Dear Mr. Trump,

First let me say congratulations on a winning a hard-fought, difficult campaign against a formidable opponent. The entire world was watching and you managed to pull off a fairly decisive victory.

I voted for you, but I confess I only reached my decision in the final days before the election. There was good, and bad, about both of you as candidates.

I write to point some things out. I have read and studied and listened to people, exhaustively, in the days prior to the election. And I came to some conclusions about why you won. I hope you will, by some miracle, be able to read this and digest what I’m about to point out.

I don’t believe you won on the basis of the standard Republican platform. And your victory shouldn’t be viewed as a total rejection of the Democrats. It should rather be viewed as a rejection of both Democrats and Republicans as we have known them in the past 16 years or so. The increasingly partisan approach to government has long since quit working.

You won because the people are tired of the constant entrenchment from both sides of the aisle. They no longer want business as usual from the Federal government. They want progress on issues that affect their lives. They want Congress to work together, to quit shutting down the government to strong-arm the opposition, and realize that neither Democrat nor Republican are dirty words.

You, a complete DC outsider, steamrolled the Republican opposition in the primaries. Why? Because the people want Washington shaken up. This election boiled down to a complete outsider vs. the consummate Washington insider, and your victory thus comes with a mandate: fix it.   

That mandate is really simple at its core. Lead the government in a direction that is not detrimental to the lives of its citizens. Help Congress enact policies that help us, not hurt us. End the pervasive deadlock that keeps bills from being passed. Bring transparency and openness to our governmental process.

When I hear the Republicans want to privatize Social Security and Medicare, that’s one example of what I mean. That would ultimately hurt us in the long run. Those are two of the most successsful government programs ever enacted. It would be political suicide to tamper with them. Far better to fix them than to scrap them or turn them over to people who will take a portion for profit. It’s not believable to listen to the government warn that Social Security is about to be insolvent, when Congress took money from the SS funds on multiple occasions. That’s our money, mind you. Not the government’s.

Obviously, one huge issue is the Affordable Care Act. Of course, it’s been anything but affordable for a lot of people. There are no easy answers here. Let me share an experience I had. Among other things, I worked in EMS, in both 911 systems and private ambulances. One call, private ambulance, had me picking up a German gentleman who visited Raleigh, NC and fell and broke his hip. We arrived and I went to get out basic patient information sheet and insurance information and was told everything had already been paid for. I looked at the nurse quizzically and she nodded, “His insurance has already paid us and the transport costs. Just bill us.”

I was shocked, how did it get paid so quickly? Before he was even out of the hospital?  His daughter explained during the transport. “Everyone in Germany has insurance. It’s very efficient. But because everyone has it, the costs are much lower.”

“How low?” I asked.

“About $140.00 a month.”

Yeah, it’s that awful socialized medicine we’ve heard so much about. But at this point, hell, if our insurance could cost $140.00 a month, I’d take that all day long.

But no, I’m not advocating a government-run, single payer system. Point is, while many folks are against being forced to buy insurance, they are really upset at the astronomical costs they’re now faced with. The ACA addressed nothing in the way of cost containment. If you’ve seen The Big Short, with Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale and Steve Carrel, you know how crazy the housing market bubbled before it crashed. Housing costs went up and up and up, and then the crash happened. As a real estate investor you certainly know  all about it. I suspect the medical industry is riding a huge bubble at the moment, and there will be hell to pay when it finally bursts. The healthcare industry appears headed in the same direction as the housing market: massively inflated costs with a dwindling supply of new customers and cash, and often very high risks among those buying insurance. When the average savings rate is now negative 1.3% among Americans, you have to ask, exactly how are people supposed to pay insurance premiums that cost more than mortgages, and withstand $3,000-$5,000 deductibles to boot? The money just isn’t there. This is a market reaching critical mass. All the signs are there if one is paying attention.

We need positive steps towards healthcare cost containment. Period. If there’s anything to be gleaned from this election, I’m convinced this was an angry electorate. They don’t need healthcare costs stopped. They just desperately need them dialed back to livable amounts. What we have is simply unsustainable.

There is another thing I think needs to be addressed. There’s a lot of talk about growing the economy via tax breaks for large corporations so they can free up cash to pay for more workers and create more jobs. That’s fine, if they keep that end of the bargain. All too often jobs still wind up going across borders or overseas. My personal feeling, however, is that this is an arrow shot that is a bit off target.

If you really want to grow the economy, focus also on the 80% that is comprised of small businesses. I owned a small business myself, and the taxes I payed in addition to Social Security, Medicare and others were a significant burden. I know guys having to work crazy hours instead of hiring additional workers because the math isn’t adding up. When eighty percent of our economy is driven by small businesses, it’s simply common sense to ease that burden for us. We’re not asking for the moon. My own desire is simple: a lower tax rate that doesn’t stifle my cash flow, and a much simpler way to file and report income, taxes and Social Security/FICA. The cost of paying an accountant is another headache for very small businesses like mine. Make it simple enough that small business owners can do it all themselves.

There are many, many other things I could address, but I’ll content myself with just one more. This is a country deeply divided, and this is a time we need to hear healing words. The racist, sexist, Islamaphobic and misogynistic words and even assaults that have occurred across the county need to stop. And you can prove yourself a leader by directly addressing them in a press conference and other means at your disposal and bring significant shame to those who belittle, insult and abuse our fellow Americans. Yes, you are a divisive figure, for better or worse. But you can, by your words and actions, promote healing.

Steve Bannon as senior counsel is one such example. He’s probably none of the things the liberal media has portrayed him to be, but the very association of him with Breitbart and, by extension, some of the people that cling to it is going to invite that very kind of speculation and backlash. The President simply cannot hire someone who is a lightning rod for controversy. It just creates more fodder for the rabid elements of the press. If you really want him, fine. But he needs to address these things as well, and distance himself from the radicals, decisively.

