Leader’s Message – “Women Making History” – March 2017

March 4, 2017

“Such a nasty woman.”

Donald J. Trump referring to Hillary Clinton during the third presidential debate in Las Vegas on October 19, 2016

 

“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell after sanctioning Senator Elizabeth Warren during the hearing for Attorney General nominee Jeffrey Sessions on February 7, 2017

 

The first quotation is an example of manterruption, the second of mansplaining. Both have been transformed into powerful social media memes – and T-shirts – to further the cause of women’s rights. They have, as the saying goes, “gone viral.” One woman tweeted: “Thanks for the new battle cries!”

 

For the record, during their third and final debate, Clinton interrupted Trump fewer than five times; Trump interrupted her more than forty times, more than in any of the other debates. Ironically, only minutes before, Trump declared (to audience laughter) that “no one has more respect for women than I do.”

 

When Clinton said, “Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger. He goes after their dignity, their self-worth, and I don’t think there is a woman anywhere who doesn’t know what that feels like,” many of us agreed and shared with one another our harrowing experiences. Janet Jackson’s 1986 hit song “Nasty,” which had become a theme for women dealing with disrespectful men, was played again, capturing the essence of our problem with Trump.

 

On the evening of Tuesday, February 7, Elizabeth Warren started to read a statement that Coretta Scott King, widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had written 30 years ago opposing the nomination of Jeffrey Sessions for a federal judgeship. Accused of violating Senate rules against impugning another senator, Warren was barred from continuing by a vote down party lines, followed by McConnell using a strategy designed to silence women. One woman tweeted that his words were “every woman’s epitaph.”

 

Unable to finish speaking in the nearly empty Senate chamber, Warren took to Facebook Live (“They can shut me up, but they can’t change the truth,” she said.) where she read the entire statement for an audience of over 7 million by Wednesday afternoon.

 

Here is one paragraph from that statement: “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge. This simply cannot be allowed to happen. Mr. Sessions’ conduct as a US Attorney, from his politically-motivated voting fraud prosecutions to his indifference toward criminal violations of civil rights laws, indicated that he lacks the temperament, fairness and judgment to be a federal judge.”

 

In between the dates when the two “manly” quotations were made, on the day after Trump’s poorly attended inauguration, millions of women (and men) around the world, including Antarctica, took to the streets and marched. One woman’s invitation to forty friends to protest a sexual predator making his home in the White House grew to the largest and most peaceful single-day demonstration in U.S. history.

 

The sheer numbers made an impact, but what really made the day special was the sea of pink hats. The Pussyhat Project was launched over Thanksgiving weekend to draw attention to Trump’s caught-on-tape boasts about grabbing unsuspecting women by their genitals. Its mission was to provide people on the marches with a means to make a unique collective visual statement and to provide people unable to physically participate with a way to represent themselves and support women’s rights. What a rousing success it was, as you can see from the photo of Eleanor Roosevelt sporting one.

 

Following the march, the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington posted the “10 Actions for the first 100 Days” campaign for joint activism to keep up the momentum. Last month, an Upper West Side “Huddle” convened in our Meeting House to strategize how to implement those actions. In the coming weeks, months and years, we at Ethical will continue to partner with individuals and groups to fight for human rights and environmental protection.

 

Stay tuned!

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Leader’s Message – The History of Black History Month – and its Importance Today – February 2017

January 31, 2017

Since 1976, every United States president has officially designated February as Black History Month. Here’s hoping President Trump does, too. He, more than any other president since 1976, needs to learn the lessons of Black History Month. A case in point: During the presidential campaign, Trump said there had “never been a worse time to be a black person” in America. President Obama urged him to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture (https://nmaahc.si.edu/) to brush up on his history. Trump seemed to have “missed that whole civics lesson about slavery and Jim Crow,” he said in a September speech at the Congressional Caucus Foundation in Washington, DC. “We’ve got a museum for him to visit, so he can tune in. We will educate him.” Sadly, Trump cancelled his plans to visit the museum on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. One wonders whether he did so because civil rights leader John Lewis, who chose not to attend his inauguration and questions his legitimacy as president, championed the creation of this museum and is featured in many of its exhibits.

