Category Archives: progressive politics

Liberated by History

I have been taught history (a subject I love) in a myriad of ways. Fortunately, not as a series of dates to be memorized but as political movements and change influenced by  disease, technological, medical advances, religion, nationalism, power, and personality.

In seminary I had the great good fortune of reading Justo Gonzalez’ two volume history of the Christian Church. Imagine telling the story of the early Christian church through the challenges that ignited differing theologies and their struggle for primacy and the intersection of politics and nation building with growth of Christianity. HIs history telling is a well researched and clear-eyed exploration of how the political and theological world as we know it came into being.

I wish we taught history this way so that people could see the development and  movement of ideas. Could engage with ideas about how we are connected and  how today is built on what has gone before.I wish we were able to accept historical figures as bound by their time and examine how they were a part of moving us and our ideals, understandings, and values into our present.

As a working theologian, I am always aware that I am in dialogue with ideas that have come before and that my new perspective can offer correction or challenge. But the Ideas of those who lived and struggled before us are important because they open the dialogue.  Liberation, Black, Womanist, Feminist, Process,  or any other theology does not exist in a vacuum. We are all a part of global, historical conversations about faith and our understanding of the universe.  We are informed by science, history, and the constant influx of new information, new generations and populations. For me, Christianity is not about what people believed or how they lived over two thousand years ago. It is about what remains relevant at its core. How the truths of the faith engage with present reality.

Is it not important to know that the world view of first century Christians was very different from our world view today? How can it not be. The same with our politics. It is important to ask the questions of the framers of the Constitution. How were they bound by history and culture? How did they contribute to the conversation that has moved us into where we are today in the struggle for freedom? Do we need to reject what we now see as absolutely unacceptable? of course. But I truly believe we must also see ourselves in a historical relationship that, by its very nature, encourages the tough conversations we are having as a nation today around race, gender, personhood, and human rights.

As a nation, our history is built on what is often called ‘the Great Experiment.’  Rather than reject what and who have come before us, let us do what all experimenters do: build on what works and reject that which does not. This nation is built on glorious ideas tried for the first time in thousands of years (if you think of Athens as a democracy, and then it makes my point that American democracy took much of what worked in Athenian democracy, discarded the rest, and built on it for the then modern age.) We must move forward informed by new voices, differing experiences, new ways of perceiving both the mistakes and the triumphs of our historical past.

May our new understandings of history liberate us to the work of making real the promises of our shared dream.

 

Hope is Not Pretty

Hope is not pretty.
It is not the shine on patent leather shoes
or the flowers on Easter bonnets.
It is not an airy sense of pleasure
in your chest that says
everything will be okay.

Hope is the guttural cry of a people
struggling to rise from despair.
It is the fierce refusal to accept
hatred as the grounding of life.
It is looking into the eyes of  that hatred
with the grace of transparency.
It is the deep, deep longing
to bring about justice.
It  is trembling with fear and
not giving into terror.

Hope makes beautiful
our broken and ugly places,
confers power
challenges despair.
So let us hope
Let us hope passionately.
Let us speak and act
and stand and march
and live into the hope
that calls us to create a just future
out of the rubble of despair.

Can We Not Be Enemies?

This election is the most important election in the history of the United States.
I don’t think I’m saying anything people don’t already know but, good Godde, please remember it! Or to put it another way: policies, schmalicies. We need to get the authoritarian kleptocracy and their supporters out of power. Not just the top of the ticket, but down ballot. Our enemy is the evil perpetrated by the current administration not one another.

Yes. Absolutely yes, policies are important and Warren’s and some of Bernie’s policies make better sense and are a more compassionate and realistic way to be in political relationship with one another. However, Bernie’s critique focuses on class and does not have a significant critique of racism or sexism that must be addressed if true equity is possible. Women and people of color often feel left out of his critique. Warren’s policies all make sense and we are waiting to see if her candidacy is still viable.
Joe’s approach is more methodical but headed in the same direction.  I like to think of Joe as a transitional figure, someone who will get us out of this horrific time and reintroduce decency as assumed rather than the exception.
Change is absolutely necessary and important. I don’t care how we do it.  I will vote for whoever gets the nomination.
But.
In the mean time. can we please not be enemies. On my own facebook page I made  non-confrontive reply to an article about Bernie. Rather than spark a conversation I was told that I had a problem.
Come on, folks. Is this how we are going to get through, survive, unite, and eventually thrive?
There is no way a party as large and diverse as the Democratic Party will not be in disagreement. It’s one of the things I love about it. We have a big tent. We are a passionate bunch who are motivated to make the change we so desperately need but we have to remember we are on the same team. So please, please, can we not be enemies?

