Monday, November 17, 2008

Patriotism and Miracles

(WRITTEN ON NOVEMBER 6, 2008, not posted until Nov. 17)

I know that the election is old news, so I should be done writing about it by now, BUT...

I have not been teary-eyed about politcs since watching Jimmy Carter give his farewell address from the Oval Office. I remember, as a young girl, looking at him and realizing that in his 4 years in office, he had gotten old, and I had grown to love and respect him. I didn't much feel that way, even about movie stars, but somehow my young heart felt a loss at his change of residence.

Little did I know that he would continue to transform the world in large and small ways and that he was probably an even greater force for good once he left the White House and focused on building other houses and building bridges between leaders where no one thought bridges could exist.

Jimmy Carter made me proud to be an American.

Barak Obama renews my pride with even greater strength.

My pride does not simply come from the fact that our nation finally elected an African-American president. It is so much more that it's hard to articulate in words. Of course, being the mouth that I am, I will yap and try.

I mentioned the other day that in the past 15-20 years, liberals have yeilded public moral dialogue and therefore public moral authority to the extremists who claim to practice the Christian faith. Here, in Barak Obama, is a person who is not shy about expressing his faith in public and does not hesitate to talk about morality in liberal terms, that even I as a Unitarian Universalist/Pagan who believes in the teachings of a human named Jesus, can get behind. Obama speaks about looking out for one another, respectng those who don't have the same vision as we do personally, making peace more often than war if possible, honoring the fact that other people make different choices than we personally would, but that doesn't make them inhuman, immoral or unpatriotic.

Now, about that word: Patriotic. Like I said the other day, I have never termed myself patriotic, yet I have always felt honored and blessed and lucky to be an American. I have always questioned my government's decisions, and to me that is an act of love for my country (like when my friends love me enough to call me out for being a butthead). I have voted faithfully since I was 18. (I've missed a couple of small elections-like, I think I skipped the 2008 democratic primary due to Michigan's votes not counting at that time anyway.) I have written to congresspeople and senators. I even considered millitary service for a minute when I was young. I have never chosen to describe myself a s patriot, not even as a kid. I think, like Christianity, I have left that to others to be defined in very limiting, narrow terms. Perhaps it's because my favorite TV show as a kid was M*A*S*H, and the only people in that show who defined themselves as patriots were extremists who lived their lives judging others by their own unreasonable extremes. (Sounds an awful lot like the way I left Christianity and the public discussion of morality to the extremists. Hmm, as I write this, I'm begining to see a pattern to my own cowardice.) So, perhaps my understanding of what being a "Patriot" is, is distorted and limited to only extremist expressions of patriotism.

I no longer leave discussions of morality to the extremists. Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows that. I espouse my own liberal brand of morality through this blog, through the pulpit on occasion and quite often through my big mouth. I also often express it through my bank account when I buy fair trade coffee and chocolate or donate to NPR or to the UU Church which espouses a morality that I can live with.

Perhaps, I need also to reclaim (or, actually claim, since I've never done it before) the notion of me being a patriot. To me, it is a patriotic act, as an American, to question my government and to challenge it to be the best it can possibly be. (Been there, always doing that.) To me, it is a patriotic act as an American, to treat everyone as my equal regardless of ethnicity, class, gender, etc. (Check mark in that column too-I hope.) To me, it is a patriotic act to honor that people follow a diversity of faiths and that it is not my place to judge another's heart. (Ditto.) To me, it is a patriotic act to express yourself, even if others don't agree with you, and it is patriotic to allow others their ideas. (Okay, I have a bit of a problem with this one, but I am trying.)

Some people think that Obama is too liberal and are afraid that he will run this country with a left tilt, not allowing those with ideas different from his to advise him. I disagree. I think he has an even concept of balance of power and balance of judgement and a balance of vision that has the capacity to include a far wider range of Americans than anyone leaning too far left or too far right could do.

I know I probably wouldn't be able to walk that same tightrope of diplomacy that appears to come naturally to Obama. At least so far. And, for the first time since Carter, I feel a balance between secularism and spirituality, between science and faith, between the haves and have nots, between white people and people who are not so white, between North and South, East and West, between the United States and the rest of the world, between reason and, well, reason.

