So Much to Be Upset About: A Cabin Fever Short List

Forgive me if Covid-19 isolation is finally getting to me. But (like many of you, I’m sure) I find there are just so many things to be upset about these days. So, let me relieve the pressure and mention just three: the attack on the capitol, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R Ga.), and the Super Bowl.

Capitol Attack

Did you see the film presented by the Democratic impeachment team last Tuesday? If not, click on the video above. I found that collage both disgusting and perversely empowering. On the disgusting side:

  • It was ultimate proof of white privilege, wasn’t it?
  • I mean, during BLM protests right-wing media and Republicans were outraged when some businesses were set on ablaze.
  • However, those same media along with those Republican officials – the very ones under attack during the insurrection – find excuses to downplay white supremacists ravaging the nation’s congress. Can you believe that?
  • Imagine if the insurrectionists were black, armed and destroying capitol property – roaming about looking for officials to kill.
  • Don’t tell me that a lot of black protestors wouldn’t have been shot.
  • We’d never hear the end of it.
  • For sure, police protection would have been much heavier. (If you’ve been to DC during protests, e.g., against the war in Iraq, you know the place is always absolutely crawling with cops lining the streets in phalanx dressed in heavy riot gear just waiting to pounce.)
  • Or what if the insurrectionists had been Muslims? We’d be bombing some poor country like Yemen right now in self-righteous response.
  • And what about all that money DC (and every other city in this great country of ours) spends on policing? You mean, they couldn’t prevent that fiasco?

Nonetheless, while disagreeing with its cause, I somehow felt rebelliously good about the insurrection.

  • It showed that revolution is possible — what it would look like if we followed the advice of Thomas Jefferson about regular citizen uprisings.
  • I loved the thought of Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi (and Mike Pence!) hiding under their desks.
  • Their lives shouldn’t be threatened, but they do need to be afraid of us. They’re not. And disgracefully, beneficiaries of white privilege are the only ones at this historical juncture whom the system allows to intimidate irresponsible politicians.
  • I mean, Pelosi and McConnell are not our friends.
  • Neither are Biden and Harris.
  • And of course, neither is Trump.
  • None of them represents us; they exclusively represent their donors.
  • They won’t even consider universal health care during an actual pandemic. They refuse to keep campaign promises to increase the minimum wage to $15 and to send out $2000 (not $1400!) checks when so many have been out of work for nearly a year.
  • Yes, those were democratic campaign promises! It’s how they won Georgia.
  • They lied!
  • No wonder people are angry.

Marjorie Taylor-Greene

And don’t get me started about U.S. congresswoman Marjorie Taylor-Greene (R Ga).

  • So, she wants Obama executed?
  • She’s called for the murder of Nancy Pelosi – specifically with a bullet to the head?
  • Imagine if Ilhan Omar or Rashida Tlaib had said that about Mitch McConnell — a bullet to his head.
  • Even if you or I uttered such monstrosities, SWAT teams would be at our doors right now with battering rams.
  • But she’s allowed to continue serving as a government official.
  • Double standards, anyone?
  • White privilege?

The Super Bowl

And then there’s the Super Bowl with white people complaining about the NFL’s predominantly black workforce calling attention to wanton police murders of their unarmed racial counterparts.

  • Whites’ response to the reduced Super Bowl TV audience?  Too much mixture of politics and sports. “Get woke. Go broke,” they say.
  • They ask, “Why politicize a football game?”
  • Good, that’s what I say! In fact, I’ve been saying it for years.  I mean why play the National Anthem, “honor our troops,” and normalize war with special flyovers of air force weapons of mass destruction (aka fighter planes) at every major sports event you care to name? What’s the connection? I don’t get it. (Imagine if your boss had you stand for the National Anthem before work each day.)
  • At least Mark Cuban (owner of the Dallas Mavericks) is on the right page on this one. He’s decided to eliminate playing the “Star Spangled Banner” before any home games. Good idea, Mark. If everyone followed suit, it would save me from wondering whether to stand or not.
  • And thanks Colin Kaepernick!

Of course, my cabin fever list could go on and on. So could yours, I’m sure.

Doubling-Down on Not Voting

I recently wrote a piece here and for OpEdNews entitled “Why I Won’t Vote in November.” It evoked passionate response from readers I greatly respect. They saw it as conceding the reelection of Donald Trump. It was an exercise, I was told, in elitism. It ignored the plight of children in cages at our border as well as Trump’s mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis. It overlooked what should be the main goal of progressives – the defeat of Donald J. Trump at all costs.

My point however was that the goal of defeating Donald Trump is indeed not enough. It won’t cure what’s wrong in America. And that’s because it’s the entire system we live under that must be replaced. It’s entirely corrupted. Democracy has already been all but exterminated in our country. And I deceive myself if I think otherwise.

The whole system (from the executive office to the Congress to the Supreme Court) is anti-worker, anti-people, and pro-corporation. It must be allowed to fall and be replaced. More specifically, the nation’s voting system is corrupt beyond recall, Democratic candidates (like Biden) are perennially pathetic – only marginally different from the Republicans – and Joe Biden epitomizes the pathos and systemic failure as few have before him. 

A Corrupt Voting System

Begin with the voting system.

They don’t even want us to vote! They’re quite clear about that. And I’m not just talking about the Republicans. No one – Republican or Democrat – is  taking serious steps towards eliminating the Electoral College, instituting public funding of all campaigns, creating a voting holiday, establishing same-day voting registration, eliminating hackable voting machines, or turning over the electoral process to a bi-partisan centralized commission to eliminate gerrymandering and ensure that the same rules apply to every state. That’s how bad it is.

