Wednesday, December 24, 2008

In Honor of Christmas: The Truth About What Threatens Our Families

My daughter insisted. With this her first year of driving, on her way home from dance, she had decided to meander through the blocks of Christmas-lit homes, and found something she needed to share. So, we took a detour.

And what a sight it was. The family in this house, in this quaint neighborhood, took the genre to a new level of artistry, using the already interesting, multilevel shapes of landscaping, pottery, ironworks and exquisitely framing tall thin trees, with lights carefully selected and meticulously placed, to create a brilliant gift to those fortunate enough to live nearby or discover it in their journeys.

One can even imagine its glow as a beacon of love. For truly, it takes love to express such beauty for all to see freely.

This home, so illuminating, can be seen as a brilliant expression of the Light of the Christ Consciousness, and the message that that brings – the one we should be celebrating, and honoring in our own lives, in our daily actions and in our communities:

Emanating Light – Is that not the essence of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you? Couldn’t we call that "PRE-EMPTIVE KINDNESS"?
I am also reminded of the concept of Christ as the "Light of the World" – not only as a guiding beacon for others to better see, but as an individual way of looking at the world, along the lines of the adage, "Angels can fly because they take themselves so lightly."

To me, that Light speaks of Forgiveness, the ultimate healer.

I speak of the Forgiveness that begins at home. Long before there were organizations that receive donations and help the needy, "charity" meant "leniency in judging others". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition includes among its definitions for the word charity: "Christianity. The theological virtue defined as love directed first toward God but also toward oneself and one’s neighbors as objects of God’s love."
"I forgive myself completely for being so judgmental" – is a powerful starting point.

So this artistry, this beautifully lit home, has taken my mind – always busy with gathering news, retrieving memories, connecting dots, assigning priorities, sorting time, keeping on track, holding together multitudes of responsibilities, adjusting, adjusting, adjusting -- has taken my mind and given it a higher focus, attached with my heart, to ponder the universal truth I too often forget, the truth that is the reason we have this holiday season.

All is healed with the Thought, brought forth as Action: Treat others as we wish to be treated.

Christians acknowledge Christ as the bearer of that knowledge. That is the gift.

That same concept, in different words, is at the heart of the world religions. The message is the same. The mistake is in getting distracted by everything else.

All this from looking at some very carefully placed light bulbs.

I am reminded of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Defense of Poetry, in which he describes the role of Poetry in the world: "A Poem is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth."

Thus this moment, with this poetic lighting, and all that was brought forth because of it, has been added to the wealth of encircling memories that constantly enliven my relationship with my daughter, and we are once again enriched with hope.

I am so grateful that my daughter had brought me to this glorious creation of Christmas color and light. This is a moment we will never forget.

As we drove away, both a bit lighter, I said to my daughter, "What do you want to bet it’s a gay couple who lives there?"

Now, my good reader, take a moment and notice your reaction.

I guarantee you that I did not suggest this probability with so much as a kilowatt of negativity or detraction – nor was there anything in the comment that should take anything away from this holy experience.

If anything, there could be insight and, perhaps, a recognition of irony.

With these words, I am simply acknowledging a pattern, evidenced throughout history: Those whose masculine/feminine balance is less polarized, and whose creative energy is not completely invested in raising children, are often more able, perhaps even more driven, to focus on producing complex, inspired – even profound – Art, in a vast array of genres.

In my life’s travels, I have been very blessed with many gay friends and co-workers – friends who have been both compassionate and strong, communicative and productive, generous and creative, funny and soul-shaking, warm and determined – the best qualities you could ever want in a friend – especially when they aren’t concerned about being judged. These are friends for whom I am most grateful.

Such friends have also been great role models. At the age of 11, my daughter told me, after great consideration, who were the three friends of mine she most respected and loved. Two of the three were gay. All three rated so highly because of their forthright communication with her, their wit, their independence, their commitment to their dreams, and their own standards of excellence. Oh yes, and to an inherent kindness. Her pronouncement was another bit of evidence that we’re on the right track.

