politics is no longer important – the critical issue in D.C. is character

May integrity and uprightness protect me,
    because my hope, Lord, is in you. – Psalm 25:21

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Derek Maul writes from North Carolina

One of the primary ways I manage to write inspirationally is to keep my heart open to be inspired myself. Reading scripture; listening to life; paying attention to the beauty that surrounds me; listening to music; listening to Rebekah’s messages; reading books, meditations, devotions, and more.

This morning I perused the WFPC “Leaflets” – the weekly newsletter our church circulates every Friday. In it my friend Ray had written this week’s “Officer’s Column,” and he was reflecting on the dynamic, nonstop, irrepressible sense of life that defines our faith community.

Ray mentioned – with enthusiasm – this year’s confirmation class, drawing an important line of connection between the principles, ideals, and vision that gave birth to America, and the critically important work WFPC is doing with children, youth, and families. Here’s a segment from Ray’s letter:

200 years ago the Founding Fathers had this group in mind when they determined the future of the U.S. was dependent on “virtuous people,” describing character and service. In fact, Ben Franklin wrote that nothing is more important than to train youth in wisdom and virtue and added, “…talents for the education of youth are the gift of God…” The Founding Fathers would be pleased with the advisors, mentors and teachers of the Confirmation Class. (WFPC elder Ray Evans)

I’ll write more on the confirmation process after these young people make their public commitment to follow Jesus this Sunday. But this morning I’m thinking about the fact that “the future of this great country is dependent on virtuous people.”

Virtue:

I’m all for the separation of church and state, and I believe America needs to be governed by people of all perspectives and persuasions when it comes to faith, but there is absolutely no substitute for virtue, and character, and integrity, and honesty, and trustworthiness, and incorruptibility… and – to use an extraordinarily powerful word that doesn’t get much mileage nowadays – uprightness.

Uprightness, America! That’s what we need to be talking about.

Let’s not use a litmus test based on political leanings, or social standing, or denominational affiliation, or race, or ethnic background, or “what will you do for me once you’re in power?” Instead, let’s dig a deep moat around the U.S. Capitol and White House, and only let people in via a door marked “Uprightness.”

Granted, politics has been fraught with hypocrisy and corruption and graft and immorality and more since – and including – the Founders back in 1776. But that doesn’t mean we have to like it, or excuse it, or stand for it today!

In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. – Titus 2:7-8

Pardon me for sounding idealistic. But isn’t it about time we were? And in’t it past time to place the future of our nation in the hands of women and men who are rooted in virtue, practiced in integrity, and committed to moral uprightness?

I believe it’s a question we must pay attention to – DEREK

sorting out Caesar’s demands and God’s opportunities #IRS

Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” – Matthew 22:21b

Tiberius1It’s always interesting to me to see how readily scripture interfaces with real life. I read the Bible daily, typically diving in many times while I’m writing. Always, without fail, the word speaks truth, wisdom, understanding, encouragement, inspiration, and more into my thinking and my living.

My Sunday morning discipleship class has been reading through the Gospel of Matthew for more than a year. When we started, we had no idea the study would go more than a few weeks. That’s why it seemed so providential when the first Sunday in Lent just happened to coincide with Christ’s Triumphal Entry at the beginning of chapter 21, nicely setting up Holy Week stories for the entire run up to Easter.

Give to Caesar:

withered-hand-manThen, this week, what should show up but the Pharisees trying to trick Jesus into a politically incorrect discussion about taxes! Yes, that’s right, I had just finished preparing my parents’ tax returns. And now there’s an open TurboTax file on my computer, constantly peeking around the other icons on my desktop, vying for attention, staring me down until I get my own taxes in order.

Matthew tells a great story, and it’s well worth reading all eight verses. But it’s this small statement by Jesus that keeps working its way into my consciousness right now: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”

The Give unto Caesar part is a challenge, yes, but the tax software I use simply takes the facts of our income, our deductions, what we’ve already paid, plus our particular life circumstances, and then spits out a firm number at the other end. Simple; not very pleasant, but clearcut nonetheless.

