Friday, November 30, 2018

I Never Knew Their Names

Nesse Godin, a Holocaust survivor, says she made it through those dark days of  human history not on her own strength or wisdom, but by the kindness of Jewish women, the women who helped her.  Then she writes:  “I never knew their names.”  I never knew Nesse Godin’s name until a year or so ago.

I never knew Robert Small’s name until yesterday.  A friend posted Robert’s story on Facebook.  He was born into slavery in 1839.  He was able to steal a Confederate military ship in 1861 and escape to freedom.  After the war he purchased his former owner’s house in Beaufort, South Carolina.  He ran for Congress and won.  What a fellow!  And I never knew his name.

I never knew Kirk Bloodsworth’s name until recently when I read his story in the book, Bloodsworth.  Kirk Bloodsworth grew up in Cambridge, Maryland among the watermen on the Eastern Shore. He served four years in the Marine Corps.  In 1984, at the age of 22, he was convicted of the rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl and sentenced to death.  Kirk spent nine years in prison and two years  on death row before being exonerated and pardoned in 1993 as a result of DNA testing.  And I never knew his name.

Robert Small wasn’t perfect.  He was accused of taking a $5,000 bribe while serving as a South Carolina senator.  In 1877 he was convicted of the offense and sentenced to three years in prison (though released pending his appeal and later pardoned by the governor).  Kirk Bloodsworth wasn’t a perfect guy and wandered off into a “far country” after his stint with the Marines. 

I never knew their names.  But I know Robert’s name and Kirk’s name now and my little life is enlarged by the knowing.  Elie Wiesel writes, “In Jewish history, a name has its own history and its own memory.  It connects beings with their origins.”  So also,  my knowing the name of another person and thus knowing a little of their story is to tread on   sacred ground.  It is no accident that Isaiah has God say:  “I have called you by name, you are mine.”  In some mysterious way when I come to know the names of Robert Small and Kirk Bloodsworth, they become a part of my history, my memory, my community.  I never knew their names until just recently!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

My Gut Feeling

On Tuesday, Donald Trump gave an interview to The Washington Post—a source of “real news,” I assume.  He castigated the Federal Reserve Chairman,  “Jay” Powell, whom he appointed.  “I’m doing deals, and I’m not being accommodated  by the Fed,” he complained, “They’re making a mistake because I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me.” 

Note:  The Federal Reserve System, by law,  is not supposed to accommodate the whims of the President of the United States.  “The Fed” is the central banking system of the United States.   It was created by Congress in 1913 after a series of financial panics.

Trump thinks his gut is smarter than anybody else’s brain and his brain (intelligence) is smarter than all the scientists who say that man-made climate change is a reality.

“One of the problems that a lot of people like myself, we have very high levels of intelligence but we’re not necessarily such believers,” Trump said in the interview.  “You look at our air and our water, and it’s right now at a record clean.”  He went on to say, “As to whether or not it’s man-made and whether or not the effects that you’re talking about are there, I don’t see it.”

What planet does Mr. Trump live on?  The world is on the verge of a water crisis.  Hundreds of cities and towns in the United States are suffering severe water shortages, either because available water is not safe to drink or because there is not enough water.  The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence  now ranks water scarcity as a major threat to our national security alongside terrorism.  Flint, Michigan, where the water supply has been rendered undrinkable is just a preview of what is to come.  The fires in California threaten air quality.  The red tide in Florida is killing marine life.  This  is not Fake News!  Surely with such a brilliant gut and a “very high level of intelligence” Donald Trump should be able to see this!  Why, even the Office of the Director of National Intelligence sees it.

But then, Mr. Trump’s gut is so much smarter, his intellect so much higher, that he doesn’t believe our national intelligence agencies.  He disputes the CIA’s assessment about the murder of journalist Khashoggi by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.  “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t.  But he denies it.  And people around him deny it.  And the CIA did not say affirmatively he did it, either, by the way.  I’m not saying that they’re saying he didn’t do it, but they didn’t say it affirmatively.” 

What does your gut tell you?  My gut feeling is that I don’t trust the Trump gut any more than I trust my own.  

