Thoughts on Judge Brett Kavanaugh & Professor Christine Blasey Ford

1024px-Judge_Brett_KavanaughBy now I’m sure you’ve heard of the accusation being laid at the feet of Judge Kavanaugh during the Senate’s Confirmation hearings for his nomination to the Supreme Court.  Namely, that at age 17, while “stumbling drunk,” he attempted to rape a then 15 year old young woman.

Several thoughts…

As we know, the Republicans are crying “Foul” because this accusation was revealed at almost the last minute before the Committee was to vote on whether to recommend that the Senate as a whole approve Kavanugh’s nomination.

Democrats have been saying all along that the process the GOP is using (what there is of it) egregiously flouts both the written and unwritten rules and guidelines that have always guided the process: shutting out all opposing or questioning voices from the process in a rush to get another conservative seated on the Court while Republicans still have control of the Senate.

As I (and many others) see it, it is more than a bit disingenuous for the GOP to call “foul” at the Democrat’s attempt to throw a wrench in the process when the GOP did exactly that with wild aplomb with regards to the nominations of hundreds of Judges for years – until they had control of both the Senate and the White House.  A case in point being President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

So, the GOP will get no sympathy from me on this.  To put it another way, “What goes around comes around.”

That being said, the real heart of the matter is how one should respond to Professor Blasey Ford’s claim of Kavanaugh’s attempted rape of her.

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Loving the Unlovely: Old George

This is an essay I wrote a few years ago (with a few minor edits).  Given how fractious and judgmental our interactions with others have become, it seemed helpful to share these cherished memories of a lovely – if eccentric – friend….

– Pastor Allen


Although I may not have a lot to say about my ex-wife, one quality of hers that I admired was her ability and willingness to reach out to others from all walks of life.  Today, I’m particularly remembering the friendship she initiated with “Old George”.

Old George was a bitter, foul-mouthed old man who lived in a very cheap apartment near the center of Rochester, MN in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.  (I am not denigrating the owner of that building, who had a personal mission to provide low cost housing for those who in Rochester had no other place to go, but that’s a story for another time.)

He spent most of his time in and around the downtown of our hometown at the time: Rochester, MN – or at the nearby Apache Mall.  He rode his old bike each day to and from his apartment.  He always dressed the same: a worn and heavy coat apparently made from lambskin which was held closed with an old rope tied around his waist.  Completing his outfit were rarely washed worn pants, a flannel shirt, and old shoes.

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Senator John McCain and the Forgotten Generation

1200px-John_McCain_official_portrait_2009Senator John McCain was born in the 1930’s – just as my parents were.
Those born in the 1930’s are sometimes overlooked – stuck in the shadow of the generations before them who fought the Kaiser in World War I; and Hitler in World War II.
 
Even so, they are a generation that knows just as much about hardship and sacrifice and duty as those that came before them.  They were born in the depths of the Great Depression. They witnessed the events, the rationing, the huge dislocations, the fear, and the losses of WWII. They are the generation who were starting families in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, and then had to raise their children in a world struggling to understand and redefine itself.
 
Many of them fought in the Vietnam War, as Senator McCain did. Many protested it, as my parents did. Many of them died there, their names recorded on that black wall that so many of us have visited and mourned. Many still bear the scars of that war in one way or another, as John McCain carried with him his entire life.
 
And they served in so many other ways as well: They sacrificed much to address the evils of social injustice, seeking equal Civil Rights for all. They fought for clean air and water.  They fought to protect wildlife and our land from the effects of rampant and irresponsible exploitation and development. They are the generation that had to face the Cold War and its’ threat of global annihilation. They worked hard to make our country strong, prosperous, and just. They are the generation that walked on the Moon.
 
They are a truly great generation, as great as any generation that preceded them, or any that has followed.

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That Last Dirty Glass

DSC_0806I enjoyed working as a dishwasher in my teens, and still do.  Nowadays I’m often the first one of our family to get out of bed, and use my time alone in the kitchen for finishing up any dishes not done the night before, as well as cleaning the counters & stove top, emptying the dishwasher, putting things away, etc.  It’s relaxing; and a meditative, creative time & activity for me.  (I’ve written many a sermon or blog post in my head while washing dishes, including this one!)

