Social Justice

On “10 Things You can’t Buy With Food Stamps”

Think about which personal care items you could live without. Could you pick? Would it be deodorant? Toothpaste? Toothbrush? Soap? Shampoo? What about laundry detergent? These are just some of the things that cannot be purchased with SNAP benefits, aka food stamps. [1] I’ve been experimenting with baking soda and vinegar for my hair and baking soda for my teeth, for environmental, as well as money reasons. Last year, I bought them in large quantities for cleaning, along with a large supply of laundry detergent and Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap. Next is homemade deodorant.

Yet, try to get a teenager to forego shampoo or deodorant. Imagine trying to brush a toddler’s teeth with something other than toothpaste. What do you substitute for diapers and powder. Diapers, tampons and pads are also not covered. Thus, mothers are penalized more heavily. Make-up would be out, of course, but so, too, are lip balm and lotion.

This has become the reality for more and more of households suffering from food insecurity. Plus, the amount awarded is not enough if 90% of the funds are used by the third week. The fourth week is made up, for some, by local food banks. Others wait must it out.[2] There is the added indignity of not having, or being able to buy those items essential for being in public, let alone looking for employment.

Interestingly, a disproportionate number of gay and lesbian households receive food stamps. Lesbian couples also receive more cash aid, in all likelihood due to the diminished earning potential of women. “Some 14.1 percent of lesbian couples and 7.7 percent of gay male couples receive food stamps, compared with 6.5 percent of different-sex married couples. Moreover, 2.2 percent of women in same-sex couples receive government cash assistance, compared with 0.8 percent of women in different-sex couples.”[3] We cannot ignore the Transgender community who have double the unemployment rate, doubling once again to 28% for African American transgender individuals.[4] No wonder so many tragically end up homeless.

Those in poverty continue to be vilified by politicians. A climate of resentment has been cultivated by those in power, so much so that people forget teachings by their religion that tells to remember the poor. Worse the working poor earn just enough money to be unqualified for help. It is the rich that feel entitled. As Unitarian Universalists, we affirm the dignity of of each person. What are we called to do for the poor who walk among us?


[1] What You Can’t Buy

[2] SNAP Myths & Realities

[3] Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Poverty Update

[4] Transgender Face Uphill Battle

UU on the Ropes: The Frayed Safety Net

I keep finding myself unable to blog. It is not that I cannot find something to write about. There are plenty of things that are important to me, not the least of which is living out my Unitarian Universalist faith in the green and the LGBTQ communities. I write the posts in my head, but am bogged down by the thoughts of more immediate concern. If one were to look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I have hit bottom. A catastrophic fall a year ago means that I do not have an income. Through the generosity of my girlfriend Kimberly, and the co-owners of her house, I have been staying rent free. Going through the public health system to recover from my accident, meant being bounced back and forth between the county hospital and the county clinic for months, with no movement to actually fix discs pressing on my spinal cord in two places was its own punishment. Believe it or not, mental health through the county is remarkably better. That, too, has its own story.

Although I was very embarrassed to have hit so low, I finally applied for food stamps late last fall. The rhetoric against people on food stamps plus a healthy dose of denial and shame kept me from applying sooner. I was too embarrassed to apply for cash aid at the same time. Since I did have no income, nor disability, I finally for cash aid from the county a few weeks later. I had to see a county contracted doctor, first. I was awarded the cash aid, General Relief or GR, in December.

This past Christmas was my leanest yet. My mother and father each sent a bit of money. Since I had to provide bank statements I just knew that they would figure out if I deposited money in the bank.

Mistake number one: I misplaced a report that I received at the end of December, which I was to fill out and declare income including gifts. I was notified that my cash aid would end because I had not turned in the report. So I turned it in at the county office before the threatened day at the end of January.

Mistake number two: Being honest, I declared the small bit of money. I then needed documentation about the money I received for Christmas. I had to as my mother and father each to write a letter declaring that they gave me money for Christmas, and that it was a one time deal. Now, we are after the January 31 deadline. I went down to the county office, and turned it in. The worker was so nice. She said that she would put the paperwork in right away.

