THE WAR ON CHRISTMAS or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Enjoyed the Coffee

war-on-christmas

It will be starting soon if it has not already. The Atheists are coming with their oppressive, joy-killing, contrarian points of view, which they seek to cram down the throats of the Christian-consumerist majority.

It is coming — just as it does every year. There is no stopping it. As surely as trees are decorated, stockings are hung by the chimney with care, and Bing Crosby sings Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, we brace ourselves for it. It is just part of the routine. You could say it has become a tradition.

The “it” of which I speak is the so-called “War on Christmas.”

The buzz that the media creates touches nearly every part of an otherwise festive season filled with light, color and music. There will be heated arguments over the need for public funding for Christmas lights. Many nearly will come to blows debating the mere use of the word “Christmas” in schools and at public events. Long-winded television commentators will warn incessantly of “a war on Christmas” while politicians will drone on about the separation of church and state. Retailers and their customers will haggle over the use of the phrase Merry Christmas” versus “Happy Holidays.” Scholars will debate over the pagan origins of modern Christmas celebrations while Christian “fundamentalists” will denounce efforts to remove the mention of Christ from any holiday event. I vividly remember that the song, Put Christ Back Into Christmas, was a favorite in the 1950s. Every Christmas season seems to elevate the debate to a new level of absurdity.

Ironically, eleven months of the year Christmas is left alone. The passionate debate largely subsides on December 26 until the season rolls around again. It is a war of the strangest sort. Ultimately, the central message of Christmas is peace and good will. Yet just in time for the season of peace all other burning issues are set aside for this one: the dreaded conflict called Christmas. For the month of December they go to battle. There are never any winners or losers – and the war never ends.

I believe both sides of the debate are wrong.

I believe the media is woefully irresponsible in fanning the flames of controversy.

I believe in the 95% Sentiment: most of us like to keep Christmas and we do not think there are many people offended by it.

I assert that there is a war on Christmas. It is an old and unsettled debate. But it has nothing to do with television pundits, school grounds, city parks or Supreme Courts. The war on Christmas is fought in the home and in the heart.

There is a real danger that one day we will have taken “the Christ out of Christmas.” But that will not happen when people stop saying “Merry Christmas” in favor of “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.”

Christ is “taken out of” Christmas when we forget what his birth – and his life – are all about.

It is about caring for the poor.

It is about giving things away instead of trying to accumulate more.

It is about loving our neighbors (even ones who do not believe like we do and are not comfortable recognizing another religion’s holiday) as ourselves.

It is about going to other people’s level, instead of expecting them to come to ours.

There is a real war on Christmas. But it will not play out in advertising, marketing materials or on fast food marquees. The real war on Christmas happens in each of us when we try to reconcile the values of a consumer-driven culture with the birth of a savior who wants us to let go of the things of this world.

And that is a war that we must keep on fighting.

If it feels like the “War on Christmas” is getting really old, it is. Over ten years have passed since Bill O’Reilly first opened December with a segment called, “Christmas under Siege” – ten long years in which his cadences and refrains and echoing chorus have become as familiar to most Americans as Handel’s Messiah. Perhaps more familiar, in fact.

Not that Bill O’Reilly invented the idea.

Here is the real irony: For almost 500 years – 500 years! – the folks trying to get rid of Christmas – trying to put distance between Christian worship and mid-winter solstice festivities – were Christians themselves!

A group of English Reformed Protestants in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries who sought to “purify” the Church of England from its Roman Catholic practices, maintained that the Church of England was only partially reformed. A cadre of these austerity-cloaked Christians who called themselves “Puritans” made their way to the so-called New World. The icy, grim ground they met upon arrival corresponded well with their vision of an authentic Christianity: one shorn of its Elizabethan frills and scrubbed of its insidious pagan stains. It was from this “pure” soil and purified Christianity that these individuals believed a model society would, and must, be born.

Their immaculate beacon would also be born from labor. Historians have noted that New England’s calendar was one of the most physically draining ever adopted, with colonists working practically every day save for the Sabbath, Election Day, public thanksgivings and “days of humiliation.” In 1629, Massachusetts Bay colonists went so far as to make it official company policy that those who appeared to be “idle drones” would not be allowed to live among them.

Christmas, then, posed a problem to Puritanical society. As practiced in Elizabethan England, the day offered both indulgence and idleness, and to the Puritans a painful marking of Christianity’s fall into wanton decadence. Wrote George William Curtis in an 1883 Harper’s Magazine article: “Ritualistic decorations and delights, the pomp and splendor of holy-days…were not only [relics] of popery, but their retention was a sign of the fond cleaving of the Church of England to the hideous abominations of Rome.”

Christmas was not just an annoyance to strong-willed Puritan colonists; its celebration was a threat to discipline, an instrument needed to realize the colonists’ divine, purifying mission. Should the Puritan colonies succeed, Christmas and all it represented had to be buried.

And so it was. Before they officially banned Christmas in 1647, Puritans used labor to suppress the holiday’s observance. Shops were to remain open on December 25, and on the first Christmas in Plymouth, colonists did not rest, but began to build colonial settlements. Wrote one Plymouth colonist: “Munday [sic], the 25th day, we went on shore, some to fell tymber, some to saw, and some to carry, so no man rested at all that day.” He added “that the closest the colonists came to commemorating Christmas was at the tail end of the day, when a master caused us to [have] some Beere [sic].”

Outside of Plymouth, the Massachusetts Bay Colony outlawed the holiday in 1659, punishing those caught celebrating Christmas with a fine. Colonists in Connecticut went so far as to prohibit the making of minced pies, dancing, playing cards and any instrument except – inexplicably – the drum, trumpet, or Jew’s harp on December 25.

The faithful held the holiday hostage until 1681, when laws banning Christmas were repealed. Over the decades, though, anti-Christmas attitudes had been woven into New England’s cultural fabric, and thus did not bend in accordance with the ambivalences of the law. Well into the nineteenth century, Boston schools remained open on December 25, and students who missed class to await the gifts of Santa – whom many Puritans believed to be both pope-like and, perhaps not so coincidentally, the Antichrist – were punished. The nearly 200-year Christian war on Christmas would only end after an 1870 federal intervention, when President Ulysses S. Grant made the day a federal holiday in an attempt to unite the post-war North and South.

