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Monday, February 29, 2016

Who I am Voting for on Super Tuesday

In so many ways this election has been unlike any I have ever seen. Sadly, that mostly means watching the Republicans in a fast race to the bottom. The name-calling, yelling at one another, constant put-downs, and disrespect for one another has made it seem like the country is watching a race for president of the 5th grade at Filmore Elementary. And that is actually a knock on 5th graders!

Of course, this is not even mentioning the horrific policies being suggested by the Republican 5th graders:
·         Calling Mexicans rapists and criminals
·         Banning all Muslims from entering the country
·         Building a wall and supposedly somehow Mexico will pay for it
·         Deportation of all undocumented immigrants
·         Constant whining about how Christians are being persecuted
·         Suggesting that if the Senate were to act on President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination would guarantee that the 2nd Amendment would be stripped from the Constitution and that religious rights would be stripped away from Christians
·         Abrupt ending of DACA
·         Permanent second class citizenship for undocumented immigrants
·         Continued unlimited access to guns

I am sure there are more policies that are troubling, but these are just the ones that I could remember off the top of my head. As much as the deeply troubling policies though, are the optics of the Republican race. It’s like watching a demolition car race, except with real people.

With the Trumpster now the likely nominee he is starting the collect a few endorsements. You can tell a lot about a nominee from their endorsements actually. Rubio is now the consensus “establishment” candidate and so it has been a big deal for the media reporting on the Trumpster getting endorsements from Governor Chris Christie and Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions. As usual, the media is without any critique (I thought they were supposed to be liberal?). Endorsements normally are supposed to widen the base of the candidate and make them more appealing to new audiences. But look at Christie and Sessions. Christie made his name intimidating others and Sessions has single-handedly made it his mission to stop immigration and criminal justice reform legislation from moving forward. So, the Trumpster is widening his base by getting a bully and a bigot to endorse him? I thought he had that electoral demographic already covered.

Now, one of my political bucket list items is to one day be able to conscientiously vote for a Republican in a federal election. Right now, that item to cross off my list does not even seem like a remote possibility in the distant future. So, for this primary, I have a choice between Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders.

I have intentionally tried to pay little attention to both the Dem’s and Republicans. Though I have watched parts of the debates, there is much I honestly haven’t watched. I do feel like the debates between Hillary and Bernie have been substantial though and thus, fascinating to watch. If the Republicans are 5th graders, the Democrats are certainly the adults in the race. Though I have been a little surprised by the rancor between some of their respective followers, which is normal for any race and of course, doesn’t come anywhere close to the Jerry Springer show on the Republican side. But still, I have to say, I do not see any enormous differences, which, to me, makes this choice one of the more difficult I can remember having in any election.

So, as I make my choice, my vote for one of these two is NOT and should not be considered a vote against the other candidate at all. With this in mind, I have decided to vote for Bernie. But I want to say immediately, that I truly respect Hillary and I believe she is one of the most remarkable leaders we will have in our lifetimes – not just remarkable women, which she is, but remarkable leaders. She has done it all in so many positions in so many areas of the government. She truly is the most qualified to be president and honestly, I fully expect her to be the Democratic nominee and for her to win in November. Her only downside to me is that she comes with Bill, whom I consider to be the best Republican President in the history of the United States. And that ain’t saying a helluva lot.

So, why Bernie? Because I truly believe we need a political revolution of new people engaged in and infused in our political processes. I do worry how he would get any of the things he is proposing done when politics is so entrenched in structural polarization and monied interests. Still, as we have finally seen from Obama in his last few months in office, the President has a bully pulpit and can at least shame the Congress when they refuse to do their jobs or are doing their jobs for the special interests like the NRA.  

