Land of the Free, Home of the Brave

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If you want to engage in free speech, you will have to be brave.

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Photo by Tasha M. Troy

Since election day last November, and especially since inauguration day just a few weeks ago, our nation has seen numerous protests.  Some conservatives have compared the protests to temper tantrums when a child doesn’t get their way.  Some liberals have encouraged louder and even more persistent protests.

Very few are listening. 

One of the things that really disturbs me in today’s cultural/ political climate is this tendency to drown out opposing voices with emotional outbursts.  I have seen this on both sides, but it is most visible right now with the anti-Trump protests.  Since the election, there has been a highly reactive emotional response to just about everything.

Don’t get me wrong – emotional expression is good and healthy and necessary.  However, when that expression becomes a way to silence those who don’t agree with you, it becomes manipulation.  This is how I see our current “protest culture” – anything that people dislike immediately becomes a cause for massive protest, overwhelming any voices presenting an alternative view.

This is why the “silent majority” are silent!

If we are to have constructive dialog in this country, we have to be able to set aside our emotions long enough to hear each other.  Honestly, when someone I don’t agree with is in full emotional meltdown, I can’t hear your reasons, I can’t understand your perspective, and I can’t be persuaded.  All I can hear is your pain and your anger, but I can’t do anything about it.  When someone is in full emotional meltdown, they can’t hear me, either.  You can’t reason with unrestrained emotion.

Few would disagree that our nation is in crisis.  From riots in Berkley to broken rules in the Senate, it seems we are not allowed to disagree anymore.  However, it seems that there is still hope.  Last night, two Senators with dramatically different positions were able to have a civilized debate; both sides were heard.  (Cruz/Sanders Debate on Obamacare)

Make no mistake – there were plenty of verbal jabs, a bit of emotion, and a reiteration of key political positions, but they also found grounds for agreement and even made some jokes and laughed together.  Perhaps they can become a model for conversations at the grassroots level as well.

We have to rediscover a respect for each other and a willingness to listen, but we also have to recapture a desire for dialog.  I think many of us have that desire, but it takes both parties committing to conversation.

Can you restrain your emotion long enough for me to hear you?

Thoughts on the Executive Order Regarding Immigration

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I usually like to take more time to reflect on current events before posting my thoughts here.  However, in light of President Trump’s flurry of executive orders, I feel I need to speak out about one in particular – the “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States” order.
 
While I understand the concerns of those who fear entry into the US of those who intend harm to the lives of US citizens and our way of life, a sweeping order of this sort does not strike me as the best way to address those concerns.
 

First, a clarification.

Unless I’ve missed something, the wording of the order does not bar all immigrants from entry. In Sec. 3(c), it states:”I hereby proclaim that the immigrant and nonimmigrant entry into the United States of aliens from countries referred to in section 217(a)(12) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1187(a)(12), would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and I hereby suspend entry into the United States, as immigrants and nonimmigrants, of such persons for 90 days from the date of this order.” Section 217(a)(12) refers to visa waivers, not visa holders.
 

I am not sure what the crisis at the airports is all about, unless I have missed something in the text of the order or in the interpretation of the order. (It is rather full of legalese.)  I invite legal clarification if I’ve missed something. 

 

Second, my concerns.

Refugees: Sec. 5 refers to the refugee situation. A 120-day suspension is 121 days too long for many. Again, I understand the desire to, and possible need for, review of the procedures. However, we already have an extensive refugee admission process in place, and to keep people already uprooted, with their lives turned upside-down, in limbo for four additional months (after possibly years of waiting), just for the sake of a review of procedure seems unwarranted.

 
Syrian Refugees:  Sec. 5(c) refers specifically to refugees from Syria. Oh, how this one breaks my heart! I don’t have a solution for the Syrian tragedy, but it seems the least we could do is give people a safe refuge from the violence and terror that they have been facing the last several years!  Most people simply want to live a peaceful, quiet life.  Have we learned nothing from history!  (How many pre-World War 2 refugees did we turn away to die?)
 
Persecuted Refugees:  Sec. 5(e) is probably the section being declared as focusing on Christian refugees. The wording is not so specific: “when the person is a religious minority in his country of nationality facing religious persecution.” I can get behind prioritizing refugees fleeing persecution, no matter what their religion. This could be Shia Muslims from Yemen or Yazidis from Iraq, not only Christians from Syria.  ISIS is no respecter of non-Sunni religions when it comes to genocide.  
 