What do you see?

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

What About the Constitution?

In a Thanksgiving Day tweet, Trump once again berated the U.S. Court of Appeals of the Ninth Circuit saying, “We want the Constitution as written.” Earlier in the week he called the 9th circuit “a lawless disgrace,”  (this comment came after a federal judge ordered the administration to resume accepting asylum claims from migrants no matter where or how they entered the United States).  Trump’s tirade about an “Obama judge” brought Chief Justice John Roberts into the fray saying, “We do not have Obama judges, Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges…The independent judiciary is something we should all be grateful for.”  Is the judiciary as independent as Roberts’ claims, or has it become political? The many 5-4 rulings by the Supreme Court makes one wonder about Roberts’ claim of impartiality.  The recent battle over Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation speaks volumes on this subject.

The Constitution is seen as the “bible” for our democracy.  Just as there are different philosophies of interpretation for the Bible among religious folk, so there are different philosophies of interpretation for the Constitution.  What does Mr. Trump mean when he says, “We want the Constitution as written?”  A “strict construction” interpretation of the Constitution tries to adhere to the literal words of the document.  “Originalism” is yet another philosophy of interpretation that tries to interpret the Constitution according to the intent of those who wrote it. Then, there is the “loose construction” philosophy of interpretation that believes the Constitution was intended to be a living document interpreted by each new generation.  Each member of the judiciary has his or her own philosophy of interpretation and acts accordingly.  Is this being impartial?  I think so.   Is this being independent?  Yes, I think so.  Does this mean there are Obama, Trump, Bush or Clinton judges?  No, it means there are various philosophies of interpretation and each justice has chosen his or her philosophy long before being appointed to a federal bench.  

The issue becomes complicated when we begin to suggest that there is only “one way” to interpret the Constitution.  Some say they believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible, that they want the Bible as written—the  Bible that says in Psalm 137:9: “Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!”  Thurgood Marshall said in response to the adoration of the  “…Constitution as written,” that it was “defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and major social transformations to attain the system of constitutional government and its respect for the freedoms and individual rights, we hold as fundamental today.”  How we interpret the Bible and how we interpret the Constitution makes a world of difference in how we view people.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018


To judge or criticize another person is an easy thing to do and most of us are quite good at it.    To judge or criticize another person, however, is also always dangerous.  It is always a potential boomerang:  “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged” (Matthew 7:2).  Some say that Jesus forbade his followers to judge, but even a surface reading of the gospels indicates that Jesus himself judged.  In fact, the gospel, in and of itself, is a judgment, a criticism against the world as it is! In essence, Jesus’ teaching about judgment is not that he forbade it, but rather that it had serious implications.  If you don’t want to be criticized, don’t criticize. Every judgment you or I make involves a self-judgment.  We have to look to the plank in our own eye (and that plank exist in every human eye)—we have to realize how difficult a job it is to attempt to remove the speck we see in the eye of another.  

But what kind of life would we know if we did not make judgments?  What kind of world would it be if we did not criticize things that happen in it?  What kind of government would we have if we simply tolerated whatever that government did?  What kind of society would we be living in today if no one had ever judged and criticized it?  It seems to me that the very essence of Christianity is to take a stand, to judge, criticize, object,  and overturn whatever appears to be dehumanizing.  Slavery was wrong.  We made that judgment and fought a war to overcome it.  Segregation was wrong and we made a judgment and fought against it.  Women were not given right to vote until the early twentieth century.  That was wrong, and some made a judgment and  criticized, and that wrong was overturned. Do not use Jesus’ teaching to avoid making judgments or being critical.  Taking Jesus seriously is not some kind of mindless tolerance.  But we become mindlessly tolerant when we cease to be social critics, political critics, ethical critics and religious critics!  “Judge not, that ye be not judged” simply means that we are judged by the same “standards” by which we judge others.

