Time for Real American Revolution

Perhaps we got off on the wrong foot by calling our war against King George III and England the Revolutionary War.  A revolutionary war implies that the opponents of the government in power are aiming to change that government.  American colonists didn’t give a fig about changing the way the English government worked; they were fighting for independence. In fact, there was little agreement about what type of government they would end up having.

Thankfully, the government we inherited from our founders grants us all we need for a true revolution.  The challenge we face as a nation is that we are so busy attacking the “other side” that we have neither the insight nor the courage to restore a government of, by and for the American people.  An astounding majority of Americans (more than 90%) are deeply dissatisfied with the performance of Congress; yet in election after election we re-elect 92% of that same group of legislators.

Americans rail against special interests, unlimited campaign contributions, dark money, lack of term limits and hateful attack political ads.  The way out is simple, but especially challenging:

  1. Ignore all of the attack ads.
  2. Pay no attention to the money poured into any candidate’s “war chest.”
  3. Forget which party you believe is the better party.
  4. Don’t fall for any political candidate’s ardent but empty promise to support your religious or political beliefs.
  5. On November 6,2018, VOTE. But vote against every incumbent US Senator or member of the US House of Representatives.  If there is no incumbent because of retirement or resignation, vote for the candidate of the other political party.
  6. On November 3, 2020, do it again. Vote out every incumbent up for re-election.

Imagine a completely new Congress in which every representative knows that he or she must act to represent the people’s interests rather than kowtowing to some special interest group.  I believe this is what the Founders had in mind when they formed the US government.  No career politicians, especially in the House of Representatives.  No one becoming rich by serving the people.

Can we stop demonizing members of the other political party?  Can we care more about America’s future than we do about one party’s politically crafted platform that will be ignored after each election?  Can we muster up the courage to drain the swamp by ourselves rather than expecting politicians to do it for us?

All that remains to be seen; but one thing is certain. We will get the governing body we vote into office. If we don’t vote, we surrender to the will of others.  Join the revolution.

#VoteForNoIncumbents. #CleanSweepTheHouse. #VoteforAmerica.

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Two million reasons America should tell Trump, “You’re Fired.”

In 1991-2, while stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, I volunteered to visit with prisoners at the military prison. I met a former Air Force Lieutenant Colonel who had lost his commission and was serving 15 years for having committed adultery with a subordinate’s wife. He would get out of prison with a dishonorable discharge, no retirement and no veteran’s benefits. He used a well-worn comment to describe his situation: “I did the crime, so now I do the time.”

You may be surprised to learn that adultery is not listed as an offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. This prisoner had been convicted under the broad provisions of Article 134 of the UCMJ, which prohibits conduct that brings discredit upon the armed forces, or conduct which is prejudicial to good order and discipline.

Now, consider that Donald Trump is the Commander-in-Chief of 1.2 million active duty soldiers, sailors and marines (as well as 800 thousand reservists and National Guardsmen when they are mobilized) who serve to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. If Trump were subject to the UCMJ, he would have been charged with multiple acts that discredit the armed forces and are prejudicial to good order and discipline.

Imagine serving in the military, being commanded to sacrifice everything, possibly including your life, to the defense of America’s interests. Imagine knowing that behavior which could get you court-martialed has been displayed openly by your commander-in-chief. How can members of the military be held to such standards while the president is not?

The “Support Our Troops” sentiment should be more than a bumper sticker. Impeach Donald Trump and Make America Decent Again.

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Elections and Veterans’ Day

After I was commissioned in the Army as an infantry officer in 1969, my first assignment was to serve as a tactical training officer at the Officer Candidate School, Fort Benning, GA. Each week, over 270 soldiers would start the six-month training regimen leading to their being commissioned. By the end of the course, there were usually less than 150 graduates. A few left because of injuries or unwillingness to stick it out. The far greater number were eliminated because of rigorous peer-ratings or the training cadre’s decision that they weren’t cut out to be infantry platoon leaders.

As memories of the eighteen months I served in the training brigade came flooding back on Veteran’s Day, I was struck with an unwelcome but powerful realization. Had Donald Trump been an officer candidate, there is no possible way he would have made it to commissioning day. His behaviors in speech and actions would have led to an early dismissal from the school and orders to depart for Vietnam immediately. Based on what I experienced as an infantry platoon leader in combat, he would have had to serve in a unit filled with African-American and Hispanic soldiers. In the platoon I first led in Vietnam, there were 36 men of color and 7 whites, counting myself.  Soldiers who did not find a way to cooperate and serve together for the benefit of the entire unit suffered harsh, sometimes lethal,  consequences.

