On Drinking from a Fire Hose

Is there a science or art to drinking from a fire hose? This expression refers to when “things” (whatever they are) come at you so fast, so hard, so furiously that you can’t take it all in or process it adequately. It is like trying to take just a sip of water out of a fire hose that is spraying you directly in the face.

So, back to my question: is there a way to drink from the figurative fire hose of this moment in time? If so, would somebody please tell me how to do it?

As we inch toward the election (now less than 100 days away) it seems the crazy is coming faster, harder, and more furiously than ever.

I try to be a responsible news consumer. I limit my consumption of “wisdom” from pundits. I listen to the BBC and NPR news daily and watch the PBS News Hour regularly if not religiously because I trust the reporting of these outlets more than others. I also watch local news (mostly for the weather, a habit I learned as a child growing up on a farm in rural Iowa where weather was the news). I also watch or listen to news from the major broadcast networks. Each day I read headlines and articles that grab my attention from the traditional print media online (to save trees). In short, while each media outlet has its own bias I do my best to stick with sources that have earned reputations for accuracy, fairness, and balance.

And still, the crazy comes through. Whether it is a Federal invasion of American cities, the latest Tweet from Trump, Stupid people who refuse to wear masks then test positive for COVID-19, a “doctor” promoted by Trump who think demons and hydroxychloroquine have something to do with COVID-19 and when he is questioned about it he walks out of a briefing, and, of course, we are now at 150,000+ deaths from a virus that was, according to Trump, not a big deal barely four months ago.

Really. All of this in just the last 24 hours. And this is not a complete list. We need to get to the valve and turn off the fire hose. Do we have the will to do it? I hope so.


a clear and present danger…now

Click on the image to secure your own book at Amazon.com.

I just finished reading the book by Mary Trump about her uncle, Donald, who, as you may be aware, is currently occupying the White House.

My own background and training have some relevance on how I read the book and how I see both Mary and Donald Trump. First, like both Trumps, I am the product of a highly dysfunctional family resplendent with all the abuses that often characterize such families. This gives me the ability to read the book with a level of empathy that I might not otherwise be able to achieve.

Second, I pursued training in mental health counseling for my Masters degree. It could rightly be argued that I pursued that training as an unconscious response to my own personal background and need for healing. Upon completion of the degree, I practiced for a time as a therapist. Typically I saw individuals suffering from “adverse childhood experiences” which had created a post-traumatic disorder for them; men’s therapy groups; and, because sometimes I can’t say no, couples in the midst of a divorce who were mandated by the court to have counseling as a condition for getting a divorce. Mostly, though, the insights and techniques I gained from that course of study have informed my work with groups, organizations, and communities today.

Being able to read the book through these two different lenses allowed me to read it with a deep curiosity and a minimum of judgment. Let me say up front that the book does not portray either Mary Trump or Donald Trump as wholly “good” or “bad.” They just “are.” Both are victims of the same highly dysfunctional family system and it has significantly impacted both of their lives.

For Mary, the book reveals a sense of hurt and isolation from the larger Trump family. Her father, Freddy, was the heir apparent to the fortune of Fred Trump, Sr. but he was not deemed worthy of it by his father. This unworthiness extended to all of Freddy’s family, even after his untimely death. The same view of Freddy’s unworthiness was held by Donald and all other members of the Trump family. As a result Mary, her brother, and her mother were all treated as “less than” by the Trump clan.

This is not to say that Mary Trump grew up destitute. She did not. At the same time, she did not grow up in the full wealth of the Trump family nor with the unbridled excess that Donald enjoyed as the favored son after Freddy was deemed unworthy and died.

Mary Trump still bears the scars, if not open wounds, from having been kept outside the family and being guilty of unworthiness by association with her father. Sometimes I see this hurt come through the book but most of the time it isn’t obvious. This is a credit to her training as a clinical psychologist in which she likely learned how to observe and manage her own messy emotions that can arise in the process of observing others, even family members.

Like Mary, Donald Trump is a hapless and helpless victim of the same dysfunctional family system. Unlike Mary, Donald Trump seems clueless about his victimization and pain.

