A Request for Prayerful Attentiveness: Missile Launching, Tax Shifting, & the “Big Lookaway”

I’m making a request for you to join me in prayer. I realize, as well, that some of you reading this request do not live in the US, but, more often than not, you are much more keenly aware of American politics than most Americans.  So, in advance, thank you for your intercession, above and beyond what I’m about to write here.

As many of you already know, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, aka, North Korea, launched a ballistic missile as a test on Tuesday (11/28/2017). Observers from around the world concluded that this test launch confirmed that such a missile could strike the US.

Meanwhile, the Congress of the US continues preparations for a tax reform bill. As some Americans understand, this reform will shift the tax burden away from corporations and on to most of middle-class Americans. A few highlights, or lowlights…:

  • Corporations will receive a decrease in tax from 35% down to 25%.
  • Homeowners will only receive a tax deduction on their mortgage interest for notes up to $500,000.
  • Graduate students will be taxed not only for their income (usually minimum wage work for serving as TA’s), but also for their scholarships/fellowships, any other stipends, and health care benefits. This change in taxes will amount to a 400% increase.
  • Low income mothers with young children will have to pay more to receive less coverage for health care.

These elements are well known, and I’ll leave it up to you to Google those various elements. This tax reform (or “shift”, as one friend put it) has gathered much attention, as it will cripple many households in states like California and New York, where the cost of living is higher, and, thus, mortgages routinely go over $500k; it also poses a direct public health threat to women/mothers of color and their children, as they are typically the largest number of women who benefit from tax breaks for health care; and, finally, the number of graduate students leaving PhD programs because of the financial burden of tax shifting will skyrocket: thus, cutting off original, pure research, which often resources business, health care, education, military, and the government.

But, the above is not why I’m asking you to pray. Rather, it is that intersection of both the DPRK’s test launch and the tax reform/shift bill that I would ask you to pray about. Put another way, this intersection invites us to “lookaway”: if you attend to the response/reaction of 45 to the missile launch, no one keeps their attention to the progress of the tax bill. If you watch the progress of the tax bill, you might not observe how the US military (and those of other nations) organize themselves to engage North Korea. If we lookaway, we might miss how forces that aim to harm and destroy get to advance. It’s a weird intersection, and it’s one that I pray the Lord will peacefully resolve.

So, pray to the Lord of the harvest: yes, for more workers. The need to gather peacemakers, men and women who will interact and collaborate under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and with the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit remains unfulfilled. Pray that we we can remain awake and attentive to powers that aim to harm and not heal. Watch and pray: thanks.

Advertisements

Revisiting Hope via Jeremiah

No need to rehearse all of the calamities, natural disasters, protests, tweets, counter-tweets, job-suspensions, failures to care for the humanity of our own citizens living in distress, and the proverbial “drumbeats of war.” Just scroll through the news or turn on your TV: any of those can be found, often in located in the same geography. It’s really impressive in many respects, and I do not mean that as though there is a splendor, or beauty to all of it. I can hardly step back and callously disregard how these persons and events have literally extinguished lives.

Typically, I can look out my window to the south and look across a small valley, and see the sunrise cast early morning light on the homes of thousands of residents in the Inland Empire. Today, I see a thick, white haze of smoke, the sign and faint smell of the Anaheim Hills fire, and it covers the valley. People have lost homes and memories, and lives are now displaced. This fires in No. California amplified this experience in ways that simply do not make sense: entire neighborhoods scorched. Gone.

In September, back-to-back hurricanes devastated the Texas Gulf Coast and Florida. Family and friends in Houston were displaced from either flooding or storm damage to their homes; the toll on lives continues to demand payment in human misery in so many ways. Puerto Rico was hammered in succession by hurricanes: friends there tell of a nightmarish situation, one that is easily confirmed by the media. Meanwhile, the Tweeter-In-Chief assures that he’s great when it comes to alleviating the problems of these natural disasters. His lack of empathy for the humanity of the citizens he purporting serves stares back at the world as a black hole.

So, I’ve wondered, “What’s our future, Lord? Will this get any better anytime soon?” I let this question come to surface often these days in my morning office. Last week, my BCP app, in the midst of the horror of Las Vegas, does what it often does: just presents the reading for meditation and prayer, with apparent disregard for the context that we find ourselves.

