Reading Presidents

As I continue to read about writing presidents in Author in Chief, I am struck by the fact that these writers were massive readers. I have to remember that, so far, these men lived at a time when there was no TV nor any of the forms of information that we get through our computers and phones. Not only did books satisfy curiosity but they were the main source for education and entertainment.

I thought this morning, I wonder how many readers we have in this world today? I am not talking about literacy as most people understand it as the ability to read. I mean, how many people actually read. For me, reading is what informs my opinion of things. It seems to me that, in today’s world, lack of information doesn’t do much to keep people from having opinions.

Since Covid started, we have  been let into the homes of those being interviewed on TV news. I can’t help but notice that almost without exception, the backdrop for these folks consists most often of book cases. Guess what? I will often approach my screen to see the titles of the books. I guess I am trying to judge whether this person’s opinion is well founded.

I don’t have much more to add. To the presidents I have mentioned thus far, I will add that Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson were known to be avid readers. As the stories move into the more modern times, it will be interesting to see how many of our leaders qualify.

Grant

Today in Author in Chief: The Untold Story of Our Presidents and The Books They Wrote, I read about Ulysses Grant who served as Lincoln’s leading general during the Civil War. I was already familiar with his story. He wrote his memoir during his last days as he was dying of throat cancer, the last page being completed as he let life go. I loved this little bit I read this morning:

“I never thought of acquiring rank in the profession I was educated for,” he wrote to (his physician) – and yet he became a decorated general. Grant continued: “I certainly never had the ambition or taste for political life; yet I was twice President of the United States. If any one had suggested the idea of my becoming an author, as they frequently did, I was not sure whether they were making sport of me or not. I have now written a book.”

Grant just became my favorite president.

 

Rumi and The News

Wayne Dyer in his book There’s a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem shared a poem by Rumi that spoke to me this morning:

THE GUEST HOUSE

This being human is a guest house:
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house.
Empty of its furniture,
Still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
For some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
Meet them at the door laughing,
And invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
Because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond.
(The Essential Rumi; translated by Coleman Barks; HarperCollins, 1995;p. 104)

Every morning as I pray, I close with thoughts about the day ahead. What will I hope to accomplish and who might cross my path as I walk? I ask my Higher Power to grace me with love to show each person.

This poem, though, causes me to extend my idea of who I might meet. When I eat my breakfast I usually turn on the TV to catch up on the news. I listen to liberal stations but that doesn’t mean that I approve hook, line, and sinker with what or how they are reporting the news. I don’t know about you, but I think first…then look to learn more, to broaden my beliefs. I also am open to changing my beliefs. I hold on to the world like a loose garment, as my friend Jesus taught me to do.

The poem makes me wonder if I should include these faces on the screen with the same gratefulness that I hope for as I ponder the check-out person in the store or a nurse at the clinic. Those faces are not stickers on a plane of glass, after all. They are people who come to the microphone with knowledge, ignorance, love, fear. I can tell by their voices how strongly they feel about what they are saying. Sometimes I note their feeling more than their words.

I know that not everything said on TV news is true. Even-well meaning commentators  speak too quickly before all the info is in. “Breaking News” is the name of the game. I have to be careful as I listen just as I do every time I encounter anyone. Rumi might suggest I look more deeply at those who come into my view each day. It is difficult when I fear a person might be leading others astray, but that shouldn’t cause me to discard them. God put them in front of me for a reason, perhaps to pray for them, perhaps to appreciate them, perhaps to worry about them as persons.

There was no TV when Rumi walked the earth. A town-crier, I suppose, got the news out. He at least could ponder “the other” as a flesh and blood person standing on a haybale in the town square. His spirituality didn’t have to extend very far.

We’ll see how I do applying Rumi’s thoughts to the “criers” of the 20th century.

Two Kingdoms and Politics

For those who have read my book, The Memorial of Jesus, you know that I make a distinction between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Earth. We live in both at the same time. Remember when Jesus taught his follower’s to pray?  He mentioned these two and suggests we pray that the Kingdom of God come to the Earth.

That brings me to politics. I do, now and then, talk about politics in this blog, but I have always tried to do so without getting into personalities, but rather principles. Today, I would like to touch on politics in terms of kingdom.

When I was a kid, we took a class in civics. I don’t know if it is being taught today, but observing how people talk about politics today, I doubt it. Civics taught me how government works. What I am recalling today is the definition of politics: “the work of the people”. Interesting that the word “work” is used implying that politics is not an easy thing. Like any job you take on, the more people involved in getting it done, the messier it gets. Lots of opinions. Lots of different abilities. The bigger the project, the worse it gets.

