A Little Less Conversation…

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I don’t like guns and I particularly dislike violence. Not in fictional movies or in real life. Death, murder and variations thereof scare me. So when there are mass murders in the U.S. every few months, usually at a school, I immediately wonder – what is the price of making it just a bit more difficult to buy an assault weapon or even a handgun.

There are many who disagree and I get it. It’s nothing for me to give up a bit of gun rights because I want nothing to do with them. Still, that doesn’t mean my viewpoint is wrong. For instance, I’d be happy to pay more taxes in exchange for universal health care. I already have health care so one could argue, using that line of reasoning, why should I volunteer to pay for it for someone else? Especially when it hasn’t been proven that it will absolutely reduce costs or save lives. Well, because it’s the right thing to do. And it has been proven theoretically.

#MileyTruth

#MileyTruth

In the case of guns, no theoretical proof is necessary to argue that at the very least 1 or maybe even 2 lives will be saved if we institute some sort of more stringent rules. It is self-evident the way one can assume a peach left out in the sun on a sweltering day will eventually rot. Well, I don’t know about you but 1 or 2 lives spared from a barrage of bullets are more than enough for me. Just as saving one or two more people from death due to some terrible disease because they can now afford to go to a doctor is enough for me to fork over just a little bit more to Uncle Sam.

This brings up an interesting question – how much time do I want to spend with those who have opposing points of view? I don’t mean in public discourse, at a party or among members of my extended family. Rather I wonder – what is the deal breaker for including people in our close-knit circles? Or even your extended perimeter?   I mean, as the victims of the latest shooter in Oregon might now say to us – “your time is limited. Make the most of it. “

So I ask again – how many hours, days, weeks or years do you want to expend on those whose viewpoints go against the core of what you believe?

Reality

Reality

And now bear with me – I’m getting to Pope Francis. Yes, I just can’t let it go.

He seems like a nice fellow and certainly SAYS all the right things. But as a very wise psychotherapist told me years ago – if you want to understand who someone is or what they want, look at what they do. Consider their actions.

This bromide has also served me well as a dramatic writer. The core of someone’s character is not what they SAY. People say all sorts of things. It’s easy – you just open your mouth, or write it down, and words come out. But doing takes a bit more effort. It’s harder to take an action – especially when you get past middle age, which my almost 87 year old father tells me all the time. So when a 78 year old man like Pope Francis takes certain actions I, in turn, take it very seriously.

Like.

Like.

It’s all well and good for this man to not openly condemn gays and lesbians on his recent U.S. trip but what he actively DID last week in the nation’s capitol was have a SECRET meeting with a Christian woman who broke the law by refusing to do her $80,000 a year job as county clerk and issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. This got the LGBT community up in arms because many assumed his recent words about us – who am I to judge – meant something. Well, they do. But his actions meant more.

Still sting, Frankie.

Still stings, Frankie.

In a p.r. counter punch to the backlash from his meeting with Clerk Davis was the Vatican announcing two days later that Pope Francis also met with a former student of his from many years ago who is gay – AND his partner of 19 years – on the same trip. Is this the equivalent? Um, well, not really. The equivalent would be him calling in, say, Dan Savage and his husband and child. Or perhaps talking with Edie Windsor, whose case in the US Supreme Court broadened the definition of marriage to include the LGBT community.

This is all to say that the Vatican’s some of my best friends are defense to counter the fallout from the SECRET Clerk Davis meeting where he told her to stay strong and gifted her with rosary beads – is really an offense towards the people who it seemed were finally being, if not officially befriended, at least not discounted and devalued.

Here’s a rule of thumb to consider: A marginalized person will most likely find it difficult to get beyond your “actions” by mere words of love and caring. So when Pope Francis declares publically that gay marriage is “the work of the Devil” and the Church gives money towards or campaigns for laws preventing the legalization of LGBT couples adopting children or tying the knot, well – that tells us A LOT more than mere words. It shows us who its leader and his organization really are beneath the words.

Oh dear

Oh dear

And – let’s be clear – this goes for Jewish leaders, Muslim leaders and all other religious bigwigs of any kind, shape or form. It just so happens Pope Francis is the Man (well, he is, sort of) of the Moment.

