…and the wrong game…

battle black blur board game
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Donald Trump is not a successful business man.  Donald Trump is a successful brand.  I suspect this is why he refers to himself in the third person.  I also suspect this is why the Republican party has fallen in lockstep behind him.

The Democratic Party will not win in 2020 if it continues to navigate the Trump presidency as it is.  I’m sure Tom Perez is a smart guy, but I am positive that the party is basically fighting the wrong fight.  Issues will never win over ideology.  Every great conflict in the United States has seen ideology rule victorious…even if that victory has been qualified and compromised: The American Revolution (liberty); The Civil War (union/slavery); WWII (anti-fascism) Civil Rights (black equality).  This is also evident where the non-progressive forces have won and continue to resist: Jim Crow & lynching (white supremacy); women’s rights (male domination); Native and Indigenous displacement (manifest destiny and white entitlement), etc.

The Trump administration and by extension the Republican party and by further extension conservative politics has become entirely about ideology.  I am not a Republican (technically, I’m an Independent) so I will not presume to understand the inner workings of the conservative Republican agenda.  But I have observed the following:

  • The current conservative Republican platform is based on the following assumptions:
    • Capitalism is the best system for resource distribution
    • Religion is important
    • Cultural identity is secondary to being “American”

These assumptions become counter narratives that allow conservatives leverage basic principles of progressive politics as weapons against themselves:

  • The liberal agenda uses race and gender as both punishments and excuses
  • Progressive politics is based on victimhood
  • Diversity is always divided in its allegiances

As I watch progressives play into the hands of conservatives more and more every day, one thing is clear: Conservatives, via the Republican party are invested in fundamentally changing the meaning of American life by enshrining the assumptions I laid out above in law.  When Jenna Ellis, a Trump legal advisor defines ‘conservative’ as being to “conserve” the rule of law, it is abundantly clear that we are no longer in Kansas…if we were ever there at all.

Progressives need to stop worrying about beating Donald Trump.  That is the quick fix.  We must play the long game.  The real challenge will come down the line when someone like Richard B. Spencer (the neo-Nazi not the Secretary of the Navy) de-stinks himself enough to run for office and has enough of a following to win.  He’s only 41.  It is the next generation of hate mongers that are the real danger here because they are not just invested in creating the ideology, they already breathe it.

In order to succeed, progressives need to cultivate an ideological agenda that will counter the goals that underlie current conservative politics which I believe are:

  • Protecting white, male, able-bodied privilege
  • Erasing community accountability
  • Silencing the conversation on race
  • Promoting nationalism and local-ism at all costs

It is essential for progressives to recognize the ideological battle and be willing to name it.  Currently, the only Democratic candidate willing to do this has been Marianne Williamson.  She is right, we are fighting the wrong battle with “plans” and “data” and even with “math”; and Bloomberg and Patrick will just gum up the works.  Someone needs to step outside of the pack and present a dynamic ideological framework that people can get behind.  If they don’t, we and our democratic and moral systems will be left with something far worse than just four more years of Trump…we will be left with his signature legacy: bankruptcy.


God or “whatever”

I have frequently heard liberal preachers speak of religious inclusion and at some point in their discourse, they offer up a list that goes something like this: “whether you believe in God, Jesus, Allah, Buddha, Vishnu, the Flying Spaghetti Monster or whatever.”

Whatever? I know many Christians who would take issue with anyone who called Jesus a “whatever.”  There is a great deal of privilege that goes with being able to reduce every faith expression from the vast expanse of unnamed, or personally unfamiliar in the Western religious experience down to a “whatever.”  It is the same impulse I believe that lets the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” actually have traction among the some of the religious “nones” (those who are unaffiliated despite acknowledging a spiritual force.) Now, as a writer, I fully understand the casual grammatical placement of the word “whatever” here, but I’m more concerned with the intention behind the use of the word and the telescoping in a list like this from familiar to foreign.  I believe it is worth asking ourselves if we really are committed to inclusion if we’re not willing to complete the list…or at least to try.