Don’t misunderstand what your are about to read: sometimes clueless is a good thing. The most painful part of healing is coming to grips with reality. To do so requires you to take your whole world, turn it upside down, and see it from a very different perspective. The pain comes as you intentionally walk away from your cluelessness. That’s not easy. It’s not fun. It’s downright painful because we all want to believe that the world as we perceive it is the world as it really is. It is just much easier to live in a state of cluelessness.

A therapist I used to see for my own healing once gave me this saying on a wall hanging: Pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses our understanding.

The portrait of Donald Trump offered by Mary Trump is of a man so deep in denial about himself, his childhood, his relationship with his parents, etc. that he has lost all sense of himself. The first and biggest wall Trump ever built was the one that separates himself from what he fears is his true self. A self that was profoundly informed by his parents as it was for each of their children. In an effort to avoid what he fears most about himself he has created this other wildly glorified self he continues to project today – strength, toughness, manliness. This is his protection from a father who could not show love and approval and a mother who preferred to be rid of him and sent him off to a military school (in truth, a “reform school”).

When we are very afraid we try to make others fear us. We erroneously believe we will be less afraid if others are afraid of us. We can also confuse their fear with respect and imagine ourselves, therefore, to be great. Unfortunately, using our fear in this way doesn’t work the way we think it does. It only makes us dangerous because the more we try to control others – whether by fear or some other form of manipulation – the more frustrated and dangerous we become.

People of the Lie by the late M. Scott Peck is one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read. Peck’s thesis is that there are people so masterful at crafting lies about their reality, including themselves, that they actually believe them to be true. When they do this they become incredibly dangerous to others. Parker Palmer, in A Hidden Wholeness, seems to suggest these same people are those who live divided lives. They are so invested in being what and who others (e.g., parents, family, bosses, spouses, etc.) think they should be that they lose touch with who they really are. These speak to Mr. Trump’s condition.

I offer this assessment without condemnation, only pity. I know what it is like to be a person of the lie and to live a divided life. I know the pain of breaking the shell that encloses deeper understanding of reality. I also do not blame Mr. Trump for choosing to believe the myth he has created rather than the reality the rest of us are experiencing under his presidency. The luxury of a soothing personal myth is a wonderful thing…until it doesn’t work anymore.

Will Mr. Trump ever let go of his myth? I don’t know. Frankly, I wish he would because I think he could be a decent man if he could allow himself to be a fully human person. I say this because all of us who have made that same journey of self have come out in a better place than we started. It is only the fear of pain that keeps us from taking the first step.

Sometimes we are forced into taking the first step. Mine came as the result of a series of life dominoes which began falling when I was 27. My father died unexpectedly and that was a deep and profound shock to my life. Within a few months I lost 75 pounds (which, in hindsight, was actually good for my health) and long held family secrets began to leak out. I began the painful journey of facing the reality of my family, its legacy of dysfunction, and how I had been impacted by it from birth.

For Mr. Trump, the first step may come as he feels his grip on the country is being loosened and, especially, if he loses the upcoming election. In a worst case scenario, he will continue to live in the full power of the myth and use every resource at his disposal to try to reclaim the office he lost because it proves his manhood and his worthiness to his long deceased father whom he saw (and helped) mercilessly judge and push out his older brother Freddy. In a best case scenario he will learn from the opportunity it presents, allow himself to heal as a result, and become less myth and more human.

I hope Mr. Trump chooses healing and humanity for our sake and his. Of course, choosing these carries a price. It is the price of personal responsibility for the hurt and damage we have done while living out our myth. If Mr. Trump can do that, he will become the real man he has tried so hard to convince himself that he is already.


chickenman – episode 85

After considerable negotiation with the Winged Warrior to end his trans Atlantic flight, Ms. Helfinger agrees to meet him at Plymouth Rock and promises to reimburse him the collect charges from their call.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

June 15, 2020 – Go Bubba!

Today is Monday, June 15, 2020, which is also Smile Power Day. Smile Power Day recognizes the power that smiles have to make us happier, make others happier, change our mood, improve relationships, send a great customer service message (if we are in business), and even help us live longer. Hey, if it does all that, I’ll take a bunch!

