The Day of America’s Fall

In Psalm 137:7, the psalmist writes, “Remember, O Lord, the Edomites, the day of Jerusalem’s fall.” The words are those of Israelites who have been cast out of their homeland; they sit on the bank of a river in Babylon and mourn their exile from Jerusalem. They remember how things “used to be” in Jerusalem, and how things are now that they have been captured by the Babylonians. They are in shock. They were God’s people, but God, tired of the people’s constant rejection of God’s rules and laws, used the Babylonians, their enemies, to bring them down.

The Israelites are angry. They plea to God to “remember the Edomites,” who joined the Babylonians in the attack on Jerusalem. The Edomites had been vicious, saying to their soldiers to “tear it down,” meaning Jerusalem. In the psalm, the beleaguered Israelites, in essence, curse the Babylonians, and vow vengeance, “Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us!”  The psalm concludes with the Israelites saying, “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock.”

They are angry and hurt and lost; they had a good thing in Jerusalem, they now realize, as they sit under the rule of foreigners who laugh at them and beg them to “sing one of the songs of Zion.” They balk, insulted, one might guess, and ask, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

In 2001, the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr, then the pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, preached a sermon entitled, “The Day of Jerusalem’s Fall,” quoting this psalm and prophesying that America was in trouble. It was shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11. The nation was reeling and angry; Wright, the prophetic preacher, recalled in the sermon how those who had gone against the will of God had been forced into exile …by God.

Nebuchadnezzar II was the king of Babylon in 597 BCE and he fought against the Pharaoh Necho in the Battle of Carchemish and then went on to invade Judah. The king of Judah at the time, Jehoiakim, resisted Nebuchadnezzar but lost. Jerusalem fell, and the Israelites mourned the loss of all they had ever known and treasured.

Today the president of this nation sided with a modern-day Babylonian king, Vladimir Putin of Russia, and on international television, put his own country down in obeisance to one of America’s arch enemies. It was stunning to watch. Today we watched the “day of America’s fall.”

It has been coming for some time, though nobody could have predicted that the man elected to be the president of this nation would hand it over to Russia. It has been shocking to watch the president cow-tow to Putin, putting this country’s systems down and insulting its institutions, and it has been noticeable that this president, who has put down almost everyone in this government, has not said one negative word about Putin.

Not even today.

This president has put the country he swore to protect – and its institutions and constitution – in real jeopardy, leaving the way clear for our present-day Babylonians – aka Russia, to have its way.

He has not done this alone. The Republican-led House and Senate have been partners in the undoing of America. The rabid fear of the browning of America, along with other social changes that Conservatives have hated, has been paralyzing even as it has been motivating for these primarily white men to resort to base instincts which have led them to make moves and create policies that will have repercussions for generations. They are afraid to stand up to him and to oppose him, a fear which has encouraged him to do what he did today: give the America we have known since its birth – to an arch-enemy.

The American democracy was far from perfect, but it was better than many governments. This country was known, even in somewhat mythical proportions, as the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” People had confidence in what America claimed to be.

Not anymore.

The world has watched this president destroy the progress that has been made over five decades; it has watched as the president has trashed allies and praised and supported autocrats. Already, so much damage has been done that it will take at least a generation to repair what has been destroyed – if, in fact, it can be repaired.

Americans have not believed that its democracy could be destroyed. We have been like Germans, who when Hitler was grabbing power, never believed it would get as bad as it did. The truth is, in most countries where democracies die, the leaders of the destruction have been voted into office by the people.

When Jeremiah Wright preached that infamous sermon in 2001, he was bombarded by critics who called him everything from racist to anti-American. He preached that America was being paid back and would be paid back for what it had done over the years in its quest for power, and he reminded listeners of some of America’s history.

It was not pretty.

In the name of God, he preached that we should be reminded that God sees what both individuals and countries do and that there is a price to pay when God’s people stray from God’s requirements.

God directed the fall of Jerusalem.

And God is in this, the day of America’s fall. We, too, may find ourselves looking back at what we had, taunted and insulted, asked to “sing a song of Zion,” and we, like the over-confident Israelites, may find our voices quieted, our spirits wounded, because we did not believe that this country would ever see the day when its president threw it under the bus.

