Really Welcome

I was proud of our Helena St. Paul’s United Methodist Church when we became a Reconciling Congregation some years ago. That means we declared that we welcomed LGBTQI+ people into full participation in our congregation, despite the excluding and judgmental stance of our denomination.

We intend to remain welcoming, denomination or no. Still, we have something to learn from the Green Street United Methodist Church in Winston-Salem North Carolina. Here is their welcome statement:

“Welcome to Green Street, where the Kingdom of God is breaking through!

“We practice the radical welcome of God:
Whether you are
single, married, divorced, widowed,
black, brown, white, or mixed,
straight, gay, bi or confused,
transgender, cisgender or non-binary,
born in the USofA, or undocumented,
we welcome you.

“We love crying infants and wiggly toddlers
athletic moms and out-of-shape dads,
immature gray-haired people
and children with old souls.

“We welcome friends of Jesus and church-phobics,
religious refugees and agnostic doubters,
corporate executives and starving artists,
tree-hugging vegans and red-meat eaters.
the unemployed and over-employed,
Republicans, Democrats, independents and anarchists,
the tattooed, pierced, both or neither,
people who know it all
and those who have hard questions.

“We don’t care if your family came here
on the Mayflower or came across the border,
came through Ellis Island,
were brought here as slaves, or seek refuge.
Everyone is welcome.

“We believe that black and brown lives matter
and that white privilege is real.
We welcome the least, last, losers and the lost,
upper class, middle class, working class,
or people with no class at all.
If a crowded room gives you an extrovert buzz,
or if silence soothes your inner introvert,
there’s a place for you here.

“You are welcome
if you have sobered up or are still using,
in recovery or thinking of rehab.
We love sinners and saints,
neighbors, strangers and enemies.
Your presence enriches us.
Thanks for visiting,
and welcome home.”
                               Now that’s a welcome.

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Hate does Not have the Final Say

In one sense, I am glad our father, Rev. George Harper, is no longer alive to see what is happening to the United Methodist denomination that he loved and served. I am sorry that my wife Pat and others like her have to see this day, after all the years she and they have put into service for our global church.

Church people often have very different views about divisive social issues. Political fights can be vicious and dehumanizing, as with civil rights and women’s rights. When the church fights over such issues, the fights are even more vicious, because the Bible is often used as a club to bash the “unbelievers.”

Our denomination was split, and the conservatives were figuratively waving the Bible as if it were one book with a clear message about what and who God hates, while the progressives were also “waving” the Bible but saying that Jesus’ and the prophets’ message about love was the opposite of the Bible’s culture-endorsing passages.

Then we split into two different denominations.

The time was just before the Civil War. The conservatives who would become the Methodist Episcopal Church South argued that the Bible taught that slavery is not only accepted, but ordained by God, and that there are 120+ places in the Bible that say so, in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, such as these:

When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property. Exodus 21:20-21 New Revised Standard Version

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Ephesians 6:5-6 NRSV

The progressives of that time argued that these were cultural values of the Biblical times as well as the present time, but that God’s intent was that love and justice as taught by Jesus and many of the prophets meant the exact opposite.

Even our present-day United Methodist conservatives no longer believe the myriad Biblical passages showing God endorses slavery. I truly believe that years from now they will no longer believe the six places in the Bible that see same-sex love as unnatural and cursed by God. (There are three verses in the Hebrew scriptures and three in the letters of Paul and his disciples writing in his name, but none in the gospels.)

The debate in St. Louis this week was instructive. When people advocated for acknowledging that Christians disagree on these matters, they used the words of love and inclusion. We are all created in God’s image. We are all children of God. All means all.

Not all, but many for the Traditional Plan were simply mean-spirited. They personally attacked our own Bishop Karen Oliveto (bishop of the area including Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and one church in Idaho) because she is married to a wonderful woman. Never mind that Bishop Karen is a loving Christian person who is also one of the best preachers and spiritual leaders in the country. The personal attacks, often cloaked in passive-aggressive language, feel like the same ugliness directed toward people of color and women, both in the past and in the present political debates in this country.

