Sunday, June 30, 2013

Same Sex Marriage and Our July 4th Freedoms: All Good!

“The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of their freedom, or impede their efforts to obtain it.”                      
--John Stuart Mills, 1786

I’m not married. 

Some day I may meet someone and fall in love, and exchange religious and civil vows and then sign the license to make it all legal and cut the cake.  Get hitched. Walk down the aisle.  Tie the knot. 

But the thing about this legal right is that, as a straight man, I’ve always had the freedom to do this.  I’ve just always taken this freedom for granted.  Of course I have that freedom. To say “I do”, to give my life to just one other or to keep on searching for a soul mate in the hope of a future marital event. Freedom: to make a civil and Godly commitment to another adult and then maybe even have kids too. 

That decision, to marry or not to marry, is up to me and my God and my potential spouse and no one else. Not, at a fundamental legal level, the government. Not up to my neighbors or fellow citizens. Not other faith traditions which I respect, but whose beliefs on marriage are different than my own. And so last week, in the shadow of July 4th, the United States of America’s 237th birthday, the day when Americans will celebrate with gusto, our freedom and freedoms, the Supreme Court granted a bit more freedom to same sex couples. To folks who just want be able to do the exact same thing that I can do: get married and enjoy everything which accompanies this social construct.

Freedom: so in deeming unconstitutional “The Defense of Marriage Act”, the court gave same sex couples the exact same legal protections and rights granted under federal law to straight couples. There are thousands of these: everything from having the right to a spouse’s Social Security or Veteran’s benefits, to citizenship for immigrants who marry a U.S. citizen, to just being able to visit a sick husband or wife in the hospital. Some will start immediately. Others will happen through executive orders, congressional actions or in the courts. The second ruling was a decision to let stand a lower court ruling that California’s Proposition 8, which banned same sex marriage, is unconstitutional under that state’s laws.  Now gay and lesbian couples are free to marry in the Golden State.  

So as of right now millions of same sex couples in the United States are freer.  More free…to love. More free to live.  More free to build lives together and make families, as they see fit.  More free to enjoy what every single American, every human in a way, craves in the deepest parts of their hearts and souls. Freedom.  And in a civic miracle only a messy democracy like the United States can produce, those who think the court went too far and those who wanted the court to go even further: these folks are now free to fight on, with all the vigor and passion they can muster.  

Freedom: so easy to take as a given, a no-brainer, an “of course!” especially if you already have a specific freedom or freedoms.  Or if you live in a country like the U.S. which, while never perfectly free, has from its creation always enshrined freedom as our most cherished ideal.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." 

So this July 4th I’ll thank our brave forbears who fought for and then secured my freedoms, beginning on a hot July Philadelphia afternoon long ago.  I’ll try my best to appreciate that all the freedoms I possess come first from my God, and then from human law, which at its best equally protects every one, EVERY ONE, without prejudice or bias.  In freedom I’ll sing out “The Star Spangled Banner”, and then “ooh and ahh” at the fireworks. I’ll grill a hot dog and listen to a baseball game.  And then I’ll remember that on this July 4th, 2013, a whole group of Americans, many my neighbors and friends: they have more freedom than they did last July 4th.   

And that’s a good thing. Happy Freedom Day!



Monday, June 24, 2013

The Perfect American Road Trip

“America is a land of wonders, in which everything is in constant motion….”
--Alexis de Tocqueville, 
“Democracy in America”, 1835

Thirty-nine and counting. That’s how many states in the United States of America I’ve had the privilege and pleasure to visit on my various road trips through the years.  Just eleven more states to go. The last place I checked off my U.S.A. bucket list was North Dakota. Drove in for the day and visited The Roger Maris Baseball Museum in Fargo.  It’s right off Interstate 94 at the West Acres Shopping Mall. Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run record in 1961, with 61 home runs for the New York Yankees.  The mall museum is a sweet little piece of Americana. Even got a refrigerator magnet to mark the occasion.

Being from Massachusetts I might be tempted to just skip seeing a place like North Dakota.  Our two states couldn’t be more different.  One ruby red Republican, the other blazingly blue Democrat. Harvard versus heifers, right?  Then there’s size: seven Bay States could easily fit into one North Dakota, with room to spare. One is land locked, the other coastally contained. Truth is many northeasterners view states like North Dakota as “fly over” territory, you know those big square states we pass over on the way to going somewhere else. 

