Category Archives: Current Affairs

Shame of my hometown: Fullerton police acquitted of murdering #KellyThomas

Trigger warning: police violence, graphic picture. On a warm July evening in 2011, Kelly Thomas was hanging out at the Transportation Center near The Olde Spaghetti Factory in Fullerton. Someone called the police saying Thomas was looking in car windows and pulling on handles of locked cars. What happened next was caught on video: Fullerton police officers beat Kelly Thomas until he was bloodied and comatose. He later died of his injuries. [You can read the full timeline of events, here.]

Yesterday, the now former police officers, Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, were acquitted of the murder and manslaughter charges. They were found not guilty.

What a miscarriage of justice. How in the name of mercy can we look at the beaten, bloodied face of Kelly Thomas and ACQUIT these police officers?

kellythomas1

Full disclosure: I am not unbiased. Fullerton is my hometown. I used to work at The Olde Spaghetti Factory which is right next to the bus stop where Kelly Thomas was murdered. I walked by that spot every day on my way into work. And yes, I believe he was murdered. I have watched this trial from the beginning. And today, I am HORRIFIED.

The Transportation Center is an understandable gathering spot for homeless folks. In addition to the bus stop, the Fullerton train station is nearby. There is shelter, vending machines and the commuters are often generous. As a teenage hostess working in the restaurant right next to the train station, I never felt threatened while walking by the homeless folks. Sometimes I gave them whatever spare change I had. Sometimes I brought a box of leftover spaghetti.

The point is, these people are not violent. They’re homeless. And last time I checked, being homeless was not a crime.

And not to place too fine a point on it but peering into car windows is ALSO not a crime. Sure, maybe the police needed to show up and give Kelly Thomas a verbal warning but BEATING him? Until he’s unconscious? NO.

I read that the defense used Kelly’s mental illness against him–as if THAT justified the use of excessive force?! The defense also claimed he had a diseased heart from drug abuse–as if heart failure–NOT being beaten until unconscious–caused his death! (FYI: the cardiologist testified that Thomas did NOT die of heart failure). And anyway, how does ANY of THAT justify being beaten in the face?! Since when did we acquit murderers because their victim was schizophrenic? Or had used drugs? Apparently, if you’re mentally ill, you’re not really human.

Thomas’ last words were utterly heartbreaking. He called for help. He begged for help. Over and over. “Dad help me. God help me. Help me. Help me. Help me.”

Well, even if the jury didn’t come to his help, we can. Please sign the petition for a federal investigation.

What do you think? Is it EVER justifiable for police to beat suspects?
What other methods should the police have used with Kelly Thomas?
Why do you think the jury acquitted the police officers?

I like Dave Ramsey’s ideas but I’m not sure I like Dave Ramsey

A few years ago, the recession had taken almost everything: 40% of my husband’s income, 100% of our retirement, 100% of our savings. As a one-income family, we were staring down the barrel of mounting credit card debt and a house rapidly decreasing in value. Our home was still above water and so we decided to sell it and use the profit to pay off our debts and start over with a clean slate. Then we found Dave Ramsey. We went to a cash-only/envelope system, made huge cuts to our family budget and within a year, our financial situation improved. Most importantly, we were able to stay in our home.

Here’s the thing: I didn’t really know he was a Christian until after we’d been using his system. I didn’t really care whether he was a Christian. His little cash-envelope system worked and THAT’S what mattered to me.

Maybe I’m clueless but I never once thought Ramsey was teaching a get-rich plan. His advice was practical and accessible and for someone who hates all things money-related, Ramsey’s system was easy-to-follow.

I’ve had family members and friends in desperate financial straits for whom Ramsey’s system worked wonders. All this to say, I’m really grateful for Dave Ramsey and honestly, I find the criticism against him baffling.

A recent list of “20 Things the Rich Do Everyday” that was posted to his website has stirred up a bunch of controversy. I dunno. I read it and was like: huh, makes sense to me. Sure, I wondered where he got his stats. But for the most part, I didn’t see what was so crazy-awful about it. Reading books and exercising—these are good things, right? There are reasons successful people are successful and I’m not entirely sure I understand why stating these things is Horrible, Awful, Prejudicial and Shaming?

