Rhonda Cagle

Posts Tagged ‘Arizona’

In the Presence of Mixed Company

In Uncategorized on November 26, 2012 at 11:18 am

I wrote this a few nights ago following a dinner date with my husband. Well, it was supposed to be a quiet dinner date. It turned into something very different and very unexpected. The dinner and resulting conversation wasn’t what we had envisioned – but it’s one that needed to take place.

The first rule of blogging is this: Never blog while drinking. The second is similar: Never blog while angry. That’s a pity. I’m breaking both rules.

After a lot of life washing under the proverbial bridge during the past few months, my husband, Lorenzo, and I decided to go out for a quiet dinner before our home is inundated with kids and relatives and all things Thanksgiving-ish as I cook over the next two days for a dozen people who are coming to our house for football and the Turkey Day festivities. Tonight was not a fancy dinner. Just a much-appreciated Groupon and a chance to try a local Italian restaurant on a Tuesday evening.  But it was our one night to relax, reconnect, and enjoy some precious time together.

The evening started off well. Lorenzo ordered me a glass of wine and told me I look pretty. This, after weeks of me not sleeping consistently, being stressed out, and spending the day wrangling client deadlines and fighting the crowds at the pre-Thanksgiving grocery store. He’s a politician. He’s good at placating people. On nights like this, I appreciate this skill.

As our server brought us our salads, a dozen tables turned to listen to a woman who stood up to speak. The rest of us – a handful of tables – looked over with confusion and annoyance as this woman interrupted our dinner dates. She thanked folks for being in attendance and introduced their guest speaker, Andrew Thomas.

For those of you not acquainted with Arizona politics, let me help you with perspective. Andrew Thomas is the former Maricopa County Attorney. He, along with Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Governor Jan Brewer, are responsible for putting the “south” in Southwest by championing the infamous SB 1070; most of which has been ruled unconstitutional. He was ultimately disbarred and discredited by the non-partisan Arizona Bar Association for abusing the power of his office. Despite losing his law license and being publically disgraced, he’s now eyeing a run for governor in 2014, which brings us back to tonight’s dinner.

Mr. Thomas stood up and began addressing the group, which included the entire restaurant as there was no private room for this “meeting.” This meant Lorenzo and I were subjected to his comments. These comments included correlations between New Testament scripture and SB 1070. They included his assertion that Sheriff Joe was exonerated of wrongdoing by the federal Department of Justice. His comments included his version of his disbarment; namely, that he was “jacked by liberal Democrats who went after his law license for simply upholding the law.”

Mr. Thomas had a lot of blame to go around – for everyone but himself. He blamed the Arizona Republic for being part of a liberal media conspiracy determined to push him out of office. He blamed the “illegals.” He blamed the Feds. He blamed the Democrats. He blamed Arizona, our country, and the President of the United States for abandoning all that is holy, patriotic, and true. People clapped. I lost my appetite. And my temper.

Let’s be clear. Until this last election, when my husband ran for office, I was a registered Independent. I’ve voted for Republicans and Democrats. More than once. Including this most recent election. I’m not a Constitution-wielding, Bible-thumping Tea Partier and I’m not a godless, baby-aborting liberal. I’m an American. And tonight, I’m simply a wife who wanted a quiet dinner date with my husband. Unfortunately, I didn’t get that dinner.

After listening to Andrew Thomas revise history, insult God and Holy Scripture, and rescript the founding fathers, the hostess of this “meeting” in a public restaurant stood up and said, “Thank you for your time. I realize we’re in mixed company and I appreciate your attention.”

She said this while looking directly at my husband. The only Hispanic in the room, besides our server. The man that several people were now staring at. This man who serves on three statewide boards and holds a Governor-appointed role as commissioner. This man, who works with our state’s largest corporations and not-for-profits to strategically allocate hundreds of thousands of dollars in philanthropic investments into our community. This man, who was named one of the “most influential business leaders” by the Phoenix Business Journal.

This woman and her associates didn’t see this man. They simply saw a Mexican.

We asked for our food to be packaged up in “to go” boxes. We tipped our server well; she was clearly embarrassed and apologized for the “meeting.” I honestly felt the need to apologize to her, as she was, by mere ethnicity, lumped in the same heap as Lorenzo.

We walked out of the restaurant and Lorenzo was patient as I embarked on a tirade. I railed against Thomas’ arrogance and the ignorance of those who had clapped for him. I shouted that of all people, I – whose forefathers had owned other humans in the pre-Civil war South – should have a right to speak against overt racism and discrimination. And then he said this:

“I ran for office so I could defend their right to speak their opinion.
I would do it again and be proud to be their representative.
That is what this country is built upon.”