Some part of me – as with most people, I suspect – really enjoys making things neat, clean, and well ordered.  When all is done, there’s a sense of accomplishment.  We’re ready for a new day.  All is right with the world.

My wife and I have this little private joke, which seems to happen at least once a week: As I’m finishing with my morning kitchen cleanup and putting away the last dish – excited at the prospect of having everything DONE in just a few more seconds, I’ll hear a light “thunk” behind me and turn around to see her placing a dirty glass next to the sink.  She chuckles and walks away.  I chuckle, too.  Sometimes I’ll be a little dramatic: “Oh God, NOT AGAIN!!!”

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Scale Back Public Aid Programs? Yes and No

Freedom From Want (1942, Norman Rockwell)
Freedom From Want (1942, Norman Rockwell)

A recent NY Times article (“Behind Trump’s Program to Overhaul the Government: Scaling Back the Safety Net“) describes how the current administration is seeking to restructure social welfare programs “in a way that would make them easier to cut, scale back or restructure.”

While I’m very much against “scaling back the safety net” that doesn’t mean that reshaping it is a bad idea.
The “safety net” in this country is a complex and confusing web of programs overseen by an often opaque and always byzantine bureaucracy that is frequently underpaid with high turnover.  (This doesn’t mean that the bureaucrats are unfeeling or callous people: you can only do so much when your hands are tied by a forest of overlapping, inconsistent, incomplete, and often outdated regulations and programs.)
In homeless shelters (where I served as a chaplain) I’ve seen people carrying around HUGE binders of information about their case.  They often contained hundreds of pages of letters, documentation, emails, flyers, and forms.

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The Need for Humanity in Israel, Gaza, and The West Bank

The people of Gaza have made it clear that all they want is jobs, food, adequate sanitation and healthcare, a safe place to raise their children.  They want some hope for their future; something more than the hopeless and meaningless lives they now have.

The recent events in Gaza are distressing, to say the least: thousands of Gazans attempting to cross the border into Israel, protesting the inhumane conditions in Gaza.  Scores of them murdered by members of the Israeli Defense Forces.  Many of us have seen the videos of IDF soldiers cheering when a sniper shoots a protestor.  We’ve seen people in Israel celebrating the slaughter of their Palestinian neighbors.

This whole situation is disturbing on multiple levels.

For one, many Jews (not all Jews) are seeing and treating their Palestinian cousins as animals: celebrating their deaths, taking their land, murdering and imprisoning those who resist or protest, giving no credence whatsoever to any of the concerns and voices being raised in protest to how Palestinians are being treated by the Israeli State, blind to the injustices that they themselves are visiting upon their neighbors.  They’ve become indistinguishable from the genocidal regimes and individuals that were responsible for the slaughter of tens of millions of Jews in WWII (and before).

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Compassionate Sanctuary

In 1 Kings chapter 2, the Hebrew Bible speaks of the bloody purge commanded by  King Solomon at the start of his reign.  One of the young King’s targets was Joab.

Joab had been David’s most capable commander: ruthless, zealous, and without an ounce of compassion.  He seemed to be intensely loyal to the Monarchy, but that did not necessarily mean he was blindly obedient to the King.  For instance, a few years earlier he had killed David’s rebellious son, Absalom against David’s wishes; and he killed a rival (and his own cousin) Amasa, whom David had appointed to replace Joab.  Finally, when David died, Joab made the mistake of supporting  a rival claimant to the throne, David’s son Adonijah, instead of David’s [apparent] choice, Solomon.  Not a nice guy, to say the least!

Once he became aware that a purge was taking place, Joab fled to the Tent of the Ark of the Tabernacle, claiming Sanctuary as others had done before him – including David himself.  Upon hearing this, Solomon ordered his new General to kill him anyway; and so Benaiah went into the Temple and slaughtered Joab there.

The modern “Sanctuary” movement embodies this same concept: we can (and should) offer sanctuary to those fleeing injustice.  On the other hand, we cannot (and should not) provide sure sanctuary to those fleeing justice.

In my little New England hometown of Lincoln, Massachusetts, this very question is on the ballot in this coming weekend’s Town Meeting: shall we as a town adopt a resolution declaring we are a “Welcoming, Safe Town which resolves to make all residents, workers and visitors feel safe and secure regardless of immigration status.”

