Thursday, September 28, 2017

My Inner Trump and World Domination

I had a very strange dream last night. I dreamed that Donald Trump became my room mate. Naturally we didn't get along. He was loud and blustery and obnoxious, and we didn't like each other much. But we both came to realize we had to make the best of it. So we sat down and talked. I told him that we didn't have to agree with each other, or even like each other, to get along. We agreed to disagree. Then the scene shifted and I was with Jill and a Trump tweet appeared. "What's that about?" she asked. "My roommate just got a new video game and he's really excited." That was the end of the dream.

I wonder if this dream had anything to do with something I wrote last week about my "Inner Trump." I realized that one reason I react so strongly against the Donald is that I have within me some of the same Trump characteristics that infuriate me.

Many years ago, when I was in grad school, some of my friends introduced me to a game called “World Domination.” At that time, I was very competitive—I felt I had to be, given the cut-throat competition of graduate school—and this game “spoke to my condition.” Each player was given a country, plus some military and other resources, and had to conquer as many countries as possible until he or she achieved world dominance. To be dominant, you had to form alliances, but these alliances could be broken whenever the player saw it was to his or her advantage.

I had enjoyed playing monopoly as a child, so I adopted a strategy of “Anthony First.” I made and broke alliances with ruthless self-regard. Soon other plays realized that I couldn’t be trusted and wouldn’t make any alliances with me. I  found myself isolated and ended up being the first to be utterly dominated.

I learned an important lesson playing this game. To be successful even in a cut-throat world, you need allies and you need to stick with your allies as long as possible. If your fellow players see you as utterly untrustworthy, you end up becoming a loser.

I also learned that I have a very competitive streak, and it doesn’t always serve me well. Over the years I have  come to appreciate the importance and the power of cooperation.

This is a lesson that Trump hasn’t learned. Seven months into his Presidency, he has alienated all of America’s traditional allies, except Israel and Saudi Arabia, who find him useful as an arms supplier. He has tried to cozy up to Russia, but Putin has so far been able to play Trump like a puppet. Unlike Reagan, who negotiated with Gorbachev from a position of strength, Trump has hopelessly compromised himself by allowing his underlings to collude with the Russians during his election campaign—a fact he refuses to acknowledge, even though it is apparent to most thinking people. Trump has little or no appreciation for the enormous effort that previous Presidents, both Republican and Democratic, have expended to build alliances that serve American interests. He has slashed the budget of the state department so he can build up a military that will bully the world into submission. This is a recipe for failure.

It is easy to see the splinter in Trump's eye, but I can’t forget that I have an “inner Trump” that sometimes blinds me. As a white male, I sometimes take my privileged status for granted. I have a strong personality and it is easy for me to dominate if I am not self-aware and check myself to make sure that others have a chance to speak and to shine. 

But perhaps the most important lesson of the dream is that somehow we must learn how to get along with Trump while he is in office. It would be tragic if we fell into the trap of becoming like Trump in order to defeat him. To defeat Trumpism effectively, we must demonstrate a better way by showing that civility and cooperation actually work. The Women's March that took place right after the Inauguration demonstrated how masses of people can come together and make a huge impact nonviolently. We need more such demonstrations. We also need to work tirelessly to change the hearts and minds of our elected officials by staying in touch with them and letting them know how we feel and what we expect from them. We also need to change the hearts and minds of those who have drunk the Trump Kool Aid. This means befriending those we disagree with. That won't be easy, but it's what Jesus meant when he told us, "Love your enemy." That's the only way to overcome the domination game. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Holy Spirit and my New Electric Bike

When I moved to  Pasadena six years ago to marry Jill, I bought a bike and looked forward to biking around this lovely city with her. But for some reason,we seldom rode our bikes more than once or twice a month. Finally, a week or two ago, I had to face reality. We are seniors living on the top of a fairly steep hill that extends for nearly two miles to downtown Pasadena. Riding up that hill was great exercise, it got my heart pumping, my muscles aching, but it wasn't much fun. When I finally got home, I was usually drenched in sweat, and  needed to take a shower and change. And sometimes take a nap!

Two weeks ago, it hit me. Maybe I need to look into electric bikes. After all, I have an electric hybrid car. Why not an electric bike? I didn't know anyone who had one, and I'd never rode one, but the image of an electric bike kept beckoning to me.

