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.