“Approve of Him”?

I’ve recently seen a spate of Facebook posts, political emails and opinion columns saying the writer can’t (and we shouldn’t) “approve of the President.”  I would suggest this is a fundamentally flawed approach…

Saying this suggests we should hate or dismiss the man for what and who he is.

Really?

And yet, as a minister, I and many of my peers constantly preach and demonstrate we love all of our neighbors no matter who they are or what they believe.  No matter what their race, income, nationality, immigration status, marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity.  Jesus taught that we are to love each other without judgment, without preconditions.

That includes the President, too.

So, I cannot approve of him, nor disapprove of him.

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They Started It!

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

– The “Second Great Commandment” – Matthew 22:39

In a recent interview with Sean Hannity on Fox, Eric Trump said that those who oppose his dad “are not even people” and then proceeded to criticize those who are calling his father names, and making all sorts of vile accusations against him.

I’ll have to admit, it’s really hard for many to take such ire seriously.  After all, no one has ever accused our current president of being a high-minded politician.  And, all of us (even his most ardent supporters) can easily recite quite a long list of derogatory phrases he has used to label those he sees as enemies.  He’s a master at the craft of name-calling and the memorable insult, we all know it.

But, does that justify our own insults of him in return?  And, does our own insulting of him justify his supporters (and him) re-insulting us back?  And, does their re-insulting of us in response to our insulting of them after they insulted us justify our re-insulting them back again?  And, does our re-insulting of them for re-insulting us after we insulted them for their insulting us justify their re-re-insulting us again?  And…

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“America First” has become “America Last”

For those who’ve followed this blog (or my ministry) for the last several years, I think you’ll agree that I try to strike a balance between my own beliefs and views (which are clearly rather Progressive); and emphasizing the importance of listening-to those who have different perspectives.  And, I believe this is imperative if we are serious about our faith: we must make a determined effort to really understand where others are “coming from.”

As I see it, we’re all in this together.  And, we cannot make progress towards a better future for all UNLESS we all believe together that it is a better future.  But, there comes a point where the line between reasoned debate and outright insanity is crossed.  That has happened repeatedly in the last few months, and isn’t going to end any time soon.  Even so, I have tried to differentiate between the actions and beliefs of our demonstrably incompetent and self centered president; and the well founded anger and doubts of many who support his administration.  Anger and concerns which many of us on the Liberal side of the spectrum actually share.  There is much more that unites us than divides us, even now.

But for me, this decision of the president’s to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord is the last straw.  (This article from the Weather Channel does a good job of summarizing what this will mean for us.)

Now, for those who have questions about Climate Change, fine: have questions. Ask them. Ask lots of questions. And when well informed folk respond, listen.

But the president’s decision goes far beyond that: it not only flies in the face of unequivocal scientific research and findings; but also puts the USA at odds with the ENTIRE WORLD.

No good can come of this in an environmental, economic, political or diplomatic sense. It isolates us from our allies and economic partners.  It removes us from our former status as a respected world leader.  We are well on the way to becoming the bully with a big stick whom others will have to join together to knock back into line.  It is hard to imagine a worse decision being made by any past, present, or future president – short of starting another global war.

I’m always happy to engage in reasoned dialog on the issue of Climate Change.  But, it is not a left vs. right issue, but a right vs. wrong issue: do we listen to what ALL reputable scientists are telling us? Or, do we subscribe to the conspiracy theories and “research” promulgated by a tiny band of deniers whose motives and qualifications are for the most part highly suspect?

For this country to remain strong, for it to retain it’s position as a world leader, requires more than just a large economy and an oversized military.  Other countries will eventually eclipse us on that score, and even sooner than we might think.  Such leadership solely through raw power cannot endure.  For us to remain a leading nation in this world requires us to lead in other ways.  Sadly, the current administration and leadership in Congress does not understand this, and is leading us down a path from which we will take decades to recover, if we ever do.

