Donald Trump in San Diego

I attend political rallies whenever I can, of any party, person or persuasion.  Accordingly, I was at the Convention Center when Donald Trump came to San Diego last week.

I didn’t get into the speech — no surprise there — and so stood with the partisans and protesters directly across the street, on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Promenade. Continue reading

The Passin’ of Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter

Toward the end of Harper Lee’s classic novel, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ when the rape trial of Tom Robinson has concluded and Atticus Finch is walking toward the exit, Reverend Sykes instructs Scout, Atticus’ daughter, to rise.

“Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’,” he says.

Robinson, an innocent Black man, has just been convicted by an all-White jury, and Atticus, his White lawyer, has ostensibly failed. But they stand up, the Black citizens of Maycomb, Alabama, they stand up along with the Reverend and Scout, because moral courage of the sort Atticus exhibited, true moral courage, must be acknowledged.

There’s no need to detail the accomplishments of Jimmy Carter, the presidency, the Peace Prize, the charitable work, the eradication of disease. These can be found in any number of other places. These accomplishments would not be possible without the man, of course, but in Carter’s case the man stands above his own accomplishments, as extraordinary as they are in any current or historical context.

In an age of irony and sweeping commercialization, where almost every act is viewed through the fog of ideology, Carter remains out of step. His irony, as it were, is that he is sincere and often without self-regard; his commercial efforts, as such, are for the alleviation of human suffering, and his ideology is for universal human rights and the resolution of conflict.

Carter’s unyielding and unapologetic decency is provocative. He makes enemies, especially when he criticizes his nation, his party and his own Christian church, as he is known to do. Yet it is difficult to think of an instance where he didn’t take the side of the oppressed or the impoverished, regardless of race, religion or nationality. You may not agree with Carter, but you can’t question his motives or the grandness of his vision.

Perhaps because of this, Carter is often portrayed as hokey and naïve, and his presidency is viewed by many as unsuccessful, but intelligence, empathy, commitment, and moral courage — true moral courage — are rare and precious things, in fiction, in fact, or in any single man. Jimmy Carter is such a man.

So let us do what the Reverend, Scout and the good people of Maycomb, Alabama did for Atticus Finch. President Carter’s life expectancy is less than a year, and as he makes his final exit, let us acknowledge the man.

Stand up. Jimmy Carter’s passin’.

My debut novel is available here: The Last Island

Pope Francis and his Prodigal Gay Sons

The Embrace of Pope Francis

The Embrace of Pope Francis

“Who am I to judge?”

These words, spoken by Pope Francis in reply to a question about gay priests, may represent a change of direction for the Catholic Church and signal a move away from the censure and moralizing that have come to characterize it.  This is something for which many Catholics have long been waiting.

The condemnation of homosexuality within (and without) the Church was a case in point, because it seemed to rest on three predeterminations:

1. That homosexuality is a choice.

If there is no ‘choice,’ then the Church is condemning people for being as God made them.  Homosexuality may be a choice for some, but most of us end up staring at the boy or girl in front of us at some point in our lives and that’s that.  From that moment, the only choice to be made is one of sexual fulfillment or not.

2. That this choice is sinful.

While there may be some places in the Old Testament where homosexuality might appear to be condemned, Jesus never cared about the sexual inclinations or practices of any of the people he encountered.  He merely welcomed those who wanted to be welcomed, accepted those who asked to be accepted, and forgave those who asked to be forgiven.  It was simple really, very simple.

3. That there are those who are in a position to cast judgment.

The only people Jesus judged in his life and parables were those who stood in judgment of others.  In John 7:53-8:11, when the adulterous woman is brought before Jesus by the “scribes and Pharisees” to be stoned, it’s these men that Jesus challenges, not the woman.  And in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32), it’s the good son’s resentment and judgment that become his punishment.

The sexual strictures of the Church – celibacy for priests, heterosexuality for members, opposition to the use of birth control, etc. – are trivial concerns at best.  And the judgment that arises from trivial concerns is more bias than anything else.

This Pope seems to understand that.

The Catholic Church is global, sovereign, wealthy, and historic.  It has set the standards by which we measure our years and much of Western art, music, literature and architecture.   It has been simultaneously sacred and profane, both revered and despised.  Yet it stands alone as an institution on this fragile planet and amongst restless and growing populations that may desire or, indeed, require its intercession.

So we can only hope that this singular Pope and this distinctive Church have at last begun to withdraw the pointing finger, offering instead an embrace that’s wide and warm and welcoming of all God’s children – the way Jesus did.

My debut novel, THE LAST ISLAND, can be purchased here.