An Open Letter to Friends of the United States of America, from the United States of America

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Dear Fellow Democracies,

You know how sometimes a close friend has a Significant Other you can’t stand? That Significant Other is Donald Trump. That close friend is us, the United States.

I get that you won't wanna hang out for a while, that our SO makes you uncomfortable, that the little things we used to share -- casual drinks, game nights, diplomacy -- are going to have to be put on hold for a while. Unfortunately, we have to let this relationship run its course. I know, I know, it sounds absurd, and we know it won't end well. But, like all before us, we must learn from our own mistakes on our own time. Please, for the next four years (hopefully sooner) ignore the things our SO says and does. I realize this may be difficult considering a lot of what he says and does will have a direct effect on you, and therefore our friendship, but our hands are tied. We’re really really sorry.

I can feel you rolling your eyes. We deserve it. In hindsight, even attempting a relationship with Donald Trump was ill-advised. We should have seen the red flags. I don't know how we didn't.

We can't expect you to understand, but please believe we feel really disillusioned and embarrassed by all this. We're just in a weird spot right now and we need some time to get our shit together, ya know? As for you and us: we’ve been good friends for a long time. I hope you'll still be there when we've come to our senses.

Love always,


The United States of America

Silence: Thoughts on the Film & Religion

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When I see a film by a respected filmmaker, I don’t worry much about craft or narrative. I may notice the photography, and take note of the storytelling choices, but more often I ask a simple question: “What is this filmmaker trying to do?” -- specifically when the intent isn’t very clear. Never has this question led to so many follow-up questions as Martin Scorsese’s Silence. The story follows two Jesuit priests into Japan on their quest to find Father Ferrerra, who is rumored to have apostatized -- abandoned his faith.
Going into the theater I asked the guy at the ticket counter if he’d seen the film, and if he liked it. He said it was “Good,” and “a quick 3 hours.” It was. Another woman, exiting the theater put her hand over her heart and sighed. She said it was beautiful. It was.
So, why didn’t I care about what I was watching? I wasn’t bored, but I wasn’t moved.
One of the things I learned about myself after the viewing is I’m not nearly spiritual enough to follow stories of steadfast devotion with the same interest that I follow stories of tangible human qualities -- or even intangible human emotion. With Silence I grasp (or at least accept) the passion of the Jesuit priests, but once they cross the threshold of reason, wherein their devotion becomes damaging not only to themselves, but to the people that follow them, I found only one moral: religion begets madness, begets pain and suffering.
This moral came to me early in the film. Doubting this was Scorsese’s point, I tried to look past my personal views of religion and faith. What else could Scorsese have been saying?
I thought about the title, Silence, and how The Grand Inquisitor forced Padre Rodrigues to watch his followers be tortured. To end the suffering, all Rodrigues had to do was step on the face of Jesus Christ. The Japanese told him to step and their suffering would end. “It’s just a formality,” the Japanese guards repeated. What made it a formality? It would seem the answer is in the title. Devotion doesn’t have to be preached, so long as it’s in your heart. Believe what you want, and keep it quiet. Stop preaching to the people that don’t want it, need it, or understand it. Step on the face of Christ, just for a show, just to end the suffering. The inability of the Jesuit priests to at first undertake this formality has more to do with psychology than devotion.
Or, maybe the film is a commentary on religious missionary work. Maybe Scorsese is asking the ultra-devout to leave people alone, to practice religion personally, and to keep their trap shut about it. This interpretation maybe extends into the practice of mis-preaching doctrine, which leads to violent zealotry. Maybe he’s saying the oral history of religion has led to the violence we now know. Maybe if people were left to interpret on their own, the world would be less horrible. When Scorsese puts the camera high above the Jesuit priests as they embark on their journey, putting us at the perspective of God, is he asking us to judge? When, at this angle, and we cannot tell if the priests are climbing or descending a stairway, is he saying that their path is misguided -- or perhaps, their purpose an illusion?
At one point in the film the Jesuits speak of Truth. They know Truth to be a universal concept. They also know the Lord is Truth, and hence, if they preach the word of the Lord “how can it be anything but Truth?” This circular reasoning is impenetrable. It cannot be argued with for its defense it built into itself, and sadly, this reasoning still exists in the 21st Century. To be clear, Silence is set in the 1600s. Is it possible this is Scorsese's commentary on the ability to reason in the modern world?
Ultimately, my experience with the film echoes the model of religious pitfall -- the psychology around which the entire concept of religion is built: when searching for meaning, if we are determined to find something -- anything -- then something, anything, will be found. It would seem in trying to find meaning in Scorsese’s film, I found concepts, but not intention. I found answers to questions, but not Truth. In religion, Truth is fluid and abstract. There can be no single answer regarding God which leads to varying personal interpretations, dearly held belief, and fervent devotion -- sometimes violent defense. While in smaller groups religion can yield warm inclusivity, it is on the global level where religion paints its ugly boundaries. It’s here where religion tears people apart, divides friends and families, and damages the conceptual soul it postures to protect.
One Truth I found in viewing the film -- stemming from the oft forsaken concept of knowing one’s self in the absence of the supernatural -- is this: religion is not a framework I am willing to enter. I am unable to see the spiritual side of religion; I only see the inner-workings of its psychology. When we search for answers where none exists, we create answers that cannot be disproved (hence the circular reasoning of the Jesuit priests). While many find comfort in this, I do not. Nor do I find comfort in the mechanics of its rituals. I’m off-put by suffering for the abstract, perplexed by begging forgiveness only to be absolved with a few gestures and words, and repulsed by the solipsistic view that any individual, at any time, can invoke the kindness or wrath of a supernatural being. In other words: Martin Scorsese’s Silence, like religion, while important and comforting to many, complex and rich with history, is simply not for me. Afterword: The film ends on a more enlightened note. I feel the concept of religion and God is strengthened by the ending, because it stops being a mission and starts being a personal understanding of faith and spirituality. It could be argued that the title Silence refers to when the Jesuits question their faith because they stop hearing God's voice. Or, perhaps Silence is about the silence of personal practice. I like to think this is Scorsese’s ultimate point.