But not me. I want to see all of America, every last star on the flag. I want to remember and claim all of America as America.  So I want to eat powder sugar covered beignets in honky-tonk New Orleans and rubbery deep fried cheese curds at the Minnesota State Fair.  I want to watch gnarly surfers tame the waves in ultra mellow La Jolla, California and South Dakota farmers bring in the wheat on a windy July Great Plains afternoon.  I want to witness a gay pride parade in Miami filled with the boisterous and the proud and walk side by side in a scruffy Brooklyn neighborhood with Orthodox Jews, all back suits and beards. 

Because America is all those places and all those people and then even more. NRA hunters in Utah and gay marriage advocates in Maryland.  Conservative Christians in Kansas and assured atheists in San Francisco. Pro-life activists in Georgia and pro-choice proponents in Chicago.  Aspiring new immigrants in Tucson and blue blood Daughters of the American Revolution on Beacon Hill.  All Americans, right?  Each one, as much a part of this land of the free and the home of the brave as you or me, correct?  Well….

In political, media and even Main Street circles a common complaint these days is how divided our nation is in 2013.  How maybe there really isn’t one U.S.A. anymore. How we’ve cracked so wide open and split so far apart along so many ideological, theological, social and cultural fault lines that it’s hard to believe in the “United” part of our name. Red state, blue state.  Coastal elites and the Midwest heartland.  The Bible Belt and the New South.  

Look at Facebook and read as liberals and progressives mock conservatives with snarky cartoons and self-righteous rants. Watch Fox News and see conservatives critique and condemn liberals as “un-American”.  “If only ‘they’ would be more like ‘us’ then America would be more American, the right kind of America.” Some even hint of giving up. “That’s it! I’m moving to Canada!” The civic sin here is a seductive one: believing that our national problems would go away if only we were all the same.  Voted the same way. Thought the same way. Lived the same way. Worshiped the same way.  Loved the same way. 

That’s a pretty normal response to times of rapid social dislocation and change which marks life in early twenty first century America.  But for me, what makes America, America, is precisely this social messiness.  I don’t want it any other way.  America is more a quilt than a whole cloth. America is more a stew with multiple ingredients than a monolithic melting pot.  And I’m ok with that, grateful that our founding myth is not about just one race or culture or history or ideology or religion.  Instead at our best we’ve always invited everyone to the American table believing it is all good when we listen to each other and appreciate the gifts each brings. It will all work out.  “E pluribus unum”: from many can be one.

But first as a liberal I need to listen to conservatives.  Straight, I am called to hear the concerns of my gay and lesbian neighbors.  Rich, I must take seriously the plight of my poor brothers and sisters.  Christian, I need to respect the beliefs of all faiths and no faith. White, I have to hear what it is like to be a person of color in this country.  Lifelong New Englander, I need to remember there are 44 other states out there too, each as much a part of the United States as the place I call my home.

So: Alaska, Hawaii, Alabama, Mississippi, Utah, Arkansas, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Kansas, I’m coming. It may take me awhile but I’m determined to visit you and find out what makes your place uniquely American.

Now that’s an American road trip.

Monday, June 17, 2013

How Summer Time Saves Us....

“Summer is the time when one sheds one's tensions with one's clothes, and the right kind of day is jeweled balm for the battered spirit.  A few of those days and you can become drunk with the belief that all's right with the world.” 
             --Ada Louise Huxtable

The world turns and then suddenly, it is summer.  June 21st this year to be exact, at 1:04 am Eastern Standard Time, to be really exact. Friday. THIS WEEK!

Daylight is maxed out. Temperatures are up. Worries are down.  Calendars are forgotten.  Time widens, deepens, and slows. Clouds drift by on long lazy afternoons.  Skin heats up.  Grills sizzle.  Flowers pop. Baseballs fly. Dogs rest. Waves crash. Thunder rumbles.


True, there are gifts to love about the other three God made seasons in this part of the world: fall’s fading beauty of arbor colors, winter’s cold and stark landscapes, spring’s hope buried just beneath the earth, waiting to be born.  Still I can’t help falling in love every June with summer all over again. 

So to get ready for the season here are some random, profound, simple, silly, spiritual  and sublime summer facts for the next 94 days, 2,256 hours or 135,360 minutes….

