Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Trump: Not an Ideologue or Crusader



Donald Trump has yet to formally be sworn in, and he is already the source of many wild predictions and some of the most intense speculation in modern times. Based on the very small sample size of information that has been laid before us, how things will inevitably shake out remains to be seen. Being prepared for the worst case scenario might not necessarily be wasted effort, but I don’t know enough yet to even make an educated guess. The fear and anxiety is real enough, but those are two very different things. We know this much. Changes will occur that we strongly disagree with in basic principle, but they might further erode public trust more than bringing us to the brink of economic war with China or a hot war with Russia.

It remains to be seen whether Trump’s government will be an updated version of fascism for the 21st Century. Nazi ideology was extensively precise. I would never call Trump precise for any reason. According to its own perverse logic, Nazism was the very definition of a series of arguments based around purity, racial purity being only one of them. I don’t doubt that the billionaire Chief Executive-to-be is dangerous, but I think he may be more a sleazy new car salesman than an intimidating strongman. No one yet has focused on another potential outcome, if history is any guidebook to the future, the single term of Warren Harding, ninety-six years ago.

Harding’s government was the very definition of pay-for-play cronyism, crooked to the core in a way Hillary Clinton could, in Trumpspeak, never have begun to imagine. Almost overnight, the executive branch of the United States government took on the guise and persona of organized crime. The Mafia is unconcerned with purity arguments, rhetorical justifications, or reversing established precedent. It merely wants money, power, and the ability to propagate itself without outside interference. Corruption in government is not the harbinger of a terrifying new authoritarianism, it is merely old news in a new package.

How very strange that the electorate felt that it was time to drain the swamp and yet installed a leader who may do the very opposite by the time his term comes to an end. Hypocrisy in elected officials, especially those who sell themselves as saviors is another sad tradition in American politics. Back in 1920, a majority of Americans were weary of wars to make the world safe for democracy, nation-building an ocean away, and Utopian world alliances. And put that way, we’re really not that different now than we once were. The impulse to isolate ourselves from the rest of the world popular then was popular before.

I don’t think Donald Trump much cares to reverse Roe v. Wade or to recriminalize marijuana. Some of his cabinet appointees may take formal stances like these, but Trump is, to reiterate, not an ideologue. It is the opportunistic streak in many of those who have benefited from their loyalty and patronage that concern me most. They backed a long-shot candidate in the hopes of riding coattails to greater power and influence. Their primary allegiance is to themselves and to pad their own pockets. Bribery, influence-peddling, and graft on a grand scale will become enabled at the end of next month. No one is left to watch the store and without substantial oversight, liberties can and will be taken.

During the campaign, an argument advanced to elect Trump was that he was already too rich and too powerful to be paid off or unduly swayed. Though being President will hurt him in the pocketbook, Trump now has the world’s largest bully pulpit, which allows him the ability to exercise his strongest attribute, an inability to stop talking, Tweeting, or communicating something to someone else. Nixon’s downfall was initiated by underlings but proved his undoing by his personal efforts to cover up the crime. Trump’s problem is a little different. He is too undisciplined to keep subordinates from taking off with the store or settling old scores. True fascism requires lockstep devotion and supreme coordination. I really don’t see evidence of that here. The Donald is, to put it mildly, a mess.

It’s easier for progressive-minded people to voice their dissent by utilizing old methods, particularly by means of the umbrella term colloquially referred to as social justice. We can march on Washington for women’s rights and against global warming, but what control do we have over political favoritism and greased palms? Not that the issues lauded by many people aren’t important, but they accentuate how far removed we are from the mechanicians of K Street lobbyists and the halls of power. My purity movement or single-issue organization can oppose yours. I can reduce it to a bumper sticker slogan but short-circuiting the process from the outset is a different matter altogether. Activists find themselves playing defense more than they would like.