I’ve been quiet ever since. The truth is, I don’t know what to say in the face of such grace and humility. This man, who was publically embarrassed tonight, defended the rights of those who embarrassed him. He stood up for those who would have suggested “self-deportation” to him; despite the fact that he and his ancestors have been living here since before it was the United States of America.

Since my husband lost his election, I’ve been telling him his only priority is to get back into the Fortune 500 world to help support our family. I was wrong. I’m hoping he runs again. Of all people, he is qualified to help move our state – and its people – into a mindset that embodies these words… “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness…”

It’s not the dinner I envisioned. It’s certainly not romantic. But it’s the dinner conversation that needed to take place. And not just at my table.

So… in the midst of passing the penne and pouring another glass of wine, I’m going to propose something radical – something that Andrew Thomas and Friends would not approve of nor likely understand. I’m proposing we stop referring to human beings – neighbors – as “mixed company.” I’m proposing we celebrate the diversity that makes our nation the greatest democratic experiment the world has ever known. And I’m suggesting we remember that, at the end of the day, we are fathers, husbands, public servants, friends, and neighbors; “one nation, under God, indivisible; with liberty and justice for all.”

Tonight at dinner, Andrew Thomas and his cronies gave lip service to those words, lamenting the fact that our country no longer stands on the principles of our founding fathers. I believe Mr. Thomas is mistaken. Tonight at dinner, the man sitting across the table from me lived and exemplified them.  Too bad I’m the only one in the room who saw it.

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Looking for the Christ In Christian

In Uncategorized on July 8, 2012 at 11:53 am

At the risk of sounding self-important, or worse yet, all “Jesusy” as Anne LaMott likes to phrase it, I find myself with a lingering taste of anger and injustice that borders on moral outrage. I know, I know… “moral outrage” comes dangerously close to hyperbole, but it’s the phrase that comes closest to describing my feelings after reading a survey sent to my husband by a conservative Christian lobbying group.

And no, this is not a political rant. My husband is the politician; I am not. Since this is my blog and not his, I’m not writing about politics so whether you lean left or right, it’s safe to keep reading.

I am not overly political. I am, however, a Christian. Not a great one – certainly not one that feels morally superior enough to push my faith onto others. Most often, I find myself embarrassed by the made-for-TV televangelists who preach prosperity or conservative patriotism as tenants of the Christian faith. I don’t believe in that kind of religion – but I do believe in Christ.

To put it more succinctly, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible…” My theology has enough room to accommodate those who raise their hands and speak in tongues along with those who raise the chalice and believe in an epiclesis that results in trans-substantiation. But my theology, let alone my patience, has no room for any form of faith that does not hold at its core “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” Stated another way, faith is defined as loving God with all your heart, soul, and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself.

When my husband received a survey from a conservative Christian lobbying group for their voter guide, I expected their questions to reflect these priorities. I expected they would want to know of those running for political office in Arizona their stance on improving quality of living factors in our state. It seemed reasonable they would want a thoughtful answer on difficult subjects such as subsidizing health care for poor kids or improving social services that increase child safety and prevent child abuse.

I was wrong. Not one question addressed the more than 1 in 4 children who live in poverty in Arizona. Not a single question about how to serve more than 12,000 children in our state foster care system. There was no opportunity to address the 29+% of Arizona’s children who experience food insecurity – a polite way of saying they don’t have enough to eat on a consistent basis. No question was asked about how to improve our state unemployment rate of approximately 9% – more than 17% when you factor in those who are underemployed or working multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Instead, they asked the following. “Please indicate whether you support (S) or oppose(O).”

  • Prohibiting touching or tipping dancers and fully nude performances in sexually oriented businesses.
  • Prohibiting abortion except when it is necessary to prevent the death of the mother.
  • Allowing slot machines and table games off Indian reservations.
  • Government granting unmarried domestic partners the same employee and health benefits as married couples.
  • Amending the United States Constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
  • Extending the current 60-day waiting period for divorces that involve minor children in order to encourage reconciliation.
  • Passing state laws that authorize local law enforcement officials to enforce federal immigration laws.

No questions about feeding the hungry. Clothing the naked. No questions about caring for “the least of these” in our state and society. Just a simple – one might say simplistic – “support” or “oppose.” Yes or no. Black or white. No shades of gray. No space for discussion. No room for mercy.

Their voter guide won’t have any information about my husband. He didn’t bother to fill out their survey. That’s okay. Their survey doesn’t have any information about the God I know.

