Please Don’t Let Me Be Silent

Please God, never let me be a silent white person while my brown and black sisters and brothers are living in fear and experiencing injustice and violence.

Please God, never let me be a silent citizen while Dreamers are deported and refugees are rejected.

Please God, never let me be a silent Christian while my Muslim sisters and brothers are being discriminated against and not having their religious freedom respected.

Please God, never let me be a silent man while my sisters are being abused, harassed, and assaulted.

Please God, never let me be a silent cisgender straight man while my sisters and brothers who are LGBTQIA are not being given equal treatment, equal opportunity, or respect.

Please God, never let me be a silent person with health insurance while my sisters and brothers experience a life and death struggle for access to healthcare.

Please God, never let me be a silent person with shelter and food while so many of my sisters and brothers are hungry and homeless.

Please God, never let me be a silent human being while my nonhuman sisters and brothers are suffering, their habitats are being destroyed, and many are being killed to extinction.

Please God, never let me be silent while the whole creation groans in travail and cries out for renewal.

Please God, never let me be silent when the world needs me to speak out.

Please God, never let it be said of me that my friends remembered my silence when they needed my voice to cry out with them for justice.

Amen.

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Oklahoma, Step Beyond Fossil Fuel

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I completely understand why the fossil fuel companies in Oklahoma whose massive tax breaks have broken our state would want to control the state’s response to its brokenness, but I can’t understand why the rest of us would let them.

Letting oil and gas companies control how Oklahoma responds to its revenue failure and budget crisis is a little bit like allowing the person who crashed into your car control where you go to the doctor for your injuries and what body shop you can use to repair your car and then being told not to complain about your chronic back pain or about the paint not matching on your car or about the bumper that keeps falling off.

The fossil fuel companies in Oklahoma own this state. They own the governor and almost every state-wide elected office. They own the vast majority of the Oklahoma Legislature. They own the mayors of our major cities and most of their city councils. They own our universities and their presidents. They own most of the media. The fossil fuel companies own Oklahoma, and thus they utterly and completely own our state’s abysmal failure. And now they want us to trust them to come up with solutions for our state? Give me a break!

In addition to being a failing state in the present, Oklahoma has done very little to prepare for the post-fossil fuel economy. If we think things are bad now, wait 10-15 years when fossil fuel use is in significant decline around the world. 20 years ago, I had hoped that our Oklahoma oil and gas companies would begin to see themselves more broadly as energy companies and help lead the way in the transition to clean energy, but I underestimated their greed and their willingness to sacrifice the well-being of future generations both in Oklahoma and beyond for the sake of that greed.

Not only has Oklahoma done very little to prepare for the post-fossil fuel economy, we have also cut state spending on education far more than any other state since 2008, making it less and less likely that our state will possess the intellectual and creative capital needed to create a new economy. Our best students rightly see that their capabilities will be more greatly appreciated elsewhere unless their field of interest is fossil fuel friendly. Many of the students with great potential still get left behind because our lack of educational funding makes them less and less prepared to succeed in college and in their careers.

Oklahoma’s fossil fueled failures have state, national, and global implications. Perhaps no other states in the United States bear more responsibility for our inaction on climate change than Oklahoma and Texas, and this is why Scott Pruitt, Rex Tillerson, and Rick Perry are in the halls of power. They have willingly done the bidding of the major fossil fuel companies and their executives (many of whom are based in Oklahoma and Texas) to accelerate the Trump Train towards climate chaos – all while these same companies spend billions of dollars to confuse people about the science of climate change in order to make trillions of dollars in profits from their fossil fuel assets. Not only do they put profit over state and country; they put profit over the planet. This is the industry to which Oklahoma should trust its future?  – Not if we ever hope to make Oklahoma a flourishing state for all people and not a failed state that continues to contribute to the plunder of our planet.

The future for Oklahoma is not fossil fuel; it is wind, solar, clean energy technology, sustainable agriculture, creative arts, eco-tourism, and innovation for a regenerative economy that contributes to a more just, participatory, and sustainable society. If we really want to step up for Oklahoma, we must step beyond fossil fuel and embrace a diverse and sustainable economic future.

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Is Oklahoma Stepping Up?

Oklahoma wells

Look, I get Oklahoma politics. I understand that the oil and gas industry has more economic and political power than any other entity in the state. I understand that no major revenue bill will likely ever make it through the Oklahoma Legislature without the approval of the leaders of our large oil and gas companies.

