Saturday, January 24, 2015

Truth and Meaning: Community College Realities

Last Sunday, the Midland Daily News published an editorial titled "Our View: Aid, scholarships already available for community college." An adequate response mandates that the falsehoods in each sentence be addressed.
"Community college should be affordable and doable for everyone who wants to take advantage of it. We agree, without a doubt."
Obviously, the Midland Daily News does not agree with this statement because there are many people who cannot afford community college and this opinion piece opposes a proposal to eliminate those costs. The average student at Delta College taking two classes in one term pays $707 in tuition and fees. Add on the cost of books, gas, childcare and all of the other related expenses, and the total easily exceeds $1,000 per term. If the student is working 40 hours per week at minimum wage jobs, that is 3 1/2 week's worth of salary.
"However, we believe in most cases there are many opportunities for people to attend community college at no expense or nearly no expense to them."
No data support this claim. Last year, Delta College awarded $1,077,142 in scholarships to 15,000 students. That equates to a whopping $72 per student — not even the cost of one credit hour.
"Community college has always been an affordable and potentially debt-free way for people to start their path toward a four-year degree and beyond."
Virtually no one attends college today without incurring massive loan debt. According to the Wall Street Journal, the class of 2014 was the most indebted ever. The average 2014 graduate is burdened with student-loan debt of $33,000, nearly double the amount for students 20 years ago after adjusting for inflation.
"Tuition is lower than four-year universities and most traditional students are able to continue living at home, forgoing the expense of living on campus or off-campus."
One-third of the students at Delta College are 25 years old or older. One can hardly imagine that many of them are still living in their parent's home. Another third are 20 to 24 years old, making this a grossly classist point. Just because people with financial resources can afford to pay for their kids to live on campus is no excuse for expecting poorer kids to continue living at home.
"Making these educations more affordable — and in a lot of cases at no cost to students — are federal financial aid packages based on income as well as scholarships, which often go unclaimed at some community colleges because they’re not sought after by students."
According to Peterson's, the definitive expert publisher of college guides, this claim is an utter myth. "This one has been around since the word 'scholarship' was invented... (colleges) seldom have university scholarships that aren't awarded, and if they do, it's usually because of timing or highly restrictive eligibility requirements."
"Presumably, President Obama’s proposal for a free community college education for everyone is targeted at those who can’t afford the cost. “A quality education should not be a privilege that is reserved for a few,” he said in a recent speech at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville. However, we believe the costs associated with a community college education, because of federal aid and scholarships already available as well as the earnings from jobs most full-time students have, are affordable. Even older adults seeking to change careers or get back into the workforce can take advantage of federal financial aid and scholarships."
This is an offensive and elitist statement that exhibits an intentional blindness to the state of the underclass in America today. In FY 2012, the average federal student aid awarded per student totaled $11,073, of which $6,654 (60 percent) consisted of loans. Students then typically make up the difference with additional loans from private sources. To claim that federal grants and scholarships are even remotely sufficient to meet the current need is absurd.

In addition, bringing the earnings of the average community college student into the equation is laughable. Two-thirds of the students at Delta College are 24 years old or younger. It is safe to say, therefore, that many are working at minimum wage jobs and and likely earning less than $10/hour. And since few of these students can find actual "full-time" jobs (where the employer provides benefits), many are forced to work two or more jobs to attain "full-time" employment status. And, by the way, according to the American Association of Community Colleges, only 41 percent of part-time students are employed full-time and only 22 percent of full-time students have full-time employment.

So, let's calculate "affordable." A student works 40 hours per week making $10/hour — just enough to be above the poverty level and not qualify for any government assistance. So, they make roughly $20,800 before taxes. If they take two courses per term for three terms at Delta College, the total cost will amount to roughly $2,500, or 12 percent of their total gross income. After rent, food, gas, car insurance, utilities, childcare, medical and dental expenses, and other necessities, what is left?
"The money is there for those who need help paying for community college, but the financial aid and scholarships need to be applied for first in order to be awarded. Really, what needs to become more affordable are the college costs that come after the community college degree. Those are the costs that are crippling people."
No. What really needs to happen is for arrogant people of means to stop erecting even more roadblocks to honest, hard-working people trying to get out of the grip of institutionalized poverty in this nation. What we really need are fewer political hacks so intent on disagreeing with anything this president might suggest, that they are willing to throw the more than seven million community college students under the bus. What we really need are editorial writers who make at least a cursory effort to look into facts before parroting outworn prejudices and unsubstantiated myths.

