Political Humor

I know I tend to be a very serious blogger, so I offer this, in an effort to lighten the mood (it’s a favorite at our house):

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Obama, Racism and Charitable Giving

I have gotten one public comment and several private ones to my last post concerning politics.  Thank you for responding and for pushing me to reflect even more.  Seriously. I’m not just saying that.  The following are a few of my responses.  Again, I do not claim to have all the answers on politics or Obama or the very complex issues of racism or charity.  Just offering my perspective and hoping to keep a conversation going on these issues.  They are significant.

Racism

I have only taken two undergrad classes in sociology (which makes me barely even qualified to comment here), but I do feel the need to clarify some terms.  I was taught that racism is prejudice PLUS the use of power by one group over another.  Prejudices are attitudes, judgments, characterizations of groups of people.  White Americans exercised racism over African Americans, and in some ways this racism continues today.  African Americans have not exercised racism against white Americans. They may harbor prejudices against white Americans, but it is impossible for them to be racist. They do not hold power over us.

In the case of Rev. Wright, I agree that he has a prejudice problem.  He is angry and his anger is frightening.  I am, however, satisfied with Obama’s response to the issue of racism in America and the need for racial reconciliation and cooperation (you can watch or read his speech entitled “A More Perfect Union” at www.barakobama.com).  He is correct that sound bites are not a fair characterization of anyone’s remarks.  He is very clear about where he agrees with his pastor and where he does not.  I choose to judge Obama (and anyone else) by his own words and actions, not someone else’s.

Obama took a major mis-step when he used the phrase “typical white grandmother” during a radio broadcast in Philadelphia.  I do not think it would have been wrong for him to talk about his grandmother’s attitudes or actions in the specific, but when he added the term “typical” to the phrase… that is problematic and raises some caution in my mind about the way he sees white Americans and relates to them. As I continue to research his actions and writings, I will continue to keep my eyes open. But I will not judge him by this one sound-bite. I would not judge McCain in this way, nor Clinton.

Charitable Giving

Someone posted a “joke” on the ABC News website under one of the headline stories. It went something like this: A Dem and a Rep were walking down the street. They passed by a homeless man.  The Republican stopped, handed the man a dollar and a job application.  The Democrat was so impressed that he thought he should do something, too, so he picked a $20 out of the Repulican’s pocket and handed it to the man and walked away.

Funny… and perhaps a fair jab at the “tax-and-spend” reputation of Democrats.  I will push back at the Republicans a little here, however.  How much good is a job application going to do someone who can’t read or write?  …or if they do not have an appropriate outfit to attend an intervew?  I could see Jesus taking an entirely different approach: “Take my hand, brother, and let’s figure this out together. I will walk with you to the shelter and the assistance office and will help you navigate all the obstacles that are standing in your way. You are not alone.” Calling for personal responsibility is good and right, but it can be blind to the societal barriers that keep people down.  It lets us off the hook when it comes to caring for our brothers and sisters.

Charity is not only about money. It’s about time and energy.

Yes, the Obama’s giving looks frighteningly inadequate.  I did hear him respond to this issue by saying that their giving went down as they invested in a home, land and paid-off their pile of student loans. That may or may not be an adequate reason for lower giving in your mind.  But let’s not only judge people by when they have written checks and for how much. Let’s judge people by how they spend their LIVES.  Obama spent significant time working for poor families in Chicago, even before he went to law school.  I am not letting him off the hook here. I think he needs to say more about how he has spent his money.  What I am saying is that it is easy for us to write checks and feel that we have done our duty.  It is much harder to orient our lives around service.  Even as we scrutinize politicians, we should be scrutinizing ourselves.  Again, let’s keep researching Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain and Mrs. Clinton.

Obama welcomes scrutiny. His actions have borne that out so far– he has freely released his financial records, has worked for campaign finance reform, has admitted his mistake in taking money from a criminal and has given that money away. He has not taken money from lobbyists. H has acknowledged and answered questions about his church and his pastor.  We still have questions for him, and we should.  They are good and fair questions.  Let’s let him answer them himself– not the media, not the Republicans, not his other critics, not even his fanatical (crazy?) supporters… but HIM.  Any candidate deserves that level of respect.