A few days later, I received three letters. One that they county overpaid me, and that they would be reducing the aid over the next several months to recover the loss. The overpayment was more than the amount one of my parents gave me. I suspect that it was the February money that was deposited on the 10th. The second letter said that my cash aid had been reinstated. The third letter said that it was discontinued.

By this time I am seriously confused. I did what they asked. It came to my attention that I would also need an outside referral from the county office. I called for more information and was told that I needed go down to the county office to fix the general relief before I could use the outside referral. I made an appointment, saw another worker. He said the GR should have been fixed, and gave the name of the worker in charge of facilitating the outside other service. He seemed convinced that the GR issue would be straightened out.

I made an appointment to see the referral worker, with stipulation that the GR be fixed, later that week. She told me to call her before the appointment to verify it had been restored. I called on the appointment day, and it had not been restored. So we made an appointment for the following week. We are now in the month of March.

Thankfully, I saw the worker for the outside referral even though the cash aid situation was not fixed the following week. After the appointment, I stood in the customer service line at the county office again so that they could tell me what I needed to do next. Apparently, they lost the copy of my ID. Now since I applied for the food stamps separately, they did have a copy of my ID scanned into the system. The kind young man printed it out, and submitted it for me.

March tenth, the day that the money becomes available, I took that card to make a withdrawal. I’ve been really stressing at this point with no cash, and no money in my bank accounts. It had the $5 balance from last month.

I waited for another week to call again. This time I called the main number. The worker told me that the GR continued to be cancelled, and not only that, due to the foul up, my food stamps, as well. Up until this point, the food stamps had been working.

Several days later, I called the main number again. This worker told me that I would have to go in to the county office again. I asked if it was better to just go straight in, or to make an appointment. He told me to make an appointment, so I made an appointment for the following day, March 17.

I got in line to check in. I was relieved that it was still in time for the appointment when I started to check in. The worker put in my information and told me my case was closed. She told me that if I came in the day before, I could have fixed it. No exceptions.

I went to the application line to start the process over. I sat down and the tears came running down. The pain, the paperwork, the frustration, the money anxiety, all got to me. I heard my name called relatively quickly, after 30 minutes or so. I went to the window, but the person was not there. The woman at that front of that line got testy as she thought I was cutting in. I waited a few minutes with the woman glaring at me. I went to the customer service window to see if my name had been called. On the first day that I applied, the fingerprinting worker garbled my name so badly, I had no idea it was me. It was not until the last call announcement, that I realized that they were calling me. So, the customer service guy called me up. I showed him my papers and asked if I’d been called. He told me, no. He noted that I’d been there only 45 minutes and the process takes at least 2 hours.

I went back to my seat, weeping profusely. I heard my name called again. I went in to see the worker. I just could not stop crying. I tried to explain what was going on. He went away, and came back after discussing my case with a supervisor. It should not have been closed. He also made me fill out a depression questionnaire and was going to make me see that worker. I assured him that I did not need to see them. He told me he was denying the current application, but that I should call back in 4 days. I started bawling at this point, and exasperated, he told me that the supervisor will fix the old case so that I could start receiving the cash aid as of March 1. Mollified, I went home.

I called him on the following Thursday. As it had not yet been reinstated, he gave me the name and number of a supervisor. He told me that he’d look into it and call back. He gave me the name of another supervisor. That supervisor looked into it, and said he’d call back. I’ve called him three times since. As of today, April 4, the case is not resolved. He told me today that it is not my fault and he is continuing to monitor it. He actually tried to call in a favor. I asked him to check on the status of the food stamps as I had not been shopping.

Thankfully, since I did apply food stamps and GR separately, the food stamps are intact. Welfare is a punitive system. The workers are harried from the sheer number of applications, but ultimately they are doing the best that they can, and they are kind. The worse part of this is all of the man hours by the county for just under $200 per month. I will have to be fingerprinted again.