But where Puritanical fears centered on how the holiday would affect labor and encourage excess, today’s Christmas crusaders focus the holiday around themes of consumption and fears of cultural erasure. In its annual “Naughty or Nice” list, for instance, the American Family Association rates a company’s apparent morality – and therefore deservedness of business – according to how often the word “Christmas” appears in its holiday advertisements. To receive a perfect score, an honor that no such business has received yet this year, a company must “promote and celebrate Christmas on an exceptional basis.” To be deemed “nice,” a business must use the term “Christmas” on a regular basis in its advertisements. “Naughty” companies such as The Gap Inc. and Amazon. Com, Inc. fail to acknowledge the holiday, or use its name in just one form of marketing. Occasionally, American Family Association will select one company on its “Naughty” list to boycott from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Indeed, the very material excesses against which the Puritans railed in their centuries-long “War on Christmas” are those that today’s crusaders use to quantify their perceived persecution – and employ as weapons against their apparent aggressors.

In a November 2015 article, American Family Association’s Vice President Ed Vitagliano ends his piece by saying that “a good smear [by the secular news media] is quicker and cheaper than actually trying to understand us.” Likewise, it might behoove Vitagliano to try to understand the history of the “war” that he inherits. For better or worse, the “War on Christmas” that actually existed was waged in labor and law, and as a founding principle. Today, the supposed war assumes a more reactionary stance, apparently taking place in holiday ads, chain coffee shops, and the salutations of supermarket cashiers. Quite frankly, that is a pretty cheap take on faith, and Christianity’s materialism-decrying savior. Maybe the Puritans were onto something after all.

Now, this phony war has a new field marshal and his name is Donald J. Trump, our President-Elect, who promised the moon and the Supreme Court to Religious Right leaders during his campaign. Trump has pledged to save Christmas from imagined threats. He promised, “If I become president, we’re gonna be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ at every store … You can leave ‘Happy Holidays’ at the corner.”  Another time he said, “[Remember] the expression ‘Merry Christmas?’ You don’t see it anymore. You’re [going to] see it if I get elected, I can tell you right now. I can tell you right now.” Michele Bachmann, that paradigm of intellectual curiosity, said, “When I was growing up, everyone said ‘Merry Christmas,’ even my Jews [sic] would say ‘Merry Christmas.’”

Trump pushed for a boycott of Starbucks because their coffee cups were not Christmas-y enough, and his son Eric said that his father decided to run for president after he read that the White House replaced the Christmas tree with a “holiday tree,” – a tree that did not exist because the report was not true.

Of course, it is not clear how Trump thinks a president could force people and businesses to say “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays.” And it is even less clear how anyone who purports to be for religious liberty and limited government would think it is any business of the president’s how people express their good wishes.  But then again, this is the guy who told people on the campaign trail how great things will be when Americans are working together as “one people, under one God,  saluting one flag.” It is the phrase “under one God” that is catching the ear of some groups, who argue that the phrase is at odds with the American promise of religious freedom. “One God” immediately excludes Hindus, atheists, Native Americans – whole swaths of people who have a right to be part of the American identity, and under what we have established in this country – the notion that you can have multiple faiths and all still share the same ideal of being American.

Outrage is Donald Trump’s specialty, and he is not too proud to piggyback on other peoples outrage about, say, seasonal Starbucks cups. Vague, impossible campaign promises are Trump’s secondary specialty, and apparently the Starbucks cup brouhaha is good for one of those, too: “I have one of the most successful Starbucks in Trump Tower, Trump said during a campaign event in Illinois. “Maybe we should boycott Starbucks? I don’t know. Seriously, I don’t care. By the way, that’s the end of that lease, but who cares? If I become president, we’re all going to be saying Merry Christmas again, that I can tell you.

It was a rare moment of provocative apathy for The Donald, considering that he was referring to the kind of peevish campaign that is right up his alley: a video going around the Internet by Joshua Feuerstein – a person who calls himself “an American evangelist, Internet, and social media personality” – raging against “the age of political correctness” and the new seasonal coffee cups at Starbucks.

Do you realize that Starbucks wanted to take Christ, and Christmas, off of their brand-new cups? That’s why they’re just plain red,” Feuerstein said.

Well, just to be clear, the long-haired, chill-looking person on Starbucks’ cups is not Jesus – she is a sixteenth century Norse woodcut of a twin-tailed mermaid, or Siren. And though Starbucks says it “has told a story of the holidays by featuring symbols of the season from vintage ornaments and hand-drawn reindeer to modern vector-illustrated characters” since 1997, there was never a time when someone could sip a latte out of a nativity-scene-decorated cup.

Do you realize that Starbucks isn’t allowed to say ‘Merry Christmas’ to customers?” Feuerstein continued.

In an email, a Starbucks spokesperson said that the company’s baristas “are not provided a script or a policy around greeting customers. They are simply encouraged to create a welcoming environment to delight each person who walks through our doors.” So, no, Feuerstein is not right – there is no ban on Christmas greetings at Starbucks. That being said, Starbucks is a global company that serves millions of customers per day at over 23,000 stores in 68 countries, including the United States, which is home to people who celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, other holidays, or nothing at all in December. They cannot, as a matter of protocol, wish everyone a Merry Christmas. For those who really, really need their barista to wish them a Merry Christmas to find their delight, Feuerstein has a solution: “Tell her your name is ‘Merry Christmas,’ and then she will have to say it when she has fixed your hot beverage of choice.”

Yet, under President Trump, you will say Merry Christmas and you will like it. But one place you will not say “Merry Christmas” will be at the Starbucks in Trump Tower because it will be gone. Maybe gone along with all the other Starbucks, because of the Red Cup Battle of the War on Christmas leading to a devastating Trump-led boycott bringing down the entire company. Who knows?

And it will serve Starbucks right for taking the reindeer off of their coffee cups so that we can no longer drink lattes and simultaneously commemorate how, in the Bible, Rudolph’s nose lit up the manger where Mary was giving birth to Jesus while Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid, and Donner and Blitzen led a special mission to fly in the three wise men to the manger.

This Starbucks red cup thing needs no more press. Some are upset that Starbucks’ holiday disposable cup does not say anything about Christmas. I would hope that Christians are too busy with doing the things that Jesus said to do as he read from the scroll of Isaiah (Luke 4:17-19) than to worry about cardboard graphics.

With that said, here are my top five things to think about this December.

