In 2012, I ran for State Representative in the 114th Assembly District in Connecticut, which covers Woodbridge and parts of Orange and Derby. My opponent was the incumbent State Representative, Themis Klarides. I ran, not because I disliked Themis or thought her a bad person. I ran because I believed the voters deserved a respectful discussion about the issues our state faces. I believed that the voters deserved a choice in who they would vote for. I didn’t believe that Rep. Klarides was particularly effective as a state legislator or a leader and I disagreed with her on various important issues.
Themis easily won re-election against this relatively unknown candidate, but when asked the outcome of the election, I always told people I won. I won, not by being elected, but by having a respectful discussion, by getting voters thinking about the issues, and by giving them a choice.
Two years ago, I ran again. It was a last minute decision, because no one else was stepping up to run. I had become a fellow with the CT Health Foundation and I spoke often about racial health disparities. In a predominantly Caucasian district this wasn’t an issue that resonated with a lot of voters, but I got a lot of people thinking about an issue they hadn’t considered before. Like in 2012, I won by getting people thinking about the issues.
Here we are in 2016, and people are starting to ask me if I will run again. I am still trying to decide. People who regularly read my blog know that my primary focus right now is if I’m called to pursue a different office. I am seeking discernment on whether I’m called to become an ordained Episcopal priest. This has me leaning towards not running for State Representative this year.
Yet a few days ago, The House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church issued A Word to the Church
In a country still living under the shadow of the lynching tree, we are troubled by the violent forces being released by this season’s political rhetoric. Americans are turning against their neighbors, particularly those on the margins of society. They seek to secure their own safety and security at the expense of others. There is legitimate reason to fear where this rhetoric and the actions arising from it might take us.
They appear to have been careful about naming any specific candidate, as I have generally tried to be.
The United Church of Christ echoed this in their statement
The leadership of the United Church of Christ, concerned with the political rhetoric aimed at the marginalized people of society in this election cycle, spoke out in support for and solidarity with a Holy Week statement released by The Episcopal Church. The UCC national officers and Council of Conference Ministers, in testimony to the ecumenical relationship between the two churches, expressed gratitude to The Episcopal Church for "the courage to speak, and for granting us the kindness of joining them in this statement."
With all of these things on my heart, I read the Op-Ed by Colin McEnroe in The Hartford Courant today, CT Republicans Must Denounce Donald Trump
On Wednesday, the candidate broke new ground. He threatened his own party and the city of Cleveland with violence if he doesn't get his way.
Trump told CNN that, if he arrives at the Republican National Convention with a substantial delegate lead but something short of the requisite 1,237, "you'd get riots" if he were not automatically anointed as nominee.
McEnroe goes on to write
We have some good Republican leaders here in Connecticut. It's time for them to speak, with the primary five weeks away. "I'm staying neutral" doesn't wash anymore. Mark Boughton, J.R. Romano, Themis Klarides, Len Fasano, Joe Markley, Rob Kane, John Kissel, Toni Boucher, Kevin Witkos. You're good people. I know many of you. Maybe it's time to assemble in one place for a press conference to tell Trump what he can expect, in the form of delegates, from our state.
I hope someone will step up to the plate and run against Themis this year. I hope Themis will show the courage and leadership to take up Colin’s challenge. Meanwhile, I will continue to seek what God is calling me to, including exploring the best ways of bringing love of our neighbors back into our political discourse.
In a Facebook group of Episcopalians, the discussion of politics has come up, and I started to write a comment, which is probably better as a blog post.
I struggle to find the right words for this time and space, perhaps because of my particularly perspective in this discussion. Two years ago, I was seeking political office, as a candidate for State Representative. I had run for the same office two years earlier, and my wife ran for State Rep back in 2004.
Now, I am seeking a different office as a discernment committee explores whether I am called to become an Episcopal priest.
I struggle to find the right balance between separation of church and state, and a "both and" approach to living out our Baptismal vows.
