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Putting a Shoulder to the Plow

The Yoke is Light

This piece began with the story of one individual. This person prefers to remain private so the elements of their story necessary to understand the remainder of this piece are only listed here. If the person who inspired this piece changes their mind, the details of an extraordinary life can be easily included. This is one of the better pieces I’ve received and want to share it with you despite the missing details of the one who inspired it.

This person was born to a couple out of wedlock and was thus labeled ‘illegitimate.’ His route to school was difficult due to the distance and the condition of roads and bridges he must cross. Healthcare was unaffordable which further limited this person’s physical mobility. Electricity was not available at home and had to be pilfered by sitting outside electrified homes. Food was often not available at home either and they had to do without. The person migrated from one country to another to get an education and escape poverty. Some people in America label migrants as ‘illegals.’ His educational success has been remarkable. Many in this country hold out such exceptions, like Obama and Oprah and that one black, female, formerly poor, or queer person in the office, as “proof” of the equality of opportunity, social mobility, and the irresponsibility of the unsuccessful. That fallacy is partly what this piece is about. 

To bring this point home to the United States, I’d also like to tell you the story of a man named Rob. Like many white Americans, his life has been immensely easier than the person described above. No one ever questioned Rob’s legitimacy, legality, opportunity, or direction. Every bridge was safe and the lights were always on. He followed the instructions as they were laid out, got an education, and a job. When he found himself in trouble with the law for excessive drinking, the reputation of his grandfather, his father, and the family money helped to limit any trouble to an inconvenience. He now owns his home, can earn more money than he needs, eats well, and is blessed with a fully-functional healthy body. Many people similar to Rob think of themselves as self-made, responsible, hard-working individuals. They have achieved their surplus, they believe, by the sweat of their brow and are entitled to everything they possess. There have surely been times more difficult than others but our dissatisfaction, impatience, and inconvenience do not rise to the level of hardship by most standards. While our lives, and the lives of our children, become easier and easier, generation after generation, the lives of many grow more and more difficult.

Both Rob and the person described above have at least one thing in common. Both are persons of faith and baptized as Christians. The name we spoke at the moment of baptism transcends borders, wealth, and achievement. Jesus may act preferentially for the poor but has always hoped for the quick and earnest conversion of the rich. In the Kingdom that Jesus came to describe to us, there are no nation-states. Everyone is legal and legitimate. No one is threatened because of the place of their birth or residence. Everyone has access to food, housing, health care, and education. Wealth is held in common which means it is not held by anyone at all. No one acquires more than is necessary to sustain a healthy, secure life. Money procures neither eternity nor immortality. The Kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven, is never luxurious but always sufficient. The yoke is Light for those who will look and see.

When the person told me their story, they said, “In my homeland, access to school was made easy for the rich and difficult for the poor.” The same can be said in America. For example, the rich and comfortable never have to risk their life to cross a bridge to get to school nor steal light to do their homework. Access to health care is a given. They may be unhappy, dissatisfied, disgruntled, and impatient with their progress, but their progress is the norm; not the exception. In that ease, and its likelihood, lies the trap which entraps us all, rich and poor alike.

Our ancestors (un)intentionally colonized us into a Matrix from which we have yet to escape. Humanity’s concepts of money, profit, debt, and ownership detach us from the web of Life which sustains us. That this present economy is unhealthy for us is, to many, so obvious, and sadly so widespread, they feel powerless and overwhelmed to effect any change. Partly because we, as individuals, feel so small, and insist on the feeling of personal achievement for short-term outcomes, few attempt to try. We are also hindered by a society that educates to content and outcomes, as well as the language of content and outcomes, rather than the methods to learn; the possibilities of uncertainty, discomfort and challenge; the process of loving, interpersonal relationships; and the abilities to think critically and abstractly. Without these abilities, from within the Matrix, we can hardly imagine alternatives beyond the narrow field we think we see before us; much less our power to change it. Those who wish to eliminate universal public education hope you never gain the ability. Humans so equipped would quickly see the false reality created by the moneyed economy which stands in direct contradiction to God’s Economy and the kingdom of heaven on earth. It has been preached, professed, called for, and witnessed yet we tarry to bring it about. We choose the easy path, follow the instructions, and wait: a euphemism for ‘delay’ or ‘postpone.’

Many of the founders of this nation, as well, imagined a democracy based on equality, justice, and freedom for all. But over the centuries their heirs seem to have lost the aspiration. Our democracy, for example, would be more fully realized if suffrage were universal. But the people as leaders do not demand it and the politicians who lead them seem strangely unwilling to offer it. In fact some strive to limit the opportunity wherever they can.

