Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The morning after the night before - 2016 Election

This day after the 2016 election is a day of emotional and spiritual extremes. To those who supported Donald Trump: congratulations on your candidate winning the election. It is one thing to win an election, it is quite another to win hearts and trust. Unfortunately, for over half of our country, our trust has been shaken and our hearts have been wounded deeply by the language and actions of our president-elect. I know the Democratic candidate engaged in inappropriate name-calling too and her supporters have had their fair share of nasty Facebook posts making fun of you. For the record, you are not deplorable – you are children of God just like me.

As a priest, there is nothing more important to me than following the teachings of Jesus and one of his most important teachings was about forgiveness and reconciliation. I’ve heard from some Trump supporters today saying we just need to “reconcile and move forward.” In time that may be possible and I do pray for it. But in the Christian tradition, reconciliation cannot come before forgiveness and there is one thing that stands as a big barrier to forgiveness: pride. The reason pride stands in the way is because it keeps us from repenting and showing sorrow for the wounds we inflict. Repenting means acknowledging the real hurt and harm we do to others – both in words and deeds – and taking steps to turn around and make a change which will bring healing. When people cannot admit their wrongs, it only leads to bitterness and resentment on the part of those who are hurt. It makes forgiveness very hard and for some impossible – and without forgiveness, there will be no reconciliation.

So here I go: for those who felt hurt by my words and actions, I am sorry. While I have tried to “go high” and stay focused on the issues I feel are gospel issues, I confess I have bit my tongue and harbored some very unkind thoughts. My words at times have been sharper than I intended. I’m not proud of that, but I know where it comes from – fear and hurt. Not just personal fear and hurt, but fear and hurt for the people on the margins of our society: people of color, LGBTs, the disabled, the poor, and the mentally ill.

I still believe passionately in the inclusion of all people, the equality of women before God, that Black Lives Matter (which doesn’t mean other lives don’t matter), LGBTQ people are beloved of God and deserve all the rights I enjoy, that health care is a right and not a privilege for the wealthy, women need to be able to make personal choices about all aspects of their lives including the circumstances of pregnancy without outside intrusion, that immigrants enrich our lives more than they threaten them, that the rural poor need to be heard and not left behind, and our Earth needs our protection not our exploitation. I will not change my position on those things – they are bedrock for me and come out of my experience of the teachings of Jesus. I will still be preaching about that and standing for those values – they are gospel values.

To those of you who voted for Hillary Clinton (or any of the other candidates), please go high. Don’t continue the name-calling or post hateful Facebook memes or Tweet more ugliness. Go high. Do not let this make you bitter or cynical. Grieve, yes by all means grieve; but after your tears are spent, move forward and seek to understand the people who voted for Trump. They are not all “bad hombres” – they are scared like you. Let’s find some common ground on what our shared fears are and then move to work on them.

Now, to those of you who voted for Donald Trump, what is your next move? Will you renounce the hate speech, the violence directed at minorities, LGBT, Muslims, Jews, immigrants, disabled persons and women? Will you stand in solidarity with us in calling this out and demand that our president-elect repent of the evil words and actions he has done? Will you demand equality for all Americans, not just those who are like you? Or will you dig in your heels with a “to the victor go the spoils” attitude? If you choose the last path, do not expect forgiveness soon, if ever, and reconciliation will never come. The next move is yours.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

We're all gaming the system

I found myself in a conversation recently with a couple of people on the Appalachian Trail. The AT is one of those places where I can go and nobody has to know I'm a priest. We all look the same in cargo shorts, t-shirts, and hiking boots. My conversation partners were a man and woman - she was the ridge runner for that section of the trail and a fellow Episcopalian and he turned out to be a stockbroker and devout Roman Catholic. The conversation turned to economic and social issues and especially the plight of the poor in our country.

Our stockbroker went on about how poor people "game the system." I asked him to unpack what he meant by that. He told us he had a friend who owned a McDonald's franchise which pays minimum wage to its employees. His friend told him that a number of these employees will work up until early December and then quit their jobs so that they will not lose their eligibility for food stamps and Medicaid. This clearly angered our companion and he went on about how they were "gaming the system" at the expense of hard working guys like him.

