To Lose Gracefully

It’s a hard thing, to lose. It’s even harder to lose gracefully.

It has been a full two weeks since President Barack Obama won a second term to the presidency, and still, we are hearing the wailing of Gov. Mitt Romney.

Last week, he said that the president won the election because of “gifts” he gave minorities and young people. Those gifts included  health coverage, contraceptive coverage in health insurance, forgiveness of interest on college loans…among other things I guess would be called “entitlements.”

But it wasn’t gifts, Mr. Romney.  Mr. Obama won because he connected with more of the American electorate than you did.

It is hard to lose. It’s hard anytime, but when one spends as many years as has Mr. Romney, trying to be president, and as much money as he has spent, the loss has to be even more bitter.

One of the things I liked about Senator John McCain in 2008 is that he lost with grace – and he would not let his supporters be disrespectful to his opponent as he gave his concession speech. I will never forget his grace. I know the loss hurt.

Mr. Romney has not been so graceful. He has, in fact, shown that he did not or does not understand why he lost even now.  He still seems to regard some people in America as baggage – and expendable baggage at that. He does not understand that America is not the “traditional” America that he and other politicians grew to love and to know; Bill O’Reilly pointed that out quite well. No, America is becoming more and more pluralistic. It is a coat of many colors. It will never be the same again.

It is a “new normal” that Mr. Romney has not yet accepted. Gov. Bobby Jindal sees it, and so do other Republicans who have spoken out since Election Day.

It might be that Gov. Romney is not going to run for president again. I hope not …because he is a gift that keeps on giving. His opponents – both in a Republican primary and in a general election, would take his “Obama won because of gifts he gave…” and run with it.

I think the former governor would do well to set up for himself a new normal. Seems like it’s about time for that.

A candid observation …

 

When Things Fall Apart

Official photographic portrait of US President...
Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Clearly, for a large number of Americans, things either have fallen or are falling apart in this nation.

Conservatives, bitterly disappointed over the outcome of this week’s presidential election, have resorted to calling for a revolution (Donald Trump) to saying that “America died” (Victoria Jackson), to a musing that America is no longer, “traditional,” the country of our forebears (Bill O’Reilly)  to Karl Rove refusing to acknowledge President Obama’s victory on Fox News. Gov. Romney’s loss has left a bitter, bitter taste in the mouths of too many.

America, for many, is suffering, a suffering that goes to her very soul. Things as they were, comfortable for white males, have changed, and the change is horribly bitter. I am reminded of Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming,” where he writes:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

For many, anarchy has come to America.

Karen Armstrong said that when things change as radically as they are in America, there is a resurgence of fundamentalism. People run to that which they know, that which seems safe. But it seems that even fundamentalism in this nation, that which the Christian Right has held onto and used to its political advantage, is changing. Younger religious people are pulling away from a religion that is exclusive and, too often, mean-spirited in the name of Jesus.

Things fall apart.

Joan Chittister, in her book, Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope, writes that we are living in an era in need of a spirituality of struggle. Nothing is the same as we knew it, no matter who we are.  With the emergence of a global economy and a global political awareness, everything has changed. We are no longer able, as Americans, to sit content in a cocoon. We are touched by the whole world; the whole world has access to us as never before. We, for a while had access to them. Now, they have access to us. We don’t like it. This new reality is not comfortable.

In our own country, the demographics of a nation clearly in the grip of change has upset everything.  I watched rallies at which Gov. Mitt Romney spoke during the presidential campaign, and was sad. There were so many white faces, and so few black and brown faces. Did he really think he could ignore such a large part of America? Chittister says that “we are people born in a white, Western, Christian culture that we watch become more brown, more Eastern, more polyvalent every day.”

And, she says, “it shakes us to the center of our souls.”

Change for individuals, things falling apart for individuals, is no easier for them than it is for a nation as great as is the United States. We as individuals, many of us, are experiencing change so radical that our souls have been shaken almost to annihilation. We do not like what we are feeling, and we want it to stop. But change, once it begins, seems to have a mind of its own. It continues to its fruition, and all we can do is deal with it.

Chittister says that some of us fall into deep depression as the change in our lives takes its course. She says that “the spiritual question becomes how to go about each dying day without giving in to the death of the soul.” That question, she says, is at the crux of a spirituality of struggle. And how we handle things falling apart will either result in clinical depression or spiritual growth.

