Tuesday, December 06, 2016


I've been reading Father Gregory Boyle's wonderful book Tattoos on the Heart.  It is a collection of inspiring and heart-breaking stories from his years of ministry with gang members in LA.  A story from chapter six (and Father Boyle's interpretation of it) particularly resonated with me today and related to things I've been thinking about.

In the aftermath of the election I've been thinking a lot about community and about the way we relate to other folk, near and far.  One morning as he arrived at his office for work, Junior called out from his second story apartment window, "Love you G dog!"

Father Boyle answered back, "Thank you Junior.  That was a very nice thing to say."

Boyle goes on, "He waves me on as if papally blessing me on my day. 'O come on now G, you know.  You're in my jurisdiction.'"

In the interpretation of the story, Boyle observes that the gang members have very limited jurisdictions, areas and communities they know and for which they care.  He doesn't outright say but implies that the barriers at the edge of those jurisdictions are as solid as they can be.  He goes on that our call as Christians is to widen our jurisdictions.

As I've been watching the aftermath of the election both in the larger world and in my heart this call speaks loudly.  We all have a variety of concentric jurisdictions, with each further one getting a little less commitment and caring.  The primary jurisdiction is always the one that gets our deepest commitment.  Sometimes the barriers are porous.  Sometimes they are as solid as they can be.  We all have a point at which the jurisdictions end. 

Personally, before the election I would have felt that my primary jurisdiction was pretty big... or at least my second one was.  Afterwards, I see it was not nearly as large as I thought, but that the barrier between it and the next level was extremely porous.  After the election, everything in my heart, which had been deeply hurt and disappointed, wanted to shore up that barrier and close up any openings shutting out those beyond my closest jurisdictions.

It is frightening to open those barriers and it is dangerous.  The more open you are, the more vulnerable you feel.  It could be argued that that fear is exactly what fueled the election... fear of the one outside of my jurisdiction taking something that is rightfully mine.  And so the walls go up both literal and figurative.  Our role is to risk... to tear down the walls and to see whoever is standing on the other side as "in my jurisdiction."

An observation... we would hope that our elected leaders are people who have wide jurisdictions that at the very least include everyone in the nation along with the ecosystem.  It is better yet when the barrier to their next level is porous and yearns for the very best not only for the US but the rest of the world.

Sometimes we have had leaders like that.  More often they fall short.  Unfortunately there is something about the role of elected leader that calls to the narcissist. The narcissist's jurisdiction is as narrow as it can possibly be... it ends at their own skin.  The only time they care about anyone or anything else is when it impacts them.  A talented narcissist can be charming and even effective... but it is all about ME... ALWAYS. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Election 2016 #6 - my fantasy

From everything I can see, I do not believe that Donald Trump ever actually wanted or expected to be president.  I truly think he was just screwing with us all.  Now that he has won and we see the amazing disarray and ineptitude of his transition team, I have to wonder whether he is looking for a way out.

OK, this is a fantasy and I have zero expectation that it will happen... but it could happen.  Indeed, I believe there are really good reasons to make it happen.  So, maybe we should float this idea out there in hopes it gets Trump's ear.  If it catches your imagination, share it far and wide.

So... first some factual observations.

Trump's presidency will be a failure.  He cannot possibly meet the expectations of those who voted for him and they will come after him with pitchforks and torches in 2 and then 4 years.  His brand will be destroyed.  History will dismiss him.  As a narcissist, this is the worst possible outcome for Trump.

The electors of the electoral college can vote for whoever they want.  Even in states where they are legally required to vote for the winner of their state, the penalty for not doing so is very small.

If Trump were to become president and then resign, that would make Pence president... and from everything I can see, Trump does not share any ideological beliefs with Pence so Trump would not want that outcome.  Plus resigning would be embarrassing. 

Here's the fantasy... Trump could send his minions to privately see the electors and encourage them to switch their votes and put Hillary in.  We're still not sure how many electors he actually has but likely a switch of about 25 would do the trick, maybe a few more.  They could justify their switch as trying both to fulfill the original intent of the electoral college to keep unfit candidates from winning AND as honoring the will of the majority.  As of this writing, HRC has won the popular vote by over 1 million votes.  Alexander Hamilton saw the role of the electors to ensure that  “the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”  Duh!

