Choose Kindness by Nancy Mugele

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“Courage. Kindness. Friendship. Character. These are the qualities that define us as human beings, and propel us, on occasion, to greatness.”

These poignant words written by R. J. Palacio in Wonder resonate deeply with me for three reasons. First, they echo the central tenets of a Kent School education – Integrity, Respect, Responsibility and Friendship. Second, they mirror the Six Pillars of Character Counts – Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring; and Citizenship. And lastly, they have always been words that I live by – especially kindness.

When our children were growing up, my husband and I told them over and over again that nice people go further in life, and to always be kind because you never know what a person might be dealing with at any given time. I still remember, with pride and fondness, that our children always seemed to make friends each academic year with new members of their class which meant Jim and I also made new friends. Kindness means being a true friend and also doing for others with no expectation of anything in return.

I promised my school community that I would write if I learned of a school with a specific need in light of the devastating hurricanes experienced in September in Houston, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. I had been waiting to hear from my friend Liz Morrison, the Head of School of Antilles School serving 500 students in PreK – Grade 12 on St. Thomas and St. John since I first contacted her on September 5 as Hurricane Irma was approaching. I finally heard from her last week.

In her own words: “St. Thomas and the Territory experienced two category five hurricanes in two weeks last month. Consequently, 90 percent of the island of St. Thomas is still without power and running water, and many have lost their homes and their livelihood. Antilles School, one of the few independent schools in the territory and the only one on St. Thomas, needed to reopen as quickly as possible for the health of the children and their families and to aid in the relief efforts.

“This came at an extreme financial cost to the institution and yet gave the children of the island normalcy and much needed educational continuity. In the wake of the hurricanes many of our families are unable to meet their financial obligations to the School, and yet we have allowed these students to continue their education. We continue to admit local students from public schools as their schools have yet to reopen. I would love to share the stories of three of these families.

“One of our second graders lost her father while he was protecting his family during Hurricane Irma. Adding to their difficulties, her mother’s employer downsized six months ago and she is unemployed. Antilles has been a safe haven for the family – a place where the child has friends and adults to help her process this tragedy. Keeping this student at school, keeping the family clothed and fed, are one of our top priorities.

“A new student in sixth grade whose school is still closed as a result of the hurricanes shared at the end of his first day that he believes “dreams do come true” because he was able to come to Antilles. Three weeks after this young man’s arrival at Antilles he is smiling, engaged in his studies, and is excited to come to school every day. His mother says, “It’s the first time he has ever said he has had a good day at school.” Giving this student, whose family could not afford the tuition, an Antilles education is a life-changing experience for him.

“One of our 11th graders who has been at Antilles since Kindergarten, was forced to move into a shelter after his home was destroyed in the hurricanes. Meeting his academic obligations while he is living in a gymnasium with more than 100 people, and eating FEMA rations is an incredible challenge. Yet he is, and he continues to do so with grace and poise.”

Liz’s story is so compelling, heartbreaking and, yet, also hopeful. She has lost 1/3 of her student population because their families have lost homes and jobs (75% of Antilles families work in the tourism industry). Liz has had to lay off teachers and cannot pay the school’s bills. The school really needs funding to remain open and continue to be a place of comfort, security and yes, joy, for its students.

Tonight Kent School is holding its annual Empty Bowls event. Empty Bowls is an international project to fight hunger, personalized by artists and art organizations on a community level. While admission is free and open to the public, guests may enjoy a variety of homemade soups and breads with the purchase of a student-made ceramic bowl. Each bowl is $10.

In the spirit of Auggie Pullman, the main character in Wonder, who asked us all to choose kindness, the opening of the movie Wonder this month, and Thanksgiving, Kent School has decided to use tonight’s Empty Bowls event to raise funds for both the Kent County Food Pantry and Antilles School. We BELIEVE deeply in supporting our local community as well as being able to extend our reach to a far-away friend in need. If you are inclined to help personally I can put you directly in touch with Liz or you can donate online. Please join us at Kent School this evening at 6 p.m. at our Empty Bowls event where you can enjoy a bowl of soup before heading to First Friday.

Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown and a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s.

Proud Moments by Craig Fuller

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I think we all have them. Some are widely shared. Some are very unique.

I’m fully prepared to acknowledge that in the unique category are those proud moments that occur in public service at the White House. And, mind you, I said “unique” not better or more important.

They are unique because of the roughly 326 million people now living in the United States, only a tiny percentage have an inclination to serve in the White House and only a fraction of those ever receive the opportunity.

Several days ago, I confess to spending a good deal of time in reflection about proud moments shared with President George H.W. Bush. The occasion was a meeting of the Bush Library Foundation Board of Trustees. I was asked to serve in the 1990s as the former chief of staff to Vice President Bush. The group hadn’t actually met in a number of years and out of the blue came an invitation to Kennebunkport, Maine for a meeting and a reception with President and Mrs. Bush.

