Was Blind, But Now I See: Hope

I have no hope; I have no fear. I am free.” (Nikos Kazantzakis)

“Frankly, I don’t have much hope. But I think that’s a good thing. Hope is what keeps us chained to the system, the conglomerate of people and ideas and ideals that is causing the destruction of the Earth.” (Derrick Johnson, Orion Magazine, May/June 2006)

I throw the word hope around quite easily and very often. Most preachers do:

“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”
(Old hymn)

“To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)

I have used the word and concept of hope most often as an antidote for some set of uncomfortable, unsettling, even fearful circumstances which exist in the present moment. Implicit in hope (as I have most often used it) is the looked-forward-to future absence of those difficult feelings being experienced right now.

I am wondering, though, if I have not merely been grabbing at the whole concept of hope in the same way I used to grab at a glassful of Jim Beam? Is it simply one more way to get outside of the present moment, and to justify inaction? Does pie-in-the-sky hope cause me and others to sit around and wait for future bliss while the muck and mire of the moment is rising over our shoes, our ankles, our knees ?!

Hope is an attempt to counterbalance Fear. We can control Fear by constructing an imagined scenario of No Fear. Or so it seems. To Not Be Afraid is a primary motivator used by advertisers, preachers, and politicians. They know their audience is afraid of not being pretty enough, of not going to heaven, or of being blown to bits in another 9/11 scenario. So they offer Hope: a new shade of Max Factor lipstick, a walk down the aisle for the absolution of sins, or a “Happy Days are Here Again” ballot choice.

And we, wanting desperately to escape the dread which weighs heavily on our shoulders, believe them. Again. And again. And again, again. We have believed them for so long, that it feels natural- human, we think- to hope for a better tomorrow. We shovel out money- usually, borrowed money- in the hope that a new car, a new entertainment center,  or a shiny new piece of bling-bling on our arm will finally, despite the $125,738 unsuccessfully spent on similar doo-dads in the past, make us happy.

We pray for miracles- supernatural interventions by God, Allah, or the personal guardian angels that over 50% of Americans believe are standing nearby in anxious desire to serve them- to alleviate the anxieties of today.  It’s sooo much easier to tell God what to do, than it is to ask “What can I do?” And, where two or more are gathered, it sounds a lot holier , too.

And, politicians? 9/11 and stories about inadequate health care are mantras for them. They know we fear violence and sickness because we are afraid, above all, of Death (another soon-topic in this series),  and so they work hard at keeping those fears in the forefronts of our present thinking, so that we may hope for an end to them by properly voting.

Hope, too often, nullifies, debases, and puts off Action or Acceptance. We are blinded to our own abilities to actively affect the difficult circumstances we can do something about, and to Accept those circumstances over which we have no control. To help a 16 year accept themselves as the unique person he or she already is, it seems to me, a far greater act than helping him buy steroids, or signing the permission papers for her to get a boob job. To visit a lonely invalid or prisoner is a much more satisfying way to follow Jesus (or Allah, or one of those angels) than waiting in miserable self-absorption for glory, yes? And certainly, get out and vote, but stop hoping that Big Brother (or Sister) will make our days happy ones. Only we can do that. And if we can’t do it for ourselves, helping others do it for themselves is an even more fulfilling, satisfying, and- dare I say?- happy substitute.

I cannot make myself say that Hope is bad thing. It’s nice to believe the sun will shine tomorrow. But, more often than not, we must simply open our eyes and see that the Light is, and has been, there anyway!  If we look for it, instead of hoping for it, we can experience Light flowing in on us from all kinds of cracks in formerly dark corners. And then we might even observe that while we had been waiting for pie in the sky, there was a big slice of chocolate cake, with ice cream melting beside it, in front of us, waiting to be eaten. 

Today’s Scariest Headline

 

Ban on Political Endorsements by Pastors Targeted

By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 8, 2008; A03

CHICAGO — Declaring that clergy have a constitutional right to endorse political candidates from their pulpits, the socially conservative Alliance Defense Fund is recruiting several dozen pastors to do just that on Sept. 28, in defiance of Internal Revenue Service rules.