Every struggling student attending Delta College deserves an apology for this opinion piece and I encourage readers to share your experiences in the comments if you have been a community college student.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Truth and Meaning: Respect

In an editorial earlier this week titled "We should respect our police officers," the Midland Daily News asserted that "Police actions have been scrutinized to the point in which many law enforcement officials believe that they can no longer do their jobs effectively because of public pressure." The editorial concluded, "Law enforcement officers have a demanding, difficult and sometimes dangerous job to do. And because of that, they deserve our respect."

There are two ways for the reader to take editorial sentiments such as these. First, they can be viewed as the innocuous kind of flag-waving we see on Memorial Day and Veteran's Day. However, on the other 363 days of the year, our veterans go without adequate treatment of the mental and physical afflictions they suffered performing the dangerous work of imposing American foreign policy around the world. On each of the other 363 days of the year, according to the Veteran's Administration, 22 veterans commit suicide. On the other 363 days of the year, our best patriots must live with the knowledge that their dedicated service has contributed to innocent civilian deaths, torture, and the ongoing destabilization of sovereign foreign governments.

So this editorial could simply be rhetorical pleasantry, a pat on the back to men and women who do perform a truly demanding, difficult, and sometimes dangerous job in our society. No one taking to the streets in Ferguson, New York City, Washington, D.C., or elsewhere is questioning the courage of law enforcement officials. They would join in commending police for taking dangerous criminals off our streets, for protecting and serving the citizens within their jurisdictions.

But, the second interpretation of this editorial reveals a far more insidious agenda. In citing the findings of the statistics compiled by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, the editorial fails to offer the details of the 50 firearms-related fatalities of police officers in 2014. Only 15 of those 50 resulted from ambushes, including the two recent heinous murders of Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos in New York City. Most of the firearm-related deaths of police officers in 2014 came from the regular performance of their duties, including traffic stops, routine investigations of suspicious behavior or disturbances, and others including accidental shootings. A logical conclusion one might draw from these statistics is that too many people own and carry guns who should not have them and that our society should improve efforts to better manage the sale of deadly firearms.

The claim that "many law enforcement officials believe that they can no longer do their jobs effectively because of public pressure" is dangerous hyperbole. If our police must exact unquestioning loyalty in order to perform their function, then something is wrong with our law enforcement system. If we are unable to hold people accountable for the negligent acts of violence committed behind the shield of a uniform and badge, then something is wrong with our criminal justice system. And if we continue to allow unfettered access to deadly firearms without adequate controls, then we should hardly be surprised at the toll such a policy exacts on our citizens and on our police.

The concern being expressed about the recent deaths of unarmed African-American boys and men at the hands of police officers has nothing to do with being pro- or anti-police. Dismissing recent "public pressure" as anti-police sentiment is misleading and factually incorrect. Recent public pressure has focused on our inability to objectively follow our system of prosecutorial due process in order to find justice. It is about needless deaths and what must occur to prevent such waste from ever happening again.

Should we respect the police? Absolutely. But respect does not mean turning a blind eye when police abuse their authority or use lethal force inappropriately or unevenly. Respecting the police means not only honoring their contributions, but also holding them accountable when their actions result in the death of innocents.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Truth and Meaning: Names of God

My door bell rang unexpectedly. I found three young women standing there. As they introduced themselves, I saw their name badges and recognized them as Mormons on their mission. I explained that I was a Unitarian Universalist minister, assuming that they would wish me a nice day and move on to the next house. But they showed interest and we began to talk.

