Category Archives: progressive politics

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.

 

Thinking about Racism and Wild Goose

Let’s talk about racism.
We don’t have to be perfect.
But, friends, we must do better than this.

If a critique of Wild Goose is that not enough people of color are involved, then let’s talk about why. I’m not going to say anything that hasn’t been said before, but it bears repeating. And repeating. And repeating. Until we get it a whole lot better than we have.

First of all, kudos for the speakers and presenters of color who were invited and did come.
Thank you to Otis Moss,II, William Barber, Yvette Flunder, and others for bringing your voices and visions.

But that is not enough.

Here is the least of what needs to happen next:
50% of the planning committee needs to be people of color
50% of all presenters need to be people of color
Every panel on any topic needs to include people of color
50% of the conversations in the convo hall need to be moderated by people of color.
We need to ask people of color what they need.
There need to be safe spaces for people of color to gather without including white people.

As I reflect on my time at Wild Goose, where I was a co-creator, my intent is not to disparage  the event, but to continue the important conversation that needs to happen as Wild Goose moves forward. I believe that those involved with this festival are beginning to understand the importance of confronting racism in our nation, our culture, churches, synagogues, and mosques.

Moving forward, into the kin-dom that is here, now, within and between each of us means doing the difficult work of dismantling privilege.

As Trump launches his upcoming campaign fueled by racism run rampant, we cannot pat ourselves on the back for ‘making an effort’.  The stakes are too high and the cost too great.

One of the best things I heard at Wild Goose was a presenter telling us that we can’t claim innocence, as in  ‘I don’t do that’ or ‘my church is not like that’ to  give us a pass. Let us instead talk about the impact of racism on all of us. And those of us who are white and benefit by the unmerited color of our skin, need to realize the impact and privilege we benefit from to the horrible denigration of people of color. If white people cannot even acknowledge how we benefit from a racist  religious, social, and political culture and find it to be abhorrent, then we are lost.

If the people who come to Wild Goose with hearts and minds open cannot wrap their minds around the urgency of this matter,  who will? If we can’t dismantle racism in this community how will we do it in our broader world?   This is my clarion call.

 

 

Hang On to the Dream

Years ago I had the pleasure of seeing Richard Harris in the role of Arthur in the musical Camelot.
It was sweeping in scope. Epic. The story of a vision of justice that they tried to live in to in spite of their short-comings.
They were a flawed lot. Betrayers. Dreamers. Power grabbing. In the play things happen too fast and parts of the story that would explain the downfall are hidden and the audience can  only guess. I wanted to shout “Look there, behind you!”  But I didn’t know what to point to.

In the end   Arthur walks through the rubble of the dream of a time and place built of great ideas of  justice and good  when he stumbles on a young squire  who still believes and wants to be a knight of the Round Table. Arthur sings his final song to him:

Each evening, from December to December,
Before you drift to sleep upon your cot,
Think back on all the tales that you remember
Of Camelot.
Ask ev’ry person if he’s heard the story,
And tell it strong and clear if he has not,
That once there was a fleeting wisp of glory
Called Camelot.
(take a listen at link below)

https://youtu.be/_lhduy0Em74

When I left the theatre I sat in my car and sobbed uncontrollably for  half an hour.

The United States of America is our Camelot, built on amazing, brilliant, beautiful ideas and ideals to be lived out  by a flawed and imperfect people. Historically, we have worked to live into the  dream of  a nation of laws and justice, of common heritage not dependent on geographic origins,  a work in progress pointed toward the perfection of universal suffrage and rights.  We judged ourselves against our aspirations not our reality.
          Today we stand in the rubble of what could have been. Things are coming too fast and parts of the story are hidden and untold that would explain our downfall.  But most of us, like the audience of Camelot, can only guess at what is happening behind the curtain.
I want our ending to be different. I want the next generation to hold on to the dream but I want more than that. I want to win this battle for our souls. 
This is the moment we rise, we stand, we march, we confront the would-be killers of the dream.  Our  future pivots on every action we take. How grand it would be to find a leader to lead us out but we’ve set it up so that we are the leaders.
So lead, friends, lead.
Be tactical in decision making,  be willing to confront those who would rip the dream to shreds, and hold tight to the dream that is our heritage with every ounce of passion and commitment  you can muster.
At the very least,  go down fighting for what is worth fighting for. At best, the dream lives. It’s up to us.

 

Herding Non-Doctrinal Cats

My writing group friend ,who is also a pastor, asserted this morning that people don’t come to church because of doctrine. “If you stood outside the doors of the church on Sunday morning and asked people if they believed what they had just heard, if they were honest they, would say, “No.”