Mr. Trump  has raised the possibility of starting “our own Worldwide Network” to smother the news spread by CNN internationally.  He said, just yesterday, that CNN “has a powerful voice portraying the United States in an unfair and false way.  Something has to be done.”  Mr. Trump criticizes and judges CNN without looking at himself and the “faux news” he spreads every day.  Mr. Trump wants a worldwide network “to show the World the way we really are.  GREAT!” I, unabashedly and unapologetically, judge such a proposal to be anathema to our democracy.  After all, there is already the Voice of America and BBC. If we don’t make judgments, or criticize, or object, our mindless tolerance will destroy all that we hold dear.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Trump’s Faux News

The French word “faux” means fake.  We’ve borrowed the word and use it in our English language to describe an “imitation” of something such as a “faux-fur coat.”  The word also has a number of synonyms:  imagined, pretended, make-believe, made-up, fantasized, dreamed-up, unreal, invented, fictitious, fake, sham, spurious, bogus, counterfeit, fraudulent, and phoney.  

“Faux pas” is another term borrowed from the French and widely used now in our English vocabulary.  Faux pas means literally “false step.”  Synonyms include words like: gaffe, indiscretion, mistake, impropriety, breach of etiquette, slip up, and blooper.  

Mr. Trump’s faux pas when in England in July 2018 comes to mind.  He messed up royally by walking in front of Queen Elizabeth II as they strolled the grounds of Windsor Castle. He also failed to bow when meeting the Queen and was twelve minutes late in arriving at the palace.  A  palace insider was quoted as saying, “The feeling inside the palace is that Trump’s disrespectful mistakes with the queen were terrible and inexcusable. The American president struggled with the simplest acts of courtesy and politeness, which did not go unnoticed by the world.” That’s just one  example of Mr.Trump’s faux pas (breach of etiquette, impropriety or indiscretion) moments.  He seems to be totally unaware.

Mr. Trump rambles on about “Fake News” while he himself continues to report spurious claims, bogus situations, and made-up stories—or, shall we say, “Faux News?” The talk about the caravan is but one example.  His faux news has no basis in fact and yet no one seems to care. I’m amazed as I read what some of his supporters write as “truth” on social media.  Much of it is bogus, fraudulent, unreal, invented out of thin air, and a sham.  But if Mr. Trump says it, repeats it over and over again, no matter how faux, no matter how bogus, they believe Trump’s  Faux News. 

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The World Before My Laptop

Woe is me!  My laptop is malfunctioning.  I spent an hour or more on the phone with the cable folk yesterday trying to resolve the problem.  That didn’t work.   A trip to the Apple Store will be the next step.  How can I manage without my laptop?  I’m wholly dependent on it.  I  do have an iPhone and an iPad, and they are both working okay (so far), but neither of these are adequate substitutes for my laptop.  Woe is me!

Once upon a time I lived in a world devoid of computers: desktops, laptops, iPhones, and tablets.   It really wasn’t that long ago, but long enough ago that I can barely remember it. Or maybe, I really don’t want to remember it.  It was a primitive time.  We wrote a lot by hand.  On paper.  Being left-handed, I remember having a hard time writing in “right-handed notebooks”.  I was somewhat relieved from that handwriting business when I learned how to type on a typewriter.  I could once type/write 60-some words a minute.  If I made a mistake I could raise the paper and erase the error, lower the paper and type in the correct word or letter.  Later on a “white out” liquid was available to make corrections.  It took longer to type a research paper without error than it did to do the research and to write the notes! 

It was a time of great innovation.  If one needed an extra copy when writing on the typewriter,  carbon paper and what was known as onion skin paper would do the trick.  If you made a mistake, it only took 3-5 minutes to erase each copy.  If more than a few copies were desired we used a mimeograph machine or a “ditto” machine. The mimeo used a messy black ink and the “ditto” (sometimes called the “spirit duplicator) used an alcohol-based fluid on which one could easily get a “high!”  Then came the Multilith or the Lithograph duplicating process.  Why, IBM even came out with an electric typewriter and later (way back in 1961) they developed the “Selectric”  with replaceable caps with different fonts.  What an amazing machine that was!

Back in the day there were no telephone answering machines, no GPS or Google maps (you had to know how to read a road map) and you had to change your telephone number every time you moved.  An address book was a physical thing, an actual notebook, in which you had to write the address by hand and update it in the same way.  There is so much more I could say about how things (from banking to buying) were done back then, but space does not allow it.