That wasn’t enough. They not only voted to keep the hateful language about same sex prohibitions, but tried to add amendments that would force millions of us out of our own denomination. There would be provisions to kick out not only bishops and clergypersons, but also whole churches, like St. Paul’s in Helena!

The outcome was murky, with our United Methodist Judicial Council ruling some of the worst parts of the plans to be unconstitutional. In fact, the entire Traditional Plan which passed will be ruled on by our Judicial Council in late April.

Regardless of the outcome, I trust we will continue in Helena to stand for the God that Jesus described as “Love” and will be proud to be “loyal opposition” of our denomination or part of a new coalition of like-minded churches if the worst happens.

I also believe that Hate never has the final say. As Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I trust we will be on the right side of justice with our LGBTQ+ siblings, though it might no longer be under the banner of “United” Methodism. I imagine John Wesley and my father, not as rolling over in their graves, but as saying something like this: “God approves of Bishop Karen, and so do we.” Hate never has the final say.

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The State of Trump

Pat and I decided to keep our blood pressure down last night by not listening to the State of the Union address.

During the night, I had a ridiculous dream. It seems almost blasphemous to talk about ordinary dreams when you think about Martin Luther King’s powerful one, but here goes a rough version of my trivial one last night.

I dreamed that Donald Trump appeared before me as I was lying in bed, and we had this conversation.

President Trump: You missed the State of the Union last night. It was the greatest one ever. Everybody said that the next morning.
Me: It’s not the next morning yet, so you can’t be telling the truth.

PT: I tell the truth before it happens, and everybody makes it come true. Just watch Fox tomorrow and see. It was watched all over the world, and everybody said it was the greatest. Putin called me. He wishes he could speak like that. Ken Jung called me from Korea. He asked if he could use that speech for his State of Korea speech. I said he could as long as he added ‘with the help of my friend President Trump’ after everything he bragged about.
Me: This is a nightmare. I will try to wake up.

PT: You can’t, until you hear all the things I have done. I fixed the economy so it is the best ever. Even you can see that. I fixed taxes and the stock market. I fixed the national emergency on our southern border.
Me: There is no emergency on our southern border.

PT: Not anymore. Why do you think we had a government shutdown? That was so federal employees could help build the wall, along with the army. It’s done! And it surprised even me and I know all about walls. It is longer that the Chinese wall and goes right out into the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans on both sides. And it’s invisible! Yes, you can walk right into it and you fall on your back. I saw it.
Me: Okay, that actually sounds like a pretty good compromise.

PT: I destroyed ISIS. I got us back into the missile business so we have some real power again. I stopped Iran from getting the bomb. I got Mexico to pay for the wall. They said they’ll probably make it all back in tourist money from people who come to see it.
Me: You only want the wall to show your racist base that you are keeping out brown people.

PT: How can I be racist, when every brown and black and yellow and red person in America loves me because I got everybody a job who wants one? Turn on Fox; you won’t hear one single complaint. I tell you everybody loved the speech. Nancy Pelosi told me she has the hots for me, but she’s only a 2 and I only do 10s.
Me: This is disgusting.

PT: God approves of everything I am doing. I read the Bible more than anybody, and I am the one God sent.
Me: Now you are lying through your teeth. Jesus said, “It’s harder for a rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to go through he eye of a needle.” You have done everything for yourself and other rich people, which is the opposite of what Jesus did and taught.

PT: When you die, you don’t have money anymore, so there is no such thing as a rich man. But that doesn’t concern me.

(Then, in my dream, Trump took a Bible and opened it up to a bookmarked page in Leviticus.)
PT: Here it is right here. Did you know that there are lots of numbers in the Bible? It’s like a clock with big numbers for the hours and lots of little numbers for the minutes. It tells how long it will take to read that far.
Me: You don’t know anything about…

PT: To see what God thinks of you, you ask a question, and open up the Bible with your eyes closed and put your finger on the page somewhere. I asked God who was the greatest leader in the history of the world, and I opened here in this chapter with the funny name. And I read this verse: “All fat is the Lord’s.” And I knew he meant me. I am so smart and so religious that I can come to you at night to tell you about the best speech ever.
Me: I’m waking up now, but I’m not going to try that Bible study method. I’m afraid I would ask “What do I have to do to keep Trump out of my dreams?” and I would open to the verse that says, “Judas hanged himself.”