One more thing, I vehemently hate the process that the Democratic Party establishment takes when electing a nominee. Only the Democratic Party – the Republicans, to their credit, are much more democratic – has “super-delegates.” Super-delegates are unelected voters who have zero accountability and so this process makes political favors and corruption ripe for whoever wants to use it in that way. This was instituted in 1981 and ensures that the establishment gets to make the final pick – that the grassroots voters are taken out of the process. Super-delegates are patently unfair and so if I am voting against anything on Tuesday it is certainly NOT Hillary. I am voting against the super-delegates and for Bernie. Besides, I happen to have a soft spot for socialist Jews, whether they are 74 years old from the Northeast, or 2000 years old from the Middle East.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

A World Awash in Indifference

The appropriate words to express the outrage over the latest incident of gun violence in Kalamazoo, Michigan on Saturday night where six people were killed and several more injured presently escapes me. I feel like I have exhausted my vocabulary when it comes to trying to express the utter outrage I feel at the gun violence that kills innocent people, robbing families of loved ones and our world of the priceless gifts the individuals had to give to us, but which are now lost forever. But I also am at a loss for words at the anger I feel at the gun lobby and the politicians who are more concerned with taking their money than in caring for the lives of the people who have been tragically and unnecessarily been lost.

The shooting in Kalamazoo comes just a few days after presidential hopeful, Ted Cruz said that President Obama should not fill the Supreme Court seat of Justice Antonin Scalia because if he does, we will see the overturning of the 2nd Amendment. Things like this are said in the same breath as when he talks about the highest priority for the President of the United States is to keep the American people safe. Sorry dude, we aren’t safe when you support unlimited access to guns.

Like I said before, my vocabulary has about run out of words to best articulate my feelings about the continued gun violence and the complete dearth of leadership by the majority of our elected “leaders,” but when I hear anyone like a Cruz, Rubio, Trump or scores of other politicians maintain their sick, twisted, and incestuous relationship with the gun lobby while claiming to be most concerned with “keeping Americans safe” I literally want to puke.

And that is because they are liars, pure and simple. They are NOT interested in public safety. If they were interested in public safety they would maintain their support for the 2nd Amendment (which no one, and I mean no one is calling for its removal from the Bill of Rights), while enacting simple measures like universal background checks on all gun purchases, a ban on weapons that can fire multiple bullets with one pull of the trigger, and high capacity magazine clips. None of these would take away a single person’s right to own firearms.

So, let’s be clear about one thing, none of these guys give a damn about public safety when day after day, month after month, and year after year we have endless shootings and they have done nothing – absolutely nothing – to even attempt to solve the problem.

Theologian William Sloane Coffin has said we live in a "world awash with weapons.” Coffin was right and the reason why we are a world awash in weapons and a world awash in violence is because we are a world awash in indifference. Politicians know they will score more contributions for their campaigns when they do nothing to stop gun violence and make ridiculous statements like Ted Cruz makes so much of the time. Or, when they offer their prayers to the victims of mass shootings, but they remain firmly entrenched in the pockets of the gun lobby.

But let’s get real here: the world awash in indifference includes you and me. We will only have more politicians offering more ludicrous platitudes and abstaining from leadership the longer we continue to vote them back into office. We are guilty of our own indifference when we fail to vote or when we vote in the same old knuckleheads. I am not sure I am a Bernie Sanders follower yet, but I do agree we need a political revolution, especially when it comes to the issue of ending gun violence; something we can do only if we have a different make-up of Congress.

So, this is what I urge you to do. The NRA is famous for their grades for politicians. This is how they bully politicians and buy their votes. I am including the link here. What I am suggesting is that we use the NRA’s scorecard and turn it on its head. When someone gets a B or higher from the NRA, we vote them out. When someone is full-on endorsed by the NRA we volunteer in the campaign of their opponent to defeat them. We won’t defeat them all, but seriously, we can defeat some of them.

I am absolutely serious about this. Unless we all are serious about action, we will continue to have Kalamazoo’s, San Bernadino’s, Aurora’s, Oak Creek’s, Newtown’s and so many more places that have yet to have the horror of having the name of their city synonymous with mass shootings and violence. We do currently live in a world awash in weapons and in violence. But the world awash in indifference is entirely on you and me. I want to live in a world awash in justice and righteousness, but I gotta do more than read blogs, post some progressive Facebook meme’s, and retweet anti-gun violence statistics. That’s all good, but it ain’t enough. We need to roll up our sleeves and get actively engaged in the efforts to vote the Ted Cruz’s, Marco Rubio’s and Donald Trump’s and the rest of the gun lobby lackeys out of office.

