Saturday, June 29, 2013

Republican on Republican "violence"

NFL Hall of Famer Dan Marino doesn’t have a Super Bowl Ring…but Russian president Vladimir Putin does. Strange? Not nearly so strange as Wyoming politics has become.

Wyoming politics is fairly mundane compared to states like Illinois where the statehouse is oftentimes a stepping-stone to the state prison. Unlike some states our politicians have quietly stayed out of jail and out of national news. A few, like Ed Herschler, left great stories in their wake. Others have only been sort of interesting on occasion. Wyoming politics has been fairly humdrum for over 120 years.

That’s about to change. While the historic record hints at an impeachment in the late 19th century, Wyoming is about to experience its first serious effort to drive a politician out of office and maybe to the pokey.

Since she was elected in 2010, Cindy Hill has done everything but send out engraved invitations for her impeachment. From the day she walked into the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, Hill has been a poster child for the fundamental problem Tea Party candidates here and elsewhere have in common. They can get elected but they have no idea how to govern. (Ref: the Laramie County Commissioners)

For Democrats, this is an “I told you so” moment. For Republicans this is an internecine mud-wrestling match. For voters, this is exactly what you knew you’d get when you voted that straight ticket.

In one corner, weighing as much as the elephant in the room, is the old-hat
Republican Party. They’re called RINOs, Republicans in Name Only, by conservatives who think them simply too liberal. In the other corner, weighing perhaps more than the elephant in the room, are the Tea Party, the CROWS (Conservative Republicans of Wyoming), the Liberty Group, and the Constitution Party.

The RINOs have set their sights on Ms. Hill. The others have gone RINO hunting. Now the house will vote to impeach, the senate will vote to convict and RINO hunters will head into the 2014 elections loaded for elephant.

You can count on it according to Christopher G. Adamo, a writer with genuine conservative credentials. Writing for, Adamo linked “the Wyoming ‘Republican’ political machine” with what he called “the abhorrent abuses that characterize the administration of Barack Obama.” It’s certain the GOP establishment doesn’t considers that a compliment. Adamo blamed “Liberal statists masquerading as “Republicans” for “the scandalous manipulations that have been undertaken for the expressed purpose of negating the official capacity of Cindy Hill as Wyoming’s duly elected Superintendent of Public Instruction.”

Adamo predicted how it’ll all unfold. “No doubt, something unsavory will be asserted by Mead’s inquisition, to then be sufficiently blown out of proportion so as to constitute vindication for all of the underhanded excesses committed by his office and his cronies in the state legislature.” A report termed by the Billings Gazette a “bombshell autopsy of Cindy Hill-run Wyoming Education Department” is that “something unsavory.”

Jennifer Young of the Wyoming Constitution Party thinks it’s enough that the electorate voted for Hill to be superintendent of schools. Young says the decision of the state legislature to strip Hill of her duties violates Wyoming's State Constitution. If Young and Adamo were unhappy about the “Hill bill,” wait till the get a load of what is about to happen. Impeachment. Conviction. Removal. Perhaps all of that followed by criminal and/or civil claims.

The state constitution provides for all of that if a state official is found guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, or malfeasance in office, allowing further “prosecution, trial, judgment and punishment according to law” even if Hill is removed.
We have a plot for a Greek tragedy. Republicans elected Hill, Republicans stripped her of her duties, Republicans will impeach her, remove her from office and, if she is prosecuted, it will be by her fellow Republicans. Putin may not have earned his Super Bowl ring but Hill, it appears, earned all of this.

All of that begs the question. Who convicts the voters of malfeasance?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Defining "Radical Christianity"

A letter to the editor recently asked me to explain what I mean by the term “radical Christian.” Curiously no one asks Michelle Bachman, Glenn Beck or Rush what they mean by using “radical” to refer to Muslims.

Please know I am not talking of all my fundamentalist brothers and sisters when I use the term. Defining “radical” is helpful. “Radicals” favors extreme changes in existing views or institutions. It’s associated with extreme political or religious views. Fundamentalism isn’t the same though it often leads to radicalism.