Many Americans have come to twist the definition of ‘justice.’ Rather than fairness and freedom from government oppression, it is now rendered as severe punishment for disobedience. ‘Freedom’ has been twisted from a life of responsible self-restraint to one of unfettered self-interest. ‘Equality’ once meant the elimination of an aristocracy and the peasantry but now is watered down to an equality of opportunity. Which is, in our present economy, as meaningless as a thoroughbred and a hamstrung pony being born on the same day. Everything afterward is intrinsically un-equal. Those who prefer inequality cannot imagine the possibility that great poverty and great wealth could both be seen as misfortune. Poverty due to its intrinsic hardship and wealth for the weakness and shame of one willing to deprive others to satisfy their own need for over-consumption.

Our current economy and government strives to deny the universality of education, health care, and voting rights (i.e. democracy). Anything that can be privatized will be from education and health care to military contractors and imprisonment. Some would argue that elections and political office have been privatized as well. Private industry has but one obligation and it is not the constitutional one to honor civil and human rights. The exceptionality of a few may assuage the rich of the inclusivity of their club, but the truth is that the poor outnumber the rich simply because a Matrix, a false reality, has been constructed through money, profit, ownership, and debt to allow some to take and withhold more than their share while others crawl across bridges, pilfer when possible, and walk cross-country to seek escape and survive. Money has corrupted our planet, our health, our families, our spirits, and our governance. The corrosion it brings about will eventually destroy culture and civilization if not before the vitality of the planet is first destroyed. Before these outcomes are reached, let’s bring about something which seems to us very new but is in fact very old.

During periods of great distress, be prepared, for an opening may soon appear. We will never be liberated until enough people approach the tipping point. This approach takes time and courage. The path is more difficult to imagine than it is to walk. Rather than to set your sights for income, the rate at which you acquire, and wealth, the amount which you accumulate, always towards MORE, seek the middle. Sometimes this will mean the exercise of your freedom to choose less. True freedom includes a wide range of options; some easier and some worse than others. If all legal options were considered good, we would no longer be free nor ethical. Choose well. You too will see that what is true can also be real: the kingdom of heaven, the garden of Eden, the beloved community, is both not yet and already. It is beneath your feet, surrounding your body, above your head, and within your heart. Shalom is waiting for you. The quiet revolution of the heart has been ongoing from Moses to Christ to King to present. As long as Life and Love continue, it will too. Please join. Many have and there is room for many more. Blessings to you and to all those you love.

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From Catherine A. MacKinnon’s “Women’s Lives-Men’s Laws”

If socially unequal groups, in order to demand equal treatment, must first be situated the same as groups not afflicted by inequality, many of the worst injuries of inequality will be obscured and few will be corrected. It seems you have to first have equality before you can get it, expanding the implications of Anatole France’s trenchant irony that ‘law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.’ Only the disadvantaged will be made worse off by laws that are equal in this sense, because the advantaged ipso facto will never be in a position to run afoul of them. By the same token, the disadvantaged will never be made better off by this equality because they will never be in a position to take advantage of it. Who that needs this equality can get it? Under it, just as those who can least afford it can continue to be treated worse, those who most need it can continue not to receive its help. If situated differences must be elided to gain access to equal benefits, how will the consequences of inequality be exposed in order to rectify them? If equal treatment requires the same treatment for those who have and those who have not, for those who need and those who are not in need, how will their status relative to one another ever change?

“Women’s Lives – Men’s Laws” by Catharine A. MacKinnon (Harvard University Press, 2003, p. 49

To the Question: Where to begin?

A good question. Sadly, way too complex to answer in a fb post or a tweet. Few will read, much less enact, ideas too complex for 140 characters or less. In addition, because so many people are situated so differently, many answers are necessary; only one of which I know. Fortunately, we have had many good teachers come before us over the centuries.

Government is meant to maintain order; not change. Change will be brought by the people willing to sacrifice to achieve a more loving community. Money, fuel, ignorance, and fear makes the machine go round. Ironically, some of those most chewed up, physically in their health or spiritually in their being, also cheer it on most fervently. Strange that so many want to be like them. The rest of us are all collateral damage to their destruction.

