On Repentance, the General Welfare and the Better Angels of Our Nature

I’m changing directions—repenting!—on this blog out of concern for my well-being and that of our nation.

We have split into separate camps—Democrat (liberals and progressives) and Republican (conservatives and alt/right)—talking past and demonizing each other, hunkered in our respective bunkers with partisan flags composed of smugness, certainty and hubris flying high in the sky.

This does not portend well for us.

The Preamble to our oft-cited but rarely read Constitution states:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

These words contemplate a common undertaking to achieve great purposes, but we have degenerated into factions largely immune to any ends but our own.  

I am part of this. My past posts have been partisan. I can criticize, demonize and belittle conservatives of any stripe with the best of them. This should not be, however.

Speaking on the eve of the outbreak of our Civil War, Abraham Lincoln closed his first Inaugural Address hoping for a peaceful future:

“The mystic chords of memory . . . will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

His use of “chorus of the Union” pointed to a time when he hoped all parts and people of the Union would once again come together in seeking a future that would be blessed “by the better angels our nature.”

That is my hope for the country in our time.

My goal in this blog is to surface my better angels through discussing the issues of the day through a prophetic Christian lens.

By this, I mean to apply the teachings of the Hebrew prophets, including Jesus of Nazareth and New Testament writers, to contemporary issues.

It is true that Hebrews prophets were often blunt, divisive, and opinionated.

Thus, my analysis might often seem to smother the “better angels” of my nature.”  

To be sure, they often may contain bits of my own smugness, certainty and hubris.

However, may I grow through this exploration and interaction with its readers.

When Lincoln was speaking of “better angels of our nature,” it is likely that he was including within that phrase the divine values of justice, righteousness, mercy and grace.

As they took time to more fully surface in him, so they will surely take more time to better surface in me.

So, forgive me as I stumble along with my efforts, but my hope is to learn and grow with others through grappling with scripture, spiritual teachings and our higher national aspirations and what those mean in relationship to our consideration of contemporary issues.


In the Name of All Decency, Donald, Please Shut Up

For maybe the last month or so, I’ve had an increasing urge to avoid news, especially political news. Television, radio, internet, newspaper, you name it, I have grown tired of it and run away from it as fast as I can.

This is unusual for me because one of my passions is politics. I used to work in the Texas legislature. Now, if you have heard any bad things about the Texas Legislature, they are most likely true. It is conservative, hard-hearted (in Texas terms, George W was a compassionate conservative.), dominated by special interests, and often mean, petty and venal. However, I worked in and around it for over twenty years and loved doing it. My biggest thrill was researching various policies and getting to be a small part of the state legislative process. My interest in policies and politics not only continued when I went into the ministry but it intensified because I was able to see first-hand the impact of government on people.

As Republican policies took hold in our state, it often angered me to see the miserly turn an already miserly government took. It was crushing to see Texas health and human services get worse. How could that happen? Legislators seemed oblivious to the human toll that their budget cutting took. The hardest hit were poor children. Over the last decade, they have seen a reduction in speech, occupational and physical therapy services; their schools were the first to lose programs and teachers; and, their parents often failed to qualify for needed medical services. Needless to say, no state policy was adopted with the aim of truly reducing poverty.

Politics is important. Now, my interest has run into the Donald Trump phenomenon and been flattened by it. His jingoism, bigotry, fear-mongering, and demeaning comments are like catnip to news organizations. Good God, he covers the news world. He made the news today for having a Muslim woman removed from one of his rallies for apparently standing in silent protest. There is no need enumerating his long list of repugnant comments and actions.

Early in the gospel of Mark, in chapter 1, verse 25, Jesus tells an unclean spirit to, “Be silent.” That Greek word that biblical interpreters translated as “be silent” or “be quiet” can also be translated as, “Shut up!” In other words, Jesus commands the unclean spirit to “Shut up!”

I pray for the day when news organizations and the American voters command Trump or whatever unclean spirit that inhabits him to “Shut up!” And, he has to because he has been defeated. Meanwhile, a lowly Methodist pastor may not be able to do much more than this, but I will do what I can in joining millions of others to hasten the coming of that day.

HEROS, Bathrooms and Bigots

I’ve never admitted this ugly truth publicly, but I’ve sometimes used the women’s restroom in a place of business. Understand please, that I’ve never done it because of some compulsion to pee in a stall instead of standing up or to satisfy my urges in a place that is almost assuredly cleaner and more pleasingly aromatic than are men’s rooms. No, no, no, nothing of the sort. Instead, I’ve done it because of a medical condition which often plagues men of my advanced age. This “problem” sometimes makes it seem as if our sphincter will explode and let loose the Niagara Falls of all urinations if we don’t pee as soon as possible, which means we NEED to go in the first place available. Sometimes, that is a women’s room. It is important to note that I do require that it be unoccupied and have a lock on the door.

This week, voters in Houston overwhelmingly rejected an ordinance referred to as HERO, which is an acronym for the Houston Equal Rights Amendment. The Houston City Council adopted HERO last year to ban discrimination in public places on the basis of race, age, religion, military status, and 11 other categories, including sexual orientation and gender identification. The major reason for such initiatives is to give people who fall within those categories a quickly available local administrative remedy, as opposed to a lengthy law suit, if they feel discriminated against in such things as employment, housing, and public accommodations.

Similar initiatives are in effect in other localities. However, they have been defeated in still others not because of disagreement with the basic goal of the ordinance, but because of opposition over the use of public restrooms. It seems to be generally agreed that in localities where HERO initiatives have lost, opponents have been able to successfully label the law as a “bathroom ordinance” and play up fears that passage will invite male sexual predators to dress up as women and enter women’s restrooms.

Four thoughts on this. First, unfortunately, sexual predators can already do such things: criminals commit criminal acts and predators prey. Second, there are also laws on the book against such activities. For example, sexual assault is a felony. Third, in playing on people’s fears and prejudices, opponents to such laws prove the discrimination that exists against our transgendered brothers and sisters. Fourth, like me, the transgendered probably just want to use the bathroom in peace and then quietly exit.

Here is a link to a story from the public radio program “Fresh Air” that is about a family coping with their transgendered child. Here is a link to “On Point,” an NPR program that presents both sides of the argument. Here is a link to an article in the Texas Tribune discussing the aftermath of the vote.

Blogging 101: Who I am and why I am here

It is hard to say who I am and why I am here, but one fact for sure is that I am a repeat failed blogger. I’ve been in 101 two prior times have never found a way to continue a blog. I was in this course in January of this year for as long as it took the bloom to wear off of a new year’s resolution. With me, it has never taken long so I was probably out of here before the end of the first week. It obviously is also true that I am back to give it another whirl.

I’ve just retired from ministry in the United Methodist Church and my wonderful wife and I have moved into a Texas Hill Country town about an hour west of Austin. This blog will be about such things as Christianity, politics, government, and new science research that we can apply in our lives. Religion is part of this for obvious reasons. Politics and government is part of it because I worked as a staff person, lawyer or lobbyist in and around the Texas Legislature for about 22 years. I also love TED talks, NPR and cruising YouTube for interesting talks, so will also blog about what I find of interest in those places.