My comments at a recent Town Hall Meeting in Syracuse, NY

Photo taken by Mark Rupert. Copied from WAER article linked to below.

A group called the Central New York (CNY) Solidarity Coalition arranged a town hall meeting on March 18 to let residents of our Congressional District speak and share on their concerns.  We hoped our Member of Congress, Rep. John Katko, would be there, but he wasn’t.  The event was hosted by our local public radio station, WAER, which wrote up this article about the event (including an audio summary).

Here’s what I said in the 2 minutes allotted to each person who wanted to speak.  This post serves as an intro of sorts to some posts I’ll write next on overcoming polarization, talking with Trump supporters, and looking at elements of gun control that aren’t helpful or useful.

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My name is Ethan Bodnaruk and I’m a proud resident of Syracuse, in the NY 24th district.

I’m here because I’m deeply worried about the actions and rhetoric of the Trump administration.  Healthcare, the existence of climate change, immigrants and refugees, schools, the State Department, the EPA and others are under attack, being cut, or negatively impacted.

Representative Katko, we need you to be bold and brave and principled.  During the election you eventually spoke out against Trump the candidate and reacted to beingo n the same ballot as Trump by saying “that’s why God made Scotch”.  We need more of this from you, we need you to put the people you represent here first – above your party.

I think many everyday, ordinary people have many common interests and needs, but we’re divided by lies and propaganda.

There are ways we can work together to find solutions to the problems we face.  You’re doing and saying some good things – thank you, but we need more.

I’m a very liberal person, and I want to show I’ve got some skin in the game.  People on the Left need to do more to help diffuse the polarization, by being open to questioning our views, being self-critcial, having more empathy for others, and getting outside our bubble and echo chambers.

I’m an engineer and in a new position I spend a lot of time on construction sites with construction workers, many of whom enthusiastically voted for Trump.  When I talk to them and say the NY SAFE Act* doesn’t actually make us safer and isn’t tailored to the actual problems of gun control… When I say that many arguments against nuclear power ** are based on incorrect information about safety and radiation and are fear mongering, they do listen I push back and say “No, Hillary didn’t want to take your guns.  That makes no sense!” “And no, Trump doesn’t care about everyday people, haven’t you heard of Trump University?”

So we can all do more, but Representative Katko, we need you to stand up for us and for democracy itself.

That’s me on the right, up next to speak!  Unfortunately, it looks like I’m sleeping.  

Notes:
*  As I’ll explore in my next post, the NY SAFE Act (a gun control law) does do some good things but it also has provisions that are unnecessary and don’t do anything to help make people safer.  I hear this a lot from people much more familiar with guns than I am.  Poor provisions fan the fires of polarization and fear that guns will be even further and pointlessly regulated.

**  I mentioned nuclear not only because I have some specialized knowledge in the field of nuclear engineering and there is a lot of fear mongering on the topic, but also because there’s a nuclear power plant in a small town here in Central New York that is the subject of much controversy over whether or not to keep it open.

The devil at work in the climate change “debate”?

A wolf in sheep’s clothing: another metaphor or image of Satan, the father of lies

A couple of weeks ago, my city’s newspaper, the Post-Standard, published an article framing climate change as a debate, with side-by-side columns arguing climate change is real and is not real.  This article was nationally syndicated: sent to newspapers across the country for publishing.  Much of the media has rejected the so-called “equal time” policy giving both sides of an argument a voice when one is simply false.  But not the Post-Standard, apparently.  A few letters to the editor were published expressing displeasure with this action, and I decided to write one from a religious angle.  It didn’t get published, so I’m sharing it here. It’s a bit of an unusual approach, but I think it’s accurate and important to say.

To the Editor:

As an environmental engineer, person of faith, and Coordinator of the interfaith Religions for Peace International Youth Committee, I am shocked and dismayed that the Post-Standard published a prominent article giving credence to the view that human actions – most notably burning of fossil fuels – are not causing climate change. (Should Congress defy Trump and move quickly on climate change,” February 5). This is a truly Satanic – yes Satanic – action by both the author William Happer and the Post-Standard.

