Welcome shouldn’t come with an asterisks

I recently wrote a blog about my thoughts on why church membership has declined over the years. The focus of that particular blog brought attention towards a message of “do unto others” and how we seem to have forgotten that everyone has a specific path when seeking a relationship with their God. After all, we are taught that God created all in his image. Rather than allow that particular message blend with our soul, we somehow became selective rather it be mannerisms, different behaviors, or ideologies to determine if membership and welcoming is qualifications for membership.

This brings me to today’s observation of church parishioners and leadership to particular congregations or perhaps denominations. There seems to be emphasis or expectation on how a person is welcomed into a congregation. Naturally, there are welcoming committees, interest cards to be filled and returned, and in some cases acknowledgment during a service to welcome new visitors. But are congregations and parishioners accidentally or purposely making the welcome feel somewhat unwelcoming? One Sunday I witnessed a car pulling into a visitor space reserved for new people at my local Presbyterian church. Most noticeable on the car rear windshield was an Obama decal. I watched the young couple get out of the car and greeted by a committee person standing at the doorway that could see the visitor parking spaces. The couple was met with a handshake, and the church member went back towards the door to watch for other cars that may be first-time visitors in the remaining parking spaces.

Standing in near the doorway I could overhear conversations as the area from the choir stairwell is adjoined to the area that the welcoming committee stands. What I overheard next from the welcoming committee to a fellow parishner was most disturbing. “Another Obama supporter. I doubt they will be back.” From the brief moment I was struck that membership and welcoming are how one makes and develops it. To some, this observation may be an overstretch of other congregations. But the message of how we receive any prospect of new members or welcoming others to seek whatever religious preference available has indeed become a select committee judging others by the tangibles rather than the merits.

It is as if by chance and constructive skill that some Christians view others in an unchristian like manner if they appear or support others that different than the greeter or congregation majority? A self-assessment would be if an individual at your church mentioned they went to a political speech of a high profile political speaker, despite your objections and opposition to the speaker, in general, would you view that person or member differently? If so, you are perhaps an additional reason church members will continue to decline.

Christian values and virtues should be met with peace, dignity, intercession, and supplication. It doesn’t imply that our personal compass must align with others. It merely means that we surrender at one moment when before our Lord or higher power that we may set aside the controversy and reflect our image of God as merciful and legitimately welcoming of all. Congregations shouldn’t have to become marketing and customer service oriented agents because we should be superlative in our welcoming.

If your congregation has an image of blue jeans, tee shirts, tattoos, unshaven men, or others that appear dramatically different than yourself? Consider your congregation to be lucky and privileged to retain those seeking a religious message of positivity and spirituality versus if they were never there at all. I am always reminded that the meek will inherit the earth. It doesn’t say anything about the best dressed and most successful is in the same line?

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I Will Bear True Faith and Allegiance To The Same

Recently I had a delightful evening conversation (and I do mean that in the sincerest way) with my neighbor’s whose political ideologies significantly different to mine. We didn’t exchange heated debates or blame assessments with one another. We talked casually about how the government shutdown was affecting ordinary people, children, and the flow of our economy. We collectively agreed that the government shutdown seemed to be used as political weapons once U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was immediately sworn into office. I was stunned to hear from various Trump loving supporters that they had no confidence in his ability to lead or be reasoned with. To hear this coming straight from all an all staunch conservative room was almost surreal-like.

In the conversation, I heard my neighbor say something that stuck with me. She said the oath of office for the Presidency says, “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” Her interpretation of “true faith and allegiance to the same” means citizens are utterly loyal to the Constitution and believe in its laws to protect them – not to ever hurt them for legislative purposes or personal agendas. Although her political leanings are far-right, she voiced her concerns that the President has lost touch with preserving the constitution but creating a personalized agenda to tear it apart. She ended with a greater concern that the president may intend to create a divisive moment in history that leads to the start of a civil war between liberals and conservatives. She went on to say that the President doesn’t listen to his advisors, press, or people unless they make him look good in a photo session or on television. But the Trump rhetoric and personal insults are pitting American against American. The mood almost felt like how most Democrats felt during the presidential election cycle. However, it had caught up with the most conservative and evangelical Christian voters.

Another highly conservative male that lives down the block chimed in and quickly presented a biblical scripture to use against Trump’s constant anger filled rhetoric. He said, James 1:19 says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;” He went on to explain that the President isn’t listening to those hurting and using his Twitter to vent his anger which seems something the devil would do.