I did research online and found a bike that was affordable and met my needs. It's called the Cyclamatic. It's a foldable pedal assist bike designed for commuters. "Pedal assist" means that you have to pedal it for the motor to kick in. And it has small wheels, making it even more compact.

This nifty little  bike can be folded into a 32 X 30 X 22 inch area and placed in the trunk of a car. Its battery carries the bike for 20-30 miles. It sounded perfect.

On September 10, our 6th anniversary, I asked Jill to buy me the bike by pressing the button on Amazon. As she smiled and pressed the button, I was almost as happy as I was six years ago when I popped the question and she said, "Yes!" (I proposed on my birthday and Jill was by far the best gift I have ever received on that special day, much, much better than an electric bike!)

Three days after Jill pressed the "One-click" button confirming the sale, the bike arrived in a large box, almost completely assembled. It took about twenty or so minutes to do the final assembly and then voila! the bike was ready to ride.

My heart beating with excitement, just like the time I was given my first bike as a kid, I took my new electric bike out onto our street and gave it a whirl. I began by cautiously pedaling it just like a regular bike. Then I pressed the button that gave it the extra oomph. Whoosh! it took off with a burst of speed and  I was amazed. I coasted up the hill to Woodbury as if I were riding down hill!

I felt, well, young again, and buff, able to ride up hills just like Lance Armstrong. I still had to pedal, of course, but it was almost effortless. Or rather, it took as much effort as I cared to expend. If I want to get exercise, I turn off the electric motor and pedal on my own. But when I need an assist, I simply press a button and a surge of energy carries me where I wanted to go.

As I explained this amazing bike experience to my men's group at the Episcopal Church, it occurred to me that this is how the Holy Spirit works in my life. Often, when I find myself struggling with a problem that seems insurmountable, and feel as I can't muster the strength to muddle through, I call on God for help. If I am faithful and patient, I begin to feel the presence of something greater than myself--the Holy Spirit--giving me the energy and strength I need to complete the task I'm called to do.  The process isn't instantaneous, like the electric bike, but it is nonetheless miraculous. I can't begin to count the times that the Holy Spirit has carried me through a life crisis.

The Holy Spirit doesn't do all the work, however.  I still have to do my share, just as in the case of a pedal assist bike. If I don't pedal, the motor doesn't kick in and the bike eventually stops. But if I do my part, the motor amplifies my efforts, no matter how feeble, and I move forward with vigor and confidence.

This is like the miracle of divine grace working together with human will. The theological term for this collaboration between the human and the divine is synergy.

Jesus alluded to this synergy when he told his followers: "Greater things than I have done, you will do" (John 14:12).  He meant that when we work together as a community following the will of God, guided by the Holy Spirit, we can do more than even Jesus did. That may seem incredible but it's true. Christians over the millennia have done wonderful work helping people in need, healing the sick, and working for peace and justice. With God's grace empowering us, we are stronger and better together.

I thank God for the countless ways that I have been given a "pedal assist" by the Holy Spirit when times are tough and I felt I didn't have the energy to do what needed to be done. And I thank God for my wife Jill and for all the many gifts she's given me in our years of marriage, including my electric bike!

Monday, September 18, 2017

FCNL Advocacy Team is Launched in Pasadena with Great Success

I am really pleased that Friends Committee on National Legislation is launching a national campaign, in both blue and red districts, to urge Congress to spend our tax dollars on needs like education and health care, and not the bloated military budget. The launch of our San Gabriel Valley FCNL Advocacy Team in Pasadena this weekend was a great success, as Montrose peace activist Brian Anderson explains later in this blog.

Cuts in social services caused by increases in the Pentagon budget will have dire local impacts. The budget for HUD (which provides funding for affordable housing) has been cut drastically over the past few years. Trump is calling for additional 6 billion in cuts to HUD, which will hamper efforts to end homelessness and provide affordable housing for our city. He is calling for huge cuts to medical and scientific research, which will also impact the health and welfare of our local community, which has a strong commitment to science through JPL and Cal Tech.

Instead of spending our tax dollars on what we actually need, the Republican Congress has voted a 70 billion dollar increase in the Pentagon budget. This increase will require dismantling the social safety net that has lifted 38 million Americans out of poverty.

