Tuesday, March 15, 2016

What if *he's* not the problem?

I hesitate to post this, having recently shifted most of my social media presence away from political commentary and into the much more satisfying realm of puppy pics. So, in the style of John Oliver: if you get through this with me, I'll post a pic of Penny Lane at the end. Deal?

Alright, so -- you've probably heard, there's a certain casino-owner-turned-reality-TV-"star"-turned-presidential candidate who has been getting a lot of attention and a lot of votes. This person, whose name I have steadfastly refused to write on the internet in order to avoid any further inflation of his already bloated ego, has been inciting violence and making statements that are blatantly racist, sexist, xenophobic, and just about every other type of -ist and -phobic there is. All of this, it seems, to the thunderous applause and laughter of a rather large group of fellow citizens.

This has drawn a lot of comparisons to 1930s Germany and the meteoric ascendance of another monstrously masterful conductor of the xenophobic orchestra, whose name has now become so synonymous with evil that we can hurl it at people as a political ad hominem, with or without any understanding of the context in which he rose to power.

And it seems to be the widely held opinion, from just about everyone I'm friends with in material or Facebook reality, that stopping this particular orange-haired fellow and his fascist band of followers is The Thing that must happen in order to save America from impending doom and destruction.

And I'm super suspicious of that sort of language for basically the same reason I'm suspicious of Mr. "We'll make Mexico pay for the wall."

I'm suspicious -- or at least I am if I'm thinking clearly enough and being mindful enough to reflect for a second -- anytime anybody proposes that the problem, the thing that must be fixed, is that guy over there, those people over there. I've heard this person's supporters called ignorant, idiotic, dangerous, even vermin. That's language dangerously close to the type of language we decry when it is coming from their lips. That's language that says, "We'd all be better off if those people didn't exist anymore....not that I'm saying we should do anything about it, mind you, just saying...."

Remember that the eugenics folks were all about eliminating imbeciles and improving the intellect of the country. Just notice that for a second.

A brief story. Leigh and I were talking the other day, and she wondered out loud about who the people are who are voting for this fellow -- since she doesn't know anyone, personally, who is voting for the guy. Same for me, I said. And that strikes me as indicative of a problem -- the same problem, I suspect, that makes a failed businessman and reality TV star such a popular figure to begin with.

There are such huge divides, huge chasms in this country. And they are often marked, yes, by race, by class, by sexuality, by gender identity, by educational attainment. All these things are true. These things lead to the type of political clustering -- aided by the social media echo chamber -- that make it possible for me to not know a single person voting for the leading candidate of a major political party.

But deep down under that lurks something else -- something, I suspect, that is not so easy to blame on them over there.

I think we've got a shame problem and an empathy problem.

And by "we," I mean, "a group of people that includes me, myself, I, this guy right here, writing this blog post."

I think we -- I think I -- have a really hard time putting myself into the place of people I disagree with, or of people who are different than me, and I think when you start to probe around as to why that might be, other than just sort of a general human-condition-we-are-mysteries-unto-each-other thing, the reason is shame.

To put myself in someone else's place is to risk exposing my own uncertainty, or my own weakness, or my own vulnerability -- or, say, my own racism, my own sexism, my own xenophobia -- and that is really quite terrifying, so better to yell or to laugh scornfully.

And so the divisions grow deeper, and our reactions to each other grow more extreme, and it's all quite horrendously predictable and sad.

Now, I want to back up and be really clear about some things that I'm not saying. I'm not, not even for a second, condemning the protesters at the rally in Chicago and elsewhere. I'm not admonishing those who are truly fearful for the violence and oppression that might be directed at them or their families. I'm not suggesting that people should not organize, or should not be about the work of proposing political alternatives that are not based in narratives of fear, anger, or hate.

Yes to protest. Yes to organizing. Yes to a politics of hope.

But let's be careful, yes? Let's be careful not to become the thing that we fear so much.

And let's remember that the xenophobia and racism and sexism and all the other -isms and -phobias this election have brought to the surface did not suddenly appear over night.

Let's remember that they have been here, dwelling with us -- our national shadow, so to speak.

Let's remember that the Wall we're freaking out has already been built in places -- I've seen it, touched it, compared it to the one in Palestine, which I've also seen and touched, which we helped build with our tax dollars.

