Category Archives: people

What Churches Shouldn’t Do

I finally saw The Book of Mormon on Broadway last week.

I say finally because I’d heard the music so much (thanks to my theater kid daughter) that I already knew most of the lyrics by heart when I took my seat in the Eugene O’Neill theater on 49th Street.

I enjoyed it so much my daughter actually had to hush me when I automatically began singing along with the actors.

But my positive reviews haven’t been appreciated by everyone.

One person told me “I’m all for free speech, but that play pokes fun at religion. If they can make fun of Mormons, then other religions will follow.” My internal reaction was “so what?”

Her distaste for the musical was one of the reasons I loved it so much. The show points out how people can be so invested in promoting their version of religion that it takes priority over actually helping people. It calls out individuals who abide by dogma in hopes of being rewarded. It demonstrates how being so focused on your own agenda can make you blind to reality. And it points out how religion can be a way to avoid critical thinking.

I know some people find both my words and the musical offensive.

I don’t care.

Having faith and asking questions aren’t any more mutually exclusive than evangelizing while respecting different religions and beliefs. My experience with Christianity demonstrates that some of the closest followers of Christ’s teachings are people who never go to church, and some very hateful people go faithfully every Sunday.

Religion should never focus on ensuring that everyone believes what you believe. Instead, it should be about putting faith into action by treating everyone we meet with dignity and respect.

And, because of that, here’s what I think churches should never do:

  • Promote an us and them mentality. Whether it’s Christians versus Muslims, the haves “helping” the have-nots, or the old timers feeling more entitled to more control than newcomers, focusing on differences rather than commonalities is never helpful.  If every church member spent one hour with someone with whom they thought they had nothing in common and focused on similarities rather than differences, the world would immediately become a better place.  And if we focused on doing things with others rather than for others, it would be even better.
  • Try to be a social service organization. Charity is wonderful, but attempting to run a social services program can often do more harm than good. Instead, raise funds, volunteers, and resources for community programs that have the experience and capacity to meet the community’s greatest needs. This doesn’t mean compassion isn’t needed or that help should never be provided. But some churches have actually made a family’s situation worst by providing them with the wrong resources.
  • Set unreasonable expectations. When I was in graduate school, a professor told our class that studies indicate some mental illnesses are actually tied to being raised in a dogmatic religion. That’s because expectations don’t match reality, and guilt is used as a tool for conformity. If people want to feel accepted, they can be very good at pretending, but the cognitive dissonance can create even greater problems.
  • Proclaim your religion is the only real religion. You should use your faith to be the best person you can be  – and that should speak more loudly than anything else.

During the second act of The Book of Mormon, Elder Price sings a song about his beliefs. The song garners a great deal of laughter from the audience, which leads me to the last thing that churches should never do: discourage self-expression. Music and laughter almost always bring people together, and bringing people together should be one of primary missions of any church.

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You Might Be a Hypocrite if…

A couple of weeks ago, a friend called me a hypocrite because, for a few hours, I didn’t want to focus on someone else’s problems.

I am, after all, a social worker. Not only has my career been dedicated to ” being the change I seek in the world,” but my profession follows me into my personal life like a hungry dog seeking a treat.

Sometimes I believe there is a permanent thought bubble hovering over my head that says “Talk to me – I care.”

Just this week, a man stopped my daughter and me while we were out walking our dog. He wanted to tell me about a dog he used to have. The conversation quickly turned to his life as a young African-American man growing up in the projects of Baltimore in the 1970’s and about the racism he experienced.

Fifteen minutes later, my daughter and I said goodbye to him. As we walked away, Kendall, simply asked, “Complete stranger?”

I nodded in affirmation.

Here’s the thing: I care about people. I care about other people a lot. I hate injustice. I can’t stand putting profit over people. And I abhor when religion or national origin or the ability to speak English are used as excuses to discriminate.

But here’s the other thing: I’m human. I have my own issues, insecurities, and  flaws. I can be self-centered and insensitive. I actually get tired of hearing about everything that is wrong with the world when I’m struggling with my own problems. And yes, at times I can be hypocritical.

But there is a big difference between having a bad moment or a bad day and living life as a hypocrite.