So what does Trump get in my fantasy?  He doesn't have to fail at president.  He can yell all he wants that the election was rigged against him and become not only the leader of his base but also a martyr for their cause.  His dream of a media empire will take off like wildfire.  He could become the true leader of a new political movement and perhaps even a new political party.  None of his shady dealings with foreign governments need ever come out.  If, and I do mean if, he has any degree of patriotism in him, he gets to save the US from a disaster he has to know is coming if he becomes president.

So, Donald, are you up for this?

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Election 2016 #5 - now what?

Like many other folk, I found myself reeling at the results of the presidential election.  I had difficulty understanding why anyone would vote for Donald Trump.  I was (and am) afraid of what the future might bring.  I posted a statement on Facebook - "I wonder whether this is a country in can live in."  By that I meant that I was considering emigrating somewhere.  I did play some of those scenarios out and indeed, depending on what happens with medical insurance, I may have to.  Since last Wednesday I've thought differently... it most definitely is not a country in which I want to live, so I am committing myself to work harder to make it the country in which I do want to live.  OK, now what?  What do we do?

None of these thoughts are original.  I've listened a lot to Van Jones recently.  Some of what he has said is reflected here.  I also found an article by Masha Gessen on how to live under an autocratic ruler that I found extremely helpful. 

There is a phrase that's going around (from Salena Zito?) in a number of slightly different variations, "Trump's supporters take him seriously but not literally while his detractors take him literally but not seriously."  I will take him seriously now and I will continue to take him literally.  Gessen's first rule is to believe what the autocrat says.  When Trump says he wants to make Muslims register, believe him.  When Trump says he will repeal the ACA, believe him.  When he says he wants to deport 11 million people, believe him.  When he says that women who have abortions should be prosecuted, believe him.  Now it is possible that he didn't mean what he said in at least a few instances but I would rather be prepared for the worst than be surprised when he follows up.  It is possible that even the Republicans will stand against some of his excesses (although I doubt that) and he won't be able to accomplish some of his plans.  Be vigilant and be ready.

Be aware of what he actually said but also how he has followed up in action.  He spoke out against racists (rather softly) but then turned around and hired Steve Bannon.

Watch those behind the scenes.  Trump does not seem to have any real ideology.  Those behind him do.  

Work to build relationships and community so we can stand against the damages his administrations wants to do.  Be a part of a religious body that takes seriously the calls of faith.  If you can't do religion, get together with a bunch of other people regularly an build something that is working towards being the Blessed Community.  You can't change the world alone but together...

And be persistent.  Wilburforce took 13 years to get his anti-slavery bill passed.  As Hillary quoted in her concession speech, "So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time if we do not give up. (Gal. 6:9, NRSV)

Listen to those who voted for Trump and keep the truth in front of them.  I truly believe we have a lot in common.  I was not happy with the direction of the nation either and felt disappointed that Obama did not push more aggressively.  I think we have at least some common goals.  Let's find them and hold them up.  Then, remind them when Trump fails to meet their expectations, as he will, and continue to point out the evils there.  Most importantly, build relationships across lines.

Be outraged.  It is tempting to look for ways to find the good in Trump.  There may indeed be some areas where he does some good things.  Do not allow that to dim your vision.  See what is outrageous and call it out. 

In two years we have the midterm elections.  Throw the Republicans out.  OK, I know it isn't that simple but those of us standing against the goals of this administration must organize and work to turn things around.  A Democratic House and Senate would make things soooooo much easier.  More Democratic legislatures and executives at the state level would make standing for what is right and good so much easier.  Let us put everything we can into making that happen.

Work hard on the issues that are critical.  We must stand with our Muslim friends.  If they do try to register Muslims, be registered as a Muslim.  I commit to do so.  Work with Democratic legislators to guard the SCOTUS.  Work to do all we can to meet the challenges of climate change.