Monday night, I was in Pastoral Care class at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, listening to a great lecture and interaction with our esteemed professor from the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Herbert Anderson.   Class was focused around how stories fit into our idea of pastoral care and what story telling, particularly the God story can mean in the pastoral context.  As a Unitarian Universalist who is in no way exclusively bound to the Bible, I was acutely aware of the Christian framing of this whole scenario: God, Jesus and the Bible applied in a deliberate way for healing, but regardless of my own spiritual framework, I still got a great deal out of the class.  I explained to a classmate afterward that I took this as just one mechanism for applying communication in a pastoral way.  I may or may not use Biblical scripture; it may or may not come when someone is in crisis.  No matter what, having the ability to help someone connect a shared human narrative to a lived experience can be a valuable tool.  But I was also reminded by another classmate that in some other traditions, this business of “pastoral care” is not something that one needs to learn or do as a separate skill.  In many ways (as it has been communicated to me by some of my Jewish colleagues) religion is the story; God is the lived experience; ‘pastoral care’ is entirely what it means to be a religious leader.


My broader point may not be entirely clear yet.  This class was, by the professor’s admonition, Christian focused and framed.  But even in stripping away the Christianity, we must be mindful of where this understanding of a religious practice comes from because it may sit completely outside of the way and purpose of another faith tradition.  This is the ‘whatever.’  It would be so easy to say of pastoral care practices that they apply to all religions, Christian, Buddhist, Islamic, Jewish, whatever…when in fact that is not the case.  But then our modern sense of ironic, tongue in cheek, media scripted humor says that we have an ‘out’ when we get to the end of our specific knowledge and our bulleted lists: Whatever. I say that if we reduce each other, even those we do not know about to ironic, witty or worse, snarky reactions and careless dismissive bucket phrases, we are as good as saying to them “you don’t matter and I don’t care.”  We face a similar dilemma in the LGBTQQI2S world; in an awkward attempt to create inclusion, we have created a trap for ourselves by attempting to reduce our beautiful tribe of gender fluid, sexuality affirming humans to a labeled container that will always be too small.  Coming back to religion, I’m well versed in the origins of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but I’ve all too often heard liberal religious folks use it as a bucket to mean “all those other faiths that I don’t have time enough to find out about or are too ‘out there’ for me to wrap my head around but I think they should be mentioned somehow because I want to protect my liberal cred.”

So what is the solution?  First, we in the progressive/liberal traditions need to take our religion more seriously and not be afraid of asking those around us who may not believe our way, or may not believe in anything at all to give us the respect of acknowledging that we do take it seriously.  We’ve all heard the talk of “recovering Catholics,” “bitter ex-Baptists” and “former Mormons” and their situations and feelings are real; but so are our feelings about a life that is shaped and guided by our faith in positive ways.  Common respect.  Second, we need to be careful of making light of those who come from more conservative camps than we do.  Although I think teaching creationism in school is dangerous work, particularly if it is the only thing being taught, I do not think parodying it is the answer.   All parody serves to do is bully the ones we don’t agree with into submission.  We will get much further in coming up with real solutions to keeping schools out of the battle over religion by understanding and being able to actually communicate with those from whom we differ.  We don’t have to learn how to be Evangelical or Pentecostal, but we do have to learn how to live along side those whose beliefs differ from our own.

Finally, I would ask that we make a commitment.  A commitment to real inclusion where when we get to the end of the list we acknowledge that our experience is limited…or better yet, that we don’t speak in lists at all.  Rather, we speak always of the greater body of faith traditions and expressions and that we don’t single out our personal practice as somehow standing above or first in line.  Real inclusion means everyone is at the table and that miraculously, no one is served last.

I will take your faith seriously and not mock your faith in any way whether it be by exclusion, assumption or dismissiveness or invalidation.  My faith is not yours…even if we share the same practice and tradition…nor is your faith mine…our faiths are personal and our experience of community and spirituality are unique…as are each of our stories and each of our lives.  We all own the freedom to live our faith as we feel necessary.

I will take time and care to speak of all spiritual practices with sensitivity, awareness, intention, Grace…whatever.