November 9, 2016
Despite the fact that we just chose celebrity over substance, and promises over a demonstrated record of performance, I am shocked…shocked I tell you to find that my mood this morning is one of optimism, hope, and dare I say, joy.
As anyone who knows me can tell you, I am no fan of the President-Elect, who will hereinafter be referred to as President-Elect T—-, and after January 20, 2017 as President T—-, as I cannot bear to speak his name.
My hope lies, not in an expectation of the wonderful things that will come from a T—- administration; rather, my hope lies in my profound confidence in our government and the enduring strength of our democratic institutions. I am certain that our nation is stronger than any individual who may occupy any office. The House of Representatives is more than the Speaker of the House. The Senate is so much more than an ill-tempered Senate Majority Leader, and the Supreme Court than its Chief Justice or any given member of the court. I believe that the Presidency is more than the words and deeds of the occupant of the Oval Office.
Despite the fact that I just renewed my passport, I have no plans to leave. I believe that no matter what occurs in the next four years, or who occupies the Oval Office, or who President-Elect T—- appoints to high office; our nation and our values will survive. Further, I believe that the T—- presidency will usher in a new golden age of American Democracy and world leadership. Not, I hasten to add, because of the actions and policies of a President T—-, but in reaction to what I am led to expect by his campaign rhetoric and his reported past actions.
I expect a President T—- to inspire the next generation of national leaders to seek office with higher goals and higher values than we have seen so far from President-Elect T—-. I hope that the T—- presidency will finally put an end to the notion that politics is the last refuge of thieves and scoundrels; a profession unworthy of our best and brightest. And I hope that as a result of his time in office, men of his ilk will no longer show their face in public let alone seek an office of high public trust.
December 16, 2016
I will not protest the election of Donald Trump although as anyone who knows me can attest I am not a fan of the President-elect. It is, after all, a founding and necessary principle of a functioning democracy that the losing party gracefully accept the results of an election as Secretary Clinton did as soon as the results were announced and as Governor Mitt Romney did in 2012.
Further, although I have my doubts about the actual business savvy of the President-elect since his adult life seems to have been devoted to creating and perpetuating an image, first of the rich playboy, then of the successful real estate tycoon, then the reality show star; images that remain cloaked in a secrecy that prevents the public from knowing any facts that would substantiate the claims he makes about himself; In the face of my doubts, I will not give into my fears that we have elected a vacuous parody of a man.
If, however, the darkest implications of the campaign rhetoric, the cabinet appointees, and the midnight tweets come to pass, I hope that I have the courage of my convictions and that I will speak out when the illusion of a populist champion of the disillusioned working family falls away and the authoritarian regime emerges in all its fascist fury.
And that I will stand with the immigrant, the LGBT and gender non-conforming members of my community, and the Muslims, and all followers of faith traditions not recognized by triumphalist Christians, and all whose ethnic heritage threatens the alt-right.
And that I will not only stand with but also suffer alongside those who are disenfranchised, dismissed, and oppressed when all the hateful rhetoric that energized the campaign rallies and victory tours activates the basest demons of our shadow selves and unleashes a rage and fury not seen on our shores and in our streets.
If these are the final days of our democracy, and I hope and pray that these are instead the beginning of a new realization of the ideals and dreams of our founders, if these are the harbingers of our final days then I commit my life, my fortune, and my sacred honor to those who stand up and say no to Trump’s vision of a great America.
Like most of the aging pilots I know, the most dreaded date on the calendar is the annual appointment with the Flight Surgeon, the day a previously undetected medical condition might come to light and ground us permanently leaving us to walk among the mere mortals who have never joined John Gillespie Magee Jr. as he “slipped the surly bonds of earth.”
There I am, standing before the dreaded eye chart, straining to read the 20/20 line with my left eye. The 20/40 line remains clearly in view, but the ability to read no lower on the chart than 20/40 only qualifies me for the “Third Class” medical certificate. I’m striving for the “Second Class” certificate which qualifies me to be paid for performing pilot duties in any aircraft and in a variety of activities except flying for the scheduled airlines.
Now, there is no practical reason for me to maintain the “Second Class” medical certificate. Flight Instruction, the only professional aviation activity I have ever engaged in, requires the “Third Class” certificate. No, the only reason I have continued to maintain the “Second Class” certificate is for the status of knowing that I could apply for any number of professional flying positions that require that qualification.
I did manage to eke out a sufficiently accurate reading of the 20/20 line of the eye chart that day, but the near miss by one of “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” set me to thinking about why continuing to meet the FAA’s standards of the “Second Class” medical certificate and the continued permission to fly airplanes is so important to me.
