Sunday, November 5, 2017

Think. Pray. Vote.

As the righteous grow powerful, people rejoice; but when the wicked rule, people groan...
A king brings stability to a land by justice, but one who exacts tribute tears it down...
The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern...
Mockers stir up a city, but the wise turn away anger...
Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise quietly hold it back...
When a ruler is listening to lies, all of his officials tend to become wicked...
(from Proverbs 29)

The Bible is a highly political book, with a great deal to say about goals for good governance.

Again and again, prophets and psalmists make clear the unshakeable connection between justice, righteous behavior and shalom.

Rulers and nations, according to the prophets, are inevitably judged on how well they care for widows (powerless women), orphans (children without privilege or protection), aliens (immigrants and those without legal status), prisoners (guilty or not).

By any Biblical measure, we are not doing well.

Justice, righteousness and shalom are badly shaken.

The financial inequities in our country are staggering. The US now has the greatest income inequality of any developed nation. The top .1% has a larger share of income than at any time in history - edging out the robber baron era that preceded the Great Depression. Half the US population is now considered low-income, or in poverty.   


Yet policies under consideration in Washington, both for tax reform and health care, would channel more money to the wealthy, with little benefit, if any, to the poor or middle class.

Racial disharmony, allegations of sexual abuse, fraud and allegations of corruption, another mass shooting, and another: these are symptoms of deep brokenness.

Confidence in our democracy is at an all-time, dangerous historic low.

Only 20% of Americans today say they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right “just about always” (4%) or “most of the time” (16%). 

This week, an American Psychological Association study on stress in America found: 
Nearly two-thirds of Americans (63 percent) say the future of the nation is a very or somewhat significant source of stress, slightly more than perennial stressors like money (62 percent) and work (61 percent), according to the American Psychological Association’s report, "Stress in America™: The State of Our Nation".
More than half of Americans (59 percent) said they consider this the lowest point in U.S. history that they can remember — a figure spanning every generation, including those who lived through World War II and Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Yes: there's a connection between justice, righteousness, shalom.

The reverse works as well: injustice, unrighteous leadership, shattered shalom go hand in hand.

Tuesday is Election Day.

It's a year since our last election and I still find myself grieving: when we vote, we affirm and endorse the character of the one we vote for.

Last year many of my fellow Christians chose a vision of the future tragically at odds with the kingdom of God I've been working toward since childhood.

They affirmed behavior in direct contradiction of the virtues I faithfully memorized and pray to practice: gentleness, patience, goodness, self-control.

We are living through the fruit of that election and the political climate we've been sowing: anger, division, deepening distrust, policies cut loose from any pretense of public good.

Not that the 2016 election was the cause of our downward slide, but part of a troubling narrative: Loss of discernment. Failure to engage wisely. Eagerness to place blame. Willingness to swallow simple answers.

I hear from friends: "It's too hard to vote. I don't know the races, I don't know the people. It takes too much work to sort it out." 
 
All true. Completely true. 

We should not be voting for judges.

Or coroners.

We have too many races, too little information.

Even so: every judge will be deciding issues that impact our lives in ways beyond what we can see.

And every local official will set policy that will impact our communities for good or harm.

For any who claim to follow scripture, the calling seems clear, repeated in both Old and New Testaments (Isaiah 11 and Luke 4): 
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
Because the LORD has anointed me
To bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to captives
And freedom to prisoners.
We are all called to love our neighbors as ourselves: neighbors near and far, known and unknown, like and unlike.

Called to put their needs before our own, as the good Samaritan did on the dangerous road to Jericho.

And we are all called to live and work and pray toward a beloved community where slave and free, Jew and Gentile, every language, every shape, every beautiful shade of brown and beige is welcome, valued, nurtured, loved.

We are called to love rather than fear, listen rather than condemn, act as agents of reconciliation, mercy, peace and healing.

And since we are called to use the gifts we've been given for the good of others, we're called to use the political agency we've been given, which includes the privilege of voting.