At least I think there is. I certainly hope I’m not fooling myself. Because, from what I can tell, the worst offending hypocrites completely fail to see any hypocrisy in their words or behavior.

Which is why I’m more than willing to share a few simple examples I’ve recently observed.

You might be a hypocrite if…

  • You use drugs recreationally but publicly shame addicts.
  • You claim to follow the teachings of Christ then post negative messages about Muslims on social media.
  • You complain about how vulgar our society has become but voted for a presidential candidate who boasted about molesting women.
  • You constantly complain about paying taxes yet received a college education thanks to the GI bill, are enjoying a substantial pension from a government job, and expect your highways and public roads to be pot-hole free.
  • You spent years making negative statements and sharing outright lies about our country’s former president then display self-righteous indignation about any criticism of our current president.
  • You are an elected official who says you are voting in the best interest of your constituents when you are actually voting based on party politics and raising millions of dollars for your re-election campaign from special interest groups and corporations.
  • You complain about lazy people who depend on tax payer support then, when you lose your job, complain that the SNAP (food stamp) benefits you receive aren’t sufficient.

This is far from a comprehensive list, but to be honest, I doubt the people I am writing about will read these words anyway. And even if they do, they probably won’t recognize themselves.

But I had to write all of them anyway – including the ones about my own imperfections.

As the saying goes, “I would rather be known in life as an honest sinner than as a lying hypocrite.”

And Then I Didn’t Care

I had been chalking up my growing contempt for a certain group of people to the fact that I’ve turned 50.

I am absolutely convinced that scientific evidence will soon prove that 50 is the maximum number of years the average human can tolerate difficult people.

I’m not talking about people with personalities or self-serving behavior. They’ve always rubbed me the wrong way, and I learned to deal with them decades ago –  even when that made my life more difficult.

I’ve never been particularly good at being deferential to people whose primary goal is to feel important, powerful, or special at the expense of others.

I’ve written about people who use religion as an excuse for intolerance and discrimination.

I’ve called out business owners who believe excessive personal profits are more important than ensuring their employees earn enough to pay their essential bills or can easily be fired when profits are down.

And I’ve never hesitated to point out how many people use the privilege of voting and the political system to pursue personal gain rather than the common good.

But I’ve come to realize that such individuals are simply doing what other people allow them to do.

And I can’t stand it any longer.

For 50 years, they almost had me convinced that there was something wrong with me – that, in my own way,  I too was intolerant and, like they, should:

  • Understand that the southern guy who displays the confederate flag just has a different perspective;
  • Realize that employers aren’t in business to take care of people but to make as much money as they can;
  • Expect the old white guy to be clueless about how his words and attitude are offensive.
  • Know that some people must cling to the belief that their religion is THE religion because that’s what they’ve been taught.

And then I turned 50, and I realized that there is absolutely nothing wrong with my intolerance of such beliefs and behaviors. Calling out people who is exhibit them is important, but calling out the people who stay silent in such matters is the only way the world will change

I turned 50, and I won’t let people let me think I’m not tolerant about their desire not to “get involved.” Instead, I’m going to let them know that if they aren’t part of the solution, they are part of the problem.

I turned 50, and I decided that no one’s opinion about how I choose to address problematic people matters.

I turned 50… and then I just didn’t care.

Just One Shoe

I noticed the shoe just after dawn. It was lying on the gravel in a weedy, deserted parking area.

It certainly wasn’t the only single, abandoned shoe I’ve ever noticed. Over the decades, I’ve seen more lonely shoes in random places than I can possibly remember.

But this shoe caught my attention because it triggered a memory about something that happened in almost that exact same location last summer.

In both cases, I was peddling my bike down a straight stretch of road after conquering a particularly long and steep hill.

But that time, I wasn’t alone on the road. Instead, three bedraggled teenagers with two suitcases and an extremely, unenthusiastic dog were trudging along the shoulder. As I rode by, the boy yelled at me to stop.

My curiosity outweighed any concerns I should have had, so I obeyed.

“Hey, is this the way to Oregon?” the boy asked. In one hand, he was holding a rope that was tied loosely around his poor dog’s neck. One of the suitcases sat at his feet.

“Where?” I asked. We were currently standing on a rural road in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. People with no motor vehicle generally don’t ask directions to a state that is 2,500 miles away.