Why I changed my party affiliation

I realize this post may raise some eyebrows, even frustrate or anger some people, but I wanted to write about it– in part, to force myself to think through the issue of politics and faith logically, rather than emotionally; and in part to compel others who may read this to think deeply and ask some questions of themselves. So, here it goes:

I have been a registered Independent since I moved to Pennsylvania ten years ago.  I have refused to align myself with any party because there are, in my view, serious problems with marrying my Christian faith to either the Republican party or the Democratic party. I understand that political parties aren’t perfect, like most things in life, but I could not come to peace with the decision– except to say, I’m an Independent.  Let me explain my perspective on each party:

I appreciate the Republican perspective on economics, although I sometimes wonder how well “personal responsibility” or a completely free-market system works for those who have suffered unjustly in our society (through racism, sexism, a broken criminal justice system, or simply through tragedy and poverty).  I realize, however, that there are non-governmental organizations that can help with these issues.  I also understand, being married to a small-business owner, that labor unions can create major problems (meaning, strikes often hurt innocent bystanders more than the employers themselves); and Republicans seem to recognize that and have separated themselves from labor unions.  There are areas where I have problems with the Republican party, however.  The emphasis on military power and outright aggression would be one.  It seems that they don’t want to spend tax dollars on assistance programs, but they do ramp up the spending when it comes to missiles and tanks.  I’m also uncomfortable with their ties to the NRA.  I’m not anti-all-guns-everywhere; but I am a strong advocate of very tight controls on guns, given that they are made specifically to take the life of another.  Then there is the issue of respect for life: the pro-life stance on abortion I understand and personally agree with. Republicans, however, have traditionally been strongly for capital punishment.  To me, life is life, whether you are an infant, a murderer, a drug-dealer, a Palestinian or a muslim from Afghanistan or Iraq.

Most of my problem here is that I am a Christian pacifist. Some people would say that this belief makes it impossible for me to live in the real world, which has real problems with the presence of evil… evil people, evil governments, even evil ideologies.  Are we supposed to just stand by and let evil happen, not do anything to protect the innocent?  No, we are not supposed to just stand by and do nothing.  When I look at history, however, I see a distrubing pattern: violence breeds violence, between groups, individuals and nations.  I would hope that people who claim to follow Jesus would search for other options, creative and non-violent means to combat evil (in the tradition of Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr.).  Loving our neighbors and loving our enemies– yes, even those who would abuse us and threaten our rights and our freedoms– is a clear calling from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  I take that call seriously.

Back to the discussion of political affiliation, I turn to the Democratic party.  I appreciate that the Democrats work hard to offer assistance to people in need.  I appreciate their work on regulating hand guns and semi-automatic and automatic weapons. I like their proposed solutions for the health-care crisis and their work to preserve the earth for future generations.  These issues are very high on my list of concerns for our country.  I also stand behind the Democratic party’s emphasis on international diplomacy FIRST, over military action.  I believe we need more diplomacy in this era of terrorism, as opposed to more military posturing and agression.  There are problems for me with the Democrats, though–  they tend to be in the pocket of the labor unions, and they are strongly pro-choice, sometimes to the point of not recognizing the life of the unborn as LIFE. In the past, they have also been the “high taxes” party, which can hurt working-class families.

So this was my dilemma.  Not happy with either party, I chose to opt out of the Pennsylvania Primary process.  It was partly my idealism– in the absense of any ideal party or ideal candidate, I rejected them all.  This year felt different to me, however. I kept an eye on the Pennsylvania deadline for voter registration, and as the date approached, I finally decided to print off the required pages.  I mailed them in by March 24th because I wanted to vote in this year’s primary election… as a Democrat.

