Tribal Connections

Whenever my life begins to feel too “cushy” – which is often since I’m a spoiled American Baby Booming corpulent white male with a loving/doting wife, a squared-away son, a reasonably functional family, early retirement, and a supportive church family – I sign up for a mission trip, foreign or domestic.

Which cures the spoiled-brat syndrome pronto.

If you embark on such an adventure, expect:  crushed legs on long flights, strange food clogging the septic system, strange water unplugging the septic system, flat-hard hotel beds, endless oversize bags full to maximum 49.9 pounds of cement-grade calcium carried up and down steps via human chain, sleepless nights filled with the cacophony of poultry crowing contests and spontaneous dog fights, mission beds made of burlap and two-by-fours, water-less showers until Angel Plumbers work their magic, twelve-hour days spent mostly on the feet, the ringing sound of eighty voices banging around the cement walls of the clinic, three languages bouncing in a Babel of towering intensity.

So, why do we subject ourselves to that?

Probably for the same reason soldiers return to Afghanistan seven-or-eight times.  Why firefighters rush into burning buildings.  Why doctors continue to practice medicine into their eighties, serving a network of friends they’ve made over a lifetime.

My personal physician, Paul Brown, Jr.,MD., has lead a mission team to Mexico for over thirty years.
Paul Brown, Jr., MD., leading missions for 30+ years.

They do it for the tribe.

Opinion:  we are designed by the Creator to function in small groups, say twenty-to-sixty people – all carrying different abilities (spiritual gifts) – a tribe where everyone has a job, everyone is respected for their contribution, and everyone is connected to a purpose outside their own agenda.

“In 1753, Benjamin Franklin wrote to a friend about a curious phenomenon in the American west. White prisoners rescued from Native American tribes were seizing the first chance they could to flee into the wilderness and rejoin their captors. There were no reports of native warriors migrating in the opposite direction. Perplexed, Franklin concluded that the errant whites must have become ‘disgusted with our manner of life’ despite being shown ‘all imaginable tenderness’ on their return.” (Source).

Sebastian Junger, author of Restrepo and The Perfect Storm, recently penned a book titled Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, which focuses on the War in Afghanistan and veterans’ mental health.  Junger writes:  “Today’s veterans often come home to find that, although they’re willing to die for their country, they’re not sure how to live for it.”

Instead of focusing on job training and social re-conditioning, we treat vets like pariahs and load them up on drugs while ignoring the root cause of their distress and side-stepping psychiatric care, which is expensive and time consuming.  We treat veterans as if they aren’t worth our time and effort after they return with lost limbs and shattered psyches.  The suicide rates for white males over sixty-five, many of whom are Vietnam vets, bears witness to these unresolved issues.

“In 2008 active duty and veteran military personnel abused prescription drugs at a rate that was more than twice the rate for the civilian population. In 2009, the VA estimated that around 13,000 vets from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from alcohol dependence syndrome and require veteran mental health treatment for this problem.” (Source)

After listening to Junger’s podcast, it occurred to me that we are indeed better beings when connected to a well-functioning small group, which is why churches, synagogues, mosques, Boy Scouts, Rotary, Lions Clubs, Crips, Bloods, and Hell Angels exist.

The last three will probably lead to harm, but the call of the tribe is embedded into our nature, and that is why making a conscious decision to serve on a positive team is a healthy choice.

Let’s take a look at contemporary suicide rates

White males accounted for 7 of 10 suicides in 2016; and, the rate of suicide is highest in middle age — white men in particular (The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention).

Sadly, suicides in all demographics have risen dramatically since 1999, though Hispanic males are much lower than white males.


The March 2018 medical mission I joined to Ixtepec, Tatoxcac, and Xochiapulco, Mexico offered unending examples of a high-functioning tribe  than I can list (starting with the angel who swapped her airline aisle seat twice for my leg-killing window view); furthermore, this team comes together bi-annually to bring medical care to under-served residents in the rugged mountains northeast of Puebla, Mexico. Nearly half of the folks treated were indigenous, speaking Totonaca, a native language “not closely related to other native languages in Mexico.”