Let's remember that the carpet bombing threats that we're so offended by, the war crimes being proposed that we are quick to condemn -- these things have already happened, are happening still, and on our dime, and without such a widespread reaction. You know. To the real thing. Because, really, please, tell me the difference, with a straight face, between "You've got to kill the terrorists' families" and drone strikes in Pakistan.

But more than all of that, more than any particular issue that I could name, what I'm suggesting is that all of this might be dwelling much closer than we might care to admit -- hidden, under layers of shame, in our own hearts.

And that if we can uncover that, if we can gently tear open those layers of shame, we might just find those terrifying forces disarmed. We might just rediscover our capacity for empathy and for solidarity and for care.

It's what Christian theologians might refer to as "standing under the cross." Realizing our own complicity, our own involvement in violence, our own need for forgiveness. And then finding ourselves, somewhat miraculously, forgiven. Free from shame. Free to love.

And that, I suspect, will go much further towards healing this hurting country and this hurting world than shutting up those terrifying people over there.

And that's about as far as I'll go with this, for today.

Now, for your promised Penny pic:

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Transitions, Lenten Journeys, and New Life for the Ol' Blog

Hi friends -- it's been too long since I've posted regularly on here. If you're still reading, thanks for sticking with me!

You might already know, but this has been a time of massive transition for me. Leigh and I graduated in May and got married in September; by October we'd moved to Georgetown University to begin a new position together as Chaplains-in-Residence in the New South freshman residence hall. During that same time period, I served for a semester as the interim United Methodist Chaplain at American University, since our full-time chaplain was on sabbatical for the semester. I also came on as a board member for Friends of Sabeel North America. Leigh started another new job during that semester. And we were both TAing classes at Wesley Seminary. It was a full and rich semester. It was also tremendously busy, and more than a little overwhelming.

As the new year began, I started to realize that I needed to take a deep breath and step back from a few things. I've learned before that I need to take some care with myself, to not get in over my head emotionally and mentally. It's a health issue for me, and it's also a soul issue. When I'm overwhelmed, I don't function well, and I don't love well, either.

Because of that, and because of some other discernment that I've been doing, I made a tough decision. I've stepped down from my position as an Associate Chaplain at AU.* February 28th was my last Sunday there. I'm sad, and will miss a community that I've been part of for a long time -- four years in an official capacity, but really more like 7 years, since I first came to DC. I also feel a sense of peace about the decision, and am excited to see how that ministry is going to continue to grow in love, service, and welcome.

This was definitely a big decision for me, but it's just one part of a deeper and wider sense I've had that I'm in a time of transition and need to, for lack of a more eloquent word, do this transition. Getting married, moving together with Leigh to start a shared position, and most recently getting a dog** -- these are big, big shifts from where I was a few years ago. I think I need some time to honor that. Some time to learn how to be a husband (and a puppy dad) and to take some breaths before plunging into whatever the next adventure is going to be.

And I suppose that's the Lenten practice that I've taken up, to be in this, to be mindful of this journey I'm on. William Bridges suggests two questions for people who are in transition, particularly work transition: "What is it time to let go of in my life right now?" and "What is standing backstage, in the wings of my life, waiting to make its entrance?"***

So during Lent I'm pondering those questions. And taking some time to pray and to reflect and to write and to think.

And to play with a puppy, which sure helps.

Ministry at Georgetown continues (you can read updates from Leigh and I about that here), as does TAing at Wesley. I'm also going to be working on a few writing projects -- some of the fruit of which I may be posting on here. And I'm going to try to update this blog at least once a week, now that I'll have a bit more down time, so you'll be seeing more from me on here.

So stay tuned for more writing and thoughts here -- and if you want the puppy picture hookup, friend me on Facebook!

I am grateful for all of you, and overflowing with gratitude for all of the amazing opportunities and gifts in my life.

Grace and peace,

* Many of you donated so generously to the Next Generation Campaign at AU.  Thank you, thank you, thank you! I benefited directly from that support, and now the campaign continues to grow. The vision remains to support a new staff position at AU in the coming year. I don't know exactly what that will look like, but I bet it will be cool, and I'm sure they'll be updating the Next Generation website when they have more details.

** Specifically, this adorable puppy:

*** That's from Bridges' book Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes (DeCapo, 2004), pg. 87.