Which means we're called to pray for wisdom and discernment.
It means noticing when our news commentators' voices shift to a tone that invites hysterical response and turning them off rather than fall prey to anger and division.

It means taking time to check out outrageous stories rather than trust slick mailers or partisan propaganda.

Or choosing not to believe the bad report when we don't know for certain if it's true.

Loving our neighbor means voting for the good of those we're called to care for: widows, orphans, aliens, prisoners.

Not just myself, my family, my party, people most like me.

So I'm looking for candidates concerned about affordable housing.

Good stewardship of land and water.

Reform of our inequitable school funding and our immoral bail/bond practices.

I no longer look for candidates who say what they think one party or the other wants to hear.

I'm looking for candidates whose biographies, activities, words and tone suggest an understanding of service, of commitment, of kindness, of grace.

Is there any evidence that they've served the poor?

Any evidence they've made hard choices?

Any hint of wisdom or mercy?

Please vote on Tuesday.

There are people who died to give us that privilege.

And there are millions of people around the globe would give anything to have that chance.

Please don't vote the party ticket.

Please take time to pray, think, read, decide.

And vote!

  • For information about statewide judicial races in PA, check here: Vote411.org ( In some states, and some parts of PA, this will give you a complete ballot. In most parts of PA, it won't).
  • Check here for information on the PA property tax ballot question.
  • For information on local races in PA, google your local League of Women Voters Guide 2017 with the name of your county. Some provide local information, some just county and statewide information.  
  • In Philadelphia, check the Committee of Seventy Voter's Guide.


For a list of past post on political issues check What's Your Platform

Some election highlights: 
Justice Matters October 15, 2015
Election Fraud and Rigged Elections  August 7, 2016
The Dance of Democracy  Nov 11, 2012
We the People   Sunday, November 13, 2016Love Your Neighbor, Vote with Prayer October 28, 2012

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Nightmare of Empire

Our church has been studying the last half of Genesis. My morning reading with Encounter with God this week landed in the same chapters. The title for yesterday morning's notes was ominously titled The Temptations of Empire:
As the famine continues and extends its reach across the whole region, Joseph achieves the pinnacle of his power in Egypt. He devised a system which kept mass starvation at bay, and the writer records that “he brought them through that year with food”. However, this success came at the price of the liberty of the people who were “reduced… to servitude”. The devising of an economic system which kept the population alive was a great achievement, but it resulted in a dangerous centralizing of power which, as the story of Exodus will reveal, led to oppression and slavery. 
Walter Brueggamann makes this point in a sermon called "The Fourth-Generation Sell-out." He asks why, given four sets of ancestral stories in Genesis (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph), God is spoken of repeatedly in reference to only three: “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." 

Why wouldn't Joseph, most powerful of the four, be included?

According to Brueggemann, Joseph’s name was dropped because he conducted the imperial work of Pharaoh. Given opportunity to be a blessing to the nations he became instead an agent of empire:  
Joseph proceeds to do more than interpret. He advises. He is a "consultant." . . . Joseph achieves for Pharaoh, by his rapacious, ruthless wisdom, a monopoly of food that becomes for Pharaoh an economic tool and a political weapon." Joseph victimized the Egyptians and eventually his own people as well.
 According to Brueggemann, "he becomes the manager and chaplain of the nightmare of empire." 

We are in a nightmare of empire of our own.

Our democracy, our country, our state, our political parties are all in upheaval: all held captive by powerful men who have compromised with evil and used privilege to harm those they promised to protect.

I believe many of our leaders start out, like Joseph, determined to serve well, then fall prey to temptation.

Surrounded by privilege and power, it's so tragically easy for them to lose their way.

I met one state representative who never stays in Harrisburg because, he says, "It's too easy to be sucked in. To think it's normal to be wined and dined by lobbyists. To think it's okay to use power to maintain my own position."

I've spoken with legislators who were genuinely thankful when they lost a race for re-election: "I'm not sure I realized how dysfunctional it was until I was forced to step away."

The people of Joseph's day had no choice about who ruled them. 

They had no say in the way the drama played out. 

