The Justice Chronicles, Volume 31: Fifty Years Ago A Shot Rang Out In The Memphis Sky

I suspect we all sometimes think about the first national event we remember. For me it was the assissination of Martin Luther King (1929-1968).

At the time I was living in Woodbridge, Virginia, about 20 miles south of Washington D.C. I remember April 4, 1968 because of the riots that burned parts of the city. It was a scary time.

Dr. King spent his short life battling against discrimination. He was in Memphis that day to support sanitation workers who were treated horribly. They were virtually all African Americans and they struck against the city of Memphis after the deaths of Echol Cole and Robert Walker. On February 1, 1968 they sat on the back of a sanitation truck to find shelter from the rain. The truck malfunctioned and they were crushed to death. Their coworkers decided that they’d had enough and went on strike. Dr. King traveled there to support them.

Meanwhile, James Earl Ray (1928-1998) saw an opportunity to become a hero in the White community. He learned that Dr. King was staying at the Lorraine Motel and rented a room that gave him a clear shot at Dr. King. At 6:01 PM Mr. Ray aimed a rifle at Dr. King and killed him.

I lived briefly in Memphis and walked to the Lorraine Motel several times. It’s now a museum that educates future generations on discrimination.

We may never eliminate discrimination in our nation but let us all take a moment to honor Dr. King.

How Low Will They Go? At This Point We Still Don’t Know

As I write this it’s been six weeks since fourteen children and three adults were murdered at Stoneman Douglas High School; you can see a list of them here.

This week is Holy Week in the Christian tradition and Spring Break for many students. This past weekend many survivors of the massacre traveled to Washington D.C. to call for an end to gun violence in schools (President Trump, meanwhile, spent the weekend at Mar a Lago).

I was proud of the job they did. Most teenagers fear public speaking but we heard voices that make us hopeful of the future. Well, not all of us.

Several “adults” in our nation used this event to bully these courageous Americans. Emma Gonzalez has come under particular criticism. For reasons she need not explain she wears her hair short. Two weeks ago she was called a skinhead lesbian by a Republican candidate for the House of Representatives in Maine. In fairness, this candidate withdrew from the race.

During her speech on Saturday Emma ripped up a paper target. But a conservative website photoshopped it and replaced the target with a copy of the Constitution, implying that she was un-American.

Emma was born here but her father was born in Cuba and the jacket she wore had a Cuban flag sown on her shirt. Republican Steve King of Iowa said this: “This is how you look when you claim Cuban heritage yet don’t speak Spanish and ignore the fact that your ancestors fled the island when the dictatorship turned Cuba into a prison camp, after removing all weapons from its citizens; hence their right to self defense.” Mr. King ignored her trauma, her determination, her travel, and her words. Instead he focused on a patch on her shirt that honored her ancestors.

For what it’s worth the Cuban flag was designed in 1848 or 1849 and adopted as the official flag in 1902. It bears no connection with Communism or Fidel Castro. Let me draw an analogy: My maternal grandfather was born in Boston, Massachusetts but his parents were born in Ireland. Like many Americans I’m proud of my heritage and while I don’t wear an Irish flag on my sleeve, I know I can. But if I did and someone saw my patch and accused me of supporting the Irish Republican Army I would not answer well. I’d accuse that person of caring not at all for me or those I love. I’d accuse that person of lying to silence me.

That’s what Emma’s bullies have done. While she speaks truth or power, they speak power to truth. They hope that their power will so intimidate her that she will cower into the shadows.

I haven’t met Emma, but I pray her truth will win out. I see her as a brave young woman who did not choose this path, but when confronted with her role, she grabbed it. I feel certain that while this weekend showed us our first glimpse of a young woman who makes us proud, it won’t be our last.

Yosemite 2018

As readers of this blog know, Nancy and I travel to Yosemite National Park every winter.  We began this in 2000 when we stumbled on what was called then “Chef’s Holidays” but is now called Taste of Yosemite.

It’s a magical time as we avoid the gridlock that happens most of the year but it’s also terrific for Nancy who attends several cooking demonstrations (and Tom who gets to eat the recipes she brings home).