Jeremiah 38 narrates the political backlash that lead to dumping Jeremiah into muddy cistern, the subsequent rescue initiated by Zedekiah, and the private conversation between the king and the prophet. I’ll leave it to you to read the text, but what becomes apparent in the second half of the chapter involves the two men negotiating through distrust of each other, a breathtaking assessment of the current political season and the treacherous relations with Jerusalem officials, and a robust affirmation by the prophet: obedience to YHWH will unexpectedly lead to life while everything else, literally, burns down.

And this is our hope: That God calls us, in and through Jesus Christ, crucified, dead, raised to life, ascendant, exalted: to a faithfulness that produces life. All this is promised, but not upward social mobility, not suburbia, not contentment, not freedom from natural disaster: certainly not prosperity, as though that were the Kingdom of God. No, hope, on-the-ground hope in Jesus Christ gets received through this matter of obedience. And, here’s where such gets unfamiliar.

We’re in a season of weirdness, politically speaking. Any veneer of civility has been shed, and this cannot be limited to 45. Just take a look anywhere, throughout the many levels of government, and our elected officials have simply lost it. Far easier for them to play the blame game, and, thus, execute the “look-away” from their transgressions and avarice, both of which only add to the misery of those suffering (see Puerto Rico), than to obey the Lord (for those officials who think themselves Christian and others from the Judeo-Christian tradition) and take what follows. It’s weird, and most of that weirdness has its catalysis from the November 2016 election. But, I digress.

What Jeremiah and other biblical prophets summon Christians into—not only politicians— involves new terrain: an obedience that involves unvarnished truth-telling and a resonant clarity regarding the human condition. This obedience recognizes that our hearts are in big trouble—sin is the best noun here—and that only a two-fold response of confession of Jesus as the crucified Lord and to walk in his ways offers a life-giving path. For some Christians, historically and in a contemporary practice, this way has always acknowledged the both-and: our hearts are in trouble—our very lives—and creative faithfulness for the context demands speaking up—resisting—the political powers that would exacerbate our mutual troubles for all human persons.

Yes, this is an unfamiliar obedience: for many of my evangelical group (in using “evangelical,” I feel like when I first heard the new name of “the artist formerly known as Prince”: awkward), the preferred division of labor involves: preach to the heart problem, then, address matters of the world: if at all. This splitting leaves one with a version of the “sweet-by-and-by”, a theological call to distant-after-you-die “heaven”, and no genuine responsibility to the Lord or to others who share our humanity to participate in a mission which is in continuity with the crossing of the Red Sea and Calvary.

So, there is an unfamiliar obedience in Jeremiah: “Obey the Lord by doing what I tell you. Then it will go well with you, and your life will be spared.” One should assume—and test while in progress—that the reprieve aims for inclusion and participation in God’s mission. It is not a leniency that sections us off from harm, maladies, and injustice: suffering is still part and parcel of the human experience. Yet, this obedience proposes that God’s mission is one of life, of justice, and of flourishing: for all of creation. That is what we hope for, and, in Jesus Christ, God calls us by his Word and Holy Spirit into that very hope.

Pan-Asian American Ethnicity

This. See also below quote…

As a Vietnamese American who is married to a Filipino American, I have a personal interest in pan-Asian American ethnicity. This personal interest has led to theoretical questions: How, under what circumstances, and to what extent can groups of diverse national origins come together as a new, enlarged panethnic group? …

After four years of researching, thinking and rethinking, writing and rewriting, I still find pan-Asian American ethnicity a complex and changing topic, often defying sociological interpretations and generalizations. This is because Asian Americans are a complex and changing population: far from homogeneous, we are a multicultural, multilingual people who hold different worldviews and divergent modes of interpretation. Thus, although this book tells the story of the construction of pan-Asian ethnicity, it is not about obscuring our internal differences, but rather about taking seriously the heterogeneities among our ranks. Only in doing so can we build a meaningful solidarity as a pan-Asian group—one that allows us to combat systems of chauvinism and inequality both within and beyond our community…

Yen Le Espiritu, Preface
Asian American Panethnicity: Bridging Institutions and Identities

Just swap “Multi-ethnic American” for “Vietnamese American”, and exchange “Chinese” with “Filipino”, and you get a partial lens into my life and my research.

I was ransacking this book for understanding “reactive solidarity”, and, as custom, I browse the Preface. Often, you learn of some of the “questions behind the questions of the book” in the Preface. Occasionally, you also get some personal stuff: like the above. Beautiful. I am sideswiped. This prefatory section captures so much of my life! Thank you, Yen Le Espiritu!

