Sunday, June 30, 2019

Lessons from Oregon on 2020

Oregon’s House Bill 2020, was cap and trade legislation based in part on a similar law in California.  It was passed by the House and sent to the Senate where it had overwhelming support.  Republican senators objecting to the bill walked out, leaving the chamber short of a quorum and unable to  do business.  It’s been the hot topic in Pacific Northwest news for several weeks, and even rated mention in the national media. 

So what was going on, and what might it tell us about the upcoming presidential election?  GOP senators complained the bill would put heavy burdens on rural parts of the state, as well as on business and industry in general.  Moreover, they said, the Democratic majority never negotiated with them in good faith.  Democratic leaders responded that many amendments were added to meet nearly every objection Republicans had made.  The standoff finally ended and the bill was killed in order to move on to more pressing budget legislation.  

Would the GOP senators have been satisfied if Democrats had been more flexible?  Absolutely not.  As reported by NBC, “Our mission was to kill cap and trade,” [minority leader]Baertshiger said, “and that’s what we did.”

I’ve read the detailed summary of the bill, and the Democrats are right; they did meet the objections raised by Republicans.  In its final form the bill was not an onerous burden on rural areas or agriculture, and while it would have required industrial pollution sources to make major changes in controlling CO2 emissions, it gave them options, alternatives, and time consistent with similar laws elsewhere.  You can read it for yourself at www.olis.leg.state.or.us

Oregon’s Republican senators engaged in a small example of tyranny of the minority tactic they claim is their only defense against tyranny of the majority.  One of the right’s favorite axes to grind is tyranny of the majority.  In the early days of the republic, founding fathers were concerned that ill informed rural and working class masses could form a majority that governed to the detriment of society, tyrannizing the minority of well informed northern urban and southern plantation wealth producers working to build up the new country.  They had seen what happened in France, and had their own problems with the masses they didn’t trust to know how to self govern.  The Constitution was designed make it difficult for such a majority to gain too much control.  

Today’s right wingers have flipped the coin to claim that rural and working class folk are the minority who are being threatened by the wealthy, over educated but ill informed urban elite.  Using a system set up to protect the upper classes, right wingers dictate terms and conditions that undermine the majority in the name of defending the freedom of real people, the common man, workers and farmers.  

Ironically, in the name of protecting farmers, workers, and rural areas Oregon GOP senators gave libertarian ideologues everything they wanted to keep farmers, workers, and rural areas in their place, which is out of the way.  As an added bonus, they blocked pesky environmental regulations at the same time.  It was a masterful move.  

Some want to blame the entrenched selfishness of the corporate world.  And while it may be guilty of its share, Business and industry cannot bear the whole burden.  As a whole, business and industry always acts in its own short term self interest.  Its ability to consider the greater good of society over the long run is boxed in by its desire to be as profitable as possible in the immediately foreseeable future.  That’s not a bad thing.  We need healthy, job creating, wealth producing business and industry.  But it requires appropriate degrees of regulation that don’t smother it, sometimes  underwrite it, and always have an eye toward the long term well being of society as a whole.  It’s a matter of balance worked out in good faith negotiations. 

Libertarian ideologues are skilled at weaponizing the corporate world’s myopic self interest, and rural distrust of urban elites, to grind good faith negotiating to a halt.  More  progressive forces don’t seem to have a clue what to do about it. 

GOP senate leaders had no intention of negotiating or compromising.  Their intention, by their own words, was to kill it.  It’s  a favored tactic adopted by extreme tea party type libertarians.  Never give an inch.  It’s the tactic used by the Freedom Caucus in Washington D.C.  It’s Mitch McDonnell’s preferred tool.  It’s not conservative, it’s extreme libertarianism, and it’s dangerous to the integrity of our democratic republic, but it plays well in less populated and economically distressed districts that believe they are under assault by wealthy urbanites who don’t care about them.

Democratic leaders fail, and fail miserably, when the don’t go directly to the electorate in districts held by right wingers to listen, not tell but listen, to what the locals have to ask, to say, and to suggest.  These folk are not dumb, and after the yelling is over, they may have worthwhile suggestions to offer.  Who knows, maybe Oregon’s Democratic leaders did all that and still had to surrender majority will to minority intransigence.  If so, it only means they have to do a better job of it next time.  In any case, it’s a lesson for candidates across the nation to consider as they prepare for 2020.


