Deliverance, Survival, Endurance

This is an article about Christian discipleship which came to mind while watching the impeachment hearings. Who knew? Strange things happen.

I was struck by the courage of impeachment hearing witnesses from the senior ranks of the civil service who came forward in obedience to subpoenas, and against White House orders. With nothing to gain for themselves, and everything to lose, including the possibility of vengeful retribution on them and their families, they offered testimony in defense of our constitutional rule of law. Defending our freedoms is something Americans take seriously. We glamorize military veterans for their willingness to put themselves in harm’s way. In fact, it’s popular to attribute the existence of freedom to the force of arms carried by valiant soldiers. Not to demean the military’s well earned honor, but it’s also true that popular sentiment seldom honors those whose minds and words framed our constitutional rule of law in the first place, or whose gifts of diplomacy, policy expertise, and deep understanding of domestic and global issues have preserved and enhanced them over the centuries. Not with arms but with words and wisdom, they influence policy decisions that preserve our freedoms, while seeking to help others achieve the same for themselves. They are the architects and builders of the infrastructure needed for civil life to prosper.

The hearings got me wondering how today’s Christians who profess to follow Jesus would respond if asked to do the same in defense of their faith. What if they had little to gain, much to lose, and perhaps expose themselves to vengeful retribution in the process. In the face of determined opposition intent on their destruction, how would they perform? Or to put it more directly, how would you and I perform?

It seems like the right time to ask as we enter the season of Advent during which scripture points us toward times of tribulation in which the outcome is uncertain. The cross came before the resurrection, and we are called to follow Jesus in the way of the cross, finding in it the way of life and peace. It’s a comforting sentiment but bad things happen along the way that make life and peace seem painfully distant. Anxious anticipation inclines our prayers toward deliverance, a way to avoid threatening events and difficult decisions, a plea for harmony, peace and good things to be ours in their place. It’s easy for me to imagine it because it is certainly what I want, and I’m happy to project it as what you would want also.

Bad things happen anyway. They happen for no good reason, because of others’ actions, and, embarrassingly, because of our own poor choices. Then the more common prayer is for survival, about getting out of the mess alive, about healing and restoration. It’s often a prayer offered from a feeling of powerlessness, helplessness, perhaps as a victim of evil. It’s a normal reaction. Consider Peter’s ill fated attempt to walk on water, when sinking fast, all he could do was cry out for help, hoping for nothing better than survival. It’s nothing to be ashamed of because failure to survive eliminates all other possibilities.

But there is another sort of prayer Jesus commends to his followers, and we hear more about it during advent. It’s a prayer for the courage to endure in hope against the forces arrayed against us. Deliverance is not on the menu. The trial is to be met, and met even if a pathway to avoidance is offered. Survival is questionable, and the odds may not be in one’s favor. What is demanded is the courage to endure in hope. Hope for what? It’s not hope for a guaranteed place in heaven. That’s a gift already sealed. It is hope that what is right, good, just and loving is worth defending. They are what Jesus fearlessly did and taught to demonstrate God’s ways. They are not just good things, they are the inbreaking of the kingdom of God of which we are stewards during our earthly pilgrimage.

Advent leads us toward the babe in the manger whom we proclaim to be the Prince of Peace. It also anticipates a promised time of Jesus’ return at the end of ages. Living in between, we are to endure in continuing the work the babe began.

A School for Scoundrels?

The president’s defenders among members of Congress puzzle me.  Less so his support from among local right wing friends.  But finding ways to put it into words has proven difficult. 

Local dedicated Trump supporters are digging in two ways.  One is a visceral reaction to what they see as liberal elitists flaunting their intellectual superiority over the tough streetwise guy who speaks the language of real Americans.  The other is a stubborn refusal to admit they’ve been had by a charlatan in the White House.  They remind me of a recent NPR interview with an intelligent, competent woman who had been sucked into a telephone scam, learned that she had been scammed, and continued anyway, hoping it might work out after all.   A fraud expert had quite a bit to say about how our desire to resolve cognitive dissonance in favor of an impossible but desirable outcome can keep a person from acknowledging the reality before them.  What works in a phone scam works in politics too.