Believe me, this is a very limited overview of that primitive time. Some people suggest it was a better time than the present.  I disagree.  It was a world without a laptop.  I prefer to live in a better world with my laptop. 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Abiding Love

Arnold Toynbee wrote:  “Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil.  Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be our hope that love is going to have the last word.”  I choose love.  I  believe love will win out, that it will have the last word, because Love is at the Heart of Things. 

In the present darkness (and it is darkness) we must not despair.  Despair is a form of faith and tends to produce what it sees.  Despair produces more despair.  It erodes hope.  The choice of, or acquiescence to, the darkness robs us of the option to choose love.  Fatalism of any kind saps our will.

Some have become weary.  They have accepted what is now. They ignore the ever-growing darkness.  Their initial outrage has diminished.  They now say, “Why bother?”  They have given up. They are accepting the abnormal as normal.  They no longer see any way out and simply give in to the “what is”.  They cannot see any longer what can be, what ought to be, what is meant to be!

How we see makes all the difference.  Hope is a form of faith and tends to produce what it sees.  Let us hope that Toynbee and so many others have had it right.  Let us hope that the ultimate force is love and let us live in that hope. 

My greatest concern is that we could and that we are, in very fact, losing sight of what Love at the Heart of Things is all about.  We are confusing, conflating and distorting that Love and trying to make it fit into what is.  We are accepting the very wiles of the demonic as the “right thing,”  whether it be the preemption of truth, fictionalized facts, boasts of expertise, the denigration of all opposition, polarizing by fear tactics, or the dehumanization of people.  We are treading on dangerous ground with this “ridiculous national vanity.”   

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Give Thanks Whatever Happens

In I Thessalonians 5:18,  it is written:  “Be always joyful; pray continually; give thanks whatever happens…” That’s a tall order.  “How can we sing God’s song in a strange land?” lamented the people of Judah long ago.  As they sat by the waters of Babylon that people wept.  They knew no joy.  They felt abandoned by the God of steadfast love and mercy.  They prayed, pleading with God to remember them.  They cried out, “Behold us and see our degradation” (Lam. 5:1).  They found it difficult to give thanks.  They hung up their harps because they felt they could not sing God’s song in a strange land (Psalm 137).   They were exiles.  Everything had been torn from them, land, home, family, neighbors.  They felt alone, utterly forsaken by God.  In that Babylonian captivity, the people hung their heads in abject despair.  They could no longer laugh, or dance, or sing their songs.  They could no longer give thanks for what was happening in their lives.

On this Day of Thanksgiving we, too, feel a lot of despair about the way things are going in our beloved land.  It is hard these days to sing “America, the Beautiful,” because we are not so beautiful right now.  Of course, we’ve never been all that beautiful at any time in our national history.  But it seems to me that we are in a kind of Babylonian captivity or exile just now.  We have forsaken so much of what made us a “light unto the nations.” We have become instead,  an ominous cloud that has darkened our homeland and cast a shadow over the entire global community.  It is almost as though the American dream has been led away to some “Never Never Land” in exile.  

Can we sing the Lord’s song in exile—in this new and strange America?  Can we be joyful?  Can we give thanks?  Yes, we can and we must!  The God of the Bible is present and active in human history and in all creation and this God is a God who acts (leading the Hebrew people out of Egypt and the people of Judah out of captivity).  Give thanks today to the God who liberates, who delivers, who loves, and is at the heart of all things.

I am grateful for Julia Mooney today.  She’s a school teacher in New Jersey who has worn the same gray, button-down dress that she has worn every day since school began in September.  She is trying to raise our awareness to the “culture of excess” that has filled our closets with unnecessary clothing (as well as the many other “excesses” that rule us).

I’m grateful, too, for Chief Justice John Roberts speaking up yesterday against Mr. Trump’s continual attempts to undermine the rule of law.  “We do not have Obama judges,” Roberts said, “or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges.  What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.”  

Do not hang up your harp and stop singing God’s songs.  Give thanks whatever may happen.  Trust that God will speak through “a Julia” and “a John” and liberate us from our captivity and exile.  

