I spent two weeks following Trump’s Twitter comments, and Russia’s ongoing efforts are readily apparent (surprise! they’re focusing on race)

I didn’t intend to start this project. It happened gradually over the past year as I read more about the tactics of the Russian-based internet Research Agency (IRA), which was a major part of the early indictments issued by the Justice Department in cooperation with Special Prosecutor, Robert Mueller III. While Trump supporters crow, in person and on social media, that “no Russians were in the voting booth,” the presence of QAnon at rallies (seriously; when are we going to have serious campaign reform that bans presidential “rallies” such as these?) is evidence enough that the disinformation campaigns spearheaded by Russian hackers have been internalized as fact by an overwhelming majority of the self-described deplorables. There is nothing quite like the arrogance of false certainty.

I’ve been dealing with some health issues and I am incapable of not working on multiple things at once, so I began spending more time on Twitter. This was made possible largely by the staggeringly tumultuous past two weeks. Trump has had multiple tweet storms that descended into tantrums. I began to notice patterns in the more outrageous comments. Soon, I was discovering entire conversations with bots or highly-moderated accounts. This has heated up exponentially since a contingent of pro-Trump Black pastors visited the White House. African-American leaders from around the country have taken to Twitter and Facebook to decry not only the behavior of particular pastor but also the Administration’s woeful record on important issues around race. This “intraracial” conversation is the perfect opportunity for Russian bots to fulfill their mission to further divides and spread disinformation. Surprise, surprise. Today, Trump tweeted a Rasmussen poll citing a rising level of support among Blacks. As expected, the bots are most active.

**

What kind of numbers are we talking about?

Mine was in no way a scientific study. I am finishing a doctorate and I know what is required for a quantitative study. This ain’t it. However, I hope this is useful for the average person who wants to be able to use Twitter to connect with real people who are interested in more than shitpot stirring.

Had I thought through this before I did it, I would have taken screenshots of the conversations. I wasn’t intending on writing this but I was just curious about how many I would find in a day, which grew into a weekend, which grew into a week, which grew into two weeks. Each time I would find a confirmed bot, I would report and then block. What you can see below are screenshots of about 95% of the accounts I identified.

I am going to place the confirmed number of bots at 110. I absolutely could have found three times that amount if I wanted to dedicate myself to the task 40 hours/week. I absolutely didn’t and don’t want to do that, but I conservatively say that I dedicated about 30 hours over the course of two weeks.

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Okay, 110 out of how many?

I definitely got better with this over time (see below), so there were a number of false checks early on that I didn’t even bother with after a week of steady investigation. I estimate that I checked around 300-350 accounts. So, we’re talking about 1/3. Again, this is not scientific and I am not saying that a full 1/3 of accounts commenting on Trump’s post are bots; I actually think it is higher, but I leave it to those much more qualified than am I to do proper studies.

**

Why does this even matter? 

I think the saddest thing for me was the 200 or so accounts I checked that were not bots but rather belonged to real people parroting the rhetoric of the fake accounts. #walkaway is a perfect example. This is a manufactured “movement,” replete with stock photographs of Black people superimposed with fake quotes about how they are leaving the Democratic party. Almost every instance of a legitimate person using #walkaway, that person was White and they followed the fake accounts of supposedly Black, Republican Americans. It is like the Twitter version of “I can’t be racist because I have Black friends.

Even more insane are the conversations between highly moderated accounts pretending to be Black. One, between @sugarthegirl and @spoilrottenpup, was about how they can no longer talk to their families because they support Trump. Again, I acknowledge I should have captured the conversation itself, but I have gotten so used to automatically reporting and blocking that I went too quickly. Alas, you can see the profile pages.

Sugar the Girl did, it should be mentioned, send me a snapshot of a handwritten note with the date and a message telling me to suck it. I would have been more impressed with a photo of a real person. It does show, however, that there are humans behind these accounts, but it is highly doubtful that they are who they claim to be.

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How to identify Bots

Some of what I learned might be well-known to others who are more informed in the field. I’m just a dude with a blog who noticed some stuff. The first thing you need is botcheck.me . To save yourself time, here are a few things that can help zero in on suspicious accounts.

  1. A string of numbers by the name. If you see a name like DanEboy12800473, that’s a good candidate. This does not always hold, as it appears some people purposefully have such usernames so they can goad others into accusing them of being bots, only to respond with something like, “Typical libtard. Everyone who doesn’t agree with you is either a Russian or a bot #walkaway”
  2. They are relatively new to Twitter. Again, this is in no way a guarantee, but it has been evident in enough cases that it is worth a mention.
  3. If they mention having been “shadow banned” or have a “new account” because they’re being persecuted as conservatives.

  4. Their self-description is just a little too filled with accomplishments that are not backed up with any professional tweets, the page has links to nothing other than pro-Trump propaganda, and they use lots of hashtags associated with Russian meddling.

  5.  Identities that seem incongruous, like “Muslims for the travel ban” or “Mexicans for the wall.” Sadly, this also isn’t a guarantee. In all cases, use botcheck.me.
  6. If they swoop in, post something provocative, and then move on. This is a tactic I saw a lot. It stirs the pot, and if enough real people get involved, the bot doesn’t comment much because someone else has taken on the role of provocateur.