I remember realizing during the 2014 campaign that I needed to say, at least to myself quietly, Psalm 19:14 before each political speech. "Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer."
How well are the various candidates making their words acceptable in God’s sight? Two articles have come up that caught my attention.
Ian Markam, Dean and President of Virginia Theological Seminary wrote this opinion piece: Denying the Imago Dei: The triumph of Donald Trump
"Trump is wrong because intemperate language against women, immigrants, the disabled, and Muslims is an act of sin. Our civic discourse should always be elevated. "
The Christian Post wrote Donald Trump Is a Scam. Evangelical Voters Should Back Away
"Trump claims to be a Christian, yet says he has never asked for forgiveness.
While God, in His wondrous creativity, has drawn people to Himself through the saving grace of Jesus Christ in many different ways, there are certain non-negotiable actions needed to become a Christian: One must repent of their sins and follow Christ as Lord and Savior. Trump doesn't talk this way, even when urged to.
Further, his words and actions do not demonstrate the "fruit of the spirit.""
I think these are important things to think about in terms of every candidate. What are the fruits of their spirits? Are they honoring the Imago Dei?
People are comparing 2016 to 1968. Others are hoping it will be more like 1964 or that the Republican convention will be like 1920.
People are talking about the good old days when broadcast journalism had anchors like Walter Cronkite, Harry Reasoner, and John Chancellor. They are questioning rhetoric of taking America back or making America great again, as code words for racism.
I believe we need better journalism, and it starts with each one of us. We need to reject political coverage that reduces discourse to a reality television show. We need to seek detailed news, and well reasoned political commentators. We need to realize that we are the government, and we need to be involved to bring respect back to our political discourse.
Perhaps most importantly, we need to pray for our country, that it not be driven by hubris, but by humility, and love for everyone created in the image of God.
“We are marching in the light of God” sounds in my mind as I read the latest headlines. “Second African province announces Anglican boycott over LGBT controversies.” The road to Lusaka is bumpy. Are we on the verge of an Anglican schism? Make straight the way of the Lord.
“We are marching in the light of God” sounds in my mind as I read the latest headlines. “Trump has lit a fire. Can it be contained?” The road to Cleveland is bumpy. Make straight the way of the Lord.
“Violence at Trump’s rallies has escalated sharply, and the reality-show quality of his campaign has taken a more ominous turn in the past few days” the article states. It quotes President Obama who said that those who “feed suspicion about immigrants and Muslims and poor people, and people who aren’t like ‘us,’ and say that the reason that America is in decline is because of ‘those’ people. That didn’t just happen last week. That narrative has been promoted now for years.”
The article goes on to say, “This year’s presidential campaign, however, seems to have fallen into a bottomless spiral.”
Are we destined to a long hot summer of ever increasing violence? Will our nation’s bottomless spiral descend into chaos? Anarchy? Is there no hope?
“We are marching in the light of God” sounds in my mind as I say my prayers. It is Lent, we marching to Jerusalem. It seems like there is a lot of Good Friday in the news right now, and I’m praying for Easter.
How can we be a resurrection people in the midst of all this hatred and strife?
It may seem strange for a politician so liberal that he’s been called a communist by his political adversaries to quote a talk radio show host’s article in the National Review, but these aren’t normal times and perhaps I’m not your typical politician.
Dennis Prager wrote Gratuitous Hatred Is Destroying Republicans — Just as It Did the Ancient Israelites. There is plenty I can find to disagree with in Prager’s article, but his concern about gratuitous hatred is an important point, and it’s not just destroying Republicans, it is destroying all of us.
One example of this is the tendency to come up with names to disrespect our previous and current president, as well as one of the current candidates. As you can see by the title of this post, Republicans and Democrats alike do this. It is part of a larger problem, the vilification of those that are different from ourselves, that are ‘other’.