You wanna do this? I am ready. I have never been readier.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Republicans Still Just Do Not Get It on Immigration

Except for a few minutes here and there, I have skipped both the Republican and Democratic debates thus far. I am really not all that impressed with any of the candidates and it feels like, especially on the Republican side, just another long race to the bottom. The bottom this year, however, seems deeper than it has ever been before. Usually, candidates on both sides say some crazy things to appeal to the extreme wing of their base and then spend the summer and fall before the election walking what they said back and hoping that no one in the general public was paying much attention. As a member of that general public and I have tried to pay as little attention as possible. But realistically, that has been virtually impossible given the absolutely ridiculous things coming out of the mouths of the candidates, primarily on the Republican side.

Saturday night I watched about 10 minutes of the GOP debate (though not consecutively – I can only take 2-3 minutes at one time). As widely reported, it was a horrible debate. I saw virtually zero substance on the issues and it quickly became a free-for-all as candidates just went after each other personally. I kept expecting Jerry Springer to walk on stage and announce someone’s paternity test results. Yuck.

The only thing I remember, besides the nasty personal attacks, is the 3 minutes they spent on immigration. And believe me, the personal attacks were easier to listen to than the “conversation” on immigration.

In more than ten years of working on this issue I am still amazed that Republicans still do not have reasonable policy goals on the issue of immigration. And I am not talking about the ludicrous and xenophobic ideas of building a wall and making Mexico pay for it (which is so stupid it has never been explained how), or deporting every single one of the eleven and a half million undocumented people in this country. Those are simply nativist fantasies that allow racists to hide their blatant racism behind the more socially acceptable sound bite of favoring “legal immigration” and the need to “maintain law and order.”

It is funny to me how the supposedly “liberal media” give even the slightest validity to these policy suggestions instead of simply calling the candidates who espouse these ideas what they plainly are: racists.

But the dangerous part of having overtly racist candidates run a presidential campaign in your political party is that they open the door to unrealistic and still nativist policies which sound reasonable and moderate in comparison. Saturday, after Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio got through pummeling each other for not being racist enough in their stances on immigration, both Jeb Bush and John Kasich took turns vying for the establishment vote by laying out what came across as the “grown-up” policy recommendations on immigration.

But as they laid out their suggestions the only thing that differentiated them from the rest of their colleagues was the fact that they didn’t scream. Kasich wants to “seal the border” (Jeb wants to “secure” the border – big difference here), both want a guest worker program, and both want to offer undocumented (they said “illegal”) immigrants legal status, but without ever providing any with a path to citizenship. This means the most “reasonable” presidential candidates on the Republican side want a permanent second class of people who are mostly people of color.

I can almost hear the TV ad now: “Vote for me, I am the moderate Republican. I’m not nearly as racist as Donald Trump.”

Again, I wish the “liberal media” would have the temerity to ask these “reasonable” Republicans what exactly does permanent legal status without any access to citizenship mean for immigrant families? Of course, they would be barred from attaining any political power without the right to vote so politicians would continue to ignore the needs that immigrant families and their communities face. They would also likely be subject to all kinds of exploitation at their work because they would have virtually no legal recourse. Wage theft, poor working conditions and the driving down of wages for documented people would continue unabated. In the justice system, they would have no right to counsel, but this would hardly be that much of a change since most are not given this now.

Sadly, the United States has a long and very familiar history with relegating people of color to a permanent second class status. It was once called Jim Crow. Perhaps the Republicans will get creative and call this version Jorge Cuervo, but this hardly seems like a creative bunch. Regardless, it should be seen as an indictment of where the Republican Party is now entrenched that year after year they are churning out candidates for state and federal offices that range from blatantly racist to more acceptably nativist.

I used to think Republicans were just stuffy conservatives who lacked firsthand knowledge or experience of the problems that marginalized people face and thus, did not approach these issues with any compassion or creativity. Those were the good ol’ days. I’d take a stuffy, uncompassionate rich guy to the blatant and barely-blatant nativists we have now.

The excuse I am given for such despicable behavior by some candidates and unworkable policies by all candidates on the Republican side is that the presidential hopefuls are just “playing to their base.” But nativism and racism should not be excused simply because they are popular. Republicans will never win the presidency until they come to the simple realization that immigrants are people, regardless of their legal status, and they deserve to have those rights preserved. Until that time I will continue to pay as little attention to the presidential race as I possibly can because anyone who thinks immigrants are actually people who should be treated with dignity and integrity cannot possibly cast a vote for a Republican presidential candidate. Maybe one day we will be given a legitimate choice from both parties, but I am not holding my breath.

