What To Do? What To Do?

It is one of the tenets of pacifism that violence begets violence.  Clearly, there are people on the far right who have violence in their soul and we have seen their behavior. By “the far right”, I mean people listed below. There are lots of people who are center-right, or at least there were pre-Reagan. Yes, it’s been that long.

Let me be clear here: neo-Nazis, the KKK, and White Supremacists and any administration that supports them are hateful, and I abhor their behavior and their rhetoric. Period. Full stop.

Ok. That said, I worry that anger — even righteous anger — might become hateful rhetoric and hateful speech. I don’t know what to say about the tearing down of statues by a mob, for a number of philosophical reasons, but I’m against the defacing of public property or art or historical statues. I will acknowledge that I don’t feel oppressed by them, and that bias may disqualify parts of my argument. I was always taught that Totalitarian regimes are all the same: They want to control everything… tell their story in glory and begin by removing everyone else’s. I swear with every fiber of my being: we don’t want to go down that path.

I think that if we delete history, we can’t learn from it.  Twenty years from now, if all the statues of the Civil War are removed, some young person will deny that the Civil War ever happened, and say that there were never slaves in America, because “Americans could never be that mean. We’re too decent for that”.  We’re not too decent for that. We need to always remember that evil can be a part of the human condition — even the American human condition. 

Besides the history part, there’s the “art” part. If we can tear down one form of art (statues) because it offends us, what’s to say we can’t tear down any art? Who determines? Any tactic that Pol Pot, Mao Tse Tung, Hitler and ISIS use is not something a civilized country should be doing. 

So what to do? As I understand it, the mayor of Charlottesville was not “taking down” a statue of Robert E. Lee. He was, after lengthy discussion, moving it to another park, and putting it next to another statue to add context. More perspective, more facts, more history is never a bad thing. 

(To be honest, like the statue of the little girl in front of the “Market Bull” with her hand out,  surrounding the Lee statue with statues of slaves giving it “the finger” would seem like appropriate context to me.  I don’t think Jesus would agree, however, so that’s out.) In any case, there’s always more than one choice on how to respond to things. Deciding just using rage, with no intellect at all, is a bad idea most of the time. We need to avoid that.

So, what is a Christian response to the hateful people at Charlottesville? Jesus says we are supposed to “love our enemies and pray for those that persecute you”. I know that’s the goal, but I’m not there yet — right now, not even close. As a temporary measure, though, and one even non-Christians can do, I can love their enemies. Here’s my proposal: For every time that people are bullied, abused, threatened, demeaned or killed by a hateful person, we should support the person (or someone else like them in the case of killing) at least twice. 

For instance, if a Jewish cemetery has ten graves destroyed, we should attend twenty synagogues to further our support. An Asian man is threatened with internment? We should guarantee his safety for twice the length of his possible jail term. If somebody insults a woman, the woman should get two hugs immediately afterwards. Fifty gay people shot in Orlando? One hundred Pride parades ought to help. An African-American is killed, society should take care of the person’s children twice as long as the person remains dead. 

To practice this, let me use a real case. Last week, Rev. Traci Blackmon was in a church praying when a thousand guys showed up with tiki torches lit, scaring the daylights out of her. For every idiot with a torch, we should do two kind things for her, another African-American, woman, or pastor. Two thousand acts of kindness for her or in her name ought to balance things out a bit. 

As I think about it, democracy being a relationship, psychology might have something to say. John Gottman, a world famous couples therapist, says that in order for a marriage to work, for every one negative experience, there must be at least five positive ones! Think about that! One hundred supportive acts for the synagogue, 5 periods of safety for the threatened Asian man, 5 hugs for the verbally abused woman, 250 Pride parades for every gay murder, 5 lifetimes of support for the families of lynching victims, and 5,000 acts of kindness for Traci Blackmon or for African-Americans, women, or pastors! 