Donald Trump is Rape Culture

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Let's face it, at this point, few American males will be swayed away from voting for Donald Trump. Those GOP members who have opposed Trump, continue to do so -- but, nothing Trump does or says will turn-off his major supporters. Major GOP leaders, who've condemned Trump in the last 24 hours for his now-infamous comments caught on tape, have not specifically denounced him or declared a change in their endorsement. Sure, these men are "outraged" -- but a declaration of outrage is all that's required these days in order to distance one's self from any revolting act, dialog, person, or movement. The ballots they cast in November will not change -- their votes are locked. Where does that leave us? More importantly, where does that leave the future of our country?

In the hands of our nation's women.

Too many male voters in this election have proven themselves to lack dignity, wisdom, and judgment. Our male GOP leaders are either too cowardly, or not as outraged as they claim, to denounce a man who is, by all definition, a fluke of the time. Trump has articulated so many popular rages (read: scapegoats), that he appeals to the unreasonable anger in downtrodden white cowards. As Trump's recent remarks play on the news, these men may sit uncomfortably beside their wives, girlfriends, daughters, and mothers, but will ultimately do nothing different. Most men, sadly, don't change their minds even when they know they should -- or worse, even when they want to. It's a factor of testosterone and culture that I won't go into here.

If an American woman supports Trump's politics, that's one thing. I can't argue with that, because siding with politics and policy (even those I completely disagree with), is what elections are supposed to be about. It's the core of Democracy. But, I'm finding it very hard to understand how a woman can vote for Donald Trump after hearing the remarks he made on tape. He's proven himself to be predatory, sexist, and lacking all respect for women. He's the scumbag that gropes you in the elevator; the man at the bar waiting to slip something in your drink. Donald Trump is rape culture.

