Our country of immigrants, a country which has historically been an asylum for refugees, is falling back into an old pattern. In the 1920s America was seized by xenophobia. The Emergency Quota Act, passed in 1921, restricted immigration from southern and eastern Europe. For the geographically-challenged, that includes Italy, Greece, and Hungary among others. It was the first “Red Scare” when people were fearful that communism and anarchy were going to take over. This attitude lingered until even the late 1930s when people were against European Jews coming into our country. We all know how that panned out.

Now we have many of the same things happening again. People are fleeing terrorism, war, persecution. Many are women and children. The U.S. House of Representatives  recently voted to keep out Syrians. There is even talk about shutting down the government over this issue. It’s become a political football and popularity contest among presidential candidates. Donald Trump wants to make Syrian refugees carry special identification. Yes, the same policy Hitler and the Nazis used is being touted by a potential United States president. The “special identification” for Syrian refugees is just another form of the Star of David badge used to segregate then exterminate men, women, and children of the Jewish faith. Others wore badges that declared their “otherness” too- gays, the Romany, the mentally handicapped among them.

The events today are a prime example of “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Not only was xenophobia and separatism part of what made World War II so horrible, so destructive, each time it reared its ugly head, injustice and tragedy reigned. Think of how many lives were ruined in the 1950s under McCarthyism. Black lists were made. Congress was involved in hearings that were basically kangaroo courts, ferreting out “pinkos” and “commies.” It was a shameful and dark time despite many peoples’ wistful but flawed memories of the decade. And 60 years later, it continues.

It’s not the “damn liberals” or the “stupid conservatives” that are taking our country down. It’s regular people of all stripes that haven’t learned a thing from our past. They see heinous acts of violence from terrorists, and they succumb to fear, exactly what the terrorists want. Exactly. Closing our borders to those seeking refuge is what ISIS wants. They will use our denial of refugees against us, telling their people that no one cares about them, that their religion, their faith is what America is against. It won’t matter to these people that there are some here that are scared of the violence coming to our shores, hiding it under bravado and propaganda about the Islamic menace. The refugees will only see rejection, and in that way the extremists will win their hearts. And the violence is already here anyway. The Boston Marathon bombing, the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11 all resonate with violence against our government, way of life, and our citizens.

When you read Facebook memes and posts, including mine, remember the entire history of the United States, our traditions of immigration and asylum, and our tragic memories of the awful results of xenophobia. See that the politicians who use fear are no better than the terrorists themselves- they are all people who will use death and destruction to gain power whether or not they caused it directly or indirectly. Take care when you hear media outlets, news agencies, radio hosts, television personalities, church leaders telling us that we should not help these particular “others,” that we need to take care ourselves first, that they aren’t “Christian” or that they are infiltrating and hellbent on changing and killing us. That’s code for “fear strangers” and by that, all the terrorists accomplish their goals.

We all were the “others” at some point in our family trees. The Pilgrims fled persecution in England. The Huguenots ran from France. Jews, Italians, Irish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Korean, Cuban, Nicaraguan- the list of asylum seekers goes around the world. And they all came to America. It is who we are and who we were. Taking precautions and carefully examining refugees is a necessary and prudent thing in today’s world. But flat out refusal is a mistake on our part, and playing right into the hands of our enemies and detractors.

Gullah Video

I am editing my Gullah trilogy, so I found this article to be quite interesting. It’s short, but it gives a brief explanation of how Gullah came to be, and a few phrases of the beautiful language. While you’re on my page, check out some of my past stories and essays. I am working on a new (belated) Halloween story which should be up in a few days.

How To Get Into A Bad Mood

I have been trying recently to let a lot of things go. Cut in front of me in line, I just sigh and go on with my life. If the bus is really late, no problem- I’ll just listen to a full concerto or the complete Tales of Mystery and Imagination on iTunes. You run out of food at a fast food place and I have to wait a few minutes, ok. I’ll write some on a story I’m thinking about.

But today tested my limits. I made an appointment to see the orthopedist for today at 11:45 two weeks ago. I schlepped all the way down to Union Square, a place I truly, truly hate. So many horrible, inconsiderate people swarming just everywhere. People with baby carriages using them as force shields. A billion students walking down the sidewalk in lines all the way across the sidewalks. Aggressive panhandlers. Crappy box stores and hipster joints. Just awful. I hobble with my cane feeling like a salmon swimming upstream.

I get to the doctor’s office, and the buzzer is weird. It takes me a couple of minutes to figure it out. Maybe I’m just slow, but there was nothing intuitive about that thing at all. The assistant finally buzzes me in and I get upstairs. Very chic. I tell her I’m there for my appointment with Dr. (Insert Doctor’s Name Here) and she tells me she called all of the appointments on Friday. The doctor had an emergency.