Interdepartmental Collaboration:  Finally, this order calls for the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, and the Director of National Intelligence to work together. This is no small task and will take a considerable amount of time to even set up the protocols for collaboration.  Those whose lives are in danger do not have time to wait for these departments to find a way to work together!
This is my call for the Trump administration to rethink elements of this order.  Yes, we must protect our borders from those who would seek our harm, but in my opinion, this approach does more harm than good.

Transferring Power

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On Friday, I attended my first presidential inauguration.  I can say it was quite an experience, and I suspect attending once was enough for me.

Photo by Tasha M. Troy

Photo by Tasha M. Troy

It was very interesting watching the reactions of the dignitaries on the platform, their facial expressions, and how they chose to present themselves, especially when they weren’t the center of attention.

The highlight of any presidential inauguration is the new president’s speech.  There were several things about President Trump’s speech that I found to be of interest, and I would like to share some of my observations with you.

Observations on President Trump’s Inaugural Speech

Photo from BBC News, arrow added

Photo from BBC News, arrow added to indicate my position at the inauguration.

We are one nation and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams and their success will be our success.

I found this statement to be encouraging and hopeful.  This perspective is absolutely necessary if our nation is to come together in any way, shape, or form, and coming together is a prerequisite for a healing of divisions and wounds.

We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.

This statement reflects a major theme of not only this speech but President Trump’s campaign platform.  It has occurred to me that his election is a direct backlash against globalism.  Because of my passion for all things international, this is a topic I will explore again in a near-future post.

Through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.

American society has fractured into a plethora of “tribes” warring against each other.  We don’t see ourselves as one people anymore but rather as groups scrambling for the upper hand.  President Trump sees patriotism as a uniting force, a perspective that is not without historical precedent.  I recently saw the movie Hidden Figures, and one takeaway I had was that, if racial divisions hadn’t been challenged, and to a revolutionary degree (for that day) removed, the US would not have been able to put a man into orbit.  The members of the team, from all races, were united in the goal of accomplishing that amazing goal.

The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.

This phrase sounded like an entrepreneur.  I think President Trump is going to experience quite a bit of culture shock as he moves from the world of business to the world of government.

Whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty creator.

This was my favorite statement of President Trump’s speech.  We are all human; we have the same hopes, dreams, and fears.  We have to focus on what unites us as a starting point in order to move forward.  John Maxwell says we should focus on the 1% that we agree on and give it 100% of our effort in order to bridge the differences between us.

While this speech offers me hope, it is up to us, the people he claims to have re-empowered, to hold him to his intentions.

 

Speech quotes taken from Politico.com

Progress and Promise

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Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Photo by Tasha M. Troy

Today, on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, I have a lot on my mind.

I have always respected Dr. King and the work he did to try to bridge differences and bring about equal rights in the United States.  In many ways, I hope to emulate him.

A couple of recent experiences have brought to life for me the world Dr. King lived in.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture

About a week ago, I finally was able to visit the new African American History Museum.  I can say that it is phenomenal!  I went with a group from the Justice House of Prayer, and we spent our time in the section describing the era of segregation through to the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King’s time.

One of the things that struck me was the intense hatred displayed by many at that time.  Black people were often attacked simply because they were successful at what they were doing.  Whenever progress was made, there were those close at hand to tear it down and beat the ambition out of anyone who had it.  The irrational mistreatment of humans was incomprehensible, and I am amazed – and ashamed – that it was allowed to continue as long as it did, or that it was ever tolerated at all.

Hidden Figures

Yesterday, I went to see the movie Hidden Figures.  It depicts the true story of three amazing women who not only struggled against racism but also sexism and prevailed.

What I hadn’t realized before was that it was set at the same time as the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King’s work.  It brought into living color the everyday realities that Black Americans faced in a way the visit to the museum hadn’t.  I have so much respect for those women, and others like them, who fought battles so that their children and grandchildren would have a better life.

Observations

Because these events happened over 50 years ago, many might say that the world is completely different.  While we no longer have “colored bathrooms” and “colored drinking fountains,” perhaps things have not changed as much as we think.