Thank you!

Since posting yesterday that it was time for us to let one of our miniature schnauzers go back to the universe, we received several comments of condolences and comfort. We appreciate them all. I do have an update, though. After observing that Madison has deteriorated even faster than expected since seeing our vet on Saturday and because she is beginning to experience pain, we decided to move the visit from Peaceful Passage up to Tuesday, the 16th. This blog will post at 8:00 AM on the 16th and we expect that by noon Madison will have gone to the place where all good dogs go. Again, thank you for your kind words.

Go Bubba!: a surprising move by nascar

Boomer’s ol’ #9 after a rather nasty crash in the first turn of the dirt track at the Louisa County Fairgrounds in Columbus Junction, Iowa (circa 1959).

I’ve been a racing fan since I was very young. Iowa has a great tradition of dirt car racing – especially stock cars, sprint cars, etc. When I was a kid, they were known as “jalopy races” and my brother-in-law/father figure Boomer raced a jalopy. He won a few, lost a few, and crashed a few in his run as a dirt track racer.

My oldest friend (in terms of length of time, not age) is Mark who still lives in my hometown. Mark and I started going to races together before we even entered kindergarten. Most auto racing at that time was on dirt horse racing tracks at county fairgrounds in Iowa. Since Iowa has 99 counties, there were race tracks everywhere. The Mississippi Valley Speed Club (MVSC) was the sanctioning body for jalopy races in Southeast Iowa. Racing rotated from one track to another, about six in all, each Saturday night. While refreshing my memory on this, I came across an amazing finding! Someone digitized a Super 8 reel of MVSC racing from the 1950’s and 60’s and posted it on YouTube. You won’t get to hear the roar of the engines nor smell the fumes, but you can see some of the action in this 11 minute video.

Video by Mark Kleindolph

When we graduated from high school, I bought a rusted out 1956 Chevy for $50 to convert into a racecar. Mark and I originally had started to work on a 1952 Pontiac but the thing was built like a tank. It was just too difficult to make the modifications necessary. We stripped the 1956 Chevy, Mark put rollbars in it, and, then he took the engine out of his own rebuilt 1957 Chevy and put it into the racecar. Our first race was in West Liberty, Iowa where we didn’t fare very well. Mark got forced off the track in the backstretch and ended up clipping off an infield light pole. My run as an owner lasted only one season, but Mark’s run as a driver and racecar builder lasted a lot longer. Eventually he got some good sponsorship and he competed in the NASCAR dirt circuit. He won track and season championships at many of the race tracks we went to as kids. Of course, by the time he was racing in the 70’s and 80’s, the tracks were redesigned for much faster cars with high banking in the turns.

As kids, Mark’s favorite driver was a driver named Mark Mosier (#17) and mine was a guy name Mike Niffenegger (#76). Though I’d like to think that Mike beat Mark on a regular basis, Mark really had excellent cars and usually won. However, there was this one night I remember very clearly when Mike got the best of Mark in an unusual way. It was at the start of the feature event and as the cars were accelerating, Mike’s drive shaft broke which sent his car tumbling end-over-end in front of the grandstand until it landed on top of Mark’s car. Both were miraculously unhurt, but, of course, both were out for the rest of the feature. Alas, Mike did get the best of Mark that evening. I love the photo from that accident! Notice Mike sitting on top of his car waiting to be helped down.

Growing up in very White, very rural Iowa, jalopy/stock car racing was also very White. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing any Black drivers in the sport through the years that I followed it closely, which was well into my 30’s and 40’s. When I go back to Iowa, I usually try to take in a stock car race while I’m there. In fact, Clemencia goes with me. She saw her first one several years ago and to my shock and delight, she loved it! In fact, her dog walking hat is a souvenir ball cap we got with the 34 Raceway logo on it. In the few times I’ve been back to the raceways in Iowa since moving to the East Coast, I have seen more diverse audiences but not so much the drivers.