FCNL is committed to educating the American public about the folly of this abuse of our tax dollars. We spend seven ties more money on the military that China, Russia, North Korea and all our other adversaries put together. We spend more in real dollars on the military than we spent at the height of the Vietnam and Cold War. This graph shows how massive our military expenditures are compared to other nations:

The Pentagon is fraught with waste, fraud and abuse. According to the Washington Post, the Pentagon had suppressed an internal report that found $125 billion in waste. The Pentagon is the only branch of government that isn't audited. FCNL is urging Congress to investigate Pentagon waste and fraud.

If the Trump administration's goal is to create jobs, as Trump alleges, the Pentagon is the least effective way to do this. A $1 billion investment in education will create twice as many jobs as $1 billion invested in the military.

I am glad we had a great turnout for our launch of the San Gabriel FCNL Advocacy Team. What I found especially encouraging is that we had a great turnout from non-Quakers who are just as committed as we are to peacemaking and social justice: Pasadena's Indivisible Suffragettes and the Montrose Peace Vigil.

Brian Anderson, who helped start the Montrose Peace Vigil (which has been gathering faithfully every Friday on the corner of Ocean and Honolulu for the past decade), wrote this summary of our meeting:

At least 20 people participated in the Advocacy Team workshop in Pasadena on Saturday, coming from Tujunga, Montrose and La Canada, from Pasadena across the San Gabriel Valley to Claremont, and south to Boyle Heights.  Montrose Peace Vigil regulars Roberta, Anni, John and I were among them.
Emily Savin, the excellent trainer from the Friends Committee on National Legislation's D.C. office, led an active listening exercise in which we paired off to trade our stories and listen so that we could repeat them, something that Anni and I did at the direction of Bernard Lafayette Jr. during his nonviolent resistance training here in 2009.  We also learned the key elements of writing an effective letter to a legislator, then put them into practice by drafting individual letters at our tables, asking one senator or the other to halt Pentagon spending increases.  These listening and pitching skills will be employed in having meetings and building relationships with the staffs of our various representatives and senators about the issue.
Just about everybody signed up to organize a Pasadena Advocacy Team, with the support of the FCNL.  We'll meet for four more one-hour training sessions with Emily on speakerphone, followed by half-hour discussions, starting on Monday, October 2.  Attendance at the workshop is not a prerequisite to the training sessions, and nobody has to commit to every one of those to participate in the lobbying to come.  Subgroups of the Pasadena team will address their House members -- I counted constituents of Chu, Schiff, Torres and Roybal-Allard in the room.  And all of us will engage with Feinstein and Harris staffers at their L.A. offices.

Read more:

On Sunday, I gave a presentation about FCNL at Santa Monica Meeting and would be happy to give presentations at other meetings and churches as well. Our next meeting of the San Gabriel FCNL Advocacy Team will take place at my home on October 2 at 6:30 pm. Please contact me at if you'd like to attend or would like me to give a training on how to lobby effectively


Friday, September 15, 2017

Celebration of garbage

[A poem inspired by a Quaker magazine that has "garbage" as its theme.]

"Anti-mass" by Cornelia Parker was made from charred remains
of a church
I sing and celebrate garbage,
the rejected, the refugee,
The “wretched refuse yearning to breathe free.”
I lift up in the Light those treated like trash,
Those living in the junk yards of history.

Out of blackened wood from a burned out church,
An artist made a mobile that took our breath away
rising with amazing grace to the sky light,
Saying “the whole idea was handed down to me by God

To use that which has been discarded
Just as we as a people have been discarded, made invisible.”

Out of shards of broken glass
from a bombed out church in Bethlehem
ornaments were made so we could see God’s love
Lighting the world like the smile of a child.

Out of scraps of Scripture
George and Margaret sowed together a quilt of love
Tim Nobel and Sue Webster compile trash to make art…
So we could see the power of God,
the hidden power in our hearts.

Out of used furniture, a poet makes a tree.
Out of dust and ashes, a mystic makes a path to eternity.

Blessed be this compost heap,
my gardener friend told me,
For out of its funky depths
will come the food that feeds your belly.
As you pull out weeds,
remember the words of a wise Indian:
There are no weeds, only plants
Whose usefulness we don’t yet see.

Remember the words of a wise woman:
The world is a rummage sale.
What some consider trash, others see as treasures.

Remember the words of a wise man: I count as garbage
all my achievements and degrees.
Only love matters. Only love turns junk into jewelry,

A crown of thorns into a crown of light.

[Notes: Margaret and George refer to Margaret Fell and George Fox, the founders of Quakerism. "Out of used furniture, a poet makes a tree" is a line stolen from a poem by my teacher, Anne Sexton. The "wise man" is the apostle Paul, Philippians 3:8.]