For those above the median in income and assets, begin earning less and offering your gifts through your work to neighbors more freely. Strive for just enough rather than more. Burn less gas and electricity. Read the history of race- and gender-based oppression and the movements to overturn capitalist, white supremacist patriarchy including the movement begun by Jesus and the Hebrew prophets. Do not be afraid to defy norms and put into practice the beautiful world you imagine. Each moment and interaction is another opportunity to be a blessing to people and planet.That’s a good start. Thanks for asking.

It might be that I, or my words, get carried away. There are probably softer ways to say it. But if I try to be succinct, it comes out this way. Blessings to you and to all those you love.

The above was originally posted on fb on Saturday, November 3, 2018. The initial post, which prompted the question, is pasted below:

One person’s flippant change of the Constitution is certainly not conservative. Nor is it progressive. It is authoritarian, regressive activism. To say that all persons born in the United States are citizens except those persons who are born to non-citizens is to define both parents and children as non-persons; to dehumanize them. Non-persons have no rights so they can be criminalized, abused, exploited, detained, deported, or killed individually and en masse without recourse. Our nation is on a dreadful path and 62 million Americans are trying to drag the rest of us along. The struggle is real. The time has come to stand in the gap.

From Charles Eisenstein’s “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible”

A braver application of honesty: to believe in a true vision that contradicts the consensus view of what is possible or worthwhile. It takes more courage to believe what we know is true than to disbelieve what we know is false. For the visionary, that knowledge is in the beginning a lonely knowledge, surrounded by a welter of doubt both within and without. To trust a moment of clarity and carry it forward, to translate it into belief and act from it amid all the voices that say it is crazy or impossible, is no trivial matter

“The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible” by Charles Eisenstein, North Atlantic Books, 2013, p. 80

Sing Inward, Outward: An Elementary Education

The Universe sings a Song so long and slow, it is pitched below the hearing of our ears. You might imagine it as a dirge or a drone, but stretched on the loom of eternity, it mimics a heart beat, a respiration, and hums with mellifluous harmonies. Among them, a single note is us.

At birth, humans are bequeathed kernels of knowledge. We know to suckle, swallow, sleep, and purge. We also understand some facial expressions, such as eye contact and smiles, elicit pleasant attention and cries for help elicit aid. We also inherit ancestral memories such as the fear of snakes and of loud, angry voices too.

This is our starting point and everyone agrees it is not far enough. Humans, in all likelihood, are the creature which begins with the largest deficits, and therefore the longest learning curve, towards survival and thriving. Some persons believe a human who cycles the sun eighteen times has reached adulthood and is thus complete. Others say twenty-five. At that point, entertainment being more appealing, learning becomes optional. Indeed, some even brag of how little, throughout adulthood, they have changed. Which is to say how little they have learned. 

To demonstrate the (mis)direction of our current educational processes, dealt to us in our homes, schools, and religious settings, notice how these priorities align with your memory and experience of childhood education.

Humans must quickly learn a first priority to bring clean air, fresh water, and good food into our bodies. We must learn which behaviors keep the air, water, and soil healthy so our bodies remain healthy as well. We must learn the necessity and benefits of caring for our bodies as well as the clothes which protect them. We must learn to care for the homes which protect our food, clothes, and bodies. Then our attention should turn inward.

First, our emotions (shame, fear, anger, joy, disgust, and sadness) are largely unfamiliar territory to many Americans. Other nationalities may differ. Yet emotions are so fundamental they drive most of our conscious and unconscious decisions. So much so that when we are very stressed, and our filters thin, it feels as if our body is a pirate ship sailed in the night by a mutinous crew. All emotions have positive and negative aspects which aid, and hinder, us for good and ill. Shame, for example, encourages good behavior so we remain in alignment with others. It also enables regret so we are motivated to make good repairs when we falter. On the other hand, when the truth seems less than comfortable, shame encourages a lie to hide our past actions, current beliefs, or future desires. The most fundamental of processes, known as ‘emotions,’ are disregarded as harmful, at worst, or useless, at best, by many. To our own detriment, we presently learn to suppress and ignore them. Remember, big boys don’t cry and good girls never anger.

Felt emotions are unavoidably translated into word-thoughts that our frontal lobe must deliberate. Some of these word-thoughts are very helpful and guide our decisions well. Others are simply misguided. We do well to distinguish the believable thoughts, those to be acted upon, from the superfluous, errant thoughts which should be discarded. For example, an angry brain might think, “I could punch them [him or her] right in the face;” or a sad one, “I wish I could just die.” It is widely agreed such thoughts are best not acted upon. You might consider such mindful, intrapersonal discernment as ‘internal honesty,’ or integrity, at least as important as the interpersonal variety.