Of course, almost every administration has hired lightning rods before. It’s hard to avoid. But it’s not hard to work to gain trust, and addressing and condemning the radicals and their acts would be a good way to start.

I hope you read this, and maybe think it over. I hope you understand I’m just an average American joe, who has bills to pay and a life I want to live. I hope you can settle in and begin taking positive steps that will benefit all of us, not just a select few. I hope you realize we elected you precisely because you are an outsider, and we desire significant change in how D.C. does business.

I hope our county will be better off in four years.

I hope.

Morris Haywood



Have you noticed how home architecture has changed in recent years? We used to have homes with doors to each room. That’s rare these days; we’ve opted for something different, an open floor plan. No longer are families separated by walls and doors, they can see each other and communicate across vast spaces because of the absence of walls separating living and dining and kitchen areas. Only bedrooms seem to maintain the privacy status quo. 

I see a direct correlation between this phenomenon and our current social situation. We are no longer a people clustered in private, unseen groupings. Indeed, what was once visible only to a select few is now visible to all, thanks to the advent of the computer age and more specifically, the rise of social media.

Gays, lesbians, blacks, whites, rich and poor, middle class, Native Americans, Latinos, all seem to have a voice in the cacophony of social media. Everything is out in the open. No one is hidden anymore. With that comes the rise of special requests, the demands for change, the plurality of America reaching for a certain singularity. 

I was quite surprised watching the election returns, and yet I wasn’t that surprised. Disclaimer: though in my Facebook posts I declined to say who I voted for, I will do so now: I did vote for Trump. And why I voted for him is the result of a very anguished and tortured process that led me to think of Clinton, Johnson and only grudgingly, to Trump. I only made that decision just days before the election. Why? After all, he’s not anyone’s perfect candidate. Far from it, in fact.

And in this election, I wasn’t huddling behind a closed door in my own room. Neither was anyone else. We were walking around in an open-floorplan house, very aware of what our friends and neighbors were up to. This, quite frankly, is a new thing. The revulsion and exasperation we felt is precisely the result of our love of social media, and the stripping away of all that was once quite private. We’re not hiding, anymore. 

What follows are my takeaways from this very strange election.

1. Both Parties were repudiated. 

Those who are decrying and horrified that such a candidate as Trump could possibly be elected need to realize one thing: This wasn’t a repudiation of Hillary Clinton and Democrat platform ideals. Far from it. This was a repudiation, yes, but it wasn’t just against the Democrats. This was an outright revolt against the Republicans as well. Think about it, Trump defeated 16 seasoned politicians in the primary races, GOP stalwarts all (except Carson), handily. How was this possible? Trump, an outsider, a non-politician! 


The voters were saying in very clear terms, “Okay, Washington, you’ve had your fun. But you have ignored us, all of us, for a very long time now, and we are sick of it. We are telling you your job is to represent us,  not the rich special interest groups who fill your coffers with cash and do so expecting special favors. We are telling you to stop shutting down the government like a bunch of crybabies when you don’t get your way. We are telling you to stop casting people who receive benefits (millions) as leaches when you allow corporations to receive basically corporate welfare (billions) and allow them to avoid paying their fair share. We are telling you to stop giving benefits we paid for to folks who are here illegally. We are telling you to stop raiding the Social Security fund, failing to pay it back, and then claiming the system is ‘broken’ and tell us we need to make do with less in our Social Security check. Less?? (One question, Washington: How?) We are saying, you need to get back to the business of real government, finding real solutions to real problems that affect real people.” 

2. Breakdown of the civil order. 

The voters were also saying in very clear terms, they are tired of the so-called protests and riots and road-blocking every time a police officer shoots a black person. The nation is weary of these so-called protests–fueled by instantaneous social media–which were in fact riots which led to looting, burning and beatings of whites and others. Many, not all, of these shootings were justified, but I’ll be the first to admit I think our police training is in need of overhaul. There have been those too quick to shoot without working to de-escalate situations, and that is a shame. I think there is ample room for discussion here. But discussion becomes quite limited when half a city is going up in flames and  Molotov cocktails are being thrown. This “us vs. them” mentality needs to go. Certainly, there are bad cops out there. And there are bad people who are black, white, Latino, Asian and so on… I’ve said it before, no one has a monopoly on virtue. But America is tired of the rioting and looting and burning of our towns. I don’t see much constructive discussion coming when the police feel the need to double down on people because they’re out of control. And real conversation is sorely needed in this day and age regarding how police respond to threatening situations. The Democrat’s failure to distinguish between legitimate protests and destructive rioting did not go unnoticed by the vast majority of Americans. And sending representatives to funerals of young black men killed while in the process of committing crimes is a slap in the face of all who live their lives peacefully and according to the law. 

3. Emotional voting begets emotional responses

Look, I get it. People, especially young people, get excited over their candidates and their issues. But I have to sound a note of caution: Emotive voting is dangerous, because it leads to emotive responses if the beloved candidate loses. In every election, someone will lose. That’s the way it works. I know, it can be bitterly disappointing. Heartbreaking, even. But to have to run to a “safe space” to have a “cry-in” over the lost election is absurd. You are adults. You cast a vote. Your vote counted. If you didn’t win, that’s the way it works. Sure, be upset! Commiserate with your friends, have a drink or two, shed a tear, and then begin planning for the next election. This isn’t a vote for homecoming queen, this is serious business about the future of our country. Getting caught up in a “movement” is fine, but movements come and go. My hope is that young folks will temper the desires of their heart with the logic in their heads. 

Corollary to that is the response to the election. Protesting? Burning the flag? Blocking highways? See Number 2, above. Let’s be honest. Protest is something to do when there is an actual wrong committed against you. Your vote was stolen? Protest. Ballot boxes burned or dumped in a lake? Protest. You were turned away from a voting site by bigots determined to prevent you from voting? Yes, absolutely, protest. But you don’t have a mandate to protest just because you don’t like the outcome of the election. 