 

In her memoir, Negroland, Margo Jefferson quotes her mother, who, in the 1950’s, was worried that her young daughters were “being naturalized into white culture.” “When I was your age,” she said, “we celebrated Negro History Week. The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History was founded by Carter G. Woodson right here in Chicago. We read The Crisis [official magazine of the NAACP]. We were so proud when we sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing’ at assemblies and church programs.” Jefferson writes, “From that day forward Mother began her own cultural enrichment course with evening and weekend contributions from Daddy.”
Black History Month grew out of Negro History Week, founded by noted historian Carter G. Woodson and launched in 1926 in the second week of February between the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Woodson also founded the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History (ASALH) in 1915 and the Journal of Negro History in 1916. A prolific writer about the contributions of African-Americans, his best-known work is The Miseducation of the Negro, published in 1933. It focused on the Western indoctrination system and African-American self-empowerment.

 

Born to former slaves in 1875 in Buckingham County, Virginia, Woodson worked in mines and quarries until the age of 20, received his high school diploma at the age of 22 and a master’s degree in history from the University of Chicago. In 1912, Woodson received a doctorate in history from Harvard, but was unable to land a teaching post there because Harvard wasn’t hiring black professors. He taught instead at Howard University, one of the nation’s leading black educational institution.

 

Woodson spent his life investigating, documenting and publishing African-American history.  He died suddenly of a heart attack on April 3, 1950 in Washington, DC, before realizing his ambition of publishing the six-volume Encyclopedia Africana.
The theme for 2017’s Black History month, selected by ASALH, is “The Crisis in Black Education,” a tribute to its founder. It focuses on the crucial role of education and recalls Woodson’s words: “If you teach the Negro that he has accomplished as much good as any other race he will aspire to equality and justice without regard to race.”

 

The crisis, according to ASALH,first began in the days of slavery when it was unlawful for slaves to learn to read and write. . . [C]ontinuing today, the crisis in black education has grown significantly in urban neighborhoods where public schools lack resources, endure overcrowding, exhibit a racial achievement gap, and confront policies that fail to deliver substantive opportunities.”

 

I am finishing this column on Inauguration Day and will travel early tomorrow morning to Washington, DC to march for all that I hold dear about our nation. That includes Black History Month and the lessons we still have to learn.

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Leader’s Message – “The Road Ahead” – January 2017

December 13, 2016

At noon on Friday, the 20th of January 2017, a New York City real estate developer with business interests across the globe, someone who lost the popular vote but garnered enough states to win in the Electoral College, will be sworn in on the West Lawn of The Capitol as the 45th president of the United States.

 

On the following day, I will join women and men from across the country in Washington, DC to protest the direction he has chosen for our nation, down a road far from the values we hold dear. Protests will also be held in other cities, including ours. The lives of many Americans have already been put at risk, some targeted by his late-night tweets; his lies, although challenged, are repeated by his supporters even as he quotes them from known fake news sources; and his reckless policies will endanger our relationships with other nations, as well as the environment we all share.

 

As historian and activist Howard Zinn reminded us, “dissent is the highest form of patriotism. In fact, if patriotism means being true to the principles for which your country is supposed to stand, then certainly the right to dissent is one of those principles. And if we’re exercising that right to dissent, it’s a patriotic act.”

 

There is much to dissent in the appointments Donald J. Trump has announced:

  • a chief counselor who runs a website is lauded by the most virulent racists in America
  • a climate change denier in litigation against the Environmental Protection Agency to run that life-saving department
  • a strong advocate of private schools to run the Education Department
  • someone who opposes minimum wage to run the Labor Department
  • handing the Department of the Interior over to someone who plans to sell public lands
  • nominee for attorney general whom the Senate refused to confirm as a federal judge in 1986 for being too racist
  • a Treasury secretary who foreclosed on thousands of homes during the housing crisis
  • and a nominee for Secretary of State with a financial stake in Exxon, which has operations in more than 50 countries, and who has drawn scrutiny for his close relationship with President Vladimir Putin, whose country has been accused by the CIA of having influence our presidential election.

 

And this was just the news from December, along with a rise in hate crimes perpetrated by those emboldened by his inflammatory rhetoric. There is much more in store for us and the rest of the world. It is no wonder, then, that people are gathering to exercise their right to dissent, to proudly declare themselves as patriots.

