What Can Trump a Trump?

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I’ve been wanting/dreading to write about the Donald Trump phenomenon for months now, but I kept delaying, hoping it wouldn’t be necessary, that I wouldn’t actually have to face what it says about us as a country that he may win the Republican nomination. As each primary day approached, I would think, “Surely, this time, people of ___fill-in-the-state ____won’t vote for him.” And yet, each time I was proven wrong. I was SO very wrong about last Tuesday’s five states. Thank you Pennsylvania, Delaware, et al, for fueling up that crazy train and pointing it West.

The Donald finally arrived on my own Southern California shores on Thursday night. His first rally ended in violent protests, destruction of property, physical and verbal assaults and seventeen arrests. Welcome to the Golden State! But Trump didn’t seem worried in the slightest; in fact, he seemed to enjoy it, which is just another sign of his unsuitability to be President. He has taken on the persona of a WWF promoter, not the leader of the free world. The President of the United States needs to be able to solve problems though consensus, and regardless of how well you think our current, or past presidents have done it, things will not be improved by stirring the public to violence and hate speech. Sadly, based on the rally’s turnout and recent polls, it looks like Trump is going to win here in California too. And all I can think, as I look out my window at my sunny palm tree-lined street, is “Et tu, Brute?”

When Trump’s campaign began to take off, I, like many others, thought his popularity was an anomaly. But as the weeks and months passed by, my incredulity grew and as did my curiosity about his supporters. I just kept thinking, “What is wrong with these people?” But I’m not asking that anymore. Although I don’t agree with them, I don’t think there is anything wrong with them. They are simply speaking their truth and giving voice to their pain and frustration, in rallies and at the ballot box. I may not agree with them, but they are not fundamentally different from me.

Whatever’s wrong with them is what’s wrong with our whole country: classism, consumerism, racism, sexism, cynicism, and a whole bunch of other things. We are deaf to each other’s cries for help and blind to the painful realities facing Americans of every race, gender, class and age in this brave new world of ours. No one is immune. For the most part, we are poorer, sicker, less hopeful and (coincidentally?) more suicidal. We are afraid for our safety, at home and abroad, and afraid for our children and their future. (This is especially true if you are one of the minorities that Trump demonizes regularly.) The winning lottery ticket entitled “The American Dream,” used to be handed out freely with a high school degree (at least if you were white). Now, it seems like there’s a 1 in a 100 chance, even if you play by all the rules. I don’t know anybody who isn’t affected by these fears, either consciously, or unconsciously, but our future and the future of the world will be defined by how we face them.

Trump wants us to face them kamikaze-style, by clinging to an out-dated idea of who we are as Americans – a colonial power: all-white, all-knowing, and all-powerful. For some Americans, that vision is a dream come true, but for many, it’s their worst nightmare. However, I don’t know that any of the candidates, on either side of the aisle, have significantly better appeal. Cruz was recently called, “Lucifer in the flesh “ by the former leader of his own party, (although that was more of a pot-and-kettle situation). Hillary has serious credibility issues and serious ties to Big Money, which is a huge problem for many voters. Kasich, whom I have been rooting for since Day One, is apparently too nice of a guy to be taken seriously by the general public. (Jimmy Carter anyone?) Bernie is a kamikaze in his own way, calling for such radical economic and social changes, that the country may crash and burn in his hands as well. (Based on the age of his supporters, I have a feeling that Bernie’s flight plan is where we will land eventually.)

The late civil rights activist, Vincent Harding, said, “For me the question of democracy, also opens up the question of what it means to be truly human. My own feeling is that when it comes to creating a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, democratic society, we are still a developing nation.” We aren’t used to thinking of ourselves in that way. We are used to believing that we have “arrived,” that we are “evolved,” that we are a model for the rest of the world to follow, but this election cycle has shown that we are just getting started.

The first thing we can do is have a little humility. We aren’t the cool kids on the block anymore, like we thought we were when we elected Obama in ’08 and’12. Apparently, we are in that awkward phase of puberty, with angry red pustules popping up all over, revealing the infections beneath the surface. We stink in all sorts of places, reminding us that we have some dirty laundry to take care. God knows, no one is going to do it for us.