The food and shelter are okay for now. I’m boiling up a pot of beans as I finish this up. This is just the tip of the iceberg. My multiple identities are all intact, but battered. I am still at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy. I’ve just been unable to do higher ordered thinking. The best I can do is pin pretty pictures that inspire me, and hope to inspire others that way.

Update 4/15/2014

After being the squeaky wheel, and then giving some time for the supervisor to track things down, he called me back this past Tuesday. The case was back on track, and I’d need to come in to get fingerprinted again. Five hours waiting, and a panic that I would not make my next appointment, and I gave my fingerprints and another photo on Thursday. There was no money in the account again.

I called the supervisor today. He told me my case must be jinxed. This saga was due to clerical error. Although my fingerprint request was marked urgent by another supervisor on Thursday, the fingerprints were still not attached to my file.

He asked for my number again, and said he’d call me back. As he did before, I’m going to trust that he will call back. In the meantime, I found this tidbit about SNAP, which could be said for cash benefits as well:

"Two-thirds of all SNAP payment errors are a result of caseworker error. Nearly one-fifth are underpayments, which occur when eligible participants receive less in benefits than they are eligible to receive." Feeding America.org

Update 4/17/2014 Mr. Frykholm came through. I am so grateful for his perseverance and referral to other supervisors to help when I came in. It was not perfect, as there are humans at every level. Still, that one person cared enough, or was conscientious enough to see this through. I will not be missing anymore deadlines.

Do Something

Poetry that Gives Birth to Revolution

Author: 
Christopher D. Sims a.k.a UniverSouL

We need powerful empowering poetry
Poetry that promotes positivity
Poetry that encourages people to progress

Poetry that gives birth to revolution

We need poetry
that puts on black berets,
black dashikis, black pants, and black boots
Poetry that rises and raises its fist
to run after the oppressor to oppose
its rendering racism

Poetry that challenges the boys in blue
Poetry that kicks butt while we sit back
and say, "Get 'em poetry!!"

Poetry that gives birth to revolution

Black folk need poetry
that gangsters the grime in the ghetto
Poetry that gathers graceless women,
gutless men, and guiltless children
to guide them back to greatness

Poetry that disintegrates crack
and evaporates alcohol so that we don't
continue to fall into destruction

Poetry that gives birth to revolution

This world needs poetry
that puts an end to poverty
to starvation
to homelessness
to A.I.D.S.
to dehumanization
to government regulation
to population control
to depletion of Earth's natural resources
to war
to worry
to suffering
to pain
to the Bush and Tony Blair regime

Poetry that gives birth to revolution!


(C) Christopher D. Sims
All rights reserved by author

Immigration Prayer

Author: 
Rev. Mark Belletini

O Love,
I come into your presence,
and the presence of this gathering,
as the grandchild of immigrants.
Immigrants who were not joyfully welcomed
by many inhabitants of this nation,
but ridiculed and accused of being a threat.
Immigrants who came to this land
in poverty and never became wealthy.
Immigrants whose English was never
as good as they wanted it to be.
Immigrants who were honest,
thrifty, hardworking, and who loved
this nation, even though many in this
nation despised their nationality of origin,
mocked their religion,
and pointed accusing fingers at them.
I am their grandchild, O Love,
and know this:
all human beings are inherently worthy,
and are worthy of respect and fair dealing.
All human beings, no matter their origin,
skills, education, language abilities or
religion, live lives as important to them
as my life is to me.
O Love, may I walk through this world,
where conversations about immigration
are often aflame with the exact same
disrespect and misunderstanding
leveled at my beloved grandparents,
with my head held high,
my memory strong,
my courage loud,
my solidarity secure.
May I give a voice to the voiceless,
and hold up a mirror of honesty
to the twists and distortions of the age.
O Love, set us free to serve you in peace. Amen.

What Is Hope?

