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American Crossroads

American Crossroads

For nothing now can ever come to any good,
now that justice is dead, swept from the stage
of this farce we call America, where manhood
is white and carries a gun fired in rage,

where guilt is washed away by milky tears
sucked from the teats of youthful privilege
asserting manufactured fears, met by jury’s cheers.
Once thought land of justice and freedom, now sacrilege,

without respect for life except one’s own.
Asked to bow to the vigilante in despair,
transformed into another MAGA-spewing drone,
do we dare act instead with compassion and care?

For goodness has not left if it lives in our heart.
What to this world around us do we truly wish to impart?

Note: The first line of this poem is the final line of the poem “Funeral Blues” by WH Auden.

The Great Gaslighting

For a long time, I believed the great divide in our nation was between political conservatives and political progressives. Over the last four years, as we have watched the division grow wider, it has actually become clear that those are not the lines that divide us at all. If it were about conservative vs. progressive approaches to problems then we should be able to reasonably negotiate compromises for the good of our nation and her people. But we seem to have lost the ability to compromise. No, a battle between conservative and progressive is not what is ailing our nation.

What it means to support Donald Trump

If you support Tr*mp you are teaching our children that

  • profit and power are the only worthwhile goals in life
  • it is ok to lie anytime, anywhere, for any reason… if anyone points out you aren’t being truthful, just accuse them of spreading fake news
  • it is ok to grab a woman anytime, anywhere, for any reason
  • it is ok to not pay your debts
  • it is ok to take advantage of other people for your own gain
  • it is ok to do what you want to whomever you want whenever you want
  • it is ok to ridicule and denigrate anyone who criticizes you… if you do something wrong, just blame it on the person who points it out
  • it is ok to ignore the law (and due process and the constitution) if doing so is convenient or profitable
  • people don’t need access to health care unless a profit can be made from it
  • the environment doesn’t matter… if people complain you’re destroying the air, water, etc. then just deny it. They’ll believe it because truth doesn’t matter.
  • people who aren’t like “us” (that is, white, male, and heterosexual) don’t matter
  • gay people (as well as lesbian, bisexual, trans folks) don’t matter
  • anyone born south of the border doesn’t matter
  • corporate profits (thus making the rich richer) are, in fact, the only thing that does matter
  • racism is perfectly acceptable
  • violence is perfectly acceptable
  • putting innocent children in jail is perfectly acceptable
  • if you’re rich and powerful, no one will hold you accountable
  • you shouldn’t worry about anyone but yourself – which is the only reason I can think of that poor or working people would support Trump – he gives them permission to tell the world to f*ck off
So, basically, if you support Tr*mp, you’re a danger to all that is good and moral in life. You’re a danger to our nation.

Also, you can’t espouse the above values (i.e. support Tr*mp) and still claim you follow Jesus… folks like Falwell and Graham should take note.

A Lament for Truth

A Lament for Truth
By Kenneth Arthur

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Somber suits donned,
we gather to mourn.
Tears caress cheeks
as we face truth:
Truth is dead.

It may have won out some day
but instead we done shot it dead.
Without Truth, there are no
truth-tellers, no prophets.
No Moses to demand let my people go.
No Nathan to hold murderous adulterers accountable.
No Isaiah to stand up for widow and orphan.
The prophets died with Truth.
No Martin to march for justice.
No Harvey to run for office.
No one to lay bare consequences
of power and greed.
No more whistle blowers because
truth has been shot dead,
branded fake, no longer necessary.
No one paid much attention anyway.
We prefer our emperors naked
as long as they strut with confidence
and a fuck you attitude we can mimic.

So we shot Truth dead
and gather to mourn
and wonder if anyone –
politician or preacher,
pipe fitter or paralegal –
has the power to stand graveside
and shout, Lazarus, Come Out!

Fostering Life

It is hard these days not to think about the political situation in our nation and world. Every day conversations seem to drift toward our nation’s difficulties even when we’d really rather not go there. Perhaps worse, it often feels to me as if the ability to have rational, grown-up discussions about our feelings, beliefs, and values is disappearing. Every day, the American culture becomes more and more close-minded and polarized. We stake out our positions, often attributing them to our religion and declaring God is on our side. We regularly create an us vs. them atmosphere instead of acting on the truth that we are all in this together – that we really, truly need each other.

Now, many folks think religion should stay out of politics. This view, however, assumes religion is only about getting into heaven after we die. In fact, religion and politics, at their core, are both about how we get along and live with each other as communities in the here and now. Personally, I believe religious institutions should never wield political power but are better suited to the role of prophet, a critic of morals and ethics. Our spiritual views do and must inform our political opinions. We will, of course, still disagree on many things but for Christians who truly try to follow Christ and his teachings, it provides us an ethical basis of love.