The room filled with frustrations about how to remedy a situation but not to the point of anger, only great disappointment. Yes, there were some emotional moments that seemed to be misinformative news opinion, but the overall tone was bonded by the unity that we were all voters with differing viewpoints but at least willing to compromise and become respectful of one another. The lesson learned from that moment was we could accept defeat or deadlock but were willing to put a critical issue aside for the sake of others. Esentially we all agreed now is not the time to introduce an expensive border wall. It was that ah-ha moment that made me wish the President was sitting in that room to hear from the people that voted for him exclaiming they won’t support or vote for him in future. To that group of ultra-conservatives, the president went against Christian ideals by putting children, families, and our nation at risk over a politically divisive issue. A woman in the group mentions 1 Timothy 3:5 “For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” as to infer that Trump is hurting families no matter what the cost.

As the conversation entered into nearly its second hour of discussion, we quickly began to realize that our disappointment, disgust, and perhaps energy was expended to waste time but give insights that we should be people with an ability to respect one another. We did say that our strength is best spent by turning off the television, Facebook and involving or volunteering ourselves in issues that are dear to our hearts. Perhaps turning off the “Trump reality show” where ratings and statistic, not God or humanity, seem to be the vanity he craves and relishes upon and we incidentally are becming adicted to.

Upon reflection, I was glad to be in a room with adults that respected differing viewpoints and exchanges. It is a continual lesson with regards to “do unto others”readings. Additionally, it allows people to either be heard or listened to in an exchange of values over politics. Sometimes we are quick to create our personal safe space in avoidance of sensitive or trigger subjects where we may feel outnumbered or marginalized. It is not to assume or duplicate our personal Via Dolorosa but to discover astonishing and sometimes unexpected outcomes on the opposite spectrum of us that finds a moment of unity and accidental allegiance.

Church on the Decline

Growing up as a child I attended church and Sunday school.  I grew up in a family that didn’t regularly go to church but I went occasionally with my grandma or would go with friends. Because I had a diverse group of friends from various denomination backgrounds, I was exposed to many religious services. However, when it came to Sunday school the message was simple and clear to “treat one another the way you wanted to be treated.”  I am sure there were higher level adult conversations in other Sunday classrooms with elders and mature audiences with churches, but I keep reflecting back to when did the message of “treat one another” lose its path or meaning? 

At these various churches there were activities such as church softball teams, piano lessons, choir, arts, baking, youth fellowship, Boy and Girl Scouts, summer trips, and the list goes on. Despite being mostly a visitor at the time I was welcomed, treated as a member, and provded opportunities to grow with that particular community. The elders of the church and Sunday school teachers were just that – teachers. Nearly everyone I encountered at a young age was a school teacher somewhere in the community. It was perhaps the first time that I could see the “real” them versus the school teacher role. 

Without attempting to sound stereotypical, there were male choir directors that presented effeminate mannerisms, but we still listened to what they said and were coached to sing on key – or close as possible. Nobody in any of the congregations made reference to being mindful or become concerned because of their traits. Again, the emphasis was placed to treat others the way we wanted to be treated. 

Somewhere along high school when Reagan became president the tone of the church significantly changed. It was as if a national purge was taking place. There was no longer room for anyone politically, socially, or different. The softball teams, arts, choir, summer trips, Boy and Girl scouts, baking, arts, and so on were abruptly ending. 

There was a new surge by the far-right and conservative to bring order and controls back to the church – all while blaming homosexuality as the demise of Christianity. However, from my perspective and viewpoint I was witnessing a witch hunt of labeling anyone slightly effemenient or butch to be associates or associated with the gay/lesbian community. The irony is that the far-right actually was the demise of religious attendance in America for failing to treat others as they would themselves. 

Whenever the country appears to be on the brink of turmoil or divided there are religious leaders or far right voices that exclaim blames to homosexuality or liberal thinking. It became so problematic that churches began directly asking members and visitors if they were practicing gay or lesbians. Today that practice is no longer widely used. However, congregations have begun implementing background checks on members for various reasons. To me, any church or religion with a background check shouldn’t be considered a church. Again, churches are losing its own faith to follow how to treat, respect, and welcome others as you would like to be treated. 

Perhaps all individuals should be reminded the valuable lesson of “treat others the way you want to be treated?”

Political Shutdown Games

I am not normally political. This post will be an exception because I am an American and I am concerned.

Please allow me to frame the issues involved with “the wall” in its actual terms. Despite what the media is saying, this is not about Democrat vs. Republican. In short, the executive branch of our government is threatening to declare a national emergency since the legislative branch will not authorize the seizure of private American property for a federal works project nor will fund it. The executive branch has already shut down the federal government. It is currently threatening to extend this government shut down for however long it takes for the legislative branch to cave.