Others, less dedicated to Trump, have spent their lives suspecting and demeaning Democrats for no reason other than it’s the local Republican sport.  They’re troubled by and resistant to the idea that Democrats might be right about Trump, might be the ones defending core conservative values about the importance of the Constitution and rule of law.  For them, it’s time to keep a low profile and hope the whole thing blows over.  

There is a sense that being conservative, whatever that means, is simply what one is if one claims Eastern Washington as their native land.  Recent letters to the editor bemoaning the changing demographics of urban areas in this rural region, attribute growth in Democratic voter turnout to coastal newcomers and immigrants who are not, nor ever will be, true sons and daughters of the land.  I imagine something similar goes on in other regions of the country as well.  My maternal grandfather was certain that no true Kansan could be anything but Republican.  Democrats, to him, were alien creatures of no account.  Why?  That’s just the way it was.

That I can understand.  What I can’t understand are the dedicated Trump supporters in Congress who cannot be ignorant of his corruption and incompetence, even if they’re hard line right wingers, hopeful neofascists, or aspiring oligarchs and plutocrats.  I don’t understand why McConnell refuses to allow the Senate to take up legislation passed in the House.  I don’t understand why Graham, Johnson and other senatorial leaders are unwilling to muster traditional conservative values in support of higher expectations for integrity in the executive branch.  I don’t understand why Representatives like Nunes and Jordan prefer sensationalized tabloid political gossip over solemn consideration of serious matters.  

I’ve written often about the seductive atmosphere in Washington, D.C., not because there is something immoral or unethical about the place, but because it’s so tempting for people to want to be close to those in power, and to be among the few with access to persons holding the most powerful offices.  It’s a form of political social climbing that easily infects staff, lobbyists, visitors, constituents, and Members of Congress themselves.  It has nothing to do with our form of government.  The same dynamic is at work in every world capital, state capital, and probably most city halls.  What makes Washington different is it’s the seat of the world’s richest, most powerful nation, at least for the present.  It’s filled with magnificent temples and monuments to its most revered icons of what America stands for, and it offers tantalizing opportunities to be a part of it.  Money, sex  and booze mix with dedicated service, unrivaled issue research, and commitment to a better future for all.  Working in and through it are other opportunities, and opportunists in for quick profit, that can be had nowhere else.  It’s a seductive place in which we want and need persons of integrity, well grounded their sense of self, and honorable in their service to those who sent them there.

That doesn’t make it a school for scoundrels.  For all the temptations Washington offers, our government has more often been led by executives and legislators honestly trying to do what they believed to be in the interest of the nation as a whole, and that includes those with whom I have serious disagreements.  Washington is populated by highly qualified people doing their best to manage the business of government, and by equally well qualified others trying in good faith to influence decisions in favor or their constituents and clients.  Nevertheless, it seems the scoundrels have taken over in high places, and continuing their scams with confidence that what works on the phones will continue to work for them in D.C

You Don’t Work, You Don’t Eat

It had to happen.  On the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, my sermon focussed on Isaiah 65 and Luke 21.  You know them: God promising through Isaiah there would be a new heaven and earth with a new Jerusalem, and all would be in peaceful harmony –– then in Luke the troubling news that it would not be soon.  In the meantime life would get pretty rough.  

At coffee, a parishioner wanted to know why I didn’t preach on Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians because there it was in plain sight: you don’t work, you don’t eat.  We’ve got an entire bible of God’s commandments to feed the hungry.  We’ve spent six months probing Luke to discover how Jesus loves us, often by feeding the hungry, even 5,000 at a time, with no concern over who or how deserving they were.  He poured out healing grace frequently on those deemed by others to be far outside the realm of God’s or society’s grace.  But here, in Paul’s own words, the singular lesson some people want to impose on lazy, good for nothing hungry people: you don’t work, you don’t eat.