Perhaps because I have not visited their wonderful home in Kennebunkport for a few years; or, perhaps due to the tribulations in Washington that seem almost debilitating; but, whatever it was, the occasion brought some of the best of times rushing back.

We’d traveled to over 60 countries together. And, we managed to build a campaign effort that proved successful with his election in November 1988.

It wasn’t so much a sense that somehow we’d changed history…of course, we certainly made some. And, there wasn’t some focus on big decisions. It really was more a sense of pride in time spent helping a person in whom I believed so much become President. Along that path there were many proud moments.

I came away from the weekend mindful of how important it is not to take for granted the proud moments all of us experience in whatever circumstance they may arrive. Family certainly provides many. Professional opportunities provide them. Helping others brings a sense of pride and self-worth that has been the focus of many a study.

Wherever you may be and whatever the activities in which you engage, do take the time to pause and appreciate the proud moments in life.

If there was any downside to these proud moment reflections, it went to the notion that in this White House so many must be working so hard; yet, I can’t help but think they will be denied the proud moments the many who have gone before them experienced. That is a shame. But, maybe the message here is that proud moments are too important to endanger with adverse circumstances. Paying attention to the environment in which one places themselves and the available opportunities for taking pride in one’s achievements is important; and, a paucity of proud moments is not to be taken for granted – at least that’s what I’d tell anyone currently working at The White House should they ask.

Craig Fuller served four years in the White House as assistant to President Reagan for Cabinet Affairs, followed by four years as chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Having been engaged in five presidential campaigns and run public affairs firms and associations in Washington, D.C., he now resides on the Eastern Shore with his wife Karen.

Op-Ed: Is there Hope for the Dysfunctional Republican Congress by Rob Ketcham

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Our Republican Congress is essentially dysfunctional, is there any hope for improvement?

With its new President and a Republican Congress the United States itself in an unsettled place. I am hoping that with my background working as senior committee staff in the US Congress, I may be able to shed some light on what is or is not going on with our leaders and our government. Despite the fact that there has been a considerable gap between now and when I was immersed in the legislative branch, the principles of how to legislate well and produce a quality product (law) haven’t changed.

It is my belief that Congress and its modus operandi are not well understood by our citizens or by the media, and worse, by the legislators themselves, in part because the legislative process itself requires very hard work to do well. Generally, it comes across as the blind men viewing the elephant; it depends on what you are touching, not what you are seeing.

The Republican party has a majority in both the House and the Senate, and historically, since the President was also elected as a Republican, the development and passage of a Republican agenda should be quite feasible. But we live in interesting times, and it is my view that the Republicans in the House and Senate, by and large, are demonstrating that they either do not understand the legislative process or they have deliberately chosen to stay on their narrow, partisan path, no matter the consequences. Until Donald Trump’s election they were able to operate in a mode of opposition, seldom in the mode of cooperation. In addition, many of them have managed to tie themselves in knots by signing single-minded pledges demanded by this or that constituency which serve to reduce their policy options by placing blinders on their thinking about the topic under consideration.

In 2012 a book was published by two political scientists I had rubbed shoulders with some years ago. Their book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, by Thomas E. Mann and Norman Ornstein examines the polarization that has shaped the Republican party. The book portrays

the party “….. as an outlier, using unusual and unprecedented parliamentary tactics and tools to delegitimize outcomes and acts from the other party and promote mass obstruction and nullification.” I was also interested to read their observations from an earlier book written in 2006, The Broken Branch, which documented the demise of regular order, describing the bending of rules to marginalize committees and hamstring the minority party, and probably even more important, discussing the decline of deliberation in the lawmaking process, and the loss of what they identified as “institutional patriotism” among members.

The legislative process requires considerable effort, a consensus ahead of time about the objective, an identification of the persons and policies affected, a careful plan to hold open hearings about the policy being legislated, and, at some stage, drafting the policy in legislative form which can be introduced and sent to the appropriate committee or committees. All of these legislative activities are designed to build support for the proposition being legislated and to hear and learn about the reactions to the propositions by those who favor them and those who oppose them. All these legislative steps provide checks and balances for the system.

The NYT of July 11, 2017, contains an article, “Which Party Was More Secretive in Working on Its Health Care Plan? “ It notes that eight years ago, Senator Mitch McConnell complained that the Affordable Care Act was “being written behind closed doors, without input from anyone.” The authors compare what happened eight years ago during the first six months of public activity on health legislation in Obama’s first term with what has happened on health legislation this year in Trump’s first term. So far the number of days of public activity this year on the GOP bill in the House and Senate is nine days, compared with 43 days for what became known as Obamacare, during the same six-month period. During its Obama care deliberations in 2009, the House Committees held four days of hearings, and the Senate committees held one on related health care changes, all before the bill was drafted. That same year the Senate health committee spent a total of 13 days marking up the bill, seven of them during the first six months.

