What The Democrats Don’t Get

If anyone has a doubt, by now it should be obvious that I loved having President Obama in the White House. He carried himself with dignity and grace. He was deliberative and thoughtful, as well as generally kind and moral. Whether you agree with that opinion of him or not is not the point. It is my opinion. It doesn’t have to be yours.

That said, if go back to the election, to the period before Trump, we can see in Obama today one of the problems that the Democratic Party had then, and continues to have. The Presidency used to be an end in itself. For the last twenty or thirty years, it’s been seen as a stepping stone to a loftier goal… getting rich. Today, Obama will make more money for one speech than he made for a year of his Presidency! More to the point, though, he made 26,000 times per hour more than your average person — if your average person were making $15.00 per hour (and, of course, they’re not). 

If there are two parties, and the Republicans have firmly established themseleves as the Party of the Rich, and Democrats do the same thing, who speaks for the non-rich? Who understands 99% of the population? Who speaks for the very, very poor? Who speaks for the ill, the hungry, the less educated? No one. Who speaks for the vaunted Middle Class? No one. It’s easy to picture the government as “elites” if they are! It’s easy to paint them as “out of touch” with real life if they make more in a day than a small city! What part of that makes people feel like the government understands them and wants their opinion? Not much. 

There are at least two other problems here:

1)  How can we say to people that civil service — leadership for the sake of others — is valuable if it’s not the pinnacle of a career? How can we say that service is more important than wealth if our highest civil servants still chase money. Is their pension and benefits not enough to live on? Why not? 

2) If “majority rules” is the principle of how democracy works, and your Party isn’t attached to 99% of them, how will you ever become the majority Party? That’s a lot of people to ignore. They are just there for the taking because nobody else wants them. Any Bozo who can pretend they care about them can become President! See how that works? Can you imagine a way in which that might not work for the Party?

Democrats have to understand the “non-rich” 99% in order to align with them. It helps if they are the non-rich. It helps if you care, simply because caring is the right thing for a leader to do. Until you we can find someone who leads this way, democracy will fail, and the Democratic Party long before that. Maybe we have somebody like that? Bernie? Elizabeth Warren? Even if not, that’s the direction we need to head if we want to have a functioning democracy — and a healthy Party.

Resisting with peace,
John

A Word To The Parties

I know I’m not the only one who’s noticed… People in Congress — both houses, both parties — aren’t doing anything. Neither is the President, but he’s in a party, as well. Well, ok. You are doing something. Maybe some of you are saving us from ourselves, and that’s good. But enough navel gazing already! Do something!

People need jobs more than you need money. People need healthcare more than you need insurance stock. People need mental health more than you need to express craziness. People need to eat more than you need to complain about it. People need to deal with weird weather and coastal flooding more than you need to deny it. People need peace more than you need war. 

All of our elected officials in Washington need to give up their jobs if they’re not going to do them. Let somebody in who wants to serve the people, wants to represent their people in the highest halls of power. In short, lead! Care! Care about actual people, not the philosophy of people. 

In the world of therapy, if our leaders were parents responsible for children, DCF would have removed them due to some combination of abuse and neglect. As it is, we get to watch Mommy and Daddy fight because, well, they like to fight. They like to fight over what we need and what’s best for us because they think they know.  Reps and Dems want us to believe that they know what’s best, but they never ask. They want us to prove that we should get the things we need. They say we’re lazy or drugged out or uneducated so they’ll need proof that we are trustworthy. They don’t ever produce anything, and they complain about our productivity. They fight and accuse us of being angry. They write laws that allow them to make more money and they complain about the crime rate.

Do your job, officials! Investigate what needs to be investigated. Write laws that make it more likely we’ll live full lives with dignity rather than withhold and degrade us. You are in charge! Not corporations, you! And you work for us, so a little attention would be nice. You don’t have to give us everything we want, but getting our needs met would be nice. 

And fighting? Enough already! In my office, addicts who don’t want to change do what you’re doing right now — fight. You speak at each other, not with each other. You shuck and jive about what reality is for goodness sake! You distract yourselves with nonsense, because few, if any of you, understand  “servant leadership” or compassion or mercy or love. An old therapist I know used to say, “A relationship can either be about love or it can be about power. It can’t be both.” You don’t love each other, and you don’t love us, so it’s about power for you… cut it out! 

I never want to hear a member of the administration ever complain about someone else if they’re not going to take responsibility for their own actions or try to do better than the person they are complaining about.