Then, attention sways outward again.

Once we are familiar with our own emotional landscape and our thoughtful interpretations of them, our next lessons should be on interacting well with the hosts, guests, neighbors, family, and friends near us. Which demonstrations of emotions, words, and gestures are well-received by them and elicit the responses that keep us in right-relationship? What emotions are they feeling, what interpretations of the moment seem to be coming to their mind, so that I may respond accordingly? This form of understanding is sometimes called ‘empathy.’ It is a very valuable tool for those who wish to interact well with others on the planet. However, it is widely ignored in the instruction of our children. It goes without saying that it is ignored in adult education since further instruction of adults is considered disrespectful by some. Usually those who refuse to change. Maybe they believe we are perfect as is; or otherwise doomed regardless.

During this early period of learning, we must also find a common language to listen, and express, with those around us. Such communication is accomplished verbally with words, phrases, and sentences and physically with gestures of the hands, body, and face. At some point we may also wish to record these words in writing. Other forms of expression, preservation and transmission may become handy too such as dance, design, or a Song.

Language, empathy, and security are the scaffolding for the understanding of skills and tools to be honed; for new ideas to co-create. By doing so, we discover the interconnectedness and interdependence of all creatures upon the web of Life.

Then, a generation of generous elders must share their collective wisdom with a receptive audience of elders-in-training (i.e. all of us). Further ancestral transmission occurs as we listen and learn the history, culture, knowledge, and ideas of who we are and from where we’ve come. Too often white Americans whitewash history, try to suppress their shame, and craft a more preferable story. Ignoring, or lying about, our ancestors’ mistakes, and our own, while failing to make amends, does not disappear the consequences. Such dishonesty crackles, festers and burns a community’s cohesion regardless of how large or small.

For cohesion, a set of shared values must be transmitted as well as the integrity to live into them. We give symbols such as a flag, an anthem, or a Constitution status to represent our shared values. Currently, we profess a belief in equality, freedom, and justice for all. However, our behaviors suggest more dominant values of competition, a hierarchy of winners & losers, accumulation of wealth and power, private property, and creative destruction. This is an industrial-sized, one-sidedly masculine, hypocrisy. If our shared values were actually equality, freedom, and justice along with cooperation, care, responsibility, and stable creativity, can you imagine what our experience of Life and Love would be like today?

We have much work to do: much to learn; and to unlearn. We are always, as a species and as individuals, incomplete. “Perfectly imperfect and ever-evolving,” one may say. Anger, anxiety, fear, and distrust are an ignoble inheritance. Our natural state, on the other hand, is one of goodness, benevolence, and beauty. We are a fractal of the Divine; an imago dei, a note in the Song. Please join. You are needed and you are not alone.

Gratitude to photographer Shannon Gayk for the photo and inspiration for the opening paragraph

From Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Stride Towards Freedom”

First, it must be emphasized that nonviolent resistance is not a method for cowards: it does resist. If one uses this method because he is afraid or merely because he lacks the instruments of violence, he is not truly nonviolent. This is why Gandhi often said that if cowardice is the only alternative to violence, it is better to fight. He made this statement conscious of the fact that there is always another alternative: no individual or group need submit to any wrong, nor need they use violence to right the wrong; there is the way of nonviolence resistance. This is ultimately the way of the strong man. It is not a method of stagnant passivity. The phrase ‘passive resistance’ often gives the false impression that this is a sort of ‘do-nothing’ method in which the resister quietly and passively accepts evil. But nothing is further from the truth. For while the nonviolent resister is passive in the sense that he is not physically aggressive toward his opponent, his mind and emotions are always active, constantly seeking to persuade his opponent that he is wrong. The method is passive physically, but strongly active spiritually. It is not passive nonresistance to evil, it is active nonviolent resistance to evil.

A second basic fact that characterizes nonviolence is that it does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding. The nonviolent resister must often express his protest through noncooperation or boycotts, but he realizes that these are not ends themselves; they are merely means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent. The end is redemption and reconciliation. The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.

A third characteristic of this method is that the attack is directed against forces of evil rather than against persons who happen to be doing the evil. It is evil that the nonviolent resister seeks to defeat, not the persons victimized by evil. If he is opposing racial injustice, the nonviolent resister has the vision to see that the basic tension is not between races. As I like to say to the people in Montgomery: “The tension in this city is not between white people and Negro people. The tension is, at bottom, between justice and injustice, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. And if there is a victory, it will be a victory not merely for fifty thousand Negroes, but a victory for justice and the forces of light. We are out to defeat injustice and not white persons who may be unjust.”