After a few minutes, I invited them in. We had a delightful conversation for an hour or so. We respected and listened to each other. We discussed the Bible and the history of the Abrahamic faiths. We talked about the commonalities shared by most of the world's religions. Then, one of them expressed her opinion about people uniting in religious belief. She spoke of the "one true god" (by which she of course meant the god of her religion) as the way for all people to come together in salvation. When she finished, I told her that I could agree with most of what she had just said, except for that phrase.

I explained that as long as people cling to the notion that their god is the one (and only) true god, or that their faith is the one true faith, then humanity is doomed to perpetual war and violence. Soon afterwards, they were on their way. I think I had done much to personalize my religious tradition for them, just as they worked to dispel some of the unfair stereotypes assigned to their faith.

Whatever your beliefs - even if you don't believe in god at all - there are forces currently beyond our understanding. And while we continue to make great strides grasping the birth of the universe and the nature of the cosmos, I do not believe that we will ever completely know everything about everything. That is not a justification for the existence of god - it is merely acceptance that there are things that exist beyond human comprehension. Homo sapiens is not perfect and never will be. So, one can reasonably presume that our species will never have a perfect understanding of all existence.

If you grant that argument, then what do you call the mystery, the unknowable, the incomprehensible? Some people do not feel the need to call it "god," or to name it in any way. But many people do find comfort in naming the wonder of the universe. In particular, people take solace thinking that behind the unknown lies a force of inherent goodness or order.

For Hindus, there are millions of manifestations of the Oversoul, and adherents are free to worship through whichever god most helps them make that connection. For Muslims, their one god goes by 99 different names, from the Compassionate and Merciful to the Giver of Life and Bringer of Death. Trinitarian Christians believe that god can only be understood as three persons that are distinct, yet one essence.

Over the centuries, far too many people have died because they did not share the same opinion regarding the nature of god or the manner in which we should hold god in regard. Hasn't humankind reached a point where we can live together with people who do not share our particular belief about the wonder and mystery of the universe? Can we make peace with the notion that we have many names of god and that our differing practices do not justify prejudice and hate, violence and murder? Can we latch onto the common denominators of all religions to respect the inherent worth and dignity of every person?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Truth and Meaning: Christmas Spirit

When my father was a boy, he considered an orange a special Christmas present. And while he grew up in relative poverty, he never considered his family poor. My grandfather was always able to find work that paid a fair wage. My grandmother was a stay-at-home mother. And my father was able to work during the summer and save up enough for college., times have changed. People like my grandfather - unskilled or skilled in outdated technologies - have few full-time job opportunities that pay enough to support a family. Fathers and mothers often work several jobs and then have to pay for child care. And young people today routinely graduate from college with massive student loan debt.

Like most of you that read David DeForest's letter to the editor in the December 12 issue of the Midland Daily News ("No Reason to Work"), I was deeply saddened that such attitudes still exist in our community. Especially now, as we celebrate the birth of a man who loved all people and cared about the well being of everyone, the public expression of such sentiments reminds us of the pain that many feel in this country. The pain of hunger and homelessness; the pain of hate and discrimination; the pain of hopelessness that nothing we do can improve our lives.

My grandfather came to this country penniless, skilled in a trade that no longer existed. And yet, his children grew up healthy and went on to successful lives. Such is no longer the case for many of today's immigrants. The path to citizenship is prohibitively expensive and takes as long as 10 years to complete. In the meantime, they perform the menial tasks beneath most Americans, living in constant fear that federal agents will burst into their homes and ship family members to undisclosed locations for uncertain deportation.

Especially painful was reading Mr. DeForest's depiction of Americans living in poverty today. Jesus never asked for any justification when helping the poor or the sick. He simply helped them. Jesus never asked a hungry person, "Why don't you just get a job?" He simply fed them. And Jesus did not tower over the poor in judgment, condemning them for their need. He simply gave them hope.

Mr. DeForest's misplaced anger should be directed at the true parasites in this country - privileged rich people who contribute little and consume much; corporate CEO's who are paid more in one day than a minimum wage employee can earn in a year; bankers who gamble with this nation's economy with impunity. These leeches cost America billions of dollars each year. Every social welfare program combined does not come close to any such amount.

