Want to Strengthen the Progressive Shift? Know the opposition voters.

National leadership from the White House has changed dramatically. Gone are incessant Tweets, bombastic macho posturing, fantasy spewing streams of consciousness, and all the rest that epitomized the former administration. In its place is calm, low key competency focussed on issues with bold initiatives to rebuild a foundation for the country’s future, and restore its place of leadership in the community of nations.

Good news? Not for everyone. There are millions of Americans who were fond of Trump and say they remain committed to his policies. Given the chaotic nature of his administration, it’s hard to know what is meant by his policies, but conversations here and there have boiled it down to a few key points that must be taken seriously if we are to strengthen the progressive shift in the political landscape.

Trump voters like his tough guy shoot from the hip posturing. They believe that’s how strong leaders act, and they want strong leaders. To them, Biden’s calm competency looks like weakness. They’re unaware that in politics and business, Trump style posturing produces only short lived illusions of success veiling inevitable failure. Corporations and countries alike self destruct, implode, under the leadership of blustering strong man rule. It’s inevitable.

Trump’s people are convinced that the federal government is the problem (thank you Reagan), so to them, mustering national resources to meet national needs is socialism in its most nefarious freedom crushing form. In their imaginations, an America with a small, powerless federal government would be idyllic. They can’t apprehend, much less comprehend, that rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure is an investment that will reap enormous returns for them and their descendants. All they can see is cost piling the burden of unbearable debt on tax payers. That health care, education, cyber networks, and the environment are part of the infrastructure makes no sense to them. They have an ill formed sense that somehow the private market can address needs, all on its own without government intervention. The idea that a massive public investment to rebuild our infrastructure will create private sector jobs, private sector investment, and make new technologies affordable for ordinary people is, in their minds, a non sequitur.

The majority of the population was born into a society in which the strength of the economy was based on consumption, not investment. Consumer spending has been the primary measure of economic vitality reported in the public media. The unemployment rate has been a close second, with no attention given to the kinds of jobs at what rates of pay and benefits. Various federal stimulus plans have helped pull the economy out of deep recession, and prevented others from taking root, but have done little for investment in the long term interests of the public good. Trump voters cannot conceive of taxes as the source of public investment in the collective future of the nation. Taxes, to them, simply take money away from more consumer spending, and that can’t be good.

What are the issues Trump voters believe are most important? They fear that hordes of brown, black and non-English speaking immigrants will overrun the white society that fought for and built America, no thanks to anyone else. They live in fear of WWII type invasions on American soil. They adhere to the myth of American individualism that treats government regulation as an infringement on their personal rights, except for the ones that protect their place in society. Their adherence to the myth is what convinces them that everything liberal or progressive is a move toward Russian style socialism. They believe government must be kept small and impotent if freedom is to be protected.

Trump made them feel he understood and that he was doing everything he could to address the issues they believed were important. They don’t believe he was a dictator in waiting, jeopardizing their cherished freedoms. Biden doesn’t act like a strong man, or speak their libertarian language, and he ignores their issues. Right wing super PACs representing libertarian oligarchy mine their fears with convincing propaganda. Disinterested in the welfare of the people, they only want Trump voters to return governing power to the properly dependable candidates who will rule, as instructed, for the benefit of an elite few.

Photo I.D.s & Electoral Integrity

Ordinary, everyday conservative voices ask: What’s so wrong about requiring a photo ID to vote?  Photo IDs are required for all kinds of things, why not voting?  It’s a reasonable question.  Those asking it are often unaware of the extent to which non-white and impoverished citizens have been systematically excluded from the right to vote, and not only in the deep South.  They’re unaware that, in 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a key element of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, making it possible for states to indirectly suppress voting by severely limiting the number of polling places, methods of collecting votes, time allowed for voting, ease of voting absentee, etc.  They’re unaware that photo IDs are one way to suppress votes, not by requiring them, but by making them more difficult for targeted populations to get.

It would be easy to assign this collective unawareness to the white population, but I suspect it’s more widely spread among all of us.  The point is, if one doesn’t know about the history of obstacles hindering the right of non-white citizens to vote, a simple thing like requiring an authorized photo ID seems trivial.  Collective unawareness has created a passive receptivity to accusations of rampant voter fraud, and why not?  Since the 1980s, the American public has constantly been fed a soft sell that election fraud is a serious problem whenever too many votes are cast by people of color and the poor.  Dozens of investigations have proven that, among votes cast, there is no wide spread election fraud.  Known instances have been sporadic and unintentional, with a couple of notable exceptions perpetrated by right wing operatives and quickly caught.  Soft sell turned to hard sell after Obama’s election.  Under Trump, white nationalism’s goal of keeping non-whites from voting was made blatantly clear.  It was a goal fitting nicely into oligarchical libertarianism’s intention to keep control of government in the hands of the few who could be trusted to serve the needs of their business interests.  Together they formed a monstrous alliance.

