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school-926213_1920During his victory speech following the Nevada caucuses, Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump raised eyebrows and chuckles when he recounted the groups which had voted in his favor.  “We won with poorly educated,” he said.  “I love the poorly educated.”  Within twenty minutes, television pundits had picked up on this.  References started appearing on social media.  Even National Public Radio got in on the joke.

Finding humor in a candidate appearing proud of supporters’ lack of education might be understandable, but the reaction also exposed something ugly in our society.  This laughter wasn’t really directed at the candidate; it was directed at the people, revealing a grain of truth behind stereotypes of liberal intellectual elites as snobs who don’t care about ordinary folks.

Our culture conflates formal education with human worth far too often.  Degrees, especially from elite universities, become symbols of status and privilege, while people labeled “poorly educated” become targets for derision. Many fall into the trap of assuming that all education takes place in schools, or become condescending to people they believe to be “less educated.” Formal education gets confused with intelligence, leading to a worldview in which people become problems to be solved or burdens to be dealt with rather than human beings who deserve respect. However unintentional such disregard is, its effects are real, lasting, and harmful.  Whatever our political leanings, we can and should be better than this.

Of course, it is one thing to talk about love and another to show it.  A politician’s highest expression of esteem becomes patronizing and cynical when it isn’t backed up with policy. Real love requires action.

In policy terms, love in action means giving all working people a living wage, so that the kinds of jobs typically taken by people with less schooling don’t result in a lifetime of poverty. It means funding public schools fairly, so that less affluent communities aren’t victimized by generations of educational neglect. Love means increasing access to college, but it also means honoring the needs and accomplishments of those who follow other paths.

On a personal level, love means treating all people with equal regard, whatever our education and theirs. It means finding the courage to connect as equals across educational lines, gaining wisdom and insight from all kinds of life experiences. Love means letting go of the assumptions and stereotypes our culture too often promotes, along with all remnants of condescension and judgment. Love means being able to value education without undervaluing any group of people. At its most basic, love means eye contact.

We should all love one another, whatever our respective levels of education, and our love should lead us to work for a more just and equitable society.  If that can happen, we will have taken a step closer to creating the genuine community our world needs.  Perhaps the “better educated” among us might even learn a thing or two.

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Another pipeline burst this week – Santa Barbara, this time. It’s big news, and of course the web is filled with pictures of ruined coastlines. But there’s more to oil spills than beaches – Santa Barbara is home to a substantial fishing fleet, and there are many families who have made their living from these waters for generations.

Five years ago, when the BP oil rig Deepwater Horizon dumped 210 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, I sat down with my guitar and wrote:

Down to water’s edges in the first light of the sun
Where the fishermen are gathered by their moorings
Another day of labor on the waters off these shores
Is another week of food to raise your children
But the river’s running empty and the seas are growing warm
And the oil they spilled has poisoned all the fisheries
The catch is growing smaller ‘till there’s nothing left to find
But a job at some big box store in the city

And remember the years when the waters ran clear
And the fields restored the promise of the sowing
And the breezes blew clean and the warmth of Summer’s green
On ancient hills gave strength to keep us going

By comparison, the current is small at a nevertheless massive 105,000 gallons – still devastating to fish populations and the people who harvest them.

Refugio Oil Spill, May 19, 2015 photo by Zackmann08

Refugio Oil Spill, May 19, 2015
photo by Zackmann08

This is an old story, repeated all over the world – our thirst for cheap energy out competes small scale fishing and farming families who depend on a clean environment. The result is pollution from oil spills, leaky pipelines and dangerous oil rigs, coal ash from exploded mountaintops, toxic groundwater from fracking and steadily increasing global temperatures born of our dependence on fossil fuels.

Out among the furrows we’ve plowed these fifty years
My father’s hand and mine have made a living
Silver Queen in even years and soybeans in the off
Fed by waters rippling clear from Eastern mountains
But the hills are being leveled for the coal that lies within
And the brooks are flowing black with nature’s refuse
The soils are wrecked with cadmium; they’ve stripped the ridges bare
And we’ve watched our family’s pride all turned to wasteland

The destruction of local cultures and livelihoods doesn’t tend to get much press in the wake of a catastrophe like this, but it’s a real and lasting impact of our energy practices. We cannot separate sustainable food production from sustainable energy production – the one depends on the other.

One of the principles of my religion, Unitarian Universalism, speaks of “the interconnected web of all existence of which we are a part.” We forget the last six words at our peril – of which we are a part. Human beings do not simply impact the environment; we are impacted by the world we help to create. That our lives can never be separated from the whole is a truth both sacred and practical.