Even a Presidency as unpredictable and unconventional as Donald Trump’s is going to be easy to dissect in some ways. We may be losing sight of the larger picture in our haste to sound the alarm. President Trump might be no different than President Harding, which is bad enough. Harding realized too late that he’d been a stooge the whole time, that his supposed friends had used him from Day One. Trump is not naive and likely has lived enough in the public eye long enough to know that he needs to take care to look over his shoulder, but he may eventually reach the same conclusion. We as Americans can decide whether or not he is a candidate for our pity once that stage is reached. At the end, everyone’s been played.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Why Quakers Revere Silence: An Answer in Part


When I became a Friend, I was naturally curious to know why Quakers chose such an unusual and even initially confusing means of worship. Generations of visitors have been reverently mystified, leaving me to play tour guide to curious newcomers. Spending an hour in centering silence doesn’t happen in other religious traditions. There are moments of silence, of course, but not whole minutes or even whole meetings.

Most of the time, the exchange of information in a religious service is largely one way, with everyone faced forward, necks craning towards the action occurring center stage. I grew up in the programmed tradition, though I sought to break the fourth wall in my own way, participating as an acolyte in my family’s Methodist church. I lit the candles on the altar at the start of worship and dispensed brass collection plates when it came time to pass them. Perhaps then it was easy for me to vocalize my offering in Worship, though by no means was I an experienced speaker or entirely comfortable in the role.

Returning to the topic at hand, I have found a few answers to my query, though I won’t pretend to know the entire story. I have at least been able to trace the roots to later antecedents than the Primitive Christianity revived again that William Penn advanced. The Early Friends resonated strongly with a contemporary movement in Christian philosophy called Quietism, which was deemed heresy by the Roman Catholic Church in 1687. Quakers deliberately spread the teachings of Miguel de Molinos, a Spanish mystic, and the wealthy French widow Madame Guyon.

Miguel de Molinos gets to the jist of Quaker practice and the thought process of the average attender of Meeting for Worship in three short paragraphs. Below I include an excerpt of his The Spiritual Guide, written in 1675. It was an overnight success and a 17th Century bestseller, being translated into six languages and going through twenty editions in five years.

WHAT THE SOUL OUGHT TO DO IN INTERIOR RECOLLECTION
There are three kinds of silence; the first is of words, the second of desires, and the third of thoughts. The first is perfect; the second more perfect; and the third most perfect. The perfection of the soul consists not in speaking nor in thinking a great deal about God but in loving him sufficiently.
In order for a rational creature to understand the secret desire and intention of your heart, it is necessary for you to express it to him in words. But God, who searches the heart, does not need you to profess and assure him of it; nor is he satisfied, as the evangelist says, with love in word and in tongue, but that which is true and active.
What good does it do to tell him with great zeal and fervor that you love him tenderly and perfectly above all things, if at one bitter words of slight injury you fail to resign yourself, not being mortified for the love of him? A manifest proof that your love was a love in tongue and not in deed.
Silence is valued more than any sound or any word formally verbalized. As an idea, it’s a good way to understand that a totally silent Meeting for Worship is not meaningless. Much exists underneath the surface. Some vocal ministry bubbles to the surface and enriches our own experience, but the individual process of discernment keeps us returning to the well.

Quietists were seen as heretical because they relied fully on God’s intended aims for their lives, even to an extreme. Most Christians wished to work their way to salvation and to heaven through good works and right living. Quietists assumed that full devotion might even imply that they themselves couldn’t even enter the Kingdom of Heaven if God didn’t will it. That’s a thought that doesn’t always sit well with me, since I do believe that conducting my life properly comes with the promise of a reward.

I wish we did a better job as Friends of understanding our roots. As I was trained as a historian, I find ample evidence of how poorly we understand the past on a continual basis. Armed with this short article, we might speak to our own personal concerns and the questions of those curious to learn more about us. I conclude with a query or two of my own. What does silence mean to you? How do you envision your role within Meeting for Worship?

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Quote of the Week



One of the most ridiculous aspects of democracy will always remain the fact that it has offered to its mortal enemies the means by which to destroy it.-Joseph Goebbels

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Saturday Video



Look out, Mama,
there's a white boat
comin' up the river

With a big red beacon,
and a flag,
and a man on the rail

I think you'd better call John,
'Cause it don't
look like they're here
to deliver the mail

And it's less than a mile away
I hope they didn't come to stay
It's got numbers on the side
and a gun
And it's makin' big waves.