Taken by itself, the question of photo IDs is reasonable and solvable, but it can’t be taken by itself.  It’s one strand of a sustained effort to make it more difficult for people of color to vote, especially in urban areas where they are the majority or a large plurality.  What’s driving the determined opposition to greater voter turnout by people of color and the poor?  There’s no simple answer.  It certainly has to do with fear among portions of the white population that white America is losing it majority status, which it is.  The myth that non-white persons are unintelligent, lazy, dependent, and incapable of self governance, convinces a portion of the white population that if they don’t keep control of government, the nation is lost.  The myth that urban America cares nothing about the welfare of rural America, convinces a portion of the rural population that governments dominated by urban interests will destroy what’s left of small town America.  The myth that national issues addressed by the federal government through public/private partnerships will lead to Russian style socialism, convinces some people that keeping government small and in the hands of only a few will preserve American individualism.  The myth that taxation is theft, not investment, convinces some that too many people voting for liberal policies will bankrupt both them and the nation.  It’s complicated.  

The unrelenting chant of voter fraud that doesn’t exist triggers every race and class based fear and anxiety.  It’s a chant that can seem convincing when it’s been drummed into one’s head, year after year.  Perpetrators of voter suppression are violating a fundamental value of American democracy, and have a moral obligation to stop.  But fear of losing ruling power is stronger than moral obligations for too many.  They’ll praise Jesus with one hand, and suppress voters with the other, angrily justifying their actions by repeating lies about protecting the integrity of the electoral process.

Easter is One Thing – What did the Disciples do the Day After, and the Days After That?

Have you ever wondered what Jesus’ disciples did in the days following Easter? I wonder all the time. On Easter, they were confronted with the resurrection, which was nothing that made sense. It defied everything everyone knew about death and burial. Then they were confronted by Jesus himself, now fully revealed as God incarnate, which also defied every thing everyone knew about God and messiahs. According to John’s gospel, Jesus appeared to them on Sunday night in full fleshly materiality by entering a locked and shuttered room without benefit of opening the door. I cannot imagine any circumstance where any of this could make sense to the disciples. They completed Easter Day by experiencing multiple traumatic sensory shocks they could not possibly comprehend.

I imagine some lay awake all night trying to figure out what happened.  Others slept the sleep of sheer exhaustion.  What about Monday morning?  Did they gather at the local coffee house asking each other if it really happened, and if it did, what could it mean, and would Jesus come again, and would he knock this time?  Did some wander in a daze of private reflection?  Maybe some gathered in a living room to talk and talk trying to weave their shared stories into a narrative that might make sense.  I wonder if it was a sort of reverse Shiva with food and stories about death turned to life that can’t be explained, and who would believe it anyway?

The week would pass with each new day posing more complicated questions than the day before, and few answers. We’re told that Jesus showed up for fifty days, but we’re not told how often or what he said. My guess is the reality of what had happened, and was happening, slowly crept into the disciples’ understanding, and with it the recognition that they were privileged to have an intimate, in person, relationship with God which would make them messengers of God’s truth, no less so than the angels of holy scripture. Moses was never allowed to see God’s face. They were, in the face of Jesus Christ.

The massive cognitive dissonance they were experiencing could be resolved only by rehearsing everything Jesus had said and done, incorporating into it the stories they’d heard from Jesus’ family and friends who knew him before they did. How long would that take? With Jesus guiding them, would fifty days be enough? I guess it was, at least enough to get started proclaiming the good news. The gospel records are not in agreement about these days; John says the fishermen among them went back to Galilee to go fishing. Did they? It makes sense to me. If I made my living as a fisherman before following Jesus, I think I’d go back to what I knew best to help me think things out. Although the gospels agree that the women among Jesus’ disciples were the first to proclaim the resurrection, nothing is said about what they did next. We do know that Jesus’ dedicated band was a little over a hundred men and women. Did the core group of eleven instruct them as they themselves were being instructed? I wonder if Jesus stood in the background like a professor watching a teaching assistant take over a class. I wonder if Mary Magdalene paced back and forth enforcing discipline. A lot is missing.

How long did it take for the new reality to settle into a routine?  We need routines.  Lives lacking routine are chaotically out of control; lives of obsessive routine are locked in place, unable to move.  Routines have to be balanced to form the base for movement but not barriers preventing it.  The disciples needed a new routine, so new that it had no precedent.  What would balance look like?  No one but Jesus could show them the way.  How does one create a new routine for which there is no precedent?  I imagine it had to be built on established customs not inconsistent with following Jesus, and that meant continuing most Jewish religious practices that frame daily hours, weekly synagogue worship, and annual celebrations.  After all, Jesus was an observant Jew.  He didn’t throw out the law, he fulfilled it.

I wonder if the disciples got up each day feeling like they were students studying for their final exams before being sent out into the field.  I wonder if Peter, James and John began to feel the weight of authority.  Did it humble them, or did they assert authority others resented?  