If you worked in our companies, instead of owning them, you’d know:

a) you can’t skip work to go golfing. You’ll lose your job.

b) you lose your job if you don’t produce something.

c) if you’re aggressive towards others — if you’re a bully, or a harasser, there’s going to be a process, and if you don’t change, you’ll lose your job.

d) as we’re told all the time, there are plenty of people willing to do your job if you don’t want it.

So now, do your job, care about someone other than yourselves, be loving to each other and to us, or, as they used to say on TV, “You’re fired!”. And don’t think we won’t do it, either. Enough is enough.

Resisting angrily, but with Peace,
John

Can We Take Back the Word “Evangelical” Now?

I was listening in my car to a podcast from The Nation magazine as they interviewed a woman who had done a history of White Evangelicals (she studied Black Evangelicals as well, but said that was another book altogether). She talked about how 81% of White Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, because they believe he was most supportive of their agenda. Issues of piety — whether he had 2 divorces and 3 wives or went to church regularly – did not matter to them, though that was the standard that every President since Reagan has been held to. What mattered to them at this moment in time were “fighting terrorism” (The Wall and Muslim Ban) and “economics” (jobs in poor White communities), and “abortion” (they’re against it, really against it, so the Supreme Court choice was vital to their ideology). If I heard it right, 20% of Americans consider themselves this kind of evangelical. I want to be an evangelical and I want to be known as an evangelical, but I never want to be that kind of Evangelical.

                         “Christ for the world we sing/the world to Christ we bring”

For years, those kinds of evangelicals have been claiming that they are “real Christians”, just as conservatives in politics have been claiming that they were “real Americans”. This was so true that many liberal Christians like me gave up using the word. My friend Leigh McCaffrey was the only person I knew in seminary who was both proudly liberal and called herself an Evangelical. She still does. Though we’re different people with different ways, she is closer to the kind of Evangelical I want the world to be full of than all the other “Evangelicals” I know.

I have been told that “Christ for the world we sing” is about colonialism and triumphalism (the “we’re better than anybody else” version of Christianity), and I might not want to sing it in church. Besides just liking the hymn itself, I believe both that we should sing and bring Christ to the world because the world needs what Jesus is selling – not political Jesus or “might makes right, I’m the only way” Jesus, but actual Jesus. By that I mean “love your neighbor as yourself and love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind” Jesus. I believe that what Jesus had to say, and the things that he did while on earth, are, in fact, the best way to live for me. I’m not going to kill you, or even threaten you if you don’t believe the same thing, but it’s my job to put my kind of Jesus on the table of choices. You can’t choose what you don’t know, but if there’s only one way , then you can hardly be seen as having/making a choice.

The first thing to do, it seems to me, is to break the term Evangelical from its political moorings. People who focus on God and Jesus don’t even necessarily believe in having allegiance to countries, so a certain type of allegiance to a country makes less than no sense. One can be a Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian, Social Democrat, and be a Christian. Swearing allegiance to a party or its platform has nothing to do with Christian living. At best, one party might be closer to Jesus’ call than another, but party is not church, and it shouldn’t be. Following Jesus is different – and more important to me – than following Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton or frankly anybody. I want to measure my President by Jesus’ standards, not the other way around.

                                                           “We sing”?

Wanting to be called an “evangelical” is important because of what “evangel” means. “Evangel” in Greek means “good news” or “gospel”. Wanting the world for your self isn’t good news to anybody. Wanting to take away a woman’s right to choose – to make decisions with good or bad outcomes and thinking she can cope with the decision – is apparently not good news to all those women who marched the day after Trump’s inauguration. “I’m richer than anybody on the face of the earth” isn’t good news to anybody but you. “I’m more important that anyone else” isn’t good news to the rest of humanity. So what is good news? Anything that tells another person they are worthy of love, peace, and happiness is good news. Anything that tells another person that I want them to be the best “them” they can be is good news. Anything that tells of the mercy, grace, justice, peace, of God or Jesus is good news. In short, people know good news when they hear it. Furthermore, people believe good news when you act on it.  

I’m more of a practical guy. I like to see results. I can tell my kids I love them, or I can give them a hug. I can say I believe in equality, or I can have people over for dinner or protect, advocate for or march in support of them. That is what it truly means to be an evangelical – you tell the good news of Jesus through your actions to God and your actions towards others. Jen Chapin has written a song called “gospel” after attending the environmental march and caring about others. That makes her, in my mind, an evangelical, because she understands the very heart of the gospel. Whether she knows it to be Christian or not, she and everyone else understand that what she is saying is good news.