I'm not sure that I've accomplished what I said I was setting out to try, which was to explain why this election has re-affirmed, or, perhaps even restored my pride in being an American (I'm not sure which). For quite a while, I have felt that Americans tend to feel an unreasonable inflated sense of entitlement. The evidence of that entitlement has been demonstrated by the distain with which people of other contries speak of us, the Bush and Bush wars, Reganomics, even the exhorbitant salaries of CEOs and professional athletes. Our government's insatiable hunger for power and control over the past 8 years has only fed my convictions. Really, even longer-since Jimmy Carter left office.

I get the impression that the only sense of entitlement that Obama feels is the entitlement of bieng treated as an equal, a human bieng with faith and foibles, just like everyone else. He seems to feel pride in and gratitude for being an American. He does not appear to feel entitled as a American to getting anything he wants, without preconditions, without reprecussions or costs. He knows that there are costs to everything, but that doesn't mean that people have to pay with their pride, dignity or uniqueness.

When I was waiting in line to vote, one of the people I chatted with said that she thinks that people are expecting a miracle and that things will suddenly change overnight. She mentioned South Africa and the fall of Apartheid and how that mess is still being cleaned up. She was afraid of the backlash when there isn't an instant change. (She didn't mention Obama, but we both understood the buzzword without saying we understood.)

I pointed out to her that my definition of miracle is broader than that of most people. To me, miracle does not equal impossible. To me, miracle means extraordinary. I pointed out that there may not be a miracle in material change as an immediate result of the elections. To me, the miracle can be found in the palpable excitement of the people lining up to make their voices count by voting. The miracle lies not in any materialistic alteration, but in a collective mental alteration from one of trepedation to one of possibility, from one of fear of uncertainty to one of hope of transformation. In that hope itself can be found confidence in the future, confidence in our nation, confidence that the economy will get better and, perhaps, confidence that their voice does indeed matter.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Another Reason to Believe in Human Goodness

In the wee hours of the morning today, two families made heart wrenching decisions in order to save a little girl's life, whom they don't even know. I don't want to go into details because it is a private matter, but I just want to say that such generosity is surely noticed and blessed by the Divine. For those of you who pray, please send out prayers for three families who are dealing with confusion, fear, generosity and hopefully a miracle among them.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The United States Wins the Election!!

Not just the democrats, but all of the United States won this election.
All of the world seems aware that humanity will reap the benefits.
I must confess that I fell asleep last night while the returns were coming in and Deb couldn't wake me up for the speeches. I was totally exhausted from anticipation.
This morning, I have been crying in joy on and off, thinking about all of the people who made this moment happen: My parents, everyone who voted yesterday, every parent who taught our generation that prejudice is the result of ignorance, every fredom rider, civil rights activist, person with a voice of reason in this time of turmoil, every person of faith who stood by the fundamental goodness of their spirit.
I also have been thinking about all of the people who died in order that this moment could happen:
Martin Luther King Jr., John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, 4 innocent girls in Selma, countless numbers of former slaves and civil rights workers, and countless others that I don't know about or have forgotten to include.
Thank you to all who have come before in order to allow Americans to once again dream that the American dream may be limitless, rather than limited by prejudice and fear.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Joy of Voting

The polls in Michigan opened at 7:00 am this morning. I pulled into the parking lot where I vote at exactly 7:00am. I got the last parking space. My heart started racing and I got tears in my eyes because I don't think I've ever seen that lot full before. I walked into the building at 7:01. I looked at the clock on my way out and it was 8:05am. 65 minutes in and out. My ballot was number 127. I was #130 to feed my ballot into the machine.

Some elections, I was that high of a number at 5pm. Not at the opening of the polls. It was very exciting, everyone was excited, polite, talkative even. No one mentioned who they were voting for, but we all agreed that the excitement about this election is palpable. Even though none of us talked about who we were voting for, the word "change" kept echoing throughout the hall and the gym where we were lined up.

None of us complained about having to wait in line so long. Several of us even mentioned that we felt excited to be waiting in line to vote rather than being able to just walk right in and be the only one at a booth like happens so often. I joked with a few people that I was having fun waiting in line. It felt like being at Cedar Point, only this time waiting in line means something!!