Work to provide a safe place for those communities most threatened by this political change.

Finally, remember that time is on our side.  The arc of history is long but it always bends towards justice.  The fears that motivated the alt-right in this election are based in reality.  The nation is becoming more diverse in every way.  That cannot be stopped.  Millenials didn't show up nearly as much as they needed to, but the election map of those under 25 is almost completely blue.  Yes, the map that went around immediately following the election was not accurate and reflected polling from a few weeks before the election but the real one still looks like this

Time is on our side.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Election 2016 #4 more personal

I thought this was one of the most important comments on Tuesday evening as election results came in.  It is a real and deeply important question - what does the elction of Donald Trump say to our children and grandchildren?  In electing him we have legitimized his behavior - after all we chose him to be the leader of the USA.  We have legitimized bullying.  We have legitimized sexual predation.  We have legitimized bigotry.  We have legitimized racism.  Racism, bigotry, predation, and bullying were a part of the American experience but before Tuesday we worked against them all.  People were embarrassed to be bigoted and careful to express those kinds of thoughts.  Now even those who previously called themselves "morals voters" have put their stamp of approval on all of the above.

I do not want my grandson to see Donald Trump as a man whose behavior he is to emulate.  I don't want him to see a world where a man like that is rewarded with the highest office in the land.  I don't want him to believe that any of those things are OK.  Ever.

I do not want my granddaughter to grow up in a country where the leader brags about committing sexual battery and churches lift him up as their choice.  I don't want her to ever experience being touched by any man without first giving her consent.

I don't want my Muslim, immigrant, gay friends to live in a nation where they must live in fear.

Yet, we are already seeing a multitude of reports of all of these kinds of behaviors on the rise.

On Tuesday I posted a comment on Facebook - I wonder whether this is a country in which I can live...  I was pondering the possibility of moving somewhere else... Today, my answer is still "no," but my path is not to leave.  I was too complacent before.  No longer.  I will work harder and harder to make this the country in which I want to live.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Election Results 2016 - let's get personal #1

OK... one of the issues we hear about most regarding the Obama years is the ACA and more than once I heard people say that "Hillary will double down on Obamacare."  Trump has said that on day 1 he will repeal the ACA.  I'm not sure how that is possible but... From what I can see the closest that the GOP has come to a proposed alternative is Paul Ryans 37 pages of talking points (it lists goals but doesn't really say how we get to any of them... and as the ACA has shown, the proof really is in the implimentation) or Trump's promise of something better with no details and as far as anyone from the outside can see, no work having been done on what would be a tremendously complex issue.  Of course, the option of just repealing the ACA without replacing it with any legislative alternative is a real possibility... with all of the attendant chaos that would bring.

This one is very personal for me.  I have an hereditary condition called heterozygous familial hyperlipidemia.  What that means is that my liver doesn't fully function with regards to processing cholesterol and I end up with crazy high numbers of the bad kind (when I was first tested, my overall cholesterol was 613).  That results in severe artery disease.  Most of the men in my biological family died of heart attacks in their thirties (my father at 31).  That means that on the private market I am simply uninsurable.

When it was discovered that I have this condition, my arteries were in very bad shape to the point that surgical intervention would do no good.  I had not had a heart attack though.  The medications (expensive) work very well for me and my cholesterol has been under control for nearly 30 years.  I still have not had a heart attack and some of the arterial damage has healed itself.

Under the old system, health insurance differed dramatically from one state to another.  In New York, I got excellent insurance at a reasonable price through the local council of churches which acted as a group.  In California, I had to get it either through the denomination or as private insurance.  Private was not available to me.  Period.  The broker literally laughed when he saw the medical history portion of my application.  So we got it through the denomination which, because everyone who could get insurance cheaper had moved to another source, became a group of older individuals with more medical issues.  I got insurance... but the year prior to the ACA, it cost nearly $4000 a month for my spouse and I.  Yes.  That is the correct number of zeros.  When the ACA was implemented, that program disappeared because nobody was able for it to continue.  Even under the ACA, our insurance started at $2000 a month... but that still was a savings of over $24000 a year.