He went on.  “Oh, I know there’s mental illness and disabilities that keep people from working, but a lot of those people are just lazy, and a lot of them are faking it.  They’re just leeches off of society, and it’s right there in the bible.  If you don’t work, you don’t eat.  If they can work, they should work, and if they can’t, or won’t, get a job, then we should put them to work.  No one has to starve, but if you don’t work, you don’t eat.  It’s in the bible.”

There isn’t a lot of time during coffee to get into educational exegesis, but I   did observe that these were Paul’s words not Jesus’.  Moreover, Paul was writing to a specific congregation about a specific problem that arose when a few of them decided that since the end of the world was imminent, there wasn’t any point in sowing crops, tending sheep, or whatever it was they did.  Frankly, it was Paul’s own fault.  He’s the one who led them to believe the end was near. 

I don’t think it helped much.  It’s not the first time my coffee questioner has brought this up.  He wasn’t interested in Paul’s problems with the Thessalonians.  It’s all about sifting scripture to find support for a contemporary take on the community of today.  It’s a search of evidence that Scrooge was right when he demanded, “Are there no Prisons? Are there no Workhouses?”  Curiously, unlike Scrooge, he’s a man of considerable generosity.  He treats his employees as a genuinely benevolent patriarch.  He’s as good a steward of creation as any I’ve met.  But he’s also convinced that all these social programs are just pandering to the unwilling and undeserving, of whom there are many, while the legitimately deserving for whom we must care are few.  Rigorous means testing is what we need.  Workhouses, Poorhouses, or something like them for the 21st century, may be what we need.  How about required national service? 

It should be accomplished in Christian charity of course, but there it is, right in the bible.  You don’t work, you don’t eat. 

There’s something to be said for the Protestant Work Ethic and the American myth of self reliance.  It’s a good thing to place a high value on taking responsibility for one’s self and family, the value of work itself, the value of doing as well as one can at whatever one does, and the value of helping those who show determined effort.  They are values to be taught, revered, and passed down from generation to generation.  Perhaps in fear of being too patronizing, we’ve not taught and rewarded them as well as we should.  Perhaps it’s especially true on the reward side where we’ve allowed government policy to impede fair pay for fair work.  

It’s not a good thing when society is structured to prevent whole classes of people from access to the fruits of living into those values.  It’s not a good thing to be blind to the advantages society has given to some, enabling them to make the most of the resources at hand in ways not available to others.   It’s not a good thing when classes of others are assumed to be irresponsible, lazy or entitled for no better reason than they’re a different race, better or worse educated, richer or poorer, or live in a big city or rural town.

The common belief that we don’t need government handouts, we just need to instill the value of hard work and self reliance (Like we used to?) ignores the history of government handouts that rewarded some while excluding others.  It chooses to not understand government programs as the investment by the people in the future of the nation living more fully into the values of work and self reliance.  If allowed dominance for too long, it leads to economic and social degradation, exactly the opposite of its intent. 

Luke, Love, Follow

The call to discipleship is less about certifying our eternal destiny through faith in Jesus as the Christ, and more about becoming followers who continue his work during our earthly pilgrimage.  Jesus was pretty clear about what that means.  To follow him is to love others as he loves us, which is not something we can do if we’re not well informed about how he loves us.  Paul’s oft repeated advice to “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5) is not particularly helpful.  Jesus demonstrated what love means by what he said and did, and for that we need to turn to the gospel records.

As the year of Luke draws to a close, it’s time to revisit the question with which it began.  How does what Jesus said and did in Luke’s gospel help us understand what it means to love one another as he does?  It would be naive to believe keeping the question at the forefront of our long study in Luke has helped each of us answer it in new, more profound ways.  In truth, we’re easily distracted by many things, and, if pressed, would have to admit we’ve given it only momentary, haphazard thought when reminded to do so in a sermon.  

The collective we includes me, and I’m the sermonizer who raised the question in the first place, as I do each year on the Sunday after Pentecost, occasionally reminding the congregation of it during our intensive six month study.  If I’m among those easily distracted by many things, consider parishioners whose daily obligations are far away from church and worship.  It’s hard to stay focussed on Jesus’ commandment, even as we promise to do so, which is why we repeat it each year.