It feels like much of Conservative America is headed toward clinical depression. We as a nation are not doing so well with the onslaught of change that is confronting us. We grew comfortable in our complacency. We didn’t want to change. But in spite of our protests, change is marching through our very cores. Things are falling apart.

My prayer is that fewer and fewer individuals are reacting as poorly to the changes and challenges and struggles that are happening in our personal lives. Most of us don’t want the changes that come into our lives, sometimes uninvited and sometimes, invited by our own actions.  We like sitting in our saucers. It’s comfortable there.

But life is about change. Life is about things, as we have always known them, falling apart.

The hope is that even as things fall apart, we will remain intact, and become stronger. That is especially the hope I have for America. Maybe it’s because the re-election of President Obama is still too new, too raw, but right now it doesn’t feel like America is growing stronger. A politician from Texas said something about “divorcing” from America. That would be secession, right?  We as a nation don’t seem to be doing too well with the changes. It feels like we are …falling apart.

A candid observation…

The Manipulation of America’s Voters

All right, answer me something: is a woman’s voice, soft and slightly hushed, speaking under music,  been shown to sway people?

I don’t watch television much; I vowed not to watch it much as this political campaign swept into high gear. The ads are manipulative and so often, not true. I remember when in the 1988 campaign between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis, an ad was run about a man named Willie Horton.  The issue was the death penalty. Bush was for it, Dukakis was apparently against it and advocated convicted felons getting weekend passes. Willie Horton lived in Dukakis’ state of Massachusetts and got such passes. He reportedly murdered a young teen on one of his weekend visits. He was put back into prison but got out and reportedly raped and murdered a woman. That was it. There was Horton’s image on the screen in front of the world: a dark-skinned black man with disheveled hair. He represented what so many people thought about black people, and the ad did what it was supposed to do. Bush won.

I remember being furious about it  because it fed into people’s fears and it fed the widespread belief in the inherent “criminality” of black men. The criminalization of black men really originated after Reconstruction, when angry Southern  whites decided that black people would not be free, Emancipation or not. Slavery had provided the necessary labor to plant and harvest the South’s crops and thus contribute mightily   to the agrarian aristocracy. Under Reconstruction, blacks could own property; they could vote and participate in the political process.  Their children could go to public school. Whites were never impressed with Emancipation because many of them genuinely believed that blacks were inferior to whites and that they were supposed to work for white people. And so, by the late 1800s, the South began to fight back. They put in place vagrancy laws that made it possible for law enforcement to arrest anyone for the slightest thing: selling products they had grown after dark, walking without having money (many walked during the day to find work), not having a job …the laws were ridiculous and wrong. What began to happen systematically is that black men were disproportionately arrested for such “crimes” and were convicted, usually without a trial. Law enforcement officers and justices of the peace would “sell” the new convict to a farmer or a business, which would then require the new convict to work until his debt was paid. When such an unfortunate man was sold, he was at the mercy of his new “owner,” and was worked mercilessly, and often, his new owner would accuse him of another “crime” at or toward the end of his sentence, and his sentence would be extended. The result of this practice, called “convict leasing,” was that prisons began to fill up primarily with black men, and thus the “criminalization” of black men began. Their inability to stay out of  “trouble” with the law proved they were not worthy of freedom. Blacks were predisposed to crime, the belief would be …and continues to this day. So in 1988, those who ran the campaign knew exactly what they were doing. Horton would be a reminder, most especially to white Republicans, that the country needed a man “strong on crime” to keep our streets free from the awful black man.

Well, things have not changed so much. There have not been, among the ads I have seen, any such that compare to the Willie Horton ad, but they are plenty slanted toward the same base that Bush’s 1988 ads were. Mitt Romney’s now infamous “47 percent” speech is not surprising. I wonder who he was really thinking about when he named “47 percent” of Americans who were content to be “victims,” and mooch America’s treasury? I wonder his his campaign thought of who was in that 47 percent?  President Obama uses Romney’s words to his advantage …as any politician would.

But there are ads where an attack on either candidate is as vicious as a wolf eating its prey, and what I have noticed is that many times, there is a soft-spoken woman making the point of the attack, her words carried by music, a lot of it piano. What is the deal?