Until now, I explained my attachment to my pilot certificate and flying airplanes as the fulfillment of my childhood dream of becoming a pilot. I was the kid who ran outside to watch every aircraft as it flew overhead. I built model airplanes, read books on aviation, memorized performance data on the airplanes of the day, and fantasized about the heroics of famous aviators and aviatrixes.
I was crestfallen when, as a third grader, I came home from a visit to the optometrist with my first pair of glasses. I already knew that military aviators had to have perfect 20/20 vision to qualify for flight training. That weakness of my mortal flesh however did not diminish my enthusiasm for flight. I would soon learn of “general aviation” the realm of flight occupied by private pilots, airshow pilots, and pilots who build their own airplanes. There remained a whole world of flying opportunities open to me.
After graduating college I entered active duty with the Air Force. Upon arrival at my first duty station, I immediately joined the flying club and began taking lessons. For the next year, my free time was consumed with all things aviation: ground school, flight lessons, and reading every aviation magazine I could get my hands on. After earning my private pilot certificate I enrolled for advanced flight training. Each achievement led to earning additional licenses and ratings. The cycle has continued to this day. Even now, there are flight experiences that I long to add to my logbook.
Coming home from the flight surgeon with my re-issued Second Class medical set me to exploring why the prospect of not passing my next medical exam and having to face the reality of giving up flying someday was so distressing. This brings us to Pandora, the myth, not the jewelry or the Internet radio station.
[The language snob in me feels compelled to interject that it still rankles me that the word “myth” has come to mean a falsehood or misconception. I hold to the classic meaning of myth: a narrative that expresses the most profound and often elusive truths of our human existence.]
As you may recall Zeus presented Pandora, the first human woman created by the gods, with an elaborately decorated jar as a wedding gift. Pandora opened the jar releasing its contents, many demons and evils. Realizing what she had done, she tried to replace the lid, keeping the last of its contents, Hope, in the jar. The explanation of this myth as it was first taught to me held that amid the many demons and miseries that Pandora unleashed on the world, Hope was the one that could remedy the “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”
I later came upon the interpretation that Hope, rather than being a blessing was instead one of the curses that torment our mortal coil. Hope tempts us to remain too long in the misery of a failed relationship; to persist in a dead-end job long after we could have taken the initiative to leave; in short, to refuse to see the truth of our circumstances.
I had to acknowledge that for the 40+ years I have been involved in aviation I have invested my hope in my status as a pilot. I have hoped that being a pilot would set me apart from the average guy. I have hoped that my status as a flight instructor would win me the respect of others and most importantly of myself. The result has been that this misplaced hope has tormented me with the fear that my flying days will some day end. This fear fed my insatiable desire to add more hours to my logbook and ratings to my pilot certificate. This anxiety caused me to look past the joy of each moment I have spent in flight. Hope has led me into a life of achievement and misery.
This brings us to Dia del los Muertos. Early in our time in Santa Fe, I was struck, even appalled by my frequent encounters with the art and imagery of the Day of the Dead. Skeletons dancing in the streets; Catrina adorned in her aristocratic finery; the skeletal couple at the marriage altar. I found myself turning away from these icons in my ignorance of their bold and shocking proclamation.
Then, on the last Sunday of October our first year here, we visited the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Santa Fe. Rev. Gail Marriner explained that Dia de los Muertos provides the occasion for families to look past the pain of grief and loss and to remember and celebrate their ancestors’ lives. It is an occasion to again experience the love that those who have passed brought into their lives. I came away with the realization that being reminded of our mortality challenges us to celebrate every moment of our lives and to live without fearing the end that is certain to come.
Now, I didn’t leave that service and decorate our house with depictions of Catrina, or plant marigolds, or learn to bake pan de muerto. I did come away with a new appreciation for the art and icons of Dia del Muerto. And more to the point of this essay, my recollection of that awareness now calls me to acknowledge that the day is coming when I will no longer be able to pilot an aircraft. It further encourages me to appreciate each flight experience between now and that day more fully and with gratitude that I have been able to be a pilot at all.
Returning to Pandora for a moment. It occurs to me that we are asking the wrong question when we ask if Hope is an angel or a demon. Hope is always calling to us to “take arms against a sea of troubles.” The question is not whether we choose to hope. The question is where shall we invest our hope.