  1. Use a refillable mug, and fill it with decaf. It seems some folks do not need any more caffeine.
  2. Economy and evangelism have a tense marriage. We should host a potluck, and have both sides sit down for a good conversation. It seems like one is trying to tell the other how to live rather than listen to what it is about.
  3. Jesus actually never celebrated Christmas; he celebrated Hanukkah (Chanukah.) Boycotting an establishment because they say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” seems to me to be just plain stupid. If someone says “Happy Holidays” to you, just say “Thank you.” Don’t be a jerk. For those keeping score, using “Holidays” is more correct anyway.
  4. There is no war on Christmas … however, there is one in Syria. ‘Nuff said.
  5. Jesus’ birth is the eye of a storm that continues to turn the world upside down. Jesus was born in the lowliest place on earth and the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest.” So fill your cup with good things (red, blue, rainbow … I do not care) and share goodness sacrificially with the world.

The Christmas season is officially upon us. Well, at least Advent is upon us.

The holiday decorations are up in malls and homes. Shoppers are out in full force. And soldiers are enlisting, once again, for the all-important annual tradition – the war on Christmas.

There is no doubt that the war on Christmas continues and Bill O’Reilly may have fired the first shot in the battle with an opinion segment a week before Thanksgiving. Over the next few weeks, the good cheer of the season will be peppered with stories of oppressive governments and secular retailers facing off against valiant defenders of Jesus’ birthday celebration, which probably did not occur on December 25 in the first place, but do not let that observation get in the way.

And as the war heats up again, I realized that when it comes to this annual tradition, I am a proud card-carrying Christmas pacifist!

So “Happy holidays,” er, I mean. . . “Merry Christmas!”

 

 

 

 

 

Hope for the Future? Look at the Recent Past!

beautiful-things2Running low on hope these days? Join the crowd. You are in good company.

For some of us, the thought of a Donald Trump presidency is a yuge downer. I only hope it does not take longer than four years to get over it.

For many others of us it has been a tall order to try and fend off the discouragement that seems unrelenting right now; too much bad news for our battered minds to contain, too much sadness for us to bear. Sleep and rest have been hard to come by. Joy seems in short supply. I get it.

So if your eyes are tired from scanning the horizon, straining to see something good off in the distance, in the face of all this not-so-goodness in front of you, well, I do have some good news for you. In order to feel hopeful about the future, all you have to do is to take a look at the recent past.

Call me a cock-eyed optimist, but there are some good things that happened thus far in 2016.  These are not in any particular order and all are from newspaper articles or Internet sources:

New chemotherapy breakthroughs have increased the 5-year survival for pancreatic cancer from 16% to 27% (and are getting better)

Scientists figured out how to link robotic limbs with the part of the brain that deals with intent to move so people do not have to think about how they will move the limb, it can just happen.

Child mortality rates are down everywhere and they keep going down.

Thanks to the ice bucket challenge, the gene responsible for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, has been found, meaning that we are closer to an effective treatment. Let me rephrase that: we are closer to getting a treatment for a very bad disease because a lot of people (including really hot celebrities) got wet.

A solar powered plane circumnavigated the world.

Michael Jordan donated 2 million dollars to try and help bridge connection between police and the community.

Tiger numbers are growing.

And manatees.

And pandas.

Pakistan has made strides toward the outlawing of honor killings.

70,000 Muslim clerics declared a fatwa (a ruling on a point of Islamic law given by a recognized authority) against ISIS.

Pokémon Go players went insane with placing lure modules near hospitals for sick kids.

California is now powering over 6 million homes with solar power, a record in the United States.

Volunteers in India planted 50 million trees in 24 hours.

Apparently world crime as a whole has drastically declined as a whole in the last couple of decades.

Coffee consumption has been proven to help curtail cancer and suicide rates.

Speaking of coffee, Starbucks figured out how to donate perishable food in a food safe way.

500 elephants were relocated to a better, safer and bigger home.

We made massive strides in Alzheimer’s prevention.

The ozone layer is repairing itself and all the work we did to get rid of those aerosol chemicals was actually worth it.

A new therapy developed in Israel that could cure radiation sickness.

The Anglican Church resolved to solemnize same-sex unions the same as opposite-sex unions, a resolution that required a super majority of all three orders of the church (laity, clergy, and bishops).

The Rabbinical Assembly issued a resolution affirming the rights of transgender and non-conforming individuals.

Precision treatments for cancer are hitting clinical trials and are WORKING!

Dentists are once again providing free care to veterans who need it.

The Orlando Shakespeare Festival showed up with angel wings to block the view of funeral-goers for the Orlando Pulse victims from anti-gay protesters.

Rise Women’s Legal Centre opened.

Death by heart disease has decreased by 70% in the United States.

Two brothers saw color for the first time, thanks to specially-designed glasses.

Portugal ran its entire nation solely on renewable energy for four days straight.

A retiree launched a project to transport 80 endangered rhinos to an Australian reservation to save the animals from poaching.

An Afghan teacher has delivered books via bicycle to villages that lack schools.

Harriet Tubman is going to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill.

200 strangers attended the funeral of a homeless World War Two veteran with no family.

A teen battling cancer married his sweetheart.

A bank firm paid for college tuition for the children of employees who died in the 9/11 attacks.

A new medicine has been shown to increase melanoma survival rate to 40%.

Over 800 Boko Harem Hostages were rescued by the Nigerian Army.

Toys“R”Us is offering quiet shopping hours for children with autism this holiday season.

Volunteers made special tiny Halloween costumes for neonatal intensive care unit babies.

A 4-year old befriends a lonely man and helped him heal after losing his wife.

Families grew.

People survived cancer.

People overcame depression.

Any kind of victory, even if it affects only one person, is a victory.

Now for the pop culture good news:

Leonardo DiCaprio won an Oscar! Everyone reading this lived long enough to see Leo finally get what he deserved.

There is a new Harry Potter book.

And a movie.

Harry Potter has no plans of vanishing with time.

A father gave candy to passengers on a flight so his little girl could trick or treat on Halloween.

Good things that have nothing to do with the year but will hopefully make you feel better:

Puppies.

Chocolate.

Rainbows.

Rain. (I like listening to rain. It is one of the most calming sounds.)

Cartoons.

Kissing.

Music.

Friends.

If you are a religious person, you are an imperfect masterpiece.

If you are not a religious person, then you are a splendid coincidence.

Any time spent with loved ones, be they family or friends, is a good time. Trust me on this.

Laughter is the best medicine:

I rear-ended a car this morning, the start of a REALLY bad day!

