Month: June 2022

The great incongruity

Today’s Juneteenth holiday marks a key event toward ending slavery. I’ve always wondered what might have happened if the South had won the (first) Civil War. I wonder no longer. Last week, the Texas Republican Party platform spelled it out. Texas Republicans are ready to vote for secession again–now.

It seems timely to revisit the Constitution of the Confederate States of America. Some excerpts:

We, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character, in order to … establish justice … and secure the blessings of liberty … invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God …..

Using the US Constitution as a template, various liberties are guaranteed, such as the prohibition against the infliction of “cruel and unusual punishments.”

However, incongruously:

No slave … in any State or Territory of the Confederate States … escaping or lawfully carried into another, shall … be discharged from such service or labor; but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such slave belongs….

(The Constitution was adopted one month before Fort Sumter, by representatives from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas. Later, the states of Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia were admitted.)

… The Confederate States may acquire new territory …. the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress … and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States … shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States.

From “What Is Juneteenth?”, by Elizabeth Nix, History, June 17, 2022

When disappointment comes

Disappointment happens. On Friday, while searching for words to comfort a friend who has seen many years of labor decimated by a successor, Richard Rohr’s meditation, “Making Peace in a Time of War” appeared in my inbox. This is a keeper that I will consult in days ahead when disappointment comes.

Rohr described the powerful, though disappointing peacemaking efforts of the former warrior, Saint Francis of Assisi in 1219, “when he preached peace unsuccessfully to the Christian crusaders and followed that with a personal visit with the sultan of Egypt, Malik al-Kamil (1180–1238).”

When Francis went to Egypt, the “holy” wars–crusades to Christians and jihads to Muslims–had been going on for over a century. The fighting continued and Francis returned to Assisi very disappointed. He appeared to have failed. But his seeds of peace continue to bear fruit. He said to his followers:

As you announce peace with your mouth, make sure that greater peace is in your hearts. Let no one be provoked to anger or scandal through you, but may everyone be drawn to peace, kindness, and harmony through your gentleness. For we have been called to … heal the wounded, bind up the broken, and recall the erring.

From “A Review of Paul Moses’ The Saint and the Sultan,” by Mary Groh, Conscience Canada

A nation’s strength

What constitutes a nation’s strength? I believe it’s our commitment to human rights and equal justice; to do what’s right and fair, regardless of the cost; and our steadfast opposition to authoritarian rule. Without these, no amount of wealth and no amount of arms will be of lasting importance.

The January 6th Committee is giving voice to those who were strong in a time of crisis. Their archive, plus the Mueller Report, two impeachments, and Presidential archives will be studied by Constitutional Law students for decades to come. One lesson is this: strong people don’t obfuscate; they elucidate.

The January 6th Committee’s work will be used by the Department of Justice in prosecutions relating to the insurrection. Those cases will provide another layer of historical record that will separate truth from illusion about who was for law and order and who was attempting to steal an election.

From “Trump: I never called Mike Pence a wimp,” by Erin Doherty, Axios, June 17, 2022

When tools become idols

A brief reflection by Diana Butler Bass, “Gundamentalism on the Rise: What would Jesus carry?” begins by quoting a member of Congress from Colorado who spoke at a Christian “family camp” at a Colorado church, saying she prays for Joe Biden with Psalm 109: “May his days be few.”

Then she told the group how Jesus could have saved himself from crucifixion if he’d only had a couple of assault rifles at Gethsemane: Butler said, “A joke? Not really. A theology was operative there, a full blown reinterpretation of God and guns that obscures the message of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.”

Ten years ago, Presbyterian pastor James Atwood warned of the growing theological dimensions of gun culture, something he called “gundamentalism.” He insisted that guns are no longer tools that people use, but they had become idols of trust and power.

These snippets don’t do justice to her well-written reflection, which you can read by clicking the link (above). She offers a Carl Sandberg poem, “The Revolver,” and links to numerous resources, including a Wisconsin Council of Churches’ Study Action Guide, the source of this photo:

The power of Yet

From Ted Talks to Sesame Street, educators have discovered the power of the tiny word “Yet.” When presented with a child saying things like, “I can’t do that,” or “I’m not smart enough,” it can be a powerful turnaround to encourage the child to add the simple word “yet” at the end of the sentence.

It can become part of the atmosphere of a classroom, or a team, or any group, as the children (or adults) remind each other to insert the word “yet” at the end of the sentence, as in: “I can’t do that yet.” Or, “I’m not smart enough yet.” It’s a classic, “can do” tool that turns negative energy into positive energy.

We haven’t learned how to prevent Alzheimer’s–yet. We haven’t overcome racism–yet. We haven’t made it to net zero carbon emissions–yet. We haven’t passed meaningful gun control legislation–yet. Russia doesn’t have freedom of the press–yet. We haven’t achieved liberty and justice for all–yet.

From “The Power of Yet,” by Janelle Monae and the Sesame Street Muppets, September 10, 2014, via YouTube

Respect the process

The Fullness of Loving movement began 8 months ago by my friend Joe Elmore. He says it actually began 80 years ago when he was a young boy, seeking acceptance and love. About 100 people are involved in this movement, which gathers in various occasional configurations to encourage each other to intentionally practice receiving and sharing forgiveness and love.