The Republican 2017 legislative health care activities are de minimis. Republican lawmakers spent two days debating policies related to their bill on the House floor. The Senate, thus far, has not debated at all. Two other items of comparison jump out: 1) 200 witnesses were heard during consideration of the Affordable Care Act in 2009, while so far this year, 18 witnesses have been heard by the Republican Congress, and 2) There were five Senate bipartisan meetings in 2009, while none have been held so far in this legislative cycle.

The Republican party and its machinations related to Health care this year are a great ongoing case study. For years, the Republican party line was that Obamacare should be repealed, and anything calling for a legislative fix should be opposed. No positive alternative was supported, considered or proposed. We are now learning that since the Republican leaders did not think Trump would win the election, they were not positioning themselves to have to come up with anything new or substantive, just a continuing opposition. With their election success in November, the spotlight shifted the legislative onus to the new Republican Congress and to the new Republican President. It is increasingly clear that no one was ready with a well thought out proposal that had been developed and tested. The shift from being against Obamacare and Obama policies, to being in favor of something positive has not yet been demonstrated. Ignoring the legislative process, and essentially remaining in the negative role, the House proceeded to darken the windows, offer homilies and generally inaccurate or misleading assessments about how awful Obamacare is, and without hearings or an Congressional Budget Office report (which is a requirement in the legislative process) rammed a bill through the House. This poorly thought out strategy put the Republican House members on record as voting for something that will most surely come back to haunt them.

Then the Senate, whose vaulted leader who is often billed as a legislative genius and strategist is in July, 2017, attempting to build support for a Senate Republican version of Health Care produced outside the legislative process by some 13 hand-picked Senators. This attempt gives new meaning to the book title previously cited; It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.

So where do we go from here? The Trump Administration appears at this juncture to have very little understanding or appreciation of the legislative process, and seems to think of the Congress as just a rubber stamp for whatever it wants. It is not clear after more than six months in office that the President understands that his political role vis-a-vis legislation requires far more than simply making demands or threats (which can often be counterproductive, and not at all helpful).

As a result, Congress is pretty much on its own and is camped out in the open field all by itself. Right now the Senate is in the headlights and beginning to face considerable pressure because of its unfinished legislative business with October 1 coming up fast. The media is beginning to hone in on these coming deadlines, in part because some of the same topics have wreaked havoc in the past, including agreeing on a new budget before the fiscal year begins on October 1. Another factor is the debt limit: Treasury Secretary Mnuchin has asked Congress to increase the debt limit by the end of July! Good luck with that!

Over the past few days, it has been reported that Mitch McConnell, has twice mentioned the possibility of now working with Democrats. It is also being reported that efforts are underway by opponents to the Senate’s health proposal to involve Republican Governors whose states and citizens are affected. Now that the Republicans are in charge there is no place for them to hide, the American people are watching, and so far it is not a pretty sight. The amazing confluence of national issues, health, taxes, and budget deadlines and legislation to reauthorize important program areas like the Children’s Health Insurance Program all are demanding legislative attention. Every day there is another story about what some of the Republican proposals will do to many many of our most vulnerable citizens, and almost none of it is good.

Therefore, my deepest hope for our country in 2017 is that Congress finally decides to get down to work, to take the time to meet and discuss what can be agreed on, and what can be put off. Bipartisan discussions should begin. The Chinese symbol for “conflict” depicts both danger and opportunity. For whatever its worth, all the members are in this together. Although most legislators, almost by definition, are conflict adverse, not dealing with these issues before them is much worse. The heat under the legislative pot is being turned up and up, and the issues are now out in the open, no longer behind closed doors where they can be “controlled.” As a result, by not following some type of regular legislative order those issues not raised and discussed publicly in the orderly process of legislating are now being raised by each affected interest group.

So stay tuned. It is my hope, which the Senate will decide to slow down health care legislation with some bipartisan agreement, and then find some agreement on how to proceed on the other critical issues that must be addressed, hopefully again, with bipartisan cooperation. I am also hopeful that Democrats will become a positive force, rather than starting to act like obstructionist Republicans.

Robert Ketcham served as the chief of staff of the US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology and staff director of the Fossil and Nuclear Energy Subcommittee during the 1980s and 1990s. Prior to those positions, he was Special Counsel to the House Select Committee on Committees chaired by Richard Bolling (D-MO).  He holds a BA and JD from Washington and Lee University as well as a SG from Harvard University’s Senior Managers in Government Program. He has lived in Easton since 1999 with his wife, Caroline.

Rosie Revisited by George Merrill

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Screen Shot 2017-03-12 at 4.02.31 PMThe adjacent picture is one among many images depicting the iconic Rosie the Riveter of WWII fame. The image packs a whole story, especially today, about gender and society. It’s a timely statement. They say pictures are worth a thousand words? This one is worth more. It tells tells several stories.