The days following Easter are a mystery, and they cause me to wonder as I wander in my own days following Easter.

Birth & Resurrection: Bookends to the life of Jesus

The Easter season is upon us.  It’s often a time when the curious ask questions about Jesus and Christianity, sometimes in tones of skeptical cynicism.   Here are a few words that might be helpful in answering them.  Feel free to use it, making whatever changes you think appropriate.  They are simple words intended to make sense to people who know very little about Christianity, but are curious enough to ask questions.  A final note: I use ‘he’ in single quotes as a pronoun for God knowing that God has no gender.  God’s desire for intimate relationship with us, and our desire for the same with ‘him,’ demands a pronoun unavailable in English.  ‘She’ would work just as well, use it if you want.

A problem with Christianity is its unbelievability.  Two bookends bracket it.  One is Jesus’ birth, and the other is his resurrection.  Neither can be explained within the context of human knowledge or experience.  They are holy mysteries to be lived into, not solved.

Jesus is not a mythological figure. He was born in a real place at a real time in history; born of a virgin who had never had sexual intercourse with anyone at the time of his conception. To claim that God caused her to become pregnant is frequently met with ridicule, and reminders of fantastical tales about lustful gods who once upon a time sired demigods by seducing young women. However, God is the source of being and life, creator and sustainer of all that is, whether seen or unseen. ‘He’ is the God of history, not mythology. God is without form and beyond knowing, except as ‘he’ chooses to reveal ‘himself’ to us. Even the word God is only a placeholder for the holy name that no one knows. We don’t have language to explain the power of God to create and sustain all that is, so we use the ‘Word of God’ as another placeholder to substitute for what we are unable to name or understand. What we do know is that Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, born of the virgin Mary, which is not a very big deal for the one who brought the universe into being.

There’s no point in getting into a debate about exactly how Jesus is both human and divine.  Theologians have spent centuries trying to resolve it – in the end, it’s another holy mystery to be lived into.  Suffice it to say that Jesus is all of God that can be portrayed in human form.  St. Paul, writing to the new Christians of Colossae (in modern western Turkey) said that in Jesus “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” (Col. 1)  Jesus was equally a human being who experienced life’s joys and difficulties just as we do.  An observant Jew, he was born, grew up, and worked as a carpenter before engaging in his public ministry.

His resurrection is another holy mystery.  When he was about 33 years old, Jesus was tried for blasphemy and executed as an enemy of the Roman Empire.  He was buried in a sealed and guarded tomb.  That’s attested to by holy scripture and the historical records of the time.  Nevertheless, on the third day his tomb was found empty.  His followers, men and women, several hundred of them, reported that he appeared to them, talked with them, ate with them, he touched and was touched by them, but not as not the same Jesus they had known.  Now his godliness was fully revealed.

What’s the point? Why all the drama? Christians say that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. There are many ways to understand what that means, but in the end, and in spite of our selfish, violent ways, God was determined to save us from the disasters and death of our own devices. By his death, Jesus submitted to the ignominious end of would be saviors whose memory is soon forgotten, a trouble maker gotten rid of. By his resurrection, Jesus demonstrated that neither the state nor death had power over him. His resurrection proved that nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God. Was all that crucifixion, burial and resurrection necessary? Yes, because without it we would not believe it. Some things have to be seen and experienced. The point is, God revealed ‘himself’ only in part through the prophets of Israel, but God was made fully known in Jesus because Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. He lighted the path to life in abundance that begins here and now, and leads through death to life everlasting. What makes Jesus different from other prophets and sages? He is the Word of God made flesh; his is the ultimate authority; there is no other and none higher. What he said and did is true because he is truth itself.

Sadly, it needs to be repeated that God is not only the God of the Jews and their gentile Christian step-siblings.  God, the source of all that is whether seen or unseen, is the God of all creation.  There are no exceptions.  Christians know with certainty that the Word of God made flesh is Jesus, there is no other, and that through Jesus all of creation will be saved from itself, but how he does that is not for us to know.  Therefore, we are not entitled to exclude any person or people from the saving acts of God.  We are simply called to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ Jesus, inviting all who are willing to walk with us on the path Jesus has set before us.

What that path looks like, and what we are to do as we walk on it, is contained between the bookends of Jesus’ birth on one end and his death and resurrection on the other. It is a path defined by love, healing, reconciliation, non-violence, and justice. And the Church? What is the Church, and why do we need it? Christians following in the Way of Love are called into communities of fellowship with one another. The Church, in its many forms, is the institution through which religious faith is expressed in community. As with any institution, it’s often failed and is always in need of reformation. Nevertheless, it’s persevered through the ages as the vehicle through which faithful people have carried the light of Christ that darkness cannot extinguish. Buildings and hierarchy aside, the Church is the community of those who want to follow Jesus. In the Church, they are nourished with whatJesus’ words, and strengthened for the journey with holy food and drink of new and unending life.