An Aussie’s Take on the Fires

 

I wrote a dear friend in Australia in January.
What can I do? I asked.
Who needs my help most?
Australia is in my prayers, I said.

I wondered to myself, how can I lift up the anger and the grief of a people and offer hope and comfort?
The California fires threatened friends  and the fear was palpable. How can I respond in a way that will make a difference.
And I sit in Georgia wondering, when will it be our turn? If more droughts, when will our. fires begin.  If not drought, then unbearable heat.

The. truth is that the fires in Australia and California are our fires.
If  we refuse to acknowledge  that we are all connected, if we don’t get that what happens to one nation, one community,  even. one individual affects us all , then we are truly lost.

Back to  the question: what can (I) we do?  She told me to spread the word on the climate change. Write, she said. And preach, she said. And pray. Make this tragedy matter. Let it be a catalyst for change, for a commitment to our planet and to one another. So that is what I am doing today. Every action matters. Here is my invitation and challenge:

  • vote and work for candidates with a commitment to fight climate change and to work cooperatively with the nations of the world.
  • make personal choices that are better for the environment: drive less, use public transportation, reduce your carbon footprint any way you can. Use energy wisely: unplug computers, use non-florescent lightbulbs, wash in cold water, insulate your home.
  • eat less meat or, better yet, go vegetarian. Buy local and organic food

There are many more things we can do as individuals but start somewhere. Start today. And if you’ve already begun, add another action. Our choices affect not only our lives put the lives of our neighbors around the world.

I write this in the midst of our struggle with a government that is run by a self-aggrandizing,  climate change denier. I go to bed every night and wake up every morning battling to maintain hope. And then I remember that the struggle is for a life and a planet I love. And I will love it and celebrate both life and the planet as a way of moving forward. We must live the life we are saving,

https://progressivechristianity.org/resources/celebrate-the-storm-luka-lesson-x-nahko-bear-music-video/

 

Connecting the Dots

I keep worrying the question: how did we get here?
Lots of folks have told me, in different ways, that we’e always been here.
I respectfully disagree. We are now galloping toward a future that is on a trajectory few of us have envisioned before now. Before now our trajectory has been very different. I. grew. up in a community that believed we were plodding toward ‘a more perfect union’, toward (with plenty of struggle, anguish, destructiveness, and pain) bending the arc of history toward justice.

Now we seem to be embracing and moving quickly toward self-first, everyone else be damned trajectory. Neither of these directions embraces the entirely of our society, but our past indicated that we could withstand challenges to power and open doors (however slowly and at great cost). The present feeds the fears of the soon-to-be minority and locates economic and political power in the hands of a few.

So how the hell did we get here? Let me say at the outset that I am not either a conspiracy theorist or an alarmist. I am an amateur historian, a working theologian, and an active citizen. I am open to being challenged and interested in being heard. That said, here are the dots I am connecting:

It all started with Newt Gingrich and his “Contract with America” that laid the foundation for a more radical social conservatism (racism, anti-immigration, anti-women’s rights, anti-LGBT) cloaked, once again, in financial conservatism and a distrust of government.
It expanded with the advent of the Tea Party and the influx of Republicans who publicly stated their refusal to compromise with the Democratic Party. Maybe it needs to be stated that compromise or finding ‘a third way’  has been the basis for our two party system since its inception.
We no longer have ‘the loyal opposition’.
From the introduction of the Contract with American in 1994, our political discourse has deteriorated to such an extent that our politicians no longer engage in productive dialogue. The power grab engaged in by the right has left our way of governing in tatters.
And, Godde help us, there is no shame. No shame is eschewing their oath of office. No shame in supporting lies. No shame in supporting a president with no morals, no ethics, no intellectual capacity, and no qualifications for the job.

So how did we get 30+% of the population supporting the president and the party that is against their best interests?  Here’s a dot: No Child Left Behind. When we teach children to regurgitate facts rather than to think critically and be able to sift fact from fraud, then we. open ourselves  to an entire population that can be easily manipulated. And when higher. education  is looked on with distrust, our problem is compounded.

Here’s another dot: the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few. Wealth is power.
That is a problem in a democracy when the few can purchase influence,  votes, representatives, senators, and even presidents. When money consolidates power in the hands of the few, we no longer live in a democracy.

Another dot: voter suppression and gerrymandering. It seems clear to me that Republicans don’t think they can win if they don’t cheat. Period. Which brings me to my final dot (for this conversation).