 

Among them is Mayor Bill DeBlasio who, during a public address at Cooper Union on November 21, reassured New Yorkers that “The results of an election don’t change who we are. A single office-holder doesn’t change who we are; a law that gets passed in Washington doesn’t change who we are. We are 8.5 million strong, and we ain’t changing. We are always New York. Somos siempre Nueva York.” He went on to say, “We don’t live in perfect harmony, but we’ve found a way to live and let live. And we know how to support each other, and we know how to protect each other, and we know how to have each other’s backs. . . Now, it’s our turn to build a movement – a movement of the majority that believes in respect and dignity for all.”

 

Here’s what lies on the road ahead: Muslim-Jewish alliances, sanctuary sites for undocumented immigrants, activist engagement of a younger generation, training in allyship, and indigenous peoples declaring “a reawakening of the nations of Turtle Island.”

 

Here at Ethical, we recommit ourselves to standing up for human rights and protection of the environment that embraces us all. In this issue of Outlook, you will find programs and activities, a list of ethical action affinity groups, and inspiration to walk down this road together.

 

 

Leader’s Message – “The Gift of Despair” – December 2016

November 14, 2016

Oft hope is born when all is forlorn. – J.R.R. Tolkien

 

Having grown up in rural western New York State, I wasn’t as surprised by the presidential election result as many of you were. Trump lawn signs were prominently planted in the front lawns of my hometown, and many of the people I knew from school watch only Fox News. Nonetheless, I was disturbed that an antiquated Electoral College once again put someone into office who had lost the popular vote. (Previous beneficiaries were Bush in 2000, Harrison in 1888, and Hayes in 1876.)

 

We held sharing circles for our staff on the afternoon after the election and for members that evening. There were tears and anguish, fear and anger. The growing and deepening division between our two Americas was painfully clear, and many doubted that the union could hold.

 

In the days that followed, we assessed the danger that awaits us when Trump takes office. As I write this, we have learned about the appointments to his White House staff and cabinet. We can expect assaults on human rights and environmental protections. We are already experiencing a campaign of disinformation that promotes heinous positions taken by alt-right media.

 

A colleague, Jone Johnson Lewis, shared a colloquy called “The Gift of Despair” that I led last month. Founder Felix Adler wrote and spoke about learning from failure; it is when we realize that, despite our best efforts to achieve an ideal, we have failed that we also realize what it was that we most wanted. It is similar to mourning for someone who has died. We recognize how much we valued that person and despair over our loss.

 

This colloquy includes a quotation from historian Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States: “[H]uman history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

 

Here is my ethical dilemma: How do I attribute worth and dignity to people who deny human rights to others? Trump’s election gives license to every racist, misogynist, homophobe, xenophobe, etc., and the attacks are increasing. These incidents must be meticulously documented and reported. Visit the Southern Poverty Law Center for details: https://www.splcenter.org. We who still have privilege must be allies and accomplices to those who do not, and we must do so with humility, following the lead of organizers for their respective groups.

 

My Ethical Culture faith has been sorely tested as I try to stay in relationship with people whose values are diametrically opposed to mine, people who accuse me of condescension when I bring to their attention the suffering of marginalized Americans and the disinformation promulgated by hateful social media sources. I don’t want to pay lip service to our ethical rule of eliciting the goodness in others and thereby in ourselves by engaging in the “toxic niceness” of simply accepting that they hold different opinions. This election is a tragic reminder that rights are never given; we must fight for them every day of our lives. It is time to roll up our sleeves and take to the streets; to employ every legal means available and every civil disobedience tool in our kits to right the wrongs that have already, and will continue to be, unleashed.

 

The time calls for action. Up, then, and let us do our part faithfully and well. And oh, friends, our children’s children will hold our memories dearer for the work which we begin this hour.

Felix Adler, Founding Address, May 15, 1876

 

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Leader Statement – “Exercise Your Right to Vote on November 8!”

November 7, 2016

Historians remind us that this election is not unique in terms of rancor and divisiveness. Alexis de Tocqueville, who visited the United States from France in 1831, wrote: “Long before the appointed day arrives, the election becomes the greatest, and one might say the only, affair occupying men’s minds. . . As the election draws near, intrigues grow more active and agitation is more lively and widespread. The citizens divide up into several camps. . . The whole nation gets into a feverish state.”