So, there we were alongside the road and

slowly the other driver got out of his car.

You know how sometimes you just get

soooo stressed and little things just seem

funny?

Yeah, well I couldn’t believe it. He was a

DWARF!!!

He stormed over to my car, looked up at me,

and shouted, “I AM NOT HAPPY!!!

So, I looked down at him and said, “Well,

then which one are you?”

 And that’s how the fight started. . .

When hope is running low, do what Eric Idle did in the film, Monty Python’s Life of Brian and sing Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. You will feel much better! Guaranteed!

And these are just the tip of the iceberg. Please feel free to add other good news, even if it is something small like you ate cheesecake. THAT is good news.

 

 

 

 

Mr. President-Elect, Surprise Me

surprise

Mr. President-Elect,  you surprised me last summer when you came down that escalator at Trump Tower and entered the large field of Republican candidates for president. I expected you to make a little news and then just fade away like old soldiers do.

And then, you surprised me last fall when your candidacy did not shrivel after you made more than a few of what I thought were disqualifying comments. I expected your flippant statements about war heroes, women’s menstrual cycles, and Gold Star families to end your run.

But no, you further surprised me when you started winning Republican primaries. I saw no substance in your positions, only your overwhelming charismatic bravado and bluster. I thought that such audacity was not enough for you to gain the nomination. Silly me!

Then, you surprised me once again when you indeed captured the Republican nomination for president.

You further surprised me when your general election campaign remained firmly in the environment you crafted during the primaries instead of moving to more neutral, centrist waters. That was not the way to win, I told myself.

And finally, surprise of all surprises, you surprised me on November 8 when you gained enough electoral votes to claim the presidency of the United States and defeat Hillary Clinton.

You have surprised me time and time again. And now, Mr. President-Elect, I implore you, please, keep surprising me.

Surprise me by shelving the rhetoric of fear, mistrust, and violence that you stoked at your rallies during the campaign. Repudiate the signs and t-shirts that say things like “Trump that Bitch” and “Lock Her Up.” Apologize to the young boy with cerebral palsy who, at your rally in Florida, was jeered at and threatened. The antonyms of fear, mistrust, and violence are assurance, faith and peace. These are the “best” words I know: please start using them. If you truly want to make America great again, you must first seek to make America civil again.

Surprise me by once and for all disavowing talk you deem fit for locker rooms. It is neither appropriate for locker rooms nor anywhere else. Pair this disavowal with a true apology, not one conditioned by the word “if.” Do not say, “If I offended anyone, I’m sorry.” Just say you are sorry because you have offended people. You offended me, for instance, and I do not have the anatomy of which you spoke on that “Access Hollywood” bus with Billy Bush. Some say the president need not be a role model, but that is preposterous. You have been and will continue to be a role model. The question is, what role will you be modeling?

Surprise me by making the transition from public figure to public servant. You have existed on the sustenance of your own celebrity for so long that I expect you will find it difficult to relinquish the need to be liked and praised. The president must make hard choices and sometimes the popular choice is not the right one. As the chief public servant in the nation, you are tasked with putting your own needs behind the needs of the country and the world. For a lesson on what it means to be a servant, since you say that the Bible is your favorite book, I invite you to read that passage in John’s Gospel in which just before he is arrested and crucified, Jesus took off his outer robe, tied a towel around his waist, knelt down and washed his disciples’ feet. In this great act of humility, Jesus demonstrated the true meaning of leadership as service. Please follow his example.

Surprise me by continuing to reach out to all who exist on the margins. You won the presidency by mobilizing an overlooked segment of the electorate, who has been ignored for far too long. Sadly, the margins of this nation are wider than they should be: too many people exist there, including many groups of historically persecuted peoples who did not vote for you. As president, they are your priority; please do not forget that.

Surprise me by turning your charismatic entrepreneurship into leadership that turns old foes into unlikely allies. Much has been said about your outsider status, but as president you are about to be as “inside” as it gets. Allow your entrepreneurial heart to guide you to build coalitions within the government so something actually is accomplished in Washington. Just make sure that something is the right something.

Surprise me by allowing your famous intuition to be leavened by an inquiring mind. The world is more complex than any of us knows, and soon you will be handed the same binder that President Obama was handed eight years ago. It will lay out the actual state of the world in all its complexity. No one is ready for such revelation, and you must respond by doing your homework, not just by going with your gut or picking up information from the Internet or Fox News.

Surprise me by reaching out to the LGBT community, the Latino community, the Muslim community, and the African-American community. Apologize for your campaign rhetoric and promise you will continue to protect their rights, both longstanding and more recently achieved.

Surprise me by earning my trust, or else such promises are worthless. I must admit that my trust level is rather low right now, so prove me wrong.

Mr. President-Elect, you will be the forty-fifth president of the United States of America. You will step into the shoes of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and, yes, Barack Obama.

So surprise me. All of us like surprises and I am not the exception.

Please, keep surprising me.

 

 

Leonard Cohen R.I.P.

cohen

Leonard Cohen (1934-2016), September, 2016

Dance Me To The End Of Love

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin

Dance me through the panic ’til I’m gathered safely in

Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove

Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to the end of love

Oh let me see your beauty when the witnesses are gone

Let me feel you moving like they do in Babylon

Show me slowly what I only know the limits of

Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to the wedding now, dance me on and on

Dance me very tenderly and dance me very long

We’re both of us beneath our love, we’re both of us above

Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to the children who are asking to be born

Dance me through the curtains that our kisses have outworn

Raise a tent of shelter now, though every thread is torn

Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin

Dance me through the panic till I’m gathered safely in

Touch me with your naked hand or touch me with your glove

Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to the end of love

-Leonard Cohen, 1984

[About “Dance Me To The End Of Love”: According to Leonard Cohen, “It’s curious how songs begin because the origin of the song, every song, has a kind of grain or seed that somebody hands you or the world hands you and that’s why the process is so mysterious about writing a song. But that came from just hearing or reading or knowing that in the death camps, beside the crematoria, in certain of the death camps, a string quartet was pressed into performance while this horror was going on; those were the people whose fate was this horror also. And they would be playing classical music while their fellow prisoners were being killed and burnt. So, that music, “Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin,” meaning the beauty there of being the consummation of life, the end of this existence and of the passionate element in that consummation. But, it is the same language that we use for surrender to the beloved, so that the song – it’s not important that anybody knows the genesis of it, because if the language comes from that passionate resource, it will be able to embrace all passionate activity.]

