Friday, July 29, 2016

prayer and quiet waiting DNC 2016: part two

My closing thoughts about tonight's DNC 2016 are shaped by an unexpected turn of events. We were able to share dinner with our daughter and son-in-law as well his parents who just arrived in from NYC this evening. It was a grand time of excellent fresh, local food and wonderful stories. Then, before W's blueberry pie and homemade ice cream, we retired to watch the close of the DNC. It was too late for Dolores Huerta and the Rev. Barber, but we caught the generals - an excellent and sober theatrical touch - emphasizing the irrationality of Mrs. Clinton's opponent. And also Chelsea Clinton's introduction and homage to her mother. Then it was time for Hilary's acceptance speech and three truths hit me hard:
+First, I was watching this historic event in the presence of three strong, independent and creative women: a mother, a step-mother and my daughter. Each of these women have weathered discrimination and oppression unique to their generation and each have found ways to both address it and challenge it with grace and courage. There could not be a better spot in the world to be taking in this monumental moment.
+ Second, during a speech laying out a vision of inclusivity and diversity, it hit me that we were: urban, rural and small city together, male and female, young and more mature, too. Further we were Christian, Jew and nones listening to a speech by America's first woman as she accepted her party's nomination to be president. There was a humility about her call to nourish trust in community and that resonated in a room where some of our ancestors had immigrated from Russia during the pogroms of the late 1880s, others had been Scots Irish farmers, English sheep herders or the children of French Huguenots.
+ And third, what a wonderful contrast of visions the DNC presented in clear opposition to nightmares of the RNC. Say what you will about some of the failings of the Democrats, they pointed towards hope and humor, compassion and credibility to say nothing of the importance of taking the next step in perfecting our ever-changing union. By contrast, the Republics were crude, rude, vulgar and mean-spirited. Further, they bowed down to a bully with a limited attention span and no business ethics. For me, the best moment of Mrs. Clinton's speech came when she said something about "people often accuse me of paying too much attention to the details... but these details matter when they involve the life of someone you love!" Brilliant, bold and tender all at the same time. And as I sat in the room with three generations of strong, creative and brilliant women and heard her accept the nomination to be president, my eyes were full to overflowing.
There is a lot of work to be done over the next 100 days and the polling between these parties shows a tight race. I am grateful that this convention articulated a choice that Michelle Obama summarized as: when they go low, we go high! All of this is additionally poignant to me for over the next two weeks our home will be filled with a family reunion of sorts:  the Brooklyn family is moving today from their home of 7 years and will be staying with us on and off until the new condo is ready. My dear brother and sister in law from San Francisco will be coming into town next Sunday, too in anticipation of the remaining Lumsden Clan gathering in Webster, MA to lay the cremains of our parents and sister Beth to their final resting place. In between, there will be feasting and story-telling - and maybe a shared trip to the lawn at Tanglewood. We've been moving furniture, cleaning floors and getting things ready for a few weeks of loving reconnection. To those of you who check in here from time to time: I'll be writing a bit over the next few weeks but it will be intermittent. Blessings.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

organizing for freedom: how?

When I engage in public political critique, it comes from a discrete set of experiences: that of a
straight, white, middle class American male who continues to be influenced by the New Left, the organizing principles of Saul Alinsky and Fred Ross, the American Civil Rights movement and the wisdom of E.F. Schumacher's "small is beautiful" practices. I came of age during the close of the Vietnam War and the rise of 20th century feminism. My theoretical foundation for social action was built upon the hard work of MLK and Malcom X, Germaine Greer, Dave Dellinger, Ann Moody, Cesar Chavez, Carol Hanisch, Tom Hayden, Frantz Fanon, Mohandas Gandhi, Karl Marx, Dick Gregory, Gustavo Gutierrez, early Cornel West, James Weinstein, Dorothee Soelle, Todd Gitlin and Michael Harrington. At different times I was a member of Democratic Socialists of America and/or the New American Movement.

My worldview is neither unique nor more insightful than any other analytical frame of reference giving shape and form to theory, action and reflection in the USA.  No better than some, no worse than others. I live with the blinders and burdens of class, gender and race as well as the blessings of great teachers, mentors and experiences that far exceed the limits of my bourgeois origins. I have been able to:

+ Organize with the farm workers and Mississippi wood cutters for better wages and work place safety.

+ Work in solidarity with the Nicaraguan revolution in the early days (visiting Managua on the first anniversary of its liberation) as well as the revolutionary quest for freedom in El Salvador.

+ Collaborate in cross cultural, multi-racial education politics in Cleveland where I was twice elected to public office as part of an interracial reform effort to bring better schools to poor students.

+ Serve as a lead sponsor (and organizing officer) for three grassroots, community organizing projects (Cleveland, Tucson and the Berkshires) using Alinsky-esque principles.

+ Participate in multi-cultural, people-to-people peace and art projects to the former Soviet Union (four times) and once to modern Turkey.
The closer I get to retirement after 35 years of parish ministry, the more questions and concerns I collect about how to connect with the ever-changing dynamics and issues for social justice that are emerging in the 21st century. After the ups and downs of the "Occupy Movement" five years ago, the way organizing is being accomplished (and measured) is morphing beyond my experiential comprehension. The bold and creative expressions of liberation that are currently engaging the hearts and minds of many Americans - from Bernie Sanders' bid for the presidency to the advocacy of Black Lives Matter - strike me as insightful, passionate and yet organizationally "soft." That is, there is a clear articulation of the problems without equally clear lines of responsibility and accountability. 

