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September 11, 2013 : Twelve Years Later

I didn’t wave any flags this year or post any inspiring patriotic posts on Facebook or Twitter. In fact, for the most part, I tried to avoid social and new media coverage. It’s twelve years after the 9/11 attacks that claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 innocent people and the images of that day — the feelings of loss and mourning — are still fresh in my mind.

Instead of letting others tell me how I should feel, remember or memorialize those events, I chose to grieve privately. I chose to focus on the memories of the lives that were lost, the families that were broken apart and the heroes that will not live to see another day.

I chose to remember the husbands, wives and children whose lives have been forever altered by that single moment in time– loved ones suddenly stolen from them. Their lives will never be the same — our world will never be the same.

In the days leading up to this anniversary, I heard people suggest that maybe it was time to move on. Tell that to families. Yes, it’s true that life goes on, must go on… but to suggest that we can, or should, put that day behind us, is not only insensitive but also ignorant and disrespectful.

History repeats itself when we choose to forget.

Last January, I was privileged to accompany a group of students to New York City and that visit included a visit to the 9/11 Memorial. A handful of those students had been in my play, September’s Heroes, a docu-drama surrounding the events of 9/11 in the fall of 2011. Even though we spent two months working, researching and then performing the play– I think it was still somewhat distant to them.

Visiting the 9/11 Memorial brought that all together.

Standing on that hallowed ground, realizing that the two massive pools were the footprints of where those two towers once stood and reading the names etched around those pools made it real for them. It was emotional. It was extremely emotional for me, seeing that link come together. It brought history to life for them– a moment in time that they were almost too young to remember.

There are now school-aged children who weren’t even born when those towers fell. They need to know what happened.

They need to know why we are talking about our rights to privacy, why there’s an ongoing war on terror and why they have to remove their shoes at airports. They need to know.

We are the memory of those that were lost. We are the link to that moment in history that has led to significant changes in all our lives.

We are the storytellers.

My First Annual Turkey Awards

I’m proud to present my 1st Annual Turkey Awards. (No offense to turkeys intended.) I noticed some other people were doing this, so I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon.

You know the people we’re talking about, right? The ones that say and do stupid things. They make bad and irresponsible decisions, violating the trust of the community.  And yes, I included businesses and groups because as we learned during the election (and apparently the Supreme Court agrees): Corporations are people.

Most of these are off the top of my head but I’m sure you can think of plenty of your own ‘turkeys‘ from the past year. (My list is in no particular order.)

John McCain for being the angriest, nastiest, most vindictive and dishonest man in politics this year.

The Entire Cable and Network News Media for disregarding unbiased reporting in favor of fear-based pandering.

Congress for not putting the best interest of the American people above their own special interests.

School District U-46 for putting cash over class. U-46 accepted a cash donation from a religious organization in exchange for priority use of the school district’s facilities. In one instance, giving them what they wanted pushed the BHS Fall Play out of its normal scheduled spot and shoved it in to the weekend before Thanksgiving. (There was more than a 50% drop in attendance with no classes the following week.) Contradicting it’s own written policies in the matter, U-46 put an outside group, not even based within the District’s boundaries, ahead of school programing.

All 2012 Political Campaigns for spending more than (an estimated) three billion dollars this campaign cycle. Imagine what could be done with that money to help our current economic situation and those in need.

The Obamacare Haters. Top Gobble Gobbles to John Schnatter, founder and CEO of Papa John’s; Denny’s franchise owner John Metz; and Apple-Metro CEO Zane Tankel for public threats made in response to the Affordable Healthcare Act. Threatening to add surcharges, cut hours and lay-off employees is not the way to build public confidence with consumers or employees. (Especially if you pay most of your employees minimum wage and no benefits, while you live in a 4o,ooo sq. ft. castle estate.)

Black Friday/Black Thursday Businesses for forcing employees to work on the Thanksgiving holiday, taking them away from their families in the name of profit margin. I, for one, am boycotting any business opening before midnight tonight, for the entire holiday season.

Celebrities Behaving Badly. Take your pick. I think any person that enters the public arena has a responsibility to be a role model to others, particularly our youth. Unfortunately, instead of being chastised and sent off into oblivion, they are given even more publicity and air time.

So that’s my list for this year. I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends. To all those that have to work, I salute you! Best Wishes!