So, to Mr. DeForest, and to anyone who shares his sentiments, now is the time to re-examine your attitudes. Now is the time to walk among the poor and show them the respect they deserve by learning about the ravages of racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, and institutionalized poverty. At Christmas time, let us all walk the path of Jesus - the path of sympathy, compassion, understanding and love.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Address Opposing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act

At the request of students from Adrian College, I was asked to speak at a protest on the Capitol steps in Lansing in opposition to the proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act (HB 5958) on December 16, 2014 during the waning days of the lame duck session of the Michigan legislature.  The following are my comments (you may also see a video here, or listen to an mp3 version here).
Everywhere we turn today, politicians seek to justify the unjustifiable. “Corporations are people,” they tell us. “We need more bombs and so we must cut school lunch programs.” “The best way to fix our faltering economy is to double down our investment into the banks that got us here in the first place.”

And now we hear a new claim. With House Bill 5958, our legislators tell us, “Government must not burden people and businesses when choosing to exercise their religious beliefs, regardless of the consequences of that action on others.” Convincing us of the sincerity of such statements, especially given their inherent contradictions and the tremendous potential for and mischief by those taking advantage of such claims as these, presents a daunting challenge.

And because the task raises such difficulties, they must call on the greatest authorities to lend credence to their arguments. So, you hear many politicians today referring to the founders of this great nation. They quote Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Thomas Paine, and others as proof of the righteousness of their cause.

They carefully sift through mountains of books to find just the right quote – even if they must take that quote completely out of context. When the founders stood mute on a subject, they tell us what the founders were really thinking. When those tactics fall short, they shout words like “Freedom!” and “Liberty!” confident that they can rely on our patriotism and our trust in the democratic process that they act in our best interests.

And when all else fails, they wait until the dead of night. They skulk in the shadows of the halls of government until after the electorate has spoken. They wait until the time when everyone looks forward to family gatherings and singing joyous praises.

Then, they slink from behind their desks. They quietly announce a hearing – or bypass the process of a public hearing altogether – and pass whatever laws please them. They do this because they know, were it not for the distractions of the holidays and our everyday lives, we might hold up our hands and say, “Wait a minute…I don’t understand what purpose this proposed bill serves.” After months of hibernation, they race through the lame duck session because they are afraid that we might have the time to read proposed bills and share our opinions. They feverishly plunge through this window because it is too late for us to voice our discontent at the ballot box with politicians whose terms will end shortly.

Perhaps the legislatures populated by our founders operated with a similar lack of transparency. But, I doubt it. It was Thomas Paine, who wrote in his landmark work Common Sense that the faithfulness of those elected to serve in public office “will be secured by the prudent reflection of not making a rod for themselves.” In other words, our elected officials should not rule over us like tyrants, but should engage with us in dialogue and informed debate.

Later, Paine specifically talks about the nature of America. “This new world,” he writes, “hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe. Hither have they fled, not from the tender embraces of the mother, but from the cruelty of the monster…” So clearly, Paine would not have dreamed of a legislature using the tactics of a tyrant to pass laws abridging the rights of those who fear religious persecution.

Our ancestors came to this land because people used religious beliefs to hurt, to imprison, and even to kill them. I understand the corruption of religion by those who wield it as a rod to punish others. My grandmother Theresa fled her home in Europe for committing the sin of divorcing her abusive husband. For this act of self-preservation, the church deemed her unworthy and excommunicated her – a punishment that meant death; for she was now shunned by employers, shop owners, and landlords. Staying meant homelessness and starvation because she believed in her right to live free.

My grandmother met the man who became my grandfather here in America. He, too, had fled Europe because the Serbian army would routinely cross the river into his hometown and conscript young men to fight the never-ending religious conflict in the Balkans. No matter how many times the military dragged him to kill people who believed in God differently, he defected and returned home.

