compared to what?

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Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

The quote has come to mind this week in an unexpected way because I have watched the way comparison is used to deflect or derail a discussion. One says, “We need to close the detention camps,” and another replies, “Obama built them.” One says, “We need to look at guns as a public health issue,” and another says, “Why is no one upset about the daily killings in Chicago?”

I don’t know if that is stealing joy, but it is stealing something.

To answer with a comparison is to say, first, “I have no intention of listening to what you are saying.” Listening is a lost art in today’s culture. Twitter, among other things, has turned public discourse into middle school recess (with apologies to middle schoolers). The point is to fire a zinger, not to actually pay attention to what anyone else is saying or to learn anything. After a couple of exchanges the posts back and forth are nothing more than, “Oh yeah?” “Yeah” “Oh, yeah?” “Yeah.”

That’s just what the world needs.

Years ago, Ginger preached a sermon and quoted Philo of Alexandria (as opposed to Philo of Waxahachie), who said, “Be kind because everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” I have quoted it before and I keep coming back to it because it calls me to do something other than write off people whom I can’t understand. Another thing Ginger often says is, “Look for the emotion behind the behavior.” (I married a wicked smart woman.)

The thing that matters most to me is to belong. That’s the emotion behind my words and actions. I am sixty-two years old and living in my forty-fifth residence, as close as I can count. Home is an elusive thing, even though I wrote a book about it. I am convinced that life and faith are both team sports. We live and die together. The point of existence is community. So when the Hebrew prophets and Jesus say over and over that the measure of a society is in how well they take care of the poor and marginalized, it resonates deeply with me. I think the point of society is to take care of one another. There is enough to go around.

So it pisses me off when 680 Latinx people are arrested at work in an ICE raid at a factory in Mississippi while Trump was visiting in El Paso in the wake of a mass shooting aimed at Latinx folks. Yes, I know it was circumstantial that they happened at the same time, but it still makes me mad. So I will look at the emotion behind the behavior. What I see in the man in the White House is someone who is fueled by fear and controlled by comparison. He can hardly speak about what he has done without claiming it is the best ever. He was tweeting insults at the mayor of Dayton even as he was flying there to visit the people who were injured in the shooting. I could go on. My point is not to name his wrongdoings as much as to see where they are coming from. He is a frightened, insecure man. The actions that come from his emotions are destructive, so we need to speak up, yet we would do well to understand when we strike back we just drive him deeper into his fear.

That’s one of the reasons i do my best to speak to his words, actions, and policies and stay away from any personal attacks. The truth is I don’t know much about the man other than what is publicly available, which does not give a complete picture of anyone. I am working to give him the same benefit I wish others gave me when they decide who I am based on one or two things I have written or posted. To spend time talking about how unpresidential he is falls into comparison–he’s not like the others–and that’s not the real problem.

The question I want to address is what does it say about us as a nation that we would elect an insecure fear monger as president? He ran before and couldn’t get any traction. He was a joke when he kept after Obama with the birther stuff. He is not the problem. He is emblematic of the problem.

As a nation, we are a divided, frightened people.

Those of us who are naming the fear we see in Trump and others who appear to care little about the common good have fears of our own to deal with. It is frightening to me to think of what a second term for him could mean, or, for that matter, another term for Mitch McConnell. The work, for me, is to get beyond my fear and act in faith and hope that what we are living through is not the last word.

As I heard my friend Hugh say, in the end love wins; if love isn’t winning it’s not the end.

If I do any comparison that is helpful, it is in looking at how I looked at our nation when Obama was president. I didn’t know much about immigration policies. I wanted him to close Guantanamo, but I didn’t go to any protests. I think he did a lot of good things, particularly where health care is concerned (since I have a pre-existing condition), but I was not as well informed as I am now.

William Barber says the issues are not about “left” and “right,” but about a moral agenda that makes room for everyone. I am not speaking up because I vote Democrat, or because I am a “progressive,” but because at the heart of my faith is the call to care for those who cannot care for themselves, for whatever reason. Part of that call is to figure out what a compassionate response is to those who are fearful of inclusion, because they need to be included too.

I would love to tell you I know what that looks like, but I’m still working on it . . .

Peace,
Milton

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11 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for helping us to look beyond the division in our country so that we can seek healing n the midst of pain and despair.

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  2. “Societal choices, more often than not, are the result of expediency, statistical fallacy, sentiment, political or media pressure, or personal prejudice and vested interest. Crucial decisions affecting the lives of virtually everyone on the planet are made under conditions that virtually guarantee failure. Because societies lack the necessary reality base for formulation of effective problem resolutions, they fall back, over and over, on a resort to force (in its various expressions such as law, taxation, war, rules and regulations) which is extremely costly, instead of employing power, which is very economical.” – David Hawkins, Power vs Force

    “The power of love is a curious thing
    Make a one man weep, make another man sing
    Change a heart to a little white dove
    More than a feeling, that’s the power of love
    Tougher than diamonds, whips like cream
    Stronger and harder than a bad girls dream
    Make a bad one good, mmm make a wrong right
    Power of love will keep you home at night
    Don’t need money, don’t take fame
    Don’t need no credit card to ride this train
    It’s strong and it’s sudden and it’s cruel sometimes
    But it might just save your life
    That’s the power of love
    That’s the power of love
    First time you feed it might make you sad
    Next time you feed it might make you mad
    But you’ll be glad baby when you’ve found
    That’s the power that makes the world go round
    Don’t need money, don’t take fame
    Don’t need no credit card to ride this train
    It’s strong and it’s sudden and it’s cruel sometimes
    But it might just save your life
    They say that all in love is fair
    Yeah but you don’t care
    But you know what to do
    When it gets hold of you
    And with a little help from above
    You feel the power of love
    You feel the power of love
    Can you feel it?
    Don’t take money, don’t take fame
    Don’t need no credit card to ride this train
    Tougher than diamonds and stronger than steel
    You won’t feel it until you feel
    You feel the power, feel the power of love
    That’s the power, that’s the power of love
    You feel the power of love
    You feel the power of love
    You feel the power of love”
    – Huey Lewis

    Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

    Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
    – Juan

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  3. So I’d like to address one comment. A big part of the reason Trump was elected was as much (IMO) a vote against Clinton. Any candidate that calls half of the electorate a “basket of deplorables” is going to lose that part of the electorate. And if the Demicrats nominate a radical leftist/democratic socialist, they will be partly responsible for Trumps second term.

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    • Dan,
      I think you are correct that insults don’t do any good. I said that in my sermon. Ultimately, I was not preaching to say, “Don’t elect Trump.” As William Barber eloquently points out, the issue is not Democrat or Republican, left or right; it is a moral agenda. We are called, as people of faith, to make sure everyone is taken care of and everyone has a voice, which includes people I disagree with. When what is said is violent and damaging, it is our job to be “stone catchers,” as Brian Stephenson calls them: those who will step in-between and catch the stones being hurled at others. However you want to label Ocasio-Cortez, her statement was not leftist, it was compassionate. I will look to someone like that for leadership any day, regardless of label.

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