(To listen to Wright’s sermon, visit (http://www.orlandosentinel.com/opinion/os-ed-put-trump-online-letters-20180716-story.html)

Shut Up and Dribble

American-flag-America

The accusation from the president of this nation that the black athletes who have chosen to kneel to protest racism marks a disrespect for the flag is as ludicrous and ignorant as it is wrong, and the decision of the NFL to acquiesce to the spirit of the president and make it a requirement that all players on the field must stand reveals the master/slave relationship which has always been the case between white and black people.

The players are being treated as property – the property of the owners – with no rights, and the owners, like overseers, have only one thing in mind: to become more rich off of the labor of black bodies and enrich not only themselves but the NFL. The president’s suggestion that those who kneel should not play sports and should perhaps leave the country revealed as well not only his racism but the racism that is in the core of this country

He apparently does not know and/or does not care that it was black people who built this country and who are responsible for the establishment of this nation’s economy as the wealthiest in the world. He also does not know, apparently, that black people have fought in every war in which this country has been engaged, but have been treated as second-class citizens once they returned home.

It is not the flag they are protesting. It is the putrid, rancid system of white supremacy which has robbed them and black people in general of their rights as American citizens.

Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative has been quoted as saying that slavery never ended; it just evolved. Black people – both men and women- willingly and eagerly fought in America’s wars, believing with every fiber of their being in the principles this country espoused but which were, for the most part, denied to them. They sacrificed as much as did their white soldier counterparts, but instead of being honored once they got home, were again relegated to the metaphorical back of the bus, back to “their place.”

The sacrifices they made have meant nothing to the white supremacist power structure.

Their post-service treatment is difficult to swallow, but what is even more problematic is that too many people – white and black – do not know the humiliation black service people suffered when they returned to the United States. Dr. Adam Robinson, who served as the 36thSurgeon General of the United States, wrote recently about the plight of an African American soldier who, returning from a tour of duty, died of a broken neck in a Tulsa jail after being tortured for 51 hours, begging for food and water. He had been arrested in a motel as he suffered a mental breakdown. He needed medical care, not to be arrested.

Adams also recalls that Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers “survived the Battle of Normandy but died in a 1963 Civil Rights battle, killed by a Klansman.” (http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-op-0115-black-veterans-20180111-story.html)

The stories of the horrific treatment black soldiers received after serving this country in war are legion. White people resented them and were frightened that, upon returning home, they would upset the “way of life” put in place by white supremacy. They needed for these heroic black soldier, who fought for this country and its flag, to understand their place. Many were beaten and/or lynched or killed while still in uniform. The perks afforded white soldiers, including low-interest mortgages and loans to start businesses were denied them. Banks would not lend to them.

And still, when the next war came, black people enlisted.

It is disingenuous for the president and in fact anyone to suggest that kneeling in protest of white supremacy is evidence of a lack of patriotism. To the contrary, protest against injustice is how this country came to be. It is cruel and flat-out racist for those same people to suggest that those who protest might need to “leave the country.” The white supremacist system still wants black people to remain “in their place;” in the words of Laura Ingraham, many white Americans want African Americans to “shut up and dribble,” and forget how this country has treated and continues to treat them. (https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/02/19/587097707/laura-ingraham-told-lebron-james-to-shutup-and-dribble-he-went-to-the-hoop)

There are not enough words to express the outrage that comes with being continually being insulted and put down by racists who will deny to their dying day that they are in fact that they are just that. But the prayer is that in these times, when the president is pushing racist rhetoric and ideas, that African Americans will continue to stand up for the rights and dignity that this sick system of white supremacy has never been able to offer to a group of people who have fought to the death for a country that does not respect them.

The accusation from the president of this nation that the black athletes who have chosen to kneel to protest racism marks a disrespect for the flag is as ludicrous and ignorant as it is wrong, and the decision of the NFL to acquiesce to the spirit of the president and make it a requirement that all players on the field must stand reveals the master/slave relationship which has always been the case between white and black people.

The players are being treated as property – the property of the owners – with no rights, and the owners, like overseers, have only one thing in mind: to become richer off of the labor of black bodies and enrich not only themselves but the NFL. The president’s suggestion that those who kneel should not play sports and should perhaps leave the country revealed as well not only his racism but the racism that is in the core of this country.