Long story short... if the ACA is repealed without a replacement that provides insurance to people like me at a reasonable cost, I will likely die.  I'm not trying to be dramatic here... only stating a reasonable understanding of what will happen.

Before the ACA, 45,000 died each year from the results of lack of insurance.  20 million people who had been uninsured got health insurance under the ACA.  That number dropped significantly.  If the ACA is repealed without a suitable replacement, we'll be looking at those numbers again... and I will likely be one of them.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Election 2016 Results #2

A newspaper writer in Pittsburgh commented a few weeks ago that those who opposed Trump took him literally but not seriously while those who supported his candidacy took him seriously but not literally.

Today we see they were both wrong.  Trump is as serious as a heart attack (I choose that metaphor purposefully) and that is precisely because of his plans... plans that will likely be unimpeded since he'll have a Republican congress and, at least theoretically, a partisan judiciary.

11 million people deported... imagine what that does to our economy.  And then imagine what that does to the places to which they are sent.

The ACA repealed... Perhaps as many as 20 million people who had been uninsured, who got insurance under the ACA, now uninsured again.  45,000 annual deaths in the US due to lack of insurance before the ACA and we'll be back there again.  I have a very good chance of being one of them... more in a later post.

Fundamental threats to the freedom of the press and to the civilized transfer of the political process ("lock her up," or worse, "execute her").

Trade agreements torn up.

Social safety net shredded and replaced with privatized schemes.

Bigotry being enshrined under the cloak of religious freedom

Any desire to address the biggest issue we face today - climate change - in a substantive way is simply discarded.

People of color and LGBTQ folk being completely disenfranchised.

No checks or balances.

election 2016 results #1

I believed the polls.  I did expect that there would be some folk who came out and voted for Trump who were ashamed to tell anyone that was their plan, but I expected that number to be relatively small.  So I believed the polls.  I expected a Hillary win yesterday, perhaps even a landslide.

Here's why... I believed in the general goodness of the American people.  I believed that as a nation we are moving beyond sexism, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and toward a new community.  Yes, I knew all of those things are still very real but I also believe they are fundamentally at odds with who and what we claim to be as a people.  I believe in generosity,  in community, in compassion... I simply could not believe that a person like Donald Trump could be elected to the presidency of the USA.

I am in shock now.  I don't know what to do next but I am sure that the task before us is harder than I ever imagined and the work more urgent.  But today... I just can't

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Politics and the Problem of Truth

A clergy friend of mine recently posted a question on Facebook regarding the minefield of clergy or churches making political endorsements.  I responded that I have no respect (or fear) of the law that says that churches, like other 501 C 3's risk losing their tax exempt status if they make an endorsement.  I would argue that the 1st amendment says that churches can do what they feel they need to do without fear of reprisal from government agencies... but that is another discussion.  I went on to say that churches still should not make endorsements.  Here's why.

First off, even the most homogeneous of congregations still have some diversity of thought.  To endorse a candidate will certainly disenfranchise anyone who supports another candidate or even those who are questioning. 

Most importantly though, every candidate will at times make stands or statements that fly in the face of commitments that we must make as followers of Jesus.  If we have endorsed a candidate, it can be very difficult to stand against those actions.  That will damage any claims of credibility we have in the world.

I was particularly struck by this in the recent VP debate.  Mike Pence calls himself an evangelical Christian and is the darling of the conservative Christian political movement, often being touted as a future presidential candidate.  Again and again, he responded to challenges from Kaine with "that isn't true" or "we never said that" when there evidence is right there on the web for all to see. 
We expect politicians to exaggerate and even to make promises that they have little intention of keeping... but to flat out deny reality, to lie bold faced, is another matter.  For people who call themselves followers of the one who is The Truth to so readily abandon that commitment to truth telling only tells us that they are not really so committed to The Truth as they claim.

We can argue whether one candidate is less truthful than another.  There are websites that track such things, as biased as they may be.  In any case, that only supports my argument that churches need to avoid endorsements.  If facing the truth makes us squirm at our chosen candidate... then maybe we need a different one.