidates and not just for anyone who happens to have a “D” or an “R” next to their names.

Truth and Meaning: Gender Confusion

Recently, our state representative here in Midland, Michigan was quoted in the press as saying that the policy of Planet Fitness regarding transgender individuals threatens the safety of women. He called their policy “anti-woman” and added that it “violates the privacy, comfort and peace of mind of women.”

Perhaps it is really Rep. Gary Glenn who is confused about the notion of gender and what it really means to be “anti-woman.”
Here are some real “anti-woman” policies:

  • Failing to close the ongoing pay equity gap between men and women;
  • Opposing efforts to raise the minimum wage or require that businesses provide paid sick leave, both of which disproportionately affect women;
  • Forcing women to pay additional insurance premiums for medical treatment to which they are legally entitled;
  • Proclaiming the unsuitability of two women to raise children without the presence of a man;
  • Denying loving and committed women the legal rights afforded heterosexual couples;
  • Basing political opinions on the malicious and groundless lie that gay and transgender people are pedophiles and rapists;
  • Opposing efforts to educate children about gender identity and categorizing anti-bullying legislation as an insidious tactic of the dreaded gay agenda;
  • Undermining efforts to provide affordable health care to women and girls living in poverty;
  • Attacking health care agencies providing important services to women, especially in the more remote areas of the state;
  • Fighting against hate crime legislation that would protect straight women of color, lesbians and transgender women from harassment, abuse and violence;
  • Helping men whose wives have taken out Personal Protection Orders against them for domestic violence buy guns;
  • Denying spousal benefits to the partners of unmarried employees;
  • And falsely laying claim to the mythical moral high ground of “traditional family values” that will only serve to deny women basic freedoms and dignity.

Perhaps most ironic in Rep. Glenn’s stance is the utter hypocrisy of his position relative to businesses. On the one hand, he wants to give companies free reign to discriminate against women on the basis of the religious beliefs of the owners. But, on the other hand, he condemns Planet Fitness for its enlightened and compassionate policy respecting the individual’s right to define their own gender identity. Do you support businesses taking moral stands, or not, Rep. Glenn? You cannot have it both ways.

The most dangerous threat to the privacy, comfort and peace of mind of women in Michigan is not gay or transgender people. It is not Planet Fitness and its policies regarding gender identity. The most dangerous and anti-woman threat in Michigan — the person most truly confused about gender — is you.
To support the fight against discrimination in Michigan, please sign and forward our petition calling for protection of our trans* community.

Truth and Meaning: Real Love

So, another Valentine’s Day is upon us. My message today is simple. You are loved.

Even if you get no cards in the mail, you are loved. If no one buys you chocolates or flowers, you are loved.

Whether you are Christian or Muslim, Atheist or Jew, you are loved. Whether you are conservative or liberal, rich or poor, you are loved. Whether you are gay or straight, you are loved.

I know this because I love you. As a Unitarian Universalist, I affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and compassion in human relations. Because I love you, I fight for your civil rights and for your freedom from discrimination. Because I love all of you, I advocate for a living wage, better public school funding, and clean air and water. Because I love every person, I dedicate my life to being my brother’s and my sister’s keeper, to justice for all, and for an end to violence and war.

And because you are loved, you do not need the roses or the heart-shaped boxes of sweets. You do not need to buy love at the store. And you do not need to buy the lies sold by the hate mongers and fear peddlers.

Despite the awful tragedies happening every day, the world is a pretty terrific place. In spite of our failures and heartaches, there is much to be said for living. But our lives are only as good as we make them, and we can all try harder to help those who are less fortunate to have a voice and a vote about things that affect them.

The best way to do this is to express your unconditional love proudly and publicly, without any expectation of any benefit in return. Love without judgment. Love with no strings attached. Love simply for the sake of loving.

Do I believe human nature causes us to be hurtful, distrustful and prejudiced? Not for a second. Am I a doe-eyed, naive Utopian? You bet. Love will do that for you. Love helps you see the innocent child in every person before life teaches them to be afraid and angry.

I am blessed to be married to a woman who reminds me every day of the power of love. And I am fortunate to be part of a religious community whose cornerstone is human beings caring for each other and welcoming all spiritual seekers regardless of their identities. May you feel that power within you on this Valentine’s Day, and every other day of the year.

