Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Did you get Lummis' letter?

Governor Ed Herschler used a darkly humorous anecdote to call attention to political hypocrisy. His was the story of the young man who murdered both parents and then begged the court for mercy on the grounds that he was a lonely orphan.

That story came to mind when Lummis’ self-serving, taxpayer funded website reported, Lummis Votes to Fund Troops, Prevent Government Shutdown.” Are you as incredulous as me? Some of her GOP colleagues called her Tea Party strategy of shutting down the government “lunacy.”  Being a lunatic is one thing. Being dishonest is another.

Lummis was one of 70 House zealots demanding the Speaker of the House blackmail President Obama with the threat to close down the government unless Obamacare was repealed, defunded or delayed. She and her Tea Party allies got what they wanted. You’d think they’d take credit, or at least accept responsibility.

But no. Her constituent letter, answering those who are angry, predictably blames Harry Reid and President Obama. “We are at this juncture,” says Lummis, “because President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have refused to agree to fundamental fairness in the implementation of Obamacare.” 

That’s blatantly dishonest. The “fundamental fairness” of the law was settled when Congress passed the law, the Supreme Court found it Constitutional, and the American people soundly reelected Barack Obama at the end of a campaign where her party made repeal of the law the theme of their campaign to defeat him.

Lummis’ distortion attempts to convey the idea that she is Diogenes, looking for an honest debate when what she actually wants is to repeal the law and deny millions of Americans affordable health insurance and consumer protections.

She blames “the Administration,” saying Obama “has closed off national parks and other federal lands to visitors, furloughed employees, and curtailed numerous other federal activities and programs on which people and businesses in Wyoming rely.” Please.

It’s an insult to our intelligence when she proffers a strategy she knows will result in a government shutdown and then raises the “orphan’s” defense. She’d like us to believe she was shocked when her vote to shutdown the government actually shutdown the government.

As one of her Republican colleagues, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) said, she and others who insisted on this strategy are not really conservatives. They are nothing more than obstructionists who are more interested in proving their talking points than they are in governing. That’s why three-quarters of all voters and a majority of Republicans blame them for this fiasco. It’s understandable that Lummis is blaming others for the unfortunate success of her scheme.

Her letter then shifts to the debt limit. “Republicans in the House are choosing not to hand over the already maxed out federal credit card yet again without some semblance of accountability on the part of the President and Democrat-controlled Senate,” Lummis mythologizes.

House Republicans ran up this deficit. They approved every penny. Then they threatened not to pay the bills under a schizo-scheme to repeal Obamacare. Lummis voted for a government default knowing the result would be disastrous and not caring. Hurricane Sandy cost taxpayers 50 million dollars. Hurricane Tea Party cost us 24 billion. And she calls herself a “fiscal conservative”?

Lummis doesn’t tell the truth. The “orphan” in Herschler’s story knew the truth would get him a guilty verdict. Lummis realizes that the truth just doesn’t sound right. But she knows her constituents. If the orphan had blamed Obama, a Wyoming jury might well have voted to acquit.

Truth-telling wouldn’t threaten her politically. That alone should offer an opportunity to be honest about her role in this disaster. But, no.

Before Lummis was Barbara Cubin, a Republican who served five terms despite one of the worst attendance records in congressional history. During her last term, she had the worst attendance record in the House. Of the four worst voting records Cubin was number one. The other three died in office.

We didn’t know how good we had it back then.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The music and the politics of the 60s

I never had a job I didn’t love. From the time I washed dishes at Little Bear Inn to my ministry at Highlands Church, I’ve enjoyed work nearly every day of the half-a-century that’s come and gone between those two jobs.

My career was jerry-rigged with a variety of jobs, each uniquely interesting and fulfilling. Recently I happened on a rather idiosyncratic book that reminded me that over so many years working at so many jobs, the most remarkable was not my time as a politician or a lawyer but rather those years I worked as a disc jockey. Mark Kurlansky has written “Ready for a Brand New beat: How ‘Dancing in the Street’ Became the Anthem for a Changing America.”

Kurlansky locates Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street” at the apex of the torrent of change of the 1960s, the years I spun records for a living.

I was a 16-year-old when Charlie Stone hired me to work after school and weekends at KCHY, a rock station with a large window allowing people walking along 18th Street between Carey and Pioneer to look into the control room. It was a pretty heady place for a high school senior to be seen.

The music of the 60s was as much a part of history as the news stories we read. The war in Viet Nam inspired protest music and protest music inspired political opposition to the war. Kurlansky’s book reminded me of that 1965 Christmas morning. Charlie signed on. As the new guy I had the “rest-of-the-day” shift, arriving at 8 o’clock that morning as Charlie read the hourly news. Back then the military announced weekly Viet Nam war body counts, regularly reporting hundreds of deaths of American soldiers and thousands of enemy deaths. They wanted to prove we were killing more of them than they were of us.