I have no idea how the year of Luke has gone for others, but I decided to go back over his narrative, examining again those areas of discipleship I meant to work on, need to work on, will try to work on.  It’s a never ending process with progress incremental at best.  Saintly canonization with never be mine, so with that in mind here are a few of the things Luke’s Jesus has encouraged me to work on:

Struggling with what it means to follow Jesus is a good thing, so don’t stop.

Be more willing to welcome the unwelcome and recognize the good neighbor in the one whom I’ve prejudged to be untrustworthy.  Really see the other, especially the other whom I do not wish to see.

Do good, not evil, even to enemies.  Parenthetically, I’m unaware of having enemies, but there are people I really don’t like, and learning to good for them and with them isn’t easy.

Beyond the pulpit and altar, give those hungry for the Word something to hear, and to those hungry for food something to eat.

More boldly proclaim the good news of God in Christ without flaunting or being a jerk about it.

It may not look like much, but considering it’s an agenda that gets reexamined each year in the light of a different gospel, it’s challenge enough: a rewarding challenge to be sure, but challenge enough.

In a few weeks we’ll begin the year of Mark.  We’ll fiddle around with Mark during Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and Easter, while adding large portions of John and Acts into the mix.  After Pentecost, we’ll enter ordinary time and take our annual six month deep dive into the gospel, asking the same question we ask each year.  If we’re to love one another as Jesus loves us, how does Mark help us understand what that means?  

Trump’s True Believers

Solid Trump voters are a mystery.  Without the slightest hint of guile, they profess him to be the most honest, God fearing, promise keeping president ever, and are proud of all he is doing to make and keep America great.  I was struck by the sincerity of a local man whose letter to the editor made these assertions about the president he so admires:

  • Trump exalts God and seeks God’s guidance for the good of the nation.
  • He doesn’t claim to be pure.  His lies, sins, and locker-room talk can be over looked because we all fall short.
  • He gets his point across, leaving no one in doubt.
  • He’s the most fully transparent president ever, who has done all that is possible to keep his promises.
  • An excellent businessman, he can’t be bought and sold like politicians can.
  • He doesn’t accept favors or bribes.
  • He doesn’t bow to foreign nations.
  • He doesn’t apologize for the U.S.A.: the greatest nation in the world. 
  • He’s trying to make it greater, and with God’s help he will help us turn from our evil ways, innuendos, incivility and become a better place to live in. 

That’s quite a list, and the most curious thing about it is that the reverse of each point is demonstrably true, so one is left to wonder how any reasonable person could not be aware of it?  Yet, I suspect this letter writer is, in all other things, a reasonable person.  What would it take for him to recognize that:

  • Trump, basking in the company of certain clergy and thumping the occasional bible, has no idea what Christianity is about, what’s in the bible, and has never been a church going Christian in any place at any time.
  • His lies, sins and locker room-talk are well beyond normal deviation of behavior in American society.  His history of betrayals, cheating and disloyalty to all but himself have been publicly catalogued for years, repudiating all that Christianity stands for.
  • Doubt is precisely what he inspires in everyone with whom he does business.  His word can’t be trusted.  His decisions appear erratic, poorly thought out, and frequently abandoned.  Blame always falls on someone else, and he refuses to accept responsibility for anything that doesn’t reflect a shining light on his ego.  “Never complain, never explain,” attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, is often used by the powerful to avoid being held accountable by lesser mortals.  Trump’s version is, “Complain loud and often, never back down, and never admit being wrong.”
  • His reputation as an excellent businessman lies in tatters for any who take a close look.  Certainly, he’s amassed considerable wealth on top of the wealth he inherited, but at tremendous cost to those he’s cheated along the way, and with some speculation that his holdings are a house of cards held together with foreign debt.
  • He is easily bought and sold by those to whom he’s indebted, on whose largesse his future is dependent.  Banks, Saudi princes, favor seekers streaming to his properties, and wealthy patrons of his clubs all own a piece of him.  He can be bought, or at least rented, with a word or two of fawning flattery, and he assumes the reverse is also true.  Everyone can be bought, and used until their usefulness has expired.  It makes everyone disposable.
  • It’s true that he doesn’t bow to foreign nations.  No president has.  But Trump has insulted and betrayed long standing allies, while cozying up to a variety of dictators that have not been friendly toward the U.S.  He’s destroyed trading relationships, and moved already violent parts of the world toward greater instability and violence. 
  • In the process of not apologizing for the U.S., he’s ignored history, and eroded America’s hard earned respect and place of dignity as a world leader.  Although economically powerful and militarily strong, it’s become an object of derision, no longer trustworthy in anything it says or does. 
  • I suspect God is not amused by Trump’s behavior epitomizing the worst of the incivility that appears to dominate the nation.  Of innuendos he is the king, of moral failure, the champion, of rending the fabric of social harmony, the expert.

