As The World Spins

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The US continued to spin out of control last week. To recap:

  1. #POTUS wants Congress to decertify the Iran Nuclear Deal, saying that Iran has not kept to its agreement (it has), that he consulted with all our allies on this step (couldn’t have; we don’t have any allies who would agree with this and who are all still solidly part of the deal), and that it will make us much safer (it won’t).
  2. #POTUS signed an executive order ending ACA subsidies, saying that will lower premiums (it won’t) and give Americans better health care (it won’t) and claiming that the subsidies went into the pockets of insurance companies (they won’t).
  3. #POTUS blamed Puerto Rico for Hurricane Irma’s devastation, then said he’ll always be with them (he won’t).
  4. #POTUS said he met with the president of the US Virgin Islands (he didn’t, mainly because for better or worse, he is the president of the US Virgin Islands).
  5. #POTUS told the white supremacist Values Voters Summit that “we will return to Judeo-Christian values,” obviously not understanding that Judeo refer to Jews and the Values Voters constituents hate Jews. Also, what values: homophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, sexual predation? But on the bright side, “We will say ‘Merry Christmas’ again.”
  6. #POTUS and Sean Hannity laughed and talked while seated at a retreat ritual on a military for which everyone else stood in silence. But black athletes who kneel respectfully during the National Anthem are sons of bitches.
  7. I could go on, but I really wanted to talk about the strange bedfellows that resisting an unbalanced, moronic, corrupt government makes. Did I ever think I’d have anything in common with Eminem? Surely not! But he perfectly expressed the rage I and so many others are feeling in the video presented at the Hip Hop Awards. No, I wasn’t watching the Hip Hop Awards; wasn’t even aware of them. But the video went viral and more power to Eminem.
  8. Did Puerto Ricans ever think that their saviors would be heavily tattooed, back-country looking military veterans? Probably not, but Jason Maddy and his 11 comrades, acting as volunteers, are bringing water, food, and hope to the most isolated parts of the island. Why? “Because they’re fellow Americans, and if we were in that situation, we’d want someone to help us.”

    If I were ever to have the honor of meeting these gentlemen, I’d kiss their feet. I hope I never have the misfortune to meet Donald Trump because I would probably be arrested after the encounter.

  9. Meanwihle, while Twitter fuels my outrage because I see bad news so quickly, it has also been a source of some comic relief from unknown fellow tweetweetters who yet feel like good friends. Shoutout to @casey for best tweet of the week:
  10. And a special shoutout to England, who will not dignify a visit from POTUS as a state visit and will not allow him to meet the queen. I’ m sure officials are afraid he’d touch her inappropriately. On the other hand, if he did meet her and did touch her inappropriately, that would be lese majesty, off with his head.
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Lágrimas para Puerto Rico

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Revelation 12:7-12

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,

And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.

And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

10 And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.

11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.

12 Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.

I’ve been saying for a while now that the Trump reign seems Apocalyptic. When I read this morning’s assigned Scripture, I started in the shock of recognition, especially at verse 12.

We all know that POTUS goes into an irrational spasm the closer Robert Mueller’s team gets to him. One can be an atheist, an agnostic, a humanist and any other –ist and agree that Trump “knoweth that he hath but a short time.”

The shorter the better, and I pray that his non-response to the plight of Puerto Ricans also becomes the subject of an investigation one day. Such blisteringly cruel abandonment of US citizens is unimaginable. Except, of course, almost any cruelty is imaginable from this government, and that is the American tragedy.

When Dorothy Parker said, “What fresh hell is this?”, she was predicting the words of millions of Americans as they wake up every day to learn of some new outrage coming from the White House.

I’ve heard people saying in astonishment, “How could (Trump, Price, Pruitt, Jared, Ivanka, Pence, Zinke <fill in a name>) not be aware that what they were doing was wrong?”

I don’t believe for a second that any of these people were not aware that what they were doing was wrong, but that they didn’t care and thought they would get away with it. Their white hyper-privilege just makes them think they deserve to do whatever they want. This is the definition of “white-collar crime.”

In the case of these spawn of Satan, however, their crimes are causing death and destruction of innocent people who have done nothing to deserve what they’re getting.

