Saturday, April 30, 2016

thinking about david brooks...

One of the many things I like about NY Times columnist, David Brooks, is his humility. For one of our nation's most elite pundits, he not only knows how to laugh at himself but is able to admit when he gets something wrong and strive to make amends, too. His self-deprecating smile suggests to me a man who has learned something of the spirituality of imperfection. Yes, he is a political and social conservative. That already disqualifies him from admiration from some I know and love. I prefer a less shallow measuring stick, one more like Dr. King's that starts with the content of our character rather than the color of our skin - or our political affiliation. 

For the past two years Brooks has mostly avoided writing and speaking about the passing fads of US politics. Instead, like Reinhold Niebuhr before him, he is attempting to reclaim a place for morality in our considerations of what nourishes the public good. It isn't easy work in a post-modern world that abhors meta-narratives and celebrates ethical relativism as normative. But, from my perspective, Brooks continues to work at this - even when he gets it wrong. His most recent book, The Road to Character, explores the way a variety of ordinary people grew into souls who shared compassion and hope from the inside out. Some have speculated that Brooks is on the road to conversion from Judaism to Christianity, but he isn't saying any more than this: "I don't talk about my religious life in public in part because it's so shifting and green and vulnerable. I don'[t really talk about it because I don'[t want to trample the fresh grass." He has sold his home and now lives alone just a short distance from the National Cathedral.

But who cares if he remains a Jew? Or converts to Roman Catholicism as some have mused? What grabbed my attention was his dramatic shift in emphasis two years ago and his abiding willingness to change directions when he gets something wrong. Both spiritual traditions call this repentance - literally and figuratively changing your life's direction to correct a mistake you now own as real and troublesome - and making amends. Brooks recently did this with his eight month insistence that "The Donald" would eventually crash and burn. He was certain that both common sense and the good will of the Republican Establishment would seize the day. But that never happened. Trump is now the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party prompting Brooks to confess::  I got it wrong. I wasn't speaking to the right people. In fact, I was too caught up in my own small and elite world to know about the pain and fear of those whom Trump has energized. 

I was surprised by Trump’s success because I’ve slipped into a bad pattern, spending large chunks of my life in the bourgeois strata — in professional circles with people with similar status and demographics to my own. It takes an act of will to rip yourself out of that and go where you feel least comfortable. But this column is going to try to do that over the next months and years. We all have some responsibility to do one activity that leaps across the chasms of segmentation that afflict this country.

And now he is doing what moral people do when they accept their err of their ways: they change directions - t'shuva - and make amends. It is refreshing for me to see ethical and common sense insights being shared on the Op Ed pages of the NY Times. Please don't get me wrong:  I don't think David Brooks is the Savior. That job has already been taken. He is just a real public intellectual who has changed directions and aches to restore a measure of moral discourse to our realm.  And for that I am grateful.  

Friday, April 29, 2016

the call of beauty...

"When we experience beauty," writes John O'Donohue, "we feel called." Indeed, the word for beautiful in Greek, to kalon, is "related to the word kalein which includes the notion of 'call' - and that makes sense for that which is beautiful evokes a response from us. O'Donohue continues with insight:

(Beauty stirs) our passion and urgency... and calls us forth from aloneness into the warmth and wonder of an eternal embrace. It unites us again with the neglected and forgotten grandeur of life. The call of beauty is not a cold call into the dark or the unknown; in some instinctive way we know that beauty is no stranger. We respond with joy to this call... because in an instant it can awaken under the layers of the heart a forgotten brightness.

Early in my work for social justice, I would never have connected the call of beauty with an inspiration for action. To be sure, I loved being touched by beauty - art, music, lovers and nature all fed my soul - but I understood my work (my calling) to be about results. For decades, in fact, it never dawned on me that acts of compassion and organizing for social justice were actually expressions of beauty given shape and form in the realm of social relationships. Marx didn't write this way (well, the mature Marx); Alinsky didn't make this connection either. But Joni Mitchell did. - and so did Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane,The Beatles, Leonard Cohen and Dylan, too. I got a few more clues from feminist intellectuals like Robin Morgan and Germaine Greer in the early 70s. But most of the social analysis - as well as the liberation theology of the day - rarely if ever connected beauty with justice and grace: it was either bread or roses until Robert Bly's mythopoetic writing in the 90s showed me how these two worlds could embrace and dance together. As O'Donohue notes: "Beauty is quietly woven through our ordinary days in ways that we hardly notice. Everywhere there is tenderness, care and kindness, there is beauty... And yet beauty does not linger, it only visits."


Perhaps that is why in the second half of life I have been so eager to integrate the realm of action with contemplation. One without the other feels to me imbalanced and impoverished. A spiritual director I worked with in Tucson for years added this insight when I quoted the “Godfather” to him:  sometimes in order to get things done, I said, I need to affirm that this is business not personal. He sat quietly for a moment before saying, “Man, that is so wrong. Everything is personal and the quicker you grasp this the better you and everyone you touch will be.” 

He was right - and that's where beauty integrates action with feelings, results with intentions, and expectations with process. Today, as part of our Sabbath reflection, we spent a few hours caring for our yard. Not only does such quiet work get my hands back into the dirt, but it gives me unstructured time to think and feel, sweat and move, see results and give thanks to God. As I was adding some finishing touches to a flower bed in our front yard, my aching back confirmed that I am clearly in the closing years of ministry. Increasingly I find myself drawn towards -- and energized by - not the big projects (although there are a few that need serious attention.) But rather the small and tender ones like one-on-one spiritual direction. Writing. I suspect that music making and celebrating Eucharist have a place in these days, too.

It is not clear to me how long God and I want me to keep on doing what I am doing. Not clear at all - some days I think I understand and then others tell me "you're done!" To be honest, it is probably both, yes? There is more the Lord asks of me, but in another direction, something with ever more beauty. Maybe that's why I keep playing "Purple Rain" over and over in my study at home and returning to Wendell Berry's poem, ''The Mad Farmer Liberation Front." It is beautiful to me in every way and reminds me that life is so out of balance, that wildly bold and beautiful acts are essential...

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more of everything ready-made. Be afraid to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head. 
Not even your future will be a
mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card and shut away in a little drawer. 