Despite the difficult news of the day, there are good reasons for hope. Awareness of our interdependence is growing, despite backlash from those who have the most to lose from a sustainable civilization. An increasingly connected world has led to more organizations, stronger networks, and better advocacy. More and more people try to eat locally and ethically, and sustainable energy is increasingly common.

My own contribution to this movement has been through music, and a new CD I’m just finishing. (If you would like to help with the CD, you can contribute to the funding campaign through June 3.) The idea is to bring together songs of farmers, fieldworkers, and fisherfolk, emphasizing the importance of sustainability, cultural heritage and social as well as environmental justice. For me these songs are a reminder of the common cause to be found across issues and cultures.

I won’t pretend to understand the reasons for it all
But I know we’ve wasted years in wrong directions
If the nourishment is stolen from the waters and the soil,
How are we to feed the generations?
But the answer lies within us and it’s only common sense –
To soil the pond we live in is disaster
Alone we’ll only crumble, but together we have power
To lift our hands and voices for the future

And to work for the years when the waters run clear
And the fields restore the promise of the sowing
And the breezes blow clean and the warmth of summer’s green
On ancient hills gives strength to keep us going

And keep us sowing

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Before the election, I made a personal promise to avoid immersing myself in the results.  This does not come easily for me – not only am I passionate about the causes I believe in, but I’m also a political junkie, born and raised in the Washington DC suburbs.  I follow every horse race and analyze the moves; if any networks would like to bring me on as an occasional commentator, I believe I’d be good at the job.  I’ll even get myself a pair of analo-glasses.

But, given my stands on the issues, I knew I’d probably be mostly depressed by the results of last night’s election, so I told myself I would stay away from the news.

Thus far, I have done a rotten job.  All right, I didn’t watch cable TV, but I did stay up way too late checking results as they came in, dying just a little inside with almost every race.   As a result, I’ve been depressed, impatient, and generally grumpy.  On Tuesday evening I caught myself snapping at people, and the results hadn’t even come in yet.  I’ve tried to keep a sense of humor – Tom Paxton’s Lament for a Lost Election has helped there (warning: not safe for work or children) – but when you’ve worked hard for something and cared deeply about it, it’s not that easy to just let go and accept that sometimes you lose.  Utah Phillips taught us to sing through the hard times and work for the good times to come, but he never said it would be easy.

As we navigate whatever emotional waters are for us tied up in current events, we need to remember that important as these events are, they are not all that is.  Ours is still a world of wonder and beauty no less than hardship and tragedy.  Remind yourself of the beauty.  Let it feed you.  If your soul is dry and parched, return to the well that nourishes you and drink deeply.

Go look at some art.   Listen to good music.  Sing.  Laugh.  Spend time with a child.  Read poetry.  Immerse yourself in spirit-filling prose.  Have lunch with a friend.  Walk into the November air and find the tree that has not yet lost quite all its leaves, but still shines in glory.  Discover the Autumn crocus and carry its image in your heart.  Replenish yourself, and greet the coming snows with gratitude.

There will be a time for the struggle; it has not gone away.  There will be a time to dedicate our energies once again to campaign for what we believe in.  Our work in that time will be far more effective if we come to it as whole people, spirits strengthened by the goodness around us.

Sometimes, the world can be hard.  Love it anyway.

Autumn crocus

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My heart is rejoicing as marriage equality finally comes to Pennsylvania!  On the BuxMont Unitarian Universalist Fellowship website, I published the following statement:

Special Statement on Pennsylvania Marriage Equality
May 20, 2014

This afternoon a Federal court declared Pennsylvania’s ban on same sex marriage unconstitutional. In so doing, Judge John E. Jones III wrote, “We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.”

Unitarian Universalists have long supported equal rights and equal protection for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The BuxMont Unitarian Universalist Fellowship has a long tradition of celebrating same sex marriages, and we now look forward to the opportunity to perform these marriages legally in our own sanctuary. For us, this is a matter of deep conscience and religious freedom, and we are proud to have been part of the movement that has led to this moment.

We also recognize that our work is not finished. Aside from possible appeals of this ruling, Pennsylvania’s laws continue to allow housing and workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and identity. Legally married citizens of Pennsylvania could still lose their livelihoods for the act of putting wedding pictures on their desks. We urge the Governor to drop all appeals to the marriage equality ruling and the Pennsylvania House and Senate to quickly pass HB and SB 300, guaranteeing protection from discrimination. Further, we look to the day when marriage equality will be enshrined nationally as the law of the land.

