Change

Cover of "Scarred by Struggle, Transforme...
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Here we are on Election Day, with one candidate talking about going forward …changing the way things have been done in the past, and the other candidate talking about change …going from big government to smaller government and a balanced budget.

 

President Barack Obama says going forward will help his policies take hold. There will be health care for more people, young people will find college more affordable, federal regulations on banks and financial institutions should help consumers. Change…that’s all change…

 

And Governor Mitt Romney says he will balance the budget. That sounds good, except that with a balanced budget and less spending,  somebody is going to suffer. Less spending usually means less spending on programs that help the masses. Although economists say that less spending should be accompanied by more taxes, it feels like the emphasis will be on less spending, which means …change.

 

Change, no matter which way it comes, hurts. Joan Chittister, in her book Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope,” writes that “change means movement. Movement means friction.”  But, she says, change is necessary because it is in change that we grow. If we cling to the present, she writes, we “cut off the wings to the soul.” Every day we should be “growing into more” or else we “retreat into less,” says Norman Mailer.

 

So this change in our country …whether it’s from President Obama or Gov. Romney…is a sign of life.

 

Thing is, we resist change.  Collectively and individually, we resist it. We grow comfortable in our spaces, even if those spaces are not good for us, even if those spaces are toxic. To change means we willingly engage in struggle, and struggle is wearying. We would rather vegetate, even though we wail about things not being right. We wail, but we do not want to do the work of change. Too much friction. We don’t want scarred knees.

 

If the truth be told, President Obama has brought about a lot of change. Many have not like it; there was movement and therefore, friction, lots of it. There wasn’t as much change as he wanted, but there has been change. And if Gov. Romney wins, there will be change that will rub lots of us the wrong way. There will be friction and struggle; there will be scarred knees.

 

But that means that there’s life. Where there is no movement, there is no life. Where there is no change, there is no life, either. Change comes unannounced and uninvited too often; in fact, because we resist change so much, the only way change can really happen oftentimes is if it DOES come uninvited. The good thing about presidential politics is that we know that with whomever is in the White House, there will ALWAYS be some kind of change that’s going to rub someone the wrong way. Sometimes, the change, like FDR’s New Deal, helps the masses, and sometimes, the change helps far fewer people. But we know change will come, whomever wins.

 

In our personal lives, change has to crash through our protective doors, invade our spaces of familiarity in order to get our attention. Change has to force us out of saucers and onto the ground; it has to make the scales fall from our eyes so that we can see what we have been trying hard not to see, and make us break into a jog instead of shuffling along where we’ve always been, satisfied.

 

In the case of politics, our country doesn’t decide to become new; the election of a new president forces newness upon us. But in our own lives, change, if we embrace it, means that we decide to become new, that we “do the work,” as Iyanla Vanzant says. The essence of struggle, says Chittister, “is neither endurance nor denial. The essence of struggle is the decision to become new rather than to simply become older.”

 

Well, if that’s the case, and if more people could and would understand change as an opportunity and not a curse, then perhaps we wouldn’t avoid the struggle so much…and just get into the process.

 

And even in the case of the changes thrust upon us by each president, perhaps it might help us and our country if we would accept some of the changes with a little less resistance. We might benefit from that.

 

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 …

Is Romney Kidding?

Romney
Romney (Photo credit: Talk Radio News Service)

I read an article – and listened to a video tape – that captured GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney saying some pretty disparaging things about much of this nation.

The article, written by David Corn, said that Romney has disdain for 47 percent of this nation’s population who, he says, believe in big government, have victim mentalities, and have no interest in making a good life for themselves. (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/09/secret-video-romney-private-fundraiser). Romney was speaking to a group of wealthy potential donors. What he needed from them, he said, was “millions of dollars.”

Said Romney: “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.”

He then went on to say that he wasn’t going to worry about that 47 percent, because they voted for President Obama in 2008 and will vote for him again. He also acknowledged that he is having trouble getting Hispanic voters.

But …back to the 47 percent …I had to ask myself as I listened to the video (yes, Romney himself is speaking) if he was kidding. Does he really have that low an opinion of  nearly half of this country’s population?  And is he arrogant enough to believe that he can win the election as he touts such views?

When one donor complained to Romney that he wasn’t attacking the president with enough “intellectual firepower,” the GOP candidate said that the campaign trail was not the place for “high-minded and detail-oriented arguments.”

I was squashed at the arrogance of all that he said. In a related articled which appeared in The Washington Post, author Greg Sargent said that the 47 percent of Americans whom Romney criticized as being government moochers do not, as Romney correctly said, pay income taxes, but they do pay state and local taxes. They would be appalled, if not disgusted, Sargent argues, at being lumped into a giant pool of lazy, opportunistic victims. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/post/romney-ill-never-convince-obama-voters-to-take-responsibility-for-their-lives/2012/09/17/0c1f0bcc-0104-11e2-b260-32f4a8db9b7e_blog.html).