Christians: Do You Remember How To Love?

This blog was extremely difficult to write. In a way, it is my response to the recent polarizing Chick-Fil-A controversy and heated religious debate over the 2012 presidential election. My intent in writing this was not meant to be accusatory but instead, a challenge to those that read it. –JL

I have only one question for all the self-identified Christians of the world: “Do you remember how to love?

I was raised on the Christian faith. For most of my first 18 years, if the church doors were open– my family was there. Yet, I was taught to believe interracial dating and marriage were wrong, homosexuality was wrong (it goes without saying that gay marriage was an abomination) and that basically, all other religions and even Christian denominations outside our own — were misguided and most likely would not reach the kingdom of heaven. I was taught Catholics were not true Christians and that the Baptist belief, once saved always saved was a fallacy.

In my late teens, I decided I wanted to change churches and go to my cousins’ church which was charismatic. My Dad was so angered by this decision, he told me I would have to move out if that’s what I chose. So I did. After some thought, he quickly reconsidered and came to the conclusion that as long as I was going to church… it was better than me not going at all and I was allowed to move back in.

Now at the age of 49, I am coming out as Agnostic. I’m not sure what to believe.

From my earliest childhood memories, I was taught to ‘Love one another‘. The Bible verse, one of many that repeat this phrase, comes from John 13:34:

I am giving you a new commandment to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (International Standard Version)

In preparing this blog post, the phrase ‘and the greatest of these is love‘ kept sticking in my head. So I had to look it up. The verse reads:

Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13, New Living Translation)

I was taught love the doer not the deed. Love the sinner not the sin. That’s Unconditional Love.

But where has it gone?

It is supposed to be the goal of all Christians to not only lead by example but also to witness and bring the hope of Christianity to the whole world. What I’ve seen in my lifetime, is the growing desire to create laws and alienate people that do not subscribe to the same belief system as those of the Christian faith. How is that demonstrating unconditional love? The gay rights movement is not about receiving special benefits above those of others. It is about seeking equality. Equality that is prevented by unnecessary laws created by Christian lawmakers in an effort to secure special rights for themselves and in effect, taking away the rights of others.

Marriage Equality is a legal issue, not a religious one. No one is trying to force churches to recognize, perform or accept marriage ceremonies in religious terms. Laws make marriage a legal contract and give many special benefits to married partners not available to unmarried couples. Tax breaks, issues over property ownership and healthcare are all brought into play. The Christian right campaigns and preaches against marriage equality because they believe it weakens the very definition of marriage and somehow impedes on their rights. It has become a hateful game of morality vs. legality… and exhibits anything but unconditional love.

This might be a good point to remind you that the origins of marriage were actually based on a man’s declaration of ownership of a woman. Marriage was not originally based on a religious contract with God.

The staggering divorce rate in our county is at 60% among those without an expressed religious affiliation but is still a huge 38% among those identified as practicing Christians. Maybe Christians could focus more on counseling and nurturing couples through those difficult times, sharing love and support with those that need guidance, instead of blocking loving partners from legally committing to one another.

The alienation that Christians are creating in the name of protecting their religious beliefs is having a devastating effect on the moral and religious fiber that was once tightly woven into our society. People are being driven away. Hate and fear is replacing love.

Religious Differences. The Religious Right has continued to accuse our President of being Muslim despite his identification as a Christian believer. They see that as a threat and fear that any religion unlike theirs, challenges their existence. Our country protects all religions and provides for their freedom to worship. The Christian proclamation that theirs is the only true religion is yet another example of hate and divisiveness in our country. More than ever, we need unity, compassion and acceptance.

Fear-Based Christianity has replaced the Christianity based on love and the teachings of Jesus Christ.

So where is the love? The saying goes, You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.  In that case, why are so many Christians so bitter? If only Christians could return to the basic concept of loving their neighbor instead of fearing them, there might actually be a chance of a Christian resurgence in America.

All  you need is love.

Political Rant: UNITED States of America?

The biggest thing that I have realized from the Republican and Democratic conventions is that the United States is anything but united. Whether the differences are separated by borders or by party and ideology– the leaders, or people that hope to lead our country are ignoring the basic fundamental rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Liberty and justice for all does not exist.