The letter writer, and other Trump true believers, are likely to dismiss such rebuttals as the ravings of a left wing lunatic suffering from Trump derangement syndrome.  Whatever evidence is presented is chalked up to “fake news,” or simply ignored as if it didn’t exist.  To them, the world of mainstream media can never be trusted.  Facts and opinions have equal value.  Elected representatives are crooked, and professional staff are “deep state” conspirators secretly running things.  

Trump, and only Trump, remains as the one to preserve their rights and freedom.  In defense of American individualism’s commitment to self reliance and personal freedom unhindered by governmental interference, they’re willing to give up both to the authoritarian rule of a would be autocrat.  In defense of hard working heartland Americans, they turn to a flamboyant playboy whose inherited wealth and tawdry business practices have enabled him to avoid hard work, and any knowledge of what it entails.  The so called traditional family values they cherish have been violated time and again by the one to whom they turn for their protection.  His utter incompetence at managing the affairs of state eludes them.  They live in fear of an imaginary left wing socialist takeover, and are certain they see it in every candidate for office who is not a Trump supporter.  They are, in short, both gullible and dangerous because they won’t be dissuaded until long after the disaster has unfolded around them

The Meaning of the Liturgy

As Episcopalians, we’re pretty good at explaining what the liturgy is, and how it works, but fail at explaining why it’s essential to our ways of worship, or what it’s supposed to mean in the lives of parishioners. It’s pointless to turn to Hachett, Dix, or any of the dozens of academics who have blessed us with their studied insights. Ordinary Episcopalians have no interest in being saddled with erudite tomes. They just want to know what it means.

An old friend wandered away from the Episcopal Church a few years ago, saying the liturgy had become meaningless. He’s recently returned after faithfully exploring other worship opportunities, but I’m guessing still without an understanding of the meaning and purpose of our liturgy. Following in his footsteps, another friend has also wandered off with more or less the same complaint, but added to it an admission that, after thirty years of Episcopal worship, she still has no idea what it means to be an Episcopalian in contrast to any other denomination. We’re fond of saying that what Episcopalians believe is revealed in the liturgy of our worship. Apparently it’s a revelation not all that apparent to many.

It says something about how poorly we’ve guided folks sitting in the pews to a deeper understanding of what it means to be Episcopalian, and how the liturgy functions to enrich the experience of God’s presence. Mea culpa. Adult Christian education was my passion. Well attended classes dove into scripture and traversed the theological history of Western Christianity. Those interested were given the opportunity to learn all about the structure of the liturgy, but I suspect learned little of its deeper meaning.

The whole purpose of liturgy is to serve as a conduit through which participants move, body and soul, from the secular world into God’s presence, there to be fed with holy food and drink, before being sent back into the world to do God’s work. If that’s not what it does, it’s not good liturgy, and if parishioners don’t understand the meaning of their role in it, it doesn’t matter how good it is.

Consider the prelude. It’s not the warm up for the main act, but an invitation to reorient body and mind in preparation for entrance into holy time and space, which we do symbolically through the opening hymn and procession. The intentionality of prayers for cleansed thoughts, songs of praise to God, and collects focusing attention, prepare the way to hear more clearly. Our lengthy readings from the Hebrew scriptures, Psalms, epistles and gospel are intended to help us hear the Word of God speaking through the ancient texts. The Episcopal tradition of relatively short sermons is meant to guide worshipers toward a deeper understanding of the Word revealed in scripture for their own lives and the conditions in which they live.