Now we have President-elect Donald Trump. He won election to the nation’s highest office in a brutal, hostile campaign; but he did win. Many Americans are proclaiming that he is not their President. But he is the President-elect, and he will be the President in January. We get one President at a time in America. Soldiers and Veterans know they don’t get to choose their commander-in-chief.

I am hoping Mr. Trump finally comes to realize he needs to serve all Americans with a firm purpose of ensuring “Liberty and Justice for all.”  There were not many signs during the campaign that he does.  But I am prepared to give him the same level of respect he displays for every American, regardless of their skin color, race, creed, political beliefs or sexual orientation.

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Of guns,tangled webs and the politics of fear.

At one point in my life, I owned three rifles, a shotgun and a pistol.  Not once did I concern myself about my second amendment right to bear arms. I simply used them for what they were, tools.  The .22 rifle was for plinking soda cans and beer bottles set up on fence posts, shooting pine cones out of trees better than my friends could (in my view) and hunting jack rabbits.  The other two rifles were for deer hunting, and the shotgun was for things that flew or slithered over rocks.  The pistol, an old .38 Special that my dad owned and carried when he was acting as a sheriff’s deputy, seemed to be the least practical to me.  The short barrel made it about as accurate as a Wham-O slingshot.

Aside from also using them to shoot holes in pieces of paper at the target range, that’s all guns were useful for.  From the first time my father allowed me to use a firearm, he regularly reminded me of his three rules regarding guns: First, a gun is always loaded, even when it isn’t; so don’t treat it otherwise. Second, never aim  a gun at another person unless you intend to shoot him. Third, never shoot another person unless you intend to kill him.

I enjoyed a good life growing up in rural Nevada and hunting was a significant part of the life I enjoyed.  Years later, I was called upon to spend a year of my life using all sizes and calibers of guns to hunt down and kill human beings.  As an infantry officer in Vietnam, I led other young men in that same grisly endeavor.  Some years after returning from the southeast Asia War Games, as some of us veterans callously referred to that conflict, I realized that I found no pleasure in having guns; so I got rid of them.  I still enjoy going to a rifle range with one of my sons and poking holes in targets with high speed projectiles. But it doesn’t take long for the entertainment value to wear off for me.

So, let’s be clear about guns.  They are tools with limited usefulness.  They can be used to shoot holes in paper targets and other inanimate objects. They can be used to shoot animals.  And they can be used to shoot other people.  They are no more useful for any other purpose than a jet ski is when it is stored in a garage.  You can’t mow your lawn or go the grocery store on your Wave Runner.

Like every other American, I have listened to and followed the debate about the right to bear arms.  None of us can escape the uproar over the subject, which has been filled with heat, but not much light.  It is time to stop quoting the second amendment out of context.  The actual text is, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

It is also past the time to stop making up stories about gun control.  The “government” does not want to take away your guns. Truth be told, gun and ammunition makers are going to be sad to see President Obama leave office.  He “sold” more guns in America than anyone in history.

It’s also time to be honest about assault rifles. Nobody needs an assault weapon to hunt deer, elk or bears.  If we are going to continue selling such weapons, enroll those gun owners in our nation’s militia (AKA the National Guard or Reserves).  Attending a drill one weekend a month would probably be a good thing for regulating the militia.  Oh, and spending two weeks’ vacation time to attend annual summer training would be good, too.

Finally, lock up assault rifles in armories or other high security locations and have the owners sign them out when they want to use them at the rifle range. The Army locked up my M-16 in Vietnam when I was in the rear area, and that was in a war zone.

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Reunions along the traveled way…

John O’Donohue, in Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong,  said that, “Ideally, a human life should be a constant pilgrimage of discovery.  The most exciting discoveries happen at the frontiers.  When you come to know something new, you come closer to yourself and to the world.  Discovery enlarges and refines your sensibility. When you discover something, you transfigure some of the forsakenness of the world.”   When Sandy and I walked the pilgrimage of El Camino de Santiago in Spain in 2013, we were touched by how frequently we would meet up with people we had seen days or even weeks before.  We enjoyed talking with our companions on the way, learning what they had experienced since we last talked and how the journey was affecting them, both physically and spiritually.  We had a similar, though deeper experience during our travels last summer.

When we crossed the border into Ontario, we stopped at the provincial welcome center. Travel-themed messages were etched into many of the walkway paving stones leading to the center. One made a lasting impression on me: “The young set travels for the education; the older travels for the experience.”  That thought resonated in me as we continued our travels through Ontario, North Dakota, Montana, Alberta, Idaho and Washington.