We also enjoy hiking the valley floor and taking pictures of what we see.  But several of the last few years we’ve been concerned over the effect of climate change and this year was no exception.

I recognize that many of you who read this blog live in areas that would love warmer temperatures in the winter but that misses the point.  Yosemite thrives on a weather pattern that is not affected by human interference.  This year we heard the sound of chainsaws and learned that hundreds (perhaps thousands) of trees were cut down as a result of drought and infestation of bark beetles.

Climate change harms all of us, but not right away and not all at once.  We who love Yosemite and other national parks fear that the things that make these places magical are in danger.  In addition to drought and beetle infestation, Yosemite has also endured fires that scar it for decades.

We pray that 2019 is more like 2017.

Celebrating Our Ordination

On the morning of May 14, 1994 I was ordained a Catholic priest as a member of the Paulist Fathers along with Fr. Paul Reynolds, Fr. Don Andrie, and Fr. Jerry Tully. By the way, if you click on Jerry’s page he talks about his ministry in Tennessee but he’s now assigned to St. Paul the Apostle in Los Angeles.

Alas, a little over three years after my ordination I fell in love and left the Paulist Fathers to get married. But I still celebrate my ordination and still think of myself as a priest. As a hospice chaplain I’ve celebrated the sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing when a local priest was not available.

I don’t regret my seminary formation, and Nancy and I continue to support the Paulist Fathers financially. I don’t know how the Paulists view me, but I continue to keep in touch with several of those I met as a Paulist. I hope they celebrate with me.

Thoughts On the End of 2016

The end of the year always causes us to think back on the past and look forward to the next. And on any given year there are some who celebrate because it’s been a hard year they’re ready to see it go.

My worst day of 2016 was August 4th when I learned of the death of my friend Fr. Henry Rodriguez. He died much too suddenly and much too soon.

My 2nd worst day was election day, November 4th. For weeks I advised everyone not to worry about Donald Trump because there was no way he would win. I was wrong.

And so as I say goodbye to 2016 I have to confess concern for 2017. Typically we look toward the new year with optimism. But twenty days into 2017 we will inaugurate someone that most of us didn’t vote for. I’m not jumping on the bandwagon to bash the Electoral College but our nation will be led by a man who didn’t win the popular vote, who likely won the electoral vote because a foreign nation successfully steered the vote in his direction. And yet he claims he won on a landslide.

This post is tagged in the “praying” category for a reason.

John Glen Was a True American Hero. Do You Know Who Was His Hero?

In the last few days many of us read about the death of John Glenn (1921-2016). His life embodied the best of the 20th Century. As a young man he joined the Marines and flew F-4U planes. He flew 59 combat missions in World War II. A few years later he flew an additional 63 missions in Korea.

He was also the first American to orbit the earth in space. He was the last surviving member of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, the first Americans in space. If you haven’t read Thomas Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff you should.

After his career with NASA ended he served his home state of Ohio as a U.S. Senator from 1975 to 1999.

By any measure he was an American hero. But his hero was his wife Anne.

You see, Anne lived much of her life with a stutter. Many of us learned about this from the brilliant movie The King’s Speech about King George VI.

Anne’s stutter was so severe that she could barely speak in front of others. You can read an excellent article from 2012 here. When taking a cab she would write the address on a piece of paper; at restaurants she would point to what she wanted on the menu. Time and again she sought treatments, but nothing worked until she found a doctor in Roanoke, Virginia.

For three weeks in 1973 she worked harder than I can imagine. And it worked. At the end of the program she called her husband. Hearing her speak he cried. And he dropped to his knees to thank God.

In the years since she has become a public speaker. She advocates not only for our brothers and sisters who stutter, but for all those who live with disabilities.

Full disclosure: I’ve always loved speaking in public and the fear of looking at a group of people and feeling paralyzed eludes me. That said, I can only imagine fearing the stare of a restaurant server and needing to point to my choice on the menu.

