“Incivility” Happens– Sometimes for Good Reason

I may be a heretic. Like me, you probably are dismayed at the increasingly shameful and vicious language often used in social media and other public discourse.  Like our climate, it seems to get worse every year. However, while much of what we think is “uncivil” can only be condemned, a sweeping condemnation goes too far. There is a time and place for “incivility.” We might like to think of him as “Sweet Jesus,” but at times he acted uncivilly by the standards of the day.

hillary-shooting-target-nbcOn Thursday, the New York Times had an article quoting some Trump supporters promising a  “revolution” if Hillary wins. One went so far as predict they would do “whatever needs to be done to get her out of office.” It is likely that  some of our Christian brothers and sisters feel the same. On Wednesday, the Diane Rehm Show had a program on civility and public discourse. Most of the show’s panelists condemned “incivility.” One defined it as violating some vague standard of “politeness,” whatever that means. Another was more precise by defining it “as claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else in the process.” That is a more useful definition.

However, Jesus acted “uncivilly” at times under either definition. For example, in Matthew 23:27, he spewed venom on scribes and Pharisees, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.” Whew! He wasn’t being Sweet Jesus, and those are only some of the insults he threw out that day.

In addition, he periodically described people in other disparaging ways: dog, pig, snake, fox (in those days, it connoted a “weasel”), fool and brood of vipers. Moreover, one day he cleansed the Temple of merchants and money changers, overturning tables and driving them away with a whip. Sounds uncivil to me! It offended more than a few that day (they wanted to kill him!) and would have gone viral today: “#sonofmangoesberserk!”

In addition to these words and actions of Jesus, Paul was no shrinking violet. He called the Galatians “foolish” and later added that he wished those wanting circumcision would go the whole way and castrate themselves! (Gal. 3:1, 5:12) He also lambasted Cretans, “Even one of their own prophets has said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.’ This testimony is true.” (Titus 1:12-13a)

True, both he and Paul say and do a lot of other things that urge peaceful and harmonious discourse. Here are a few teachings:

  1. 5:7-9, “Blessed are the merciful. . . Blessed are the pure in heart. . . Blessed are the peacemakers. . .”
  2. 5:22, “But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.”
  3. 5:44, “But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.”
  4. 3: 8, “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.”
  5. 3:21, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”
  6. James 1:9, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

Just as we do, Jesus lived in a time of political, cultural and religious and unrest. At times, he spoke and acted in ways that violated “civil” norms of his day. There are times that Christians may be called to do the same in our times. What are some consideration for us to have in deciding our path? More on that next week.

Our Painful Election

Our presidential election faces voters with choosing between a knee to the groin or a right cross to the chin. Either are bad. (If you want to throw in the two major third party candidates, all are bad.) This morning’s news gives us the most recent examples about Trump and Hillary. as if we needed more.

The latest from WikiLeaks shows additional dishonesty, smarminess or questionable conduct (choose your preferred description or add one of your own) by the Clinton Foundation. The Washington Post story about is here. A report by Bloomberg News reveals, in addition to other questionable activities, an admission by the Trump campaign that they are actively trying to suppress voter turnout. That report is here. Both stories are based on the words of a staffer and not the candidate, but let’s not quibble over that. There is no way to avoid: the choices we have are bad and the worst since it least the 19th century.

Even if you disagree with that and love your candidate, whomever wins will have a difficult time governing because he or she will be considered illegitimate by about half of the country. Even worse, some Trump partisans hate Hillary and threaten violence if she wins.

hillary-nbc-1200-800The picture illustrates the hatred that hatred for Hillary that is within the hearts of some Trump supporters. It was taken at a Trump rally on October 27 and depicts Hillary being hung effigy. There are also Trump supporters who wear a t-shirt which features Hillary’s face as a target. And, of course, all Trump rallies include the infamous chant, “Lock her up!” All is over the top nasty.

For their part, although they neither have the hatred of Trump nor have promised violence if he wins, a good number of Hillary voters (maybe the clear majority) consider Trump to be a narcissistic, misogynistic, repugnant, bigoted, racist, sexist bully.  Full disclosure: I am one of these and will vote for Hillary– reluctantly.

The likeliest outcome of all of this is that irrespective of who wins our country is destined to suffer through additional turmoil and division for the foreseeable feature. What roles are Christian to play in this? More on that tomorrow.


Republicans Unite: #NeverTrump

Last night, the Donald again displayed the most important factor that disqualifies him from being president: given a choice between the best interests of the country and his self-interest, he will choose the latter every time.

His life has been devoted to himself. He has shown no ability or inclination to change that focus. A president needs to have the capacity to put the country first. He does not.

We most recently see this in his explicit threat to throw the country into turmoil over the election results (note that today, he did say he would not dispute the results, “if I win”). We have seen this in his lifelong pursuit of fame, fortune and celebrity. We even have seen in this election cycle in two new ways. First, in how easily his thin skin is pricked into absurd reactions, most notably his belaboring the “size of his hands” and vouching for the size of his penis. Second, last Spring during the Republican primaries, when he questioned the results of primaries that he lost.

Even good Republicans who quiver at the thought of another Clinton presidency need to wake up to this. They need to vote for Hillary. Do they want a self-centered egomaniac making decisions about war and peace when his foremost considerations as president will revolve around his ego?

Would he sell out allies if Putin stroked him around the ears? Would he use nukes if North Korea belittled him? Would he jail political opponents? Shut down press outlets? Deport American citizens?