The same is true in NASCAR. In fact, there is only one Black driver and his name is Bubba Wallace. He was born in Mobile, Alabama but began his NASCAR career at the age of 19 at the Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa. He finished 9th in that race in 2012. I haven’t followed much NASCAR for a few years but when I read an article about Bubba last year, I started following him. I still don’t get to watch much NASCAR but, when I do, Bubba Wallace is my guy.

When Bubba was 15 years old he was the youngest driver to ever win at Franklin County Speedway in Virginia. Since entering NASCAR Bubba Wallace has distinguished himself on and off the racetrack. Seven other Black men have been drivers in NASCAR but none has had the level of success of Bubba Wallace. He’s finished 2nd in the Daytona 500, 3rd in the Brickyard 400 (Indianapolis), and won the NASCAR Truck Series – and he is still early in his career. His potential was recognized by the winningest driver in NASCAR history, Richard Petty, when in 2018 Bubba Wallace was selected to drive Petty’s own legendary #43 in NASCAR.

However, last week Bubba distinguished himself off the track in a different way that took as much, if not more, courage climbing behind the wheel of his racecar. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the protests, he called on NASCAR to ban the presence of the Confederate flag at all of its race venues. To everyone’s surprise NASCAR did just that, going against all of the Southern “good ol’ boy” tradition that had perpetuated the display of the flag for so many years. Shortly after that, Wallace’s sponsor, Petty Enterprises, announced a new design for the #43, which had worn “Petty Blue” for many years. The new design would be all black, with #BlackLivesMatter on each side near the rear of the car, and white and black hands clenched together in unity on the hood.

Bubba Wallace’s new NASCAR #43. Retrieved from Yahoo! Finance.

Bubba Wallace is realistic. He has gotten a lot of support from other drivers but he also knows the support is not universal, especially among fans. Only seven other Black drivers have ever started in a NASCAR race in its 70+ years. He is still the only Black driver in NASCAR today. However, he has demonstrated an extraordinary level of leadership. At age 26 he has found his voice and seized the leadership moment. As a result, NASCAR has made a move away from its culture that I never thought was possible. The next test for Bubba Wallace and NASCAR will be in Talledega, AL for the GEICO 500 on Father’s Day, June 21 at 2:00 PM. This dad will be watching it from home and cheering on #43.


Free Resource for funding collaborations

My friend and colleague, Kimberley Jutze of Shifting Patterns Consulting, has just put out a terrific free resourse. Kimberley, who has a deep background in fund development, has drawn on her expertise and experience to write The Secret to Collaborative Resource Development. She is making it available at her website. Just follow the link and scroll to the bottom of the page where you will find resources, including this paper. The paper highlights the 4Ps of Collaborative Resource Development which are intended to help coalitions, collaborations, and collective change leadership groups bring the needed resources to their efforts. It is an excellent paper and Kimberley is also available to help your group put the 4Ps into action. Check it out!


chickenman – episode 59

Chickenman prepares to race the Bear Lady to his grandmother’s house…if he can get his mind off of Smokey the Bear.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

June 4, 2020 – Tianamen Square to LaFayette Square

Today is June 4, National Cheese Day, an homage to fromage all day long! (So…I guess…that means…you know…it is also a day to cut the fromage?)

Tianamen Square to Lafayette Square

Today is also the 31st anniversary of what is known in China as the June Fourth Incident. Here in the U.S. we know it as the Tianamen Square Massacre.

At this moment we have a stand off between Federal forces and protesters in LaFayette Square in Washington, DC. Frankly, it is a bit difficult to tell the two apart. Take a look at the two pictures below. The first is Tianamen Square. Your clue is that this is now an iconic photo from that standoff which you’ve likely seen before. Of course, if more mature leadership doesn’t prevail in the White House, the second, from just outside LaFayette Square, could also become iconic.

Source: Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/126732527; Photo by Jeff Widener
Source: Retrieved from Bloomberg.com, June 4, 2020

As the protests at Tianamen Square were building in the Spring of 1989 I was getting ready for summer camp. In June I was at camp. No, not as a camper but as the director of the summer youth camping program. It was a Quaker camp and, as Quakers tend to be, we were very conscious of what was happening in the world, even while we were retreating from it at summer camp. Of course, in 1989 we didn’t have Smartphones nor did we have much access to the internet so we couldn’t stay connected 24/7/365. We did, however, have access to the daily news. We followed the protests and standoff in China with grave interest. Our interest turned to horror as the massacre began on June 4th.

