Saturday, January 20, 2018

Resistance is Spiritual Work

One year down.

That is all I really want to say about the first year of the Donald Trump administration. 

One very long, difficult, sometimes demoralizing, quite often maddening year. Lies became rebranded "alternative facts." And they were abundant. One newspaper kept a tally and found that the president lied more than 2,000 times and that doesn't even count this past month. He lies when the truth really would be acceptable. His spokespeople...he has had three in the course of the year...rattled off one fairy tale and fib after another from the crowd size at his inauguration to whether or not this man, who expresses sympathy for Nazis and refers to Africa as a 'shithole,' is a racist. He's fickle. He's reckless. And his constant provocation of another loose canon leader, Kim Jong Un, leaves many of us concerned about the possibility of nuclear war. Hawaiians got a scare when a false alarm of an attack on the island state sent people scurrying to find shelter. We live in "interesting" times.

It would be easy to throw in the towel, or curl up in a fetal position as the things I hold dear get trampled on or destroyed. But I'm not about to do that. What keeps me going, and what makes me resist the temptation to give up is Love. 

Today, on this anniversary of this presidency, I chose not to rally at the state Capitol building, but instead to take with me a group of faithful Christians to the Episcopal diocese of Georgia's tent revival with our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. (Yes: Episcopalians under a tent for a revival. Will wonders never cease, right?). I knew I needed to be there along the banks of Honey Creek more than anywhere else. I have been longing for how to express my faith in this work I am now engaged in with others "to hold fast to that which is good" and was created for good in this world. And our church leader provided the words:

"On a biblical level, the opposite of love isn't hate; in the New Testament, the opposite of love is self-centeredness. It is the mother of hate...Jesus was executed by an unholy alliance of religious, political, and economic establishments, oriented toward self-centeredness...Always be careful when religious, political, and economic interests come together.  It was trouble in the first century and it’s trouble today." - Bishop Michael Curry

This. THIS. The work of the resistance, those of us who are visiting our elected officials, writing post cards, sending emails, making phone calls, going to rallies, donating time, money, and sweat to campaigns for various candidates in an effort to stem the tide of backlash against the progress we've made since the 1960s is holy work. Self-centeredness is what makes politicians do the bidding of their corporate donors because they are allowing money to tell them what is good, right, and just rather than serving the needs of the people who are the least, the lost, and the disaffected. Self-centeredness is overshadowing the work of the spirit when Christians can look away from the horror of Roy Moore's behavior that gets him banned from the Gadsden Mall or shrug off an outrageous statement made about African nations and people from Central America and Haiti because the party or the person is more important to them than the greater good of God's creation. Self-centeredness is the key ingredient to the greed that is causing more painful disparities that affect people of all races and making the income gap greater and greater. This self-centeredness is the wages of sin. Resisting the temptation to serve self, and not others, is the holy work of the Resistance.

Now, most of the Resistance movement is areligious. Not necessarily anti-religious, although there is a lot of that, too. When you believe that religion is about bullying people or belittling anyone who doesn't measure up to some mythical idea of perfection, I wouldn't want to be part of that either. That's an entirely different blog entry and I've written on it on this blog (you can search my "faith journey" and get a sense of my Queer Christianity). Most people in the resistance don't see themselves as doing spiritual work. 

I do. I see how when one grounds their work in Love...whether they want to call that Love by the name of Jesus or is still a work in Love. And when we do works that are grounded in that Source we are necessarily doing the work of what Bishop Curry calls the transformation of The Nightmare of this World into God's Dream. I have many times in my activism looked to the example of Jesus to give me the boost and the hope that I need when I find myself faced with what seems like an impossible and intractable opponent. I let myself go into that experience of his arrest on Maundy Thursday, and the chaos and the fear and confusion that must have been present in that moment and--as the old hymn says--"it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble."  I look at how Jesus, who had moments of private confession of his fear at knowing what was coming at him, and still he overcame his own concerns because his mission was not a self-centered one; it was for all humankind. Maybe my own struggles aren't quite that big and lofty, and yet taking a stand for justice and mercy for Dreamers, for my trans siblings, for people of color is plenty big. I visualize a future where we care about not leaving the planet in worse shape than when we were born. The way to make a country great is to educate children and to invest in improving the lives of women, especially women of color. This is what I believe the words "thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" are all about.  