I wish there were no ads at all. I despise the fact that both candidates are raising literally millions of dollars to get their messages out while so many people in America are in dire straits. I thought about that today as I thought about a friend who is really going through it right now. He is unemployed and “out there,” and it is a constant job to keep him above ground. I wonder how that soft woman’s voice and piano music sounds to him?

I know there is probably someone in marketing who can explain the effect of this soft voice/soft music is. What part of the brain does it reach?

And is there a place on the brain where the suffering of people takes hold?  It doesn’t seem like it. Americans are manipulated as they listen to their views or their circumstances articulated in such a masterful way. What is sad is that after the election, there won’t be anyone out stomping the land, trying to raise money for America’s struggling citizens.

And that makes me very sad.

A candid observation …

Where are the GOP Candidates?

Did I miss it?

A true American tragedy has happened. A young, unarmed teen has been shot dead, and the shooter has not been arrested. The parents are anguished, the nation, black, white, and brown, is outraged, and I haven’t heard the GOP presidential candidates, with the exception of Newt Gingrich, say a word about it.

There has not been a word from GOP frontrunners Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum about it.

Gingrich, while defending the “stand your ground” law that Florida follows, has said that the case is a tragedy and has said that a full investigation is warranted. He has even said that the “stand your ground” law “may not apply in this case.”

So, are we to assume that the other three candidates, Santorum, Romney and Paul, do not care about this case, about what appears to be a true American tragedy? Have they no room in their hearts to at least express concern and care for young Trayvon’s parents?

Santorum raised the biggest stink about contraception. He has been vocal about the “attack on religious freedom,” but is he really so out of touch as to not see the vestiges of  injustice in this case?  Mr. Romney has spent literally millions of dollars to attack his GOP opponents; is there not a thread of outrage in him that would encourage him to attack or at least address a justice system that has allowed a gross injustice to occur?

This type of injustice as concerns African-American men, is not new. It is part of America’s reality. Any president, or one who wants to be president, is surely aware of that…and ought to have the chutzpah to speak out against it. After all, if Romney or Santorum were to be elected, he would have to be president of all of the people, not just of their base.

Am I wrong?

Thank goodness for the groundswell of outrage all over the country.  From what has been presented to us, there are serious questions about what happened. What seems sure, though, is that Trayvon Martin should not be dead,and George Zimmerman ought to be answering for his behavior.

Thank goodness, too, that we are seeing the capacity of Santorum and Romney to be willing to be president of all of the people, and their capacity to take a stand on a difficult issue: racism and the justice system in America.

These two men are not presidential. The president of the United States has to be the president of all of us. He (or she) has to have the courage to stand up and against what appears to be wrong. At the least, he or she has to be able to relate to Americans who are hurting, like Trayvon’s parents.

President Obama, who has walked carefully over the minefield called race and racism in America, has spoken out, saying that if he had a son, “he would look like Trayvon,” but he said he wanted to respect the investigation of the case,  both national and local. That was the right thing to do, the right thing to say. That as presidential.

However,neither  Santorum, Romney nor Paul has shown compassion or backbone, not in this instance.

It’s a significant revelation. It is a telling revelation. It is a troubling revelation.

A candid observation …

Whose Phony Theology?

This morning I heard a news report on “The Today Show”  about the surging poll numbers of GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum. He is apparently appealing to Republican voters who like his socially Conservative views, and is ahead of last month’s front-runner, Mitt Romney, even in Romney’s home state of Michigan.

But I don’t write this because of Santorum’s poll numbers. I write this to challenge Mr. Santorum, Mr. Romney and Mr. Gingrich to be honest politicians, and to win their nomination based on truth and not on sensationalism…AND I challenge news organizations to be honest and accurate as well, seeking truth in reporting and again, not sensational reports that will drive their ratings up.

Peter Alexander did this morning’s report, saying that Santorum is using religion as one of his tools to fight his opponents. We already heard him say that President Obama has a “phony theology,” but Santorum took a jab at the President’s Christianity yesterday, intimating that something may very well be wrong with a man whose pastor was Jeremiah Wright. Said Santorum, “He sat under Pastor Wright for 20 years.”

Enter the now infamous sound bite of Wright saying, “no, no, no, not God bless America. God damn America!” End of clip. As the clip aired, Alexander continued talking, saying that Wright was “forced to resign from his church after making inflammatory remarks.”