As a result of all that, voting has become a complete sham. It contradicts the received wisdom insisting that “every vote counts.” That’s a lie. Look at all the electoral shenanigans in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Georgia and elsewhere. The whole point is to remove partisan-threatening voters from the rosters. No wonder fewer than 60% of eligible voters participate. Consciously or unconsciously, the dropouts know the system’s rigged. They have no dog in the fight.

And let’s be clear, it’s not the “elites” that aren’t voting. It’s the poor, minorities, and working classes who long ago came to the conclusion that their votes don’t matter. To begin with, their ballots might not be counted. But even if they are, those elected won’t attend to the concerns of wage workers, the unemployed, homeless and uninsured.

Still, our overseers (and others) want to shame the rest of us into voting, even when the “lesser of two evils” brings us the same tired polices that serve no one but themselves and their rich employers. What I’m saying is that despite those efforts at shaming, I more and more see the point of working-class non-voters. And if nothing fundamental changes, I’m going to join them.

Perennially Weak Candidates

As for the position of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) that my not voting equals a vote for Donald Trump. . . How about huge VOTE that the DNC itself has cast for Trump by its absurd choice of yet another milk toast candidate – this one far weaker than their last? She couldn’t beat Trump; so, how can he? He’s weaker than Hillary, Gore, Kerry, Dukakis, or Mondale. And how did those centrists work out for us? No, it’s the Democratic Party that’s voting for Donald Trump. They love Republican policies. In fact, they’d rather have Trump than Bernie Sanders. They are champions of the status quo.

That’s shown by the fact that their “victors” like Clinton and Obama came to represent nothing more than Republican Lite. What disappointments both of them turned out to be! Big promises followed by the same neo-liberalism, the same trickle-down nonsense, the same wars, the same destruction of the planet. Despite Obama’s slogan, there was no hope, no change.

It all makes me wonder why the Democratic Party keeps giving us such uninspiring, self-defeating choices? That’s on them. It’s on them for giving us a candidate this time who, even in the midst of the present pandemic, insists that he’d veto Medicare for All – which the majority of Americans desperately need. He’s also like Trump in wanting us all to go back to work even if it means that many will die as a result – for the sake of the economy and Wall Street profits. And don’t even talk about his positions on the Green New Deal, free college tuition, forgiveness of debt, or Social Security.

The Case of Joe Biden

In fact, have you ever heard Mr. Biden offer a single defining policy initiative of any kind? Even one? I haven’t.  And that’s because (Correct me if I’m wrong) he hasn’t given us any. His only claim is that he’s not Donald Trump. That’s it.

I’m asking then: do citizens deserve blame for perceiving that the fight is fixed in favor of the donor class of both parties? Both candidates are their champions not ours. So, are we blameworthy for realizing that we’ve seen this movie before? Should we be ashamed for demanding that Biden actually earn our votes – that he take action to convince voters that he’s worth voting for as someone other than a leering old man marginally nicer than the other imbecile?

In fact, Biden’s not that much better. Like Trump he’s a pathological liar. He’s also a worse mass murderer. Remember, Biden promoted the Iraq war. (It was no mistake. Anyone paying attention could see right through his justifications and those of Colin Powell.) That war has killed more than a million Iraqis. Even Trump hasn’t gone that far.

Moreover, the immigration policy Biden cooperated with was overseen by a president who quickly became known as the “Deporter-in-Chief.” Additionally, with the cooperation of the mass media, Biden has managed to evade addressing credible charges of sexual assault.

As I said, the system’s rigged. The Democratic Party is as bought-off as the Republicans. Neither the reigning system of political economy nor the Democratic Party is worth supporting. We’ve got to let them fall and be replaced. And the sooner we all realize that, the better.

Conclusion

Yes, I agree that it might make one feel heroic (in a quixotic sort of way) to pledge standing for hours in a driving rain to vote for a near corpse to save us all from Donald Trump. Still, those in soaking sneakers will surely know that their votes very literally might not count. And even if, by some miracle they do, voting for the geezer in question won’t significantly inhibit the inexorable process of climate change. Neither will it lessen the prospect of nuclear war. (After all, it was the Obama administration that decided to modernize the nuclear arsenal.) And it won’t bring us Medicare for All, forgiveness of student debt, or even guarantee the salvation of Social Security.

But you can bet it will mean millions, billions and trillions for the donor class.

Remember, our savior from Mr. Trump has promised those all-important constituents that “Nothing fundamental will change.” Take him at his word. What’s the point?

On Joining John the Baptist in Rebellion against the Religious Establishment – and the Republican Party

dangerous

Readings for Second Sunday of Advent: IS 11: 1-10; PS 72: 1-2, 7-8, 12-13; ROM 15: 4-9; MT 3: 1-12

“The meaning of the Incarnation is this: In Jesus Christ, God hits the streets. And preparing for that is the meaning of Advent.” (Jim Wallis. “Advent in 2016: Not Normal, Not Now, Not to Come.”)

__________

Three years ago I published a review of James Patterson’s novel, Woman of God. It continues to get clicks – perhaps more than anything I’ve published on my blog.  I think that’s because so many of us find ourselves searching for a richer, more relevant church experience that connects with the extraordinarily dangerous times we’re living in. They have in fact been shaped by “the most dangerous organization in the history of the world.”

Woman of God is the story of Brigid Fitzgerald, a medical doctor who though female, becomes a priest and candidate for the papacy.