We do not know how far his hubris might reach. We should not try and find out.

Handling Election Stress

Stressed about the presidential election? Here are a few tests:

  1. You wake up several times at night with thoughts like: “NO!!!!”, or “Wonder who he’s groping now?”
  2.  You check news reports every few minutes for the latest on Trump Twitter storms and WikiLeaks releases.
  3. You have invested your life savings in one of the campaigns.
  4. You receive instant notices about any changes in Nate Silver’s election predictions.
  5. You have moved to Canada.
  6. You hyperventilate at the sight or mention of anything orange.
  7. Your friends are suggesting counseling.
  8. Rudy Giuliani is starting to make sense.
  9. Rudy Giuliani looks increasingly simian.
  10. You fondly remember the good old days of 2008 when Sarah Palin was the loose screw.

If five or more of these apply to you, then you are among the 52 percent of American adults suffering from “election stress.” Last week, the American Psychological Association (“APA”) released a study finding that 52 percent of Americans 18+reported the election is a “very or somewhat significant source of stress.”

I thought that any stress primarily was people worrying about the Donald, but not so. According to an APA spokesperson, “We’re seeing that it doesn’t matter whether you’re registered as a Democrat or Republican . . .” Roughly equal numbers of those registered as Democrats (55 percent) or Republicans (59 percent) said the election is a “very or somewhat significant source of stress.” The worry also cuts across generational and gender lines.

The APA offered some suggestions to help sufferers manage stress:

  1. If the 24-hour news cycle of claims and counterclaims from the candidates is causing the stress, limit your media consumption.
  2. Avoid getting into discussions about the election if they have the potential to escalate to conflict.
  3. Stress and anxiety about what might happen is not productive. Channel your concerns to make a positive difference on issues you care about. Consider volunteering in your community, advocating for an issue you support or joining a local group.
  4. Know that whatever happens on Nov. 8, life will go on. Our political system and the three branches of government mean that we can expect a significant degree of stability immediately after a major transition of government. Avoid catastrophizing, and maintain a balanced perspective.
  5. Vote. In a democracy, a citizen’s voice does matter.

In addition to these, I have turned to television and movie comedies—and discovered “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” and rediscovered the old Peter Sellers’ Pink Panther movies– and there are 22 more days to go for more laughs.

Good luck!

The APA study can be found here.

Change—and grace—show themselves in unexpected ways. The “Trump video” is well-known, and by now eight women have come forward to give the lie to Trump’s claim that “he never did anything wrong, it [the tape] was just locker room talk.” Some men acknowledged that they did, indeed, talk like that and many of Trump’s supporters said, in essence, that such talk was expected and to be accepted.

In other words, Trump and those who approve of “locker room” talk such as his agree that is acceptable: to objectify and minimize women; “rate” them on their “looks;” openly leer as they approach; and, discuss various methods of sexual assault and battery that they would like to commit upon them. Worse, most heterosexual men, including me, have been guilty of such sexism to one degree or another. That does not excuse it. That does not make it right.

It is something that we men need to struggle to end. That is where change and grace comes in. Perhaps the tape and subsequent allegations made against Trump will serve to bring about much needed change and raise the level of the familial, social and cultural relationships between men and women in our society.

An article in yesterday’s New York Times suggests that this week’s events might give women a new way of seeing their own experiences with sexual assault and male sexism going forward. You can find the article here.

Hurry Up, November 9

I wonder what a poll would reveal about the percentage of Americans praying to be time transported to November 9, the day after the elections. Would that we could get there that quickly and easily! Instead, more misery is ahead, irrespective of our political persuasion, as we hit new lows in political campaigning. Most of us already are shocked at the depths being plumbed in this campaign and likely will be further amazed by the three-week endurance run before us. It promises to make ultra-marathon races seem like a walk to our kitchen. A SpongeBob video of  “How Low Can You Go” is here.

As we continue the bumpy ride, I remain struck by the parallel universes in which Clinton and Trump supporters reside. I’m in the Clinton universe and cannot imagine how anyone could vote for Trump, and most of those in the Trump universe feel the same way about people like me. I was reminded of this following a recent sermon I gave.

The gist was that our political divisions are dividing our country and threaten to engulf us. So, I urged humility about our own opinions while also respecting those of our political opposites. I said that we should try to assume the best, and not the worst, about those across the divide because they likely loved their country and wanted the best for its people just as much as we do. All in all, I thought it was a pretty good effort for me and true to the gospel.

That opinion was not unanimous.

After the service, one of our members said, “That sounded good, but I can’t do it. How can I when the other side are liars?”


I responded, “What is the other side?”


I said, “What do you think they’re lying about?”

“Pretty much everything. They lie to get more handouts and more regulations . . .”

“I guess that was what the sermon was about, that we should believe they’re acting in good faith for the best of the country as they see it.”

“I disagree. They’re liars and it all started with Roosevelt and Wilson.”

His reference to Wilson was a giveaway that the Roosevelt he was talking about was Theodore and not Franklin. I had never met anyone who went that far back into history with their political grievances. That stopped me in my tracks. I quickly tried to think what he could be talking about that happened during the Roosevelt and Wilson administrations. A list of possibilities ran through my mind: national parks; first food and drug regulations; antitrust enforcement; increased regulation of railroads and banks; child labor laws; and, workers’ rights.

I wondered which of those he didn’t like or if it was something else, and then told him, “I guess we just have a fundamental disagreement.”

I didn’t tell him that I was one of those liberals and living in an alternate universe.