So I asked him a question: "Have you ever sold securities at the end of the year at a loss to offset your capital gains and lower the amount of taxes you pay?" He replied, "That's different." I told him I didn't ask if it was different, I asked him if he ever did. He said, "Well, of course. That's just good business. Besides, that's perfectly legal." I agreed with him that it was good business and perfectly legal, but it was also gaming the system - albeit a different part of the system.

I continued, "So what makes your legal maneuver to lower your tax liability to your financial advantage any different from a poor person quitting their job in order to protect their own financial interests? Especially in light of the fact that quitting your job is perfectly legal too ... Lincoln freed the slaves you know." He conceded that I had a point.

Accusing the poor of "gaming the system" to gain financial advantage while simultaneously denying the ways wealthier people game the system through tax breaks, loopholes, and business losses is hypocrisy. It's a demonization of the most vulnerable among us while rationalizing our own self-righteousness ... the very behavior Jesus condemned.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

You cannot serve two masters - the NRA, gun owners and corporate interests

Jesus said: "No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth." - Luke 16:13, Matthew 6:24

This teaching of Jesus is about divided loyalties, especially when those loyalties lie at cross-purposes with each other. Serving "wealth" is to serve the self to the exclusion of others. Serving God is about serving others. You can't have it both ways.

But in the wake of yet another mass shooting, this one at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando targeting the LGBTQ community, it seems long past time to unmask the divided loyalties at cross-purposes with each other going on within the National Rifle Association.

First a disclaimer

I am not a gun owner. I can think of a few limited circumstances under which I would be, but they don't apply to my context. I'm not a sport shooter. I have engaged in this activity in my past, but frankly, I never really found it that appealing. It's just not my thing.

My sister is a gun owner and a member of the National Rifle Association. She and her husband own several guns, including an AR-15. She is a registered nurse with a Masters degree in Nursing (my Masters is in Divinity). She and her husband are truly responsible gun owners who know their weapons, secure them properly and are all in favor of reasonable gun legislation which would close the loopholes of current laws. We've had some heated but reasonable discussions about requiring licensing of gun owners, passing physical and mental health screenings, requiring periodic training, and liability insurance - we're in agreement on all of those things.

Finally, while my sister and I are on differing sides of owning guns, our father is a survivor of an accidental shooting when he was a teenager. His friend took down his father's supposedly unloaded service revolver to show it to my dad and it fired hitting our dad in the leg. This was an accident caused by a gun owner's irresponsibility in storing his weapon.

Now an observation

The National Rifle Association claims to be the voice of responsible gun owners and to be promoting the safe use of firearms. This is partially true. They have sponsored educational programs on proper use and security of firearms. As Business Inside pointed out in 2013:
"In its early days, the National Rifle Association was a grassroots social club that prided itself on independence from corporate influence" ("How the Gun Industry Funnels Tens of Millions of Dollars to the NRA", Walter Hickey, Business Insider, January 16, 2013) 
But no more. The NRA has made millions of dollars through their corporate sponsorship programs. In addition, millions of dollars are funneled in by the likes of Crimson Trace (which makes laser sights) who donates 10% of their sales to the NRA, Sturm & Ruger who donates $1 to the NRA for every gun they sell, and Taurus who buys a membership for anyone who buys their guns. The NRA makes an approximate 7-10% of their revenues from advertising for gun manufacturers. According to A-Mark Foundation, 50.5% of the revenue funding the NRA comes directly from their memberships - which means 49.5% comes from the corporate interests of gun and gun related manufacturers.

And this is where Jesus' teaching comes in. No one can serve two masters. The interests of public safety with respect to responsible gun use are at cross-purposes with the corporate profit motives of those who sell guns and gun-related equipment. Corporations will always seek to sell their products with a minimum amount of regulatory interference so they can make the most money - that's the profit motive. Gun regulations, even reasonable ones, threaten to reduce the sale of guns and are a direct threat to corporate profits. The NRA is trying to serve two masters and corporate interests are winning its soul!

It is long past time for the responsible gun owning members of the National Rifle Association to take back their organization from the corporate interests who have hijacked it in service to money. The American people, whether gun owning or not, have had enough! Our people are dying because we are putting selfishness and greed ahead of reason and civility.

Come on responsible gun owners! We are on your side here - let's work together to save lives and protect rights. These are not mutually exclusive goals.