I did find Rachel’s piece on CNN helpful inasmuch as she pointed out that “Corley and Ramsey have confused correlation with causation here by suggesting that these habits make people rich or poor.” Good point!

Still, I’m not entirely convinced this means Ramsey is “wrong about poverty” as a whole. What am I missing? Someone explain it to me? (Long comments OK! Just don’t call me ignorant or immature, k? :) )

Speaking of name-calling, that’s when I started feeling uncomfortable with Ramsey. When he  started calling his critics immature, doctrinally shallow and ignorant and then failed to provide answers to honest questions about where he got his stats for that post (at least, I haven’t seen them anywhere), I suddenly felt queasy. Then he took on the martyr mantle by claiming he was receiving “abusive” criticism. Does he really not understand how social media works? 

To be honest, I couldn’t understand why he was so defensive. If he stands behind what he teaches, why stoop to name-calling? As someone who often gets criticized for her blog content, I understand how difficult it is to respond to criticism. The attacks often feel personal. I’ve made mistakes in how I respond and I’ve learned the hard way that responding with personal attacks; ie. name-calling, getting overly defensive, etc. only makes one problem into two.

I mean, I like Dave Ramsey’s system but now I’m not sure I like Dave Ramsey. His debt-elimination plan is awesome but he’s kinda acting like a jerk online. And these days, business is just as much social-media savvy as it is IRL practical advice.

I mean, if Dave Ramsey acts like this online, I’ve gotta guess he might be a meanie IRL, too. Something just smells fishy, is all I’m saying. What is going on, here???

Still, I like my little cash-envelope system. Excuse me while I go check my emergency cash fund.

UPDATED AT 12:20PM PST: I’ve been listening to Dave Ramsey on the radio this morning. And it’s just really sad. His posture is prideful. He’s refusing to engage the actual substance of those who have questioned him. He’s mocking. He’s mean. He’s only taking calls from people who agree with him. Just whoa. WHOA. Very telling.

Modesty doesn’t live in a multi-million dollar mansion

My three older kids are working through their second year of faith formation in our Catholic parish. Last week, they came home with a packet about physical, symbolic and internal boundaries. As I flipped through the worksheets, I saw the word MODESTY and my heart froze. I could feel those old purity culture ideas rearing their shame-y, blame-y heads. But then I read the definition. And I got all happy because here, read it for yourselves:

Modesty: The virtue that respects, honors and protects privacy:
the quality of avoiding 
extremes of emotion, action, dress and language.
Modesty respects my boundaries 
and the boundaries of others.

What a well-rounded, WHOLE-PERSON approach to understanding the virtue of modesty! This is a perfect example of why I love Catholicism–the theology isn’t compartmentalized; meaning, modesty isn’t exclusively about manner of dress but about the WHOLE WAY we live our lives.

The Catholic understanding of modesty is that it encompasses ALL we do.

In purity culture, modesty was exclusively about sexuality; more specifically, female sexuality.

But the true modesty goes far, far beyond that. It’s about how we speak, how we act and it’s about avoiding extremes. Modesty is about moderation, respect for my boundaries and the boundaries of others. It’s about avoiding excess.

Couldn’t we say, then, that all Christians are called to live modestly? I mean, if modesty is a virtue, it’s not just for women. But how often do you ever hear Christians speaking about men being modest?

How often do we speak about modesty in regards to how we eat, how we spend our money, the kind of car we drive, the kind of house we live in?

Oooooh, Elizabeth. Oh, no no no.

Oh, yes. I’m going there. I’m asking the question:

Is it modest for a Christian pastor to own a multi-million dollar home?

As far as I can tell, Pastor Steven Furtick doesn’t answer to any higher authority structure than…himself. This is often the case in independent mega-churches where the senior pastor is The Final Word on everything. But even if Furtick is building his mansion only using earnings from his bestselling books, the question remains: is it modest or is it excessive for a pastor to live in such an expensive home? After all, he is–first and foremost–a pastor.