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

ottawa jazz festival...

In about 60 days, we're going to revisit the beautiful little jazz festival nestled into the heart of Ottawa, ON. Because both Lisa Fischer and The Roots were playing there last year during our sabbatical, we took a chance and made the trek from Montreal. And damn but it was fine, fine, super fine! So this year, rather than deal with our favorite North American city when it is full to overflowing with tourists, we've booked time in Ottawa. (Nous reviendrons a Montreal at the end of summer this year.)
Three highlights of the Ottawa outing will start by seeing Chick Corea, Christian McBride and Brian Blade play as a jazz trio. Each is a giant in his own right - so to dig them playing standards in this context is a bit of heaven on earth. I have a deep affinity for this type of ensemble - piano, bass and drums - and hope to be able to get some of my own playing in with my local mates in this type of configuration - and maybe bring in a sax man, too! The second artist I am eager to see in Ottawa is Montreal composer and pianist, Marianne Trudel and her quartet with guest sax player Ingrid Jensen. Both women are stunning in their creativity and wildly inventive in their playing. I saw Trudel last year in my favorite Montreal jazz club, Dieze Onze, doing a quartet so this should be a total gas. And the third joy will be the 50th Anniversary of Brian Wilson doing the Pet Sounds Tour. I can still remember when my first Capitol Records Club package arrived with "Pet Sounds" inside. To see this recreated live in Confederation Park should be another encounter with the sublime. I can't wait.

Between now and then, however, there is some important work to embrace at church: we're beginning a drive to "right size" our facilities in a way that is exciting - especially using our real estate to become an asset for ministry rather than wasted space - and that kicks off in May. We will celebrate the ordination into ministry of a young man I have come to cherish and respect now that he has completed seminary and accepted a call to serve a congregation outside of Worcester, MA. There are some memorial services to conduct and also the Rite of 
Confirmation for five of our young people, too.  Lets not forgetting hanging with my loved ones as well as house painting - inside and out - and more work on my bass playing, too. Then, as the summer closes, we'll hang in Montreal for a short spell and soak up the sweet vibe of that sacred place.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

I rejoiced when I heard them say...

A tender moment took place this afternoon during midday Eucharist that has given me pause for the rest of the day: while sharing lectio divina with our small group on Psalm 67, I noticed something moving in the center aisle of the Sanctuary. "Could it be Elijah?" I mused to myself with a sense of Passover, "or is it just another old age 'floaty" dancing in the periphery of my vision?" 

So I turned - from time to time guests wander in these days - and sure enough there was a tall, slender man with flowing white hair and a beard. "Excuse me," he said softly while taking off his cap in respect, "are you really opening the church in the middle of the day?" I smiled and our little group replied in one voice as if a they were a chorus, "Yes, indeed, would you like to join us?" He said, "I can't right now but would love to plan to come back next Wednesday. What a GREAT idea!" And with that, we shared a smile and he left.

After a reverent moment of silence, one of the women said, "I could only find parking out in front today, but when I saw the front doors of the Sanctuary open, it just felt so good to know the church was OPEN!." This took us away from the Psalm for a few minutes more - and has stayed with me for the rest of the day. Psalm 133 comes to mind: How good and pleasant it is when sisters and brothers dwell in unity. Maybe Psalm 122, too: I rejoiced when I heard them say let us go up to the house of the Lord.

There is something about this Sanctuary - could be all the wood, might be the marble Celtic cross, certainly has something to do with 252 years of worshipping spirits quietly coming and going within the walls, and the rainbow tapestry over the baptismal fount doesn't hurt - that evokes safety, welcome and rest for all types of people. The.open doors help a whole bunch, too, but there is genuinely a "spirit" of mercy in this place. It feels like a Sabbath rest when you step away from the busy main street into the soft, diffused light. One architect told me that this property has always been used for holy things - it has never been a place of commerce, farming or industry - always prayer. So after Eucharist, as I closed up shop for the day, I gave thanks to God. My gratitude took me right to this incredible tune by Rachmaninov that we are preparing for June:  "Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos."

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

prince did it all...


There is a meme floating around the Internet reminding us that when we grieve a public artist we have never met it is because they helped us know ourselves more intimately. We project on to these visionaries parts of ourselves we want to nourish and celebrate. In fact, one of the blessings and curses our public artists carry with them is our baggage - good and bad - healthy and twisted. They evoke truths within us that we hadn't yet named. And if we are healthy, we embrace these new insights playfully and become more fully ourselves.

Prince certainly did that for many of us:  he was sassy and sexy, androgynous and provocative, sensual and spiritual as well as brash, humble and drop dead funny. Oh, did I leave out
gorgeous, too?  When he showed up on the scene, parts of America's industrial base was giving up the ghost. Other parts of our land were captured by fear of HIV/AIDS or seduced by the sentimental cynicism of Ronald Reagan. And Prince helped us hear what it sounds like when doves cry.  He got us shaking our booties again as we all went crazy. And people started to sing along out loud with The Bangles or Sinead. Whether he was getting funky or naughty, sampling James Brown or bringing Miles onto the stage, this cat helped many of us get back into our bodies again - and treasure being alive.

He was a blues man - like Hendrix - and could help us weep with his guitar. He was a prophet who understood the signs of the times. He was a master musicologist, too who could step onto stage and sing along with Sly Stone's band, jam with Wayne Shorter or cover Joni Mitchell tunes with finesse and grace. And what a sly little pixie he was when he broke into a smile. 

For years I've wanted to do a Prince Good Friday liturgy using his tunes to retell the Passion Narrative. It does my heart good to see how so many across the races have come out to honor and celebrate his ministry of music. As he said himself: "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life." He helped me make sense of some of the hard times and gave me permission to honor to keep on being me. I give thanks to God for Prince.

Monday, April 25, 2016

sometimes you get clues...

Sometimes you get clues, yes?  After sharing music at an event, a colleague comes over to speak with you about a recent death in the family. It is tender. And real. It feels important to be alive in this moment. 