Dance then, wherever you may be, for I am the Lord of
the Dance, said He

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Give Thanks for Life!

There is much spurious thinking among alleged Christians.  Many, influenced by the false prophets of our time, think that God exists to provide them personal advantages.  They expect God to heal “them” of their maladies, even though God doesn’t heal others with the same maladies.  Many of them claim to love God for what they think they can get out of such a relationship.  Meister Johannes Eckhart (1260-1327) wrote:  

“Some people want to see God with their eyes as they see a cow and to love him as they love their cow—they love their cow for the milk and cheese and profit it makes them.  This is how it is with people who love God for the sake of outward wealth or inward comfort.  They do not rightly love God when they love him for their advantage.”

No one is immune to life’s ups and downs.  Life is not a rose garden and life is not just continual chaos.  Life is a mixture.  Give thanks for the mixture.  Douglas Malloch’s (1877-1938) little poem, “Thank God for Life,” helps me remember this truth.

Thank God for life!
There! A meadowlark sings!  
Do you hear it?
For the sigh of the heart,
The contagion of laughter,
For the longing apart,
For the joy that comes after,
For the things that we feel
when we clasp, when we kneel—
Thank God for the sharing,
The caring, the giving,
For the things of Life’s living.  

Another unknown poet expressed it this way:

Thank God for life!
E’ven though it bring much bitterness and strife,
And all our fairest hopes be wrecked and lost,
E’ven though there be more ill than good in life,
We cling to life and reckon not the cost.

Thank God for life!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Our National Egoism and Perverseness

An obscure woman, Sara Josepha Hale, is credited for our national day of Thanksgiving.  In 1863, she wrote President Abraham Lincoln, requesting a meeting to propose that the scattered celebrations of Thanksgiving in various states be unified into “A National and fixed Union Festival.”  On October 3, 1863, Lincoln issued the first National Thanksgiving Proclamation. 

That Proclamation called for the people to give thanks for “singular deliverances and blessings,” but also to “humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience.”  That year, 1863, was a year of deep despair.  It seemed as though the war—brother against brother—would never end.  The Battle of Gettysburg took place in November of that year.  Surely there were “singular deliverances and blessings,” but for most it was a year of deep despair.  Lincoln, in his Proclamation, called the nation to gratitude, penitence, and compassion.  Every President since 1863 has given a Thanksgiving Proclamation—and most have included a call to gratitude and compassion, but very few since Lincoln’s 1863 Proclamation have called us to look closely at ourselves as a people—at “our national perverseness and disobedience”—very few Thanksgiving Proclamations since have called us to be penitent (feeling, and showing sorrow and regret for having done wrong).  Can it be that America has done no wrong?  Of course not!  We just refuse to look at our “national perverseness and disobedience.”

As a nation, we do precisely what we do as individual persons.  We avoid looking closely at ourselves.  We see the speck in our brother’s eye, but never the plank in our own.  We point out the faults of other nations, but never seem to see or deal with our own.

Our national pride makes us blind to our “perverseness”  as a nation. Our national ego is inflated to such a degree that we cannot see what is right in front of our nose. We are and have been disobedient to our own Constitutional principles that each individual has certain basic rights.  Our practice in the past and our practice now in the  present is the very antithesis of those principles.  We are morally impoverished or what the Bible cites as “hardness of heart” or as “the impairment or loss of moral discernment; the incapacity to hear, though one has ears; or to see, though one has eyes (e.g. Mark 8:14-21).”

Our National Day of Thanksgiving 2018 must be a balance of gratitude, penitence, and compassion.  

Monday, November 19, 2018

Less Than Human

David Livingstone Smith wrote in Less Than Human, “The Holocaust is the most thoroughly documented example of the ravages of dehumanization.  Its hideousness strains the limits of imagination.  And yet, focusing on it can be strangely comforting.  It’s all too easy to imagine that the Third Reich was a bizarre aberration, a kind of mass insanity instigated by a small group of deranged ideologue who conspired to seize political power and bend a nation to their will.  Alternatively, it’s tempting to imagine that the Germans were (or are) a uniquely cruel and bloodthirsty people.  But these diagnoses are dangerously wrong.  What’s most disturbing about the Nazi phenomenon is not that the Nazis were madmen or monsters.  It’s that they were ordinary human beings.”  

