Monday, November 28, 2016

I Read It In The News So It MUST BE TRUE! Right?!

“Quid est veritas?” (What is truth?)—John 18:38

Did you hear? Did you read? Did you know?

That…millions of people voted illegally in the November 8th presidential election.  No, really. I’m not kidding. I read it in a tweet from our new President elect. Well, I didn’t really read it on Twitter. I actually clicked a link on Facebook and that brought me to a story in an online newspaper about that tweet and that claim, and so since it is in print, it must be true. True!


Did you hear? Did you read? Did you know?

That…members of the Electoral College are getting ready to revolt. Huge numbers of them are going to change their votes and totally upset the results of the election, because, after all, the losing electoral candidate won more popular votes and so she’ll end up being president under this “hush hush” conspiracy. Yup. I read about it on a website. Well, actually I googled “Electoral College Revolt” and that brought me to the story.  It’s on my computer screen right now. Features a sharp headline and a crisp photo too, all looks very “official” so the story must be correct.


I also read that childhood vaccines absolutely cause autism.  That President Obama is actually a secret Muslim.  That CNN recently aired thirty minutes of pornography during a prime time news program.  That the actor Clint Eastwood was offered the Presidential Medal of Freedom and refused it. I read all those things on the Internet so they all must be true, right?

What is true? 

These days the answer to that question is getting harder and harder to figure out, at least for me. The gift of the web and our 24/7 wired world is that in 2016 we as news consumers have greater access to more “news” in more places through more devices than ever before in the history of news gathering and news reporting.  The quaint days of Walter Cronkite saying “And that’s the way it is” on TV, and America actually believing him, are long gone.  The notion that one or two national daily newspapers are “the papers of record” has been lost as well. 

Now we have more news than we could ever hope to read or watch, let alone understand. Print news. TV news. Comedy news.  Fox News on the right, CNBC News on the left, and all of these sources online too. Google reports there are about 1 billion unique web sites worldwide at present, so if even one percent of those are news oriented, that equals 10,000,000 places to get “the news”.

Which is good, I suppose.  More news, more stories, more reporters, more news outlets, more news sources should lead to more truth, correct? A better informed citizenry.  A stronger democracy.  The media as a more powerful watchdog over the institutions that run the world: government, business, education, etc. 

True and yet…the conundrum in the midst of this news glut is this: how do we determine what news is really true? Factual? Real?  And how do we figure what news is slanted? What news is not really news, but is instead opinion or speculation or rumor? What news is totally fake, completely made up? Consider this fact, as reported on the most read “news” stories on Facebook in the three months leading up to the election were false, so-called “click bait” stories. Like one “story” that reported Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump. When you or I clicked that link (admit it—you did!), the creator of that tall tale made money on our sincere desire to just get the news. The truth.

What is true? 

To answer that question, we as citizens and news consumers will just have to work much harder now to get to “the truth”.  Read sources that challenge our bias, not merely confirm our views.  As a devoted reader I need to also read the “Wall Street Journal” more often. We’ll have to adjust to having a new commander in chief who is addicted to tweeting, saying, and declaring as “true” whatever is on his mind at anytime of the day or the night.  Reality TV: meet the news cycle. We’ll have to just be much more skeptical and much more curious when it comes to the news. 

Quid est veritas? What is true?  That is the question. God help us all as we seek to find an answer. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Gift of Thanksgiving, The Gift of Tradition: Pass the Eggnog!

“Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof!”
-- Tevye, from the musical “Fiddler On The Roof

No eggnog. No Thanksgiving.  At least not for me. 

Because eggnog and the copious consuming thereof, is one of a handful of cherished traditions that I always, always follow, come the fourth Thursday in November, Thanksgiving Day.  Yes, I know that at 223 calories per eight ounce serving and with 35 percent of my daily recommended saturated fat intake, eggnog is the ultimate belly buster. I shouldn’t drink it.  But it’s Thanksgiving and eggnog is what I do, what I’ve done, what my loved ones expect me to do, on Turkey Day, every year. 