And on the other side, making derogatory comments, spitting, painting “White Power” graffiti and other nonsense is even more repulsive. Celebration is one thing. Spitting on people and calling them names and taunting them with threats of deportation is quite another, and despicable. That just makes those who do those things the very racist jerks they were portrayed to be by the media leading up to the election. Celebration is fine. Celebratory gloating and assault are decidedly not. People like that sicken me even more than the losers of the election protesting. 

4. There really is a longing to return to the days of Mayberry and Ward and June Cleaver, but not for the reasons you think…

I read over and over prior to the election that there was an element that wants America to return to the simple old days where we could live like Andy Taylor and Opie, or Ward and June Cleaver and Beaver and Wally, with all that wholesome goodness. Invariably, this was dismissed with scorn and derision as though someone professed they believed the earth was flat. Seriously, those TV fantasies were as fictitious then as now. But that said, there really is a longing to return to those days. But it has nothing to do with women’s place being in the kitchen and and blacks (and other minorities) “knowing their place” and the white man “reigning supreme.” None of that. At all. It has to do with basic economics. Because for all that period’s faults, one thing is very true: One decent job could pay for a house, pay all the bills, buy a car and a TV set and decent furniture, and buy plenty of food, and still have enough left over to save for college and retirement. If there are folks looking back and longing for the good old, days, that is why. Not the racist, sexist, homophobic crap. They want to quit having to work four to five jobs between two people just to make ends meet. My grandfather lived to be just over 90. He and my grandmother were simple folk, they worked in the hosiery mill and farmed a bit (peanuts and other crops) and went to church on Sunday. When they died, well, I don’t know exactly how much they saved, but it was nearly half a million dollars. Yes, you heard that correctly. They lived frugally and socked away nearly half a million dollars in 6o years of working.

That is what people want. They want that kind of opportunity for their lives today. It won’t come, not in this lifetime. But if we could convince our leaders that our lives would be better if we had that kind of economic opportunity once again, well then, imagine what our lives would be like. 

Yes, I know, wasn’t Clinton promising that? And would not her ideas be just as likely, if not more so, to accomplish that? Time will tell. She lost because I think people viewed her as a vote for the same old, same old Washington crap. She’s the consummate Washington insider, and this election was about rejecting that. 


5. Obamacare hurt. 

I suspect that this election turned on one thing in particular: the exorbitant cost of healthcare. The promise of better, and lower costs of, healthcare never materialized for the middle class. In fact the opposite happened. Many on the lower end of the salary spectrum qualified for subsidies to offset the costs, but after a certain point, people were on their own, and the total costs were disastrous. Seriously, deductibles reaching $3000 to $5000 per year? Exactly who has that kind of money laying around? And insurance premiums, once a percentage of, say, a monthly mortgage, are now often way above the cost of a mortgage. Who can afford that? And now, of course, if you can’t afford it, you get slapped with a big penalty. That’s where a lot of the anger came from. Having the insurance companies release figures saying that people’s premiums were going to rise drastically again just before the election probably doomed Clinton more than anything. 

6. There really is a great divide.

This election fell along very sharp lines: rural vs. urban. Not white and black, not rich and poor, not gay vs. straight or most any other binary division out there, save one. It was the hip urban areas on the one hand and the poor vast, rural country on the other.A quick look at the map bears this out. And this also corresponds to some extent with education. Fewer folk in rural areas have college degrees, which makes sense. There are fewer jobs that require a degree in a small town in Iowa, for example. But one huge mistake the liberal elite made was to assume “uneducated” actually meant “dumb.” Thus they tended to classify Trump supporters as dumb, racist, homophobic, xenophobic and so on. To their misfortune. 

Look, I worked in EMS. In many cases the highest education there is an associate degree from a community college. Most didn’t have that, just the required certification courses to work in EMS. Yeah, I met some dumb folks. But the majority were smart. Very smart, often. I have three college degrees and with all my education, there were people, men and women, I worked with who clearly were smarter than me. You’d better be glad, too. After all, these are the folks who will save your life when your heart stops beating.

All too often, “uneducated” is code among the elites for “dumb,” but I know for a fact that is the most unfair and idiotic classification one can subscribe to. And those who subscribe to the elitist views “We’re right, our views are the only ones that matter, anyone who doesn’t agree with us is just plain racist and sexist, etc.” really don’t understand. Since the mid 1990’s when NAFTA went down, these rural Americans have felt the boot of the American Oligarchy on their necks, and the last thing they needed from the Bush and Obama Administrations was more weight on that boot. But it came in the form of fewer and poorer job choices, outrageous healthcare costs and the inability to ever get ahead. To dismiss the plight of these rural Americans is just plain wrong, and the elites who made light of their situation got a serious wake-up call on Tuesday. Rural America scratched its head and asked, “White privilege? What fucking white privilege?” 

7. Trump supporters are a bunch of racist hicks. Not!  Hillary supporters are a bunch of libtards who want to give away all our money to illegals. Not! 

This election was dominated by social media. And it was by far the craziest I’ve ever seen. I saw some of the ugliness really come out in 2012, when people were actually calling President Obama a n****r and a coon. No holding back, there. Really, there’s no excuse for that shit. But it cut both ways, especially this time around. And the mainstream media played right along. “Trump is a racist!” people would scream. But consider the source. A mainstream news outlet reported Trump wanted to deport illegals. True, he said that. Then liberal bloggers and websites started with, “Trump is against Latino/Hispanic people!” And then the Facebook posts start, “Trump is a racist!” Then, “If you support Trump that makes YOU a racist, too!” See how quickly one statement turns to dirge? Consider the sources, folks. If your only source of info is the echo chambers of like-minded liberals or conservatives, you will never get a clear picture of the truth. And the truth is so sorely needed in this day and age. Yes, Trump has said some deplorable things. But so has Hillary Clinton. Remember the book from one of her Secret Service detail describing how rude and nasty she was to the people under her? You get a good measure of how a person really is by how they treat those in a lesser station than they are. And it’s not very good ethics to treat those who serve you with contempt. So yes, both candidates got a lot of mud slung at them via Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and the biased news sources. Oh, screw that. They got a lot of shit slung at them! To me, it was childish, immature, and ultimately unnecessary. The truth is, Donald Trump is a compassionate man who is well aware of his good fortune, and has helped people from all walks of life in countless situations. And Hillary Clinton really cares about people and especially helping minorities and those of various nationalities find a place in this country, as well as helping lower income Americans rise above their stations. There is good about both of them. The election didn’t need the level of vitriol it obtained to determine that. Ultimately, none of that mattered. What did matter is that the people rejected a Washington insider and chose to elect a Washington outsider. They spoke to him clearly: shake it up. In a big way. 