Or you race like a bat outta hell to get on the carousel with your grandson - and the young ticket teller tells you, "We're closed." The merry-go-round hasn't started yet but she's not budging. You hold the little one close and wonder what to do next. And then your daughter puts on her best New York momma and says with verve, "Two dollars? I'll give you $10 dollars... can't you see Granddad rushed to get here?!?" But the authority isn't backing down. So momma takes it up with the actual ticket taker who lets her heart do the thinking and relents. And I get to go around and around 20 times with the light of my life in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge waving to his momma and my honey. (Made me think of when I did that with his momma back in Golden Gate Park!)

Or you make a simple supper, light the candles, pour some wine and just sit talking with your beloved about what's next on this journey called life? Or you spend two hours late on a Sunday afternoon singing and weeping your way through "Purple Rain." Or you get a note late in the day encouraging a new sign of hope in a broken world:  "Let's get people together to pray Psalm 148 - all kinds of people - all faiths - all genders - all at the same time." Or you get your crazy dog home and all she wants to do is sleep in your lap. 

Apparently, I could go on and on and on because some things are pure. They matter. They last. and do not tarnish. Then there's all the bullshit. Today I chose to let it go. My resolve won't last long, I know. And I bet you by tomorrow I'll be fretting about something stupid again. But today, at least for most of the daylight hours, I trusted the blessings that endure and loved being fully alive. "I never meant to cause you any sorrow, I never meant to cause you any pain. I only wanted to one time see you laughing... laughing in the purple rain."

Sunday, April 24, 2016

obscure blessings, purple rain and the mysteries of faith...

Today I mostly just wanted to be still, play "Purple Rain" over and over again, pray the Psalms quietly in chant and then share some music at today's "street meal/ eucharist." But that wouldn't be professional, right? As worship leader, one of the commitments has to do with putting your personal spiritual needs on hold for a time while helping others journey through the liturgy. So that's what I did. I got distracted right after the opening hymn by something - who knows what - and skipped the children's moment only to discover the err of my ways half way into the morning prayers.  They say that confession and humility is good for the soul. So, I owned it, grouped and prayed: Oh well, Lord...

That led to a congregational conversation about why we do things liturgically (one of my band mates later said, "So that we can know when the pastor goes off script, right?!") There was sweet music and prayer. But about two thirds of the way into my message I realized it was too long, too complicated and too late to change directions. Not a train wreck, but way more than most wanted to digest at 11 am in the morning. I kept self-editing as I plowed on to the conclusion trusting that even during the times I feel the worst about things someone inevitably tells me, "Thank you, man, I really needed that."  (I doubt that happened today.)

Once upon a time I heard Jeremiah Wright tell a group of African American pastors in Cleveland the story of what his mother told him when he first got into the "family business" of preaching the Gospel. "Do you think Ted Williams got into the Hall of Fame for hitting a home run every time he went to bat? Do you think that Picasso never tossed a painting into the trash? Do you think you are better than these giants? Look, Ted Williams made it into the Hall of Fame by getting on base once every four times at bat! And Picasso? He threw away more than he ever hung up. So, once you give it your best shot on a Sunday morning - and it isn't a home run - let it go. Give it to God with honesty and conviction and leave the rest to the Lord."

Confirmation class followed with great questions about discernment and trust from our teens. Once again I realized I was only partially clear in explaining how interpreting the 10 Commandments is a life's work. I had better luck as we wrestled with the Apostles' Creed. We trust God because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus; and we trust Jesus, because he has sent the Spirit to encourage and lead us when we need it the most. That is why we celebrate the Holy Trinity: one connects us to the other in the mystery of faith. When our discussion was over, two of the little girls ran up to me - all dressed in purple - and said, "James, don't you just hurt because Prince died?" I nodded and smiled in gratitude as they ran off in a flurry. This was the true blessing of this morning for me. Then it was an hour of music practice for a 2 pm outdoor festival sponsored by the Cathedral of the Night. About 120 people showed up for songs and bar-b-que to say nothing of the distribution of the watermelon. Not exactly a traditional Eucharist, but totally right for a cool, bright Eastertide day in the Berkshires and I was glad to be a part of the festival.

Truth be told, however, I would have still rathered to listen to endless versions of "Purple Rain" because my soul hurts at the death of Prince. Miles Davis described him as a combination of Jimi Hendrix, James Brown and Charlie Chaplin. That cat could play ANYTHING - and do it with finesse, grace, creativity and humor. So, I'm going to pour myself a "toasted lager," do some "Purple Rain" prayer and practice right now and give thanks for the blessings of this day because while they were mostly obscure to me,  that is another part of the mystery of faith.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

reflections on hilary and bernie - part three...

In the third of five reflections on the differences I wrestle with between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders, a clearer divergence of worldviews and analytic precision comes into focus when foreign policy matters, trade and economic reform, gun control and the legacy of sexism are examined.  (I had originally thought I would wrap things up with this one, but I clearly need two more installments.) In my estimation, when these subjects are investigated beyond the catch phrases of the campaign, they clarify objectively the wisdom of Clinton’s current agenda over the paucity of practical possibilities in the Sanders proposals.  I do not question the passion or integrity of those who “feel the Bern.” There is an exciting energy to his campaign that is palpable. Nor am I in disagreement with many of their goals – especially when it comes to changes in caring for the poor, strengthening the middle class and lessening US involvement in international conflicts. What is missing for me in Sanders is gravitas – politically, analytically and strategically – as I hope to convey in the following review.  Please note that in previous postings I am always grateful to those friends, colleagues and readers who reply to my reflections with serious critiques of my blind spots and/or new information. I detest and delete, however, rants and/or emotional mudslinging of any sort. So, if you have an alternative analysis with substantive facts and philosophical depth, please be in touch, ok?

I have argued before that Sanders’ unwillingness to seriously explore compromise is troubling to me.  By insisting that his positions alone define the moral high ground, I detect a cranky self-righteousness that alienates potential allies and limits the political discussion to all or nothing propositions.  Small wonder that he has been only modestly successful as a legislator in advancing his agenda:  to his credit Sanders added seven different amendments to various House bills between 1990 and 2006 as a US Representative and did likewise six times after he became as a US Senator in 2006. He has passed only three bills of his own creation – two of which named post offices.