Consequently, I have three questions about the viability of these movements for the future. And let me be explicit: it is not because I am trying to diminish the important work of a generation's expression of social justice commitments, nor is it because I think my old school ways are superior. Rather, my concern has to do with mobilizing social change that can endure.  It is no secret that during Obama's first bid for the presidency, he had a tremendous ground game that utilized both the traditional tools of empowerment as well as the new blessings of social media. After the election, however, no matter how hard they tried, his network was never able to turn out comparable numbers of people or money for on-going agitation. The time-tested axiom that "power is either organized money or organized people" was proven once again after the initial fervor had passed. This causes me to ask those currently engaged or re-energized for justice work in this era the following:

1) How does a social movement that operates fundamentally through social media hold participants accountable?  How do "members" learn discipline? How do they come to trust one another? Who drives the intra-organizational communication network? How is consensus achieved re: issues? Who formally articulates these issues? How are these leaders selected - and evaluated?  There is a school of thought about social change that has been best summarized by Frances Fox Piven:  social movements rise and fall like waves - the challenge is to ride these waves and get everything possible during their brief cresting before the energy subsides. The Alinsky/Ross school, however, questions the lack of sustainability of this approach. Their alternative is to train local grassroots justice leaders to build inter-faith/inter-cultural/inter-class organizations working in networks defined by local issues to draw disparate people into relationships of self-interest. As disempowered individuals achieve local power, they discover new ways to strengthen solidarity across personal differences and regional isolation so that larger, macro-issues can be tackled. One approach is dependent upon exploiting an unpredictable spirit moving through the culture. The other begins by listening to the felt needs of ordinary people and helping them act on their shared self-interest. How can this second approach ripen in organizing built primarily upon social media resources?

2) How will the advocacy efforts of 21st century organizing projects be sustained after discrete campaigns end or the emotional passion dissipates? Cesar Chavez used to teach that the reason he was committed to building an organizing base that controlled its own fundraising mechanism was simple:  good-hearted people grow weary. When good people get tired - or bored - or distracted, they always take their money with them. Not so for those with a vested self-interest in a cause, although even the most self-interested people still need systems in place to generate operational funds (or dues) on a regular basis. Without adequate resources for leadership, education and advocacy, too many justice projects die on the vine. The romantic, neo-anarchism of recent movements relies a great deal upon feelings - waves of social concern for motivation as Fox Piven describes - without much cultivation of self-interest and infrastructure. This is worrisome - especially when self-interest itself is so often confused with selfishness. The community organizing model posits that there are three responses to an issue: 1) selfishness 2) selflessness and 3) self-interest.  Selfishness is akin to greed, selflessness is about detachment, while self-interest identifies a personal need or concern that needs resolution. Resources for social movements without a well-defined understanding of self-interest tend to fizzle out. How is this being addressed today? IS this being addressed in a systematic and sustained way today? The Tea Party evoked grassroots self-interest but was funded by Koch Brothers money born of selfishness. How are progressive justice people addressing this reality for our era? 

3) How is new leadership identified, trained and empowered in what appears to be a
loose organizational structure?  When a wave of concern emerges over an injustice, local leaders rise to the surface. When the specifics of that wave pass, most of these leaders drift back into obscurity. Without a committed effort to leadership training and recruitment - like that which equipped Rosa Parks with the analysis, courage and skills to challenge American apartheid - social change remains locked into the ups and downs of the zeitgeist. Asking for volunteers to run for down ticket offices on social media is, at best, a meager nod to real leadership recruitment and training - and most likely ineffective. Recently Bernie emailed his cadre NOT to boo during the DNC - and it did not work. Emails do not evoke discipline or commitment. Electronic communication can sometimes offer one level of training, but nothing like the schools of civil disobedience that flourished during Mississippi Freedom summer or even the larger campaigns in South Africa. Those events took leaders who had been personally trained in time-tested organizing skills - and regularly evaluated to help strengthen their interactive relational tactics - and mentored them so that they, in turn, could mentor others. Where is a comparable effort like this taking place today? I am not being nostalgic, just strategic. Justice movement don't need more distracted dilettantes, but authentic and well trained leaders.

Some have suggested to me that slow cultural change helps people acquire the ability to think and act in new ways. That strikes me as partially true: over the past 10 years, for example, the core of American culture has embraced and even celebrated LGBTQ civil and marriage rights in ways that were once unimaginable. But this cultural change came about only after decades of sustained organizing, agitating, fund raising, education, movies, music and TV shows as well as the active participation of the once mainstream Protestant churches and synagogues of our land. It was not inevitable nor accidental.

Perhaps a music analogy makes sense in closing.  The Beat Poets of the 50s used to think that jazz improvisation was simply riffing on a feeling in the moment. This infuriated jazz artists who knew that being in the moment required hours of playing scales. And rigorous study and practice. To say nothing of trying new ideas out in the privacy of their studio or shed before bringing it to the bandstand. My experience suggests the same is true with advancing the music of freedom: it too needs a structure before it can maintain its beauty for the long haul.  What do you think? What am I missing? All kind and genuine comments and insights welcome!




Tuesday, July 26, 2016

prayer and quiet waiting: DNC 2016 part one...