8. The Electoral College really is needed

I’ve seen so many posts on Facebook lately that the Electoral College needs to be abandoned. Why? Take a look at the map. An ocean of red with tiny islands of blue. And yet if the vote count remains true, Hillary won the popular vote. So why don’t we just do away with the Electoral College and just accept the popular vote? Sounds reasonable, right? 


Almost reasonable, but no. 

Look at the map. The red areas totally dominate. It’s not even close. And that’s important. For if we did away with the Electoral College, the entire election would be determined by people living in a very small geographic area. As one of my friends put it, if you did away with it, the entire vote would be determined by the State of California. Not exactly my recipe for a fair election. It seems our Founding Fathers knew what they were up to. They foresaw this very kind of situation happening. It would be mighty tiresome watching to see who the cities would elect, year after year, and the resentment would grow, and grow, and grow. Because no one else would ever have a voice. Ever. 

 9. Yes, Virginia, there is a conclusion

We have so much work to do. Our education system is in shambles, our infrastructure is crumbling, banks and Wall Street rake in billions in bubble economies which leave people effectively broke, there is a massive salary divide between top level managers and the average worker, our healthcare system is a joke, the list goes on and on and on. I began this essay with the observation we’re no longer living in blocked off rooms, so to speak, but in a new reality of open floorplan living. Our lives are no longer private, by choice. We tweet and Facebook everything from meals to bowel movements. We create memes to destroy our neighbor’s candidates and we tweet false facts. Just like the housing crisis was a bubble that destroyed America’s economy, we are living in an inflated sense of our own words.

But just because we have a voice doesn’t mean we have, or deserve, an audience. And that inflation of many people’s own words crashed in a big way Tuesday. So many folks never saw it coming. In the last days before the election, I began to suspect the tide had turned for Trump. One Facebook post did it for me, from a guy I know who was shocked at his new insurance premiums. His wasn’t the only such post, but the level of response to his statements made me think, this is a very angry America. 

All of us were wrong to so blindly trust the Federal Government to solve our problems. Of course, the Native Americans knew that a hundred years ago. So, how do we fix it? 

Communicate. Tell the corporations you disagree with their prices, and why. Or their cheap products, and why. Tell the boards of directors of corporations you disagree with their failure to pay decent wages. Tell the banks you will take your business elsewhere if they continue to charge exorbitant fees. Tell the grocery stores we will not purchase poisoned and dangerous food products. And so on. This election isn’t over. Every time we venture outside with credit card in hand we are voting approval of our current system, or not. Tell your Senators and Congressmen and Congresswomen you like or don’t like what they are doing, and more importantly, tell them what you think needs to be done. You get the idea. You aren’t dumb. Speak! Shout! Let your voices be heard from the Capitol Hill rafters! 

All I know is, our system really hasn’t been working for a very long time, but Donald Trump is only one person. Real change begins with us. 

Get busy.




It’s inevitable, I suppose, but Facebook is a major factor in our lives. So much so, that it has become our de facto news source, entertainment center and water cooler. And much more. 

That being the case, we’re wont to notice trends as they appear in our news feeds, given enough attention. And really, certain trends require little attention at all. They are simply plastered all over our news feed, often in flashing neon and Day-Glo orange. 









Nice, isn’t it, when you open your news feed to see the rainbow on fire? That’s pretty much it, as I have folks from every persuasion on my friends list, every color of the rainbow, so to speak, represented. And instead of that rainbow being a thing of beauty, it has become a menace. A glowing, radioactive, angry menace. They have erupted into verbal wars on my page before, once when I was on a trip without a computer and my earlier smart phone was incapable of deleting the offending parties until I got back thirty hours later. My page was smoldering when I did so. 

The above examples are the kinds of things I see daily on my feed. If you have any divergence in your friends list, you probably do, too. Or perhaps you cater to only one viewpoint among friends, and you only have one type of diatribe that shows up regularly. 

But here’s my question. Doesn’t it feel, well, wrong, somehow? 

Whatever happened to jovial, good-natured conversation, where points of view could be debated with politeness and civility? Is this what it has come to? Imaginary lines drawn in imaginary sand over the issues? I’m no idealist. But honestly, this trend of bashing the hell out of those who disagree with us is alarming and confusing to me. We don’t have a history of decimating those who disagree with us outside of war. We just disagreed and didn’t worry too much about it. I don’t get it. 

One thing I do get, with crystal clarity: We are becoming a nation of extremists. 

All it takes is a few folks who rant and rave on FB, and the rest tend to nod along like so many bobblehead dolls, without really thinking about what the ranters are saying. And it seems to me the rants and raves have become increasingly polarized of late. Louder, more hate-filled, more passionate, more suggestive. And I suppose the point is not that this is so much accepted communication, but in a world where everything is a status update away from being changed, only the loudest and most obnoxious and most vile posts will be noticed. 

I can’t really blame them, though. Attention hounds will always be loud and obnoxious. 

Shame on us, instead, for giving them an audience. We should know better. 




My last blog post, on the passing of Rev. Will D. Campbell, brought a flood of memories to me. Mainly of my time in seminary and the work I did to answer God’s call, all in the context of a looming shadow slowly drifting over the Baptist landscape of the time.