She’s my hero too.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 1: It's Time to Turn the Page

As I write this it’s been a week since President Elect Donald Trump won the Electoral College 290 to 232.

Many of us, including myself, have spent the last seventeen months telling ourselves and everyone else that this day would never happen. We believed that in the second decade of the 21st Century the American people would never support someone who was racist, misogynist and a xenophobe. Further we would never elect someone with no experience in governing.

We were wrong. We failed to recognize that a scary large percentage of our population had grown so angry at their perception that government doesn’t work for them that they would vote for Donald Trump. We fear that he will attempt to keep his promises and build a wall between the United States and Mexico, deport millions of immigrants, and ban Muslims from entering the United States.

And so what do we do? Many cities, including my own San Diego have seen protests. Much as I sympathize with the feelings of the protesters, I don’t see the point. Nothing anyone can do will change the fact that he will lead our nation from January 20, 2017 until January 20, 2021. Much as we disagree with the election result, we need to accept it.

But that doesn’t condemn us to our silence. This past May James Fallows, a writer for The Atlantic magazine, decided to chronicle Donald Trumps’s campaign. An admitted Democrat he decided that history would benefit from a “time capsule,” a diary of his campaign. He felt that when history is written about this time, historians will benefit from this type of diary.

I propose to do the same. I’ve been writing this blog since November 6, 2004 and it’s taken many paths. I’ve lived through (and voted for) several presidents. I’ve voted for both winners and losers. But I think this election is different. I think Donald Trump is bad for America and bad for our planet. I’ve created a new category, the “Trump Chronicles” where I propose to keep him honest. For the next four years I commit to regularly blog on his promises vs. his results. I don’t do this because I believe he cares about me and those like me, but because he can’t deny a simple fact: those who didn’t vote for him are still Americans and he is accountable to us too.

Stay tuned.

The Election Chronicles, Volume 39: What Happened?

Several of you noticed that after promising a long night of blogging last week, I stopped after 8PM.

This shouldn’t be a surprise but when the tide turned toward President Elect Trump I just couldn’t keep watching. I went to bed praying for a miracle that didn’t happen. Between then and now I’ve just not been able to sit down and write about it.

I know my experience isn’t unique, but I spent the days and weeks before the election convincing my friends and family that Don would never be elected and that the future looked bright. The fact that I’m joined by politicians, pollsters, and analysts gives me no comfort.

I find comfort in only this: The next four years are going to be difficult and painful for our country, but they are going to be particularly painful for Don. He’s going to find, to his horror, that he can’t fire Congress when they get in his way and that much of what he advocates will cost us dearly (both financially and morally). And he’ll have no one to blame but himself.

The Election Chronicles, Volume 34: Why is Hillary Unpopular? You May Not Like My Answer.

This will surprise nobody, but we will elect a new President in less than 100 days. I’ve been eligible to vote since 1978 and I’ve never missed an opportunity. It’s the least I can do to express my gratitude to our Founding Fathers and everyone who fought in the American Revolution.

But in the 38 years since I’ve been an eligible voter, and the 56 years that I’ve been alive, I’ve never witnessed an election so polarized.

And let me say this as a Democrat: Donald Trump isn’t a bad choice. He’s a dangerous choice.

But that’s not my point. Instead, I wish to talk about why Hillary Clinton is so unpopular. I believe it’s latent sexism.

Eight years ago the election of Barack Obama unleashed racism that many thought was in our past. But we heard thousands of voices who criticized President Obama as someone who won’t lead all Americans because he is African American. He (and his people) care “only for their own people” and don’t care “for the rest of us.” In fact, look at him: he can’t be one of us. He must have been born somewhere else.

Now, his same party has (once again) nominated someone who cares only for “her people.” In the same way that the candidacy of Barack Obama uncovered latent racism, the candidacy of Hillary Clinton exposes latent sexism. Just as racism has informed much of our history with people of color, sexism continues to inform our belief in the relationship between men and women.

Most Christians, myself included, cringe at the belief that women are “temptresses” because in the Book of Genesis the character of Eve gives the forbidden fruit to Adam. I don’t think any reasonable person still believes it, but this was a common belief in the Middle Ages.