Yesterday’s event in Boston is a good start, it seems to me, but there’s still a lot of kindness needed to keep democracy afloat. We should get to work on that now.
Resisting with Peace,

John

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His Lips Are Moving — Trust, Power, and the Presidency

An alcoholic friend of mine used to tell this joke: “How can you tell when an alcoholic is lying? Their lips are moving”.   In therapy, I have changed that to “active” alcoholic because I know plenty of recovering addicts who are trustworthy.  I don’t know if Donald Trump is an alcoholic or an addict, but he now finds himself in the position of many an active addict. No one believes him because his lips — and his surrogates’ lips — are moving.

My mother used to say, “If you tell the truth the first time, you don’t have to remember what you said”.  The entire administration right now is in trouble simply because they broke my mother’s rule. When Sarah Huckabee Sanders says anything, she doesn’t know what the last thing President Trump said was. The President says, “blah, blah, blah” and she says, “No, the President didn’t say that”. Reporters play her a tape of the President and he says, “blah, blah, blah” and now she stammers or yells, as though volume changes the truth. Twenty minutes later, the President tweets or gives an interview where he says something altogether different, and now the Secretary of Defense has to say “that’s not what he said” or “that’s not what he meant” or “yes” and “no” are the same thing”. 

The fact of the matter is that no one believes what Donald Trump says anymore, because of this. If this were a family of a drunk, when tweets come at 3 in the morning, people would be saying, “Daddy’s been drinking again”, and everyone would try to ignore him. But, like that family, they’d never be able to sleep with less than one eye open, in case Daddy follows through with his threat, because Daddy’s a mean drunk. 

How else to describe a man who vowed to replace Obamacare his first day in office, then celebrated with the House when they voted his way, and later called that same vote “mean”? I don’t hear Paul Ryan suggesting anything since then.  Now that he is doing the same to Mitch McConnell, and Jeff Sessions, at some point they will give up on him, too.

So, Charlottesville happened and he sort of says it’s wrong, but nobody believes he meant it. David Duke says, “I’m taking him at his word”. The press says, “we’re taking him at his word”. Now “the White House” says he’s against neo-Nazis, and no one believes him. He threatens North Korea and no one knows what to think.  They ask generals and they say one thing. Trump says another. The press sees them both and no one on earth sleeps with less than one eye open, while the Secretary of State says everyone should sleep well, and we don’t take him seriously.

Anyone who attaches themselves to Trump gets to tell lies, or yells to be believed. Ask Sean Spicer. The Democrats never liked him, and the Republicans are starting to no longer attach themselves to him. Pretty soon, Trump will realize that he’s all alone. In the meantime, I wouldn’t expect anything to happen in Washington. I, personally, am ok with that. Even if Trump wakes up “sober” from whatever his problem, it will take years for us to believe him. By then, it’s 2018. If anyone is looking for Federal help that requires a Presidential action, they have a long wait. Just sayin’.

Resisting with Peace, 
John

Hate Loses When It “Wins”

“We are going to win so much, you’ll get sick of winning” –Donald Trump

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” — Gandhi

“A house divided against itself cannot stand” — Abraham Lincoln, paraphrasing  Jesus
I have to say that when Donald Trump talked about “winning”, I didn’t think he meant nuclear war, or war with Venezuela, or human beings defeating the environment, or an America where White would “win” over Black, where the Klan would surround a church with torches on the campus of The University of Virginia.

And yet, that is where are. Whether North Korea or Venezuela is “defeated”, whether the EPA “wins” for business, whether the Alt-right “wins” with it’s agenda remains to be seen, the problem begins with the whole premise that hate wins anything. If we have defeated North Korea but there’s a hole in our planet, what have we won? If businesses have no place to put their factories due to climate change, what have they won? If Klansmen re-fight the Civil War and destroy American Democracy in the process, what have they won? They win the right to fight among themselves in an ongoing battle of supremacy until only one person is left, and there’s no one left to celebrate with.

If love wins, if sharing wins, if kindness wins, we have a planet, an environment that thrives, and an America worth living in. We have seen both of these things in my lifetime, but the stark reality of the contrast was never so apparent as it is today. Ultimately, I believe that God’s love will win — in the truest sense of the word– whether the planet survives or not. I believe that death is never the final word.