Author: 
Rubem Alves

What is hope?

It is a presentiment that imagination is more real

and reality less real than it looks.

It is a hunch

that the overwhelming brutality of facts

that oppress and repress is not the last word.

It is a suspicion

that reality is more complex

than realism wants us to believe

and that the frontiers of the possible

are not determined by the limits of the actual

and that in a miraculous and unexpected way

life is preparing the creative events

which will open the way to freedom and resurrection…

The two, suffering and hope, live from each other.

Suffering without hope

produces resentment and despair,

hope without suffering

creates illusions, naivete, and drunkenness…

Let us plant dates

even though those who plant them will never eat them.

We must live by the love of what we will never see.

This is the secret discipline.

It is a refusal to let the creative act

be dissolved in immediate sense experience

and a stubborn commitment to the future of our grandchildren.

Such disciplined love

is what has given prophets, revolutionaries and saints

the courage to die for the future they envisaged.

They made their own bodies

the seed of their highest hope.


Rubem A. Alves, Tomorrow’s Child, 1972

30 Days of Love: From Pinterest With Love

I have been recovering for the past twelve months from a freak accident, falling out of a second story loft. It has been difficult to write at all. I am so grateful that I finished seminary before the accident. That does not mean that I have been off of social media completely. My favorite, Twitter, has been hit and miss, at best. I used to read upwards of 20-30 news articles a day, and tweet links to them. I am now on twitter a tiny fraction of the time. There has been an upside to being forced to slow down. This past year, Pinterest taught me that I am a visual person. Through Pinterest, I can curate what amounts to a love letter of pictures, stories, and videos.

There are two pictures that informed my “pinning” from very early on. The first is of a young woman with a sign that reads, “I need inclusive intersectional feminism because I had to scroll through five pages to see the face of another woman of color.” Five pages. Coming from my own social location of a queer, multicultural, feminist, Unitarian Universalist, her point struck me. A feminist board, “Feminism/Inspiring Strong Women,” on Pinterest followed. Those pins focus on why feminism is necessary, show women heroes, role models, and those who never got credit in their lifetime.

The second picture is of a young trans individual whose sign reads, “I need feminism if it will fight for trans people and women of color.” This is another valid criticism of feminism. The trans community is shut out of many women’s events, and even discussions.  The pins on my board, “Queer Inspiration and Affirmation,” are multicultural. As a cis lesbian, I cannot heal the divide between straight women, lesbians and trans women. That work needs to be done face to face. I can, however, make a place that mirrors those of us not from the dominant culture, rather than a window looking in as most boards are.

There is one last picture that I saw recently that inspired one more board. The picture frames a just married lesbian couple jumping in the air.  I had been collecting pictures of just married lesbians on an invisible board. The joy in their faces was so infectious that I created “Brides x2," for all those who had to wait to have their relationships acknowledged by society.

The three boards are love letters to those women who do not fit the dominant cultural expectations of their time, today or yesterday. They are smart, adventurous, brave, strong, and beautiful for being themselves.

Two Lovely Brides

The P-word: What's Your Excuse?

What's Your Excuse?

A few weeks ago, stories started popping up on my feed about a fitness buff, Maria Kang, who'd posted the pic (to the right) on her facebook page, which elicited angry comments from women who felt that Ms. Kang's "in-your-face" question was demeaning to women who did not look like her. Let me state up front right now that (aside from us both being Asian) I do not look anything like Maria Kang, and I don't have children as an "excuse."  Nevertheless, I didn't care about the story one way or another.  She neither hurt my feelings nor did she goad me into hitting the gym three times a week.  Days passed and I saw more women posting things critical of her, and I still did not comment. But then I saw this story, On Maria Kang, Fitsperation, and The Problem With Fitness Privilege, and yeah, I just had to respond.  Because the author had used the P-word.