The incomparable gravelly voice of Leonard Cohen is silenced. Cohen died a week ago on November 10. There are others with similar gravelly voices. Tom Waits and Bob Dylan come immediately to mind. But there is no voice quite like Leonard Cohen’s. And it is not just the voice, but what the voice sings about that is unique and distinctive.

For me, last week was a terrible time. On Tuesday, November 8, Hillary Clinton was defeated in the election by Donald J. Trump. So we now have a foul mouth, thrice married, pussy grabber for President of the United States!

I was devastated, distressed, and distraught at the news.

And then on Thursday, November 10, came the news that Leonard Cohen had died. Cohen was one of my favorite singers/songwriters/poets. Cohen death was announced with a message to his fans on Facebook Thursday stating “We have lost one of music’s most revered and prolific visionaries.” A memorial will take place in Los Angeles at a later date.

I was dispirited, depressed, and dismayed at the news.

Cohen’s son and producer, Adam Cohen, said that his father “passed away peacefully at his home in Los Angeles with the knowledge that he had completed what he felt was one of his greatest records. He was writing up until his last moments with his unique brand of humor.” Adam Cohen penned a touching note about his father: “My sister and I just buried my father in Montreal,” Adam wrote on Facebook Sunday. “With only immediate family and a few lifelong friends present, he was lowered into the ground in an unadorned pine box, next to his mother and father. Exactly as he’d asked.”

“As I write this I’m thinking of my father’s unique blend of self-deprecation and dignity, his approachable elegance, his charisma without audacity, his old-world gentlemanliness and the hand-forged tower of his work,” Adam continued.

“There’s so much I wish I could thank him for, just one last time. I’d thank him for the comfort he always provided, for the wisdom he dispensed, for the marathon conversations, for his dazzling wit and humor. I’d thank him for giving me, and teaching me to love Montreal and Greece. And I’d thank him for music; first for his music which seduced me as a boy, then for his encouragement of my own music, and finally for the privilege of being able to make music with him. Thank you for your kind messages, for the outpouring of sympathy and for your love of my father.” Cohen’s private burial took place at Montreal’s Shaar Hashomayim Cemetery.

Leonard  Cohen was born in 1934, a year before Elvis Presley, and his background – personal, social, and intellectual – could not have been more different from those of the rock or folk stars of any generation. Though he knew some country music and played it a bit as a boy, he did not start performing on even a semi-regular basis, much less recording, until after he had already written several books as an established novelist and poet.

He was born Leonard Norman Cohen into a middle-class Jewish family in the Montreal suburb of Westmount, Quebec. His father, a clothing merchant, died in 1943, when Cohen was nine years old. But it was his mother who encouraged Cohen as a writer, especially of poetry, during his childhood. This fit in with the progressive intellectual environment in which he was raised, which allowed him free inquiry into a vast range of pursuits. His relationship to music was more tentative. He took up the guitar at age thirteen, initially as a way to impress a girl, but was good enough to play country & western songs at local cafes, and he subsequently formed a group called the Buckskin Boys. At seventeen, he enrolled in McGill University in Montreal as an English major. By this time, he was writing poetry in earnest and became part of the university’s tiny underground “bohemian” community. Cohen only earned average grades, but was good enough as a writer to earn the McNaughton Prize in creative writing by the time he graduated in 1955. A year later, the ink barely dry on his degree, he published his first book of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies (1956), which received great reviews, but did not sell especially well.

He was already beyond the age at which rock & roll was aimed. Bob Dylan, by contrast, was still Robert Zimmerman, still in his teens, and young enough to become a devotee of Buddy Holly when the latter emerged. In 1961, Cohen published his second book of poetry, The Spice Box of Earth, which became an international success, both critically and commercially, and established Cohen as a major new literary figure. Meanwhile, he tried to join the family business and spent some time at Columbia University in New York, writing all the time. Between the modest royalties from sales of his second book, literary grants from the Canadian government, and a family legacy, he was able to live comfortably and travel around the world, partaking of much of what it had to offer – including some use of LSD when it was still legal – and ultimately settling for an extended period in Greece, on the isle of Hydra in the Aegean Sea. He continued to publish, issuing a pair of novels, The Favorite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966), with a pair of poetry collections, Flowers for Hitler (1964) and Parasites of Heaven (1966). The Favorite Game was a very personal work about his early life in Montreal, but it was Beautiful Losers that proved another breakthrough, earning the kind of reviews for which authors dare not even hope.

It was around this time that he also started writing music again, songs being a natural extension of his poetry. His relative isolation on Hydra, coupled with his highly mobile lifestyle when he left the island, his own natural iconoclastic nature, and the fact that he had avoided being overwhelmed by the currents running through popular music since the ‘40s, combined to give Cohen a unique voice as a composer. Though he did settle in Nashville for a short time in the mid-‘60s, he did not write quite like anyone else in the country music field or anywhere else. This might have been an impediment, but for the intervention of Judy Collins, a folksinger who had just moved to the front rank of that field. Collins had a voice just special enough to move her beyond the relatively emaciated ranks of remaining popular folk performers after Dylan shifted to electric music; she was still getting heard, and not just by the purists left behind in Dylan’s wake. She added Cohen’s “Suzanne” to her repertoire and put it on her album In My Life, a recording that was controversial enough in folk circles to pull in many listeners and to receive a wide airing. The LP’s “Suzanne” received a considerable amount of radio airplay, and Cohen was also represented on the album by “Dress Rehearsal Rag.”

It was Judy Collins who persuaded Cohen to return to performing for the first time since his teens. He made his debut during the summer of 1967 at the Newport Folk Festival, followed by a pair of sold-out concerts in New York City and an appearance singing his songs and reciting his poems on the CBS network television show Camera Three, in a show entitled “Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Leonard Cohen.” It was around the same time that actor/singer  Noel Harrison brought “Suzanne” onto the pop charts with a recording of his own. One of those who saw Cohen perform at Newport was John Hammond, the legendary producer whose career went back to the ‘30s and the likes of Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and extended up through Bob Dylan and, ultimately, to Bruce Springsteen. Hammond had Cohen signed to Columbia Records and he created The Songs of Leonard Cohen, which was released just before Christmas of 1967. Producer John Simon was able to find a restrained yet appealing approach to recording Cohen’s voice, which might have been described as an appealingly sensitive near-monotone; yet that voice was perfectly suited to the material at hand, all of which, written in a very personal language, seemed drenched in downbeat images and a spirit of discovery as a path to unsettling revelation.

