As I sit here and write this, I find myself in the living room of Katie’s former exchange student from Peru, Victor.  Victor and his wife, Katrin, currently live in Cologne, Germany. Katrin speaks 5 languages and Victor speaks 3.  They are quite lovely and kind, and we had an excellent evening yesterday crossing over the Rhine.  The real Rhine.

Both of our hosts are also quite intelligent and the conversation over sausage and sauerkraut last night quickly turned to politics, money and the looming crisis of the “fiscal cliff” that we will all stumble over if our elected officials do not get over their egos – and soon.

Victor made the comment that no decision will truly ever get made because it is “all about money.”  And he was not speaking solely of the USA.  No, he was lamenting the fact that, at the end of the day, ALL governmental bodies squabble over money.  A sad premise, to be sure, but one that needs to be taken seriously if change is to occur.

Many of our present-day problems are inherited problems.  Inherited by elected officials of yesteryear who made decisions, served their term and left the problem for someone else to clean up.  This is not to say that we should look for blame.  No, what happened, happened, and we need to realize that it is 2012 and that it is time for a new kind of politics.  One that understands the importance of money in a new way.  One that realizes money IS important – for everybody.  One that realizes petty bickering does nothing to improve the federal, state or local economy.

Assigning blame is easy.  Making lots of money is also easy – for a few.  Realizing the true value of money and creating situations so that all may access it, save it and spend it is not so easy.

Money is not evil.  Systems that keep the money out of hard-working people’s hands are evil.  Spending more time arguing ideology in Washington than creating new, forward-thinking systems is not necessarily evil, but it is childish and embarrassing.

My many travels have exposed me to conversations such as these, and I count myself blessed to have been born to parents who value travel.  I have met and conversed with people from all 50 states, Central America, Europe, the British Isles, the Caribbean, Australia, South America and elsewhere.  The conversations are all unique, true, but also quite similar.  The conversations are about people just wanting to be people – and happy.  They are not about political persuasion, warring ideology or how much better one country is than another.  No, in my 34 years on the planet, combined with my hundreds of conversations about humanity all over the globe, I feel I can confidently say that we are all very much the same and do not particuarly care about the infighting between bureaucrats.  Sadly, these days, it seems that infighting is the new way.  Mistakes were made in the past – by people who lacked the foresight and knowledge of history with which we are graced.  We owe it to them and our future to truly embrace this knowledge and move forward.

These thoughts simply snuck in yesterday – as the past week has found my brain blissfully “logged off” as Katie and I have experienced the best of what Europe has to offer.  Amsterdam, Paris, Munich, Cologne and now off to Brussels.  The sights will change, but one thing will remain constant – the humanity of all with whom we interact.

No More Turning Away

Like many of you, I spent last weekend crying as I read the front page. What happened in Sandy Hook is beyond the insignificant word, “tragedy.” The conversation following the tragedy is beyond the insignificant word, “petty.” I nearly deleted my Facebook page as I read comment after comment that dripped with ignorance. I was compelled to “unfriend” a number of Facebook “friends” due to their seeming unwillingness to recognize reality.
And of what reality do I speak?

The reality that something is wrong. Very wrong.

I do not believe that banning guns is the answer. I do not believe that locking up the mentally ill is the answer. I do not believe that metal detectors at the door of every school in America is the answer. But I do feel I have an answer. The answer is a moral revolution – akin to the one of which Dr. King and Harriet Beecher Stowe spoke. A revolution in which evil and injustice are attacked – not our fellow brothers and sisters who commit these acts. In short – this revolution asks that we seek out the root causes of our societal ills, address them, and fight to overturn their causes.

As I sit here this morning in Walnut Hills – merely blocks from where Stowe lived – at my desk in a school in an urban environment, I can’t help but wonder where along the way we got lost. In fact, every single day that I enter my office to help children find their voice and meaning in their lives, I wonder where along the way we got lost.

There is a way to help stop the violence. That way is a difficult path that asks each and every one of us to get over our own sense of self-worth and begin to prioritize the “other.” Speaking as a white, male, heterosexual, middle class, 34 year old – I can tell you that my society has been conveniently set up for me to succeed. Reaching out to women, minorities, homosexuals and (most importantly) children of all walks of life, has driven my life’s work for twelve years. The longer we look away, the longer the violence will carry on. As Roger Waters tells us, there has to be “no more turning away” if we are to make a significant dent in this society of ours.

Education. That’s the key. Reallocation of public school funding – a better national understanding of mental illness – gun reform in the most logical manner (e.g., not even allowing semi-automatic handguns to be purchased – only hunting rifles and the like) – and incentivizing helping others – creating a society where doing GOOD is easier than doing BAD. Bad is easy in our society. It is easy to steal and cheat to get ahead. In fact, it is often rewarded (see “white collar crime”). When the vulnerable in our society attempt to get their “piece of the pie” by stealing and cheating and the like, they are punished. The rules only favor a few. This subjective rule implementation creates desperation among our country’s vulnerable.

Desperation – vulnerability – a failing economy – unbalanced education funding – access to deadly weapons – all of these things contribute to a national consciousness that embraces and rewards violence. Every once and a while that violence leeks into our schools, communities and movie theaters. We have had TWO mass-public shootings this year. Something is wrong with our national subconscious. People are cracking up. I see it on the microcosmic level every day in the desperation born out of poverty on the faces of children in my city. I see it nationally in small towns in Connecticut.

