Wednesday is Ash Wednesday for much of the Christian world. Many of us will experience an anointing of the ashes, tomorrow. These are the ashes of last years Palm Sunday palms. (Palm Sunday – a week before Easter for the Christian - the day Jesus road into Jerusalem in triumph, only to be crucified five days later and resurrected three days after that.)
The palms used to welcome the king become the ashes that welcome us into the season of Lent. It is a time, as a clergy friend of mine says, “to confess our willful participation in the things that bring death not life.” A good mediation for all of Lent I’d say. One short life in the days of the planet; our part is very minor by those standards.
The words that come to me each year are, “Remember, O human, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.” Genesis3:19. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. Fairly humbling, wouldn’t you say? Well, we could all use a big dose of the ‘humbles’.
I invite us all into 40 days of reflection about our life and the places of our lack of humility. I invite you to join me in my Lenten reflection. Among others things, I will be watching for that one time (at least) everyday when I need to say, “Well, I could be wrong.” Won’t you join me, who knows, maybe that would awaken a new civic spirit?
One short life in the days of the planet; our part is very minor by those standards. Yet, we are reminded, one life can lead to glorious.
Lama Hasan reported on ABC television today with the following to report from Libya: “The wave of change sweeping across the Arab world has finally given women a voice. Everywhere I went in the region, I was impressed and surprised by the women I saw. Something changed; a barrier was broken, and they felt empowered and determined to bring down regimes that had denied them their freedom for too long. "’Maybe we will die, so? History will not die,’ said Salwa Bugaighif, a lawyer I met here in Benghazi.” <http://abcnews.go.com/International/women-revolution-middle-east-uprisings-shaped-women-egypt/story?id=13069696>
I am pondering today that freedom and democracy do not come easily.
Tomorrow is the anniversary of what came to be called Bloody Sunday in America. When the civil rights movement leaders men and women, struggled for voting rights for all American citizens regardless of skin color. It wasn’t so long ago.
On March 7, 1965 the first of a series of three marches took place. This one was of more than 600 marchers. When the marchers got across the Edmond Pettus Bridge they were set upon by the police and state troopers with dogs, billy clubs and tear gas. Two marches later, on Sunday, March 21, about 3,200 marchers set out for Montgomery. When they reached the capitol on Thursday, March 25, the numbers were 25,000. Within five months after the last of the three marches, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But there was a high cost, including Detroit homemaker Viola Liuzzo who was attacked and killed by Klansmen as she drove marchers back to Selma. http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/civilrights/cost.htm
Viola Liuzzo and Salwa Bugaighif challenge me. Is this a moment when resistance to oppression requires this kind of courage from me? At the very least I can remind the next generation what their parents have done. At the very least I can ask the people around me to decide today that they will vote the next time. The vote is hard won. Let’s not waste it – ever.
The body politic is shaken by the Tucson attack and I agree with representative Boehner who said that, "attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve". We are all asking, “How can we prevent such in the future?”
From his police record and the content of his Youtube videos, Jared Loughner, is clearly an angry, mentally unstable individual. While his political views are scattered and not easy to discern from the limited information we have, his actions seem to be quite politically motivated.
The quickness with which many have linked the tragedy in Tucson with the distressingly high levels of vitriol, distrust, dishonesty, anger and hatred in our political discourse is entirely understandable. According to the Senate Sergeant at Arms, threats against members of congress are up 300% since the beginning of 2010. There needs to be a toning down of the rhetoric of violence...by all of us.
For instance, the language of violent threat needs to be dropped from American political life. When Michelle Bachman says that we all need to be 'armed and ready' we need to tell her that won’t do. Or in March of 2010, when Sarah Palin released a map featuring 20 House Democrats she was targeting, there should have been a greater outcry. (The map used crosshair images to show their districts. Many sggested at the time that she was encouraging violence by using the crosshairs imagery and for later writing on Twitter to her supporters, "'Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!'") She specifically cited Representative Giffords and said, "We'll aim for these races and many others."
In response to the Giffords shooting, Palin posted the following on Facebook, "My sincere condolences are offered to the family of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of today's tragic shooting in Arizona. On behalf of Todd and my family, we all pray for the victims and their families, and for peace and justice."
In the comments section below Palin's statement, critics had strong responses:
"More than condolences, I hope you will think carefully in the future when you call on supporters to 'take aim' at opponents, and refer to elections as 'salvos,'" wrote Kirsten Sherk. "A child was killed today by someone who can't tell the difference between 'inspiring' speech and a call to arms. I was appalled by your violent speech before, I'm horrified now."
But while I agree with the concern, Palin cannot become a scapegoat in all this. Her ill-thought-out decision to use a weapon-sights metaphor against the political opposition must be seen as an expression of a larger national culture that celebrates violence. Palin got a lot of support for her approach. And her approach is just one of many violent frameworks laid on the political scene. We can't ignore the analysis that the pro-violence aspects of our culture may well encourage people like Loughner to action but in doing so we can’t, as President Obama said today, “use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.”