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Starman Dreams

Our current economic and social imbalances rob people of their dreams, and it is dreams that we need to have hope for the future.  Our dreams embody our hopes; but if there is no hope then all we have is our nightmares.

The “Starman Tesla” we’ve all heard about in the news has caused quite a stir.  Elon Musk’s launching of his own personal Red Tesla Roadster into space with “Starman” – a Spacesuit-clad dummy – at the wheel has captured the imaginations of many, producing innumerable new internet memes.

On the other hand, a fair number of Progressives and those involved in social justice have pointed to this as a prime example of the imbalances in today’s economy and society.  They say that Billionaires like Elon Musk are throwing away money when they do things like this.  They feel that this is another example of how out of balance our society is – too much money at the top, and not enough for people to meet basic needs, even for many who once saw themselves as “middle class.”  And yet, going too far down that path can lead to error – as it did with Judas the Betrayer of Jesus.

Even so, they have a point: our society is out of balance.

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A Women’s March Prayer

Jesus shows us by his own example that there are times when we are called to put our faith into action

The Women’s March was exactly one year ago today.  And, I’ve been thinking about how it connects with the story of the Cleansing of the Temple from the Gospel of John, where the Temple practices of Jesus’ time are seen as a system that is accepted by all, even though they had drifted far from the intent of God.  But, Jesus shows us by his own example that there are times when we are called to put our faith into action.  Many are determined to do just that: as we saw in Boston last year, and again (in Cambridge and many other places) yesterday.

Through John, Jesus calls to take a stand against injustices that most accept as “just how the world works.” And so, this prayer is derived from the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who spent his life in the pursuit of justice for the people of El Salvador…

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Who’s Right? It Depends…

We are all valid.  We are all wonderful.  We are all unique.  God made it so.

I came across this fascinating video yesterday.  It was created last year by Hillary Diane A. Andales, a teenager living in the Philippines, to provide an easily understandable explanation of the theory of relativity.  Her video was the winning entry in the “Breakthrough Junior Challenge” of 2017.

What I find most fascinating about this video is its relevance to many of the battles we see being played out in the media and other forums within this country, and around the world, every day.  The focus of these battles always seems to center on the question of “Who is right?”   Ultimately, they are battles over the question of who’s reality is THE Reality.  But, Ms. Andales’ video forces us to ask ourselves whether such battles are worth fighting at all.

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I’m Not Racist?

We cannot be our own judge.

“No, I am not a racist.”

Really?

The problem with self-declared exonerations such as our president recently gave is that they’re meaningless.  (And no, I’m not saying that he or his administration is meaningless – far from it!  But, judging the meaning of the current administration is not the subject of this posting.)

Here’s the issue: statements such as “I am not racist” originate from our own point of view.  They are an expression of how we see ourselves.  And of course, we are our own heroes in the reality show that is our life.  So, no – we’re certain that we’re not racists.  We’re not misogynists.  We’re not bullies.  We’re not evil.  Those are negative words, about nasty things – everybody agrees they’re nasty, but we’re not nasty – so no, such nasty, negative, sad terms are not labels that can be applied to us.

In proclaiming our guiltlessness, we ignore that we cannot provide a valid and balanced judgment of ourselves with regards to the accusation that we are racist.  That judgment must be left up to others, to those who are the victims of racism.  Our racism (or any oppressive behavior we may exhibit) can be only identified by another, not by ourselves.  We cannot be our own judge.

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Whose Button?

About that button…

Mr. President:

This is not a cock fight.  Neither I nor a few billion other people care one bit whether your “button” is bigger than Kim Jong Un’s, or not.

You took an oath to protect us and our government: you swore that every single action you take while in office, and every single word you speak, will be done with the best interests of us and this country in mind.  Everything you say and do is a reflection of us, and of who we are and what we stand for as a nation.

To act as you have done here is an abdication of your responsibilities and duties as President.  Threatening nuclear war in such an offhand and unthinking manner in response to a blusterous comment (from a two bit dictator who has delusions of grandeur) elevates your opponent and degrades you and your office … and our nation.

We hired you.  You work for us: not the other way around.

Shut up and do your job.

And never forget: it isn’t your button, it’s ours.

– Pastor Allen


Copyright (c) 2018, Allen Vander Meulen III.