**

What to do? 

I don’t recommend spending as much time as I have on chasing down bots. It has certainly impacted my mental health and I find that even though I know the accounts are “fake,” the impact is not. What the intelligence agencies have been saying about Russia’s ongoing efforts is playing out right in front of our eyes. Each time OfVald has another rally and we see the rabid, ignorant, hate-filled supporters screaming propaganda while, without any trace of irony, declaring their superiority to the dumb “libs,” I feel both sad and angry. But this is part of the effort. It is meant to wear us down. It is meant to make us fear that Trump’s actual supporters outnumber us.

Twitter can be great, but it takes diligence if you want to have any sort of meaningful conversations or exchanges of ideas. As for me, I am going to take a break from reading the comment threads and focus on thoughtful pieces longer than 280 characters.

From Luther to Beauregard: My, how public theology has fallen

Image result for marburg colloquy

In October of 1529, the leading Protestant reformers Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, Martin Bucer, and Phillip Melanchthon met with several other theologians at Marburg Castle in Hesse, Germany, to see if they could put on paper a Protestant theology that would unite the disparate factions in Europe against the Roman Catholic Church. This colloquy is perhaps best remembered for the falling out of Luther and Zwingli over the issue of the real presence of Christ within the Eucharist, which ultimately led to two Protestant confessions: Lutheran and Calvinist. However, the resulting fifteen point document, known as the Marburg Articles, contains two points that have oddly become most relevant, nearly 500 years on, to all Protestant Christians, regardless of confession, in the United States.

Twelfth, that all secular authorities, laws, courts, and ordinances, wherever they may be, are of a correct and proper standing and not forbidden, as many papists and Anabaptists teach and hold. Rather, that a Christian, if he is called or born into the ruling class, can be saved through faith in Christ, just as in the class of father and mother, husband and wife, etc.

Thirteenth, that that which we call traditions in our human order in spiritual and ecclesiastical business, so long as they are not clearly contrary to God’s Word, may be followed or abandoned so that those with whom we deal can be shielded from all nature of unnecessary annoyance and the weak and common peace can be aided through love.

**

Five years later, in 1534, the Act of Supremacy made England’s King Henry VIII the head of the Anglican Church. After his death in 1553, Queen Mary I, a Catholic better-known as “Bloody Mary,” engaged in the violent oppression of the very church for which she was the head. Mary’s brief reign was followed by the Elizabethan age, which saw the undeniable assent of the Anglican Church. During these years, though, the religious wars became such an issue, not only for the United Kingdom but for Christian Europe as a whole, that Holy Roman Emperor Charles V signed the Peace of Augsburg in 1555. In it was set forth the provisio cuius regio, eius religio. “Whose realm, their religion.”

Unfortunately, that peace left out everyone except the Catholics and the Lutherans. It is a sad truth that the history of Christianity is largely one of exclusion, at least when it is the religion of the empire. Denominationalism rarely has focused on radical inclusion, in the grand sweep of Christian history.

**

St. Augustine’s classic text, City of God, evidences that Christians have long been thinking about the relationship between earthly kingdoms, such as that which opposed Jesus of Nazareth, and the kingdom of heaven promised upon the return of Christ. City of God, in many ways, is a Christian rewriting of Plato’s Republic. At issue in both is how one lives a life that is both sacred and profane. How does one define duty clearly if there are competing goods? For Plato, the choice is between allegiance to the city-state or to the Good? For Augustine, allegiance to the ruling power or to Jesus the Christ?

This past week, as the horrid immigration crisis has revealed the demonic and reprobate nature of the Trump Administration, we’ve been witness to the Attorney General of the United States, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, and the White House Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, offering their weighty, considered theological opinions. The former offered a tortured reading of Romans 13, the latter, an exegetically-dubious, “I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law. That is repeated throughout the Bible.” 

I bet Augustine and Luther are just shitting themselves.

**

The Marburg Articles excerpted above show the continuation of the grand conversation, from pagan Rome to Catholic Rome to Protestant Europe. How do we negotiate ourselves as public and private persons? How do we properly fulfill our obligations and maintain right allegiances? How do we serve God whilst being subject to human rule? 

Reformation Europe was a powderkeg frequently ignited. Theological concerns were not just matters for colloquies. Heresy trials resulted in the deaths of remarkable, sincere people. Massive armies were at the command of religious zealots of varying theologies; all the while, the mass of humanity led lives of quiet desperation (with apologies to Thoreau).

The Articles aimed, in some real way, to set forth a few practical answers. I write as a pastoral theologian; for me, the only theology that matters is that which helps us get through the vicissitudes of life. I try to hold myself to the ethical principles that are a direct outgrowth of my code of morality. And my moral code, more than anything else, is rooted in the God of justice, compassion, mercy, grace, and love. So while I may not agree with some of the principles of the Articles, I deeply appreciate that they were focused on guiding people in how to follow God in the world.