And to be fair, my own church–The Catholic Church–has this problem, too. Despite the fact that priests are required to take a Vow of Poverty, a German bishop was suspended for overspending on his residence. Then again, that’s my point. The Catholic bishop SHOULD have been suspended and he was! I’m curious to whom Pastor Furtick is accountable?

Furthermore, why don’t we speak more often about the virtue of modesty as it pertains to finances? What do you think?

Military strike against Syria? Dear God. Please no.

Dear God, not more war. I am so weary of war, war, war. I am weary of factions, sectarianism, tribalism, feuding and children being gassed in their schools. And chemical wars and and threats of war and the whole screwed-up mess that is the entire Middle East. I don’t understand what possible GOOD a military strike would do; what possible good it would do to engage ourselves in yet ANOTHER conflict on the other side of the world? I am weary, so weary of U.S. military interventions. Yes, my heart breaks for the children and innocents being slaughtered—and yes, we must do something–but more war? Haven’t we already been down this road in the Middle East? We already know how this story ends, don’t we? And what are the objectives? What solution can possibly come from lobbing a few cruise missiles at “military targets”?

I read a piece at the Washington Post about “Just War” and whether Christians should support a strike in Syria. Here’s an excerpt:

We live in a fallen world of injustices and conflicts without easy solutions. Clearly this does not mean we should do nothing, but we should have a sense of humility about the limits to our ability to perfect the world. The failure to recognize our limitations itself results from our sinfulness and leads to further injustice. As Pope John Paul II pointed out in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus in regards to the moral failures of communism in Eastern Europe, the desire for control without limitations results in the resort to violence without restraint. Violence itself becomes redemptive, the ultimate tactic for restoring order in a broken world.

The call for military intervention in Syria arises from the desire to “do something” when faced with evil, yet it is not clear what intervention will accomplish.

YES! This idea that violence itself is redemptive; that the ONLY option for restoring order and meting justice is through the “ultimate tactic” of warfare? I reject that! It’s so troubling to me that THIS is where we’ve arrived: at a place where shooting missiles is our de-facto approach to helping the helpless. I just…I can’t believe that anymore!!

In his address this morning, Pope Francis said something which I so appreciated:

Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence…I exhort the international community to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace in that country without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people…. I repeat forcefully: it is neither a culture of confrontation nor a culture of conflict which builds harmony within and between peoples, but rather a culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue; this is the only way to peace.

I know there are no easy answers, here. I’m just heartbroken at the thought of the United States entering yet ANOTHER military conflict in the Mid-East. Dear God, have mercy upon us. Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us.

What are your thoughts? Is there such a thing as Just War? And does a strike against Syria count as a “just war”? Do we have clear objectives?

 

Well, Miley Cyrus. How predictable of you.

Aaaand cue outrage. Shock. Horror. Pearl-clutching. If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that Miley Cyrus’ performance at the VMAs last night was shocking. Oops. I mean. Predictable.

Seriously. Can we all stop pretending to be surprised now? Can we quit with the breathless reporting that even Miley’s team is “freaking out”  about her VMA performance last night? Because riiiiiight. I’m sure her team is just shocked.

Probably about as SHOCKED as discovering that lyrics like: “trying to get a line in the bathroom” are NOT about a long line to use the toilet. What? WHO KNEW?!

Here’s the truth: Miley Cyrus doesn’t care what you think. She doesn’t care that you’re outraged, disgusted, offended and horrified. In fact, she likes having “haters.” It motivates her.

Miley Cyrus set out to shock everyone and she succeeded. The only surprise, here, is that the adults are asking stupid questions like: “How did this happen?”

Everyone knows how this happened. It’s not like her song “We Can’t Stop” is subtle or nuanced. It’s not like it’s some hidden mystery of the universe that  Miley is singing about doing drugs. Of COURSE she is.

It’s been obvious for awhile that Miley is going off the rails…er, I mean: GROWING UP. Shaking one’s ass on national TV is, after-all, the time-honored way for former Disney stars to shed their squeaky-clean image and take ARTISTIC CONTROL of their careers. And by artistic control I mean: rocking the stripper pole. Or, in Miley’s case, the foam finger.