My soul fell out of my body. First, the clip…which I will talk about in a minute, but Alexander’s carelessness as a reporter made my blood boil. Pastor Wright did NOT resign; he retired after serving Trinity United Church of Christ for 36 years! In his book, A Sankofa Moment: The History of Trinity United Church of Christ,” Wright writes, “It was during those years between 2001  and 2005  that we began to look earnestly for a pastor to succeed me in leading the flock of God known as Trinity United Church of Christ….We were looking for someone who loved the Lord with all their hearts, their souls and their minds. We did not want anybody coming into the congregation who was playing with the Gospel or playing God’s people, pimping them or trying to get over on them!” (p. 283) The church had a Plan of Succession; his retirement was not new news. Pastor Wright preached his last three sermons at Trinity UCC in February of 2008;  his last Sunday as senior pastor of Trinity UCC was the first Sunday of March, 2008.

The lack of accuracy in Alexander’s reporting is a giant black eye on a news operation which prides itself as being competent and accurate.

But then…that clip. I cringed. There it was again…ten words taken out of context, and done purposely in order to feed into the fear, suspicion …and dislike of President Obama that has never disappeared. From the claim that the president is not American to the charges that he is really a closet Muslim…a non-American, non-Christian, who is in the White House. Santorum is feeding the sharks and he knows it.

That clip came from a sermon, entitled  “Confusing God and Government,” and was actually preached in 2003. In that sermon, Pastor Wright began by asking, “If you were to ask the average Christian, ‘did Jesus cry?’ almost every Christian would quote for you that John 11:35 verse, which most Bible students call the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.”

He goes on to tell the story around that particular verse…but then he begins to talk about why Jesus cried, going to the Gospel of Luke, where on Palm Sunday Luke says Jesus wept over the city; “he cried for his people who did not know the things that make for peace.”

Wright says, “He cried for his people because they were blinded by their culture, they were blinded by their conditions, they were blinded by their circumstance, they were blinded by their oppression…” He described a people who in Jesus’ day were oppressed by the Roman government; he said these people were tired of their oppression…they were blinded by the pain of their situation…”

He explains how people get confused: “Let me help you with something,” he said. “The military does not make for peace. The military only keeps the lid on for a little while…War does not make for peace, war only makes for escalating violence and a mindset to pay the enemy back by any means necessary,” a sentiment spoken by preaching greats including William Sloan Coffin and Martin Luther King Jr.

Wright talked about the people in Jesus’ day who wanted a new king but who were blinded by their circumstances, and “it made Jesus cry because they missed the meaning of his ministry.”  He continues to develop this thought, saying in the sermon that people were “confusing external appearances with external power.  People look for a miracle, Wright said, which is “just a sign,” but “the deeds of power point to a God who is greater than any physical limitation, and a God who can overcome any limiting situation…The people under oppression were confusing God and government.”

As he develops his thoughts, he talks about how some Muslims (and he is careful to say “not all Muslims”) confuse God and government who “condone a law condoning killing any and all who do not believe what they believe. They call it ‘jihad.'” He says we in America do the same thing: “we cannot see how what we are doing is the same al-Qaeda is doing under a different color flag, calling on the name of a different God to sanction our murder and our mayhem.”

“We confuse God and government,” he said. He mentions some of the things America has done in the name of God, including oppressing Native Americans and African Americans…”We believe God approved of African slavery.”  He talks about America’s Constitution which assumed men to be “more equal” than women, and he said, “We confuse God and government; we believe God is on the side of the wealthy.”

The place of the wealthy is forever up for discussion. Jesus, in the New Testament, and God in the Hebrew scriptures admonished the wealthy for not caring enough for the poor.  William Sloan Coffin once said “Our nation is going to have quite a lot to say about how tolerable this planet is going to be. And if it’s as hard for a rich individual to get into the kingdom of God as it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, you can imagine what it must be like for a rich nation!”  In other words, the debate about the rights of the rich versus the poor is not new; the chasm between the two has been a subject for prophets and apparently for God from the beginning of time.