A controversial article entitled, “On Becoming Anti-Bernie,” by Robin Alperstein, cuts deeper into the implications of Sanders’ intransigence and my lingering mistrust by dissecting the specious number Sanders uses to advance his single payer health plan.  His projections require both new taxes as well as a 5% growth in the US economy over the length of his term – necessities that are beyond reason. Further, even should the economy move to a 5% rate of growth, there is still at least a $1 trillion gap between cost and revenue.  Ms. Alperstein correctly concludes that Sanders tends towards political magical thinking rather than hard analysis when it comes to governance. There is also an inclination towards celebrating bold political goals without sufficient strategy or allies.

(By) rejecting compromise as a mark of lack of integrity, or worse, corruption, Sanders accomplishes two deeply disingenuous goals: (i) he sets himself apart from his colleagues in Congress as the only one who is allegedly “true” to his “values,” thereby creating the myth that he is morally superior and incorruptible; and (ii) he turns the necessity of compromisewithout which literally nothing can get done in Congressinto a negative, very similar to the Tea Party and hardliners on the far right in Congress, thereby allowing him to transform his failure to compromise and thus his failure to have achieved any workable progressive legislation in 25 years into a “virtue”a testament to his supposed integrity. (https://medium.com/@robinalperstein/on-becoming-anti-bernie-ee87943ae699#.mfrxljbk9)

Given our current political gridlock, I find this legacy less than useless. And when it turns into a shrill smear-by-insinuation campaign against Mrs. Clinton, it becomes repugnant especially given Mr. Sanders’ rhetoric as a reformer. The policy implications of this disingenuous approach to compromise were recently articulated by Tom Hayden, the grandfather of the New Left, in The Nation:

To simply reject Obamacare in the belief that “political revolution” will lead to a single-payer solution is simplistic. The path to a Canadian-type system or Medicare for All has fallen short in California and Vermont, and will require Republican defeats this year and in 2018, followed by a presidential showdown in 2020. Meanwhile, Obamacare and the Medicaid expansion are helping 20 million Americans now, mainly youth and people of color, which is a huge improvement that no thoughtful radical can dismiss as merely “reformist.” My friends at National Nurses United are to be congratulated for spending millions supporting Bernie and tirelessly rolling their buses through so many states thus far, but I don’t see a rollout of a Plan B, which requires at least two presidential terms and three more congressional elections. Bernie’s position reinforces the voter impression that his idealism will be blocked in practice. Hillary and Obama’s approach, following on her children’s-health-insurance law, is much easier for voters to understand and support. (http://www.thenation.com/article/ i-used-to-support-bernie-but-then-i-changed-my-mind/)
There is too much at stake to be seduced by speeches that evoke radical change without describing a realistic way towards implementation. Let me, therefore, share my understanding of the differences between BS and HRC when it comes to gun control. Later postings will highlilght my understanding of their differences re: financial/economic reform, foreign policy initiatives, and some of the effects of sexism.

For a time, I thought gun control should be taken off the table given the rural context of Vermont. But that would neglect Mr. Sanders’ capitulation to the NRA and give him a pass on misrepresenting Clinton’s role in the crime bill of 1994. Sanders learned the hard way that he needed to finesse gun control issues in his state if he was to be successful in advancing a political career. So, he came to oppose the passage of the Brady Bill and has consistently challenged holding gun manufacturers liable for the violence their products cause. To be fair, he currently holds a D minus rating from the NRA (only the 2012 ratings are available at this time) because he supports common sense background checks. Nevertheless, he has not advanced common sense gun control legislation that the majority of Americans long to see implemented. 

I was shocked watching the last NY state debate sponsored by CNN when Sanders attempted to laugh off Mrs. Clinton’s questions about his record on gun control. I understand that Bernie arguably holds a more complex position on this matter than Hilary’s political barbs describe. But his cavalier dismissal and mocking laughter evoked visceral disgust – especially after trying to denigrate her reputation in the African American community by suggesting that she knew all the unintended consequences that would emerge from the 1994 crime bill of President Clinton.  This was legislation that he, too voted for although he likes to conveniently leave this out of the debate.  And asking yet again for an apology for the one time Hilary used the expression “super-predator” in reference to this bill – a phrase she has repeatedly repudiated and apologized for – exposed Bernie’s willingness to get down and dirty with racial politics when he needs to win. Please remember that he used the word “sociopath” in his advocacy of this legislation. Both candidates know that this bill has caused far too much incarceration in the Black and Latino community.  It would be so much more productive to have a national dialogue about what we learned as a nation from these mistakes, the role of systemic racism in mass incarceration, and a proposed set of recommendations and legislation to correct it now, instead of disingenuously attacking, blaming, and lying by omission about Hillary, and further erasing the historical reality in which that bill was passed.” (Alperstein)

I would never claim that Bernie doesn't have sensitivity and compassion on gun control issues in his heart. But he is clearly politically vulnerable and should be hammered whenever he tries to rewrite history. For the record, Hilary has consistently supported background checks, challenging the political prowess of the NRA lobby, and restricting weapons ownership from suspected terrorists, those with a criminal record as well as domestic abusers. I am grateful that NY turned out in support of Mrs. Clinton tonight.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

all romantics meet the same fate someday...

One of my abiding guides in these later years of ministry is Jean Vanier.  Often people ask me about my time working with Cesar Chavez and the farmworkers movement. For those who want to hear my experience (and not everybody wants to listen) I say: Cesar isn't one of my heroes. He was a complex soul who did some powerful and peaceful things in his day for migrant farm workers. He also had feet of clay like the rest of us and sometimes let his fear, ignorance or anger get the best of him. I experienced both his big heart and his willingness to bully and shame those who disagreed with him.