If everyone reads the same instructions and if roles are well defined, that should make things go more smoothly. A constitution helps when we are talking about running a country. Our United States Constitution has lots of instructions and definition of roles and duties. I can’t say things are going very smoothly right now. I even wonder how many of those in leadership have even read the Constitution.

Managing a group of people…a LARGE group like the population  of a nation…can be messy indeed. But I maintain that this is all about the earthly kingdom that Jesus was talking about. Remember he said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s”. By golly, pay them taxes but don’t get the two kingdom’s mixed up. Open your eyes…know the difference.

I love the phrase that was popular a few years ago: “What would Jesus do?” I would suggest that Jesus would do exactly what he implied in his Caesar statement. He would go along with the government as long as it didn’t come into conflict with the Kingdom of God. In fact, I think he understood that living the Kingdom of God within the earthly kingdom is how the Lord’s Prayer finds its fulfillment. But again, don’t get the two mixed up. Know the difference.

Jesus, and the Christian community that followed later, were pacifists. For them, all are children of the same heavenly Father and pacifism is a character of the Kingdom of God. Sometimes, when a person follows this pacifist path, it has led to death imposed by the other kingdom.

For those of us who follow Jesus, we have to ask ourselves which kingdom we are living in at any given moment. Are we bringing the Kingdom of God into the matters of the Kingdom of Earth? We need to pay attention to legislators who speak for us…which kingdom are they serving?  We needn’t judge them as persons, but we can open our eyes and measure the work according the values of the Heavenly Kingdom.

 

Politics in its Rightful Perspective

I had an awakening this past week. I realized I had politics in the wrong perspective. My goodness, I have been confusing the two kingdoms, heavenly and earthly.

In high school I took civics. I don’t know if this is still taught in schools…it sure should be. A citizen of any country should understand how his government functions. I recall the definition of politics: The work of the People. Yes, I learned the definition, but I failed to grasp its meaning. Work brings to mind words like effort and labor, trial and error, differences of opinion on how to do something, the dangers of cutting corner. It is healthy for me to look at the work of politics in the same way. It is less judgmental. When we are less strong-willed, judgmental, and cooperative, outcomes tend to be better for all. Working together. Many hands make light work.

More important than all of the above is the awareness that politics is about the kingdom of earth, the one Jesus suggests we ought to penetrate with the other kingdom. “Thy kingdom, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I realize that even as people make political decisions they hope will make life better for others, they are still operating in the earthly kingdom. Bringing the Kingdom to earth is bringing into each moment the spirit of love. It is transformation from within. The reality of the earthly work is still there, but one can look into it with the new eyes.

I would compare it to an adult watching children play. When a child pushes another to keep them from taking their toy, we don’t go into a panic. We see a learning experience in process. We are looking from a lifetime of experience and an understanding of child development. This is a perspective I need to have. A political idea put forth may be flawed as hell, but it is just an idea. It may be tainted by greed and power mongering,  but from a higher place, one can observe like a parent expecting lessons to be learn, sometimes the hard way.

I may sound like I am placing myself higher than others. Worse, I may sound like I am diminishing the serious harm people are doing to each other, individuals and whole communities because of bad legislative decisions. I know. I know.

I am only a member of the human community. I live the sins of the world every day, inside myself. I have done harm to others by stupid decisions. I have struggled with the same pride and greed I can accuse any legislator of. The only difference is the the scope of influence.

I can also be a channel of God’s love…this is the calling of all. It is our purpose for being here. Bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. Be free of judgment, pray for transformation for oneself and others and for the whole country. Mourn the pain humans cause one another.

The earthly life is messy. We can’t fix it but we can do something about one part of it…ourselves. And we can assist others who seek to change. One day, one moment, at a time.

The Trump Effect

I don’t know how your life has been effected since Trump came along. Before the election of 2016, I didn’t really know much about him. I don’t follow the rich and famous because I find them boring. For me, rich is meaningless. particularly as a reason to be popular. Give me character any day as a reason to pay attention to someone.

I never supported Trump. I didn’t even have to know what his policies were for me not to like him. Here are my reasons:

  1. He was unkind, even abusive in his rhetoric. My first introduction to him before he ran for office was a scene from The Apprentice in which he shamed a woman who failed to win whatever it was she was competing for. It was awful and it felt crushing to watch. There was nothing he could do after that to redeem himself.
  2. He was dishonest. There are many excuses for not telling the truth. Among these are…just joking…not having all the facts…everybody does it…trying to achieve a good end…it is just a little white lie…not hurting anybody. None of these hold any water with me.
  3. He was paranoid. He couldn’t seem to handle anyone disagreeing with him – anyone!. You were either 100% with him or !00% against him. Worse, those against him he treated as enemies and set out to destroy them.
  4. He was known to screw people for his own benefit. He claimed to be a great business man, but there was a trail of money he owed to contractors and workers that somehow managed to stay out of the headlines during the election process.
  5. He was sleezy. People who supported him didn’t seem to mind his treatment of women, even how he talked about them, but I did. He made me squirm. I thought that I would never allow him to be around my granddaughters if given the opportunity.