Which required three levels of translation:  English – Spanish – Totonaca — and back again.

This year I was the “optometrist” which meant that I helped 320 folks find workable reading glasses over four days using two Bibles (the KJV, and a Totonaca New Testament), a spool of thread, a needle, a flashlight, and a pocket knife to cut plastic.  The spectacles were donated by the generous Lion’s Club Tribe.

The will to work is unshakable in this ninety-year old.
The will to work is unshakable in this ninety-year old.

My Spanish interpreter – Fany (pronounced Fanny), from the Methodist College in Puebla – was coming off a semester of concentrated French, so the combination of suddenly switching to English while simultaneously deciphering an unknown indigenous tongue wore on her along with all the physical challenges, yet she hung on to gain a second wind and finish the week admirably.

Local teens connected to the Ixtepec Methodist Church also saved the week by giving fully of themselves, obviously loving and cherishing their elderly by listening carefully to their needs, then translating them into Spanish, where Fany would pass it to me, and then back again.  Three hundred twenty times in four days.

Multiply that by the entire cohort of volunteers (approximately 120), and you begin to perceive the amount of coordination it takes to make this mission work.

Plus eleven months of planning and preparation up front.

Sebastian Junger claims that we need three essentials to live healthily and harmoniously: 1) we need to feel competent at what we do; 2)  we need to feel authentic in our lives; and, 3)  we need to feel connected to others.

Looking back at the suicide statistics, it must be noted that the Hispanic males take their own lives in much fewer numbers than Caucasian males.

“White men over the age of 65 commit suicide at almost triple that overall rate.  These men are also eight times more likely to kill themselves than are women of the same age group, and have almost twice the rate of all other groups of male contemporaries.

Disparities along ethnic lines for elderly males are also substantial. Compared with white males ages 65 and older, African American males (9.2 suicides per 100,000), Hispanic or Latino males (15.6), and Asian or Pacific Islander males (17.5) in the same age range had significantly lower suicide rates.”  (Source)

Research on the “why” is thin, but after spending a week in Ixtepec, casual observation of the culture exposed a deep connection to family, community, nature, and God:  all characteristics of a healthy tribe.

In contrast, the phenomenon of disconnected angry white American males sitting in dark rooms drinking alcohol and absorbing CNN or FOX is ending badly.

Imagine that.

Our Mexican patients exhibited a wide range of physical needs – missing teeth, scabies, parasites, allergies, an entire gamut of untreated ailments testing the knowledge and experience of the mission doctors, nurses, and pharmacists – but the local populations’ connectedness to the spirit, energy, patience, and genuine good nature lifted the hearts of all servants, Mexicans and Americans alike.

Pablo, a minister from another province, traveled to Ixtepec with his teenage son, both patiently washing, drying, and treating foot ailments.  Ricardo and LuLu traveled from Nicaragua to lead the translating team, and three other college students traveled with Fany from Puebla to sacrifice their free time and comfort to serve their country.

Foot Care
Foot Care via agape.

The exact ratio of Mexican-to-American servants on this mission is unknown, but it seemed like 3:1 as local teens, the church pastor’s family, and other Mexican missionaries – plus half the congregation – pitched in to make it work. Villagers lined the street to tote heavy bags down to the church the minute we arrived, and waited patiently for hours on end — often in the rain and wind – to receive their annual medical care.

We didn't ask for help, but we received it with joy.
We didn’t ask for help, but we received it with joy.

The Ixtepec-Tatoxcac-Xochiapulco clinics succeeds because everyone has a job – or three – everyone is valued for their contribution, and all are connected through Jesus Christ.

No matter where our travels take us – Johnson City, Ixtepec, Tasmania, wherever – if two-or-more are gathered in His name, we are connected. We are also connected by our willingness to serve, to share that last full measure of devotion that propels The Tribe.