So let me confess from the outset: I wept without reservation 3 times tonight during the DNC 2016 in Philadelphia. Frederick Buechner used to advise us to pay attention to our tears. " Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention.They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go to next."
The first time came when Paul Simon sang "Bridge Over Troubled Waters." This was soul food on so many levels: recognizing the very real differences that exist in our nation and world, acknowledging the differences (real and imagined) between Hilary and Bernie and inviting us into a truth that are greater than our differences: "I'm on your side..." This is prayer language with pop/gospel music and it brought the convention into focus: we are not petulant adolescences or polarized individuals disagreeing with our parents and/or leaders, we are sisters and brothers struggling for the the future and the soul of our nation.
The second time was when Al Franken and Sarah Silverman spoke - especially when she told us of "feeling the Bern!" She honored the profound contribution and hope Senator Sanders evoked and mobilized over the past 18 months. And then, with equal candor and zeal, she told the ideologues in the crowd to "Stop being ridiculous." It was an invitation to grow up and take account of a reality bigger than our respective hurt feelings or disappointments. As a Bernie fan, this was powerful to me and spoke of the deep consequences involved in this election from the Supreme Court to the needs of working women and men - and freedom of choice on every level.
And then there was Michelle Obama... words are not great enough for her personal testimony of what it means to live into the promise of American equality and justice. She made it real, she kept it grounded and did so with grace, humor and integrity "Every morning I wake up in a house built by slaves..." Her very essence celebrates what binds us together - and what is at stake in this election. And I am not ashamed at all to say I wept and wept and wept - and they were tears of joy, gratitude and solidarity.

One of the people I read on FB from time to time wrote that she did not get the "religious" feelings some people have when it comes to love of country. I do - not when our American dream is forced to pander to race hatred, fear of the immigrant or economic discrimination - but I still am stirred whenever I sing "America the Beautiful." It is not the only blessed nation in creation, but it is my blessed nation and I cherish the call to care for our people and our land in respectful and just ways.
I don't have much to say about either Elizabeth Warren's address or Bernie's swan song. They were both clear, predictable and played to their respective audiences. And while I am grateful that Senator Sanders didn't pull a Ted Cruz - Bernie has too much integrity (and Hilary was not a cruel and belligerent bully towards his family either) - neither speech touched me. I thought Bernie's highlight was the emotional response of his followers at the start of the speech. They are genuinely people of the dream, too - and I have the greatest gratitude for them.
The energy of this opening night was just as Cory Booker said: it is about loving one another and needing one another not tolerance. It was profoundly different from the fear and hatred of the RNC. Let's see where this takes us tomorrow...

Sunday, July 24, 2016

generous listening, precise and living giving stories...

NOTE:  Here are today's worship notes for the second Sunday of the summer using Krista
Tippett's new book, Becoming Wise, as a starting point.

Introduction
One of my political and ecclesiastical colleagues from Cleveland, the Reverend Dr. Marvin McMickle who currently serves as the President of Colgate-Rochester Theological Seminary, recently wrote these words to his friends on Facebook:

At times like these when the world seems to be at its darkest, it is essential that our faith in Christ shines forth at its brightest level. Whatever we say or do about the hateful and hurtful events occurring around us in this country and abroad, we must always remain faithful to the core teachings of Jesus. This is no time for foolishness and frivolity in the pulpit. This is a time for prophets to rise and for God's message of justice, love, mercy, and grace to be declared. Many people will be protesting many things over the next two weeks. I hope the words of the gospel can be declared and heard above the shouts and chants of the moment. The prophets always began by saying, "Thus says the Lord." Preachers, please don't step outside of your authority and become just another news commentator. Tell the world what the Lord says.

Brother McMickle knows that words matter:  as Krista Tippett sp carefully articulates in her new book, Becoming Wise, “words make worlds… and our words can either help us repair the world or tear it further apart.” Today as I press on with part two of our worship series constructed upon the insights of Ms. Tippett’s text in dialogue with the appointed Bible reading for this day, there are three broad points I would like us to consider:

·    First, the importance of knowing, telling, hearing and sharing life-giving stories and poems in community – especially in times of trouble and anxiety – as an alternative to fear.

·    Second, the imperative of listening carefully and generously to all people – but especially those with whom we fundamentally disagree – and responding to them with vulnerability and humility rather than anything even remotely resembling arrogance.

·     And third,  the  indispensable urgency of honing our verbal skills in public with precision and probity so that creative alternatives to hatred, panic and chaos are birthed among us.

The Word made Flesh never asked us to agree with everyone we meet nor find common ground where it does not exist. But we have been advised to become wise as serpents and gentle as doves in pursuit of shalom and this cannot come to pass without clarity.  Our words make worlds – and our world’s a mess partly because of our sloppy, ugly and dangerous words – speaking without thinking as a Polish dissident once said to me in Warsaw.  “Americans do it all the time,” he said, “You are privileged to live in a place where your words seem to have no consequences – or so you think – but that would never happen here in our police state.”  So, using Tippett’s book as a launching pad, let’s talk together about this morning’s stories from the Bible and tease out a few implications for living into these challenging times.

Insights
The first narrative we are asked to contend with speaks to Tippett’s point about sharing
creative, nuanced, poetic and life-giving stories if we are ever to move beyond our culture’s current starvation for fresh language.  We live in an era drenched “in the failure of official language and discourse” to tell us the truth. She writes:  “We crave truth tellers. We crave real truth – and there’s so much baloney all the time… the performance of political speeches you see on the news (are so often double-speak) that it feels like there should be a thought bubble over the head of the speaker saying “what I really would say if I could say it is… this!’”

+ That is part of the attraction and appeal to Donald Trump’s stream of consciousness shenanigans:  his words may be filled with lies, hatred, dangerous and incoherent free associations – they may be jingoistic and soaked in white supremacy code words – but they are passionate and hit some of us in the gut.  The same was true for many of the speeches shared at the Republican Convention in Cleveland: they were crude and often vulgar diatribes, hardly what we have come to expect in public presentations, but they were saturated in deep experiences of loss and anxiety and thus articulated authenticity.

      + I don’t think I heard one talking head get behind a podium and use policy wonk during that whole event. It was reality TV on steroids – immediate, passionate and forceful words.  What it wasn’t, however, was compassionate or even life-giving. It was rant without reason, coarse rage without constructive alternatives, a public temper tantrum in prime time that never moved real people beyond their grief to lament and then the humble and complicated reconstruction of our common lives.