Despite its spare production and melancholy subject matter – or, very possibly because of it – the album was an immediate hit by the standards of the folk music world and the budding singer/songwriter community. In an era in which millions of listeners hung on the next albums of Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel – the latter whose own latest album had ended with a minor-key rendition of “Silent Night” set against a radio news account of the death of Lenny Bruce – Cohen’s music quickly found a small, but dedicated following. College students by the thousands bought it; in its second year of release, the record sold over 100,000 copies. The Songs of Leonard Cohen was as close as Cohen ever had to mass audience success.

“I’ve never chosen a style that was deliberately obscure,” Cohen once told Entertainment Weekly. “I never came up with the idea of writing a song that would mystify anybody or prevent anyone from tapping their foot to it.” And mining the dark side of the psyche was a stock in trade he came by naturally. “I always experience myself as falling apart,” Cohen explained to Rolling Stone magazine. “The place where the evaluation happens is where I write the songs, when I get in that place where I can’t be dishonest about what I’ve been doing.”

Cohen became a practicing Buddhist during the mid-70s and spent time between 1994-99 secluded at a monastery in Mount Baldy, Calif., as a personal assistant to his teacher Kyozan Joshu Sasaki – an experience that produced his 2006 poetry collection Book of Longing, which inspired a song cycle by Philip Glass.

After his monastery years, Cohen jump-started his musical career with Ten New Songs. After discovering his close friend and longtime manager Kelley Lynch had bilked him out of his life savings and music publishing, leading to a rash of lawsuits, Cohen began touring in earnest again in 2008, delivering generous, acclaimed shows chronicled on a series of concert albums and live videos.

“Maybe he went back on the road for financial reasons, but he really started to love it,” said longtime bassist and musical director Roscoe Beck. “He knows there’s an audience out there who wants to see it, and he enjoys the lifestyle. He likes hotel rooms. He likes the camaraderie of the band and crew. He just felt comfortable being on stage, and you could see it in his performances. It was an amazing thing to be part of and to witness.”

During his career, Cohen won four Juno Awards and one Grammy and was also given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010. In addition to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cohen was also part of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, and received a Princess of Asturias Award among other literary prizes and honorary university degrees. He was named a Companion of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian award, in 2011.

Inducting him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, Lou Reed said Cohen was among the “highest and most influential echelon of songwriters.” And frequent Cohen backup singer Sharon Robinson, who recorded many of his songs and co-wrote her 2001 album Ten New Songs with him, explained that, “The beauty in Leonard’s songs is that he expresses really universal feelings. A hundred singers could sing the same (Cohen) song and they’d all be different.”

Of Cohen’s death, actor Russell Crowe simply wrote: “Thanks for the quiet nights, the reflection, the perspective, the wry smiles, and the truth.”

Yes, especially the truth.

Pick up an album of Leonard Cohen’s music, sit back and listen for yourself. I guarantee that you will not regret the experience.

Rest in peace, Leonard Cohen. You will be sorely missed.

cohen2

Leonard Cohen in 1987

The Evangelical’s Deadly Sin

evangelicalsI am, like so many of you and so many millions of Americans across the country devastated and dispirited by Donald Trump’s surprising victory. It seems almost incomprehensible and yet this is the reality we face. We do not know what forces this election will bring to bear in this country. And that is nothing compared to the sheer terror that is being felt by millions of Hispanics, Muslim-Americans and African Americans in the days ahead, knowing that so many Americans voted for a candidate who does not view them as full citizens.

But there are a few things that still need to be said.

William “Bill” Maher is a comedian, writer, producer, political commentator, actor, media critic, and television host of HBO’s  political talk show Real Time with Bill Maher. Last week, in the “New Rules” portion of Real Time, Maher called out evangelicals for the dangerous hypocrisy they displayed with their support for everything they preach against, which Donald Trump exemplified.

With his typically crude self, Bill Maher hit this one out of the park.

“Before leaving this election behind we must all thank Donald Trump for the one good thing he did,” Maher began. “He exposed evangelicals who are big Trump supporters as the shameless hypocrites they have always been. I don’t know if you noticed, but Republicans didn’t get to play the Jesus card this time around because it is hard to bring up the Ten Commandments when your candidate spent his life breaking all of them. Trump’s commandments are like the regular commandments with LOL (Laughing Out Loud) at the end.”

Maher then went on to itemize with examples the commandments Trump continuously break. He displayed the women with whom he committed adultery. He played clips of him cursing and bearing false witness. He used Trump University to illustrate his stealing. He displayed Vladimir Putin as an example of Trump having false idols.

“He is the world’s least godly man,” Maher said. “Jesus saw the good in whores and lepers, but if he met Donald Trump he would say ‘Sorry man, that’s a preexisting condition.’”

Maher said that with four days left until the election, he wanted to celebrate one thing. Because evangelicals chose the most ungodly character to support, they could not inject religion into the campaign.

“But I still think we are owed an explanation from the values voters as to how they could line up behind Trump,” Maher said sarcastically. “A man who loves to say, ‘Nobody loves the Bible like I do.’ Who when asked couldn’t name a single passage. Even Sarah Palin said ‘Hey for f$ck sake, it’s not a newspaper.’”

Maher reminded the audience about the fiasco that occurred when Trump tried to name a book of the Bible. Instead of saying second Corinthians he said “two” Corinthians.

“Trump has nothing in common with Jesus who was from the Middle East,” Maher said. “Trump wouldn’t even let him into the country. Jesus healed the blind. Trump mocked the handicap. Jesus turned the other cheek. Trump grabbed her pu$$y. Jesus turned water into wine. Trump just whines. The Bible says, ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.’ Trump says fine. What about my daughter?”

Maher further illustrates the hypocrisy of the evangelicals.

“In the primaries, evangelicals had a whole bouquet of religious nuts to choose from,” Maher said. “Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson.  Ben Carson who doesn’t just walk with Jesus. They shower together. But they went with the foul mouth, thrice married, pu$$y grabber with one exception. I never thought I would hear myself say this. But, let’s hear it for the Mormons.”

Maher went on and pointed out that evangelicals support Trump 75%/14%. Mormons only give him 19% support. He gave kudos to the Mormons. “Apparently the Mormons believe you shouldn’t vote for a lying infantile scumbag just because he is on your team,” Maher said.

As I said, Bill Maher hit this one out of the park.