Saturday, June 22, 2019

A Game Plan to Win in 2020

Democrats will eventually decide on a candidate to run against Trump.   In the meantime, the field will be testing ideas, rhetoric and tactics against one another to see which ones excite the electorate in their favor.  Out of that melee will come something that resembles a campaign game plan that might work.  

I want to suggest that for it to work, it must include the following elements.

Focus on national pride.  Trump’s Make America Great Again has touched on a nerve.  Forget about his base, Americans who twice voted for Obama, then switched to Trump want their sense of patriotism to be honored.  Yes we Can and Make America Great Again did that.  Of course we have serious problems to address, made more serious by Trump’s bumbling domestic incompetency, and buffoonish blustering on the international stage.  The Democratic candidate who celebrates with pride the values and courage that define the American ideal will be welcomed by   voters of every stripe.

Emphasize a tough stance on international trade.  Proclaim intention to reenter multilateral trade agreements and negotiations, but be forthright about declaring that this time standards for worker rights, environmental protection, intellectual property rights, and commercial code transparency will be of paramount importance.  Trump’s tariffs are a crude tool of limited usefulness, but countering with nothing more than negotiation sounds weak.  Have three or four, no more, simple, understandable tools to replace tariffs. 

Celebrate the economy.  Trump and his supporters do, but without a legitimate claim for it.  The policies that have enabled our decade long period of economic growth are due partly to the last few months of Bush II, and all of the Obama term.  Claim it.  But claim it with the added recognition that Trump has run it out onto thin ice through an ill advised tax cut and surging deficits that have no economically justifiable purpose.  Make sure everyone remembers his bombastic promises about steel, coal, aluminum, auto production, etc., and display the results.  Boldly advocate reversing the Trump tax dodge with no apologies.  
P.S.  Trump has set the nation up for a recession.  Have a plan for it, but keep it in reserve.  

Present a simple three or four point immigration plan.  Trump will do what he an to generate xenophobic hysteria over southern border immigration, and not without cause.  It’s been a troubling issue for decades.  Solving it will be difficult. Voters don’t want difficult.  They want simple and easy to understand.  For campaign purposes, a simple plan might include streamlining asylum and refugee admission processes (keeping families intact); conducting a massive public education campaign in Central America explaining why trekking to the U.S. is a bad idea; removing doubt from dreamers’ hopes for a future in the only country they know.  

Promote revitalized public education for all.  Make skilled trades and community colleges the center piece of education policies.  Challenge universities and liberal arts colleges to control their costs.  Make quality pre-K through 12 public school education a high priority, with an emphasis on rural areas and economically challenged cities.  Emphasize cooperative state-federal partnerships.  Admit charter schools have their place, but give them no more than that.  

Commit to investment in infrastructure with a real plan.  Begin with the basics: bridges, highways, water and sewer.  They are the elements of infrastructure ordinary people use every day.  Then go on to things such as broad band, air traffic, mass transit, etc.  Do zero based budget planning before suggesting increased use taxes.  It may reveal a better distribution of existing resources.  Don’t tout shovel ready projects.  There aren’t any.  Every infrastructure project requires plans and specifications, and they are expensive, time consuming investments. 

Have a housing plan.  Every city and town has a problem with affordable housing.  Encourage mixed use zoning, revitalize tax credit partnerships, expand mortgage programs for affordable condominiums and apartments.

Reform the bureaucracy.  One reason the federal government gets a bad name is that agency staff have never been trained in customer service.  There’s an enormous difference between enforcing regulations and helping customers to success in their use of federal programs.  It will increase effectiveness, reduce inefficiencies, and, voila, customer satisfaction will be a measure of success.

Health care.  Well of course health care.  But don’t over promise.  Begin with the best of the ACA and offer improvements and expansion.  Explain in clear simple terms how it will work and be paid for.  

Sen. Warren has hundreds of ideas to add, all of them worthy, I’m sure.  No doubt she will inspire other candidates to offer even longer lists of goodies.  Stick with the basics.  Voters can handle only so much, after that it’s just blah, blah, blah.   