Because it’s tradition.  And no tradition? No thanksgiving. At least not for me.

Maybe for you too.  Other than Christmas there may be no more tradition laden holiday than Thanksgiving.  So we use the same recipe for the gravy that our Mom and her Mom and her Mom’s Mom passed down to us from generation to generation. We cook the turkey a very certain way in the battered and chipped roasting pan Dad always used.  We pass around the squash and apple casserole that Aunt Lynne makes every single year, even though the truth is we’ll all only take a small spoonful, to be polite. 

It’s our tradition. 

It’s ritual.  It’s the practice of dependable customs, some sacred, some secular, that we return to year after year after year. Tradition, whether at the dining room table or practiced in our faith or found in the world: it matters. Tradition gives us a way to find our way back home to a place where life feels familiar, comforting, and dependable. Tradition gives us a solid place to stand in world. Tradition invites us to wade into a spiritual river of memory and time that began flowing long before we were born.  We remember, and in remembering, we sit at the table with our ancestors.

Some tradition are odd or quirky or seemingly not all that profound. In my house we always play Scrabble the night before Thanksgiving. At our table my best friend Barb always makes her homemade rolls.  Brother Ed always offers advice (often unsolicited) on how to carve up the bird.  I need at least one of the cranberry sauce offerings to be of the canned variety: gelatinous, bright purple and deeeelicious! And we always find a cozy place on the couch, to curl up and watch football, as the day draws to a satiated close.

Some traditions are holy somehow, spiritual, and these get right into our hearts.  This year, as always, we’ll go around the table and share with each other, one thing that we are thankful to God for.  By the time we get to my Mom, she’ll be teary and then we’ll all be teary and then throats will be cleared and then steaming plates of food will be passed around and in that sacred God blessed moment, our grace will be filled with so much… grace. 

Because it’s tradition. 

It is important to recognize that while good traditions are timeless, when it is time, some traditions need to be dropped. So thank God it’s no longer a tradition that only the women cook and bake and set the table and clean up.  Everyone chips in now, no excuses.  New traditions need to be started too. Some of us now take a brisk after dinner walk, instead of passing out comatose in the family room.  Traditions come, traditions go but always we need some traditions to carry us through, to reassure us, ground us, even as time passes by so quickly.

So what are your sacred or silly family traditions?  Whatever these might be, here’s my advice. Take them seriously. Nurture them. Teach them to your children and to their children too.  For the best traditions remind us that we are a part of a story so much bigger than ourselves, one begun long ago, written by God, initiated by family. Tradition binds us together in faithful community. Tradition survives while so much of modern life fades away. 

Tradition was, is, and will be, if we practice it, remember it.  No tradition? Then life can feel as shaky as a fiddler on the roof. 

So this is all I really want for Thanksgiving 2016: my family, good food, old friends, God-inspired gratitude, a big glass or two of eggnog and yes, tradition. 

Now please pass the cranberry sauce!

Monday, November 14, 2016

An Election Day Lesson: Those Who Show Up Run The World

“Get involved. The world is run by those who show up.”      --Bumper sticker

It’s official. “Did Not Vote” won the election last week.   

Sweeping to a landslide victory in 44 out of 50 states, the candidate “Did Not Vote” received a clear and overwhelming mandate from voters, who one week ago last Tuesday, chose to not show up and not to cast their ballots. Though “Did Not Vote” was narrowly defeated in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and the District of Columbia, in the rest of the United States they dominated the contests.  It was no contest. 

Attempts by this reporter to reach “Did Not Vote” for a response to this shocking victory went unanswered. I guess they were just busy doing something else.

If only this was a joke, a satirical broadside, or a really bad April Fool’s Day prank gone viral. But it isn’t. In what many rightly deemed one of the most important elections in recent United States history, a plurality of eligible voters just stayed home and stayed in and stayed away on Election Day. Here are some of the raw election numbers from November 8th, according the United States Election Project, a non-partisan group that collects and analyzes voter data.  