A bit of history. In the 1970’s, two prominent Baptists viewed with alarm at what they considered “liberal” teachings at our Southern Baptist seminaries. They, Judge Paul Pressler and the Rev. Dr. Paige Patterson, helped engineer a conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, beginning in 1979. The church I went to was very conservative and my pastor warned me about the evils of liberals in those institutions. Especially at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. I chose to go to Southeastern, calmly assured my faith was strong and unshakable.  Naturally, I believed in the inerrant and infallible Word of God.

It didn’t take long for my professors to start making an impression on me. I began realizing when you start adding doctrines and theories such as the writers of the Bible merely being “human pens” so that God could write his Word, it didn’t make a lot of sense. I can’t find a theory or explanation of the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible in the Bible. Thus, it is merely a human idea, and thus, not one worthy of my time or energy to defend or promote.  I considered it a lesser theory because it leads, in my opinion, to faith being built on shaky ground. My faith is built on the Bible, not theories about the Bible. It is, I think, crucial to understand the difference.

So, I tossed inerrancy and those related theories out the window. But the conservative movement had continued to grow, fueled by Reagan’s presence in the White House and the near-hysteria of the proponents of the movement in insisting on the removal of the “liberals” from our churches and seminaries. And believe me, these conservatives most certainly did believe those theories. In their entirety.

The stage was set then for a major clash.

When the conservatives finally gained a majority on Southeastern’s Board of Trustees, students and faculty alike staged massive protests. We painted signs, wore ribbons to signify “courage” and vowed to sit in the trustee meeting and not move if they made a move to go into executive session. The conservatives lashed out at us, deriding us for creating “an orchestrated climate of intimidation.”

You betcha! I was in the thick of it, being on an ad-hoc steering committee that worked to get the signs painted, prepare responses and spread the word to those around us. We wanted the conservative trustees to understand how we felt, that this intrusion into academic freedom was not a welcome thing. As baptists, we don’t believe in creeds. Our guiding principle is the preisthood of the believer, the belief that God will work miracles in his own way in his own time with each individual, and that does not depend on following a rigid belief system for it’s efficacy. Faith is not a pick-and-choose menu.  Our little movement spread to all the seminary campuses, but not for long.

Of course, they did what they came to do. Within five years, all but one professor had left. The seminary and its marvelous faculty was gone, dispersed like seeds in the wind. Some have passed away now, and a few are still teaching. I count it a great tragedy that the conservatives sought the ouster of these talented and compassionate men and women.  Oh, and by the way, I only met one professor at the seminary I could call a “liberal,” and even that is debatable.

And we all moved on. Graduated, moved out to begin ministry in all kinds of settings. I am proud of my involvement in those days. I don’t relive it much, though.

And here’s why. With the fighting of a certain movement, labels became necessary. Conservative, Fundamentalist, Liberal, Moderate. Thus I was a moderate Baptist or moderate Christian, not holding extreme views, but not subscribing to the fundamentalist doctrine of biblical inerrancy. That doesn’t mean I think the Bible is false, for crying out loud. It just means I don’t agree with their theory of inerrancy, at least the way they present it.

So we became a carefully labeled Baptist society, conservative Baptist, modern Baptist, and so on. In due time, I’ve come to realize something. That’s not workable.

“What am I?” is the question that occurs as I wonder what appellation to ascribe to myself. More and more over the years, such designations make me increasingly uncomfortable. Am I, or is anyone, less or more of a Christian, a follower, by qualifying such appellations with words such as liberal, conservative, moderate, fundamentalist?

I think not.

And I suspect the question itself might be part of the problem. What am I? or Who am I? Maybe it is better without the qualifier.

Am I?

Or am I not?

I am a follower of Christ. I am living my life in accordance with his teachings, revealed in the Bible. As a person of faith, I am cogent of the workings of the Holy Spirit to guide my thinking and help me better understand my place in this world.  I am ready to act on my faith when presented with a situation that calls for it.

Or, I am not. I think it is that simple, when we get right down to it.

I AM, of course, is the answer God gave Moses at the burning bush, when Moses asked who he was.  And that problematic answer seems to make a lot more sense when I quit trying to qualify it with modifiers.  In other words, God is saying to Moses, “Moses, quit beating around this here bush and get your ass in gear! Because I AM.”


I am either a follower of Christ or I am not. Anything beyond that is to invite something besides faith to live within us. And that troubles me mightily.



Will CampbellI was greatly saddened to learn this week of the passing of Rev. Will D. Campbell, the renegade preacher whose life and ministry were shaped by the tumultuous changes that occurred in the landscape of 1950’s and 1960’s America. Perhaps no other writer or theologian helped shaped my views more than he did.

Campbell, often dismissed as a flaming liberal, a rabble-rouser or agitator, was in fact not so easily pinned down. He worked in the area of civil rights, yes. He denounced institutions that denied civil rights to poor, non-white Americans. He denounced churches that by wink and nod, allowed the perpetuation of the disenfranchising of the less fortunate and those of different skin color.

But he also was right at home with Klansmen, redneck society (he gladly admitted to being a redneck himself) and staunch conservatives who either shared or rejected his views, but loved him just the same. His easy movement between both worlds, liberal academia and redneck conservatism, earned him many detractors. I can think of One who also had similar criticisms.

There are many whose words are similar. They too, have, spoken forcefully for change and a better life for those affected by racism, economic disadvantage, and other societal pressures that break the backs of those Jesus called “the least of these my brethren.”

But Campbell didn’t preach his words from an office in an ivory tower. He found it impossible to work in any conventional churches. The steeples, as he called them, too often existed as repositories for exclusiveness and institutional demagoguery, in spite of the creeds which commanded them to love all people, and do unto others as they would want done to them.

As such, his congregation consisted of his farm, his animals, and the many who called upon him for advice and counsel. He was at times a profane man, quite able to to let loose a string that would make a sailor proud. He appreciated a fine sipping whisky, and was known to make a batch of moonshine from time to time. He chewed and spit tobacco.