How do you know if you’re bringing the good news to others – other than asking them? The Bible says “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”. Quite simply if you’re doing the things God wants, and you’re modeling the faith of Jesus, you should be feeling those things and acting like you feel them.

So that’s a definition of Evangelical I can get behind, and it so far from the voting pattern in America that I want it back. I want to evangelize with my heart and my actions. I want to draw people to Christ because I have something they think they want. I want to be someone they want to be. I want to act in ways that they know good people do. Right now, I accept that my doing so will confuse them, because of all those other people who have used the term as a term of separateness and power over others. That’s ok. If I do this right, I’ll be the same most of the time, and they’ll have time to get used to it.

A FINAL NOTE: The things I have said above aren’t just true of me, but of almost any colleague of mine that I know. They live their lives the very best they know how, the care, and they hope you’ll see Jesus or God or the Spirit in their life and living. They, too, have been living in a world where somebody stole their word. They want it back, too.

Resisting in peace,

 

John

 

 

 

 

                 

Easter Sermon, Goshen CT

(Author’s note: I seldom,if ever, post a sermon online. I think of blog articles as something different, I guess. Anyway, I think that this sermon is somehow different, so here it is…)

Sermon given at Goshen UCC, Easter Sunday morning, 2017. “Cat’s Out of the Bag”

If you attended the Maundy Thursday service at the church the other night, you know that we talked about Quantum Physics and a thought experiment called “Shroedinger’s Cat” wherein a cat is put in a box and – according to quantum – regardless of what happened to the cat while they were in there, the cat could be alive, dead, or somewhere in the middle. The point of Quantum, and the story of Shroedinger’s cat is that anything is possible, depending on what you’re looking for, and what the matter involved wants to be. (Remember, this is a thought experiment – no actual cats were harmed in the making of this sermon).

Well, this morning, the women at the tomb, and the apostle Peter, we know that the mystery of what happened to Jesus is solved. In other words, the cat’s out of the bag. The women have looked into the cave that Jesus was laid in and have heard he’s alive. Peter has run to the tomb and found confusion, as there’s nothing but cloth in the tomb.

​What does it all mean? If you believe, as the women do, that Jesus is alive, then you believe, among other things, that women can be trusted and believed, even if what they are saying makes no sense to you. It means that the head of the church (Peter) can be confused and – at least for now – not know what it all means, and still be hopeful.  

Or it could be stupid, the women could be crazy, and it could mean nothing. Which do you want to see? What do Jesus’ remaining atoms want to reveal to the world? Let’s follow those possibilities to their logical conclusions and results in the real world.

​If you believe it’s all made up, that it all never happened, that somebody snatched Jesus’ body, or some other concept like that, it ends there. The revolutionary guy that made you think about a new way to be, healed other people, challenged the status quo and so on, was just another false prophet. Life goes on and all that hope people had on Palm Sunday was a wasted effort. Ok, maybe some people are healed, but there’s another explanation. Mostly, though, Rome wins. Their might has proven them right. Their logic has won the day. There is no life after death.

​And the synagogue elders are right as well. All those people who thought they were forgiven? Jesus didn’t have the power to do that, so they’re not forgiven.    

          That’s sort of okay, though, you can be forgiven for the things you do by following the law and being a good person. A few pigeons bought outside the temple and you’re good to go. You still have all the tendencies you did before, but you’re forgiven by God for the things you’ve done – all for the cost of a few pigeons and a lamb at Passover. Still, when you’re done, you’re done. If you haven’t had kids, your legacy will not be shared by your children and you will be forgotten when your bloodline ends. Still, there is the life you have. Life goes on, until it doesn’t. Your loved ones, when they die – just as Jesus did — are gone, just as it has always has been. Life is no better and no worse than it’s ever been. Roman logic will remain forever. At least, life makes sense. You know what the rules are. You know who and what’s important – and more than likely, it’s not you.

Now, you can take that tack if you want. Since none of us was there to witness any of it, there is none of us in this room that can say for certain what happened in the tomb.

​But let’s – just for the sake of the argument – see what happens if people believe that Jesus rose from the dead. Since history tells us that people did believe that Jesus rose, these kinds of things happened: Mary, Martha, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of Jesus didn’t have to cry anymore. Neither did Peter and all the other disciples who were gathered. Their friend is not dead. And if he’s not dead, maybe they can have the same life after death that he had. Hey, you never know… if this weird thing could happen, maybe anything can happen.  

​Of course, if Jesus is alive and back as he said he would be, then those who were healed really were healed, those that thought they were forgiven actually were forgiven. People can be healed. People can be forgiven. It’s a new day.

