Entries related to things political.

The Redemption of Donald Trump

Last night, the Churches Making Movies Christian Film Festival showed a preview of the movie, The Resurrection of Gavin Stone. Generally, I’m not a fan of movies that have a blatant message. I prefer movies that tell us about God’s grace in a more nuanced way, like Babette's Feast. Yet “The Resurrection of Gavin Stone” stars one of my teen daughter’s favorite actors, Brett Dalton, best known for his role as Grant Ward in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., so we seriously considered whether or not to try to make it to the preview.

IMDB describes the movie this way:

Gavin Stone, a washed-up former child star, is forced to do community service at a local megachurch and pretends to be Christian so he can land the part of Jesus in their annual Passion Play, only to discover that the most important role of his life is far from Hollywood.

This came to mind as I read about ”Donald Trump’s Apology That Wasn’t” this morning for lewd comments he made back in 2005. As a Christian, I feel called to pray for my enemies, to pray for those I strongly disagree with, to pray for the leaders of our nation, including those seeking political office. I have been praying for Donald Trump. I have been praying for his supporters, and I believe that we may be approaching an important moment of redemption.

Last year, CNN and others ran stories about when Trump talked about his faith. Trump believes in God, but hasn't sought forgiveness. Conservative evangelical writers have struggled with how to approach Trump because they recognize that crucial, and I’m using that word in its full meaning, to their belief is the need to acknowledge our faults and ask forgiveness.

Last night, Donald Trump asked forgiveness. He acknowledged that despite his dislike of ‘political correctness’ and what might be acceptable banter by the boys on the bus, treating women as objects to be used to satisfy physical desires really isn’t socially acceptable. In my mind, this is huge. While I hope all of us know this, deep down in our hearts, it is contrary to the messages of a consumer culture and the rape culture that it enables.

In the New York Times article, Trump goes on to say, “I’ve traveled the country talking about change for America, but my travels have also changed me.” This is also an important challenge to the dominant political narratives. We look for candidates that present themselves as perfect, as immutable. A candidate who flip-flops is not viewed as desirable. I believe we need leaders that can change, that can evolve on important issues.

I am in the middle of my third campaign for State Representative in Connecticut. This cycle I’m running a very low key campaign, but I know how grueling campaigns can be. I’m also seeking ordination as a priest in the Episcopal Church. I am learning a lot about the importance of personal growth in every stage of our journeys.

I would not have voted for Donald Trump before this current news cycle, and the events of the past day have done nothing to change that. However, I think there is a very important message to all of us in what has happened: The epitome of callous men has admitted that treating women as objects for personal satisfaction is not right. He has admitted that beneath all the bluster, even he recognizes and admits his own short comings. So, I continue to pray for him. I continue to pray for people that follow him, that this message may sink in and may help bring about the redemption of Donald Trump and his supporters.

To return to Gavin Stone, I pray that the narrative of Trump’s campaign may become something greater, something like:

Donald Trump, a washed-up former reality TV star, seeks political office and pretends to be Christian so he can land the part of President of the United States, only to discover that the most important role of his life is far from Washington.

This Amazing Day

On Sunday, The Rev. Stephanie Spellers preached at Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford. In her opening remarks, she commented, “I should be exhausted, but instead I am excited”. This seems like a good phrase for me right now, with the admission that some days, like today, the exhaustion might be a little greater. Normally, I get up and check the news, and then spend some time reading scriptures and prayers appointed for the day. This morning, I started off with “Ministration at the Time of Death”.

Almighty God, look on this your servant, lying in great weakness, and comfort him with the promise of life everlasting, given in the resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I then glanced at the news, with Karl Barth’s recommendation to “hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other” in mind. I pray for the people in the path of Hurricane Matthew. I pray for our elected leaders and those running for public office, including myself.

The Vice Presidential Debate last night did not capture my attention. Instead, I tried to get a little sleep. Unfortunately, the dog barked much of the evening. I turned to the lectionary for this coming week. In 2 Timothy we read

Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening.

I think that pretty much sums up my reaction to the debate and to a lot of the political discourse this election cycle.