That’s why all the world religions insist upon telling and retelling the time-tested stories of our respective traditions.  These stories keep us from becoming too self-absorbed and offer broad, poetic language that annihilates ideology.  Professor Walter Brueggemann put it like this:

The Old Testament prophets hardly ever discuss an “issue.” What they’re doing is going underneath the issues that preoccupy people to the more foundational assumptions that can only be gotten at in elusive or poetic language.  Sadly, the institutional church has been preoccupied with issues. And when we do that, we are robbed of transformative power because then it is ideology against ideology and that does not produce very good outcomes for anyone.

Consider the deeper truths offered to us in the story of Abraham on the road to Sodom.  Please
note that this is still chapter 18 of Genesis – this is still a narrative about God doing extraordinary and surprising things in our lives – like what has just preceded today’s text. Those of you who were here last week, do you remember what happened during the story of Abraham and Sara in their old age?  God’s promise of progeny was delivered in the form of a baby named Isaac, right?  And what does the name Isaac mean, if you recall? He laughs – laughter – one who is surprised by God’s extraordinary gift of life even in the most unexpected situations.  So, while the action we going to hear about today moves beyond the laughter, the surprises born of grace are still be held close and not forgotten, ok? And they include: first, a story that speaks of God’s commitment to share the fullness of life in all its complexities with Abraham and Sarah and by implication you and me, too. 

·     Verses 16-19 tell us: “That the men (the angelic messengers of the Lord) set out from there, and they looked toward Sodom; and Abraham went with them to set them on their way. The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; so that the Lord may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”

·     Do grasp what’s taking place in these three sentences?  Abraham is given an awareness of the cruelty and sin taking place in Sodom and Gomorrah – the wickedness and offense – but it has nothing to do with the homosexuality we were once taught. Rather the sin of Sodom is their wanton selfishness, greed and the total absence of hospitality – especially to the poor. The prophet Ezekiel was explicit in chapter 16: This was the sin of your sister Sodom – she and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned – self-absorbed – for they did nothing to help the poor and needy in their community. What this story is telling us in vibrant detail is that we are intimately tied into the healing of the world – tikkun olam as the Hebrew prophets put it – the repair of the world.  It begins with understanding both the brokenness of our sisters and brothers and the complexity that informs this breech.  In our text we are told that Abraham has been charged by the Lord to do righteousness and justice – tzedek and mishpat – advancing merciful and true relations between kindred flesh and healing acts of fairness in real time. So in conversation and questioning, God and the angels decide that Abraham cannot be kept in the dark about the wounds of the world.  That’s one truth we need to reclaim in this story.

The other is that there are precious few easy answers in the work of compassion and justice – rarely are their satisfying short-cuts or one size fits all solutions – so we need all the rigorous conversation and questioning of one another and God we can muster if we’re serious about repairing the world. That’s the second insight:  Abraham openly argues with the Lord and raises questions NOT because he knows better than God, but because this is how wise people learn and clarify what is true and possible. He isn’t playing “gotcha” but searching out the meaning of loving kindness in the real world.

That means Abraham has to listen generously, like Tippett urges, and speak with precision in order to come to some sense of what compassion and justice could mean for his moment in time: Platitudes and official political language or ideology do NOT save the day. Plagiarism doesn’t advance the cause much either. Only conversation impregnated with personal vulnerability and genuine generosity cuts the mustard.

      And that’s what we get here:  Abraham realizes that there is going to be bewildering collateral damage in God’s proposed destruction of Sodom, so he challenges the Lord saying, “I grasp your need to act, O Lord, but do you have to destroy everyone? What if I can find 50 just and loving people? Will your loving kindness trump your anger? Is your mercy greater than your wrath?”  Good questions and they cause God to reconsider the excessive implications of even holy anger. “Well, no I don’t actually have to act that way….” Then the real parsing begins:  well how about 45? Or 40?  It is the origin of sacred bargaining with blood and lives hanging in the balance: suppose I find 30?  Will you still be cruel in the name of loving-kindness?  20? 15? 10?  Will you hold off your righteous anger, Lord, for just 10 loving people?

This is a GREAT story if we’re paying attention that points to the way wisdom takes up residence in the human experience. It urges us to honor gracious questioning in community and prayer. It pushes us past “debating issues by way of competing certainties… so that we sense what is at stake for real human beings.”  And it emphasizes that our “well-being is linked to that of others in wider and wider circles, beyond family and tribe.” But we only comprehend this if we’re willing to wildly raise questions and then listen with intense generosity. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote:

Love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers (all at once) which could not even be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. For the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answers.

We tell and retell and insist on telling again the life-giving stories and poems of our tradition so that we can move beyond egocentricity and immature fears into the adult realm of ambiguity, paradox, surprise, generosity and compassion.  This takes practice – and time – and commitment, virtues and disciplines that are in short supply these days.  Small wonder we no longer know how to listen to one another with generosity or speak to people we mistrust or disagree with patience, precision or vulnerability.  The way of the Lord, you see, is NOT about winning or being snarky.  In fact, our Savior Jesus was the biggest loser ever born:  his life didn’t wind up at Trump Towers but in the shame of death upon the Cross.  So let’s be clear that if we are going to experience and honor the counter-cultural compassion, justice, mercy and peace of the Lord, we need to practice it. Make it a priority. Commit to learning it as a discipline, a goal and a life standard not a hobby or an occasional distraction.

+ Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, believes that in the 21st century that living as one of Christ’s disciples has become a lost art:  “The notion that we need to be skilled, need to be wise in order to be God’s creatures, has been discarded and abandoned.”

      + The Lord’s disciples in the other story for today, found in St. Luke’s gospel, tells us precisely this truth: teach us to pray they ask!  Show us the way!  Help us to learn what we do not already know. In this we see the value of humility and trust and even fortitude in pursuit of serenity.