 

Nonetheless, most Americans experiencing the 2016 campaign have never witnessed such noxious public discourse. Voter suppression and voter fraud are both cited as dangers to our democracy. While there is considerable evidence for the former; the latter is statistically non-existent. Various court orders have been issued to states to lift restrictions to voter registration and to the GOP to prevent intimidation at the polls. The Democratic party, on the other hand, has dedicated itself to full voter registration and getting out the vote. Families and friendships have been torn asunder, with supporters of one presidential candidate vilifying supporters of the other. And the whole nation, anxious about the results, wonders whether these relationships can ever be healed.

 

I cannot tell you for whom to vote, but I can encourage you to follow your conscience when you do vote – and remind you of who we are. We Ethical Humanists affirm the worth and dignity of every person. Since our founding in 1876, we have devoted ourselves to social justice and the common good. We hold the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights with reverence. Remember who you are and what you value tomorrow and every day – and vote accordingly.

Leader’s Message – “Democracy, an Ideal Still Unrealized in the United States” – November 2016

October 15, 2016

You will read this column before the 2016 presidential election season ends. I am weary and imagine that you are, too. This “ultramarathon” – from the forming of exploratory committees to the inauguration – can last two years, far longer than any other country’s campaigns. Canadians were perturbed that their recent election season lasted eleven weeks. The average length in the UK is less than 20 weeks and in France two weeks. In Australia, the average length is eleven weeks, and voting is compulsory.

 

We rank near the bottom in terms of voter registration because we make it so difficult; strategies include cutting back on early voting, making absentee voting more difficult, and imposing photo-ID requirements at the polls. Even when federal courts rule that their voting processes are unconstitutional, some states (Ohio, NC, Texas and Wisconsin) continue to defiantly suppress votes. New York State does not allow early voting, and requires voters to register at least 25 days before Election Day. Absentee voting requires “snail” mail between the voter and local Board of Elections.

 

The Founding Fathers were divided on the issue of voting rights. In 1776 John Adams was unwilling to extend voting rights beyond white men who owned property and warned, “There will be no end of it. New claims will arise. Women will demand a vote. Lads from 12 to 21 will think their rights not enough attended to, and every man, who has not a farthing, will demand an equal voice with any other in all acts of state.” Poor Abigail!

 

According to Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice and author of The Fight to Vote (Simon & Schuster, 2016), a history of the struggle to win voting rights for all citizens, “Often groups fearful of change are most determined to change the rules – to make it harder for others to vote.” Still, he is optimistic about our future. I wish I were.

 

Instead, I harken back to a time long ago when the Great Law of Peace guaranteed equal rights to men and women in the Six Nation Confederacy of the Iroquois. The impact upon our Constitution of this oldest participatory democracy has been well researched and documented. Senate resolution 331 from the 100th Congress in 1988 “acknowledges the contribution made by the Iroquois Confederacy and other Indian Nations to the formation and development of the United States.” Tragically, our Founding Fathers, even George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, who were “known to have greatly admired the concepts of the Six Nations,” failed to include women. And it took a Civil War to include men born in slavery; Native Americans would wait much longer.

 

Our Founding Mothers, however, those who met in Seneca Falls, NY in July 1848 to issue The Declaration of Sentiments asserting the equality of women and men, were well aware of the differences in women’s roles between the Iroquois and Americans. For example, Iroquois women selected their chiefs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton described their rights “as proof that the subordinate position of white women was neither natural nor divinely inspired,” said Sally Roesch Wagner, who curated an exhibit in Seneca Falls called “Sisters in Spirit: Celebrating the Iroquois Influence on the Early Women’s Rights Movement.”

 

So here we are in November 2016, centuries removed from that ideal.

 

I knew that Hilary Clinton’s run for president would challenge those uncomfortable with women holding positions of power. What I didn’t anticipate was the depth of her opponent’s misogyny. Perhaps I was naïve, and yet I don’t know any woman, including myself, who hasn’t experienced sexual harassment. Trump may epitomize that behavior, but far too many men practice it. In the weeks leading up to this election, we have been subjected to explicit evidence of a presidential candidate’s utter contempt for women.