It touched all of us – directors, counselors, staff, and youth. To process what we had witnessed, we decided to have an activity in which counselors and youth together would create posters and artwork to symbolized our care and concern for the protesters and solidarity with them.

I wonder…would any of us then ever have believed we’d be at a place today, in 2020, when we are holding our breath and hoping we don’t have our own LaFayette Square massacre? I wonder, too, what will we remember and memoralize about this day on future June Fourths?


View the Webinar: Tenacity, Humility, and Collaborative Leadership

On June 2nd I joined Liz Weaver for a conversation in a Tamarack Institute webinar. If you were not able to be a part of the webinar live (it was over subscribed!), you can still view it here. Be sure to check out the other webinar resources from Tamarack Institute. Co-CEOs Liz Weaver, Paul Born, and their staff have been terrific partners with Tenacious Change LLC over the past few years and I feel honored to have been able to do this webinar with them. I love their work and their thinking! If you haven’t met them before, now is the time!


stories of covid-19

Hope Crenshaw, PhD leads Teen Health Mississippi in Jackson. On March 13 & 14, as the country was beginning to go into “lockdown” because of COVID-19, I was with Hope, her Board of Directors, and staff in Jackson and we were working on a new strategy plan for the organization. As we met we had no idea how severely COVID-19 would impact everyone and everything.

One of the things that leaders do in the midst in crisis is consider how their mission fits with the need of the moment. As Hope and her team saw COVID-19 roll into Mississippi they began to think about the needs of the youth they serve and develop a plan to help.

They quickly recognized that the impact of the pandemic on youth was not a priority for planners. Yet they knew that closures would mean that many youth would lose their seasonal and part-time jobs. For these young people the jobs meant they could save for college, help out their family, or even just simply eat. Though Teen Health Mississippi is an organization with the mission to provide youth with full, complete, and honest sex education, they knew the lack of income might also put some young people at sexual risk.

In response Teen Health Mississippi started the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund for youth. Their goal is to award at least $100,000 in emergency relief to Mississippi youth. To date they have received nearly 4,000 applications for help and they’ve awarded over $7,000 in assistance to 125 of the neediest youth. As they consider the applications, here is what they are learning about the youth who are applying:

  • 63% are experiencing food insecurty
  • 41% are experiencing homelessess
  • 32% lack the proper technology for distance learning to stay in school

I know the needs are great at this time everywhere. You may already be doing a lot in your community to help meet the needs created by COVID-19 and to help right the wrongs of racial injustice. Still, I ask that you consider helping Teen Health Mississippi if you are able. In 2020 the State of Mississippi remains the poorest of these United States. For this reason, their need may be even greater than the rest of the country.

I have had the honor of working with Hope, her staff, and her board for over 2 years now. I know them very well. I can recommend them and this cause to you without reservation. Clemencia and I are planning to make a contribution to this fund to help them get to their $100,000 goal. It won’t be as much as we’d like to do, but it will be something and it will help. Thank you for your consideration.

To learn more about Teen Health Mississippi, visit its website, of course, but also learn more about the fund:


A clarification

A few weeks back I invited you and other readers to this blog with the promise that it would not be a partisan space. It may not always seem that way because I have been pretty outspoken, especially in the midst of the protests, against the presidency of Donald Trump. Let me explain: I do not consider criticizing Trump to be a partisan act, even though he identifies as a Republican (well, at least right now…he has changed his party affiliation five times since 1987).

There is a big difference in speaking out against the presidency of Trump and against or for any political party. History is going to report that Trump was not a Republican but a self-absorbed demogogue who would align himself with any party so long as he thought there was a personal benefit. He’d be a Democrat today if he thought it would have a greater benefit to him.