He was also a brilliant writer and theologian. His star rose following his ouster as chaplain at the University of Mississippi, and during his appointment as race relations specialist with the National Council of Churches. He met with leaders in the civil rights movement far and wide, and even met with Robert Kennedy and other leaders in the White House to help the young attorney general form a picture of what needed to be done. Kennedy mentioned to the men present that the government was beginning to use the new wiretapping technologies to gather information on those committing the crimes. Campbell writes, “Most of us in the room were thinking the same thing. But none of us said it: Doesn’t this man know that our telephones are already being tapped–and for the precise reason he was suggesting–national defense, subversion?”  Following his tenure with the National Council of Churches, he began a long career as a writer, writing a veritable armload of delightful fiction and non-fiction alike.

My acquaintance with Rev. Campbell began in 1984, I believe. I went on a mission trip to Comer, GA, with our Wingate College campus minister, Dr. Jim McCoy. We had some great discussions on faith and practice during the week. At one point, our speaker was discussing the death penalty (with a definite left-leaning approach). I thought about it and ventured a view that the punishment really isn’t the issue. At heart, to me, is the issue of forgiveness according to Jesus’ words. Whether death or life in prison, a criminal is nonetheless removed from society. The question to me was, are we capable of being forgiving to those who do us wrong, even an ultimate wrong? I recall Jim looked at me and raised an eyebrow, and smiled.  I knew he had something up his sleeve for me.

After the group broke up from discussion, he went over to a library on site and pulled Campbell’s incredible memoir Brother to a Dragonfly. (Proceed directly to Amazon and order a copy for yourself. It is that good, and that worthy, the kind of book you want to grab people by the lapels over to let them know it’s there).

Jim found a passage related to what we were discussing and asked me to read it. I immediately grasped that this was no ordinary book. It was astonishing. I proceeded to read the entire book over the next three days, returning it only with great reluctance when we left. As soon as we returned, I purchased my own copy.

In short, Campbell upended my own naive, thou-shalt-not, Sunday School lessons-based faith and forced me to realize how pitiful were my own shallow attempts to follow Christ. He never saw the need to use Church Talk, constantly sprinkling conversation with “Praise the Lord!” or “Amen!”  to let people know he was a Christian. His life was his faith. Acted out, performed, lived, and Will Campbell couldn’t care less what you or anyone else thought of him, especially when he went contrary to social norms and mores of the day.

Oh yeah, leftist and liberal on some issues. But I know many conservatives who would be nodding and grinning at his recounting the days of the New Deal in the 1930s when his father got fired from a WPA job, and the brutally painful opening of one’s private life to government agents so they could receive assistance. The assistance was mostly food, but they lived on a farm. They had plenty of food. At the height of the Great Depression, they needed money to pay the bills with. As he pointed out, government programs were inefficient, wasteful and begun at the wrong end of need.

Gradually, as the narrative unfolds, we see Campbell’s own understandings of the world around him take shape. Unlike so many who complacently accept it without question, Brother Will would begin to wonder why things were they way they were. Would they, could they, not be different?

A quick glance at the book, if that’s all right.

Brother to a Dragonfly is a memoir of Will’s relationship with his troubled brother, Joe, who died of a drug overdose. And a memoir of his work in the civil rights era.

P.D. East was a like-minded liberal who didn’t believe much in the way of God. Not surprisingly, Campbell was his friend. The two of them and Joe were drinking one evening, and P. D. had pushed Campbell for a definition of Christianity in ten words or less. Because he, P. D. East, didn’t understand it. Ten words.

Campbell mulled it over and came up with, “We’re all bastards but God loves us anyway.”

Earlier in the day a preacher and civil rights worker Jonathon Daniel and his friend were shot to death by a rural deputy, Thomas Coleman, for no apparent reason than the fact they were civil rights workers. Campbell knew Jon Daniel, and called connections in the Justice Department and other government offices, using words like “cracker, backwoods, wool hat, Kluxer,” and many others. He as angry and distraught. But P. D. saw something else.

So P. D. pursued him. “Come on, Brother, let’s talk about your definition…Was Jonathon a bastard?”

(Campbell) I said I was sure that everyone is a sinner in one way or another but that he was one of the sweetest and most gentle guys I had ever known.

(P. D.) “But was he a bastard?” His tone was almost a scream. “Now that’s your word, not mine. You told me…that everybody is a bastard. That’s a pretty tough word. I know. Because I am a bastard. A born bastard. A real bastard. My Mamma wasn’t married to my Daddy. Now, by god, you tell me, right now, yes or no, and not maybe, was Jonathon Daniel a bastard?”

(Campbell) I knew that if I said no he would leave me alone and if I said yes, he wouldn’t. And I knew my definition would be blown if I said no.

So I said “Yes.”

(P. D.) “All right. Is Thomas Coleman a bastard?”

(Campbell) That one was a lot easier. “Yes, Thomas Coleman is a bastard.”

(P. D.) “Okay, let me get this straight now. I don’t want to misquote you. Jonathon Daniel was a bastard. Thomas Coleman is a bastard. Right?”

Joe the Protector was on his feet.

(Joe) “Goddammit, P. D., that’s a sacrilege. Knock it off, get off the kid’s back!”

P. D. ignored him, pulling his chair closer to mine, placing his huge, bony hand on my knee. “Which one of these two bastards do you think God loves the most?” His voice now was almost a whisper as he leaned forward, staring me directly in the eyes…

…Suddenly everything became clear. Everything. It was a revelation. The glow of the malt which we were well into by then seemed to illuminate and intensify it. I walked across the room and opened the blind, staring directly into the glare of the street light. And I began to whimper. But the crying was interspersed with laughter.

…”P. D.?

“Yea, Brother?

“I’ve got to amend the definition…We’re all bastards but you’ve got to be the biggest bastard of us all.”

“How’s that, Brother?”

Because, damned if you ain’t made a Christian out of me. And I’m not sure I can stand it.”