The rise of white nationalism and of white people who believe they are threatened by POC and women and the LGBT community. As a nation we have allowed with impunity the infiltration of the military, police departments, and politics (both local and national) if white nationalists and Neo-Nazis. Racism, sexism, and homophobia is being normalized overtly rather than covertly by people with physical power.

And now we have Donald Trump in power.

Here are my modest proposals:
– include critical thinking and empathy into school curriculum nationally
– take money out of politics: dark money, PAC money, lobbying money
– make national laws about gerrymandering
– make voter registration automatic at the age of 18
-make Election Day a national holiday
-root out white nationalists from the military and police forces

Let’s start here.

Remember the Holy ‘Yeses’

Let us celebrate those who are our ‘firsts’.

I posted about the sculpture of Shirley Chisholm
to be  placed in Brooklyn by the state of New York.
The first African-American woman in congress.
The first African-American woman to run for President.
I remember those days and the times.
I remember the joy and the power that surged through me
singing a holy “Yes!”

So I posted today about the sculpture
and a facebook friend said, “Finally.”
That ‘finally’ tasted like bitterness
and judgment
and dismissal.
Those things I understand. I truly do.

But perhaps ‘Yes’ serves us better.
How much more important is it for us to remember
the Yes of her life
the Yes of her witness
the Yes of a first to break barriers and
move the arc closer to justice
than it had ever been.

Even Moses, who led the Israelites out of Egypt,
never made it to the promised land.
He only glimpsed it.
His ‘Yes’ was passing through the waters
HIs “Yes” was making a way out of no way
HIs ‘Yes” was trusting Godde’s dream of the future.
His view from the mountain top
does not diminish his ‘Yes’
It invites us to our ‘Yeses’

Today I am grateful for Shirley Chisholm and all her ‘Yeses’
How amazing that the State of New York
recognizes her life and witness.
Today I am going to be glad for all her ‘Yeses’
and grateful that the state celebrates the holy Yes of her life.

Should we focus on Moses’ inability to reach the promised land?
Or Shirley not becoming president?
Let us never diminish the ‘Yes’ of any life.
The Yes of persisting
the Yes that challenges the injustice of every no
the Yes of dreaming justice into existence
the Yes that invites all the ‘Yeses’
of  those who are to come.

 

To Our Lawmakers: I’m Not Looking for Perfection

 

I am not looking for perfection from my leaders –
representatives,
senators,
judges –
you do not have to agree with me on every policy point.
You can play poker or golf with people I find reprehensible.
I don’t care.

You don’t have to be a person without flaws,
or who has never made a mistake.
You can be someone like me
who has sometimes made choices
you are ashamed of.
I don’t care.

What I care about is that you are a decent human being.
I care that you don’t judge others while hiding your own perversions.
I care that  you  pit  “we the people”
against one another for your personal gain or ideology.
That’s what I care about.

I want you to share a larger vision of who we can be.
I want you to stop cheating.
Stop gerrymandering
Stop suppressing voters
Stop impeding voting rights.

I want you to be outraged when the President
invites foreign adversaries to interfere
with our elections.

I want you to be decent enough to stand up
to a man who is destroying the fabric of our nation,
who invites division,
encourages hate,
despises diversity,
worships money.

I just want you to be decent.
To put the nation before your self interests.
To be someone your mom would be proud of.
To be a person  of integrity.
I don’t need you to be perfect.
But I really need you to just  be decent .

We all do.

de·​cent | \ ˈdē-sᵊnt \

Definition of decent

1: marked by moral integrity, kindness, and goodwill.    

.

Are There No Facts?

You know those dreams you have or movies you’ve watched where the protagonist is running through the forest, whipped by low-hanging branches, and stumbling through the underbrush? That’s how I feel right now as we try to engage from differing perspectives in our political discourse.

My sister told me a story the other day: she asked some ladies  with whom she was playing bridge how, as Christians, they could support a president who (here she listed any number of his immoral behaviors including adultery, lying, racism, caging children…) and the response was, “I don’t believe it.”

How on earth do we converse with one another when facts are considered malleable?
I’m willing to discuss policy with anyone on any part of the political spectrum from right to left, but if we do not share the same reality, how can we talk about anything?

This is the slope we have careened down when science is disputed and reality is dismissed.
Sometime near the beginning of Trump’s presidency Kelly Ann Conway uttered the phrase “alternative facts”? I assumed that was the beginning of the end. In reality, that was the beginning of the beginning.

I remember when Richard Nixon’s actions came to light. Once the facts were established, both sides of the aisle insisted he step down. This time, this scandal, is horrifically different because our Republican leaders are treating the facts as optional interpretations of reality.

