Tuesday, March 7, 2017

What I'm Talking About When I Talk About Loving Donald Trump

So, yes, here we are in lent and I'm contemplating loving enemies and it's true I find Donald Trump and pretty much his entire staff and cabinet to be enemies of my person and people I love.

What is also true is that, while I write a few notes to senators and make other feeble signs of resistance, these are enemies I'll likely never ever meet. Any influence I might crave over them and their agendas is too small to measure.

So what I'm really thinking about is the way I might love the people in my life who are Donald Trump supporters. I have to think about this a lot because, honestly, I'm pretty hugely pissed off at them.

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. [James 1:19-20]

Righteousness. Justice. Justification. The nuances of those words are floating around, bumping into each other in concept of righteousness.

And, to be sure, anger is not always unwarranted. See the prophets and, on a couple of notable occasions, Jesus himself.

But I begin to see how anger---sometimes from others at me, sometimes my own directed elsewhere---is a problem for me. I watch some folks who somehow manage to have terrible fights and arguments complete with bright hot branding anger and still remain in relationship.

I'm a complete failure at this. From my own coming out as gay to the election of Donald Trump, I've too much decided that people who have problems with who I am or what I stand for don't need to be in my life, that there are plenty of people to hang out with who don't have these problems with me.

The bubble, as it were.

This is who I'm talking about when I talk about trying to love Donald Trump, the people outside the bubble. This is much more real than all those people in D.C. And a lot messier. And hurtful. And . . .


Monday, March 6, 2017

Freedom in a Cynical Time

There is a particular aspect of politics in these United States that particularly gets under my skin. It's the "but your guy did this!" argument.

In recent days, we've had arguments about who used a private email server, who had contact with Russia when, and whether a former president and a former first lady can be friends.

Celebrity culture makes all take on a feeling of a WWE match, with people choosing sides of heroes and villains and hoping someone is going to go for that folding chair at ringside. It's not about what is true or right but about who gets in the better hits.

I've done it, will likely participate in this nonsense again. I am a part of culture as much as anyone and so much of what we do is reflexive according to the social cues we're trained to respond to.

But I'm thinking about freedom in Christ. I'm thinking about what this maybe sounded like to the first Christians in the Roman Empire. I wonder if the waters of baptism, the baptism of repentance, freed them from the culture of Empire, of power and slavery, of legal persecutions and crucifixions.

Can we turn away from this democratic government, this WWE shouting matches and "on the ropes" imagery and still participate in it? I continue to vote, I continue to write to my elected representatives, so I guess I think we can.

What I would like us to stop is pretending that any of them are "good guys" all the time. I voted for Barack Obama twice and believe he was generally good for the nation. I also recognize that he authorized the use of drones that killed innocent people, including children. I also know that he could work into his eloquent speeches references to killing America's enemies. These never escaped my attention, but neither did I find the words to talk about it. As a Christian who hates war and believes that killing never has any eloquence, I believe I need to learn where those words are.

I seriously have no answers here. I seriously lack any real response to what I would have us do in the face of violence. I have often said, at election time, that in an empire, you're going to have a Caesar, my job as a voter is to discern who is Augustus and who is Nero. I begin to wonder if the work of Christians is to be kind, show compassion, be helpers whether we have Augustus or Nero, because at the end of the day, either Caesar will crush you if it suits their ends.

This feels cynical. I want to believe in a national leader. I think I need to have learn the wisdom of serpents, not only the gentleness of doves.

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Subconscious Enemy

I don't know a lot about dream interpretation. I'm no Joseph (and I don't often wear loud colors, which is entirely beside the point).

I do, however, sometimes have dreams that stick with me and I puzzle over them. I tend to agree with the notion that everyone and everything in a dream is an aspect of me. This one dream has had me turning it around and around for a couple of weeks now.

In this dream, I've been recruited (called?) to join the White House staff as a special assistant to Steve Bannon. I don't remember it being stated explicitly, but the implication was that I was there to be a good influence on him. So there I am in the Oval Office and I'm meeting Steve Bannon and at one point I touch his forearm (he has his sleeves rolled up) and my touch burns him. He doesn't react very much and I don't feel any pain myself, but there are burn marks on his forearm where my fingertips touched him.

That's all I remember of the dream.

I sometimes post about my dreams on Facebook for the amusement of my friends. The morning I work up from this one, I found it funny and posted and in the thread that followed, I wrote this: "In the dream theory where everyone in your dream is some aspect of yourself, I regret to report that I have an inner Bannon. But then there's the hope in the sign that my inner Bannon is vulnerable to some better aspects of me. My inner White House seems to think my inner Bannon could use some influence from my inner, well, me."