In this sermon, Wright makes three points; Governments lie; governments fail, and governments change. He talks about how our government has lied over time “The government lied about Pearl Harbor. They knew the Japanese were going to attack.  Governments lie!  The government lied about the Gulf of Tonkin – they wanted that resolution to get us into the Vietnam War. The government lied about Nelson Mandela and our CIA helped put him into prison and keep him there for 27 years. ..Wright talks about well-documented instances in which the government has lied, but ends that section with “God doesn’t lie.

He then talks about how our government (and others) change. “Long before there was a red, white and blue colonization, the Egyptian government was doing colonization. They colonized parts of the Mediterranean. All colonizers ain’t (sic) white…But while the government of Egypt and Pharaoh ran it, they don’t run a thing today, and why? Because governments change. When the Babylonians carried away the people of promise into exile, the Babylonian government was the baddest government around, but when King Nebuchadnezzar went crazy, his government was replaced by the government of King Belshazzar. King Belshazzar held a great big feast, big banquet, defiled the sacred vessels stolen from the temple in Jerusalem, and a hand appeared.” Here, Pastor Wright describes the writing on the wall translated by Daniel, which said to the king that his government would fail. Governments, Wright said, using the Biblical text, change.

But, he said, “God doesn’t change, quoting Malachi 3:6 which says “…thus says the Lord, and I change not.” God, he repeats, does not change, an affirmation and a comfort to people who need to know that God is a constant, no matter what.

Finally he says governments fail. He talks of how the Roman government fail; the Russian government failed; the British government failed; the Japanese government failed …and the American government failed “when it came to treating her citizens of Indian ancestry fairly, she failed. She put them on reservations. When it came to treating her citizens of Japanese descent fairly, she failed; she put them in internment prison camps. When it came to treating her citizens of African descent fairly, she failed.”

Said Wright: She put them in chains. The government put them in slave quarters, put them on auction blocks, put them in cotton fields, put them in inferior schools, put them in substandard housing, put them in scientific experiments, put them in the lowest paying jobs, put them outside the equal protection of the law, kept them out of their racist bastions of higher education and locked them into position of hopelessness and helplessness. The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing, “God bless America” No, no, no! God damn America! That’s in the Bible, for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating her citizens as less than human. God damn America as long as she keeps trying to act like she is God and she is supreme!”

Governments fail, he says, but God never fails. He asks the congregants to refer to the Bible, where it says people will be cursed for not treating people right; in Deuteronomy 27 and 28, there are extensive lists where Moses explains why people (and nations) will be cursed and why they can and will be blessed. The fall of Jerusalem came about because the people “forsook God,” and the curse was that God allowed the enemies of His own people to topple them. It is not a pleasant message, but it is in the Bible.

I challenge Mr. Santorum to read the sermon, instead of making sneaky comments implying that there is something wrong with the president’s theology because he sat under the teaching of Pastor Wright. One might argue that a theology that allowed for the enslavement of African-Americans, the oppression of women, and the exploitation of workers is phony, too, if the Bible is to be taken into account.

At the end of the day, though there is one God, there are many different theological perspectives. The Rev. Franklin Graham gave a lukewarm acknowledgement that President Obama is a Christian, though he strongly affirmed that Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are. When pressed by reporters on “Morning Joe” about his thoughts about the president’s faith, he waffled, criticizing the president’s policies which to him seem to be more concerned with protecting Muslims than Christians in places like Egypt. “We are not protecting the minorities,” he said, intimating that a good policy would be one that protected “the minorities,” which, in Egypt, are the Christians.

Yet, in America, many Christians historically have not been all that concerned with protecting its minorities.  So, which theology is “phony?” Which theology is “real,” in Santorum’s view or in Rev. Graham’s?

Rev. Graham said “all I know is that I am a sinner saved by grace.” That is the correct Christian jargon, but saying the words does not a Christian make, and, conversely, NOT saying those words when asked if one is Christian does NOT mean that one is not. Rev. Graham is right: the measure of one’s Christianity is found in the way one lives one’s life. Rev. Graham seems to have problems and issues with the president’s policies primarily in the Middle East, making him apparently doubt the president’s Christian belief claim.

As for NBC, I hope Peter Alexander corrects his error, and I hope all of the news operations are careful to check their facts before they put reports out that will only feed the fears and insecurity of so many people. I don’t feel sorry for politicians who rip each other apart, because those in politics know what they’re getting into, but the press has a duty to get the facts right and care about the lives of people it disrupts and destroys when it is not careful.

A candid observation ….