But then there is James Dobson (leader of Focus on the Family, an Evangelical “values voters” political group) who has this to say about Donald Trump: “It’s a cliché but true: We are electing a commander-in-chief, not a theologian-in-chief.”

Oh, how the pious have fallen. How easy it was to justify condemnation of Bill Clinton! (Which Dobson did when Clinton was embroiled in the scandal that ended with Congress attempting to impeach him.) But how awkward to have to find a way to justify a man he wanted to support because he had decided to take his bribe!

This is a pretty good summary of the majority of politically motivated evangelical personalities these days. A few stuck to their guns and refused to endorse Donald Trump – a man who does not even come close to possessing the qualities you would think evangelicals would look for in a moral, Christian leader – but for the most part they were quick to forgive and endorse. The reason could not be any more despicable: these “Christian leaders” do not actually care what politicians ARE. They only care what they DO.

In short: as long as Donald Trump opposed abortion and gays, he could grope whomever he likes.

This should not be a big surprise to anyone. Political evangelicals support Republicans, because the Republican platform has the things on it they want. If the Republican platform did not have those things, they would not endorse. It is a purely transactional relationship – the words coming out of their mouths are just the packing material you stuff around the goods being shipped in order to keep them from being too damaged during transit.

The political wing of the evangelical movement can no longer call themselves “evangelical.” In a political context, the word means nothing more than “this soul is for hire.” It is an empty, hollow shell, willing to sing “Lord, Lord” for a reasonable hourly rate, negotiated in advance.

It is certainly not evangelical in the religious sense – you know, where the word actually came from, meaning people who believe the Great Commission is still in effect today. It is not the evangelical who makes people sacrifice in order to minister to the lost, either by their own fervent work or by supporting that work.

No. The political wing of the evangelical movement by endorsing Donald Trump showed that the thing it loves first and foremost is the accumulation of political power, and that it will ally with anyone who will promise them that power. It has, finally, exposed its secret idol to the rest of the world.

Evangelicals worship the deadly sin of power.

They lust for it.

They hunger for it.

They hoard it.

They are angry when they do not have it.

They envy the people who do.

And they are proud of what power they have accumulated so far.

The only deadly sin they do not have in this respect is sloth – I will give them credit for that. They work very hard to sell their souls, each and every day.

But people have been watching it all, and regardless of the perceived gains, there is a price to be paid by evangelicals for this deadly sin of soul-selling.

That price is their credibility in the world.

That price is the integrity of the word Christian.

That price is the very name of Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Refuse to be a Christian. . .

christian-love

Peter R. Scholtes wrote the hymn “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love” while he was a parish priest at Saint Brendan’s Church on the South Side of Chicago in 1968. The hymn was inspired by John 13:35 (“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”) At the time, Scholtes was leading a youth choir out of the church basement and was looking for an appropriate song for a series of ecumenical, interracial events. When he could not find such a song, he wrote the now-famous hymn in a single day. In case you are not familiar with it, the hymn goes like this:

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord And we pray that all unity may one day be restored And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love They will know we are Christians by our love

We will work with each other, we will work side by side We will work with each other, we will work side by side And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love They will know we are Christians by our love

By our love, by our love

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love They will know we are Christians by our love

We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand And together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love They will know we are Christians by our love

By our love, by our love

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love They will know we are Christians by our love

Well, I, like most Christians, would like to be known by my love.

Actually, it would be more accurate lately to say that I am still a Christian, though it has become increasingly harder for me to say that on a daily basis.

Looking around at much of what represents Christians today – particularly in this election season – it has become a daily battle to make this once effortless declaration, knowing that it now automatically aligns me with those who share so little in common with the Jesus I know and love. It aligns me with playground bullies, politicized pulpits, white privilege, overt racism, and with bigotry toward so many groups of people who represent the “world” I grew up believing that God has so loved.

There are things that used to be givens as a follower of Jesus, but no longer are.

For far too many people, being a Christian no longer means that one needs to be humble or forgiving. It no longer means that one needs a heart to serve or bring healing. It no longer requires compassion, or mercy, or benevolence. It no longer requires one to turn the other cheek, or to love one’s enemies, or to take the lowest place, or to love one’s neighbor as oneself.

In other words, being a Christian no longer requires one to emulate the spirit of Jesus.

So yes, I am still a Christian, but there is a kind of Christian whom I refuse to be.

I refuse to be a Christian who lives in fear of people who look, or speak, or worship differently than I do.

I refuse to be a Christian who believes that God blesses America more than God loves the world.

I refuse to be a Christian who uses the Bible to perpetuate individual or systemic bigotry, racism, or sexism.

I refuse to be a Christian who treasures allegiance to a flag, or a country, or a political party, above emulating Jesus.

I refuse to be a Christian who is reluctant to call-out the words of hateful preachers, venomous politicians, and mean-spirited pew sitters, all in the name of keeping Christian unity.

I refuse to be a Christian who attends a Church where all people are not openly welcomed, fully celebrated, and equally cared for.

I refuse to be a Christian who speaks always with holy war rhetoric about an encroaching enemy horde that must be rallied against and defeated.

I refuse to be a Christian who is generous with hell-fire and damnation and stingy with grace and love.

I refuse to be a Christian who cannot see the image of God in people of every color, every religious tradition, and every sexual orientation.

I refuse to be a Christian who sees the world in a hopeless spiral downward and can only condemn it or withdraw from it.

And, I refuse to be a Christian who rejects the idea that we should live as persons of hospitality, of healing, of redemption, of justice, of expectation-defying grace, and of abundant and life-affirming love.

Yes, it has become more difficult for me to say that I am a Christian these days than it has ever been before, but I still say it.

But I refuse to be a Christian without the spirit of Jesus – without his humility; without his compassion; without his smallness; without his gentleness with people’s wounds; without his attention to the poor, the forgotten, and the marginalized; without his intolerance for religious hypocrisy; and without his clear expression of the love of God. These are non-negotiables for me.

How about you, “Christian?” Are they non-negotiables for you as well?

.

 

The Morning After

voted

I had a dream the other night. It was the day after Election Day.

The sun rose in the East as it always had.

The American flag was still proudly flying over government buildings, schools, and on flag poles of ordinary citizens across this great land.