Of course, almost any kind of success comes with a certain amount of privilege.  I agree.  Those of us who can boast advanced degrees or successful carreers or recognition for some kind of achievement or another, usually came from upbringings that allow access to the resources that facilitate such successes.  Even in the rare cases of people who started with no wealth and access and got to the top by talent, if you think about it from the Buddhist perspective, it's a fluke that we have whatever talents that we have - we could just as easily have been born without them.  So that too is a kind of privilege in that it's not something that was "earned." 

So I'm not disagreeing with women who say that there was privilege involved in Ms. Kang's fitness success.  My question is: Had she been bragging about some other kind of success, a profitable real estate business, a degree in physical chemistry, an invention of some semi-needed gadget, would the reaction have been as angry as it has been?  There would have been just the same amount of privilege involved regardless of the type of success, but would folks have felt the need to point that out?

My guess is no.  Because her sucess as a real estate agent doesn't make you feel bad if you're not a successful real estate agent and you don't want to be.  It's only because the critics on some level wish they could look like her that they accuse her of lording it over them. 

I don't look anything like Maria Kang, and I don't have children as an "excuse."  But I don't need an "excuse."  It isn't that I lack the resources to get into better shape.  It's that out of the resources at my disposal, I have different priorities. I can see that she spends hours a day maintaining her body and in the number of hours a day that I have, there are other things that take a much higher priority. However, I don't see the point in being offended by her pride in her fit body. She had a goal to maintain her fitness. She devoted time and energy in pursuit of that goal and has achieved it. Good for her!  I have different goals, some of which I've achieved, others not (yet).  I feel bad about the goals I have that I've not achieved yet due to my not putting sufficient effort into them.  But I don't feel bad about not having achieved goals that weren't a priority in the first place. 

More importantly...

When we talk of privilege we need to be moderate in our use of that word lest it come to mean nothing.  There is a difference between the privilege that gives you access to the resources to help you succeed at whatever you set out to do, and "privilege" being thrown as a weapon against someone who has succeeded at something.  When people blame others for the latter's marginalization, and especially when they try to shape public policy around denying access to resources that can help folks get out of the margins, then we need to talk about privilege.  But when folks are bragging about their success in something, anything, us talking about "privilege" just makes us sound bitter.  (Especially when that talk of "privilege" is coming from fellow middle-class folks.)  Privilege isn't something that only occurs when we don't like what the other person has achieved.  If we use the word in what way, we cheapen it to mean nothing more than spite and envy.  A little mudita (happiness for the success of others) is in order.  Be happy for Ms. Kang's success, decide what you want to be successful in (with whatever amount of privilege you do or do not have) and go for it.

Economic Justice and Moral Injury

Author: 
Suzi Spangenberg

By Suzi Spangenberg

Delivered at The Church of the Fellowship for All Peoples (Fellowship Church), San Francisco, CA

On May 26th, 2013

 

The screaming. 
That's what shook me. 
The fear and terror held in those screams. 
And then the images. 
People panicking...Running...Trampling each other. 

Children separated from parents,
being pushed down...as adults,
stepping on whoever was in the way,
stretched out their arms and flung themselves forward...
not to help their children, but in an attempt to grab hold of what they believed would bring them some happiness.

As I recently re-watched the many videos which depicted the  violence that happened inside Walmart stores across the nation during last November's Black Friday sales, I was stunned that so many people were willing to camp out overnight and then get violent, trading their souls for cheap material goods. 

People who chose to ignore the Walmart workers - bravely standing outside the stores protesting for a fair living wage -  workers they had to pass in order to get inside to begin their feeding frenzy.

Wal-Mart employs more people than any other company in the United States outside of the Federal
 government, yet the majority of its employees with children live below the poverty line.

"Buy American" banners are prominently placed throughout its stores; however, the majority of its goods are made outside the U.S. and often in sweatshops such as the one that recently collapsed in Bangladesh that resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 people.

Walmart has the largest percentage of workers on food stamps and medicaid of any other company in the United States. Workers cannot survive on the wages they are paid and so must rely on government aid to survive.

