Politics

Entries related to things political.

Reconnecting Spirituality to Daily and Political Life via Lobbying and the News Media

This is a commentary that I wrote for the News and Religion course that I am taking at the Religious Freedom Center at the Newseum.

“May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, oh LORD, our strength and our redeemer.” Psalm 19:14

How would an epigraph like this sound in our pluralistic secular media? Would we wonder about the use of a quote from the Judeo-Christian tradition instead of from some other tradition, or perhaps a humanist perspective? What role does or should spirituality play in the news media of today? How do views about this vary between the general public and reporters?

The report, Most Americans say media coverage of religion too sensationalized explores some of these issues.

The public and reporters also have different perceptions about what makes for good religion coverage. More than two-thirds (69.7%) of the public says that they prefer coverage that emphasizes religious experiences, spirituality, practices, and beliefs. In contrast, more than three fifths (62.9%) of reporters say that the audiences they serve prefer religion coverage that emphasizes religious institutions, activities, events, and personalities.

The problem is that “religious experiences, spirituality, practices, and beliefs” are often very personal and subjective and are often not breaking news. As a friend of mine quips about spiritual practices, “with priests these days, it’s out with the old and in with the ancient.”

Yet underlying the “religious institutions, activities, events, and personalities” that reporters like to write about these days are these “religious experiences, spirituality, practices, and beliefs”. In our modern age of objectivity, we are losing touch with this spirituality.

A few years ago, my daughter, who grew up in a land of McMansions decided to build and move into a tiny house. She did it as an art project. During her gallery talks, she would speak of the goal of reconnecting art to daily life. Our large houses are filled with mass produced merchandise and we too rarely take a moment to see beauty around us. The same could be said about spirituality today.

Spirituality, morality, and the stuff of religion should be informing our daily and political lives. Yet in our efforts to be objective as well as our efforts to be tolerant of other beliefs, we seem to have lost touch with the spiritual and moral in the public sphere.

I have run for state representative multiple times. While we might acknowledge God in an invocation to an event candidates are speaking at, and our biographies should mention the religious institution we belong to, we seem to rarely bring our spirituality into our stump speeches.

In 2016, I reluctantly ran for state representative again. I wanted to focus more of my time on my priestly journey. I tried to bring the two together as much as I could, and watched my audience squirm as I started a stump speech off with the quote from Psalm 19. It seems like many of us want coverage about spiritual issues, we just don’t want to have to grapple with it in our own lives.

Yet there are people that want to bring the religious into the public sphere and the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life report on Lobbying for the Faithful explores more than 200 “organizations engaged in religious lobbying or religion-related advocacy in Washington, D.C…. [that] collectively employ at least 1,000 people in the greater Washington area and spend at least $350 million a year”.

There are also numerous media watchdog organizations seeking to ensure that faith is adequately and accurately covered. There is nothing particularly new or unique about such organizations. In 2003, I was part of the Dean Rapid Response Team. This was a group of volunteers from across the country that worked together to support Gov. Dean in his presidential bid. There was a feeling that the media coverage of Gov. Dean did not adequately represent his views or our thoughts about why he would be a great president. We had a mailing list where we would share links to articles that we felt needed responses and talking points to help our members respond.

More recently, this week I sent an email to the communications committee of a church I attend. Like the volunteers in the Dean campaign many years ago, we are trying to find ways to get information about our church presented in the most positive manner possible. The local newspapers are short staffed and generally don’t write about matters of faith, so we seek to provide editors and reporters with as much usable information as possible. Often, that includes providing material that can be copied and pasted with minimal effort.

Whatever our cause, we are likely to feel that the news media provides inadequate or inaccurate information about it. We will seek ways of using any media we can to correct this.

Underlying all of this is the question of how we help reconnect the spiritual to our personal and public lives, and do it in a way that embraces other faith traditions. To put it another, even today, we continue to struggle like the psalmist to find ways to make our words and thoughts always acceptable.

Make America Great Again, the Top Hog BBQ way

When we came to Tennessee to watch the total solar eclipse, which was a wonderful event., we had decided to stay in Tennessee for a few extra days, hoping to soak up a little bit of the local culture. Yet it seemed like every restaurant recommendation we found was to some polished place in a mall somewhere, a mall that could have been anywhere in America.

On Wednesday, we headed towards a state park to see some of Tennessee’s great waterfalls. We drove through Franklin, where a statue of “Chip”, a confederate soldier was surrounded by green ribbons and private property flags. We didn’t know the details but guessed it had to do with the struggle over what we choose to honor and remember about our history.

As I prepare for seminary, I’ve been reading Radical Welcome by the Rev. Stephanie Spellers and been wondering how we welcome those who want to hang on to statues of Confederate soldiers and how we welcome those who want such statues removed. I’ve been wondering what sort of southern culture people are seeking to defend and what it really takes to make America great again.

In the evening, we headed out to dinner. A course that I’ve signed up for this fall is “Religion and News Media” at the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum. There was a video conference orientation session that I needed to join. I had some difficulties joining in and ended up participating from the backseat of the car as we drove to dinner.

How can we have meaningful and respectful dialog about religion in America? This is one of the topics we will be struggling with and talked a little bit about on the video conference.