The effort by the Arizona-based legal consortium is designed to trigger an IRS investigation that ADF lawyers would then challenge in federal court. The ultimate goal is to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out a 54-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship.

“For so long, there has been this cloud of intimidation over the church,” ADF attorney Erik Stanley said. “It is the job of the pastors of America to debate the proper role of church in society. It’s not for the government to mandate the role of church in society.”

If you read The First Morning with any regularity at all, you know I endorse and support Barak Obama for president. I do that as an individual who believes with deep conviction that the U.S. will find itself in desperate straits if we do not change our attitudes toward a number of important issues. Those issues include our lack of planning for energy independence, our enslavement by Washington lobbyists and corporations, and our increasing and collective resignation to Fear as the primary reason for so many of our military, political, and cultural decisions.

(FYI: I am still a registered Republican. I voted for George W. Bush for president twice! I personally consider those votes among my greatest mistakes.)

But my opinions are my opinions. I will write about them as an individual, and anyone can ask me (as an individual) at anytime about those political opinions and I will tell them. But don’t ask me about them in church. Don’t expect me to endorse anyone from the pulpit. You’ll hear lots of personal opinions from me in that role, and I will identify them as such. But I have no right- NONE- to formally confuse my voting preferences with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  

There is a (huge) strata in Christendom that hears their church’s leadership as if Jesus himself were speaking to them. Each year I receive a package of material from some “Christian Voter’s Education” outfit that attempts to show why voting for the most conservative Republicans on a given ticket will help make America a Christian nation, again (as if it once was, in their fantasies). And for years, even when I was voting in agreement with many of their positions, I would trash the whole pile of to-be-distributed materials.

I would do exactly the same thing if someone wanted me to distribute any “Obama=Jesus” handouts.  

The inherent problem is that many many churches understand their Pastor as “speaking for God.” They truly believe that opposing gay marriage, or laissez-faire healthcare, or more oil drilling, or less oil drilling- if the pastor endorses it- is tantamount to taking another step toward heaven. Many of the pastors who use the blind obedience of their congregants, are the same ones who drive luxury cars, have private jets, and dress in Armani suits because of the gravy-train which tax-exemption makes possible for them.  

And now they want it both ways. I’m sorry that the movement to have it both ways is originating in Arizona, too; that makes me suspicious. But even if the move is being made independently of any political influence, I believe it is a dangerous precedent. Churches are a place where hearts and minds can be changed, and I am very concerned about what a coordinated, intentional movement from within the churches could lead to logically over time.

We must not have anyone forcing their version of Jesus down the throats of anyone! When Jesus said “Follow me” he did not add, “to the downtown Republican or Democratic party offices.” He walked toward lepers, prostitutes, demoniacs, and people who were hungry, lonely, and left out of life’s mainstreams. And then he touched them, loved them, and gave them a model of hope.

I will never be a part of making Jesus any less than that. I will never pretend that he endorsed anything I might think or believe. I will always allow people to see him, to the best of my ability to help them do so, and let them decide the better way for themselves.

Michael Moore’s "Letter to God"

I’m not the fan of Michael Moore, the documentary film maker, that you might expect me to be. Egomania and sarcasm are simply not the mix that holds my attention for very long. And despite his great editing and data retrieval skills, Moore’s focus on himself soon becomes (for me) grating.

But he sometimes has a twisted way of revealing truth that is hard to ignore, and this prayer, published yesterday, is one such revelation:

Sunday, August 31st, 2008
An Open Letter to God, from Michael Moore

Dear God,

The other night, the Rev. James Dobson’s ministry asked all believers to pray for a storm on Thursday night so that the Obama acceptance speech outdoors in Denver would have to be canceled.

I see that You have answered Rev. Dobson’s prayers — except the storm You have sent to earth is not over Denver, but on its way to New Orleans! In fact, You have scheduled it to hit Louisiana at exactly the moment that George W. Bush is to deliver his speech at the Republican National Convention.

Now, heavenly Father, we all know You have a great sense of humor and impeccable timing. To send a hurricane on the third anniversary of the Katrina disaster AND right at the beginning of the Republican Convention was, at first blush, a stroke of divine irony. I don’t blame You, I know You’re angry that the Republicans tried to blame YOU for Katrina by calling it an “Act of God” — when the truth was that the hurricane itself caused few casualties in New Orleans. Over a thousand people died because of the mistakes and neglect caused by humans, not You.