One of the conversations I had was with a couple who were retired. I think they were in their late fifties or early sixties. As we were talking, we were reflecting on the fact that so many young people are getting involved in this election and people are talking about the enormity of this moment. As I was talking with them, I revealed that my dad had helped with one of the campaigns, I did not reveal which one. The husband asked me if my dad tried to influence the votes of me and the other kids. I told him that my dad told us all to vote our concsience, but this is why he is voting for his chosen candidate. I told them how much fun I had at Pop's party in June when me and Tim and a bunch of the kids and a couple other of my generation were sitting around politics and how proud I was that my nieces and nephews were so very thoughtful and insightful in forming their own opinions. I revealed how in that room we ranged from conservative to liberal and we enjoyed the discussion and respected one another's opinions and had fun in the arguments. The husband got kind of a look of wonderment on his face and said that that is incredible that one family can have such a range of positions and have an open and lively debate and that we respect one another's differences.

Once again, I have been reminded how incredible my family is. For those of you in my family reading this, thank you so much for being a part of me and allowing me to be a part of you. I feel so blessed to have come from such an awesome and diverse group of people, no matter what diasagreements or crap we have had to deal with from one another. I love you all and I am so honored to be one of you.

If today is still Tuesday November 4 when you read this and you haven't voted yet, GO VOTE AS IF YOUR LIBERTY DEPENDS UPON IT!! It is an honor and a privelege and a responsibility as an American citizen.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Total Separation Between a Church and Politics

I visited a local United Church of Christ yesterday, wanting to be at a UCC Church the Sunday before Obama, a UCC member, is elected president.

From reading resources on UCC's website, I expected to hear something about a moral, civic or Christian calling to vote our conciences this week. I expected a bit of excitement or anticipation in the air about the enormity of things on or related to this week's ballot: embryonic stem cell research, the first possible woman vice-president, the first possible black president, the selling off of a public park for development, the possible long lines at the polls, the largest expected voter turnout in well..forever, the uncertainty of the reliability of the polls due to secret racism, the uncertainty of the reliability of the polls due to the lack of cell phone polling, the total disregard for journalistic integrity or journalistic neutrality or, the UCC committment to keeping church and state seperate. I even would have been a teensy-tiny-little bit satisfied if, in the mention of upcoming events, the minister had said, "and on Tuesday, don't forget to vote." Nothing. Nada. Silence.

The only mention of the election was when I told someone afterwards that I was reaserching UCC, Obama and Civil Religion for a sociology paper. This 60 something white woman sneered and said she isn't voting for Obama because he turned his back on Reverend Wright. In our three or so minute discussion, she revealed that all she knew about the "Chickens Roosting" sermon was that it was "a typical black sermon." She had never listened or watched it. She also said, when I pointed out the possibility, that it had never occured to her that Reverend Wright and Obama felt strongly that the message that Obama has been spreading (a lot of it sounds a lot like UCC theological ideas) is so vital to not just our country, but to the world, that perhaps Rev. Wright and Obama may both have understood that because of unreasonable and racism and selective out of context skewing of a small portion of Wright's words, that perhaps a separation between the two of them may have been necessary in their eyes for the greater good during in order to allow Obama to win the election.

She turned away before I could point out that just less than 2 months ago, according to the UCC newspaper, Jeremiah Wright was still expressing admiration for "a scrawny little kid-pointed nose, big ears, momma from Kansas, daddy from Kenya."

She turned away before I could ask her why on Earth, or in Heaven, she would choose to support McCain and Palin (and, by not voting for Barak Obama, she would be by default, if nothing else), who claim to be Christians but stand against everything Jesus stood for! Yet, on the grounds of a possible slight against someone whose sermons she hadn't even listened to, she would vote against someone whose political platform and personal ideology sounds awfully close to the UCC vision of hope for peace, equity, personal involvement, ecological responsibility, service to the poor and sick. Since she is a UCC member, I would assume that she also shares at least some of that vision. Oh yeah, that was what Jesus' message was all about too!

She left before I could say that her not voting for Obama is like saying she believes in the teachings of Jesus, but her judgemental egotistic sense of righteous indignation won't let her stand up for her principles in the voting booth. (I probably wouldn't have said that anyway, but I definitely was thinking it while I was amazed at her shortsightedness.)