But on this day after the election, America was a changed nation. We had just elected the first woman to be President of the United States. There was great relief that disaster had been averted. It was hardly the start of a political revolution, but there was a sense of pride at America electing its first woman President. Her election, however, was made inevitable the moment the GOP nominated the only candidate who could not beat her – a complete ignoramus, a sociopath, a pathological liar, and a clown – Donald J. Trump. Hilary Clinton won because Trump was unelectable.

There is a good chance that even if Hillary Clinton is a political opportunist, she is likely to govern less from the center than Bill Clinton. If she does not, the Sanders political revolution will be there to protest and to try to keep her honest. Bernie Sanders and other progressive senators such as Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown will be there to object to corporatist policies.

So, in my dream here is what a Clinton presidency will look like – or perhaps I should say, what it will not look like.

Clinton will not nominate Supreme Court justices in the mold of Justice Antonin Scalia who would double down on Citizens United, thus giving billionaires the ability to buy elections; block voting rights; side with corporate rights against citizens’ rights and possibly overturn Roe v. Wade, sending thousands of women to back alley abortionists. Hillary Clinton will more than likely appoint liberal justices such as those appointed by Bill Clinton (Stephen Breyer and “The Notorious RBG” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg). With the help of a Democrat-controlled Senate and two or three choice picks, Hillary Clinton will reshape the court in a generally progressive direction for at least a generation.

Further, there will be no deportation force to quickly banish eleven million undocumented immigrants. There will be no special force of tens of thousands of armed agents to invade workplaces, homes, and schools, and to stop cars and pedestrians to check papers and round up those without proper documentation. Such actions would make America look like a police state!

There will be no expulsion of Dreamers, immigrants who were brought by their parents to America at a young age and have spent most of their lives in this country going to school and working. Dreamers will not be forced to hide in the shadows instead of contributing to American society.

People of the Muslim faith, and/or everyone from countries that have experienced terrorism, will not be banned from entering the United States. Such a ban would also include people from friendly Muslim countries, such as Indonesia, Turkey (a member of NATO), and the United Arab Emirates, as well as people from countries that have experienced terrorism, such as France, the United Kingdom, and Germany. Considerable damage to the economy will be averted because travel, tourism, and commerce will not be harmed.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will not be drinking champagne in celebration of a Donald Trump election. America’s NATO allies, particularly those close to Russia, will not have to worry or be uncertain if the United States will help defend them, regardless of whether they have paid their fair share as an ally. And Putin will feel less liberated to engage in dangerous foreign adventures.

The Iran nuclear arms treaty will not be torn up. Without such restraints, Iran would have the ability to develop a nuclear weapon in about a year, thereby threatening the stability of the Middle East and the security of Israel. And there is a good chance that Israel would pre-emptively bomb Iranian nuclear sites, setting off a regional war.

There will be no trade wars with China, Mexico and other countries, which would likely lead to a severe recession or depression.

The Affordable Care Act will not be repealed and millions of people will not be thrown off their health insurance. The Affordable Care Act needs fixing and Hillary Clinton has promised to fix it.

The wealthy will not have their taxes cut, an action that would have had the effect of ballooning the deficit.

Social Security and Medicare will not be privatized.

And, finally, for at least the next four to eight years, something will be done by the United States to combat climate change. Our commitments under the Paris Agreement will not be abrogated and the goal of reducing global warming  will be taken seriously.

What might all of this mean?

During the campaign, Hillary Clinton said: “Despite what you hear, we don’t need to make America great again. America has never stopped being great. But we do need to make America whole again. Instead of building walls, we need to be tearing down barriers.”

Americans are richer than ever, more powerful than ever, our people live longer than ever, and they are healthier and better educated than ever. We are still the Number One destination for immigrants from around the world and for students seeking higher education. We still produce more patents than anyone, are home to more capital than anyone, foster creativity and entrepreneurship better than anyone. Those facts are American Exceptionalism at its best.

But this election reveals not only the greatness of American democracy, but also the greatness of the American people. American Democracy – messy, ugly, coaxing out of the shadows our inner demons – actually works. This dispiriting election has been dominated, thanks to Donald Trump and his supporters, by mean-spirited, even vile, rhetoric. But the American people have risen up to repudiate it, and that is encouraging and profoundly reassuring.

But there is more that is encouraging than either the objective facts of American vitality or the soundness and solidity of United States democracy: What is best in our leaders complements that which is best in our people. And there is the promise of our collective future – especially if we find a place for America that better recognizes our strengths, our place in a global community, and what still needs to be fixed.

What is broken in America requires that we do what we are supposed to after even this most divisive campaigns – and that is to reach out to one another.

Hillary Clinton must therefore do the thing that true leaders do: She must listen even to those who offer only criticism. She must find compromises, and she must rise above or work around those who seek only to impede. And in this promising moment, that is precisely what Clinton is promising to do.

What makes this a great moment to be an American is that our prospects are so good. At home, that means we enter this next chapter in our history having made extraordinary progress at healing old divisions. Our incoming president will for the first time in history be a member of our majority population – women! This fact should be profoundly moving to all who love the central idea of democracy or simply the best values of humanity. President Barack Obama was the first African-American chief executive in the nation’s history. Under his watch, among other things, the nation fully embraced the idea of marriage equality – the policy that the government would no longer seek to regulate love between people. And we are at the threshold of powerful changes that will build on this breakthrough. For the first time in United States history, children who once were thought of as members of minority groups – African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians – now make up the majority in our schools. Within roughly a quarter of a century, that fact will be true for the United States as a whole. We will be living the promise of being an open, diverse society, culturally richer than any other in the world, which provides benefits in our lives in countless ways, from offering a multitude of experiences and traditions to helping our workforce better compete in the global era.

We also are entering an era in which Hillary Clinton offers the promise of a different kind of American leadership – neither the rightwing neo-isolationistic policies of George W. Bush, nor even the political hesitancy of Barack Obama – but one that is both engaged and committed to strengthening alliances. Indeed, that type of leadership might be best characterized by her campaign slogan: “Stronger Together.” That should be our motto both at home and overseas, with allies and even with rivals.

The genius of the American system is that it is designed to reinvent itself. It is a system whose architects had great aspirations and realistic expectations, who had audacity and humility, and who had flaws but a desire to overcome them. In other words, it is a system that looks like the people it serves.

So, on November 9, the sun will rise in the East as it always has.

And, on November 9, the American flag will be proudly flying over government buildings, schools, and on flag poles of ordinary citizens across this great land.

But, on November 9, we will be a changed nation. When we awake, it will be the dawn of a new and better morning in America.

Or am I still dreaming?