 

Susan B. Anthony was thrown to the ground when she tried to cast a ballot in November 1872. Women won suffrage in 1920 after generations of hard-fought battles. We are still fighting for an Equal Rights Amendment. Among all the issues calling for our attention in this election, and there are myriad, in these final days we are being thrown to the ground again. Misogyny is alive and kicking. But so is the ideal of fully participatory democracy. Once upon a time, it thrived in this land. It can again if we don’t lose hope and work together.

Leader’s Message – “Native Americans Rising! – October 2016

October 15, 2016

“In fourteen hundred and ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

 

Do you remember reciting this verse in elementary school when preparing to celebrate Columbus Day? In two-line rhyming stanzas we learned about his voyage from Spain with three ships and ninety sailors to what he thought would be India. It mentions encountering the “Arawak natives” and concludes with “The first American?  No, not quite. But Columbus was brave, and he was bright.” For the quincentennial of his “discovery,” Nancy Schimmel wrote a different song for children – “1492” (http://www.sisterschoice.com/1492.mp3) – with the refrain “someone was already there.”

 

Indeed someone was! The benign poem I learned didn’t mention the nations of indigenous peoples living in the Americas for millennia before the European invasion. It neither told their stories nor sang their praises. It taught us a myth and hid the devastating truth from us.

 

In North America alone, between 1776 and the present, our government seized an estimated 1.5 billion acres from Native peoples. Claudio Saunt, associate director of the Institute of Native American Studies at the University of Georgia, created an interactive time-lapse map that can be viewed at http://invasionofamerica.ehistory.org/, to visualize this dispossession. In 1848, gold was discovered in California’s Central Valley, and three years later, in his State of the State address, governor Peter Burnett said, “That a war of extermination will continue to be waged between the races, until the Indian race becomes extinct, must be expected.” For more than a century (1860-1978), Native children were ripped from their families and sent to boarding schools far from their homes. Between 1947 and 2000, an estimated 40,000 children from 60 tribes were placed in Mormon homes.

 

Many Americans have heard about the Trail of Tears and Wounded Knee, but a vast majority know little about the extent of the atrocities committed against our hosts. It is high time we learned. It is time for a reckoning about the U.S. conquest of sovereign indigenous nations and a serious engagement with people who lost their homelands and future generations of children. Some progress has been made in the truthful teaching of our history and filing of lawsuits to reclaim land, but it is an arduous struggle.

 

Today we have an opportunity to support Native Americans taking a stand to stop construction of the proposed $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, from North Dakota to Illinois, that threatens to contaminate the Missouri River. Thousands of indigenous activists from dozens of tribes across the country have traveled to the Sacred Stone Spirit Camp (http://sacredstonecamp.org/) launched on April 1 by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to protest this violation of the National Historic Preservation Act. A delegation from Black Lives Matters also participated. Many of us joined a rally in Washington Square Park last month (September 9) and continue to support the tribe’s efforts.

 

News of this protest and the lawsuits filed by the tribe has been slow reaching the general public. It was carried primarily by the daily independent news program Democracy Now! and through social media. Yet again, it is evident that mainstream news media care little about Native Americans. One notable exception was Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC at the end of the August 25th edition of his nightly news show, “The Last Word.” Here is a quotation:

 

“The original sin of this country is that we invaders shot and murdered our way across the land killing every Native American we could, and making treaties with the rest. This country was founded on genocide before the word genocide was invented, before there was a war crimes tribunal in The Hague. . . [Standing Rock reminds us of] The people who have always known what is truly sacred in this world.”
So this Columbus Day weekend, please make time to consider our country from a different perspective. Imagine what might have been had the European invaders respected the cultures and valued the lives of the people who preceded them. We have much to learn.

 

 

Leader’s Message – “Back to School” – September 2016

August 13, 2016

Turn on your television today and you will see commercials for school supplies. They started early last month and often feature parents gleefully singing and dancing as they push shopping carts down aisles loaded with backpacks, notebooks and snacks. In others, children spin around to show off their new school apparel. Yes, it’s that time of year again. Parents may feel relieved, but students and teachers often feel anxious. So much is at stake. Education is perceived as the key to success. Without a good education, students won’t get good jobs, meet the right people, or live in the best neighborhoods.

 

Public school teachers bemoan that they can do little more than “teach to the test.” All their training and creativity are stifled by an education reform movement, starting in the 1980s, that emphasizes national Common Core standards, having abandoned the progressive pedagogy of John Dewey that many of us experienced. Remember the field trips, school plays and festivals, and the thrill of “learning by doing”? Parents wanting that for their children today shell out tens of thousands of dollars in annual tuition to private schools or compete for scholarships.