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What Put Tester Over the Top

Here are my own biased, unsubstantiated, perhaps unsubstantiatable views on what put Jon Tester over the top in his race against Donald Trump and his Mini-Me. However, as many as 50.1% of those of you who voted in the race may agree with me.
(“Don’t be too sure,” you say.)

Jon Tester had some advantages:
*Great haircut.
*Real dirt farmer, the only one in Congress.
*Genuinely likable.
*Staff for him and the party of primarily young people with energy and a vision of an America that is good for all.
*Enough Montanans disgusted with our country’s downward spiral that they volunteered in record numbers to register voters, make calls, and knock on doors.
*Leaders on Montana’s reservations who helped turn out people to make sure their voices were heard.
*Campaign that galvanized youth, young adults, women and moderates.
*Montana values.
(I hear you thinking out loud, “Boring, get down to the good stuff.”)

However, the president had YUGE advantages:
*Montana had elected Trump in a landslide, while Tester had never even achieved 50% of the vote in his two previous victories.
*Billionaires made sure there was unlimited money available to attack Tester.
*The local, state, and American taxpayers financed Trump, Pence, and their federally-paid surrogates for multiple campaign trips to Montana to the tune of millions.
*Then add in the reason why Jon Tester could not possibly win: In this election, Montanans voted for Republicans. We are talking one US representative, two Public Service Commissioners out of two, 14 state Senators out of 25, and 58 representatives out of 100. Add in the two ballot initiatives defeated by Big Tobacco and Big Mining. While there were enormous Democratic gains throughout the US, this was a Republican sweep election in Montana, except for one race.
(“And I suppose you’re going to tell me why,” you say with a decided lack of interest.)

Yes I am. Trump made it clear this was personal. Trump said a vote for Rosendale was a vote for Trump. He also said he was going to crush Tester because Jon kept Trump’s personal physician, Ronny Jackson, from heading up the VA. Tester allowed people who worked with Jackson to tell what he was really like. Then Trump committed unprecedented presidential, vice-presidential, family, cabinet, and party surrogate time and prestige to his personal vendetta against Jon.
(“That wasn’t a reason why he would lose, ” you point out with some logic. “Those were reasons he would win.)

Hang on, I reply. I believe that if Trump had only come once to Montana, Rosendale would have won. One trip energizes the Trump base. More trips do not get more Trump voter support. They only allowed him to make outrageous statements that tipped enough independent and moderate supporters to make the difference.

While Tester had a lot of great people actively working for him, the winning margin came down to this: Donald Trump lost what should have been a slam-dunk win, through bad decisions because of his own overwhelming ego.

I never thought I would thank God for Trump’s ego. I doubt I will again.
(“That’s it?” you say. “It’s a good thing I have an app that reads stuff like this for me and then shreds it so I don’t waste my time.”)

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Trump the Self-Fulfilling Prophet

As of today, about 40% of the nation approves President Trump’s performance. I saw two women on TV at a Trump rally say, “There’s God, then there’s Jesus, then there’s Trump.”

Many of the other 60% are inclined to see Trump’s reputation as having been tarnished, in part because of bragging about sexually assaulting women, and then trashing every woman who accuses himself or any Republican of sexual misbehavior;
or praising the American Nazis;
or hiring white supremacists as advisors and following their advice;
or not seeing anything wrong with separating children from their parents;
or verbally attacking most of our allies while praising (and believing) Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un;
or constantly telling the nation that any criticism of him or his policies or his people is “fake news” in a clear attempt to stifle the free press;
or asking that black athletes lose their jobs permanently if they try to engage in protesting wrongs;
or asking why protests were allowed at events surrounding the Kavanaugh hearings despite what our Constitution guarantees;
or trashing John McCain and all prisoners of war;
or reacting to every accusation by accusing the accusers of heinous crimes;
or taking personal credit for everything good that happens and refusing to take any responsibility for anything else;
or trying to make every federal employee, including the head of the FBI and the Attorney General, put loyalty to him above all else;
or averaging just under 5 false or misleading statements per day in his first 100 days, which rate has steadily risen until it stands at approximately 16 per day since the beginning of June;
among other things.