Friday, February 12, 2016

My Next Steps

In my post-firing-currently-unemployed status I have been of course thinking about what exactly are my “next steps.” But like most high school and college seniors I have come to dread the question people pose, “well, what will you do next?” I usually stumble through some alternative though sometimes unintelligible options, but I mostly want to say, “Hell if I know!”

One thing I am hungry for is to do something creative, fun, and meaningful. Yeah, I know, I gotta get a job and probably do the creative, fun, and meaningful stuff on the side like most of the rest of the world. I am cool with that. Maybe I am still in denial, but I feel like my current employment status, though not asked for, is actually a unique opportunity for me to experiment, to innovate, and to live into a more imaginative reality. What’s more fun than that?

In investigating the “how’s” of living more imaginatively I have had some really helpful conversations with some really gifted folks. There are a lot of people doing some really creative ministry with individuals and churches, but who are doing it as consultants. It is amazing to me how many folks I have talked to or read about who have felt confined in their previous positions in the church and who, in the cause of serving the church, have felt a need to leave various church positions to do so. Of course, this should give us some pause to wonder if perhaps our structures within the church should be more open to creativity and innovation so that many of these talented people could remain.

So, in all of my considerations, the one thing I am quite sure of is that I am called to continue the tremendous work I have been involved in for some time: to build leaders and teams that view political engagement as a vital aspect of our missional engagement in the world and a significant part of the discipleship of the Church. This work was never just a paycheck for me; it is something I am incredibly passionate about and see as an enormous need in the life of our local churches.

So, yeah, if that means I have to do that on the side as a “consultant” (or whatever) then I am down with that. But I must say that the one thing about creativity, in whatever form, is the amount of self-promotion that something like this seems to take. I have seen artful and inviting ways that folks have communicated the innovative ways they want to serve the church. In looking at the various websites or other forms of communication that have been created to communicate these services I have nothing but admiration for those who have creative and innovative spirits that institutional churches have not learned to properly endorse and effectively utilize.

But unfortunately I have also seen a much more narcissistic side of self-promotion that I find deeply troubling. This is the kind of self-promotion that seems dependent on the need to be known and popular. And this is not just among those who serve the church as consultants – I have seen this disturbingly up close inside the church structures for years. This is the kind of self-promotion that places oneself at the center of church’s mission rather than those being served. This is making being loved a greater priority than loving.

At the heart of much of the innovations and creativity has been the use of social media. But social media has also served to exacerbate the narcissism that exists as well. And it can impact all of us. As the numbers of our Facebook friends and Twitter followers grow so too does our sense of our own importance. We can feel tempted to stage our own righteousness to feed this darker and more desperate part of wanting to be admired and respected. Most of the uses of social media are, to me at least, opportunities for fun and creativity as well as means of more effective and dynamic organizing to move the Church forward towards implementing the changes in the world we need. But when I see, as I have at times, selfies taken at times that were meant for corporate worship or private contemplation in order to promote oneself, to promote their “radical and prophetic” image, it ceases to be innovative and it becomes downright Pharisaical.

All of this I am weighing as I seek the next steps in life. My sense of calling in continuing to build movements among people of faith to address systems of justice through incarnational existence among those directly impacted has not changed and is not dependent on a position or title. I just love building up leaders, building up teams and building up movements for missional change.

When you have a strong sense of what you are called to do life can really be exhilarating simply because there is so much freedom to create and innovate. But man, the particulars of how that gets lived out while also paying your bills can be challenging if not even a little stressful at times. But I know full well this is no individual path that I am walking. The networks of those I am now walking alongside are not as concrete as the networks I once had, but they can be more dynamic and organic so hey, that is a good thing too.

The only question I have now is this: anyone wanna walk this thing with me? I am ready to go!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Winning Politics of False Persecution

The winning strategy for running for President of the United States these days seems to have nothing to do with articulating a vision for how to create new jobs, or to make the world safer from extremism, or to address the epidemic of gun violence. The strategy is to tell everyone how mistreated you are and how everyone – particularly the “establishment” or the elites – are against you. To be successful you now have to define who you are by saying who hates you and to convince your followers that those who hate you hate them as well.