Today has been a powerful day for justice; there will be more such days to come. In the meantime, moved by love, we continue to work for justice and compassion, celebrate diversity, and honor the worth and dignity of all people.

In faith,
Reverend Daniel S. Schatz,
Minister, BuxMont Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

To paraphrase Dr. King, “Justice anywhere is an aid to justice everywhere.”  Today’s ruling makes the lives of all Pennsylvanians and all people everywhere better.

pride-flag-feature

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I wore a lot of buttons in high school, but none of them excited so much comment as the pink triangle.  At the time it was rare for anyone who wasn’t gay, lesbian or bisexual to wear the symbol, and national progress toward justice was slow.  The Supreme Court had just ruled sodomy laws constitutional, and the right to marry was a distant dream.  The AIDS epidemic in the United States was at its deadliest moment, and the enduring image of the time, created by AIDS activists, was a big black poster with a pink triangle and the words “SILENCE = DEATH.”

pinktriangle
The pink triangle itself came from Nazi concentration camps, in which gay men were identified with a pink triangle on their shirts.  Tens of thousands were imprisoned, many were killed, and some were not released even at the war’s end.  (Lesbians were not identified by pink triangles, but many were arrested for “antisocial behavior” and made to wear black triangles in the camps.)  In the 1970s, the triangle began to appear as a symbol of gay pride and a warning of the dangers of oppression.

During the 1990s, the pink triangle began to fade from use.  The rainbow “welcoming flag,” celebrating diversity, appealed to straight allies as well as bisexual, lesbian and transgender people.  It was a less harsh, more positive symbol, a way of saying, “all kinds of people are welcome and valued equally.”  Today the pink triangle seems all but consigned to history.

With the news of draconian anti-gay measures in Russia, Nigeria and Uganda, a new ban on gay sex instituted by the Supreme Court of India, and nouveau Jim Crow laws proposed in Arizona and elsewhere, I wonder if it might be time to bring back the pink triangle.  While the world has made great progress in the struggle for equality, the current backlash is proving powerful and dangerous.  In the United States, measures permitting discrimination on the basis of “religious freedom” will inevitably prove unable to withstand constitutional scrutiny by even the current Supreme Court.  More pernicious are the American religious extremists who have given up on the United States and turned their energies toward countries that offer no such protections, or who have weak governments in need of distraction or scapegoats.  Ironically, both Russia and Uganda have couched oppressive new laws as reactions to colonialism by Western gay culture when the truth is exactly the reverse.

I love the welcoming flag, and fly it proudly – but maybe we need to hold onto the pink triangle as well.  Maybe we need a reminder of the cost of hatred, in real human lives and livelihoods.  Maybe we need to remember that silence really does equal death, and the worst thing we can do is remain silent in the face of oppression.

Our voices matter, and we can save lives.  Sometimes what matters most is a word of encouragement and welcome to a teen just coming out.  Sometimes it’s our support of equal marriage rights, and equal protection in housing and employment.  At other times we need to raise our voices for those around the world whose sexual orientation places them in far more immediate jeopardy.  We can do this not only by campaigning against anti-gay laws, and supporting sanctions towards nations (and states) that pass them, but also by calling to account those who would export hatred.

I pray for a world in which a symbol like the pink triangle is can be a historical curiosity, when people are simply regarded as people, whoever they are and whoever they love.  I believe in my heart that such a world is both possible and likely – but it will take years of work, and history must never be forgotten.

Meanwhile, it’s time to find that old button.

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Note – the video doesn’t play directly from the blog, but does from YouTube.  Click the link and watch it; you’ll be glad you did.

Veteran’s Day can be a challenging observation for those of us in the peace movement. As a committed pacifist, I deplore all war. The very existence of armed conflict is, in my view, the most colossal and self-defeating waste of resources ever devised by humanity. At the same time, I recognize the sacrifices of women and men who have gone to war – some voluntarily and some not so. I’ve seen minds damaged and families destroyed by the aftermath of battle. I’ve seen good people walking around with physical and emotional injuries that will never show. And I cannot help but honor these women and men, not because of the injuries, but because of the sacrifices they made out of love of country. I may not agree with the need for those sacrifices, but I surely honor the people who made them.

Utah Phillips once said that the way wars can end is when soldiers start talking about what it was really like. He has said that his time in Panmunjom immediately after the treaty was “absolute life amid the ruins.”

On today’s Morning Edition, National Public Radio’s political commentator Cokie Roberts talked about the effect of fewer veterans serving in Congress. “You see it in debates about taking the United States into military actions where you don’t hear the voices of those very experienced veterans.” I wondered how eager politicians would be to enter wars if more of them understood it better.

