Saturday, November 26, 2016

Parable of the Undocumented Samaritan

According to the Sagebrush Gospel, Donald Trump sendeth a disciple unto Jesus. Trump himself tried talking to two Corinthians but didn’t appreciate what they had to say. “I’m smarter than all the Corinthians,” he cried.

Trump’s disciple sayeth, “The boss is doesn’t worry about eternal life, but he’d like some advice on how to get through the next four years.”

Jesus said, “You do realize I’m a Jew? I wasn’t impressed when he put an anti-Semitic white nationalist down the hall from the Oval Office.” The visitor was dismissive, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”  

Jesus said Trump should do what is written in the law. The man explained the President-elect had little regard for the law. “Mr. Trump has thrown out all the old rules.” Jesus explained there are some rules that even a billionaire narcissist can’t throw away.

“Here’s the bottom line. Tell Mr. Trump he needs to love his neighbor as much as he loves himself.” With visions of John the Baptist’s head on a platter when delivering a similar message to Herod, the man, attempting to justify himself, inquired, “Jesus, who is Mr. Trump’s neighbor?” Jesus answered with a story.

“A disabled lesbian wearing a scarf looking like a hajib was going down from Muddy Gap to Rawlins and fell into the hands of bigots wearing “Make America Great Again” caps, who beat her and went away, leaving her half dead.
“Now a newly elected legislator was going down that road, headed to Cheyenne. When he saw the wounded woman, he passed on the other side saying, ‘I have no time to help. I must hurry to Cheyenne to protect the sanctity of life and marriage, and oppose liberal plots like Medicaid expansion and anti-discrimination legislation.”
Likewise, a politician who had endorsed, unendorsed and then re-endorsed Trump came and saw her, passing by quickly on the other side of the road, hollering over his shoulder, ‘I’d help but I don’t believe in creating a culture of dependency.’ Then he scurried away mumbling something about drug testing and extreme vetting of people like her and how she should have armed herself with a concealed weapon if she didn’t want to end up like that.
“But an undocumented Samaritan who was traveling to a job no one else in Wyoming would take but people like him, came near the woman and was moved with pity. He went to her and bandaged her wounds.
“Then he gently sat her in his old pickup and brought her to an inn near Bairoil, though aware doing so increased the risk of being arrested and deported by the Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). He gave the innkeeper all the money in his pocket saying, “’Take good care of her, and whatever more it costs, I will pay you when I come this way again.’
“As he departed, the innkeeper knew what was expected of him in the age of Trump. He promptly called to report the Good Samaritan to ICE.”
Jesus then turned to the Trump disciple who had come to him and asked, “Which of these do you think was a neighbor to the woman who fell into the hands of the bigots?” The man said, “The one who rode for the brand, of course.”
“And who was that,” asked Jesus. “Obviously, it was the innkeeper,” he said proudly. Jesus hung his head and whispered to no one in particular, “The next four years will be an eternity.”
Then Jesus then said to the man, “No, it wasn’t the one who returned kindness with cruelty. Let him who has ears hear. The woman’s neighbor was the one who showed mercy to the disabled lesbian wearing the hajib. It was the undocumented Samaritan who risked his own life by helping the woman and is now sitting in a for-profit detention center in Georgia waiting to be deported.”
The man departed with a fallen countenance. There was no way Mr. Trump had ears to hear that parable.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Why I'm a Wyoming Liberal

I’m a Democrat because of my parents. I’m a liberal because of the Gospel.

My parents grew up poor. Neither graduated from junior high school. Both left school to help their families get by. Mom began a lifetime of waitressing by the time she was fourteen. Dad’s parents were migrant farm workers. He dropped out in the fifth grade to work the fields between Texas and Colorado alongside his parents and five siblings.

Mom waited tables at the Plains Hotel when John Kennedy came. She sat a plate of fried chicken in front of the man who would become President. “Who are you voting for? Nixon or me?” he asked. Mom smiled slyly and said, “It depends on who leaves the biggest tip.” He left her a twenty-dollar bill.

For my mother, it wasn’t about that tip. She had a simple explanation for her political philosophy. She always taught us kids, “Republicans are for the big guys. Democrats are for the little guys.”  It was that simple. Over the years, I have seen evidence that what she taught was true.

I was elected to the legislature at 22 years of age. Though a Democrat, in those days I wasn’t much of a liberal. I supported the death penalty and opposed a woman’s right to chose. I did what was expected of Wyoming politicians and opposed gun laws. I advocated for state’s rights on too many issues too often before recognizing “states’ rights” is cover for those wanting to violate someone’s civil liberties. I didn’t march against the war in Vietnam until Nixon refused to halt the bombing of North Vietnam on Christmas Day 1972.