Praying is a personal choice but we don’t live in a magical world. You can’t pray cancer away without medical treatment just as you can’t “pray the gay away.” If you’re religious and believe this is so – knock yourself out. But we have moved on from a time where one’s country dictates one’s religious beliefs or requires that mainstream America or its laws accommodate the idea that praying alone is an acceptable antidote to homosexuality or cancer. There is a separation of church and state in the experiment that was the U.S. We can be religious but we work and live in secular society according to objective laws, medical science and intellectual ideas – in other words, empirical facts.

This goes not only for the Pope but the NRA and other supporters of the gun lobby. Doing NOTHING to modify our gun laws as of late has not decreased the violence. If anything, it has had the opposite effect. Ten people died at a community college in Oregon on Thursday and every Republican running for the 2016 presidency has said variations of continue to do nothing. Jeb Bush noted “stuff happens” and Donald Trump shrugged his shoulders and remarked there are always going to be “crazy people.” Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson were not as colorful but each made it clear that they were against stricter gun laws and believe they would do nothing to curb the bi or tri-monthly mass shootings we’ve grown used to. MSNBC’s Chris Hayes called their combined strategy a “language of futility” and that’s as good a definition as I’ve heard.

Ladies and gentlemen, the GOP strategy.

Ladies and gentlemen, the GOP strategy.

Stating publicly that the death of all of these people – young and old – over the last few years is a tragedy are nice words to hear but do nothing to address the issue if one refuses to take ACTIONS so less tragedies occur in the future. You can say some of your best friends are gun owners or that some of your best friends’ children were victims of gun tragedies but still, it means you are on the side of letting this continue. In essence, it means you’re okay with these and future deaths.

Similarly, if you are against LGBT people legally marrying or adopting children in 2015 it doesn’t matter how many of us you invite into your personal space or hotel suite. You are not truly our friend. You are part of our problem. Love us a little less. Accept us a little more. And do something about it.

Swinging from the Chandelier with the Pope

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When I was a young teenager I was 25-30 pounds overweight. It wasn’t a happy time in my life though I’m not sure if that’s why I was overeating. Maybe it was just adolescence. Or maybe I liked food. Or maybe, just maybe, it was all of the above.

I mention this because this week I watched a young man on NBC’s The Voice who was quite overweight who reminded me of an even heavier version of my heavy self when I was his age. Except he had one thing that I NEVER had – he could sing.

Wow – could he sing. If you imagine a cross between Adam Lambert, Mariah Carey with maybe even a little Mary J. Blige thrown in by way of Stevie Wonder, you get the picture. In fact, he himself joked that he often gets mistaken for a woman on the phone and at drive-thrus. He also admitted that his appearance and manner was clearly not what others are normally used to and that it took him a while to realize these were his special qualities, that he was born this way and that God didn’t mistakes.

Fight on, little monster

Fight on, little monster

In any event, this young man – whose name is Jordan Smith – was vociferously praised for his mind-bending talent by four experts. And he received a standing ovation from the audience. Not to mention, he was told repeatedly by the judges that he was not only inspiring but an important contestant for the world to see AND for the world to understand that talent and original voices – be it singing or original points of view – are what come from inside. How one looks on the outside has less than nothing to do with what is being expressed. (Note: This is, of course, a talent show and granted, has little to do with the music INDUSTRY, which is a whole other kettle of worms. Yes, worms).

Anyway, I found myself wishing two things after spending some time thinking about Jordan. One is that I grew up in a time when people would have said those things to his 1970s doppelganger (Note: Okay, Me when I was praised for my specific talents). And second, though infinitely more important, is that in 2015 I lived in a country where the political rhetoric being bandied about by THE most popular news network in the country (that would be Fox) and by many of the candidates in one of our two major political parties, reflected that kind of inclusion and understanding. Sadly, it does not. It’s exclusion of the worst kind – to gay people, to climate change believers and to Muslims – just to name a few of who at the moment seem to be the top 3. And those are just the groups that instantly come to mind.

This is not a diatribe against Evangelicals, Republican conservatives or even The Republican Apprentice, who I believe is neither of the above but simply an egomaniacal boor. Rather it is a recognition and reaffirmation of what exactly is going on in acceptable, seemingly intelligent public discourse these days.

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Inclusion is seen as political correctness, political correctness is seen as coddling, and coddling is in turn seen as destroying the fabric of American society by overprotecting children (or even adults) at too young an age from the bullying they will unavoidably receive in the real world. As if we need to provide more of that in our language and conservations because the world isn’t already cruel enough.

