Making America Great Again

I’m always confused with this statement, what part of America should be great again? The statement itself implies that “greatness” actually occurred at least once, albeit in the past, but doesn’t really clarify what we’re trying to accomplish. We had less technology in the past, but I’m sure we all don’t want to ditch our flat screen televisions and go back to a twenty-one inch cathode ray tube. Technology also gave us lots of advancements in medicine, and we’re fighting disease better than ever before. Cars are nicer too… and what about Alexa? Do we really want to start using light switches again? Isn’t that so 1900? So yeah it must be something else. So what part of America, and when, does this campaign slogan refer to? Has anyone ever really asked?

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue and discovered the new world. Not too long afterwards, the indigenous people of this land began to die from newly introduced diseases, and those that survived, were forced to covert to Christianity. Those that refused were killed, tortured, or a combination of both. Entire civilizations and cultures were wiped off the map, and any that remained were scrubbed of reminders which connected them to their past. Most of the Mayan texts written in “glyphs”, were destroyed because they looked like satanic drawings according to a Catholic Priest named Diego de Landa. All but three remain, however he succeeded to the point where the knowledge to understand and interpret these writings were lost until just recently. So yeah, the beginnings of the America’s weren’t the greatest. Okay so let’s move on and continue our search for the “great” part.

The Declaration of Independence gets signed in 1776 and our country is off to a brave new start. The thirteen colonies begin to build the greatest nation in the world using… slave labor. So not such a great time either. African slaves were a huge commodity, and according to teachhistory.org, as much as twenty percent of the population during the American Revolution was African American. The White House itself was built with slave labor and in some states such as South Carolina, the amount of slaves outnumbered whites. Thankfully the horrors of slavery were recognized by many, including Abraham Lincoln, and the abolitionist movement gained momentum. Not so great was that much of our country thought we should keep slavery going strong, and we went to war over it. Hundreds of thousands of people died defending the right to keep human beings as slaves… a scary thought.

Looking at the diversity represented in the list of Democratic candidates is a sign of how great we’ve become. Photo Credit: Washington Post

As we continue to look through history we come upon the days of the American Pioneer. This was the time of Conestoga wagons and brave souls eager to build our nation into something… great. So this must be it! This is when America was great! Oh wait, there’s one small problem… Native Americans. Yes, the glorified days of “cowboys and Indians” was really a genocide in progress. Having been pushed further and further west, the native populations that survived first contact were being brutally slaughtered and pushed into reservations. This kept occurring until the very last were all rounded up and forced off their lands. Okay so maybe this isn’t the great America we’re looking for, maybe it’s somewhere else.

Let’s move past this… ah yes, finally I think this is it. It’s 1969 and the first man lands on the moon and he’s American and our country is truly great. That must be the “great again“… it most definitely has to be. I knew beehives and flattop hair styles were coming back, but I didn’t know this was the reason. Yes… let’s all make this time, the time of the giant “leap” of mankind… the great time, and we’ll all be one happy family again. Unless of course you’re black. Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot only a year before and there were still bathrooms labeled “whites only.” Elizabeth Ann Thompson from progressive.org wrote that even after Brown vs The Board of Education, she was attending segregated schools 12 years later. To this day, racism is alive and well in this nation, something that many, including myself, thought was finally coming to an end with the election of Barack Obama as president. So unfortunately for us as a nation, this wasn’t such a great time for all people… although we were working hard at it.

As we continue to move closer to the present day, perhaps we’ll find our “great” period that we’re trying so hard to get back to again. We’re in the 1980’s and we have a reusable space craft called the space shuttle and things are looking up. However, there’s a disease that’s mysteriously killing off a very select group of people in our nation, most of which are homosexual. The disease ravages the human immune system and people die slowly as the body’s ability to fight off the slightest infection is destroyed. The disease is easy to spot in the later stages, as mostly gay men begin to waste away and develop skin lesions all over their body. The cause for this disease is unknown and extremely scary, so much so that mass graves exist to this day where bodies were carelessly disposed, since funeral homes refused to work with infected corpses. It was labeled acquired immune deficiency syndrome or AIDS, and along with it came a huge stigma…. world wide. The religious right boasted that AIDS was a punishment from God, something that even today is repeated by those that claim to be persons of faith and preach the unconditional love of Christ. Homophobia was at an all time high in the 80’s thanks to AIDS, and the future didn’t look so good for millions of LGBTQ Americans across the country. So much for the 80’s being the target for “great again.”