So what do the articles excerpted above mean?

**

Article Twelve: that all secular authorities, laws, courts, and ordinances, wherever they may be, are of a correct and proper standing and not forbidden, as many papists and Anabaptists teach and hold. Is it a sin to utilize the courts or governmental structures in a system you find to be fundamentally corrupted or contrary to your understanding of God? This article says, “no.” We live in a society and in order to function, we have to engage with those who are different (again, keeping in mind that there were only two actors at first, Catholics and Lutherans).

Rather, that a Christian, if he is called or born into the ruling class, can be saved through faith in Christ, just as in the class of father and mother, husband and wife, etc. 

This is really interesting. There are several things at play here.

  1. Salvation is not a matter of class. Christ is the great equalizer. All who have faith will be met with the same grace, unearned but freely given.
  2. The other stations mentioned, that of mother and father, are telling. “Be fruitful and multiply” is a command Christians have taken just as seriously as our Jewish siblings. So, parenthood was seen as a Christian duty that, in its fulfilling, would keep a person close to God. Therefore, a person in the ruling class can remain close to God while participating in government.
  3. We must consider the ramifications of the first two points. If we are all equal before God, how are we to understand when we are born or brought into the ruling class? If this path is a valid one in order to remain in right relationship with Christ, is this because we can actualize what we believe God calls us to do within government? Or is the idea here that we can participate in a flawed or even corrupted government and not fear for our salvation as long as we retain faith in Christ?

To be sure, there are detailed, historical answers about which my colleagues in church history are much more qualified to write. For our purposes, it will suffice to point at the shiny object and say “look, Christians have been wrestling with these questions for millennia and, gasp, there are millions of pages written about them!” I’m looking at you, Beauregard. 

Article the Thirteenth, that that which we call traditions in our human order in spiritual and ecclesiastical business, so long as they are not clearly contrary to God’s Word, may be followed or abandoned so that those with whom we deal can be shielded from all nature of unnecessary annoyance and the weak and common peace can be aided through love.

This would have been an interesting argument to offer in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case. The writers of Marburg were saying: “We’ve really got to let some stuff go. Yes, traditions are important and we should keep those that are essential to our faith practice. But we live in a society and we’ve got to pick our battles. Is this really so important that the common peace should be interrupted, or aid to the weak should be compromised?

For Protestants, Martin Luther’s doctrine of two kingdoms—in a 1528 sermon he also refers to it as two kinds of righteousness—is perhaps the most well-known example we can use to situate the theological dumbfuckery that is Evangelical Christianity in the United States.

Luther wrote of two different kingdoms: the temporal one of this world, and the spiritual one of God’s. Our temporal world exists because of sin, because of the fall of Adam. This realm is constantly bombarded by evil, thronged as it is by the devil and ensnared in sin, sticky like a spider web spun on a sap-laden tree. The only safeguards against this are the “offices” and “stations” (rulers, teachers, pastors, parents) that accompany temporal existence.

It is here where nuance too often is lost. Luther maintains that God is in control of both realms, but humans access them differently. For the temporal world, there is the Law. For the spiritual, there is the Gospel. Dr. Anders Nygren writes in the Journal of Lutheran Ethics 

Luther insists that it is of primary importance not to confuse the two kingdoms. Each must be true to its Divine mission. Through the Gospel God rules His spiritual kingdom, forgives sins, justifies and sanctifies. But He does not thereby supersede or abolish the earthly kingdom: in its domain it is to rule with power and the sword. Any attempt to rule the world with the Gospel is a double error, carrying a double penalty. Firstly, the Gospel is destroyed, and becomes a new Law to take the place of the old – man makes Christ another Moses, as Luther puts it. And in addition the world suffers: to quote Luther, “What would be the result of an attempt to rule the world by the Gospel and the abolition of earthly law and force? It would be loosing savage beasts from their chains. The wicked, under cover of the Christian name would make unjust use of their Gospel freedom.” And again. “To try to rule a country, or the world, by the Gospel would be like putting wolves, lions, eagles ,and sheep all together in the fold and saying to them, ‘Now graze, and live a godly and peaceful life together. The door is open, and there is pasture enough, and no watchdog you need fear.’ The sheep would keep the peace, sure enough, but they would not live long.” https://www.elca.org/JLE/Articles/931 

Luther sees the Law (understood here first as the Ketuvim, and then Lutheran teaching) as a structure through which God can work and the people can best be prepared to receive the Gospel. It is a mistake to regard the two realms as separate, for both are under the domain of God. However, adherence to God’s law is, next to grace, the best way to navigate our way through the present morass.

When Luther writes about the abandoning of traditions, whether they be ecclesial or civil, for the sake of the common peace, he is always thinking about the nature of sin and the impact it has on people. For Luther, the stakes humans face are incredibly high; he described terrifying visions of hell that would make Jonathan Edwards sleep with a nightlight. But he also had a practical side. What are these arguments about traditions doing to advance God’s love, to bring about peace, and to help the afflicted? Are you objecting to something that does not go against God’s law? If so, let that shit go. 

Or something like that.