Truth and Meaning: Community College Realities

Last Sunday, the Midland Daily News published an editorial titled “Our View: Aid, scholarships already available for community college.” An adequate response mandates that the falsehoods in each sentence be addressed.

“Community college should be affordable and doable for everyone who wants to take advantage of it. We agree, without a doubt.”

Obviously, the Midland Daily News does not agree with this statement because there are many people who cannot afford community college and this opinion piece opposes a proposal to eliminate those costs. The average student at Delta College taking two classes in one term pays $707 in tuition and fees. Add on the cost of books, gas, childcare and all of the other related expenses, and the total easily exceeds $1,000 per term. If the student is working 40 hours per week at minimum wage jobs, that is 3 1/2 week’s worth of salary.

“However, we believe in most cases there are many opportunities for people to attend community college at no expense or nearly no expense to them.”

No data support this claim. Last year, Delta College awarded $1,077,142 in scholarships to 15,000 students. That equates to a whopping $72 per student — not even the cost of one credit hour.

“Community college has always been an affordable and potentially debt-free way for people to start their path toward a four-year degree and beyond.”

Virtually no one attends college today without incurring massive loan debt. According to the Wall Street Journal, the class of 2014 was the most indebted ever. The average 2014 graduate is burdened with student-loan debt of $33,000, nearly double the amount for students 20 years ago after adjusting for inflation.

“Tuition is lower than four-year universities and most traditional students are able to continue living at home, forgoing the expense of living on campus or off-campus.”

One-third of the students at Delta College are 25 years old or older. One can hardly imagine that many of them are still living in their parent’s home. Another third are 20 to 24 years old, making this a grossly classist point. Just because people with financial resources can afford to pay for their kids to live on campus is no excuse for expecting poorer kids to continue living at home.

“Making these educations more affordable — and in a lot of cases at no cost to students — are federal financial aid packages based on income as well as scholarships, which often go unclaimed at some community colleges because they’re not sought after by students.”

According to Peterson’s, the definitive expert publisher of college guides, this claim is an utter myth. “This one has been around since the word ‘scholarship’ was invented… (colleges) seldom have university scholarships that aren’t awarded, and if they do, it’s usually because of timing or highly restrictive eligibility requirements.”

“Presumably, President Obama’s proposal for a free community college education for everyone is targeted at those who can’t afford the cost. “A quality education should not be a privilege that is reserved for a few,” he said in a recent speech at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville. However, we believe the costs associated with a community college education, because of federal aid and scholarships already available as well as the earnings from jobs most full-time students have, are affordable. Even older adults seeking to change careers or get back into the workforce can take advantage of federal financial aid and scholarships.”

This is an offensive and elitist statement that exhibits an intentional blindness to the state of the underclass in America today. In FY 2012, the average federal student aid awarded per student totaled $11,073, of which $6,654 (60 percent) consisted of loans. Students then typically make up the difference with additional loans from private sources. To claim that federal grants and scholarships are even remotely sufficient to meet the current need is absurd.

In addition, bringing the earnings of the average community college student into the equation is laughable. Two-thirds of the students at Delta College are 24 years old or younger. It is safe to say, therefore, that many are working at minimum wage jobs and and likely earning less than $10/hour. And since few of these students can find actual “full-time” jobs (where the employer provides benefits), many are forced to work two or more jobs to attain “full-time” employment status. And, by the way, according to the American Association of Community Colleges, only 41 percent of part-time students are employed full-time and only 22 percent of full-time students have full-time employment.

So, let’s calculate “affordable.” A student works 40 hours per week making $10/hour — just enough to be above the poverty level and not qualify for any government assistance. So, they make roughly $20,800 before taxes. If they take two courses per term for three terms at Delta College, the total cost will amount to roughly $2,500, or 12 percent of their total gross income. After rent, food, gas, car insurance, utilities, childcare, medical and dental expenses, and other necessities, what is left?

“The money is there for those who need help paying for community college, but the financial aid and scholarships need to be applied for first in order to be awarded. Really, what needs to become more affordable are the college costs that come after the community college degree. Those are the costs that are crippling people.”