The portrait represents a woman who is not about traditional feminine business, at least as we’ve known it historically, being agreeable and deferential. She’s in what we think of as a man’s world and appears to belong there unapologetically. She wears the blue denim shirt like the one I wore when as a young man I worked in shipyards. She’s a skilled laborer. Rosie was showcased as the kind of woman who, needing only the chance, was up to doing any man’s job as well if not better.

The woman’s facial expression is serene and confident, almost regal. It’s not the facial expression we’d expect from somebody who was feeling angry and defiant. The way her arms are configured, as I read it, is indeed a protest, but her expression suggests to me she is confident in her defiance, that she’s not just being reactive. She’s affirming who she is, a competent no-nonsense woman not about to be patronized.

Her right hand is placed over her left bicep, her left arm bent with fist held high in the air.

She might be just rolling up her sleeve but as I see it, she is multitasking. This is unmistakably the universal gesture of defiance normally associated with angry men, frequently low-lifes or tough guys. The French, always nuanced in delicate matters, call this gesture the ‘bras de’honneur;’ the Italians who are more proprietary say it’s the ‘Italian salute’ and Americans who are characteristically course know it simply as, ‘up yours.’ Defiance is a distinct part of the message here.

This is not a woman a guy wants to mess with. She knows just who she is. As I interpret this image for our time, I think she’s telling the world; “Let’s get serious. No more eighty cents on every dollar a man makes for the same job. It’s time for equal pay for men and women, and for blacks and whites as well.”

Stereotypical gender roles are rapidly changing. They’re challenging the way men and women relate to one another. The ‘little woman’ being protected by the ‘big guy’ is now an unsustainable fiction. Women’s safety stratagems that once depended on feminine wiles are antiquated. Tears of helplessness and fluttering eyelids are to the modern woman’s armamentarium for survival as the bow and arrow is to todays fighting Marine. For those guys still clinging to their traditional gender prerogatives, this change in social conventions may come as a shock.

According to New Yorker columnist, Lizzie Widdicombe, Dana Shafman, an Arizona native, is the inventor of the Taser party. Similar to the traditional Tupperware party women hosted in their homes, Shafman’s presentations are not about freezer containers or dishes for leftovers. Her wares are displayed on a coffee table like Tupperware. This is, however, serious weaponry proffered for sale, a lucrative, legitimate business, presented with a characteristically feminine touch: hospitality offered in the hostess’ living room, along with cookies, coffee and demonstrations in the uses of the Taser. This changing convention is not good news for men. It will require men to exercise more caution in the mating game and with women in general. Guns used to be strictly a guy thing. Now Mr. Macho can’t be sure when his disgruntled squeeze may be packing a piece.

The Taser, although ostensibly non-lethal, is a weapon like a gun, used by the military and police to subdue suspects who might become violent. In living room presentations to neighborhood women, Shafman showcases Tasers customized to suit the most discriminating woman’s tastes. The C2 Taser, small, “Virginia Slims” as the model is dubbed, has been developed for civilians and some specifically designed for women. Some come in pink, perhaps anticipating today’s confluence of traditional femininity with some of the instruments historically associated with masculinity. Shafman’s customers are promised that if the first shot doesn’t drop the miscreant, not to worry. The Taser can still be used as a stun gun.” Go for the jugular,” Shafman advises her customers.

It’s a new day.

March eighth this year the world observed International Women’s Day. The timing of the observation came at a particularly advantageous time since the occasion was set in sharp relief by the recent contempt with which the president publically denigrated women. It some ways his attitudes gave a greater impetus for increasing public awareness of the long standing issue of gender inequality. For all the wrong reasons his attitudes may have aided in propelling issues of gender inequality into public awareness.

It’s interesting to note that increasingly men and women are “partnering” rather than entering a marriage. Perhaps “husband and wife” still carry enough of the suggestion of inequality to trouble women in particular. The word partner or co-worker suggests equality.

What about good old-fashioned romance, you ask? That’s a subject for another conversation. My guess is that the glow endures among men and women who regard each other as equals.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Take Heart by George Merrill

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Cynics say that positive thinking in the Trump era is equivalent to being in denial or suffering a psychiatric condition called magic thinking. Take heart, it’s not so.

The trick I’ve learned is not to read the papers or visit any other media for at least two hours after rising; the longer the better. Then I have an untroubled look at the sunrise, listening to the early birds flitting about while I savor that first cup of coffee. With an untroubled mind I can think about just how I want to go about my day.

Another strategy to maintain equanimity is to think contextually, that is, keep an eye on the big picture. Beauty is often revealed by its surrounding space, as Anne Morrow Lindbergh once observed about the shells she saw on a beach.

February is a case in point.