**

The present administration, in a word, is lawless. It comes as no surprise to me that the public theology from within and around the president’s dirty nest is malformed and mutant. The notion that any earthly law that is in place is de facto the desire of God is ridiculous on its face. If Evangelicals and Republicans (six of one, right?) really believed that, they never would have said a cross word about President Obama. Beauregard and his ilk have a peculiar theology: the Law only applies to those whom they hate and want to oppress, grace is available only to those who look like them, and the purpose of life post-baptism is to judge others in such harsh terms one wonders how God, on judgment day, could stoop any lower and still be called God.

I agree that Church and State should be separated. But as a follower of Jesus, I have moral codes that I think should be ethical ones as well. You don’t need Jesus in order to arrive at these ethical principles. People of myriad faith and philosophical traditions and non-traditions have arrived upon them independently of Christianity. As a Christian, though, God does not allow me to simply absolve myself of responsibility to speak out and act against that which violates the Gospel.

The only being I submit to completely is God. And it is not the God talked about by the likes of a Huckabee.

Your Own, Personal Pilate: A Pastor Pottymouth Production

 

Screenshot 2018-03-17 12.13.29Pontious Pilate, by all extrabiblical accounts, was a sociopathic asshole.  That documents produced by nascent Christianity, with the Roman sandal on its neck, paint Pilate as a reluctant pawn in a larger cosmic game is not surprising. From the earliest credal proclamations, Jesus died under Pontious Pilate but not because of him. It makes sense in a way: why poke an already enraged bear? By the time the Gospel of Mark was penned in 70 CE, the Second Jerusalem Temple was razed, never to rise again.

But let us dissuade ourselves from the romantic notion of Christians dying en mass at the hands of the Romans for the greater glory of God. A vast majority of the martyrdom stories from the second century are akin to novellas, stories that fit nicely within a culture that values dying for a cause. The risks were real, to be sure, but there was a choice to be made. You could stand up to the Empire, as did Jesus, or you could accommodate it. An overwhelming number of Christians did the latter. Many of us, myself included, make the same sort of choices.

Like the East Coast crowd and Snoop Dogg at the 1995 Source Awards, Pilate had no love for the Jews. His first day on the job he showed up flying the Roman standards, a direct violation of the previous agreement struck between Rome and the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish legal authority. The result? Perhaps the first ever non-violent sit it. Pilate caved, lowered the standards, but he never forgot. He raided the Temple treasury to build the aqueducts, something akin to the mayor of Washington D.C. raiding the offertory of the National Cathedral. Finally, Pilate terrorized and executed Samaritan pilgrims, an action that led to his being recalled to Rome for brutality.

Think about that. Recalled to Rome for brutality.

If scripture were made of tweets, Pilate’s would have looked something like the one sent out by the small, fat thumbs of Der Twittler last night after our racist, jelly-spined Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. (Click here and here for facts and analyses.) McCabe himself issued a statement earlier today. pointing out that he and his family have been bullied and ridiculed by the chief executive for over a year.

The occupier of the Oval Office’s lawyer John Dowd is calling for Special Counsel Robert Mueller III’s investigation to cease. Again, this thoroughly corrupt Administration blurs the lines of any propriety, Dowd first claimed to be speaking for his boss but then claimed to speak only for himself, as if anyone would give a flying fuck what this troglodyte thinks were it not for his client. And across the Twitterverse and discussion threads throughout the interwebz, Russian bots and their American enablers are screaming that Pilate really tried to save Jesus. The corruption and abuse of power is breathtaking.

Lent is not symbolic. Good Friday is not about wearing black. We have choices to make. If we are serious about following Jesus, we have to call out the forces that killed him. That continue to kill people today. That kills us spiritually if we excuse evil, or even worse, rally to its side and become agents of destruction. I hold no delusions about the sanctity of the office of the presidency. Andrew Jackson was a genocidal racist. Woodrow Wilson loved Birth of a Nation, the first film screened in the White House. Let’s stop this faux patriotism bullshit. The office is only as great as we make it, and we have let it sink into the sewer and that is how it should be regarded. But I also think it is ridiculous to argue that there is some basic decency in the country that always reveals itself. That has been patently false time and time again; it takes proactive, sustained efforts and a willingness to not tolerate evil presented as being “good at heart.”

There are those who say that faith and politics should not mix. And then there are those who have read the words of Jesus. What we are seeing right now is biblical. If Pilate had anything to do with the historical Jesus’ death—and there are reasons why he might not have—it is much more likely that he took great glee in watching this rebel, this arrogant man who dared take on the Empire suffer a public and brutal humiliation.

Anyone who tries to justify the horrid things this sociopathic man-child does is siding with the Empire, not with Jesus Christ.

Not that kind of God: American Pharaoh and Exodus 3

 

bushIn the ancient world, if you were enslaved it was because your deity had been bested in the heavenly realm. The battles of human beings simply played out what had already been decided in the noumenal world, the realm of reality far removed from the puny humans. The realm perfection. So the enslavement of the Hebrew peoples was confirmation that their God was, well, not much of a god.