No. What really needs to happen is for arrogant people of means to stop erecting even more roadblocks to honest, hard-working people trying to get out of the grip of institutionalized poverty in this nation. What we really need are fewer political hacks so intent on disagreeing with anything this president might suggest, that they are willing to throw the more than seven million community college students under the bus. What we really need are editorial writers who make at least a cursory effort to look into facts before parroting outworn prejudices and unsubstantiated myths.

Every struggling student attending Delta College deserves an apology for this opinion piece and I encourage readers to share your experiences in the comments if you have been a community college student.

Truth and Meaning: Respect

In an editorial earlier this week titled “We should respect our police officers,” the Midland Daily News asserted that “Police actions have been scrutinized to the point in which many law enforcement officials believe that they can no longer do their jobs effectively because of public pressure.” The editorial concluded, “Law enforcement officers have a demanding, difficult and sometimes dangerous job to do. And because of that, they deserve our respect.”

There are two ways for the reader to take editorial sentiments such as these. First, they can be viewed as the innocuous kind of flag-waving we see on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. However, on the other 363 days of the year, our veterans go without adequate treatment of the mental and physical afflictions they suffered performing the dangerous work of imposing American foreign policy around the world. On each of the other 363 days of the year, according to the Veteran’s Administration, 22 veterans commit suicide. On the other 363 days of the year, our best patriots must live with the knowledge that their dedicated service has contributed to innocent civilian deaths, torture, and the ongoing destabilization of sovereign foreign governments.

So this editorial could simply be rhetorical pleasantry, a pat on the back to men and women who do perform a truly demanding, difficult, and sometimes dangerous job in our society. No one taking to the streets in Ferguson, New York City, Washington, D.C., or elsewhere is questioning the courage of law enforcement officials. They would join in commending police for taking dangerous criminals off our streets, for protecting and serving the citizens within their jurisdictions.

But, the second interpretation of this editorial reveals a far more insidious agenda. In citing the findings of the statistics compiled by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, the editorial fails to offer the details of the 50 firearms-related fatalities of police officers in 2014. Only 15 of those 50 resulted from ambushes, including the two recent heinous murders of Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos in New York City. Most of the firearm-related deaths of police officers in 2014 came from the regular performance of their duties, including traffic stops, routine investigations of suspicious behavior or disturbances, and others including accidental shootings. A logical conclusion one might draw from these statistics is that too many people own and carry guns who should not have them and that our society should improve efforts to better manage the sale of deadly firearms.

The claim that “many law enforcement officials believe that they can no longer do their jobs effectively because of public pressure” is dangerous hyperbole. If our police must exact unquestioning loyalty in order to perform their function, then something is wrong with our law enforcement system. If we are unable to hold people accountable for the negligent acts of violence committed behind the shield of a uniform and badge, then something is wrong with our criminal justice system. And if we continue to allow unfettered access to deadly firearms without adequate controls, then we should hardly be surprised at the toll such a policy exacts on our citizens and on our police.

The concern being expressed about the recent deaths of unarmed African-American boys and men at the hands of police officers has nothing to do with being pro- or anti-police. Dismissing recent “public pressure” as anti-police sentiment is misleading and factually incorrect. Recent public pressure has focused on our inability to objectively follow our system of prosecutorial due process in order to find justice. It is about needless deaths and what must occur to prevent such waste from ever happening again.

Should we respect the police? Absolutely. But respect does not mean turning a blind eye when police abuse their authority or use lethal force inappropriately or unevenly. Respecting the police means not only honoring their contributions, but also holding them accountable when their actions result in the death of innocents.

Truth and Meaning: Christmas Spirit

When my father was a boy, he considered an orange a special Christmas present. And while he grew up in relative poverty, he never considered his family poor. My grandfather was always able to find work that paid a fair wage. My grandmother was a stay-at-home mother. And my father was able to work during the summer and save up enough for college.

http://www.educatingwomen.org/poverty-in-the-us/But, times have changed. People like my grandfather – unskilled or skilled in outdated technologies – have few full-time job opportunities that pay enough to support a family. Fathers and mothers often work several jobs and then have to pay for child care. And young people today routinely graduate from college with massive student loan debt.