Because this is such a painful revelation, the second thing we have to do is remember that “No situation is improved by going berserk.” It might feel good in the moment, but it is neither helpful, nor kind.

The third thing we can do is speak up, with decency and respect, to the people with whom we disagree. I have to admit, I’ve been guilty of avoiding politics with people who I think might be Trump supporters. While I haven’t actually swallowed my words, I’ve certainly done everything I could to avoid the subject. I’ve sat through dinners, thinking, “Please don’t say anything. Please don’t say anything.” I am ashamed to admit my own reluctance to engage in challenging conversations on this subject. I don’t have to convince anyone of my point of view, but my silence might be taken as tacit agreement.

Well, today I got my comeuppance on that point from two different sources. The first was from Michelle Alexander, author, lawyer, professor and activist. In an interview she gave recently, she said, “We’ve become a nation of stone-throwers and it’s not enough to just drop your own stone.” I may not be holding a stone in my hand, but I certainly haven’t been active in convincing anyone else to put theirs down. Over the course of the next six months, I’m going to work on that, starting with this post.

My second source of inspiration and conviction came from an open letter, published on CalledtoResist.org , which was signed by over fifty members of the clergy across denominations. (I am more than a little sad that only one Catholic priest signed the document.) The title is “Called to Resist Bigotry – A Statement of Faithful Obedience.” In it, they make clear that while voting “differences must be respected in a democratic and civil society… Christians from across the political spectrum [must] come together around political realities that threaten the fundamental integrity of Christian faith and the well-being of society itself.” They are sympathetic to people who support Trump. Clearly, “the failures of both Washington and Wall Street have created legitimate citizen anger and alienation across the political spectrum, and many of us are empathetic to the many people who feel marginalized and unheard by economic, political, and media elites that don’t serve their needs,” but that doesn’t offer us an excuse to support a candidate who “promotes racial and religious bigotry, disrespects the dignity of women, harms civil public discourse, offends moral decency, and seeks to manipulate religion.” Please read the letter for yourself and see what you think. If you agree with them, consider sharing it on Facebook, or emailing to family and friends, those who will agree with it, as well as those who won’t.

This far into the primary season, we can no longer ask, “Who can trump Trump?” It seems that no one can. But we can still ask, “What will trump Trump?” because we just might have the answer to that one and it begins with the courage to speak up.

We have to put down our own stones and look around. Who of our family members, friends and neighbors are still holding one? How can we encourage them to put their stones down as well?  How could we listen to them with compassion and how could they best hear an alternative point of view?  Ultimately, we may not change anyone’s mind, but at least we will have engaged in civil discourse, instead of simply yelling at each other, or  avoiding the subject all together.

 

 

 

It’s Holy Week in Belgium

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“Thinking of Brussels and all of Belgium,” courtesy of Flavia Pennetta on Twitter.

I woke this morning, like all of you, to the news of the terrorist attacks in Belgium. I thought, as surely all of you did, “What can I do?”

What can any of us do?

As a practicing Catholic Christian, Holy Week gives me an answer.

I attended mass on Palm Sunday, just two days ago, where I heard the gospel writer Luke report that Jesus saw the city of Jerusalem and wept, saying, “If this day you only knew what makes for peace, but now it is hidden from your eyes…” Jerusalem was a stand-in for God’s chosen people, which Jesus knew included everyone.

Surely Jesus is weeping today – for Brussels, for Belgium, for the world, the victims and the perpetrators.

We do not know how to make peace. It eludes us at every turn. We have tried more sanctions and surveillance, anger, revenge, violence, and profiling to no avail. We have won individual battles, but we are losing the war. We have to find another way forward – at least in our own hearts, because that is where all lasting change comes – from the inside out and the bottom up. And I think about how Jesus acted during the final days of his life and it gives me a clue about where to begin.

The Buddhists have a term for individuals who act as Jesus did in the world, especially as he entered Jerusalem, knowing he was going to his death. They are called SPIRITUAL WARRIORS. 

A spiritual warrior is “one who combats the universal enemy; a heroic being with a brave mind and ethical impulse.” The spiritual warrior’s “only complete and right practice is that which compassionately helps other beings with wisdom.”

I believe that is how Jesus entered Jerusalem. He went, full of compassion for the brokenness of our world, in order to teach us another, wiser, way to be.