In the main, ancient cosmogony operated on the principle that the deities should be the main concern of humans, not the other way around. If calamity befell an individual or community, it was because the patron(ess) deity(ies) had been wronged or were upset. The capriciousness of these goddesses and gods is well-captured in myths. Over 5,000 years ago, humans could not fathom a divinity who would not place self-interest first over the well-being of persons.

But there was the belief that staying in the good graces of these powerful forces would result in divine benefits and protections. Dances, songs, sacrifices, offerings, rituals: all of these were efforts to appease the fickleness and fecklessness of the mighty spirits. Defeat in war, enslavement, occupation, and destruction were seen as the gods’ problems, though. The notion that God could raise another army to humble and chastise God’s people was pioneered by the Israelites.

But we’re talking about the Hebrews. Israel at the time of Moses was just an idea, a name attached to Jacob. Israel, which means “wrestling with God,” was not yet a place. The use of “Israelites” in the text reveals at least two things: the account was written from a point of retrospection and after the establishment of Israel proper, which doesn’t really happen until the time of King David, c. 1000 BCE.

The theology in Exodus 2 is revolutionary. Let’s read it again: “After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God.  God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.”

Notice the verbs, the actions: groaned, cried, rose, heard, remembered, looked, took notice. This shapes a theology.

  1. Human cries and groans of suffering rise to God. Certainly, other gods have heard cries of affliction, but not from slavery. These reach the noumenal world.
  2. The cries are heard. These are not ritual actions, dances, ceremonies, etc. These are laments and anguishes directly related to the culturally assumed defeat of the Hebrew God, at this point still known as El-Shaddai.
  3. God remembers an agreement, not to point out human error but as an act of self-discovery. It is hard to picture this as an omniscient God though, right? Did God forget?
  4. God looks upon the Israelites. Imagine being told that you are seen even in the most horrendous of circumstance. Not only seen, but…
  5. God notices the cries of suffering. Your pain matters. It does not go unaddressed.

These actions largely frame what is described in 3:1-15. The Burning Bush is like God’s first Skype call. But let’s go deeper than literalism. God has mastery over the natural world. Fire needs fuel. It is the only way that fire can sustain itself. But fire is not so good for the kindling. Yet here, fire and fuel are in symbiosis. The fire does not consume the bush, yet it need not spread elsewhere to remain alive.

From this harmony comes God’s voice.

“Moses, Moses,” God calls. Moses responds with the words we first heard from Abraham, then Isaac, then Jacob, and now, from one not of their genetic line. “Here I am.”

God’s response is theological. “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham…” Abraham’s descendants are not determined by blood alone, but also by faith.

God does not demand that those enslaved offer sacrifices to him. Not yet. This God does not send a tweet saying that these cries of anguish and affliction are unfair because liberation is a communal effort. God does not sigh and say that the damn Hebrews want everything done for them. No. God does not.

God lays out a plan. Notice the action words: observed, heard, know, deliver, bring. And God does not expect worship until the people have been delivered to Sinai, just as God promises.

The revelation of God’s name is a sermon unto itself, and one that I’ve already delivered in past years. Today, let us notice, though, that one translation of YHWH is “I am.” From Abraham to Isaac and on through Jacob, we’ve understood their words “Here I am” to be a reference to themselves.

Let’s perform a through experiment. Picture the words “here I am” as though they are hovering before you, like the Sesame Street reading lessons. Now, place a comma after “here.” Here comma, I am. What happens if we read their words as though they are calling upon God, not identifying themselves.

  **

What happens in Exodus 4 is fascinating from an anthropology of religion perspective. We see the commissioning of two new roles within the nascent faith. The first is that of prophet, literally “mouthpiece.” Moses is charged with proclaiming the words that God has just delivered to him. Moses, as will many after him, claims that he is not up for the job. This ticks God off a bit, so he suggests Moses’ brother.

This just goes to show you, if you want something done just get a loudmouth named Aaron.

Aaron is a Levite, which from this point forward is the tribe of priests. Moses is the first prophet, Aaron the first High Priest, at least according to the Israelites who wrote down this story nearly a millennia after it happened. However it happened.

However, it happened. On some level, significant things occurred that allowed for these theological breakthroughs. A God who hears. Who cares. Who will send human agents to bring about liberation and community. A God who is in this with us. A God of verbs.

There are cries of anguish and suffering coming from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The storm was not punishment for sins. It does not represent the defeat of a god or the failures of the peoples on the islands.

We have a president who is centering himself and his ego whilst people are enduring an unimaginable hell. Let us call out to God both here comma I am, and here I am. We are God’s people. Us. I know that it’s overwhelming. We can’t do everything. In trying to do so, we do nothing. Not well, anyway.

But we can always remind ourselves that if God observes, hears, knows, delivers, and brings, we should as well. We may not be Moses or Aaron, but we are those who stand in relationship with a God who models for us the proper response, especially when we are being ruled by a despotic Pharaoh.