“Oregon,” he repeated.

“The state?” I asked.

One of the girls gave me a look I knew well. It’s the one every teenager gives a clueless adult.

“Yes,” she said. “We are going to the state of Oregon.”

When I asked why, I was rewarded with the same look again. “Because we want to,” she replied.

“Oh,” I said. “Well, that’s a really long way to walk.”

“We’ve already come all the way from Hagerstown,” the boy announced proudly. “Are we going in the right direction?”

Since Hagerstown was only 20 miles away, his efforts to impress me weren’t very successful. At the same time, they were heading northwest. So that’s what I told them.

They seemed satisfied with my answer, thanked me, and continued their walk down the road. On my return about 20 minutes later, they were still trudging along. I waved, and they waved back.

Shortly after I passed them, I noticed one of their suitcases on the side of the road. My first thought was that it must have gotten quite heavy. My second thought was relief that at least they hadn’t abandoned the dog. And my third thought was to wonder how much more they would abandon before they simply abandoned hope of getting to Oregon.

Or maybe, against all odds, they actually did get there.

I’ll never know.

For a few a days after our encounter, I paid attention to the news in case there were any reports of three missing or runaway teens. There weren’t any.

And so, I forgot about them. At least, I forgot about them until the sight of that shoe last Monday morning reminded me of the discarded suitcase, those kids, and of impossible dreams.

For years, I’ve considered single, lost shoes – or other personal items – on the side of the road as a mystery. I’ve never understood how a person could just lose one shoe or why they wouldn’t go back to get it.

Maybe what I’ve been missing is that, to the owners, the shoe wasn’t important. It was an item that could be replaced. For them, going back for one thing wasn’t nearly as important as moving forward down the road of life – wherever it may go and toward whatever dreams they were following.

Personally, I’ve spent too much time looking for things I’ve lost only to lose sight of where I wanted to go.

But this past week, the sight of just one shoe served as a reminder that getting where we want to go sometimes requires letting go of what we already have.

Stop Making It About the Money

(Domenico Stinellis/AP)

So yeah. First Lady Melania Trump wore a really expensive jacket during her visit to Italy last week. The Dolce & Gabbana she sported in Sicily basically cost as much as I make during an entire year.

Stop right there.

I hope you didn’t start calculating my salary along with my education and my years of experience and then judge me based on my earnings.

But if you did, I understand. That’s what most Americans do.

We tend to equate the size of a person’s salary or bank account with success. If someone makes a lot of money, that must mean they’ve done something right… they’ve applied themselves and persevered. And if they are poor?  They obviously need to try harder.

In reality, that’s completely ridiculous. I’m not rich for a lot of different reasons: I wasn’t born into a wealthy family and having a high paying job was never my priority. I wanted to do work that I found satisfying and meaningful, which is how I landed in social work. I will never garner a big salary, but I’m actually a very hard worker.

On the flip side, Melania Trump became a model and then she married a super rich guy. Those were her choices, and I shouldn’t judge her for them just as I hope people don’t judge me for mine. If she weren’t married to the President of the United States, the cost of her jacket certainly wouldn’t be making headlines nor would people be citing her expensive choices as reprehensible in light of her husband’s proposed budget and stance on social benefit programs.

Don’t get me wrong.

I understand the outcry. I too am completely appalled by Trump and his proposed budget. And yes, I admit that I can’t help but believe that Trump has no sympathy for the poor partly because he can’t relate to their situation.

But equating the size of the Trumps’ bank accounts to his proposed budget is as irrelevant as claiming our social and budget problems are the fault of poor people who don’t try hard enough. President John Kennedy and Senator Jay Rockefeller also came from wealth,  yet they always took into consideration the least among us.

Being wealthy and being able to pay $51,500 for one article of clothing have nothing to do with a commitment to help our less fortunate neighbor.

Being a person of wealth doesn’t mean you lack compassion for the poor any more than living in poverty means you expect society to support you. Of course there are rich people who only think about themselves just as there are poor people who want to “live off the system.”

But stereotyping and making assumptions does no one any good.

Money doesn’t define us. The way we treat our fellow human beings does.

Our role in life is to support each other and to call out those who don’t. It’s that simple.