The Other September 11

  I am pleased to print this reflection by my friend Joseph Prabhu, retired  Professor of Philosophy and Religion at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) and former member of the Executive Committee of the Parliament of the World's Religions. Born and raised in India, he earned advanced degrees in Germany and is active as both a scholar and a peace activist. He has edited: The Intercultural Challenge of Raimon Panikkar (1996 ) and co-edited the two-volume Indian Ethics: Classical Traditions and Contemporary Challenges (2007, 2011). He has been a Senior Fellow of the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard University and of the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago and a Visiting Professor there.
 He is also one of the charming and delightful peripatetic philosophers I know....we often enjoy walks together in the San Gabriels, where we talk theology and politics as we ascend to glorious vistas overlooking the Los Angeles basin all the way to Catalina Island. (When the smog isn't too dense!) For those who value the life of the mind, this is pure bliss!
September 11 was a turning point for America, for the world, and for me personally. This "day of infamy" was what drew me into the interfaith peace movement, and led to friendships with remarkable people like Joseph Prabhu. At the end of his reflection, he poses a question well worth pondering:  "Will we associate this day with violence and retaliation waged in the name of military victories, or will be rather learn from Gandhi and Vivekananda the messages of a robust peace and of harmony between peoples?  This is a truly teachable moment."  


Today is September 11th 2017. The New York Times highlights one of its editorials as: “9/11: Finding Answers in Ashes 16 Years Later.” But what answers? And what memories? That depends both on our historical perspective and the lessons we take away from that perspective.
September 11th, 2001, in the American imagination is a day of infamy when we were attacked by terrorists who destroyed the Twin Towers in New York City and in the process killed 2,753 people. We should certainly mourn the dead and their families, just as we decry acts of terrorism and violence, now such a common and ubiquitous feature of our world. 9/11, 2001 was a deep psychic wound to our nation, which experienced a new form of violence, besides war, directed symbolically to the financial and social heart of the country. It is therefore appropriate that we mourn both the dead and the violent forces and attitudes that cause such deaths.
But what answers have we gleaned from that traumatic experience? The national response to the event at the time was to launch massive wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, ostensibly with the purpose of attacking the terrorists and the countries supposedly harboring them. The idea was to show that America would not be messed with and that we would retaliate in the case of an attack and seek “victory” through arms and bombs.
It is deeply ironic, then, that the person most strongly opposed to such a response to violence, Mahatma Gandhi, on the very same date in 1906 launched his satyagraha or nonviolence movement. The Natal government in South Africa had come up with an ordinance disenfranchising Indians and essentially inflicting a form of apartheid government on them. The essence of that nonviolent movement had to do with fighting violence and injustice with the weapons of truth, soul-force, and patient suffering, with the idea not of retaliation and “victory,” but of establishing a safe space where differences could be discussed and negotiated, and peace and harmony achieved at least in the conflict at hand.
As we know from history that movement, launched on the other September 11th, has turned out to be one of the most powerful moral-social forces in modern times. Gandhi himself used it successfully in his struggle for Indian independence from the British. And his example has been followed by leaders and movements as diverse as Martin Luther King and the civil rights struggle in the US, Lech Walesa and the Solidarity movement in Poland, the East European struggles against Communist totalitarianism,  and Nelson Mandela and the fight against apartheid in South Africa. In Gandhi’s own words: “When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end they always fall.”
As it turns out, there is yet another significant event on September 11. On this date in 1893, the first Parliament of the World’s Religions was opened as part of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the first global interfaith gathering in modern history. America up to that point saw itself as a largely Protestant-Christian country, but with the Parliament it opened itself to the diversity of the world’s religions and preached a message of peace and harmony among them as an essential step toward achieving a wider peace in the world. A brilliant Indian monk from the Ramakrishna Order, Swami Vivekananda, caught the imagination of the delegates gathered in the assembly and through them the imagination of the globe.
It is worth citing his message to the Parliament, because it is still timely and relevant: “Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth…But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.”
So, when we in a broader historical perspective consider some of the other significant events that have taken place on September 11th we might revision how we see this date in history and more significantly what lessons we learn from it. Will we associate this day with violence and retaliation waged in the name of military victories, or will be rather learn from Gandhi and Vivekananda the messages of a robust peace and of harmony between peoples?  This is a truly teachable moment.