Filibustered by Congress

Filibustered by Congress

“Write your congressman” — advice I have heard — and given — all of my adult life. Often, I wrote. I have written scores of letters to senators and congresspersons. Acknowledging that it would likely make only a slight difference, if any, I wrote. Past experience was that the congressperson, or her staff, replied. Often there was disagreement. Still, I wrote and they replied. Occasionally, in the process, our positions and concerns were clarified. Sometimes there were acknowledgments of gratitude beyond ‘thank you for writing.’ There was, implicitly at least, a search for common understanding — perhaps some shared awareness might be found, even if only a tiny patch of it — light (insight) that is.

Today it seems that the Republicans in Congress are filibustering the American people as we search for light. Instead of filibustering in Congress we now are in a time of filibustering by Congress. What is the truth regarding the actions of Donald Trump and his enablers regarding aid withheld and encouragement needed for a more democratic governance in the Ukraine?

An impeachment has resulted and now a Senate trial. Efforts to hear from witnesses, to see public documents or interview government officials involved are avoided or denied altogether. We deserve answers — instead we receive what can only be understood as ideological fog and attempts by persons like Rudy Giuliani to tell us “up is down” and “left is right.” There is an embargo on needed information — a filibuster is set up against information for the citizens of the United States.

In the past, I wrote my representatives and they replied. That was then. Now? Not so much. I continue to write. My experience with Trey Hollingsworth, Congressman from Indiana’s Ninth Congressional District, exemplifies the problem. No more honest exchange. (I also write Senators Young and Braun and find a similar sad pattern of avoiding and filibustering in their responses.) Responses to my letters are delayed or not received at all. Worse yet, when a response comes, there is an avoidance of answers to specific questions. Instead there is a blaming of others, a sense of victimization, an avoidance of seeking after any truth other than what little can fit in a narrow ideological corner. Below are my questions for Representative Hollingsworth first sent on November 8, 2019; then, sent again, December 19, 2019.

  1. Do you believe the testimony of Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman that efforts were made to demand of Ukrainian President Zelensky a public statement against a private citizen of the United States in exchange for the release of much needed military aid?
  2. Do you observe this as a way Mr. Trump continues to act in support of the global agenda of Mr. Putin and Russia?
  3. Was Russia engaged in trying to influence elections in 2016 and is Russia already at work on interfering in the 2020 elections?
  4. What are you, as a congressman, doing to protect us from any such attacks?
  5. Was the National Rifle Association a conduit for Russian influence in our elections?
  6. Did former Congressman Rohrabacher and Pete Sessions receive direct support from Russia or were they indirectly assisted by the use of Russian directed bots on social media?
  7. Have you received, or are you open to receiving, aid from any foreign country, especially Russia for your political campaigns?
  8. What will you say to your grandchildren when they ask in twenty years, “What did you do to protect representative democracy, grandpa?”  [This is not a rhetorical question.  I sincerely want your answer.]

A response, of sorts, from Representative Hollingsworth came on January 3rd. Remembering my questions, here is what I received:

I realize my questions were direct, troubling for those who would seek to protect Donald Trump and his administration. However, they were more. Most could be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Each question was a sincere effort to get at the truth. Of course, question number eight challenges the Congressman to think about his legacy — what indeed will he say to his grandchildren?

I am wondering if others in my congressional district and state might try… perhaps if there are three of us, or ten of us, or one hundred of us, we might get more than responses that seek to avoid honest and direct answers to these questions.

And in recent days, many other disturbing questions have emerged. Was Ambassador Yovanovitch under surveillance while in the Ukraine? What was the role played by our Secretary of State? Our Vice President? Our Attorney General? The Secretary of Energy? The Ranking House Republican on the Intelligence Committee?

It seems each week is filled with new information that Senator McConnell, his allies and President Trump would like to sweep under a carpet of avoidance and obfuscation. I believe we, the American People, deserve more than a filibuster against us. I wish to know the truth that might be uncovered in answering my first set of questions.  If answered, they would offer a place to begin to understand what is at play.

Our future as a Constitutional Democracy requires more than a filibuster of information directed against us, the Citizens. As Timothy Snyder puts it so well, “post-truth is pre-fascism.” 

A Crack in Everything

On Wednesday, December 18th the House of Representatives voted to impeach Donald Trump. It was a day of sadness and a day of hope. For me the hope didn’t ensue from the debate on the floor of congress or even the the vote to impeach. Rather it came from a surprising place, Christianity Today magazine.

Mark Galli, longtime editor of the magazine who is about to retire, wrote an editorial that gave voice to a bubbling discontent that has marinated among Evangelical Christians for years. In short, Galli asserted that Donald Trump should be impeached and removed. https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/december-web-only/trump-should-be-removed-from-office.html.

Galli writes, this president’s actions and words are “profoundly immoral.” Trump, Mr. Galli asserts, “has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone—with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders—is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.”

Was I surprised? Well, in truth my surprise was only that it has taken this long for an Evangelical leader with moral courage to surface. Over the past three years my Evangelical friends have lowered their gaze and voices when speaking of the wholesale surrender of Christian virtue to Donald Trump. They spoke of his enablers, like Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr., having strayed far from any biblically normative ethic. Just how solid is the support for Mr. Trump?

There has been growing discontent and concern near the heart of important parts of the Evangelical universe. For years, words of concern have come from Fuller Seminary that the racist language and the horrific immigration policies of the Trump administration are not to be endorsed. Respected Evangelical colleges across the nation, places like Point Loma Nazarene in San Diego, Wheaton in Illinois, Seattle Pacific, Houghton in New York have seen a growing willingness to say “enough, this is not who we are!”