Campbell writes that that moment was a true conversion for him. The point where he finally understood the full nature of grace and forgiveness. For if Jon Daniel, a servant and minister of Christ, was loved, then grace means that the evil Thomas Coleman, who murdered him and his friend–two innocent men–was also loved. And if loved, forgiven. His ministry took a radical turn then, no longer focusing on “liberal” causes such as race relations. He became a minister to all people, focusing his time and attention to bringing the Good News to liberals, conservatives, fundamentalists, rednecks, Ku Klux Klansmen, and so on.

Reading his words was a revelation, and an affirmation, for me as well. I had already begun to be disheartened at what I viewed as lip service to those in need by the institutions purporting to help them. When injustices occurred, where was the outrage? Isn’t following Christ supposed to be a radical experience? Putting us at odds with society when society is engaged in hurting or oppressing those who aren’t exactly like us? All too often, I saw the church as not only complacent in these matters, but actually partners in the kind of evil Campbell resisted. These days my ire has been directed more at corporate America, those bastions of unimaginable wealth who work in harmony to insure the poor and middle class stay appropriately poor and strained.

Unexpectedly, my own path became one quite similar to Campbell’s. Yeah, I preached sermons that some folks disagreed with, and one fellow actually walked out on. Yeah, I was shown the door a few months later. I can chuckle over that now. I figure, if I can preach a sermon that makes folks uncomfortable, I’m probably doing something right. I exited the ministry in the early 1990’s, at least full-time, church-sponsored ministry. But I have continued to do counseling, have performed marriages, funerals and other sundry duties of the office. That is what my calling is, not dressing up in a fancy robe and occupying a plush office in a nice, affluent church. The trappings of the job are never the job, and I’m grateful to Campbell for making sure I understood the difference early on.

It’s funny, I actually communicated with him in the late 1980’s. As my education was nearing completion I was contemplating the ordination process, and wondered who might help conduct the ordination service. I immediately thought of Will Campbell. And I noted with no small amount of glee he was in North Carolina at the time, as a writer-in-residence at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. I wrote to him, care of the University, and inquired if he might be available.

Two weeks later he wrote back, the letter banged out on his typewriter with a heavy hand, complete with smudge marks and correction fluid. After some preamble, he said, “Morris, I thank you for your kind words, but you must understand. I’m not trying to gather disciples, I’m trying to BE a disciple! For your ordination, the steeples do a fine job preparing you for that, and I would encourage you to look closer to home.” I folded his letter and smiled. Once again, he had managed to teach me a lesson.

Grace is something that compels us to look twice and think again, that moment where you suddenly say, “Oh!” That evening with P. D. East and his brother Joe, Will Campbell was given pause to think again over his previously held assumptions on what it means to be a Christian, and to be the forgiver, a true forgiver. He experienced grace, with a capital G.

And in reading his works, he has elevated me to understand that compassion is not a matter of sympathy. I often had little sympathy in treating patients on my ambulance, knowing full well they often brought their misfortune upon themselves. But in practicing compassion, I made sure they received the best care I could give, regardless of my feelings. And I’ve been moved to fill a tank of gas for someone a long ways from home, or hand over a few dollars to a beggar, unsure if they were really needy or if their money had been spent on drugs or whatnot. It doesn’t matter. I want to give, if someone really needs it.

Compassion is what I do, not what I feel. And somehow, I think grace is understanding the difference between the two.

So, I thank you, Brother Will. I thank you for your writings, your lessons, and your kind words to me. I grieve your passing, but I have no choice but to celebrate your life. So, my little glass of Jack Daniels is raised in a toast to you.

Godspeed, good brother.

I spend some time on Facebook, as many of us do. I have friends decidedly right-wing, who spend alot of time railing against Obama and the present administration. I have friends also who are decidedly left-wing, blasting any view or commentary that originates from the right-wing view.

 And there is me. I have never fit either of these categories very well. I’m reminded of a theology professor who stated in class, “You know, I disagree with many of the conservative viewpoints, but I don’t mind telling you, I stand shoulder to shoulder with them on abortion. I think it’s dead wrong, except in certain circumstances.”

I don’t care to share my views on abortion in this little epistle. It’s not relevant to my topic. I do mention my professor’s words because he brings out a good point. He was saying, in effect, “Don’t hold me to the party line. I make my own decisions about things, thank you very much.” Amen to that!

To an extent, that is me. I personally think that most folks who vote a straight Democratic or Republican ticket have traded their brains for a bumper sticker mentality. Only rarely have I met someone who can state views backed by research on each and every topic brought before the body politic. The one who can say, “Liberal, liberal, liberal, no—conservative on that one…” is one I tend to respect more highly. They show evidence of thinking, and even more than that, integrating their thoughts with who they are as people. I find that commendable.

 Thus what follows is neither conservative nor liberal, nor necessarily in-between. It is my thinking of what I would do if I were leading the country. Note, I don’t say “President.” Because what I am suggesting here may well fall outside the realms of legality for the office of the Presidency, or at least the reach of it. So, let’s just say I was the leader, even a behind the scenes leader. What would I do?

The very first thing would be to allow the government to come to a halt. Allow Social Security to be paid, Medicare to function, our military to remain in place. Federal law enforcement would continue for the moment. What then?

I would first outline a plan to bring as many of the current drains of federal tax dollars (overseas aid, funding studies that don’t save human lives, worthless make-work programs, etc.) to the table. And I would begin the painful but necessary cutting and removing of those programs and aid dollars. To be frank, as far as foreign aid goes, I do not see the necessity when we can’t even take care of our people at home. If the people of Pakistan get a free handout from the good old US of A, then surely John and Jane Smith on Main Street do, too. Next I would then begin the process of decentralizing the federal government, returning these programs to the states, should they choose to keep them alive.

The main focus here is a return to the states’ powers to function as true states. In other words, strip the United States of its power, and return that power to the individual states.