 

Why does our nation have this dichotomy? And why do our students continue to fall “in the middle of the pack” compared to other industrialized nations? Since 1969, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has tracked what our students know and can do in various subject areas. It issues what is known as “the Nation’s Report Card,” and several institutions analyze these data looking for answers and solutions.

 

In his article, “In Praise of Dewey” (Aeon 7/28/16), Nicholas Tampio holds the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Charles Koch-funded conservative think tank the Heartland Institute responsible. “For both the business community and traditional-values conservatives, Dewey’s pedagogy fails to train workers, and inculcates liberal, even socialistic values.” This year is the centennial of Dewey’s ground-breaking tome, Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of EducationTampio notes that “his pedagogy has been under assault for at least a generation.”

 

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Democracy_and_Education

This should be of great concern to Ethical Culture because, in many ways, Dewey took Felix Adler’s place as the philosopher of our movement. When I attended my first National Leaders Council retreat, I heard one leader heatedly say to another, “You have forsaken your father Felix Adler for your stepfather John Dewey.” Nonetheless, Adler would never have endorsed teaching to Common Core standards and preparing students to get better jobs. Both he and Dewey believed that education was essential to moral development and participatory democracy.

Children should be encouraged to pursue their own interests, find their own voices, and fight for a world where everyone can learn, grow and develop. To be a fully participating member of a democracy means far more than voting on Election Day. It requires a deep understanding of humanity and the ways in which we organize ourselves, an appreciation of history and cultures, and a commitment to the common good. It’s about putting democratic theory into practice every day in all of our relationships.

Tragically, as we can observe from this year’s election process, our national educational system has failed to teach even basic civics. One of our presidential nominees says he will uphold an article of the constitution that doesn’t exist, but his followers neither know nor care enough to correct him. People who expect opinions and policies to be based upon facts are called “intellectual elites” and dismissed by those who feel they are losing their social and economic status to immigrants and people of color. We all live in “bubbles” of different values and influences.

Let us, too, go back to school this fall. Let us learn what education can and should be. Celebrate the centennial of Dewey’s guide to progressive education by reading and discussing it. Then put it into practice. We owe it to ourselves and the future of our democracy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leader’s Message – “Summer Reflections” – July & August 2016

July 7, 2016
When I was a child, summer days were long and lazy.  They began early when we tumbled out the porch door: racing to the swing set, leaping up to grab the lowest branch on the black walnut tree, and squealing as we dashed in and out of the water sprinkler. We also had chores: making our beds, sweeping the floors and dusting the furniture, weeding the garden and hanging wet laundry on the clothesline to dry in the hot summer breezes. There was no need for sleep-away camp: we pitched tents in the yard, hiked in the back lot down by the creek, and acted in plays we wrote atop a flatbed wagon moored under an oak tree.

And when we wore ourselves out, we flopped on the grass and tried to make sense out of the clouds. We told each other stories and reflected upon our existence. Who has time to reflect any more? Who even takes a vacation? According to a report by the Center for Economic Policy and Research, the United States is the only advanced economy that doesn’t require employers to provide paid vacation time. Nearly a quarter of all Americans receive no vacation or paid holidays, trailing far behind the rest of the world. And when we do manage to drag our sorry selves out of town, we take our technology with us, arguing that if we don’t keep up with our work there will be an ominous backlog awaiting our return.
 
In other words, we are always plugged in and turned on. There is never a dull moment in our lives, no time to process what is happening, and no opportunity to reflect.
 
Perhaps the only time that we reflect as a community is during vigils, of which there are, tragically, too many these days. As I write this, I think about the two vigils I will attend later today: one as a chaplain at New York University, the other as a neighbor in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Last night a vigil was held in front of the Stonewall Inn, birthplace of the gay rights movement.
 
I wear a shirt bearing the words “LOVE conquers HATE,” because I want to believe that this is true, in spite of overwhelming contradictory evidence. I want to hold fast to a faith in the goodness of humanity. I want to be in the company of people who share that faith. 

But it is so hard. We have gathered too many times and held too many memorials. We have held one another close to cry and to comfort. And we have railed against the moneyed interests that continue to supply the weapons that wreak this havoc.