Some of us can help because we have plenty of money to meet our own needs and enough to help others. Others can give our time and our God-given talents to mentor, teach, or guide those who need extra assistance. And all of us can raise our voices in support of those who need us most.

It’s just not about the money.

It should never be about the money, and none of us should care how much anyone else spends for clothes.

With that said, I have to admit that even if I had $51,500 to spend on one jacket, it would look absolutely nothing like Melania’s, which I think is ugly and obnoxious.

But there is nothing wrong with judging an item of clothing.

It’s the people who wear the clothes who shouldn’t be evaluated based on appearances alone.

The Bad Relationship

bad-relationshipWe’ve all been there.

We’ve had friends in relationships that we know are unhealthy for them.

To us, the problem is so obvious: our friend is being manipulated, or lied to, or charmed by money, good looks, popularity or power.

We know that our friend is being used by someone who doesn’t have his/her best interests at heart, and we try to warn them.

But they don’t want to hear what we are saying. “The relationship is special – you just don’t understand,” they tell us. “They are in love,” they say. And sometimes they even accuse us of being jealous.

When the relationship falls apart, our friend asks, “why didn’t anyone warn me?” And, because we care about our friend, we stifle the “I told you so,” and support then in their time of need.

Recently, I realized how many Trump supporters are like those friends in bad relationships. I’ve read articles about how the more we try to be rational, the more the more they cling to their presidential choice. Trying to argue using facts is pointless when they trust only information that affirms their own belief system.

They are so wrapped up in their sense of triumph, winning, and ideology that they refuse to see who Trump really is, how little he cares about other people, and how he is using lies to appease his base of support.

In other words, staunch Trump supporters are still in the honeymoon phase of their new, yet dangerous, relationship.

But in this case, I can’t accept that I will someday be forced to stifle an “I told you so.”  That is simply unacceptable.

Unlike other relationship choices, this one not only affects me but has a devastating impact on those who have lived their lives trying to overcome poor relationships with people in power.

Individuals who have been marginalized because of their race, religion, sexual orientation or even country of birth have too often been on the losing end of bad relationships.

And since many of the individuals who chose that relationship for them are actually delighting in those struggles, I must say this to Trump supporters:

  • I’m done trying to convince you that you are being manipulated.
  • I will no longer warn you that our President does not have your best interests at heart.
  • And when things go south, I will not say “I told you so,” nor will I expect you to say “thank you” for all I did to try to save you from this relationship.

Instead, knowing that I fought hard for everyone, despite their bad decisions, will be good enough for me.

Dear Shelley Moore Capito,

Dear Senator Capito,

I’ve called your office more times during the past couple of weeks than I have called any politician’s office in my entire life. You see, I’m worried about your intentions.

Your job as a senator requires you to make decisions in the best interest of me and the other 1.8 million people who live in West Virginia.

You aren’t doing that.

I saw the recent photo of you and  President Trump with a caption that said together you will bring back jobs for coal miners. That’s a lie, and you know it. There are a variety of reasons coal can no longer be the backbone of West Virginia’s economy, and your support of environmental deregulation at the risk of harming state residents won’t fix it. (http://fortune.com/2016/07/20/why-donald-trump-wont-bring-coal-jobs-back-to-west-virginia/). But you realize many or your constituents don’t want to read or hear the facts. They just want their politicians to fix something that is permanently broken. So unless you have a plan to find new jobs for former coal miners, and I’ve seen nothing of the sort, you are lying. And you are voting against the best interest of unemployed coal miners because they don’t want to hear that life as they know it has changed. Apparently, their vote is more important to you than their health is.

This same political pandering must be why you aren’t questioning Trump’s executive order on immigrants and refugees. After all, I’ve seen your written response to those who questioned your support. You defended yourself by saying that Trump is acting in the interest of national security. It’s not about national security. It’s about rhetoric and feeding into the hate that spurred Trump’s campaign. And you know it. His actions certainly aren’t based in fact.  Experts in homeland security have expressed concern about his order:  http://www.npr.org/2017/01/31/512592776/will-trumps-refugee-order-reduce-terror-threats-in-the-u-s. But many West Virginians don’t understand immigration or the extreme vetting that refugees must already endure. They seem to think that being Muslim is practically a crime and use this to justify their distrust and even hate while calling themselves good Christians.  But you don’t care if their opinions aren’t based in reality, and you choose to feed their fears anyway. I thought your job is to protect West Virginians regardless of their misguided beliefs. If so, you’re failing.