I find the idea of women as temptresses inane but archaic. But I’m more troubled by the persistent idea that women should not occupy positions of authority. You can read about it here. A small but noisy corner of the Christian world misuses the words of St. Paul to argue that women should not be in positions of authority over men.

But I’m most offended (as a husband, son, and brother of exceptional women) by the idea that women are, by nature, bitchy and conniving. They can’t be believed and they can’t be trusted.

Not only that, but strong, intelligent, and decisive women wish only to emasculate us. Women who want to “wear the pants in the family” are to be feared.

I first learned about Hillary when her husband Bill ran for President in 1992. Since then I’ve heard the following charges against her:

  • Whitewater: When Bill was running for President he faced accusations that he and Hillary invested in, and benefited by, a development in Whitewater, Arkansas. They didn’t. In fact, they lost a great deal of money in their investment. They were accused of throwing their partners under the bus but they didn’t. They lost money.
  • Health Care: In 1993 Hillary proposed universal health care for all Americans. It didn’t work and she was accused of trying to destroy America by sinking it in piles of debt.
  • Vince Foster: In 1993 Clinton friend Vince Foster shot himself in Ft. Marcy Park in Virginia. Even though he suffered from depression and feared that he would lose his security clearance if he sought help, Hillary is still suspected of killing him and dumping his body. She was devastated by his death but continues to be accused of killing him.
  • Benghazi: On September 11, 2002 four members of our diplomatic corps were killed in Libya by a terrorist attack. At the time Hillary was the Secretary of State. While she grieved the deaths of her friend Chris Stevens and others she was accused of causing this to happen. House Republicans, led by Darrell Issa have spent $7,000,000 in a failed attempt to blame her for the attack. Darrel, by the way, is in danger of losing his seat.
  • Email: The foolish investigation into Benghazi showed that Hillary used an email server not connected to her State Department account for emails that were not, at the time, considered secret. Given the false accusations of her in the past we can hardly fault her for her concern over her privacy. Nevertheless we do need to look into this. We all do email and most of us don’t worry about who is reading what we write. Our privacy depends on the fact that most people don’t care about our correspondence. Hillary does not have that luxury. I’m satisfied that she served us well in her positions as First Lady, Senator, and Presidential Candidate.

I will vote for her in November because I believe she will lead our country well. I also think that our first woman President will honor my wife, my mother, my sister who are exceptional.

The Election Chronicles, Volume 33: I Alone Can Fix It. Really?

This week we are watching the Democratic Convention but I have to confess I still can’t get over last week’s Republican Convention. Frankly it’s something I can’t unsee

But one line from Donald’s speech continues to haunt me. I wrote about this two months ago but Don is simply not a Republican: he is a Fascist.

Don himself made my point last week when he announced that I alone can fix it.

Taking aside the fact that no one alone can fix it, we should all be frightened. In a little over 3 months we will elect a president but Trump apparently believes he will be elected king.

I’ve spoken about this before, but the framers of the Constitution viewed our President as the leader of the Executive Branch, one of the branches of government.

Don does not. He calls on us, the voters, to give him the power to do whatever he wants with the promise that he will protect us from those who wish to harm us.

But in the end, he will harm us the most. Concentrating power in one person never works in the long run. That dictator, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, eventually makes decisions that benefits him at the expense of others. Even when the others helped him achieve his power.

If we truly listen to him, Don has spent his campaign telling us who he will benefit: rich, white, men.

He has spoken with contempt on women, Mexicans, Muslims, African Americans, and poor people.

Who has he supported? He has spoken well of Vladimir Putin. He tried to duck question about the Ku Klux Klan’s favorite son David Duke falsely claiming he didn’t know who Duke was.

Our Constitution famously opens with the phrase “We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

In a real sense, a vote for Donald Trump is an abdication of “we the people” for ” you alone can protect us.” He has made it clear that he has no interest in compromise, discussion, or shared leadership.

Vote for him at your own peril.