Affirming the faith of the church in the words of the Nicene Creed draws an extraordinarily large and permeable circle of what we understand Christianity to be. The prayers of the people are elements of a community wide conversation with God, something like a town hall meeting, in which questions and concerns for the welfare of the church, community, nation and world are raised, along with more personal cares.

Our general confession of sins certainly brings to mind personal failures, but it’s really our confession that we, as the community of the faithful, have not lived up to our own standards of loving God and neighbor. We, as the community, ask not only for God’s forgiveness, but for God’s blessing that we might do better. Our first step in that direction is to offer to one another a sign of God’s peace.

My own take is that the announcements that often follow the peace are part of the offertory, an offering of our shared ministries to the glory of God’s name. They are part and parcel with ‘passing the plate’ and bringing the elements of Holy Communion to the altar.

Finally, it’s time to celebrate Holy Communion, that moment to which the liturgy has been leading. We have been made ready to receive the holy food and drink of new and unending life, in which we recognize the true presence of Christ for us, with us, and in us. It is the holiest of our time in holy time and space. Renewed and restored, we are sent out to do the work God has given us to do.

We’re only human. There are some days when our liturgical form of worship renders to us the fullness of all it intends. There are some days when burdened by other concerns it just doesn’t. There are many days when we grasp moments of God’s transcendent presence, but our minds wander hither and yon to who knows where. That’s life.

Looking down on each other: Let’s stop it

If, as my previous column argued, the practice of looking down on each other is a destructive force in American society, the question becomes; what would it take for us to stop looking down on each other?  It’s a problem in every culture on earth going back for centuries.  Like other social issues, it’s only one facet of a complex ever mutating structure of beliefs, attitudes and values (Rokeach, 1968) that defines peoples and places. 

How the question might be answered by others, I’ll leave to them, but as a Christian pastor and priest, I believe God has given us answers we cannot ignore.  Are we destined to put each other down, trying to salve egos, claim status, and gain the advantage?  “He has told you O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6).  It’s not a platitude.  It’s a definitive answer to the question.  Jesus said do it this way, “…love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13).  They are commandments, not suggestions.  If we want to live in harmony and prosperity with one another, it is the way, there is no other.   

The hard part for each of us, and especially for Christians, is our deep attachment to the beliefs, attitudes and values with which we were raised.  They’re so familiar to us that we’re hardly aware we have them;  they run in the background of daily life, invisible but powerfully influential.  As people of faith, it’s easy to assume they must be God’s ways also.  And they seem to be as long as they go unchallenged.  But God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, our ways are not God’s ways, and it is God’s ways that give life to creation, and God’s words that will accomplish what they intend (Isaiah 55).  God’s ways will always challenge the social values of our times and places, because our social values will always be corrupted by our need to claim power and status at the expense of others.  

For Christians there is no other place to start, no other way to go, and no higher authority to whom one might appeal.  It is not ours to impose our faith on others, but it is our responsibility to demonstrate our faith by following as best we can in the way of Jesus:

  • Be unpretentious about status and power
  • Be honest about our part in the world’s problems
  • Thirst for righteousness
  • Give mercy priority over retribution, reconciliation over revenge
  • Seek peace not war
  • Show courage in the face of persecution
  • Be persons of integrity
  • Live daily life to the glory of God without being a jerk about it
  • Let yes be yes, and no be no without elaboration
  • Confront violence in radically peaceful ways
  • Pray for enemies
  • Live into generosity
  • Avoid rash judgments of others
  • Maintain conversation with God in simple words
  • Show respect and honor for that which is holy

Christians, taking seriously their obligation to follow Jesus, are not going to fix the nation’s problems of polarization.  We are not going to eliminate “looking down” on others as a pervasively divisive practice.  But we can be more intentional about not participating in it.  We can demonstrate a better way.  Following in the way of Jesus requires the courage to confront unrighteousness and injustice with conviction.  Christians are not anybody’s doormat.  But neither can we claim inerrancy for ourselves, nor for our understanding of God’s will.  Our claims to truth must always be provisional.  The best we can do is work with others to do better than we have done to care for creation as stewards responsible for handing it on in as healthy a way as we can to those who will follow.  It’s the best we can do, and we have often failed to do our best.    