Some of us tried to help after Katrina hit, while Bush ate cake with McCain and twiddled his thumbs. I closed my office in New York and sent my entire staff down to New Orleans to help. I asked people on my website to contribute to the relief effort I organized — and I ended up sending over two million dollars in donations, food, water, and supplies (collected from thousands of fans) to New Orleans while Bush’s FEMA ice trucks were still driving around Maine three weeks later.

But this past Thursday night, the Washington Post reported that the Republicans had begun making plans to possibly postpone the convention. The AP had reported that there were no shelters set up in New Orleans for this storm, and that the levee repairs have not been adequate. In other words, as the great Ronald Reagan would say, “There you go again!”

So the last thing John McCain and the Republicans needed was to have a split-screen on TVs across America: one side with Bush and McCain partying in St. Paul, and on the other side of the screen, live footage of their Republican administration screwing up once again while New Orleans drowns.

So, yes, You have scared the Jesus, Mary and Joseph out of them, and more than a few million of your followers tip their hats to You.

But now it appears that You haven’t been having just a little fun with Bush & Co. It appears that Hurricane Gustav is truly heading to New Orleans and the Gulf coast. We hear You, O Lord, loud and clear, just as we did when Rev. Falwell said You made 9/11 happen because of all those gays and abortions. We beseech You, O Merciful One, not to punish us again as Pat Robertson said You did by giving us Katrina because of America’s “wholesale slaughter of unborn children.” His sentiments were echoed by other Republicans in 2005.

So this is my plea to you: Don’t do this to Louisiana again. The Republicans got your message. They are scrambling and doing the best they can to get planes, trains and buses to New Orleans so that everyone can get out. They haven’t sent the entire Louisiana National Guard to Iraq this time — they are already patrolling the city streets. And, in a nod to I don’t know what, Bush’s head of FEMA has named a man to help manage the federal government’s response. His name is W. Michael Moore. I kid you not, heavenly Father. They have sent a man with both my name AND W’s to help save the Gulf Coast.

So please God, let the storm die out at sea. It’s done enough damage already. If you do this one favor for me, I promise not to invoke your name again. I’ll leave that to the followers of Rev. Dobson and to those gathering this week in St. Paul.

Your faithful servant and former seminarian,

Michael Moore
MMFlint@aol.com
MichaelMoore.com

President Obama

It could happen. I don’t know whether it actually will, but the important thing right now- today- is that the real possibility to have an African-American president of the United States does exist.

We’ve come part of the way, baby.

The candidacy of Barack Obama has already affected some very important changes in our American collective consciousness (it seems to me). And changes in consciousness always grow. Once doors open in our individual and communal awareness, they never close- they only open wider over time. That is true in both our evolution as a human species and within our national consciousness.

To be sure, changes in consciousness are always accompanied by cultural, religious, and political reactions to those changes. Just as fundamentalism within Islam is growing in reaction to the larger international movements for democracy and equal rights, so are we seeing evidence of some fundamentalist reactions against the idea of a black person being president here in the United States. We’ve all overheard comments the like of which have not been heard openly in many years: “I don’t believe we’re ready for a black man to be president” and “If he gets in, the n—–s will be lined up in front of the White House with their hands out.” (I heard both of those at our local Democratic precinct caucus in March.)

But we’ve also seen those sentiments expressed in voting demographics and heard them through various disguised comments from the other Democratic candidate and that candidate’s family. And as ugly as those realities are, that they are being expressed- that Obama’s candidacy is causing them to be expressed- is a good thing. Here’s why:

When Light shines on darkness, Light always wins. A good way to get rid of mold, is to expose it to sunshine.

Overt racism has lain dormant in America for several decades. Actually, “dormant” is a misleading word- lethally hidden would be a better description of it’s state of being.  That Obama has been a catalyst for its being expressed more openly has been a good thing. Racism is being acknowledged and talked about honestly today in ways that will eventually spread to local morning gatherings for coffee  and to corporate boards of directors.

