Full Citizenship and The Realm of God (For Gerri and George and Ken)

I dreamed last night about a T-Shirt/Bumper Sticker that said “Full Citizenship for African-Americans!”. I woke up this morning to my friend Cat Chapin-Bishop’s posting of a video where a Black man discuss being pulled over by the police as a time when he feared his life is in danger. After this summer’s events, it seems to me that from the experience of African-Americans, they might believe that they don’t have full citizenship in America. By “full citizenship” I mean the right to use our roads without fear of the government (yes, police are the government). If memory serves me right, I also mean the right to live where you want, instead of being steered to areas in certain zip codes. In the present,  I also mean the right to go into a store and not be looked at suspiciously, or the right to vote without having to prove you live in a town you’ve lived in for eighty years. Further, the right to be assumed to “belong here”, wherever one may roam in the U.S. is part of what I would call “full citizenship” in the United States.

It occurs to me that women don’t have full citizenship, either, by the way, but the same principles apply — the right to become Leader of our country, the right to the same pay for doing the same job, the right to not expect the glass ceiling, the right to be considered for all types of job if you can do them, the right to make decisions about your own person — these rights are part of full citizenship, as well.

The poor don’t enjoy the same rights and privileges that others do either — they are kept out of the gated communities of the rich, kept from the benefits of medicines, kept from all kinds of things which your average person can afford, and — if a person dares to show their class via language or etiquette, they are often discriminated against.

None of this means that others have full citizenship in the U.S., either — every group and individual is probably kept from reaching their full potential in some way or another by government or the society it supposedly represents.

Oddly, many of the people that speak of Freedom with a capital “F” seem to be against other people having the basics of freedom — the right to be left alone unless you’re doing something wrong, the right to go where you want, the right to be who you are without punishment or scorn or ridicule, the right to work and eat, the right to vote, the right to control your own destiny and your own body. If those people who rail against losing their freedoms actually had to deal with their basic rights infringed upon, we’d never hear the end of it — with good reason. So the idea that it’s not okay to complain when your basic rights as a Citizen are being kept from you is absurd, but there are always those who say “complaining shows that you are weak (and therefore undeserving)”.  The people with the most rights often claim their Christianity as the reason they deserve to be free. They say things like “we founded this country and don’t you forget it!”. They say things like “we came to this country to exercise our religion. Don’t take that away from us or pretend it isn’t that way”. They are right for doing so. Their facts are correct (if you don’t consider Native Americans, who belong to their own sovereign nations.)

But here’s where it gets messed up: The rights of citizens here in the U.S. are supposed to be based on the rights that God will/does give people in the “Kingdom of God” (or the Realm or Reign of God if you’re into inclusive language). The point of establishing cities in the New World was to establish cities that Christians could and should live in. “The kind of cities that Christians should live in” were the ones they envisioned in heaven. As Jesus says in the Lord’s Prayer, “on earth as it is in heaven”.  But in the Realm of God, everyone is supposed to be given Full Citizenship — the poor, the widow, the orphan, the sojourner and stranger in our midst, as well as those nice people in the Temple who do the will of God. The law in heaven is supposed to be something like “love one another as I have loved you”, once you cross into the pearly gates, however you get there.

That kind of Full Citizenship is the kind we should be giving people in America as well. If you think it is “this way” in heaven, then that is the standard we are to use here on earth in a democracy as envisioned by our Founding Fathers. Granted, of course, that their interpretation of scripture might be different than ours — the principle is the same. This is why Martin Luther King, Jr had any vision of what the country should be in the mid 1900’s that included former slaves that many of the Founding Fathers couldn’t even imagine. The idea that we have lost ground, or that there is unfinished work to do toward King’s dream is proof that we are not the Christian country we claim to be and used to strive to be.

This works on two different levels: The personal/spiritual and the legal/practical. We ought to think about each other as Full Citizen’s in God’s Kingdom/Realm so that we don’t assume that the guy with the hoodie is a criminal or the man walking down the street doesn’t belong there or that a woman doesn’t want control over her own body. This is us, as individuals, responding to other individuals as full citizens, in the way that God would want us to. This is the area of our hearts and minds that should show forth from The City on The Hill or the unhidden lampstand. What’s the point in being a beacon if you don’t want to call people your way? This is something to consider in the immigration situation we currently face in the Southwest and other places. If we are doing things right, people should want to come to our Kingdom of God on Earth and we shouldn’t keep them away or dim our lights.

Legally and in the world outside of our hearts, our country, founded as “like the  Kingdom of God in earth” should reflect those same values that we’re supposed to have in our hearts. If we claim to have integrity as a nation, then our outsides should reflect our insides, and our insides should be better than they are. Spiritual laws like “everyone’s important and everyone’s opinion matters” should have their equivalent in practical laws like “everyone gets to vote”.  “Everyone is loved by God” should be enforced as “No one shall make someone else not live up to their potential as human being”. If God makes food for all to eat, then our laws should say that “everyone should get what they need”. If we’re making laws that say “some people are allowed to be de-valued”, then we are not doing our law-making right.  If God offers mercy, then our laws should do the same. If God “loved us when we were yet sinners”, our laws should say that we do the same, even if we only suspect our neighbors might be up to no good.

This is the kind of Full Citizenship that African-Americans deserve, and Celtic-Americans deserve and Polish-Americans deserve and Mexican-Americans deserve. This is  the kind of Full Citizenship that Male Americans and Female Americans and everything in between deserve. Fat Americans and Thin Americans, Short Americans and Tall Americans deserve this, as do both the mentally ill and the mentally capable, the physically ill and the physically capable. This is the vision that Christianity gives to this country.

I am sure that other religions offer similar visions of The Way Things Should Be but, as a Christian, I can only speak authentically about my faith and my understanding of history. I suspect people of Islam or Judaism or Buddhism come here believing in Full Citizenship in America should look their best world-view as well — “the land where the streets are paved with gold”, or “nirvana” or “the place where justice and peace prevail”, etc.

In any case, I believe that  our view of “what the world can be if God lives with us” should be the same as our vision of  “what our laws say we are to be” and “what our minds should see when we look at our fellow citizens”. If our laws said “do to others as you would have them do to you”, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in. We should do what we can to make it that way.

 

Peace,

 

John

It’s A Good Year For Thinking

As the Jennifer Lawrence-and-everybody-else nude picture scandal happens, It occurs to me that it’s been a good year for thinking, if one is inclined to do so.

I read an article that said, “If Jennifer Lawrence wasn’t a ‘good girl’ (e.g. Miley Cyrus, Rhiannon, Nicki Minaj), we wouldn’t be having this conversation”. Wow. I never thought of that before, but it’s true. But now it is being thought about. The conversation has shifted from “people (women) shouldn’t take nude pictures of themselves” to “it’s a matter of privacy” and “blaming the victim here is like saying ‘her skirt was too short'”.