We seem to have gotten away from that, and there was a time when the states ruled supreme; Washington was more an afterthought. When people wanted something done, they spoke to the governor. Why not return to that mode of thinking? If Virginia sees something worthwhile about Pakistan, for example, they would be welcome to send money there, if they have it.

Gone would be the IRS, INS, so many agencies and bureaucracies that penny by penny, drain the American taxpayer. Each state can have its own set of rules and enforcement procedures. If they want no immigration, for example, they can set up their own set of rules for determining who is granted citizenship and who is not.

I think that ultimately, these issues are the right of the people to decide. While our founding fathers may have been wise in creating a republic, and not a true democracy, it is painfully obvious to me we have not had any real say-so in what goes on in Washington in a long time. Liberals cling with desperation to outmoded programs of entitlement that permit the idle and lazy to receive benefits and cash and perpetuate a do-nothing lifestyle. Conservatives likewise have their own pet friends and causes, and one truly abhorrent one is their cozying up to Big Business and Big Bank. And Big Business has shown us all just what kind of friend they are: in their ever-increasing zeal to keep profits sky-high and costs low, they have sold us out. They take gargantuan tax breaks and then lay off entire US workforces, hiring Chinese, Indian, Malaysian, and other nationalities to benefit. Another thing: they also manage to stuff trillions of dollars into off-shore accounts. Tax free.

Friends and neighbors, this is not a pretty picture. We have two sides who can’t seem to find any common ground, and is it any wonder? They are both clinging to false idols, idols who laugh quietly behind their backs and continue to insist on their dollars for federally funded programs or tax breaks so they can shaft us some more.

I, for one, have had enough.

The problem for me, as I see it, is the entrenched District of Columbia political machine, so powerful no one can seem to touch it. It is like some dangerous, powerful creature lurking in the seas, giant tentacles touching every facet of American life. Decisions are made over whiskey, and tea, and coffee, in hallways and houses. Who has time for the average citizen when, by God, there’s a Power Meeting to go to?

Who needs this? They quit listening to us a long time ago. And my question is, who will listen? I don’t know, but I would put a lot more money on Raleigh, NC than I would Washington, D.C.

Is it possible for us to rethink the whole thing? To return that power to the states, giving them control of their financial destiny? I think, in reading the Constitution, that the original framers had something like that in mind from the start. Remember, the states weren’t all that excited about a Federal government to start with. Having just defeated one tyrant, they were fearful of creating another. And that issue kept the federal government small indeed. It provided leadership in the international arena, armed forces to protect us, and courts to appeal to when needed.

It wasn’t until the twentieth century that the current ideas of taxation really came into play. In 1913, the Sixteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution, giving Congress the right to levy income taxes for the first time, although the government imposed tariffs and other taxes up to that point. But it snowballed from there into a huge give-and-take mess. Corporations worth billions are given complete tax breaks (see G.E., for example) while the average citizen (me, for instance) is struggling to pay a $1600 tax bill, complete with threatening letters from the IRS.

In my view, I would abolish federal income tax, and with it, the IRS. Instead, I would then allow the states to levy a proper level of taxation. Honestly, as I have said before, ten percent should be plenty. Or a graduated tax rate, zero for the truly destitute, five percent for those in poverty level, ten percent for those of comfortable middle class, fifteen percent, and so on. I’ve never believed it to be constitutional, or fair, for the government to impose a fifty-percent tax rate on someone just because they make a lot of money. With the states responsible for income tax, they can then send a portion to fund the federal government, or what remains of it.

And each state knows better than the federal government what its citizens need. The poor and destitute could be helped by welfare in New York, for example, and with work programs in North Carolina. Or whatever suits the states’ fancy. In other words, the power and the money to make and implement those decisions and programs resides with each state, not the federal government.

The same would hold true for natural and cultural resources, police agencies, prison systems, and so on. I would eliminate the federal court system, insomuch as it exists for federal crimes. The federal courts would be for appeals beyond the state level, only. All these agencies we have taken for granted in our lifetime would then become properties of the states, with the states tasked with adjusting them and carrying them out on the local level.

Of course, this is all just a pipe dream. And I am not advocating a Tea Party type of reductionism. I have seen nothing in the Tea Party ideas to indicate they have a much better proposal. While the idea of reduced government is laudable, it isn’t possible. Again, the entrenched District power-beast lurks beneath the waters, snaring any and all who attempt to effect change. My idea, in effect, is to kill the monster, not wound it.

No, my idea is best understood as removal of federal powers, not reducing them. Reducing government’s power is only a short-term solution, one that will take just a few years or maybe decades to grow back to and exceed the previous levels. Removing that kind of power makes better sense to me. Every state has a pretty firm grasp on what it needs and what it wants to accomplish. And they would be in the best position of all to determine their futures.

Yes, it is true, some states would be very rich. New York, Texas and California would lead that pack, no doubt. And some would be very poor. But they would not be as poor as they are now. Their hard-earned money would stay in the state, for the most part. And, again, they can then move forward to meet the needs of the populace without interference from Washington.

As I see it, it is Washington that is now the problem. They have catered long to the well-lined pockets of lobbyists and big business, resulting in a stalemate that permits no palpable progress to be made. Change is bad, absolute change is lethal to the District life. The federal government thrives on stalemate and opposition. And as one who dutifully paid taxes for years, all I can do is wonder precisely what I am getting out of it. More importantly, I wonder what my children will get.

This little essay came about as the result of a Facebook page: one of my friends listed her political views as “Impeach them all!!” She was joking, of course, but those words took root in my mind, and as I began to reflect, I wondered what would happen if indeed the federal government was removed from the center stage. I think we would need to retain the State Department, the presidency, the Supreme Court, and Congress, as well as a national military presence. The states would forward a percentage of the income taxes raised to fund those entities. We do need a national face and a working staff to deal with international matters. But it is the states where I believe the true power belongs. It was that way once, and I honestly believe the time has come when we need to embrace that ideal once again.