Make America Kind(er) Again

My husband Jonathan has a friend who had some buttons printed up in response to the MAGA (Make America Great Again) campaign. His version of our national need is Make America Kind Again. He gave Jonathan several and I wear one on my coat every day.

However, from the first I have wished it read, Make America Kinder Again–because, frankly, I am hard-pressed to say that I think America has ever been truly kind. Our history is rife with the bodies of Native Americans, African slaves, and African-American men and women, as well as Japanese-American citizens imprisoned and LatinX people victimized by law and society–as well as gay and lesbian people denied civil rights (and not the only ones by far, at least we could vote!) and transgender people under assault every day. Then, there is the lack of universal health care for millions and a tax and economic system that clearly favors those who already have vastly more than enough to meet their needs. The rich are getting richer and the rest of us are forced to make it possible.

At the same time, of course, our national history is also a story of righting wrongs, of freeing people once considered less than human. That story is far from done–Native American claims to dignity have yet to be addressed in ways that would be concretely just and healing, and the same is true for African Americans. And now, the President feeds prejudice against peoples from other less-than-fully-white lands. But still we have tried, and in some ways succeeded, in ameliorating some of the worst behavior that marks our national story.

So we may not be kind as a nation, but we do seek to be kinder. At least, that is how it seemed to me until recently.

Our focus has shifted from living the American Dream–liberty and justice for all (and not just in the United States)–to grabbing what we can, while we can, everywhere we can, so no one can get more than we have.

In the process, we are becoming not only less kind to the rest of the world, but also to each other.

An article from the Atlantic Monthly, “Trump and Russia Both Seek to Exacerbate the Same Political Divisions,” makes the interesting, if not worrisome, point that creating and ratcheting up divisions with the American electorate serves the political aims of both the President and the Russians. Much of the article is grounded in some studies of social media sites and their reverberation through the body politic–including sites and drivers clearly linked to Russia intelligence agents.

The author, Conor Friedersdorf, takes pains to note that he thinks the motives of each are different–the President is not seeking to destroy our political system, e.g.–but that the electoral fortunes of the President and the GOP and the success of the Russian intent to disrupt our republic are both tied directly to heightened levels of social division.  The more we distrust one another, the better each of these forces will do.

Friederrsdorf argues that it is vital for internet users–on all the social media platforms–to “show more charity to competing political tribes and exhibit less pessimism about U.S. politics.” He admits there certainly is “homegrown ugliness” (how could this not be so in a nation so drenched in the blood of white supremacy, among other things?), but he says all need to be aware that some of the off-putting behavior and attitudes is “fakery” dreamed up by agents of a foreign and unfriendly power.

In short, we can be kinder, even if we find the opinions of others outrageous–or if not kinder, then at least less vituperative and angry than we may initially feel is justified.

I admit that this is not an easy prescription for me at times. I can become very angry, outraged, at some of what I can only see as ugly and stupid opinions and claims of fact. I want to strike back with a righteous fury.

But I recognize that such reactions give only momentary satisfaction–“so there!” I am saying, in a juvenile vent–and ultimately work against the very causes in which I am so invested.

Ursula K. Le Guin

In her loving tribute to the recently deceased Ursula K. Le Guin, Margaret Atwood quotes Le Guin writing about anger.

“Anger is a useful, perhaps indispensable tool in motivating resistance to injustice. But I think it is a weapon — a tool useful only in combat and self-defense. . . . Anger points powerfully to the denial of rights, but the exercise of rights can’t live and thrive on anger. It lives and thrives on the dogged pursuit of justice. . . . Valued as an end in itself, it loses its goal. It fuels not positive activism but regression, obsession, vengeance, self-righteousness.”

As a queer theologian, seeking not to be automatically and constantly bound by any of the ordinary strictures and straitjackets of religion and society, I certainly understand the necessity for anger. As Le Guin writes, anger drives resistance to injustice. As Fenton Johnson wrote in this month’s Harper’s (THE FUTURE OF QUEER: how gay marriage damaged gay culture), the work of LGBT liberation movement especially in its earlier manifestations, and most assuredly the massive queer community response to HIV/AIDS, were each driven by anger.

Johnson is, in my view, too harsh in his criticism of the movement for marriage equality. I think he has a rather one-dimensional view of gay, or queer, culture. At the same time, he is right to insist that being queer requires significant vulnerability, that indeed, love requires the same thing. And he is right to say, that “what defines queer, finally, is not what one does in bed but one’s stance toward the ancien régime, the status quo, the way things have always been done, the dominant mode, capitalism.”