But like all things, we should learn in small ways and correct our path when when we see where we are headed. We must stand firm against hate by practicing  love for each other. We must stand firm against radical exclusion by radical inclusion of all of God’s people. We must love humanity by caring for the environment. We must see each other as children of the living God, because that’s what we are. Hate attempts to deny this Truth by thinking it is an “alternative fact”.  God can win now, or God can win later. We, however, must choose now.

Resisting with Peace, 
John

I Saw Heaven in Bridgeport– Cathedral of The Holy Spirit and Holy City COGIC

Life has kicked my rear-end this year. I’m not exactly sure when I stopped noticing, but apparently it happened somewhere along the line. It started the morning that President Trump got elected. “What if he did all the things he said he would? Would my friends be safe?”, I thought. I would go to work and my clients would ask me if they would be. It became apparent that I didn’t have an answer.

Also in transition: my entire family structure. My eldest daughter began applying for school, finishing her senior year, and now prepares to move out. My wife got a job in another state and comes home weekly, which meant I was being more of a full-time parent. My youngest daughter went to China for two weeks. All of these were highlights in some way, but they required adjustments, which I made at some energy cost, I’m sure.  Also, as good as all of these things are, they cost money, so there was financial strain this year. In a few years, when our youngest leaves, my wife and I will have to figure out what the future holds.

I started a new interim pastorate part time, nearly finished a book on my last one, continued blogging and generally kept busy. A few weeks ago, I realized that — due to this schedule — I hadn’t a day off to myself for awhile. I had begun to see friends I hadn’t seen in a while to make that happen. It, too, was a good thing, but the drives were long (but worth it). My health was suffering due to my own choices of food, eating out, and not exercising. In addition to everything else, my body was giving out, or at least it felt like it. It occurred to me on my way home that a life-time of things that I believed in was being threatened, lost, or in flux lately. I was depleted in ways I didn’t even know I could be depleted

Then there was death. My uncle Joe died. My aunt ‘Nita died. My friend Gordon had a stroke, an 80th birthday party, and recently died. Oh, and Congress threatened my health care – again and again and again. Jeff Sessions threatens gains that had been made, North Korea threatened to shoot missiles at us, our country officially doesn’t believe in global warming as the weather gets weirder, and is being undone every day. All of these reminders of death and ongoing threat got to me. I was worn out. I needed to both rest and recuperate. I needed hope, young fresh faces, and a lot of time with God. This was going to be difficult in one day, but I had to try. I would go to Bridgeport and catch African-American worship with friends.

When I walked into the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit’s 11am worship, Bee Thompson and her husband Vernon. Conscious of my Whiteness, and the knowledge that people can get used to having their own space, I moved myself back a few rows when the uniformed deacons sat me up front. I wasn’t energetic enough to worship in typical African-American worship style yet and was just wanting to be fed for a while.

Worship began with singing and the choir keeping up with the soloist as the bass-player’s groove got underneath it. Backed by the drummers, the choir made it hard to feel dead in place. Still, I didn’t have the energy to be alive yet. Besides that, I felt tears well up as I thought about Gordon and Cy and Deering and how much loss there was.

At the Passing of the Peace, though, things made sense suddenly. We have a passing of the peace at my church and people are really very friendly. I value the physical contact of handshakes and occasional hugs there, but this morning — with the music pulsing in my veins already, the passing of the peace felt electric as people I didn’t know shook my hand. A young couple two seats over approached and the woman gave me a hug. I was immediately taken back to Deering in my mind. Ashley Montague’s book, Touching speaks about skin and our need for touch. I first heard about it at Deering, when hugs were freely given, and my friend Paula Richards offered back rub workshops. I came to long for hugs, and contact with the world at the time. I had forgotten how little hugging I do in my life now and how important touch is. I look forward to it with my Deering friends at Gordon’s funeral and the next day at Deering (now called “The Wilds”).