Give to God:

It’s the second part that really demands our attention and our open-spirited consideration; “Give to God what belongs to God.” It’s a question that is crucial if we are to really understand what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

People often consider a financial commitment to their church the same way they think about “pay to play” fees at the gym, the Y, or maybe neighborhood association dues. Disciples, however, wake up every day with a sense of, “I belong to God; everything I am and hope to be belongs to God; my self, my family, my home, my resources, my church – it all belongs to God.”

Once we begin to think about the fact that Jesus instructs us to “Give to God what belongs to God,” then it’s not longer a question of “how much can I spare each month to put in the plate?” but, “what am I doing with my resources that inhibits me from giving even more?”

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image from “Life of Christ Videos”

Christ’s words remind me that passing along my leftovers isn’t exactly a transformational spiritual discipline. Recognizing that everything already belongs to God, and understanding my role in partnership with God to reach the world with love… now that is life-changing, church-strengthening, and world-saving!

  • Recognizing that everything already belongs to God, and understanding my role in partnership with God to reach the world with love… now that is life-changing, church-strengthening, and world-saving!

Here’s the entire exchange, at Matthew 22:15-22:

Then the Pharisees left the place where Jesus was teaching. They made plans to catch him saying something wrong. They sent some men to Jesus. They were some of their own followers and some from the group called Herodians. They said, “Teacher, we know you are an honest man. We know you teach the truth about God’s way. You are not afraid of what others think about you. All people are the same to you. So tell us what you think. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

But Jesus knew that these men were trying to trick him. So he said, “You hypocrites! Why are you trying to catch me saying something wrong? Show me a coin used for paying the tax.” They showed Jesus a silver coin. Then he asked, “Whose picture is on the coin? And whose name is written on the coin?”

They answered, “It is Caesar’s picture and Caesar’s name.”

Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”

When they heard what Jesus said, they were amazed. They left him and went away.

new flavors and open hearts #foodie

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But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” Acts 10:14-15

Tuesday evening, after a series of good but not great meals, we finally hit the jackpot with a Blue Apron meal that earns my first “A”-rating of the series. The main point of this experiment is to push my cooking comfort zone and to introduce new flavors; this recipe scored well on both counts.

The Miso-Butter Chicken with Freekeh & Sautéed Carrots was a little complicated to prepare (more a case of constantly rushing from one element to the next and back, a real juggling game), so I’d recommend carefully reading the instructions and planning strategy before starting. But the flavor profile was wonderful. Rebekah and I were actually excited about this meal, enjoying it to the extent that we were constantly talking about the flavors and textures while we were eating.

Some of the highlights:

  • IMG_8484Our first time eating cracked freekeh, and it will certainly not be the last. Both the flavor and the texture were unique.
  • I’ve never enjoyed kale like this. The preparation, the interaction with the sautéed carrots, and the effect of the miso-butter, and how it worked with the chicken. Surprisingly delicious.
  • The miso-butter. I did some research and am fascinated with the process. It was the perfect compliment to the stronger flavors of the freekeh, the soy, and the kale, bringing it all together.
  • Bringing together rice vinegar, scallions, carrots, and kale; not something I’d have tried on my own. Wonderful flavors.

So there you have it. I served the meal with ice-tea and a full-bodied cabernet. Definitely the best dinner of the month so far.

Take a stand against closed spirits:

IMG_8473For me, this was also a subtle reminder that there’s always something to learn, new flavors to engage, ideas that we haven’t considered before. This is what we learn from people who are not like us, groups who make us nervous, other ethnicities, immigrants, folk we don’t usually associate with.

Then of course flavor is not limited to food, it’s the way we color life, it’s how we experience one another.

Open minds, open hearts, open spirits. Love is not only invitational, it has to be open to learning too.

– Derek

Lighten up, get off your religious high horse, and open up your hearts!