Daddy's gone,
my brother's out hunting
in the mountains

Big John's been drinking
since the river took Emmy-Lou

So the powers that be
left me here
to do the thinkin'

And I just turned twenty-two
I was wonderin' what to do
And the closer they got,
The more those feelings grew.

Daddy's rifle in my hand
felt reassurin'

He told me,
Red means run, son,
numbers add up to nothin'

But when the first shot
hit the dock I saw it comin'

Raised my rifle to my eye
Never stopped to wonder why.

Then I saw black,
And my face splashed in the sky.

Shelter me from the powder
and the finger
Cover me with the thought
that pulled the trigger

Think of me
as one you'd never figured
Would fade away so young
With so much left undone

Remember me to my love,
I know I'll miss her.

Friday, December 02, 2016

A Resurgence of Hope and Morality in Trump's America




We as Americans are divided along political and ideological lines, surely, but what gets less attention is how divided we are along moral lines. Though I write as a person of faith, we are not yet so divorced from the notion of basic upright precepts that we no longer have any shared definitions of what constitutes acceptable from unacceptable behavior. One hopes we are not yet that cynical, nor that nihilistic, but a recent major election result has cast a pallor over that which constitutes decent and acceptable conduct.

Many of us on the Left have recovered from our shock long enough to unpack and deconstruct a variety of disquieting conclusions. One of them was the truly pathetic notion that a very large swath of Trump's defenders hypocritically supported a candidate brazenly antithetical towards any basic understanding, comprehension, or willingly implementation of Christian values. These voters might take care to be reminded of a passage from the New Testament book of Romans as appropriately tough medicine. Eighty percent of self-identified Evangelicals voted for the President-Elect, but must still come to grips with the base hypocrisy of their decision.

An cursory evaluation of the first few verses of Romans 13 might seem on its face to support the Trump regime, or for that matter any government currently in power of any persuasion.

Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you.

I find it difficult to believe that God could have placed Donald Trump in office as a sign of anything more than a painful reminder of how flawed and imperfect creatures we truly are. While I agree that all authority comes from God, how do we define “authority”? And furthermore, when does human authority exceed its earthly limit and push back against the divine will of God? In these days of Islamophobia, prejudice, and Black Lives Matter, can this statement really be said to be 100% true in every context? In my mind, this statement needs much further analysis. Paul of Tarsus, the writer of this Epistle, continues:

The authorities are God's servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God's servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong.

Let’s remember that in this time, Christians were still being openly persecuted by the Roman Empire. But to return to the passage in question, are these authorities really sent only for our good? Maybe in a best-case scenario sort of way, assuming their motives were pure, one might assert it, but I remain skeptical. This might have been a slightly overreaching way of ensuring that Christians didn’t find themselves thrown more eagerly into the dens of lions or publicly executed. Paul also claimed that slaves ought to be subservient to their masters, but that is an even thornier matter I will not confront here.

Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do.

But I can’t argue with every statement in this book. Regarding the passage above, you’ll register no complaints from me here. Put this way, taxes should be viewed from a more liberal lens than a conservative one. They are societal and moral obligations that every citizen must participate in to ensure that government functions successfully. Everyone should pay taxes, from the super rich to the middle class, though I do not think tax burdens should fall heavily upon the backs of the poor. Government workers should reap the benefit of taxation, not greedy corporate capitalists.

These words alone contain deeper meanings than a cursory view might reveal. Christians have historically taken one of three positions regarding their role in government as expressed by this chapter. All Christians, likewise with most religious people, agree that we are to live at peace with the state as long as the state allows us to live by our religious convictions. That was the reasons why so many faith groups migrated to our country from the very beginning. For hundreds of years, however, there have been at least three interpretations of the form these verses are to take.

1. Some Christians take a fully separatist approach, like the Amish and some Old Order Mennonites. They believe that the state is so corrupt that people of faith should have as little to do with it as possible. The Amish believe that we already live in a fallen world.