Brigid and her husband (also a dissident priest) decide to form their own Catholic parish. They do so because of the studied irrelevance of the Catholic Church to pressing problems of the real world. The two call their congregation the “Jesus, Mary and Joseph (JMJ) Church.” They insist on remaining Catholics not allowing their opponents to drum them out of the church as just another break-away Protestant sect.

The JMJ Church spreads rapidly, largely because it connects Jesus’ Gospel with issues of peace and social justice. And though vilified by her local bishop and physically threatened by right wing Catholics, Brigid eventually becomes widely celebrated and is summoned to Rome not for condemnation, but papal approval.

I couldn’t help thinking of Woman of God as I read today’s liturgy of the word this Second Sunday of Advent. Like the JMJ Church, the first two readings along with the responsorial psalm emphasize the connection between faith and social justice.

Then in today’s Gospel, the prophet, John the Baptist, like Brigid Fitzgerald, initiates an alternative community of faith far from the temple in the desert wilderness. John’s credibility leads “all Jerusalem and Judea” to see him as a prophet. In fact, (as John Dominic Crossan has pointed out) John becomes for the Jewish grassroots their de facto alternative “High Priest.”

To see what I mean, consider that first selection from the prophet Isaiah. It directly links faith with justice for the poor, oppressed and marginalized. In Isaiah’s day (like our own) they were typically ignored. By way of contrast, Isaiah’s concept of justice consists precisely in judging the poor and oppressed fairly and not according to anti-poor prejudice – in Isaiah’s words, not by “appearance or hearsay.”  (A clearer statement against contemporary police and/or government profiling can hardly be imagined.)

Not only that, but according to the prophet, treating the poor justly is the key to peace between humans and with nature. Centralizing their needs rather than those of the rich produces a utopian wonderland where all of us live in complete harmony with nature and with other human beings. In Isaiah’s poetic reality, lions, lambs, and calves play together. Leopards and goats, cows and bears, little babies and deadly snakes experience no threat from each other. (This is the prophetic vision of the relationship between humans and nature – not exploitation and destruction, but harmony and mutual respect.)

Most surprising of all, even believers (Jews) and non-believers (gentiles) are at peace. Today’s excerpt from Paul’s Letter to the Romans seconds this point. He tells his correspondents to “welcome one another” – including gentiles – i.e. those the Jewish community normally considered enemies. (That would be like telling us today to welcome Muslims as brothers and sisters whom God loves as much as any of us.)

Today’s responsorial psalm reinforces the idea of peace flowing from justice meted out to the “least.” As Psalm 72 was sung, we all responded, “Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace forever.” And again, the justice in question has the poor as its object. The psalmist praises a God and a government (king) who “rescue the poor and afflicted when they cry out” – who “save the lives of the poor.”

In his own time, the lack of the justice celebrated in today’s first three readings infuriates Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. His disgust forces him out of the temple and into the desert. It has him excoriating the religious leaders of his day as a “brood of vipers.”

Unmistakably clothed as a prophet – in garments that absolutely repudiate the “sacred garb” of his effete opponents – John lambasts the Scribal Establishment which had normalized relationships with the brutal occupation forces of Rome. As opposition high priest, John promises a religious renewal that will lead to a new Exodus – this time from the power of Rome and its religious collaborators.

I hope you can see as I do the parallels between the context of John’s preaching and our own. We live in a culture where those in charge contravene our faith by openly slandering the poor and marginalized celebrated in today’s readings as especially dear to God.

I mean, following the elections of 2016, all the levers of power (the presidency, the Supreme Court, the House and Senate) found themselves in the hands of billionaires and their friends – the 1% that the Occupy Movement identified so accurately eight years ago. Ironically that richest 1% has succeeded in scapegoating the country’s poorest 1% (immigrants) as a major cause of our country’s problems. Moreover, they equally vilify other poor and marginalized people: the impoverished in general, brown and black-skinned people, women, the LGBTQ community, environmentalists, protestors and anyone who exposes the crimes of the billionaire class.

As a result, we entered a period of unprecedented national darkness that still promises to rival that of Germany, 1933-1945. Until the mid-term elections of last year, virtually everything was controlled by the single organization Noam Chomsky calls “the most dangerous in the history of the world.”

More dangerous than the Nazis? Yes, Chomsky insists. Hitler did not have the power to destroy the planet by nuclear war. Hitler ruled Germany before climate change threatened innumerable species, Mother Earth herself, and continued human existence. And yet the entire Republican Party denies that the problem even exists! Yes, it is the most dangerous organization in the history of the world.

And despite all of that, there’s not a peep about it from the pulpit. People keep going to Mass as though the most important upcoming event is the arrival of St. Nicholas at the parish potluck – or the Christmas bazaar.

So, what should we do in the face of such disconnect?

How about following the example of John the Baptist, Brigid Fitzgerald and her husband?

This would entail:

  • Admitting that present forms of church are hopelessly disconnected from the unprecedented tragedy and threat represented by the accession to power of anti-poor climate change deniers.
  • Publicly moving out of our local church building.
  • Perhaps, opening a store front JMJ Catholic church on the Main Street Jim Wallis referred to in his article referenced above.
  • Empowering faithful women in the JMJ community to preach and celebrate the Eucharist.

Objectors will say:

  • We have no authority to do this.
  • It’s better to continue our reform efforts from within.
  • This will only cause division in our church.
  • The status quo really doesn’t bother me, because I use the quiet provided by Sunday Mass to facilitate my own prayer life.
  • (If, like me, you’re of a certain age) I’m too old for such radical disruption of my life.