A fourth point that characterizes nonviolent resistance is a willingness to accept suffering without retaliation, to accept blows from the opponent without striking back. “Rivers of blood may have to flow before we gain our freedom, but it must be our blood,’ Gandhi said to his countrymen. The nonviolent resister is willing to accept violence if necessary, but never to inflict it. He does not seek to dodge jail. If going to jail is necessary, he enters it ‘as a bridegroom enters the bride’s chambers.’

One may well ask: “What is the nonviolent resister’s justification for this ordeal to which he invites men, for this mass political application of the ancient doctrine of turning the other cheek?” The answer is found in the realization that unearned suffering is redemptive. Suffering, the nonviolent resister realizes, has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities. “Things of fundamental importance to people are not secured by reason alone, but have to be purchased with their suffering,’ said Gandhi. He continues, ‘Suffering is infinitely more powerful than the law of the jungle for converting the opponent and opening his ears which are otherwise shut to the voice of reason.’

A fifth point concerning nonviolent resistance is that it avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent but he also refuses to hate him. At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love. The nonviolent resister would contend that in the struggle for human dignity, the oppressed people of the world must not succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter or indulging in hate campaigns. To retaliate in kind would do nothing but intensify the existence of hate in the universe. Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethic of love to the center of our lives.

In speaking of love at this point, we are not referring to some sentimental or affectionate emotion. It would be nonsense to urge men to love their oppressors in the affectionate sense. Love in this connection means understanding, redemptive good will.

“Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story” by Martin Luther King Jr. Harper & Row Publishers, 1958, pp. 102-104

 

An Address to Mental Health Professionals, October 24, 2018

Healing 5000 plus 12: Health care in God’s Economy

Thank you very much for asking me to speak today. I’m really grateful for the opportunity. When Tonya emailed me she mentioned that I could speak for 40-45 minutes and there would be 15-20 minutes for Q&A. Though I knew exactly what I’d talk about when she asked, it was hard for me to imagine having anything important enough to say to speak for 45 straight minutes, so I’ll probably flip the script. Like most of you all I am much more comfortable in the listening mode. I’d much rather dialogue through questions, answers, responses, and reactions. The free flow, improvisation of back and forth is more within my comfort zone. So, if it’s ok with you all, I’ll speak for 20, we can discuss for 40 minutes and maybe we’ll have a few extra minutes to breathe. That is a luxury in this economy that we don’t get to take too often. I promise to give you enough to chew on and plenty of blanks left to fill in.

I think it would be helpful to begin with an explanation of the title of today’s presentation. “Healing the 5000 Plus 12: Health Care in God’s Economy” is a little cryptic, alluding to, and recombining, impressions in our memory. Before getting to the specifics of the title I should say that I’ll be drawing on Christian images and teachings because, along with being a licensed counselor, I am also Christian minister. Now, there may come a time during this presentation where you may start to think I have slipped roles from one to the other, but hang with me. It all ties in together. In the current context of Christianity, I’ll also add that my understanding of God, Christ, Spirit is not exclusionary. After these brief remarks, I think you’ll understand what I mean. If the way some Christians talk about Jesus triggers you, rest assured. I’m not like them and neither, in my opinion, is Jesus. So, let’s break this title down.

Healing 5000” is a reference to feeding of the 5000 in the Christian gospels. If you’re even vaguely familiar with this miracle story of feeding numerous people with a small amount of food, that will be enough for now. I have a client who finds himself often torn between serving two masters; one known by many traditions and many names including God and another also known by many names including mammon. My client yearns to earn tons of money so someday he can retire early and “become a good Christian.” Certain stories in the Gospels trouble him though including the feeding of the 5000. In this particular story Jesus never says, “Oh well, we don’t have enough money so I guess we cannot feed them.” Nor does he say, “They have no money so they cannot eat.” He never says, “Fabulous! They are very hungry. Demand will be great while the supply is low! We should be able to profit greatly off from this venture.” What he does say, essentially, is, “Here is food and here are hungry people. Now go.” It is true. One cannot serve two masters. This troubles my client greatly.