Like most of you that read David DeForest’s letter to the editor in the December 12 issue of the Midland Daily News (“No Reason to Work”), I was deeply saddened that such attitudes still exist in our community. Especially now, as we celebrate the birth of a man who loved all people and cared about the well being of everyone, the public expression of such sentiments reminds us of the pain that many feel in this country. The pain of hunger and homelessness; the pain of hate and discrimination; the pain of hopelessness that nothing we do can improve our lives.

My grandfather came to this country penniless, skilled in a trade that no longer existed. And yet, his children grew up healthy and went on to successful lives. Such is no longer the case for many of today’s immigrants. The path to citizenship is prohibitively expensive and takes as long as 10 years to complete. In the meantime, they perform the menial tasks beneath most Americans, living in constant fear that federal agents will burst into their homes and ship family members to undisclosed locations for uncertain deportation.

Especially painful was reading Mr. DeForest’s depiction of Americans living in poverty today. Jesus never asked for any justification when helping the poor or the sick. He simply helped them. Jesus never asked a hungry person, “Why don’t you just get a job?” He simply fed them. And Jesus did not tower over the poor in judgment, condemning them for their need. He simply gave them hope.

Mr. DeForest’s misplaced anger should be directed at the true parasites in this country – privileged rich people who contribute little and consume much; corporate CEO’s who are paid more in one day than a minimum wage employee can earn in a year; bankers who gamble with this nation’s economy with impunity. These leeches cost America billions of dollars each year. Every social welfare program combined does not come close to any such amount.

So, to Mr. DeForest, and to anyone who shares his sentiments, now is the time to re-examine your attitudes. Now is the time to walk among the poor and show them the respect they deserve by learning about the ravages of racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, and institutionalized poverty. At Christmas time, let us all walk the path of Jesus – the path of sympathy, compassion, understanding and love.

Address Opposing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act

At the request of students from Adrian College, I was asked to speak at a protest on the Capitol steps in Lansing in opposition to the proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act (HB 5958) on December 16, 2014 during the waning days of the lame duck session of the Michigan legislature.  The following are my comments (you may also see a video here, or listen to an mp3 version here).
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Everywhere we turn today, politicians seek to justify the unjustifiable. “Corporations are people,” they tell us. “We need more bombs and so we must cut school lunch programs.” “The best way to fix our faltering economy is to double down our investment into the banks that got us here in the first place.”

And now we hear a new claim. With House Bill 5958, our legislators tell us, “Government must not burden people and businesses when choosing to exercise their religious beliefs, regardless of the consequences of that action on others.” Convincing us of the sincerity of such statements, especially given their inherent contradictions and the tremendous potential for and mischief by those taking advantage of such claims as these, presents a daunting challenge.

And because the task raises such difficulties, they must call on the greatest authorities to lend credence to their arguments. So, you hear many politicians today referring to the founders of this great nation. They quote Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Thomas Paine, and others as proof of the righteousness of their cause.

They carefully sift through mountains of books to find just the right quote – even if they must take that quote completely out of context. When the founders stood mute on a subject, they tell us what the founders were really thinking. When those tactics fall short, they shout words like “Freedom!” and “Liberty!” confident that they can rely on our patriotism and our trust in the democratic process that they act in our best interests.

And when all else fails, they wait until the dead of night. They skulk in the shadows of the halls of government until after the electorate has spoken. They wait until the time when everyone looks forward to family gatherings and singing joyous praises.

Then, they slink from behind their desks. They quietly announce a hearing – or bypass the process of a public hearing altogether – and pass whatever laws please them. They do this because they know, were it not for the distractions of the holidays and our everyday lives, we might hold up our hands and say, “Wait a minute…I don’t understand what purpose this proposed bill serves.” After months of hibernation, they race through the lame duck session because they are afraid that we might have the time to read proposed bills and share our opinions. They feverishly plunge through this window because it is too late for us to voice our discontent at the ballot box with politicians whose terms will end shortly.