    No matter what I thought or felt, Trump became our president and served his four years. I don’t agree with all of what Biden is doing but he isn’t any of the above and that helps me to relax.

If we could say goodbye to Trump and move on, that would be great, but it isn’t happening. I am not talking about his control over his a party or anything like that. I am talking about the effect he has had on us, all of us. I don’t know about you, but I am struggling to remember how much I liked certain people before Trump came along. At one time it didn’t concern me whether a person was a conservative or liberal. There are definite political differences in my family, but we don’t allow these differences to get in the way of relationships. Don’t get me wrong. There was a time when our family was indeed nasty when it came to politics. There were some heated arguments. But over time it became apparent that we needed to make a choice to either let go and allow others to believe differently or to ruin the family. We chose love and respect. What little discussion there is about politics today, family members choose respect over trying to prove they are rights. Unfortunately, not all families have managed to find this level of acceptance.

Families are not the only communities impacted by this negative spirit of which I speak. A change has come over the country. Political parties don’t just disagree -there is genuine hatred between people. People are being threatened. Some have been physically harmed. The attack on the Capital Building on January 6 is one thing, but the continued threats to the members of congress and their families and the concerted effort to “punish” those who don’t agree is sick. I am seeing in the political world, national and state, all of the above traits of our former president. He left behind a poison and we are all effected by it.

I am genuinely worried about the families, neighborhoods, our country and the world at large. This spiral downward feels evil. I fear more people suffering, even being killed. To me there is only one answer: Jesus preached love, love with NO EXCEPTION! Remember “Love thy enemy”? Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King taught us how to disagree without violence. All of the major religions preach the Golden Rule as a guide to living in this world where others are different from ourselves.

It seems over-simplistic: LOVE. I remember the words of a song, “Love isn’t Love until you give it away” Love as an idea is worthless. We each need to grab hold of it and figure out how to apply it. Change our thinking. Stop the judgment,  Act kindly. Don’t just avoid abuse, but avoid abusive language. Don’t gossip. Don’t hold grudges. Show gratitude. Help those who are different from us.

As for political news, I now avoid listening to angry and judgmental rhetoric even by those who hold the same political position as you do. There are liberal news shows I no longer watch, not because I disagree with what is being reported, but because of the cynicism, sarcasm, and judgment in the voices of the hosts. I find they have the power to increase my anxiety level and throw me into a fearful stance.

I hope and pray we pull out of this dark place. I am working on it.

On President Biden

Bernie and I listened to the president last night. I had posted on Facebook people should watch because it was their civic duty. I meant it, but the truth is, I didn’t watch the former president when he spoke to the American people. It had nothing to do with civic duty. I was protecting myself from what felt like abuse. I find it hard to sit in a room with anyone who gossips and berates others present or not or is basically trying to entertain people instead of being real. It is exhausting. If such a person is the president of the United States, I would rather listen to what others tell me he or she said later. Of course, this isn’t the same as having my own reaction, but it does protect my soul from being wounded.

I have always liked Joe Biden. He is a real person with compassion and lots of life experience in politics and who grew from his personal tragedies. People don’t need to agree with his policies, but at least appreciate the calmness and kindness that distinguishes him from the last president. In his message to the Nation, he refrained from blaming the opposing party for anything, even mentioned the good work of Republican leaders. Not a diminishing word!

I happen to agree with his priorities. I have to trust that those folks who know about how to manage  such huge amounts of money know what they are doing. There are just a few things I disagree with, but overall, I approve. But this blog isn’t about his policies. It is about the kindness, the peace, the love that I feel he has in his heart.

I remember when President Obama went to support the parents who lost their children killed at Sandyhook Elementary. He was brought to tears as he spoke. The response by those who were against him? “He is faking it.” They couldn’t accept the possibility that someone they hated so much could have even one good thought or emotion. This is black and white thinking. One is either all good or all bad. But this is not reality. None of is is all one or the other so we must know this is true of others as well.

I heard a commentator on TV yesterday say, “Biden is exactly what the country needs right now.” She wasn’t talking about his policies. She was talking about his healing demeanor. I agree with her. Let’s all take a breath, invite spring, look forward to reuniting with our loved ones, and appreciate the good things in life. Disagree with the President’s plans, write to your congress people, complain all you want. But follow the example of this good man. Don’t berate individuals for their beliefs. Listen to people. Speak only kind words.

You, along with our new leader, can help heal the nation.