To such objections John the Baptist might reply:

  • “I had no official authority to start my desert community of resistance and reform. In fact, I was identified by the authorities as an enemy of the state. Eventually they cut off my head. So don’t expect approval.”
  • Reform from within? “I gave up on that early on. So did my cousin, Jesus. Both of us operated outside the temple system which we criticized harshly.”
  • Division in our faith communities? “That didn’t bother me either. Can you get much more divisive or polarizing than calling religious leaders a ‘brood of vipers’?”
  • Withdrawing into personal prayer? “The spiritual masters in my Essene community convinced me that prayer and meditation are essential elements undergirding prophetic action. However, pietism is useless unless it leads to the kind of witness I gave and risk I took on the banks of the Jordan.”
  • Too old? “Again, my Essene mysticism would not permit me to identify with the physical as if I were primarily a body with a soul. The truth is that we are first of all ageless spirits who happen to inhabit temporary bodies. The imperative for action is no less incumbent on older people than on the young. Hell, the elders criticized me for being too young to oppose them. I was barely 30 when they killed me.”

As Jim Wallis has intimated, the specter of John the Baptist should haunt us this second Sunday of Advent and drive our faith communities onto Main Street. These unprecedented times call for radical response outside the sacred precincts and independent of the sleepwalkers awaiting the arrival of St. Nicholas.

If You Think Jesus Approves of GOP Policies towards the Poor, Here Are Two Riddles for You . . . (Sunday Homily)

trump-christian

Readings for Third Sunday of Advent: IS 35: 1-6A, 10; PS 146: 6-10; JAS 5: 7-10; MT 11: 2-11

If Trump cabinet nominations are any indication, the president-elect will continue pursuing what have long been the GOP’s two main domestic goals. They are eliminating labor unions and cutting social services such as Food Stamps and Medicaid. Even Trump Republicans (led by their groper-in-chief) will do so while at the same time invoking values they call “Christian.”

Today’s liturgy of the word shows that the GOP position flies in the face of the entire Judeo-Christian tradition expressing (as it does) God’s special concern for the poor and oppressed.

More specifically, the readings demonstrate that the anti-poor policies of the Christian right are actually a slap in the face to Jesus himself. That’s because (once again) in today’s selections, the recipients of God’s special concern turn out to be (in Jesus’ words in our gospel reading) not just “the least.” Rather, in their collectivity, they are identified with the very person whom our sisters and brothers on the right aspire to accept as their personal Lord and Savior.

The vehicle for today’s version emphasizing Jesus’ identification with the poor is a riddle. It’s found at the very end of that reading from Matthew. Matthew has Jesus posing it by saying:

  1. John the Baptist is the greatest person ever born.
  2. Yet the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than John.

That leaves us with the question: How can this be? How can “the least” be greater than the one identified by Jesus himself not only as the foremost prophet of the Jewish Testament, but the greatest human being who ever lived?

In the context of Matthew’s gospel, the answer is the following:
1. Jesus is the one far greater than John. (As the Baptist admitted in last week’s reading from Matthew, John was not even worthy to loosen the straps on Jesus’ sandals.)
2. But Jesus identified himself with “the least.” Recall that in his parable of the last judgment (Matthew 25), Jesus says, “Whatever you did to the least of my brethren, you did to me.”
3. Therefore the “least” as identified with “the greatest” (Jesus) is greater than John and should be treated that way – as Jesus himself.

Riddle solved. The rest of today’s liturgy adds the details as it develops the theme: recognize the least as God’s favorites – as Jesus himself – and treat them as the most important people in the world.

And who are these “least?” According to Isaiah in today’s first reading, they are the blind, deaf, lame, and mute. They are ex-pats living in exile. The psalmist in today’s responsorial, widens the list by adding the oppressed, hungry, imprisoned, and immigrants. He includes single moms (widows) and their children.

In today’s gospel selection, Jesus recapitulates the list. For him “the least” (who are greater than John) include the imprisoned (like John himself sitting on Herod’s death row). They are (once again) the lame, the deaf, the mute, and lepers. They even include the dead who are raised to life by Jesus.

Do we need any more evidence to support the biblical authenticity of what Pope Francis continually references as God’s “preferential option for the poor?”

Does the Christian Right believe the teaching contained in Jesus’ riddle?

Well, maybe not. I mean, here’s another riddle for you: How can Christians oppose labor unions and eliminate Food Stamps and Medicaid, while still calling themselves followers of Jesus?

Sorry: I can’t solve that one.

Pope Francis, “Evangelii Gaudium,” and the Catholic Vote

catholicvote

For the last 30 years the religious right (both Protestant and Catholic) has been telling us that Christian values should influence the way we vote. What will they say now that Pope Francis has called 1.2 billion Roman Catholics to move beyond obsessions with sex – abortion, contraception, and same-sex marriage?

How will they respond to his demands in his recent Pastoral Exhortation (Evangelii Gaudium) to centralize instead issues of poverty and the huge income gaps between the haves and have-nots? How will they answer the pope’s call to recognize the futility of directing billions towards a doomed “War on Terrorism” rather than correcting the structural injustices that cause such violence in the first place? What about his suggestion that those billions would be better invested in meeting human rights to food, health and education? (Yes, they are human rights according to the pope!)

All of that puts the Republicans and their fellow-travelers on the spot. After all, they have been the voting booth beneficiaries of obsession with sexual issues. They are the champion privatization, deregulated markets, and huge tax breaks for the rich. They oppose universal health care, investing money in public education, increasing the minimum wage, supporting labor unions, Food Stamp programs, and even Social Security financed by workers’ own savings. Republicans are the “tough on terrorism” bunch who (unlike the pope) attribute such violence to “hatred of our freedom,” rather than to blowback for the injustices of global capitalism.