And, also eventually, that consciousness-raising kind of talk will move from heads to hearts. That’s how awareness works: it always makes things better than they were. To be sure, there will be reactive and ugly bumps along the way. But the twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings among us are driving road graders that are leveling out the ditchy and pot-holey messes us older folks have been benignly and denyingly walking around for far too long.

No matter what else is happening, in other words, hope is happening.

America’s Open Wound

For those with open ears, open eyes, and open hearts, the bleeding wounds of racism in America are evident everyday- every hour and every minute for many. It is a complex, jagged, and deep wound which, because of neglect or intentional denial, has spread throughout the entire body of our country, and has been bending us for so long that few of us recognize the extent of deformation it has caused not only in our corporate body and mind, but within our American soul.

I am racist. I say that in the same way that I am honest about the fact that I have arthritis, or that I want- at some point everyday- to salve my ravenous emotions with the balm of Jim Beam. Those are just facts, realities about myself with which I must live and compensate for with the best of my awareness and abilities. I don’t know specifically where and when arthritis first began to grip my spine; nor do I know when the diseased defaults to racist attitudes began that I still am so easily able to display from time to time. Both of those things (along with the continuing desire- after fifteen years of abstinence- for an alcoholic fog to soften the day) are infestations I had no control over at the time they entered my being.

I’ve managed all of them, to an extent. I intentionally do not not drink and do what I can, with others, to keep Jim Beam and his sidekick, Bud, at bay. I swallow pills daily to keep my over-active anti-inflammatory systems in check. Racism, however, is probably the most difficult infection to deal with because of the daily reinforcements and affirmations that pour onto it, like gasoline on a fire. It flares at times, it sizzles often, and is always a (usually benign) ember that burns within me.

I don’t want it to be there. It is much, much smaller than it once was. And if I try to justify its presence based on a comparison of it to the hot coal which burns in others then, indeed, it was never very large. But it is there, and I hate that it is there. I want it gone.

I know the hope for its complete eradication is still generations away, for myself (i.e., my children and their children) and my country. I am not able to say I will die one day with nothing but a cold ash of racism within me. But I do hope, and will act on the possibilities of seeing that hope manifested as soon as possible in all the ways I can, whenever I can, wherever and however I can. My children are already less burdened (not only because of me, by any means!) of my various afflictions than I will ever be, thank God.

And I do thank God for that, and a whole long and glorious line of my fellow Americans who have been courageous enough to reveal the wounds of racism to be no mere reality which are harmful to some, but that are crippling, festering, killing wounds that are endemic to all of us. The blessing of being 58 years old in America is to have been alive in the same place, breathing the same air, as some of these past and present healers.

Two of them, of course, as they have been, are, and will be for so many Americans (and wounded people everywhere) are Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. In fact, the first piece of American literature that I would recommend to anyone- even above The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Grapes of Wrath– is King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Soon after that, I would urge anyone to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, by Alex Haley. Many people my age or older will remember Malcolm X in the fiery contexts of the early 60s, a time of frightening cultural change. Read him again, in the light of the forty years of history we have lived through since his death, and you will find yourself mourning his murder.

As of yesterday- and, yes, it is the reason I’m writing all of this in the first place- we heard a a speech by Senator Obama that may one day find itself in the same heady categories as the two pieces of literature mentioned above. Because of his unique cultural stance, he was able to elaborate on racism in America in a way that no one before him has personally been able to do. In black and white, African and American terms, his genetic voice and his intellectual honesty and wisdom have provided content for years of discussion and action and- most importantly- real social and soulful change. Whether a person is a supporter of his candidacy for president or not, this speech deserves to be read, studied, and pondered. In fact, I would urge those who are most opposed to that candidacy to read it most contemplatively.

And I say that not because it might change your vote, but because it might change you. I’ve overheard too many conversations about why someone is a Clinton or McCain supporter to not also have heard heart-breakingly racist statements being made in the guise of political or ideological language. Not all of those supportive statements for other candidates are racist, by any means, but enough are for anyone to know, if their eyes, ears, and hearts are open, that the blood and pus of racist wounds are still running fresh.

Read Senator Obama’s speech here.