Well, that's a lot going on there. 

I've tried sitting in meditation with this dream image---but I'm a dilettante at meditation at best and the best I came away with in that was that I think I felt sorry for burning him. As that notion became extrapolated, I realized that a lot of what I wanted to say to this administration was full of snark. In the jargon of insult humor, I wanted to "burn" this White House. 

I find myself drifting away from that desire. The stakes are too high and, besides, the professionals at Saturday Night Live have that front covered pretty well. 

It's not as if I'm ever going to have access to Steve Bannon in my waking life. That's not what this dream is about and I'm not even sure the dream is about anything beyond my general political anxiety of this moment.

But the ancients found dreams important and they get mentioned plenty of times throughout scripture, from Joseph, the savior of his father, Israel to Joseph, the (step-) father of Jesus Christ. Most of my dreams dissipate quickly after waking. This one has followed me around for about three weeks now.

I'll come back to it, I imagine, as I write through lent. It is partially at the bottom of my desire to blog through the season. Loving the enemy---and I find it difficult to frame the real Steve Bannon as other than that---has to begin somewhere.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Egyptians, Germans, Americans

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.’ [Exodus 1: 8-10]

I read this passage in Exodus the morning after our president announced the creation of the Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office. The historical contexts couldn't be more different, but the parallels are striking. Those who are discerned as being "not us" who live among us grow in population and the dominant people---those who, allegedly, "belong"---get nervous and wonder if there are enemy operatives among them. Even the "alien" who is born in the land, who is descended from long ago "immigrants" (I use quotations because the terms are more modern in a legal sense), is looked at with suspicion. Pharaoh needs to keep an eye on them and makes decrees against them.

And I realize in the Biblical story, I am an Egyptian. Maybe I'm aligned with the midwives who disobeyed Pharaoh and didn't kill every Israelite boy, but I'm an Egyptian all the same. I have no reason at all to identify with the Israelites in this story. (Which has it's own irony, as I'm a third generation alien on this soil myself, but that's another story.)

On September 23, 1946, Martin Neimoller, former resident of a German concentration camp, preached at Rendsburgh. Since his release, he became aware of the horrors committed in the camp where he was kept. Even though he, himself, was a prisoner, he knew he was a patriotic German, former U-boat captain in the Great War, and that if he shared in the glory of Germany, he also shared in the shame. "The guilt has become anonymous and nobody will share the responsibility," he preached. "Everybody says, 'Go and ask my neighbor. I am innocent.'" [Martin Niemoller by James Bentley, p. 164]

After the fact, oppressors become particular. It was Pharoah, it was Hitler, it was Trump. In reality, it was Egyptians, it was Germans, it is Americans.

Jesus said, "Love your enemies." Pogo said, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Where do we learn the love of Jesus? Where do we learn the self-awareness of Pogo? How do we gain the insight of Neimoller before going to prison?

Jesus also said, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Maybe therein lies a source for fruitful meditation.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ash Wednesday 2017

Today, many of us will receive a smudge of ash on our foreheads. It's an action that echoes baptism, a cross on our forehead. Like baptism, it is about belonging to a people. Like baptism, it is about death.

Remembering that we are going to die is intended to foster some humility in us. Humility is necessary to serve. Humility is necessary to love.

Lately, I feel like a beginner in all the above.

Despite years of going to church, listening for Good News, even reading and trying to learn the lessons of the Desert Mothers and Fathers, who taught nothing if not humility, I find myself at the beginning.

The election of Donald Trump has brought out a lot of things about me that I don't particularly like. I am angry. I am haughty. I am judgmental. I fear that he and people he gathers around him are directly opposed and dangerous to me and people I love. 

And one direct commandment we have from Jesus is this: "But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you." [Luke 6:27-28]

I always make plain as I can that humility is chosen, not compelled. In Jesus' words, I don't hear him saying to a downtrodden people, "Love the Roman occupiers because that's your lot in life." That's the way slavers talk to slaves.

I believe that in telling us to love our enemies, Jesus is saying love, which takes humility, is our strength and redemption.

Baptized into a death like Christ, I am free in Christ and in that freedom, I am free to choose love.

But I find myself lacking in the skill set needed for this choice.

This is me taking the commandment of Jesus seriously and this is me admitting I don't want to do it and this is me knowing my peace and salvation depends on following it.

I don't know how to love.

Step one: Remember that I am dust.