In the eleventh chapter of Acts, the apostle Peter tells of his vision about the splits in the early Christian community. In essence, Peter is told in his vision to get out of God’s way, to stop making rules that keep people from a relationship with the Divine. He’s told to stop trying to put God in a nice neat box that conforms to his personal opinions and to stop imposing those views on others and demonizing them. Peter comes to understand that following Christ is to know that God is forever still speaking, that following Christ is to be open-minded. It means opening our hearts with love and compassion to those who are different than us. It’s about building relationships and not walls. The “us” vs “them” attitude goes against the very nature of who God calls us to be as Christians.

Jesus teaches that we will be known as one of his disciples by our love. If love is not the first thing the world thinks of when the word “Christian” is mentioned, then it’s time to ask ourselves if we have strayed from the path. Too often, people hear “Christian” and think “hypocrite.” For all that we preach about love, we so often fail to actually love each other. Instead, we get caught up in whether everyone is behaving as we think they should. We create ways to test and judge each other.

Christian hypocrisy often shows up in our political views. Lately, abortion has been in the news. It is an emotional subject for everyone but, whatever our position, as Christians we need to ask if it is based in love and compassion. I believe it is completely reasonable and rational to be both “pro-choice” and “pro-life.” However, the real point I want to make is that if we proclaim as Christians we are pro-life (and I think caring about the preciousness of each and every life is a very Jesus-like thing to do), then in addition to the potential life of that unborn child are we also concerned with the life of the mother, an already realized, actual life?

Are we concerned about the abuse of guns and our culture of violence?

Are we concerned about making sure healthcare is available to everyone?

Are we concerned about refugee children forcibly separated from their families?

Are we concerned about paying workers livable wages?

Are we concerned about educating our young folks?

Are we concerned about climate change and the abuse of our planet?

Because these are all pro-life issues too!

When we put conditions on our love, when we only love those who think and act like we do, we are putting God in a box of our making and God will not be put in a box. God is a God of the unexpected, putting the last first. God is a God of love without conditions – what we do to the least of these, we do to God. Everyone is worthy of being loved. If we are to be followers of Jesus then we too are asked to get out of God’s way and let God lead. If we are to be followers of Jesus we are to be known by our love. We are to love the whole world whether it be a friend, someone in need, or an enemy. We are called to love as Jesus loved: to embrace the poor and oppressed, to heal those in distress, and to forgive those who have wronged us. It all starts with us: are we tuned into what God is doing in the world, are we following God? Or are we trying to put God in a box, trying to get God to follow us? Each of us is loved by God! Without condition! So let us get out of God’s way, that that Divine love may flow through us and into the world.

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This reflection first appeared in my church’s newsletter on May 31, 2019. the church website can be found at: http://www.phoenixchurch.org.

Borders are in Season

My poem titled “Borders are in Season” won second prize at the 2019 Westminster Art Festival in Portage, MI. Read it here: https://www.westminsterartfestival.org/2019-poetry.

The American Dream, RIP

Trump is a dangerously corrupt and immoral narcissist who cares only about his pocketbook and having his praises sung. I get that Republicans support him to maintain their grip on power. Other rich people support him because they think he’s good for their pocket book too. But I’ve always been mystified why so often the people most hurt by his policies are among his strongest supporters. It’s precisely because of his me-first, f*ck you attitude. That attitude impresses people. Enshrining it in the office of the President justifies thinking the same way. And frankly, that attitude is part of the American Dream. The dream that tells us we can, if we only work hard enough, gain the wealth and power (which is how we define success) we covet. It’s the pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps dream. It’s the all-I-need-are-my-guns dream of the mythical wild west cowboy.

The American Dream is destroying itself and our democracy with it. We need a new dream.

Making America Great Again

Have you ever wanted to be important? We want to feel needed. We want to feel like we are making a difference in the world. As kids we might dream of being the best at our favorite sport, sinking the winning shot in the championship game. Maybe we dreamed of being admired like a doctor or lawyer or maybe we dreamed of being president, someone with a lot of power. Maybe we achieved some of our dreams of importance and maybe those dreams still linger with us. As adults we still want to matter and make a difference in our lives.