Perhaps the legislatures populated by our founders operated with a similar lack of transparency. But, I doubt it. It was Thomas Paine, who wrote in his landmark work Common Sense that the faithfulness of those elected to serve in public office “will be secured by the prudent reflection of not making a rod for themselves.” In other words, our elected officials should not rule over us like tyrants, but should engage with us in dialogue and informed debate.

Later, Paine specifically talks about the nature of America. “This new world,” he writes, “hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe. Hither have they fled, not from the tender embraces of the mother, but from the cruelty of the monster…” So clearly, Paine would not have dreamed of a legislature using the tactics of a tyrant to pass laws abridging the rights of those who fear religious persecution.

Our ancestors came to this land because people used religious beliefs to hurt, to imprison, and even to kill them. I understand the corruption of religion by those who wield it as a rod to punish others. My grandmother Theresa fled her home in Europe for committing the sin of divorcing her abusive husband. For this act of self-preservation, the church deemed her unworthy and excommunicated her – a punishment that meant death; for she was now shunned by employers, shop owners, and landlords. Staying meant homelessness and starvation because she believed in her right to live free.

My grandmother met the man who became my grandfather here in America. He, too, had fled Europe because the Serbian army would routinely cross the river into his hometown and conscript young men to fight the never-ending religious conflict in the Balkans. No matter how many times the military dragged him to kill people who believed in God differently, he defected and returned home.

A century later, people still die in that region because of their religious beliefs. Governments that claim to fight for independence, for self-rule, for self-determination, use that fight as an excuse to rape and murder those who are different. A simple carpenter, my grandfather understood the corruption of freedom by those wielding it as a rod to kill others. So, he made the perilous journey here to America, where he could believe freely.

After years of struggle, my grandparents raised a family. My father honored his parents and cared for them in their later years. After my grandmother died, my grandfather’s life became simple again. He would sit at the kitchen table drinking coffee and playing solitaire all day. He believed he would soon rejoin his beloved Theresa in Heaven and was content to await his death patiently.

One night, my parents hosted a prayer meeting. The minister of our church spoke about the evils of card playing. Finally, my father asked our minister if he believed that my grandfather would spend eternity in Hell for the sin of playing solitaire. When our minister answered “yes,” my father threw him out of the house and we never returned to that church.

My father, an engineer, had designed our church building. He literally helped build that congregation. He raised his children in its Sunday School. I remember singing “Wonderful Grace of Jesus” during Sunday night services. But that same church used its religious belief to damn my grandfather.  So my father understood the corruption of restoration. He saw firsthand how a church could roll back the clock to a time when religion was routinely used as a rod to condemn others to perpetual flames and torment.

By the time I became a dad, I chose not to believe in the God of my father or my grandfather. My children went unbaptized. And I raised them in a Unitarian Universalist church, where they learned to respect all religious beliefs and to honor the spiritual path they would choose for themselves.

As a Sunday School teacher, I learned the history and heritage of famous Unitarians, like John Adams, who once wrote to his friend Thomas Jefferson:

We have…a National Bible Society, to propagate King James’s Bible, through all Nations. Would it not be better to apply these pious Subscriptions, to purify Christendom from the Corruptions of Christianity…[Some say] I have renounced the Christian religion…Far from it. I see in every Page, Something to recommend Christianity in its Purity and Something to discredit its Corruptions…The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount contain my Religion.

Don’t kill. Don’t cheat. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Don’t envy your neighbor. In fact, love your neighbor. Love your neighbor as you would have your neighbor love you. Nearly every religion preaches this basic golden rule. Love everyone. Do not love only those who believe as you do. Do not withhold love from those who do not meet your approval. Everyone. No exceptions.

So I understand the corruption of laws that claim to restore religious freedom. Laws like HB 5958 are not an act of religion, bringing us together in common purpose and principle, but an act of division. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is not an act of freedom, relieving us of governmental intrusion into our souls, but an act of invasion. This proposed travesty of a law is not an act of restoration, renewing hope for a people suffering daily oppression, but an act of destruction.  This so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act is a corruption of religious freedom; a corruption of our democratic principles; a corruption of the core tenets of our human community; and a corruption of the very soul of our state.