Some might be dismissing his remarks as similarly as Trump himself did: that it was just "locker room banter." Fair enough. Men say stupid and thoughtless things sometimes, I get it. Some may cast it off with Christian thinking: that he's troubled and needs to repent. Some may be squirming in their seats, but ultimately willing to forget that he said anything so repulsive. Some might fall under the spell of Trump's deflection: that Bill Clinton has said a lot worse. Some might even note they've heard worse from their brothers or friends.

This kind of placating thought is exactly why we have a culture that breeds men like Donald Trump. Yes, this type of placating thought is mostly harbored by men (the old adage, "boys will be boys"). But, I wouldn't be doing my duty as a writer if I didn't ask this: isn't there some truth to the idea that some women ignore said mentalities, attitudes, and behaviors to such a degree that white male cowards take it as condoned behavior? The truth is, be it out of fear of being shamed for standing up for one's self, or of being physically harmed, there are women who do not stand up.

I understand the problem I'm getting at is bigger than Donald Trump. I also understand these dark corners of our culture have more to do with a lack of personal accountability, not to mention a greater respect for sons than daughters, than it has to do with a lack of opposition. This isn't about blame; this is about duty. In the specific situation of this election, not voting for Donald Trump is a chance, in the face of aforementioned fears, to have a voice. Politics aside, Donald Trump, if elected president -- if not outwardly, than by the nature of his status as leader of the free world -- will function as an endorsement of predatory behavior and a culture of disrespect and rape.

Rodney King and the Unanswered Question

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I was 12, just about to turn 13, when Rodney King was beaten by four Los Angeles police officers. During CNN’s coverage, words like beating, riots, and PCP were used often. The home-video footage of the beating was played repeatedly. I remember Rodney King curled up on the ground at the center of the ring of four cops, as their batons rained down on his body.

The other thing that stands out is this: Later, in a moment of desperation and exhaustion, Rodney King asked, “Why can’t we all just get along?”

And everyone laughed.

It became a catch-phrase to be mocked and parodied alongside phrases like, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” King’s question, perhaps too naive and too honest to be taken seriously, entered the lexicon as a punchline and left like all timely jokes do: stale and forgotten.

While the Rodney King beating wasn’t the beginning of racial tension in this country, that single piece of video footage brought it to the surface and started a new conversation. Except, we haven’t been talking -- we’ve been shouting, and no one is listening. We’ve all drawn lines in the sand, boxed ourselves in, and now we each live within an impenetrable Fortress of Ego from where we preach and opine at the top of our lungs, only able to hear the voices that support us. Somewhere along the way our beliefs became an agenda. Such is the power of a threatened ego.

Culturally, this is where we are. We are so threatened and angry we fail to see the complexities in life and each other. We only see black and white. We make blanket statements. We refer to “the hive mind.” We formulate beliefs that make the world easier to understand, leading us to say things like, “Anyone that looks like X is good, and anyone that looks like Y is bad.” We label factions and demographics one thing, fraternities and governments another. We undermine thoughtful movements because we feel slighted. We are weak, we are tired, and we are getting more thoughtless with each senseless act of violence.

As I said, I was 12 when Rodney King was beaten. In a few years I'll be 40. Two events have bookend racial violence during that time: Twenty-five years ago, four white cops beat an unarmed black man in Los Angeles; two days ago a black man shot and killed four white cops in Dallas, Texas. Two events separated by twenty-five years of violence. Same intents, different results. Both driven by the same hateful, stupid, and thoughtless agenda.

And we aren't doing anything sensible to fix it.

This is the part where I say we have to live kinder lives, and respect each other, and love each other while remembering how finite and precious life is. But none of that means a damn thing if we don't start talking. We have to start asking questions and listening to the answers -- no matter how hard they may be to hear. We have to start being honest about our feelings for one another. They don’t have to be pretty, but they have to be voiced if we ever expect to heal. We have to be upfront about the fear we have of our neighbors, or at the very least, admit that we do in fact fear each other. We each have to ask ourselves what can we do better to dissolve the tension, fear, and bigotry that thickens the air in our world.

Since Rodney King never got an answer to his question, I’ll answer it now.