I kept trying to find the “great” in America and it was tough. There are so many countless examples of how this country has screwed its own citizens over or even experimented on them. We have intentionally infected black men with syphilis, detonated atomic weapons just outside of populated areas, given massive corporations the ability to poison our water and our air… so when WAS America great?

And then I realized it.

America being great isn’t some ideology or even some time… on the contrary it’s about people. It’s about the people that saw what was wrong with the way we were thinking and put everything on the line to change it. That’s what makes America great. It’s about Rosa Parks refusing to take a seat in the back of the bus, or Madame CJ Walker starting her own line of cosmetics and becoming the first female millionaire despite racial inequality. It’s about men forming a group called “ACT UP” to raise awareness about AIDS. It’s about the courage of people to march and be heard. It’s about the countless men, women and children that crossed oceans to call America home with nothing in their pockets but a dream… many of whom we call our grandparents. It’s about the men and women that gave their lives to confront fascism and keep our nation free. It’s about how we have overcome darkness and continue to move towards the light in countless ways. That’s what makes America great and if you want to make it great… again, then open your window and look outside because it’s here and it’s now. People make America great, especially the ones that have worked hard to overcome our dark history.

It’s easy to become discouraged by watching the news and seeing what’s going on. As I’m writing this, there’s so much non-stop anger and fear out there. However, if you change your perspective, you’ll realize that the absence of anger and fear would indicate we’ve stopped moving toward the light. And that’s not the case. We’re mobilized and we haven’t slowed down in the slightest amount. We have young people with amazing voices spreading a message to end gun violence. Right now, there’s over twenty Democratic presidential candidates and they include six women, a gay man, people of color and multiple ethnicities! How GREAT is that? We have followers of the Islamic faith elected to public office and there’s so many of us screaming “NO KIDS IN CAGES!!!” Now that’s great!!!!! And how great is it that so many are upset about current environmental policies and the numbers of people that are talking about climate change? It’s unbelievable!

America being great isn’t some ideology… on the contrary it’s about people. It’s about the people that saw what was wrong with the way we were thinking and put everything on the line to change it.

The slogan “Make America Great Again” is really about going back to outdated ideologies and dark times. No matter how strong our military or how good our economy is, if we can’t strive for equal rights and safety for all, regardless of the many different attributes that make us unique, then we’re not even near greatness. If you think referring to the days where opportunity and rights were basically only for straight white men, then your goal has nothing to do with making America great again, it’s about pulling it backwards. The truth is, everyone who’s ever fought to overcome those kinds of ideologies and practices… they are the great ones. They are the reason we were always great and always will be. And there’s more of them now than ever… that’s why there’s so much noise. It’s actually a really good thing, silence would mean death to our democracy as we know it. As long as we continue to push the envelope and bring the darkness into the light, we will win and our nation will thrive.

Keep fighting the good fight. We owe it to the many that paved the way before us.

Biblical Interpretation Goes Mainstream

Perhaps one of the greatest strengths of the Bible is that a single verse can be translated in hundreds of ways. Indeed there are over 450 translations of the English Bible alone… that’s 450 ways to word the same phrase. Then your favorite pastor, preacher, bishop, priest, rabbi, etc. will come along and tell you what he or she feels it means. With this is mind, it can be said with utmost certainty that there is no absolute truth in religion, it’s just a matter of perspective. There isn’t a way to actually prove anything in a faith based practice since it’s exactly that… faith based. Some take it to the point of often stating “it says in the bible that you shouldn’t (insert potential sin here)” and that alone has to suffice for everyone in the room. A single sentence, plucked out of the middle of scripture without regard for context, carries enough weight to determine everyone else is absolutely wrong, and are subsequently doomed to hell. As it was once made clear to me… “the bible says the dead know nothing of the living..” when I wondered as a teenager if my relatives were proud of me in heaven. Indeed, Ecclesiastes 9:5 does seem to state that fact, however it was actually being used to describe a particular perspective and not to be taken in the literal sense. I didn’t offer a rebuttal… heaven help anyone who ever disagreed with a bible verse quoted by a Southern Baptist holding a glass of sweet tea, while sitting on a plastic covered sofa cushion. It’s just not done.