He apparently does not know and/or does not care that it was black people who built this country and who are responsible for the establishment of this nation’s economy as the wealthiest in the world. He also does not know, apparently, that black people have fought in every war in which this country has been engaged, but have been treated as second-class citizens once they returned home.

It is not the flag they are protesting. It is the putrid, rancid system of white supremacy which has robbed them and black people in general of their rights as American citizens.

Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative has been quoted as saying that slavery never ended; it just evolved. Black people – both men and women- willingly and eagerly fought in America’s wars, believing with every fiber of their being in the principles this country espoused but which were, for the most part, denied to them. They sacrificed as much as did their white soldier counterparts, but instead of being honored once they got home, were again relegated to the metaphorical back of the bus, back to “their place.”

The sacrifices they made have meant nothing to the white supremacist power structure.

Their post-service treatment is difficult to swallow, but what is even more problematic is that too many people – white and black – do not know the humiliation black service people suffered when they returned to the United States. Dr. Adam Robinson, who served as the 36thSurgeon General of the United States, wrote recently about the plight of an African American soldier who, returning from a tour of duty, died of a broken neck in a Tulsa jail after being tortured for 51 hours, begging for food and water. He had been arrested in a motel as he suffered a mental breakdown. He needed medical care, not to be arrested.

Adams also recalls that Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers “survived the Battle of Normandy but died in a 1963 Civil Rights battle, killed by a Klansman.” (http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-op-0115-black-veterans-20180111-story.html)

The stories of the horrific treatment black soldiers received after serving this country in war are legion. White people resented them and were frightened that, upon returning home, they would upset the “way of life” put in place by white supremacy. They needed for these heroic black soldier, who fought for this country and its flag, to understand their place. Many were beaten and/or lynched or killed while still in uniform. The perks afforded white soldiers, including low-interest mortgages and loans to start businesses were denied them. Banks would not lend to them.

And still, when the next war came, black people enlisted.

It is disingenuous for the president and in fact anyone to suggest that kneeling in protest of white supremacy is evidence of a lack of patriotism. To the contrary, protest against injustice is how this country came to be. It is cruel and flat-out racist for those same people to suggest that those who protest might need to “leave the country.” The white supremacist system still wants black people to remain “in their place;” in the words of Laura Ingraham, many white Americans want African Americans to “shut up and dribble,” and forget how this country has treated and continues to treat them. (https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/02/19/587097707/laura-ingraham-told-lebron-james-to-shutup-and-dribble-he-went-to-the-hoop)

There are not enough words to express the outrage that comes with being continually being insulted and put down by racists who will deny to their dying day that they are in fact that they are just that. But the prayer is that in these times, when the president is pushing racist rhetoric and ideas, that African Americans will continue to stand up for the rights and dignity that this sick system of white supremacy has never been able to offer to a group of people who have fought to the death for a country that does not respect them.

 

Searching For My Country

images-15            I don’t know this country anymore.

It used to be that I felt safe here. I felt like this country had a government which at least had the tools for us, the people, to work for justice. I used to think that the three branches of government were the safeguard that whatever had happened in other countries, shifting them from being democracies to being autocratic dictatorships.

I used to think that Americans really did cherish all of the “rights” guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, and I believed that Americans would fight for their country, no matter what.

I used to think that evangelical Christians had integrity. No, I didn’t agree with them, but I believed that they had integrity.  I believed that they had a moral foundation that could not be shaken.

But then came the 2016 presidential election. I have long considered politics to be distasteful; the political ads, the lengths that politicians go to in order to achieve power, always bothered me. But we got through political seasons, some more brutal than others, and we went on being Americans in a two-party system, a government which guaranteed that we would never have a dictator and a constitution which allowed us who had issues with the government and its policies, to protest, safely.

But the corruption in the 2016 went beyond the pale. The rhetoric, the lying, the name-calling, the overt racism and sexism – all of it – was troubling. I kept going back to my “safe place,” i.e. we had a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” We had Christians who believed in the Christ, who called us to love and to serve each other.

Those reassurances made me believe that when things got too raunchy in the campaign, that those who loved democracy and those who loved God would rise up. They wouldn’t let their country be embarrassed and they wouldn’t let their God be minimized.  My confidence was blown away, bit by bit, as the candidate-now-president violated every principle of government and religion I had come to appreciate. My confidence was shattered even more, however, by the huge amount of public support he had.