I don’t know about you but when I saw Miley’s performance, I couldn’t even twerk-up the energy to get outraged. I just felt sorta sad for her because her whole deal seems stupid and derivative and annoying as hell.

The only shocking thing, to me, is that anybody is watching her at all.

A former religious extremist explains how radicalization happens {plus, a theory of how suspected Boston Marathon bombers were radicalized}

How do two sons of a political asylum refugee grow up to be terrorists? Their father loved America. Their uncle and aunt and everyone that knew them–including their neighbors and school mates–were shocked to hear these young men were suspected terrorists. In fact, it was so shocking, that the aunt and father quickly began saying the boys were “framed.”

The suspects in the Boston Marathon were brothers. Their father, by a neighbor’s account, was brutually beaten by KGB and fled to the United States. He loved America.

So, how did they become suspected terrorists?

A neighbor described the boys as helpful, the family as hospitable. She said when she saw their picture on TV, she fell on the floor. Her only thought? Somehow they were “poisoned along the way.”

The suspects’ uncle, in a brief appearance on CNN, said his guess was that “somebody radicalized them.” He said this had nothing to do with Chechnya. And historian Charles King agrees, citing reports from journalists interviewing family members in Dagestan:

In other words, the focus now should be on the Tsarnaevs as homegrown terrorists, not on the ethnic or regional origins of their family. Journalists’ initial conversations with family members in Dagestan amplify that point: a sense of shock that two nice boys who had gone to America for their education could have been involved in such a brutal act.

So, how did these young men become terrorists?

The best article I’ve read is from a Reuters journalist who spent seven months in captivity in Pakistan. And although the radicalization process he saw happened in Pakistan, the underlying conclusions are, in my opinion, spot-on: 

militants had created a sophisticated system of schools, training camps and indoctrination videos that slowly severed young men’s bonds with their families.

The only relationship that mattered, recruits were told, was their relationship to God. The only cause that mattered, clerics preached, was stopping a vast – and nonexistent – Christian-Jewish-Hindu conspiracy to obliterate Islam from the face of the earth.

No matter how long I spent talking with him, I could not alter his attitudes. Radicalism gave him a cause, a community and an identity.

My own extremist religious past resonates with this. Here’s how radicalization happens:

  1. Cut off from family. New recruits to my childhood cult found our extremist way of life attractive because they had never made a genuine connection with the “dead” Christianity of their childhood. It was easy to persuade new members to cut off their families because outsiders were “worldly, hypocritical and compromised.” Outsiders didn’t appreciate the HIGHER CALLING that our TRUE religion offered. Effective radicalization requires a rejection of the outside world which many times includes family members.
  2. Relationship with God is the only thing that matters. Extremist religion is narrowly focused. It elevates one thing; ie. “relationship with God” above all else. The trick, here, is that what ACTUALLY matters is the group. The group becomes God for the new recruit. Whatever the group leader says and believes is what the new recruit says and believes. Effective radicalization requires a rejection of previously held values; ie. the American dream is no longer valuable but martyrdom for God IS valuable.
  3. Radicalism gives identity, cause and community. For those disaffected by the disappointments of modern life or crushed by poverty or suffering a heartbreaking loss, extremist religion provides a nearly irresistible solution. Identity, cause and community are a POWERFUL trifecta–especially for young recruits.

Now, here’s my theory about how the two young terrorist suspects experienced their self-radicalization:

My guess is that the older brother was disaffected first. His father had returned to Chechnya. The older brother had a criminal record–beating an ex-girlfriend. Perhaps he’d become disillusioned with the American dream, with American values. Perhaps it felt like no matter how hard he worked or no matter how good an education he had, he was not going to Make It in America.

There was a vacuum in his soul. Moderate, peaceful Islam was no longer attractive–or perhaps, he had never truly connected with his Muslim faith.

Slowly, religious extremism began providing answers. He began watching terrorist YouTube videos. He was looking for something purposeful, some kind of higher calling.

The only relationship that mattered, recruits were told, was their relationship to God.