In May 2019 there was widely expressed faculty and student discontent at Taylor University in Indiana when Vice President Pence was selected as commencement speaker. Thousands signed a petition of concern regarding the racism and bigotry of the administration. There was a request to rescind the invitation, to no avail. Mr. Pence spoke; but dozens of the graduates and faculty did not participate or wore symbols of protest saying “We Are Taylor Too.”

In the state universities, like in my hometown, Evangelical student organizations are finding young Christian students who are embarrassed by the claims that Trump represents an Evangelical agenda. They discover alternative voices and perspectives.

I listen to the pundits who say the Evangelical support is a solid wall, eighty percent (80%) or more of the Evangelicals will support this administration. I doubt it. I doubt it will be there in November. O yes, I suspect a majority of those who wear the “Evangelical” label will march in line. However, there is dissent, especially among the young.

So, my belief, my hope at least, is that December 18, 2019 was an inflection point, a crack in the silence, a step by the honest adventurers away from all of the aiding and abetting. The gift of truth was spoken even amid the threats to “stay in line.” This crack in the facade of official Evangelicalism is an opening for small virtues like manners, and greater virtues like truth, altruism and beauty. I want to express gratitude ahead of time to our courageous Evangelical sisters and brothers speaking words of truth in the new year. May your tribe increase.

I am reminded of words of Leonard Cohen: Ring the bells that still can ring, Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. (From Anthem by Leonard Cohen.  See also The Soul’s Journey, Alan Jones, p. 219)

Prayer: O Christ of Christmas, lite our way in the year ahead that we may see your pathways of hope.  Amen

I Choose Stories for Good

I Choose Stories for Good

Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”  I chuckled when I first heard this — and understood the truth it contained.  This wisdom, first heard years ago, is both whimsical and helpful in appreciating the gifts of insight and delight offered by a good story. 

Stories provide a doorway to new understandings, new vistas on human realities and may even offer broader faith understandings.  Jesus of Nazareth knew the value of parable — story laid alongside life’s experience and opening the listener to deeper truths.  Stories are durable and can both deepen mystery or provide clues to one of life’s many puzzles.

What of the converse?   Can we say, “Never let story get in the way of fact?”  As the impeachment hearings in Congress began on November 13th we heard Ukrainian Ambassador William B. Taylor and George Kent, long-time expert on the Ukraine, speak of dueling narratives, competing stories.  These career civil servants were troubled by a counter narrative being peddled among certain American leaders based on conspiracy and contrary to the deep expertise of those committed to our national security.

What is a good story, for you, dear reader?

A deep, and I believe, good narrative has guided our nation’s best actions for decades.  Based on our constitution and constructive alliances with other nations it encourages the strengthening of human rights, democratic goals around the world.  Do we sometimes get it wrong and stand with the tyrant — I fear we do and we have.  However, the core narrative we share runs counter to tyranny and oppression.  The current “irregular narrative” dismisses our nation’s long-held values and seeks to divide, destroy common understandings and undermine trust relationship. 

What irony that on the day impeachment hearings begin, Mr. Trump entertained President Erdogan of Turkey and said he is “a big fan.” A big fan?  A fan of a man whose strong-arm tactics destroy democracatic institutions, who jails those who disagree, whose recent aggression in Syria destroyed a delicate peace in the middle east and has set the stage for the reemergence of ISIS?  A big fan?  What irregular narrative is being promulgated?  Why?  Who benefits in the larger history being written for our grandchildren?

The idea ofNever let the facts get in the way of a good story,” contains the word “GOOD.”  And, what is lacking in an “irregular narrative” is a link to our values and a moral compass.  A good story is built on that which is constructive and beneficial to human communities and societies.  The good story is one that encourages freedom and seeks to diminish tyranny.  Compass&Bible Abraham Lincoln used good stories as a critical part of his political legacy.  Even though his legacy is imperfect, overall he chose to resist the temptation to divide and destroy those who disagreed.  The alternative, the irregular narrative is based on a mountain of lies, of half-truths and a poisoned concoction of bigotry and deceit.  Ambassador Taylor identified this story as dangerous to our security. 

What makes a story good?  Good for you?  Good for your neighbor?  Good stories are, at root factual, they contain truths, even though some of the “facts” may be elaborated.  Good stories seek to help and not harm.  Good stories build up and strengthen others.

Falsehoods are being dressed up and widely shared on social media. Memes and tropes are invented that are specifically designed to undercut that which is good.  Truth is victimized and a search for the “good” is jeopardized.  We are living through a time when false narratives are employed to hold gain and hold power and do harm.  The temptation to accept the torrent of lies that come from politicians, tyrants and even television commentators seems too strong to be countered.  However, I will live believing truth will prevail.  What is “good” may appear to be lost in the tsunami of false information that seems to go unchecked. Still I choose a commitment to the commonweal, the beloved community, a community that includes all people.

Good stories are powerful things — at a fundamental level they reinforce and magnify the truth.  In the end, I believe the good in stories will prevail… but this good is fragile and under attack.  How do we know the good?  Well, there is being attentive to our history and our ongoing struggles with tyranny.   There is also the identification of truth-tellers.  I believe the narratives shared by patriots and long-time civil servants like Bill Taylor, George Kent, Fiona Hill, and Alexander Vindman will cut through much of the disinformation and deceit.

There is our faith… and with it, there is joy.

img_0759-2Like the license plate I saw on a crimson pickup truck years ago driven by a theology school dean which read “JOY N IT.”  Good stories, stories of faith, typically bring new insight, laughter and delight.  I choose stories that are good, in large measure because they also lead to joy.  The gift of honest exaggeration, of teasing, of hope-filled truths will always make clear the gift of sisters and brothers who can smile, and understand it when they say, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”