The world sends us constant messages offering us opportunities to invest our hope. Invest in drugs to restore our sexual vitality; in cosmetics to revitalize our appearance; in the second opinion of a cancer treatment center to reverse our disease; in the latest analgesic to relieve our pain; in firearms to keep us safe from the deranged gunman; in a well managed portfolio to sustain us in retirement; in the elite sports league to provide opportunities for our children; the latest video game to avoid our boredom; the latest smart phone to end our isolation; and on and on and on.
I’m not a “blood of the lamb” kind of guy for two reasons. First, I’m not convinced that “Christ died for your sins” it is the most compelling expression of the Christian proclamation; but more importantly, like you, I’m not a first century Jew struggling with the theological crisis that arose from the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. That said, despite his use of this imagery, I find the hymn of Edward Mote relevant and instructive:
My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand.
Unless we invest out hope in something lasting and transcendent, Pandora’s Hope joins the ranks of the other demons she unleashed on the world and becomes the most insidious, vicious, and destructive of them all.
We hunted you down
like animals in the forest
bound you in chains
and loaded you into ships
like so much freight.
During the long dark voyages
from below deck
we heard your cries of anguish and pain
as murmurs, strange sounds in foreign tongues.
We sold you at auction
making fortunes in the marketplace.
We bred you like livestock and trained you
to the arduous and dangerous tasks
of building fortunes for ourselves
and our descendants.
We deprived you of your culture
and languages but continued
hearing the murmurs
in the secret meetings around campfires in the night
strange sounds in foreign tongues.
You worked and toiled for generations
while we talked in pious tones
of liberty and freedom from the bondage
of our British overlords
still hearing your murmurs, strange sounds in foreign tongues.
We banned your religions and traditions.
We civilized you and saved you from the wrath of our God
and forced you to sit in our meetinghouses
apart from our families whom you toiled to serve.
In exchange for your myths and sacred truths
we gave you St. Paul:
“Slaves obey your masters”
Your freedom came,
not as a declaration of your humanity
or recognition of your personhood,
or as the fruits of the tireless work of our enlightened few.
We released you from chattel slavery
as a military tactic to undermine the economy
of your rebellious overlords.
No sooner had we changed the law of the land
to make room for you at the table
that we found new forms of slavery
to keep “you in your place”
Jim Crow visited you in the night
shrouded in white
by the light of burning crosses.
As you huddled in fear,
again we heard your murmurs,
this time in a language we should have understood.
At last, you quoted our scriptures back to us
and found strength and comfort in our God and our Jesus.
Still we turned a deaf ear
to your humanity and dignity.
We grudgingly offered you a “separate but equal” place
in the country that you labored to build.
All the while we took steps to ensure that your place
would always be separate but never equal.
We took comfort in our rationale
that you just weren’t ready for full citizenship
you couldn’t cope with the complexities of urban life
you were essentially and fundamentally different
and need our continued guidance and direction.
(read: our oppression and exploitation)
You labored on, and on,
finding your dignity and strength
in the truth we refused to hear.
This time your murmurs rang out loud and clear
We shall over come…
And that day came and went
and we pointed to Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays
and Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan
and Tiger Woods and an African-American President
with an African Name.
We declared a post-racial America had finally arrived
and we continued to stop and frisk your young men on the streets
and lock them up and throw away the key
and hunt them down so we could stand our ground
and choke them to death in police custody
and shoot them down
and break their backs
and shoot them down
and turn a deaf ear
to the murmurs that have haunted us down the years
the murmurs that we cannot silence by declaring
“All lives matter”
Just before Easter this year, someone posted to Facebook a picture purported to be the Houston area mansion of Joel Osteen. Superimposed on the picture were the words “Jesus died so that Pastor Joel Osteen could purchase a $10.5 million home in Houston Texas.”
Needless to say, this post evoked a flurry of comments, among them,
Joel Osteen is nothing but a crook
You think that home is helping the homeless?
He’s not guiding them to salvation, he’s bleeding their bank accounts dry to line his own pockets. When will people wakeup to the biggest scam that has ever been perpetrated on mankind, by mankind…
A chart showing the six- and seven-figure salaries earned by Osteen and various other televangelists followed that post a few weeks later. I always find it interesting when this topic comes up. I also must admit to a degree of ambivalence when faced with the popularity of the many televangelists and their attempts to feed the insatiable appetite of the media for content. Further, many of the disparaging comments resonate with my own reactions to the high-profile ministries of the more well-know televangelists. However, I think it is time we give Joel a break. After all, behind the aforementioned comments are some assumptions that are interesting to unpack.
