Dear White People

Dear White Working-Class Persons—especially you White Working-Class Men:

I get to say this because I am one of you. I am white. I’m a Boomer. I’ve worked as a roofer and a liquor store clerk. I’ve harvested wheat in Kansas and tossed hay bales in Arkansas. I’ve also worked in advertising and in academia, and for the last 20 years I’ve been a pastor. That’s right, a clergy person—right now one royally, righteously pissed off and more than a little depressed clergy person. But I’m still the guy who puts new guts in the toilet at home when the parts wear out and the guy who knows how to patch the roof. I’m still the guy who struggles to balance the household budget. I still load up my motorcycle with a tent and a sleeping bag when I have to get away from it all and blow out the cobwebs. So I get to say this because I’m one of you.

Last night you screwed the pooch. Last night you took the final steps down a primrose path that is nothing but dust and feathers. You were led there as deftly as any pied piper ever absconded with the village children. And it didn’t just happen overnight or even during this latest election cycle.

You’ve been played.  For the past 35 years you’ve been listening to a very loud and very skewed story about how awful everything is for you. And yes, I know that things have been tough. Things have changed. The ground has shifted. Jobs have been tougher to come by and they pay less. You’ve got a legitimate beef.  But instead of looking at why all that is happening and what you can do about it and who maybe has some solutions, you just listened to the loud, sad, bad story of punditry which was really nothing more than a lot of finger-pointing in all the wrong directions.

Don’t you get it?  Well, clearly you don’t. It’s all been a big carnival trick of misdirection. All the Rush Limbaughs and Fox News Personalities convinced you that it was those nefarious (it’s a real word, you can look it up) Liberals who were to blame for all your troubles. And you bought their fertilizer by the bagful. And if any legitimate news source tried to give you some actual facts that didn’t agree with the story those windbags were spewing, they taught you to just dismiss it as “Liberal Media.” My God in Heaven, with all the competing information out there you had to choose to be ignorant.

And over and over again while you were memorizing their evil little song about how bad everything is, you let them guide you into making it worse. You let them lead you into electing people whose primary role has been to create schism and dysfunction. You let them pull you by the nose into electing people who manufactured the worst, longest-running war in our history out of nothing but fairy tales in the desert. You let them convince you that the people who were deepest in bed with the lobbyists, big money, big pharma, big oil and all the other special interests were, somehow, the best people to represent you!  You let them lead you into electing people who pulled the brakes and steering out of our financial industry so that they could crash the economy and make you pay for it!

You let them lead you into electing people who brought the whole government of the United States of America to a standstill. You let them tell you it’s a matter of principle, that you have to take a firm stand. Well guess what, compromise is also a principle. You can actually take a firm stand on that, too. Finding common ground is a principle. Finding a common vision is a principle. Opening doors so that everybody has a chance to enjoy those unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is a principle. And maybe if you had shut off the Angry Red channels for a week or two you would have heard a few interesting facts about where we stand and a few workable ideas about where we could go from here.

But no. You let them convince you that our government, itself, is at worst evil and at best incompetent. You swallowed their blame story about The President or The Party We Don’t Like. How could you not see how insane that is? Didn’t you study civics? Didn’t you learn about the balance of powers? Didn’t you understand that the balance of powers only works when there’s an effort to actually balance the powers? And didn’t you learn where the ultimate responsibility for all of this really lies? Didn’t you learn that WE ARE THE FREAKING GOVERNMENT??? Oh…you didn’t? Well that explains a lot.

So you let them make you angry. You let them take that cold little trickle of fear that everybody feels from time to time in our ever-changing world and convert it into a gleeful little flame of self-righteous anger. You let them take all the things that make you nervous—your discomfort with people of color, your discomfort with immigrants, your discomfort with different religions, your discomfort with LGBTQ people, your discomfort with women in positions of leadership, you discomfort with freakin’ CHANGE which is simply a fact of life—all your myriad little discomforts—you let them play on all those anxieties like a fiddle until they had you dancing down their lane right into the voting booth. And there you voted your fears instead of your hopes.

Don’t you ever ask yourself who wants you to believe what and why? Don’t you ever stop to think about the crap you’re hearing through your radio and TV and social media and ask who those pundits are working for and what’s their agenda? I’ve got news…your well-being is not their top priority.

But you followed them. Boy did you follow them. And this time they were led by the greatest showman since P.T. Barnum. Remember him? He’s the guy who said, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American People.” Yep. Last night you elected a showman. And face it, when all is said an done, that is all Donald Trump actually is. He sure isn’t a successful businessman, although he plays one on TV. He sure isn’t a family man, unless your idea of a good family man is a guy who blows through wives like candy and makes salacious comments about his own daughter. He sure isn’t a paragon of moral virtue. Do I even have to cite examples of how much he is NOT that? And for all his buddying up to the Fundagelical Religious Right, he sure as hell doesn’t look or smell much like a Christian to me. Yeah, I know. Judge not. I’m just saying, if I was his pastor, we’d have some words about the Word.