OK, but other than that, some say that in order to have a civil discourse in this country, those of us who do not condone those behaviors need to keep an open mind and find things we like about him, so we can open a dialogue.

I can’t go that far, but I can offer a positive spin on some of his behaviors. We could say some of his lies are not exactly non-factual by reinterpreting them as prescient prophecies which he can effectuate himself. (He won’t read this, so I don’t need to explain any big words.)

Consider how on the mark he has been as a prophet who speaks not in parables or aphorisms, but in apparent “falsehoods” that mask the truth to come.

He said he was going to drain the swamp. Now no one would argue that there are not parts of the federal government swamp that need to be drained. Some claim he was lying because the incompetence and personal dishonesty of most of his appointees has added critters to the swamp unlike what we have ever seen before. But consider this — many of those critters are being or have been “drained” because they are quitting or being fired in record numbers. There is more draining going on and at a faster pace than ever, thanks to adding greatly to the denizens of the muck.

He said numerous times he would stop the US from being laughed at by other nations. To do that he had to start the actual laughter, which he did in his UN address that drew outright laughter for his blatant lies and even drew smiles from the Germans, which is the equivalent of the Irish blowing Guinness out their noses while guffawing. Now he can stop that laughter every single time he doesn’t appear at international gatherings. Self-fulfilling prophecy!

However, some of his “not-lies but prophecies” concern me. He said he will stop all illegal immigration into this country. He said he will fix crime in this country. He said he will fix health care and retirement so that no one will ever complain about them again. Worst of all, he said he is a stable genius who is the smartest man in the world.

If my theory is right and these are not as much whoppers as predictions that he can make happen, how could those things become literally true? Only by starting a nuclear war that will destroy all the earth’s population more intelligent than he is. That hasn’t happened, but he may have the power to do it.

Well, I guess that wasn’t a great defense of Trump, and it certainly wasn’t Friday Good News. Sorry. There’s nothing we can do about it — wait — midterm elections will determine whether he gets the go-ahead for his dire prophecies or some small check on his Putinish ambitions.

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O Canada

I am a man who can admit my many biases. I freely confess they have caused me to criticize our President frequently, especially my bias against policies that are immoral. (What? His policy is to take children away from their parents? And his Attorney General quoted the Bible to show God approves of it? And then the President claimed the Democrats passed a law that made him do it? Then he showed that was false by signing an order to stop the separations, but refused to do anything about the 2300 children already separated? But his majority party in the House and Senate still won’t take action?)

Still, nobody likes a whiner, and so, you may ask, when am I going to do something positive in relation to our President? Soon, I answer. I will offer to be supportive of him for one week. I’ll buy an ad on Fox and Friends and say this:

“Mr. President, hire me as your foreign policy advisor for a week! That’s just a little shorter than the average staff time in the White House. For a week I will ignore my conscience (it won’t mind — it’s used to being ignored) and propose a bold project you will love bigly.

“If humiliating Canada is the goal because they are our closest ally, then I say build a gigantic wall along our entire northern border. Make it 100 feet high, since they’ve got long ladders. No, make it 30,000 feet high, since they have small planes.

“Allow US vigilante committees to patrol the wall, asking everyone who fits the Canadian racial stereotype (white, wearing a parka) to say, ‘The mouse ran out of the house,’ and arresting anyone who says ‘moose,’ ‘oot,’ and/or ‘hoose,’ or ends a sentence with ‘eh?’ The vigilante groups will be allowed to use abusive invective (that’s calling them bad names, sir), because the Canucks will try to disarm them with politeness.

“Every morning, sir, you can tweet some new insult about Trudeau, with me feeding you imaginative ones like ‘Your mother wears combat boots,’ or ‘You’re so dumb you think Manual Labor is a Mexican immigrant. He’s the president of Mexico and he hates you too.’