Struggling to survive, they acquiesced to Pharaoh’s power and Joseph's ruthless greed.

We do have a choice.

And the moral responsibility to watch, pray, learn, speak, vote.

Our choices impact not just us but those who have far less choice: children in impoverished communities, men and women incarcerated without fair trial or reasonable bail, refugees fleeing oppressive regimes, people in nations across the globe who watch with alarm as our country careens toward war with Korea or capriciously withdraws from carefully drafted attempts to manage pressing concerns.

On a global scale, our voices are loud.

Our choices matter.

Even off-year elections matter. 

They determine what kinds of policies will move forward, what tone will govern party platforms, what kinds of leaders will be encouraged on their way.

And conversations matter.

What we repeat. Who we applaud. What we hope for. How we pray.

I pray for leaders who demonstrate humility, wisdom, courage.

I pray for Christians able to hear, discern and speak the truth.

I pray we remember the command to love our neighbor and the promise that perfect love casts out fear. 

I pray for a platform of justice and mercy, a church that remembers God's heart for the poor, the defenseless, the stranger, the worker. 

We bid you, stir up those who can change things;
do your stirring in the jaded halls of government;
do your stirring in the cynical offices of the corporations;
do your stirring amid the voting public too anxious to care;
do your stirring in the church that thinks too much about purity and not enough about wages.

Move, as you moved in ancient Egyptian days.
Move the waters and the flocks and the herds
toward new statutes and regulations,
new equity and good health care,
new dignity that cannot be given on the cheap.
  (From Walter Brueggemann: A Prayer of Protest, 2010)  



Some earlier posts about political issues can be found here: What's Your Platform

Several that consider Walter Brueggemann's discussion of scripture and kingdom:
Anxious in America, February 19, 2011
An Alternative Narrative, February 10, 2013 

And one on voting: 
Who Is Allowed to Vote? September 21, 2014

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memory, Lament, Prayer


I've often wondered how it was possible for the good people of Germany to endorse and enable Hitler in his evil enterprise.

I've wondered how men and women sat in church in the morning, then turned out to cheer the Fuhrer in his parade ground that same afternoon.

I've wondered how people who heard from childhood "love thy neighbor as thyself" could stand and watch as Jews and Gypsies were hurried to their death.

Willful blindness is a dangerous thing.

Misguided allegiance can destroy us all.

The need to be right, to save face, to maintain pride: how many millions have died on that demonic alter?

The demands of my current work led me to step away from this blog several months ago.

The demands of this week's news require me to take it up again.

How is it possible that a man who by his own admission has tried to ban Muslims from entry to our country would make Saudi Arabia the first stop on his first international presidential journey?

Why would he fawn and curtsey to a despot who had 47 opponents put to death in one day (January 2016), some by beheading, others shot by a firing squad, a move deplored by nations around the globe?

Why would the first major act of this international tour be a $460 billion arms agreement with that repressive regime?

That one act would be enough to raise a lament - against war, repression, hypocrisy, furtherance of hate.

But that was just the beginning of a week so full of sorrow, when I sit to catalogue it all I find I have difficulty breathing.

Consider: our president called Philippine President Roger Duterte to applaud the execution of at least 7,000 alleged drug dealers, without evidence, without trial.

“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug program,” Trump told Duterte, according to a transcript of the call obtained by the Washington Post. “Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.” 
International watchdogs and human rights groups slammed Duterte for his controversial war on drugs, in which he’s encourage extrajudicial killings of users and dealers in a massive wave of violence. “Hitler massacred 3 million Jews, now, there’s 3 million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them,” Duterte said last year. (In fact, Nazi Germany massacred 6 million Jews.) 
Those two paragraphs send me to tears. The president of the strongest nation on earth called to congratulate a mass murderer who willingly likened his effort to Hitler's slaughter of the Jews.

Endorsement of hate begets more and more hate.

The darkness gathers: slaughter of dozens of Coptic Christians in Egypt. A bombing at a Manchester concert. Murder of two men jumping to the aid of two young, apparently Muslim women.