Who were these people? What was/is this country, really? 

I thought Americans were patriotic, but I learned that my conception about patriotism was different than many of the followers of the GOP frontrunner, who put down Sen. John McCain, a man who fought for this country and became a prisoner of war. I thought “the American people” would rise up in indignation and rabid anger that anyone could say such a thing about a war hero.

But what the candidate said did not matter. It didn’t matter that he lied. It didn’t matter that he called names, or that he put down and insulted women in the most crass of ways. It didn’t matter that people heard those Access Hollywood tapes where he talked about what he liked to do to women. It was disgusting and I thought Evangelicals would rise up – against him – but they did not. They looked the other way. They still supported this man who said that he didn’t regret that he has never asked God for forgiveness for his sins. (http://www.businessinsider.com/trump-on-god-i-dont-like-to-have-to-ask-for-forgiveness-2016-1)

Because of the rhetoric of this president, we are on the brink of a nuclear war with North Korea. We have a president who seems to go out of his way to be nice to dictators and authoritarian leaders, like Duterte of the Philippines and of course, Vladimir Putin. The supporters of this president do not care! When I was growing up, “the Russians” were to be loathed. People called them “commies” and worse, but today, it’s all different. The president’s supporters don’t care about the Russians. They do not care if the Russians were engaged in a cyber attack against the United States.

His venomous character is spreading. Now we have a lawmaker, Roy Moore, who is running for senator in the state of Alabama, and it happened that a woman came forward to accuse him of improper sexual behavior toward her years ago, when she was 14. While I can understand the a politician thinking the timing of the publicizing of the accusations is meant to destroy one’s chances for being elected, what I cannot understand is people saying that it doesn’t matter if Moore is guilty or not. The statement that they would rather vote for him – who may have sexually assaulted a then-child – than vote for a Democrat made my heart sink.

They could choose not to vote at all, rather than vote for a Democrat.

Meanwhile, some Republicans are demanding that Robert Mueller, who is investigating what happened in the 2016 campaign, be fired. I am stunned.

There is no desire for truth or justice – or real democracy.

I don’t know this country. I don’t know these “American people” seem to have no moral compass. They do not care about truth or lies; they do not care about women or children or Muslims, or immigrants. They do not care about the things I thought American Christians cared about.

I am searching for my country but I am having a hard time finding it.

 

 

Understanding Patriotism in a Divided Land

American-flag-America

When Colin Kaepernick decided to “take a knee” in protest of the injustice meted out against African Americans and other people of color, in spite of the words of the Pledge of Allegiance that in this land, there is “liberty and justice for all,” he set off a manufactured cry of outrage from people who said he and others who knelt were being unpatriotic, that they were disrespecting the American flag.

With self-serving, over-the-top sanctimony, those who did not like what Kaepernick was doing offered deep pain that anyone would disrespect the flag and therefore, their country. With equal passion, they claimed loved for the flag and the country – though many of them also hail and respect the Confederate flag, a flag which is an “in-your-face” reminder that there are people living in this nation whose ancestors committed treason against the United States of America.

Those who wanted slavery were willing to go to the mat to protect their state’s right to own slaves and they were incensed that the federal government – i.e. “big government,” would dare step in and tell them what to do.

Confederate flag

Neither the North or the South wanted slaves to be free, nor did either side believe that blacks were equal to whites. Only when it was apparent that the North needed more men to fight in that ghastly and deadly war did Lincoln free the slaves.

Freeing the slaves and adding manpower to the Union ranks was helpful, clearly, but the fact of the matter is that those in the South didn’t care a hoot about the “United States of America.” No, southern states pulled out of the union and fought against “America.” The Confederacy had its own president, its own headquarters, and worked to have its own set of laws and rules.

Lincoln hovered over the “United” States of America to save the union; this country was one, not many, he said, and those who would destroy it must be stopped. He didn’t care about their flag, their president or their intended values.

When the Civil War was over and the North had won, there was foundationally no more “Confederacy.” The United States had won; this had been a war with two sides – with the United States fighting against its enemy – states that no longer wanted to be a part of the union. The southern states had committed treason by fighting against their own country, but that very sentence is scarcely ever uttered. Yes, there was and is a “southern” heritage, but at its core it is anti-American, anti-federal government, anti-“equality for all,” which is what the United States stands for.