But when we think of importance, when we dream of greatness, we also have to ask ourselves what exactly that means. How do we measure greatness? Is the wealthiest person great? Or is power and influence the critical factor? And who benefits from our desired greatness? Do these dreams come from pure selfishness or do we want to help others? Greatness and its motivations seem to be a hot topic in our country. Some people say they want to “Make America Great Again” but then act out of racism, sexism, homophobia, and a disregard for the poor and disadvantaged. Does being great mean making everyone else miserable? Just what does it mean to be great, to be important?

In the ninth chapter of the gospel of Mark, Jesus’ disciples were debating this very question, arguing amongst themselves about who was the most important of their group. And Jesus tells them how to be great in his eyes: become a servant for others. Greatness has nothing to do with wealth or power. The greatest are those who put the welfare of others first. Cultivating peace and justice; being kind, considerate, and compassionate; acting in the interest of others and the common good… these are the things by which we should measure greatness.

This is the way we are called to live if we choose to follow God’s path and live by God’s wisdom. True greatness is measured by love. We can say God is great because God is love. God loves each one of us without condition. If we want to be great, Jesus tells us, then share that love with those around you. Be a servant and welcome the children and the vulnerable. Love. By welcoming the vulnerable we welcome God. When we love others, we love God.

What if we used love as a measure of greatness everywhere? What if “Make America Great Again” meant: let’s see how loving we can make our country? What a great place that would be! Imagine people outdoing themselves to help others. Imagine people competing to see who can create the most efficient and impactful programs. Not to put money in the hands of the rich but to feed people and provide health care, to end racism, to help victims of abuse instead of blame them… and on and on. What if the greatness of our country and our government was measured by love? Not military power or wealth, but how much it helped people – all people, but especially the vulnerable and oppressed. That is the place I want to live in.

Let’s all have a great (loving) day!

Note: This reflection was originally published in my church newsletter. The church website is www.phoenixchurch.org.

New book — Bruised Skies

I wanted a way to share a few of my poems in a more traditional way so I decided to undertake this small experiment in self-publishing, coming up with this chapbook length book featuring 17 of my poems (12 of which have been previously posted on this blog). If you’re interested, you can buy it from Amazon now. Other booksellers should also have the ability to order it – if not immediately then in the near future.

Bruised Skies: Poems in Response to A World Gone Mad

The 17 poems in this short collection express dismay and anxiety over the state of life in this second decade of the 21stcentury, from the rise of fascism to the way we treat the earth and each other as we go about our everyday routines. Yet, at the same time, they call us to resistance and change while offering a glimpse of hope for the resurrection of compassion and connection.

 

Open letter to my congressional representative

To the Honorable Fred Upton,

As a voter in your district, I want to thank you for your post on Facebook stating your confidence in our U.S. intelligence agencies and your support of the independent Mueller investigation. However, this statement does not go far enough. We need to hear your complete and thorough condemnation of Donald Trump’s presidency, which has been a disaster for our country beyond anyone’s imagination. His constant and brazen lying, narcissism, misogyny, and racism should be enough to disqualify him from continuing in office.

However, we must also not forget his failure to live up to his vows to uphold our constitution. His frequent attacks undermining our free press are attacks on the first amendment. Further, he and his family’s use of the their government positions to promote their business interests are at the very least unethical and are mostly likely a violation of the Emoluments Clause of the constitution. Lastly, Trump’s former policy of separating asylum-seeking families, and now his inability to reunite those families as ordered by our courts, amounts to a crime against humanity as well as a violation of their right to due process as guaranteed by the fourteenth amendment. The dismantling of environmental regulations meant to protect our natural resources and financial regulations meant to protect the people from greed-fueled corruption also do our country a great disservice.

Since the beginning of his presidency, I have been greatly shamed by Trump’s undue criticisms of long time U.S. allies while kowtowing to violent dictators such as Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Kim Jong-un of North Korea, and Vladimir Putin of Russia. All of this has been done while undermining U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, CIA and Justice Department by constantly casting aspersions upon their honesty and integrity. Finally, his actions of this past weekend and especially his statements following meeting with Putin on Monday amount to a betrayal of our nation.

Something must be done and we, the people whom you represent, should not have to remind you that it is your job as a member of congress to be a check and balance on the executive branch of government. The President is immoral, grossly incompetent, and a threat to our nation. Please do what is right for our country. I ask you and congress to take appropriate action immediately.

Please also know that I will be sharing this letter. I also pledge to vote forevermore against anyone who supports the treasonous actions of Trump. We must now whole heartedly and vehemently affirm our democracy as standing for the rights and welfare of the people of this great nation.

Sincerely,
Rev. Kenneth Arthur
Kalamazoo, Michigan

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