And while it's easy to point a finger at Walmart, the fact is, their business model is emulated and held up as a success by Wall Street. 

When did we begin to care more about stuff and less about people? 
When did greed become not only acceptable, but celebrated? 
Is this really who we are? 
What are the root causes of that emptiness? 



Theologian Howard Thurman states: "The need for love is so related to the structure of the personality that when this need is not met,
the personality is stunted
and pushed or twisted out of shape."  

I believe many of us have forgotten our interconnectedness and that the absence of love, of deep relationship, creates a void that a person instinctively tries to fill.  

As we feel less and less connected to one another, we feel more and more alone.  That emptiness, that aloneness, that need for love is what we are trying to eliminate with material things, which we hope will mask the pain of feeling this deepest kind of loneliness.  

Something is acquired, a person has feelings of momentary happiness, and then, like a drug, when those feelings wear off, there is a need to go out and get more to feel the same way again. 

People, other people,
are mere obstacles in the way of temporarily easing this empty, yet very deep need.  Unfortunately, the one thing that can fill the hole,
love,
which illuminates our interconnection,
is not something that can be bought. 

I've been thinking about other people who have struggled with feelings of being disconnected. 

Specifically, I've especially been thinking about my dad... a lot.  He was a member of the 10th Mountain Division ski troops during WWII.
He was one of the very few in his regiment to come home alive.
He returned highly decorated with a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and a broken soul. He became a life long advocate for peace.

He also never spoke about his experiences during the war.

He'd tell funny stories about training at Camp Hale, located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. 
How the men, already elite skiers,
were taught mountain climbing and snow survival skills.
How they burned so many calories during training that they were each given half a pie for dessert.
They were also given free cigarettes and since my father didn't smoke, he'd trade his for more pie.

He said one night he ate 3 whole pies and he was still hungry. I believe it.

One of the few photographs I have of him from that time shows a very handsome, lean man standing on the side of a snow covered mountain with his wooden skis slung over one shoulder. He was smiling widely and looked relaxed and carefree. The photograph was made at Camp Hale before he shipped out.

Once these men arrived in Northern Italy, they did things I have difficulty imagining.
Scaling the 2,000 foot tall vertical sides of Riva Ridge in the Apennines mountains in the darkest part of night with no light to guide them,
all while carrying 85 pound packs, skis, and guns with only strap on metal crampons attached to their boots.

I learned that from an old 10th Mountain Division newsletter. I didn't learn it from my dad because my dad couldn't talk about the war.

Once, when I told him I was going to an anti-war protest in 2003 prior to the beginning of the Iraq War, he quietly said - "that's a really good thing you all are doing. If only everyone understood that war is the hardest on women and children..." his voice trailed off and when I asked what he meant - he quickly changed the subject.

The men of WWII were in a tough place when they came home. They were heroes of "the Good War" and culturally conditioned not to talk about feelings.
So they kept them inside.
They didn't talk about PTSD then. There wasn't a lot of information available about coping with the horrors of war when they returned home.

So they stayed silent and in my father's case, busy. He threw himself into his work and his hobbies. He didn't allow himself time to reflect or remember.  By the time he met my mom, he had gotten pretty good at doing the things that society said a man must do. He had a good job. He drove a nice car. He even got his pilot's license.

He also came home from the war with a temper and you never knew what would set it off.

He was obsessive about security when we were home alone without him. He installed many locks and would get very upset if he came home and discovered we had missed one. I remember one time I overheard him yell at my mom "You don't have any idea what they could do to you and Suzi do you?!?"

I didn't really know what he meant, but it scared me - I could tell whatever it was, it was very bad.

I knew something was wrong with my dad, I just never really knew what it was.

Now I do.

My dad was suffering from moral injury.

What is moral injury? Dr. Gabriella Lettini and Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock, authors of the recently released book "Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War" define moral injury as "a negative self-judgment based on having transgressed core moral beliefs and values or on feeling betrayed by authorities. It is reflected in the destruction of a moral identity and loss of meaning. Its symptoms may include shame, survivor guilt, depression, despair, addiction, distrust, anger, a need to make amends and the loss of a desire to live."