My guess is that the older brother’s values began shifting. A good education, a nice house and a car, a good job–these things no longer held value for him.

Radicalism gave him a cause, a community and an identity.

Slowly, martyrdom and/or jihadist insurgency became increasingly attractive to the older brother. He started talking to his younger brother about it. They didn’t want to die, necessarily, but they wanted to inflict righteous judgment on the Great Oppressors–the United States.

Whether or not the older brother had real connections to terrorist groups remains unknown. I agree with David Rhode, the Reuters journalist who spent seven months in Pakistani captivity. The enemy is not religion. The enemy is extremism.

And let’s be clear, extremism isn’t just happening in Islam. It happens in all religions. In fact, what has disturbed me the MOST since leaving my childhood cult is that Christian fundamentalism is growing in popularity. My cult used to be considered “fringe” and “weird.” But now, fundamentalism is hip.

Contemplative, mystic, “moderate” Christianity is derided and dismissed just as contemplative Sufism is dismissed and derided among fundamentalist Muslims.

The enemy is fundamentalism because fundamentalism is very attractive to people looking for Definitive Answers. Extremist religion provides a rigid, black-and-white framework for understanding the world.

For those disaffected by the disappointments of modern life, extremist religion provides a nearly irresistible solution.

**DISCLAIMER: although my childhood cult didn’t promote violence toward outsiders (we just beat up each other, ugh), it’s not a huge leap of logic to see the similarities between hard-line religious groups. Also, these are just my opinions and theories based my experience in extremist religion. When new information comes to light, I’ll probably change my theories and opinions. WHICH IS TO SAY, no need to get all crazy up in da combox, k? Good. Thanks.**

The price of religious shaming, the redemption of love {review of “The Whale” at South Coast Repertory}

The Whale logo courtesy of South Coast Repertory

I took a break from book writing this week to catch a play at South Coast Repertory. I walked into The Whale knowing nothing about it and walked out feeling completely known. And more than that: unconditionally accepted—simply for being human, for being here, for being me.

I laughed, I wept and I trembled all the way home. I woke up the next morning with scenes still running through my mind and snippets of dialogue still wrenching my heart. I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t stop talking about it.

The Whale is the story of a morbidly obese man trapped in his apartment and dying of congestive heart failure. It the story of being trapped in one’s body, trapped by shaming religion, trapped by failure, trapped by mistakes and miscommunication, so helplessly trapped that all Charlie can keep repeating is I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

Helen Sadler and Matthew Arkin in South Coast Repertory's production of The Whale by Samuel D. Hunter. Photo by Scott Brinegar/SCR.

On the surface it seems like a depressing story. But like Charlie’s body, outward appearance belies inner beauty. At its heart, The Whale is a story of ridiculous hope and a relentless longing for true connection—a connection that can happen against all odds when we simply allow ourselves to be radically honest and unconditionally accepting.

It is a story that rejects the superficial standards by which our modern society measures honesty, faith, love and success. It is a story that asks us to reach beyond what we see and value the truth within.

Rejected by his hateful, rebellious teenage daughter, blamed by his ex-wife, suffering from the heartbreak of losing his partner and having eaten his way into moribund obesity, Charlie shows us that devastating setbacks are not what define a life.

What matters in life—what truly matters—is being so totally honest with ourselves and with others that we see through to the beauty within each human person and accept them just as they are.

The Whale is graphic and raw and desperately honest. It is at times brutally heartbreaking, also irreverent and unabashedly LOL funny. But as Charlie lurches across the stage toward his daughter, we find ourselves gasping for breath along with him and suddenly we understand: love conquers all.

If you’re local to Southern California, go see “The Whale.” Shows run through March 31.

Why is Cardinal Mahoney going to Rome and voting for the next Pope????!!!!?????

If a priest molests a child he should be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. He should be immediately dismissed. He should serve jail time. Molesting a child is a criminal act and it should be treated as such.

Furthermore, any church authority who is complicit should also be held accountable. This includes covering up the priest’s actions, refusing to cooperate with police investigations and/or shipping the priest off to a different parish.