In Spokane, I had a reunion with fellow “pilgrims” that I had been with in Europe fifty years earlier while we were spending a year of college in Florence, Italy.  I wondered how I would be able to connect with college friends I had not seen for half a century.  What happened could only be described a mystical experience of our constant pilgrimage.  For the whole weekend, I felt deeply connected to everyone.  Memories that had lain dormant somewhere in my mind burst forth as though they happened last week.   The years and travails that grayed our hair and lined our skin seemed to me to melt away.

Most remarkably, the reunion was unlike any other I have experienced.  Absent were the attempts to impress one another and to dwell on all the things we had accomplished.  We simply enjoyed each person’s experiences and progress along the way through life.  Three months after the reunion, I am moved each time I reflect on our time together; and I am filled with gratitude for being with such wonderful friends.

When we pass on from this life, if it turns out there is a heaven, I’m reasonably certain it will be a lot like that weekend in July.  Thank you, friends. Travel well; and I’ll see you at the end our journey.

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The universe rearranges itself to match your vision of reality.

In my last post–a long time ago–I wrote that my progress on El Camino de Santiago was delayed in the little village of Rabanal because of food poisoning I picked up in an albergue near Astorga.  That experience led to my earlier comment that there are angels everywhere.  We spent the first night in an albergue in Rabanal; a really rough experience when you are sick.  I wanted to continue walking the next day, but once we stepped out on the street, I knew I was going nowhere.  One of the two small hotels had one room available, and the owner allowed us to check in at 9:00 a.m.  The next day we had to move because of room reservations, so we went to the other small hotel–and again got the last available room. As I lay in bed that day it occurred to me that there are two pilgrimages: The one you plan; and the one you actually take.

On the third day I was concerned that I wasn’t feeling any better. There is no doctor or pharmacy in Rabanal, so the hotel owner called a taxi in Astorga for me.  It was a shock to ride back to Astorga in less than 20 minutes since it had taken us a good part of a day to walk from there to Rabanal.  We would have had a very difficult time finding the large medical center on our own.  When we arrived there the driver took us in, helped us through the sign-in process and then led us through a maze of offices to the doctor I had to wait to see.  He then told me he would return at 12:30 and take us back to Rabanal.  I tried to pay, but he said, “not now.” I can’t imagine that would happen with a cabbie in America.

When I finally got in to be examined by the doctor, he wasn’t saying much. He asked me if I spoke Spanish and I told him “un poquito.”  He said he was sorry that he couldn’t speak German.  “But, I’m American,” I told him. He showed me on my admission paperwork that the receptionist had written down that I was from Aleman (Germany).  She had examined my American passport when we arrived.  Small wonder I never received a bill from the clinic!

At the end of his exam, the doctor said I would be better in one or two days; and he gave me a list of what to eat and not eat.  We were just preparing to walk toward the entrance when the taxi driver showed up.  He took us back to the hotel in Rabanal, went in with us and explained my dietary needs to the owner and the barkeep.

I was feeling better by early afternoon, so we sat down for lunch.  The owner refused my order and said to wait a few minutes.  She brought out white rice and a grated apple that was the best applesauce I had eaten for years.  The world IS full of angels.

For those of you planning to walk the Camino, this experience helped me gain some valuable insights:   1.  There are people all along the way who will help you; 2. It’s better to let the Camino have its way with you than trying to conquer it; 3. The Camino–like the universe–is a benevolent place if you view it that way.  For those who are not planning a pilgrimage, you are nevertheless on one; and the same “rules” apply.

 

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This is good!

     There once was an African king whose best friend had the habit of saying, “This is good,” about every occurrence in life, no matter what it was. One day the king and his friend were out hunting. The king’s friend loaded a gun and handed it to the king; but he loaded it wrong and when the king fired it, his thumb was blown off.
     “This is good!” exclaimed the king’s friend.
     The king became furious. “How can you say this is good? A missing thumb is obviously horrible!” he shouted. And the king had his best friend thrown into prison.
     About a year later the king went hunting by himself. Cannibals captured him and took him to their village. They tied him up, stacked some wood, erected a stake and bound him to it. As they started to set fire to the wood, they noticed that the king was missing a thumb. Being superstitious, they never ate anyone who was less than whole. They untied the king and sent him on his way.
     Full of remorse the king rushed to the prison to release his friend. “You were right, it WAS good” the king said. The king told his friend how the missing thumb saved his life and added, “I feel so sad that I locked you in jail. That was such a bad thing to do”
     “NO! This is good!” responded his friend.
     “Oh, how could that be good my friend, I did a terrible thing to you while I owe you my life”.
     “It is good” said his friend, “because had I not been locked up, I would have been hunting with you and they would have killed and eaten me!”