It was known for days that Hurricane Maria was going to hit Puerto Rico head-on. From 8 pm on Tuesday, September 19, to early morning on Thursday, September 21, it ravaged every bit of the island. And yet, no plans for federal help were in place.

Thousands of shipping containers with desperately needed food, medicine, and survival supplies were allowed to sit at a harbor in the days since because there were no troops to unload and distribute them until the last several hours, eight days after Maria hit.

FEMA officials took over the San Juan Convention Center and then told mayors, even of the farthest and most rural districts, that they had to come to San Juan and ASK FOR HELP.

That says it all.

The President We Deserve?

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Hubris: exaggerated sense of self often ending in retribution

Hubris has been the distinguishing factor of the Trump Presidency (and how I hate having to use those two words together) since the ridiculous scene of the man and his wife descending a golden escalator to denounce Mexicans as rapists and murderers.

In Greek tragedies, the hubristic protagonist is always brought down by the gods for trying to be a god.

Hubris may well bring down this administration.

But hubris has also been a defining characteristic of this country.

The brilliant Ta-Nehisi Coates said on “All In with Chris Hayes” Friday night that white supremacy raises its ugly head when people feel sorrow for tragedies that happen to white people, as if their whiteness should make them immune from tragedy.

In the same way, since 9/11/2001, the US has acted as if terrorism shouldn’t happen here, and the analog is that it’s okay for other countries to suffer daily from terror attacks.

I was born in 1952. In my lifetime there have been genocides in Africa, Asia, and the Balkans. There have been wholesale killings of innocent people in large swaths of Latin and South America. There have been assassinations of political figures in multiple countries around the world, some orchestrated by the CIA. There’s been apartheid in South Africa, famines again and again in the horn of Africa. Soviet and Russian takeovers of sovereign countries. Ongoing effects of nuclear bombs in Japan. Daily killings in Israel and Palestine. Daily suicide bombers pretty much everywhere outside of North America.

And over all, here at home, the ongoing effects of genocide of Native Americans, slavery and failed reconstruction, Jim Crow, lynchings, unequal rights, murders of black men and women by police, murders of those protesting white supremacy, domestic terrorism, and the list goes on.

Yet still we feel that 9/11 shouldn’t have happened to us. We’re the US. We’re exceptional.

In many ways, the hubris of the present administration reflects the hubris of white America since the 1600s.

In 16 years, I’ve never heard an American public figure reflect that perhaps there was cause and effect in what happened in New York and Washington that day. And I’ve been afraid even to broach the subject for 16 years.

But I can’t help thinking now that perhaps we deserve Donald Trump. White America laid the groundwork for him. Hubris elected him; hubris will probably bring him down, but how much of the US will it bring down as well?

Pray for Guam

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Of all the reasons to find Donald Trump despicable this week, his dismissal of Guam as a possible target for North Korea is the highest on my list.

Every time he opened his bellicose mouth, he implied that Guam and its 160,000 people are expendable.

As if there aren’t young children who may be being taught to duck and cover right now.

As if there aren’t teen-agers dreaming about their futures now.

As if there aren’t adults with a long bucket list.

As if there aren’t elders hoping for security and comfort in their old age.

But Guam has always been expendable to imperial powers, including the Church of Rome, Spain, Japan, and the US.

Despite the fact that the Chamorros settled there at least 4,000 years ago, Tana l’ManChamorro (Land of the Chamorros) has never been self-governing in the modern era. It has been used and abused for what it can offer foreign military strategists and economic strategists.

We can thank good old Teddy Roosevelt, the founder of American Imperialism, for the US takeover of Guam in 1898 after the Spanish-American War, about which he was so “bully”-ish. Fast forward to Pearl Harbor and the taking of Guam by Japan and Tana l’ManChamorro became a very hot zone until the US reclaimed it in 1944.

Despite Governor Eddie Baza Calvo’s public remarks that the colony is not worried about nuclear threats, there are real people on the island who are and who wonder why no one is considering what could happen to them.

The Washington Post wrote about some of them the other day: “ ‘If anything happens, we all got to be ready, be prepared, and pray to God that it doesn’t happen,’ Daisy Mendiola, 56, said after finishing lunch with her family at a restaurant near Hagatna. ‘Everyone’s afraid, because we’re dealing with powers that’s beyond us.’