According to the pope, such right-wing attitudes represent the very causes not only of world hunger and poverty, but of violence and terrorism. Only by interfering in the out-workings of the free market – by regulation (such as Glass-Steagal or the Tobin Tax), redirecting defense spending towards social programs (such as Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps), by increasing the minimum wage, and taxing the rich, – can such problems be solved.

In other words, it’s not possible this time to say “Oh, yes, we all know that good Catholics are expected to give generously to their favorite charities.” That’s not sufficient, Pope Francis asserts. No, the pope has faulted not lack of charitable giving, but the free enterprise system itself for causing the problems of global poverty and hunger as well as those of terrorism and war.

For years at election time, both the political and religious right has inundated us with directions about voting based on what the pope has identified as sexual obsessions.

It will be most interesting to observe any change in tone or direction in the upcoming general election.

Will we now be directed towards voting Democratic – for Hillary? Or will our Christian “leaders” be even more heedful of Pope Francis’ direction and urge voting instead for consumer protectionist Elizabeth Warren, for Socialist Bernie Sanders – or the Green Party candidate?

In red state Kentucky, we anxiously await direction from Mr. McConnell and Lexington’s Bishop Gainer.

Name and Shame Republican Attempts at Voter Suppression

Gerrymander[1]

It is interesting to watch the Republicans floundering about wondering how to deal with the rebuke of the last General Election and with the country’s changing demographics largely responsible for that rejection. Some in the party recognize the mistake of having surrendered so completely to the Tea Party faction and to the “Christianist” extremists who like their “Islamist” counterparts live in the distant past and refuse to address the post-modern world on its own terms.

For one, Bobby Jindal, the Republican governor of Louisiana, has urged his party affiliates to stop being the Party of Stupid. He expressed dismay at candidates, for instance, who in the last election adopted the position that women using contraceptives are “whores,” and that female bodies automatically prevent pregnancies resulting from rape. He might have added that denying climate change and evolution is also part of the Republican image of Know-Nothing ignorance.

However, others Republicans want to double down on their party’s extremism, shift even further to the right, and seek election victories by changing the rules of the electoral game rather than responding to the game changes that are represented by the post-modern spirit of the 21st century. These others now want the battleground states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Wisconsin, and Virginia to allocate Electoral College votes not on the traditional winner-take-all system, but according to victories in the congressional districts Republicans have so successfully gerrymandered in recent years.

Such reallocation would mean that Mitt Romney would have won the election last November despite being decisively beaten by more than 5 million votes. The changed way of apportioning electoral votes would allow the Christianist-dominated party to win elections the way they’ve won control of the House of Representatives – on procedural technicalities rather than by winning voter approval.

This choice of procedure over necessary political change mirrors and carries to even further extreme Republican attempts at voter suppression that backfired so disastrously last fall. There they chose misinformation, crooked machines, long waiting lines, and voter intimidation over meaningful response to the legitimate concerns of women, minorities, the unemployed, gays and immigrants. Such procedural choices culminating now in this Electoral College gambit project an image of elderly, out-of-touch, bitter and desperate white people who no longer believe in democracy.

Apart from being a sad display of cynicism, the Republican’s is a strategy that small “d” democrats cannot allow to succeed whatever their party tendencies might be.
Recently John Nichols has advanced three suggestions for thwarting the Christianist extreme’s clear assault on democracy (http://www.opednews.com/articles/2/Three-Strategies-to-Block-by-John-Nichols-130126-217.html).

The first is to “Name and Shame,” i.e. to bring this issue out of the shadows and publicize its cynicism. The blog posting you are now reading is an attempt to lend my small voice to this process. The hope is that it may stimulate thought and debate among the readers of this blog and their friends and acquaintances.

According to Nichols, the second way to combat this latest form of voter suppression is to join the campaign to eliminate the Electoral College. This should have happened following the fiasco of the 2000 election. But inexplicably, Democrats did not push the issue. Of course, setting aside the Electoral College would require a Constitutional amendment. However the campaign is already underway and is advanced by FairVote: The Center for Voting and Democracy.

The third approach to Republican anti-democracy strategies is to make the gerrymandering of congressional districts a public issue. For a long time the courts have frowned upon the practice of drawing district lines to strengthen the hand of the majority party in Congress. However the judicial branch has been lax in giving legal implementation to its disapproval.

Granted, Congressional districts need to be redrawn on a regular basis. But redrawing should be accomplished with the goal of securing representation more reflective of the electorate’s make-up, and not in order to win elections for the majority party. To this end, the legal criterion of “compact and contiguous” should be reasserted as the fundamental guiding principle. All of this should be brought to the fore in public debate.

Now is the time to act on Nichols’ suggestions – while the memory of Republican voter-suppression tactics is still fresh in the minds of scandalized Americans. The electoral system needs reforming. There is no time like the present for beginning that process.

How Was Your Election Day? This Was Mine

Nov. 6, 2012

6:00 a.m.  My first thought this morning is the same as my last before dropping off to sleep last night: Election Day.   This is it. It’s been such a long campaign season. I’m glad it’s finally almost over. I’m sick of it all. Are we actually about to elect as president one of those plutocrats who crashed the economy four years ago? Only in America . . . .

6:15-7:15: A mighty struggle this morning to keep thoughts of the election out of my mind during meditation and spiritual reading. I keep directing my mind back to the words of my “passage meditation”: “All that we are is the result of what we have thought; we are formed and molded by our thoughts . . .”