Which brings me to the issue that is probably bothering me the most: your plan to vote to confirm Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. Ms. DeVos doesn’t have a degree in education, has no experience working in a school environment, never attended a public school or state university, sent all four of her children to private schools, and supports for-profit education. No matter how I look at this situation, I cannot understand how you could believe that putting her at the helm of our nation’s public education system is good for the Mountain State. Let’s face it, West Virginia is already struggling with educating our young people. During the 2015-2016 school year, 51% of our state’s high school juniors scored below the reading proficiency level, and 79% of them scored below the math proficiency level. Twelve percent of our adult population hasn’t even graduated from high school. Let me repeat that, more than 10% of our adult population hasn’t even graduated from high school!

Please explain how Betsy DeVos, a woman with no education experience, will be able to help West Virginia. Since we live in such a poor and rural state, I certainly can’t imagine how her passion for private schools will help.

I hate to be cynical, but do you actually like having an under-educated constituency? Do you believe that the less educated we are, the more gullible we will be? I certainly hope this isn’t true, but since you have a pattern of voting in ways that support your constituents often misguided beliefs and against their best interests, I find myself wondering.

Even more importantly, I’d also like to prove myself wrong. I ‘d like you to show me that you aren’t making decisions because they are popular instead of being right.

That is, after all, what we mothers have often told our children to do.

Maybe it’s time to start behaving in the same manner.

Sincerely,

 

Trina Bartlett

There is a Monster in the White House

thomas-mannThere is a monster in the White House, and I refuse to sit back and let him implement his hateful and xenophobic agenda.

That means I’ve gone outside of my comfort zone and called out his minions

And yes, I’ve paid the price.

This weekend Facebook reflected the battle being waged against a President who appointed white supremacist Steve Bannon as national security advisory and implemented an executive order that hurts good, honest immigrants and refugees.

For the past eight years, I have believed that people have the right to post what they want on their own Facebook page. Even when people made nasty comments on my posts, I held firm that people have the right to say what they want on their own page.

tutuBut that changed this weekend. I can’t let evil prevail.

I started calling out people who posted “alternative facts” or hate speech under the guise of news. I called out people who slammed credible news sources while posting propaganda.  And I noted that people who obviously aren’t well-versed or well-educated  shouldn’t be spewing hate against others.

For the most part, I did this with facts. Not mean words, Not name calling. Facts and an occasional comment about people’s ability to discern truth from alternative facts.edmund-burke-quote

One particular person kept deleting every comment I made on her posts of unwavering support of President Trump.

Again, I wasn’t being rude. I wasn’t name calling. I was posting facts and information. I also noted she deleted any comment by others who called her out.

As my husband well knows, the more you ignore me the more I push back. I am the proverbial dog with a bone.

einsteinSo when she kept deleting instead of acknowledging my posts and instead of private messaging  me politely asking me to stop, she tagged me in a post calling me rude. Then other people starting liking that post.

So I unfriended and blocked her.

She is so blinded by the need to justify who own beliefs that she can’t even acknowledge that there may be a reason so many people in our country are protesting.

So now, her Facebook friends think I’m rude and inappropriate.

Let them. I’d rather be considered rude than to sit back and watch an evil man destroy our country.

There is a monster in the White House, and I’m going to do everything I can to fight it.

Even if it means offending his minions.

On Size and Class

During the musical Chicago, two of the main characters, a sensational murderer and a corrupt prison warden, sing the song “Class” while they drink whisky and smoke cigarettes. Of course the scene is intended to be ironic as neither of the characters is the least bit classy.

Maybe this should be the theme song for the Trump administration.

After all, the lyrics started running through my brain when I saw a comment on social media about the Trumps at an inaugural ball. ” It’s so nice that our kids can see class and sophistication in the White House” it said.

Wait?inaugural-ball_li-2 What? Our kid didn’t see class and sophistication when President Obama was in office?

The Obama’s family photo should be in the dictionary under the definition of both class and sophistication,especially considering their obvious love for each other, the respect they show for all individuals, and their lack of scandal during eight years in the White House. And yet, this person was insinuating otherwise.

