The Fox and His Flock, an Inconceivable Presidency

It is hard to believe it has been two years since that defining Wednesday morning when America and the world awoke to an inconceivable truth – that the man who had almost 3 million less popular votes than his rival won the Presidency. As one of those millions, I was initially in a catatonic state…disoriented, in disbelief, denial… feeling doomed and damned. Dwelling in the pit of my stomach was an overwhelming feeling of shame…ashamed for who we had become as a nation…not because the ‘victor’ was a Republican or ‘politically unseasoned’…but because he had violated every minimal code of conduct, decency, and morality always required of individuals seeking the highest office of the land. Still, deep within my core as a woman of faith, and one who knows you judge “a tree by its fruit”, my mind and spirit were reeling over the staggering Christian support displayed on behalf of a man who embodied not one ‘Godly’ characteristic. WHO were those 35-45% of evangelicals overall, or the estimated 80% of white evangelicals reported in exit polling, and how did such a significant portion of professed ‘believers’ support a man whose life manifested everything contrary to the faith they profess? It was mind boggling on every level, and on every issue. Immigration and foreigners… the poor and less fortunate… the paying of taxes… honoring women, and the grand staple pillar of every major world religion “loving thy neighbor”. Two years later, I am equally dismayed and disturbed.

WHO, I ask are these “Christians” who continue to find good fruit pre and post Presidential ascension? What good did they see displayed in a penchant for stiffing honest, hardworking contractors while imposing multiple self-serving bankruptcies which left a wake of financial ruin for small businesses and individuals, and unapologetically utilizing tax loopholes for self gain? WHAT screamed ‘Jesus’ that summer day in the revelation of reprehensible sexual banter on a bus?..from a man who has mocked and insulted the disabled, immigrants, Muslims, revered POWs because they got “captured”, beauty queens because they gained weight, and journalists seeking only to fulfill their own role in upholding and defending the constitution? What is “Christ-like” in bullying, insulting, or ousting every contender and source of opposition? A lifetime of dishonorable business practices, unapologetic racist, sexist, narcissistic, and depraved behavior were not merely an indicator of character… they were without question the blueprint and final stamp of the man about to take a most solemn oath. And STILL many “believers” spiritually discerned to vote for him then and support him today. And now here we are. A ‘head’ of a nation who has become the ‘butt’ of a world-wide joke….a head of a nation whose arsenal of insults could prove as fatal to our democracy as a North Korean dictator’s nuclear pursuits or a Saudi Prince’s death squad.

WHO ARE you “believers” who find the building of ‘The Great Wall of Mexico’ part of God’s grand design while having no moral conflict to employ the ‘illegal’ element to mow your lawns, clean your house, pick your crops, bus your tables, and raise your children? You distrust a black man wearing a hoodie or a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf but would you notice a young white man donning white supremacist emblems, soon on his way to murder African American church-goers in North Carolina?

WHO are you? The truth is, “You” are closer than the objects in the rear view mirror”. “You” are the neighbor down the hall…”You” are co-workers. Some of you are family members…and even old friends. You go to church on Sunday, serve in any variety of “ministries” while often ignoring the very ministry outside your door step. You bless the organic food before you in mealtime yet cast no judgment upon corporations whose GMOs compromise the health of those who cannot afford WholeFoods or alkaline water. You tout scriptural tenants of honoring the earth which God created and the temple of your body, while fervently raising a fist for more coal and more oil drilling, and against the “hoax” of global warming or our responsibility for it, even as some of you live in states most affected by an influx of hurricanes, wild fires, and floods.

You seethe at those who kneel at sporting games as an act of defiance and disrespect of fallen soldiers, while forgetting the spirit and cause of the very first “rebels” who themselves fought against those they saw as their oppressors – our forefathers. The truth is that while ‘Patriots’ are indeed those who defend our nation in uniform every day, whether on foreign ground or first responders on our own soil, it is also any individual who embodies courage and selflessness in the midst of great trials on behalf of the greater good of all, not merely themselves. And whether standing or kneeling, hand over heart, reciting the words, “One nation, under God”, we cannot omit “with liberty and justice (not for some but) for ALL”. Simply put, standing for what is right does not mean we always ‘stand’. Rosa Parks didn’t stand, she sat. Martin Luther King did not merely stand, he marched… Ghandi and Caesar Chavez fasted. Malala Yousafzai simply kept going to school. And today, a caravan of vulnerable, tired, desperate fellow human beings …seeking only to find refuge from their crime, terror, and poverty-ridden native lands, they too ‘stand’…by simply continuing to walk northward.

Now that I’ve asked you, so you too perhaps are asking me, ‘Who am I’? What makes me a qualified voice to write this article? I am one who does not check the box ‘white’ nor am I evangelical. I am neither a theologian nor a Bible scholar. I am certainly not one who can spontaneously quote scripture. I am one raised with a strong Catholic foundation who evolved into purely a non-denominational Christian, or as I often convey, simply a “perfectly flawed yet perfectly made work in progress”. Whereas I have experienced most of my life as “one of the few”, lacking nothing, well cared for by my family, well traveled, well read, well bred, and well fed, I am now one of the 7.6 million Americans who hold two jobs, working six days a week and still unable to afford health care. I am one of the 65% of College educated Hispanic women and one of the 63% of single women, who voted for Hillary Clinton. Not because she was a woman. Not because she attained every single quality I seek in a leader, and not because I worked for her husband’s administration after college. I did so from a place of principle…Christian principles. And thus two years after that polling day, I remain baffled at how the millions who say they too voted their ‘Christian’ conscience, could have seen the very same words upon the pages of the same sacred book so differently:

“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” – Luke 6:45

“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify… against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice…” says the LORD Almighty – Malachi 3:5

“‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt” – Leviticus 19:33-34

“‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy” – Ezekiel 16:49

“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” – Matthew 25:40

These are but a handful of the words engraved not merely upon biblical pages but my own heart. But for those who seek a way to mask or justify their fears, insecurities, assumptions, anger, and personal and social prejudices… I guess even the ‘Good Book’ is for the fox and his flock – just more Fake News?