      Yet when Sandy and I were walking across Spain and she pulled a tendon in her knee, I did not exclaim, “This is good!”  For three days we had to walk shorter distances and a slower pace while her knee healed.  I found myself thinking, “This is not good. We are falling behind on our schedule to get to Santiago in time.  We won’t be able to catch up to our schedule.”

     I also began to see that by taking our time, we were having a richer experience.  We met people we might have passed by; we stayed places much more interesting than we had planned; we had conversations that we still recall with pleasure.

     As we continued our pilgrimage I became more excited about reaching the highest spot on the Camino at Cruz de Ferro. The day before we were to make the climb, I contracted food poisoning, which forced us to stay in the small village of Sabanal for three days, just half a day’s walk from the summit.  ­­­­I did not think to say that being sick was a good thing, but in so many ways it was good.  We were cared for by wonderful people who showed us true hospitality and friendship.  That experience helped make my arrival at Cruz de Ferro a truly transcendent moment; one that I will treasure the rest of my life.

     So whenever some situation or problem appears to be so bad, I am reminding myself, “For all I know, this is a good thing.”

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Let it go

Let It Go

 

Push away,

            Push away

Drop everything now.

Whatever you have

            is enough for the journey

                        and too much for your soul.

Leave behind everything

            you thought was home.

Home is a place inside you

            that you pass by

            speeding

to your daily distractions.

 

This time, as you dip the oars

            into the dark waters

            stirring the glass surface,

don’t hope for the far shore,

don’t regret the receding pier.

Follow the spreading ripples

Flow with the gentle glide of the strokes

 

Until the next dipping of the oars.

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One people, many paths, one destination

In my summary blog of the things I learned while walking the Way of St. James (June 17, 2013), the second insight was, “One people; many paths; one destination.”  This insight was able to come to light in me, I believe, because I stepped beyond the normal comfort and familiarity of my day-to-day life.  I had the vague notion that all people are one people because of my cultural and religious heritage, but I did not learn—or maybe Flagseven believe—the truth of the matter until I walked with people from many different nations and cultures for 40 days.

During the first 7 days of our pilgrimage, we met people from 21 nations and 13 US states. In the space of about an hour one morning, we greeted two young people from Japan, a couple from Slovenia, three young women walking together from Bogota, Vienna and Boston (they had met a few days before and were already old friends) and two middle-aged men traveling together for the day—one from Birmingham, England; the other from Richmond, Texas.

Over time, I gave up trying to keep track of where people came from; they came from everywhere.  As we talked with others, we never encountered anyone who had an opinion about the way we were walking the journey. Nor did they second-guess our reasons.  Everyone had a personal reason for being on the journey; and each had a personal way of traveling. Our commonality was our willingness to encourage one another and to accept individual differences.

What became clear was that even though we had a unique way of making the trek, we were all on the same journey and all headed to the same destination.  The Way is the perfect metaphor for life.  We are all sharing a human experience, and we have our own approach to living out that experience. Yet we are all headed to a common destination. And even though we might not be able to agree on what that destination should be named—Paradise, Nirvana, Heaven or the Void—we all share the same name: Pilgrim.


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Appreciate those who walk with you.

In the last blog I listed some of the insights I gained from walking the Camino of St. James.  The first one was “appreciate those who walk with you.” 

As we traveled along the Camino, we encountered hundreds of other pilgrims; with most of them we shared only the universal greeting of “Buen Camino.”  But there were many others who walked with us along the way.  We saw them several times, stayed in the same albergues with them or shared a table in one of the cafes during our rest and refreshment breaks. With a few we shared the thrill of reaching Santiago together.  I was struck by the gentle peace of our relationships.  No one seemed interested in making comparisons between the way they were making the pilgrimage and my progress. People had no interest in making a case that their reason for walking the Camino was superior to someone else’s reason.  I never overheard or had a conversation about whose religious convictions were better, whose country was the best or whose hiking gear was superior.

So, what emerged in me was a profound sense of appreciation for those with whom we shared part of the journey. The further along the way I walked, the more I experienced the peace and joy of being with others.  I began to ask myself why I don’t appreciate people I meet in my daily life the same way.  My ready excuse was that the situation is different.  I told myself that in our daily lives, some people are just naturally harder to appreciate.  But the truth, for me, is that it is my mindset that is skewed.

Everyone we meet is making his or her own pilgrimage through life. I might not understand their purpose, and I might disagree with their approach; but I can appreciate the fact that they are on the road with me.  Life is too short and too precious to waste time evaluating and criticizing others, especially when I will share the path with them for only a short while. 

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