I’ve always regarded February as a blah month – cold and wet and dreary. But, taking the long look I now see it differently. Consider this: February 14th is Valentines Day. February 17th is Random Acts of Kindness Day. It’s also American Heart Month as well as Black History Month. The only downer is that February includes Presidents’ Day. Recently it’s felt more like a wake than a celebration. Still, my challenge is to remain positive, look for the silver lining in the darkest cloud, and don’t resort to keeping my head in the sand.

Valentines Day was especially rewarding this year because I remembered it on my own. I was the first to initiate a congratulatory kiss and tell my wife I loved her. I know she welcomed it, but I saw fleeting skepticism in her eyes. She may have been surprised that I remembered. She made the attached card for me.

February 17th is Random Acts of Kindness Day. Then I was still on holiday in Puerto Rico. Like many privileged Yankees I stay at a resort where some of the heart-rending poverty remains invisible. In many ways it’s an alternative universe, and if I ever had any illusions about inequality, being on the streets of Humacao as well as on the streets of our own capitol, they are quickly dispelled.

When I first arrived, I had occasion to leave the resort to buy supplies in Humacao. At a light I was approached, one after the other, by no less that four indigent men. Each held a plastic cup in his hand.

Their appearance betrayed desperate need. As each approached, I realized I only had twenties in my wallet and had made no provision for this. As they moved their cups in my direction I shrugged my shoulders and they passed me. The men betrayed no apparent anger or judgment. I believe I saw in their eyes a silent resignation, the blank stare of hopelessness. Having heard of a man in New York who did this, I elected to be sure next time when I left the house I’d be prepared to give each a dollar. This probably made no difference in their plight, but out of guilt and compassion I felt a need to at least act, to take their plight seriously enough to acknowledge it. Each time I gave, I had an odd feeling. I think it reduced that sense of guilt that goes with privilege, but the other feeling seemed different. As we momentarily looked each other in the eye I noticed I felt less alienated and more aware. This was a stranger whom I met only once and probably would never see again. The feeling was faintly reminiscent of a sense of belonging, that both of us were connected in a fundamental way – children of God. Moments like this make me appreciate the exercise of compassion – and the organizational commitment – that Julie Lowe and the volunteers of the Talbot Interfaith Shelter have created. Random acts of kindness are good as far as they go. Compassionate acts inspired by committed and accountable people is goodness at it’s best.

During February we celebrate Black History month, usually emphsizing the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr. Like Gandhi, Dr. King showed the world a more excellent way. I continue to be awed by the care and planning that the early civil right activists practiced. It was as disciplined as boot camp, giving as much thought and respect to adversaries as to advocates. The movement was one example of not only the power of goodness and personal sacrifice to reach the human heart, but to also change oppressive social structures. Social revolutions are notoriously bloody. The civil rights movement had casualties – King himself – but his life and mission changed the world in a remarkably bloodless way.

February is also American Heart Month. Our hearts are our most loyal supporters and our closest friends. We can’t live without one. They have an awesome responsibility and even when they suffer malfunctions, with the right treatment, they keep on truckin’. Try this on for size: In a seventy-two year life span, a heart beats approximately 2,800,000,000 times. Of our other organic functions, our breath comes in behind the heart but still at a whopping 530,156,808 breaths. In times of erotic excitement and especially during presidential campaigns both numbers may increase substantially.

This brings us finally to February 20th, which is Presidents Day this year. It’s usually a celebration, but this year I think confusion abounds in the White House and President Trump seems angry all the time about one thing or another. I haven’t found this President’s Day as festive as last year when President Obama was in office. He was fun, articulate, with a sense of humor, even self-deprecating humor – “I’m the guy with the big ears,” he’d say. President Obama seemed to really care for us, as though he held in his heart the people he was elected to serve.

Oops! See, I’ve done it, dumping on Trump again, right into the negativity I’m encouraging us to rise above. Well, getting back on task I count as a blessing that Vladimir Putin didn’t become our 45th President.

Take heart, friends. Count your blessings, however modest. It promotes warm hearts and fewer visits to your cardiologist.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

To Whom Much has Been Given by George Merrill

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In ancient times, in the Middle East, a man once sat near his tent in an area not far from a village called Mamre. His wife remained in the tent attending to chores. He saw three strangers approaching. He rose, ran to them, welcomed them, bowed to them in respect and offered them his hospitality. He washed their feet (a gesture of welcome of nomadic peoples) offered them bread to eat and water to drink. His actions were guided by a prevailing custom, which obliged him to offer hospitality and protection to aliens and strangers.

He took and slaughtered one of his calves and prepared a feast for the three guests. When it was time for them to leave, the story goes, he went with them a distance “to see them safely on their way.”