When you have the right game plan, stick with it.  Don’t let Trump sucker you into playing his game, and he’s very good at doing that.  Don’t fall for it.  Let his insults fall like rain.  Ignore them.  Ignore tea party taunts.  Just as important, ignore far left taunts and pressures.



Friday, June 21, 2019

Reparations: a few incomplete thoughts

The subject of reparations for descendants of slaves has been lingering on the fringes for decades.  Now it’s an issue that will be debated through the coming election cycle, and probably beyond.  I don’t think it’s something you can be for or against.  There are too many questions yet unasked and unanswered.  

In the emerging conversations I listen in on, reparation is assumed to mean monetary payments to living descendants of slaves.  I’m not sure that’s a good idea.  However large a total payout might appear to be, the amount going to any one person would likely be small, not much more than a token.  But it would be enough for decision makers to claim they and the nation have now been absolved of all responsibility for past sins, and it’s time to get on with life, leaving obsessions with civil rights behind.   Moreover, it puts the focus on slavery itself, and ignores the post Civil War history of overt Jim Crow in the South, and more subtle but no less onerous versions of it in the North.  The war ended in 1865.  It took another hundred years for the nation to enact the civil rights legislation of the 1960s that legally ended subjugation of black Americans.  Even now, over fifty years later, we have not seen the full ripening of the fruits of that legislation.  Government sponsored infrastructure projects, zoning, and banking practices herded black families into ghettos, denied them public services, limited their ability to save and invest, and fenced them off from access to benefits offered to the white community.  It’s not ancient history.  Much of it came in the post WWII years.  It created the structures we live with today.

For these and other reasons, I believe reparation needs to be defined in ways that address systemic changes to the way our nation is run.  It’s more than restoring the Voting Rights Act and overturning Citizens United, although they’re important.  Other items on my reparation menu include: strict laws on redistricting to avoid gerrymandering; massive infrastructure investment in historically black neighborhoods; federal urban renewal grants with restrictions that inhibit resegregation of gentrified neighborhoods;  public-private partnerships dedicated to massive development of mixed use low and middle income housing; serious enforcement of existing laws and regulations intended to combat exploitation of the poor and minorities (payday loans, mortgage redlining, etc.); major investments in rural and inner city public schools; teaching a respectful, but more honest version of American history; institution of a one or two year national service requirement that could be satisfied in the military or some form of civilian service.


Obviously these are incomplete thoughts with many weaknesses.  The point is that I don’t think we can get off with a handful of dollars shoved into the pockets of descendants when real reparation requires repairing the broken parts of the way we do things.  The kind of reparation I believe is necessary will spill over to the benefit of others.  It won’t accrue to descendants alone.  The usual whining will be heard from those who have benefitted from years of state and federal largesse that they have been left out.  Others will harrumph about pandering to the poor, or enriching the undeserving with someones else's money.  To be sure, we are not responsible for the mistakes of generations past.  But we are responsible for our own mistakes, and it would be a huge mistake not to bend to the task of fixing what has been broken by hundreds of years of policies that boxed in, segregated, disenfranchised, and short changed the descendants of American slaves, among others we’ve treated with equal contempt.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Libertarians, Liberal Arts & Democracy

I need to begin this column with a short preface.  Libertarians are not conservatives even though the terms are often equated.  Conservatives and liberals alike can, and do, have libertarian leanings.  However, there are extreme libertarians whose ardent and gifted operatives have done a masterful job of convincing life long, old time conservatives that libertarian ideas are the answer to their apprehensions about “big government.”  With that in mind, let us proceed.

A libertarian friend shared a meme featuring a young woman holding a hand written poster complaining that, with BFA in hand, she was jobless and deep in student debt.  The implication was that society had failed her and owed her.  To my friend she represents the lazy, shiftless, self entitled youth who look down on hard working ordinary people like him, and are the reason this country is in such rotten shape.  She’s a handy poster child representing the political enemies of real people who voted for Trump, and are likely to do it again.

There are many questions embedded in the meme and his short comments about it.  The most obvious to me: did it depict a real student who made and shared it?  Or was it a clever bit of propaganda designed to popularize the idea that the new crop of graduates are nothing but lazy, bloodsucking socialists?  