The Gospel for this coming Sunday is Luke 17:11-19, the story of the ten lepers healed by Jesus, but only one of the returns to thank him. As I think about a friend on death’s door, about the damage of Hurricane Matthew, and of the political malaise in our country, it seems very easy to overlook or forget the moments of blessing. Yet I will drive to work this morning, seeing the leaves start to turn color, the beauty of the hills, and I will think of e.e. cummings:

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

Political Discourse

Recently, a friend on Facebook posted an interesting request: “Go to Donald Trump's, Hillary Clinton's, Bernie Sanders’, Gary Johnson’s, and Jill Stein’s pages and see how many friends like them” I have 3.096 friends on Facebook. 125 like Trump, 425 like Clinton, 446 like Sanders, 64 like Johnson, and 99 like Stein.

Another friend posted about a poll he had heard about concerning unfriending on Facebook. I suspect that the poll he is referring to is Political Polarization & Media Habits. It is from two years ago, probably still relevant, but I’d love to hear updates on it.

I shared a few thoughts on his post about this:

I suspect that the article you may be referring to is based on research done back in 2014 by the Pew Research Center on Journalism and Media. They found that 26%of those surveyed blocked people because of politics. 69% of liberals did and 55% of conservatives did.

It may be tempting to think that this suggests conservatives are more open minded or tolerant than liberals, but the poll suggests that other reasons may make more sense.

The poll finds consistent conservatives "Are tightly clustered around a single news source, far more than any other group in the survey, with 47% citing Fox News as their main source for news about government and politics", "are, when on Facebook, more likely than those in other ideological groups to hear political opinions that are in line with their own views" and "are more likely to have friends who share their own political views. Two-thirds (66%) say most of their close friends share their views on government and politics."

From this it would seem a reasonable contributing factor to why conservatives are less likely to block someone because of politics is that they are less likely to have people to block in the first place.

An additional contributing factor that does not seem to be included in this research is the style of political rhetoric. I have unfriended people on Facebook over politics, but it is not the political view that has led me to unfriend them, it is their tendency to insult people and be verbally abusive that has caused me to unfriend people in politics, no matter what their political ideology. In my personal experience, and I don't have independent data to back this up, I have found conservatives, especially those who get their news primarily from Fox, to be more verbally abusive.

Since then, I’ve asked friends to share how many of their friends like different candidates. I hope that this will get people to think a little more about the political discourses they are part of.

Paying Taxes

Last week, I paid about $120 in Federal Income tax, not much different from the average American. I also paid about $20 into Medicare, $90 into Social Security, and other money into state taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and other fees. While I love to have this money available for other things, it is money well spent.

To me, Medicare and Social Security are really money put into a group retirement account for me, and for everyone when we retire. We can argue about the structure of these systems but the underlying idea of making sure that our elderly are cared for is crucial to who we are. I am paying to make sure my father, other older relatives, and even those who have no relatives are cared for.

Between mandatory and discretionary spending, tax revenue and other forms of revenue, it is hard to know exactly where those $120 are going but I figure about $30 of my taxes each week goes to our national defense. We can argue about whether or not the Iraq war or the war in Afghanistan was a good idea. We can question whether a new weapon is worth the cost. We should be raising these questions. At the same time, the son of a friend of mine is serving in Iraq. We need to make sure he gets paid properly and has appropriate equipment. Another dollar goes to meeting the needs of veterans. We need to make sure that our veterans are properly cared for.

About $11 goes to education. A lot more goes to education from my local property taxes. People who read my writings will know that I’m not a big fan of high stakes testing or some of the other things being done in education nationally. I believe we are testing the wrong thing and as a result often teaching the wrong thing. We should work to get this addressed, but we should also make sure that our education system is properly funded. I

About $8 goes to transportation. Since I drive an electric vehicle, I don’t pay a lot in gasoline taxes. As with all other things, we can, and should argue about the best way to spend those dollars. We need to keep our infrastructure in good shape. We need to expand our infrastructure in various ways. That eight dollars a week is an important investment.

About $4 to science and research. I would like to see us spending more on science and research, the basic fundamental research that is the basis for important breakthroughs in health and so many other areas.