The tone of the conversation has changed. Because I like the show “Chuck”, I was fascinated by what actress  Yvonne Strahovski said: “It is with great sadness and disappointment that I address this hacking issue. To my fellow actresses whose privacy has been invaded—my heart goes out to you. I’m so disappointed that there are people in the world who feel the need to comitt these criminal acts. Some of these pictures are fake, my own included. Regardless—I ask you all—do not share the links. Don’t even look at the photos. Just let people have the privacy they deserve. Integrity is sacred.” Again, after a decade of “leaked” sex tapes of the rich-and-famous where we all assumed the person leaked it themselves for publicity/financial reasons, now we’re acknowledging (as a society) that there are people on those videos or pictures and maybe they are embarrassed by them being seen by others. Strahovski is asking people to have integrity and/or respect the integrity of others. I suspect that she is, because she’s not generally thought of as a “political” actress, speaking the thoughts of your average person without an axe to grind.

By and large, the last time there was this much change in thought about sex and gender roles, Anita Hill was speaking before Congress. I don’t know yet, but I suspect that most men are cool with this new thought. We’ll have to see.

This summer, of course, Ferguson happened, as well as violence around the country between Blacks and authorities. As usual, there were the resounding voices of “if they weren’t criminals, they wouldn’t be in this mess”, but there was so much happening, in so many places, that the talk didn’t stop there. If one kid was shot by police, it could be a fluke — either a bad kid or a bad cop”, but racism and violence and race issues were so present, the issue had to be discussed. The press was attacked and jailed. Protesters were marched on by soldiers. There were a lot of people involved, on so many different levels, and they were all affected by it.

Also, this year, we have heard discussions about money and power and the inequality behind them as well. We have heard about Veterans that we called “heroes” being denied services by the scores. The idea that “climate change” might be real (remember last winter? I do). The idea that creation might be more than 6,000 years old was challenged by a respected scientist on PBS as well.

It occurs to me as I write this that we really — for the last 30 years or so — have had real difficulty conceiving of the world as more that one dimensional. We have moved into rigid categories of “Good” and “Bad” on both left and right, sometimes with good reasons, sometimes without. In any case, we have come to believe that because Good and Bad are so clear that people’s lives are the same way — Good Things happen to and come to Good People while Bad Things happen to and come to Bad People. Jesus said, “Rain falls on the just and the unjust alike” and we still have problems with this idea all these centuries later. But big events, where even “Good People” have “Bad Things” happen to them, challenge our notions of what’s out there and how the world works.

How does this happen? It happens when Good People step into the lives of people they don’t know and discover the reality that is the other person’s life. Police clashes with Black men have been happening for years. This time, there were people watching. Sexism has caused us to divide women between “sluts” and “good girls” for years. This time “good girls” are caught in the web of sexism. Rigid “patriotism” has separated “Real Americans” (supposedly “hawks”) from Un-American-types (supposedly “doves”) for years. This time, “Heroes” aren’t getting support from people that supposedly supported them and we now wonder “who is a true American”. As we all shovel out our driveways or stay inside because even the dogs won’t go out or deal with tornadoes we’ve never seen before, we are all caught in what ever is happening, whether we “believe in it” or not.

We have a chance like we haven’t had in years. All of these things cause us to think, to challenge what we know about others, because we have come to realize we are the “others” — they are related to us as we attempt to relate to them. In short, because we care enough or have been forced to look, we can now see. Let’s make the best of it. Let us listen to each other, let us watch each other, let us see the complicated reality of our not so simple world — and maybe let’s live in it together.

 

Peace,

 

John

If Guns Don’t Kill People, Why Do Ours Do It More?

I was thinking about it the other day and it occurred to me, “What if the NRA is right?”. What if guns don’t kill people, people kill people? They have guns in other countries. I don’t know where and I don’t know what kind, but I’m sure that people in other countries have guns. Their guns don’t seem to fire as often as ours do. Their guns don’t seem as deadly as ours.  In Springfield, Massachusetts, where I work, there were three  people killed last weekend by drive-by shooters in two cars. Today, a man was killed as he attacked a courthouse with a gun in Atlanta. Yesterday, a man attempted a mass shooting in Seattle. That’s a lot of people dead via guns that don’t kill people.

What’s the deal with guns? Is it also true of other weapons? To be sure, there was a boy recently who attacked a group of his class-mates with a knife recently, and nobody’s screaming to take away everybody’s knives. Switchblades and bats and crowbars have been the favorite of gang members for years. Probably more crimes are committed with those weapons than with guns yearly. What about the broken bottle used in a bar fight? Nobody’s screaming to halt the sale of beer in bottles. There are probably a hundred or more ways to kill a person. Why do guns get singled out? That’s a good question and it deserves an answer.

It is because our culture is different than European or Asian cultures or South American cultures. Our very Constitution enshrines guns as the weapon of choice for Americans, if that’s how you read the Second Amendment. The Constitution doesn’t say, “a militia being important for the common defense, all weapons are protected. It says “we have the right to bear arms”. Switchblades somehow don’t make the cut, or crowbars or firebombs or even atomic bombs.  When we think of bearing arms, we think guns.  Americans equate guns with freedom and liberty and patriotism! Then we do something weird with it. We flip it upside down logically. If you don’t own a gun, you’re not free. If you don’t own a gun, you don’t have or enjoy liberty. If you don’t own a gun, you’re not a patriot, at least according to the NRA. or places that require you to carry a firearm.

Now there are a couple of problems with that idea. On a personal level, I feel free and I don’t own a gun. I believe in liberty and democracy and all those good things, and I don’t need a gun to do so. It seems to me that my love for all of those things makes me a patriot, with or without a gun. But more than my personal opinion, there is the question of what real militia people do with their guns. On this memorial of D-Day, I am struck by how patriots — genuine, actual, heroes — only fight when they have to, and then they go home. The heroes of the “Greatest Generation” went home after being heroes and — according to tonight’s news — never said a word about it. They didn’t say, “We’re heroes”. They just were.  War didn’t make them heroes. Their humanity made them heroes — their love for others, not their love of war. They took up arms because they saw no other way. They put down their weapons as soon as they could and went back to being engineers or farmers or doctors or whatever they were “in real life”.  If the “Greatest Generation” took up arms and saw violence as an un-natural thing, why do we see weapons as patriotic? It is because we love war so much and we worship violence, especially if we don’t have no experience of war.  Presidents and politicians who actually fought in wars  are often against war as an option. Eisenhower, Colin Powell, Kennedy — none of these people wanted to have endless war.  Bush II, who didn’t go even to his National Guard post, loved war.