I listened to Charlie read the news, gathering a stack of records to play, when Charlie began to sob on the air. A Christmas day body count was too much for him. The memory moves me all these years later. Charlie wasn’t the only one who cried that morning.

Kurlansky reminded me of teletype-bells ringing.  We’d run to the teletype for the news stories that made history. Between new Beatle’s, Rolling Stones, and Beach Boys records we read news about Martin Luther King’s civil rights marches and the American-Soviet space race. Barry McGuire saw it all as the “Eve of Destruction.” "You may leave here for four days in space, but when you return it's the same old place."

Bobby Seals and Huey Newton founded the Black Panthers. The Watts and Detroit riots broke out. Bob Dylan sang, “Once upon a time you dressed so finethrew the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you?” The higher the draft quotas, the more requests we got for Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant Masacree.”

Assassinations were relentless. “Anybody here seen my old friend Bobby?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
I thought I saw him walkin' up over the hill with Abraham, Martin and John.” LBJ didn’t run again and refused to help Hubert Humphrey defeat Richard Nixon. Policemen rioted at the Chicago Democratic National Convention. America put a man on the moon. “Tricky-Dick” was elected promising he had a secret plan to end the war.

When people found that out that he didn’t, thousands protested. National Guardsmen killed four of them at Kent State. “Tin soldiers and Nixon's coming, we're finally on our own. This summer I hear the drumming, four dead in Ohio.” Those who still respected the college dean loved Merle Haggard. Spiro Agnew said those who didn’t were “an effete core of impudent snobs.”

A famous DJ said those were the days “when music and society and race and technology all exploded like a bomb.” History wrote music. Music transformed history. TIME said God was dead. The Beatles, John Lennon said, were more popular than Jesus. Somehow it all inspired me to become a preacher.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Today's sermon at Highlands

“Give us this day our daily bread”
Highlands Presbyterian Church
October 20, 2013

We say it each and every Sunday, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This is World Bread Sunday…an opportunity for us to ask, “Just who is the “us” in “Give us this day our daily bread.”

That day along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, it all depended on whose eyes you were looking through. Through the eyes of the apostles, they were just too many hungry people who should be sent away to fend for themselves. As it grew late, the disciples came to Jesus and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.”

But through the eyes of Jesus, they were like sheep without a shepherd, they were those for whom Jesus had compassion, those for whom he had a responsibility not only to teach but also to feed.

When the disciples saw “us” as simply too many mouths to feed and urged Jesus to send them away, Jesus instructed them “You give them something to eat.” But the disciples were worried about the cost. They said to him, “What…are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?”

So it was that for the first time that…giving US this day our daily bread became a problem for those who followed Jesus. It is the conflict that persists to this very day…a conflict between Jesus who says simply, “You feed the hungry” and those who say, “Send them away.”

So it is. Two solutions to choose from…then as now. There’s the Jesus solution. “You feed them.” And the disciples’ solution, “Send them away.”

As you may know there is a great debate in Congress these days over this same question. Who will feed the hungry. The “disciples’ solution has many advocates. One is a Tennessee congressman named Steven Fincher. Congressman Fincher is a farmer from a place called Frog Jump, Tennessee. He knows his Bible and when he supported cutting billions of dollars from the food stamp program, he quoted one of Paul’s letters. “He who does not work, neither shall he eat.”

Some enterprising young reporter then learned that Congressman Fincher receives millions of dollars himself from the federal government, in fact he received three and a half million dollars in farm subsides while complaining about food stamps for the poor. So while he believes that “He who does not work, neither shall he eat” he does not believe that he who does not grow crops should not be paid for doing so.

He’s a disciple of the “send them away” solution…as are a majority of the members of the US House of Representatives. They voted to cut the program by 40 billion dollars which would send away nearly 4 million of the US as in “give us this day our daily bread.

Not that “foods stamps” provide much daily bread to begin with. On average one of the US receives $133 per month. I don’t know where you buy groceries but I can’t get by for more than a few days on that amount. That’s not even as much as was on the table when Jesus asked the disciples, “How many loaves do you have?” and they said, “Five loaves, and oh yeah, two fish.”

At that rate, someone is going to go away hungry. And in the richest country in the world, that is exactly what happens. There’s a term bureaucrats use to describe the situation you have when there are but five loaves and two fish to feed 5,000 people. They call it “food insecurity.” It means that you don’t know that you’ll have enough food to feed yourself and your children.

49.0 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 33.1 million adults and 15.9 million children. Households with children reported food insecurity at a significantly higher rate than those without children, especially households with children headed by single women, 35percent of which are food insecure. Five million seniors (over age 60) live food insecure lives. People with disabilities are even more likely to experience food insecurity.

And my friends…that is in America, the richest nation on earth, the one many like to call a “Christian nation.” And in those other countries? Well let’s just say that last night while you and I were asleep, 30,000 people around the world died of hunger. More than half of them were children.