This is one of the myths of the legendary Abraham and Sarah who appear in Islamic, Judaic and Christian scriptures. By all accounts we have a picture of a man and his wife, people of privilege and power offering hospitality and protection to the potentially weak and vulnerable – in this case to three men who appeared as strangers in their midst.

Last Friday, the President of the United States signed a directive closing the nation to refugees and people from “certain predominantly Muslim countries.” Immigrants were turned away, with no preparations or forethought apparently given to how appropriate authorities would ‘see them on their way.’ The directive created unimaginable suffering for millions of people – all of whom wished us nothing but affection and admiration for what we stood for – a just and welcoming space. I was deeply saddened when I read about it.

The supreme irony is that the practice of hospitality was an ingrained spiritual tradition in many of those same countries that now seek refuge and sanctuary here.

There are darker implications to the recent executive directive. In this action, I believe our present leadership violated one of America’s fundamental moral foundations. The operative myth that has made America unique and distinct in its greatness is its commitment to hospitality.

We live by myths. Campaign slogans are myths. Our most beloved religious stories and symbols are myths. This is not to suggest they are only “make believe or fanciful.” They may be, but do not need to be historically verifiable to be powerfully motivating. To be viable they only need to speak to some deep human yearning. In the myth of Abraham and Sarah, we see the deep and universal human need to care for others, in short, to offer hospitality to strangers.

Two symbols represent our national myths; the eagle and the Statue of Liberty. The eagle represents nobility and strength, the alpha bird if you will. It tells the world that America is strong. It feels good to be strong. The eagle is, however, a predator. Eagles are also kissing cousins to buzzards.

The Statue of Liberty, our greatest national landmark, was conceived in grace. It was given to America by the French in gratitude for our supporting their struggles for equality and justice. For us, she has become the iconic symbol, not of America’s might, but of America’s caring. The gift was given in gratitude, one of the most profound feelings we have as human beings.

What’s disturbing is that the symbol of America’s true greatness with it’s long and venerable history of hospitality to the stranger, might soon become more like the guard stationed at the entrance to a gated community; admitting members only. I recently saw a picture on the side of a pickup truck with a picture of Lady Liberty on the cab door. In her arms she’s holding an AK 47.
This portrays the statue more as an armed guard than a hostess welcoming “your tired and your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.”

The highest task imparted to us as human beings is to care for one another. It is not some kind of legal imperative, but more a recognition that we belong to that interdependent web of life that is woven into who we are and has consequences in what we do.
The story of Abraham and his guests is instructive from another point of view. We can assume that he is a man of means, with resources. Even if he were not wealthy, the same call to hospitality was a spiritual value that would be as incumbent on him as it would be for the privileged.

The substance of spiritual matters is reflected more subtly than say, closing a deal.

What characterized the recent executive order banning immigrants was its ‘slapdash” quality. Many, including the Secretary of Homeland Security were just learning of the order as it was being signed. The people in government agencies that would have the responsibility for carrying out the directive, “to see them on their way,” were largely blindsided which led to scrambling and confusion, only aggravating the predictable suffering for all involved.

In the spiritual nature of life, awareness is critical. It’s expressed in the attention one gives in the way we treat others in our routine or extraordinary transactions with them. Careless and off-handed treatment of others suggests that there’s little awareness and care or feeling for the other.

There’s one other irony in these developments. Of all the countries being impacted by the present migrations, America’s space, wealth and privilege position her to be compassionate with far less impact to her than countries with fewer resources.

To whom much has been given, much is required.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Out and About (Sort of): Day 1 -Trump Undone by Howard Freedlander

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On my way to writing a different column, I learned again on Day 1 of the Trump Administration that truth is a terrible distraction to the spanking new President. Nothing new, really.

Our new President takes narcissism and insecurity to new heights. If held accountable to facts, he feels insulted and disrespected. The real world is an unpleasant circumstance. Nothing new, really.

On Saturday, Jan. 21, his first full day as leader of the Free World, Mr. Trump disputed the number of attendees at his inauguration the day before, despite visual evidence, and claimed that his feud with the nation’s intelligence community was a creation of the “dishonest” media, despite evidence of his tweets during the transition period damning the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). At a January 2017 news conference, he even charged U.S. intelligence officials with conducting a Nazi-like smear against him

What was sorely lacking on Day 1 was even a scintilla of substance.

Instead, our new President appeared before the CIA’s Memorial Wall of heroes and said nothing about the brave people whose names are listed on this hallowed wall. As is his annoying and self-serving custom, Mr. Trump demeaned the audience by citing his war with the media over the number of people who attended his swearing-in. While he expressed strong support of CIA employees—and that was commendable—he failed again to focus entirely on the subject at hand.

It was during his remarks that Mr. Trump ascribed the ill will between him and the intelligence community to the hateful media.

So, what we saw during the Presidential campaign and the tweet-filled transition will be a mind-boggling staple of the Trump reign of power. The “you, “the American people, whom he addressed repeatedly during his inaugural speech, was merely a rhetorical device. His self-preoccupation underscores his being. Nothing new, really.