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” Romans 12:1 NASB

My two previous mission trips to this beautiful mountainscape northeast of Puebla occurred in the late Nineties, and I must say there is a noticeable improvement in infrastructure – the highway from Puebla to the mountains is new and modern – plus the thirty-two years of medical mission work is revealed in the faces of the people, who look much healthier. Even the dogs show fewer ribs.

Waiting for the clinic to open ...
Waiting for the clinic to open …

The visiting team stood in awe of these patient, hard-working, community-loving, God-present, spiritually connected folk – The Tribe – functioning as it’s meant to be.

Meanwhile, reality-show Americans continue to back-stab each other on social media, ignore common values, highlight differences, suck down opioids and alcohol in record volumes, endlessly eyeball the latest fear-mongering headlines slanted to feed personal preferences, and commit suicide in record numbers.

Simultaneously, church attendance in North America is dropping like a rock.

Suicide stats don’t lie. Broken lives parading past our eyes don’t lie.

"How do you become an adult in a society that doesn't ask for sacrifice? How do you become a man in a world that doesn't require courage?"  -- Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

You don’t.

Those who serve rely on the tribe:  church family, Sunday school classes, spouses, and relatives, all connected through Christ – who finance our way, who donate medicine, eyeglasses and crutches, who pray for and bless our service with their love.

We certainly relied on the tribe in Mexico who fed, housed, worked diligently beside us, and have served faithfully for over thirty years.

From desert wanderers seeking the Promised Land … to disciples sharing the Good News … to medical missions serving the needy in foreign lands … The Tribe functions with efficiency through its unselfish connection to The One.

I don’t know about you, but I’m sticking with The Tribe.


Note:  More pictures here.

Trash Talk

You can’t make up this sort of thing.

People would laugh and throw disgusting objects at you for inserting blatant — although natural — irony into fiction.

Talking Trash
The Republican Plan

Trash talkers blocked every good thing President Obama tried to do for eight years, and beyond, regardless of how their obstruction negatively impacted the poor, the sick, the disenfranchised.

***

Obama picked Janet Yellen to lead the nation out of the an economic depression caused primarily by greed, which the present Orange Tweeter drinks with a ladle.

Regulations continue to die by the handfuls as we drive the economy right back into the 2008 hole hedge fund managers drove us into, a hole now ready for a second suck since we’ve already forgotten the purpose those regulations had in the first place.

Janet Yellen, first female federal reserve director and the leader of the rebound, lost her title to a Trump appointee despite the fact that previous presidents — who  exhibited real patriotism — retained successful federal reserve chairman regardless of party. She’s declining her seat on the reserve now that a sacred white male wears the crown.  If it ain’t broke, Trump’s bound to fix it.

Trash talkers assailed Michele Obama because she’s healthy and eats well, yanking veggies from school cafeterias in a fit of misplaced revenge — who needs health care? — while their corpulent spawn returned to the trough, happily sucking pizza and inhaling grease to their diseased hearts’ content.  At least they can’t talk trash with their mouths full.

The Plan
The Plan

Trash talkers so lazy and greedy they couldn’t drive to their fabulous oaisis, paying Amtrak to haul their sorry butts over to the Greenbrier, lying just a day’s drive from Washington, all transportation and lavish opulence foisted onto the backs of Everyman tax payers.

Greenbrier
— from the Greenbrier website

Enter trash truck.

Note: it was nice to see Republican office holders attempting to revive (unionized?) trash truck employees forking over payroll taxes for fully-subsidized Congressional health care and luxury trips.

This writer salutes all manual laborers across America run over by the government train in uncountable ways each and every day, just as  I mourn those lost in the tragedy.

Which is one more reason this monstrous irony requires a spotlight.

***

You have to hand it to the Grand Old Popinjays.

They’re organized.

Democrats remain rudderless because they lack a true leader.

Democratic Congressmen make “suggestions.”

