Month: October 2022

Piranha culture

The 1978 movie Piranha stereotyped our understanding of more than 60 widely-varying species of fish known as Piranha. In 1992, I was part of a group housed for a couple of weeks at a church-related school in Panama. The school’s mascot was the Piranha and they proudly wore the name, the Piranhas.

So, at risk of furthering this stereotype, I think of our current social and political atmosphere as a piranha culture. Meanness and frenzy are not new to American culture or politics. But, we’re in a season of extremes, made worse by disrespect for institutions a willingness to flaunt truth and advocate violence.

The chants of Donald Trump’s rag-tag army at the 1/6/21 insurrection included, “Hang Mike Pence,” and “Where are you, Nancy!” The assault against Paul Pelosi during an assailant’s search for the Speaker echoed the January 6 violence. What can we do? What can I as one person do?

I have countless Republican friends and several office-holding Republican friends but I’m boycotting the Republican Party until it repudiates Donald Trump and its 2020 election deniers, of whom more than 200 are on the ballot this year. It’s painful because I identify with much of its history as the Party of Lincoln.

Now, though, it’s the Party of Trump. For its leaders, “silence is complicity.”

From “Election Deniers Already Are Disrupting the Midterm Election,” by Matt Vasilogambros, Pew Charitable Trusts, October 27, 2022

A sober Sunday

The Sabbath, which Christians inherit from Judaism, provides a weekly reminder to “let go” of everyday claims put upon us by the world. In this sense, it’s a day of freedom, a day to envision how the world “ought to be” and one day “shall be.”

In freedom, we have the luxury (even if temporary) to look at the Big Picture. When we step back from life’s daily pressures, we gain clarity (even if temporary) about what’s going on in the world and in our lives. In this sense, it’s a day of perspective.

In her Civil Discourse blog post “In Praise of the Federal Judiciary,” Joyce Vance reviews Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s sentencing of Albuquerque Head, who was convicted of assaulting officer Michael Fanone during the January 6, 2021 insurrection. Vance quotes the judge’s statement:

“The dark shadow of tyranny unfortunately has not gone away. Some people are directing their vitriol at Officer Fanone and not at the people who summoned the mob in the first place.”

The January 6, 2021 insurrection was a dark moment for America. I’m thankful that the judiciary offered some light. May we begin to find healing in that light.

From “In Praise of the Federal Judiciary,” by Joyce Vance, Civil Discourse, October 28, 2022

We learn from each other

The above sentence has become my mantra. Rita Clagett is one from whom I learn. She practices and teaches mindfulness. Her Morning Rounds blog post “Courage” poignantly describes a visit to her dermatologist, including this closing paragraph:

In mindfulness practice we consider relaxation to be a skill. It was only by pushing well beyond my comfort zone into overt psychological discomfort that I was able to recognize how far I’ve come in relaxing: It amazed me to realize that I used to spend much of every day enmeshed in this same level of anxiety that assailed me this afternoon. What a relief! It’s no longer a steady state for me, but only an occasional trait.

Rita eloquently personalizes a dermatological experience familiar to those of us who are privileged to live into older adulthood. We need not “spend much of every day enmeshed” in a high level of anxiety. We have the power, the agency, to move anxiety from a “steady state” to an “occasional trait.”

From “Courage,” by Rita H. Clagett, Morning Rounds, October 27, 2022

Wednesday’s timely event

Wednesday evening’s panel discussion about Christian nationalism is available at the YouTube page of the Georgetown University’s Center on Faith and Justice. Here are some of my takeaways:

Samuel Perry said he has resisted the term “Christian nationalist,” because for many people it has racist connotations. He has preferred to talk about Christian nationalism as a continuum from “patriotic citizen” to “violent insurrectionist.” However, his recent research indicates that the movement has gained widespread respectability in some circles and now more and more people are self-identifying as Christian nationalists.

The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty was founded in 1936. Amanda Tyler is BJC’s executive director. Tyler and the BJC are building a broad network that is calling faith communities to publicly commit to religious liberty for all.

Michael Curry repeatedly pointed the audience to “the texts,” as a way of getting beyond today’s political polarization. He said, “Let the words of Jesus” do the teaching. He said, “Jesus is actually very helpful” in confronting the world’s injustices.

Jim Wallis said because Christian nationalism is now “mainstream” in the Republican Party, “This will be a long struggle and it will be costly.” He said, “Secularism will not solve this problem. It’s up to people of faith. The antidote for bad religion isn’t no religion, it is good religion.”

From “How White Christian Nationalism Threatens Our Democracy

The American Prospect

The American Prospect was recommended by my friend Don. Given the forces of injustice and authoritarianism in today’s world, I need all the help I can get to deal with “the powers and principalities of this age.” The American Prospect helps me focus on freedom and the power of democracy as a way of governance.

Veteran journalist and Brandeis University professor Robert L. Kuttner, 79, co-founded The American Prospect in 1990. This periodical is available as an online subscription. Like many others resources, it is free, though an ad-free option is available.

Don said this about Kuttner: “Robert Kuttner is one of, if not the, premier gurus for me on political and economic issues. His book Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism is high on the list of most important books of the last decade.”

I agree with Don that a recent Kuttner article, Can Democracy Survive?, is extremely relevant and important. He wrote it during a two-week vacation in Sicily with his wife. He shares insights he gleaned from Sicily’s birds-eye view of the ups and downs of Western Civilization. The implications for today are stunning.

From “Can Democracy Survive?” by Robert Kuttner, The American Prospect, October 25, 2022

Tonight in Georgetown

Yesterday’s post highlighted tonight’s panel discussion from 7:00-8:30 ET at Georgetown University, “How White Christian Nationalism Threatens Our Democracy.” I shared some thoughts about tonight’s moderator, Jim Wallis. Prior to his full-time appointment as a professor at Georgetown University, he taught one course a year there for over a decade. His two great passions are faith and justice.