Why are the parties in our country constantly fighting the same battles over and over again? How hard is it to see that All Men Are Created Equal, means equal rights for all people– regardless of skin color… male, female… old, young… straight, gay… rich, poor… Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim…EQUAL. I am entitled to no more rights than you– and you have no more rights than me. EQUAL.

Do I really need to remind anyone that it wasn’t that many years ago that in some states it was illegal for Caucasians and African Americans to marry? Now the issue is gay marriage. What’s the big deal? The deal is that marriage, which was once strictly a religious commitment, has been made a legally binding contract with rights and privileges. Eliminate the legal benefits of marriage and the problem is solved. No one is asking for a church to be forced into marrying a couple whose union does not agree with that church’s beliefs.

A side note: I actually heard a TV preacher back-tracking on the issue of interracial marriage last week, claiming the church was never against it in theory— but that in biblical times, it was forbidden solely to protect Jesus’ bloodline from being polluted!

Too many Americans feel they are uniquely entitled to something… marriage benefits, welfare, tax breaks, special privileges, wealth… Entitlement does not spell Equality. It amazes me that there are people that actually believe the upper class are wealthy people because they work harder than the middle and lower class. Unfortunately, our country is unfairly dominated by the upper class.

We live in a country where people will sue for anything because they are entitled. Who wins? The person who can pay the best lawyer. Money talks. How is that fair and equal?

I don’t think it’s right to penalize someone for being rich but they should have to pay their fair share of taxes, as should the poor. Wealth people can spend their money any way they like… if they choose to give back to their community– even better. They don’t need to be rewarded for it. Poor people can spend their money how they want as well– but shouldn’t expect handouts if they choice to use their resources foolishly and live beyond their means. The existing class structure is killing our country and entitlement is at fault.

I took a political quiz yesterday that suggested my political leanings ranked in the following order: Democrat, Green, Libertarian, and finally, Republican (a distant 20% from the other three parties; Democrat, ranking 89%.) Does this mean that I hate, or am against anyone that is Republican? Absolutely not. But, as an educated and fairly knowledgeable person, I just can’t understand, or agree with the philosophies and platform of the Republican party. What’s worse, I can’t understand why Republicans can’t verbalize the grounds of their beliefs or justify their actions.

I grew up in a Republican household. In my first election, I voted a straight Republican ticket, but it was because I was uninformed. I simply tied ‘Republicans’ with religion and what was right and ‘Democrats’ with sin and all that was wrong with the country. Ignorant, huh? I didn’t know any better. I wasn’t mature enough to think for myself and let others tell me what was right and wrong.

The Republicans constantly babble on and on about smaller government, yet their beliefs and ideals force the need for more laws and bigger government to protect and provide for those that are victimized for not holding the same beliefs and ideologies. In addition, at least the past three Republican administrations have grown bigger government, increased the national debit and added many jobs to the public sector but not the private sector as they claim is their goal.

What has happened to the separation of Church and State? The Republicans have made a big deal over the fact that the Democratic platform didn’t initially mention God. It’s my belief that politics and religion shouldn’t mix. Religious freedoms are protected by our Constitution and that should be enough. The insinuation that the Democratic party, as a whole, is against religious freedom is ridiculous. It just shouldn’t play a role in politics.

The Republicans claim their biggest concern is the nation’s economy, yet from past examples and current lack of a communicated plan, they are only concerned with their own assumed wealth and prosperity. Which is also amusing, considering that many people that side with the Republican party are not wealthy– but continue to support people who are only concerned with making the rich, richer and which does nothing to improve their own quality of life. As former President Clinton pointed out in his speech to the DNC last night, with what little is known about the Republican economic plan– do the arithmetic and the numbers don’t add up.

I don’t want anyone to think that I drank the Kool-Aid and believe the Democrats are perfect– far from it. I do believe that most of what they strive to achieve is to build a better, stronger and unified America. Our country has to work together for the good of all people.

It should be the goal of all good Americans to contribute to their communities in the best way they can. Some people are wealthier, some are better educated, some are more creative and some are better organizers. If we all worked together and shared our collective strengths– think of what an amazing country this would be!

In this election year, I encourage everyone to do their own research, make their own decisions and stop taking people’s word for granted on the important issues. Look at the facts and do the math. You might be surprised at the solution to the equation.