Here's how weak Democrats are at the root level:  one of the first things President Obama did after his inauguration was speak to all the school children of America.  At the time I taught black and Hispanic high schoolers, so I projected the speech on the big screen and said when it was over:  

"I know it's not a level playing field yet, but this has to be encouraging."

After a short pause, one of the black males in the back yelled in reply:  
 
"He ain't black!"
Black enough?
Say what?

***

The reason Republicans dominate?  They have a simple plan and they are entirely unified around it.

Destroy anything Obama ever did.

(Regardless of the needs of fellow citizens).

It’s something small, and completely contrary to their own perception of patriotism, but at least it’s a semblance of organization, a mighty weapon in the face of none.

Commonsense Frugality Applied to Run-Away Government

Have you ever noticed that Trump-Era right wing American gun toters desiring a continuing global military presence are often the same folks wailing for limited government?

Hello.

Ike warned us fifty-six years ago about the burgeoning military-industrial complex, the Orange Tweeter ran his presidential campaign on “draining the swamp”, the supposed budget-minded Republicans are now in charge, yet the national debt is projected to grow 10 trillion in the next decade.

Benjamin Franklin had his faults — ask most conspiracy theorists — and it was a known fact that he admired young women.

Imagine that.

But when it comes to having a clear vision on accruing wealth, Poor Richard nailed it:

There are two ways of being happy: We may either diminish our wants or augment our means -- either will do -- the result in the same; and it is for each man to decide for himself, and do that which happens to be the easiest.

If you are idle or sick or poor, however hard it may be to diminish your wants, it will be harder to augment your means.

If you are active and prosperous or young and in good health, it may be easier for you to augment your means than to diminish your wants.

But if you are wise, you will do both at the same time, young or old, rich or poor, sick or well; and if you are very wise you will do both in such a way as to augment the general happiness of society.

-- Benjamin Franklin, statesman, author, and inventor (1706-1790)

First, Franklin starts the “American myth” that happiness is tied to the pursuit of property.  We have more stuff therefore we win begins here. But it is true that we decide our own financial fates, and Americans differ widely on their pursuit of savings.

Franklin’s second paragraph thrusts a stick in the eye of the lazy man, but through today’s lens the idle appear to be on the same plane as the sick and poor, with 95 million able-bodied-men and women currently not seeking employment. They augment their means in various ways, but the underground economy / drug market is staggering, and recent consumer spending shows that the shadow economy is a beast.

The advertising industry raises its ugly head in paragraph three, making stuff a “need” in the hearts of North Americans and fanning the fire of  want. Ironically, one of Franklin’s many nicknames was The Patron Saint of Advertising, which he mastered early on.

Apply the last paragraph to your life and its ongoing change of circumstances and good things will happen.  The Millionaire Next Door hit home with many who’ve since reaped the benefits of Franklin’s (and Stanley’s)  advice. There are now more than twice as many millionaire households than there were in 1996, and 10.1 million US households now report a million dollars worth of assets.

But the typical Trump voter is not the millionaire next door:   cultural anxiety, not economic anxiety, drove lower-income voters toward Trump.

***

Here’s how to apply Franklin’s commonsense rules to runaway government spending.

Global Military Expenditures 2012

We have to ask ourselves, do we need to police the globe? Has doing so improved world peace? Or has it fired up the military-industrial complex to thrive in a Brave New World of Endless War?

It’s obvious that our military wants exceed our taxpaying grasp, especially with new cuts about to favor billionaires and corporations. But does the average American really want to police the globe?

Since endless wars come at such a high cost, shouldn’t we fall back, assess the hot spots, employ better technology — in terms of rooting out evil, not nuking the earth into oblivion — and emasculate the bad guys with focused strikes?

Are all the big toys effective military assets in the fight against global extremism?

Nope.

How can a $730 million B-2 Spirit keep a hothead from renting a truck and running over bicyclists?

I’m all for rooting out the bad guys, both foreign and domestic.  But instead of spending on R&D for pinpoint technology, we’re filling our docks with billion dollar warships and our airfields with million dollar airplanes to fight conventional wars that no longer exist.