Modern Christians read the words of Christ, but they do not translate into action or behavior.
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You Either Have Freedom, Or You Don’t.

Last weekend I made myself a really nice grass fed steak dinner and then sat down with a bottle of wine to watch a movie. I would normally do this with my partner Eric, but since he was working on Saturday I resorted back to a ritual coined in HBO’s Sex and The City as “secret single behavior.” This is a practice you perform over and over again when no one is around, and cooking myself a really nice dinner is one of those things I love doing… even when alone. I was really in the mood for the something British, as I often am, and while scrolling through NetFlix I discovered a film called “The Duchess.” Starring Keira Knightly, this movie chronicles the marriage of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, to her husband William Cavendish, the 5th Duke of Devonshire. Early in the film, the Duchess states during a dinner party “One is either free or one is not, the concept of freedom is an absolute.” This in response to a statement made by one of the Duke’s guests. It got me thinking… and it’s still working its magic on me days later.

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Being A Leader, A Follower, Or Both

I have a friend that sometimes annoys the hell out of me when she says:

“That person is such a follower, they’re not a leader, they just do what ever that other guy wants. They can’t think for themselves.”

The names have been removed to protect the innocent.

I’m sure you’ve heard this before and sometimes I even question myself and wonder where I fall in this scenario. Am I a leader? Or a follower? Do I just take orders and advice blindly, or do I put some thought into it first? Most recently, while pondering the cracks in my ceiling before falling asleep, (okay there are none, but it sets a mood) I realized it’s beneficial to be a little bit of both. We should know when it’s best for us to let our inner leader shine and take command, and know when to let someone else do the driving, be the follower we need to be, and learn a thing or two. Sometimes we might even realize that we’re following to a point that we’ve stopped thinking for ourselves, and that’s not a good thing. When we do that, we give up a part of who we are, a slice of our identity, a hand it over to someone that may or may not know what’s in our best interest. That sort of following can be seen in many areas of society, most notably in religious organizations and political affiliations.

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Still Stronger Together

This past week it seemed like Americans took a huge leap backwards in time, and in human progress. We saw scenes unfold on live television that we thought were only reserved for documentaries and high-school history class. We heard angry words from the mouth of our elected leader, the President of The United States of America, refusing to condemn those representing a way of thinking which humanity attempted to extinguish in World War II. So many lives lost on a global scale, so many families broken… all disgraced by someone that has proven to be the antithesis of leadership and what it means to hold the office. Our nation is angry and justifiably so. We are all witnessing the very destruction of American principles and freedoms we have come to cherish as citizens of this country. In the processes, we’re also seeing that hate and vitriol is contagious, and we’re turning on our own friends and neighbors, accusing them of putting this monster in office, all too eager to pick up the first stone and cast it. We’re also forgetting American values, like democracy and the freedom to choose, in an effort to assign blame. Ironically, the words of Hillary Clinton are more relevant now than ever, “We’re stronger together.”

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One of the Coolest Experiences in My Life

One Saturday morning in July, I was making breakfast, watching the small TV in the corner of the kitchen. My toast was ready, the eggs were almost done and I was watching the news, something I rarely do anymore. They began interviewing people that were waiting in line at Florida International University to see Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton and Senator Tim Kaine at a campaign rally. They mentioned in the story that you could still get a ticket to see her and I began thinking if I should go or not. The university was maybe a 20 minute drive away at best and perhaps I would make it in time if I left right away. She wasn’t going to speak for another couple of hours at least. I thought maybe I would attempt to get a ticket online and see what happened. For sure it would be fully booked and I would have an excuse not to go and that would settle my indecision. Well it wasn’t and I printed out my ticket rather quickly and easily. I don’t know why I was so stressed about going. I wanted to be a part of history and I wanted to meet the woman I’d be voting for…once again.

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