7:30: On my way to the gym, I go over the list of people I pray for each day. I stumble over the last inclusion – the prayer for President Obama.  I’ve been praying it over the last four years: “May the president be remembered as the best the United States has ever had. May he be filled with loving kindness. May he be safe from dangers, internal and external. May he be well in body, in heart, and in mind. And may he find peace and be truly happy.”

8:00-8:30: I’m on the elliptical machine at the gym now. I think about that Obama prayer. A lot of good it’s done! This guy has been such a disaster: droning, torture, a Bush-like “surge” in Afghanistan, renewal of the Patriot Act, restrictions on civil liberties, extension of tax cuts for the wealthy, surrender on the public option in healthcare, refusal to explain and defend himself in the face of relentless Republican attacks and GOP rejection of bipartisanship . . . . If he’s reelected, he’ll probably immediately abandon his base again. I feel so angry about that. He just failed to grasp which side his bread is buttered on? Maybe he’s not as smart as we thought.

8:50-9:00: I’m walking home now. Obama actually called us “professional leftists” and “whiners.” I can’t get that out of my mind.  And now he’s ever so cooperatively begging for our vote! What gall!  How arrogant! I feel so insulted, I could almost vote for Romney!

9:15: Now I’m preparing breakfast. Would things really change that much if Obama lost? Can Mitt Romney be much worse? Well, there are those Supreme Court nominations in the offing. All we need are more Clarence Thomases. . . . I’m confused.

9:30: While eating breakfast, I tune in to Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now.” Election Day focus is on the Republican campaign to suppress the vote. Their crusade strikes me as outrageous, unpatriotic, and treasonous. Why didn’t the Democrats do something about reforming the electoral process when they had the chance? The whole thing is so corrupt, what with “Citizens United,” voting machine conflicts of interest, redistricting, and voter suppression aimed at minorities and Democrats? Why are we still discussing these things on Election Day? The electoral system should have been reformed immediately after the 2000 “hanging chad” disaster. Obama really screwed up by not taking advantage of the mandate for change and the super majority he enjoyed in Congress in 2008. I’m so pissed.

10:00: I’m off to vote in the Madison Southern High School gymnasium. It’s busy there. This is a Red State. I catch myself thinking harsh thoughts about Kentuckians. Then I see some friends. We exchange pleasantries. I approach the desk to sign in to vote. They ask for my ID. I search my wallet for one without a photo – I just don’t want to give in to this voter ID nonsense. I’m white, so the ID works.  I guess they don’t require a photo of whites.

10:15: I sign in to vote. The ballot is a single page and surprisingly uncomplicated – nothing like the 12 page ballot they’re using to suppress the vote in Florida. I’m directed to a desk (with privacy shields) alongside two other voters. This is different from what we used to do in Madison County. In 2000 and before we went into a curtained booth and voted via Diebold machine. I never did trust those things; still don’t.

10:25: I fill out votes for City Council members – searching for names I recognize, most of them former colleagues at Berea College where I used to teach. They’re all “liberal” enough, I guess.

10:27: I VOTE FOR GREEN PARTY CANDIDATE, JILL STEIN. I’m thinking, the Democrats and Obama simply have to get the message that they’ve lost people like me. Anyway, since Kentucky’s such a red state, my vote for president is otherwise meaningless. Now if I were in Ohio or Florida, it would be a different story. I would vote for Obama there. (In fact, a couple of weeks ago, I spent a Saturday afternoon phoning Ohioans to get out the vote for Obama. That’s how conflicted I am.)

11:30: I Skype a friend of mine in Amsterdam. He’s a self-exiled former priest who holds dual citizenship in Great Britain and in the U.S. He’s chosen to boycott this election.  Over the last few weeks he’s been chiding me for supporting Obama. “How can you do that? he’s been asking. Didn’t you watch the third debate? On foreign policy, Obama and Romney are on the same page. It’s absolutely selfish to vote for Obama because he’ll somehow protect your Social Security. The man’s a war criminal – droning, torturing, eliminating civil liberties, suspending habeas corpus. . . . The Democrats are as corrupt as the Republicans. The whole system has to come down, and that means going through a period of purgation that will be hard as hell, but it has to happen.” My friend is pleased when he hears I’ve voted for Stein.

12:00: I have to break away from the Skype conversation to answer a knock on the door. It happens to be another ex-priest. (Our parish is loaded with them – four of us.) We sit on our front porch and talk politics. My friend agrees that the system must come down. What form do you think it will the disintegration take, I ask? “Last week answered that question,” he says. He was referring to Hurricane Sandy. “That even woke up the business suits,” he says. “Did you see that Bloomberg’s magazine ran a headline last week, ‘It’s Global Warming, Stupid’?  Once the suits wake up like that, you’ll see changes.”  He continues, “The dollar’s going to be devalued; the European Union’s going to hell, and simple demographics are running against the fascists. I mean, the whole thing’s disintegrating before our very eyes. And you’re asking ‘what form will it take?’ Open your eyes, man.  And hang on to your seatbelt!” Then he added with a nod towards our status as septuagenarians, “I don’t think you and I will live to see this particular ‘Berlin Wall’ fall. Thank God.”

1:00-5:00: All afternoon I compulsively check my Kindle Fire for . . .  I’m not sure for what. Am I hoping for some news about “who’s winning?” I know the polls won’t close for hours. Still, there might be something about exit polls. All I find though are more last-minute appeals for money from Move-On and others. They’re still asking for telephone calls to undecideds on behalf of Elizabeth Warren. Those appeals have been making me feel guilty for months. Instead of phoning, I watch the end of “Platoon.” It reminds me of Obama’s broken promises about Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo, and the likelihood that no matter who wins, we’ll soon be attacking Iran at Israel’s behest.