“You can order the arrest of any Canadian hockey, basketball, soccer, or baseball teams if they try to cross the border. Then you allow your favorite American teams (the ones with the fewest black players) to draft the best Canadians and pay them minimum wage. Lower actually, because they are immigrants.

“You can find everyone named Trudeau living in the US and humiliate them by forcing them to wear a big ‘T’ around their neck….wait, that could stand for Trump. Scratch that one.

“You can announce that you have patented the song ‘O Canada’ and will charge them an exorbitant remuneration to sing it. (That’s very big fees, sir.)

“You can announce an automatic pardon for anyone who tries to catapult garbage over the huuuge wall.

“You can decree that any American can be arrested for being polite, because it shows they are probably Canadian spies trying to steal our recipe for Canadian bacon.

“It would NOT work to announce that Canadian children will be taken from their parents, because they are mostly white.

“This wall will also prevent any Americans from leaving who are trying to flee to Canada because of the situation in our nation. Let them suffer like the rest of us.

“Then that sad, sad little man, what’s-his-name Trudeau, will come crawling to beg you to reinstate the trade agreement on whatever terms you allow. You will say, ‘Too late, sucker! Unlike my pal, Kim Jong Young, you have no beaches we want.’

“What do you think? Wouldn’t one week’s employment be worth it to have a Make America Grate on Canada policy for a week? Everybody I know would call you a stable genius for it.

“Call me so we can negotiate a suitable salary. I’ve heard about your negotiating skills and I and my investment advisor look forward to it.”

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Hope for Our Nation, at Last!

I am hopeful for our nation for the first time in a very long time.

Pat and I were among many hundreds who just attended a March for Our Lives rally organized by young students in Helena. It was one of the more than 800 that took place today across our country after the example of high school students from Parkland, Florida.

The rally was fun, with colorful signs like these:
“Protect the Born Children”
“PTA Not the NRA”
“Arms are for Hugs”
“I Have the Right to Live, no Matter what the NRA Says”
“If a Child Hits Another Child with a Stick, We don’t Blame the Stick, But we take it Away”
and our favorite: “Grab ’em by the Ballots.”

The young people (many of them eighth graders!) who spoke were breathtakingly articulate. They knew their facts. They made it clear they come from homes with hunters, and that they support the second amendment. However, they demanded: (1) gun education and safety programs for adults as well as young people, including requirements to lock up all guns so children cannot get their hands on them; (2) Universal background checks. “It shouldn’t take me less time to buy a gun than to buy a car”; (3) No military assault weapons for civilians. Their only purpose is to kill large numbers of people in a short time; and (4) People who have been convicted of domestic violence, or who have documented mental problems, or who are on a “no fly” list should not have a gun of any sort.

I didn’t realize how depressed I have been about the downward spiral of our nation under a mentally ill president, a majority party that lacks both a conscience and backbone, and a minority party with leaders who are resistant to new ideas, even when the old ones aren’t working anymore. I have been so down I haven’t even been able to write a Friday Good News, a self-indulgent blog for a few friends with the sole purpose of me not completely losing my sense of humor.

I once again have hope for our nation because of these spectacular young people, though I know it won’t happen all at once. Our nation has gone through a rebirth because of youth once before — in the 60s and 70s because of resistance to the Viet Nam War. The reason then was the same as now — young people fearing for their lives and not being willing to take it any more.

We might be living at the dawn of a rebirth of our nation, if we are willing to follow the lead of our youth. Our nation and our world will be better if we do.

It probably won’t come in time for me to recover my sense of humor, but as one of the great philosophers said, “If you try to tell a joke and no one gets it, at least no one is laughing at you.” I think it was Plato. Or Sarah Palin.

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George-isms

I was rummaging through some old boxes yesterday and ran across a page of sayings and stories jotted down for future use by our father, the late Rev. George Harper.

Like every good comedian-theologian, I’m sure he used each in exactly the right time and place. You can figure whether any of these work for you.