If they believed that he’s risen, the women weren’t crazy. Some even might even believe in this notion themselves and become priestesses in the early church. Peter, who’s not particularly good at getting things right a lot of the time, doesn’t have to. He can be forgiven for his mistakes. Thomas doesn’t have to give up the sort-of scientific method. Jesus proved the resurrection factually with the old “palm and feet” trick. The rest of the disciples aren’t crazy either – well, no crazier than when they started the journey.

Because they believe in this new way, they will go out and tell anyone who will listen. Sometimes this will go well, and the church will grow. But faith in the weird things Jesus said and did will be as well-received as they were when he was alive.

Saul, that serious Jew, will try to kill them. Romans will kill them when they don’t pay tribute to Caesar because they believe he’s not “all that and a bag of chips”, that he’s not a God as he says he is. Oddly, risk doesn’t go away. People can still beat you, and kill you, hang you on a cross upside down, drag you in chains, and so on for saying all those things that you believe.

The disciples know this. They just don’t care. What are you going to do? Kill them? It doesn’t take. They think they’ll come back anyway. Beat them, whip them, hang them on a cross? That’s what happened to their hero! If it worked for him, it’ll work for them! Later, when they’re fed to the lions in early Rome, and the Romans think they’re ending this Jesus revolution thing once and for all, some of those Christians will go willingly and not be afraid! As it turns out, after the Christians have been fed to the lions, the Roman Empire will fall and their church, with its weird belief system, will go on!  

The church proves that even the most powerful group on earth isn’t above falling. Without swords, the Christian church lasts longer than the Roman Empire did, with swords.

What if you, like Saul, choose the wrong side of history? What if you murder people for their beliefs? What if you plan and murder a lot of them? Are you stuck in the shame and guilt forever? Not if you don’t want to be, once you realize what The Truth is.

That weird Jesus guy and his church – despite the apparent logical problems – take him in and forgave him, and let him lead a whole new life. And, just as oddly, it works! Saul changes his name to “Paul” and goes from being a leader and respected in Jerusalem with a lavish life to a criminal, dragged in chains all over the middle East – and he does it willingly, believing he got the better end of the deal! 2,000 years later, people are still talking about him. The Island he dies on, and the name of the soldiers who seemed so much more important at the time? I don’t know them. Do you?

A few years down the road, when Rome falls from its glory days, and the Pantheon of Zeus and Athena and so on are believed in no more, the Emperor Constantine will see the sign of the cross in a dream and Christianity – once a bunch of 12 men and a bunch of women, so maybe 20 people – will become the official religion of what’s left of the entire Roman Empire.

A few centuries later, when the church becomes corrupt, (because even the biggest institutions can fall), St. Francis of Assisi will model his life on the life of Christ and – with a pair of sandals and a tunic – will change the world forever. Within 15 years or so, there will be 5,000 or so followers of St. Francis. Francis will bring silliness back into the church, along with a love for animals, and a belief that he can talk to birds and calm savage wolves.

Later, in the 1700s or 1800’s, a slave trader will turn his boat around, and undo the intentional slavery of hundreds of slaves – because he believes that there’s hope for him yet and somehow those slaves are his equal.

In the 20th Century, a hopeless alcoholic will be told by a famous psychologist that he is beyond help, but he’s heard of cases where God intervenes and the man can be cured. That man begins to believe in forgiveness and becomes Bill W, the founder of AA. His group will offer hope to millions around the world, all because he believes that forgiveness and healing are possible. If Jesus could be dead dead and be healed, there was the possibility that Bill’s “life style of death” could be healed as well.

In the late 1950s and 60s, a Black pastor in Selma Alabama would overturn centuries of belief that the Negro child’s life had no value, and that they were only 3/5ths of a person, because his faith told him otherwise. Because of his faith, he will say, in his final sermon, “longevity has its place. But I don’t worry about that anymore…I have been to the mountaintop”

I don’t know if the events of Easter happened. I have no direct knowledge of the events. I wasn’t there. For a great portion of people now, it simply doesn’t make any logical sense or fit with their experience.  

What I do know is this: those who believe the impossible news of Easter become fearless, develop a courage they didn’t even know they had, go places they never would have suspected, don’t fear death in the same way, come to feel they have worth because of their creation, feel that there’s a way back from anything, because of forgiveness, healing, and resurrection. They challenge whole systems of oppression … and win the respect of all humanity. 12 guys and a bunch of women that hid in a room believed … and changed the world.

So now that the cat’s out of the bag, which life would you choose? The one where things make sense but are depressing, or the one where hope lives and anything can happen? It’s your choice. Amen.