I have the great good fortune to be married to a wonderful woman. Jody serves as advocate for victims of sexual assault at the Underground Railroad, a women’s shelter in Saginaw. She wanted to be here with me today. But her commitment to serving others, and my commitment to support her work, superseded our personal desires. John Adams, my Unitarian ancestor, spent many years apart from his love. To our great good fortune, they left behind a collection of correspondence exhibiting not only their devotion to each other, but also their shared commitment to justice, equality, and freedom.

Abigail and John wrote often of this new nation and of the true meaning of words like “freedom.” In one letter, Abigail wrote:

How difficult the task to quench the fire and the pride of private ambition, and to sacrifice ourselves and all our hopes and expectations to the public [welfare]! How few have souls capable of so noble an undertaking! How often are the laurels worn by those who have had no share in earning them! But there is a future… reward, to which the upright [person] looks, and which will most assuredly be obtained, provided [that person] perseveres unto the end.

You here today know about sacrifice. You have given up your time and energy to be here and to have your voices heard by your elected officials. You here today understand working toward the common good and the noble undertaking of guaranteeing freedom to all people. You here today see too clearly how those charged with guaranteeing our freedoms wear the shriveled laurels earned by catering to special interests, by pursuing power over others, and through the self-righteous delusion that they know the one truth.

Because Abigail Adams was right – there is a future reward. Moreover, we need not wait patiently until we die to receive that reward. We can unite as one people. White or black – whatever our skin color – we can unite. Woman or man – whatever our sexual orientation or gender identity – we can unite; Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox…Muslim, Jew, or Sikh…Buddhist, Hindu, or Jain…Agnostic or Atheist – whatever our religious beliefs – we can unite; Americans all, regardless of our documentation or ethnic heritage – we can unite.

We can unite to fight for equal justice under the law. We can unite to provide affordable access to health care for all. We can unite to protect our decisions on when to have children, when not to have children, and how to parent the children we have in safe and healthy communities. We can unite to ensure that every person has equal access to a quality education and a job paying a fair and living wage. We can unite to protect our planet from those who would plunder its resources and from practices that threaten our existence as a species through global climate change.

And by standing united against the corruption of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, we guard our right to believe or not to believe what we want in regards to religion. We oppose the sanctioning of discrimination against people on the basis of religious beliefs. We support the freedom of religious practice, so long as that practice does not harm others.

And we stand united to defend the wall of separation between Church and State described by Thomas Jefferson. For he acknowledged that the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience was that no legislature should pass laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise of religion. Jefferson wrote that “our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions,” and that depriving people of their civil rights on the basis of religious beliefs will “corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage.”

A people united will never be divided.

Truth and Meaning: Frivolous Waste

During the last week of the recent campaign for District 98 State Representative, Midlanders received a barrage of lurid and sensationalist ads predicting all manner of doom and gloom that would befall Michigan should Democrat Joan Brausch be elected. Republican candidate Gary Glenn worked hard to separate himself from these disgusting tracts of fear funded from groups supporting his candidacy. But it must give one pause that if a candidate cannot control his backers before he is elected, what chance has he to be objective of lobbyists and special interest groups after he is elected.

Now, in his first public pronouncement since his underwhelming victory, our new representative has unveiled his first call to action. Nothing about roads or gas taxes. Nothing about job creation. Nothing about saving our retirees from unfair taxes. Nothing about school funding. And nothing about saving Michigan’s traditional families from the scourge of homosexuality and the “gay agenda” he fears so strongly.

No, his first call to action is to request an investigation into the money paid to a consultant by the state. No investigation into the allegations of fraud and nepotism by Gov. Rick Snyder. No investigation into the blatant misconduct of many of the emergency managers given dictatorial power over their cities by this administration. No investigation into the outrageous gerrymandering occurring in recent years. Our new representative’s first request is to investigate how the state spent .0002 percent of its revenues two years ago because he doesn’t like the reason the government spent the money.

What possible purpose could this investigation serve? The state paid a consultant to do a job, which he did. This same consultant was hired by other states to do exactly the same job. Michigan paid him $481,000 while Vermont — a state with 94 percent fewer people than Michigan — paid him $400,000. The consultant did his job and the state chose not to use his recommendations — much to the detriment of the poor and uninsured. So now Glenn wants to throw more tax dollars away investigating an expenditure already made for a job the state legally contracted, and which was completed.