Well, okay, but I didn’t get a phone call. I had emailed them and we corresponded that way. I gave them my phone number and made the appointment through that. I can’t take the crowds during morning rush hour, and I told them that too. All nice and written down in email. But I didn’t point that out. If the doctor was out, the doctor was out. No point in hashing over something that couldn’t be changed. She apologized to me and made another appointment, even though I’m sort of in a weird constant pain. Then she told me her name, and I knew it was the woman who I had corresponded with. Still, what could being cross with her accomplish. At least I could walk over a block and catch another bus uptown and it would just be a transfer.

Lucky me, I catch the bus fast. But even though I was the first person at the stop, people bum-rushed the door, and I had to get in line behind some woman that decided to chat up the driver while digging her transit card out of something that looked to be a tea cozy for a 20 gallon cauldron, but was actually a beach tote she was using as a purse. I get on and there’s a slew of people, non-handicapped (not that I am permanently handicapped, just temporarily I hope). I need those seats. I can’t hobble to the back of the bus while it’s moving, which by that time it was. I look at a young man sitting in one of those seats and ask him to move. Politely. The bus driver had to tell him to get up. Really. How was he raised? By wolves? I’m beginning to lose my patience.

So I’m riding along, letting the tension of the moment go, and looking out of the window. Zombies were everywhere. People have stopped looking where they are going and have instead taken up screen-gazing. I want to shout “You’re in New York city, you dolts! Look around you or go back to wherever you came from.” Really. Even obvious tourists were nose-deep in their phones.

A little old man gets on the bus. He has a large rolling walker. I mean huge rolling walker. I’ve seen big walkers, but this one is the biggest I’ve ever seen. He pauses at the driver, and people moved got up from the front seats. But that was’t good enough for him. He screamed obscenities because his wide load walker is actually bumping the sides of the passageway to the seats. He made a big deal out of it and finally sat down. Again, I tried to mellow out, and stared out of the window. The walking dead stumbled around on the sidewalks and I let that roll off. I can’t stop people from wasting their lives constantly updating Instagram. It makes me sad more than mad.

The bus turns off of Sixth Avenue onto Central Park South then onto Broadway at Columbus Circle. We stop by the Trump Monstrosity (formerly known as the Paramount Building) and something goes wrong with the computer or something technical. The driver has to wait. Okay. I don’t sweat that. It’s a beautiful day, and I’m just happy to be in a seat instead of walking and having my hips burn. We finally depart, but the driver was ordered to take the bus out of service. He has to put up the “Next Bus Please” sign, which means he can drop off passengers but he’s not supposed to take in any more. Oh well.

The bus veers off onto Amsterdam and stops to let people off at 72nd Street. A woman who had been waiting for the bus with her little snowflake child marches up to the open door. She doesn’t even give the driver time to say “Please take the next bus. This one is being taken out of service.” Instead the woman starts screaming, “I pay $160 a month! I’m getting on this bus!” She keeps it up while the bus driver tries in vain to reason with her. She pushes her kid on in front of her, maintaining her shriek. She drops her Metrocard into the slot and marches to the back of the bus, still yelling about how important she is, and how crappy the MTA is, and what a jackass the driver is, and how much money she pays for a Metrocard a month and how she has a car and could drive places faster than the bus.

The driver tries to get her to be quiet, but she keeps it up. He sighs and drives on. One, two, three, four stops he stops and because the cow won’t stop bellowing, he takes on more passengers. He’s just doing his job and the witch won’t really let him.

Now all this time I’m listening to Cannibal Corpse. Loud. It’s a coping mechanism I have. Thrash metal or death metal where the singer sounds like he’s making Satanic burps into a microphone and the band plays a G chord as fast as they can usually drowns out the hoopla. Not today though. The woman came through loud and clear.

So after I have tried to let things go all day, after I regained my composure and patience again and again, I had enough of her.

“SHUT THE FUCK UP! JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP!” I could barely control my mouth to form the words. I turned around to face the back where she and “Snowflake” were sitting. “CAN YOU SHUT UP? NO ONE CARES AND ALL YOU ARE DOING IS BEING FUCKING ANNOYING! SHUT THE FUCK UP!” My voice, which is usually quite high and edges on the effeminate came out of me like a testosterone-ladden pro-wrestler. It surprised me.

Maybe tomorrow I can have a stress-free day. I don’t have any appointments and I don’t have to go out into a loud, ruthless crowd that tries my very soul.

The Complexity Of Gender And Other Heroic Things

People are born intersex all the time, from those with “ambiguous” genitalia, genes that don’t match outward secondary sexual characteristics, and other physical variants from the “binary” norm. Geneticists studying the “traditional” XX/XY chromosomes that have been associated with gender determination have found in studies that there is more than just absolutes at work.