Pastor apparently wasn’t there on the Sunday I attended, being at a conference of his denomination, so a man known as “Prophet Darius Nixon” on the Facebook Page strode to the pulpit and his choice of scripture that day spoke to my need. When I’m depressed, or overwhelmed, I often think there’s something wrong with my call or my spirituality. The two verse scripture was repeated over and over: “the anointing of God is upon you”. We were then asked to turn to our neighbor on our left and right and say that to our neighbors. As I write this, I am immediately reminded of my first year at Deering, when Peter Wells had our small group jumping up and down and saying, “I am somebody! You are somebody! Together, we are somebody!” Later I understood that Jesse Jackson had used those words, as well. And now, here it was, 2017, and I was surrounded by people who told me I was anointed by God! I happily shared that message with my brothers and sisters in Christ! My ministry was confirmed.

After the scripture, the very first thing he said went right to my heart. When he began speaking about anointing by God, he said, “Most people in this room are culturally conditioned to dance when they feel the anointing of God. There are other people who respond differently, through hymns and praise and prayer. They are not less spiritual or less anointed. They are just culturally conditioned to respond differently.”  Having just sat through a committee meeting where someone was appalled that I thought Jesse Jackson was a great man, and shut me out after that, I just wanted to say “You think these people (whom you’ve never met) hate you and here they are being culturally sensitive to your worship!” In addition to that, in our broken and divisive world bent on keeping us apart, here was a man talking about racial unity – being together under God!

The next thing he said was that all of the things we’d been going through were the beginning of something new, that our plans were anointed and that, when we are totally helpless and feeling of no use to God, that is when God works. He pointed out that Moses was a murderer when called to confront Pharaoh by God. If even a murderer (which I’m not) could be used by God, anyone could. Knowing my clients, I already believe that, but even in the depths of depression, with whatever faults I might have, it was nice to hear that I still have some purpose in life. Yes, once again Gordon popped into my head. This message that when you’re strung out with stress and feel like your career/life choice is a big mistake, Gordon (led by the Spirit) would show up. It occurred to me that Gordon was here in Bridgeport even after his death. This was indeed, heaven I was witnessing. I remembered the wider Deering community, and my colleagues, and I knew that — if God was still here on earth, we would be showing up for each other for the rest of our days!  David Hauser’s co-ordination of a reunion at Deering was already a symbol of that. The worship at Cathedral of the Holy Spirit reminded me that God was still here — and so was my community.

[On a more professional note: I’m also preaching about Moses and journeying all summer, so it was great to hear someone else talk about the text.]

The prophet followed this with the thought that “it was the year of the underdog” and that God was going to strengthen our (my?) business ventures if they are anointed by God. As my daughter goes off to college and I worry about what decisions to make for her financial health and my own financial well-being, I thought to myself, “See, this guy gets it! What do poor people need to hear? That they’ll have money, that they can pay their bills. A simple, direct solution that politicians don’t seem to get. Money allows you to feel like you have some control of your life. It doesn’t take a lot of money to do it, but it does take some. When poor folks pay their bills, they feel worthy, that they are contributing to society, viable and all kinds of things. When you can’t do that, you feel horrible. When the man on the news, or in the White House, tells you that you’re lazy because you don’t have a job, he’s saying things you already think. Here, the preacher gave folks hope. From a cynics view, I can hear people saying, “He’s just telling people what they want to hear!”, as though that were the problem. Like all prophecy, it may or not come true, and we’ll see in time, but giving people hope and a sense of security in a religious context does wonders for the poor person’s soul. As someone who grew up poor, I will probably always be that inside, and I was once again inspired.

After that , the church moved to doing communion. They used plastic cups with wafers on them, sealed in plastic which was very, very foreign to me, but they used the Words of Institution, same as my church, and the universality of God’s presence connected with me.

Finally, my diabetes does much better when I exercise, and given the amount of physicality and movement during the service, I even felt a bit of my health come back.

So… in one service I felt better physically, emotionally, spiritually, and politically. Check, check, check, and check. My belief that unity in Christ is possible was confirmed.