My wife and daughter headed into the restaurant while I finished the end of the call. I had not seen the roads my wife took to get to the restaurant, but this was not in a mall. Walking into the restaurant, it was clear that Top Hog BBQ was different. On the walls were old advertisements for nickel bottles of Mountain Due, pictures of Barney Fife and the cast of The Wizard of Oz. There were big wooden tables, and no small plastic sign saying, “Please wait to be seated”. I looked around and saw my wife and daughter sitting at a table sipping fruit tea.

I’m not a big fan of sweet tea, so I thought I would skip the fruit tea, but when I looked at the other choices which were mostly soft drinks, I decided to give the fruit tea a try. It was great.

This was the experience we had been searching for. From the first sip of the fruit tea, to the last bite of BBQ, it was clear that this place is the real deal. Good solid tasty food. My wife loved the spicy turnip greens and my daughter who went with a simple cheeseburger declared it the best she had had in ages.

As we finished up, we got into talking with Patty, who owns the place. We talked about the eclipse, our families, our interests, and good food. It seemed that she personified the sort of southern culture that we need to be preserving and what it really takes to make America great again: attention to quality and detail, the kindness and friendliness.

So, if you’re serious about preserving southern culture and making America great again, I have one recommendation: Eat at Top Hog BBQ. I you can't make it to Gallatin, find someplace like Top Hog BBQ. Go in, have a great meal, talk with the staff and the other customers. Appreciate good food and good company and spread the word.

Eclipse Reflections

Today, there were lots of discussions on social media about the eclipse. One religious friend posted that he didn’t see what the big deal about the eclipse was. I responded, “I like anything that gets people to stop and look at God's creation differently and to share with one another a sense of awe”

Another friend posted about lost productivity. I responded,

“My wife and I took vacation to watch the eclipse. The productivity would have been lost whether we were watching the eclipse or doing something else.

Yet thinking about the beauty of the eclipse, it seems like we need to ask, is productivity really the ultimate aim of our lives?”

Friends that saw totality have been posting about how wonderful and magical it was. It was my fourth total eclipse and I look forward to many more. Two years from now in Argentina? Seven years from now in the United States again? We’ll see which ones we manage to make it to.

On one friends reflections, I commented:

“We had a wonderful impromptu eclipse party down in Castalian Springs. People from Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Russia, and I'm not sure where all else, sharing stories, eclipse glasses, peaks through telescopes, Prosecco, ad contact information to stay in touch.

It has been a wonderful day, and I too, love that so many of us from various different backgrounds could stop, even briefly, to enjoy one another and some of the beauty of creation.”

So my hope remains. However you think about creation, the creator, the source of beauty, the source of kindness, the source of love, I hope that you managed to stop and appreciate a little of the beauty of the created world, and share some joy and love from that experience to those around you.

Radical Inclusion

As I prepare to start seminary next month, I am reading various books from the recommended reading list. One book, Radical Welcome by the Rev. Stephanie Spellers has particularly caught my attention. While the focus is more on how local churches can be more welcoming, in a radically transforming manner, there is much in the book that could be considered for other parts of the ecclesiastical structure or even for our country as a whole.

After Charlottesville, I have been wondering about how our civic life can become more radically welcome, up to, and including how we can welcome those young men who are being drawn away by hate filled ideologies like white supremacy.

In an interview, ‘I’m not the angry racist they see’: Alt-Righter became viral face of hate in Virginia — and now regrets it, Peter Cvjetanovic, the face of the torch wielding angry crowd on Friday evening says,

“I came to this march for the message that white European culture has a right to be here just like every other culture,” Cvjetanovic opined. “It is not perfect; there are flaws to it, of course. However I do believe that the replacement of the statue will be the slow replacement of white heritage within the United States and the people who fought and defended and built their homeland. Robert E Lee is a great example of that. He wasn’t a perfect man, but I want to honor and respect what he stood for during his time.”

It is easy to dismiss this as the self-justification of someone whose hatred and wrong-doing has been exposed. It is far more challenging to accept him as another person loved by God and created in God’s image. It is far more challenging to listen to what he has to say and work towards reconciliation.

What is this “white European culture” he is talking about? What does that mean to him, to us, to those who have been oppressed for generations by representatives of this “white European culture”? As we take down statues of Robert E. Lee, what can we put up that radically includes those who feel their culture slipping away?

As a northerner, I find parts of my heritage challenged. Thanksgiving was a very important day for me, but I have grown to understand how it is not a day of celebration for those who were here before white Europeans came and I seek ways of celebrating my ancestors arrival in a way that is respectful of those who were already here. I seek to learn about and celebrate their culture as well.

What are the things that white Europeans from the south can celebrate? The first thing that comes to my mind is Juneteenth. If you don’t know what that is and don’t celebrate it, go out and spend some time learning. What are other things? I don’t know. I hope my white European friends from the south can share some ideas. Perhaps it has to do with Flannery O’Connor or William Faulkner. Perhaps it has something to do with southern cuisine.

If we can radically welcome young white men who fear their culture is slipping away, perhaps they can join with us as we all battle symbols of hatred and oppression.