God understand the anger and cries of frustration whilst an inept, bumbling clod makes haphazard decisions that crush lives, while then using the State-enforced propaganda to gaslight people into disbelieving their own lying eyes. What are you talking about, the Nile isn’t red! Don’t believe the FAKE NEWS, there is plenty of food, water, and assistance. The place is teeming with it because of the beneficence of Pharaoh.

Let us all remember our verbs, our action words, and follow God. Amen.

Is the Constitution Still Relevant? On Watergate, the Saturday Night Massacre, and Why we Need Zombie Fred Thompson

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Let us put aside, for the moment, the fact that Donald Trump never wanted to be president. A pin we shall place in discussions of his gross incompotence, which was discussed seriously by only small, but important cadre of Republicans throughout his candidacy; three million more Americans than those who voted for Trump saw it as well. As much as it pains us, we must rush past more than mere mentions of his outrageous Twitter behavior, his painfully awkward encounters with State leaders, his irresponsible logorrhea that upends international diplomacy, his fundamental lack of even the most basic understanding of U.S. history and the Constitution, the complete dearth of intellectual curiosity that drives him to watch hours upon hours of cable news as his source of information, or even that he favors crackpot, ideologically-based, but facts-challenged bloviating from people like Andrew Napolitano over actual government intelligence to support his unfounded, historically-unparalleled accusations of illegal wiretapping by a then-sitting president. Let us admit that this paragraph could continue as one horrible, run-on sentence filled with evidence from the FAKE NEWS with which he is obsessed. Because all of that is really a distraction to what has happened in the past 24 hours.

I realize that in my small but faithful readership there are many people who actually lived through Watergate. I did not; I was born in 1976, but I grew up in an intellectual, politically-involved family. I am a voracious reader and an avid watcher of documentary films. My favorite on Watergate is the 1994 Daniel Shorr/BBC doc, A Third Rate Burglary. Released the year Richard Nixon died, this comprehensive, over 6-hour examination narrated by a man who was himself a member of Nixon’s “enemies list,” chronicles in great detail the sinking of Nixon’s Titanic; even today, reasonable people can disagree on when exactly it hit the iceberg. Was it in ordering the plumbers to take photos of Daniel Ellsberg‘s psychiatric records to staunch the bleeding from the steady release of the Pentagon Papers? Was it the moment conspiracy was spoken about in the Oval Office? Was it when he fired Archibald Cox, the independent counsel charged with determining if our president is a crook? Was it because Nixon knew that the unredacted tapes would be end of him, so in what became known as the Saturday Night Massacre–a bloodless Night of the Long Knives— Nixon, incensed that Cox would not accept the outlandish Stennis Compromise (hey, let’s exploit a hearing-impaired Senator and hope he doesn’t hear the bad parts when transcribing; seriously, click the link), he ordered the Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Cox; he refused, and was fired, as was Deputy AG William Ruckelshaus, who was succeeded by the man who did pull the proverbial trigger, Robert Bork (who was later denied a seat on the United States Supreme Court in a brutal hearing).  Was it when Nixon then made a pathetic attempt to release redacted versions of the tapes (made known only because of the begrudging Senate testimony of Alexander Butterfield)? Or when the tapes were released after the Supreme Court had to tell the president that they were not his personal property? When did the presidency start to take on water and how rapidly it occurred is a fun intellectual game because we are removed from the fear and the danger. What did the president know and when did he know it? 

Not so today. The firing of Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey has some parallels and some important differences. There was no denying that Cox was fired because Nixon was trying to protect his own threatened power; Democrats wanted Comey fired because of his inarguably inept handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails (which is in itself a symbol of the partisanship that has broken our government), something that appears to have impacted the presidential election in not insignificant ways. I imagine decades from now there will still be debate about this, but right now there is no denying that we are in a Constitutional crisis.

And the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is currently taking time to excoriate Democrats about Obamacare. That’s what’s happening, and that’s what worries me. Fiddling while Rome burns.

Our current AG, Jeff Sessions, who has financial ties to for-profit prisons while calling for a return to draconian drug sentencing, is so morally questionable that Coretta Scott King wrote a letter about him. He is more Bork than Richardson or Ruckleshaus. Our current House Judiciary Committee has rabid partisans in the majority, such as climate-change denier Lamar Smith or my home state’s Steve Chabot, a staunch defender of Trump. I know that I was not alive during Watergate but I think I have a working understanding of the details, and I don’t have much confidence right now that there are principled Republicans in power who will get moving the wheels of justice. It is time for us to stop this knee-jerk, partisan reactionary behavior and understand that we are at a vital juncture in our nation’s history. We need leaders of the majority party such as Fred Thompson, who before becoming an actor and a part-time presidential candidate, managed to ask the most important, aforementioned question to Butterfield about the listening devices in the Oval Office. (Some feel Thompson gets more credit than he deserves.) Millions of citizens already are convinced that elections do not reflect the will of the people; we can jump down the rabbit hole of the Electoral College another time, but there is no doubting that Trump is the most unpopular incoming, nascent president. We’ve already breezed past his gross incompetence, so it is not as though we owe the man a thing. He has to go.

