Division and Unity

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It was the stark division of color that struck me.

As we watched the map turn from neutral to red or blue last night, the analysts’ monologues were all about urban and rural. I flashed back to an article I read earlier in the election season, which talked about rural voters’ support for Trump as a reaction to losing their way of life–not that they think they’re losing it, but that they are. (Well worth reading, but–language alert.)

Watching that sea of red develop in every state they zoomed in upon, with these pockets of blue concentrated around metro areas, was heartbreaking. It underscored the fact that we have lost the willingness, if not the ability, to empathize with the pain of the Other. For quite a while, I’ve been coming down pretty hard on people unwilling to consider or empathize with the problems faced by urban dwellers. In the past year, I’ve heard a lot of rural people refuse to give credence to the protests of those who experience racial injustice, for instance.

But looking at that map last night underscored that I’ve heard big fat crickets from urban people on the topics of concern to rural voters, too. Except guns, of course. Nobody’s allowed to ignore the NRA. But the truth is, we can’t even get a regular acknowledgment in our churches’ weekly prayers of the needs of the farmers who fill our tables. And that’s here in mid-Missouri, where the combines and grain elevators are only a ten-minute drive away. In the major urban centers, where thousands of people have never heard of a combine, let alone seen one, it’s surely worse.

It’s been a horrible election cycle, crowning a decade or two of increasingly horrible election cycles. We can say what we want about the nastiness of the rhetoric in the campaigns, but the rhetoric is at least as bad in our own conversations and social media comments. And when, at 3:30a.m., I knew there would be no more sleeping for me this night, I realized the only thing to do was to pray. Pray that the ascendance of this incredibly divisive new president will act as catalyst for a real change in our country. Not a change of policy at the national level–those will forever wax and wane–but a change of heart for each and every one of us. I pray that this will shock us all into realizing what we have done by refusing to be open to each other–by refusing to recognize the pain of the Other and make it our own.

Then, and only then, will we again be one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Related:

Mercy (or the lack of it) on the road to the White House

It’s Not Just What You Say–It’s How You Say It

Walking The Fine Line

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#Boycottpolitics2016

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Image by twicepix, via Flickr

For weeks, I’ve been debating stepping into the online political fray. I have a lot of opinions, and I’ve been driving around town distilling them into a collection of pithy one-liners that, as a Catholic rather than a Democrat or a Republican, would be certain to offend virtually every single person I know.

Conventional wisdom for writers says “If your professional thing isn’t politics, then shut up about politics. You’ll only shoot yourself in the foot.”

But if we don’t talk about the most important subjects, how can the world ever become a better place?

I began planning my post, and simultaneously praying whether or not I should go forward with it.

On the first day the Spirit reminded me of the importance of quiet.

On the second day, a fiction writing friend told us she was going offline until after the election.

On the third day I read a post, titled “I’m Pro-Life, and I Don’t Care About The Supreme Court“, and made the mistake of continuing on into the comments, where I found multiple examples like this:

“You just want an excuse to continue the racist and genocidal America Holocaust to include partial birth and full birth infanticide and the sale of lucrative murdered baby parts. Give Mrs. Clinton her money back.”

This man signed off with, “God bless, (name),” as if he hadn’t just spewed a mouthful of anything BUT blessing. Worse, he didn’t even seem to recognize the inherent contradiction, or the fact that he was giving the entire prolife movement a bad name.

At the end of Day Three, I got involved in a Facebook conversation preceded by the instructions “be polite and reasonable, please,” in which a particular individual lit into me for what I was saying without even stopping to read it carefully enough to hear what I was, yanno…saying.

And I realized:

It’s time to bow out of this crap.

Since the primary season, I’ve been following, reading, listening, and interacting, and it has done nothing except impoverish my spirit. I am far more anxious; I am constantly grieving the state of humanity. This political season has made it very difficult to cling to my belief in the ability of humanity to approach the world with reason, honesty, good intentions, and empathy.

I still believe that at heart, human beings are good. But we are not showing ourselves to be so this year. Actually, any time politics comes up, the worst parts of ourselves come out to play. But it’s so much worse this year. And it helps nothing, all this vitriol, all this angry, half-thought-out, buy-into-and-regurgitate-whatever-half-truth-mostly-lie-suits-your-political-color. It only hurts our ability to be what we were called to be. It doesn’t just damage the human dignity of the people we’re ripping to shreds. It damages ours, too.

I will vote, of course, although there’s little satisfaction in it this year. But I’m done being a political consumer. Nor will I be adding my collection of pithy one-liners to the fray. It’s bad for me as a human being, and being a good human being is what I am supposed to be doing.