The most disturbing thing about the Holocaust is that it was committed by ordinary human beings, people like you and me.  The most disturbing thing about the practice of slavery here in the United States was that it was supported by “half a nation” of ordinary human beings.  The most disturbing thing about segregation was that it was orchestrated, practiced, and condoned by ordinary human beings, who pledged allegiance to the flag, who read the Bible, who recited the Lord’s Prayer, and who stood up during the singing of the national anthem!  The most disturbing thing about the treatment of the Native American—then and now—has been meted out by ordinary human beings.  To put a point on what I’m saying:  “the ravages of dehumanization” whatever example one chooses, either in the past or in the present, has been committed by ordinary human beings!  

A Native American elder, wrote George Bernard Shaw, described his own inner humanness this way:  “Inside of me there are two dogs.  One of the dogs is mean and evil.  The other dog is good.  The mean dog fights the good dog all the time.”  When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied, “The one I feed the most.”

Which dog in you, in me, in our country, is being fed most these days—the good dog or the mean and evil one?  To dehumanize another brother or sister makes us less than human.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

"So The Holy Bible Says"

Daniel Erlander writes in Manna and Mercy:  “Something started to happen which upset the One who loves all people.”  It started happening centuries ago when the leaders of the Israelites decided that they (the “called-forth” people, meant to be “partners with God) had to be completely separated from foreigners in order to live as God’s “special people.”  One of the leaders (Ezra) commanded all the men who were married to foreign wives to put those wives away and to rid themselves of any of the children born out of those relationships. Marriages were broken; families were torn apart.  Weeping and mourning could be heard throughout the land and the One who loves all people cried with those who lives were shattered.  His “partner people” had chosen a narrow form of righteousness (xenophobia).  They had forgotten about mercy, love, and community (Ezra 10).

The One (Love at the heart of things) thought about this, “These people love me, but now I must convince them that I love them because I love all nations, all people.  How can I convince them, as my partner people, to bring shalom (peace), healing, blessing, ‘manna society’ to all people?”  God rejoiced because a small segment (a remnant) of his partner people refused to go along with the popular point of view.  They believed God loves all people.  Through this minority God spoke to the whole people in the form of simple and beautiful stories.

One of these stories portrayed Ruth the Moabite (Ruth 1:4).  During the early history of Israel this “foreign wife” not only became part of God’s partner people; she became the grandmother of  the beloved King David and the ancestor of the promised Messiah (Ruth 1:17, Matt 1).  Ruth’s words to her Hebrew mother-in-law must never be forgotten:  “Your people will be my people and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16).

Yet another story was told about a prophet named Jonah. God asked him to go to Nineveh, a foreign city.  Jonah didn’t want to go.  He, like his own people, ran away from the mission to help “the others,” those who were different .  After an encounter with a big fish, Jonah finally makes it to Nineveh.  His words helped the people to see differently and God’s mercy fell upon those people (even the cows were converted).  Jonah didn’t like this—he was angry and bitter—he wanted all “foreigners” to be foreigners (to receive punishment rather than mercy).

Through these and other stories, the small minority proclaimed the wonderful words of life:  God loves all people and wants everyone included.  God wants the partner people to love their neighbors.  “So the Holy Bible says.”  And so, also, does the “first” American Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

American Myths and Fallacies

A myth is “a widely held but false belief or idea.”  A fallacy is “a widely held but false belief or idea.”  Both words mean the same in the context of this writing.  Let me share a couple myths/fallacies that have been on my mind lately.

The “just world fallacy” is the  “the widely held but false belief or idea” that people who are poor, who suffer misfortune, are deserving of their fate.   This fallacy has become more popular in recent years by what is called the “prosperity gospel.” This grotesque and heretical interpretation of the Christian faith tells its adherents that poor people deserve their circumstances because God has chosen not to bless them with money.  That means, of course, that rich people have more money because God has seen them as worthy.  The just world fallacy tends to see poverty as an individual phenomenon, thus those who believe in a just world lack empathy toward those who just haven’t been able to make it.  It is the individual’s fault (whatever the issue) and has nothing to do with  family or society.  In fact, there is a strong tendency to demonize the individual as “lazy, uneducated, ignorant, or otherwise inferior.” 