There was a famous moment in Bill Clinton’s first term after the Republicans swept into power in the unprecedented 1994 midterm election. He was being so overshadowed by the bombastic Newt Gingrich that Clinton had to say to the press, “The president is relevant.”

Is the Constitution?

Our responsibility as citizens is to make it impossible for the government to do anything until it does due diligence and shows us that, indeed, the Constitution is still relevant and it still works. Let’s hope we don’t have to call upon a zombie Fred Thompson to get it done.

To the Imams Khan: I Have Sacrificed Nothing

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Like a vast majority of Americans who are not terrible people and have a soul, I watched the appearance of Khizr Khan and Ghazala Khan, the parents of fallen U.S. Army Captain Humayun Kkhan, a patriotic young man who lost his life owed to the reckless policies of the Bush Administration, with tears in my eyes. Anyone who questions if the American dream is still alive need only look at these dignified, proud people who understand what true political oppression feels like. Looks like. They know what it means to go to another country and seize opportunities, such as Mr. Khan has done as an attorney. As their son did as a soldier deploying and redeploying as called upon by his country. And the image of Mrs. Khan, standing silently but proudly, wearing a hijab, providing strength for her husband as we imagine she has done for family all her life, is now seared into the American consciousness. Watching them, I felt proud to be an American. I don’t say stuff like that a lot. False patriotism is ugly. I have sacrificed nothing for my country. I am not a veteran. I have taught at private institutions. My community service and work is not a sacrifice. It is a great joy. A privilege. My religious freedom is not as the result of anything I have done; it has been given to me. While I am a lifelong, dedicated pacifist I have friends who are Marines and soldiers in the Army; sailors and Air Force. Veterans and active duty. One of my dear friends’ father is a retired Air Force Colonel. Another friend lost her brother in Afghanistan. I live a stone’s throw away from the second largest AFB in the country, and there are armories to the south and east. I know lots of people who have sacrificed by serving in the Peace Corp or Teach for America.

I have sacrificed nothing.

The splenetic, infantile responses of the Orange Baboon are a perfect illustration of what is going on in this country right now. Really, if we are honest, it has been going on for hundreds of years. Rich men who never serve a day of their life in the military continually decide to send our volunteer forces into impossible situations with suspects motives to seeks amoral outcomes. See also: History. Drumpf, who is woefully unaware of geopolitics, including dangerously inaccurate statements about Crimea and Ukraine, claims that he has made sacrifices by working hard, creating jobs, and building “great” buildings. One is reminded of his statement that his love for the differently-abled community can be seen in his spending millions of dollars to

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comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Sacrifices abound.

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We cannot ask for a better situation to demonstrate the macrocosm through the microcosm. Here we have an immigrant family who are fiercely proud of their adopted country; who raised a son with a sense of devotion and service that I have never even approached; who laid bare their own pain and suffering out of concern for their fellow citizens, to offer as an example an American who never would have existed had The Donald been in power when the Khans left Pakistan; who passionately used as their defense for having such fundamental questions about Drumpf’s qualifications, knowledge of the fucking Constitution of the United States. And as John Oliver has said, it seems the first time that noble document has been used as a middle finger.

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I felt proud because I see, in a small way, that we are inching closer and closer to fulfilling the maxim that all persons are created equal. A Muslim couple who still speak with accents, proudly and courageously challenging the odiousness that is passing for GOP policy positions. And, of course, the response is no longer a surprise. The asshat with “one of the great temperaments” reacted like a foul-mouthed parrot that has learned how to tweet. And, seriously. What the hell is with that sentence construction? One of the great temperaments? I must have missed the day in school in which Ms. Davis, the legendary history teacher from my high school alma mater, went over the Great Temperaments. As I am a man who likes to know things, I spent the morning doing deep research on the Great Temperaments (one cannot recommend enough the seminal work of Monsieur Derriere-Chapeau) and I found rare footage of Trump’s noble forbears:

I have written before (and before and before) about the darkness and irresponsible vision of the country the GOP nominee is presenting. But I am asking people to look very closely at what is happening: Drumpf wants to be president, but he can’t even fulfill the most basic tasks. He will send armed forces into areas of the world he knows nothing about, and will be unable to comfort the families when our heroes return in boxes. The man is a walking id, as I’ve said before. He is a blight on humanity.

But I’m about solutions. Positivity. Rejecting Trump does not happen just at the ballot box, it comes with the actions we engage in each day. Because this is what we are facing:

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This was left on a female friend of color’s FB post. I reported it and alerted my friend, who is out of the country. But this is what Drumpf is stirring up. We can be reactionary and go into word battles with them–which, actually, can be fun, so go ahead an inundate them with tweets and posts–but we can also engage in action. And that’s what this post is ultimately about. I feel like Mr. and Mrs. Khan have been our Imams. They have presented to us a challenge.