Let us break this down. 

First of all, the framework of our government is based on checks and balances. Power is divided into three branches: the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial. The Legislative branch controls the purse strings of government and creates laws. The Executive branch carries out those laws. The Judicial branch tells us whether the laws are constitutional or not. Each branch was designed to be able to balance the other branches.

Why? As shown by our original rebellion, Americans didn’t want a King or a Dictator when we were setting up our government. We were not particularly thrilled with a House of Lords telling us what we could or could not do either.

In this case, the executive branch wants to:
(1) take governmental cash; 
(2) create its own law; 
(3) take away private property from American citizens; 
(4) create its own federal works project. 

At least three of these functions fall within the power/ responsibility of the legislative branch. So, what is the problem? This is one of the most naked power grabs by the executive branch over the others in recent history. Once that power is exercised, it is going to be difficult or impossible to regain any balance again. The executive branch was never meant to have that much power (see our country’s previous concerns about Kings and Dictators). Is this constitutional? Very doubtful. Should all Americans be concerned? That is a question for you to answer yourself. 

Second, a “National Emergency” is generally declared under these general conditions: 
(1) Natural disasters including hurricanes, tornados, and earthquakes to name a few; 
(2) Public health emergencies such as significant outbreaks of infectious diseases;
(3) Military attacks; 
(4) Civil insurrection;
(5) Any unusual and extraordinary threat, which has its source in whole or substantial part outside the United States, to the national security, foreign policy, or economy.

Now the first 4 aren’t applicable. The last category was meant to be short-term only. It was designed to be reviewed by the legislative branch every year after it’s enacted (because again; the check and balance is fundamental to how we operate).

So, what is the problem here? If national emergencies can be declared by the executive branch for non-emergency purposes which vest power in one branch of the government why would that branch ever let go of that power again?

Third, the seizure of private property (known as “eminent domain”, a body of law which says the government cannot just take your home without due process). You are joking, right? No. The US/Mexican border is 1,933 miles long. It runs through 4 states (California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas). Only 33% of that land is actually owned or managed by the Federal Government. A sizable percentage of that land is owned by the Indian nations. It is land preserved for those tribes by treaty and land given under treaty is not land owned by the United States. These tribes already have a lot of reasons to be angry at the Federal Government. This would be pouring additional gas on an open flame.

The other 64% of that land is privately owned. 

How much land would have to be taken? The amount of land that the Federal Government would have to take would likely run 1,237 miles long to 12,371 miles deep (assuming a 1 to 10-mile DMZ from the border into the United States). Even if we could only take 100 to 500 ft of land in densely populated areas, that is a lot of private property that is going to be seized by the Federal government. 

The land necessary for this project would also run through some highly populated areas in the US such as San Diego, Calexico, Nogales, El Paso, and Laredo. There will be a lot of Americans who are going to have their homes and businesses taken by the federal government. Which will also mean a lot of lawsuits.

In terms of the federal works project, these types of works include hospitals, bridges, highways, walls and dams. These projects may be funded by local, state, or federal appropriations. If they are federal, they are funded by the legislative branch of our government (the same branch that our executive branch is currently trying to take power from). Is the seizure of power constitutional? Not likely given the separation of powers discussed above.

Finally, these considerations do not take into account the sheer cost, human and monetary, that will be involved. The Department of Homeland Security estimates the current cost at $21 billion for construction alone (not counting costs of maintenance or costs associated with increased military/federal patrolling). 

Ask yourself a simple question. When was the last time that you saw a governmental project brought in under time and under budget? Does anyone remember the “big dig” in Boston, Mass? The actual costs are likely to be much higher. This estimated cost also does not include compensating folks for taking their land or the associated impact upon their businesses. 

The Federal budget deficit grew to $779 billion dollars in 2018 according to the Treasury Department. How are we, as a country, going to fund this project? How are we, as a country, going to deal with the additional debt? Unlike private businesses, our country cannot declare bankruptcy. 

This is not about Democrat vs. Republican. It is not about who has the best zingers measured in 10 second sound bites. It is about our country. The core of this issue deals with the profound and immense changes the outcome will have on the structure of our nation. This is the way that we, as a country, should be framing these issues. Please think about it.

Addiction Recovery

At the end of my military service, I was briefly involved in drugs. I took them to relieve the emotional pain and trauma of sexual assault and shame that I personally endured and was fearful of sharing with others. However, I did seek help to stop using drugs by attending Narcotics Anonymous which helped me with a step program to manage my life a little bit better than the day before.

