The Patriotic Act of Dissent.

We live in unsettled times.  Our current political climate in the United States accentuates our differences.  President Trump’s attacks on four first term lawmakers of color (who have been critics of his Administration), has reopened a debate on the nature of patriotism and dissent.

A few days ago at a re-election rally in  North Carolina, Mr. Trump disparaged Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a Muslim, born in Somalia and a naturalized citizen.  The crowd chanted, “Send her back!”  In his remarks, President Trump told the crowd: “You know what, if they don’t love it tell ’em to leave it.”

These comments brought me back to a popular phrase during the Nixon era: ‘America, love it or leave it’.

Much like today, the political climate then, accentuated differences.  Those who were with the President and his handling of the War in Vietnam and those who were against it.   There was no room for nuance.  You were ‘with us’ or ‘against us’.

It is a simple formula.  Agree with me or become the enemy.

Our Third President, Thomas Jefferson had a different view point. He not only made room for dissenting points of view, he saw it as essential for a functioning democracy.  He said:

Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.

History is full of those who confuse blind obedience with patriotism.  Despots world wide, use this formula to gin up fear and push alternative viewpoints into the shadows.

Thomas Jefferson would remind us, that dissent is not only our right but also our responsibility as citizens.

 

How then do we disagree during an emotional and divisive time?  How can we speak our understanding of truth and yet, as citizens, remain in relationship.  Is it even possible?

For an example, I return to the time of President Nixon, the Vietnam War and two friends, Norman and Fred.

Norman (my Dad) was a veteran of WW II.   He was a strong supporter of President Nixon and his policies in Vietnam.  Fred, was twenty years younger.  He served in the Navy during Vietnam and returned as a vocal opponent of that war and a critic of the president.

After the military, Fred graduated from Seminary and became Norman’s pastor.  Despite their differences, they became friends.  While recognizing their differences, they chose to also focus on what united them.

They found common ground in a shared faith, love of the Red Sox, passion for body surfing at the beach and digging for clams.  They were both loving Dads and each in their own way, great role models to their children.

Today, I think we need ‘less Donald’ and ‘more Norman and Fred’.

We can and must debate our differences. To do so, said Thomas Jefferson, is our patriotic duty.  Yet, we can do so, while remaining in relationship with one another.  It is not only possible but essential, to the well being of our nation.

A few questions to consider: Is there someone with a differing point of view that you can reach out to?  Is it possible to recognize differences and still find common ground?

I wish you well, as you seek to navigate the creative tension, that comes with being a citizen of this beautiful and diverse land.  A place we each call, home.

 

 

 

Clueless in the White House

To those who wonder whether our President has racist and nativist tendencies, here is your answer.  A quote from today’s New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/11/us/politics/trump-shithole-countries.html?ref=todayspaper

President Trump on Thursday balked at an immigration deal that would include protections for people from Haiti and some nations in Africa, demanding to know at a White House meeting why he should accept immigrants from “shithole countries” rather than from places like Norway, according to people with direct knowledge of the conversation.

Where does such arrogance and callousness come from?  Perhaps he has never met people who live in a developing nation or live in poverty here in the States.

If he did he would meet people who work incredibly hard in difficult situations to provide for their family.  He’d meet young people of great intelligence, who dream and aspire.  He’d meet moms and dads who worry and weep for their children who lack access to clean water and medical care.

If he did perhaps he’d learn some humility and compassion.  This man who was born to great wealth and given every opportunity.

To refer to those who struggle and aspire as living in ‘shithole countries’ is an insult to the beautiful people I’ve met and served with in developing countries.  His callousness is an insult to my great-great grandmother  Sarah,  a single woman who gave birth to her son in a work house in Manchester, England in 1867.  A place where the poorest of the poor went, when no one else would take them in.

In 1869 Sarah emigrated to the United States with her two year old son.  A single mother, dirt poor.  She made a way for herself by working in the textile mills of Rhode Island.  I am here because she had the strength and courage to make a new life.  I am here because the United States said there is a place for people like Sarah and her boy.

For Mr. Trump to disparage those who struggle and strive against overwhelming circumstance, to provide for their family, is a disgrace.  A disgrace to what it means to be an American. A disgrace to what it means to be a Christian.  A disgrace to what it means to be a human being.

What will we do?  As citizens will we allow this callous and shallow man to redefine who we are as a country?

As people of faith, inspired by the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:40 ‘whatever you do unto the most vulnerable of my sisters and brothers you do unto me’… what will we say?  What we will do?

In my Christian tradition this is called a ‘come to Jesus moment’.  It is time for my fellow Christians, who have so freely embraced Trump, to stand up and say ‘no more’, ‘not in my name’.

We as a nation and as citizens of the world, deserve better than this man who lacks humility and a shred of compassion.  The eyes of the world are upon us.  What will we do?