 

Republicans Are Forgetting The People They Serve

I don’t usually pick on one party or the other, as both parties have problems, both parties have corruption and systemic issues, and neither of them particularly set high standards which live up to God’s call for justice and caring for our sisters and brothers in our country and around the world. With that in mind, let’s just talk about practical things. What are the parties saying they want to do for people, and what are they actually doing for people?

Remembering that the country has needed infrastructure repair since at least Obama arrived in Washington, the American people need roads, bridges, sewer lines, electrical lines, etc. that actually work.  They also, as every politician likes to point out, need jobs. So let’s see, we have work that must be done — not “it would be nice if we could get it done, actual “people will die if it isn’t done “. We also have unemployed people who need work to do.  What’s the solution to both of these issues? Let the people who need jobs do the work that has to be done! Who would employ them? Well, because they are federal roads and bridges and such, the owners of those bridges — the federal government — needs to hire them! 

Because the economic crisis seems to be about getting jobs for the less than educated White guy — the kind of guy who works in a coal mine because there’s no other work — the main constituency that voted for this President and demanded change — can be given a safer job that doesn’t pollute the environment in the same way that say, pouring coal dust into rivers, does. I’m not saying that construction jobs aren’t dangerous, but they are far less dangerous than working inside a mountain. 

Please hear me — these are the voters Hillary couldn’t get or care about either. Democrats didn’t notice them, but Republicans supposedly did. Have you seen a massive infrastructure plan yet? Me neither. Who’s in power? The Republicans. Whose President is this? The Republicans. Who blocked this bill when Obama tried to do it 8 years ago? Republicans. 

Why is it this way? Because the Republicans want to fight the Democrats more than they want to help the People. One of the “games” that is in the book “Games People Play” is called “Let’s You and Him Fight” in which the person controlling the situation convinces others to fight, so that they don’t have to get involved, or change. Another way to think about is the couples that come to see me for therapy argue about minor details of reality itself. The result of this is that nothing changes

As long as Republicans insist on fighting Democrats rather than the ills of society, and the needs of the people, it’s going to remain this way. Now, you may say that Democrats like to fight Republicans and nothing changes either, but Republicans have been openly antagonistic to Democrats since Reagan. Impeaching Clinton for years over an affair? Gee, no on else has ever had an affair in office… then the Birther movement for Obama, then years of Benghazi hearings for Hillary — with no charges actually brought? That’s harassment! 

So, here’s the thing to watch– will the current Party in Power spend more time accusing the Democrats or will they try to get actual work done for their constituents? Will there be an infrastructure bill? Will there be more fighting or more doing? With a majority everywhere, it shouldn’t be hard. And even if they need Democratic support, would it be such a bad thing if they tried to work with them? There are solutions out there. Republicans need to start using them.

Resisting in Peace,
John

Makin’ Money (with apologies to Ella Fitzgerald)

I don’t usually write lyrics, but this song just about wrote itself
Another lie, another tune
No more sunny afternoons, 

Any old reason, any old treason 

For makin’ money

A lot of trees, a lot of ice

Pruitt’s nervous; he answers twice

I don’t mind killin’

You know I’m willin’… for makin’ money
Picture a little for-est

Drown where the birdies sing.

Picture the same sweet for-est

Think what a year can bring
He’s got a hotel and real estate

He’s so ambitious, but second rate

Hey, don’t forget, folks

That’s what you get, folks, for laund’ring money
Another year or maybe less

What’s this I hear? Well, he won’t confess

The country’s neglected, and he’s suspected

Of takin’ money
Pence dines alone ‘most every night

Nunes stops in, after midnight

He says he’s busy. The press says, “Is he?”

He’s makin’ money
He doesn’t want much money

Only five thousand per

Workers who want their money?

Hey, “You’ll pay six to her!”
“But I’m not White, my school might fail”

Jeff Sessions says, “Right into jail”

Oh prison-keeper; I think it’s cheaper

We’re makin’ money
Betsy Devos, they say “we’ll keep her”

We know it’s cheaper

And we’re makin’ money…
Resisting with Peace,

John

Hillary Wasn’t The Problem, But Maybe She Wasn’t The Solution Either

Lately, in the midst of all the Bring Down Trump chaos, two other leaders have re-emerged into the spotlight. George W. Bush is trying to rebuild his image by being “not the worst president ever” and Hillary Clinton explaining that she shouldn’t have lost the election because of, well… any number of things, many now considered legitimate. 

But for me, the problem wasn’t that she was Hillary, th