Time to count resistance as a spiritual work.    

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Ask Not What Country You're From

I had the privilege this week of attending a countywide forum called "Created Equal." It was an opportunity to gather with others to look at issues of race and discuss them in table talk sessions, and to hear the stories of those who feel their differences constantly. There was a panel made up of Leon County men and women of different ethnicities and religion. The one representation missing from the panel was a person who is LGBTQ+ identified, but the truth is, when I listen to someone of color and someone of a minority religion, I hear the echoes of my own experience both as a lesbian and as a woman.
There were definitely things I was hearing that touched me at a visceral level because I know what it is to be made to feel unwelcome or suspect. The black man returning from a visit to his native Nigeria described that feeling of being free from "feeling black" when he was in Nigeria and having it shoved in his face when he landed at JFK in New York. I have a similar experience when I travel between my native New Hampshire and where I live now in the south. I don't feel my orientation when I am in the northeast, but here, I can't go a week without being gender misidentified because of my more masculine appearance. I see the looks. I feel the stares from people. And I know the issue is not so much with me: it's the fear inside the other person of me.
One of the "a-ha" moments expressed during the evening was the increasing tribalism in America. And it's that tribalism that is helping to tear us apart. Our diversity of color, religion, ethnicity, orientation, identity is being seen as something that divides us to the point where we can't get along. Our history of Europeans taking the land away from the native indigenous people and enslaving Africans and other minorities to farm and build the country is full of torment and murder and wounds we have ignored. Unlike the "Created Equal" evening, we, of the white majority, haven't really listened and understood the depth of the injury to people. And when those pains have been raised up, the tribal response has been to lock down and see all non-white people as "others" who need to "get over it." Similarly, I have experienced the feeling of my whiteness being the reason to exclude me from a group of predominantly black activists. It hurts, and yet I understand the suspicion.  
Unlike this tribal mentality that breaks us up into silos of sameness, I see the cultural diversity of our country as patches of fabric that add to our national quilt. We are different. We have different experiences. We have different languages. But if you're living here, working here, paying your taxes here, then as far as I'm concerned you're from here...the United States of America.
Which brings me to the soundbite of the week from our president.
During a meeting with Republican and Democratic leaders on Thursday to discuss the looming issue of deporting children and young adult immigrants here under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), our leader asked why were we trying to keep people from "shithole countries" such as Haiti and the continent of Africa in the United States? This comes after the president's decision to expel El Salvadorans and Haitians still in the country because of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Furthermore, he wondered why we didn't accept more people from places such as Norway. 
It really doesn't take a whole lot to figure out why the president would prefer people from Norway over Haiti...and it isn't for the lutefisk. 
Once again, our president is promoting an image of our country where what will make us "great again" has to do with white supremacy and treating people whose ancestry is not Northern European as "not one of us." 
Interestingly, our daily office and Sunday readings have been taken from the Gospel of John. And as I thought about the president's insulting-half-the-world comment, I thought of the evangelist's story of when Philip tells Nathanael about having found the Messiah and his name is Jesus of Nazareth.

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’--John 1:45-50

If this were today...and in our tribal America...I suppose Nathanael could have wondered if anything good could come out of Nazareth because, afterall, it's a shithole.
But then that would be the point. 
Nathanael had his own tribe and it definitely didn't include those from Nazareth. And the it always is in John's that something very good has come out of a place seen as a backwater pit by Nathanael: Jesus. That should tell us today a lot about how we might view people who come from nations that have endured oppressive regimes and natural disasters and famine. Just because a country is impoverished doesn't mean that the people are not just as worthy and capable as people from wealthier nations. The reason most people come here is to seek opportunities or because they are in danger. The immigrants coming here bring with them skills, knowledge, and resiliency that benefit all of us and they become part of that patchwork quilt. 
"Jesus" or "God" is within every person, so the answer to Nathanael is "Yes. Good things do come out of Nazareth." Human potential and the ability to contribute to society has nothing to do with skin color or what language you speak or what your spiritual journey looks like. Instead of trying to kick people out, we ought to 'come and see' and discover the benefits of a multicultural society and expand our notion of what it is to be an American. This was the vision Dr. King was laying out there and inviting white America: to experience their tribe could be so much more if they would recognize and respect the dignity of every human being.
Perhaps other nations are looking at us now and asking "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"