No, when all is said and done, Donald Trump is nothing more than a showman. He is P.T. Barnum writ larger than Barnum ever dared to portray himself and that’s saying something. Last night all y’all elected a huckster. A showman. I hope you like the show. The previews give me nightmares. May God forgive us all for electing entertainment over substance.

A Channel of Peace

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.The Prayer of St. Francis

We are crossing the equinox once again. This is the time of year when we get busy again. The schedule shifts back into high gear. Meetings and classes resume. Choirs starts up again. Certain dates loom large on the calendar. Reformation. Advent. Christmas. Election Day. We begin to cram more things into less time and, while there’s a certain kind of comfort in all the momentum, there’s also the increased anxiety that comes from a fuller calendar. “Anxiety is the garden in which sin grows,” said St. Augustine, and it’s easy to see why. This year, especially, with all the violence that has filled the news and with an acrimonious election cycle building to a climax, anxiety seems to be washing over our world, our nation, and our communities in waves. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom,” says Jesus (Luke 12:32). I don’t know about you, but I find myself praying more fervently than ever, “Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”

Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

 Much as I would like for God to hurry up and simply give us the kingdom, it seems to me as I look at the long sweeps of human history that God has been giving us the kingdom all along, making God’s divine rule a reality on earth as it is in heaven in a very slow but inexorable process. Oh…so…slow, this process—more than two thousand years in the making so far. And it’s been precarious every step of the way. That’s because God, in God’s wisdom, knows that the systems by which we operate—the systems that tend to create winners and losers, insiders and outsiders, the systems that encourage us to see life as competition rather than collaboration—the systems of the world won’t be transformed into something that benefits everyone until the people of the world are transformed. God knows that if the divine values of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control were simply imposed on us they would be brittle and false; they would crumble and leave cynical bitterness behind. But when this fruit of the Spirit grows in each of us organically and naturally, when we cultivate it in our internal life it gives us a resilience and strength that enables us to meet the nastier currents of our time with deep-rooted grace. When antagonism, depression, conflict, impatience, meanness, stinginess, faithlessness, violence, and self-indulgence are abroad in the land we, as followers of Jesus, must stand against them, but we must draw from the deep wells of grace, love and truth in doing so. When the voices of misogyny, bigotry, racism, separatism, and scapegoating are loud and strident in the land, we who are disciples of Jesus must, as gently as possible but as firmly as necessary say No. That is not the way forward. That is not who we are called to be. That way lies dystopia—that road leads to hell, not heaven. “Beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

 Christ tells us that we are the light of the world and that idea is affirmed throughout the Scriptures. “For once you were darkness but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light.” (Ephesians 5:8) The work we do together, the thinking we do together, the lives we live together are God’s antidote to forces that would divide us and set us at each other’s throats. As we cross this Autumnal Equinox, as the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer, it’s easy to feel sometimes as if the darkness is winning. But we are children of light; we have the light within us and as the nights grow colder the light and love of Christ can keep our hearts warm if we remain conscientious and faithful in gathering together.

“Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25) We gather together in all kinds of congregations.  We gather together in our places of worship.  We gather together, often spontaneously, in like-minded communities in social media.  We gather together in community events.  The important thing for us to remember as we gather, though, is that “provoking” each other to love and good deeds should be the highest priority.  It’s so easy to simply form echo chambers for our biases and pre-conceived ideas, but if that’s all we’re doing it would probably be better if we didn’t see each other so much, online or elsewhere. There is already more than enough acrimony, bigotry, and mutually reinforced deafness bouncing off the walls of the world without us adding to it.

“Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” (James 1:19-20)  I’m thinking of getting that tattooed on my right forearm where I’ll see it all the time.  My anger does not produce God’s righteousness.  On the contrary, when I release it into the blogosphere or let it bounce down the labyrinths of social media it simply adds to the strident blare that deafens us to each other.  The light of compassion, grace and honesty can illuminate and bring clarity to the dark corners of our collective psyche, but the glare of anger and opposition simply blinds us to each other.

I’m writing all this to myself  more than to anyone else.  I’ve needed to give myself a good talking-to for a while now.  This political season has not always brought out the best in me.  I have a tendency to do some of my most exquisitely pointed and logical writing when I’m good and pissed off.  Anger is my pony and I tend to ride that baby till it drops. I need to remind myself that “if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and have all knowledge, if I have faith to move mountains but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:2) My anger does not produce God’s righteousness.  There’s a time for anger.  It is sometimes a useful and necessary tool.  Sometimes.  But it’s not a safe place to live, and I, for one, have been spending far too much time in Angryland.  When your eyes adjust to the glare you begin to realize that it’s really a very dark place

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on the lampstand and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

Now is the time. Let your light shine.  Make me a channel of your peace.

(Written 9/16/2016, revised 10/5/16)