When I witness or hear about other struggling with drug addiction, I have to first ask myself, “if the other individual has an underlying problem?” Additionally “do they wish to do something about it to stop using drugs?” Stopping the use of drugs whether they are recreational or prescription abuses begins with throwing in the towel asking others or someone for help. The journey to quit any addiction isnt a matter of going cold turkey, but a willingness to ask for help which seems to be a common stuck point for many trying to harness addiction and its behaviors associated with it.

In addiction counseling, I would often hear about substituting one drug for another. What that means is quitting drugs but doing something else as if it is a drug like drinking, smoking marijuana instead of doing cocaine or other similar addictive situations. But those in addiction recovery often find themselves battling manipulative behaviors to keep from returning back to one drug while sometimes substituting a minor drug deeming it as less harmful. The end result is that the cognitive abilities are wired to keep repeating the same processes over and over presenting no improved reasoning powers to overcome addiction. Somewhat similar to stopping smoking but using e-cigarettes as s justification to quitting. It is a good attempt and perhaps the first step but not stopping the habit of repetitive actions. That too is substituting one addiction for another.

Most people seeking recovery or families trying to find resources are often met with outrageous financial assessments for treatment centers or long-term commitment facilities. While some of these may be wonderful solutions, it isn’t practical to the typical person seeking recovery. A first recommended step is to attend an addiction meeting. Granted, to the person seeking recovery the meeting will initially feel like a bunch of people talking about their desires to use again, but the remarkable part is they are not using for that one moment. It is a support group; not a repair shop with a guaranteed service. The people in the group all share a common problem seeking others that can see beyond the bullshit talk and actions to keep a person in recovery and on a path. The suggested steps are not a speed trial. They are steps that will eventually take years or decades to complete. If a person fails, they start over from step one without penalty or scorn. Again, it is a support mechanism towards recovery.

It is the people not seeking recovery are the ones we should all worry or be concerned about. If a person can understand they need help but do nothing about it to take the essential first steps, then sometimes letting people hit rock bottom may sound bad, but is a common indication that they need to hit that point. Doing so allows that person to realize their path and justification isn’t doing them any good and won’t improve until they take action to do something about it. Sure, we worry about suicide or other contributors by doing or saying nothing because we don’t wish to make a metter worse. In fact, we are contributing to the addiction by trying to be untrained social workers allowing the manipulation and addiction to fester. Let me be clear that I am referring to substance abuse as the topic matter.

Addiction is strong and difficult to break. As observers, we must allow people to work out their differences and pathways. However, those that think they can manage on their own are only fooling themselves and manipulating others that recovery is a successful option if they are substituting one drug for another. It is just a matter of time before that single support mechanism breaks revisiting the whole cycle all over again. This is why recovery must have other people in recovery to make that connection with active sponsorship and accessibility to meetings whenever possible.

If you need help or want to help others, give them the address or number of an anonymous group in your area. If they use it, good. If they don’t, good. At least you have done your part. They have to want it.

New Year Resolution

To begin a prosperous New Year’s, it is essential to reflect on past events.

A few months ago I was assisting an ‘adoptive relative’ with his educational pursuits. Each semester he would receive a refund from his community college Pell grant into his own personal bank account. He accepted a student loan to purchase a laptop to continue the remainder of his junior/senior at a 4-year institution. What he didn’t know, at least what he said to me, was his “adoptive mother” had been siphoning his bank account unknowingly to pay for utility bills. A little over $7K was supposedly saved to continue college, not including the $2,250 student loan for a future laptop, and supposed inheritance money left by the person he knew as his grandfather. When he attended his recent student orientation, the money he had saved or thought was saved was gone entirely; except 90 cents.

When I confronted missing money issue I was repeatedly told by the adoptive mother “there was no refund” and continually barraged with no knowledge of a distributed college loan. Again, when confronted about the money I was told, “I only get a petty social security check each month” as to assert she was privileged enough to take from others with no restitution plan but also admitting to taking money from his account. His college plans and savings he thought was being saved over time been in exploited for other uses. She owns her own home, has no house payment, received child support payments, receives SNAP, worked part-time, and gets a social security check, and taking handouts from other family members. It wasn’t enough for her.

The money was in the bank the whole time and spent by her as she had custody and control of his bank cards the entire time.

When the onion is peeled back more, I learned that she had illegally opened a credit card account in her own daughters’ name twenty years ago before this incident. The daughter would eventually end up telling her “brother” everything that happened. The information was enough to break the camels back. He decided he had enough and needed a restart and safe, trusting place to influence his life.