Plus Twelve” refers to the disciples themselves. Like my client, who has never known material hunger or want, there is much healing that needs to occur among providers in our economy. The healing that Jesus prescribes is not to convert the hungry into fearful and driven capitalists but to convert the materially secure into faithful sharers of the gifts God freely gives: Life and Love. The disciples in Jesus’ story are witnessing as much, I would argue more than, those who are hungry. Those who live on the margins in our society are already aware they belong within God’s Kingdom. Ironically, it’s those who believe they are far from the margins who are more often the nearer to being lost.

Health Care” because we are all health care providers who wish to integrate our spiritual lives into our roles as healers in this economy. We also, coincidentally, live in a democracy that is founded on the principle of freedom of the people to make choices rather than the government to dictate choices to us. I interpret this to mean that health care reform and accessibility begins with us. Where we go, our leaders will follow or they will not be considered leaders much longer. Simply put, much of the inaccessibility of health care is determined by the locations where we choose to meet, the hours in which we choose to meet, the defined scope of our practice, and the cost of such meetings. It is the latter, as you might have already gathered, that I’d like to speak to today.

Lastly, “God’s Economy.” This is, in my opinion, the most beautiful of the areas I get to describe today. Many people, particularly Americans, particularly those who subscribe to the mindset of so-called white America, believe there are only two economic models to choose from: One is so very, very good, the best ever in fact, and the other one is absolutely evil. These are, of course, capitalism and communism. Substantively, I find very little difference between these two as they have manifest themselves on earth during the industrial age. Fortunately, another economic model exists and it is fully functional and operational each and every day. It has been ongoing since the dawn of Creation and as long as Life and Love exist it will continue on indefinitely. Some say eternally. To make this economy more visible, I need to point out one fact first: Human beings, as far as I know, are the only creature on the planet which use anything which resembles money to conduct exchanges. Indeed, in the economic model human beings have inherited and adopted, essentially no exchange occurs unless some money is involved. On the other hand, what you and I refer to as “the environment” is what every other creature on the planet knows of as the economy; the economy of our origins or God’s economy. It is the free exchange of materials and energy for the perpetuation of Life. All we need to survive is given to us freely from sun to rain, to soil and seed, to wisdom, courage, faith, and Love. Only humans have created concepts such as money, profit, debt, and ownership which authorize us to take and withhold for a profitable ransom the means for another person’s survival in order to facilitate our own. This arrangement is, to put it mildly, deleterious for our spirits and for our neighbors’ as well So, there is the story of the title.

Now, I’d like to tell you three other stories: one about a snow day, one about a birdhouse and one about a holiday. Then, I’d like to open us up for dialogue. The story of the snow day is the shortest and, in my opinion, least significant until we reach the end of today’s presentation but the snow day represents a beginning for the other two. For the sake of chronology, let’s begin with it. Several years ago, I noticed that our relationship with money was probably not healthy for us. As it turns out, it seems many other people think the same. It seemed to me that much of the suffering and hardship in the world could be traced back to our relationship with money. So, I decided to take a Sabbath from commerce. One day out of the week I would try to refrain from spending or earning or frequenting a place where spending or earning occurred. I called these ‘snow days’ and these snow days eventually led me to the birdhouse.

The story of the birdhouse goes like this. When I first began my private practice, accessibility was a buzz word. Before I leased a space, I wanted to find an office that was on a bus route. It also had to have wide doors and ramps for those who utilized walkers and wheelchairs for entry. My hours were flexible so I could see people during the day, evenings, and Saturdays. My fees were affordable; less than the market average. I found the space but eventually I realized that though persons could reach my waiting room, they still some couldn’t come into the office. I volunteered for the Pro Bono Counseling Network for a while and applied to become a Medicaid provider. But during the Medicaid orientation I realized that as a solo practitioner I would not be able to maintain the paperwork to remain compliant. I’d have to hire someone to take care of the paperwork which totally defeated the purpose. I’d receive a tiny co-pay and the Medicaid reimbursement would pay for a clerk to do the admin work. This was my first tangible experience on the other side of systemic racism. The system made it difficult to care for people in spite of my willingness to try. I was at a loss. What became clear to me at that time was that one form of 21st century segregation is not done with signs that read ‘whites only’ or ‘colored.’ It is done with signs that say, “If you can afford it, you are welcome. If you cannot, please move along.” Like for like, the higher the rate, the more exclusive the practice.