As a percentage of all eligible American voters, Hillary Clinton received the votes of 26.27% (60,839,922) and Donald Trump, 26.02% (60,265,858); ‘Did Not Vote’s’ total was 43.1% (110,450,842). Those are votes which could have, but were not, cast. Neither major candidate won a majority of actual votes: Clinton, 47.8%; Trump, 47.3%.  Even more sobering is this fact: if you add the folks who could have voted (but did not) to those who did vote, that’s about 231,500,000 voters. Which means that our new President was just swept into the highest and most important political office in our land and our world, with barely 26% of the eligible vote.  Consider that number again: just one in four of us—neighbors, friends, family, fellow citizens---cast a ballot for the new commander in chief. 

Now I wish I could report that those numbers are an anomaly, but they are not.  We Americans regularly fall short, far short, in fulfilling our civic responsibility to vote in Presidential elections, any elections. To just show up.  In 2016, 56.9% of us showed up to vote; in 2012, 58.6% and 2008, 61.6%.   You have to go back pretty far in American history to find any numbers which reflect well on the participation rate of American voters. Try 1876 (Rutherford B. Hayes versus Samuel Tilden), when 81.8% of eligible voters actually voted. It’s been mostly all downhill since then, hovering in the low to mid-fifties from 1972 to now.

There are so many story lines coming out of the election.  The seismic social shock of an unexpected win and a heartbreaking loss. The election of one who has never served in pubic office or the military, for the very first time.  The defeat of the first woman as a candidate for a major party. The changeover in power from one political party to the other, for the first time in eight years.  The red hot anger so many feel; the sky high elation so many feel.

But what strikes me as the most important and under-reported story is how sad and frustrating it is that so, so darn many of my fellow Americans completely failed to fulfill that most basic task of citizenship: to vote. To let our voices be heard. To stand in line with the rich and the poor, the immigrant and the blue blood, the first time voter and the old pro voter.

To show up.  To vote.

I know there are a small percentage of people who had legitimate excuses for not voting on the 8th: ill health or long work hours or pressing family responsibilities. I get that.  But what about the rest of those stay at home folks?  The ones who stayed on the couch. Who stayed away in the millions.  Who when asked to step up just fell down. 

My message to them is this: by not voting you may have determined the outcome of this election as much, maybe even more, than the people who did vote. If just a handful of cities in the Rust Belt had seen approximately 15,000 more folks vote this time around, the ones who showed up and voted four years ago: there would be a different President-elect preparing for January 20th. 

That’s not sour grapes. That’s just a “come to Jesus” truth. 

Life is always better when the many, and not just the few, do the hard and world-changing work of community. That’s true for an election, a church, a neighborhood, a family, a team, or a business; any group where two or more are gathered together. 

Post election there is still a lot of work to do.  Healing.  Activism.  Governing. Engaging in community at all levels. So my prayer and plea for all of us as Americans in the days ahead is simple. 

Please, PLEASE! Show up! Now, perhaps more than ever, we need every one of us to do the work of democracy and just show up.    



Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Day After.

(A note: this piece also appears on another blog I write for: The Collegeville Institute and its "Bearings" magazine online.  My humble hope is that it may help us to think about our task as humans, citizens and people of faith in the days, weeks and months ahead. Pray for our nation. Pray for our world.)
"Far from being the pious injunction of a utopian dreamer, the command to love one’s enemies is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. Yes, it is love that will save our world and our civilization, love even for enemies." 
--The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr.

Anxious. Worried. Afraid, even. On this “day after”.

That’s how I feel about the 2016 Presidential election, the outcome of which is finally, finally clear. The votes are in after a never ending campaign of more than 600 days, a race more closely examined, critiqued, and handicapped than ever before in American history, courtesy of our voracious 24/7 news cycle and our social media addiction.  