Q: Why can’t we all just get along?
A: Because we all choose sides.

At the risk of becoming a punchline, I have a follow-up question...

Q: How does that make our lives better?

Orlando...

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I just watched President Obama address the nation on the attacks at the Orlando night club. Clearly heartbroken. Clearly out of words. He struggled to get through the monotony of what has now become a routine address. His posture and inflection echoed our thoughts and feelings: we are all exhausted, and we are all out of things to feel. As a nation, we are imploding emotionally. We are scared, and we are losing hope.

I tried to look at it intellectually. I asked myself what could come of it? Is there any lesson to be learned that may spin our country in a better direction? I'm not looking for a silver lining, of course -- because there isn't one -- but something not entirely despicable and hateful has to come of it, right?

My only thought was this: maybe Americans who have been outspoken against LGBTQ people will now think twice about their beliefs. These were not simply LGBTQ people that were murdered -- these were human beings. These were Americans.

It’s possible, however, no matter how often the word “terror” is used in headlines and newscasts, this shooting may not resonate as an attack on Americans. It’s possible people might see this as “just another shooting.” Or, worse, it could be passed off like AIDS in the 1980s as “only a problem of homosexuals.” As I write this, from my perfect, safe, white, heterosexual world, I wonder to what degree must human beings suffer persecution before learning sympathy and compassion.

Because here I am, sipping a mojito, writing my thoughts that no one can stop me from writing, in a country where any hatred directed my way has nothing to do with the skin or sexual preference I was born into. If I'm hated, it's because of something I did. Even then, little if any repercussions are received. I don’t have to fear violence simply for existing in my own body. And because of that, I don’t have to care that bad things can happen to people with different skin colors, religions, and sexual orientations. I could just shrug it off and have another mojito. This is white privilege -- more specifically, straight white privilege.

But, like every privilege, it comes with a responsibility to be thoughtful. I have to think about what it’s like for my LGBTQ friends to live in fear because of who they’re attracted to, and because of who they love. I have to imagine living in fear of being killed for it. I have to imagine the discomfort of openly displaying affection for fear of turned-up noses, whispers, and possible violence.

Understand, this thought process isn't a conscious responsibility -- it's simply what happens when you’re a decent, albeit imperfect, human being. Yet, many Americans will not venture the compassion. Many Americans are too uncomfortable -- or too hateful -- of homosexuals to extend their humanity. This is why, very often, Americans are killed for whom they love at the hands of other Americans. Is has been commonplace, and the reactions have been more often than not, complacent. A shrug. Just something that happens.

Well, now it’s happened to Americans, on American soil, at the hands of an ISIS extremist due to the same exact brand of hate and intolerance. I have to believe this will yield a change in perspective.

Maybe knowing such hatred is shared with the most extreme, violent, and misled religious group the world currently knows, anti-gay Americans will reconsider their beliefs. Maybe in the shadow of this massacre, such hatred will be seen for what it is: not only anti-gay, but anti-American. Maybe, with this perspective, we can start respecting every individual’s right to love without persecution. Maybe, anti-LGBTQ Americans will be ashamed of their intolerance, and see their beliefs as un-American. Maybe they’ll want to change. Maybe they'll apologize and ask for guidance on a journey towards enlightenment. In return, maybe the LGBTQ community will take a deep breath, and guide with forgiveness and patience these lost souls into a compassionate future.

It sounds like a fantasy. Some of you are rightfully rolling your eyes. I feel foolish for even writing it -- admittedly to seek some semblance of calm from the anger and heartache.

But, I can’t say it’s a tragedy, because I can’t use that word anymore. That word has lost its weight. Due to constant use it means nothing. What is happening to this country, and what happened in Orlando, is emotionally and morally cataclysmic. In the absence of moving towards understanding and accepting one another, we will soon be unable to turn away from where we’re headed -- which is self-imposed fascism. Again, saying anti-LGBTQ Americans might learn something from this is no silver lining. Just as easily, this massacre could endorse discrimination and further divide our country. But, some change could come from it, and I want to believe it’s possible.