One day, while I was taking a shower, an idea dropped into my mind and I literally laughed out loud. If you’ll allow me to put it this way, God said I was to hang a birdhouse on my office wall. In that birdhouse, clients would deposit their payments like they were feeding the birds. In addition, my clients would be told they could make up their own mind about how much to pay. God went even further and said I would not need to know how much they chose nor even if they paid. I laughed at the absurdity of the idea and I knew in the marrow of my bones all was going to be well. On my website I post for my clients how much it costs me to live and to run my practice as well as how many clients I see. I also post how much clients collectively, and on average, pay into the birdhouse. Everybody comes. My clients do their best, as do I, and it all works out. This is what we mean by universal access to health care.

What the birdhouse taught me is that this capitalist economic model we have inherited and adopted deceives us to believe that humans are rationally self-interested consumers, not to be trusted, both driven by profit and absolutely lazy and unimaginative without it. It teaches that if given the option people are more likely to pay nothing or to pay as little as their conscience will allow. But what is actually true, and I have data to prove it, is that most humans are good, trustworthy, and responsible. Collectively, my clients actually pay more than I need; not less. Which brings us to the last story about the holiday.

Like any good business person, I monitor my expenses and try to keep them low. This year when I completed my taxes, I realized once again that taxes are by far and away my single largest expense. Therefore, they are also my client’s largest expense and the largest obstacle to universal access to health care in my practice. So this year, partly motivated by my faith in God’s economy as well as a strong desire to not cooperate with the current political machinations in DC and Raleigh, the powers and principalities as it were, I decided to lower my income tax payments. But to do so legally and ethically means to lower one’s income. So in April I made a pledge that once I had earned all the money I needed to meet my financial obligations for the year, I would close the birdhouse. That season, what I’m calling a tax holiday, began on September 5. From that date until the end of the year I will see my clients as I always do but no money will be exchanged for the services rendered. Due to my clients’ generosity from January to August, for the last four months of the year, we will have a glimpse of what it would be like to live within the economy of our origins; in God’s economy.

I do this, partly because God has asked me to (and I have found that one is well-advised to go along when that happens.) I also do so because, as foolish as it may seem, this is what it would look like to join with the web of Life and to love one another as God has loved us. In January, I’ll have to go back to receiving income for my work but hopefully next year the tax holiday can be even longer. Not only to further universal access to health care but so we may find universal health. What others call Shalom. One last thing that I have learned from that birdhouse: In this country, we adhere to two social agreements. One is to earn as much as you possibly can and the other is to spend as much as you want. I believe these two social agreements are at the root of much of the suffering of this planet and all those who inhabit it including us. My hope is that someday we will, first individually then collectively, begin to make new social agreements, to rejoin the web of life, and to learn to care for others as God cares for us. Begin small, with something like a snow day, and expand outward from there. See where it might lead.

As I said at the beginning, I’d much rather dialogue and listen. I also enjoy questions way more than answers. So, I’ll leave off with a couple of those. Franz Fanon, in his book “The Wretched of the Earth,” writes, “The colonial world is a world cut in two. The dividing line, the frontiers, are shown by barracks and police stations….In the capitalist countries a multitude of moral teachers, counselors and ‘bewilderers’ separate the exploited from those in power.”

We are in a unique position existing as we do on the boundary, the border, the dividing lines in our society. This unique position also comes with unique opportunities. The persons who come into our offices are victim-survivors as well as past perpetrators. Sometimes they are both at the same time. We can focus all of our attention on relieving the outcomes of the suffering or we can divide our attention, walk upstream, and see what can be done about the sources of that suffering. We can be compliant with systems we have inherited and adopted or we can join with the One Source of Life and Love, created for and freely given to all of us. If you were to start small, where would you begin? Will you imagine where we all might end up? Thank you again. I’m happy to try to answer any questions you may have and to show the website too if that is helpful. Thank you.

Speak from the Heart

Some Americans like to be mean. Some like being mean to mean people and some like being mean to nice people. Lots of people share this single trait. Remember, anger is the seat of your compassion. It can be harnessed for wonderful good. Anger also tends to justify itself and one can be easily spun. Be wary. We have much work to do. The struggle is real

Twenty-Six Cents: The Deal of a Lifetime

Hey man, have I got a deal for you. This is truly the deal of a lifetime,” said Slyly. “Listen, I’ve got a job that needs to be done. It will take you about four hours. I’m going to lend you the tools to finish it. I’m going to go play golf with my buddies, and when I come back, I’ll pay you for one hour of your work. If I am really pleased with the job you did, I’ll give you a 10% bonus AND I’ll give you another job to do after that one.

“Now, think about this,” Slyly continued. “if you keep steadily doing a good job and save that 10%, in fifty years you’ll be able to stop working and rest for the last ten, maybe fifteen, of your life. Hundreds of millions of people are taking us up on this deal so you better get on board while you can. My buddies on the golf course tell me everybody to whom they offer this deal are totally committed. You should be too.”