The other panelists provide both depth and breadth to the discussion. In 2019, Ethics Daily named Amanda Tyler Baptist of the Year. Tyler is a member of the Texas and U.S. Supreme Court Bar, has worked in Congress, in a private legal practice and as a law clerk for a federal judge.

Samuel Perry is a professor at the University of Oklahoma and a member of the Baylor University Institute for Studies of Religion. Perry is white. When he was four, his parents adopted two African-American girls. His life experience gives a unique flavor to his analysis of religion and race.

Since 2015, Michael Curry has served as the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. He says, “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.” Curry, an African-American descendant of slaves, was elected Bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina in 2000. You may remember him from the funeral of George H.W. Bush or the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

Tonight’s panel discussion will be livestreamed on the Center for Faith and Justice Facebook and YouTube pages.

From “What is Christian Nationalism?” by Paul D. Miller, Christianity Today, February 3, 2021

Wednesday evening event

A few months ago I subscribed to Christians Against Christian Nationalism. Last evening, I received an email invitation to listen to a panel discussion that will occur tomorrow (Wednesday, October 26), at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., from 7:00-8:30 ET. The topic will be “How White Christian Nationalism Threatens Our Democracy.”

Jim Wallis will be the panel moderator. Wallis, who is just 2 1/2 years my senior, was an important influence in my mid-20s when he was the young editor of Sojourners Magazine and a leader of the community that produced the publication. Wallis is now Chair in Faith and Justice at the McCourt School of Public Policy and the Director of the Georgetown University Center on Faith and Justice.

Today, Wallis’ hair is shorter and his title is longer. I won’t be at Georgetown on Wednesday, but I plan to watch the panel discussion online. It will be good to see and hear Jim Wallis. Other panel participants include Bishop Michael Curry, Amanda Tyler and Samuel Perry. Follow those links and you’ll be introduced to a rather high octane panel.

The event will be livestreamed at the Center on Faith and Justice Facebook and YouTube pages.

From Georgetown University’s Center on Faith and Justice

Sifting truth from noise

Over the weekend I took a step back from the swirling legal issues surrounding Donald Trump to ask a “big picture” question: What’s happening? It’s the process of separating truth from noise.

The former president is a spin master with (as James Comey said) “a casual relationship with truth,” illustrated last night in a Sixty Minutes segment on Trump’s unfounded accusations about Dominion Voting Systems. The noise created by Trump and his legal team alleging election fraud has become a litmus test of Republican loyalty to Trump. But, all this noise is outside the courtroom.

Neither Trump nor his legal teams have alleged election fraud in court. His attorneys made wild charges on camera, but not in court, which would put them in legal jeopardy. So far, Trump and his aides have rarely testified under oath–which is entirely different from speaking on camera.

Trump and associate Steve Bannon spin Congressional subpoenas as politics, but a subpoena is a tool for sifting truth from noise. Seven former presidents have testified before a Congressional committee.

Lindsey Graham has appealed to the US Supreme Court the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals decision that he must testify before a Georgia grand jury. The sifting process is underway.

From “Rep. Liz Cheney on Trump testimony: ‘He’s not going to turn this into a circus’,” by Aaron Pellish, CNN, October 23, 2022

Let us pray

One of my friends said years ago that he believes prayer is attentiveness. His point was that prayer enables us to see what’s happening in our lives and in the world. It’s seeing (and participating in) what the Divine is doing (or wants done) in the world. I believe that an integral component of prayer is giving attention to (and engaging with) big themes or world movements.

So, I’m giving attention to the current rise of Christian nationalism, which is contrary to my understanding of the Christian faith. These resources are aids to prayerful attentiveness:

Understanding Christian Nationalism,” by Diana Butler Bass;

Prayer at Pro-Trump Rally Blasts ‘RINO Trash’ and ‘Deep State,'” by Xander Landen, Newsweek, October 22, 2022; and

Pro-Trump Rally Warns Lindsey Graham, Top Dems to Face Death by Year’s End,” by Xander Landen, Newsweek, October 22, 2022.

Prayerful attentiveness includes giving attention to history’s lessons:

Hitler and Goebbels: A Deadly Partnership,” a brief article from An American Experience on PBS;

Making God: Joseph Goebbels and the Veneration of Hitler, a (74-page) Masters Thesis by Daniel W. Early, November 2018; and

Fascism and Christianity,” by Hubertus Zu Loewenstein, The Atlantic, March 1943.

Let us pray.

From “We can’t overlook the danger posed by Christian nationalists,” by Chuck Ardo, Pennsylvania Capital-Star, April 28, 2022

Annie, a graying lab

Hair color is partly a function of age. I went from blonde to brown to gray to white. It’s my Combs genes. Grandma Combs (nee Mullins) lived to be 104. I only knew her as white-headed. She produced a flock of white-haired descendants. It could be the Mullins genes, but all my white-haired kin are or were named Combs. Sadly, some folks don’t live long enough to experience this trichological trajectory.

I feel a trichological kinship with Annie, a black Labrador Retriever, age 19. She’s pushing the age envelope for labs. She was featured on Today. I learned about Annie shortly after spending a memorable afternoon with my aunt in her new memory care facility. My aunt’s caregivers inspire me. They understand the world of those whose memories are slipping away. Annie’s inspire me, too.

Annie’s new adopted friends were told she might have a month to live. They are now into month four and Annie is enjoying an impressive “bucket list.” Love is about helping others sing their song, or experience their bucket lists–looking beyond wrinkles, limps and trichological transformations.

From “After a 19-year-old dog was surrendered at a shelter, two best friends took her in,” by Liz Calvario, Today,