There must be a 100% zero tolerance for the molestation of children and I’m absolutely appalled by the decades long coverups that have gone on under Cardinal Mahoney’s watch in Los Angeles.

In light of the release of records that show Cardinal Mahoney actively engaged in the coverup of child molestation, I really cannot believe Cardinal Mahoney is still going to Rome to vote for the next Pope.

This is disgusting and outrageous!!!! HOW is this happening?

I am absolutely HORRIFIED by the sickening, decades-long coverups that directly perpetuated the abuse of children. I am beyond angry. I am OUTRAGED!!!!

I am angry on behalf of the victims!

I am angry at the priests who knew about this and participated in covering it up!

I am angry at fellow Catholics who say these scandals are being overblown by the media!

I am angry at fellow Catholics who say the priests’ sins are the result of a “sex-saturated” culture! NO! The priests criminal acts are the result of their OWN decisions. They are responsible!

I am angry about the utter disregard for children! It is an utter mockery for us Catholics to say we uphold the right to life and are very “pro-children” when thousands and thousands of our children are being sexually molested.

I am also angry on behalf of the good, honest and sincere priests who live holy lives and who are suffering as the result of the criminal acts of their fellow priests! I have such respect for the priests who so kindly and humbly helped me into the Church. My heart breaks for these men.

Judgment begins with the house of God. Period. When we refuse to clean our own house, God allows others to clean it for us. I want a full and complete accounting of all wrongdoing. I want 100% transparency! I want the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to seek outside help. I want safeguards. I want background checks. I want humility and contrition.

This is a complete STENCH in the nose of God and I am actually GRATEFUL for the news media and for the watchdog groups and for the advocacy groups that are going after this.

Yes, I am Catholic and I love the Church with all my heart! And it is that LOVE which compels me to demand purity, honesty and transparency!

Cardinal Mahoney, please recuse yourself from voting in the papal conclave!

How I’m talking to my children about yesterday’s school shooting {words for younger and older children}

This is how I’m talking to my children about yesterday’s school shooting.

FOR MY YOUNG CHILDREN:

Yesterday, something bad happened. And yesterday, something good happened.

In our world, bad things and good things happen.

It is bad when people hurt each other. It is good when people hug each other.

In our family, we hug each other. In our family, we don’t hurt each other. But if we do hurt each other, we say sorry and we do something nice to show we mean it.

In our family, we show love by doing nice things for each other and by taking care of each other. When we do nice things for other people, we share love.

Let’s do something nice for people who are sad today. This is how we show them we love them, too.

FOR MY OLDER CHILDREN: 

Yesterday, there was a shooting at an elementary school. Children and teachers were killed. Sadly, this is not the first time this has happened. It might not be the last time.

The reality of our world is that evil exists. But there is another truth, too. Good exists. And so does faith, hope and love.

Sometimes we can feel helpless when something like this happens. But there really is something we can do. We can help by remaining calm, peaceful, hopeful and loving. We can help by loving those who are right next to us.

For example, how did you treat your siblings today? Did you snap at them or did you use a kind voice? How did you treat your parents today? Were you grateful or did you complain?

At a time like this, it’s important to refrain from judging.

Instead of judging how others react to tragedy, we can understand that everyone grieves differently. Some of people rant, some call for change, some are silent, some weep, some pray, some research, some rebuild, some bake casseroles, some take their children out for a fun day. This is all OK.

The best way to promote peace is not by finger-pointing and saying: “You’re doing it wrong!” but by acknowledging that we are ALL in this together.

We can’t control other people and we can’t control the bad things that happen in our world. But we can start by treating those closest to us with love and respect.

Sometimes we might ask: “Where is God in tragedies like this?”

God is here. God is very right here. He is in the outstretched arms of those who seek to bind up the brokenhearted. He is in the embrace of neighbors. He is in those who seek to rebuild, who research, who rant, who cry out for justice.

Evil exists. But good exists, too.

It’s up to each of us to choose how we want to be. Do we want to be people who hurt others or people who love others?

In the end, good triumphs over evil.

Love triumphs over hate.

We can help that happen by loving each other right here at home.