Send them away.

It’s the disciples’ solution adhered to by many Americans and those elected to represent them in the Congress. Send them away. It costs too much to feed them, there are too many of them. We have wars to fight and farmers to subsidize, we have corporations that need tax breaks and budget to cut. We can’t feed all of those folks and besides they ought to get a job and feed themselves…even if they are kids, elderly or disabled.

By the way, those who the politicians call “able-bodied, who receive food stamps…the ones Congressman Fincher mistakenly believes the Apostle Paul was talking about when he wrote, “He who does not work, neither shall he eat”…they do work. Many of them work more than one job at such low wages that they can’t afford to feed their family. They are paid so poorly for a day’s work that they can barely buy five loaves and two fishes.

Perhaps the congressman and his colleagues could spend more time working on the wage problem and less time sending away those who work yet are still hungry.
Send them away! I might ask, “Send WHO away?”

But that darned Jesus. There you go again Jesus. Just when we had the votes to send them away, He tells the disciples, “No, don’t send them away. YOU feed them.” But the disciples say, “We just don’t have enough money. All we have are these measly five loaves and two fish.”

Jesus says, “I can work miracles with that…if you want to help.”
And he said to them, have all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.

Listen to the verbs.

Jesus takes, looks, blesses, breaks, divides and gives

He takes the five loaves and the two fish, he looks up to heaven, he blesses and breaks the loaves and divides the fishes, and gives them to his disciples to set before the people

It’s the Jesus solution that teaches us that there is always enough to meet the need but never enough to fulfill the greed

We can send them away as the disciples would have us do…or we can take what we have, look to heaven to guide us in our responsibility to the hungry, bless and give thanks for all we have been given, break it all into shares, and divide it between ourselves and those who are hungry, and give US our daily bread.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

The limits of understanding

Saint Francis prayed, “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be understood, as to understand.” We love those words but seldom find the strength to live by them. We darned well want to be understood.

If only our adversaries could understand our views. Liberals and conservatives alike seek not so much to understand as to be understood. The inevitable result is that power and its abuse inevitably substitutes for understanding.

Admittedly I’m not good at understanding some folks. The thought processes of conservatives and Tea Partiers escape me. Judging by my email, mine escape them. Some believe this divide is genetic.

I think it’s more nurture than nature. My Dad was a proud member of the Teamsters Union. Mom was a waitress. Growing up in a blue-collar home, I learned to value labor unions and social justice at an early age. My parents told me stories of Franklin Roosevelt, how he saved the country from the dust bowl and the great depression. Democrats, they taught, cared for the “common man” while Republicans took care of big business.

Growing up with diverse friends, I never understood racism, homophobia, or sexism; discrimination just seemed wrong. To this day that’s what I believe and who I am. Those are my long-held beliefs.

What do we do with our long-held beliefs so we “may not so much seek to be understood, as to understand.” Perhaps that’s the key to avoiding the sort of political crises that are a now integral to American politics.

NY Times writer Thomas Edsall gave me pause for these thoughts. In an editorial titled “Anger Can Be Power” he wrote, “The depth and strength of voters’ conviction that their opponents are determined to destroy their way of life has rarely been matched, perhaps only by the mood of the South in the years leading up to the Civil War.”

Edsall cites a Bloomberg column offering a way of understanding conservatives. “Their party,” he writes, “is losing to a Democratic Party of big government whose goal is to expand programs that mainly benefit minorities. A lot of Americans were not ready for a mixed-race president. They weren’t ready for gay marriage. They weren’t ready for the wave of legal and illegal immigration that redefined American demographics over the past two or three decades, bringing in lots of nonwhites.”

On the other side, we liberals won’t accept a country that isn’t ready for a non-white, even female president, or a country that doesn’t expand opportunities for minorities, or that doesn't allow people who love one another to marry. We aren’t ready for a country that won’t relinquish white-privilege or deports 12 million human beings who see America as the last best hope for their lives. We welcome what we know is coming, i.e. a nation where our neighbors of color outnumber our white neighbors.

We’ve embraced the science that warns us of the threats of climate change and supports a conclusion that people are who they are because that’s how God created them. We’ve embraced cultural and religious diversity.

But c’mon! How can anyone communicate with those who cheer when Ben Carson (a conservative  celebrity crass enough to publicly insult the President to his face) says, “Obamacare is the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.” Really? Worse than a Civil War, two world wars, the Great Depression, 9/11?

Or the Cheyenne Tea Party rally speaker who said “If we don’t turn America around in the next two years, you better be right with God.” It’s the old “God’s on our side, not yours” conversation-ender.

Or Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch, who screamed at a weekend rally, "I call upon all of you…to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up.”
Where does one begin to understand, much less reach common ground with, people who say or cheer such babble?