The first of 1,460 days of occupancy of the White House by the highly-flawed Donald J. Trump was actually an incredible and historic one not only in Washington, DC and throughout the world. The Women’s March the past Saturday illustrated the power of peaceful protest in a strong democracy.
Family members and friends descended on the nation’s Capital to proclaim their objections to Mr. Trump’s documented behavior toward, and comments about women.

Crowds exceeded expectations in Washington, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Juneau, Alaska, London, Paris, Melbourne, Australia and other cities.
Maybe that’s why Mr. Trump was mad. His words and behavior possibly have spurred a movement. That would be ironic. He constantly boasts of the movement that his candidacy spawned.

It’s because I have to accept the truth—that Donald Trump’s boorish behavior, his paper-thin skin, his incessant self-glorification and his alarming lack of personal and intellectual depth will most likely not yield to Presidential growth—that I write this column. It’s human to expect the best.

Some might ask: what did you expect? Some might assert: he never indicated he would change his garish stripes. Some might say: this authenticity is what got him elected. He’s a change agent, some might argue, and you better accept that reality.

Further, some might suggest that I and others should give the billionaire businessman a chance. After all, he just was sworn in. He needs time to adjust to the demands and laser-like scrutiny that accompanies his exalted position.

If past is precedent, our 70-year-old President sees little need to change. He won the election, and that’s all that matters.

I suspect that impeachment will shadow, if not end the presidency of Donald Trump. Bound by his own rules and standards of conduct, he likely will step over the legal and ethical lines. He will find that utter service to himself does not translate into service to his fellow Americans.

Day I brought out the worst in Mr. Trump. We can only hope for the best—whatever that is.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Certain Slants of Light by George Merrill

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My wife, Jo, has dragged me kicking and screaming into the electronic age. I can almost manage Facebook and survive fatal errors. I’ve learned what a blog is. I can text, albeit at a painfully slow pace and, although I will never be a truly renaissance man of the postmodern era, at least I can get messages and compose on the computer.

One of the marvelous gifts of electronic communication is its capacity to offer talks by informed people. I can listen to the wise and learned as they share their wisdom with me. Just the other day I listened to a clip where Krista Tippett (recently at the Avon Theater in Easton) was interviewing Rabbi Rachel Naomi Remen, a remarkable woman, and one of many I am hopeful will spiritually feed and guide more of us as we make our way in this increasingly uncertain world.

Rabbi Rachel Remen, MD, Clinical professor of Family and Community Medicine at U.C.S.F. has a vision. She relates a story as told by her grandfather. It’s a myth with deep roots in Jewish spiritual wisdom that I believe has profound healing qualities especially for this time. In her pioneering work in Holistic and Integrative medicine, while suffering herself with Crohn’s disease for sixty years, she’s no stranger to suffering or to the mystery of healing. She is wise in the art of living wholly (holy) in the midst of brokenness – which, for all of us, is life’s primary task.

She relates her grandfather’s story, a pivotal myth that has guided her along her spiritual path of healing that she’s trod during her life. Like all inspired myths, it reveals truth without artifice, in such an ingenuous way that it touches the heart and soul deeply. She offers a vision of hope for healing in this broken world. As I heard the story for the first time, I understood more clearly the ancient psalm that speaks of “the beauty of holiness.” The story goes as follows:

“In the beginning, there was only the holy darkness, the Ein Sof, the source of life. And then…at a moment in time, this world, the world of a thousand, thousand things, emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light. The vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. The wholeness and light…was scattered into a thousands of fragments of light, and they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.

“Now, according to my grandfather, the whole human race is a response to this accident. We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world. It’s a very important story for our times. And this task is called tikkun olam in Hebrew, the restoration of the world. And this is a collective task. It involves all people who have ever been born, all people presently alive, all people yet to be born. We are all healers of the world. And that story opens a sense of possibility. Not making a huge difference, only healing the world that touches me and is around me.”

I read of a man who lived in Greenwich and commuted daily to the financial district in New York. No sooner out of the train and he’d meet on a few corners men and women begging for change. It’s a fixture in most big cities. It bothered him. He decided that each day when he left for the city he’d take ten dollars in singles. When asked, “Can you help me out,” he’d say yes and give the person a dollar. When the sum for that day had been given it was enough but he did the same the next day and the next.
His story came up at a dinner party. A couple of people suggested that while he meant well they gently chided him saying if he was serious he might do much more and concluded that this tiny gesture would do no good; “They’ll just buy drugs or alcohol” was the prevailing sentiment.
I saw the scenario differently. The issue wasn’t what the needy might do with the money, or even how significantly it would address their plight, but that he in some small way attempted to meet these people not “making a huge difference,” but reaching out to those in his world that touched him and that gathered around him every morning on his way to work. I was moved by how, when he became aware of the deprivation that faced him daily, he felt overwhelmed like most of us do, but became intentional and committed about addressing it at least in some small way.