Major Crow

The heart of the problem is that many believe that being in a leadership position means they no longer need advice, particularly unsolicited advice: They must have all the answers, and see accepting advice from others as a sign of weakness. They think they’ll lose face for accepting help from others; or that “naysayers” are seeking to undermine them and their cause. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

“Where there is no guidance, a nation falls,
but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”
– Proverbs 11:14 (NRSV)

A dozen (or so) years ago, I was a Technical Lead for an IT services contractor in the DC area.  After wrapping up one project, I had been assigned to lead a project for a new client of another division within my company.  A few months later, I was pulled back into my old group because a project that had been waiting approval for a long time had finally gotten the green light: writing a new and very complex logistics-support application for a branch of the military.

Several members of my team had spent years supporting (and fixing) the predecessor to the proposed new system.  They had developed a very deep and thorough knowledge of the way the client used the system, the system’s remaining flaws, and the needs it was failing to address at all.  We had known for a long time that it would cost far more to finish fixing the existing system’s critical problems and gaps than to rewrite the whole thing from scratch.  The client had finally agreed: a design and project plan had been developed, and the proposal had been approved.  I was brought back to lead the technical side of that effort.

Just a couple of weeks later, we had our initial meeting with the primary stakeholders of the new system in an office building not far from the Pentagon.  I arrived along with my boss.  She and I were escorted into a conference room.  Several of the folks associated with the use of the system were already there, and we all chatted for a few minutes as the rest of the team trickled in.

Suddenly, an aide came in and announced an Officer: after that introduction, he strode in and sat down.  Wasting no time, his message was pointed and brief: he had talked to the commander about an hour earlier and convinced him that our project should be under his command, since he was already tasked with leading the development and deployment of a similar system.  (Although similar, not identical – its mission actually had very little overlap with that of our project.)

He explained that our project was needless duplication, and that it would detract from what he was trying to accomplish.  Besides, he’d had a conversation with the vendor of the workgroup product his own “portal” was going to be built-with, and the vendor had assured him it would only take 8 months to duplicate the functionality our project would provide.  And so, he’d promised his commander that he would have the new system up and running in eight months time.

Therefore, he was shutting down our project, effective immediately.

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Why Should We Resist?

Yes, we need to work with DT and his regime, and will. We would do so in a collaborative, supportive way if he were a reasonable man…. But, he is not that kind of man.

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From “An Emerging, and Very Pointed, Democratic Resistance”, The New Yorker Magazine, Jan 18, 2017 (link below)

During my first job as a computer programmer (way back in the late 1970’s) the owner of the small factory where I worked was quite a large and “take charge” sort of man, and had quite the temper.  When you crossed or disappointed him in any way, he’d lean forward, turn red in the face and pound his fist on his desk: yelling at you and insulting you.

Everyone in the office would cower behind their desks when this happened: hoping they would not become the next target of his wrath.  No one dared tell him “No.” (Except me, although that was largely because I was too naive to realize I should be intimidated.  I also didn’t have a mortgage or car payment to worry about!)

What I learned is that once he yelled and screamed for a bit, he’d calm down, and then would listen to what I had to say.  He came to respect me because I stood up to him, and told me so.  Even though we never became friends, I did respect him; and we accomplished a great deal during my time there.

That ability to stand firm in the face of such anger has served me well in the years since.  (Although it has also gotten me fired once or twice, until I learned that doing so works best if you listen carefully past the emotion, to hear what the other is trying to say.)

Now, the politics of consensus and community-building – which are my own default and preferred approach – can lead one to conclude that we should play nice with our new President from day one, as  Joan Vennochi advocates in her opinion piece “Democrats, don’t take your ball and go home” in today’s Boston Globe.

Yes, we need to work with DT and his regime.  If he were a reasonable man (and nothing he’s said in public leads to that conclusion), I’d agree with Ms. Vennochi’s points.  But, he is not that kind of man: his personality is very similar to that long ago boss of mine, and many others I’ve encountered in the years since.

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A Reality Check about Trump and Russia

putin-finalWhile I lean towards accepting what is being said by many in the government (and echoed throughout the mainstream media) about Russia deliberately interfering in our elections to benefit Trump, I am also aware that human beings, especially bureaucrats, tend to behave a bit like Lemmings.
 