Care to join me? #Boycottpolitics2016

How I Do Political Season

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Image by Donkey Hotey, via Flickr

For the last four or five months, Trump has been calling me 2-3 times a day from a 646 area code. First I answered it, thinking it was my sister because it was a New York call. Then I ignored it. Then I answered and yelled into the phone, just to see if it might provoke some unexpected reaction in the automated message…like sending me to a real person, who I could tell to take me the bleepety bleep off the call list. (It didn’t.)

Then came the surveys. I lost patience last election cycle because the pollsters wouldn’t allow for a single bit of nuance. They insisted upon black and white answers. Which I get, except that the polls = the news = the only reality most people recognize, so I’m not about to feed into a “the world is black and white” mentality. (News flash: IT’S NOT.)

And then there were the push polls, in which “haven’t yet done my research” was regarded as justification for throwing out questions like, “If you heard that Deplorable Candidate B did (gross distortion of reality), would that make you choose Deplorable Candidate A?” After about five or six of these, I said, “I am not going to get my political news from someone who clearly has an agenda.”

No, actually what I said was, “Look, it’s clear to me that you’re trying to push me toward Deplorable Candidate A and I will not be pushed, so I’m hanging up now.”

Fortunately they seem to have defaulted to automated surveys, and those I will take, because I figure if the polls actually push the news, then I have a responsibility to push the polls in as accurate a direction as possible.

But the ones that keep calling over and over? I don’t want to mess with it. Nor do I want the “missed call” showing up on the caller ID. So now I hit “talk,” wait one second, and hit “end.”

This week, however, I was waiting for some calls, so I answered everything. And I got this call: “Hello, can I speak to Christina Baaaaaa-si?”

I was just in a sassy enough mood to say, “There’s no Christina Baaaa-si at this house. There is a Christian Basi, but since you obviously don’t know us well enough to know that, I’m assuming this is a political call we don’t want to take, anyway.” And I hung up.

About two hours later it occurred to me that those poor people are just doing a job, and that wasn’t a terribly mercy-filled response.

Clearly, politics brings out the worst in everyone, not just candidates.

Mercy (or the lack of it) on the road to the White House

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Mercy Monday smallMy title today probably evokes an instant reaction. Everyone is well aware of the nosedive in common courtesy—a baseline standard for treating others with mercy—shown by the candidates in this presidential election.

And lest you think I’m aiming this only at one side of the Great Political Divide, let me say that I have only watched one debate this year. The Democratic candidates had me cringing and writhing so acutely, I had to turn off the TV after 45 minutes. (I haven’t had the emotional strength to attempt a Republican debate.)

Civility doesn’t garner hits; respect gets you ignored. It says a lot, none of it complimentary, about the kind of people who aspire to high leadership roles in this day and age.

But blistering the candidates for their lack of civility (i.e., baseline mercy) is an easy idol we throw up in order to avoid confronting a much more unpleasant reality:

We’re not treating them with civility (i.e. mercy), either.

A few days ago someone on my Facebook feed pleaded with us to ask ourselves if we would say the things we’re saying if the person him/herself was standing in the room to hear it.

We all need to take that question to heart…and then take it one step further.

After all, people didn’t start pursuing this brand of politics because they like being horrible to others. They did it because that’s what we respond to. They turned debates into “reality” TV, devoid of substance but rich in the worst of human nature, because that’s what garners ratings. America loves shows in which people’s human dignity is shredded, in which they are called names and kicked off the team/island/show, in which women or men are pitted against each other (and frequently, if the things I hear from people who are addicted to these shows, asked to do incredibly degrading things) in order to win the guy/girl–even though the success rate of the relationship is abysmal.

We are the culture, and if our culture is devoid of mercy, it is because we have made it that way.

Photo by Donkey Hotey, via Flickr

This presidential election is what we have asked for, via the choices we’ve made in entertainment, by the things we have chosen to make bestsellers and worldwide sensations. It is a cultural shift that we have caused by filling our Facebook and Twitter feeds with judgment, sweeping generalizations based upon a sliver of the full story and without any attempt to enter into someone else’s chaos, and lack of respect for those who see things differently than we do.

Our politicians don’t seek solutions and compromise anymore because we have quit trying to understand where others are coming from.

Please understand: I am speaking to myself here as much as I am to anyone else. I cannot deny that Donald Trump frightens me as no candidate has ever frightened me before. For the last several days, while this post has been stewing, I have been struggling with that question posed on my Facebook feed. If Trump did somehow appear in my living room, how would I speak to him? I could not in good conscience remain silent, but how could I say to him the things that need to be said and still honor his innate dignity as a human being?