“Oh, I’m not so sure,” said Duped. “I don’t think that one hour of pay for four hours of work is really fair and it’ll never be enough to purchase a home for me and my family.”

“Don’t worry about that. One of my buddies will take care of you. Go down to the bank, tell him I sent you, and he will lend you all the money you need to buy that home. You won’t have to pay for it up front. You can use a portion of what I pay you to cover the loan in installments spread out over thirty years. The government will even let you write off the interest. It’s like free money. And, when it’s paid off, you can save that money along with the ten-percent I’m giving you. Instead of ten years of rest, if you play your cards right, you’ll get fifteen for sure. Think about that now: work for fifty years and you’ll have enough money saved up to rest for at least fifteen.”

“But, if you and I worked together,” said Duped, “we could accomplish this job in two hours instead of four. We could divide the money in half too. We could both be playing golf this afternoon. Rather than work fifty years, we could work twenty-five together and both rest for twenty-five more.”

“Now, you can’t possibly think that’s fair!,” said Slyly. “I have all the money, all the work, and all the tools. Without me, you got nothing. I’m offering you to get in on the action. This is the best deal in town. You better take it while you can. You can only do without for so long.”

“Well I suppose you’re right about that. I’ll take it for now and think on it while I work,” said Duped. “What was the name of your friend at the bank?”

“Now, that’s the spirit. I’ll be back in four hours and give you everything you’ll need. Congratulations! You’re on the fast track now,” said Slyly.

And so it begins.

Most of the pieces I write are based on my impression of the world we occupy. Many can argue that my impressions are subjective and therefore dubious. I experience the world, and interpret it, in a certain way. Another person may interpret their experience very differently. Neither of us can prove, because such things are not based on objective facts, that one interpretation is more valid than another. One may so be but it can’t be “proven.” You have to see for yourself and make your own decisions.

This piece, however, is based on empirical data as well as experience. Over the last 32 months, I have been monitoring my income and expenses closely. I openly share this data on my website. Recently, I calculated how much of my expenses, over the last thirty-two months, were paid out to retain the privilege to earn income (taxes and operating expenses) and how much was paid out to meet my personal needs. For every $1.00 earned, 26¢ goes to my food, shelter, utilities, transportation, and so on. That is to say, for every four hours of work, three are paid out to others so I can use one hour for myself.

“How is this possible?,” you might ask. The short answer is because the few with enough wealth can afford not to work while the rest of us work four times as long as necessary to survive. Indeed, some persons draw an income for making decisions about the use of their capital which means those without capital have to work even longer.

My income has hovered very near the median for three consecutive years. For the 50% of Americans who earn less than I do, the ratios of how much they work for themselves and how much they work for others is even more skewed. A staunch capitalist will mitigate these numbers saying some of what I contribute in taxes is for the common good, including myself, which is true. They’d go so far as to say that they, those above the median in income, pay even more to government coffers which may, or may not, be true or relevant. And, I would counter that some portion of the 26¢ goes to the farmer who grows my food, and some goes to the banker who purchased his equipment; a portion goes to the lineman who erected the poles and power lines, and some goes to the executive paid to ponder a strategic vision for profitability. Some of us pay through our effort and some pay through the luxury of ownership.

The con game is this: “paper with ink,” known as deeds of ownership and money, entitle some to take and withhold and then exercise power to make decisions of who works, who earns, in what ratios, and therefore who thrives, who lives, who survives, and who dies slowly in this economy. This is the nature of capitalism. The narrow difference between institutionalized communism and institutionalized capitalism is only in who has the power to make such decisions. In a truly rational economy, there are no such questions and therefore no such decisions to be made.

God’s economy, on the other hand, the economy of our origins, is fully functional and operational everyday. Rather than money, fear, greed, competition, separation, inequality, creative destruction, man-made laws, and the violence to enforce them, God’s economy is based on shared work, shared resources, self-interest paired with self-restraint, cooperation, Love, equality, freedom, and stable creativity.

Would you ask the person who works for minimum wage to work twenty-four hours to survive twelve so you can work for eight (or less) and thrive for twenty-four? For those with wealth, property, and incomes above the median, the power to choose is ours. The con game can only be stopped by us. A tithe from your 26¢ will not end it. Please, put your shoulder to the plow and join a quiet revolution of the heart. Many have and there is room for many more.

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