Like many other idealistic young activists, I was knocked on my ass and disillusioned for a few years after encountering the wrath of the "Mexican Gandhi."  I couldn't and wouldn't have any thing to do with the movement for a few years because my heart was broken. And, truth be told, I needed to learn how to grow up, figure out how to keep engaged and do so with a modicum of humor and humility. It is hard work - and some of us simply give up. I read a Face Book meme the other day attributed to George Carlin:  Inside every cynic is a disillusioned young idealist. "So what?" I thought to myself, "such is the way of life. We all get knocked down." The challenge - and blessing of our descent - is finding a way to get back up in love and stop spewing negativity, fear or anger. Chumbawumba put it best:
  
Here's the thing I like about Vanier:  as much as is possible, he has allied himself with the tears of Jesus. Not the powerful. Not politics. And certainly not his ego or its shadow. Just the tears of Jesus. In a book i am just beginning, Befriending the Stranger, Vanier writes:

Jesus looks at world today, at our big cities, our countries with all their divisions, inequality, hatred and violence and he weeps. Jesus came into the world to bring peace, to bring all people together into one body wherein each person has a place. But we human beings have turned our world into a place of competition, rivalry, conflict and war between races, religions, social classes and countries. The world has become a place in which each person feels they have to protect and defend themselves, their own family, their own country, their own class, their own religions...and so Jesus weeps.

I think of Vanier a lot during this primary election season. There are those who are enraptured with Senator Sanders - maybe even "The Donald," too - and they tell me they are engaged in a "real movement for change." I don't even know what that means: neither Sanders' cadre nor Trump's so-called army is "organized" in a way that can sustain a challenge to entrenched power and capital over the long haul. What I see is a conflation of wishful thinking, romanticism and the intoxicating buzz of being part of those calling out the status quo. But what happens when we discover the current white knight to be just as broken, frustrating and selfish as we ourselves? (NOTE: I am certainly NOT idealizing or trying to sanctify Secretary Clinton. Please know that, ok?)  I can't help but drift back to Joni Mitchell's song from 1970, "The Last Time I Saw Richard."  

The last time I saw Richard was Detroit in '68
And he told me all romantics meet the same fate someday
Cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark cafe...

Pete Townsend sang, "meet the new boss, same as the old boss... we won't get fooled again." But we will - and a new season of cynical disappointment will take up residence in some of our hearts for a while. Which is why I keep returning to Vanier and the tears of Jesus as he weeps over our cities and lives. My experience suggests that only by staying connected to these tears can we find a way through our privileged cynicism.. Mother Teresa once said, "May God break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in."

That's what Vanier points to with his ministry of presence to the most despised and vulnerable: I am struck by how sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes. In another place, Vanier writes:  Peace is the fruit of love, a love that is also justice. But to grow in love requires work - hard work. And it can bring pain because it implies loss: loss of the certitudes, comforts, and hurts that shelter and define us. I know Vanier doesn't get it all right either; he has blind spots and failings, weaknesses and times when he needs to step away from the fray. That goes with the territory.

Moving beyond cynicism and privilege, you see, is a life long journey - especially for straight, white guys. Having once been enthralled by Cesar, I am no longer interested in being fooled again. Having been addicted to my disappointments, but set free by the tears of Christ, I think Vanier cuts closer to the truth than almost anyone else at this moment in time. I love these closing words: All of us have a secret desire to be seen as saints, heroes, martyrs. We are afraid to be children, to be ourselves.  Lord, give me the blessing of your tears and mine that I may keep close to Jesus. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

more thoughts on hilary and bernie - part two...

In part two of my reflection, let me summarize both the areas of broad agreement between HRC and BS and then highlight three policy differences that distinguish one player from the other. Much of the intra-partisan carping in this campaign has been reduced to snarky sound bytes about Mrs. Clinton's wealth, and/or, denigrating her lifelong commitment to working within the Democratic Party. Too often adolescent name calling like "fat cat" or "political insider" has replaced serious critique and nuanced analysis. Further, a selective mistrust of financial success, to say nothing of political loyalty, has been used to tarnish Secretary Clinton's motives - and I cannot see how this advances the common good. From my perspective, the longer this goes unchecked, the stronger the Bernie messianism becomes among some and the deeper the divide of trust becomes among the pragmatists in Hilary's camp. Would that both sides would share more critical reflections about real issues like these two commentaries: 

+ One comes from The Real News Network in which two well-educated and insightful partisans unpack the pros and cons of both candidates positions of bank regulation. Check it out here: http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31 &Itemid =74&jumival=16147

+ Another is an equally challenging read about the limits of binary thinking, rhetoric and its too simplistic ideological assumptions. Check it out here: http://www.dailynewsbin.com/ opinion/empty-rhetoric-and-the-bernie-sanders-revolution/24442/

Spending time, money and energy on innuendo rather than substantive evaluation of the real differences between Hilary and Bernie is like Rumi's story of Nasrudin searching for his lost house key. Once late in the evening, a student saw his befuddled friend on his hands and knees under a street lamp. "What's going on?" asked the young man. To which the old man replied, "I lost my key and need it to get into my house." Immediately the younger man got down on his knees and joined the search.  About thirty minutes later, however, the student asked, "Brother, where did you lose your key because I can't find anything here?" And Nasrudin replied, "Oh, I dropped it over by that corner at the end of the street, but the light is so much better here so this is where I am going to look." The easy road is not always the most illuminating - or useful.

There are significant differences between BS and HRC in their histories and styles of doing politics. On most domestic social concerns, however,Bernie and HIlary are remarkably close whether that is the minimum wage, women's reproductive rights, immigration reform or lowering student debt burden. Yes, she would keep, strengthen and expand the Affordable Health Care act while he would scrap it for a new, single payer health care system. Mrs.Clinton would expand grants for higher education while Mr. Sanders would tax Wall Street to finance free public college degrees. She believes that while a few locales are able to sustain a jump from a minimum wage of $7.50 per hour to $15 - and has gone public on this in Washington and NY - most areas of the country would be better served by first moving to a $12 per hour; he advocates a one-size fits all rate of $15. 

To be blunt, these domestic policy differences seem more a matter of detail and degree than vision.  Hilary has historically been more cautious and incremental in her initiatives than Bernie. Not because she has been "bought and sold" as some (including Senator Sanders) like to say. Rather her understanding and experience of social change is built upon making small but sustainable progress that can be measured in real time. This stems, in part, from Clinton's acceptance of Reinhold Niebuhr's "Christian Realism." Positively stated, Niebuhr taught that:



Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.