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Working at the kitchen table today… because I can!

Peter said, “I really am learning that God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another. Rather, in every nation, whoever worships him and does what is right is acceptable to him. This is the message of peace he sent to the Israelites by proclaiming the good news through Jesus Christ: He is Lord of all!” – Acts 10:34-36

Sometimes I’ll be sitting at my desk, reading the Bible, or – as some biblical writers put it – searching the scriptures, and a passage seems to just stand up and reach out of the page.

  • “I really am learning that God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another.”
  • “This is the message of peace… the good news through Jesus… He is Lord of all!”

Not a message of confrontation. Not a message of “we’re right and you’re wrong.” Not a message of “we’re God’s favorite Christians.” Not a message of finely tuned doctrine and culturally nuanced theology. But a message of peace; a message of Good news through Jesus; the message that God is Lord of all.

  • But what if this other group doesn’t line up with our interpretation of scripture? “Peace; good news; He is Lord of all!”
  • And what if they baptize people all wrong? “Peace; good news; He is Lord of all.”
  • But maybe they’re in a sect, or believe stuff I don’t get? “Peace; good news; He is Lord of all!”
  • Okay, then, but what if they’re not like us, or they’re gay, or they burn incense, or they’re socialists, or they voted for the wrong person, or they have deviant lifestyles, or we don’t like how they do communion…? “Peace, good news; He is Lord of all!”

Here’s what God is poking at me with today. Sure, I want people to know about the good news that Jesus brings… but then – too often – I want it to be my slant on the message! But this is the good news, not that Jesus favors my comfort zone when it comes to religious expression, but that God is Lord of all! Jesus is an open invitation, Jesus is God’s great initiative of grace and mercy. Jesus doesn’t belong to my way of thinking; I belong to God because Jesus has opened the door.

 This is the good news, not that Jesus favors my comfort zone when it comes to religious expression, but that God is Lord of all! Jesus is an open invitation, Jesus is God’s great initiative of grace and mercy. Jesus doesn’t belong to my way of thinking; I belong to God because Jesus has opened the door.

Peter had to understand that, once the door was open (now the door is open) absolutely anyone may possibly walk on through. Our job is to extend the invitation. Jesus is the gate. Peace; good news; He is Lord of all!

Peace; good news; He is Lord of all! – DEREK

I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief enters only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest. – John 10:9-10

10-photo Thursday

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Early morning walk in Wake Forest

I’ve been struck this week by how complex and varied North Carolina is this time of the year. Sunday afternoon the temps reached 81-degrees, Monday night featured a good freeze, Wednesday was the more typical wintery 45 and rainy, then – today at 10:00 in the morning – it’s a picture perfect 41-degrees with brilliant sunshine.

It’s easy to forget that “average” regional temperatures are nothing more than a statistical construct, with little or no bearing on what any actual moment in time might look like.

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morning around Ashvillle (Kim Altman)

One of the great themes of my writing is that of constantly inspiring anyone willing to listen to be anything but average in the way they live. However, and a lot like believing a climate model should be able to predict today’s weather, we allow ourselves to become consistently conformed to the expected, to the extent that “the way things are” unreasonably limits us, dulls our imaginations, and often holds more sway than our commitment to live as followers of the living way of Jesus.

We allow ourselves to become consistently conformed to the expected, to the extent that “the way things are” unreasonably limits us, dulls our imaginations, and often holds more sway than our commitment to live as followers of the living way of Jesus.

So I’ll wrap this short post by quoting Paul in his letter to the Colossians. He, too, was concerned that his friends were forgetting their primary commitment to follow Jesus. “If you died with Christ to the way the world thinks and acts, then why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?” (Colossians 2:20-23)

Our opportunity – as disciples – is to move out of the restrictive, constrictive realm of “normal,” and to live truly extraordinary lives as followers of Jesus. Our calling is to be subversive for Jesus.