*Official first and last days of summer 2013: June 21st and September 21

*Real first and last days of summer: Memorial Day Friday when work lets out and Labor Day Monday when the grill is turned off

*Las Vegas odds Red Sox will win 2013 World Series, as of last March: 28 to 1

*As of June 15th—15 to 1—GO SOX!!!!!!!

*Longest home run in Fenway Park history: 502 feet hit, by Ted Williams, summer 1946

*Cost for family of four to attend a Sox game: $336.99

*A Lowell Spinners Game (BoSox Single A team): under $100

*Best time to leave for the Cape to avoid traffic: 2:45 am, Wednesday morning

*Best time to go to the Cape: anytime

*#1 all time summer song, per Billboard Magazine: “Surfin’ Safari” by the Beach Boys

*Caloric content per serving of healthy summer fare from the garden: cucumbers (8 calories), tomatoes (16 calories),  strawberries (14 calories)

*Caloric content of what I’ll really eat this summer at Dairy Queen: Dr. Pepper (210 calories), Beef chili and cheese foot long hot dog (670 calories), Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Blizzard (740 calories)

*Biking time to burn off 1670 calories: two hours, at 15 miles per hour

*Beach reading time to burn off 1670 calories: 11 hours, or two books

*Average Boston temperature in July: 74 degrees; in January: 29 degrees

*Month most likely to get married: June

*To get divorced: March

*1927 in The Girl Scout Handbook: first reference to “S’mores”, the summery treat of graham crackers, a chocolate bar and marshmallows roasted over an open fire

*60: average number of chirps per minute produced by a cricket

*Best summer blockbuster movie of all time: “Jaws”, 1975, per

*18: number of biblical references to “summer"

*Saddest summer scripture of all: “The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved.”      --Jeremiah 8:20

But not yet.  Summer is still here. Summer will save us.  Bring it on.  Thank you God!  Happy Summer!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The False Choice Between Privacy and Security In Times of Terror

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
--Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, 1791

Privacy or security--as an American citizen, do I really have to choose just one?

Last week Great Britain's Guardian newspaper reported that under "The Patriot Act" and "The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act", the United States government, through its National Security Agency, now routinely collects millions of pieces of private information about U.S. citizens from private companies. Verizon was the first company named as having handed over billions of records: telephone call data which notes by number who was called, the times, the locations, and the durations, everything but the content of the phone call. Later in the week the New York Times and others reported that under secret classified federal court orders, the list of companies sharing customer records also includes Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL.

So to sum up, all of the major U.S. telecommunications and high tech companies, the ones who in this cyber age know just about everything there is to know about you and me: they are now being forced (granted legally), by Uncle Sam to hand over that information. But it is all to prevent acts of terrorism here and abroad.  Right?

Is anyone else kind of freaked out by this or am I the only one?

I get that after 9/11 thing had to change for America, that for security's sake I'd have to give up some of my civil liberties. Full body pat downs at the airport.  Body armored cops at the ballpark.  Secret ops to find and capture the terrorists.  I get that in a time when crazy folks can put a bomb in a backpack at the Boston Marathon and kill and maim hundreds, extraordinary measures are called for.  But still the extent and the breadth and the enormity of this data collection program, code named "Prism", makes me nervous.

It makes me wonder how far we as citizens have to go in this exchange of privacy for safety. How much should we allow the government to secretly snoop into areas which just thirteen Septembers ago would have been unthinkable? How much can we trust the nameless, faceless, cloaked in secrecy bureaucrats and programs, which pore over billions of bits of data about texts, emails, tweets and phone calls?  In legalese just how "reasonable" are these searches and seizures?

"Well if you didn't do anything wrong there's nothing to worry about, right?"  That's the response I've gotten from many folks I've asked about this program. Business as usual I guess.  That's just the way things are now in our post 9/11 world. President Obama dismissed concerns and described the program as "modest encroachments on privacy."  California Senator Diane Feinstein downplayed fears by saying it is only "meta-data" being collected, cloaking her remarks in a phrase which is essentially meaningless to most of us.   

I guess I'm just old fashioned in my angst about Uncle Sam rooting around in my bank account or phone bill or texts. It is a truism, after all, that whenever government is given the power to do something they will push that authority to the limit. What once was personal is now public. Or maybe I'm a bit too paranoid about the feds to fully trust them. Is the NSA now somehow more trustworthy than the IRS? Congress? I also expected more out of my fellow citizens than the mostly apathetic collective response to this widespread and ultra hush-hush data mining effort.  In a poll, 56 percent of Americans support widespread surveillance. I was once a member of the American Civil Liberties Union--maybe that's why I'm worried. 