Years ago people used the term hermaphrodite to refer to children that were born with different types of genitals. That term came about because people didn’t fully understand what was going on with the physical characteristics of the baby. Hermaphrodite has mistaken connotations of being both fully male and fully female at the same time, which is a physical impossibility. Often these children were subjected to gender assignment surgery at an early age with the assumption that growing up “one way or another” would be the healthiest psychologically. This sometimes had disastrous results.

So with all the unknowns in genetics, all the myriads of ways people can branch out from the accepted norms, why is it so hard for some to accept that the same sort of thing could be happening to those that are transgender? In a world where there are multiple possibilities, where some people that have XX chromosomes can present as physically male, and some people that have XY chromosomes can look completely female, why is it so difficult to see that some people who look male, have male genetics, can have “female brains,” and vice versa? Is it because some people don’t fully understand the complexities of psychology and physiology? Is it because some think in a black and white manner about sexuality when it is really far more complicated than an either/or situation?

People are very, very quick to judge before they have all the information in a lot of situations other than gender and sexual identity. So it’s not really surprising that more than a few cannot or will not make the leap to understanding how someone can be transgender. They don’t see how difficult it can be for someone to understand and come to terms with their gender identity, and what a long process it can be. It took Caitlyn Jenner 65 years to come to full terms with self-acceptance and to present herself as she felt. The teenager Jazz Jennings who has her own “reality” show not only fights with her own self perception, she has to endure people that can’t or won’t understand her situation. Personally I think if we can call someone brave for their religious beliefs, or their career choices, or their sociological accomplishments, then we can call people like Caitlyn or Jazz heroes of a sort too. They are out there showing other people, other human beings with feelings and situations similar to theirs that they are not alone, that life can be good, and coming to terms with who you truly are is sometimes the bravest thing you can do.

Sanctuary Of The Poisoned Mind

I feel I’ve given up connecting with the congregation. Every Sunday morning I slip a black robe over my head, and put a stole around my neck, satin and smooth, brightly colored according to the liturgical calendar. And every Sunday morning I go up to the pulpit and guide everyone like a director leads an orchestra. Everyone knows their parts but I set the pace. The Methodist service is like the menu at McDonald’s- the same everywhere. Much easier than the free form Baptists where the preacher shouts and the church swoons at will.

          I raise and lower my hands. Everyone stands. Everyone sits. We recite the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Responsive Reading from the back of the hymnal. No one really sings the songs; they just read along in time with the music in a monotone that barely makes a breeze.
          Above my head is a vaulted ceiling with large and ancient octagonal chandeliers swaying like ominous pendulums over the congregation. Their action is almost hypnotic, giant metronomes of narcolepsy . The yellow glow from them doesn’t really light the church. There are modern spotlights that illuminate the pulpit and supplies the pews of people adequate light to read. Still the giant chandeliers send a message of quiet beauty to the sniffing sinners adorned in their Sunday best, like the beauty of a hearse slowly creeping to the grave. But the light isn’t warm, just a cold and lifeless ochre, bright but sulfur like a welding arch.
          Each Sunday the pews are spotted with the dozers and overzealous. There are wives in dresses and hats just fine enough to make their neighbors jealous. There are husbands who would rather be playing golf, their bored faces a daydream reflection of greens, clubs, and drinks from flasks. Little old women clutch worn leather bound Bibles with tissue pages curled. Most of the little old men are absent, already gone to glory. The old ladies are living in fear that each breath could be their last. They are wasting their fear on the inevitable.
       But this particular Sunday when I raise my arms up then lower them, when I direct the sparse spattering of the devout but rote, something tells me that it’s really for nothing, that going through the motions is just that, no thought or belief behind it. This feeling has been growing inside me, the only thing growing in my soul in fact. No understanding of the mystical, no realization of the divine spreads to fill my being- just an echoing void.
          Now a void is necessarily hateful. Where there is no love, there is only hate. Emotions work like material things. A bottle is always filled with something. Once it is empty of its contents, it filled with air. In the vacuum of space, the bottle is filled to the lip with potential. But an emotion like love and with it the physics being metaphysical, hatred spills over to fill the void. It is not replaced by disinterest, sadness, or any other human emotion or state of being. Absence of love creates hate.
          And I hate my robotic congregation.
          The air conditioning is on, but I am sweating anyway. My revulsion for everyone in front of me feels solid, like it sits in my hand, a small brittle bird that I can crush if I wanted. Instead of being inspired by their plights, in place of being sorrowful for their human sinfulness, I feel rage, anger at them for remaining the same group of intransigent fools they were four years ago when I was assigned to this church.
          I open my mouth, suddenly filled, and my voice booms out. “I would die for you. That’s what Jesus said. By taking that cross, by not divinely intervening to ease his own mortal pain, He took his sins onto Himself.
          “But what have you given Him in exchange for your salvation? You come here each Sunday morning exactly the same as you came here last week, last month, last year. You tithe exactly what you’ve always tithed, dressed in your Sunday best, ready only to hear what you want to hear. Your faces and hearts are stone that only eons of time will erode.”
          They all gasp. That took them by surprise as if one of the giant swaying chandeliers had crashed down into their sparse ranks. The sour looks on their faces tells me that they don’t like what they’re hearing.
          “Now, who among you is ready to meet God? Which one of you has cleared your conscience?”
          I know the video cameras up in the balcony are capturing everything. I raise my arms and feel my physical body dissolve, my robe falling to the ground, empty, a black hull molted and left behind. I see the congregation below me. This is going to go viral.