“Other residents are worried about the political atmosphere and the government’s ability to find a peaceful solution.

“Todd Thompson, a lawyer who lives on Guam, said he laughed off past threats because he ‘figured cooler heads in Washington would prevail, and it was just an idle threat.’ “

But now we know there are not cooler heads in Washington or in New Jersey.

I am a child of the Cold War. I heard a lot of talk about building bomb shelters, though my family did not have one. I laid awake nights putting myself into utter terror thinking of what might happen during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I wouldn’t let myself go to sleep for fear that I wouldn’t wake up.

No child should ever feel that way. No parent should have to comfort a sleepless child when the parent herself doesn’t know what might happen.

More important, no US president should ever be spouting off threats of nuclear destruction when he has zero knowledge of the true state of the world.

Guam is a little Garden of Eden, by all descriptions. Sandy beaches, temperate weather, friendly people. To misquote Joni Mitchell, please don’t bomb paradise and put up a radioactive parking lot.

 

 

 

“By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them”

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I am just plain sick and tired of being discriminated against because I’m white and I’m not going to take it anymore!

Oh wait, I’m not discriminated against because I’m white.

Never mind.

I’m really getting very good at levitating when news breaks while I’m watching MSNBC.

And of course I turned to Twitter and #affirmativeaction to see how other people were expressing their horror and revulsion at the thought of Jeff Sessions using the Civil Rights Division to investigate the non-discrimination of white people at universities.

Heart-sickeningly, what I found were mostly accolades for Sessions and his decision, which I personally think is his way of trying to get back into Donald Trump’s good graces.

I responded to only a couple of the tweets, pointing out that Affirmative Action is a really tiny step that the US has made toward reparations and should be kept strong.

Here are the tweets, starting with the one I initially replied to:

#AffirmativeAction is a racist cancer. Paternalistic whites who think blacks can only get ahead if they’re given a head start. Toxic.

 

(Me: Not paternalism, just a tiny step toward reparations.)

Same tweeter:

So many socks.https://twitter.com/Radicalgrrrrl/status/892736574059884544 

Not sure what that means, but he posted my twitter profile.

A different tweeter:

Take your tablets and go back to bed now, Cynthia.

 

Yet another:

Does welfare count?

 

The next few are from the same person:

  • For dead people by people that didn’t have crap to do with it? Lol. Nope.
  • People who blame others for their failures are destined to stay failures.
  • It’s a discriminatory law.
  • The government shouldn’t be involved AT ALL with hiring decisions.

 

From the tweeter who told me to take my tablets and go to bed:

Yes. Go on now, dear.

 

The most recent:

Only 3% of the white people living today had ancestors who owned slaves! WHY SHOULD WE ALL PAY FOR THE EVIL OF THE FEW?! YOU ARE SICK!!!!!

 

It was interesting to note that all four of the respondents use made-up names and pictures of well-known people or cartoons in their profiles.

The Scripture “By their fruits ye shall know them” becomes more meaningful to me day by day. I am blessed to know the compassionate, loving, peace-filled, generous fruits of many, many people on Twitter and in person. Sadly, this can make them the target of people who hide behind fake images and names. At least we have the courage of our convictions.

PS: It’s time to rename the Department of Justice.

Obama’s Legacy Will Endure

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Everything that the current resident of the White House has done since he took office, which has mainly been deregulating every regulation the Obama Presidency put in place, and everything that the GOP Congress has attempted, is because these white men cannot ABIDE the thought of our country having any trace of having been led by an African-American.

There are headlines just in the past couple of days about the Trump administration’s attempts to dismantle President Obama’s legacy. But I have news for the White House:

They cannot dismantle President Obama’s legacy.

All that Trump is doing is ensuring that Barack Obama will go down in history as one of the best Presidents we have ever had who was followed by the worst president we have ever had.

This past winter, it took Rachel Maddow almost a half hour to list, not explain or analyze but to list, all of the extremely positive measures that President Obama was responsible for.

Trump and his fellow racists can never take that away from him.