In love, and because of love – DEREK

(So here are a few fun photos from this week – enjoy!)

 

flotsam and jetsam? or fixed points of light?

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van Gogh – Starry Night

I have always loved the stars. Seeing the vast panoply of God’s handiwork strewn out over the heavens is inspirational, breathtaking, beautiful. When I take in the vistas of this earth – magnificent as they are – I can see at best a few measurable miles in any direction; but when I look up… I immediately take in vast planets, whole worlds, entire solar systems, galaxies, and more.

However, fascinated as I am, I have never learned much about the constellations other than a few key groupings. With the help of a guide, though, I’m sure I could learn to pick out enough to navigate by….

So How do We Navigate?

Like the depth and complexity of the Universe, there is a seemingly limitless stream of information available to us here in 2017. Not just books, schools, libraries, newspapers, television, radio, and the Internet, but our actual experiences in real time, engaging other people, observing, doing. We are exposed to an ocean of data (ideas, facts, news, analysis, opinions, deceptions…) that washes over us – largely unfiltered – twenty-four seven.

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night sky at The Grand Canyon (James Kaiser)

However, just like looking out into the heavens, we can – we must – identify fixed markers by which to navigate. If we don’t we will become lost, rudderless, subject to the whims of the moment, the emotions that skew our perspective, and the machinations of the unscrupulous.

Each day I am going to encounter much more information than I can adequately process. So I have to make choices, I have to use filters, I have to look through particular lenses. The important thing here is that these are decisions I must make going forward rather than reactions I’m subject to when I’m not in a position to chose judiciously.

I love the way Paul approaches this daily challenge as documented in his letter to the Philippians (Chapter 4): “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

Today – any day – I have this choice, we all do. I can allow an overwhelming torrent of negativity, hostility, disillusion, and unbelief to have its way with me; or, by the grace of God, I can pick out what I must navigate by, and that is the invitation of Jesus to actually be light in the middle of all this darkness.

 “Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. Hold firmly to the word of life…” – Philippians 2:12-18)

Like I said, the choice is ours. Today, tomorrow, every day going forward. We can either allow the overwhelm to carry us along like so much flotsam and jetsam – or we can stand as fixed points of light. Not just to navigate ourselves, but to help others find the way too.

Not our obligation, but our opportunity – DEREK

 

 

Rebekah’s healing (when freedom works hand in hand with law) #Romans8

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.” – Romans 8:1-3

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Rebekah leaving surgeon’s office with Betty in hand

It’s been a few days shy of three months since Rebekah woke up from surgery wearing her neck brace, and we started to wrestle with the challenges of a difficult recovery. During that time the brace – Rebekah named it “Betty” – has been a feature pretty much twenty-four seven. Rebekah and Betty developed this love-hate relationship; she needed Betty, but Betty was as much committed to irritation and slow strangulation as she was healing.

“Well what did you expect?” the surgeon said in a line I’m sure I’ve shared before; “After all, I did slit your throat and then break your neck. This is going to take some time.”

Well yesterday, in a kind of Romans 8:1-3 moment, Rebekah was released from the law of Betty Brace. She is no longer required to wear Betty 24-7: “You will know when you need your brace,” the surgeon said; “the healing will make it clear.”

Healing and The Law:

Wow. What a moment of beautiful relief! It’s not the bracing that imposes itself on Rebekah’s healing anymore, but the healing itself. She’s not throwing Betty away – much as she’d enjoy a few moments in the back garden with Betty, some lighter fluid, and a couple of matches – because she knows there will be moments (though few and far between) when the rigidity of “the law” will be necessary in order to facilitate continued healing.

Now this is nowhere near a perfect metaphor, nor an exact match by any means, but this whole Betty Brace situation has caused me to think about the relationship between my ongoing healing as a disciple of Jesus… and the important role the structure of religious practice plays in providing a directive framework where my relationship with Jesus can grow.

The structure of religious practice plays an important role in providing a directive framework where my relationship with Jesus can grow.

