There has to be a better way...

Reading through this morning's NY Times was an exercise in fear and trembling - and I don't mean the kind born of awe of the Lord. In addition to the fear and loathing of the Middle East - from the breach of trust fomented by Israel 's recent election to the escalating war against the so-called Islamic State in Iraq, Syria and Yemen - American social conservatives and religious fundamentalists are at it again confusing hatred with Jesus and punitive policies with the kingdom of God.  Whether it is the vicious lies of Ted Cruz and his presidential campaign or the outright ignorance of social manipulators like Bobby Jindal, trouble has risen to the surface of American politics for those who are committed to the common good.

+ In California, a ballot initiative to actively execute gay and lesbian people has been presented to the Attorney General under the title: the Sodomite Suppression Act. (check it out here:

+ The same wizened cast of characters who brought us the first round of culture war skirmishes is back for polarization and chaos in the US 2.0 in their opposition to the candidacy of Jeb Bush. God knows I had hoped that people like direct mail guru Richard Viguerie and Tony Perkins of the so-called Family Research Council had finally been discredited and passed over - but no such luck. (check it out here: 2015/03/26/us/politics/2016-elections-conservatives-jeb-bush.html?ref=todayspaper)

+ And please don't miss the well coordinated fundamentalist attack on higher education that threatens both free speech and ideas grounded in tolerance, science and caring for the common good.  Last week the regents in North Carolina ousted the well respected president and now the same ugly bigotry has raised its head in Mississippi. (check it out here:
Maybe it has something to do with my starting James Carroll's intense analysis of Christian Antisemitism, Constantine's Sword, that has heightened my sense of dread. It could have something to do with my preparations for Holy Week, too as I revisit how people in the past have had their darkest fears manipulated into violence and social chaos. It could also be that my commitment to cultural care and renewal is working overtime as we prepare for our time away on sabbatical. Who knows?  It is becoming ever more clear to me, however, that there has to be a better way to challenge the on-going social/spiritual antagonism of mean-spirited and bigoted fundamentalism than politics as we know it. 

Of course, there must be a political challenge and corrective. The courts and elections have a place in all of this and I trust those far wiser than myself to get on the stick. And, there needs to be more - a balm in Gilead - an alternative and even antidote to this hatred.  Mako Fujimura wrote recently about the importance of Harper Lee's world changing novel: To Kill a Mockingbird.

Just like the mob in front of Tom Robinson's jail cell, our culture is still prone to create
scapegoats, dodging our own culpability and responsibility over cultural or systemic problems by blaming them on innocent individuals or groups. We still blind ourselves to the dehumanizing forces this unleashes. For any given provocation, we are egged on by our instant, omnipresent media to unleash our basest instincts-we might think of them as cultural "fight-flight-freeze" responses-rather than committing ourselves to the slower process of seeking truth. (One genuinely new thing is the virtual mob, which can be just as inhumane and culturally damaging as any physical mob.) This self-debasement of our humanity in desperate and irrational fear of the "other" is a result of poor cultural stewardship. Little wonder that our culture is still bedeviled by cynicism, apathy, and anger. Cycles of violence and revenge are an ongoing reality. And when we focus on headlines and newsfeeds, we come to expect more of the same. 

How would-how do-we respond when faced with an angry mob ready to commit an atrocity against us or some "other"? Would we want to fight back, fire against fire, hatred against hatred? Scout offers a better model. She does not even confront bigotry by arguing for justice. What she does in her naiveté is to step into the mob and remind people that they are her neighbors. She becomes a bouquet of flowers in the heart of conflict. Reminding people of our common life-that we are neighbors first-is a task of Culture Care.

Mako is not ignorant, nor is he an idealist. He is a person of faith who knows that between breaths a crowd can easily be manipulated away from "Hosanna" and into cries of "Crucify." He is what Niebuhr would call a Christian Realist.  He is also an artist and a theologian who seeks to enflesh the values and spirit of Jesus within our culture wars. He notes:

The arts present the most powerful form of nonviolent resistance. Scout's actions in Harper Lee's creative lens-her willingness to step into a conflict and take a personal risk in order to call out for both sides their deepest humanity, highest ideals, and deepest longings-anticipated thousands of peaceful marches to come. Culture Care affirms this language of empathy, which is a fruit of love toward the "other."  We need to create cultural contexts where this love toward the other, toward those outside our tribe's borders, is cultivated and modeled organically. A Culture Care environment will nourish and steward our abilities to dream even in the face of injustice, intolerance, and persecution.

Jesus told his followers, "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16, NIV). Poets, artists, and creative catalysts can, like Scout, remain determinedly "innocent as doves" while being "wise as serpents" in using their creativity. Reminders of beauty can present justice in words, images, and songs that draw us in and captivate our attention until their truth can reach our hearts and transform our communities. Culture Care is the logical extension of nonviolent resistance to injustice.

Such a calling is not easy nor without risks - but it is a better way than just trusting electoral
politics. On Monday evening I met with my small group of mostly older men for a presentation of my paper: "Jazz for the Journey: Three Essentials for Appreciation." After my talk, each of the 11 men was asked to respond and offer comments and insights. Some found my thoughts challenging because, as one friend said, "I apparently don't have any musical intelligence." I know that to be a common concern - not entirely accurate - but widely held. Others sensed that the way of music - and the arts - create another conversation where differences can be honored and hard questions asked without volatility. One man said, "I can see why you are so passionate about this work: it is peace-making in a gentle form."

If the rise of fascism in Europe teaches anything it is such hatred must be challenged from the start. It cannot go unquestioned or unopposed because human fear is so easily organized and manipulated. Please read the articles noted above. Please find ways to publicly support those politicians willing to take the hate-mongers head on. And please use some of your time and resources to support the artists in your community who are on the front line of culture care. They are some of our society's most important non-violent warriors for shalom - and they need our vigorous support.


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