After worship, my soul was restored even further by lunch. Bee and Vernon, a newlywed couple (a year or two?) suggested Joe’s American Bar and Grill in Fairfield. The food was fine, but the company was better. Vernon works with Special Needs kids (which I did during my internship in Grad School) and Bee is working to become a school counselor, though she now works with the severely needy population at an agency (which I also did in Grad School). In their 30’s, they are the kind of leaders the civil rights movement believed we could all be. I know both of their parents, and I know that their parents instilled in them a real need for education to become good people. I believe they both also grew up in the Bridgeport Public Schools — public schools being another thing we’re losing in this country under the Betsy Devos and her ilk. I don’t think either of them want to be leaders in a community. They just want to be good people. That makes them part of the world I want to live in, and a generation of “millenials” or “Gen X” who aren’t self-centered does my heart good.

After lunch, I went back to church, but this time I went to Holy City Church of God in Christ to see my friends Patricia Holden-Ginyard and Rev. Kevin Ginyard, Sr. This was a very different experience than the last one, but just as valid, just as freeing, and just as much what I needed. When I arrived, a young lady approached me and said, “You must be John Madsen-Bibeau. I understand you were a good friend of my grandfather”. Realizing that this was a Ginyard daughter and Bishop Ivory Holden’s grand-daughter, I was pleased to say “Yes, indeed, I am”. She explained that her parents weren’t there yet, but were excited to see me.

A few minutes later, Kevin came in and said, “Good to see you. It may be just you and us today, but we’re glad to see you. He said, “I see you’ve met Noel, our Psalmist”. Lady Pat came out later gave me a big hug. Both she and Kevin looked tired or like they had been sick or something, but when Pat got to praying, she came alive. Maybe they were depressed about the size of the congregation, but as one who has tried to start a small church, I know how much work it is. Further, as someone who pastored in the city, I am aware of how hard it is getting people to come to church. I felt watching worship like I did watching Joan Osbourne in a half-filled club: what a waste! Talent and Spirit like this with few people to witness it.

Apparently, Noel cared about as much as Joan Osbourne did, because she was singing and praying with all the joy in the world. Just her and the organist/pianist Adam made the place come alive — praying and playing off each other in the name of God. She was pure joy! Kevin prayed, Pat read scripture, and once again — for the second time that day — I felt at home. Kevin preached on not making excuses when God knows what we’re doing anyway. I thought of KellyAnne Conway and Donald Trump and that whole crew, and I felt sane again with Kevin’s words. Reality was reality. There is a truth, even if you pretend there’s not. Leaders take responsibility and deal in the Truth of what they have created, according to Rev. Ginyard. Oh, that his words could echo in the halls of the White House! Yes, he mentioned Trump by  name, which also thrilled me — not because it was Trump — but because he talked about politics in church — something anathema in many White churches. Again, it was reality, and the church’s connection to it that was allowed to be spoken. Kevin was the Communications Director for a Truthful God, unlike the crazy-making of this administration. It was great to be real!

In addition, Pastor Ginyard was like older preachers I knew — literate. He spoke about things written in Greek, and spoke with a vocabulary that let you know he wasn’t a simple man. The bulletin had creeds in it to be read aloud.The church had it’s own slogan, and there were fancy bulletins to keep track of worship. In that sense, it was no different than my own church.   It was a joy to watch him preach in what felt like a home, among friends, as though the service had been at his house. I don’t know how he felt about the crowd, but the Spirit was flowing and I, for one, enjoyed it.

People had straggled in during worship and once again, I did communion — now at this church. Holy City used unleavened bread, and the Words of Institution, just as the other church had, and my church does. Because the Spirit was flowing everywhere that day, I felt the Church Universal as I thought about my church, their church, the other church, and Deering.

Though he acknowledged I was just there to be fed, the Pastor asked me to come up and say something. Feeling better now, I did. I prayed and talked about the unity I felt. I look forward to preaching at Holy City one day, having now been asked.

At the end of the day, after nearly 5 hours of worship, and a great lunch, it was time to go home, and so I did. My Spirit was healed. My body felt good. I felt surrounded by a community of love in all parts of my life. My faith in humanity had been restored. I could find my faith in God once again.

I saw heaven in Bridgeport.

Resisting in Peace,

John

P.S. Here are pictures of the good people I mentioned…

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Bee Thompson and Vernon Thompson

 

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Noel Ginyard, Holy City