I cannot shake this sense that the government is taking us down a slippery legal slope that we may never return from.  A new time of secret courts and secret court orders and secret government activities and agencies, all cloaked in one seductive and familiar promise. "Don't worry. Trust us.  We'll keep you safe."

I want to believe that but then I remember what a great patriot, Benjamin Franklin, once warned.  "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Privacy? Security?  Do we really have to choose just one?


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Dear Grads: God Made You For a Purpose--Now Go and Find It!

(Writer’s note: In this graduation season, advice giving is as common as pollen.  The old counsel the young. The famous, like Oprah or the President, give their advice to graduates.  A “successful” person tells just how she did it.  Me? I remember none of the “wisdom” imparted to me on my graduation days from high school, college and grad school. Here’s what I wish someone had said as I strode off, both anxious and excited, into the undiscovered country of my future.)
“Who you are is God's gift to you; who you become is your gift to God.” --Hans Balthasar

The 1991 movie “City Slickers” was a cowboy comedy, starring Billy Crystal as “Mitch” and Jack Palance as “Curly”.  Curly is a seasoned and grizzled cowhand. Mitch is a perpetually unhappy middle aged man, never sure of himself, restless, struggling. The men have a talk on the trail where Curly reveals to Mitch the one key to happiness in all of human life. 

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is? This. [Holding up one finger]
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest won’t matter.
Mitch: But what is the “one thing”?
Curly: [Smiling] That’s what you have to find out.

Graduates: the hardest and the most important task you now face as you move into young adulthood is just one thing: to figure out your “one thing”.  Your place in the world.  Your reason for being.  Your spiritual fingerprint: the talent, the gift, the passion, the cause, the “one thing” that God already gave to you at the exact moment you came into being as a human being. 

Today on this spinning blue planet we all call home, there are about 7,090,000,000 people.  Every single one of them, you, me, the whole gang, each of us is one of a kind.  No one who came before you is like you.  No one who comes after you will be like you either.  When God made you, God broke the mold. When God made you, God planted within you a special gift or gifts, which make you, you. 

And the biggest part of your life going ahead is now going to be about doing the work of finding your place in this life.  As a boy I wanted to a doctor.  Then later a politician. At college I switched majors four times. I felt lost and frustrated.  By sophomore year I had yet to find out what I was good at, loved to do, why God put me here, my “one thing”.

Then one day I sat down at a typewriter to write an opinion piece for the UMass newspaper’s editorial page.  I wrote and the words just flowed, came from some part of me I never knew existed.  That amazing day I figured out that I’m a writer, that this one thing is my “one thing”. 

Doesn’t mean I’m not also lots of other “things” too: a minister, an Uncle, a friend, a Christian but somehow when I write it feels like breathing to me: natural, unforced, and just right.  

And so here’s my advice to all of you. Trust that God has already given you your “one thing”.  Believe that with all of your heart, soul and mind.  God did not put you here by mistake.  God made you for a purpose and the adventure of life is finding that out again and again and again.  So that’s why I’m here.  Here’s the question: why are you here?

There will be many times in your life, tough times, when it will feel like you have no idea what to do or who to be. When you think you’ve got your “one thing” and it turns out to be wrong, or it changes.  Through it all have faith that you are going to find your God given “one thing”. I guarantee that and when you do, or if you have already, thank God for it. Then dig into it with passion and joy. 

This quest is not about making a living or for money or worldly success. It is about making a life, your life.  The happiest people in life are happy not because of stuff or wealth but because they’ve found their niche, their place, their sweet spot. 

I know you can do that. God does too.  As God says in the scriptures, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”   

No one can tell you what your “one thing” is: not your parents or teachers or mentors or friends.  From today onward you are sailing the ship, with God in the boat, yes, but with you at the helm.   The training wheels are off.  You’ve got the keys to the car.  It is time to set out on your one amazing life’s journey.

“One thing”—it may be a job or a career or it may be a hobby or a vocation or a sport or art or a political cause or the dream of having a family. Your “one thing” might be singing or writing or being a great Mom or Dad or coaching or teaching or healing broken bodies or hiking the highest mountains in the world or being a foster parent or feeding the hungry or building something with your hands…and it is within you, just waiting to be uncovered.

What’s the secret of life? Just “one thing”. God already gave it to you.  Now…find it!