On the Other Hand

Here’s how we relate to a few other countries when it comes to saving cash:

Domestic savings …
What’s made America uniquely bad at saving? Perhaps America’s mix of wealth and diversity, the very staple of the American identity, is the culprit of its spending habits. In 2008, several researchers studied the stereotype that minorities spend more than whites on “visible goods”—like clothes, shoes, jewelry, watches, salons, health clubs, and car parts. They discovered that, even after controlling for income, minorities save less than whites and spend more on such conspicuous consumption goods. But the story wasn’t just about race. White people in poor U.S. states spent more of their income on visible goods than whites in higher income states.

The Atlantic, 2016

Let’s look at that again:  ” White people in poor U.S. states spent more of their income on visible goods than whites in higher income states.”

Benjamin Franklin trusted neither the elite nor the rabble.

The sitting president, however, is all about lifting up the elite at the expense of the rabble.

The Orange Tweeter, exhibiting bouts of sociopathy mixed with narcissism, seems incapable of focusing on any issue longer than a nano-second, and his sinking popularity now represents roughly 31% of the electorate.

Draw your own conclusions on what percent of this group falls into the “rabble” category (those still smarting from the deplorable slap), and what percent of Trump supporters are billionaires wanting to rake in more loot in the short term.

My personal guess is that moderate Republicans hoping to work across the aisle to solve the many pressing issues of the day would be a minority within that 31%.

Just a guess.

Yet the nation continues to treat world and domestic affairs like a football game — we win, you lose — without considering the simple fact that we’re actually all on the same team.

Hello?

Yes, we can nuke any nation on earth into oblivion. Then the fallout blows over on us.

Yes, we have conventionally bombed nations into near-oblivion, but then they thrive after we go home, though most of the cash ends up in the hands of the upper-class.

Imagine that.

You can’t enjoy small government and big military simultaneously.

But Trump voters aren’t interested in logic. The rabble still believes they’ll grow fat on the scraps tossed down from the elite’s tall table of big tax cuts and military-industrial-complex stock-and-bond windfalls.

They’re throwing commonsense to the wind, these lower-middle-class lovers of commonsense.

Just like their morals.

The Two-Tailed American Taliban

The polarization of America continues at a rapid pace, but we weren’t always at each other’s throats.

Following WWII, soldiers of both political parties returned home to marry, buy homes, spawn babies, and pursue careers. My great uncle William Plum grew up dirt poor in Minnesota where his large family regularly snared deer and headshot rabbits to survive the Great Depression before losing their farm.

Uncle Bill joined the Navy after Pearl Harbor, reached officer status, and returned to take advantage of the G.I. Bill and earned a Ph.D. in physics – at the University of Missouri – before joining the fledgling NASA program. Showing promise, he was assigned to the team building the lunar rover. Here’s a picture of Astronaut Charles Duke standing next to Plum Crater with the lunar rover and earth in the background.

Plum Crater
Plum Crater

I have no idea of Uncle Bill’s political leanings. It doesn’t matter; we’re proud of him.

***

Soldiers returning from battle worked together and built America into the greatest nation in history.

They socialized, drank, attended church together, and cared for each other’s families.

Republican Hillary Rhodhams married Democrat Bill Clintons, Donkeys hooked up with Elephants, and thought little of political boundaries.

There were setbacks (The Cold War, McCarthyism), but centrist America held firm.

Soldiers covered each other’s six during the war; they realized the value of compromise.

Republicans backed LBJ and pushed the Civil Rights Act of 1965 into law despite little help from the Democrats, who later voted in large numbers for George Wallace, though he represented the American Independent Party.  Reagan Democrats shoehorned The Gipper into the Oval Office.

Fast forward to 2017.

Congress is totally dysfunctional – each side refusing to employ compromise and address the growing needs of its representative constituency – while the majority of voters remain solidly in the middle, holding fast to traditional values.