And Jesus delivers in two illuminating ways: He  gives them first a prayer outline to master by practice – what we call the Lord’s Prayer – and then speaks to of living with into life’s questions:  ask, search and knock and it shall be given to you.  These are not stream of consciousness ramblings or off the cuff remarks, but the careful distillation of sacred wisdom. 

The poet, Susan Stewart, said “that hearing is how we touch one another at a distance.” Jesus gave his followers precise words to practice – and in the hearing of these words as well as their spoken repetition – the disciples found themselves touched by God’s wisdom rather.  Specifically, when the disciples listened to Jesus, they were practicing a spiritual discipline that included:  trusting a love greater than their imaginations, surrendering to an authority built upon love and compassion rather than competition and forgiveness within and among others even those who wound us:

Father – our Father, not my father nor my possession, but our shared source of life beyond all
control – open us to your kingdom – your truth – your vision for creation that is not narrow or ideological – but pregnant with possibilities and peace for all.  Unlock for us a life of trust and hope that transcends anything we can control. In fact, let us live as if you were already the Lord of the earth as you are now in heaven. Let us only be concerned only about what we need for today – our daily bread – not hording or greed like Sodom and Gomorrah – but simple satisfaction like your children in the desert with Moses – where sharing by all meant scarcity for none and hording turned your holy manna into maggots. Let the totality of our lives, Lord, be guided by forgiveness – not shame or guilt of competition or winning – but tenderness within and humble generosity beyond for that is what you require:  do justice, share compassion and walk with me in humility.

Jesus taught them – instructed them – and insisted they not only learn these words by heart, but practice expressing them in their own words and actions; so that over time, but within history, these words of love would become flesh.  The Lord’s Prayer is a parallel New Testament story to the Hebrew Bible’s tale of Sodom and Gomorrah where Abraham pleads over and over for mercy as if he were saying: Lord, you are the one who forgives us as we have forgiven others, so let your judgment pass that grace may rule this day as it already does throughout your kingdom in heaven.  Today’s Psalm tells us much the same thing: the steadfast love and faithful-ness of the Lord endures forever. They are greater than God’s anger and wrath and at the heart of all that is holy.

Conclusion
We tell life-giving stories and poems to nourish our better angels.  We practice listening to others with generosity for this is how we touch one another at a distance beyond time and culture.  We cultivate precision in our words so that we bring healing rather than cruelty to creation.  I love the stories of the Hebrew Bible. I cherish the words of Jesus. And I give thanks to God for wise teachers like Krista Tippett who remind me that our words create worlds so our words, stories and poems must be generous and vast enough to give shape and form to the mercy and grace of our God.  Let me leave you with a story from the late Elie Wiesel that has guided my heart for nigh on to 35 years. It comes from the Hasidic master Israel of Rizhin born in Eastern Europe in 1797. He is the last undisputed leader of the Hasidic tradition – and a master story teller.  He used to speak of a young Hasid, a student of the second great rabbi Maggid of Mezeritch, who married the daughter of an opposing school of spirituality, who “forced him to choose between his family and his Rebbe.”

The son-in-law swore that he would not return to Mezertich and the wedding took place. But after a few months – or perhaps years – the young groom could not resist the impulse to join his companions and their Master as they prayed and danced in the forest. When he returned home his angry father-in-law marched him to the local rabbi for a judgment.  The rabbi consulted the Shulkhan Arukh (the 15th century guide to Jewish law in Europe) and issued this verdict: since the young man had broken his promise, he was to give his wife a divorce at once. Overnight, the young Hasid found himself homeless and on the street. He had no means of his own, no relations. Inconsolable, refusing all nourishment, they young mystic fell sick and with no one to care for him, died shortly thereafter.

“Well,” Rebbe Israel the Rizhiner used to say, “when the Messiah will come, the young Hasid will file a complaint against his father-in-law as well as the local rabbi charging them both guilty of his premature death. The first will say: “I obeyed the rabbi.” And the rabbi will say: “I obeyed the tradition.” And the Messiah will say: “The father-in-law is right, the rabbi is right and the Law is right, too.” Then he will kiss the young plaintiff and say: “But I, what do I have to do with them? For the Messiah has come for those who are not right.”

Let those who have ears to hear: hear.

Friday, July 22, 2016

you can't always get what you want? the inmates ARE running the asylum...

Beyond the obvious megalomania, despite the calculated demagoguery, last night's coronation
of Donald J. Trump at the RNC 2016 convention exposed America to the authentic, cruel and manipulative vision of how the Donald understands the working of the world. We already knew that he - and his family - were playing parts in his ultimate reality show : the rock star, backlit entrance on Monday night's introduction of Mrs. Trump, as well as Thursday's brooding portraiture during his acceptance speech, should have erased any ambiguity on this count. Even the audacious claim that he was the only one capable of solving our problems, while messianic, was not unexpected nor particularly insightful. We may have forgotten that this was a kabuki dance being played out in the public square, full of sound and thunder, and signifying almost nothing - but not so Mr. Trump. Most of the time, he knows what he is doing.