Evangelicals And Their Dilemma

“Evangelicals don’t dislike our gay and lesbian neighbors, and we don’t mean them harm.” -Russell Moore

Except they do. They want to deny gay people the civil institution of marriage. Who cares if they don’t want the ceremonies to be performed in their churches anyway? A civil marriage is a civil marriage. It comes with certain tax benefits, inheritance assumptions, health proxies, and respect. When the conservatives talked about “civil unions” and explained they’d be the same as marriage, they were merely parsing words. They were trying to tell gay people that they were, and would remain second class citizens.

Evangelicals like to claim that they “love” their gay neighbors, but when they go to church, their preachers teach them hatred. They like to perfume it up with “oh we hate the sin but love the sinner” and that is just not true. They hate people different from themselves. They despair diversity. You can hear them saying things like “If I hear one more person say ‘coexist’ I will scream!” I know. I’ve heard them say it.

They resent that America is doing what America has always done- changed. They espouse politicians that say “bring back our America” with a hint of their own naked hypocrisy. They claim to want to make America great again, but they’re unwilling to see the truths in history that we can learn from. They rewrite events, such as Sarah Palin famously did with Paul Revere’s ride, and think that the Constitution should remain as static as their own literalistic religion. There’s no room for growth and understanding, just a set of boundaries and parameters that they refuse to change. In ways they exhibit behaviors that are like children that don’t want to grow up. They understand things as they were and don’t want that understanding to be clouding by complexities that they don’t seem to desire to even think about for fear that they may have some unintended results from actually considering other ways of looking at things. Look at how they cling to the “unchanging word of God.” Except interpretations of the Bible have changed throughout the ages, and they are always the ones that want to cling to the past as if that is going to guarantee them some sort of edge in gaining immortality after death.

So yes, the conservative evangelicals do actually want to cause gay people harm. They want to continue lambasting gay rights and thinking “well, that doesn’t have anything to do with them personally and how I treat them” except that it does. Creating hostile atmospheres, accusing gay or marriage equality of causing great plagues, disasters, and blasphemy is a way of keeping the homosexual community in perpetual otherness. It diminishes gays while allowing conservatives to have some sort of perceived moral superiority.

Don’t let them fool you with this rhetoric. When they finally grow in their understanding, when they finally give up the last gasps of homophobia, they won’t have to fight so hard or pretend to justify themselves any longer.

Is Your God Supposed To Be The One Everyone Worships?

Since God is everywhere, why do so many people think that He can be taken out of some places? I wonder which god some people suggest we put back into government. An Abrahamic god? That covers Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. But what about a Hindu deity? Ganesh is super cool, and he has an elephant head. What about a goddess like Wiccans honor? Or maybe we can go far back to Odin. I mean you talk about wow factor, Odin’s got it.

Look folks, God and religion are not the same thing. As long as you have your faith, whatever that faith may be, God as you know Him (or Her) is always with you. Taking religious practices out of government allows everyone to participate in the process. If we started letting one religion and their practices in our government just where do we stop?

You can pray anywhere. You can silently do it sitting in school, sitting in a court, or even sitting in the driver’s seat of a police car. But when you start making a big show out of practicing your religion like praying on your knees in algebra class, or proselytizing in a town hall meeting, that’s where you have stopped taking God everywhere and started in on your personal practices.

Religious freedom, like freedom of speech, has some limitations to it. When your religious practices and views interfere with governmental procedure or infringe on someone’ else’s civil rights, you are not lawfully using your freedom. But it always seems to be a certain group of people that want to interject their faith’s practices into our civil government. It just seems to be a sector of people that are not thoughtful or pragmatic or even that moral about their practices. They would desire to force everyone to do things their way. And that’s just NOT THE WAY GOD IS SUPPOSED TO WORK. If you are made to practice a faith either by force or de facto through laws that do not separate church and state, that is not spreading God, but it is spreading human desire to be the only religion around. And that’s not religious freedom. It’s a theocracy.