We drive home. Traveling those three blocks, we hope to retain what we’ve just gained. Lately, life, at home, has been, well, not so easy. The tension my husband and I are feeling about finances has become pervasive and our fears darken too much of what we say and do, often spoiling moments of joy over the many positive aspects of our lives. It is so saddening to continually miss that connection we used to be able to find.

There are no Christmas lights on our house. Though we have many, in boxes, and my husband used to do a great job of it, it’s been a few years now since he’s made the effort, despite my bringing home the new, even easier, blankets and wraps and icicle lights. And I’m too busy trying to take fit in my own ample Christmas responsibilities. Daddy has always been in charge of lighting, because he’s good at it. I believe it made him feel good, too – the challenge, and the accomplishment, and how happy it made me.

But the spark is dimmer now. There is, too often, grumbling. There is tension. There is blame. Because most of all, there is fear – of what’s ahead, of where this will take us, of separation.

It turns out we are living a statistic in the headlines. We are behind in the mortgage on the house we’ve been in for 17 years. The sad relief is that we are not alone. But if that is true, that means there are many family homes this Christmas where there is grumbling, tension, blame, and most definitely – fear.

There is a line that is drawn, for us, that I am grateful for. There is NO physical abuse. That is understood here. Other families, facing these conditions, and worse, are far less fortunate.

We have our own story as to how we got here, to our financial problems. There have been mistakes, yes, but in our case, the mistakes that have been most damaging involved trusting a family member. Those mistakes hurt a lot, not only in the initial damage that occurs, but in the rejection and sadness of the betrayal, and ultimately the lack of justice, regardless of honest efforts, and finally there is empty loneliness. When also topped with accusations and blame, it can be devastating, far beyond the money.

But the money does matter. The threat of foreclosure also means the threat of separation. For how could we survive such a ripping apart of our foundation when we have been so hurt along the way? And if we separate, do we not face greater financial difficulties, along with the tearing of our hearts?

Then just when we negotiate something with the mortgage company, my husband’s wages are garnished for some medical bill left after his quadruple bypass surgery last December. It used to be that hospitals and their doctors wouldn’t come after you like that. They wouldn’t add late fees and interest. There was some humanity in medicine. No more. Now, thanks to industry lobbyists, laws have been changed to favor corporate profit over patient well-being.

Apparently, the flow of blood is the only thing that must function in the human heart, according to these standards.

So now there are hundreds of thousands of foreclosure stories across the country, and though some pundits would like us to believe they are the result of irresponsible decisions made by irresponsible people who don’t deserve to be helped, each story is unique, and if someone listened, they’d hear narratives that reflect the kinds of hopes and dreams we’re taught to believe in.

Why, lately, we’ve learned that even responsible, high-functioning, educated, and certifiably successful people can suddenly find themselves crashing financially, losing in one fell swoop chunks of money large enough to have kept thousands of regular people in their homes. Where’s the 50 billion dollars that Madoff "lost"? These victims aren’t going to put up with it. Now, we’ll see if attention is paid where it needs to be.

The U.S. economy is now based on the wheeling and dealing of the Financial Industry rather than manufacturing and production. What is the role of American citizens in this economy? They are merely debtors. Without the work that production requires, eventually the debtors cannot pay. Thus, the manic, insatiable greed of the few has reached its point of self-destruction.

The problem began to build under the rationale of trickle-down Reaganomics, then "the precious" attracted eager Democrats as well, and with everyone aboard, Wall Street lobbyists began to succeed in pulling down regulatory restraints, even gaining significant ground with a foolish Clinton’s approval.

However, the greatest damage has come with the utter disregard for safeguards and ultimate support for illegitimate financing by the Bush/Cheney White House. What a pair.