This was not the case, however, as closing convention music swelled up in the Quicken Loan Coliseum in Cleveland and the red, white and blue balloons tumbled gently down upon the delegates. This was Mr. Trump's closing tableau, outwardly a self-conscious paean to his power, but inwardly an unintentional projection of his ugly, crude and vicious worldview:

+ His team took the stage - all beautifully poised, professionally coiffured with NYC model-perfect designer clothes  - while the 70s rock band Free pumped out "All Right Now." This is a favorite tune for classic rockers - and strippers - with its insistent backbeat, power chords and ingratiating chorus:  "All right now, baby, it's all right now." I have no beef with classic rockers - or strippers - and on the surface, this song's chorus works. But the verses suggest a tactical Freudian slip of Trumpian magnitude because this song is about a man trying to hustle a babe into bed only to be shot down when she calls out his aggression. "I took her home to my place, watching every move on her face... but she said, 'Love?' Lord above - now you're trying to trick me with love!?!" 
I wondered, "Is this another example of Team Trump not doing due diligence on vetting and follow through? Is this another case of sloppy preparation like Mrs. Trump's plagiarism?" Could be, as much of the convention smacked of too little planning rolled out too late. I thought the Pence family looked oddly uncomfortable with this music, too. It could be, of course that their solidly Mid-Western frumpiness stood out against the Trump family's posh presentation and they felt like the out of step country cousins they so obviously were. But it could also be that the old culture warrior instincts that Mr. Pence has honed well were telling him that he was in hot water over his head with no place to duck and hide.  All right now, indeed.
+ My nature - even with Mr. Trump - is to give the benefit of the doubt. When the second closing song of the evening, "You Can't Always Get What You Want" started to blast the arena, however, I was certain that someone - the Donald? his staff? Beuller? Anyone? - was secretly shouting: watch out for this guy - he is dangerous.  Two things to know about the song. It was released in July 1969 as the B side to "Honky Tonk Women." with the ironic message that no matter how much life gives you, most of us want more. Some say it is about Maryanne Faithful's drug addiction (Mick Jagger's main squeeze at the time.) The closing verse, in my opinion, brings it all together in a bleak manner:

I saw her today at the reception, in her glass was a bleeding man
She was practiced at the art of deception, I could tell by her blood-stained hands

Grim, yes? A trapped, bleeding man in a deceptive woman's cocktail glass - with her hands stained by blood? This is NOT Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow!" This is not let's move towards the future with a sense of shared purpose and hope. This is something from the apocalypse. Remember: this Stone's album opens with their darkest and most challenging song ever recorded. "Gimme Shelter!" So what in God's name was Mr. Trump or his handlers trying to communicate to us? That the Donald is not what we want but what we need for this moment in time? Only 38% of Americans believe that. Could they be telling us - beyond their unvetted mistake - that this guy is a deceptive and dangerous hustler? Stranger things have been found to be true, yes? 

Further, the Stones (as well as Queen, Neil Young and others) have asked the campaign NOT to use their music. These artists have explicitly requested that their songs NOT be used in relationship to Mr. Trump's campaign. But that apparently doesn't matter: for Mr. Trump everything seems to be a commodity to be bought and sold before being discarded. Earlier this year, when Neil Young insisted that "Rockin' in the Free World" be taken out of the Trump playlist, the Donald did so but first made sure to publicly insult the artist even while stealing the artist's intellectual property for cheap political gain. Trump's relationship to music - like almost everything else including people - is that things are to be used as a resource,  exploited after it serves his purposes, and then thrown away like used tissue.

I went to bed last night bewildered by both musical presentations. Obviously, social media was equally a-buzz with questions, too. This is one dangerous dude, all glowing reports from his charming daughters notwithstanding. The way he treats music is tells us something we can deny at our own peril  be afraid - be very afraid. 
And then remember, the antidote to fear is knowledge AND organizing for justice.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

fear and prayer in cleveland: night three...

The most illuminating moment in last night's RNC 2016 extravaganza was when NY Times
columnist, David Brooks, asked Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council: what were the Christian values of character that Donald Trumps embodies that warranted evangelical Christian support? Perkins clearly wanted to dodge this verbal bullet - and tried to change the subject. But Brooks was animated and insistent. Eventually, after serious equivocation and fumbling, Perkins suggested that Trump's character celebrates Christian courage.  Then he quickly moved on to say that Trump has never been evangelical Christians first choice. That would have been Ted Cruz, the apocalyptic Pentecostal senator from Texas, who "blew up" last night's convention with his calculated refusal to endorse Trump.

Those with a sense of context may recall that Cruz entered the RNC with over 400 pledged delegates. He also continues to seethe over Trump's cruel and malicious defaming of both his father and spouse during the Republican primaries. So last night became an evening of pay back as Mr. Cruz exposed his vindictive and confusing theology to the nation while being Mr. Trump's convention guest. Clearly, Cruz does not believe that vengeance is mine saith the Lord (Deuteronomy 35:35 or Romans 12: 19) Rather, he holds fast to that mean-spirited and perverted understanding of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that claims Christ's Cross as a sword destined to bring honor only to the American flag rather than the lost, wounded and broken. Cruz has no grasp of St. Paul's wisdom that the Cross is foolishness because it hides the Lord's truth to those addicted to power and glory.


For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.  For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

But I digress:  the volatility of the Cruz double-cross warrants its own reflection. What claims my
attention today is the narrow sense of "God's will" among so-called evangelicals who have come to cherish the gospel of wealth, power and security rather than the testimony of Christ. No wonder Mr. Perkins was squirming as he wracked his conscience for a way to link the character of Christ with that of Donald Trump. It is slim pickin's - check out this list of 49 examples of Christian character as compiled by the Grace Online Library - Mr. Perkin's reply doesn't even show up.