James Baldwin

With such a perspective, I seek here to suggest that resistance to injustice, to social straitjackets and oppression, requires not only righteous indignation but also love of the very deepest kind. Fenton quotes my hero, James Baldwin,

“Love has never been a popular movement. . . . The world is held together—really it is held together—by the love and passion of a few people.”

I agree with Fenton that the number of people who evidence love and passion is greater than Baldwin implies. But I know that we always need more of those people. And I know, I do know, that their number will only grow to the extent we are actually willing and able to be vulnerable enough to love even those who hate, or seem to hate, us. That love may well be driven by anger–as my teacher, Beverly Wildung Harrison, wrote long ago, the power of anger drives love–but it is the love that creates change that lasts.

Kindness is the method, the action, of such love, not so much romantic or erotic love (although eros is never absent in our lives) as love for the survival and thriving of every creature, human and not, on earth, indeed love for the survival, renewal, and thriving of the planet.

Let us be kinder.

 

 

 

 

 

The Hard Truth of Beloved Community

Today is the day we celebrate the gifts of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther, King, Jr. to our nation and world. 

Martin Luther King, JRThis is a time when many in our nation participate in some action that they believe helps us achieve Dr. King’s vision of “beloved community.” My intention is to continue to do that continually throughout the year, throughout my life, and my hope and prayer is that is true for others as well. 

Yesterday, I heard a fine sermon by Rev. Dwayne Johnson at Metropolitan Community Church in Washington, D.C. in which he focused on the active love of God working in and through us. He drew much inspiration from early writing of Dr. King, such as “An Experiment in Love,” which appeared in in 1958 in a magazine and also as a part of his early book, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Circle.

In that article, Dr. King focuses on the Christian ethical concept of agape (a transliteration of the Greek word for love), often described as God’s love for humanity. This love is different from love songs and courtship. He wrote

Agape is not a weak, passive love. It is love in action. Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community. It is insistence on community even when one seeks to break it. Agape is a willingness to go to any length to restore community. 

Community. There are so many forces, so many people, seeking today to disrupt, even destroy community. From politicians to terrorists to intolerant individuals and xenophobic groups, our life in community is under siege. Dr. King would be preaching, writing, marching, praying to turn that around.

Jonathan and Robin JVP Islamophobia actionSome of the worst right now is virulent negativity toward Muslims and Islam (of course, African Americans, Native Americans, immigrants from Latin America and elsewhere, as well as transgender people, differently-abled people, and LGB people continue to face this, too). 

That’s why Jonathan and I, with other members of the DC Metro Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, went yesterday to the Columbia Heights neighborhood in our nation’s capital to focus on Islamophobia and to encourage others to join in opposing this harmful attitude that seems to be affecting, infecting, so much of our public discourse. 

About 20 of us handed out flyers, talked to people on the street, and visited store managers and owners asking for permission to put posters in their windows. About 25 retailers accepted the posters and quite a few hung them immediately in their windows. We are shown with one poster, and the other is below. 

Many of us also wore small stickers in the shape of the yellow star Jews were forced to wear in the Holocaust with the word “Muslim” (and the Islamic crescent) super-imposed where the word Jude (German for Jew) was usually displayed. This was not without controversy for some, but the intention was to express solidarity with a people being marked for ugly treatment on the basis of their religion and heritage.

yellow star with Muslim and crescentI also know that expressing that solidarity right in the face of so much hatred is what so many should have done in Germany and elsewhere, including in the United States, when Jews by the millions, and many others (my own tribe, gay men, wore the pink triangle), were being forced to leave their homes and be slaughtered. Just think what might have happened, how different things might have been, if people–non-Jews all over–had stood up in 1935, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, etc.! Hitler and his minions did the deeds, just as others engage in genocide and racial profiling that leads to death and imprisonment for far too many today, but we all bear responsibility for whatever we did not, do not, do to stop it. 

Refugees are welcome here posterThis is what Dr. King meant when he often spoke of the silence of the “good people,” the ones who look the other way in the face of injustice. As Dr. King, and so many who marched with him, knew well, we are called on to speak truth to power when, as it so often is, it is on the side of oppression. And too often for some, perhaps many depending on the circumstances, the power that oppresses some actually sustains, even raises, the rest of us. It is not easy to stand up against our own group when it is wrong, but if we want beloved community, the community which is the whole of God’s people (all people are God’s people) to survive and thrive, we must do just that. 