That being the case, it is a little puzzling to hear rabid, self-avowed racists and white nationalists scream “patriotism” as those who have opted to stay in this country, work in this country and fight for this country exercise their First Amendment right to protest against their government. They are not fighting to get out of the Union; they are kneeling to make the union become a better place for all of its citizens. They are protesting because they love the words and the sentiment behind America’s founding documents. They are protesting because they believe in the America that the anthem’s first verse reflects  and which the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution describe.

They love the country enough and believe in it enough to risk criticism as they in fact criticize what they see as an egregious wrong.

They are not committing treason, as did the Confederate soldiers did and as white nationalists, who are railing against the foundational beliefs of this country are doing.

They believe in “liberty and justice for all.” They are hoping “taking a knee” will make people think.

They are being patriotic in a land which has been divided because of race from its birth.

A candid observation …

 

On Patriotism

American-flag-America

Watching what is going on now in our country is at once fascinating and terrifying.

I thought I knew what “patriotism” meant. I thought that an American patriot put America first, truly, including the tenets of its US Constitution. Being a patriot for me never meant that a person was anti-racist or anti-sexist, or was, in fact, interested in steering away from any kind of discrimination. But for me, one who waved the flag meant that they believed in the basic tenets of the Constitution, including the basic freedoms.

In the past, a patriot was virulently against Communism. The Soviet Union was America’s enemy and everyone knew it. To even give a hint of being all right with communism was a death knell.

But surprisingly, more than a few Americans seem not to care about communism or about its threat to democracy. More than a few Americans are unconcerned about the intrusion into the heart and core of our democracy by a former KGB agent named Vladimir Putin. It is breathtaking to watch the silence of the United States Congress, letting the current president cozy up to Russia with little more than a sniff.

Russia has an agenda. Russia wants to be recognized as a world power and not a pariah, and under the leadership of Putin, it is running its agenda in this country with disturbing ease. That the Congress has said nothing and done even less, that it does not demand that the president stop weakening the very fiber of this country, is astounding. The comfort I had in the three legislative branches of government being in place to check unbridled power is all but gone. It feels like we are headed toward an authoritarian government, and the Congress, which could stop it, is not doing its job.

Where are the patriots?

The small group of very wealthy people who are in power seem blind to history, or if they see and know history, they do not care about it. They are running roughshod even over the “base” that elected the president into office, as they push for policies which will make life most difficult for that very group of Americans. How nobody in Congress is talking about that, showing blatant disregard for the millions, for example, who will lose health care if the president’s health care bill gets through the Senate is beyond comprehension. These people purport to be religious people, specifically Christian, and yet they are pushing policies which leave “the least of these,” whom Jesus the Christ said we should take care of, out of the ring in which the fight for justice is being waged.

The White House is filled with old, angry white men primarily, who resent the browning of America. Their resentment is not new; there was a similar backlash against “globalization” in the 1930s. Anti-immigration sentiment back then led to the passage of anti- immigration laws which would today appall many of us. When the report came out that by 2030, America would no longer be a “white” nation put the fire underneath the bigots, the white nationalists, and many non-politicians for whom the thought of not being in the majority was painful and frightening.

It seems that what is going on, fueled by white working class Americans who are angry that they have been ignored, is a fight which has at its roots the most vile racism and bigotry. The leaders of our nation are virtually silent about white nationalists taking their anger out on people of color – white domestic terrorist activity – even as they decry the terrorism carried out by ISIS.

What also seems to be going on is toxic capitalism. The very rich have abandoned allegiance to America and have decided to become best friends with Russia, our enemy, for the sake of making more money. Patriotism be damned.

Tom Snyder the Yale history professor who wrote On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, said that America has about a year to stop the path toward tyranny on which America is now traveling. The impotent Congress will not stop what is going on; it is not clear that the United States Supreme Court will be much more of a protector of America and her Constitution, all the vitriol about caring about that document notwithstanding, and the Executive Branch is filled with angry, old, racist white men who want America to be as white and male as can be.

Patriotism as we know it is gone. Or maybe the issue is that I never really understood what patriotism really was in the first place.

A candid observation …