Character Qualities
Alertness vs. Unawareness
Being aware of that which is taking place around me so I can have the right response to it (Mark 14:38)
Attentiveness vs. Unconcern
Showing the worth of a person by giving undivided attention to his words and emotions (Hebrews 2:1)
Availability vs. Self-centeredness
Making my own schedule and priorities secondary to the wishes of those I am serving (Philippians 2:20–21)
Boldness vs. Fearfulness
Confidence that what I have to say or do is true and right and just in the sight of God (Acts 4:29)
Cautiousness vs. Rashness
Knowing how important right timing is in accomplishing right actions (Proverbs 19:2)
Compassion vs. Indifference
Investing whatever is necessary to heal the hurts of others (I John 3:17)
Contentment vs. Covetousness
Realizing that God has provided everything I need for my present happiness (I Timothy 6:8)
Creativity vs. Underachievement
Approaching a need, a task, an idea from a new perspective (Romans 12:2)
Decisiveness vs. Double-mindedness
The ability to finalize difficult decisions based on the will and ways of God (James 1:5)
Deference vs. Rudeness
Limiting my freedom in order not offend the tastes of those whom God has called me to serve (Romans 14:21)
Dependability vs. Inconsistency
Fulfilling what I consented to do even if it means unexpected sacrifice (Psalm 15:4)
Determination vs. Faintheartedness
Purposing to accomplish God’s goals in God’s time regardless of the opposition (II Timothy 4:7–8)
Dligence vs. Slothfulness
Visualizing each task as a special assignment from the Lord and using all my energies to accomplish it (Colossians 3:23)
Discernment vs. Judgment
The God-given ability to understand why things happen (I Samuel 16:7)

Discretion vs. Simplemindedness
The ability to avoid words, actions, and attitudes which could result in undesirable consequences (Proverbs 22:3)
Endurance vs. Giving up
The inward strength to withstand stress to accomplish God’s best (Galatians 6:9)
Enthusiasm vs. Apathy
Expressing with my soul the joy of my spirit (I Thessalonians 5:16,19)
Faith vs. Presumption
Visualizing what God intends to do in a given situation and acting in harmony with it (Hebrews 11:1)
Flexibility vs. Resistance
Not setting my affections on ideas or plans which could be changed by God or others (Colossians 3:2)
Forgiveness vs. Rejection
Clearing the record of those who have wronged me and allowing God to love them through me (Ephesians 4:32)
Generosity vs. Stinginess
Realizing that all I have belongs to God and using it for His purposes (II Corinthians 9:6)
Gentleness vs. Harshness
Showing personal care and concern in meeting the need of others (I Thessalonians 2:7)
Gratefulness vs. Unthankfulness
Making known to God and others in what ways they have benefited my life (I Corinthians 4:7)
Hospitality vs. Loneliness
Cheerfully sharing food, shelter, and spiritual refreshment with those whom God brings into my life (Hebrews 13:2)
Humility vs. Pride
Recognizing that it is actually God and others who are responsible for the achievements in my life (James 4:6)
Initiative vs. Unresponsiveness
Recognizing and doing what needs to be done before I am asked to do it (Romans 12:21)
Joyfulness vs. Self-pity
The spontaneous enthusiasm of my spirit when my soul is in fellowship with the Lord (Psalm 16:11)
Justice vs. Fairness
Personal responsibility to God’s unchanging laws (Micah 6:8)
Love vs. Selfishness
Giving to others’ basic needs without having as my motive personal reward (I Corinthians 13:3)
Loyalty vs. Unfaithfulness
Using difficult times to demonstrate my commitment to God and to those whom He has called me to serve (John 15:13)
Meekness vs. Anger
Yielding my personal rights and expectations to God (Psalm 62:5)
Obedience vs. Willfulness
Freedom to be creative under the protection of divinely appointed authority (II Corinthians 10:5)
Orderliness vs. Disorganization
Preparing myself and my surroundings so I will achieve the greatest efficiency (I Corinthians 14:40)
Patience vs. Restlessness
Accepting a difficult situation from God without giving Him a deadline to remove it (Romans 5:3–4)
Persuasiveness vs. Contentiousness
Guiding vital truths around another’s mental roadblocks (II Timothy 2:24)
Punctuality vs. Tardiness
Showing high esteem for other people and their time (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
Resourcefulness vs. Wastefulness
Wise use of that which others would normally overlook or discard (Luke 16:10)
Responsibility vs. Unreliability
Knowing and doing what both God and others are expecting from me (Romans 14:12)
Reverence vs. Disrespect
Awareness of how God is working through the people and events in my life to produce the character of Christ in me (Proverbs 23:17–18)
Security vs. Anxiety
Structuring my life around that which is eternal and cannot be destroyed or taken away (John 6:27)
Self-Control vs. Self-indulgence
Instant obedience to the initial promptings of God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:24–25)
Sensitivity vs. Callousness
Exercising my senses so I can perceive the true spirit and emotions of those around me (Romans 12:15)
Sincerity vs. Hypocrisy
Eagerness to do what is right with transparent motives (I Peter 1:22)
Thoroughness vs. Incompleteness
Knowing what factors will diminish the effectiveness of my work or words if neglected (Proverbs 18:15)
Thriftiness vs. Extravagance
Not letting myself or others spend that which is not necessary (Luke 16:11)
Tolerance vs. Prejudice
Acceptance of others as unique expressions of specific character qualities in varying degrees of maturity (Philippians 2:2)
Truthfulness vs. Deception
Earning future trust by accurately reporting past facts (Ephesians 4:25)
Virtue vs. Impurity
The moral excellence and purity of spirit that radiate from my life as I obey God’s Word (II Peter 1:3)
Wisdom vs. Natural Inclinations
Seeing and responding to life’s situations from God’s frame of reference (Proverbs 9:10)


Another conservative Christian, Chris Gilmore, is equally challenging to both the so-called Religious Right and the reductionist religion Mr. Trump articulates in his Huffington Post article: "What If God DOESN'T Want America Great Again?"  (check it out @ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/what-if-god-doesnt-want-to-make-america-great-again_us_578b037be4b0e7c873504a05)

Have we become so attached to our stuff that we are certain God wants us to keep it? Have we become so accustomed to having a vote that we assume that’s how God orders the world? Are we so desperate for security that we are willing to compromise our most basic values to acheive it? And so opposed to our enemies that we are confident God hates them as much as we do? If so, we are misguided. These things do not line up with the Gospels where I learn of a Jesus who says to welcome the stranger, forgive extravagantly, give radically, and do not resist an evil person (and love them instead). A Jesus who erases cultural and political and religious divisions. Jesus who flat out says, “Whoever wants to be great needs to become a servant of everybody else.” But we have little time for that sort of greatness. “Be A Servant” isn’t an attractive campaign slogan.