When Respectability is more important than the Gospel

I’ll just leave this right here. Stuff like this doesn’t get as much airtime, but it should.  #notnormal

“You know Richard,” the fellow attendee said, “I have been coming here for three decades, and I no longer feel like the redheaded stepchild at the family reunion or the company picnic. I feel like a respected colleague and guest.”

Where Trump’s Hands-Off Approach to Governing Does Not Apply

A note to white/white-passing pastors & theologians: my reply to my friend C

So, a few days ago, the white theologian, Roger Olson, posted a strongly-worded message to Christian leadership everywhere:

“What that pastor did is what I am calling for here—from the pulpit, now with full legal freedom and no fear of the IRS—to specifically condemn 1) white supremacy and other forms of hate in all its forms including subtle ones, and 2) calls for violence against or government suppression of people with alternative social and political views. I am not calling for any form of violence or legal suppression; I am calling for church discipline of political and social extremists.”

So, I posted this statement to my Facebook page, and my friend C replied:

“My church did this. While I found it healing and somewhat reconciliatory, a part of me was thinking, “well duh. Of course I expect you not to support white supremacy or racism. What about so called “micro aggressions”? Racists and systematic institutions and actions that happen everyday in this church and out? Let’s repent from that.

“So, not that I don’t want the above, I do, especially if there are churches holding out, but it’s the “low key” racism that we all participate in daily that I’d like called out.”

And, she’s not alone. Following the Charlottesville protests and violence, many pastors throughout the US denounced racism from their pulpits. But, for C, other friends, and myself, we were astonished by the silence from the same pulpits a week later: especially since the current president aligned himself with white supremacists a few days earlier.

In other words, a once-off announcement to repudiate racism by pastors simply cannot be trusted to produce transformation in the lives of the congregation. The silence serves notice: “We dealt with racism last week. We won’t bring it up again.” But, the challenge of transformation cannot be reduced to repetitive proclamations from upfront. (Although it would demonstrate the importance of repentance from racism.) The real challenge lies behind microaggressions, systemic and structural racism, and, yes, white supremacists: addressing and overcoming white racial illiteracy.

I’ve started reading Robin DiAngelo’s What Does it Mean to be White: Developing White Racial Literacy, and this is a book designed for teacher education. But, I’d propose the reach is much wider: seminarians, graduate students, pastors, missionaries, and theologians. White racial illiteracy is hardly limited to prospective teachers. Here’s quick nugget:

When you hear/read the word, “racist”, what comes to mind? DiAngelo quickly identifies what is so true among white/white-passing people: “racist” = bad; “not racist” = good. Racists commit bad acts toward people ethnically different from themselves. What most white/white-passing people reason involves a quick process: “I don’t commit bad acts toward African/Asian/Latino/a people. Therefore,  I am not a racist.” I trust that little piece of gold illuminates how limited 99.9% of all white pastors and theologians understand racism.

I don’t doubt that an increasing number of pastors, missionaries, and theologians have had to fast track their understanding— and in some cases, their repentance— of racism. But, if what my friends and I report to each other since Charlottesville is a small sample of the larger trend, most pastors and theologians have left behind announcements about racism and the need to repent from racism.

Yes: we need more announcements to renounce racism: in all of its odious forms. But, the development of white racial literacy contributes to our “intellectual, psychic, and emotional growth.” (DiAngelo, 2016:18) I would hasten to add our spiritual growth. Such development will call upon our biblical resources, to be sure. But, those resources from God await our obedient trust in God’s word.

#DACA, Truth-Telling, & Ethnic Cleansing: A unique season for spiritual formation

An acquaintance of mine made the following observation: The OT (for that matter, some of the NT) persisted in reminding the Israelites of the Exodus. The whole point was to get their attention upon YHWH, his great call to covenant, and his graciousness in bringing liberation from Egypt. The status of the people of God included a description of them as immigrants, sojourners, and a people in transit from a political environment of oppression to a development of a community that thrives in “a land of milk and honey.” (Ex. 3:8) This community is further enjoined to welcome other immigrants who will likely be ethnically different and host a variety of religious commitments. (Lev. 19:33-34).