Hilary does not push for radical or revolutionary change. Her approach is NOT neoliberal economics a la Margaret Thatcher as some critics have posited. Rather, it is an application of Niebuhrian humility that confesses: "The sad duty of politics is to establish justice in a sinful world... (it is sad) because we know that goodness armed with power is corrupted, and pure love without power is destroyed."

Sanders argues that this is a revolutionary moment that demands bold, new initiatives. Taking my cue from the analysis developed by the father of contemporary US democratic socialism, historian Michael Harrington and his text Socialism (1973), Bernie begins with a romantic notion of human activity. His political anthropology springs from the optimism of Rousseau (1712-1778) who once quipped:  "What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?" One on one, Rousseau is spot on. Individuals can make their most significant contributions in small and loving acts shared in everyday life. Almost every Sunday, I celebrate the importance of individual moral activity.

But human behavior and ethics change when we move beyond the realm of individual action and personal morality. People think and act differently when part of a group: we tend to favor our group's needs as essential while dismissing all others as unnecessary and inconvenient. More often than not, we validate our comfort with religion and poetry at the expense of those who are outside our community - reducing them to slaves or enemies when necessary. That is why both social order and social justice require a balance between incentive and coercion - reward and punishment - fundamentally because individuals believe we can be more loving, ethical and fair than our behavior and history documents. Political romanticism that denies human selfishness and sin always becomes oppressive in either a Right or Left wing variety 

So when Bernie denigrates Hilary as being part of "the Establishment" what I hear is a romantic condescension and dismissal born of ethical naivete. Sanders likes to paint reality in stark choices between his vision - that which is right - and the choices of others - which are wrong and/or immoral. Moral arrogance and naivete born of wishful thinking makes compromise in a complex world difficult. It also diminishes the incentive to go beyond our comfort zone - and in an increasingly diverse world our willingness and ability to go beyond what we already know is essential for the common good. Senator Sanders' appeal to revolutionary romanticism recently dismissed the accomplishments of the Paris Climate Control Accord. We need something better and more dramatic he implored. Perhaps. But bringing 190 nations to agreement - including China - is no small feat. Further, this can be built upon in real time rather than tossed into the dustbin of history.

Is this a revolutionary moment in time? My gut says that the jury is out:  it is just too early to predict. The German mystic, Meister Eckhart, used to teach that "reality is the will of God - it can always be better - but we must start with what is real." So, as Robert Reich has argued persuasively, this may be the start of something bigger - another significant wave of grassroots populism - but the jury has not yet come in to announce their findings.. For the time being, I still find the sober wisdom of Christian realism more persuasive and hopeful than revolutionary romantic rhetoric.

(NOTE:  In part three of this reflection, I will share my take on the three deep areas of distinction between BS and HRC:  gun control, foreign policy and financial regulation.)

Friday, April 15, 2016

today feels like a yo-yo...

An odd stream of competing feelings are swimming around in my soul this day . They span the gamut from angst to joy - and everything in-between. It is like walking through Psalm 23 in real time where green pastures and still waters compete with the valley of the shadow of death and evil. "Thou preparest a table before me, Lord, in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil and my cup overflows."  Today calls to mind something Frederick Buechner wrote:

If the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is the Mad Tea Party. The world says, Mind your own business, and Jesus says, There is no such thing as your own business. The world says, Follow the wisest course and be a success, and Jesus says, Follow me and be crucified. The world says, Drive carefully - the life you save may be your own - and Jesus says, Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. The world says, Get and Jesus says, Give. In terms of the world's sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot, and anybody who thinks he can follow him without being a little crazy too is laboring less under a cross than under a delusion.

Small wonder today feels like a yo-yo. Part of me aches to share more beautiful soul jazz with the world - a balm in Gilead, if you will - that can be a salve for my wounds as well as others. Another part just wants to walk in the woods with Di and Lucie before heading out to cook a meal of Moroccan chicken and red wine for my children and Louie. Part of me wants to head for Montreal and get lost in the adventure of that sweet place. And still another hears the words of Bonhoeffer as he sat in an alcove at Union Theological Seminary in 1939. Reinhold Niebuhr had arranged safe passage for him to escape Nazi persecution, but Bonhoeffer was haunted by his privilege and wrote:

I shall have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.

American politics have become openly crazy and vicious. The racial divides are more exposed than ever before - a good thing if it helps us move towards solidarity and justice - but equally anguishing at the same time. Right wing ideologues continue their war against women and the LGBTQ population while Left-wing fanatics demolish nuanced thinking and tolerance as their addiction to binary thought festers.  It makes me think of John Lennon's vitriolic anthem "Gimme Some Truth" that is so ironically hateful and smug in its quest for peace and understanding that he becomes the very essence of what he despised. In short, this beautiful, troubling, hope-filled, fucked up day feels like this:

Knowing and trusting that the Lord is my shepherd, I take solace in the sweet wisdom of the ancient Hebrew that doesn't tell us,"God restoreth my soul," but rather "God revives me with the breath/essence of life when I almost stopped breathing." The Hebrew nefesh, writes Robert Alter, does not mean soul, but life breath or even the essence of holy life within our humanity. So today I pray that I may walk in ways that keep me connected both to this breath of life AND the blues.

ps - turns out I DID get to walk in the woods with Di and Lucie - and right now I'm finishing up a dinner of Moroccan chicken - and when we eat late (a la Montreal) I'll listen to some sweet soul jazz from Herbie Hancock.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

... this place speaks of hope to those who are hurting...

I had a conversation yesterday that has continued to touch me profoundly. I was told that, "this Sanctuary matters - it matters to this town, it matters to our history - and most of all it matters to people who are hurting, down and have no hope." As our talk deepened, I was told, "Look, people who are self-sufficient don't get this place. But when you are down and wounded, you can feel a love greater than yourself here... and that makes all the difference in the world." 

I have felt that sitting in this place all by myself. I felt it, too the first time I walked into this Sanctuary. Serendipitously, it was nine years ago today that I candidated to become pastor, making this conversation and revelation wildly prophetic. Because, truth be told, I had never quite put it like this before:  "this place speaks of hope to those who are hurting and are at the end of their rope."  Those who aren't broken, don't get it. Those who think of this place as simply our historic church home miss the deeper wisdom and compassion of the architecture. And those who only listen to the bottom line are deaf to the voice of the Spirit.