My father, like many men who came home from WWII, didn't talk to anyone. His unrecognized injury destroyed my parent's marriage.
They divorced when I was 4.

When I was 6, my father married my beloved step-mom Cynthia. For the first time in my life, I saw glimpses of the man my dad must have been before the war. They were never apart from the time they got married until her death many years later. Even so, with the exception of Cynthia, he was still emotionally distant and even though we would do things together, I always felt like there was a barrier between my dad and the rest of the world.

Decades later, when Cynthia was in hospice, we were able to share many deep conversations.

One day I finally got up the courage to ask her about my dad- why he was distant. She grew quiet and then said "First, you need to know your dad loves you very much. When we met, we were both carrying heavy burdens. We were able to share them with each other. He knows I love and see ALL of him. I know he loves and sees ALL of me." She then told me that the war had come close to completely breaking my dad and before they met, only his incredible strength of will kept him together.

After Cynthia died, my dad and I spent a lot of time together. He still didn't talk about the war.

When he was 90 I went to visit him and he suddenly started to cry. I had only seen my dad cry once before-- when Cynthia died. I just held him and he finally cried out "I'm so glad you do what you do. I wish I'd had the courage to go throw my medals in Bush's face!"
That was all he said. But it was in that moment that I realized just how much the war had cost him.

We all can count the number of people who have died as the result of war. We can also count the injured. We can calculate the many MANY dollars spent.

But I wonder if we have ever calculated all that has been lost among the living?

How many men (and now women) return with parts of them missing - invisible parts that they cannot file a claim for?

How many people like my father lose their connection with those they love and the rest of society?

How many families never get to welcome home the person that left?

Never get to see their parent care free and smiling?

These are some of the costs of moral injury. A deeper and more final cost is that many of those suffering from moral injury ultimately commit suicide.

In thinking about my dad, and the cost of moral injury of war, I have found myself returning again and again to the definition: "a negative self-judgment based on having transgressed core moral beliefs and values or on feeling betrayed by authorities." 

Is it possible that this widespread emptiness exhibited by our out of control materialism is a form of national moral injury?

We are taught that to succeed, we must put ourselves first.   Instead of helping each other so we all can do well, of coming from a place of love in our interactions with others,
we instead are taught that we must compete to be first,
to have the most,
and if we have to step over, or on, people to get there, so be it. 

We want better cars, better homes, better schools for our kids...even when we know there are people living on the street, and schools in poor neighborhoods, such as those in Chicago and Oakland, are being permanently closed.

And the more selfishly we behave, the more disconnected we become.
Deep down, we can sense this is wrong but we push those feelings aside.

We turn away from things that remind us of how far we have strayed from honoring our interconnectedness.

and as people become obstacles to "winning" or obtaining more stuff
we step right over them...or on them...
and see them as nothing more than collateral damage as we do what we need to do to fill that internal hole.

We may feel a moments triumph as we score a "great deal" at Walmart, but soon after, that internal "hole" becomes larger and we need to keep seeking more and more to fill it, causing us to become even further disconnected.

It's a horribly cycle and one that exacts a heavy price.

Vets commit suicide, and as a society, some may argue that we do as well - whether actively or passively as the stress of living in such a disconnected way takes it's toll on us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

I am grateful that my dad did not choose this path.
I am grateful he had moments free from anguish thanks to Cynthia's wisdom and love.

And most especially on this Memorial Day weekend,
I recognize that many do not have those anguish free moments and my heart aches for them...
and my heart aches for all the families of veterans who will never again know their loved ones without injured souls...
and for all the families who grasp for things over people,
and everyone who suffers as a result. 

So, what can we do to address this issue?  is it possible for us to even reach those in the 1%, like the CEO's of Walmart, whose decisions are negatively affecting the lives of so many? 