Who looks down on Who?

Who looks down on who? One of the standing tropes used to explain Trump’s popularity among working class people is that they’ve had it with urban elites looking down on them.  They demand respect and willingly give their support to him because he panders to their demand.  His pandering appears authentic because he talks and struts like a burlesque imitation of a sit-com version of a working class man who has made it big. Just look at him shoving the elite around, talking trash about the powerful, and bulldozing his way through red tape, regulatory restrictions, and all the refined standards of behavior from which the elite look down on ordinary people. 

It’s pandering because Trump has no affection for, and little understanding of what ordinary people go through in their daily lives.  As long as his adoring crowds vote for him, they’re useful to him.  Otherwise they’re of no use, disposable, every one of them.  The burlesque of his behavior is not in imitation of Archie Bunker or Roseanne Conner.  It’s who he really is.  Ironically, he’s genuine phony, an authentic fake.  He’s transparently dependable like no other president.  He can be depended on to lie, cheat and betray in plain sight for everyone to see.  It’s hard to know how he’ll go down in history, but he won’t be forgotten.  It’s a rare thing to find a charlatan who proudly boasts of his charlantry able to rise to the presidency of a wealthy, democratic empirical power such as ours.  But I digress.

There’s a long history of the working class bogeyman: the foppish urban elite who got their legacy diplomas from Harvard or Yale, and their money from grandpa.  Books, movies, cartoons, and comedy routines are filled  with them.  Magazines hype their lifestyles.  Tabloids exploit their celebrity foibles.  The flood of holiday catalogues promises you too can wear what they wear.  Do they really exist?  Yes, in small numbers who often live isolated lives.

More often, those who have acquired a measure of wealth, success, and power have risen from the ranks.  They’re deeply respectful of the value and talents of the working class because they’ve done the work, making life long friends along the way.  They’re aware of the advantages they were born into, or came their way, and know that dumb luck played a role in the opportunities they made the best of.  Greater in number are millions in the hard working middle class who will never be rich, but are  committed to making life better in their communities and the nation.  They too have nothing but respect for those who consider themselves working class. 

What about the liberals in coastal cities who always vote contrary to the values of real heartland Americans?  Cities are big, whether on the coast or inland.  The millions who live in them are not elite.  They’re working people struggling to make it through life. The greater number came from somewhere else, perhaps the very heart of the heartland.  The values they vote for are for better education, more fair justice, decent health care, a cleaner environment, a more efficient infrastructure, and the like.  Liberal or not, they’re the values of the heartland.  They carry their prejudices with them, just like everyone else, but in a cosmopolitan mix of prejudices, it’s hard to impose one’s own on others.  A mythical white middle class ethos drawn from the post war era has dominated urban and rural areas alike.  It’s lost the domineering power it once had in big cities, but not without a fight still going on.  Smaller cities and rural areas with fewer competing forces can hold on longer, but not forever.  It’s not a new thing.  It’s been going on since the mid 19th century.    

So who looks down on who?  The other day, a friend with a union job on the railroad posted a cartoon.  One half was of a hard working hard hat, the other was of an impoverished fast food worker.   The caption labeled the fast food worker as a graduate philosopher with no practical skills or value to society.  It labeled the hard hat as the true backbone of America, and finished with a sarcastic stab at well educated, worthless people who look down on the working class.  Who looks down on who?

What it tells me is that some who consider themselves in the working class also assign an inferior place for themselves on a social hierarchy that lives mostly in their imaginations.  Their defense is to turn the tables, belittling those whom they consider elite in what ever way they can, to make themselves feel more worthy.  It’s a worthiness already theirs, if they will accept it, widely recognized by those who do not consider themselves part of the working class.  They are the ones believing themselves to be inferior to others.  It’s time to lay it aside, taking pride without prejudice in the work they do.