Following a decade in the state legislature and an unsuccessful 1982 campaign for the United States Senate, I practiced law. I developed a keen interest in justice. A district court judge once called me the “patron saint of lost causes.” Lost causes too often equal justice denied. Thus after twenty-plus years practicing law, I entered the seminary and spent three years wrestling with what I really believe and why. That’s when I became a liberal.

I was enthralled by Jesus’s first sermon. “The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

While in seminary, I interviewed with a Colorado church searching for an interim minister. A board member asked whether I was a liberal or a conservative. The question was a set up. I answered, “Well, when I talk about Jesus, people think I’m a conservative but when I talk like Jesus, they think I’m a liberal.”

I didn’t get the job. But I was beginning to “get” Jesus.

You’ll recall his ministry almost ended the day he preached that first sermon. His listeners tried to snatch him and throw him off a cliff. I wanted to know more. How were his words so threatening to those in power that they nearly got him killed that day and how did they, in fact, get him crucified three years later?

It is tricky and even misleading to attribute today’s political and religious labels to Jesus. But when contemporary social justice advocates speak about feeding the hungry, ending homelessness, freeing prisoners from unjust criminal laws, compensating the wrongfully convicted, ending war, not using scripture to judge those who are different, providing health care as a right, questioning the American empire, and welcoming refugees, they are deemed liberals though they sound like Jesus.

Throughout the Gospels we learn about people living on the margins of life finding worth through Jesus’s teachings. It’s not about political agendas, platforms, or causes. It’s about a radically spiritual view of the world that remains subversive, countercultural, and yes, liberal.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Troubled water@Standing Rock

“Wade in the water, wade in the water children, wade in the water,
God’s gonna trouble the water.”

We sang that hymn earlier this month when Holly Garrard of Cheyenne and I joined 525 clergy marching to a bridge over the Missouri River in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux, protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The pipeline’s construction threatens tribal sovereignty, endanger water supplies, and infringes on sacred burial grounds. To make matters worse, this pipeline would increase the pace of climate change by adding annual carbon emissions equal to 30 coal-powered plants.

While at Standing Rock, Holly and I heard words of anger and words of love, words of pain and words of reconciliation. Then there was “Wade in the water,” an old Negro spiritual based on a 1611 King James translation of the Gospel of John. “An angel went down at a certain season into the pool and troubled the water; whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole.”

The lyrics recall another exploited people, the ancient Hebrews. Moses led them out of Egypt. Pharaoh’s soldiers gave chase. Just as it seemed they’d be destroyed, God “troubled the water,” parting the Red Sea. The Hebrews found safety on the other side. God then released the waters to drown the Egyptian army. The children of Egypt were saved as the Standing Rock Sioux may be, by troubled waters.

Instead of Pharaoh’s chariots, on the day we were there, the other side of the river was lined with heavily-armed military troops and officers of the Wyoming Highway Patrol including a contingent dispatched by Governor Matt Mead to protect the interests of big oil.

Originally the pipeline was planned to cross the Missouri River upstream from Bismarck. Bismarck complained. That threatened their water supply. The route was changed. Now it is planned to run across the Missouri a few feet upstream from Standing Rock. Apparently it’s more politically correct to threaten the livelihood of Native Americans than the lifestyle of the white folks in Bismarck.

Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault explained the Tribe’s resolve, “Water gives life to everything that has a soul or a spirit.”

Completion of the pipeline is surprisingly uncertain as a result of that resolve. As the song goes, God is troubling the waters of the Missouri River to protect God’s exploited peoples.

The first sign of troubled water was a Reuters report saying DNB, the Norwegian bank responsible for ten percent of the pipeline’s financing, got wet feet. The bank is reconsidering unless Standing Rock concerns are addressed.

"DNB looks with worry at how the situation around the pipeline in North Dakota has developed. The bank will therefore take initiative and use its position to bring about a more constructive process to find a solution to the conflict.”
“God’s gonna trouble the water.”
The waters were further troubled by violent police-protester confrontations. The ACLU reports indigenous people yanked from prayer in sweat lodges and nonviolent protesters “confronted by police in riot gear with armored military vehicles, automatic rifles, sonic weapons, concussion grenades, attack dogs, pepper spray, and beanbag bullets.” 
The Bismarck Tribune reports some law enforcement agencies decided to no longer be part of the abuses. Minnesota’s Hennepin County Sheriff is one. Another, Wisconsin’s Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney said, “After talking with “a wide cross-section of the community who all share the opinion that our deputies should not be involved in this situation.”

Minnesota Public Radio reports legislators found police activities in Standing Rock “inappropriate.” They are considering legislation to avoid future deployments.

Last Monday the Seattle Times reported the Army Corps of Engineers “won’t grant an easement to allow completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline” while it reviews Standing Rock Sioux concerns. We are learning that time is running out for the pipeline to meet deadlines for construction.

Who knows how this’ll end. The odds have always been with the colonizers and the exploiters. But pipeline or no, “God’s gonna trouble the water.”