Small wonder Jesus told us to stay connected to those who have been hurt and locked out of love by the elite. In the reworking of the Sermon on the Mount, Eugene Peterson puts the words of Jesus like this: You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

the Lord makes me lie down...

In the midst of all business and busyness of life, we paused today at 12:10 pm for midday Eucharist.  It was just five of us - inconsequential in many ways given the grand scheme of things - but equally a time of blessing, too. A few new friends joined our small circle and they were clearly searching for a moment of rest. Two texts guided our gathering:  Psalm 23 and John 10:  22-30.

Seated in the Chancel of our cathedral like Sanctuary, surrounded by old chestnut and candles, we shared lectio divina.  And when I asked, "So what's this Psalm saying to you?" one person was clear: "The Lord MAKES us lie down... this isn't an invitation or an option. Sometimes God MAKES you lie down." Incredible. Nuanced and so wise. Think of all the times you are brought low. Or the moments you simply have to stop and rest. That's one of the reasons I cherish this Eucharist: real, lived spiritual wisdom breaks through in the sweetest ways. I have heard, prayed and loved this Psalm all of my conscious life, but never have I heard that truth before. (When I got home later in the day, I consulted Robert Alter's commentary on the Psalm where he writes: "The verb used here, hirbits, is a specialized one for making animals lie down; hence the sheep-shepherd metaphor is carefully sustained.")  A similar sense of God's living and loving presence emerged with the gospel text, too:  "Those who know me hear my voice and follow... and nothing can separate us from this bond of love." Nothing - not sin, not fear, not confusion or evil. Other words of encouragement and spiritual depth were lifted up. Beautiful.

Then we passed a sign of Christ's peace and gathered around the communion table for the Eucharistic Prayer. We use one adapted from the Community of Iona. We sing the "Sanctus," serve one another, close with prayer concerns and then sing a blessing:  "Seek ye first the kingdom of God..." It is often the highlight of my week.

As we readied ourselves to return to work, one of our new friends lingered. After carefully folding the liturgy to take home, she kept looking back at the Psalter. So I asked, "Do you want to take that with you? You can, you know?:  Stunned she replied, "Really?!? Sometimes I just need something to help me focus my mind..." We smiled and I replied, "Yeah? Me, too!" Maybe she'll return. Maybe not. Like the others, however, for at least a moment in time we each knew we were loved by God not because we had earned it, but because God's grace is so pure, complete and constant.

The day unfolded - there were problems to solve with a clogged sewer line, worries about caring for an old, old building, worries about our future and visits to loved one in a nursing home - and throughout it all I kept hearing, "The Lord makes me lie down... surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever." On my drive home I noticed that the daffodils were up. The sun was warm. And for about 45 minutes, five of us shared a bit of peace.

Monday, April 11, 2016

thoughts on hilary clinton - part one....

NOTE: This reflection does not address the very real and important policy and program differences between Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton. That will come at a later date. Rather, this essay is my understanding of the very different starting point in politics that has shaped HRC's campaign. Last week I shared a similar review of Bernie's endeavors. So, while I am always open to challenge, critique and correction, this is not about policy but organizing principles.

In thinking about how to start this post I want to state for the record that my previous words about Mr. Sanders refused to disparage the Senator's ethics, modest legislative record or question his inner motivations. I would also like to start by noting that if Mr. Sanders were to become the nominee, I would support him as a solid alternative to any of the current crop of other candidates albeit with the same profound concerns that prompted my initial critique. There are genuine and important policy differences between Sanders and Clinton - and between the Republicans and Democrats, too -  that I anticipate reviewing in a subsequent posting.  

That said, I wonder if there is a way for HRC/BS partisans to get real about the fact that Clinton and Sanders are both political players? The current series of primaries is not an idealized mock election for a civics class, but the penultimate stage of hardball politics for two careers players. Bernie has 34 years as an elected official under his belt (with 15 years of other employment in Head Start, carpentry and film making) while Hilary has spent 35 years in political activity (including time as Secretary of State, First Lady, Senator from NY as well and number of years as a lawyer in both private industry and public advocacy.) The longevity of their political engagement is one of the reasons I find claims about Bernie's supposed virtue compared to Hilary's so-called ethical ambiguity specious: if you are a politician who plays to win - and both of these candidates are precisely that - and if you possess the semblance of success - as Clinton and Sanders clearly do - then you are very well acquainted with and highly practiced in the art of compromise, combat and nuanced deal making. 

From my point of view, I believe that career politicians possess their own private encyclopedias concerning the moral shades of grey that are simultaneously more complicated than anything that ever appears on their resumes; vastly more paradoxical than anything most of their supporters are able to comprehend; and uniquely informed by the peculiar contours of real life deal making. Otto von Bismarck noted in 1863, "Politics is not an exact science, but the art of the possible." And only those who are serious about winning AND serving the public have the courage, fortitude and imagination to wrestle regularly with their shadow as well as the light in pursuit of making things happen. To the best of my knowledge, there are no exceptions.

When I was first elected to the Cleveland Board of Education in the 90s - part of an interracial
team under the tutelage of Mayor Michael R. White - one of the blessings of that experience was working with attorney Robert Duvin. He was a labor negotiations veteran who had seen all the best and worst of human nature at and beyond the negotiating table. Like a seasoned soldier, Duvin was ready to follow the ethical edicts of the code of conduct for warfare on principle, but wasn't afraid to break these rules if necessary, in order to live to fight another day. On the night of our electoral victory he said: "Remember three things and remember them well. 1) It never gets better than right now (the afterglow of victory.) 2) Figure out quickly what you need to be able to go to sleep each night and then look yourselves in the mirror so you can go back to work the next morning. And 3) Do not make new friends after the election." 

He was not being cynical. Rather, he was sharing wisdom hard won. If you are going to act on behalf of others - and most people go in to politics for noble reasons - you need to know your ethical essence very early in the game. Because once you are elected, the compromises that are required every day become increasingly complicated and murky.  What's more, if you are unable to find ways to make a deal that maintains a modicum of morality in this context, then you will crash and burn because you are not a serious player.