Years ago the once Religious Right claimed that American liberal Christians had abandoned the gospel of Jesus Christ for the idol of political correctness. That still takes place from time to time and it would be disingenuous to argue otherwise. But at the core of being PC is not idolatry or even tolerance. It is  compassion. As Krista Tippett writes in Becoming Wise, many of us settled for the word tolerance 50 years ago but it was too small a word for the tasks of our generation We need tenderness and sacrificial love. We need truth telling and hope in the midst of hatred. We need a vision of God's love that is greater  than the bottom line of the daily stock market updates or the ugly, half-baked and ill-informed stream of consciousness theological ramblings of a bully who can barely complete a full sentence.

Now is not the time to be timid - never cruel, but not shy about the mystery of the Cross either - so please don't give Trump, Perkins, Gingrich or Ingraham a pass on their rants. Call them out when they try to wrap the Cross in the flag. Call them out when they claim support of LGBTQ rights while actually opposing them for decades. Call them out for claiming to be pro-life only when that life is in the womb. Call them out for trying to paint Mr. Trump's character with that of the servant Christ. Call them out for crying peace, peace when many of their policies are out for blood. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

fear and prayer in cleveland - night two...

Last night as I watched round two, I posted on Facebook:

Two thoughts come to mind:
1) Republicans are only united in their hatred of Mrs. Clinton; they do not value or celebrate Mr. Trump, they have a pathological fear of Hilary and so they are building a campaign of hatred not hope.
2) The old rational Republicans are mostly absent from this convention. Say what you will about the Bush clan, they had values you could count on. They were fundamentally kind-hearted even when many of us disagreed with discrete programs. Even John McCain refused to show up for this hate-fest - and that speaks volumes to me. And don't forget Gov. Kasich and Senator Portman.This is the hour for compassion not hatred, a time for listening not shouting in fear or anger, binding one another together in hope rather than polarizing people of good will or putting us to sleep with platitudes. I am very disappointed with the ugly non-vision this convention continues to perpetuate.

This morning I can't help but not that one of the astonishing features of the RNC 2016 for me is the "reality TV" feel to nearly everything that happens:  from the over-the-top rhetoric to the crude and rude personal testimonies, ginned-up Hilary bashing and "the Donald's" back-lit appearance to introduce his wife, this increasingly looks like a Jerry Springer show with guest cameos. Most "speakers" have wisely been constrained to rants under five minutes. Not only does this guarantee there will be time for the main event in prime time each night, but most of us watching from home can only tolerate so much malarkey - so the show's producers try to run a tight ship.

Last night, however, procedural events bogged things down so the first 30 minutes were a total
bust. We did hear audible "booing" from the delegates - twice - when Mitch Mcconnell  took the stage as if he were a WWF character. Then the attorney general of Arkansas did a cornpone schtick about women, guns and Jesus who are ready to kick Hilary Clinton's butt.  The Donald made another appearance last night - this time via video from Trump Towers - assuring us he would be there tomorrow and Thursday. And the Trump children, Tiffany and Donald, Jr., shared comments with us about why they see their dad as a great man. Ms. Trump, thankfully honest and poised on camera, carried herself like a contestant on MTV's "Next." Her oddly flirtatious style of speaking may be generational, but it felt like reality TV contrivance. And Mr. Trump, Jr was out for blood - HRC's blood - so rather than offer personal anecdotes about his father, he took on a televangelist persona in a speech designed to move traditional Republican conservatives.


The most troubling speaker - and the weirdest moment (so far) - came when Dr. Ben Carson suggested that Hilary Rodham Clinton was a devil worshipper. He did this deftly:  Mrs. Clinton admired Saul Alinksy. Alinsky wrote a book called Rules for Radicals. (cue the booing!) On the dedication page to Rules for Radicals (more booing) Alinsky celebrates Lucifer as one who challenged the status quo and won his own kingdom. (audible gasps of fear and loathing) So Clinton is in league with the devil for her own radical kingdom.  Clearly, Dr. Carson was clueless about Alinsky the smartass writing in a 1960s groove. Don't clutter my mind with context and facts: I already have my opinions!

Last night was supposed to be about making America work again - an emphasis on the economic ideas of the Trump campaign - but save Donald Jr's words and a few throw away lines by Paul Ryan about the economy, everything was slanted towards hating Mrs. Clinton in the most personal and vile way. Chris Christie even staged a mock trial with the crowd joining in as vigilantes shouting:  GUILTY. LOCK HER UP!  Another red meat moment for those who have already consumed far too much loathing. 

I can't help but see two reality TV truths taking place at the same time in Cleveland:  first, there is a great effort being given to blood lust and vitriol here; and second, beyond the hate, no body seems to be paying attention to the mechanics. Clearly, Mrs. Trump's handlers were asleep at the wheel when she chose to discard her professionally written speech and replace it with plagiarized clips from Mrs. Obama's speech from 2008. Where were the fact checkers when the RNC printed program published lies about Mrs. Trump's academic career (she didn't graduate, but dropped out after one year.) Who is in charge of keeping the delegates on task? And boring, procedural haggling out of prime time?  Where, in fact, are the people who are supposed to be seated in the upper deck of the auditorium? That place looks mostly empty most of the time.