How we got there is a whole other question, but I think that Eisenhower had it right when he talked about the military-industrial complex (in the 1950’s!) and how our economy was being built around weapons and war. Weapons are money-makers. To make more money — and to restock the shelves — we have to use what we have. The best way to use all those weapons/make more money is to have a war. The only way to have a war is to forget that there are people on the other end of them. The only way to  forget humans die when we use weapons is to focus on something else — some idea like Love of Country, “freedom”, wealth, jobs, racial superiority or something as simple as productivity.

Men have this thing about manhood and productivity — The Man Code says if you’re not bringing home the bacon, you’re not a man. Even I buy into that one. The problem is that in order to do that, you have to keep a product going in order to keep the job going.  Threaten a man’s job, and you threaten his status as a man. If more jobs out there are related to weapons, then more more men derive their male pride from building weapons. If we had other jobs as the basis of our economy — say, farming, like we used to do– we would still have our pride, still be productive, and we wouldn’t be so attached to weapons.  Instead, our pride gets wrapped up in weapons, which require wars, which require a focus on proving we’re men. How do we prove we’re men? We make things. What do we make? Weapons. And so it goes…

So there it is — “Freedom” is having guns, Making guns is “masculinity”.  In order to be a Free American Man, guns are required.  For people who don’t take mental health care seriously, we sure have taken Freud to heart. Like everything else in America, bigger is better. If a gun that shoots one bullet is good, then a gun that shoots a lot of bullets is really good. If a gun shoots a bullet is good, then a gun that launches rockets is even better.  If a boom is cool, then a big “Boom” is even cooler!

“Why all the fuss about men and guns?”, you might reasonably ask. As mass murder after mass murder happens, the one constant is that there’s always a man — or someone who will grow up to be — on the end of the trigger.  I don’t think there has been one mass murder — in a theater, in a school, at a government office or anywhere else — committed by a woman.   As long as American, Free, and Male are considered good things to be and ideals to strive for, and as long as we twist them with so they are confused with needing weapons, we will have the problem of mass shootings. Some part of America’s psyche believes in, and likes, mass shootings because some part of us likes the exercise of the rights of Free American Men.  That part of us is insane, because it tries to do good things (I like being free, American, and male!) by doing horrible things (killing, killing quickly, making Big Booms with people involved).

All of this leads us back to … guns. Even the staunchest gun lover doesn’t believe that crazy or impulsive people should handle a (neutral ?) weapon.  My grandfather, a gun tester as his occupation and gun user in hobbies —   got out of the woods when he perceived that trigger-happy people were running around in them. Respect for the weapon meant avoiding them when crazy  or stupid people had them. One of them meant you had to be careful when hunting.  More and more of them meant you got out of the woods.  We need to get out of the woods and we need to get out of them until things calm down and folks can prove that they can handle their weapons.

Furthermore, if people can’t handle their regular guns because they are insane in this society, then giving them bigger, faster, more deadly weapons makes less and less sense.  Giving people the power to go faster in the wrong direction is further proof of our insane thinking. We can’t handle guns at this point in our history. When we stop connecting freedom with a gun, and masculinity with shooting a big one often, then all those “neutral” guns can become the neutral, respected , scary things they used to be and we’ll be safer.

Peace,

 

John

 

 

 

 

A Bridge Over “Power”

Last night, I was reading The Nation (THE best magazine ever, in my opinion — I come back to it all the time) and I came across an article on online feminism and the fact that it has apparently gotten nasty between radical feminists online. A few weeks ago, a client and I got into it regarding authority. I was saying that I, as therapist, had power in the relationship by nature of my role. Further, while I knew of people who had taken advantage of their clients,it was my job not to. She argued that I didn’t have power, that’s we were collaborating on her treatment and, while she also knew people who abused power, she didn’t have to believe a damn thing I said if she didn’t want to.  Oddly, we both believe the same thing, because there is nothing so misunderstood, controversial, and divisive as power — for liberals and conservatives. We use the same word and mean totally different things by it. All of this got me to thinking about conflicts between me, my liberal friends, and my conservative ones.

Power, in the conservative political  world, is a good thing and we all have it. We can all rise above our circumstances if we just believe in ourselves enough. Freedom gives us that, and government doesn’t allow us freedom, so it dis-empowers, even –if its motives are good.

Power, in the liberal political world, is different altogether. For liberals, the world is sexist, racist, homophobic, classist, ageist and so on. We might have individual freedom and the moral responsibility for standing up for ourselves, and others, but the world/ the “system” is the problem, and government must act to protect people from the -isms by making more laws.

My “guru” in the psychological world, Virginia Satir, didn’t deal with political and societal power issues in the sense that it wasn’t her frame of reference. She doesn’t subscribe to a particular world view, so the lens of “power” and “dis-empowered” isn’t a given. She (and I) are much more “reality based” in her approach. If the way you’re living is working for you, fine. If it’s not, it’s “dis-functional” (a word she coined) and you need to do something about it. She believes a non-hierarchical approach is healthiest in systems, like couples, families, and societies and is about breaking those down when she can and when it applies. In short, there may be hierarchies, but you don’t have to subscribe to them and it’s not healthy to do so in any case.

Jesus, my religious and spiritual inspiration, is quite clear about power — “You are not to lord it over others”, he says in the gospel of Matthew, Chapter 20:  25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…”

All of this is to say that some people will always want power over others, some people believe they have no power in their lives. Some people feel oppressed, some don’t. Some people feel they don’t oppress others, some do. In the words of the songs, “people everywhere/just want to be free” (the Rascals, in the 1960’s) and “everybody wants to be/closer to free” (the Bodeans, in the 1980’s).

Here’s where it gets tricky: What if you don’t see oppression and you are (supposedly?) oppressed?. Does seeing it mean believing it? Does denying it mean not believing it has any power in your life? If you don’t believe you are oppressed, are you?

If  you’re one of those “in power”, supposedly, the same questions apply. If you don’t believe in lording it over others, are you anyway? Is “white privilege” the same thing as “being racist”? Is “male privilege” the same thing as “being sexist”? It depends on who you ask.

The reality is this: we live in separate worlds and we can’t know each others’ experience until we experience it with them or through them in some way — like literature or art. Years ago, when my friend Greg Coles and I went to a yacht club for lunch (he’s Black, I’m White, He’s richer than I — he chose the place), we were ignored for the 45 minutes until we left after Greg tried to get their attention. When I was growing up, people didn’t think women needed as much money as men. Why should they? Today, we fight the battles over whether LGBT people have the right to be included in every facet of society. As someone who grew up poor, many of my peers later in life had no idea what it was like and saw me as having more power than they did. I saw myself as poor.