The ballots are counted. One candidate won. The other candidate went down in defeat.

I thank God that it’s the day after.

Though I wish I could feel more relieved somehow, able to breathe more deeply somehow, now that the days, weeks and months of being on edge about the election are over. Never before in my life as a voter, citizen and person of faith have I witnessed or experienced higher levels of angst and fear in myself and my neighbors, than in this campaign. Never before have I seen America so sharply divided, one from another: by race, class, religion, education, political party, family status, and geography.  The quaint notion of “the loyal opposition”, whereby folks on opposite sides of a political fight agree to honor basic levels of civility and respect: that ideal was destroyed in this election.

Instead, in 2016, a clear majority of both Democrats and Republicans: each sees the other as “the enemy”. There’s no other way to put it, or sugarcoat this reality. A June 2016 Pew Research Center study, based upon a poll of 4,385 adults, reports that “majorities in both parties express not just unfavorable but very unfavorable views of the other party. …70% of Democrats and 62% of Republicans say they are afraid of the other party. Seventy percent of Democrats say that Republicans are more closed-minded than other Americans. [Republicans] say Democrats are more immoral (47%), lazier (46%) and more dishonest (45%).”        

So if we thought the days before November 8th were hard, think again. Now the real civic and communal work begins: the challenge of somehow beginning to put our country back together again, on November 9th, and in the days ahead. The art of campaigning and the art of governing are polar opposites.  We’ve had our partisan “fun” at tearing down the people on the other side of the political divide. On this day after, amidst piles of red, white and blue confetti and deflated balloons, collated ballots and discarded lawn signs: the question which vexes me the most as a Christian, as a citizen is…now what?  

A secular cynic might answer that nothing has changed; that the body politic of the U.S. has been so irreparably damaged, shattered by the ugly rhetorical violence and language of the campaign, that any hope for reconciliation is doomed.  Hunker down and expect the worst.  A political partisan might respond by re-arming, preparing for the coming cultural and political wars which lie ahead for our divided nation: over health care reform, immigration, and trade, to name but a few of those future flash points.  Reassemble the troops and pass the ammunition.

But for people of faith, clergy and laity alike: what is our job on the day after? Beyond advocacy and protest? Beyond the temptation to just pound a partisan pulpit, or merely regroup into cliché religious camps: progressive/liberal, conservative/family values? I am tired of the stale confines of such ideological and religious categories when it comes to politics. I resent being expected by my more politically passionate Christian brothers and sisters on the left and the right, to get on board for their narrow political agendas, within which they seem ever ready to name the “enemy”.

There must be a third way, a different path to bringing our faith to bear upon the divisions which haunt both our congregations and our country. The British poet Byron Percy Shelley wrote, “A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of many others...the great instrument of moral good is the imagination.”  In this way, moral good stems from moral imagination: the ability to imagine what life is really like for a neighbor, a stranger, an adversary, and yes, even “the enemy”. 

So on this day after, as a person of privilege, my faith compels me to imagine what life is like for the poor, those who struggle each day for the basics of life: food, shelter, work. Male, my faith pushes me to imagine what life is like for women in the world. White collar and educated, my faith challenges me to imagine the life of a coal miner in West Virginia, or an unemployed factory worker in Ohio, or a high school educated single Mom in Wisconsin.  Christian, my faith inspires me to ask: what’s life really like in the United States for a Muslim, a Jew, an atheist, a Buddhist? Liberal, my faith dares me to imagine what life is like for my conservative parishioner.

Moral imagination: that’s what I am praying for in these post election times, on this day after. For more “thee” and “we” and less “me” and mine”. I pray that God would soften our hearts and opinions, make us more curious and compassionate towards those on the other side of the political divide. I pray that God would give me the courage to just share a cup of coffee with a supporter of the “other” candidate and then listen, really listen to them, close my mouth and open my mind. 

The day after: it is here.  Now the real work of faith begins.