Speaking of which… Pope Francis was in the United States for the first time this week – have you heard? Yes, I thought so. Well, these days you have to admire a religious leader – any religious leader – who spends much of his public speaking time emphasizing the brotherhood of man (which presumably includes women), reaching out to each other with love, and taking care of the poor and any of those less fortunate. Not to mention any person of the cloth at all who is humble enough to ask us to pray for him and inclusive enough to include this request to non-believers – who he merely asks to send good wishes and thoughts. The implication that he is not all-knowing and merely just another regular guy who needs all the help he can get in doing his job sounds unlike any religious leader I’ve ever encountered in my lifetime, either in synagogue, in books or even on the pages of the NY Times – which is where I get most of my religious leader info anyway.

#PopeonTwitter

#PopeonTwitter

On the other hand, if you are different the way I am, it’s sometimes a bit challenging to watch the absolute furor in which this particular Pope is greeted (24/7 news coverage, crowds in the tens of thousands, gesticulating, fainting and near hysteria) and not consider several thoughts. Among them is that he has publicly advocated against gay marriage, gay adoption and transgender rights. It is also difficult to ignore that he is the leader of an international religious institution – which make no mistake about it is a very wealthy, disciplined and doctrinaire organization – that believes any number of behaviors that fall within any of many mainstream activities among significant minorities (or even majorities) in everyday life are sins deserving of varying degrees of punishment – or illegalization.   If I were female I might bring up a woman’s right to choose, women being priests, divorce and any host of other subjects. And what about atheists? Do they have no moral standing on any grounds whatsoever? The list could go on and on.

Touche, CoCo

Touche, CoCo

Love is, well, lovely – and so are good thoughts. But when you are in a sub-group all the love in the world will not alone get you on an even playing field with others who have the majority amount of money, power or, let’s just say it, moral high ground. Religious leaders, especially the most popular ones, by definition own the moral high ground and are fronts for extremely large institutions that more often than not are responsible for maintaining the status quo, including the discriminatory parts of it. To do it in a nicer way is, well, nice – but none of us should be fooled – underneath the welcoming rhetoric it is merely a nicer variation of what we already have.

Or is it? Pope Francis seemed to acknowledge climate change in several of his speeches and appeared to be speaking almost directly to the flock led by The Republican Apprentice when he praised and reminded the U.S. that one of our greatest strengths is that we are and always have been a nation of immigrants. Perhaps gay marriage is next? On second thought (or even your 17th one) do not count on it.

Well.. this is a good start, but let's not get too excited.

Well.. this is a good start, but let’s not get too excited.

This is not to say that there is always agreement within the subset of your special interest group. Speaker of the House John Boehner, a conservative from Ohio, resigned from his position Friday after 35 years in Congress, in large part because he was tired of fighting the shut down the government at all costs demands of the Tea Party ultra-right wingers of his group. And there is a pop culture fight going on within the gay community at the moment about the movie Stonewall, Roland Emmerich’s (Independence Day) new film about the 1969 uprising that is often cited as the birth of the fight for LGBT rights.

Because Mr. Emmerich chose to invent a young, white handsome male protagonist as the main character audience surrogate for his film, a very local group of critics are convinced that he sold out history by marginalizing the significant contributions of gay people of color, not to mention that of drag queens and transgender individuals. Never mind that all of these different types of people play significant roles in the film – none of them are THE star. On the other hand, each protestor at the time WAS the star of their own story of those riots and no one knows for sure who threw the first brick. Just as today we are all the STARS of our own lives, whether we know it or not, or choose to exercise it or not. It’s always a question of one’s POV and how one decides to frame their narrative. This is not only the mission of a very mainstream filmmaker like Mr. Emmerich, but the same challenge faced by the Speaker of the House – or by a Pope.

Well at least Emmerich acknowledges it!

Well at least Emmerich acknowledges it!

Which brings us back to young Jordan Smith. He will certainly have his haters, as well as lovers, as he goes through life. On the latter score lots of significant progress has been made since that time in the late seventies when I was his age. But let us be very clear, this progress was made not due to the benevolent language of any religious leaders or by any acts of Congress. Those are merely by-products of a hard fought fight led by a group of surly INSURGENTS. Decades of ACTIVISTS who died and/or risked their lives for a simple idea – equality. Among these activists were also lots of regular people who simply chose to live their everyday lives unapologetically and out in the open.

We all advocate for our causes and it’s nice to be loved. But it’s better to be accepted and included on an equal pay scale and rights scale. Not doing that for any one of our sub-groups – that’s the only real sin, in my mind. The original and ongoing one.