So, yes, racism actually does exist. You can still get pulled over for Driving While Black. Sexism still exists — women still make less money than men do for equal work, generally. Homophobia still exists. Ask gay couples who go to Jamaica or Olympians in Russia. Classism still exists, but is seldom, if ever, acknowledged. If you never bounce a check in your life because you have a thousand dollars in the bank, you pay less than someone who bounces a check so they can get milk.

Actual political oppression has always existed. The Romans in Jesus’ time oppressed the Jews and everybody else. Within the Jewish world, a woman with no husband had no power to vote or make a “legitimate” living. At the same time, as Monty Python’s Life of Brian points out, there was also “progress” in the areas conquered by Rome — roads, running water, etc. Does that mean the people were less oppressed? I don’t know. I bet some felt like they were and some didn’t. I bet some Romans believed they were doing the right thing while others had reservations about expanding the empire. In any case, I bet that you were more likely to be happy with the status quo/less likely to see yourself as an oppressor if you were a Roman and less likely to like the status quo/more likely to see yourself as oppressed if you were one of the annexed or conquered communities.

In America today, it’s much the same among liberals and conservatives. I wonder if people like Clarence Thomas or Herman Cain are oppressed simply because they don’t acknowledge racism. I find it hard to believe that a gay man or a lesbian running the halls of power on the White House staff is really all that oppressed, and I find it easy to believe that any person on the White House staff is in power. And yet, they are both true in different forms and to different degrees.  There are some who would say that the very existence of Barack Obama as President of the United States means that he is no longer oppressed and that racism no longer exists. See? That one’s in the most powerful position in the world, so he can’t be oppressed”, goes the logic. Furthermore, “because The Most Powerful Man In The World is Black, they have an ally in power and racism can no longer exist”, they say. If there is one thing that this administration has taught us, it is that even The Most Powerful Man In The World can be held back by racism. How else do we explain the unprecedented gridlock in Washington? I don’t know that any other President was called a “sub-human mongrel”.

(A brief detour here: Is “authority” necessarily  the same thing as “power over”? Obama’s got authority, clearly, as the President. Does he have power? Yes, of course. Does he have power over anybody? That remains to be seen, if he doesn’t take it.  Caring people, people with a conscience, try not to “lord it over” others. Hitler had both oppressive power and authority. Hitler would have killed Ted Nugent before the sentence about “mongrel” was complete and no one would have questioned him about it. Obama’s Secret Service detail “had words with” Nugent. Did they rob him of his free speech? Maybe, but he’s still a free man, and he can still speak.)

I have two white male friends who believe what I believe — that real authority is the antithesis of oppressive power. My minister growing up, Bob Kyte, once told me that “the only power we (ministers) have is trust”. A colleague in therapy-land, Will Foremaker, once said “a relationship can either be about power or it can be about love. It can’t be both”. Both of these men have power as politically defined, by nature of their jobs, by nature of the their gender and sexual orientation, and yet both men are about as egalitarian as they can be. Are they racist, sexist, homophobic, ageist, classist, or the new one in the news this week, “transphobic”? By some far-left standards, yes. By some far-right standards, no. The more important question is this: “Are they jerks?” and the unequivocal answer is  “no”.  They both have authority in certain circumstances, but they don’t abuse it. Their having power over themselves means that they don’t need it over others and this is the thing that liberals don’t get in their power analysis. At the same time, this is the thing that makes conservatives cringe because “good” conservatives know this.  Power-analysis liberals get into these dysfunctional battles about “who’s the most oppressed?” as though “being oppressed” gives you power in some way. In this way, we eat our young. Feminism has suffered because there are mean feminists and nobody wants to be mean, so women distance themselves from the label. The fact of the matter is that there were feminists who were feminists who didn’t like men and there were feminists who liked being strong women. The second group is alot more fun to be around, while the first kept everybody — men and women — away. It seems to me that this first group are still around, still arrogant, and creating the “toxic environment” that the Nation article talked about.

It is this way, by the way, for any liberal group. Conservatives don’t go there. For them, if they’re not trying to be racist or sexist or homophobic, they aren’t.What I learned in seminary is this: labels like “sexist” and “racist” and “homophobic” mean nothing to our souls if everybody is racist, sexist, and living in a homophobic society.  Some people internalize their oppression (and are thus racist to themselves and others externalize it (and are racist to others). If that’s the case, the answer to the statement, “You’re a racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobe” is “Yes, but I’m trying not to be”.  Anybody who is trying to be is a jerk, but most people aren’t trying to be. They aren’t jerks — and that is where the bridge can be built among people of left or right persuasions and within each camp.

We shouldn’t waste our time on whether the -isms exist. They most certainly do, in all of us. We shouldn’t be wasting our time on who but ourselves is a racist, sexist, etc. Nor should we be wasting our time fighting over who’s most oppressed, because it doesn’t matter.  The important thing is who is being a jerk and who is not, who is intentionally being a jerk and who is not. The important thing is that we look at ourselves honestly, take responsibility for ourselves and our actions and do what we can to fight those people who are jerks to others — intentionally so. If you are doing that, labels don’t matter to me. Conservative or Liberal mean nothing. Nice and trying mean everything.

Peace,

 

John

 

 

 

 

 

What If … Just Sayin’

                                      “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” — Leviticus 19:18 (Hebrew scripture)
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law                                           and the Prophets” — Jesus in Matthew 7:12 (Christian scripture)

Apparently, some group of leaders in Arizona — like groups of leaders throughout history — have decided to make a stand for “deeply held religious beliefs” like anti-gay sentiments because they claim Christianity as their religion. At first, religious freedom, and the right to exercise your deeply held beliefs in the marketplace seems like a reasonable– if controversial — idea. But let’s think about this …

What if an Islamic taxi driver wanted a law to refuse service to Christians because of his deeply held religious  beliefs?

What if a female waitress wanted a law to refuse to serve men because of her pagan beliefs?

What if a transgender Buddhist wanted a law so they could refuse to serve heterosexuals because of their beliefs?

What if an African-American wanted a law saying they didn’t have to serve White folks because of their deeply held Black Muslim beliefs?

What if a Jewish couple wanted to pass a law so they could refused to serve Christians?

What if Native American casino owners passed a tribal law to refuse service to non-Native Americans?

What if atheists wanted to refuse to serve religious people of any stripe?

Would you be upset? Would you be howling at the indignity you suffered? Would you think they were bigoted against you? Would you think it unfair? Would you hold rallies against it and want your allies to join you? What if they publicly “excused” your anger because of your “ignorance” of their intent? Would that make it any better? Or would you just think it was a stupid, bigoted law?

Hey, it’s a free country and they have the rights to their deeply held religious beliefs.  Just saying…

Arizona “leaders”, have you actually heard of Jesus or the God he claimed to have as his father? Do you really think you are defending them? Just asking… because I’m not seeing it.