It certainly appeals to the libertarian sentiment that liberal arts education is a waste of tax payer money.  Hard working, tax paying Americans, real Americans, are shackled with expensive state and federal education programs of no value to them.  They do nothing but prop up snotty, over educated elites who are afraid to get their hands dirty.  At least that’s the talk after a couple of beers at the local tavern.  

Another question: does the meme suggest that liberals, and Democrats in general, look down on working class folk?  Perhaps not directly, but my friend took it that way.  It’s a theme promoted by Trumpsters that has fed the insecurities of many hard working people who believe they see others living an easy life forever out of their reach.  Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” line nailed it for them, which is too bad because the worst of libertarian ideology really is morally deplorable.  And it’s deplorable that the immorality of an amoral Trump was able to use it to good effect in 2016, and may again in 2020.  It’s deplorable that extreme libertarian ideology has little respect for the needs and rights of the working class, even as its proponents claim to speak for them.

So back to the meme.  Is a Bachelor of Fine Arts to be ridiculed as something useless?  Presumably it’s equipped a talented person with greater ability to produce art enriching the beauty of society, or illuminating its failures.  It’s not a job ticket.  Nobody ever claimed otherwise.  By itself it promises nothing but hard work for no predictable reward.  A few will become famous, even rich.  Most will make their living the old fashioned way, doing the hard work of all working men and women.  The young woman in the meme, if she’s real, will slave away at something, producing her art on the side, and hoping for the best.  There’s something about art that declares a promise, remembers the past, and carries the burden of civilization into the future.  A BFA explores it all to give it deeper meaning for aspiring artists.  Is art really that important?  I don’t know, but there has never been a society that hasn’t hungered for and treasured art in its many forms. 

There are other academic degrees in the liberal arts, and each discipline tries to guide students toward a lifetime journey of becoming educated persons.  Does that make college educated persons snooty elites?  My experience in thirty years of government and corporate work was the opposite.  Competitive, yes, but also insecure and working hard to do the best they could with what they had.  Outside their disciplines, most are no more sophisticated or intellectually snooty than Edith Bunker. 

Not that arrogant elitism isn’t around.  There are conservatives who’ve ‘made it’, deluded with the illusion that they’re better than those who haven’t.  There are liberals whose compassion for those ‘less fortunate’ leads them to offer more help than wanted or needed. The worst, in my experience, comes from libertarian intellectuals who are fully aware that their appeals to working class folk are a cover for individualism free of government interference accruing to the nearly exclusive benefit of top earners and certain investors. 

There has always been a lingering suspicion among working class folk that life could be better if things weren’t stacked against them.  It’s what drove the Grange, unionization, demands for quality public education, civil rights and the progressive agendas of the 20th century.  There has always been reluctance from investors and bosses to give up any of their freedom to run things in their favor.  All people want freedom for themselves, and some believe they have a right to more of it than others.  In healthy democratic societies, these tensions get worked out in acceptably imperfect ways.  

Right now, the forces of ardent libertarianism are angling to reduce the republic to an oligarchy they believe will be more efficient and profitable than sloppy democracy allows.  With consummate skill, they’ve convinced a sizable minority of mostly white men and women that too much democracy, with too much equality, allowing too many to vote, will lead to government control of their lives.  They’re selling the line that for the working classes to preserve their freedom, they must give up their freedom to libertarian ideologues who will do the right thing for them, and keep others in their places.  


A closing note.  Libertarianism, like socialism, is not a thing.  It’s a range of ideas and assumptions with an emphasis on the value of individual rights in competition with restrictions community imposes on them.  In moderation, it’s a valuable element in the political spectrum.  Within the range is a form of extreme libertarianism that claims maximum rights of freedom from government oversight for the few in control of wealth and production.  Publicly disdaining government interference in private and business lives, it’s more than willing to use every power of government to assert and protect its own interests.  When its camouflage of worker friendliness is stripped away, it’s revealed as plain old fascism, at least in its modern form.  In its more romantic form it’s 19th century robber baron, Jim Crow, mercantilism.  Either way, it’s corrosive of democracy and the good of the nation.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Tea Party lives on both in both left and right wings. How shall we respond?