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Sticks and Stones… The Social Impact in an Era of Bullies

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other” – Mother Teresa

They say whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. I’ve never fully agreed with that nugget of wisdom. We need only to look at the headlines of the past year for proof. Hurtful words didn’t make Tyler Clementi, Tyler Long, or Phoebe Prince stronger. They merely pushed three human beings in an already-fragile state ‘over the edge’ to the point of believing no life was a better choice to one filled with the pain of isolation and rejection. “Sticks and stones” can break your bones but words can have devastating consequences…not merely for victim’s families, but all of us as a society. We need to each ask ourselves, which role have we played… the perpetrator? ….the apathetic witness/contributor? Or maybe we are the one who suffers quietly, having been the target of cruel words, actions, or intentions of others. My guess is, in a lifetime, we’ve played each role at some point… whether intimidated by peer pressure or self insecurities… never believing that what we’ve dished out or what we’ve been the recipient of could be so bad as to cause ourselves or another to end life. We often hear how ‘kids can be cruel’. But the truth is, when one doesn’t step in to address the behavior early on, that cruel kid just grows up into a cruel adult (we’ve all known a few)… and every one of us reap the seeds of indifference as our news becomes saturated by stories of bullying, cultural misunderstanding, social intolerance, racial violence, and youth suicide.

To be honest, I can say, that as an adult, I have probably witnessed more “bullies” than I did on the playground in my youth. There are the overt ones, who you can spot immediately – openly biting and callous…and there are those who masquerade in a cloak of kindness and compassion, while all the while brewing hurtful venom to release upon their ‘prey’ at any whimful, narcissistic impulse. Whichever category of ‘bully’ they fall into, we each have a responsibility not to fall ourselves, but to stand… to stand up for others… to stand up for ourselves. I’ve learned the hard way that ‘standing’ in true strength does not always require direct confrontation. Self-righteous impulses can result in more harm than good, and one’s genuine intentions never see the light of day, if they are hijacked by unregulated emotions. ‘Standing’ sometimes, merely requires grabbing hold of inner strength and the assurance of what is right and good… maintaining a steadfast spirit. We each have frailties… all of us fall short… but, if goodness and kindness anchor your heart, the fruits of your own life can be a great witness… a bright light for others to see…. a bright light to combat the dark… that no hurtful words or actions assailed against you can prosper against loving, forgiving, and compassionate words and actions which build up, edify, inspire, encourage, and strengthen. Yet, this means the ‘light’ cannot only be there for those who have been harmed… it even more importantly needs to exist for those who have caused it. For those of us ‘in the corner’ of the underdog, this can be a ‘hard pill to swallow’. But, then after all, it is an easy thing to love those who are loveable…the true test of our humanity is when we can forgive and love those who are not… those who have caused us severe pain and injury. I am not a psychologist, but something innate within me believes we cannot “treat” one without treating the other. It is my fervent belief that the headlines won’t truly start to change, until we start to see ourselves not solely as victim or villain… but as in the eyes of Mother Teresa… simply, as ‘belonging to each other’.

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Fumes of hope amidst a devastated economy

It is a new year, and as with all things ‘new’, accompanied by a spirit of hope and all possibility. Over 2 million California citizens are hoping today… hoping someone will pick out their resume over all the others for the interview that could lead to the job they haven’t had in two years because they were ‘overqualified’. And if they can just make their next car payment before the ‘sixty day’ mark, then no one will come to repossess their vehicle. And if they have their car, then they can get to that job interview. Because if they get that job, maybe it’s possible to keep their home or apartment before the eviction notice is placed upon their door. And if they can just keep their apartment, then maybe… just maybe, they’ll be able to sleep tonight without anxiety or fear. Because if they can just get some rest, then they can fight off depression – the great imposter which has consumed them for too long. And if they can fight off depression, then they can conjure up the energy to pull themselves out of bed, pull up the blinds, and pull up a seat – to their computer to look up the job listings one more day… just one more day.

A devastating economy has pillaged the self-worth and dignity of millions across this nation, but just as we’ve seen in the aftermath of the most dreadful natural disasters in recent years, the human spirit is pillaged but not destroyed. Our history and our humanity is our great teacher – that after the darkest hours of destruction…together, we can and we will rise amidst the wreckage and the rubble, because hope, possibility, and purpose prevail, when it remains the pursuit of its people.

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Reflecting a Decade Later

I lived in New York City on 9/11 ten years ago. My apt. in Tribeca overlooked the twin towers, and many a night I would sit at a corner desk lost in thought, voraciously writing as I peered out on the two marvelous beacons of Manhattan skyline. Today, I live in Hollywood… my corner desk overlooks the Capitol Records building, and I am lost in thought reflecting upon the beacon of LIFE (lives) which for a brief season, stood merely steps from my front door… and I am reminded and convicted of the fragility of our time here… and the RESPONSIBILITY we each have to be a beacon for those outside our own front door… wherever we may be.

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My Pitch

I’m not your typical “expert”… not another policy wonk or poll pundit. What I bring to the table is unique yet simple… conviction, compassion, conversation… connection. I’m a story teller, and now more than perhaps any other political season before, this is what is needed… because the American story is in peril. It isn’t about the candidates or any ‘powers that be’ and THEIR story… it’s about the American people’s story… your story. I’m Jeannine Cota… unscripted, ‘unauthorized’, and unwavering… the human stories behind the headlines.

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