Political “leaders”.  Don’t you work for all the people of Arizona? Just asking… because I’m not seeing it.

Don’t all different kinds of people vote in Arizona? Just asking… Because clearly, you’re not seeing it.

Just saying…

 

Peace,

 

John

An Open Letter To The Republican Party

This morning I listened to a story on NPR about the Republican Party scrambling not to lose the next presidential and nearest Congressional election.  They discussed the changes in demographics in America and agreed they had a demographic problem, but then went on to say that their conservative principles would not change. They would welcome all of the people they had given up on welcoming in this last election. They specifically stated that they would court Hispanic “and other minorities” this time around. They acknowledged that they made “outrageous and bizarre” claims in this last election and that that had to change.

They are wrong or they missed the point. The Republicans lost this last election not because they didn’t court voters, but because they actively antagonized them. If they had won — as they expected they would — they would be ruling in a hierarchical fashion over all the very minorities they now hope to court.

One cannot be racist and hope to attract “minorities”. One cannot seek to take rights away from women and ask for those very women to vote for you. One cannot spread fear of the Chinese and hope to get their votes. Furthermore, in case you hadn’t noticed it, we have African-Americans in this culture. I have made a point to pay attention to these conversations and no one is mentioning going after Black voters. Why? It is not because the Republican Party doesn’t think they can’t get them. due to Obama’s getting them all. It’s because their policies are openly racist.  Yes, Colin Powell is Black, but no one in the Bush White House listened to him. They sent him to lie to the UN and tarnish his reputation in the name of “supporting his President”.  I am aware that Condoleeza Rice is an African-American, but I bet when she speaks, people are uncomfortable in the room — not because of what she says, but because of who she is.

The Republican Party, as it is, needs to do more soul searching, and give less thought to cosmetic changes. It has not always been this way. Bob Dole was just as fine a man as Bill Clinton was and both acknowledged that. He was respected and understood to care for all Americans, even if he did it differently than Clinton.  While other members of his party were hunting down Bill Clinton because of the Lewinsky scandal, people like Dole were setting policy. I could easily have lived under a Dole Presidency, but considered moving to another country if Republicans won this last election.

The Republican Party, as it now stands, simply cannot add. If they represent and stand up for 10% of the population, that’s how many votes they’ll get. Even the wives and friends of those 10% (who know what they’re “really” like) might get 30% of the vote.  That’s 1/3 of Americans in a country where we expect a majority to win.

The Republican Party right now is run by it’s farthest Right flank. You can’t be on the fringe and in the middle. It’s that simple.

This is not to say there is not a place for traditional values in this country. There is, and there should be. At the Republican Convention this year, when there was a bump in the polls, it was because normal, sane people spoke and talked about their love of farms, of business that offers jobs, of people that see people as individuals of faith, people who love their community and have a different view of how to get there than Democrats do.  If those people were elected, I wouldn’t always be thrilled with their decisions, but I could respect them and we would be a country again.

So here’s the thing. If you want gay voters, you have to accept gay marriage. If you want to have women vote for you, you have to accept that they want control over their bodies. If you want Hispanics to vote for you, you can’t accept only Cubans into your party and try to keep the rest of them out. If you want to appeal to Blacks, you have to be appealing to them.  You can’t want to re-fight the Civil War and speak absurdist, insane ill of the first Black President.

Disagree with his policies if you must, but don’t spend years looking at his birth certificate and saying he’s Muslim, Communist, and a Nazi.  Don’t argue to stop him. Argue because you’ve got something better.

You can’t say to each other, when no one’s looking, that 47% of Americans are takers because if you’re off by a few points (and you’re off by way more than that, by the way), you have an instant loss. It’s not that you say  such things. It’s that you believe  such things.

Oh, and while I’m at it, as someone dear to me pointed out, you can’t be anti-science, anti-intellectual and expect the brightest people to rise to the top in your party. If you don’t value intellect — if you see smart people as “elite know-it-alls” — you will get what you deserve — an unintellectual leadership that can’t argue it’s way out of a wet paper bag on the world stage.  Continue to not believe in, for instance, global warming, and your voters will not vote for you because they won’t be able to make it to the polls in all the bad weather.

The problem is not  that people don’t understand your leadership and what it means for them. It’s that they do, all too well. Until you change what you actually believe and stand for, you will not win an election because the majority of people do not think like you do.

In the interests of peace and sanity in the United States, I wish you luck with that.

Peace,

John

If You Cheat, No One Wins…

“Your Cheatin’ Heart Will Tell On You” — Hank Williams

As the election draws to a close, the parties are already hedging their bets with claims of voter intimidation, voter fraud, reminders of Florida during the 2000 election, Black Panthers guarding polls (Hi, Murph!), voter suppression (Hi, liberals!) and so on and so on.

Who knows what the election holds, and who will be president or senator, or representative, mayor in so those close elections? Certainly not me. It looks like it’s going to be close. Here’s my thing, though, and — oddly for me — it might considered a more Republican view of life. I believe in personal responsibility and morals as guiding principles, plus I don’t necessarily think we need laws for every single thing out there.  As a liberal, though, I also believe in fairness and access for all and voting rights for all those people who have been denied in the past.

Here’s what it all boils down to, though: as a human being, I don’t believe in cheating.

In Connecticut, where I live, there’s a close Senatorial race between Linda McMahon (R) and Chris Murphy (D). My daughter was confused as we had lunch today, because people at the polling places and on TV had T-shirts that said “Obama and McMahon”. She thought that Linda McMahon was a Democrat, but couldn’t understand her politics. I had thought it odd, and thought Republicans wouldn’t be happy, but it had never occurred to me that people would be confused. I bet, though, that someone in the McMahon camp did think it through and wanted that result.  I think that’s cheating — maybe legal, but cheating, nonetheless.

In Massachusetts, there’s a close race between Scott Brown (R) and Elizabeth Warren (D) for Senator. I like Warren a lot. I like her firebrand style and I agree with her opinions re: the middle class. Still, I have never thought Scott Brown was that bad a guy. He’s just your average Senator — a Republican from the old school… he votes with his conscience and what he believes is for his constituency. His actions, like anyone’s are mixed. Yet, some PAC or another is trying to make it seem like Brown is an evil, vile, Wall Street insider who is beholden to the tea party. He’s not, and to say he is, is lying. If I lived in Massachusetts, I’d vote for Elizabeth Warren, but I wouldn’t vote against Scott Brown. If whatever PAC it is convinces people to vote against Brown and they do so based on lies, that’s cheating to me, too. Others may call it “spin”, “debating tactics”, or “standard politics”, I still call it lying. Furthermore, intentionally lying to get votes is cheating. I don’t care if it’s been done since time immemorial.