So let’s find a way to stop the attack-mentality including our own. It is easy to want to put Palin in our own "cross-hairs" for this. It is much harder to ask ourselves how we can move away from the extreme political discourse, the vilifying of the opposition, and the winner-take-all, no-compromise attitude that seems to have taken hold in American politics.
One of the heroes in the moment was a new intern Daniel Hernandez who said he ‘just did what he had to do’ in response to the tragedy being played out in front to him. We all need to consider what it is we have do. Can we hear the call to a better America, being part of a better day, without having an enemy to respond to? Can we be motivated to resist the violence itself and not project and 'enemy' banner onto those who disagree with us? This is going to require a new day of civility from all of us. What a challenge worth taking on!
Holy One, Our Only Home; to the One I know as Jesus the Christ,
Hear the cry of your children in distress, and longing for your presence.
Today we mourn the death of innocent victims in the Tuscan, Arizona shooting. We pray for the healing of Gabrielle Giffords, we pray for everyone injured, we pray for the families of those who lost their lives. With you, we carry in our hearts the families, the neighborhood, Tuscan, and all of Arizona.
The body politic is rocked by this senseless tragedy. Give us courage to stand together with all of our members of Congress, all our public servants, and recognize the courage it takes to lead.
We give thanks for the ray of hope in all the actions of courage and help at the scene. We give thanks for intern Daniel Hernandez and his courageous presence and for his reminder that we each “just have to do what we can’. Give us wisdom to know what we can do.
We confess that we have been feeding anger, hatred, and division, as Rep. Grijalva has declared and we ask with him if this can be time for elected officials and leaders in this country that have been feeding that disease to realize that there are consequences to it. Hear our prayer of heart-breaking confession.
The body politic is threatened by the senseless tragedy in Tucson, Arizona. Life as a civil democracy seems rocked by this action. May this incident bring about "soul searching," as Sheriff Dupnik suggested. Lead us as a nation to be about the soul searching we need to redeem our calling.
Give us courage that we may offer some kind of redemption to this moment as we pledge ourselves to reject the language of ‘enemy’ and look to each other to hold each other, each, as a valued child of God. Give us courage as we pledge to look to each other to find the values we share. Give us courage as we look to each other for strong debate even as we hold to civil respect and regard.
The body politic, communities, and families are shaken. But we know Your heart breaks with ours. We know Your healing will grasp us. We know You walk with us. You hope in us. You act through us. And, together, we will not let the fear win. Together we will trust in Your promise. Together we will find a way to live in harmony. Your hope is more than any can destroy. Your will more than any can topple. Together, we will transcend and live into the promise of democracy. In your most holy name, Amen.
Well, here we go (again) a new congressional year. Let’s talk about the values of public life in this settings. What are the highest values you hold for our life together and how do those values get played out in the decisions of Congress? Where do they come from and why do you hold them? I have a list: safe infrastructure and environment, education, community health, concern for neighbor, jobs for everyone who can work - at a fair wage, support for those down on their luck, providing a hope for all children’s future, public safety and protection, international safety. Those are some of mine but not necessarily in the order of importance. Mine come from my faith. How about you? Where do your elected officials fall on these questions?
There are components of our community that might answer very similarly but with significant differences. Safe infrastructure and environment (but not if it means holding corporations accountable), education (for some), community health (of the highest degree, for those who can afford it), concern for neighbor (just the ones on either side of me), jobs for everyone who can work - at a fair wage (a job force that can produce for the owners), support for those down on their luck (if we mean the top 1 % because for them the issue is luck, for everyone else it is their own fault), providing a hope for all children’s future (well, some children), public safety and protection (against those who are different), international safety (through fighting, not in diplomacy). Well, you get my drift. We all need to know which values we want lifted up and why and then let’s talk about our differences and see what compromises we can some up with.
In Speaker Boehner's speech Wednesday he promised to use the House's rules in an open, neutral way; to work through the "scar tissue" that had built up between Democrats and Republicans in recent years; to administer the House without gimmicks or shortcuts; "to disagree without being disagreeable." There is certainly a set of values I can get behind.
But a few hours later, as reported in the Washington Post, “Republicans seized control of the House with gusto.....The rules rewrite, which sailed through the House on a strict party-line vote, will also make it easier to increase the national debt by exempting trillions of dollars in GOP priorities from pay-as-you-go rules put in place by Democrats. For example, House Republicans could extend the Bush administration's tax cuts for the wealthy past their 2012 expiration or create a significant new tax break for businesses without regard for the holes those policies would blow in the nation's finances”.
So much for playing well with others. Well, on with the debate and we have be part of that debate. What are the values we want manifest in this Congress? Speak now, plans are being made.