You may have heard some people talk about avoiding paying taxes as being smart in business. I would question even that. We need to be investing in our future instead of thinking about short term gains at the expense of our children. More importantly, paying taxes is being patriotic, it is part of what we need to do to make America Great Again.

Are you doing your share? Are you voting for people who are doing their share?

Competing Narratives

I’ve always been interested in the underlying narratives of our political process, so an article in Mother Jones, I SPENT 5 YEARS WITH SOME OF TRUMP'S BIGGEST FANS. HERE'S WHAT THEY WON'T TELL YOU. particularly caught my attention. It talks about the Trump supporters narrative:

You are patiently standing in the middle of a long line stretching toward the horizon, where the American Dream awaits. But as you wait, you see people cutting in line ahead of you. Many of these line-cutters are black—beneficiaries of affirmative action or welfare. Some are career-driven women pushing into jobs they never had before. Then you see immigrants, Mexicans, Somalis, the Syrian refugees yet to come. As you wait in this unmoving line, you're being asked to feel sorry for them all. You have a good heart. But who is deciding who you should feel compassion for? Then you see President Barack Hussein Obama waving the line-cutters forward. He's on their side. In fact, isn't he a line-cutter too? How did this fatherless black guy pay for Harvard? As you wait your turn, Obama is using the money in your pocket to help the line-cutters. He and his liberal backers have removed the shame from taking. The government has become an instrument for redistributing your money to the undeserving. It's not your government anymore; it's theirs.

If you look at the waiting in line narrative, it is easy to see Obama as the cutter-in-chief and Trump as the person that will stop all this line cutting. It is easy to see Clinton as someone who has already made it through the line, who was born at the front of the line. You can see Sanders as someone who is saying that the line is rigged. If you support BlackLivesMatter, you are very painfully aware of how the line is rigged against black people. If you are white and middle class, seeing the dream slip away, or the possibility of slipping away, the Trump version of the narrative may sound very real. You can also see Stein and Johnson as telling people they are waiting in the wrong line.

It all sort of depends on where you are in the line. Are you a well to do liberal wanting the line to move a little more quickly and fairly for those behind you in line? Are you a conservative a little further back in the line worried about being moved further and further back in the line? Are our part of the dispossessed and disenfranchised for whom the American dream is simply an unattainable dream? Are you someone who has started looking for a different dream?

To a certain extent, I agree with Sanders. The line is rigged. It needs to be fixed. To a certain extent, I agree with Stein and Johnson, it is the wrong line. Yet with any of that, I would be buying into the Trump supporters’ narrative.

Back in 2013, Franklin Graham wrote about America having a heart problem, quoting Ecclesiastes, “The hearts of the children of man are full of evil” and Matthew, “From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder”. He then goes on to talk about his opposition to gun control, because it won’t address the heart problem.

I’ve been reading St. Augustine recently, and this is the sort of tortured logic that would have given him palpitation.

Rev. Barber spoke about the heart problem from a different perspective, saying that religion and politics is being used to "camouflage meanness”. When I listen to Graham and the Barber, I hear much more of God’s love in Rev. Barber’s words.

I believe both Graham and Franklin are pointing to a different narrative, one that we heard in the Gospel last week in Luke 16, “You cannot serve God and wealth”. This is where I have a lot of issues with the prosperity Gospel. Yes, God wants to bless all of us abundantly, but that blessing isn’t about material things. It also isn’t something reserved for just the good people, just those who are deserving.

Matthew 5:45 reminds us that God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

No, the real narrative of this election is that God calls us, in the words of Micah 6:8 “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God”.

Are you going to stand in line along with Trump supporters, squabbling about who gets what? Or are you going to step out of line to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, and welcome the stranger in our land? Are you going to serve God or serve wealth? Are you going to walk humbly with God?

The pollsters may not view this as a winning narrative, but I honestly believe that the American dream is based on this loving kindness and that it is deep enough in our psyche that even if we do not use the language of religion, the majority of the people in our country desire Godly compassion more than they desire ill-gotten wealth.

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