It is not an easy thing to apply mercy in this arena, when all the voices around you are shrieking, interrupting, not listening, and playing fast and loose with the truth.

But we, as Christians, are called to be the yeast that leavens the whole loaf. Even when it seems hopeless. Even when our passions are crying out to the contrary.

I might fail—and fail spectacularly—but that doesn’t absolve me from trying.

Holy Spirit, in this election year, touch us with your grace. Help us to act and speak from the best we have within us, instead of the worst.

*Note: I would love to have conversation on this topic, but please, please, please refrain from turning it into a political debate. This is about mercy, not candidates.

Find more “Mercy on a Monday” posts here.

Exercising My Civic Duty With Kids In Tow

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Photo by ElDave, via Flickr

Election day, I have a house full of kids: the toddler who’s always at home, the kindergartener who is waiting to reach the 24-hour mark on his antibiotic regimen so he can return to school, and First Grader who doesn’t have school. November is looking even less friendly to a NaNoWriMo run than I had expected. I spend the morning trying to write while negotiating battles over Lego blocks and the iPad.

At noon, I load the troops and rush Kindergartener off to school. I have two presentations to make this afternoon–a Down Syndrome presentation to the third year medical students and a musical presentation to a group of developmentally disabled adults. I don’t remember about voting until I’m reloading Toddler and First Grader after dropping off Kindergartener. We have twenty-five minutes until my first presentation–just enough time to detour to the polls.

It is way busier at 12:50 p.m. than it is at 6:02 a.m. As I get my ballot, Kindergartener and Toddler decide to explore the church hallway. The poll worker lures them back with stickers, only Julianna is playing shy. “Come on!” I say, heading over to a cardboard “booth” as far from everyone else as I can manage.

It’s a long ballot, and the pen is low on ink, so it takes extra time to blacken the ovals. I keep turning around to my children, who are still hanging out by the election judges, and hissing, “Julianna! Michael! Get over here!”

“I need sticker!” protests Julianna in an injured tone, but they both come. Slowly.

Toddler sees what I have in my hand. He grabs the pen, nearly causing me to draw a long line across my ballot, and says, “I, need, pen! I! Need! Pen!”

I shake his hand off. “No, as a matter of fact, you don’t. I need the pen.”

They turn to the brochures on the adjacent table and start plotting ways to make messes. Fortunately, I’m finished, so I get up and call them to follow me.

I can’t remember where I’m supposed to return the pen, so I turn to the check-in judges, who look panicked–I guess you’re not supposed to talk to them after you get your ballot?–and point me to the far end of the church atrium, where another judge is guarding the ballot box. I hand her the pen. “I’ll take your ballot cover,” she says.

This is new. I’ve always taken the ballot cover off at the collection machine. I’ve never been asked to walk the ten feet to the machine without a cover on my ballot.

But what the hey, I don’t care if anybody sees my ballot. I hand her the sleeve and walk over to the machine.

Only the end of my ballot is a teeny bit bent, and the machine won’t take it. I’m starting to feel the time crunch. I fight the machine for a minute, and then I realize I don’t see any instructions for which direction, or even which side, has to go in first. So I flip it end over end and it goes in.

I turn to look for my children and meet instead the eyes of Ballot Box Judge. “Sticker!” she says, and I swear she’s scowling at me. I turn back to the box and see the stickers hanging off the side. I grab one for myself and turn around again.

Julianna is standing on the far side of the ballot box judge, the wrong way from the door. “Julianna! Do you want a sticker? Here!”

Election judge scowls bigger. “Ma’am! I need you to leave!”

What is she all bent out of shape about? She says something else and I register the line of three people standing waiting to insert their ballots. Then I see the box of blue tape on the floor, the one I’m standing inside, and I realize no one can come in until I leave it. Only my daughter is on the wrong side of the blue tape box from the door. I cannot get to my daughter without walking away from the exit. “Julianna! Come! Here!”

Julianna whimpers, crosses her arms in front of her body, and in her habitual Down-Syndrome-slow way, waits two seconds to take her first step.

Ma’am!” Election Judge is really getting p.o.’d now.

Okay, enough already. “I have two children!” I say, in a light-but-pointed tone of voice. “I am working on it!

At that moment, Julianna passes in front of Election Judge, who apparently realizes I’m not just being a diva. Or maybe pushing back was what made the difference. “You’re fine, you’re fine!” she says, with exaggerated friendliness, and Julianna crosses the blue line. I grab her hand and Michael’s and haul them both out of the Sacred Blue Box and over to the doors without looking back. I don’t really want to know who is or isn’t p.o.’d at me, and I don’t have time anyway.

Mental note: next time, revert to 6:05 a.m. voting time.