Although I don’t believe Satan is a literal being, the concept is nonetheless powerful and profound. Satan is the father of lies, a master deceiver who parades as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14).  The article in question pits a mere “progressive commentator” who argues climate change is real versus William Happer, an emeritus physics professor who is knowingly or unknowingly acting as a mouthpiece of the devil.  By the contrast of credentials, the article wants us to believe that Happer is an “angel” representing science, knowledge, and truth while the progressive commentator is wrong and climate change is a lie.  We must see past this devilish deception.

We have known since the 1860s (John Tyndall) that CO2 traps heat from sunlight.  In the 1980s, simple calculations by scientists showed that humanity’s fossil fuel use would lead to higher CO2 levels than the Earth has experienced in hundreds of thousands of years, and was increasing at a rate thousands of times faster than natural change.

All people of good will, of all religions and no religion, must resist lies denying climate change.  Further, we need to demand practical and bi-partisan solutions that will also help the economy, such as a revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend.

Counting the cost, climate change, and carbon fees (Part 1 of 2)

Record breaking global temperatures for 2015 as reported by NASA. Source: http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-noaa-analyses-reveal-record-shattering-global-warm-temperatures-in-2015

Record breaking global temperatures for 2015 as reported by NASA. Source: http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-noaa-analyses-reveal-record-shattering-global-warm-temperatures-in-2015

In this 2-part post, I’ll give some background and reflection on one of Jesus’ parables and in the next post I’ll tie it in to the topic of climate change.

Jesus told a parable about counting the cost:

A king is thinking about going to war with another country. You better bet the king will send some scouts or spies to figure out how big the other army is. Do his forces even have a chance? If not, the costs are far too high and he’d be foolish to wage war.

A builder wants to build a tower. A competent builder would sit down and figure out how much it costs to build the tower, and only build it if he can afford it. Otherwise, the builder will run out of money, the tower will only be partially built, and people will see it and laugh.

Counting the cost is simply good common sense. It helps you make good decisions.

Without counting the cost you might honestly not know how to choose between 2 options. If you’re already leaning toward the bad option and you don’t count the cost, you’ll probably pick the wrong choice!

Being a follower of Jesus back during his day wasn’t easy. He had an alternative view of how human relations should work, one based on love, forgiveness, and justice. He used an analogy of a godly kingdom founded on these values, one that was blasphemous to the actual kingdoms of his day because those kingdoms were founded (partly? mostly?) on power and oppression. Even more, kings justified their power and authority by claiming it was from God. As a result, they couldn’t stomach any competing kingdom or authority within their own kingdom. Jesus’ view of a godly kingdom was also blasphemous to those who insisted that religious rules were more important than love, or who coveted their religious leadership mainly because of the power it gave them over others.

The movement Jesus started was difficult, and dangerous. Friends might stop being your friend. Family might disown you. Religious or state authorities might kill or imprison you.

But there were also perks: a new way of life, a deep sense of peace and purpose, and forging bonds of friendship and new family deeper than blood.

Today, Christianity is generally an accepted part of our culture. It’s often associated with privilege, respect, or power. I personally believe that institutional Christianity has forgotten, ignores, or explains away many of the deepest, most profound, and most difficult of Jesus’ teachings, especially those on power, violence, justice, and self-giving love.

But getting back to Jesus’ time and the original context of the parable, counting the costs of discipleship.  Being aware of the costs – acknowledging and facing them – was actually better than ignoring them. By counting the cost in advance, a potential follower of Jesus could decide if the path was really worth it. When or if suffering came later on they would be ready and could accept it.

Stay tuned for next time, when I apply this to our current challenge of climate change and weaning ourselves from fossil fuels.