There’s a saying that history is written by the winners. I don’t think that is strictly true. However, history does celebrate the winners and the times when truth and goodness prevail.

President Obama is a winner who will be celebrated in history because he is a man of integrity, compassion, and plain old human decency. He is able to look at situations from all sides and to look to advisers to help in that task. He has nerve and he doesn’t freak out at any setback. He takes responsibility and does not apportion blame to the nearest fall guy. Oh yeah, and he’s very, very intelligent.

Trump is a loser, a clown, a liar, a cheat, an anti-intellectual, and most likely the perpetrator of treason and other high crimes and misdemeanors. He is also a hater, and what he hates most (and you can bet Steve Bannon is goading him on) is that he follows a man of color who is happily married to a real woman of an even darker color and the father of intelligent, charming daughters who also have, of course, a darker skin tone than your average white supremacist.

There’s this: Trump

And this: Image result for Obama pictures

I believe that history will record Barack Obama as the President who lifted us up and lifted up the moral tone of this country during very difficult times.

And it will record Donald Trump as the reprobate who tried to bring the country down. All because of the color of Obama’s skin.

 

Pentecost in the Age of Trump

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A sermon preached on 6/4/17 at Christ Trinity Church in Sheffield, MA

O Holy Spirit of God, abide with us.
Inspire all our thoughts.
Pervade our imaginations.
Suggest all our decisions.
Order all our doings.
Be with us in our silence and in our speech,
In our haste and in our leisure,
In company and in solitude,
In the freshness of the morning and in the weariness of the evening,
And give us grace at all times
Humbly to receive thy mysterious companionships.

If the apostles thought they were in danger before Jesus came and breathed on them, thus imparting to them His Holy Spirit, they were in even more danger afterward.

To let God use your mind, your heart, and your hands is indeed a perilous venture, my friends. For when you do, you open yourselves to ridicule, to mocking, to having to place yourself at both physical and spiritual risk.

I have always thought of the mysterious companionships mentioned in the prayer as creatures of the natural world. Indeed, I believe that God used such creatures to draw me closer and closer to Her. I can’t tell you the number of times that, in moments of deep discouragement, a swallowtail butterfly has swirled around me, or a wolf, though attached to a chain, has come up to me and licked my hand, or a dragonfly has landed on my arm, and immediately all bad thoughts have evaporated and I have felt comforted and loved.

Kissed on Both Eyelids

I have felt as the actor Walter Slezak felt when he wrote in his autobiography that upon meeting his future wife, he felt as if God had kissed him on both eyelids. Isn’t that warm and cozy and comforting?

As I get older, however, and look at the patterns of my life, and if we look at the patterns of the apostles’ lives after Pentecost, we can see that there is much more to the working of the Holy Spirit in ourselves, in the church, and in the world.

There comes saying the unpopular thing that needs to be heard. There comes daring to love the unlovable. There comes befriending one’s enemies. There comes, at all times and in all places, an involuntary urge to do the right thing, no matter the cost.

 There comes action, according to the gifts the Spirit gives each one of us.

The original Pentecost was a Jewish holiday called Shavuot. Fifty days after Passover, Jews still celebrate the day on which God gave the Israelites the Torah and they became His people. This year it was celebrated on June 1.

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for spirit is “ruah,” meaning wind, power, strength. In the New Testament, the Greek word “pneuma” is used for the Holy Spirit, meaning breath. We see them both used in the readings from Acts and in John’s Gospel. Notice the differences in them, though. In Acts, Jerusalem is filled with people who have come to celebrate Shavuot, which has now morphed into a harvest festival. Suddenly a violent wind comes into the house where the apostles are staying and tongues of fire rest on them. Suddenly they are able to speak in other languages, and every person in the city hears them speak in their own language.

John’s Pentecost is taking place on the same day as the Resurrection. The frightened Apostles are barricaded behind locked doors. Jesus comes to them and breathes on them, recalling Genesis and God’s breath into the first human being. Jesus said to the apostles, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

The Real Kiss of Life

What ties the two Scriptures together is not obvious. One depicts the Apostles in the middle of a micro-storm and includes hundreds of other people. The second shows a very quiet moment in which Jesus is not only breathing on them, but into them. This is no artificial respiration, but it is the real kiss of life, the sealing of them as His own and marking them forever as people who are commissioned to go out into the world and be Jesus in the world. And as he did it to the apostles, he did it to us.