This just world fallacy (and it is a fallacy) suggests that we live in a world of meritocracy in which persons who do what is right and who work hard and follow the rules will be rewarded and those who are assumed to be “unrighteous,” lazy, etc.,  will not.  There is on the part of those who presume themselves to be meritorious a lack of empathy and concern for those who haven’t made it (after all they “deserve it”).  This disdain of “the other” who hasn’t measured up and therefore deserves whatever situation they find themselves is expressed in a statement I read on a Facebook post this morning: “The problems we face today are there because the people who work for a living are now outnumbered by those that vote for a living.” 

Another American cultural myth or fallacy is the fantasy of “rugged individualism,” a close cousin to the fallacy of meritocracy.  No one is a self-made or self-reliant person despite the stories we’ve read since childhood and despite our egotistical assessments of our own progress.

Let me share a biblical myth, though I’m not sure that it is a “belief widely held” these days:  “We own nothing.  We can trust God for daily bread.  Work is the dignified activity of helping God meet the needs of all people (not just one’s own).  Hoarding is  as unnecessary (ostentatious display of wealth). God’s gifts are for all, not just the big deals or the deserving.  God gives enough; all can therefore live in sufficiency—with neither too much nor too little”  (Exodus 16:1-36).

Friday, November 16, 2018

Does It Matter?

The Toronto Star reported that Donald Trump in the 31 days leading into the midterm elections made 815 false claims.  The Washington Post reported that in the seven weeks prior to the midterms, Mr. Trump made 1,419 false or misleading statements. Does that matter?  Yes, it matters, especially when active duty military personnel are used as pawns in a political stunt based on such lies!  Where’s the caravan, Mr. Trump?  When will the invasion come?  Will you, sir, visit those soldiers along the border on Thanksgiving Day and eat MRE’s with them?  Will you, sir, as one who claims to have done great things of “our military,” find a way to get those VA checks cut for recipients of the GI Bill?  Can’t you, sir, make a deal?

When I say anything about Trump’s deluge of lies to other people, they respond by saying, “All politicians lie at election time.”  Yes, I know that to be true—I also know that all of us lie from time to time.  But Trump’s lies aren’t just during elections, they occur every day and they are “whoppers.”  Does it matter?

While “big new lies” continue after the midterms, we hear nothing now about the caravan, the invasion, the national emergency, the “Middle Easterners” secretly embedded within that caravan,, the “gangs like MS-13,” or the “diseases like Small Pox” or leprosy.  We hear nothing about “George Soros’ secret funding” of the “invaders” now that a horrible mass shooting has occurred in Pittsburgh and pipe bombs were delivered to those named by Mr. Trump in his lie-ladened rallies.

The Huffington Post reported that armed bands of civilian  militia are moving toward the border to help active-duty troops rebuff the migrant caravan.  Newsweek reported “200 unregulated armed militia members [are] currently operating along the southwest border.”  The Washington Post reported that Texas Minutemen militia leader Shannon McGauley said there are 100 volunteers heading to the Rio Grande to block migrants.  These militia leaders echo Trump’s lies that the migrant caravan are “invaders”  “We believe our nation is under attack by foreigners who refuse to accept the rule of law on how to become a citizen of the United States,” one militia leader told NewsweekThe Albuquerque Journal reported that The Patriots of the Constitution militia put out a call last month for a “full deployment” to make a “stand to secure our border from a mob of migrating immigrants.”  That migrant caravan is mostly just a group of Honduran and Salvadoran dads, mothers, and children in flip-flops fleeing for their lives.

Lies matter.  Those who ignore them and say they don’t matter are deluding themselves.  Lies continue to be told and those who remain silent about them become what Scott Peck called “The People of the Lie.”  

Thursday, November 15, 2018

What Comes First?