Jesus put it in equally blunt terms: Make friends with unrighteous mammon. That is, learn how the world really works and use this knowledge as an ally for justice and compassion. Reinhold Niebuhr became a champion of this truth when he complained that the so-called "children of light" were regularly outfoxed by the "children of darkness" because they did not know how to make deals. Not only did they refuse to soil their pristine ethics, but they were naive about the paradox of power. There are always unintended and unanticipated consequences to even our loftiest commitments. But because the children of light are afraid to make hard choices that sometimes compromise their ethics, more often than not they are run over and devoured by their opponents. Look back to the Bush/Gore debacle if you think I am kidding: the Bush partisans were mean-spirited and ruthless bullies who fought to win while Gore's people were good souls who found themselves steam rolled trying to grasp the higher ground.

Small wonder that another friend and ally from my school board days gave me a copy of Sun Tzu's The Art of War just a few days after the election. I still have it. He knew that I had studied Niebuhr, Gandhi and King - and Marx, Lenin, Mao, Che and Fannon, too. But what I really needed in this rough and tumble environment was a time-tested measuring stick against which I could evaluate ALL the deals that had to be made while pursuing the common good within the context of winning. 

Please don't leave out the winning: Bernie and Hilary won't - and neither should we because you can't make much change standing outside the halls of power holding on to just your ethical purity. What I experienced during my years in Cleveland politics was that if those of us who were elected on a reform slate were going to be able to keep fighting for poor, urban kids, then we had to keep winning. And to win involved learning brother Duvin's wisdom. There were deals to be made of every configuration of people and money imaginable - and a few actually had something to do with educational reform.  In this world, those who win and last are those who know that Sun Tzu wasn't kidding: All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; and when far away, we must make him believe we are near. 

Both Clinton and Sanders learned these lessons long ago even if their supporters are still confused. They know there are enemies who oppose them with varying degrees of importance. That's why they rarely waste their time with distractions. Over the years they have both become just as ruthless and skilled as the other. I sense that Hilary is smarter than Bernie - she has an intellect unrivaled by anyone except her husband - but Sanders has good instincts, if not all the facts. Both have learned to gather around them people who can see and name their respective shadows (even if they don't always listen). And neither is afraid of getting down and dirty when it advances the cause. Bernie was magnanimous to Hilary during the early debates not because he was more virtuous, but rather because NO ONE thought he would keep on winning. Hilary was equally conciliatory towards Bernie in the early days because she knew he didn't have a fighting chance in primaries with racial diversity.  

 I don't accept for a moment that either of these candidates is any more noble or corrupt than the other. Senator Sanders has a marketable brand: the curmudgeon on the white horse. It plays - especially in a political culture corrupted by Tea Party rage and authentic class and race insecurity. The BS brand is mostly based on fact, but  is also a carefully constructed public relations creation that Sanders uses to his advantage when the chips are down - or the delegate count gets close. He is as much a street fighter when necessary as anyone as the events of last week make clear.

Secretary Clinton is equally skilled at taking on her opponents. After all, she has been unfairly attacked and labeled as corrupt by the media elite since the days she and Bill entered the White House. (see "The Media Have a Hillary Story and They're Sticking To It http://billmoyers .com/story/the-media-have-a-hillary-story-and-theyre-sticking-to-it/). And because her brand of politics is driven by incremental change, she has had a much harder time evoking passion this year. I do not believe it is true that she presumes a right to the Presidency. That is too shallow an analysis. She has constructed a legacy of not being an outsider on a crusade, but rather a shrewd loyalist who honors (mostly) a center-left agenda. 

This is a harder sell given our current volatility, but continuity has had more traction at other times in our history. Currently, however, the white working class - and their poor and all too often racist allies - have been mobilized over the past eight years by the Koch Brothers and their front organizations including the Tea Party. By exploiting the fear and anger caused by Wall Street, the greed of the banking cabal and an ever shrinking domestic manufacturing base in an era of economic globalization, the 1% have manufactured a cruel bait and switch that lays blames for America's suffering at the feet of an African American president.  As a result, after the mid year elections of President Obama's first term, obstructionism halted any deep political and economic restructuring in Washington. Today, while the macro economic scene continues to recover, there are still sectors of our population whose jobs have vanished, whose homes have been repossessed and whose social optimism has been destroyed. Not everyone is hurting - this is an ideological overstatement - but enough people are still reeling from the 2008 depression - and the staggering social changes of the past eight years - that Tea Party infused anger is available to abuse even from within the Democratic Party.

None of this works well for a politician like Hilary. The Donald can exploit fear and rage as a multimillionaire outsider and be taken seriously. Bernie can generate $40 million dollars of donations in a month and still claim to be the savior of the working class and no one bats an eye. But a process politician like Mrs. Clinton, who has strategically become close to a number of traditional bower brokers, has no wiggle room to portray herself as outside the mainstream. In another time, her history would make sense: gradual change that is measurable and codified matters. Just ask MLK who once said that while you can't legislate morality, you can pass laws to make sure people aren't lynched. Such an approach resonates with Rep. John Lewis and many in our nation's communities of color. Clinton's modus operandi is all about building on the previous success of an accountable process. That's why she works within the party structure. She is NOT presumptuous (which is not to say she doesn't have an ego but that is a fact of life for every career politician.) She is not an outsider.She understands social and economic change to work best by fortifying what has already been achieved and then advancing strategic improvements incrementally by law.

I happen to value this approach. I am not a fan of exaggerated rhetoric that evokes hopes that cannot be realized. It remains to be seen which approach will carry the day: the sometimes visionary rhetoric of Bernie or the wonkish insider legacy of Hilary? With about 40% of the American population frustrated and hurting, it is going to be a rough go for an insider like Hilary. There are a few very important primaries coming up, including New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland, that will make next steps more clear.  I don't believe that the tiny caucuses that have recently gone for Bernie do anything to advance his cause except give his hardcore fan base the illusion of momentum. But let's see what the people say over the next few weeks, yes? 

summertime is half over...

A gentle rain is falling in the Berkshire hills this morning. Already it feels like a day of contemplation and quiet rest. There was a Fac...