As he’s campaigning, I’ve asked my husband to keep his focus on what Scripture defines as important. Widows. Orphans. The hungry. The naked. The “least of these.” Unfortunately in Arizona, it’s a list long enough to keep him busy for years to come.

As far as I’m concerned, this “Christian” lobbying group can keep their voter guide. I’ll make my voting choices based on people serious about ensuring Arizona’s kids go to bed educated, safe, and fed. Politicians will earn my vote when they make “the least of these” their priority. Once we’ve solved these fundamental priorities, we can then afford to turn our attention to the wisdom of amending our nation’s Constitution and deciding on whether or not to tip nude performers. Until then, we have real problems and real issues to address – both as citizens and people of faith.

That’s the real Gospel. The real priority. That’s the Christ I expect to see in anything that bears the title of Christian.

Over the Back Fence

In Uncategorized on November 10, 2011 at 9:48 pm

Fall in the sunny Sonoran Desert means the flames of Hades are receding as God decides Arizona is not the prime location for Hell after all.  Sunburnt folks like me, parched and scorched from a summer spent at a level of Dante’s Inferno known only to desert dwellers, begin to inhabit outdoor spaces again. We garden. We take walks. We dine al fresco. And we reacquaint ourselves with our neighbors.

Located in a typical west Valley suburban neighborhood, my home backs to a greenbelt and walking path. Throughout the day, my neighbors pass by. Being a gardener, my yard causes people to slow down and take in the beauty of lavender, pansies, petunias, vines of every color, and trees now turning glorious shades of red and gold. I love seeing the smiles that come over their faces as they slow down or even stop their jogging, pausing to take in the beauty of God’s creation.

Some of these people have become staples in my garden. One woman, a work-from-home insurance broker, walks every morning with her dog. Her determined stride slows as she peers over the back fence to see if I’m out enjoying my morning cup of coffee. Spying me on the back patio, she smiles and stops to speak, her cheerful voice evidencing the fact that she is clearly a morning person. The fact that I am not is evident from my disheveled hair and lack of makeup. Still, it does not keep me from getting up and walking over to the back fence to visit.

Our initial “good mornings” have turned into discussions about snippets of life – living as empty nesters, how she gets her dog to behave so well as mine bark and leap manically at the back fence, the perfect crock-pot meal for a cool fall evening, and how the economy is affecting our respective sole-proprietor businesses. And always, there are discussions about my garden – how my winter grass is coming in, what herbs I’ve planted this season, how my tomatoes are coming on, whether or not I’ll be putting out poinsettias for Christmas.  Sometimes she asks advice; others she just comments on which color combinations she likes the best. The other day, she mentioned how she looks forward to walking by my back fence, stopping for a bit of seasonal color and conversation.

When I first bought my home, I planted vines along the back wall, hoping they would screen out the walking path and those who pass by each day. I’m glad they haven’t. Over the back fence, my neighbors and I enjoy my garden – and the friendships it cultivates.

Eyes Wide Open

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2011 at 9:39 pm

For the past few days, I’ve been doing a lot of listening. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was nearly killed for doing exactly this so I thought it was the least I could do in the days following her attempted assassination and the massacre of six others.

Since Saturday, I’ve kept my mouth shut and my ears opened.

I’ve listened to family members remember our neighbors lost. A mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother – a Republican – who prided herself on cooking amazing holiday dinners for her family decided to go and get to know a Democratic Congresswoman who had impressed her. A pastor, known for his work in clothing and feeding the needy within the community, had decided to stop and ask one or two questions before going to breakfast with his wife. A nine-year-old little girl, recently elected to her student council, wanted to meet her congresswoman and learn more about how democracy and our nation works.

By now, we all know what happened next. A few seconds and an empty 30-round clip later, the blood of our neighbors and the lifeblood of our country ran in the streets of a previously quiet Western town.

In the following days, I’ve listened as people have mourned the loss of lives… grieved the pain of the wounded… and wondered where to lay the blame. And I’ve listened as the conversation has turned to examine the tenor and tone of the political discourse within our nation. And I’ve heard people become increasingly defensive about this violence being the act of a heinous and unbalanced individual.

It was.

But is this really the point?

Deserved or not, this moment in our national history has brought us – albeit kicking and screaming – back to the doorstep of civility and respect. It’s brought into focus the fact that our words fall on the ears of the healthy and the fragile, the balanced and the unhinged. And our words have power. Power to unite and power to divide. Power to heal and power to wound. Power to inspire and power to disillusion.

The fact that our nation is finally having this conversation for any reason is nothing short of a miracle. No less so than Congresswoman Giffords opening her eyes for the first time since her shooting.

If she can open her eyes after experiencing such reckless hate, surely we can do the same.

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