So, we must ask ourselves: are these many Federal bureaus and agencies all reaching this conclusion of Russia’s deliberate interference out of independent, unbiased investigations and analysis; or are they looking at which way the wind is blowing and finding facts to fit the conclusions they feel others want to see?
 
Such “proof” got us into the the Second  Iraq War; and such “proof” has been the cause of much injustice and pain throughout history. So, let’s be careful about jumping to conclusions prematurely.
 
On the other hand, more than a few Republicans, and especially Trump’s camp, are taking this as an attack against his legitimacy as President. They’re right, it is; but it is a legitimate concern, not a manufactured one.  And frankly, if Hillary had been a stronger candidate, the validity of Trump’s election would never have become a concern.  (To be clear, I was a Hillary supporter; even though I recognize her weaknesses as a candidate.  However, this discussion is about Trump and Putin, not the validity or outcome of her candidacy.)
 
The way for Trump and his supporters to solve the problem is NOT to try and discredit the concerns and accusations, or to try sweep the whole mess under the rug.  It was hard enough for Obama due to similar (although baseless) accusations, and he swept into office with a huge electoral mandate on his side.  It will be far harder for Trump, who will be a President with a shaky mandate from day one.  So, it is in Trump’s own best interest to make sure the truth is revealed, and quickly – even if the accusations turn out to be true. Otherwise, he will find himself to be a President that few see as legitimate and whom no one pays much attention to, outside of an ever-shrinking circle of devoted fans.
 
Our faith, and our Democracy, are both intended to help us to find Truth in spite of ourselves.  So, let’s make sure we take the time to allow the Truth to be made known.

Sermon: Hope Amidst the Darkness

Christ calls us to see the unseen, and right now the unseen include many who are rejecting the wisdom that we hold dear. They reject it because they see nothing in it for them, and nothing in it that respects who they are or what they need. And, until that changes, nothing we do will have a lasting impact, no matter how well intentioned we are. …And that’s a hard truth to face.

I’m starting today’s message with a slideshow. Each and every quote and image you’ll be seeing in these slides was said or written by someone I know well, or by a friend of someone I know well; and many of the locations shown in these slides (except for the very last one) are probably places you know of and may well have been to, or at least near… So, these are all people and locations with a relatively close connection to me.

These quotes and images demonstrate how this election has caused fear to overwhelm so many people that we know. This is not a criticism of whoever ran. It is trying to help us understand that there are a lot of scared and hurting people out there. People close to us, living in places close to us. I’m hoping they help us see how these reports of terror, bullying, and oppression are not just something from a newscast about a distant place, but are happening to our neighbors and friends and relatives right here, and right now.

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Abolish the Electoral College?

In the last week we’ve all been seeing numerous petitions, blogs, and posts calling to eliminate the Electoral College because it has made it possible for candidates like Donald Trump and George W. Bush to be elected President without a majority of the nationwide vote.
 
Now, it is obvious that the GOP has been waging a war to restrict the ability of minority voters (in particular) to have a voice in elections; and this does affect the Electoral College. But, eliminating the Electoral College is fixing a symptom: it does not address the root causes of gerrymandering (which both major parties are guilty of) and voter suppression.
 
Hillary Clinton appealed to the majority of the country in a numeric sense; but she failed to appeal to the majority of the country in a geographic sense, which is the function of the Electoral College.  Without it, states with small populations like Wyoming and Vermont (both of which I lived in for several years) would have no meaningful role in Presidential elections or the national political dialog.  And without the Electoral College, politicians from smaller states – like Bernie Sanders and Dick Cheney(!) – are less likely to be seen as viable Presidential (or Vice-Presidential) candidates.
 
So, do we really want to the major parties to focus on the largest states, ignoring the needs and concerns of rest of the country?  As Christian, it seems to me the answer is “No.”  As I see it, my faith calls me to work to ensure that everyone has a meaningful voice in determining our nation’s direction, not just those who think and believe like I do.
The Electoral College is not perfect, but it is an important tool we have to ensure that living in certain States does not preclude having a voice in the national political dialog.  We cannot eliminate it without first creating some other mechanism that achieves the same end.