No amount of legislation will even come close to ebbing the pain of the families in Newtown – but it may serve to ebb future pain that never needs to be felt. Perhaps beginning with stricter gun control and then moving on to having the difficult discussions of how to create a society where all may achieve their true potential is a good first step. Furthermore – maybe the conversations in DC should not revolve around saving a few bucks by stripping charitable contribution benefits – or even revising them – but working toward a country where the Not For Profit (NFP) sector does not have to be as large as it is. That would be a conversation of which I would like to be a part. Is there any concern that the 3rd Sector, the NFP sector, is the 4th largest employer in the country? Yes, that looks great, but who does the NFP sector serve? Oftentimes, it is the indigent and the ailing. What if we looked at proactively heading off desperation and illness and then not even have to discuss the charitable deduction issue?

Complicated issues require complicated solutions. These solutions are not comfortable, but they are far more comfortable than the loss of 20 smiling children’s faces. This loss is something that, I admit, I cannot handle. I cannot handle 20 children being gunned down in school in the wealthiest country in the world. I cannot handle that, in 2010, 7.3 million children did not have health care in the wealthiest country in the world. I cannot handle that mental illness and the media are held up as scape goats every time something tragic happens in the wealthiest country in the world instead of discussing the root causes of evil in our country – namely, perhaps, that we are the wealthiest country in the world. Perhaps we all need to re-read Zinn’s People’s History of the United States to remind ourselves exactly how we got here in the first place. Violence.
I can handle change. I can handle difficult decisions. I can handle ruffling feathers. I can handle peace. And I can handle working myself to the bone until the day I die until something changes – at least until the national conversation begins with the statement, “We realize something is wrong and we are committed to making it right.”

Much love and condolences to the families in Newtown. For my part, I will not be quiet until a few of these things get set straight in Cincinnati and, ideally, nationally.

Early bird

I think better in the mornings. I always have. In fact, I have never had an issue with getting up early, getting ready and heading off to school, college or work. I am not sure why, but I have always enjoyed the start of a new day.

Today’s new day has me reflecting on conversations and happenings of yesterday – namely, prison reform. Due to my involvement with Br. Mike Murphy for many years (and still, to this day), I have found myself in relationship with folks whose ability to earn a second chance seems slim, to none.

Read more“Early bird”

America’s Pastime

 I love baseball. I really do.

My father grew up in Conneaut, Ohio – the furthest northeast corner of the state. His mother worked in a diner, his father worked on the Nickleplate Railroad and ran for democratic office. They loved baseball. My grandfather shared that love with my father who shared that love with me. I think this is why I am obsessed with baseball. In fact, I attribute anyone’s baseball’s obsession to the simple, beautiful fact that it is a game that is passed down from generation to generation like a revered family heirloom.

For some reason, when the love of baseball is given to us by our parents, we feel as if we have been given something that is secret, yet uncommonly public. When my father took me around the country for three consecutive summers to visit baseball parks, I felt as if I was gaining admission to a club of which only he and I were members. It was on these trips that I learned how to drive in Conneaut, Ohio and learned how to shave in Manhattan.

I grew up in Atlanta with a reverence for the Braves of the 1990s; arguably witnessing the best pitching squad to ever be fielded. I grew up with a similar reverence for the Big Red Machine as (and any baseball fan will tell you this) a love of baseball often trumps the love of a team. This separates baseball fans from fans of other sports. Baseball fans love the GAME and their team. Fans of other sports love their TEAM and then the game. I suppose that’s why baseball attracts me so much – it feels like a community.

My mother was raised in Norwalk, Ohio. As a result, she also grew up with a love of Ohio baseball. When I was a child, her mother gave me a ball signed by the Big Red Machine. I still have it, but it is quite faded. Regardless, it is still the prized piece in my collection of baseball memorabilia.

When I moved to Cincinnati in 1997, it was quite easy for me to adopt the Reds as my Home Team. In fact, the very first park I ever went to with my father outside of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was Riverfront Stadium. After the game I bought a “Third Bass” tape on fountain square (remember “Pop Goes the Weasel?”).

Katie and I are proud season ticket holders for the Reds. And I thank my lucky stars every single day that, from my seat on the balcony of our condo, I can stare at Great American Ballpark all throughout the year. Admittedly, I get a little down come January knowing that I still have a couple months until I can see the boys take the field.

I have formed numerous relationships over the love of baseball – much in the same way I have over the love of music. Baseball is fun, yes, but it is much more than that. A love of baseball requires a love of paying attention – a love of the small things – and a love of strategy. Every single motion in baseball matters. From the on-deck routines to the choice of reliever.

Another thing that makes baseball so easy to love is that the action never stops unless it is an organic part of the game, i.e., the end of a half-inning. Even those breaks matter.

Organic – Strategic – Deliberate – Attentive. This is baseball. Incidentally, it is also how I go about living my life and making decisions. Maybe that’s it – maybe the flow of baseball mirrors our daily routines and interactions – maybe that is what is passed down to us from our parents – maybe baseball truly is in our genetic code.