George W. Bush is a man who mismanaged a series of failing oil companies, always rescued by investors seeding favors from his father. He didn't make the big bucks until he illegally dumped his shares in Harken Energy just before the release of an adjusted accounting statement to the shareholders that revealed the company was tanking. An SEC investigation into these criminally corrupt trading practices was dismissed because, by then, Daddy had loaded the Securities and Exchange Commission with chums from James Baker’s infamous Texas law firm – Baker & Botts.

As for Dick Cheney, while it is well known that he was the CEO of Halliburton between Bush administrations, and that this connection undoubtedly increased Halliburton’s worldwide contracts, it is less widely acknowledged that his biggest move as CEO, the acquisition of Dresser industries, widely advertised as a win/win that created the world’s largest oil services company, came at an enormous price to Halliburton shareholders, with Dresser having been notified that one of its subsidiaries would be subject to legal liability for medical claims from employees exposed to asbestos. Cheney’s exit from Halliburton was well-time, allowing him to sell his stock in the company at $50 a share, to the tune of $40 million, before the asbestos issue was publicly known. By August 2002, the stock continually hovered in the $13 a share range.

These are the economic practices of our leaders, our role models.

On Sunday, December 21st, the top headline of the front page of The New York Times read "White House Philosophy Stoked Mortgage Bonfire". The almost 5,000-word article delineates the disastrous combination of two of Mr. Bush’s policies.

First, there was his naive but outspoken push for expanded home ownership, especially to provide minorities with a sense of hope and belief in the stated goal of the Republican party - an "ownership society", as well as providing business for some of his biggest donors, the finance industry – even pushing "the mortgage brokers and lenders to devise their own innovations" which resulted in "too good to be true teaser rates and interest- only loans".

Second, there was his other enormous reward for his short-sighted donors – the deregulating, or the defunding and elimination of those who in charge of regulating, of the finance industry. To keep this loosening of the rules moving required a silencing of the alarms that went unheeded, and deliberate overstatement of well-being. The man Mr. Bush most recently put in charge of the Treasury, Henry Paulson, who demanded of Mr. Bush more power in economic policy than any Treasury secretary before him, appeared to be particularly good at controlling the message, until it was too late.

Apparently, bottom line, if the top 1% of the money earners get so greedy that they suck too much away from the remaining 99%, then they just can’t buy anything from them or pay them back any more. It all stops.

Then, shaken by low sales and loss of revenue, companies scramble to cut costs and dump tens of thousands of employees, making for more people who absolutely can’t buy anything or pay debts. And those who were trying to buy into the ownership society are now competing against multitudes of overqualified and desperate Americans for a rapidly diminishing number of decent jobs.

Two weeks ago, here in the United States, the Labor Department announced that there were 533,000 jobs eliminated in November, the worst single job-loss statistic in nearly 30 years. What will these people do?

The problem is, Americans don’t even know, or think they can know, how they got here. In his book, Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism, the brilliant historian Kevin Phillips argues that the southern and western constituents of Bush’s conservative coalition have, over the last two decades, been anesthetized by "evangelical, fundamentalist and Pentecostal Christianity, infused with a millenial preoccupation with terrorism, evil and Islam that greatly strengthened after September 11th."

The most irritating, pathetic aspect amidst this painful disaster is that those who have brought the American economy to its knees and left responsible heads of households desperate, frightened, and angry, without clear solutions – have simultaneously distracted these Americans by pointing to single, divisive issues, arming them with self-righteousness, and urging them to gain the power they feel they’ve lost by standing up for some false claim of moral superiority.

This is how we have come to a point where religious pomposity has been encouraged to pursue a ridiculous, unnecessary and uncivil political action which actually crushes compassion, usurps freedom, and heartlessly seeks to blame and punish gay people by taking away the redeeming solace of a sacred loving, monogamous, marriage between two adults.

Not only did Proposition 8 pass in California, funded enormously by out of state money from evangelists and members of the Mormon Church, taking away the right of gay couples to marry – those same people are also seeking to dissolve the thousands of marriages that have already been sanctified there.

This is the point. What exactly is the real threat to marriage and families?