The realization that Trump is not a Republican is a fact that many Republicans are coming to, such as those in the Lincoln Project and Republicans Voters Against Trump, which launched its first national ad last week.

Why do I speak harshly about Trump at all? Why not just ignore him? Well, I’ve tried doing that. Unfortunately my conscience won’t let me. The line I use to describe my consultancy, Tenacious Change LLC, is this: Animating people, organizations, and communities to lead change for the greater good. This is a mission anchored in a clear ethical and moral understanding of our purpose in this world. It is to work for the greater good of all and that also requires us to stand for the greater good. To do anything less is to live an incongruent, divided life. Therefore, when I see the lawlessness of the president and the harm that is being done to so many by Trump, it is no longer ethical or moral for me to remain silent.

I mentioned in a blog last week that I have a diverse group of friends and, yes, that means politically as well. In my circle of friends, colleagues, clients, and collaborators most identify as either Republicans or Democrats but some have different political leanings from these. I hold ideas and viewpoints in common with each of them and I care about each person. I must confess though that I care a bit more for my Republican friends at this moment because I believe many of them are suffering deeply over Trump.

To be clear, when I write about Trump, I’m not writing about all Republicans. I know the differences among the Republicans. I know there are those who are just as appalled and disgusted by Trump as I am. I know there are those who follow him because he is an accomplished liar and they’ve been truly deceived into following. I know there are those who mistakenly yet truly believe he represents Republican values. I know there are those which are merely his “toadies” and who are following him to get whatever promises he has made to them. I know there are those who feign followership because they know they can use his inexperience and incompetence to their advantage.

I also know all of this may seem like splitting hairs to some of my readers. However, I can see a clear distinction and will do my best to continue to make that distinction in this space.


Chickenman – Episode 48

Uh, oh, Chickenman struggles to regain his memory after a big bump on the head. Even worse, the Police Commissioner is trying to help him. If it seems that only Ms. Helfinger has a clue about anyting in this series, you are right.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing you mask, and keep justice, peace, and health in your heart.

Tom

Day 55 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

Thanks to my sisters, I grew up with the music of Little Richard. I was born about 10 years after my youngest sister but all three were teenagers at either the beginning of his career or just as he was hitting his musical stride. In fact, I may have been able to say “a-wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-wop-bam-boom” before I said much of anything else.

Saturday, May 9, 2020 – Live to Blog with my head filled with “a-wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-wop-bam-boom”

Little Richard died today. To the best of my knowledge he did not die as a result of complications of COVID-19 as so many have recently. In 1955 Little Richard coined the phrase that is filling my head. Little Richard claimed to be the architect of rock and roll and his phrase became a part of rock’s musical history. It is the opening line of the song “Tutti Frutti.” In 2010 the Library of Congress added this Little Richard anthem to the National Recording Registry as one of its most culturally significant recordings. Since I can’t get the phrase out of my head, I may as well play it.

From 1956 – Little Richard’s screen test for the movie “The Girl Can’t Help It” starring Jayne Mansfield.

The Challenge of Personal Congruence

Thanks to my sisters, I grew up with the music of Little Richard. I was born about 10 years after my youngest sister but all three were teenagers at either the beginning of his career or just as he was hitting his musical stride. In fact, I may have been able to say “a-wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-wop-bam-boom” before I said much of anything else.

Both the music and person of Little Richard have fascinated me. His music is so distinctive. From the opening notes of any of his hit songs, we know immediately it is Little Richard. As a person he was also distinctive, especially as a performer. His flamboyant costumes, hair, and make-up set him apart from so many other performers of his time…actually, any time.

What fascinated me about Little Richard was his very human struggle to be a congruent person. To be personally congruent is to know ourselves and to be ourselves…to be comfortable, as it were, in our own skins. Author Parker Palmer describes the opposite of congruence as “the divided life.”

Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other. In the process, we become separated from our own souls. We end up living divided lives, so far removed from the truth we hold within that we cannot know the “integrity that comes from being what you are.”