In the Presidential campaign, there has been attempts in many states to keep voters from the polls, under the cause of “voter fraud”, but since voter fraud doesn’t happen very often (like nearly never), that’s also cheating — this time by limiting whose vote counts. Lying about voter fraud, and preventing people from going to the polls is also cheating.

On the other hand, I guess, Black Panthers are scaring people at voting booths in California. I don’t think they’re lying, but I haven’t read enough about about it to know.  Still, if they are scaring people away, that’s cheating.  There are also billionaire industrialists who have told their employees that if they vote for Obama, they’ll lose their jobs. That’s coercion and that’s cheating as well.

Here’s the long-and-short of it: we all know it’s cheating.Nothing I’m saying is a great surprise to anyone. That’s why this is such a big deal. People who claim to represent us and our values clearly missed the boat on this one, if they think that their tactics represent us. In fact, I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t despise the tactics and yet they live on.

So here’s my solution, based in personal responsibility and morals, fairness and democracy: If you, as a candidate, win an election by cheating, you should step down. It’s as simple as that. If you, as an individual, help someone win by cheating, you should bar yourself from the political process. If you made a lot of money doing this, you should give the money back and bar yourself from the political process if your candidate won. If you prevented people from going to the polls, no matter how you did it, you should prevent yourself from going to the polls — maybe forever. 

Democracy is a great and wonderful thing. People who live in a democracy need to believe it’s real. They need to believe their vote matters. They need to believe they matter. If you can’t play by the rules, you shouldn’t play. Furthermore, if you are to tout “democracy” as the thing every other country needs, then you need to respect it, so people will respect you when you try to sell them democracy as a value. If you can’t represent a democracy, you haven’t earned the right to lead one.

Lastly, there’s the whole psychological thing. If you win by cheating — in anything — you never know if you really won. If you want to lead others, it seems to me you need to be able to look at yourself in the mirror. The job of President or Senator or Representative– or mayor or school board member, or leader of a scout troop — is hard enough and fraught with enough perils. If — down under it all — you don’t believe you have the right to be there, it’s going to stink to be you.  Living with a personality that’s a house of cards is no way to go through life on a day-to-day basis. As Edgar Allen Poe pointed out in “The Tell-Tale Heart” and Hank Williams pointed out in his song, “your cheating heart will tell on you”.

 

Peace,

 

John

 

 

 

 

 

I Get It Now – Explaining The Last Four Years

(For Lisa Lew, who thought I could –and should– write something)

I have been wondering about how to psychologically explain the insanity – yes, insanity – of the last four years.  Shortly after President Obama was elected, the world went nuts. The Tea Party came into existence and people began shouting in the streets. “Obama’s not from here”. “Obama’s not a Christian”. “Obama’s a Socialist – and a Nazi!” “Obama wants to destroy America and our freedom!”.  Each of those things is patently untrue and yet millions of people believe some version of them. That’s a form of insanity known as “delusion” – believing and worrying about things that clearly aren’t true. So how do we explain how do we explain mass delusion?

This summer, shooting after shooting has made the world feel unsafe. Terrorists from outside our country are the least of our worries this summer – instead, militia people, gun nuts (as distinguished from gun owners) and just downright paranoid people have been running around shooting crowds for no particular reason. How do we explain irrational violence?

This summer, conservative men have said some of the stupidest, most untrue, and violent things imaginable about women that suggest returning to a time in which women were under the control of men for their decision-making capability. The screaming in their heads went something like this: “Want to have sex? OK, then you’ll have to get pregnant (we won’t pay for birth control) and need to have an abortion. If you need an abortion, we won’t pay for it either or – worse yet, we’ll stick a probe up your vagina and show you the baby you’re killing. Further, if you need this abortion because you were the victim of rape or incest, it’s your own damned fault and we won’t pay for it or we’ll rape you again in the above manner. Oh, and if you get raped, you can’t get pregnant, so – if you got pregnant – you must have wanted it. Say what?! This is craziness and –in their saner moments – the men saying these things know it.  How do I know this? Their own arguments are internally inconsistent. So, let’s go over this in real terms. 1) Not being a woman myself, I have been told that women like sex – sometimes just for sex’s sake. 2) They don’t always want to get pregnant. 3) Rape is – by definition! – unwanted sex. You can’t want to be raped. You can want to have sex, but you can’t want to be raped. 4) Treating unwanted sex by sticking an unwanted ultrasound into the vagina and shaming the person again simply doesn’t make sense. It looks like rape and probably feels like rape. 5) If raped and molested children can’t get pregnant, how do you explain the girl who was kidnapped and held captive in the backyard for years – and had children by her captors? What? She wanted to be kidnapped? She wanted to be raped? She wanted to be kept in the backyard under a tarp? Those are the only conditions under which a woman – using their logic – could have gotten pregnant! — twice, I think.   So, come on! Any man who knows about this case – and who doesn’t? – couldn’t possibly believe that. So why say something that they know is untrue and try to make it law? They’d have to have some form of temporary insanity.

So here’s the question – what causes symptoms like insanity, delusion, and violence? Anxiety and fear.  As a therapist, when symptoms pop up, I’m trained to ask, “Why did this symptom come up now?”.  Here’s the best answer I can come up with: demographics are changing in America and straight, White, Christian men are aware that things are never going to be the same ever again in America.  Furthermore, we think you think you hate us and you’re going to call us “bad”. Why? Because you do already. Who are “you” in this case? Everybody who’s not straight, White, Christian, or male.

 

Years ago, my wife (then fiance’) discovered an organization in Rochester that had national roots. The organization was called National Coalition Builders Institute (NCBI) and its premise was this – all of the “isms” have a root in shame and guilt , often caused by what people say to us. In order to get by this, we have to not call each other things which reinforce the internalized shame we carry around with us. Virginia Satir, the sage at the heart of the therapy I do, says the same thing.  She says the basic human need is self-esteem and the underlying yearning for all of humanity are 1) To be known for our whole self and 2) To be loved or accepted.

Straight, White, Christian men carry around a lot of guilt with us because – over the course of time – we’ve done some really heinous things. We have bullied and killed gay people who we knew to be human. We have kept African-American slaves who we either knew to be human or later discovered were. Christians have had war after war and killed thousands or millions – and who could forget the Spanish Inquisition, or the Salem Witch trials? Lastly, feminism tells us that we have enslaved women for all these years.  How could you possibly like us under those circumstances? Maybe you want to kill us the way we killed you during all those years across the generations. That’s our shame talking and it’s re-inforced every time we’re called “homophobic” for not being gay, “racist” for not being Black, “intolerant, unintelligent unscientific” people for believing in Christianity, and sexist for not being female or for wanting sex. The anxiety and shame I mentioned? The shame we already have and the anxiety is over the fear that we’ll get what we deserve for being so bad.