I am free in Christ Jesus! But I am free not for my own selfish desires, I am free to enter into the kind of relationship with God we were all created to enjoy. My ongoing healing as a redeemed person is going to make it clear – if I’m paying attention – when and where I need to put the brace back on.

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Rebekah driving to work

Why? Because complete healing takes faithfulness, and time, and practice, and patience, and listening, and commitment, and regeneration, and – yes – sometimes a directive framework.

So Rebekah is driving again – for the first time since the pain stopped her sometime in September. And we are so very grateful. Grateful for healing, yes, but grateful for Betty Brace too.

In love, and because of love – DEREK

You can either roll in it… or “think on these things”

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Scout Labradoodle

Alrighty, friends, I had something very serious I wanted to post about today. There’s a toxic undercurrent to the tone of public discourse right now, and I feel the need to address it.

But – and exactly because of this toxic undercurrent – sometimes what the Internet needs is puppy dogs, butterflies, and rainbows. So here’s a puppy dog. You’re welcome.

img_7549-001In the winter we let Scout’s coat grow out. Consequently, she needs grooming around three times per day. The budget, however, works more like once every couple of months. That’s why I take photographs when we get back from the “Dirty Dog Spa” – it’s so I can remember what she’s supposed to look like.

To be honest, I think Scout herself prefers the au naturel look. She’s not a big fan of “fluffy,” and she spends the rest of the day trying to shake the water out of her ears and looking for something nasty to roll in.

I’m tempted to take this in the direction of a current event metaphor, but instead I’ll take a deep breath and let the moment pass. We didn’t let Scoutie roll in it yet, and I’m not about to either.

So, in the words of one of  absolute my favorite writers, Paul:

From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:8-9

And if that doesn’t work, copy and paste one of these photos of the puppy. She’s actually working on behalf of the kingdom. Peace – DEREK

applause lines, and the good people of “already great” North Carolina

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“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” – (The U.S. Pledge of Allegiance, revised, 1954)

I’ve probably said this before, but I seriously love every opportunity I’m given to share my life and my passion via invitations to speak. Irrespective of the venue – keynoting a conference or retreat, sharing the message at a church, lunch or dinner speaker, leading a seminar or workshop, doing a radio interview, teaching a class – I always enjoy the unique exchange that happens when there’s a live audience in play.

img_7539Yesterday I drove round and beyond the south side of Raleigh (it was a beautiful drive) to speak at a “senior luncheon” that brings together retirees from several rural churches. The fellowship hall was full of good people, the food was wonderful, and the atmosphere was warm and inviting.

My topic was a mixture of “How I got to be an American” and “Why I love America.” Then, as I got to know the audience, and gauge their response, it became a little more, “How and why I have fallen in love with North Carolina.”

They were a very gracious audience, and surprised me with several outbursts of applause – which is always extremely gratifying to a speaker. And that nudged me toward what turned out to be the big applause line, a thought I hadn’t prepared ahead of time, but simply presented itself to me at the right moment.

“I want you to know I’m not being political,” I said (which I’m not sure was one hundred percent true!) – “but, having lived here now for three and a half years, I’ve got to say that nobody needs to make North Carolina great again – because you most undoubtedly already are!”

Like I said, BIG applause line, HUGE.

img_7532Of course I went on to say that there’s not a single one of us, let alone a state, that wouldn’t benefit from some improvement. Because we’re all moving forward, we’re all on a journey, we’re all better when we accept the proposition that we are works in progress, and that God hasn’t nearly finished with us yet.

But at the same time we need to celebrate the goodness, and the faithfulness, and the hard work of so many Americans, and to embrace the foundational understanding that we are a free people, and that our freedom necessarily involves commensurate responsibility.

They are so many good, fine, already-making-American-great folk out there, and it was a great privilege for me to be in a church hall that was full of them, and to share from my heart.