Is it possible to come from a place of love when experiencing people as callous and unfeeling?

I would answer, "Do we have any other choice?" 

Tich Nhat Hanh, in his book "Reconciliation" talks about the need to look deeply at those we perceive as being the cause of our suffering. 

He explains that we are interconnected, so if we hate them, we hate ourselves. 
The only solution is to expand our heart.

He also offers a healing practice that I have found, after some initial resistance and struggle, to be extraordinarily helpful.  
I recognize that this may be a challenging exercise  for some of you, so do what you can--it's a starting place.

I invite you to place yourselves in a comfortable position and as you are able, allow yourself to really focus and contemplate on his words:

<<RING BELL>>

"In understanding and compassion, I bow down to reconcile myself with all those who have made me suffer. 

I open my heart and send forth my energy of love and understanding to everyone who has made me suffer,

to those who have destroyed much of my life and the lives of those I love. 

I know now that these people have themselves undergone a lot of suffering and their hearts are overloaded with pain, anger and hatred. 

I pray that they are transformed to experience the joy of living, so that they will not continue to make themselves and others suffer. 

I see their suffering and do not want to hold any feelings of hatred and anger in myself toward them. 

I channel my energy of love and understanding to them and ask all my ancestors to help them." 

<<LONG PAUSE>>  <<RING BELL>>




My deepest hope is that we can all learn to recognize our interconnectedness...

and as we channel that love, we are able to inspire others to do the same...

that we fill that emptiness more fully and perfectly than any material thing ever could. 

May it be so.
Namaste. 
Blessed be.

If It Doesn't Get Better, Then What?

Today was National Coming Out Day, and all through the day my social media feeds were filled with references to it - some funny, some touching, and some inspiring.  But along with the stories of coming out, there were also the obligatory critiques.  (At least in progressive circles it seems like critique is always obligatory.)  In particular, there were criticisms of the "It Get's Better" campaign. 

As someone who identifies as a straight ally, my personal reactions to the "It Gets Better" campaign have run the gamut.  I found the first few videos to be extremely touching.  Then the criticisms startted coming in, raising valid points that I had not considered.  It gets better if you're cis- but not necessarily if you're trans.  It gets better if you're middle-to-upper class, but not necessarily if you're poor.  It gets better if you're white but not necessarily if you're a queer person of color.  It gets better if you're attractive, but not necessarily if you don't conform to the normative standards of attractiveness.  "It gets better" glosses over a whole lot of stuff.  The criticisms are valid, and important to make.  They opened my eyes at the time when I first heard them and I think they're still important now. 

But today, when I saw yet more critiques of "It Gets Better," I remembered something.  The campaign was created in the context of teen suicides.  LGBTQ teens commit suicide at a rate three times higher than for straight teens, and the point of the campaign was to give queer teens hope so that they could hold on.  So that they might choose to live long enough to get help, long enough to get through.  That is the reason why the campaign, with all its flaws, exists. 

So my question is, if "It Gets Better" is not the right message, then what is? 

I'm talking about this issue as it pertains to the LGBTQ community but really this is relevant to a larger issue among progressives in general.  There are any number of campaigns created by liberals trying to address important issues.  And for most all of these campaigns, there are progressives pointing out what is wrong with them.  The campaigns often don't go far enough, aren't inclusive enough, lack a systemic frame, and ultimately buy into the same mindset that we are trying to dismantle.  Oft times what is presented is a "kinder, gentler" version of something that is still at its root oppressive.  I get that.  I'm not trying to defend that.  But the question still remains, what do you tell the kids who are being bullied right now?  If it doesn't get better, then what?  What kind of hope do you offer to encourage them to hang on while at the same time working to address the systemic violence that is driving them to suicide in the first place?  After all, if we are encouring LGBTQ folks, including teens, to come out, then we are encouraging them to risk abuse. 

And on a more general level, when we offer our critiques, what postive alternatives to we also offer?

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