**You can tell if you are on the right track. It’s usually uphill.

**Those who can’t forget are worse off than those who can’t remember.

**It’s okay to drink like a fish, if you drink what a fish drinks.

**Patience is the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears.

**The person who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the person who can ‘t read.

**At Penn State, four sophomores in a chemistry class were certain they were getting an A. The weekend before the final test, they partied all weekend and were so hungover they got up too late Monday for the test. They explained to the professor they were visiting friends back home and had a flat tire. The professor agreed to allow them to make up the test the next day. After studying hard that day and evening, the students showed up the next morning, only to have the professor put them in four different rooms to take the final. There were two pages on the test. The first page was a fairly simple chemistry problem, with a note at the bottom that it was worth 5% of the grade. On page 2, which was labeled “95% of the grade,” was only one question. “Which tire?”

**Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. It is about learning to dance in the rain.

**We can only live in the here and now. Always be of service here and now.

**No matter what may be your lot in life, build something on it.

**Life is like a taxicab. The meter keeps running whether we are going anywhere or not.

**A woman took her son aside after a basketball game and asked, “Son, do you know what a team is?” He nodded yes.
“Do you understand that you win or lose as a team, and not as an individual?” He nodded again.
“Do you know that when a foul is called, you should not argue or curse, and you must not call the referee a jerk?” Again a nod.
“And when they take you off the court so that some other boy gets a chance to play, do you know it is not good sportsmanship to call your coach a dumb bastard? Do you understand that?” The boy said, “Yes mom.”
“Good. Now go explain all of that to your father.”

**Life’s journey keeps opening ahead of us, even when we can’t see around the dogleg of the future. So keep moving.

**No matter how many friends you have, the number of folks at your funeral will always be determined by the weather.

**Play your best and then step off the field.

That’s the way to start out a new year — ready to laugh and not take ourselves too seriously, and looking to say the right thing at the right time and place.

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A Name for 2017

If you had to name 2017, what would you call it?

I could call this the year the giants died. Mignon Waterman, Bob Ream, Dorothy Eck, Sue Bartlett, Laurie Skillman. Some of the finest human beings and role models in this small part of the world all went together. Who will hold up the sky now?

I could call this the year of the Big Lie, but which big lie would I pick? That the tax bill is a triumph for the middle class instead of billionaires feeding at the public trough? That an “America First” foreign policy will make us safer and not drive away our allies and threaten our very survival? That the Russians didn’t swing the election and aren’t trying to destroy our democracy? That Trump cares about people who aren’t billionaires? That Nazis and white supremacists are good people, no different from those who oppose them? That destroying Obamacare will make insurance cheaper and more available to all? That building a wall will keep Mexicans from taking our jobs? That all Muslims are evil and all Christians who are Republican are good? That women who complain against any Republican are liars and have loose morals as opposed to those virtuous victims who complain against Democrats? That scientists can’t be trusted unless they say what Republicans want? Maybe I’ll call it the year of the Big Liar.

I could call this the year when we officially became a Kleptocracy. Kleptocracy: Government by those who seek chiefly status and personal gain at the expense of the governed. (Merriam-Webster)

Yes, our nation has always been oriented toward the well-to-do, and has had frequent periods where the government operates to help those who don’t need help and to penalize the neediest among us.

The Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court in 2009 ruled that corporations have the right of free speech, which means that the rich can spend unlimited amounts to buy elections, and can do it without revealing who is behind the attack. The Supreme Court legalized what was already happening here.

In every nation, whether its government is some form of democracy or dictatorial rule or even communism, the wealthy arrange for special treatment for themselves at the expense of the many. So when does a nation merit the term “kleptocracy,” a term I have seen in multiple sources applied to Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the Communist elite in China, and numerous third-world dictatorships?

Common themes of kleptocracy are these:
**Key government officials are appointed because they are family members or friends despite lacking the experience or skills to do the jobs. (Think Ivanka, Donald Jr., Jared Kushner and a great many other unqualified appointed by Trump.)

**There is absolute secrecy about the financial activities of the government elite. (Of course Trump won’t release his taxes. Kleptocrats never do.)

**The wealthiest citizens receive special perks for themselves and their businesses in return for supporting whatever the government does. (The Center for American Progress reports that the 66 lawmakers on the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, who were in charge of writing the tax bill changing the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%, have received a total of $1.5 billion in corporate contributions in their collective careers.)