Notice: the attention here is upon YHWH, and his aim for liberation of all peoples. This, of course, is a subset of his larger mission to heal, renew, and glory in his creation. This reminder goes throughout the OT. In contrast, the OT doesn’t spend a whole lot of time on creation, or whether that text describing a remarkable, beautiful, one-off event occurred over a 7-day period or intended to narrate the majesty and power of YHWH. There is not a lot of time spent determining whether one should get saved, and then work out the implications of the lordship of YWHW. No: the attention is not on me. Or you. The reminder indicates that the people of God should pay attention, remember, and trust in their God, the one who initiated, empowered, and fulfilled the Exodus. That’s the truth of the matter. Few people would disagree, and I want to make room for those who demur: but the burden is upon them to demonstrate otherwise. The bulk of the OT continually calls Israel to remember YHWH in the Exodus event.

Today, we learned by way of the spokesman, AG Jeff (“I did not meet with the Russians”) Sessions, and the spokeswoman, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, that the President—who was elected by the Electoral College vote— would no longer uphold and sustain DACA. Often, even frequently, when we hear words coming out of the mouths of those who serve the President, we doubt the veracity of those statements. Today, however, we have good reason to believe that these words have action. But, we have the following to trust this egregious use of executive power, and not necessarily because of campaign promises. Please consider the following.

On 8/12, following a horrific display of vitriol and violence by white supremacists in Charlottesville, the President affirmed these people and their racist hatred with a simple inclusion of “many sides, many sides.”

On 8/25, while the mother of all storms hammered the Texas Gulf Coast, the President pardoned a known violent criminal with a publicly explicit commitment to racism, cruelty toward immigrants, indifference to sexual assault, and the torture of incarcerated persons in jail: the former Maricopa County (AZ) Sheriff, Joe Arpaio.

And, today, 9/5, the President (only through a victory by the Electoral College) rescinded DACA: which affects 800,000 persons who were under the age of 31 in 2012, along with a list of other qualifying items. These are men and women who have lived peacefully, harmoniously, and socially-productive all of their lives in the US. A remarkably minuscule fraction of these people have ethnic/racial status as “white” persons.

In a span of 24 days, the President (by virtue of the process of the Electoral College) has revealed his contempt, antipathy, and revulsion for people who are not white. His words, even by way of his messengers, have action: and that action aims to eradicate non-white people from the US: it’s called ethnic cleansing. There can be no equivocation here.

So, there is truth-telling. As Charles M. Blow observed yesterday,

“There a strong impulse, I believe, in each of us struggling against fatigue, to register the pattern and manage expectations. We begin to build into our processing of politics the caveat: Yes, the “president” lies. That’s not new. That’s just what he does.

But we must resist that impulse. It makes normal, or at least rational, something that is neither normal nor rational.”

How does one resist? Blow makes a great observation: In our fatigue, we normalize lying by the executive. But, over the last 24 days, we cannot look away or presume that his utterances do not communicate truth: Resistance to this racist program must be done, and it will take remarkable personal energy to see it through. So: How does one resist? I propose the following question needs inclusion to get at that previous question.

Make no mistake, Christian people, we are continually being spiritually formed. The question, if I may ask, is: “What spirit is forming us?” If there are any people who need to routinely, avidly, and energetically traffic in truth and truth-telling, it must be us. To do so summons us to consider: by what Spirit will we engage in this truth-telling task that resists: ethnic cleansing, lying, and the disregard for the humanity of people no matter what their ethnicity or religious commitments?

I am among you: I get blessedly tired at the end of each day from the sheer volume of lies, cravenness, and cruelty issuing from the White House. I know you do, too. Join me in paying attention to, remembering, and trusting the God of the Exodus who has made himself known to us in Jesus Christ, who loves us and has promised and sent his Holy Spirit upon the ascension of the Son of God. That truth, that YHWH has made himself known to us in Jesus Christ, will endure, energize, and prepare us for sustained truth-telling and resistance to the powers of ethnic cleansing.

Finally, this process of attentiveness in spiritual formation is not and cannot be one in which we get up to the mountaintop and then come down and do the business of resistance. (Although I certainly observe the merits of such.) Rather, so much of this spiritual formation will happen, on the ground, in collaboration, and in the groundswell of people practicing truth-telling to the President. Our spiritual formation will be and must be gathered up with the very people that the President intends to exclude from the US.

Post-Women’s March Questions: And I’m troubled

So, I’ve kept myself involved with aging parents since early last week, and tried to observe from social media all of the events of the presidential transition. Then, the following day was a remarkable movement across the world: the Women’s March. Both events, from what I can discern, had unique elements.