Parker J. Palmer, p. 4, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life

Little Richard lived out the challenge of personal congruence in a very public way. He tried to speak freely of that challenge at different times in his career. There are two times I remember seeing him do this on television. Once was with Pat Robertson on the 700 Club shortly after he had given up rock and roll in the 1970’s to become a Bible salesman and to be straight. It was interesting, but painful, to watch because Little Richard was so very divided at that time and was, in fact, in denial about himself. I remember he sat uncomfortably in the guest’s chair, unsmiling, and refusing, when invited by Robertson, to perform one of his famous songs. Little Richard asserted he didn’t do that kind of music anymore.

Some time later, in an interview with David Letterman in 1982, I saw a slightly more congruent Little Richard but he was still divided between who he thought he should be and who he was. The following clip is the whole of that interview, including a gospel song from Little Richard at the end. It is fascinating to watch because Letterman is an outstanding interviewer and he helped Little Richard open up with more of his story.

Not long after this interview with David Letterman, Little Richard would once again return to the world of rock and roll. Little Richard’s love/hate relationship with his own sexuality and rock and roll, and his on-again/off-again relationship with evangelical Christian faith is well documented. In 2017 Little Richard gave one of his last interviews on a religious broadcasting network. In that interview he again denounced homosexuality and transgender identity.

I loved the rock and roll music of Little Richard. I was on the Mall in Washington, DC on the 4th of July in 2011 and so was Little Richard. Well, not in the exact same place I was. He was rehearsing to perform that evening on A Capital Fourth, the PBS live 4th of July celebraton broadcast. That was a close as I ever got to Little Richard.

There is, however, something about Little Richard’s struggle to achieve personal congruence that resonates with any of us who are trying to be fully human. In his struggle we saw reflections of our own. In a day when masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are in such short supply, it is ironic that we are all born with a plentiful supply of life masks. Throughout our lifetimes we try them on one-by-one to see which one fits us best. We hope we eventually find one that fits us, is comfortable to wear, and represents us more or less accurately. In acheiving the congruence of the undivided life we finally realize, though, there are no masks that actually fit us. We are who we are.

Early in his career, Little Richard made a gospel album. On that album he sings “Peace in the Valley” and it is one of the most beautiful renditions of the song I’ve ever heard. Today I hope Little Richard Penniman has been freed of his last mask and finally found the peace he sought. Rest in true peace, Little Richard.

Little Richard singing “Peace in the Valley.” A most beautiful rendition.

The Challenge of Public Congruence

Personal congruence is a struggle and, for most people, so is public congruence. To be congruent publicly is to let your life speak in a way that is consistent with your words. Parker Palmer also wrote a book about that. It is one that I required students to read in an MBA course I taught at Eastern University.

Public congruence is an expression of our personal ethics. To be congruent is to be an example. To be incongruent is to live by the ethic of “do as I say, not as I do.” Public congruence is something we tend to expect of leaders. I have to admit that today I’m struggling with the incongruence I’m seeing in Washington, DC at the moment.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence refuse to wear masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, even when they know this is the recommendation of public health officials. In fact, Mr. Trump may have exposed very elderly veterans to coronavirus during a remembrance of the end of World War II this week. Now both Trump, Pence, and Ivanka Trump each have members of their staffs who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Rather than take the prevention steps which have been recommended for weeks, Trump and his staff (which likely includes Pence, Ms. Trump, and their staffs) will be tested daily. There is still no evidence they intend to be like the rest of us who take the prevention protocols seriously.

So, let me get this straight: at a time when many communities in the U.S. are begging for tests, Mr. Trump, Mr. Pence, and their staffs will now be tested daily because they refuse to follow the basic prevention protocols many of us are following?

Why is it that a famous Marie Antoinette quote comes to my mind when I read about the incongruent behavioir of this Administration?


The Adventures of Chickenman

You know, I’ve just got to hear from someone who is more congruent. Here is Episode 23 in which Chickenman flames out over a request.


The View from Jeff

Jeff explains: I am afraid that I may lose my ability to understand body language once we get back to face-to-face interaction. Zoom/Skype/Wimba/Collaborate/BlueJeans/MS Teams…I won’t be able to figure out who’s talking without a glowing frame around them.

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for the undivided life.

Tom