Tea party mentality is usually associated with conservative libertarians who believe individual rights are threatened by government interference.  They hold that individual rights are superior to the needs and rights of the community.  Trying to be subtle about it, they subordinate the rights of others to the rights of whites, and white men in particular, disguising them as traditional American values.  They’re suspicious of claims about systemic racism, the danger of wealth and income inequality, or the need for government to regulate broad sectors of society such as education, environmental quality, business practices, and guns.

In a curious way, the same tea party mentality is also present among some left wing liberals.  It’s less obvious because they don’t have a tea party flag to fly.  They might as well borrow one from the other side, because there isn’t much difference in their thought processes.  Although coming at issues from a more communitarian point of view, they share assumptions in common with the right wing.

One is the need for an enemy who is the root and cause of all the ills in society.  Both are sure the enemy is coastal and elite.  For one, the coastal elite are over paid, over educated closet socialists.  For the other, the coastal elite are high income corporate leaders and scions of inherited wealth.  Each considers the other to be anti democratic.  Each considers the other to be unworthy of national leadership.  Each is suspicious of any who are more centrist, whether left or right: either they’re faking it, or they don’t stand for anything.

Another is their shared faith in the power of government to fix it, whatever it may be.  Conservative tea partiers proclaim distrust of government, but that ends with their intention to use every power government possesses to establish a social and economic order acceptable to their libertarian ideals.  Liberal tea partiers don’t distrust government.  They distrust the people in government, and want new occupants who will use every power it possesses to establish a social and economic order acceptable to their ideals of equity in community.  Each is certain that corporate leaders and inheritors of wealth are on the other side.  Each has little evidence and many rumors to support their case. 

To be sure, there are organizations of the corporate elite, such as the Koch Network and ALEC, that do what they can to manipulate each side in favor of their own interests.  In lends credibility to liberal and conservative tea party fears, fertilizing the ground for growing conspiracy theories about unknown, unnamed, secret other networks of liberals or conservatives.  Oddly enough, elite networks such as ALEC, and run of the mill corporate lobbying organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are utterly predictable, their motives are transparently self centered, they’re the epitome of political shape shifting as conditions change, and they’re adept at manipulating the most gullible in society.  Not much secret about them.  But I digress.

A third is their shared belief that some people are unfairly more privileged that others.  Conservative tea partiers are certain that racial minorities, the lazy poor, and dreaded coastal elites have become the privileged classes, depriving conservatives of the right to live freely in whatever way they desire.  Liberal tea partiers are certain that conservative tea partiers, white nationalists, and wealthy (white) people are privileged in ways that keep others from enjoying opportunities for economic and social upward mobility.  There is truth in that, but tea party mentality leads toward French Revolution reign of terror solutions –– Off with their heads!  Battering conservative and liberal tea party enemies into submission may feel like satisfying revenge, but what a waste of emotional energy when real work awaits.

There are ways to make free democratic societies less hindered by systemic injustice and practices that threaten the environment, of which we have had too many for too long.  For the most part, those ways are the product of progressive thinking displayed in progressive agendas.  Conservative cautionary restraint serves to check liberal excesses, and sometimes offers better alternatives.  Obsession with small government isn’t one of them.  Community health and well being, from local to national, depends on government to marshal needed resources.  The modern world requires national and multinational policies and programs that can productively engage with national and global conditions.  It can’t happen without a strong federal government addressing matters that know nothing of local, state and national boundaries. 

In the best of all possible worlds, right wing tea partiers will by stymied by a federal government that won’t allow them to return the nation to mid 20th century social values, white middle class hegemony, and the freedom to discriminate without being discriminated against.  Left wing tea partiers will be disappointed that some will continue to have more wealth than others, and with it they will be able to purchase more opportunities than others.  The American ideal anticipates a reasonably unrestricted flow of upward and downward mobility that resists the establishment of a permanent upper or lower class, but both will exist.  Removing systemic obstacles to upward mobility will not block the path to downward mobility.  Reversing policies that create excessive income and wealth inequality will not eliminate higher income with more wealth for some, and less for others. 


We don’t live in the best of all possible worlds, but until the current presidency and senate majority leadership, we’ve tried to head in that direction.  Now we face the question of whether our democratic republic can survive the challenge of would be authoritarian rulers.  How it will turn out remains to be seen.