Muslim detractors found they couldn’t get traction simply calling them “Muslim fundamentalists.” That sounded too much like Christian fundamentalists. Fundamentalists of any faith are those whose beliefs center on a narrow understanding of the Divinity and the inerrancy of their own scripture.

You can disagree with fundamentalists and still respect the source of their beliefs. But radical religionists are different. Their fundamentalist views don’t stop at the church or Mosque door. It isn’t enough for them to believe. They’re driven to make sure that others either believe it or at the least, live under its thumb.

“Radical Islam” is commonly associates Muslims with political activism, extremism, and religious fanaticism, not far different than what can be denoted by the use of a word like “radical Christian.”

“Radical Christians” denotes those whose beliefs in scriptural literalism and the inerrancy of the Bible lead them beyond a personal religious commitment into the world of politics and fanaticism. Radical Christians seek to exchange democracy with a hybrid form of theocracy. They worship a narrow interpretation of scripture, not a broader understanding of God.

Some say radical Islamists seek a "revolution.” They’re called “radical” because they believe society should be “Islamized” through political action. Are they unlike those who believe society should be Christianized through political action?

Radical Christians are those who populate organizations such as WyWatch Family Values, the American Family Association, the Family Research Council and other Christian based organizations. They form political action committees and hire lobbyists who work to make sure their fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible becomes the law under which we all live.

That’s radical whether it’s the agenda of Muslims or Christians. In a pluralistic society an effort to dominate and control the institutions of government for your own narrow religious purposes is radical.

Radical Christians believe, for example, that life begins at conception. It’s a belief rooted in their understanding of the Bible. They quote verses providing slim reeds for support such as Psalms 139:13. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.” Although other Christians, as well as people of other faiths, disagree these fundamentalists become “radicalized” in their churches and head for the Capitol Building. They work to make certain that civil law imposes their religious beliefs on everyone. They are radical Christians.

Radical Christians believe marriage is confined to a man and a woman. They claim the institution of marriage is endangered if devoted same-sex couples are allowed to marry. Their beliefs are almost entirely religious, scripture-based. They choose to interpret their scripture to support their views.

Others, Christians and non-Christian, see it differently. Their opinions are based on scripture and the Constitutional guarantee of equal protection under law. Civil law defines marriage and bestows benefits on married people, but some Christian fundamentalists insist legislators and judges impose their religious beliefs on all of us. They are radical Christians.

These radical Christians seek to stop the building of Mosques though the law permits freedom of religion, having no regard for the freedom of religion, using the political system to impose their extreme beliefs on everyone.

Now comes word that a recent poll shows 34% of Americans would favor establishing Christianity as the official state religion. A third of American are radical Christians!

The term “radical Christians” refers not to fundamentalists, but to those who would impose their beliefs on everyone else, using the political to do so. That is what I call radical Christianity.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sunday sermon at Highlands

“Debtors and Creditors”
Highlands Presbyterian Church
June 16, 2013 
Did you know that the average credit card debt per American household is$15,956? Back in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the average American consumer had less than $2,000 in total personal debt…today Americans have 609.8 million credit cards in their wallets and purses.

Total U.S. consumer debt exceeds $2.5 trillion; we have $850 billion in student loan debt alone, surpassing the amount owed in credit card debt. The national public or government debt is more than 16 trillion dollars; each citizen's share of this debt is almost $50,000.

The US is heavily in debt to 30 different countries, oil exporters, and banks. We owe billions to Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Mexican, Canadian and other investors around the world who buy treasury notes to help us pay our bills and those and other countries owe us more than 50 billion dollars…and then most of the world’s nations owe us millions upon millions.

Everyone owes everyone else. Life is made up of debts and debtors. There is no one we know to whom we are either indebted or from whom we are owed …sometimes it’s money but most often it is something far more valuable

The currency of our lives arises from our relationships…I am indebted as are many of you to grandparents who struggled through the Great depression and the Dust Bowl to make a life for themselves as they sacrificed for their children…leaving them with values they taught me and that I hope to pass along to my children…and while they were doing that they made other choices that I know caused them to feel indebted to their children

We are indebted to spouses who provide us with the emotional and spiritual support we needed as we built lives, homes, careers, and raised children…and they are indebted to us for much the same.