All of the reports recently which have addressed the issue of how tax cuts for the wealthy impacts an economy say that such cuts do not help the economy and do not spur the creation of  jobs. Yet, Romney continues to push that argument, and in the process, insults a huge number of Americans who might be called the “working poor.”

Romney says he was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and in this leaked video, criticizes the other side for implying as much, but he certainly has not spent time amongst the working poor. He has not been in their (our) shoes, and experienced their struggles. Many to most people are not financially literate, and so are at the behest of a capitalistic society which takes advantage of their financial ignorance, but the fact that many people are not good with money does not justify such a snooty and arrogant description of them.

One wonders what this nation will be like, which direction it will go, if Romney wins in November. President Obama’s policies may not be favorable to everyone,  and the president still has not mentioned the worth of poor people in this nation. His focus is on the middle class, which seems not to exist so much anymore; his policies are designed to lift and support them. The poor have not been mentioned much, if at all.

But at least the president seems to know that there is such a thing as the “working poor,” who might be included in that 47 percent of people whom Romney has decided he is going to ignore.

Seriously, Mr. Romney? How arrogant.

A candid observation …

 

The Arrogance of Racism

United States Supreme Court building.
United States Supreme Court building. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I think about racism, I think what bothers me most is the arrogance of it all, an arrogance spawned and nurtured by governments, both in this country and elsewhere, allowing or perhaps encouraging people to buy into one of the most specious types of human behavior imaginable.

What prompts this post is the story about how some people at the Republican National Convention allegedly threw peanuts at a CNN camerawoman, saying, “this is how we feed the animals.”

Then, I looked at the makeup of the crowd at the RNC, and saw very few non-white faces…but what bothers me, again, is that the Republican Party has not really done anything to draw different ethnic groups. Their arrogance allows them to pander to their base unashamedly, only thinking of other ethnicities as objects to be captured to win elections.

The voter suppression efforts are, again, so arrogant. Americans have the right to vote; because voting is a right, politicians and governments should do all they can to make sure the most people possible can exercise their right…and yet, the laws put in place feel like they were put there to shut certain groups out, in order to make sure the Republican and Tea Party candidates win.

It is so arrogant.

At least the Justice Department shot down the voter ID laws in Texas. (http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/30/politics/texas-voter-id-law/index.html?hpt=hp_bn1) The state attorney general said he will appeal the ruling to the United States Supreme Court, but again, how arrogant is it to think that it is OK to deliberately bar people from the polls?

The government and society-supported racism has historically been supported, in specific rulings, by the United States Supreme Court. The most noted case is the Dred Scott case, where the Chief Justice, writing for the majority, said there were “no rights of a black man that a white man is bound to respect.” Reading that still takes my breath away.

In Pennsylvania, Commonwealth Judge Robert Simpson refused to block a voter ID law (http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2012/0815/Why-judge-refused-to-block-Pennsylvania-voter-ID-law) Judge Simpson doesn’t see where the law will impede the ability of poor and minority people to vote. In the spirit of arrogance that this post is about, Pennsylvania GOP House Leader Mike Turzai said publicly that the new voter ID laws will help Romney win the state in the general election. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/25/mike-turzai-voter-id_n_1625646.html)

This racial arrogance has caused so much pain for others. It has fooled white people into thinking that no matter who they are, they are always better than black or brown people, and it knows that governments, churches and institutions will, or have, for the most part, supported them.

The arrogance makes those who allow racism and racist feelings to abide in them think they are more intelligent, more capable, and absolutely within their rights to spurn anyone who is not …white.

I don’t know how the budget will shake down if Mitt Romney wins the election. It is clear that Paul Ryan’s proposed budget doesn’t seem to care too much for black, brown and poor people.  The arrogance of people makes them forget that there are still serious barriers in our society that prevent people from getting work; studies show that black and brown people are still discriminated against in hiring. And Romney, who has never had to worry about where the next meal will come from, or watch his parents worry about that, said in an ad that if kids want to go to college, they should “ask their parents” to help them, give them a loan.

Arrogance. He doesn’t know how many parents are struggling just to keep their heads above water, and that includes everyone, black, brown…and white.

In the wake of Hurricane Isaac, I thought back to Hurricane Katrina, where the arrogance of racism, which spawns fear and uncaring, accounted for the government to send National Guard soldiers into the city of New Orleans, when people, mostly black and poor, were drowning in their homes, or sitting on roofs, desperate to be rescued. I still think of the pictures of old people, sitting out in the hot sun for hours, waiting for someone …to care. Too many died waiting.

The killing thing is that many whites who are racist will not admit it; they will get immediately defensive if  such is suggested to them. During the Republican primary, one of my Twitter friends was furious when I said that Newt Gingrich was playing to his base. I was referring to some of his comments on those who are poor and who are on welfare.