Our political philosophies are often derived from where our focus lies:  on the individual or on the community.   What comes first in our minds?  Do we see ourselves first as independent actors operating in the world, or do we think first of being a part of the world (community)? 

Although everyone is their own person, and has their own unique personality, thoughts, and beliefs, we are all part of a community.  That community can be our family, our neighborhood, our church, our town, our country, even our world.  A community is defined here, as a body of people who share common interests.

Political conservatives typically see the individual as the one who makes things happen, or should make things happen.  Conservatives tend to trust the individual more than the community (government). Conservatives believe that individuals are smarter with respect to their own interest than the collective wisdom of the community (government).

Political liberals view individuals (first and foremost) as part of a community (government) and it is that community that makes things happen.  Liberals view the community (government), which individuals create together, as the power that can move us forward and provide for the needs of all individuals.

Conservatives suggest that if you leave individuals to themselves, let them be responsible for themselves, they will work things out for the betterment of the community.  Liberals think that the community should assist individuals to achieve greater things and that individuals tend to act in their own self-interest to the detriment of the community.

I am aware that the above definitions of political conservative and liberal viewpoints are simplistic, but I think they help us think about the question “What comes first?”  Is it the individual or is it the community?  I could be all wet, but this morning it seems to me that the view we hold on these two words determines our political philosophy.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

What Are Friends For?

France has been a friend of the United States since 1776.  France was our first ally—our first friend.  Without French military and economic support we might have been still-born as a nation.  Like all friendships there have been some squabbles in our relationship over the last couple of centuries, but a Gallup poll in 2016 indicated that 87% of Americans had a favorable view of France.  In fact, just a few months ago, the world was talking about the great “bromance” between Donald Trump and France’s President Emmanuel Macron.  Why then did Mr. Trump lash out so nastily and insult the whole of France and belittle its president just two days ago?  It's a long story—but it is a story most of us know and understand from our own friendships.  What’s a friend for?  A good and faithful friend is one who  has the courage to tell you when you are wrong, help you see your shortcomings, and encourage you to seek the higher road.  President Macron may no longer be Trump’s friend, but he is a real friend to the United States of America.  He is trying to help us.  

President Macron tried to help us back in April 2018 when he spoke before the Republican-led Congress.  “Personally, if you ask me,” he said then, I do not share the fascination for new strong powers, the abandonment of freedom, and the illusion of nationalism…The United States and Europe have a historical role in this respect, because it is the only way to defend what we believe in, to promote our universal values, to express strongly that human rights, the rights of minorities and shared liberty are the true answer to the disorders of the world.  I believe in these rights and values.”  

Back then, just a little over six months ago, Macron was trying hard to be Mr. Trump’s friend and a friend to “we the people.”  On nationalism, Macron said, “We can choose isolationism, withdrawal, and nationalism.  This is an option.  It can be tempting to us as a temporary remedy  to our fears.  But closing the door to the world will not stop the evolution of the world.  It will not douse, but inflame, the fears of our citizens.  We have to keep our eyes wide open to the new risks, right in front of us.  I am convinced,” he said, “that if we decide to open our eyes wider, we will be stronger.  We will overcome the dangers.  We will not let the rampaging work of extreme nationalism shake a world full of hopes for greater prosperity.”  Macron added, “The most destructible, the most powerful, the most definitive knot between us is the one that ties the true purpose of our peoples to advance, as Abraham Lincoln said, the ‘unfinished business’ of democracy.” What a friend!  I wish we had more friends like Mr. Macron.  What are friends for, after all?

Mr. Trump in October 2018 declared “A globalist is a person that wants the globe to do well, frankly not caring about our country so much, and you know what, we can’t have that…I’m a nationalist.  OK? I’m a nationalist.  Nationalist.  Use that word.”

So, again, what are friends for?  President Macron last week tried to help us see ourselves, tried to encourage us to entertain our better angels, tried to inspire us to live the American dream.  “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism.  By saying our interests first, who cares about the others, we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what gives it grace and what is essential:  its moral values.”  What a friend!  What are friends for, but to care for us, to lift us up, to help us  see our own dream.