This is happening, not only in national politics, but in church politics as well. Today, I read a post by a senior Anglican bishop, which included, “Western liberal activists are not the least bit gracious. Actually, forgive me. That was judgmental. I have never met a Western liberal activist who was gracious”
Apparently these days even senior Bishops think it is acceptable to speak disrespectfully of those they disagree with, if the post ‘forgive me’.
The bigger problem is that hate now appears to be socially acceptable. We talk about ‘haters’ and shrug them off saying, ‘haters gonna hate’.
This isn’t new, and if we go back to great literature and to scripture, we find two important quotes. The first is from the Prince in the final scene of Romeo and Juliet
See, what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love.
And I for winking at your discords too
Have lost a brace of kinsmen: all are punish'd.
It illustrates the passage from 1 John 3:15
Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
and again in 1 John 4:20
If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.
I know that it can be enjoyable to poke fun at people we disagree with. At times it can be humorous, but too often it is just plain hateful. To my God fearing friends, I call on you to not only say, “forgive me” but to actually repent, to turn around and seek to love those you disagree with, those that are different from yourselves. To my secular friends, I’ll just refer back to the Prince’s speech at the end of Romeo and Juliet. We will all be punished, one way or another, if we don’t end this gratuitous hatred.
On Thursday night, the discernment committee met and we discussed calling. What is our calling? What happened when we felt called by God? How is each one of us called by God? A large part of the discussion was around my calling, which to a certain extent makes sense since the discernment committee was convened to help me with this task, but part of helping me discern my calling is to hear the stories of others, and there were some other deeply moving stories told, and I would have loved to hear more about others callings.
We started off by reading the stories of the calling of Moses, Samuel, and Isaiah. Afterwards, I thought about writing the story of my calling in the style of the stories in the Old Testament. I’ve hesitated about posting it, lest it seem like boasting or blasphemy, but a dream I had last night caused me to rethink this. So, here is the story of the calling I experienced in May 2105 written in an Old Testament style.
During a guided meditation at a poetry conference at Yale Divinity School, the Lord came to me and said, "Aldon, I love you more than you can imagine or understand".
And I said to the Lord, "Lord, I am not worthy"
And the Lord said to me, "Aldon, I know all your faults, yet I have made you worthy through the blood of Christ"
And the Lord said to me, "Aldon, you have been made to show forth My Love to those around you. You have done this through your work, and your writing, and your politics. From now on this is to be your primary goal"
And I said to the Lord, "Here I am"
A month later, I was reading the Old Testament lesson about the calling of Isaiah in church on Trinity Sunday, and I said aloud, reading the lesson, and praying at the same time, "Here I am. Lord, send me."
And the Lord said to me, "The time has come for you to become an ordained priest." Over the following months, I struggled with these words. I thought about the process of becoming a priest, and the Lord said, "All will be accomplished according to my plan".
So, I began the process, seeking to better discern God’s will and learn God’s plan. As I spoke with the homeless man on the street, I asked the Lord, is this whom I should serve?", and the Lord answered, "yes". I spoke with the infirm man in the nursing home and I asked the Lord, "Is this whom I should serve?" and the Lord answered, "yes". I sat in church groups, praying for each member and I asked the Lord, "Are these whom I should serve?" and the Lord answered "yes."
I heard stories of politicians saying hateful things, things that I believed were contrary to God’s message, and I asked the Lord, “Should I love even these people?”
And the Lord said, “Yes.”
And I heard stories of religious leaders shunning other religious leaders and refusing aid from certain countries because of disagreements over doctrine, and I asked the Lord, “Should I love even these people?”
And the Lord said, “Yes.”
Last night, I dreamt that I was at some sort of religious camp or retreat. The organizer was saying various things that felt very narrow and would exclude people from hearing the message of God’s Love. I spoke the truth, in Love and he changed his ways.
I don’t expect to see such a change in the U.S. political discourse, or in the discourse of the Anglican Communion because of my words, but I pray that they might be at least a small ripple of hope, a ripple of love in a climate where dissension seems to have become pandemic.