Living in This World, Political Theology, Politics

Feel the Burn

The grown-ups at my house don’t watch a lot of TV outside of baseball season, but this being a presidential election year, I have been drawn into watching some cable news coverage. I’m undecided most days; my spouse is not (sorry, I won’t tell you more); our voting age children #FeeltheBern.

When I turn on the foolishly big television intended to make us feel like we’re sitting at the ballpark, and I punch in the channel for the latest debate, press conference or expert analysis, I often find myself watching and listening to distressing behavior at what feels like an unsafe distance. It’s up too close, the red-faced hostility, the fallacious allegations, and the self-aggrandizing claims.

I wonder what the world is coming to, how we will avoid destroying ourselves, and things that matter to us. I feel some mixture of frustration, apathy, and despair. I exercise my privilege, therefore, to press the mute button, or I change the channel to see what’s on HGTV, or I turn the darn thing off and go to bed.

Daddy, Tommy and me – Monumental Methodist Church, 1966

It’s the truth that I grew up starry-eyed about politics because the politician I knew best was my daddy. We practiced our own civic religion; our polling place was at the Methodist church where he learned about faith. I remember vividly walking there from our house and going into the booth with him before I was old enough to read the names on the ballot. I associate goodness with the sound of that lever being pulled to register his vote and open the curtain that revealed us again to the world. Everything about his speech was thoughtful, careful, strong, but gentle.

I wonder how I would have felt if I had been in the Temple courtyard that day Jesus came in and started turning over the tables, knocking over the cages and freeing the birds intended for sacrifice, shouting that his Father’s house had been turned into a den of thieves? Did he not raise his voice? Did he not cause a disturbance? Did he not protest the way things were?

How do we discern the difference between righteous indignation and attention-seeking tirades?

We ask ourselves, what is the underlying intention of the person raising his or her voice? What is the agenda of the person causing the disturbance? What is the desire of the person protesting the status quo?

If we’re people of faith, we ask ourselves, do these loud voice do more than invoke God? Do they align with the values Jesus lived and died to teach us? And, perhaps even more importantly, do they express our Resurrection hope?

I’m not looking for a savior among political candidates, nor do I think that only certain varieties of church-going Christians can express that hope. I am looking for an affirmation of what matters to me, which will allow me to be faithful as I mark a ballot. I hope I’ll feel that burn.

America, Family History, Politics, Privilege, Racism

A Culture of Remembrance – Take Down the Flag

I grew up in a house in which hung a print of “The Last Meeting of Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson Before the Battle of Chancellorsville” (engraved by Frederick Halpin, after Everett Julio), that classic emblem of the Lost Cause. This was common then in my neighborhood in Old Town Portsmouth, Virginia. My father, a Civil War buff who would tell me about the battles as we drove around Virginia, never indicated that the cause was just, but honored both men as soldiers, tacticians, human beings, Virginians. Yet in his political life he angered people including his own political party, to the point of death threats, by his political stands against the institutionally-protected racism of Massive Resistance.

I’m not sure how to reconcile these things.

I still have the print, no longer hanging anywhere, but I don’t quite know what to do with it. I don’t want to send it out into the world, nor do I want to destroy it, simply because it reminds me of my dad. Let me be clear; he was a soft-spoken intellectual, not a gun-toting guy with a truck bearing Confederate flag decals. I told you, in his time, he was considered radical in his politics. Well, radical for Virginia.

Yet, we have this heritage, this culture of remembrance of the men who gave their gifts to what was in every way the wrong side of a terrible war, evil as war always tends to be and doubly evil in pitting, as I learned in school, brother against brother, and even brother against sister in the case of the Jackson family, and ultimately evil in the lies people told themselves and the world about the reasons, praising chivalry and states’ rights, denying that the profit to be found in owning other people and considering them to be less than human drove the cause so rightly lost.

Lee and Jackson on a plate
Lee and Jackson on a plate

Somewhere among my books is a large pictorial biography of General Lee, awarded to me for outstanding work in Social Studies in the 5th grade at an Episcopal girls’ school, St. Agnes, in Alexandria, Virginia. It was presented by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. What about the stack of Lenox commemorative dinner plates sold in the 1970s to fundraise for the restoration of the White House of the Confederacy? I never saw them used, never knew they existed until after my parents were dead. I can picture him writing a check for the sake of historical preservation.

Is it defensible because we should not forget?

Can we remember without glorifying?

What to do with these things?

As a child, I remember sitting on the rug, playing with a figure of Lee seated on his horse, Traveller. That at least is long gone.

I am not the only one who doesn’t know what to do with all the things that carry the taint of revolution and racism. I don’t want to get rid of them and thereby circulate them.

I do know what *not* to do with them, not to celebrate them, not to display them in our homes or our cars or our public monuments, not to imbue them with some holy power.  

Please, South Carolina, take down the flag.

NaBloPoMo, Politics

I Voted (NaBloPoMo)

The last time I voted in Portland, we were voting on marriage equality. We were also voting for a President, a Senator and a Congressman, as well as on other ballot issues. My polling place was the Fellowship Hall and Gym at Woodfords Congregational UCC, my home church before and during seminary. I shook hands with relatives of candidates in the parking lot, then lined up to go inside, where I saw friends voting ahead of me, chatted up the people in line around me, recognized the poll workers, and generally felt delighted to be participating in the democratic process with my neighbors.

I did not have to show ID.

I filled out 2 card stock ballots (elections and ballot issues) with one of those special black markers, and had the pleasure of inserting my ballots into a machine for counting.

It may sound funny, but I always made sure to fill in those lines very carefully while I stood behind the little curtain.

Here in Pennsylvania, kathrynzj and I went to vote at St. Peter Lutheran Church, because we haven’t updated our driver’s licenses yet. There were very few people voting. The ladies at the L-Z table were nice; one had her knitting, which I really wanted to ask about, but you know, elections are serious, and these people don’t know me. I signed in opposite an image of my voter registration card, with an image of my signature.

I can’t tell you how much I don’t like that.

They gave me a white card (blank) to hand to the extremely old man operating the touch screen machine. He made a joke about my Vera Bradley purse and where I got it, but it wasn’t actually about it being Vera Bradley. It was just a lame joke. He lingered in case I needed help using the machine. I stared him down, blankly. He finally moved off.

“Danger, Will Robinson!!!”

I pushed the screen to get started and looked at the voting screen. It gave me a choice of voting a straight party ticket, for either party. One of the candidates of my party was not someone I could in good conscience vote for, and another election had no Democrat, so in the end I only voted in the Governor’s race. Then I pressed the red “Vote” button above the screen. The machine went all “Danger, Will Robinson!!!” I confirmed my desire to pass over some of the categories. Considering there are about 11 Democrats in our precinct, the lack of candidates should not surprise me.

On the way out, we did see a familiar face, which made the whole thing seem more like real life to me.

Next time around, we will vote across the street, at kathrynzj’s church, where I assume I will know more people, but they will still need to have me sign the book in order to vote. And no matter how many familiar faces I see, it will take a long time before it feels like Portland, where I lived long enough to start meeting people for the second time.