Today, I read different versions of both events, and I started thinking about how weird some of the descriptions were. And, while driving around fetching this and that for my parents, I started reflecting on myself and the people who made the remarks: and I was troubled.

So, I’m going to post some questions that will come from “both sides,” because I realized that I’ve got some commitments and opinions that might deserve some walk-back, as well as walk-forward. (If that is a thing.)

First, I spotted a comment made by a former I-Student from the ministry: “This week they march for their own ‘rights’ over the unborn . Next week, braver women will march for the rights of the unborn over our own ‘rights’.” I thought, “Wow.” That’s it?  This alumnus of our ministry concluded that that was all the Women’s March was about? How was that possible? And: How did he learn about the status of the courage of one group of women contrasted with another? Is it that a smaller, numerical group will be afforded a comparative of “braver” when held up against a protest that literally spanned the globe? These questions are real ones, and I’m not asking these as some kind of rhetorical exercise to beat down an alumnus that I love and whose friendship I enjoy.

In a related note, Fr. Dwight Longenecker came to a similar conclusion. Here again, my thinking moved the dial a little more, in that it occurred to me: that Longenecker, as a former evangelical now Catholic priest (with a foray as an Anglican priest), demonstrated what you and I now know to be true: 99% of all pastors understand nothing about social theory, and even less about social change. I felt embarrassed by his blathering. He won’t be embarrassed, but, grace abounds Fr. Longenecker. Why did these two men make the Women’s March out to be all about and only about pro-choice and resistance to those who are pro-life? What I discovered is that they were not alone in coming to this conclusion.

Here’s another question that popped into my head as I was running errands for my parents: So, if this Women’s March was all about protesting threats to women’s rights, abortion rights, the right to have some self-determination regarding one’s physical status in a social environment, they did not need to protest, right? Right now, the law is totally on their side: the side of women. But, here’s the weird thing.

Some of the people (not the alumnus and not Fr. Longenecker) think the PEOTUS (He’s just the elected president by way of the Electoral College, right?) is just awesome stuff. Yet, the juxtaposition of a totally vulnerable child to an abortion with a reality TV actor telling someone that you can grab a woman’s genitals—exactly where a totally vulnerable child finds egress from the mother’s womb—strikes me as peculiar to the extreme: Here is a man who thinks violence to the very topography of a woman’s genitalia where a baby will enter the world can be a source of pleasure and gratification for himself also believes that US citizens should trust his judgment regarding the laws over the same woman’s body, including that baby.

This is a weird thing, no?

But, let me swing over to another question, for my friends who champion women’s rights, and likely participated in the Women’s March: somewhere on our planet…

There were reports of the pro-life movement receiving acceptance, then rejection, from the Washington D.C. organizers. One feminist wrote on her perspective. It made me really struggle at this very point. At first, I thought: “Come on! Can you really believe that you would’ve been welcomed?”

But, the next thought troubled me: deeply. For as we all know, this nation, this polis, is deeply divided. Duh. Yet, without any essentializing here at all, I found myself just baffled at how the Women’s March could reject any woman who shared all of the organizers’ indignation and outrage, as well as the calls for justice: save one matter.

I’m hardly suggesting this is easy or that the divide should simply be swept under the rug. Obviously, I have a far-too-limited understanding of the pro-choice movement. However, at the very moment of coming together, in outrage, the politics of exclusion held sway. The organizers of the Women’s March could have said: “We don’t have to agree about everything, but if you’re a woman, you have some long and deep say-so about your body, and your self-determination.” There are claims that with Planned Parenthood as one of the financial sponsors of the D.C. event, there was no way that any pro-life movement would be included in the march. Even so: It was a missed opportunity, sure, but it was also indicative of how polarized the divide is among those organizing the divide.

I’m going to leave you with a link to a speech by Robert Reich, made during Occupy Cal.

“Some of you may feel a little bit — what are we doing here? What exactly is our goal? I urge you, I urge you to be patient with yourselves, because with regard to every social movement of the last half-century or more, it started with a sense of moral outrage.”

I recall watching this on a live video feed, and thinking, “It’s on.” Because, some people are making claims that the Women’s March was just a one-off event. Hardly. Read Reich’s speech, and let it simmer for awhile, and let me know if you come to the same conclusion: It’s on.

Your questions? Please post them to Facebook. Thanks.

Link to Robert Reich’s speech at Occupy Cal.