Some Protestant denominations often take this stance as well, though not quite to the same degree. They prefer to raise their children and live their lives in a protective bubble of their own creation. Although they think that they should be good citizens as long as they can do so without compromising their beliefs, they firmly assert that they should not work for the government, vote, or serve in the military. One sees evidence of this system of belief within Orthodox Judaism as well.

2. Others believe that God has given the state authority in certain areas and the church authority in others. Christians and believers can be loyal to both and and can work for either. This is the stance most religious Americans take, or even most self-professed moral people adhere to, though they are cautioned in this chapter that they should never confuse the two. In this view, church and state are concerned with two totally different spheres--the spiritual and the physical. Each compliment the other but do not work together. They were never designed to do so and, as the thinking goes, they never will.

3. Still others believe that Christians have a responsibility to make the state better through direct action. In the past, temperance crusaders, abolitionists, and suffragettes all took this stance, using religious and moral justification as motivation for their actions. Many progressive people of faith, Quakers like myself being one notable example, also share this sentiment. They can show evidence of this politically by electing people of high moral principle who also mirror their religious values. They can also do this by seeking to live by example, serving as an influence for good in society. In this view, church and state together ideally work together for the good of all.

It should be stated that none of these stances advocate for full rebellion or a refusal to follow laws, unless moral standards are being clearly and unequivocally violated. And that in and of itself is a matter of interpretation and degree, a debate that will rage first in separate factions before it ever links together due to political expediency and odd bedfellows. What cannot be refuted is that we simply must be responsible, moral citizens. And it is my opinion that the nascent Trump government is neither responsible, nor moral. Though Donald Trump has not yet taken office, I am disturbed by his vast litany of incendiary statements and the quality and caliber of the mostly white men he has appointed to lead his government.

We have an opportunity in front of us to refuse to cave to coercion and political pressure. We even have a right to prevent some rights from being changed to great wrongs. But even if we do not identify as religious, we have one of three approaches to take. We can play duck and cover, cocooning ourselves inside a unreal environment of like-minded individuals. That's one choice. We can compartmentalize secular from the moral/religious and ensure that never the twain shall meet. Or, we can recognize once more that the personal is the political and that we cannot divorce morality and ethics from the process of governance and being governed. While I cannot stress overmuch that we cannot legislate morality ourselves, we cannot afford to have morality either legislated or jackbooted out of American society. The same is true for the American political process.

If you view yourself as a person of faith, a person of deep moral conviction, both, or some combination of the two, please consider my proposal. Every point in human history is unprecedented to some extent, but a few elements of human nature remain fixed and unchanging. What has worked before may yet work again. It is my own personal bias that I wish we would someday return to the Judeo-Christian roots that served us well for hundreds of years, but I also recognize that to some they have been tainted beyond all recognition. Still, if we are not people of faith, may we be still be people of great moral conviction and yes, even love for our fellow man or woman. If we retain this, the words of the prophets will not be proven wrong, and we may even redeem our own human fallibility in the face of great evil. This is our fight to win.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Trump Thanksgiving



Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree?
I travel the world
And the seven seas,
Everybody's looking for something.

Some of them want to use you
Some of them want to get used by you
Some of them want to abuse you
Some of them want to be abused.

Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree?
I travel the world
And the seven seas
Everybody's looking for something

Hold your head up
Keep your head up, movin' on
Hold your head up, movin' on
Keep your head up, movin' on
Hold your head up
Keep your head up, movin' on
Hold your head up, movin' on
Keep your head up, movin' on

Some of them want to use you
Some of them want to get used by you
Some of them want to abuse you
Some of them want to be abused.

Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree?
I travel the world
And the seven seas
Everybody's looking for something

Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree?
I travel the world
And the seven seas
Everybody's looking for something

Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree?
I travel the world
And the seven seas
Everybody's looking for something

Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree?
I travel the world
And the seven seas
Everybody's looking for something

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Quote of the Week



Everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him at the moment.- C.S. Lewis