It is not surprising therefore that it garnered a great deal of attention when the oil and gas industry and their allies announced their “Step Up Oklahoma” plan last week to fund teacher raises and basic state services. Numerous media outlets and state leaders lauded the executives of the oil and gas industry for being willing to compromise and support an increase in the state’s gross production tax from 2% to 4% in the first 36 months of a well’s production (by far the most productive period for the well) and then to have it increase to 7% for the rest of the life of the well.

Such a compromise, such a sacrifice by the oil and gas industry will cost them $133 million a year compared to what they are currently paying, but these leaders of the Oklahoma oil and gas industry are ready to step up and make the sacrifice for the good of the state.

Listening to the news and reading Oklahoma papers, one gets a sense that Oklahoma oil and gas leaders have put their self-interest aside and are taking one for the team, and one gets a sense that “Step Up Oklahoma” is the best and perhaps last chance we have to fund teacher pay raises and basic state services before the state completely falls apart. Indeed, given the economic and political power of the oil and gas companies, Step Up Oklahoma may end up being the way the state moves forward to address its revenue failure and budget crisis.

Given this reality, I understand why the Oklahoma Education Association would support this initiative while continuing to work on other potential solutions to the crisis our state faces. Times are desperate, teachers are fleeing the state, many school districts have gone to four-day school weeks, and students are not getting the quality public education they deserve. Similar crises exist across the state in other sectors such as healthcare and infrastructure. Oklahoma is a failing state on many fronts.

The proposal being put forward by the oil and gas industry is better than their previous unwillingness to entertain any restoration of the gross production tax towards its normal 7% rate, a rate that would put Oklahoma more in line with other oil and gas producing states. 4% is better than 2%, $133 million is better than no restoration at all.

But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that the oil and gas industry and its leaders who have stepped back for the past decade and enjoyed literally billions of dollars of tax breaks while Oklahoma’s state spending on public education decreased more than any other state in the country are somehow now suddenly becoming selfless and sacrificial leaders to save our state. It is much more likely they are trying to get out ahead of a growing movement in Oklahoma to have oil and gas companies pay their fair share as opposed to enjoying by far the lowest GPT among oil and gas states.

What a coincidence that on the day before oil and gas leaders announced their “Step Up Oklahoma” plan, they lodged a legal challenge to a potential state question that would restore the state’s GPT to 7%. The oil and gas industry likely understands that if they don’t show some compromise on GPT that the people may use the initiative petition process to restore the GPT at a rate much higher than what Step Up Oklahoma is proposing.

$133 million a year sounds like a lot of money, and it is, but it is still much less than what oil and gas companies would be paying each year with a 7% GPT on all wells, a figure much more in line with other states. The oil and gas industry’s Step Up Oklahoma plan still proposes to raise more money through regressive taxes on cigarettes and gas at the pump than it is willing to raise from taxes on oil and gas produced at the well. Far from being a major sacrifice for oil and gas companies, Step Up Oklahoma is a well calculated move on the part of the industry to appear to be stepping up even though it has been stepping down for years while our state failed.

While I agree that we must all step up for Oklahoma, a much better step up for the common good of all Oklahomans would be for us to step up and restore the GPT to 7%, and hopefully Oklahomans will have an option to vote on this restoration in November by passing State Question 795 – if the selfless and sacrificial oil and gas industry is not successful in keeping it off the ballot.

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Honoring King in the Age of Trumpism

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This year marks the 50th year since we lost the greatest prophet for justice and social change in the history of the United States. I would have hoped that we would have progressed much more in fulfilling Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream than we have, and in many ways we have gone backwards, but it would not be a befitting honor to Dr. King to simply lament the lack of progress up to this moment. King would not want us to dwell in lament of the past and present, fear of the future, or hatred for the foes of justice. Dr. King would want us to look forward with love and hope (through the lens of realism) at what needs to be done nonviolently to move us towards the promised land of Beloved Community that he envisioned the night before his death.

I think the most fitting tribute to Dr. King on the day named in his honor is not to dwell so much on what his life and accomplishments meant during his time, but to ask what his life and accomplishments might contribute to bringing transformation for justice today and into the future. King knew he was not going to make it to the promised land with us, but he hoped to prepare the way. Honoring King means to keep preparing that way, to keep creating the road towards the Beloved Community, to keep bending the arc of the moral universe towards justice.

And what does bending the arc of the moral universe towards justice look like in the age of Trumpism? How do we keep King’s dream of Beloved Community alive in the Nightmare of Trump’s narcissistic chaos of racism, xenophobia, sexism, greed, exploitation of the environment, Islamophobia, and discrimination against persons who are LGBTQ+? How shall we overcome when a blatant racist holds the most powerful office in the land and perhaps the world?