We have friends to whom we are indebted…and friends who feel indebted to us for the times when we returned the favors, lending them our time and love as they loaned the same to us.
Good relationships based on mutual love, respect, caring create debtor/creditor relationships…when relationships are mature and mutual, the give and take of life has a way of balancing the spreadsheets at the end of the day…sometimes you need what others have and sometimes they need what you have.

Creditors and debtors…givers and takers. But it all breaks down when the books don’t balance…when one person in a relationship becomes primarily the creditor and the other becomes primarily the debtor. It happens in marriages, families, friendships, in business, politics…at times in our lives we are givers and at other times we are takers…but when we spend too much time doing one and not the other…too much time giving and little time receiving…or too much time receiving and too little time giving…the world God created with such careful balance spins out of control.

King David provides this morning’s scriptural example. It was the springtime, the time when the winter weather waned…time when armies have always gone to battle…David sent his officers and soldiers to fight while he remained in Jerusalem…taking, not giving…one afternoon while David was lounging on his rooftop, he looked below and saw a beautiful woman taking in the sun
David learned she was the wife of Uriah. As King, David had the power to send…he sent Uriah into battle and sent for his wife to come to him. Although he had the power to give, David only took…taking Bathsheba to his bed.
She was pregnant and the taker was not ready to accept responsibility. He sent for Uriah. David pretended to care about how the battle was going and then pretended to care about Uriah and his wife’s marriage. David told the young soldier to go home, to spend time with his wife…knowing that there had been a long absence and the two would likely make love…giving David cover for his misdeeds.
But Uriah was a giver, not a taker…he refused to spend a night with his wife when his fellow soldiers were bedding down on a battlefield. How can I, he asked the King, how can I lie with my wife while my friends suffer…As you live,” said Uriah, “and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.”
But David’s soul did not live…David plotted how to have Uriah killed so that the taker would never have to be a giver…the debt he had incurred by assaulting Uriah’s wife would be settled, paid for by Uriah’s life.
The king ordered that Bathsheba’s husband return to the battle and that he be placed in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.”

Though Uriah was now dead, David’s debt had not been settled. The Lord became the creditor. Nathan became the debt collector. With Uriah dead and the mourning over, David continued to take, taking Uriah’s widow to his house, to be one more of his many wives, and she bore him a son. But David’s new creditor was very displeased. The Lord sent Nathan to talk to David.

Nathan began with a story. “There were two men in a certain city, the one was rich and the other poor. The rich man had many flocks and herds; but the poor man had only one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. It grew up with him and with his children; and it was like a daughter to him.
“One day the rich man was entertaining an important visitor. He didn’t want to slaughter one of his own lambs for the feats and so instead he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared it for his guest.” The story angered David…he recognized a taker when he saw one and David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man who had taken the little lamb.
“As the Lord lives,” David screamed, “that man deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
Nathan looked into David’s angry eyes and said to David, “You are the man! Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight?” David’s anger toward the man in Nathan’s story turned to guilt.
David confessed his sin and Nathan assured him…the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die. But your debt will be paid by the life of your son…because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.”
The books were balanced in an awful way…David who had taken what most mattered to Uriah had been required to give up that which most mattered to him.
It’s the lesson Jesus came to teach those who follow him. In Mark 11, Jesus said, “Whenever you pray, first forgive. If you have anything against anyone forgive them; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” It’s the Lords’ Prayer…forgive us our debts as we forgive those who are indebted to us.”
Once upon a time a Pharisee asked Jesus to dinner, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman who was known to be a sinner learned Jesus was eating in the Pharisee’s house. She brought a jar of ointment and stood at his feet, weeping, bathing his feet with her tears, drying them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.
It was all too much for the Pharisee. He muttered to himself, “If this man were a prophet as he claims, he would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.”
Jesus spoke up and set us all straight on this creditor/debtor thing…with a story, “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred thousand dollars, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?”
The Pharisee said what we might well have said…certainly what any responsible banker would say. “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.”
And Jesus said to him, “Bingo…now you get it.” Actually Jesus said, “You have judged rightly.”
Ironic aren’t those words? “You have judged rightly.” The Pharisee had judged this woman to be a greater sinner than he, a person more indebted than others…and when asked by Jesus “which of them will love the one who forgives debts the more…came to understand it was the one the Pharisee thought to be the worst.
You see debt can do funny things to us, our lives, our relationships…debt can be either an opportunity to love or an opportunity to dominate. It is no accident that Jesus spoke about the creditor/debtor relationship in his prayer.
Forgive us Lord our debts as we forgive our debtors… David settled his debt to God by giving the life of his son…God settled our debts by giving the life of his son…
…God knows who it is in you life who owes you the most…who is most indebted to you…who has defaulted on that debt…God knows how badly you want that debt paid off…but asks you only one thing…to forgive that debt as God has forgiven your debts, to stop and think about that debt as you come to God in prayer…is that debt more important to you than your relationship with God. In other words…in your giving have you now become a takers? Salvation is that simple…that ironic…and that available. AMEN