I found that astounding. She went on the say that most people aren’t interested in doctrine. They come because it is a place of welcome, a place they belong, where they have a sense of family. My daughter responded that she doesn’t go to a church because of doctrine but there are churches she won’t go to because of doctrine.

One would think then that being a non-doctrinal church would be easier to establish among the young, but the truth is it takes a certain amount of spiritual maturity, a certain amount of personal history that challenges everything you thought were certainties.

When Circle of Grace started I insisted that we be non-doctrinal. It’s easier said than done because one of the first things someone asks of a church is, “What do you believe?”.  Our covenant is one not based on belief but on relationship. We wrestle with the questions, “How do we relate to Godde?” and “How do we relate to one another and to the created world.” In 1993 we wrote our covenant:
We, the Circle of Grace Community Church, as Christians, covenant with Godde and with one another to:
– Live with compassion and seek justice
– Continually discern that to which Godde calls us
– Build spiritual community that is inclusive of race, gender, sexuality, ability, class,      culture, age, and religious backgrounds.
– Provide safe haven
– Worship together using language about Godde and humanity that is inclusive.
– Live in right relationship with Godde and one another
– Speak truth to power

Our covenant is a pointer and directional marker, challenging us to a different kind of faithfulness and a beacon in the wilderness times. And, yes, it was hard making space for  passionately pro-life and pro-choice people, for those who needed substitutionary atonement and those who found the crucifixion to be a judgment on humanity.  We even discussed whether or not to put “as Christians” in our covenant because of what people assume it means when you say that. But we ended up saying we were reclaiming the word in the same way lesbians reclaimed the word “dyke”.  We would define what it means to be a Christian and, for us, we could agree it meant to follow in the Way of Jesus.

The beauty and the challenge of herding non-doctrinal cats is how much we can learn from one another. I confess that, as a pastor, I was often filled with anxiety. The question uppermost in my mind was, “How can we make room for one another?” – though, truthfully, sometime it was, “Will everyone be able to tolerate this?’. It’s different when you say out loud that a church is non-doctrinal than it is silently living with the reality of it.

I like to think it is some of the important work we do, re-imagining what spiritual community can be in all its unsettled and unsettling differences, making expansive statements that call us to live into a way of being, every gathering and worship service an exercise in herding non-doctrinal cats. Circle of Grace’s commitment and experience is a necessary beacon of a different possibility, a different way of being in the world while still being authentic.

As the world churns with uncertainty and fear for the future, it is seductive to reach for doctrines that give us absolute sureties . But doing that only perpetuates the current miasma. We need a different vision of how to live in the world with all our differences.

Our world desperately needs to become a herd of non-doctrinal cats who choose  to make home together.

 

Waiting for Godde

I’m no Samuel Beckett (Waiting for Godot) and would never pretend to be but I feel like I’m in the middle of his play only it’s happening in real life. I’m in that  in-between-place, having conversations of the meaning of our current reality and  waiting for Godde ,who never seems to show up.

When Trump was first elected the mantra was we mustn’t become inured to the absurdities and atrocities- of language, attitudes, and policies. We must not let it become the ‘new normal.’ Somewhere along the line I had to detach enough to keep my sanity and to keep from sinking into the depressive, palpable miasma of every day news. All this in spite of the fact that I am involved in activism from fighting voter suppression, working on the campaigns of good candidates, writing letters, making phone calls, marching… and struggling not to burn out from all those absolutely important activities.

But the train is bearing down and we are in a struggle for the track switch.    Whoever controls it will determine  the outcome that  will define for generations who were are now and the legacy we leave behind. Will we continue to do the flawed and messy work of expanding freedom and justice? Or will fear and ignorance transform us into yet another authoritarian travesty? Will we make room for our glorious bouquet of differences or will we become absurdly invested in a kind of sameness that destroys our humanity?

These are questions I ask myself every day. And sometimes I wonder, where is Godde in the midst of this?  I am not the first to ask nor will I be the last. In prayer and even when I cannot pray my answer comes. Godde shares our desire for justice, walks with us in our fears, and shares our grief and anger.

And I know this, too: I know that I and we are Godde embodied in the world.  My arms and hands and legs, your arms and hands and legs are Godde’s. A miracle isn’t going to drop out of the sky. I am the miracle. You are the miracle. We are the miracle. We will find a way to pull the switch that will change the tracks.
And even if we cannot throw the switch in time, hate and fear are never the final word. The Christian story tells it this way: death, itself, does not have the final word.
Love is the final word.

Waiting for Godde means waiting for myself and each other.
Waiting for Godde means showing up as the embodiment of Godde.
Waiting for Godde means acting  Love and justice.
Waiting for Godde means speaking truth to power.
Waiting for Godde  means living our truth without fear,  that Love is the first word and the last word.