T'was Election Day 2017

Virginia is unique; every year there's an election. We have an annual opportunity to set a political course. The politicians on the ballots build their platforms based on what they view as the biggest challenges facing the Commonwealth, but we give them power. This is an awesome responsibility. An informed electorate is the best defense against those who would willfully distort facts in order to gain access to legislative and executive powers.

Being an informed voter is more difficult than it use to be. There are so many negative campaign ads that trying to focus on what's important to our daily lives has become work. This is a sad reality, but it doesn't absolve us of our civic responsibility. Every voter has an obligation to the generations of Virginians who will be affected by decisions made at the ballot box.

Ed Gillespie’s plan of capping Medicaid would be bad for all Virginians, but it would be disastrous for the Blue Ridge Mountains. Medicaid provides health coverage to eligible low-income adults, children, pregnant women, elderly adults and people with disabilities. Any cuts to this program will adversely affect the lives of some of the most vulnerable citizens in the Commonwealth.

According to the “Local Department of Social Services Profile Report 2016” there 838 citizens in Bath County who were enrolled in the Medicaid program. These are our neighbors. These are the kids we cheer for at sporting events. These are the people we sit beside in church. For too long the debate at the center of what role the government should play in providing for citizens has been hijacked by people who view poverty as a sign of moral failure. Suffering economic hardships is hard enough without being stigmatized for it.

Ed Gillespie’s tax plan doesn’t make him a bad person. It just proves that he doesn’t look at the world through the same lens as a mother or father raising children on stagnated wages. In Bath County over half of the students in our schools are eligible for free or reduced lunches. Many of those same children are covered by the Children’s Health Insurance Program or (CHIP). These kids did not choose the circumstances they were born into. If you wouldn’t look a kid in the eyes and take their breakfast or lunch tray from them why would you cast a vote for someone proposing budget cuts that would effectively do the same thing?

Gutting the social safety net for the sake of tax cuts is immoral; it's antithetical to the 25th chapter of Saint Matthew and the Christian belief that what we do for the least of these we do for God. Budgets are moral documents because they set forth our priorities. I could be wrong, but I don’t think anyone can properly  pursue happiness without the necessary tools to preserve life. I don’t want to live in a society that views the needs of children as negotiable budgetary issues. Don't just listen to what politicians say watch what they do and make a decision based on what's best for the future.

America's Latest Mass Shooting

Twenty-six people were killed during America's latest mass shooting. First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas joined a growing list of places this shouldn't happen. A list that should include everywhere. This is the 377th mass shooting this year. We average more than one mass shooting a day. We have a problem that we don't seem too interested in fixing.

Writing about mass shootings got old a long time ago, but not nearly as old as our canned response to them. These tragedies have happened so often that they have become part of our life. This is the new normal and our responses have become ritualized. America's inability to respond legislatively after Sandy Hook broke my spirit, and I know I'm not the only one. I mourn those who are lost and sympathize with the people tasked with rebuilding shattered lives, but I am numb. I think a lot of us are numb. We offer our thoughts and prayers and then split into our respective corners and debate. We talk because talking is easier than acting. Talking allows us to defend ourselves and our political ideologies. Talking is our coping mechanism.

Instead of talking maybe we should address high occupancy magazines and semiautomatic weapons that can easily be modified? We look for reasons not to do this. If the killer is African-American​ their actions are chalked up to their "upbringing" or black people's "knack for committing crimes". If the shooter is Latino we can avoid gun control legislation all together by talking about building walls and banishing people. Muslim shooter's are terrorists who hate "real Americans". If the killer is white their actions said to be the result of a mental health issue; we're told it's too soon to politicize a tragedy and in a few weeks we pretend it didn't happen. All of these excuses fall short of dealing with the real issue and none of them protect us from being the victims of or affected by the next tragedy.

We have to come to grips with the fact that sending our thoughts and prayers isn't solving this problem. This doesn't keep happening because we aren't praying hard enough. Too many Christians are praying for cake, but refuse to use the eggs, flowers, oil and milk God placed in front of them. There is nothing wrong with praying, but we have to pray and then act. It's that simple. No, we can't prevent an evil person from committing murder, but we can limit the methods and tools they use to carry out their deeds. 

Playing politics with mass shootings makes us look smaller than we are. We choose to be powerless. We choose to avoid the tough work of making these killings harder to pull off. We choose to be accessories to these crimes. America is governed by laws that can be amended. We can amend laws that put us in danger, but we don't have the moral conviction to do so. We are not passengers​: we are holding the wheels of justice, but they won't turn themselves.

We Should Really Talk!

1. There's nothing wrong engaging controversial subject matter.

2. There's nothing wrong with being uncomfortable. 

3. There's nothing wrong with not knowing.

4. There's nothing wrong with admitting a mistake.

As a nation, we have never been comfortable talking about controversial issues; however, as individuals, we can work on this, but it will take deep dialogue and a lot of self reflection.

I get a few dozen messages every week from decent people hurt by things I write. This is troubling. I don't use profanity and I don't attack people- even when they attack me, but I'm still inflicting wounds on people I care about.