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Today is World Elder Abuse Day

In a busy, self-centered, obsessive culture, much is hidden in plain sight. It’s not just those things in the shadows or the closets. It’s those in front of us, those for which we have eyes to see but not a will to acknowledge.

Oftentimes it’s those people in the shadows or the closets of their own lives whose challenges we recognize the least when they are standing right in front of us…hidden in plain sight.

Perhaps it is the nature of vulnerable people to be unable to speak directly and ask for help, to confront us about ignoring the obvious. It may be that vulnerable people grow accustomed to being overlooked. If so, don’t we have a responsibility? Perhaps they and we conspire unknowingly to tolerate the obliviousness.

That’s why June 15th is an important day. World Elder Abuse Day is set aside to raise not only awareness but also consciousness about one of those problems hidden in plain sight here and everywhere. In front of our individual and collective eyes elderly people are abused, exploited, neglected and discounted.

The Wyoming Department of Family Services estimates seven out of every ten elderly persons you meet are victimized in one of many possible ways. Last year 542 cases of elder-abuse were reported in Wyoming alone. Startling? What is startling is that for every case reported, experts believe 23 others go unreported, hidden in plain sight from those who could do something to protect the victims.  

June 15th is set aside to proclaim that the elderly deserve better. The cycle of life is such that humans are most assailable at the front and at the backside of our lives. If the special susceptibility of young children and aging adults attracts those who would abuse, it is likewise a time of life that the community must take responsibility to protect those rendered vulnerable simply by the stage of life in which victims live.

Wyoming has been in the forefront nationally, preparing to deal with this issue. Wyoming has established 25 community-based adult protection teams with a focus on prevention.  Across the state, the senior centers, law enforcement, home health agencies, long term care facilities, district and county attorneys, independent living programs, victim services coordinators, mental health and developmental disabilities service providers, public health nurses, the faith community and others work together as a team.

Over the years, in my work with child and adult protection, suicide prevention, underage drinking, addiction recovery, and similar social issues, I found it difficult if not impossible to prevent or reduce those problems the community tolerates. The programs listed above devote their full measure to preventing elder-abuse and protecting vulnerable people. But if the community turns a blind eye to the suffering, nothing will change. Maybe, that’s why not much has changed despite the yeoman efforts of state and local government and local programs.

That is what awareness is all about. Awareness is compelling. Learn the signs of elder abuse and exploitation just as many have learned to recognize the signs of child abuse and exploitation. Visible, obvious injuries can’t be ignored nor should you always accept the elderly victim’s quick explanation. A blackened eye or broken arm may have been the result of an accident but it should not go unquestioned.

Be aware of signs of neglect such as insufficient food supplies or less than adequate personal care and cleanliness. Is an elderly neighbor’s adult child isolating an aging parent or taking financial-advantage? DFS believes financial exploitation of the elderly is “epidemic.” It costs the taxpayers as those who had the ability to financially care for themselves are left to rely on public assistance.

Once you are aware, then report your suspicions to law enforcement or DFS.

On June 15th, take a moment to contemplate what has been hidden in plain sight from your own view. If we live long enough, each of us will find ourselves there. Let’s create the community we’d like to have when we reach the age of vulnerability.