The opening scene of the movie has the three heroines broken down on a deserted road on their way to work.  Industrious and clever, they are working to fix the car themselves when a police car approaches.

One line stood out to me- “It’s no crime to have your car break down.”  These women were clearly concerned about how the policeman would treat them.

This situation continues today, when law-abiding people of color have cause to be concerned.  No, not every police encounter is deadly, but even if one person dies while cooperating with police, that is one too many.

Progress and Promise

In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. King said, “I have a dream that one day … the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”  I have seen this come true with my own eyes.  

There is hope, but only if we realize that Dr. King’s work remains unfinished.

When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…. America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

It is time to make good on this promissory note!

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Link to full speech: Archives.Gov

A Response to the US Election Fallout

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Photo by Tasha M. Troy

Photo by Tasha M. Troy

A few days before the US election, one of my colleagues came in looking very unsettled.  She was truly terrified of what it would mean if Donald Trump won the election.  We talked briefly, and I shared my views, some of which I will share with you today.

Honestly, I hesitated to add my voice to the cacophony of reaction.  However, I am in a unique position to have friends, family, and acquaintances at all points of the political spectrum, and I make it my business to understand different perspectives.

In multiple conversations before the election, I said that our country is headed for trouble no matter who won the election.  The range of reactions – from multiple sides – has only confirmed my prognosis.  We are still a country divided, and no election was going to change that, but especially one that presented two highly polarizing candidates.

Vote for LIFE

In fact, because I vote for LIFE, I was not presented with a viable option between the two major party candidates.

I could not support Secretary Clinton.  Not only did I know her to be an advocate for abortion-on-demand, but she also desires to use my money as a taxpayer to fund abortions up until the day of birth.  This is abhorrent to me.

I could not support Mr. Trump.  He may have adopted a “pro-life” position as a candidate, but his words and actions have revealed a lack of respect for particular groups of people.  This is contrary to what I have dedicated my life to – the valuing of each individual life.

When I say, “I vote for LIFE,” I mean to say that I believe all human life has value, no matter at what point in the life cycle it is, and that all humans are worthy of respect.  This means I believe:

  • Black lives matter
  • immigrant lives matter
  • women’s lives matter
  • Muslim lives matter
  • LGBTQ lives matter

LIFE matters!

Action Steps

So now we have a nominally pro-life president-elect who doesn’t seem to respect life.  How do we now contend for LIFE?

First of all – pray!

Over the next few days and weeks, the president-elect will be establishing his cabinet and advisors.  In just the first week after his election, I have seen him make some choices that cause me concern.

My prayer is that Mr. Trump will be surrounded with wise counsel that will move our country toward reconciliation rather than the current path of division and that any divisive voices would lose their influence.  Will you join me in this prayer?

Second of all – love!

We must show our neighbors and the world that while Mr. Trump has been elected to be president, we do not endorse the hateful and divisive rhetoric that drew some voters to his camp.

There have been reports of hate crimes and harassment committed by those emboldened by Mr. Trump’s election.  While some of these reports have been shown to be fake, it would be a mistake to dismiss all reports.  I would rather show compassion for a fake victim than to risk dismissing a true victim.

We do this by showing kindness to those around us, especially those who look or believe differently than we do.  We do it by listening to people’s stories and not dismissing their experience when it is different from ours.  We do it by defending the vulnerable.  We do it in action as well with words.

A House Divided

Mark 3:25 states “if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.”  My heart cry is that our nation, which has been an inspiration for democracy and freedom and human rights around the world, would continue to stand.  Yes, there are clear injustices that must be resolved, and we must be the ones to pursue resolution.  It is not within the power of politicians to heal our land, but it is within ours.

Honestly, I don’t know if I was any comfort to my colleague when we spoke before the election, and I don’t know if this has helped you either, but I hope can hear my heart.

Let Nothing Be Done

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Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  (Philippians 2:3 NKJV)

Photo by Tasha M. Troy

Photo by Tasha M. Troy

There are few who would deny that our country is at a crisis point.

The past few years have brought to light a reality many in our country were unaware of, the reality of ongoing, widespread, and at least at times systematic racism.  Personally, I have found this reality to be both shocking and horrifying, especially with the number of times it leads to the death of an unarmed person over trivial matters.