As you can probably guess, it is because of Barak Obama’s candidacy.  I have read through his articles on the issues.  I have read or listened to many of his speeches.  No, he isn’t perfect.  He will be new to the international stage.  He is still very new to Washington.  But I think our country needs the kind of change he will bring.  I am stunned by the way he has built his campaign as a grass-roots movement, funded by millions of ordinary citizens.  He knows how to work with people of diverse backgrounds, which I believe to be crucial for America right now.  He has spent his life advocating for people, which is another crucial skill for anyone holding the office of President.  He also knows how to listen.  He’s not a hot-head but he also doesn’t shrink from a fight.  He believes our country can be a better partner in the world and a better home for her own citizens.  He sees the problems in America and has a vision for solutions that include more than one voice at the table.  That is what I think has been missing in Washington for far too long. That is why I am voting as a Democrat this year.

I know some people don’t trust him and don’t think he’s being straight-forward about who he is or what he believes.  I know some people don’t think he’s experienced enough, especially when it comes to foreign policy.  And it is entirely possible that I’m wrong about Barak Obama… but I’m going with my gut on this one.  It’s the first time since I’ve been of voting age that I have felt so strongly that a candidate has the personal qualities and values that we need in a President.  I am now a Democrat, for better or worse.  I plan to keep my eyes and ears open.  Feel free to push back with your own perspective on politics.

The Comparison Game

“Mommy, you love Ben more than me.”  “I never get to do fun stuff like that!”  “It’s not fair!”

If I could count how many times I hear phrases like these in the course of a few days, I’m sure the number would surprise most people.  Lately, I have been highly frustrated by Heidi’s obsession with comparing herself, her room, her life, with others…. and then it ocurred to me that I do the same thing.  Many of us do.

Most women my age still have their mothers.  That mom over there has someone to clean her house for her.  That pastor does not have to worry about being judged by gender.  She has a strong group of friends around her. He has more freedom. He has had more opportunities. They have more money. She’s a better mom. Their kids are better behaved.  It’s the comparison game.

What is it about our human nature that sucks us into this trap? I want out! …or do I?  Sometimes it’s easier to play this game than to examine my own heart and my own life.  If I envy others and stare longingly at what they have or who they are, I am not centered on Christ.  When I am jealous, I am not thankful.  And though it appears that my eyes are on THEM instead of Jesus, really my eyes are on ME.

The comparison game is exceedingly self-centered.  And my life is not my own, not anymore.

Lyrics of Faith

My current favorite artist is Jeremy Riddle (Varietal Records).  In these lyrics, he took the poetry of William Cowper (English poet and hymn writer from the late 1700’s) and created his own song. Powerful lyrics, just powerful. I’ve been meditating on these words for a few weeks now– the providence and sovreignty of God, tenderness, blessing, suffering, faith, perseverance… and our duty, as God’s children, to trust Him, to wait on Him humbly.

 God Moves in a Mysterious Way

God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform. He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm. Deep in unsearchable mines of never failing skill, He treasures up His bright designs and works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take. The clouds you so much dread are big with mercy and shall break; in blessings, in blessings, in blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace.  Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.  His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour. The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.  Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan His work in vain. God is His own interpreter and He will make it plain.

In His own time… In His own way…

-Jeremy Riddle, 2007

Between Good Friday and Easter

Here is my confession, and you may very well want to label me a heretic after I say this– I don’t care for Easter. Don’t like it.  Sometimes even find it annoying.  I have found it even less joyful and inspiring since my mother died in ’04.  It’s selfish and it’s not very faithful of me, but I’m being honest.  I don’t connect with all of the Easter hype, and sometimes I’d rather just skip it.

 So I’ve been trying to figure out why this is the case (in the spirit of my “wondering” theme).  I think I have nailed down a few reasons why I might not “get” Easter.  First, as Mennonites, I think sometimes we emphasize our Suffering Savior more than our Risen Savior.  In case you are not familiar with Mennonites, we absolutely believe that Christ rose from the dead, in body AND spirit.  We are definitely orthodox Christians!  But we talk a lot about Jesus’ willingness to lay down power, to welcome rejection, suffering and death out of Love for people.  We talk about His humility and servant-heart.  All of this is wonderful and good… but the disciples (and later Paul also) were completely captivated by the Risen Christ.  We believe in the Risen Christ, but I don’t know that we are captivated by His resurrection… captivated by Jesus’ life, teachings and death, captivated by our salvation through His sacrifice, YES, but captivated by the great event of Easter?  I’m not sure.

