Ugh. Politics.

March 17, 2016

I have voted in every election I have been eligible for my entire adult life.  I vote even when there is nothing on the ballot I am particularly passionate about, and even when, statistically, I know my vote won’t make a difference.    I consider it a sacred responsibility.

I’m not at all shy about sharing my perspective, and as a result, people generally can guess where I fall on the political spectrum.   However, as a minister, I have an obligation to protect my church’s non-profit status.  That means I can talk about issues, but not candidates, at least from the pulpit.  I interpret the rules a little more strictly than some of my colleagues, and refrain from sharing my personal preferences, attending fundraisers or rallies where I know congregants will be present, or posting on social media in support of or opposition to any particular candidate.

I do talk about my deep commitment to civil discourse and cooperation.  The partisan divide in our nation breaks my heart.  I long for a time when statesmen look for middle ground, for the compromise that is the best possible fit for a diverse nation.

Needless to say, that time is not now.  Am I the only one who feels overwhelmed by the manipulation and fear mongering on both sides of the aisle?  Some of this comes from the media, but some of it comes from us, from the citizens who understandably feel that the stakes are very high in this presidential election.  There’s an intensity to people’s defense of their candidate and their rejection of other candidates that I find disconcerting.

The intensity is familiar.  I am still terrified by the moment, twelve years ago, when I almost yielded to the temptation to rear-end a truck with a political bumper sticker I found offensive.  That is not who I am or who I want to be in the world.  My faith teaches me to respect the inherent worth and dignity of everyone…no exceptions.

 

So here are a few truths I will be holding on to:

  • Voting is a complex decision, based on many different factors.
  • People have multiple perspectives, opinions, and priorities.
  • What seems true and obvious to me depends on my personal experience.
  • Multiple points of view are healthy and necessary.
  • We don’t have to think alike OR vote alike to love alike.
  • We can disagree without denigrating or dismissing one another.
  • The intensity, on all sides, comes out of a deep sense of patriotism.
  • Our government is set up with checks and balances.
  • Anyone who is over the age of 40 has already survived at least 8 years of living under the opposing regime.
  • The requirements of citizenship don’t stop at the voting box.  Rather, that’s where they begin.

The caucus for Idaho Democrats is less than a week away.  I find myself feeling caught between a rock and a hard place.  There is no way to avoid having congregants see which candidate I prefer.  I can’t deny that there’s a tightness in my chest.

I will breathe through that tightness.  I will trust my good folks to be accepting and to manage their anxiety.  I will manage my own anxiety.  I will beam love and compassion across the room.  I will remember the most important truth of all:  we are all in this together.

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As the news began to pour in about the bombing at the finish line, I went through a familiar routine.  I lit a candle and started to pray, and then I began searching for information.  I let myself cry, and experienced the horror and the disbelief.  Like others, I posted reassuring words and articles.  I took comfort in accounts of heroism and the words of Mr. Rogers.  I turned off the television (because images are more upsetting than stories) and I went for a walk.  I hugged my children a little tighter than usual.  I gave thanks for my many, many blessings. 

However, this morning, a new and different emotional response has been bubbling up in me.  I am mightily pissed off.  My friends, we should not have to do this.  We should not have to mourn innocent victims of senseless acts of violence on a monthly basis.  Our culture is sick.  Our nation is sick.  Can we start talking about what we might do to help it heal?

Here are some of my preliminary thoughts:

1.  The media could take a good hard look at the way they cover tragedies.

People want information, so we are all glued to our screens when these terrible events occur.  That translates into good ratings.  However, it also means that the perpetrators get the fame and notoriety they are craving.  It also means that all of us watching wind up with secondary traumatization.  The media needs different priorities.  Ratings should not be the be-all and end all.  What would happen if the networks and reporters admitted that sensationalist coverage is making the problem worse, and then asked, “What can we do to make it better, instead?”

2.  We could have a nationwide campaign to ‘know your neighbors.’

In order to commit an act of violence, you have to de-humanize your victim.  That’s only possible in isolation.  Regular contact with actual people keeps us in touch with our natural empathy.  People with healthy and supportive social networks don’t kill people.  People who respect the inherent worth and dignity of all people don’t kill people.  And what enables us to respect the worth and dignity of others is the experience of being respected, ourselves.  Reach out to the loners, the lonely, the hurting, the isolated.  Don’t leave it to the government to weave the social safety net.  It’s our responsibility to make sure that no one slips through the holes.

3.  We could go cold turkey on war.

This country is addicted to war.  The military-industrial complex has convinced us that our economy depends on it.  Our identity seems to rest on being the biggest military power on the block.  But the truth is that we are being bankrupted, morally and financially.  As if the trillions of dollars we spend weren’t enough, the human cost of war is incalculable.  We need to pay attention to the damage our troops are doing in our name…the lives lost and the spirits shattered.  We need to pay attention to the damage done to our troops by multiple deployments.  Their lives and spirits and families are often shattered, too.  How can we create a domestic culture of compassion and respect for life when internationally, we are the ones with the highest kill rate?  We live with this cognitive, emotional, and spiritual dissonance between our stated ideals (“All people are created equal”) and our government’s actions on our behalf.  People ARE NOT ‘collatoral damage.’  They are people. 

4.  We could treat this epidemic of violence like the sickness it is.

The conversation about gun control is just the tip of the iceberg.  I want our nations best scientists to have all the money and support they need to figure out where this disease comes from, how it spreads, and how it might be prevented.  How do we immunize our children against becoming perpetrators?  Can the early symptoms be identified, so that sick people can be treated before the disease gets out of control? 

So today, I am remembering the helpers and enjoying the sunshine while keeping a candle lit.  The prayers and the tears keep on coming.  I will follow the stories, and learn the names of the victims, because we owe them that much, at least.

But I am also standing up and saying:  this is not acceptable.  I do not want to live in a country where almost every month we have the wind knocked out of us by yet another story of senseless violence.  I do not want to raise my children in a culture where bombs and school shootings are the norm.  And no, I don’t want to move, either! 

The “Take Back the Night” movement helped us mobilize against the rape culture.  We need to mobilize against the violence culture.  I want us to take back our society, take back our country, take back our peace of mind.  Who is with me?  And what ideas do you have as to how we can achieve this goal?