It’s bizarre and it is frankly tiresome. It is false victimization and it cheapens the reality where real persecution exists, where people are really persecuted for their association or membership in a particular group or, even more, because of their faith. This election season has seemed to me to be filled with this false victimization.

Senator Ted Cruz, the winner of the Iowa Caucuses for the Republicans, seems to spend as much time talking disdainfully about “Washington” and the “liberal media” as he does about the specifics of his platform. In his celebration speech after he won the Iowa Caucus – a speech usually reserved for high, flowing praise (of oneself) and a laying out of the vision the candidate has for the country – Cruz instead mentioned the evils of Washington and the media nearly 20 times. He talked much of his time about how Washington and the media were out to destroy him and thwart the “will of the people.” What was so odd was that he had just won. How was Washington and the liberal media thwarting the “will of the people” if he had just won and his victory was, in fact, the “will of the people?” Cruz’ problem (and he has more than one) is not that he lacks a vision; it’s that his vision is to focus on the evils of Washington and the media.

Perhaps no one running for President better personifies the false victimization that pervades our politics better than Donald Trump. While he has called Mexicans rapists and drug dealers, and has called for a ban on all Muslims from entering the country, when those in the media have the temerity to suggest he is xenophobic he immediately claims the media is out to get him and label him a racist. You don’t backpedal in politics anymore, you attack all the time.

For instance, Trump’s past treatment of women is horrific. When Fox’s Megyn Kelly fairly asked Trump during a debate why he has so savagely attacked women in the past, Trump began to attack her and Fox News for treating him “unfairly.” He even went so far as to drop out of the last debate before the Iowa Caucus because Megyn Kelly was moderating, once again playing the false persecution card. While his followers continue to grow, there are many – including myself – wondering how one of the richest white men in the country leading the polls could be treated “unfairly” in being asked straightforward questions regarding his past bad behavior.

Trump has taught all aspiring politicians that when in doubt, claim everyone is out to get you. False persecution is the key to winning.

False persecution happens not just to politicians though. In a NPR story I heard the other day of Trump’s followers in South Carolina, one woman, a self-proclaimed “die-hard conservative,” felt cast out of the Republican Party when she felt like they started wanting to bring into the party “the blacks, the Hispanic, the gays, just everybody.” She admitted that as the GOP attempts to become more diverse, “that leaves people like me out.” In other words, diversity is an enemy to her sense of control and political power.

False persecution is of course is not just a Republican phenomenon. I have been a little mystified how Bernie Sanders and Secretary Clinton have used it. Sanders regularly insinuates that Clinton and her Wall Street pals are out to get him and the “political revolution” he has started. Clinton has talked far too often in my opinion, of the “right wing conspiracy” that has targeted her and her husband.

Clinton might be right – the conservative talking heads do seem to take great delight in personally vilifying her. Sanders does seem to be right as well when he points out that monied interests have far too much power in the political process. And while I don’t agree with Cruz or Trump at all, I suppose there can be a kernel of truth that when the culture is changing all around you and you disagree with those changes then you can feel that there is something dark and sinister out to get you. Hence, false persecution claims are usually followed with some variation of the hysterical call to “take our country back.”

The problem is that while this might feel true to the candidates and their followers, real persecution is not when strong and determined women refuses to back down to Donald Trump. Persecution is when you are harassed, mistreated, economically or socially marginalized or physically oppressed based on membership to a group or belief system. This country has a history of persecution and oppression of people in color, of members of the LGBTQ community, and even new religious groups. There is no history of persecution of rich, white men who treat women badly and make xenophobic statements.

Today, in the world, religious persecution is a serious threat in many parts of the world. Those who proclaim a belief in Christ are often the subject of violent attacks in many parts of the world, though Muslims in western China and Burma (Myanmar), Buddhists in Tibet, and other groups are often the real targets of real persecution as well. It has been a sad reality that far too few people in the Western Church, particularly our so-called “leaders” have spoken out against this kind of persecution.

This is why hearing people like Cruz and Trump, and even Sanders and Clinton, tout false persecution makes me cringe. Let’s make stopping real persecution a greater priority in the church and let’s all agree that when these so-called political leaders cry “poor me, poor me” we will turn the channel, or better yet, refuse to endorse them with our vote. Persecution is real. False persecution is a joke and so are those who loudly claim it.