Secondly, I do think my experience with death has made me somewhat jaded about the celebration of Easter.  I was at my lowest point after Mom’s death when Easter 2005 made its appearance on the calendar. I wanted to throw up during the worship service, with all its pomp and volume and up-beat hymns and praise songs. It felt staged and coreographed, perfected in every detail, forced.  My thoughts went something like this: “So the disciples got their miracle!  Mary and Martha and Lazarus got their miracle, for the second time!  That’s great. Where was our miracle?  I believe in God’s power to conquer death… I’ve just never seen it.”  I know that Christ’s resurrection should have brought me enormous hope and comfort in my moments of grief, because it is a testimony to the fact that we will all be raised… all of us, including my mom.  But for some reason, that Easter Sunday brought me no comfort or joy at all.  It only deepend my questioning and added to my pain, made me feel like our family was somehow less loved or less precious to God than those early disciples.  Grief is a very self-centered process, and in my grief, I felt invisible to God.  As time has gone by, I feel less invisible, but I still don’t grasp the full meaning of Easter.

I wish I connected more with Easter joy, with the awesome hope and power of the resurrection of my Lord.  I feel very connected to His sacrifice on the cross for all humanity, for me; I can mourn deeply at His grave… but I can’t put myself into the Easter story. I feel so removed from the deep meaning of the empty tomb and Christ’s early appearances to his disciples.  I wish I understood the impact of that event.  I wish my spirit could overflow with the joy of it all.

God has conquered death! Christ IS our living Savior! He rose and then ascended to the Father, to send us the Holy Spirit! I pray that someday the Risen Christ will rise within me once again, in power and wisdom and hope and great joy.  Until then, I will wait, caught somewhere between Friday and Sunday.

Love of my neighbor

Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).  In the paragraph before, he lists the “fruit” of the sinful nature; he pulls no punches in that list– the sinful nature is ugly.  But these words concerning the characteristics of our new nature, in Christ, flowing from the work of the Spirit in our lives, are beautiful. And I take it that he’s not talking about feelings that come and go based on circumstance.  He’s talking about enduring love, joy in the face of suffering, peace that abides, patience that is selfless, kindness that does not seek personal reward, faithfulness that lasts.  These things are not easy and do not come naturally to us… at least to me.  I read this list and then I need to read Romans 7:7ff to remind myself that even Paul did not do these things perfectly.  It’s a high standard.

My neighbor is an incredible woman!  She checks on me and my kids at least once a week, always has time to chat, is always ready to lend me something if I need it; and we simply cannot interact with her without receiving from her some kind of gift (a green fruit and kale slushy, a piece of candy, a picture, kisses from her dogs). She is one of the most generous people I have ever known. Love and kindness flow so naturally out of her; she is good… I mean deeply, genuinely good.

She is not a church-goer.  She knows of Jesus and his mother, Mary.  She believes in angels. I have also heard her speak of karma.  If she has not surrendered herself wholly to Christ, how is it that such beautiful fruit of the Spirit can flow from her?  Now, I’m not saying she’s perfect. I’m sure she has her moments of selfishness and unkindness, but I am stunned by her character. I am shocked by her Christ-likeness! I’m drawn to her because of her beautiful spirit, and yet I do not know that she is an orthodox Christian.  What is going on here, that she can reflect the Love and Generosity of God so closely when so many of us (“church Christians”) struggle to do so?

Echoes of the image of God in her?  Is Jesus at work in her life apart from a church family, somehow, in some mysterious way? Why does my love, why does my generosity fall so short, so often?  Why is it that sometimes, as Christians, we get caught up in “holding each other accountable” rather than loving each other generously, with grace?  I am blessed and humbled by the love of my neighbor.

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