Our sessions remind me of Quaker meetings. Everyone is free to speak but no one is required to speak. In an atmosphere of trust and acceptance, we begin to peel back layers of pain. We also marvel at the power of forgiveness that keeps us moving forward. One person spoke of the work that’s involved with deep pain. She said, “It’s important to respect the process (of forgiveness).”

We talked about South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Desmond Tutu, who said, “I am sorry” are the three hardest words to say. They may be the most liberating words we can say. Reconciliation is a process, especially if it involves transformation rather than papering over deep pain. Just like physical therapy, it may take awhile. Reconciliation is a process. It’s worth the effort.

From The Forgiveness Project

Truth is liberation

Matthew, Mark and Luke paint like Norman Rockwell. John paints like Picasso, with a mystical eye. His rendering of an ancient conversation is astonishingly relevant: Jesus conveyed to Pilate that his mission was not to be a king (as Pilate had asked, no doubt mockingly). Rather, “My mission is to testify to the truth….” To wit, Pilate replied, perhaps reflectively but likely skeptically, “What is truth?”

The first public hearing of the January 6 Committee took me to #45’s statement, “I am your law and order president.” Then to his FBI Director’s assessment that the then president had “a casual relationship with the truth.” Then to the former president’s new media platform, “Truth Social.” Today, rare is a leader who asks, “What is truth?” They insist their version of reality is truth–the only truth you need to know.

Truth is more than slogans and talking points to frame a narrative. An impartial search for truth about January 6, for what really happened, is essential for democracy. The search for truth, done with respect, is an act of love because truth liberates everyone. Jesus was confident “the Spirit of truth” would guide people into all the truth.” Jesus knew that others would be inspired to “testify to the truth.”

From “The Guardian view on the January 6 committee hearing: truth v alternative facts,” The Guardian (editorial), January 10, 2022

The gyroscope is love

It always comes back to love. My encounter with the Southern Lights presenters launched a week of contemplation and reflection about the most searing issue of this divisive era–to experience forgiveness and healing for ourselves and to be agents of forgiveness and healing for others.

Why did it take me so long to see through the religious language that’s been used by proponents of repressive political action? I missed many opportunities to say, “I respectfully disagree.” I need to soak up some grace this week as I ponder these things. And, I need to extend that grace to others.

Sometimes, moments of gracious, respectful disagreement have opened the door for deeper conversation and more solid friendships. As I reflect on the “culture wars,” on upcoming election cycles and on difficult decisions by persons of faith, I foresee fresh opportunities for deeper conversations.

The Southern Lights presenters have helped me work through some residual brokenness, which can be the basis for more breakthroughs in the difficult days ahead. Love is like a gyroscope that continuously keeps me centered (when I allow it), drawing me back to the “plumb line” of the prophet Amos.

From “Justice the Plumb Line–Amos 7:7-15,” by J. Leavitt Pearl, Political Theology, July 11, 2018

A political faith

In White Evangelical Racism, Anthea Butler sees American evangelicalism as a political movement within the Republican Party–moving the party away from its liberation roots in Abraham Lincoln and moving it toward repressive tactics that echo post-Civil War democrats in the South.

Butler’s subtitle provides a good question for Sunday dinner conversation for individuals, families or faith groups: What are The Politics of Morality in America today? How does your faith (or moral principles) shape your politics? How do your politics shape your faith (or moral principles)?

The Founders tried to avoid two European problems made worse by religious passion: (1) religious autocracies that demanded uniformity of belief and (2) religion-based political divisions. Thus, the US Constitution prohibits a “religious test” as a prerequisite for holding public office.

Lincoln wasn’t very religious, but his politics were shaped by a biblical understanding that liberty and justice are a nation’s highest principles–with malice toward none and charity (love) for all. I share our Founders’ fear of religious parties. I share Lincoln’s politics of human rights and equal justice.

An announcement from the Equal Justice Initiative about an expansion of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice

A religious party

In the Conclusion to White Evangelical Racism, Anthea Butler says today’s American evangelicalism “is not a simply religious group at all. Rather it is a nationalistic political movement whose purpose is to support the hegemony of white Christian men over and against the flourishing of others.”

This political movement is a civil religion. Participants may use religious language, symbols and actions (such as the January 6 insurrectionists’ prayer in the Senate chamber). References to Jesus are common, since many participants have some form of a Christian identity, but the movement includes many who are not active in a faith community or who may not see themselves as religious.

Butler said, “Evangelicals have burrowed their identities into the infrastructure of Republican politics…. It has become a religion lodged within a political party.” She challenges citizens (not just Republicans), especially people of faith (not just evangelicals) with what I consider her book’s thesis:

Evangelicalism is a religion that has benefited and continues to benefit from racism on both an individual level and a structural level, always under the guise of morality and patriotic nationalism. Racism in evangelicalism is not only about individual sin. It’s about the corporate sins of a religious movement that continues to believe itself good, and that good is predicated on whiteness and the proximity to power.

From “Why Trump is reliant on white evangelicals,” by Jason Husser, Brookings Institute, April 6, 2020