Facts are not something we can choose to believe or not. And if our policies are not based on facts then they will not truly address our problems. Then there is the unspoken truth  that conservatives  fail to critique how their policies underpin racism, sexism, and homophobia. They are unable or unwilling to confront and condemn the prejudice that powers their current movement because that would require admitting and responding to facts.

Where do we go from here? I am uncertain. But I must believe that there are more people who are willing to acknowledge and deal with the facts of climate change, racism, sexism, homophobia and how our lives are diminished – even endangered – than there are who aren’t.  More of us who are willing to be challenged than there are people who insist on believing only what is comfortable or that confirms their prejudices.

Today, let us embrace facts. Let us be challenged and informed by them. Let us offer them to our conservative friends. Over and over again. Open handed, like palming a cube of sugar for a horse. At some point, like the horse, they may come to realize that facts are palatable, even sweet.  They can be tentative as they like, but we must not withdraw our hand.

 

 

 

Will You Do One Right Thing Each Day?


If you are overwhelmed by the events of the day
or the tweet of the hour
or the horror of the tragedies crossing your TV screen
or the past three years…

Do not let it freeze your heart into inaction
because when despair wins
humanity loses,
when despair wins
the people suffer
when despair wins
our beautiful, necessary voices
are silenced.

The Talmud teaches us :
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.
Do justly, now.
Love mercy, now.
Walk humbly now.
You are not obligated to complete the work,
but neither are you free to abandon it” (PIvot).

Today and each day remember
that you are not alone
you are not required do it all.
that others are doing the work
in times and places you may not see.
Remember that every one right thing you do each day
joins with the one right thing that thousands
and hundreds of thousands are doing each day
to create a tsunami of change.

So what one right thing will you do?
Will you register voters?
work for a campaign?
write letters?
march in the streets?
Will you pray and will you give your prayers feet?

Will you do one right thing each day
so that together
we turn the ship of history
and point its bow
away
from the evil that threatens to consume us
and toward
the promise of justice?

Will you do one right thing each day
so that I do not feel alone
and your neighbor does not feel alone
and YOU do not feel alone
so that none of us feel powerless
and all of us can lean into the hope
we are growing together
for our shared future ?

Will you do one right thing each day?

 

Should We Be Afraid?

 

This week I boosted an ad on Facebook for my book. In the past I sent it out to the 25-45 age group. This time, I thought , “I’ll send it out to my age peers, 45-65.”  That choice unleashed a fury of responses that took my breath away. I was called names, quoted scriptures at, and somehow invited a level of hate that astonished me. It scared me. I have been aware of the growing anger and hatred in public discourse. I’ve experienced it as a woman. But I’ve never experienced a virtual mob of verbal pitchforks and torches.

Are some of them bots? Most of them? Are there really people out there who feel entitled and justified in threatening people who believe or live differently? It’s scary folks, made more real by nearly daily mass killings. The relatively small way I experienced the vitriol of the religious right shook me. I started worrying about public appearances – readings, speaking engagements, things I would naturally post to facebook and invite my friends to join me. So far I haven’t shared ‘upcoming events’. I am allowing my fear to silence me.

Women,  African-Americans, people of color, queer folk of every sort, know what it’s like to be afraid. To cower behind silence. It is how the oppressed are controlled.

Howard Thurman who, in Jesus and the Disinherited, taught  how fear silences and disenfranchises the oppressed:

“A man’s conviction that he is God’s child automatically tends to shift the basis of  his  relationship with all his fellows. He recognizes at once that to fear a man, whatever may be that man’s power over him, is a basic denial of the integrity of his very life.”  Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, pg 51

There are hundreds of times that scripture urges us to “be not afraid”. Most likely for the same reason. Here’s my point: in this time when domestic terrorists are empowered by the current president, we must choose not to be afraid. We cannot allow fear to strip us of our basic identity  as children of Godde.  We must choose to live as if we are free, as if our lives matter, We must not allow fear to silence us. Otherwise we are enslaved by hate and lies.

Look, I’m still afraid. But I don’t want let  fear control me. Are there very real things going on in our world today of which to be afraid? Absolutely. But I want to be brave enough to not let fear control me.  If the best I can do is to choose to act like I’m  not afraid then I want to make that choice.

We do not live in comfortable times. The danger of the hate  unleashed by current leadership is real. It’s reasonable to be afraid. But hate wins when we allow it to silence us.  Maybe the question isn’t, “Should we be afraid” but “Can we have the courage to live our truth out loud?”

I’m trying. I hope you will join me.