A century later, people still die in that region because of their religious beliefs. Governments that claim to fight for independence, for self-rule, for self-determination, use that fight as an excuse to rape and murder those who are different. A simple carpenter, my grandfather understood the corruption of freedom by those wielding it as a rod to kill others. So, he made the perilous journey here to America, where he could believe freely.

After years of struggle, my grandparents raised a family. My father honored his parents and cared for them in their later years. After my grandmother died, my grandfather’s life became simple again. He would sit at the kitchen table drinking coffee and playing solitaire all day. He believed he would soon rejoin his beloved Theresa in Heaven and was content to await his death patiently.

One night, my parents hosted a prayer meeting. The minister of our church spoke about the evils of card playing. Finally, my father asked our minister if he believed that my grandfather would spend eternity in Hell for the sin of playing solitaire. When our minister answered “yes,” my father threw him out of the house and we never returned to that church.

My father, an engineer, had designed our church building. He literally helped build that congregation. He raised his children in its Sunday School. I remember singing “Wonderful Grace of Jesus” during Sunday night services. But that same church used its religious belief to damn my grandfather.  So my father understood the corruption of restoration. He saw firsthand how a church could roll back the clock to a time when religion was routinely used as a rod to condemn others to perpetual flames and torment.

By the time I became a dad, I chose not to believe in the God of my father or my grandfather. My children went unbaptized. And I raised them in a Unitarian Universalist church, where they learned to respect all religious beliefs and to honor the spiritual path they would choose for themselves.

As a Sunday School teacher, I learned the history and heritage of famous Unitarians, like John Adams, who once wrote to his friend Thomas Jefferson:
We have...a National Bible Society, to propagate King James's Bible, through all Nations. Would it not be better to apply these pious Subscriptions, to purify Christendom from the Corruptions of Christianity...[Some say] I have renounced the Christian religion...Far from it. I see in every Page, Something to recommend Christianity in its Purity and Something to discredit its Corruptions…The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount contain my Religion.

Don't kill. Don't cheat. Don't steal. Don't lie. Don't envy your neighbor. In fact, love your neighbor. Love your neighbor as you would have your neighbor love you. Nearly every religion preaches this basic golden rule. Love everyone. Do not love only those who believe as you do. Do not withhold love from those who do not meet your approval. Everyone. No exceptions.

So I understand the corruption of laws that claim to restore religious freedom. Laws like HB 5958 are not an act of religion, bringing us together in common purpose and principle, but an act of division. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is not an act of freedom, relieving us of governmental intrusion into our souls, but an act of invasion. This proposed travesty of a law is not an act of restoration, renewing hope for a people suffering daily oppression, but an act of destruction.  This so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act is a corruption of religious freedom; a corruption of our democratic principles; a corruption of the core tenets of our human community; and a corruption of the very soul of our state.

I have the great good fortune to be married to a wonderful woman. Jody serves as advocate for victims of sexual assault at the Underground Railroad, a women's shelter in Saginaw. She wanted to be here with me today. But her commitment to serving others, and my commitment to support her work, superseded our personal desires. John Adams, my Unitarian ancestor, spent many years apart from his love. To our great good fortune, they left behind a collection of correspondence exhibiting not only their devotion to each other, but also their shared commitment to justice, equality, and freedom.

Abigail and John wrote often of this new nation and of the true meaning of words like “freedom.” In one letter, Abigail wrote:
How difficult the task to quench the fire and the pride of private ambition, and to sacrifice ourselves and all our hopes and expectations to the public [welfare]! How few have souls capable of so noble an undertaking! How often are the laurels worn by those who have had no share in earning them! But there is a future... reward, to which the upright [person] looks, and which will most assuredly be obtained, provided [that person] perseveres unto the end.

You here today know about sacrifice. You have given up your time and energy to be here and to have your voices heard by your elected officials. You here today understand working toward the common good and the noble undertaking of guaranteeing freedom to all people. You here today see too clearly how those charged with guaranteeing our freedoms wear the shriveled laurels earned by catering to special interests, by pursuing power over others, and through the self-righteous delusion that they know the one truth.