The far right / far left have morphed into close-minded self-aggrandized (nearly) identical twins of dysfunction … forming a virtual rope of the proverbial dog’s tail, now shaking the whole animal into paralysis.

These combined extremes embody The Two-Tailed American Taliban.

The far left became fascistic by embracing extreme political correctness and by ripping down statues devoted to American history. For example, Charlottesville is about to spend $300,000 to destroy Robert E. Lee’s statue.

I can already hear the bitching: Lee led the pro-slavery South!

True.

But here are other facts about Robert E. Lee you may not know.

First, he was offered the Generalship of the Army of the Potomac by Abraham Lincoln because he was a faithful Federal officer, the best in the land.

After wringing his hands for a few days, Lee concluded he could not destroy his native state. Then he worked his way up to leadership of The Army of Virginia with brains and audacity on the field. He treated everyone – black and white alike – with respect. There is a case to be made that Lee was to Davis what Rommel was to Hitler.

Secondly, he exhibited grace and forgiveness after the war. “Before and during the War Between the States I was a Virginian. After the war I became an American“.

Richmond’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church was the only religious institution left standing in the Capital of the Confederacy following the national conflagration. One Sunday at the beginning of peace, Lee sat in the pews at the end of a service, waiting for communion.

At that moment the large double doors flung open and a black vagrant appeared in the portal. When the man walked to the front and kneeled at the altar, an audible gasp filled the room.

How did Lee react?

He stood up, let his reputation be damned, walked to the altar, knelt, then prayed beside the freed Negro shoulder-to-shoulder, announcing to the world its need for grace and forgiveness.

This is the man whose statue needs to be ripped asunder?

The latest far-left craze is to shell out what would amount to billions of dollars in reparations to the descendants of black slaves. Not indentured servants. Not yellow slaves. Certainly not the race of millions already living in North America who were cut from their mother’s wombs, crammed into concentration camps — an Andrew Jackson invention — death-marched to Oklahoma, systematically annihilated or liquored into submission.

Never-mind the descendents of 600,000 Union soldiers who fought to end slavery.  My relatives Michael and Jonathan Batdorf from Neponset, Illinois ended up in Andersonville after their capture at the battle of Lookout Mountain. Michael’s grave marker is #4618. Thirty-thousand-one-hundred-ninety-two Union soldiers died inside Confederate prisons during the war.

They don’t count.

Similarly, far-right-wing-alt-conservative-nationalists don blinders.

For example, our local state representative panders to Bible thumpers and gun enthusiasts. The remainder of his constituents count for nothing.

Micah Van Huss’s idea of legislation is allowing parents to carry guns to soccer games, defunding diversity grants, establishing the Bible as the Official State Book, granting college students the right to pull pistols on campus, and allowing the ownership of pet skunks.

One cannot make this stuff up. Look for yourself.

Furthermore, modern American far-right-wingers want to eradicate public education, ignore climate change, openly grab women’s genitals and toss pregnant women back into back alley coat hanger abortions.

They want to send hard-working tax-paying Catholic conservative Hispanics back to Mexico after dumping American corn on their market, stealing their agricultural livelihood, and forcing them to migrate to keep their families alive.

Modern far right-wingers want to imprison millions – mostly black males – for using street drugs … while simultaneously chomping opiates … and renaming the WAR ON DRUGS … now that it’s a white problem … “a terrible disease”.

Therefore it is incumbent upon the majority – those of us still banking on commonsense and unity of purpose – to ignore this vicious intertwined tail, bob it, or outvote it.

Voting in large numbers — and bringing our majority to bear — is the only practical choice.

Extremists of both colors appear deaf to fact and blind to logic and run almost entirely on emotion and news slanted to their personal preference.

Historically speaking, the last war the US fought over minority power took more lives than all other US wars put together — until the middle of the Vietnam War.

The majority of sensible Americans retaining principled integrity and common purpose cannot afford one more election thrown to either extremity of the Two-Tailed American Taliban.

Voting is a chore, but it beats the hell out of Civil War.  We need to cover each other’s six once again.