I’ve always appreciated A. L. Lloyd’s Seamen’s Hymn. In its brief simplicity it captures both the honor of sacrifice and the cruelty of war:

Come all you bold seamen
Wherever you’re bound
And always let Nelson’s
Proud memory go round.

And pray that the wars
And the tumult shall cease
For the greatest of gifts
Is a sweet lasting peace.

May the Lord put an end
To these cruel old wars
And bring peace and contentment
To all our brave tars!

There are several videos of performances of “The Seamen’s Hymn,” but to my ear this recording from a pub sing captures it best. This is how the song should be sung – by the people, often and loudly.

On this Veteran’s Day, may we honor sacrifices made in war, recognize its cruelty, and join together in prayer for the greatest of gifts – a sweet lasting peace.

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It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, but the news of the week has had me calling my Congressman and Senators, more than once.   The prospect of a government shutdown appalls me.

I grew up in the Washington, DC area. My parents worked for the government, as did my neighbors and our family friends.  I remember the last shutdown, 17 years ago, when my family had to go without a paycheck from my stepmother’s job at the Agency for International Development for three weeks.

This time it’s worse. This time federal workers have already had to suffer higher workloads and unpaid furloughs because of the sequester. Whatever cushion they might have had to help get them through a week or three without a being paid has already been used up.  There is no fund to help them; they will still be responsible for paying rent, covering bills, buying food, putting gas in the car to get their kids to school. For someone who lives paycheck to paycheck,  as many government workers do, a shutdown could be devastating.

There’s been a lot of attention to the 1.4 million military service members who would normally go without pay during a government shutdown, and the House and Senate have agreed to pay them.  Very little attention has been paid to two million civil servants – almost half of whom will be sent home, and all of whom will remain unpaid.  (It is worth mentioning that in the event of a shutdown, members of Congress still do get paid.  Civil servants do not.)

We don’t hear very much in the national media about the people who will be directly hurt when the government shuts down. This isn’t just about whether we’ll be able to visit a national park or go to the Smithsonian; it’s about ordinary working people’s lives. Nobody should have to lose their credit rating, or heaven forbid their home, or go hungry, because a group of politicians decide to throw a temper tantrum.

I’m glad the Senate has held firm, and hope they continue to – anything else would only encourage a dangerous and destructive pattern in politics. The issue at hand is not the health care law, it’s whether it is ethical to hold ordinary civil servants, the economy, and the American people hostage to unrelated policy demands.

After the last shutdown, Congress voted to make federal workers whole and give them back pay. I can only hope that when the shutdown is over, this Congress will remember the people who did nothing to deserve this punishment.  Unfortunately what I’ve seen does not give me much hope. And it does nothing for the damage that will have been done to peoples’ lives.

Tonight many civil servants are working unpaid overtime to prepare for a shutdown – and they will do so again to clear the backlog of work when the situation is finally resolved.  I’m grateful for their service.  What’s being done to them is morally repugnant, and we owe it to them and their families to treat them well during the days and weeks ahead.

If you care about this issue, as I do, please contact your member of Congress and Senators.  Remember that the people who live in Washington, DC have no vote in Congress. That makes it all the more important that the rest of us make our voices heard.

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Today is the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War. The first moments of that war were heavily televised, though we saw very little that our government didn’t wish us to see.  Cameras placed on the bottoms of planes gave us the illusion that bombs could be “smart,” hit only their targets and would never hurt the general population – with whom, we were told, we had no quarrel.  Even those of us who protested the war thought it would be over quickly – though many raised concerns over its longer term impacts.  The nightly television coverage seemed to confirm these predictions, as we dropped bomb after bomb after bomb on Baghdad.  Hearing the blasé attitudes of television reporters chatting cheerfully over footage of death raining on human beings sickened me, and I wrote this poem, which now I give to you:

Windows onto the destruction
propped open in the living room;
Almost game-like in precision;
horrific in carnage.
Only 56 killed, we hear through narrow cracks.
It is a half truth.
When we turn to the window,
pry open the jammed frame,
the smell sickens.
It isn’t the 56 young Americans,
not mostly.
It is the stench of a hundred,
a thousand
two thousand
men
children
women,
fighters or lovers,
death knows no distinctions of
innocence or guilt.
The 20 megatons that would
pulverize a palace
destroy a slum.
“Regrettable.”
The lives of our soldiers
more precious than their children,
our integrity dies in the furnace.

They told us we lost our innocence
the day two towers fell.
It was a lie.
We found our innocence
the day we died.
We lost our innocence
the day
we killed.

– Dan Schatz
March 2003

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