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
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.
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?
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.
A form of poetry I’ve been very interested in recently is called ‘found poetry’. Here is what I’ve found recently.
The second and sixth stanza are from a political campaign, but I changed one word in the latter stanza for more impact. The first is a comment a friend made about those quotes. The third stanza is from Matthew 20. The fourth is from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, and the fifth is from the musical Jesus Christ, Superstar. I end off with putting the question in the form of the questions asked during baptism in the Episcopal Church.
While some people looko at the political quote as a poor political analogy, I think it is really a great analogy for the Christian life.
Eating the skittles
the way of the cross.
“If I had a bowl of skittles
and I told you
just three would kill you.
Would you take a handful?”
“You do not know what you are asking, Jesus replied.
“Are you able to drink the cup I am going to drink?”
“We are able,” the brothers answered.
“You will indeed drink My cup,” Jesus said.
“After supper he took the cup of wine;
and when he had given thanks,
he gave it to them, and said,
"Drink this, all of you:
This is my Blood of the new Covenant,
which is shed for you
and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.
Whenever you drink it,
do this for the remembrance of me."
“I will drink Your cup of poison
Nail me to Your cross and break me”
“Let’s end the politically correct agenda
that doesn’t put God first”
“If I had a bowl of skittles
and I told you
just three would kill you.
Would you take a handful?”
“I will, with God's help.”