Friday, June 7, 2019

War, Freedom & Patriotism

Flag flying holidays bring out social media posts and op. ed. columns that honor members of the armed forces, past and present, as they well should.  But some go beyond to ascribe to them the very foundation of our freedoms.  The implication is that our constitutional republic owes its existence to armed forces, and all our armed conflicts, including today’s, have been and are in defense of our freedom.  It’s a romantic ideal common in the histories of all nations.  The warrior cult of death in battle has been celebrated as the ultimate form of heroic manhood in every culture for thousands of years.  For me, it raises a number of questions.  If military service wasn’t glorified as something heroic, would anyone join up?  How does a war lord society differ from a rule of law society?  Are the written word, and the public debates leading to it, less important than military might in establishing American freedoms?  Would the nation fall but for an aggressive military presence in the world?  How many of our wars and major armed conflicts have actually defended the nation against an imminent danger?

Scanning the record, I came up with 97 named American wars and major conflicts.  Don’t hold me to the exact number.  I could be off by a few.  Of these, 39 (40%) were named wars of Indian eradication clearing the way for (white) settlers to live in peace.  They were wars of conquest and subjugation that, in a sense, could be considered in defense of freedoms for certain Americans at the expense of other Americans.  Without them, few Western movies would have a plot, but as it is, they make the Indians savage, women and children innocent, and the cavalry heroic.  It’s part of the American myth.

What about wars of more patriotic and honorable intent?

The War of Independence (1775-1783) defended the united colonies’ right to secede from Britain, and form their own government as an independent democratic republic.  What sometimes gets lost in the story telling is that securing American liberties first required defining what they were, then to establish a philosophical foundation for national rules of law that would emerge as our Constitution.  The Revolutionary War helped make it possible, but was not its foundation.  Moreover, the Continental Army may have been the most reluctant band of soldiers in the nation’s history.

The War of 1812 was in defense of American rights on the sea, and of its territory.  Washington, Baltimore and other coastal towns were sacked, and a rough attempt was made to invade from the south.

America’s Civil War (1861-1865) was a brutal test of whether the United States could remain united, and whether slavery could be tolerated in a land of constitutional freedoms declaring the equality of all.  In defense of those freedoms, the North won and the states were reunited.  Slavery was abolished, at least in name.  The door was opened for a greater realization of equality for all that would take another hundred years of slow, violent progress to become the law of the land.  Sadly, the full fruits of that progress have yet to ripen. 

The Great War, WWI, was not in defense of the United States as a nation, although American shipping was attacked at sea.  It was to a greater extent in defense of democracy itself, and the right of Europe to be free of national expansion by armed conquest, after centuries where that was the norm.  Perhaps without intention it also challenged the legitimacy of European global empire, but that’s not a subject for this column. 

WWII was in defense of our nation, and of the principles of freedom that democracy declares is the right of all persons in every nation.  As Studs Terkel wrote, it was “The Good War”(1984), fought for all the right reasons that make “just war” a reality.  It produced the only “Greatest Generation” we’ve ever recognized.

Korea is a question mark.  The U.S. was not under attack, and South Korea was not an important ally.  But international Russian Communism was intent on undermining democracy everywhere, including in America.  The Iron Curtain had fallen across Eastern Europe.  Mao’s revolution had won in China.  If the flood could be stopped in Korea, it could be stopped elsewhere too.  It ended in a stalemate, but it also stalemated the spread of Russian Communism in other places, with a few notable exceptions.

That’s a total of five wars out of 97 that have been directly related to the defense of the United States and its freedoms.  What about the others?  Several put down domestic insurrections during the early years of the republic.  Many were in defense of commercial ventures unrelated to American territory or values.  Some, such as the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848, were wars of conquest.  The Spanish-American War of 1898 had little justification, but it moved the U.S., as an emerging major power, into the realm of global empire.  For various and cloudy reasons, we interceded in numerous conflicts in the Pacific, Asia and Africa during the 19th and 20th centuries.  Caribbean and Central American conflicts were mostly to set up puppet governments allowing American banana and sugar interests to do business as they pleased in those places – hence the name “banana republic.”