How do people avoid anxiety and feelings of shame? They remember that their supposed “badness” isn’t all they are. Straight, White, Christian men – in addition to doing the things I just mentioned – created the Magna Carta in Europe and religious freedom in America. They brought acceptance and love and the words of “that Jesus guy” to their world because they found it in the Bible. We married women because we loved them. They gave women the right to vote, for goodness sake! There are a million good things that straight, White, Christian men have done throughout the ages.

Into this steps Barack Obama (a Black man) and he gets elected by a coalition of all those “others” – the “not us” who seem so angry and have brought about change so quickly it’s scary. It’s so scary that we can’t cope and we do all the stupid things that scared and ashamed people do – they deny reality, they yell a lot, they throw temper tantrums and get violent, they want to go back to the last time they felt safe.  We White men probably last felt safe and as though we fit in before World War II – in the 1940’s, before we came home to find that women had changed. In the 1950’s and 1960’s Blacks were mad at us. In the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s gays were mad at us. In the new millennium, the atheists are on the rise but scientists have challenged our religious beliefs since Darwin.

I myself, in this blog and its predecessor, have called people “racist” and “homophobic” and “stupid”. For that, I apologize. I should have known better. Straight, White, Christian men, among which I count myself aren’t only bad. They are good and kind, and open, and friendly and decent and moral as well. In short, they’re just like everybody else. What we haven’t done really well at all is share. We haven’t shared the wealth and we haven’t shared the power and we haven’t shared the decisions. The thing about democracy is that – if you let enough people into it, it changes because we value people having one vote per one person. We have brought about the demise of our own power and now we’re scared and acting crazy. What if those “not us” people can’t govern or won’t share or give us what we gave them?

But here’s the simple truth: Obama loves America, Elizabeth Warren loves her husband, the poor don’t really hate the rich, they just want to eat and have a place to live and raise families, and gay folks’ marriage isn’t a threat to mine, and Christianity offers things that science can’t. We’re safe. We’re loved more often than not. Can we move on now?

Peace,

 

John

Different Questions — Faith and Politics

Especially for Murph and Marilyn and Bob and Carrol…

[This is a sermon I gave at Plantsville Congregational Church, UCC, Plantsville, CT   July 27, 2012. I am particularly proud of it, because it solves some questions I wrestle with frequently her in blog-land.]

First, let me start off this morning by saying “Thank you” to this congregation and Pastor Sandy for inviting me here to Plantsville UCC. This is my third time here and I’ve enjoyed each time I preach here. In years where I haven’t preached elsewhere, I’ve preached here at Plantsville.  This gives me a long time to think about what I want to say, so hopefully you get “prime” material in my sermons. Having said that…

When I was a kid, and people worried about being “polite”, it was said that there are three things you should never talk about in polite conversation – religion, sex, and politics. The challenge, of course, is to talk about the important things in life without at least talking about one of them. This morning, I want to talk to you about two of the three – politics and religion. Maybe we’ll save that third topic for next year – or never.

So, about politics… This year, in October, you will be asked to decide a lot of things about a lot of people. Certainly, there’s the Presidential election, but I’m sure there must be a Senatorial race, and State officials to be elected, and local boards of selectman and such. Then there will be, I assume, questions on the ballot for each of us to decide.  And somewhere in there, there’s the Christian vote – not The Christian Vote – as in Pat Robertson and all the folks on TV claiming the title, though they are somewhere in the mix.  I assume if you’re here, then you are the Christians I’m talking about voting come October.

Now, before anybody out there thinks I’m going to tell them who they “should” vote for, don’t worry, I’m not. I could give you all the reasons I’m voting for who I’m voting for, but that would be me and my vote. This is a democracy, after all, and you still get to vote for who you want to.  I can only tell you how I think you should decide, not who to decide for.

So, how do Christians like you and I decide?  Well, frankly, it’s not all that clear, but we have some clues to start with.  My seminary professor Mark Heim once opened a lecture with the statement, “If Jesus is the answer, what’s the question?” . That should be our jumping off point. Jesus – at least the Jesus who was alive in Biblical times – has never been to America in 2012. Just as Jesus of 4 A.D. had nothing to say about Madonna’s outfit in her day or Lady Gaga’s  anything in our day, there is no proof text that says “Vote for a Republican” or another that says, “Vote for a Democrat”.   Jesus never had to deal with the internet. Jesus didn’t even have to deal with movie theaters, let alone bombings that happen there.  So the world we consider is not the world of Jesus 2000 years ago.  We were left with the Holy Spirit and these texts here in the Bible to do the best we can. To believe we must vote this way or that is to limit ourselves and to commit idolatry. To worship one party or the other is too limiting for a God and Spirit who have seen it all. God is neither Democrat or Republican and we do God and our faith a disservice if we think  we have to vote one way or the other.

So, we don’t have one answer in the Bible, and we don’t have one answer in politics. So what do we have? We have questions – and we as Christians have to ask different questions of our leaders than, say, the Rotary Club.  So what questions do we ask to make up our minds?  The answers – at least some of them – can be seen in today’s texts.

In the Psalm reading, we see that God is a God of justice and a call for fairness to widows and orphans.  So, if a candidate were to walk in here today, we would have to ask them about justice and fairness to people with no voice – people in ancient days who were exemplified by widows and orphans.  Widows, as women, had no vote in the matters of the day. They had influence if they had a husband, but since widows no longer have husbands, they had no voice.  Plus, I assume they were grieving at the loss of their husband, in much the same way that orphans grieved at the loss of their parents.  You know what a mess kids can make with no parents around. Multiply that by some factor and you have orphans left to fend for themselves – thrown to the wind to make it on their own.

So, whichever candidate you vote for, and whatever ballot initiative you are asked to vote for, it seems to me,  we should take into account those who have no voice, those who have no vote,  those who are grieving, and those left by society to fend for themselves.  I don’t know about you, but in all the TV ads for this or that candidate, I haven’t heard anyone talk about the people who don’t vote, or can’t vote. That’s because the ads are aimed at those who do and can vote. We in the church are supposed to think differently.

See what I mean, we’re supposed to ask different questions? It’s because God’s version of “success” and your average American’s version of “success” might be totally different. According to the prophets of the Old Testament and people like Jesus, it doesn’t matter if we have all the money in the world. It matters if everyone has what they need – even people you’ve never heard of, people you don’t know, and people are the opposite of success by society’s standards, even – dare I say it? – your enemies.

If you and your politician are voting for yourselves, you’re missing the point. When you step into that voting booth, you need to vote for everybody – even people who can’t vote. You may have heard that some states are putting into place new voting rules like “needs a picture ID” or “must prove residency” . These rules, according to some people, are designed to keep people away from the polls. If that’s true, it’s even more important that you vote for everybody, because so many others have no voice but yours.