Acts of kindness and compassion can be trivialized, as they don’t at first “make a huge difference.” However, they set into motion unexpected consequences that potentially mobilize all kinds of healing, social, physical and spiritual. The good news in the Rabbi’s grandfather’s story is, that from the beginning, we – each one of us – has been assigned the task of healing the world, a tiny bit at a time.

Keep an eye peeled for signs of inner light.

I wrote this piece during the inauguration on Friday while just outside my window I could hear the gentle and plaintive cooing of a mourning dove.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Stillness and Space by George Merrill

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Years ago, I remember how the minister began the Morning Prayer service by saying, “The Lord is in his holy temple; let the whole earth keep silence before him.” Then, for the next hour, sounds of every sort would reign non-stop: there’d be prayers, chants, a sermon, hymns and anthems. This list does not include the audible whispering that congregants engage in throughout the service. Nor does it mention the announcements, which, depending on what’s going on in the parish can be extensive. So many different sounds can seem dissonant; they lack the harmonic concord of a unified melody. Where silence is concerned, we talk a good game and that’s the problem . . . we just can’t seem to be still . . . even in the hallowed halls of the Almighty.

With regard to space, it goes in a similar way. Part of the beauty and wonder that explorers Cabot, Hudson and Verrazano wrote of when discovering the New World was its open and unencumbered spaces. It was openness that allowed luxuriant flora to thrive. In four hundred years humans have filled the space with the marvels and the effluence of engineering. Many of the plants and trees are extinct as a result – while the few remaining plants, flowers and trees survive by growing in highway medians. These are born to blush unseen and waste their sweetness on rush hour commuters who will never see or smell them.

It’s not nature that abhors vacuums; we do.

We are driven to fill silence with sound, and clutter space with stuff. My guess is that it’s because we are still at the adolescent stage of our evolution as a species. Most adolescents’ bedrooms are the ultimate showcases for litter of all descriptions. When ordered to tidy up, all the clothes on the floor go in the washing machine along with hamburger, gum and candy wrappers. In adolescence, my room was a mess. So were my children’s. It’s clutter from wall to wall and when the kids played music, it was loud enough to rattle the china in the cupboard downstairs.

Since I’m more respectful of space as I’ve grown older and try not to clutter, I also play music more softly. This change has given me hope for mankind’s future. Like wine, we can mellow with age.

A huge meteor hurdles through space intact and at dizzying speeds, all in silence. When it reaches the earth’s atmosphere, it slows down and begins disintegrating while emitting sound for the first time. Beyond the earths atmosphere it travels silently. What’s more astonishing is how even exploding or imploding stars in our galaxies, with forces hundreds or thousands of times greater than our home made atomic concoctions, are born and die in unimaginable conflagrations without so much as a peep. I’ve thought perhaps when a meteor gets too close to the earth, our planetary noise level makes it go to pieces. We call it atmosphere.

There’s power in silence. There’s healing as well, since we must first be still in order to hear. I have experienced how listening is an instrument of healing. Sometimes the most troubled soul, when he or she knows they’ve been heard, feels momentarily at peace.

I’ve walked many state parks. Sometimes I was lucky enough to be sufficiently distant from highway noise to enjoy solitude. Jets passing overhead quickly reminded me that finding silence is a significant challenge.

There are two places I believe where there’s infinite space and also stillness: in the universe and in our souls. They enjoy similar characteristics.

Two writers I’ve read ponder space and silence in similar ways. Anne Morrow Lindbergh once wrote of space: “For it is only framed in space that beauty blooms . . . and objects and people are unique and significant – and therefore beautiful.” The moon gains radiance because the sky it occupies is black – and it orbits in plenty of space. Chet Raymo writing about the mystery of silence: “A note in music gains significance from the silence on either side . . . only in relation to silence does sound have significance.”

In an age dominated by technology, our hearts suffer an inadequate vocabulary to articulate the spiritual riches of our souls if we even knew they were there. We are constantly bombarded with information. There’s never enough time and mental space to process it. In short, we’ve lost the art of interior reflection. We’re driven by sound bytes of dubious credibility and our endless busyness.

It was such a lovely day, I left off writing this essay to walk for a while. The day was cold and clear with a fierce wind blowing. The trees swayed ecstatically and the slate gray underbelly of the passing clouds accented the white of their crowns. The sky was deep blue, setting the clouds in sharp relief. As the sun dropped lower, the underbelly of the clouds turned orange as though kindled by fire.

As I walked, for a moment I had this silly thought; that the universe had broken it’s silence for me long enough to reveal itself in a muffled rush of wind and by displaying its glory in a space as big as all eternity.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.