When the Spirit comes, Jesus tells the Apostles in Chapter 16 of John, “. . .he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.”

Matt Skinner of the Lutheran Theological Seminary puts it this way: “That is, in the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ followers receive nothing less than the fullness of the glorified Son. Their lives (ours, too) can therefore accomplish ends similar to his life’s, insofar as they reveal God.”

The world that the Spirit comes to prove wrong, through the Apostles and through us, “usually indicates a hostile and ignorant response to the truth that Jesus embodies,” Mr. Skinner says. And by the most intimate divine act possible, that of breathing into us, Jesus assures us that His peace is not that of the world, not just the cozy and comforting view I’ve had, but peace that gives confidence that no matter how bad it gets, Jesus is with us through it all.

But what do we make of the final verse of today’s gospel reading? Quoting Mr. Skinner again, “The Johannine Pentecost” goes like this:

Jesus bestows peace upon his worried followers. Great!

Jesus fills them with the Holy Spirit. Great!

Jesus tells them they can forgive or retain other people’s sins. Huh?”

We have to look back at the verse from Chapter 16 and throughout the rest of John to understand that, no, we are not given the responsibility of coming up with a balance sheet of other people’s rights and wrongs.

Sin As Estrangement

Over and over again in John, Jesus talks about Himself and his relationship to the Father, and that if one can’t believe what he says, one remains separated from God, and so the word “sin” here in today’s reading refers to that estrangement, that separation. To forgive people’s sins here doesn’t mean that we are to give absolution for others’ moral failings, but that we, as commissioned by Jesus and through the power of the Holy Spirit, can help set people free from their unbelief by bearing witness to Jesus in our lives. If we don’t, the estrangement from God is “retained” in the world.

In a way, Jesus is really pointing out cause and effect: If you, my apostles, my followers, my church, bear witness to me, you will help to free people from their unbelief. If you don’t, that unbelief will continue.

To relate this back to Acts, I have to address the elephant in the room. Yesterday, seven people were killed by terrorists in London. At least 28 others were wounded, some life-threateningly so. This is the second terrorist attack in England in two weeks.

At least 90 people, mostly women and children, died in Kabul, Afghanistan this week in a terrorist attack, and several killed at a funeral Friday for a young man who was protesting the lack of security in Kabul and was shot by police.

In the US, there have been two fatal incidents of domestic terrorism in the past two weeks. A white supremacist fatally stabbed Ricky Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche were fatally stabbed and Micah Fletcher wounded in Portland when they intervened with a white supremacist who was harassing two young women whom he believed were Muslim.

African-American college student Richard Collins III was fatally stabbed by a white supremacist student on his college campus two weeks ago.

Our President condemns attacks on white Westerners and uses them to push his travel ban. We hear very little from him about the domestic terroristic attacks, which I believe were empowered by this government, or when Muslims are killed by others who call themselves Muslims but pervert the faith of Islam.

Luke writes at least twice about God’s unifying vision of all people, about anti-discrimination if you will. Today’s scripture, which is always read on Pentecost, shows people from dozens of nations able to understand each other, able to hear each other, after the Holy Spirit comes in wind and fire.

Is this then the true work of the Holy Spirit? To empower us to set others’ free from the deadly sins of extremism and racism? To radically learn to UNDERSTAND each other and HEAR each other, no matter who we are and where we’re from. To radically DEFEND those who are attacked and to intervene when we witness the discrimination, the hate of those who have rejected the Kingdom of God?

I would have preferred to dwell on the cozy and comforting aspects of the mysterious companionships today, my friends. I would rather not have to ask you, or myself, if you had been on that train in Portland, would you have intervened? I would rather have played Pollyanna’s “glad game” and left you with rosy and optimistic thoughts.

But our world, and our country, becomes more dangerous every day as the sins of racism on all sides do their evil work, inside our country and out of it. So today, I say, the mysterious companionships are courage, strength, and fortitude to resist the evil work at every pass. This is what Jesus is breathing into us today. Will we accept the grace to do that?