I'm pretty sure I can guess who Jerimiah Wright is going to vote for. I may possibly be wrong, since I have not had a personal conversation with him.

I am upset to know that people are turning their backs on right actions, and using Reverend Wright as an excuse to give votes away to the religious right who believe they have a right to re-write the constitution and the bible in their own self-righteous image as oracles of God and Democracy around the world. (Or, at least to Russia and Canada-while negotiating fishing disputes from Palin's back porch.)

What the heck is she thinking? Are there others like her, using a black minister as an excuse not to vote for a man who is bringing hope to a country beleagured with unemployment, war and helthcare travesties? OOPS- nevermind. I forgot. The Republicans are doing that, it says so right in their new ad.

By the way, for those of you who still have not heard the entire "America's Chickens are Coming Home to Roost" sermon, please watch it. The link is: . Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, an Independent, Green, Purple or Orange Party member, please watch it. If you are a Christian, a Pagan, A Unitarian Universalist, Jewish, a Scientist, a Sociologist, a Socialist, or a tried and true Capitalist, PLEASE WATCH THAT SERMON IN ITS ENTIRETY. Reverend Wright's words have gotten blown so out of proportion that what Fox News and the Republicans are leading people to believe is so far from the truth that it's frightening. The chicken sermon (i haven't listened yet to the sermon that is being used for the new McCain ad) is all about accounting for ourselves as individuals and as a country before we make a knee-jerk decision that could affect everyone. He's not even saying we shouldn't go to war, he is saying to look at whether or not we should engage in a war and whether or not that would be a just war. It is prophetic and powerful and beautiful and much, much more than simply "a typical black sermon." I would love to have dinner with him, I would just have to be careful if I were ever to run for political office later-NOT!

I know that almost everyone says that the only issue that matters in this race is the economy (or, abortion, depending upon who you listen to in the media). The issues are even bigger than just dollars.

Religious Freedom, in a way is at stake. I say that because those of us who are humanist, Unitarian Universalists, Reformed Jews or liberal religious Christians have for too long allowed the religious right-the "moral" minority, the Pat Robertsons and Jerry Fallwells to define what morality is, and by extention, what being a good patriotic American is. In allowing fundamentalists to dominate the American Moral and Political discourse, we have turned over, in essense, our right to have a say in what laws our country passes and follows. We have allowed our civil liberties to be eroded in aquiescence to the fear of being accused of being un-patriotic, un-American and, by extention, immoral for bowing to the powers of terror. I am far more terrified of losing my health insurance, losing my right to speak and blog freely, losing my confidence in the idea that you and I can make the world a better place than I am of the potential for terrorists to ruin our freedom.

These are the things that I ponder in this time of excitement and trepidation. I am glad that people are talking and debating the issues, making up their own minds and sometimes changing them. I am proud that I live in a country where I am allowed not just to vote, but to voice my opinions and, even better, to really listen when others voice theirs. I am proud to live in a country where patriotism, like faith, is at its best and strongest when difficult questions are asked and answered and where each of us can hold our own opinions and, hopefully still be able to break bread together in peace and together seek a justice we can all live with.

I am sad that some few people disrespect one another, our democratic process and by extention, our freedom of speech and the essense of this country itself. This destructive attitude which so upsets me has been manifesting in the stealing of McCain/Palin signs from people's lawns, the burning of Obama signs and shouting matches in school hallways. (by the way, as serious and sad as this issue is, I laughed so hard I had tears in my eyes after writing this, while I was listening to an NPR story this morning about this very phenomenon. I can't find an online link to that story, sorry.) I am saddened that the color of someone's skin-white or brown or black is all that people can see in the candidates, and by extention, themselves and their neighbors. (I never will understand that. There is so much more to me than being white, or even being a woman! There is so much more to see and know.) I am saddened that patriotism is being defined not by our love of country, but instead by our religiuous views, geography, political party or skin color. I have never claimed to be a patriot, but I have always felt so honored and priveleged to be an American, that I don't take anything for granted. I am aware that our Constitution is a dynamic, living document that was crafted to incite debate and remain flexible, yet firm in the principles of democracy. One of those principles is change, rooted deeply in a nation that grew out of a revolution of ingenuity in thought and continually learning the value of honoring our differences and finding common ground with one another.