Political resistance

Candidate Donald Trump’s recorded comments about groping women were an unconscionable flatuosity about sexual assault. This, as with so many shouts, exhalations, repetitions, fabrications, and most of all, I think, sheer carelessness and callousness from candidate Trump need to be resisted (I will write about Clinton another time – another rich person running for office). We are trying to have a national dialogue about things that matter, things that resonate through the lives of vulnerable people in our country and around the world, things that have the possibility of making our planet a more joyful or miserable place in the coming decades. And this polluted torrent is what we have instead, coming from candidate Trump.

Nevertheless, what is in my own id, inner self, and sub-surface soup of impulses is no better. My full self is not a vast, unbroken personal landscape of acceptability, incorruptibility, and responsibility. It is true that I have been faithful, to my wife, my family, in my work, in my friendships. There are no outright betrayals there. But this is only because of self and communal regulation, not because such inclinations and impulses are absent.

I had the good fortune to be raised by parents who taught, through their lives and words, in clear terms about honesty, responsibility, integrity, compassion, and related values. These values were enlarged upon and strengthened by our church community. The Mennonite/Anabaptist sense of community is that we live our lives transparent to God and to each other. It is not that there is no privacy. We do not need to know all the “gory details.” (Porter Osborne, in Ferrol Sam’s very funny book Run with the Horsemen, famously says that he keeps some things in the part of his mind that even God can’t see!) But in both the personal details and in our public lives, we speak and behave in ways that are communally supportable. This creates both a practice of self-regulation – I have internalized these values – and communal regulation.

Communal regulation happens not so much through following stated rules. Rather, it is primarily enacted through the dedication to draw near to each other on a regular basis. In so doing, we form an ongoing experience of mutual influence. At its best, this is influence fully defined by love, a love which has its ultimate source in the infinite outpouring of God’s own Spirit. It is unlimited, unconditional, and supports joyful, generous living with each other. All this may simply be called, as we say in the world of blues music, “taking it to church.” The core experience is repeatedly drawing into proximity in relationships of love. This creates an envelope or context or practice that supports lives lived well. This, as C. Arnold Snyder writes, is the only real sacrament in the Mennonite/Anabaptist tradition. It happens whenever we meet in the presence of Christ.

But there is no pretense that this makes anyone any better or more worthy than anyone else. The Amish families in response to the horrific Nickel Mines shootings of their children offered forgiveness to the shooter. But, although they believe in heaven and hell, and they were offering an immense grace of forgiveness, the Amish refused to speculate on any difference between themselves and the shooter. Such questions are in God’s hands alone (Amish Grace p 168). This sort of spiritual deference underlines the idea that we are a community of sinners saved by grace and that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, as Paul writes in Romans. So we have no basis for self-righteousness. This is a hallmark of Mennonite/Anabaptist community.

Nor do we have any basis for taking joy in the failings or destructive behavior of others (schadenfreude). It is unwarranted: we’re not so perfect either. And it doesn’t get us to where we want to be. It simply does not advance the project of an intelligent, compassionate national conversation when we rejoice in the failings of others. Nevertheless, I do it! It’s fun, funny, and a way of blowing off steam. Fair enough. But I suppose we just need to understand that too much of this can damage our great political project. Do we want to be a nation of snark, or of constructive, courageous public life?

Wallace Stegner, in his great book Angle of Repose, writes at one point: “I don’t resent them; I just resist them.” I think this is exactly right. There is much to be resisted in the current electoral cycle. But we may do so without rancor or self-righteousness. It is enough, no, it is far more effective, to simply and forcefully resist, knowing not that we are better people than the ones we resist, but rather that we are simply living and acting on the basis of the best understanding we have at this time.

To be specific to where I started these reflections, it now comes to all of us to be more open, more forthcoming, and more attentive to the plague of sexual assault in our culture. It must be resisted firmly and comprehensively, out of a place that says “there but for the grace of God go I” and also, because of my commitments and all that I care about “this shall not stand.” This is a deep root of non-violence, both in what is resisted – sexual assault – which is a form of violence, and in how it is resisted, through humble but firm action.


Autonomy & abortion

I thought this article was very interesting. It is about access to abortions in Indonesia and self-administered abortions. I think of three key considerations from a Mennonite/Anabaptist perspective:

1) women gaining independence from men controlling women’s bodies – I think this is critical for human dignity. There is also the question about men’s responsibility for sharing the load in caring for children, a responsibility often evaded. The Mennonite/Anabaptist practice of community at its best creates space for personal ethical expression, but within a loving and responsible weave of relationships. No one’s body is controlled by another. And at the same time, we take responsibility to care for each other. It is an expression of a paradox of space and togetherness. Our model is Jesus, who wasted no time declaring independence from the harmful abuse of, for example, sabbath laws. At the same time, he made himself radically available to others, extending care, conversation, and argument! to those around him.
2) the value of intact communities sharing the risk, cost, challenges, and questions when women are face with unwanted pregnancies or ambivalence about their pregnancies. Here again, the weave of good Mennonite/Anabaptist community practice offers something of great value: no individualistic reckoning or action, but at best, a thoughtful, engaged, and intimate process of shared discernment for the sake of goodness for individuals and for the communities. In strong community, we are not drowned in a social soup of control, suspicion, and control. At the same time, we are not cut loose to live or die alone in the wilds of individualism. Jesus said “I am…” over and over, declaring personal agency. And he always said this in the midst of a “people.” He spoke his heart; he also immediately sought out friends and collaborators.
3) that abortion not be treated casually – interrupting the development of a human fetus has a resonance and import that we may not fully understand or be able to completely articulate rationally. We as communities need strong stories, deep listening, and nurtured mutual relationships to create a context for holding the questions and considerations that are presented by abortion. The Mennonite/Anabaptist practice of community provides a wholesome, open, safe place for deep listening and soulful speaking so that we may together find pathways forward. At its best, this is a practice that can constructively hold great mysteries, puzzles, and tensions, a place for the beloved presence and work of the Holy Spirit.


No finer politics

No finer politics


Dear friends, let us consider Christ as we walk together on the snarled pathways of our electoral process.


Not Christ as the subject of a particular religion, but Christ as the spirit of love, decency, justice, and compassion. May these be guiding principles of our democracy.


We need to find our true hearts again as a nation in which we aspire together to a finer shared humanity. The “better angels of our nature” are not to be coarse, to have a casual relationship to violence, to be mesmerized by big money, to sweep away people in need, to contemplate torture, to be addicted to power at all costs. Nor – and this is most important – are we a people of fear. We are, at our best, generous, open-hearted, strong, and willing to work hard together to make things good. We are, at our best, a “greatest generation” right now. Let us live into that destiny.


The world will not collapse if one candidate or another loses. The world is in more danger, however, if we give in to fear, just stay at home, and let intemperate and ill-considered voices rule the streets.


But we are not that kind of people. Let us once again find our way out of our houses, find our way to collaborations that matter: collaborations of generosity, and public well-being. We are all in this together. Let us learn again the great works of shared public life.


May love, decency, justice, and compassion be our watchwords. May we be a people of whom it will be said “No finer time; no finer generation.”