Joel Osteen is nothing but a crook
Is Joel a crook? Well, he was not one of the six televangelists targeted by Senator Grassley’s Senate Finance Committee investigation in 2007 – 2011. He does seem to be scrupulous in his handling the complexities of his finances and in navigating the subtleties of IRS regulations regarding the tax status of 501(c)(3) organizations. Further, it is not clear how profiting from the sale of his feel-good books constitutes “stealing form the poor.” In fact, the profit from the sale of his books is the source of his income, as he does not take a salary from the Lakewood Church. There remains a question of whether he inappropriately promotes his books on his telecasts; but that gets into some murky subtleties in tax law. So, a crook, I think not.
You think that home is helping the homeless?
This is perhaps the easiest of the allegations to dismiss. I dare say that few if any of us routinely share our homes with the homeless in our midst, so why might we expect Joel and Victoria to open their doors to the homeless of Houston?
He’s a thief stealing from the poor by using God
His telecasts stand apart from those of the televangelists that drew the attention of the Grassley investigation in that he never asks his television audience for money. In fact, he might be better thought of as a successful author and motivational speaker than as a Christian evangelist. In that light, I have never heard such criticism leveled at the likes of a Zig Ziglar or a Wayne Dyer. No one seems to care about the number of bathrooms in Zig’s house, nor of the amount of his net worth. No one accuses Dyer of stealing from the poor or of failing to help the homeless.
Who is Joel Osteen?
Joel studied radio and television production in college but dropped out before graduating. He got his start at Lakewood Church producing the television broadcasts of his father’s Sunday services. His father encouraged him to begin preaching at Lakewood shortly before his father’s untimely death from a heart attack. At his mother’s insistence, Joel took the reigns at Lakewood Church. If anything, Osteen is a dutiful son who took over the family business when his father died.
Joel hasn’t attended seminary and there was no mention in the articles I read of his ever being ordained. Parenthetically, historically among Baptists, neither college nor seminary attendance are prerequisites for ordination. Likewise, ordination is not a prerequisite for public preaching. So, if education and training are to be considered, Joel clearly has what it takes to oversee the production of a television broadcast, conduct an appealing Sunday experience, and run a profitable enterprise. He also has a talent for tuning into the zeitgeist and offering a message that soothes anxiety and inspires hope in his followers.
Lacking formal training or the ambition to be a minister, it is little wonder his sermons are often criticized for their lack of depth or theological content. He is usually lumped in with the preachers of the prosperity gospel (topic for a future post). In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, “Osteen agrees, offering his own definition of the prosperity gospel: ‘I never preach a message on money,’ he said. ‘I do believe that God wants us to be blessed, to have good marriages, to have peace in our minds, to have health, to have money to pay our bills. I think God wants us to excel. But everyone isn’t going to be rich — if we’re talking about money.’” (Nov 29, 2007)
Osteen does not preach the traditional “Jesus died for our sins” evangelical message. This fact makes the accusation that Jesus died so Joel could purchase a mansion ludicrous on the face of it. As a matter of fact and content, Joel has more in common with a motivational speaker than with a Christian evangelist. So what are we to make of Joel Osteen? I think it is clearly unfair to lump him in with the thousands of women and men who are out in the world doing God’s work in the churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, and places of worship of the myriad religious traditions in this country and then criticize him for having an expensive house and a large net worth. In many significant ways, he has more in common with a best-selling self-help guru, a successful motivational speaker, or an Oscar/Emmy/Tony/Grammy award-winning entertainer. Judged by the standards of those icons in our culture, Joel looks rather modest and responsible in all aspects of his life.
While his sermons may not be intellectually rigorous, or particularly Biblical, I’d rather his be the public face of Christianity than a hate monger such as the late Fred Phelps or a fear monger like Pat Robertson. And although his lifestyle may have more in common with oligarchs, celebrities, and the 1% of capitalists than with the majority of his followers; he does seem to stand for marital fidelity, hope, optimism, and positive aspiration.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather go skinny dipping in a lake of burning sulfur than to attend one of Joel’s feel good rallies he calls a worship service. That said, I am keenly aware of the Biblical admonition not to judge and condemn others. For, who of us can say with certainty who is and who is not doing God’s work in the world (see Matthew 25)? After all, in a time of declining church membership and attendance, he has managed to put church on the weekly agendas of 16,000 Houstonians, and that can’t be all bad. Further, what tends to happen in mega-churches is that they experience rapid growth then settle onto a plateau. New members continue to arrive, while others leave in search of a deeper and more fulfilling experience. So if Joel is nothing more than a gateway into the Christian conversation, he is indeed doing God’s work. So, lest that burning lake of sulfur become my eternal destiny, I say, “Let’s give Joel a break.”