One thing I think King would tell us today is that we cannot allow our work of resistance to be overly focused on only resisting Trump. Don’t get me wrong, I believe if King were alive today, he would be resisting Trump with the same energy and passion with which he resisted the prominent racists of his day. That being said, King knew that racists do not come to political power in a vacuum. Their ability to gain, maintain, and misuse power grows out of systems that perpetuate the evil that their hold on power personifies.

The primary goal must be to transform the systems that have created the context in which someone like Trump could come to power, and those systems are social, economic, cultural, and political. They are systems that have perpetuated racism, sexism, poverty, militarism, and exploitation of the environment. They are systems that have created a social and political environment in which a truly horrible person could be elected President of the United States of America. Horrible systems have paved the way for a horrible person to be president. Unjust systems have corroded the structures of our society and made it possible for Trumpism to come to power.

King knew that the evils within the world could not be overcome only through changing individual hearts and minds. He knew that revolutionary change of the systems is needed. Only then can we create the more just, peaceful, participatory, and sustainable society that King called the Beloved Community.

If we only remove Trump, and we do not transform the systems that made a Trump presidency possible, we will be dooming future generations to different but still pernicious forms of Trumpism, and given the fierce urgency of now to address the global economic and ecological challenges facing the human community, we cannot afford not to transform our current unjust and unsustainable systems. This work of systemic transformation is a work that honors King both today and in the days to come. Dream or nightmare? The choice is ours, but we had better choose quickly, for as King was apt to remind us, there is a such thing as too late.

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A University Whose Time Has Finally Come

There once was a university that like so many universities was struggling with its enrollment and finances. The university never had an endowment that was adequate for the size of its student body, and thus it was dependent on tuition revenue to cover the bulk of its instructional and other operational expenses.

As expenses inevitably increased, the interest from the university’s endowment was inadequate to cover the growing costs, and the university became even more dependent on tuition revenue. To meet expenses, the university had to increase tuition and fees; but it was not able to increase real dollar scholarship assistance, thus passing off most of the increased costs to the students.

With higher tuition and higher fees, fewer students were able to afford the price of attending the university. Over the period of a decade, enrollment declined precipitously. New programs were created to attract new students, but there were costs to starting new programs and the new enrollment in those programs could not make up for the losses in other areas. New strategies were put in place to recruit students whose families could pay the higher tuition and fees, but the university’s financial difficulties and deferred maintenance made it difficult to attract students from more wealthy families. Enrollment continued to decline.

During this time of the university’s struggles, leaders of the institution were sometimes heard saying that “the university didn’t have any problems that a billion dollar endowment couldn’t solve.” Interest from such an endowment could easily sustain the university financially for generations to come.

One day, as if an answer to a prayer, the university was given over $1 billion by an oil tycoon whom the university had been cultivating for over a decade. This donor had given significant gifts before, but this gift was the game changer. The university’s future was now secured. Enrollment increased, the faculty and staff at the university grew in quantity and quality, and the university steadily rose in the national college rankings. The university’s time for flourishing had finally arrived.

About two generations later, the university closed its doors; its enrollment decimated by the massive human die off caused by the climate change induced economic and ecological collapse that so many universities dependent on fossil fuel cash and other corporate donations did so little to address.

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Church Revival in the 21st Century

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There once was a mainline Christian denomination in the United States that was experiencing significant membership decline. Since its peak in membership in the 1950s and early 1960s, this denomination lost millions in total membership despite many intentional efforts to quell the decline. Untold numbers of church growth workshops and trainings and significant investment in consultants to right the course could not turn things around. Membership continued to plummet.

The inability to reverse the decline was met with understandable concern as budgets and ministries were cut. As in all mainline denominations, there were many disagreements, including theological, among the clergy and laity; but nearly all were in agreement that something must be done to increase membership. Without more people in the pews, a once great denomination could become virtually non-existent within a couple of generations.

Then over a ten-year period, something of a miracle happened. After many years of study and strategizing about how to attract new members, the denomination finally began to turn around. Finding the right combination of engaging worship and preaching, community involvement, and programs to help people deal with life’s challenges; the denomination started to regain the membership it had been losing since the 1960s.

Other denominations took notice and learned from the revitalized denomination. Over time, this denomination led a revival of mainline Protestant churches in the United States. Membership boomed, new buildings were built, old buildings were renovated, budgets were increasing, new agencies and ministries were created, ministerial pension plans were in better shape than they had been for decades.