The only purpose of such a call is not to exhibit any concern for the Michigan taxpayer. The only purpose is to discredit a medical insurance program that Michigan conservatives rejected in spite of the fact that many of our citizens have no access to affordable health care. The only purpose is to attack a program that has provided many millions of Americans with medical insurance for the first time. The only purpose is to bring the Washington brand of Tea Party obstructionism full force to Lansing and grind our government to a standstill wasting time on pointing fingers at nonexistent scandals, while at the same time providing no solutions to the problems that serve the interests of the people of this state.

It doesn’t matter that this same consultant also worked on a similar project many years ago. This same consultant was paid by then Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts to design that state’s health insurance program — the exact program that served as the primary model for the Affordable Care Act. So it would seem that Glenn and his conservative backers had no objection to the consultant’s fees charged to create a system for a Republican governor that has worked splendidly. But when a similar program was passed after a year-long debate and signed into law by a Democratic president, all of a sudden Glenn takes issue with that same consultant working for Michigan to implement a similar program.

And let us remember that the Affordable Care Act has been a spectacular success. Health care spending by consumers is at its lowest rate in 10 years. More than 10 million previously uninsured Americans now have affordable insurance, driving the number of uninsured citizens down 25 percent in just one year. The second year sign-up period has already seen one million people visit the healthcare.gov web page. And the overall price tag of implementation has come in at $100 billion less than predicted.

So, I offer a counter proposal to Mr. Glenn’s call to examine the out-of-context statements of an advisor to the project. Let’s take the money that this fruitless display of grandstanding will cost the taxpayers and buy a few tens of thousands of free school lunches; or replace some laid off public school teachers; or fill all of the potholes on I-75; or give a tax credit to a small business owner who will bring 100 new jobs to our region. Let us take the money the state will waste investigating this contract, and put it toward something that will help our citizens, like joining other states that have successfully implemented their own exchanges.

Truth and Meaning: Another Senseless Death

By now, it is no secret — I loathe guns. I have shot rifles and pistols at ranges and tried skeet shooting once. But I have never owned a gun and never will. If I feel a strong enough need, I will take a self-defense course, or buy a taser. And when I sense that our government is going astray, I engage our Constitutional right to free assembly and protest — which I have done on many occasions.
I have no grudge against hunters, especially those who handle their weapons properly. If you find it sporting or necessary to kill wildlife for food, feel free. I will argue that you don’t need an automatic rifle with a high capacity magazine, however, to take down your prey.
But, hardly a day goes by that a child doesn’t mishandle a gun in their home, often with fatal results. The accidental death at the hands of a 9-year old girl in Arizona this week should make this nation weep. We should mourn the loss of this child’s innocence, torn away from her forever. This could have been your daughter. We should grieve with the family of the dead instructor, whose loss can never be replaced. This could have been your husband, father or brother. And we should be furious that another careless and preventable action involving our insane gun culture should have been prevented.
And then, less than TWO DAYS after this tragic accident, the NRA promoted information on how “Children Can Have Fun at the Shooting Range.” This callous act is just one of a long list of such affronts to the welfare of our children and our nation. Every American should be outraged by the NRA, which is literally looking you straight in the eyes and telling you, “You don’t matter — only guns matter.” The NRA is spitting in your face while it uses your membership fees to curry favor with politicians that will result in the death and loss of innocence of more children.
I say ENOUGH! I understand defending the right to bear arms. We may differ on how the Second Amendment is interpreted, but that is not the point. The NRA has overwhelmingly proven that it is not the body that should be influencing that discussion supposedly on the behalf of gun owners. Yes, training in the use of guns is absolutely essential. But that training need not be done by a ruthless, uncaring lobbying group only concerned with keeping every American in harm’s way. Do you honestly believe that the Founders imagined, or would have ever considered, supporting people strapped with loaded automatic rifles walking the aisles of your local grocery store?
If you support responsible gun ownership, then quit the NRA. Start a new group that really promotes that laudable goal. Demand mandatory background checks on all gun purchases, including those at gun shows and online. And at least be willing to discuss the possibility that certain weapons should never, ever be put into the hands of a 9-year old.