My friend…unfriended me.

Gee.

I am holding my breath as this election gets into final gear. I am sure that those who plan the campaign know how to speak to the racist underpinnings of this country’s citizens without saying things that will get them in trouble. But they will say them…and those who are supposed to understand, will. And though I am talking about Republicans today, be clear that there is no way I am saying that some Democrats are not just as racist, and I am not saying that ALL Republicans are racist. But racist or not, the arrogance that supports racism abounds in this world.

It’s sad, this arrogance, and it keeps America from being the greatest she can be.

A candid observation …

Sometimes, Prayer is Not Enough

 

 

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg opening ...
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg opening the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I am a pastor. I believe in God with all my heart.  But sometimes, prayer is not enough.

 

It COULD be enough, I think, if people were fervent prayers as a matter of course. But we are not. We as a people are more “situational” prayers, or we pray in times of crisis. That kind of prayer is helpful, but not effective when a task of mammoth proportions, perhaps Biblical proportions, lurks before us.

 

This latest tragedy – the shooting and killing of innocent people who were at a movie – lifts up at least two issues that politicians will more likely fight over than treat as life-changing issues, which, ignored, are contributing angst and danger to our country.

 

Those two issues are gun control and mental health.  With both issues, there is a Goliath which require prayers first, certainly, and then, action, and to most people, those two issues are too big, will take too much energy, to fight. Goliath is just too big.

 

Mayor Michael Bloomberg hit at Goliath yesterday when he said that politicians, first and foremost at this point, President Obama and the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, ought to speak out for gun control.  Nearly everyone is enraged that the suspect in the Colorado theater incident, James Holmes, was able to buy so many guns and nearly 6000 rounds of ammunition legally.

 

I am reminded that not everything that legal is right. Everything the Nazis did to the Jews, including murdering them, was legal…but it was not right.

 

Certainly, our politicians cannot keep quiet on the fact that the obsession by some to protect Second Amendment rights at the expense of the lives of innocent American citizens. Opponents of gun control say that guns are not bad; people are. I counter that and say that of course, guns are not bad, but not everyone who buys guns, or does bad things with guns, are not bad. Many, many times, they are sick.

 

But to come out for gun control in this presidential election year would be like facing Goliath. The National Rifle Association (NRA) is one of the most powerful lobby groups in this country. If the NRA is not already pouring money into either camp, to speak out for tougher gun control would be like committing political suicide.

 

But sometimes, politicians ought to show America that they are more interested in pushing for the rights and protection of the American people than in being elected. Sometimes, we ought to see that they are willing to put politics down, pick up a stone, and confront a cowering, arrogant Goliath.

 

The second Goliath which this incident brings to the surface is mental illness. Nobody wants to talk about it or deal with it. I am convinced that the shooter in yesterday’s incident is not bad, but he is certainly sick – and I am sure he has been sick for a long time.

 

To lift up the fact that funds need to be spent on researching and treating mental illness will bring out cries of  “no more spending!”  I guess spending on mental health would be spending on yet another “entitlement,” and that is not something the President wants to get his opponents using against him. I don’t think Mitt Romney would dare bring the subject up.

 

And yet, in the masses of American people that both candidates are appealing to for votes, there are scores of people who are mentally ill. Much mental illness begins in childhood; in urban schools, I am convinced that many children labeled as “bad” are in fact mentally ill, and mentally ill children, whether they are from the ghetto or the suburbs, grow up to be mentally ill adults. There needs to be regular screening – and  treatment – for mental illness. AND, we as a nation ought to stop being so ashamed of it. Mental illness is as prevalent as is diabetes or hypertension. Why are we so afraid of it?

 

What we have in the Aurora, Colorado incident, I think, a mentally ill or emotionally troubled young man who was free to buy all the guns and ammunition he wanted, legally. He knew what he was going to do, but that does not preclude that his connection to reality is off-balance.

 

What does all this say about evil? Well of course there is evil in the world, and prayers ought to name the evil or evils in earnest. But after the praying, those who prayed are really mandated to get off their knees and confront the Goliath, away from the comfort and security of a sanctuary or a private prayer space. We are called to pick up our stones, and walk toward the Goliath that laughs at the very thought of being confronted.

 

Sometimes, prayer is not enough, like now. Sometimes, prayer needs to be followed by a team of people moved to action by their prayers, including and led by politicians who are seeking election or re-election. Who will be the David in this situation, a little boy in the Bible who declared that God had protected him when a lion or bear came to carry off sheep he was tending. Little David said, “I went after it… Your servant went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine. (1 Sam. 21: 34-37)

 

If we pray, we have to confess our faith in God. We pray not only for comfort, but for the strength to confront the Goliaths all around us.

 

At least 12 people in Colorado who were alive on Thursday and who are now gone, need that from us.

 

A candid observation …