He decided to move out and into his biological mothers home in Virginia. However, the drama escalated as he mentions the gifts and presents he acquired over the years were no longer legally his. He said, “they don’t want me to have anything or be successful moving forward. They want to sweep everything under the rug and blame me!” The texts he showed me was heartwrenching and hurtful, especially during Christmas. It wasn’t the “adoptive mother” that was texting or calling making him feel like a second-class family member. It was nearly the whole side of his adoptive family. Why? Because they only were privy to a one-sided story without listening to his accounts severe misdeeds and abuses.

Instead of making an issue right and being supportive of a young man and his decision making. The tables were turned to demoralize him with screaming filled emotions, anger, deceptions, and blame assessments. However, a positive light to all of this drama is that he made a choice to be safe from future abuses, mistrust, deception, and being labeled as second-class. He is now safely with a family starting over to learn about the true meaning of family and where one fits in the assimilation of generations.

New Years has a tradition each year where individuals make resolutions to better themselves. Sometimes a resolution is a decision that either is relevant or a timidity based on either emotion or fact. It is our personal stuck point in the decision making to choose either to be a better individual or want to sustain what we define ourselves by the level of our own transparency.

A lessons learned moment for me and resolution is to become a stronger advocate and remove myself from defamation of others so that I do not become a denigration and calumniation towards others. It is bad enough the world is already filled with more anger, hate, and blame assessment entrapping others to join in on the hate-filled drama train of emotional instabilities. If anything was learned from this observation was that a young man made a critical choice in his life and gave me the ability to pursue my future choices which I am grateful for and proud of his decision and wish him all the best in future outcomes.

To me, that is what resolutions should be in our transparent lives so that we are no longer second-class factual or feeling. Preferably we are bonded as unified individuals with a purpose to be better to ourselves and one another.

Mature Decision Making​

I recently read about a 16-year-old person soon to be graduating from high school – and Harvard University. It had me thinking about maturity, development, and the method in which we as adults defines an individual as capable of making adult decisions?

Some would argue that a 16-year-old person graduating from a prestigious university is an exception to the rule and in fairness a rare event. However rare events are measured by people using loose fact-finding data to justify an answer. If any 16-year-old person anywhere in the world didn’t graduate from high school early or be enrolled in a college does that make them less of a gifted individual allowable to make his/her own adult choices? The quick answer would be a resounding “No” by most. It seems that the exception rule is based upon privilege with an acknowledgment by others in power or control. A measurable formula is when others suggest gifted and talented acts by potential candidates, but they are not selected or overlooked in the rare process to seek mature and gifted students. It is strange that America has a vastly large magnet or gifted-talented educational programs, but the identity of allowing adult decisions and seeking qualified candidates are decided from ungifted or unqualified individuals. Instead, we continually drop the pursuit of maturity and gifted people through the cracks of our politized educational system using a formula of standardized tests that most people find boring and not engaging. These identifiers are our main selection process in the discovery of the future Stephen Hawking? No wonder its difficult to find maturity or raise the bar because of how we developed the bar or challenge.

Another maturity example that differs is that the Army of the United Kingdom allows military enlistment beginning at age 16 compared to the U.S. Army enlistment at age 18. The drinking age in the UK is 18 while all of the United States is 21. The age of consent in the UK is 16 while Americans have a mish-mash of consent ages usually beginning at age 18 but with various stipulations. A college education typically starts in the UK at age 16 while American colleges roughly range at 18 or just after high school. Does this suggest that American culture is lagging in maturity and development behind other industrialized nations?

Additionally, does it indicate that our system of the age of suffrage it out of date or lacking useful data? If you take notice that the UK enjoys a safe maturity level of age 16 across the board. Perhaps this is why that nation doesn’t have significant incarceration, sex registry, or costly educational system? It does beg to question American methods and practices if we can look outward for a moment.

The question about maturity and development is highly questionable because American culture takes excellent value in placing a numeric value on all individuals rather than exploring scientific data or the exploration of the exceptional rule. It seems as if the UK has done its fact-finding and created a uniformed and easy to understand practice all while embracing trust and maturity of its youth. This is not to suggest that we should begin immediately lowing ages to “keep up with the Joneses” per se. What I am suggesting is that we became a bit more uniformed and aligned with other industrialized nations especially in a globalized society filled with internet, apps, and shared educational values with regards to sciences, maths, and culture. Otherwise, if we fail to discuss the educational and maturity benefits of shifting the goal post of developmental maturity programs, then we will become as complacent as our poorly designed Great Depression educational school calendars that we continue to use today.