Copyright (c) 2016, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)

Sermon: A Clean Heart

zuy2tlnte6b8b0pscugedir3fvtoti5t-largeIt’s at just about this point in every election cycle, especially this one, that I realize the entire world is mad and doomed to certain destruction and that there’s nothing I can do about it: Frustration, Anger! How can supporters of that other candidate be so stupid?!? Can’t everyone see that it will be Armageddon if the other party wins on November 8th???

And I don’t think I’m alone on this; no matter whether our favorite color is Red, or Blue; or even Yellow or Green.

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The Narrative of Anger and Pain

…Those who oppose Trump share similar concerns to those who support him. The difference is often in the desired outcome; and even there, there is usually less difference than we are led to believe.

It’s distressing: the current narrative by many supporters of Trump (and haters of Hillary) seems to be “She’s as bad as he is.”
 
The problem with this is that it is a deflection – attempting to excuse the really vile behavior of one candidate by equating it with the behavior of the other. The problem is Donald Trump’s behavior. What Hillary did (or didn’t do) has absolutely nothing to do with DT’s narcissism, bullying, misogyny and hate speech. Her behavior, regardless of whether you buy into the claims made about her or not, does not excuse what he’s said and done.
 
What many supporters of DT miss in their eagerness to defend him is that the concerns with him are threefold.
 
First, aside from a handful of mantras about immigration, job loss, taxes, gun rights and the evils of Hillary; he has no discernible plan or stance on anything. His opinions on things change with the wind, and his proposed solutions – when voiced at all – tend to be in the realm of “whack it with a big stick and it’ll go away, trust me.”
 
Trust is essential to the office of President: trust built upon diligence, a legacy of results, transparency, and a willingness to take criticism seriously (or at least tolerate it well). No President is perfect at any of these things, but none yet has been as completely devoid of these traits as DT.
 
And yet, in most of these cases, those who oppose Trump share similar concerns to those who support him. The difference is often in the desired outcome; and even there, there is usually less difference there than we are led to believe.

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The Great Divide

Let us not mince words, as a country we have a starker choice than we’ve ever had before: to choose hate, or to choose love. Which path does our faith call us to pursue?

A year ago today our souls were still filled with the words of President Obama’s Eulogy in Charleston for nine Christians murdered in their own church: in that speech his words were filled with calls for forgiveness, love, tolerance, and social justice.  And then, a year ago today, the Supreme Court passed down a decision that made it legal for everyone in this nation to marry whomever they love.
How have these two great events impacted us now, a year later?
On the one side we have a political party that talks about respect and care and social justice. Now, admittedly, they don’t always live up to the ideals they hold, but the intent is there: a determination to love others as God love us.
On the other hand, we have a political party that talks about alienation, about deportation, building walls, embracing hate for all who are different from them in any way, claiming that the threat of deadly violence against another as the first and best defense against injustice. And, it is clear that the presumptive nominee of that party has no concern for anyone but himself: in his mind, people are tools to be used, not creatures of God to be loved as God loves us.
Let us not mince words, as a country we have a starker choice than we’ve ever had before: to choose hate, or to choose love.

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Is It Justice When We Do It Too?

Is the use of another’s history of oppression and dispossession as a means of promoting a cause we hold dear, in opposition to the clearly unjust and hurtful stance of those we see as opposing us, just? Do two wrongs make a right?

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This meme makes a valid point, but the map itself inflates the facts quite a bit, and is problematic in other ways…
Large portions of the area shown here were never part of Mexico, and most were actually administered remotely with no actual Imperial Spanish (and in some places/times French) presence “on the ground,” and were ceded to the U.S. in the first few decades of the 19th century.
Even so, it is true that the Texas Revolution, the war of 1845, and the Gadsden purchase reduced the land area the nation of Mexico to less than half of the size it had at the time Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1808.

Continue reading “Is It Justice When We Do It Too?”