In the light of those events, maybe it seems small that in Montana this week a Congressional candidate was elected despite assaulting a reporter, breaking his glasses and shouting "get the hell out of here" when politely asked an uncomfortable question.  

And equally small that our president celebrated on Twitter:  "Big win in Montana for Republicans!"
 
Was it a win?

To elect a man with so little self control?

But then, self- control is in increasingly short supply.

As I've said before, I'm neither Republican nor Democrat.

I'm first a follower of Christ, bearer of good news and agent of reconciliation

I'm second a citizen of his kingdom: friend and neighbor to a world in pain, determinedly opposed to attempts to divide us.

Following that I'm an advocate for democracy: in my own state, my own country, around the globe.

From that stance I watch, appalled, as others who claim the name of Christ endorse and enable a man who exemplifies the attributes Christ most denounced.

Power used to harm the poor.

Pride that pushes others aside.

Folly that can't hear or heed wisdom.

Unrestrained idolatry that worships only wealth.

Yes, I've seen the sweet photo ops.

President Trump visiting a child with cancer and smiling for the camera.

President Trump embracing a grieving widow.

But discernment demands we look past the photo ops, the manipulation of media, the spin, the slant, the never-ending tweets.

It won't work to simply dismiss the mounting evidence of personal gain, obstruction of investigations, claims that so many in the White House simply "forgot" to report recent meetings with high-level Russians.

The president's talk of holding rallies to reach the public, while shutting out the questioning press, should trigger immediate, insistent alarm. 

We've seen how that plays out in the past. The first steps toward autocracy are to bypass the press and unravel the rule of law. 

Willful blindness is a dangerous thing.

Misguided allegiance can destroy us all.

The need to be right, to save face, to maintain pride: how many more will die?

Our nation and our world are in desperate need of leaders who seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

We are in need of leaders who demonstrate the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

We are in need of citizens willing to do the hard work of insisting on the truth: looking past their favorite media outlets to dig a little deeper.
 
It won't work to say  "I didn't know."

There were many Germans who made that claim, in an era before the Internet, before unlimited news sources.

Maybe they truly didn't know, but we have no such excuse.

Information is available.

There are impartial, investigative sources that try hard to get the story right. It's important to read a variety of sources to escape the echo chamber of partisan spin. 

On this Memorial Day weekend, I look back with thanks for those brave men and women who have chosen to stand against evil, who have given their lives, their limbs to protect freedom, fairness, human lives, human rights.

I give thanks for those brave and women who right now, in our country and others, are doing all they can to stand against evil, to intervene against hate, to insist on truth when so many around them seem content to swallow lies.

I lament the many lives lost to war, to repression, to strong men shoving others aside, eager to prove their power at colossal, unbearable cost.

I lament that our nation, once a beacon on a hill, is now the laughingstock of democratic nations and the primary roadblock to a more judicious care of creation.

I cannot be silent.

We are well past the point when people of conscience can look the other way.

Too many lives are at stake - in coastal countries struggling to prepare for the rising tides and the unrelenting waves.

In refugee camps, where families wait for the safety and space our own ample land could so easily offer.

In places wracked by war propelled forward by profit on American guns.

In neighborhoods like my own where racial tension is inflamed by misguided policy and careless accusation. 

Read the prophetic books: God is very clear about the kinds of leaders he approves.

And very clear as well about the fruit of misused power, unchecked pride, mistreatment of the poor. 
Hear this, you who trample the needy    and do away with the poor of the land, buying the poor with silver    and the needy for a pair of sandals,    selling even the sweepings with the wheat. The Lord has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done. “Will not the land tremble for this,    and all who live in it mourn?
There are times when people of faith have been agents of wisdom and healing and mercy, voices of Shalom in confused and troubled times.

There have also been times when the church has lost its way, sucked in by surrounding idolatries, deaf to the voice of mercy or love.

We do well to remember, to listen, to lament.

And to speak as clearly and courageously as we can.

To pray for justice, mercy, compassion.

And wisdom - for ourselves and those in positions where they might to intervene.

Then to ask that they do so.

Lord, have mercy.