But if “Jesus” isthe answer to political questions, then we need to ask ourselves about what Jesus stood for.  To sum it up as has been done in the Bible, “Love God with all your strength and soul and mind and heart” and “love your neighbor as yourself”.  If that God – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — is the same God of Christians and Muslims and Jews, then we need to vote for people who let all of those groups worship God as they see God.  How’s that for a different question?! Who is the candidate that allows all of those people to worship God – whether they call that entity God, Yahweh, or Allah? That person should get your vote. Which candidate expects people of those faiths to use all of themselves – their heart, their mind, their soul, and their strength – not just one or the other? That person is who you should vote for.

There are people who would have you vote with your soul – putting fear for it in you. There are people who would have you vote only with your heart. (so-called “bleeding heart liberals”) There are people who want you to vote with your head – people who love objectivity and the formulas that do this or that for the budget, for instance.  (There are people who want you only to vote for your wallet. I don’t think Jesus ever made a choice that way, so they don’t count).

I write a blog and every once in awhile, it gets hairy around politics, representing the polarization that we’re experiencing in this country today.  We get stuck in this either/or belief system. “Be a bleeding heart liberal” or “Use your head” we think. Others think, “save your soul and the soul of America”. But in the church, we’re supposed to be different.

The fact is that God gave you and I all three of those things, plus strength.  There are people who want you to think about who makes America the “mightiest” country, but might does not make right. Which of the people you elect tempers America’s might with its heart and soul and mind? The person who uses all of those deserves your vote, from a Christian perspective.

By now, you may be saying to yourself, “Then who’s left to vote for? Nobody on the ballot meets all those qualifications!” and you’d probably be right. But since we’re limited to choosing human candidates, you and I have to ask “who’s the closest to that answer?”.  Whatever we can do, we should do, even if that candidate is some weird third-party candidate that’s “never going to win” — or not. You have to use all your heart and soul and strength and mind to vote for  whomever you think is going to going to use all of theirs and is most likely to make a difference in the world in that direction.

Now, regarding the “love your neighbor” part – that polarized America thing I just mentioned even strikes there.  There are politicians out there who think that we “love our neighbor” by giving them everything. There are politicians out there who indicate that “love their neighbor” is rather like “tough love” —  let them wrestle with their choices, let them struggle and grow in their own strength. Give them nothing but “freedom” and let them be”.

Let’s look at Jesus and his community of faith, the disciples, in this morning’s text, the feeding of the five thousand.  Jesus has just come back from time alone on the other side of the Sea of Tiberius and is met by a pack of people who want healings. Jesus, knowing he’s going to help the people, points out that there’s still a problem – 5,000 people need to eat. He suggests the first thing that comes into their heads – “we’ll go into town and get some”.

Then they realize that the 12 of them combined, and Jesus, don’t have that kind of money. I don’t know about you, but I never have enough money with me to feed 500 people by myself. That’s the ratio of “people out there” to “disciples”, so, no, that’s not going to work — so much for the “easy way” or the first thing that comes into their minds.

Next up, Andrew, the brother of Peter, says what they do have. – a young boy has 5 small loaves and 2 small fish. The writer underlines the point – a young boy has 5 small loaves and 2 small fish. Then Jesus gives thanks and – surprise – the miracle happens.

So, what do we make of this? What does it have to do with politics and elections? As I’ve said, we’re in a weird time in this country, where people divide things up in black-and-white terms. Some people say, “The government should fix everything!”. I’m closer to that way of thinking generally, but the more I work with people, the more I also see the value of expecting things from them.  If the government does everything, then that leaves a lazy populous who expect things to come their way and never work to better themselves, never become what they can be.

There are those who believe that government should do nothing but give people freedom. These are the people who say “the government that governs least governs best”.  And in today’s world of not compromising, people lock into one position or the other. Either the government should do everything and the people nothing or the people should do everything and government should do nothing.  But it’s not either of those. It’s both, as we can see if we look at the text this morning from the eyes of a faith community.

My wife and are going through the ups and downs of our faith lives together, as our own little community of faith. I think I have the strongest, truest deepest faith. Given to depression at times, I also have times where I have little or no faith at all. I think in twenty years of marriage, my wife has never lost her faith. Hers evolves, but it is never really gone.  Sometimes, she’s more rational, sometimes I am.

Years ago, she preached on this text and she said “the ladies did it”. I said, “What ladies?” She said, “Women with children always have food in their purse”.  When the disciples brought out the loaves and fishes and the women realize that it’s not enough, they feed their kids with what they have and they all have plenty!” For her, the parable was about believing that Jesus would provide, so sharing out of our bounty, much like the book “Stone Soup”.  I was always the “miracles” man and I just said, “naw, Jesus wants to feed everybody, he (as God) makes all the bread and fish anyway, so what’s the problem with making a few more. It’s about believing in Jesus’ love for us”.

But what if it’s both? What if Jesus, in God, does make all of the fish and the wheat and the leaven. That’s God’s soul or spirit in action. What if Jesus, as Jesus, wants the people to be fed?  That’s God heart in action. But what if Jesus, perhaps as both, sees the wisdom in letting humans do the work with what God supplies? I’m reading this book called “Kissing Fish” and it’s all about progressive Christianity. In it, the author says that God, even though God could do everything, chooses to limit Himself/Herself so that we can have equal partnership in creating the world – we can learn to create the world ourselves!

Preacher Jonathan Edwards was once asked, do we do things or does God, and he answered, “We do all. God does all.” That’s the way it really is. We do all we can, God does all that God can to further God’s design for our world.

So it is in politics as well. You know that quote about government governing best and least? The actual quote I saw on the wall of a church or Masonic lodge in Baltimore, I think, is this:  “Government that governs least governs best, after the people are taken care of”.  God gives us everything we need, and then leaves us alone to do what we will, hoping that we will share it. As long as we share it, God doesn’t need to correct us or send us prophets to point the way.  If we create a just society and God gives us everything we need, the world will function pretty darn well. Is it a miracle? Yes.  Are we allowed to do nothing because God can do it all? Were the disciples? No–  and neither are we.

So here’s the last question to ask as you vote for this person or that, this bill or that. Who expects the most out of us while providing for our needs. Who gives us the whole package– freedom to choose, responsibility to act and freedom from want? The person closest to that ideal, the question that leads us closest to that ideal is the one you should vote for as a Christian.

See what I mean, we Christians ask different questions than others? We’re not a simple people, we’re a complex people, in a complicated time and we’re capable of coming up with complex answers to complex questions which – Lord knows – we’ve got plenty of this election year. May God grant us the wisdom to do what we can with that which God gives.  Amen.