For many, it seems like these events are isolated and random, but there are voices that are calling these symptoms of something the Black community, and all communities of color, have lived with for as long as they can remember.

I don’t want to believe this is true, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

When we don’t value Life, then we cease valuing individual lives.  I believe this is what we’ve seen in the past days, weeks, and years.

As long as we are focused on ourselves, protecting ourselves and solving our own problems, we will not be able to heal our communities.  

Is there hope for our nation?  It seems to me that we are being torn apart at the seams.

The racial tensions that were brought to the surface with the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012 have not been properly addressed, and so situations have merely escalated.

  • Many have reacted rather than responded.
  • Some have capitalized on the pain for their own gain.
  • Few have presented any plan for resolving the issues.

 

The Beginning of a Solution

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March 2015

I often talk about the “barriers to connection” described by Mark Goulston and John Ullmen in their book Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In.  The first barrier is “the fight or flight syndrome” – the natural reaction we have when we feel attacked is to either fight back and hurt the other person first OR to avoid the situation altogether.  Both reactions lead to our current status quo and the unacceptable “new normal” of flags at half mast.

How can we break the “fight or flight” cycle?  It starts by taking the focus off of ourselves and putting it on others.  Let me be clear:  I am primarily talking to the White community here, of which I am visibly a part.

We need to start with a radical selflessness, focusing on what is best for our communities rather than for a handful of individuals.  It requires sacrificing some of our “rights” and “rewards” to create the change we need.

Think about this: if Jesus could make “Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and [come] in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7), can’t we set aside our need to be right, to protect our positions and perspectives?

My life’s work has been dedicated to helping people from different cultural groups become able to understand each other.  This is exactly what needs to happen on a national level.  This is what needs to happen at a personal level.

  1. We have to listen, deeply listen to the heart and not the words alone.
  2. We have to choose our response, not merely react out of anger, fear, or grief.
  3. We must learn to collaborate on solutions; this will require a re-establishment of trust and dialogue.

I have seen promising stories of just such things happening.  Let’s see an epidemic of understanding, unity, and healing!

Of Constitutions and Conventions

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When I was in high school (25+ years ago!), I had a history teacher with some pretty intriguing ideas about what would happen in North America.  For one, he predicted that Quebec would secede from Canada, causing the remaining Canadian provinces to seek to join the United States.  My Canadian friends can correct me if I’m wrong, but that doesn’t seem to be a strong possibility at this time.IMG_8755

Another of his predictions was that a new US civil war was coming, this time not based around race but around abortion.  He foresaw that there would be “abortion” and “life” states, just as there had been “slave” and “free” states prior to the US Civil War.

Honestly, at the time I found his predictions to be outlandish.  Another US civil war?  Preposterous!

However, events of the past few years, and particularly of the past few months, have caused me to remember my teacher’s predictions and to wonder if maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t on to something.

An “Article V Convention”

Yesterday, I saw a news story that really surprised me – the governor of Texas is calling for a Constitutional Convention of the States.  (You can find the story here.)  What does this mean?

When the US Constitution was written, the Founders created a system of checks and balances.  This is US Government 101.  Well, part of those checks and balances was investing rights, responsibilities, and powers to the individual states as well as to the Federal government.  I believe these “States Rights” were largely reduced in the aftermath of the Civil War because that was the official platform for the Confederate States.  (We can argue real vs. stated reasons for the Civil War another time.)

Today we have a situation where most of us would identify as US citizens before we identify as citizens of a particular state.  Yes, here in the melting pot of Washington, DC, you hear people declaring their connection to a particular state, but most of us are not often in such a regionally diverse environment.  We are Americans first and New Yorkers, Californians, Nebraskans, etc., second.

Texas has always been different.

Today Texas is taking a stand against “Federal overreach,” against the Federal government infringing upon Texas state-centric interests.

The question I’m left with today is whether this is the start of a new movement by States to curtail Federal power, a rise of the States so to speak, or is it the precursor to my history teacher’s predicted dissolution of the United States as we know it today.

If the convention never materializes or if it results in decisions Texas doesn’t agree with, will Texas seek to leave the US just as Britain has voted to leave the EU?  Will there be a Texit?  And what domino effect with that have? Will Texas stand alone, or will other States follow suit?

I can’t predict what will happen next, but I will be watching in the following weeks, months, and possibly years to see how this situation evolves.