I couldn’t understand why, and I wondered in what alternate universe that person was living. We may have differences of opinion about  politics, but the statement wasn’t even grounded in class-in-white-housereality.

The Trumps have a lot of money, but the president’s behavior has been anything but classy. I don’t think bragging about grabbing women’s genitals is classy. I don’t think using hateful language to garner support is classy. I certainly don’t think calling people who disagree “enemies” is at all classy. And even though I promised I wouldn’t drag Melania’s name into any of my issues with the Trump administration, I don’t know in what universe a first lady who posed for nude photos could ever be considered more classy than Michelle Obama.

obama-clasAt some point, I realized this person either a) was a racist or b) had been brainwashed by the Trump propaganda machine, which has apparently been fervently trying to pretend that the Trumps are classy just as Trump has been pretending the size of his inaugural crowd was large and that he didn’t actually lose the popular vote.

Sadly, I’m familiar with how aging, white men can be obsessed with the need for one-upmanship. I’ve witnessed it too many times. I’ll never forget being forced to endure two older white men comparing the best meal they had ever had by noting price and restaurant. The discussion occurred in my office at a nonprofit where a colleague and I were doing a lot of hard work for very little money.

My co-worker and I quietly went about our work as the bragging grew louder and the men grew more animated. When they finally left the room, my co-worked snipped, “why didn’t they just drop their drawers, compare size, and be done with it.”

At the time, her comment was a funny reprieve from an annoying and uncomfortable situation. In hindsight, it spoke volumes about how men like Donald Trump view the world. They are so obsessed with proving their own superiority  that they don’t see the reality right in front of them.

What such men don’t understand is that the size of an inaugural crowd doesn’t define their ability to lead any more than the size of their bank account can make them classy.

Class comes from holding your head high despite adversity and being gracious in the face of defeat. Class comes from biting your tongue rather than having to eat your words later. And, most of all, class comes from focusing on treating others with respect rather than spending time worrying about how others treat you.

Class is definitely something that belongs in the White House.

I only pray it finds its way back there sooner than later.

The Day We Marched

On Saturday, some friends and I decided to make a trip into the city.this-is-what-a-protestor-looks-like

It was no ordinary outing, and it was no ordinary day.

We were going to Washington, D.C. to join the Women’s March on Washington and express our concerns about newly inaugurated President Trump.

I’m tired of people telling me that I might as well be wishing the pilot of the plane I’m on to fail. I’ve tried to explain that the pilot doesn’t even understand the control panel, that the ride is already quite bumpy, and that he’s threatening to throw some people off without a parachute. We need to find a way to steady the plane and correct the flight pattern. But that message seems to fall on deaf ears.

I’m saddened by people who belittled the march or claim that our country already ensures we have equal rights. This muslim-registrymarch wasn’t about what some of us already have. It was about what so many individuals are at risk of losing. This was not a march about traditional women’s rights or even reproductive rights (although some people chose to advocate for these issues.) It was a march about human rights for all people – people of different skin colors, people of different sexual orientations, people of different religions, and people of different countries of origin.

Most of all, I’m frustrated with people who claimed the marchers were out of line and disrespectful to the office of the President. First, the Constitution gives us the right to protest – it is vital to a healthy democracy.  Secondly, the new President ran a campaign based on disrespect and hate. I cannot respect an individual who has belittled women, put white supremacists and racists in positions of power, selected a vice president who threatens the rights of the LGBTQ community, img_4640called Mexicans rapists, mocked a disabled reporter, spoke of grabbing a woman’s genitals, and called those who disagreed with him “enemies.”

And so, my friends and I put on our pussy hats, and we marched.

There is so much I can say about the experience. I could describe the signs of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes that lined the streets where we walked from RFK Stadium to the U.S. Capitol. I could describe how march participants were constantly thanking the police assigned to keep everyone safe. mlksign And I could describe how everyone was supportive, polite and loving to each other.

But there’s an old saying that pictures speak louder than words. And so, I share a few of the photos my friends and I took during the march and hope they not only show why we marched. It will show that this was not a self-serving protest proclaiming concerns about how polices will affect our bank accounts.  It was about tolerance, acceptance and support for individuals and groups who are at risk of losing their dreams.