The fate of community, beloved community, rests not only with others but also squarely with us. Thank you, Dr. King, for not letting us forget that truth. 

 

Love Is the Deal

Most of my life I have been fascinated by politics, probably accurate to call me a political junkie, avidly reading the latest tidbits of commentary, polls and the like.

Some of this is tied to the fact that I have been an elected official, albeit at the relatively low level of local and county government in my native Michigan. I also served as an aide to a U.S. Congressman and a State Senator. My undergraduate degree is in political science. I was sure, in years long ago, that I wanted to make my way in politics, and dreamed of being a U.S. Senator, maybe even President. [Note: There used to be a picture of the county seal here, but the county’s office of corporation counsel asked me to remove it, fearing that someone could think its presence constituted an endorsement by the county of this blog. I guess they have little better to do with their time than worry about a lowly blog by a former county official. But I have complied, to save them filing suit or taking some other such, in my view, unnecessary action, and to save the taxpayers further burden.]

I have not abandoned that interest entirely (though no dreams of elected office remain!), but I am finding it less and less satisfying. The shift began in the late 1970s when I perceived the inadequacy of the political system to solve some really basic problems in our world, at the very time I felt a call to ordained ministry (I went to seminary in 1981, graduating from the Episcopal Divinity School in 1985). 

Episcopal Divinity School group circle
lonestarparson.blogspot.com I found this picture on Google, connected to a blog that calls EDS “Satan’s Seminary” (that will be for a future post!)

Neither politics or religion have all the answers, of course. Both create problems as well as offer solutions. This is probably because each is a human construct managed by human beings. I say this without denying the role of divine inspiration in religion, and sometimes even in politics.

5.0.3
magnificat.ca

There is one thing however that I do not find in politics generally, and especially today, and that is love. Love is at the center of my life, because I believe it is at the center of all life. I agree with St. John of the Cross, who said, “There is nothing better or more necessary than love.” One of my favorite spiritual writers, Fr. Richard Rohr, has written about this extensively in, among other places, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi and Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self

Richard Rohr 2
Richard Rohr OFM en.wikipedia.org

Neither they, nor others, nor I, mean so much the feeling or sentiment of love (romantic love, Hallmark card love, etc. (although this can be very good and indeed wonderful) as we mean the active engagement with others. all others, in mutually respectful, caring, holistic relationship. 

In the political realm, I guess this makes me a liberal. I do not doubt that conservatives love other people, but their politics seems mostly devoid of it. Love requires a largeness of spirit, and certainly a focus on things in addition to money, the national debt, and the latest outrages.

hunger
sites,google,com

Speaking of outrages, there are many in the world, and they are not limited to beheadings by ISIS and shootings by extremists (“Islamic” or otherwise). How about the fact that tens of millions of people in the world go hungry every day, and yet there is enough food to feed everyone? That is an outrage of grand and preposterous proportions! 

So love. I am in search of how I can help grow the quantity and quality of love in the world. I believe it can be done best, maybe only done, in community–hence the name of this blog. 

Obama's tears
nationalreview.com

Which is where politics could come in, and religion, too. Both are fundamentally communal. But I am having a hard time finding much love in what passes for political discourse, even among Democrats. Maybe love is at the root of what they say, but they do not use the word very much (President Obama’s tears when speaking about the children killed in Newtown demonstrate love). The only Republican running for President who comes close is Governor Kasich of Ohio (and he is not doing very well in the polls!). 

John Kasich
Governor John Kasich businessinsider.com

I believe in the responsibility and power of the vote, I will never stop voting, but my criteria are clear: the more loving you sound and act, the more likely I am to vote for you. And it is possible that in some contests, if I cannot sense any love, I will leave the ballot blank. 

Of course, I find it difficult to find much love in what passes for religion in many quarters these days. The good news is that, unlike politics so far, we are not required to live under the rule of a religion (although many have tried and will continue to try to make it so). 

tough love not easy but worth it
pinterest.com

And by the way, love includes “tough love,” but by that I do not mean being a tough, macho-like guy (or gal). Tough love means, to me, telling the whole truth no matter the cost. Much of the time, the hard truth is not the aggressive- or militant-sounding one, but the quiet one, the clear analysis which shows that solutions are more complicated than building walls or denying rights and livelihoods to whole groups of people. 

In that vein, consider this post an installment payment on “tough love” for my country and the world. 

I encourage you to join the love campaign; let me know how you are promoting love in the world. Together, we can grow love until all the unlove is cast aside.