Our Common Heart:

I believe that all these restrictive and constrictive labels – “conservative,” “liberal,” “progressive,” “reactionary,” etc., labels so glibly applied to whole groups of people – say very little about our hearts, our dreams, and our common love for living life in freedom and joy.

Yesterday I hung out with good, freedom-loving, faith-filled people from rural North Carolina; this evening I’m going to be with a couple of hundred good, freedom-loving, faith-filled folk from Wake Forest; on another day I may be hanging with some good, freedom-loving, faith-filled social activists from the inner city.

img_7529The point is we are a great nation, filled with millions of people from a variety of disparate ideological frames of reference. But we all want more progress toward the realization of “Indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” and it doesn’t do any good to label any of us anything other than freedom-loving, faith-filled, and good.

So that’s what I learned yesterday lunch time, and it’s something I pray more of us learn… instead of constantly tearing one another apart.

In love, because of love, and in the truth of promise – DEREK

 

some thoughts on the “Women’s March” backlash…

You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Now if you belong to Christ, then indeed you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:26-29

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Image by Alex Brandon – Associated Press

The oft-repeated argument that locally-sourced bigotry is excusable because, “it’s far worse in other countries” is bogus, false, dishonest, disingenuous, and designed to justify…

This morning I’d like to offer a few comments about Saturday’s “Women’s March on Washington,” and the hundreds of spin-off marches around the nation.

I know a large number of people who participated – both in D.C. and here in Raleigh, where some 20,000 marched. These are women (and a few men) who respect the electoral process, participate in democracy, listen to others, and hold a variety of social and political viewpoints – but who feel it is important to protest what they believe has been a significant step backwards in the posture of American leadership when it comes to honoring, and respecting, the equal status of women and minorities.

Obviously we as Americans are all over the map when it comes to our assessment of where we stand as a nation in this regard. We all acknowledge there’s been tremendous progress over the past few decades; but while some believe we’ve come far enough – or too far – others are concerned that the new administration has signaled its intention to turn the clock back.

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Mario Tama – Getty Images

It’s clear that people of good conscience disagree over so many things – so why not this? My post today is not designed to cast aspersions on Republican lawmakers, but to raise my voice against the tidal wave of misinformation, fake news, anger, and bigotry that has been conjured up in response to what was evidently a series of peaceful, enthusiastic, constructive, heartfelt demonstrations.

I guess my greatest concern – and frustration – is the tendency of so many to instantly share, “amen,” and re-post gross misrepresentations of the truth, and to then judge everyone they disagree with according to what is undeniably patent falsehood.

So I’d like to set the record straight with these self-evident truths (feel free to share):

  • No, women who marched are not saying you are, “a disgrace to women” because you didn’t march or don’t support the march. That’s a lie.
  • No one in these marches went to Washington (or elsewhere) to whine, blame, look for a free ride, or refuse to take personal responsibility.
  • The oft-repeated argument that locally-sourced bigotry is excusable because, “it’s far worse in other countries” is bogus, false, dishonest, disingenuous, and designed to justify what goes on here.
  • So, no, it’s not okay to denigrate women in America because, “At least we let her drive.” Or, “It’s not a real injustice, because at least we didn’t kill her for forgetting her place….”
  • Gender bias is real, and women are still underpaid and under respected in relation to their male counterparts.
  • Racial discrimination remains a septic undercurrent in America that runs deep.
  • Faith-based persecution is alive and well, and it is – always – 100% wrong.
  • The practice of male chauvinism, “good old boy” networks, and misogyny have not gone away and – yes – women in America are often treated unfairly as a result.
  • Many Americans believe, teach, and practice gender-stereotypical social roles that keep women in the kitchen, men out of nurturing roles, and equal opportunity out of the picture.

That’s just scratching the surface of what I have observed. But I hope the point is well made.

Let’s not discount a very real set of concerns. We still have a ways to go here in the USA when it comes to being more credible world leaders in the field of human rights. It’s not only charity that “begins at home” – it’s justice too.

– DEREK