Because Abigail Adams was right – there is a future reward. Moreover, we need not wait patiently until we die to receive that reward. We can unite as one people. White or black – whatever our skin color – we can unite. Woman or man – whatever our sexual orientation or gender identity – we can unite; Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox…Muslim, Jew, or Sikh…Buddhist, Hindu, or Jain…Agnostic or Atheist – whatever our religious beliefs – we can unite; Americans all, regardless of our documentation or ethnic heritage – we can unite.

We can unite to fight for equal justice under the law. We can unite to provide affordable access to health care for all. We can unite to protect our decisions on when to have children, when not to have children, and how to parent the children we have in safe and healthy communities. We can unite to ensure that every person has equal access to a quality education and a job paying a fair and living wage. We can unite to protect our planet from those who would plunder its resources and from practices that threaten our existence as a species through global climate change.

And by standing united against the corruption of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, we guard our right to believe or not to believe what we want in regards to religion. We oppose the sanctioning of discrimination against people on the basis of religious beliefs. We support the freedom of religious practice, so long as that practice does not harm others.

And we stand united to defend the wall of separation between Church and State described by Thomas Jefferson. For he acknowledged that the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience was that no legislature should pass laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise of religion. Jefferson wrote that “our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions,” and that depriving people of their civil rights on the basis of religious beliefs will “corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage.”

A people united will never be divided.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Truth and Meaning: One Question

A crisis looms on our horizon. How we cope with that crisis will depend on your answer to a simple question.

Ignore the media hype. Disregard the irrelevant facts. Set aside unrelated events that may sway your judgment. Look at the evidence yourself and answer one simple question.
  • Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy, is playing alone in a park with a toy gun. Someone calls 911 to report seeing Tamir and even says it is probably just a toy gun. Minutes later, a police car roars up to within just feet of Tamir and two seconds later he is dead. Did Tamir Rice deserve to die?
  • Eric Gardner is selling single cigarettes for 50 cents — a petty crime. A few minutes later, he is surrounded by police. One puts Eric in an illegal choke hold. Eric gasps time and again that he cannot breathe. In just minutes, he lies on the sidewalk dead. Did Eric Gardner deserve to die?
  • Michael Brown fits the description of a person reported to have stolen some cigarettes and scuffled with a clerk. Michael is walking down the street with a friend. An altercation ensues with a police officer, the exact facts of which are disputed. Even assuming the worst case scenario, Michael grabbed unsuccessfully for the officer's gun and then ran away. A minute later Michael is 30 feet away, hands visible with no weapon. The autopsy reports show bullet wounds in his arm, two to the chest that indicate he was falling forward, and the kill shot to the head at an angle indicating that he was nearly on the ground. Did Michael Brown deserve to die?
I have skewed no evidence. I have included nothing in these scenarios about the neighborhoods, the police officers themselves, community relations with the police, national media coverage or subsequent investigations. In the case of Tamir Rice and Eric Gardner, video records reveal the events in real time for anyone to watch. Disregarding all of the irrelevant noise surrounding these tragedies, did Tamir, Eric and Michael deserve to die?
Whether you are white or black does not matter. Whether you are Republican or Democrat does not matter. Whether you are young or old, straight or gay, man or woman, rich or poor — none of that matters. Did Tamir, Eric and Michael deserve to die?
If you ask yourself that question, and your answer is no, then you are ready to explore the coming crisis in our nation. You are ready to objectively examine the research and data. You are ready to set aside the punditry and editorializing and look at the reality in America for yourself. And when you do, you will see our deeply embedded systems of structured poverty, institutionalized racism and the impacts of privilege in our society.
This is painful work. If you are white, male, straight, middle class, you will be tempted to feel shamed — your initial reaction will be that you are being accused of something you did not do. That is a natural reaction, but I encourage you to move through it quickly. Privilege is not the problem. The problem is that too many people with privilege do not acknowledge its benefits and do too little to level the playing field for all.
Once you have answered the question and read the research, imagine how you would feel if you were a black man in America today, 50 years after the Civil Right Act supposedly launched us into a post-racial society. Imagine that you are the mother or father of Tamir or Michael, or the wife and children of Eric. If you can put on those shoes and walk in them for just a short time, then your feelings of shame and guilt will quickly evaporate. They will disappear because you will want to do something. You will want to change things so that the senseless ending of young lives stops.
Yes or no?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Guide to Holiday Conversations