In a relatively short period of time, mainline denominations were no longer looking back with nostalgia at the 1950s. A new day had dawned for mainline denominations in the United States, and the denomination that started the revival experienced growth and prosperity that it had never experienced before. Seminary attendance swelled as the church struggled to meet the demand for all of the new ministers who were needed. Church growth experts lauded the 21st Century as the Century of Renewal for Christianity in America.

Two generations later, the membership of this denomination and all of the other denominations that had benefited from this significant revival saw their membership decimated by the massive die off of humans caused by the climate change induced economic and ecological collapse that the churches had done almost nothing to address.

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Strong Suggestions for Democrats and Progressive Independents in 2018

Election 2018

As the political hell of 2017 comes to a close, I have a few suggestions for Democrats and progressive Independents in 2018:

  1. in 2018, our republic hangs in the balance. We must keep our focus on this fact. Anything that takes away from an awareness of and unified response to this existential threat is a waste of time politically speaking in the year 2018.
  2. The chances that this Republican Congress will impeach and convict Trump are extremely low, so don’t waste too much time focusing on impeachment in 2018. Any great hope about this Republican Congress having the courage to impeach and convict Trump should have been dashed after witnessing the Republican love fest on the White House steps after the tax cuts bill was passed. Yes, we can hope for impeachment, wish for it, even sign a petition or two calling for it; but don’t spend too much energy on it, unless Mueller is fired, then when we are in new territory. If Mueller is fired, we must be on the streets in the millions – seriously. Until that time, as long as Mueller is allowed to keep investigating, don’t let impeachment be our primary focus in 2018.
  3. The primary focus of 2018 must be on the November 6, 2018 elections. It is imperative that Democrats take either the Senate or the House of Representatives. It would be best to take over both the Senate and the House. Much of the worst that a Trump administration could do between 2018 and 2020 could be blocked by a Democratic controlled Congress, and as the Mueller investigation proceeds, a Democratic Congress could take appropriate measures related to impeachment and conviction of the president if the evidence warrants such action.
  4. 2018 is not about changing Trump supporters’ minds. Let’s stay away from fantasy. 2018 is about staying focused, united, and intentional about getting every person not supporting Trumpism to be registered and voting on November 6, 2018. We have to help each other register, we have to educate each other about what is on the ballot, we have to help each other get to the polls (or learn how to use absentee ballots), and if we live in a state that has voter ID laws, then we need to help each other get those IDs. Focus on what we can do. We can overwhelm Trumpism at the ballot box. We cannot change the minds of those who are still supporting Trump. If Trump’s words and actions in 2017 did not convince to stop supporting trump, there is very little that rational arguments from a liberal friend or relative is going to do to change their minds.
  5. 2018 is about staying united. No matter whom you supported in 2016, do not let your hard feelings about that election get in the way of staying on task in 2018. As much as you may hate the two-party stranglehold on state and national politics, 2018 is not the year to once again fall on your ideological sword. The Supreme Court, the entire judicial system, the EPA, a livable climate, racial justice, economic justice, justice for women, and our identity as a pluralistic society are all at stake in 2018. if you were a Sanders supporter, suppress your desires to criticize Clinton, and if you are a Clinton supporter, suppress your desires to criticize Sanders. Yes, we have our differences, but wake up and smell the Trump coffee that is currently brewing and boiling over in Washington and get over it. We have to forgive each other, reconcile with one another, and fight like hell together in 2018 and 2020 to save our republic. No buts about this one. Just stop it!
  6. Do not vote for non-incumbent third-party candidates in 2018 or in any other year unless your state has a ranked choice voting system that allows you to vote for a third party candidate without harming your favorite or perhaps least disliked major party candidate. I hope that someday the whole country will have ranked choice voting so that we can all vote for our first choice every time and create a robust multi-party system, but until that time comes, voting for a third party candidate simply strengthens the major party that you would least like to see strengthened. Really it does. It’s just math.
  7. Don’t let any seat go unchallenged in 2018 or 2020. Yes, running for office is difficult and expensive, and it may seem like a waste of time to run Democrats in the districts heavily controlled by Republicans; but in 2018 and 2020 (and in every election for matter) every vote counts, and the more Democrats there are on the ballot for all offices, the more likely Democrats and progressive Independents will come to the polls in record numbers.
  8. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Democrats must not simply be the anti-Trump Party. Be the party of fairness, the party of justice, the party of compassion, the party for equal opportunity, the party for sustainability and environmental justice, the party of vision, the party for education, the party for community, the party of true religious freedom, the party for human flourishing. Be the Democratic Party – a party that cares for people, fights poverty, and protects the planet.

We can do this! We must do this! Happy New Year.

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