While some Christians cling to the idea that Jesus’ death paid our debt to God, I don’t see it that way. Honoring a divine blood price and human sacrifice sounds far more like something the Islamic terrorists would embrace than the God that Jesus’ humble, loving, and merciful life revealed.

Theologian Ronald Rolheiser wrote a beautiful alternative metaphor of how Jesus’ willing, sacrificial death might have accomplished the same purpose of universal love and salvation, but through an entirely different mechanism.

Jesus took away our sins in the same way a filter purifies water. A filter takes in impure water, holds the impurities inside of itself and gives back only the pure water. It transforms rather than transmits. We see this in Jesus. Like the ultimate cleaning filter, he purifies life itself. He takes in hatred, holds it, transforms it, and gives back Love. He takes in chaos, holds it, transforms it, and gives back order. He takes in fear, holds it, transforms it and gives back freedom. He takes in jealousy, holds it, transforms it and gives back affirmation. He takes in Satan and murder, holds them, transforms them and gives back only God and forgiveness.

This is it friends! This is how we can live like Jesus, no matter what our faith, or belief system, or even if we have none at all.

 In fact, I guarantee you are already doing it! Every time you act, instead of react; every time you hold your child’s fear, your friend’s anger, your life’s chaos, and give back something better, you are the holding tank and the filter of Love.

But in these difficult times, we have to crank up our internal filtering systems and start working overtime. We have to pay attention to what’s coming in and be intentional about what we are putting back out, because that is what a spiritual warrior does and that is what we are all called to be! Of course, some of us are called to be military warriors as well, to work on the front lines of defense against terror and violence, but we are still called first and foremost to be spiritual warriors, especially if we call ourselves Christians. Only by holding and transforming hate into Love as Jesus did will we meet the evil of this world with a more powerful force than itself. Remember what Paul affirms for us: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love NEVER fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:7. If Love appears to be failing, it is because we haven’t really tried it yet.

Mark Nepo says that the spiritual warrior is “someone who is committed to a life of transformation not knowing where it will take them, or what it looks like,” but that you can be sure “they have a crack in their heart, because that’s how the mysteries get in.” Jesus wept because his heart was full of cracks; it was broken open for all of humanity and we must allow the same to happen to us if we have any hope of being a part of the peace-making process in the world. I don’t know what it will look like, but I know we must begin there.

I had plans to commemorate Holy Week in church settings: to share Jesus’ last meal, recall his final words to his family and friends, and observe his persecution and death, but my piety has evaporated in the face of tragic reality. This week instead, I’m going to learn all I can about the victims of today’s bombings, the ones who ate their last meals and spoke their final words and walked to their deaths, not willingly, but betrayed, as Jesus was, by the worst of blind, ignorant, and fearful humanity. My faith demands that I hold them, as I would hold Jesus this week, in Love. I don’t know what difference it will make, but it is what the cracks in my heart ask me to do.

I know I quote Richard Rohr way too often, but he is so good and as always, he gave me a path forward just this week. In his daily meditation on Saturday, he wrote, “True spirituality is about keeping your heart space open. It is daily, constant work. The temptation is to close down: to judge and dismiss and hate and fear.” But if we are training to be spiritual warriors, we have to resist that temptation, because giving into it means deserting the work of God in the world, which is Love, mercy, reconciliation and healing. Richard goes on: “You have to work to live in Love, to have a generosity of spirit, a readiness to smile, a willingness to serve… Love is a choice. You have to deliberately, consciously, intentionally choose to stay connected through your practice to the Source of Love, which is the heart of God.”

Practice, warriors, practice! This week especially! Every time you remember, every moment you have to spare, let the cracks in your heart be a filter for Love. Breathe in the pain of the world and breathe out healing and wholeness. Breathe in the hate and breathe out forgiveness. Breathe in the judgment and breathe out compassion and mercy. Breathe in the toxicity, pain, and fear of humanity and breathe out Divine Love. And although I know we cannot bring new life to Belgium at the end of this Holy Week, we will be bringing new life to the world from the inside out.

In the words of one of my heroes, Carry On Warriors!

P.S. The list of the victims is very sketchy still, so I can not name any as of yet, but when I am able to find more information, I will try to update the blog, so perhaps you can hold them in your hearts with me during this Holy Week.