You find yourself at a family gathering. On your right sits Uncle Harold, who voted twice for Nixon, Reagan and Bush (senior and junior). On your left sits your Cousin Gloria, the Prius-driving, recycling, public school teacher. You uncomfortably count the seconds before someone raises a contentious topic. In anticipation of that moment, here is your holiday guide to surviving inevitable conflicts, and to build bridges of love and understanding.

Uncle Harold starts. “We need to ship those illegals back where they came from. Emperor Obama should wait for Congress to protect American jobs and keep our borders safe from terrorists, drug dealers and freeloaders.”
Cousin Gloria retorts. “Our ancestors were undocumented aliens who came here and slaughtered the indigenous peoples. No one made them go through years of red tape and expenses. No one broke up our families and deported people without due process.”
You: “We are a nation of immigrants, and people around the world have long viewed America as a land of freedom and opportunity. We can find a way to provide a more efficient path to citizenship while still providing reasonable security at our nation’s borders.

Cousin Gloria: “This is my body and the government has no business invading my privacy and interfering with my health care. My body, my choice.”
Uncle Harold: “You are murdering tens of thousands of babies every year and I don’t want my tax dollars supporting godless groups like Planned Parenthood.”
You: “Everyone wants to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. But being pro-life also means educating our children about sex, and providing them with contraception. We should care about every child by supporting loving families that need help. Every child should receive an equal shot at the American Dream.”

Gay and transgender equality
Harold: “God condemns these abominations. I love the person, but homosexuality and the choices people make to tamper with God’s creation are sins.”
Gloria: “You hate LGBT people. You have no right legislating our bedrooms. Your bigotry just encourages bullying and violence against gays.”
You: “As Americans, we believe in freedom and equality. The research seems to show that sexual orientation is determined at birth. So while I respect people’s religious beliefs, I also support equal rights for all people on the basis of differences that we cannot control.”

Health care
Gloria: “Insurance companies are heartless and greedy. Because of them, thousands of people die from lack of adequate insurance. And now you want to take away the safety net of the Affordable Care Act.”
Harold: “Obamacare is fiscally irresponsible and forces people to pay more for their insurance, and to change doctors with which they have developed long relationships. We should let the free market do its job.”
You: “I know families who cannot afford medical insurance. If we can’t fix Obamacare, then we need to come up with a program that serves everyone, because all Americans deserve access to quality health care.”

Religious freedom
Harold: “America is a Christian nation and no one should be forced to do anything that violates their beliefs.”
Gloria: “Employers have no business discriminating against people who don’t share their religious beliefs. These so-called ‘religious freedom’ bills are nothing but legalized bigotry.”
You: “No one has the right to infringe on another’s religious beliefs. But government determines who needs protection from unlawful discrimination. Religious freedom should be a protective shield, not be a sword used to hurt others.”

Gun control
Gloria: “How many more children need to die to support your right to buy machine guns and to carry rifles into my grocery store?”
Harold: “The founders wrote the Second Amendment to protect us from tyranny and it is my duty to protect our nation, as well as to protect my family from harm, whatever the cost.”
You: "Everyone has a right to defend themselves from harm. Everyone also has the right to walk the streets free from the fear that some deranged gunman won’t open fire on them. We need to sit down and find common sense solutions to protect all Americans’ rights and to reduce the gun violence in our country."

Gloria: “Fascist!”
Harold: “Communist!”
You: “Both of you stop it! Name calling will get you nowhere. Jesus taught us to love our neighbors, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick and free the prisoners. Can’t we set aside our partisan differences and agree on these noble goals — not just as Christian goals, but goals that all Americans can agree upon?”

I hope this helps you survive the holidays, as well as what is sure to be another new year of social, economic and political turmoil that will not end until the great mass of centrist thinkers takes back the moral middle of America.