Pastor friends, Christian friends, friends who teach Sunday School. Join me. Join me as I continue to teach the children of First Presbyterian Church of Yellow Springs the Five Pillars of Islam. I connect each pillar to Christianity, highlighting similarities and differences, but they are learning about Islam. We are then going to a local mosque, and in return we will invite members to come to the church. My hope is that we can become sister communities, coming together every year to share. To support. To love one another. I’m asking you to do the same, or to do something to connect the congregation you serve or attend to a local Muslim community. It is time to make sure that as many microcosms as possible shift. That this be the end of a major politician being able to stoke fear and xenophobia.

The Khans are doing their part. Are you doing yours?

 

Ideals, Not Ideology

In my Facebook feed, battles are ongoing. Posts have 50, 60, 70 comments. Threads go in various directions simultaneously. Perhaps it is the diversity of my friend group, but there are no demographical trends one might point to in order to make sense of it all. White friends in their 70’s voice opinions echoed by biracial friends in their 20’s. Libertarians agree with Socialists; articles and blog posts and Twitter screen captures are posted and reposted. There is a lot of talk. A little less communication. And even less confidence as to what will happen in November.

The biggest rows I see revolve around some form of this question: Is refusing to vote for Hillary Clinton the same as voting for Trump? I imagine we all have seen and heard the arguments given on all sides. A vote is simply a vote for the candidate for whom it is cast. Or, my vote is not for Clinton, but rather against Trump. Or, I find them both despicable, so I am voting for a third party candidate or a write-in. We’ve seen the articles arguing that not voting for Clinton places at risk GLBT+, POC, immigrants, Muslims, or other vulnerable groups. We’ve seen articles from queer-identified POC telling Whites to stop saying they are voting for Clinton to protect others. We have seen the arguments about how votes for a third party candidate helps get a fledgling party closer to the 5% threshold needed for public funding during the next cycle. Everyone seems to be discussing suffrage, enfranchisement, civic responsibility, and political philosophy. In one way, that’s awesome. I think it is good that people are engaged and paying attention.

However, there are some just flat-out incorrect suppositions and arguments going on, and not just from Fox News. (See Bill O’The Clown’s defense of slavery.)

We are conflating ideals with ideology. Ideals should motivate us. Ideals can also influence our philosophies. Plato’s concepts of the Forms helped us conceptualize ideals and analyze how culture and sometimes arbitrary decisions influence our definitions of things like beauty and justice. The Book of Job is about many things, but at its basis it is a text about the nature of pure justice. Job has one ideal, God another. Ideals can push us to be more compassionate, more industrious, more hospitable.

But ideology is dangerous. Ideology becomes more important than people. When ideological purity is demanded, we venture into dangerous territory in which lives can be seriously damaged. Ideally, we would have an electoral system that provided us with a cleaner process, parties with a greater range of choices, a spirit of cooperation and a shared sense of citizenship. But we don’t live in an ideal society. We can continue to strive to get closer to the ideal, but the sad fact is that it does not exist now and will not before November 8.

Ideology is what led the GOP to say the number one priority was to make President Obama a one term president. Ideology is what keeps Congress from giving a timely up or down vote on hundreds of judicial nominees. Ideology is what drives us to say that strongly held principles are more important than mitigating or reducing danger to the greatest number of people. Ideology gives us a sense of righteous indignation that others will question our decisions when they are not adequately rooted in reality.

By any reasonable metric, Hillary Clinton is not the same as Donald Trump. Hate the player, hate the game all you want but she is damn good at what she does. We might find it deeply depressing, but the political system is what it is and Hillary Clinton has an encyclopedic understanding of what it takes to run the country. And believe me, on November 9 I will once again pick up my megaphone and start working toward the legislative changes that are important to me. People I love are in prison. People I love are veterans who suffer from PTSD. People I love are drowning in student loan debt, have inadequate salaries and insurance, and worry about being able to carry the tax load for a family home. Yes, I love myself thank you 😉

So we’ve gotta stop saying that we’re gonna eat a shit sandwich either way. Or, what the hell. Go ahead and say it. But I’m here to tell you that consistency and amount makes a huge difference when one is facing a shit sandwich. And you’re never going to convince me to stand in Trump’s line. I’m going to be pretty pissed off if the ideological stances of others forces all of us to strap on our bibs and start shoveling shit into our mouths.

For those of you who are holding onto your principles, I get it. I respect it. Believe me, I’m a devout Christian. Everyday I wake up and try to be like Christ, so that means every single day I fail. Ideals are good. But ideology is not. Especially now. You don’t get to pretend that we are in an ideal situation in which your ideological stance doesn’t have consequences for others. And, frankly, enough of the privilege accusations on this one. Really. Enough. I am very aware of my privilege, and where I’m not I admit that I’m not. But on this one, we are facing a situation in which no one is really safe. It is not my privilege that is asking you to vote for Clinton. It is my intellect and the fact that I’m not eager to be governed by a sociopath.

With Clinton, we will have a much better change of continuing the slow, but steady changes.

Seriously. Do we not remember 2004? Do we not remember crying together in Ohio when the marriage ban passed? Look at where we are less than 15 years later. And a vast majority of that came during the Obama Administration. We have the possibility of great social justice progress, even amidst frustration and moderate push back, with Clinton. That will never, ever happen with Trump.

Hold onto your ideals. Dump the ideology.