Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A House Divided

It’s the morning after the election to fill the senate seat left vacant by the death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, “Teddy.” All I can think of is the biblical phrase in the mouth of Jesus: "A house divided against itself cannot stand.: (Mark 3:25)

Is America that house?

In a heavily Democratic state (Massachusetts), devoted supposedly to progressive liberal politics and the common good for all, the likely candidate to win this election was Attorney General Martha Coakley. She lost to conservative Republican Scott Brown. Why?

I passed a station wagon yesterday with its rear door up and open to expose a sign propped against the seat on which was written in bold black letters: “The People Against the Machine.” I wondered if the subtext was “the people against the people.” Who/what/which the machine? Who/what/which the people?

Thirty plus years ago I changed my political party registration from Republican to Democrat. I snuck into the town hall furtively watching for my staunch Republican father around every corner. I switched my party allegiance because I thought the Democratic party platform more closely aligned to my Christian values, my biblical values. I thought Jesus would have voted to the left. Moses, the liberator, too.

Now I don’t know where and in whom those values live—values that trust in the elective process to elect government officials who will carve out policies that reduce the division between rich and poor, haves and have nots, a government willing to tax in order that those with wealth will provide some tax dollars for those who have less opportunity either by chance, bad luck, illness or even sloth, a government that really does represent a people who really do believe in and respect the dignity and worth of all human persons and the whole created universe.

I do not think either candidate in this election was particularly stellar (part of the problem), but I thought Coakley more qualified to continue the legacy of Teddy who, in a lifelong effort to make amends for a life run wild resulting in part in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, worked steadfastly with both innocence and wiliness to shape U.S. government policies in favor of the common not the particular good.

I admire President Obama though I voted for Hillary Clinton. Obama came to Boston to rally support for Coakley. He stuck his political neck out. Many say it was a bad move, one that would hurt his reputation. Why did he do it? Lots of reasons, chief among them the need for a favorable vote on his stalled health care plan. But I think he did it because he’s a nice man, willing to risk his own beloved neck. To be in politics today you have to be nasty or at least more nasty than nice and you have to be tough-skinned and bloody. Not a nice climate. What's the difference between courage and brash disregard? Dangerous spirituality.

I fear this vote was a vote of no confidence against Obama. But is it no confidence or is it fear? If so fear of what? I fear the return of conservative and exclusivizing ways that compartmentalize people and create a climate in which hate crimes can thrive. Less government is one thing; no government is another.

Government is needed just as parents are needed to guide and with benevolence guard the civilization and its citizenry from themselves. I’ve seen the movie and read Goldings book, “The Lord of the Flies.”
How much freedom is too much? Freedom can run wild.

Today I mourn for what seems like our reactive, get-even inflamed polis. People are voting for change, any change. Is there thought? Is there prayer? Is there informed reading? If it is ‘us vs. them,’ who are they? Do people vote like match on flint? I weep for Teddy whose devotion to justice with compassion for all marked his career. I weep for other heroes who lived the same: Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Jesus, Moses, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Catherine Macauley, the biblical prophet Deborah, Rosa Parks, and frankly, every woman, man and child willing to sacrifice and give a little something so more can have a little something.

In Jesus’ day there were many parties all of them lobbying for political/religions power and all of them hawking their own particular and limited view of Divinity. Jesus came on the scene hawking a particular view of humanity—that all are sacred and all are invited into the unimaginable, resilient, inexhaustible, everlasting grace of God. He wanted us to honor that grace in each other and behave accordingly. We killed him and others like him— and forgot.

I remember. I remember that, by the mysterious mix of divine grace and human good willingness, there are very nice people in this country and in the world.

I have no answers, just thoughts, feelings, pained questions—also another remembrance: that the long slow work of God through Spirit is just that— long and slow—always moving toward greater good by passing through periods of instability, including I suppose "divided houses."

What do you remember?