If I wrote an 800 word article condemning sexism it wouldn't offend people who aren't in denial about the role gender plays in society, but the same article about race has the ability to offend people. We have to get past defending ourselves when institutional practices are called into question. This defense mechanism refocuses conversations. It isn't helpful and diverts time and energy.

When the subject of toxic masculinity and rape culture come up men don't have to reflexively defend themselves from the indictments leveled at our society. Indictments against patriarchy are justified. This also applies to racism and white supremacy. Systemic racism is real; pointing this out shouldn't trigger anyone, but if you feel triggered ask yourself why? What is it about this subject that causes feelings of anxiety or annoyance?

I write about the world we inherited. I write about the gap between our beliefs and our practices. I write about things most would rather avoid. I don't lie in my writing, and any claim I make can be grounded by empirical data. You might not like the conclusions I draw, and if that's the case let's talk about it. This isn't about being right; it's about dialogue. If people who know each other can't talk how can we expect a stranger to understand us?

We have to do better. This includes me.

The Insanity of Mass Shootings

Every few weeks our lives are interrupted by breaking news about innocent people being gunned down in classrooms, movie theaters, night clubs, churches and most recently an outdoor concert. During these highly stressful times, we stop what we are doing to reflect on the preciousness and fragility of life, we offer our prayers and condolences to the families affected by the tragedy and we tell ourselves this isn’t America. We recite this claim with the convictions people give to their religious mantras. We repeat this lie hoping to convince ourselves that we were somehow different, but this is America. This is who we are and we need to accept it. Insanity isn’t just doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. Insanity is also denying the truth right in front of us.

Violence is a constitutive part of our history. America grew out of a violent revolution and hasn’t looked back. In the Gospel of Saint Luke, we are told that we can know a tree by the fruit it produces. In America, we scorn and rebuke our rotten apples, but we refuse to indict the tree that produced them. We have to quit using the same shocked language we apply to these tragedies and come to grips with the fact that this is normal. America is, and always has been, a violent nation.

Our culture has glamourized violence through novels, television, movies and video games. The spike in mass shootings over the last decade is a generational consequence of celebrating death more than life. America’s fascination with violence consciously and unconsciously affects many of us in different ways. It starts out as innocent games of cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers. We send these same kids to schools that have canonized our nation’s most historic battlegrounds and immortalized the soldiers who fought and died on those sacred grounds. We have Civil War reenactments where we simulate the experience of being on some of America’s most deadly killing fields. For every person truly repulsed by depictions of violence there are throngs of people cancelling out their voices.

Contrary to what we tell ourselves, the majority of mass shootings aren’t committed by people with a history of mental illness. These are meticulously calculated events designed to inflict as much pain and terror as possible. Too often we jump to the conclusion that the shooter must have been “crazy.” This is disingenuous. Saying someone is crazy is an easier pill to swallow than accepting the fact that our culture continues producing more and more people capable of committing these crimes.

There are so many Americans invested in the myths associated with America that (as a nation) we can’t look critically at this problem. Too many people are working overtime to systematically disconnect these shootings from each other- and often the motives behind them. America is under siege by the threat of random violence and we won’t accept the fact that our culture is complicit in some of the carnage we have seen.

America is stuck in a perpetual cycle of grief, inaction and denial. Our politicians don’t have the courage to stand up to the gun lobby and we won’t look in the mirror. These stories start with a hail of bullets and end in death and prayers. We keep doing the same thing over and over and have the nerve to question the results.

Why is Pat Robertson Still Relevant?

“The fact that we have disrespect for authority; there is profound disrespect for our president, all across this nation they say terrible things about him. It’s in the news, it’s in other places."

Pat Robertson 

This is a prime example of why so many young people are disenchanted with the church. For 8 years President Barack Obama and his family were ruthlessly disrespected by "Evangelicals" and "compassionate conservatives"; now, we are supposed to pretend like the serial philanderer and self admitted genital grabber has earned our respect? 

Pat Robertson's political and nationalistic theology is pushing more young people away from the church than the evils he drones on about every day. If holier than thou White Anglo Saxon Protestants keep defending the daily garbage produced by the 45th president the average age of parishioners at many of these churches will rise exponentially. Your kids and grand kids are watching you defend behavior you wouldn't tolerate from them. This hypocrisy is another reason for kids to duck church.

Please, miss me with the God sent Trump argument. If God sent him, then ipso facto he also sent the guy before him and that didn't stop y'all from disrespecting him and his family.

10 months into 2017, and none of the things Evangelicals warned us about happened. Barack Obama didn't:

1. Suspend the First Amendment and take your guns.
2. Didn't round up Christians and send them to FEMA camps.
3. He didn't usher in Sharia law and force us all to convert to Islam.
4. He didn't declare Martial Law to stay in power.

Pat Robertson and a host of "Religious" celebrities spread these lies with the same vigor they spread the Gospel. All of these claims were taken very serious and all of them were ridiculous, but not nearly as ridiculous as the church defending behavior that is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus. If any of Donald Trump's most loyal defenders in the clergy behaved like him on any given day they would be excommunicated or defrocked. 

Here's some free advice: young people will respect you more if you keep it 100 in the name of Jesus.