Tuesday, July 19, 2016

fear and prayer in cleveland: night one...

As I watched night one of the RNC on PBS (that already betrays some of my biases, yes?) I felt
compelled to write of FB:

I despise the smug, elitist disdain so many liberals feel free to trumpet against Trump and his ilk. At the same time, the conservative addiction to hating Clinton and fear/anger-mongering that is on display right now is equally repulsive. This is going to be grim. People of faith need to call out the hatred, clearly lay claim to truth and justice beyond ideology and redouble our commitment to making clear the stark differences between these candidates. Be vigilant, beloved, wise as serpents and gentle as doves.detesting this candidate is arrogant or elitist.

Later in the evening I was called to clarify what I meant by elitist and arrogant. It has nothing to do with opposing one camp or another. I replied:

There are a hundred good reason to find Mr. Trump cruel, dangerous and deceptive. I do in spades. What IS arrogant and elitist is belittling him, slandering him with cheap insults and defaming the very real pain and loss that those who support him feel profoundly. Insults are not critique; they are lazy acts of veiled privilege. Let's call him out on his not so crypto-fascism. His pandering to white supremacists. His manipulation of a broken immigration system. And Islamaphobia. At the same time, let's not deny or excuse the very real failures and blind spots of Mrs. Clinton, whom I prefere given this context, and have supported for a long time without illusions.

At the close of the programming, three thoughts gnaw at me:

+ First, as David Brooks said better than most, tonight's speakers were carefully scripted to
evoke the loss of very real, everyday people - and they did this effectively. To be sure, they were rude and sometimes crude. They waved the bloody shirt and spoke in vulgar ways that are always present in politics but rarely celebrated during prime time TV. These are hurting times - not nearly as horrible as the Trump camp wants us to believe - but also not as sanitized as liberal elites once thought. A week ago, PBS commentator Mark Shields confessed that with the election of Barack Obama he was certain the USA had crossed the racial divide and we would enter into a post-racial era of cooperation. How out of touch is that? Within months of Obama's election, the Tea Party was making race hatred a visible national story again. And the vicious, racist venom that had been below white radar returned to our political discourse. Trump has figured out how to not only market this vitriol, but make it mainstream. To have the first speaker of the night come from the Duck Dynasty crowd is just as careful a symbol as Ronald Reagan announcing his presidency from the Neshoba County Fair grounds outside of Philadelphia, MS. This campaign is ALL about reclaiming privilege.

+ Second, Rudy Giuliani was out for blood - and a position in the Trump cabinet. He was ALL red meat and attack dog. There was no vision of how to heal America except beat back all those with differing opinions from his. It was post-9/11 jingoism on steroids. Mr. Giuliani got the crowd on its feet. He had them chanting "off with their heads" like something from a Roman gladiator bread and circus colosseum.. And it was all mindless testosterone, vegnance and let's return to the scapegoating unity we felt immediately after September 11th. Again, Brooks noted that for those who need to nourish fear and anger, the events of the past few weeks have been collaborating in terrify ways. Thank God for the circle of love around the city of Cleveland: it was the only holy alternative narrative in an otherwise bleak news cycle.

+ Third, Mrs. Trump was a let down who wasted her chance to help us see something that
looked like a human being we might like in the Donald. She was well scripted and read her lines well for one who doesn't speak in public and had to do so in another tongue. But there was nothing personal or real in her commentary: just bland macho platitudes spoken by a devoted fashion model spouse about how hard, tough and relentless her husband is about winning. The crowd was generous, but the speech was a bust. Truth be told, I kept thinking: she is lovely, committed and even courageous but there is nothing happening in her remarks.

I watched tonight as an exercise in civic responsibility and prayer. One of my old seminary buddies posted earlier: Will the RNC 2016 become Nuremberg 1035 or Chicago 1968? That is one of the right questions. Another old colleague, currently the President of Rochester Theological Seminary, wrote:

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.

I believe the Lord calls us to justice, compassion and truth-telling. I believe that the Cross shows us from the perspective of the wounded what it looks like when we scapegoat another to make ourselves feel safe and superior. I believe that the forces of fear were well organized tonight and preyed upon the pain and loss of people much like many in my own family. I believe that God's way is in compassionate solidarity with the broken, forgotten and despised - not a blind alliance with wealthy fear mongers.  And I believe that there was a carefully scripted spectacle of race hatred and Islamaphobia presented as mainstream options because they were cloaked in a none too subtle jumble of pseudo-patriotism and Christian faith. 

I will keep on watching - and praying - and calling out the hatred: it is too important not be be engaged.

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