Hate and fear, fueled by prejudice nurtured in religious, political and ideological communities, are armed to the teeth. How can compassion compete? And yet we must try.
I carry with me, at all times, a Tonglen practice written by Buddhist nun Pema Chodron. Today I took it out and read: “In order to have compassion for others, we have to have compassion for ourselves. . . To have compassion means not to run from the pain of finding hatred and fear in ourselves.”
I traveled back to the summer days of my childhood innocence to reconnect with who I was then. I was lucky to have been given that time and space. Others have not been; they have suffered in ways I cannot imagine. Some recovered; many have not. Take time this summer to reflect upon that reality. Reconnect with who you are and find compassion for yourself so that you can share it with the world.
 
 

Leader’s Message – “Bathroom Politics & Ethics” – June 2016

May 13, 2016

There are myriad problems in this country crying out for our attention: poverty, climate change, and racism, to name a few. Surely, which bathroom one uses is of little consequence, right? Not as far as the state of North Carolina is concerned. In March it passed a law restricting public restroom access to the sex cited on a person’s birth certificate. This was a first, and it drew immediate condemnation, but other states and localities are considering similar legislation.

 

Having lost a long battle to prevent the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, social conservatives have turned their attention to transgender rights and efforts to allow certain types of anti-LGBT discrimination based on religious beliefs. They contend that expanding anti-bias protections to bathrooms and locker rooms increases the risk of sexual predators molesting women and girls on those premises.

 

This myth persists in spite of the fact that experts, including law enforcement officials and advocates for victims of sexual assault, have called it baseless. Research has shown that women are no more vulnerable in public restrooms than in any other public space. Furthermore, since sexual assault and harassment are already illegal, this legislation is unnecessary. Once again, women are used to “shield” social conservatives from their real motivation. It is a strategy used throughout U.S. history to discriminate against marginalized groups for the sake of “women’s safety.” As Dru Levasseur, Transgender Rights Project director for the LGBT-rights group Lambda Legal, said “It gets down to prejudice and it’s not based on any kind of reality.”

 

In early May, the Justice Department threatened to sue North Carolina, or strip some of its federal funding, if it did not scrap its divisive law. North Carolina’s governor responded by suing the Justice Department, accusing it of “baseless and blatant overreach”—and of  “being a bully.” This prompted a counter suit, describing the restroom restrictions as “impermissibly discriminatory.” Then, on May 13, the Obama administration issued a letter to every public school district in the country directing them to use the bathrooms that match their gender identity. While lacking the force of law, it contains an implicit threat of lawsuits and loss of federal aid.

 

If you are confused by all of this, I suggest you visit the Lamda Legal website. There is a downloadable FAQ: Answers to Some Common Questions about Equal Access to Public Restrooms at http://www.lambdalegal.org/know-your-rights/transgender/restroom-faq. It includes these definitions: “Transgender refers to people whose gender identity, one’s inner sense of being male, female or something else, differs from their assigned or presumed sex at birth. . . Gender-nonconforming people don’t meet society’s expectations of gender roles.” Identity and expression should also not be confused with sexual orientation. There is a difference between knowing who we are and knowing whom we love.

 

The odds are great that you know and interact with these people; they don’t wear labels. But now social conservatives want them to wear labels and carry IDs before entering public restrooms.

 

So much for politics. Now what about ethics? Last month I met with two young transgender men to discuss starting a support group for their peers who feel unwelcome at LGBTQ settings where “We are asked to check our masculinity at the door.” “What does that even mean?” they want to know. They want to be seen as individuals, not as labels. Don’t we all want that? I often think of the words of Ethical Culture founder Felix Adler that I use to close my guided meditation: “The spiritual nature, the best in each person, does not need to be saved, it needs to be recognized.” Everyone longs to be recognized as a person of worth and dignity. We have it within our power to grant that wish.

 

Finally, the most ethical statement was made by Attorney General Loretta Lynch:

 

This action is about a great deal more than just bathrooms.  This is about the dignity and respect we accord our fellow citizens and the laws that we, as a people and as a country, have enacted to protect them – indeed, to protect all of us.  And it’s about the founding ideals that have led this country – haltingly but inexorably – in the direction of fairness, inclusion and equality for all Americans.

 

To which I can only add “Amen.”