5:30: I go for supper to the home of a friend of mine (also a former priest!). We warm up with Manhattans. Then a spaghetti dinner with my friend’s famous meatballs. Always a treat. My friend, yet another one of us ex-priests, is a self-identified curmudgeon. He’s claims he has given up completely on politics. He’s convinced that nothing in the world ever really changes. Romney and Obama are essentially the same. Life goes on no matter what. The best we can do is tend our own gardens. I think about “Platoon” and find myself thinking he may be right.

7:30: The first returns are coming in now. We keep switching back and forth between FOX, MSNBC, and CNN. The reporters are obviously enamored of their “magic boards” and high tech gadgets. By 9:30 Romney has a lead in electoral votes. But a subtext of the evening (except on FOX) is that Obama will close the deal in Ohio and even, it seems, in Florida. We’ll see.

10:00: I return home and tune into Amy Goodman’s Election Night Coverage. She’s interviewing Green Party candidate, Jill Stein along with Ohio Congressman, Dennis Kucinich. Instead of simply reporting on the “horse race,” they discuss the need for a third party in the U.S.

10:30: Still on Amy Goodman, Lee Rowland of the Brennan Center for Justice along with author Greg Palast report on voter suppression efforts in Florida and Ohio. Palast talks about his experience in Toledo where voters waited in a line of more than a thousand people. Once they got to their destination, they were not allowed to vote, but were given applications for absentee ballots. Incredible!

11:15: They’ve called the election for President Obama. Reportedly, his camp is already talking about a”Grand Bargain” with the Republicans. Bob Herbert of Demos says it’s going to hurt the most vulnerable. Incredible!

12:00: I finally go to bed.

The First Debate: Was He Ill?

I had high hopes for last night’s first presidential debate and the signals it would send for a second Obama term that looked more assured every day. I was looking for signs that the president had learned from his “Why can’t we all just get along?” bipartisan failure, and come out swinging.

He’d use his gift of eloquence to truly take full advantage of the bully pulpit the debate format provided. He’d confront Mitt Romney over his chameleon conversion to Tea Party extremism. He’d ask him about Bain Capital and the policy it represents of sending U.S. jobs overseas and sheltering money in the Cayman Islands. Mr. Obama would ask for clarification about the governor’s “47%” gaffe and the signal it sent to Middle Americans.

He’d call Republicans on their lies and for being the “Party of “No,'” and for thwarting his valiant efforts at bipartisanship. He’d ask Mr. Romney why they’ve filibustered specific programs that would help Main Street and  war veterans

He’d have a clear narrative of exactly how deregulation, tax cuts, and Republican disregard for deficits have gotten the country into its present mess. He’d tell a story of American healthcare as clearly as Michael Moore’s “Sicko.” Naming the fundamental deceit of the phrase “clean coal,” he’d make a clear and unambiguous case for green energy to protect the environment from corporate predators. He’d force his opponent to explain his party’s denial of the reality and threat of global warming.

President Obama’s victory in the first debate would once and for all set a tone for (what before last night) seemed to be the likelihood of a second Obama presidential term.

But none of that happened.

Instead the president allowed Governor Romney to appear more presidential than he did. Romney looked Obama in the eye throughout the entire debate. Meanwhile, the president constantly looked down at his notes or at the debate moderator Jim Lehrer. When he did face his opponent, it was fleetingly– almost as if he didn’t belong on the same stage with the man.

And the president talked too much — a full four minutes and change more than Governor Romney. But the extra time was counter-productive. He seemed hesitant and lacking in confidence. He was rambling, unfocused, often incoherent and general. He had to apologize to Mr. Lehrer more than once for exceeding his time limit. For his part, Romney seemed confident and crisp. He had the “facts”at his fingertips ticking off points and itemizing them in groups of fives and threes. He gave the impression that he was the man with a plan, while the president was constantly on the defensive.

And there was no forceful challenge to Romney’s discredited “trickle down” narrative. Obama actually allowed Romney without counter-comment about public ownership of the airwaves to call for the end of Public Broadcasting and to twice denigrate “green energy.” It was Romney who faulted Obama for not being entitled to his own facts. And all of that without any clear response from the incumbent.

It all made me wonder if Mr. Obama was well — or if he had seriously prepared for the debate.

For the first time, I’m thinking we may have to get used to the phrase “President Romney.” Help!

“What if Jesus Had Been a Republican?” (Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time)

Today’s Readings: Dt. 4:1-2, 6-8; Ps. 15:2-5; Jas. 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27; Mk. 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Tikkun Magazine (the Israeli-American quarterly published by Rabbi Michael Lerner) recently published an article called “What if Jesus Had Been a Republican?” It rewrote three well-known Christian Testament scriptures to reflect the world vision and morality of the Republican Party. The piece was reproduced on the news and analysis website “AlterNet.” (Here’s the reference http://www.alternet.org/belief/what-if-jesus-had-been-republican?paging=off).

The first rewritten episode was entitled “The Lazy Paralytic.” It was about the paralyzed man whose friends removed roof tiles on a home to bring him into Jesus’ presence, when the Master was otherwise inaccessible because of the large crowds around him. The revised story has Jesus saying to the paralytic, “Can’t you take care of your own health problems? I’m sure that your family can care for you, or maybe the synagogue can help out.” . . . . What would happen if I provided access to free health care for everyone? That would mean that people would not only get lazy and entitled, but they would take advantage of the system. Besides, look at me: I’m healthy. And you know why? Because I worked hard for my money, and took care of myself.”