Major conflicts in the current era such as Vietnam, Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria, to name a few, have a variety of legitimate and illegitimate justifications, none of which are directly related to imminent threats to American territory or values.  Sure, but what about 9/11, one might ask?  Those attacks were carried out by mostly Saudi Arabian extremists, a nation we continue to support as a valued ally.  Veterans of wars in our era have honorably and courageously served their country, and they deserve the nation’s gratitude and support.  Gratitude they get on each flag flying holiday.  Support has been more problematic, and that’s shamefully tragic.  Having said that, they are not being sacrificed to protect our freedoms, as some proclaim every time they get a chance.  They are being sacrificed in the interests of power, ego, and commercial gain, and that too is shamefully tragic.  Parenthetically, to be sacrificed is to be made sacred, or holy, which is not what we’re doing to our young men and women who serve in the military, but again that’s for another time.

My conservative friends will not, and cannot, appreciate my take on the history of our wars.  Some will be mildly offended.  Some will be enraged.  They have too much invested in their conviction of the virtue of our military and war as primary lynchpins guaranteeing our freedoms, and of veterans as our most patriotic and heroic citizens.  For them, to think otherwise is disrespectful, unpatriotic, and they’ll have none of it. 



Wednesday, June 5, 2019

What Shall We Do in Ordinary Time?

Those who had followed Jesus, witnessed his death and resurrection, and had seen him bid farewell as he ascended to heaven, were perplexed about what would come next, as certainly something would.  On the 50th day after Easter, something did.  The assembled company was overwhelmed by God’s presence with such power that they went into the public square to proclaim to all that Jesus was more than simply the long awaited messiah, he was the very Word of God made flesh.  You might call it the birthday of the Christian Church.  It’s the event we celebrate on Pentecost Sunday.  A dramatic start to be sure, but then what?

“Love one another as I have loved you.”  It was Jesus’ new commandment for those who followed him. He’d already made it clear that the most important commandments were to love God and love one’s neighbors.  No other commandments were more important, and everything else in scripture had to be understood in the light of these two.  But here was a brand new commandment to “love one another as I have loved you.”  How had Jesus loved others?  

It’s not an easy question.  Many churches, including tiny Grace Episcopal Church in Dayton, WA, now enter a long six month season of Ordinary Time, in which we examine Jesus’ life and teaching to learn more about how he showed love, fully intending to do better at following his example in our own lives. Our study this year will focus on the gospel record of Luke.  We’re on three year cycle, so next year it will be Matthew, then Mark, and finally back to Luke again, working in John as we go along.  

You would think that after 2,000 years of this, we’d have it down pat by now, but we don’t.  It’s brand new in each person’s life, and progress in loving others as Christ loves us comes slowly, with many missteps along the way.  In our society, where the strong emotions of romantic love, and the fuzzy warmth of sympathetic love, have become the standards by which love is understood, the way of loving as Jesus does is hard to understand.  Moreover, we’re too quick to accuse others of hating rather than loving, for no better reason than they don’t agree with our politics, don’t look like our kind, have a different religion, or any of a dozen other reasons for making human hate rather than godly love the focus of our attention.

Speaking only for myself, I think I know a few things after a lifetime of working on what it means to love as Christ loves.  It’s not so much about emotions or feelings, and more about doing and showing.  It’s about respecting the dignity of every person as beloved of God.  It’s about breaking down barriers that prevent the other from being a neighbor.  It’s about restoring to wholeness what has been broken in our individual lives, and in the societies where we live.  It’s also about being in communion with God through prayer as conversation with God, conversation in which we do as much listening as talking.  It’s about being more bold in proclaiming God’s love to those who need to hear it.  It’s also about resting, taking ourselves out of the hubbub of daily life for our own needed physical and emotional restoration.  

Our culture is steeped in mythical ideals of rugged individualism and self reliance that don’t always mix well with loving others as Jesus loves us.  It’s especially true for we who live in the rural West.  That’s too bad for a couple of reasons.  Most important, when God has spoken, pay attention, there isn’t any higher authority.  And then bending to the task of living into the way of godly love empowers one to become most fully, courageously, authentically who they are called to be –– not who they pretend to be, who they’re ashamed they are, what they should have been.

Our little congregation will spend the next six months of Ordinary Time working on it.  Then it’ll be time to prepare for Christmas.