**The rulers personally gain enormous wealth while in positions of power. (By not having his fortune in a blind trust, and by having relatives in charge of his holdings and in government positions, Trump makes sure that foreign entities know how to gain his favor by doing business with his companies. Then add in the millions he will gain from the “Tax Reform” bill while claiming he wouldn’t make a penny. In other countries such actions are called “bribery” and “corruption.”)

Enough for the kleptocracy of 2017 and good riddance to it.

I predict that 2018 will be a year of renewal in America.
I predict that 2018 will be the year when the feminist movement, the human rights movement, the environmental movement, the union movement, the pro-democracy movement and the desire for basic human decency make the beginnings of a strong comeback in the United States of America, which will be wonderful for the entire world.

I predict it won’t be easy. Many of our giants here in Montana are gone. We ordinary people will have to join together to help win back a viable future for ourselves, our children and grandchildren, and the planet.

May God help us use truth, love, tolerance, and intelligence to help make America good again.

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Gratefulness

Our Montana Logging and Ballet Company performed years ago at the 6000-member St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. I remember it because three of us stayed over until Sunday to hear Rev. Kent Millard, one of the great preachers of our denomination. His powerful sermon was on the miracle of thanks.

Kent (he insisted we call him that) said thanks is at the heart of good religion. He gave statistics about people who have an attitude of gratitude, and how they have fewer heart attacks, fewer divorces, live longer and many other positive correlations that I can’t remember. Maybe if I were more grateful my memory would be better. Kent summed up his sermon this way: “Gratefulness Brings Great Fullness.”

At Thanksgiving, our family has a tradition of having everyone tell at least one thing for which they are thankful. I won’t have time this year to mention all my list — Pat the love of my life, the wonderful children, grandchildren, family, great friends, and fifty more every-year items, following by other topics unique to this year.

I am thankful to have known and loved some political and spiritual giants who have passed away this year — Mignon Waterman, Bob Ream, Sue Bartlett, Dorothy Eck, and, just this week, Laurie Skillman. Laurie was not as famous or politically active as the first four, but was a spiritual person who belongs in their class as great and giving human beings. I am grateful to have known them all, even though I don’t live up to the role models they set.

I trust you, dear reader, will be making your own gratitude list and meditating on it. In addition to me and Pat starting on ours, I’m also thinking about being grateful for those who live lives of great fullness to show us how it is done. If I had to name the most grateful person I have ever known, it would be our mother. Dorothy Harper is 95, but never has a single day go by that she doesn’t express her thanks to God and family and friends for all her blessings.

She is blessed to live at Touchmark with its wonderful staff and space just right for her. She is blessed to live in Helena and go St. Paul’s United Methodist Church. She is blessed to have her four remaining children and their spouses living in Helena (she has reason to be grateful for that — we her children will very likely never have any of our children live in the same town with us because of the vocations they are pursuing.)

Mom just had lunch with us. Pat made a terrific fall casserole meal with blueberry buckle for dessert, so it was appropriate for Mom to be grateful for that. But she probably mentioned 10 or 15 times other things for which she was grateful or the reasons for her being so lucky.

Several staff members at Touchmark have said that others there always want to have our mother sit at their table at meals, because she is always so positive. Always. And that’s how it has always been. Our father, now deceased, was in the spotlight because he was a great preacher, a truly funny human being both as a speaker and an author, and a person who made a difference in people’s lives. There is a reason that the gym at Helena High is named “Harper Court.” Our mother stayed out of the limelight, even though she was the only one in the family who wrote professionally (radio scripts for national inspirational radio shows), and the only one in the family who won a national oratory contest in college, twice.

Now that Dad is gone, we are realizing even more how powerful and how funny our mother is, and what a constant positive force she is in our lives, like a North Star, only warmer. Call her a North Sun. As she prayed over our meal this noon, she said, “Help us to be grateful for all our blessings and for the chance to do good for others.” Gratitude is contagious and only leads to good things in the lives of us and those around us. Our mother is contagious.

So who are your role models for living lives of service and gratitude? And what are you doing to become more like them? Have a grateful Thanksgiving.

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