Hangover

“When they go low, we go high.” Nice words, but this morning they seem a little too optimistic. Here in the United States of America, going low won the day and the next four years.

We just elected a president who started his campaign by describing an entire people group as rapists, thieves, and drug dealers. Over the course of his candidacy he made it OK to objectify women thereby creating moral space for misogyny. Now he is calling us to unite, to come together as one. How does this even happen? I don’t even know how to approach my fellow believers who justified their vote by saying, “well he’s a baby Christian.”

I work for organization that has hired Hispanics, African Americans, Asians, immigrants, and people from the GLBTQI community. They are terrified and not figuratively. The fear is real; it is based on actions and statements made by the candidate. Their very humanity and lives have been brought into question.

I don’t know how to come together. How do you hold hands and sing Kumbaya with someone who denies your very right to exist?

Where are the people of God in all of this? Where is the church?

Too many church leaders, who tend to look like me, white and male, have sacrificed the gospel of Jesus for a shot at power and dominance. The best way to do this was to rewrite Scripture so that the only things that mattered were prayer in school, abortion, and homosexuality. Loving God and loving people have become side issues. As long as we have someone in our camp who hates who we hate, then we can look past the misogyny, the racism, the sexism, and the fear mongering. All of this has brought us to today, November 9, 2016.

I do not know what the future holds; today I am pretty pessimistic. But maybe it is time to remember that people of faith have always been most effective and prophetic when they find themselves judged, misunderstood and in the minority.

Why?

I am writing this entry from my front porch.  Across the street a family is gathering,  mostly to support each other.  Earlier this week Hector (not his real name) was rushed to Denver Health Medical Center.  He had slipped into unconsciousness. His liver is failing and unless he gets a new one he is going to die.  Hector is a father of four; the youngest just started kindergarten at the school down the street. I met him the day I moved into this neighborhood, 14 years ago.  He likes to talk – a lot!  He is a good neighbor, father, worker and husband.  It is obvious that he adores his family.

On its own this is one of those situations that raise all kinds of “God” questions - Why would you allow this to happen?  Is this really just?

But there are other complicating factors as well.  You see Hector does not have “documentation” that allows him to “legally” live in this country.  The direct implication is that he is not “qualified” to be on a transplant list.  I realize that immigration is an extremely contentious political issue.  But watching this scene play out across the street and in front of my eyes moves the discussion from a disconnected political debate to a deeply personal reality.

Hector is going to die and leave behind a family that needs him, simply because of where he was born.  Somehow this makes him less worthy – less human.  Can this be moral, right or just?  Especially in a country that regularly claims to own the moral high ground.

The more I study Scripture the more the theme of “inclusion” emerges.  How we treat the stranger and alien says something about the quality of our faith.

I am not a politician.  I still believe that this is one of the most amazing places to live.  But we can be better and we can do better.  One of the first steps is choosing to welcome, include and allow access to all levels of services to the strangers and aliens among us.

It’s time to declare a “War on Broken Bones”

It was on October 14, 1982 President Ronald Regan declared a “War on Drugs.”  It was a time in our country’s history when less than 2% of Americans viewed drugs as the most important issue facing the country.  By the 1980’s the number of arrests for all crime rose 28% while the number of arrests for drug related offenses rose 128%.  In 1999, crime statistics show that blacks were the most likely group to be arrested for drug crimes.  In some states in the mid 90’s 90% of those admitted to prison for drug offenses were either black or brown. Let’s reimagine this for a moment.  Let’s suppose the in 1982 “broken bones due to sports” was declared the new war.  In order to get this epidemic under control the government declares all broken bones due to sports activities a felony with a new mandatory minimum sentences and an additional “3 strikes and you’re out” law.

Seems silly doesn’t it?  You don’t fix a broken bone issue by sending the person to jail.  You get them medical attention and then develop more effective pads and game rules.

Why then do we think that the drug problem can be solved by stiffer mandatory jail sentences?  Drug addiction is a problem, but putting people in jail for addiction is silly at best and morally wrong at worst.  Drugs like broken bones are best dealt with by medical professionals.  One of the more embarrassing realities of this War on Drugs is that Christians have more often than not allowed politicians to define who is criminal and what activities constitute criminal behavior.

Maybe it is time to call the War on Drugs what it really was – a political ploy designed to motivate people to vote for and support a particular President.  It is important to note that every presidential candidate since has used some form of “get tough on crime (read drugs)” rhetoric.

According to Matthews’s gospel one characteristics of Christians is how we treat the prisoner.  I can’t help but wonder if he included this in his gospel because deciding who is bad and who is good is something we will get wrong more often than right.

Seminar

Sometimes I agree to do something before I fully think through all the implications.  Months ago a coworker and I agreed to lead a seminar titled “Crossing the Bridge of Culture and Race” at the upcoming Mennonite Convention in Pittsburg.  Apparently we are going to talk about White Privilege.  This is one of those “elephant in the room” topics.  I want to live in the world of Martin Luther King’s dream - a world where people are only judged content of their character. Talking about white privilege means owning the fact that King’s world has not yet arrived.  It means admitting that I am afforded privileges simply because of my skin color.  This is not easy to talk about. On one hand I enjoy the privileges of being a white male.  I have never been stopped by the police because of my race.  I can travel to Arizona without worrying about having to produce documents proving my legal status and I am not even an American citizen.  On the other hand it is embarrassing to just have this privilege.  I did not do anything to earn it.  I was born White and will die White, this privilege just is – a type of unearned power.

How do I talk about something I didn’t ask for, but certainly benefit from?  One 55 minute seminar will not solve the issue.

Maybe the first step is to own the privilege.

And the second step is to create sacred spaces - to talk about the issue and hear the stories of people who have been negatively impacted by White Privilege.  These spaces are rarely comfortable places for White people to be.  But occupying the space, hearing the stories and owning the privilege creates a possibility for a new world – a world where people are judged by the content of their character.

Rights and Responsibilities

In the early 1980’s, while I was attending college in Canada, a national debate was raging about the newly written constitution. The debate over the partially written Bill of Rights was intense. People were debating what should and should not be included. Some felt that the American Bill of Rights was the template to follow, while others strongly opposed this approach.

As this debate raged, one of my professors notably started his class with the following comment, “What this country needs is a contract of responsibility, not a bill of rights.”

Every once in a while, I wonder how different our world would be if personal responsibility took precedence over the need for personal rights. In a world filled with rights, we talk about freedom of speech. In a world of responsibility, what we might say would be tempered by a concern for how words would be received by others.

In a world of rights, we have the freedom to bear arms and defend ourselves. In a world of responsibility we would never consider defending ourselves first. The needs and security of the other would come first.

In a world of rights, the individual becomes a mini-god. Everything is about me first and my own personal rights. Responsibility moves beyond the individual, and it shifts the focus to the good of the community.

Is it possible that most of the issues that threaten to destroy our communities, churches and country could be solved with a shift from a focus on rights to a focus on responsibilities?