The second rewritten episode was called “The Very Poorly Prepared Crowd.” It re-imagined the feeding of 5000 people usually understood as the “Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes.” Only this time there was no feeding. Jesus says that would make the improvident crowd too dependent on authority figures like himself. People would never learn to think ahead and the lesson of self-sufficiency would be lost. So applying the principle of “tough love,” Jesus eats one loaf and one fish himself and gives the remaining four loaves and one fish to his twelve apostles.

Even more to our readings’ main point this morning, the reformulated story of “The Rich and Therefore Blessed Young Man,” has a rich man kneeling before Jesus to ask, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” When Jesus learns that the man has been born into wealth and privilege, Jesus’ admiration knows no bounds. However, he says, one thing is lacking in terms of God’s kingdom: “A bigger house in a gated community in Tiberias. Buy that and you will have a treasure indeed. And make sure you get a stone countertop for the kitchen. Those are really nice.” Jesus’ disciples are scandalized by all of this and ask, “But Lord,” they said, “what about the passages in both the Law and the Prophets that tell us to care for widows and orphans, for the poor, for the sick, for the refugee? What about the many passages in the Scriptures about justice?” 7. “Those are just metaphors,” said Jesus. “Don’t take everything so literally.”

I point you towards those rewritten parables not only because they made me laugh, or because we saw the Republicans in action at their convention last week, but because the last rewrite I mentioned is closely related to this morning’s readings. Those readings remind us of how religion, and specifically the person and words of Jesus can be distorted to reflect what Jesus calls “human traditions” rather than “God’s commandments.”

Today’s first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy reminds us of what the heart of God’s commandments actually was. The Deuteronomy reading shows Moses preparing the ex-slaves just escaped from Egypt for a law that centralizes social justice and care for the orphans, widows, (and immigrants).  The Law of Moses was about setting up a community where what we today would call social structures protected society’s most vulnerable. Its Jubilee statute made provision for the periodic cancelling of debt and the return of land and homes to those who had lost them to the bankers.  The Mosaic Law even forbade charging interest itself – as the words of today’s responsorial psalm remind us. In fact, up until the late Middle Ages, when capitalism began to emerge, charging interest on loans was considered immoral and contrary to Scripture. But then, of course, the Tikkun Jesus would remind us, “Don’t take everything so literally.”

Today’s second reading from the Letter of James’ stands firmly in the Mosaic tradition and defines religion in terms of specific acts directed towards the poor. In fact, James definition of pure and undefiled religion consists entirely in taking care of the orphans and widows in their affliction.  That definition reflects the very attitude of Jesus himself. Recall that in Matthew 25 – our only unambiguous account of the final judgment – the entire affair is based on specific acts of compassion, even though those performing the acts were utterly unconscious of any spiritual motivation. Jesus welcomes into his Father’s kingdom those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the immigrant, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and imprisoned. Those who don’t do such things are condemned.

What I’m saying is that in James’ following of Jesus we find a definition of religion that is not only down to earth and practical, but calls for day-in and day-out embrace of society’s marginalized rather than leaving them to fend for themselves. James’ words, like those of Jesus, challenge us all to self-criticism about our own neglect of the poor and those at risk. The implication here is that God is not happy with us when our only response to poverty is “tough love” instead of the hands-on compassion and involvement Jesus demanded and exemplified.

However since James’ time – and especially after the 4th century, when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, Christian faith became more abstract, intellectualized and (in terms of today’s Gospel reading) Pharisaic. Essentially “true religion” was transformed into simply believing things about Jesus rather than imitating him as healer, feeder, and champion of the poor. Since the fourth century, Christians are those who believe in God, the virgin birth, the miracles of Jesus, and his resurrection. Unlike Jesus’ words about the hungry and thirsty, none of those beliefs directly ask believers to be any different from others except inside their heads.

That leaves true believers free to act like the Pharisees Jesus confronts in today’s Gospel. So believers condemn “those others” who don’t see things as we do. Religion then becomes a cause of separation rather than of unity. This is especially true when the life choices of “those others” differ from those of believers. So the essence of Christianity becomes condemning the poor as “lazy.” Christians condemn Muslims as terrorists. Straight people condemn gays as immoral. Celibate men condemn married people for practicing contraception. And believers well beyond the age of child bearing condemn “those others” for resorting to abortion. Conservatives condemn liberals for not thinking as they do. Liberals do the same thing to conservatives. In virtually none of those cases is anything asked of the condemners except scorn and contempt for “those others.” It’s the others who must change, not us!

In today’s Gospel selection, Jesus calls us away from that kind of self-centered complacency to self-criticism. That’s the first step in identifying and changing the elements all of us find within ourselves that deprive us of compassion for others – especially for the widows, orphans and immigrants. The elements Jesus names as enemies of compassion sound like a description of the cultural values we “Americans” celebrate: greed, envy, arrogance, deceit, licentiousness – and the murder (as in wars) necessary to keep “our” stuff.

Taking the example of Jesus “more literally” calls us to the type of humility and personal transformation that recognizes our very selves in those we have been taught to despise as unworthy. The simple understanding of religion espoused by Moses, Jesus and James reminds us that its “pure and undefiled” form calls us to community, to seeing ourselves in “the least” – to our own humanization.

Here I recall a relevant sign I saw at a political rally I once attended. The sign reminded me of James’ doctrine-less definition of religion. It read simply “Do what God did: become human.”

That’s the essence of our Christian faith.

_____

Don’t miss Monday’s second installment of the series on Mary Magdalene