Statistics show that unemployment increases violence, not just theft as a measure to provide (ask Jean Valjean), but domestic violence. Simply Google-News "domestic violence" and economy together and you’ll see the reports of increased incidents within the home, even while services are being cut back for lack of funding, both from the federal government, and now from the usual donors: collapsing corporations and the foundations demolished by Bernie Madoff. It is another fiendishly dangerous unintended consequence of Bush policies, which are, beyond a doubt, the most destructive threat to families.

On a seemingly smaller level, unemployment increases depression, which may not lead all the way to violence. But it certainly is extraordinarily destructive to families. It’s just slower, harder to define, and leaving more blame all around, and often results in years of painful suffering by so many.

Being thrown out of a home can lead to separation of families, damages education and limiting possibilities for the young, and forces desperate, often criminal acts. Overqualified adults scrambling for jobs displace the working poor and teens. Children become discouraged at an early age.

The damaging effect on families of this unnecessary, mismanaged, greed-based economic disaster will be felt for generations to come.

While my gay friends’ marriages are statements of stability, and at last honor the kind of love that doesn’t require progeny to keep it together.

So I return to photograph the Christmas-lit home that so inspired me. Some of these neighbors here must feel torn. You see, this neighborhood is overwhelmingly Mormon, of course, given that it is in the heart of Salt Lake City.

Only blocks away is the locally-owned grocery store where, on election day, the middle-aged woman who rang up my purchase answered my "How are you doing today?" with, "We’ll see. I’ll know tonight if I have to leave my church. You see, I’m gay."

It was an astonishingly bold admission here. I felt privileged by her honesty. I know so many who are so hurt by the decision of their church’s leadership to go beyond an already un-Christ-like judgment, to an aggressive, hurtful stance, causing more damage within families than ever does the love they choose to blame.

In fact, Utah leads the nation in suicide rates amongst men ages 15-24.
Yet there is hope. A leading Mormon writer and performer, Carol Lynn Pearson, shocked the community in 1986 with her book, Goodbye I Love You, in which she revealed that her husband, Gerald, the father of her children, had left her after he admitted he could not deny his being gay, then died in her arms years later when she brought him home to care for him as he succumbed to AIDS.

She has spent the decades since diligently communicating in every way possible to heal the judgments within families.

In 2006, her play, Facing East, was produced in Salt Lake City, drawing full houses and tearfully cathartic audiences, as she revealed a Mormon couple at the graveside of their gay son who had ended his own life, first dealing with their own mixed bag of guilt and relief, and then meeting for the first time their son’s partner. The production also traveled to Off-Broadway in New York and San Francisco, where it was also extremely well received.

But the best result for me was this. My daughter said there was a new fellow at their school, in her Drama class. They hit it off immediately, and it wasn’t long before he told he was gay, but it wasn’t going well with the family. In fact, he said that the recent family move from out of state was at least in part because of his relationship with another young man.

When I first considered writing about Proposition 8, I looked for our copy of the play, Facing East, only to find out that our daughter had loaned it to this young man, who was looking for material for a monologue.

His mother found the book in his room. It stopped her in her tracks. She sat down and read it, and wept. Since then, his life has changed for the better.

That’s all a writer can ever ask for. I know. For, I, too, hope that I’ve said something well, and that it is read, despite (or because of) discomfort, and as a result, someone see things differently.

I return to Percy Bysshe Shelley, who states, in conclusion:
The most unfailing herald, companion, and follower of the awakening of a great people to work a beneficial change in opinion or institution, is poetry.

This is my gift to you, dear reader: the truth, so you can share it, and together we can more accurately align cause and effect, and embrace our families.

Remember, forgiveness is essential in families. So is accountability and indictment in government.

As for our own problems, I know we will find a way to reconnect. There is still hope. Yes, we can.

With this I wish you a Merry Christmas, and for those who do not celebrate Christmas, I encourage remembrance and celebration of the Thought and directive itself within all the world’s versions of the Golden Rule.

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