Right-Wing Liberals

img_9352-1“I’ve been shocked by a huge divide I’ve observed between people in the United States living in completely separate realities” I wrote in my last blog post and proceeded to describe those differences in a seventeen stanza poem. I spent the following week in the middle of our country where I saw firsthand this separate reality. Although my experience affirmed the contents of the poem I had penned, I also witnessed deep love and sacrificial giving of my right-wing conservative brothers and sisters:

  • My parents who live on next to nothing but share generously everything they do have–their time, talents, home and money
  • A church that’s been converted into a home for women recovering from addictions where 13 participants stood up on Sunday and called out gratitude to each other plus those in the community of their congregation who have helped to meet concrete needs. Yes, this tiny center is reaching the poor, white community of the rural South
  • A white, middle-class businessman who in the middle of sharing his political views with me on the streets of downtown Little Rock, Arkansas, generously shared his time and resources with those some  might label a “bum”

I found the last exchange to be the most memorable. My friend, the businessman whom I’ll call Phil, had just been telling me his reasons for voting for Trump. Phil said it would take him more than 75 words to explain his position, which is what I had requested per my video project. Phil travels regularly to the East Coast and occasionally to Europe for business. I consider him a genius who could hold a intelligent debate on quantum physics, or any topic really. He also bikes nearly everywhere in a state without bike lanes, a stark contrast to the majority of residents in the South who drive 4 x4 pickup trucks.

“I couldn’t vote for Hillary because of her corruption,” he told me, explaining he did not like the character of Trump, but did agree with a few of his positions.

“But I don’t like that now I’m labeled a racist,” he continued. “Obviously we could talk about white privilege and that would be a different conversation.”

About that time is when the bum approached, an older, African American gentleman. My friend greeted him like he would an old friend and the man seemed delighted, greeting him back with an attempted fist bump, which I noticed Phil didn’t complete. His twenty-something son who rents an apartment in LA where he spends half his time was standing with us and greeted the man as well.

“You shouldn’t be out in the cold like this,” Phil said. “You know there’s a shelter up the street.”

“It’s only for women and children,” the man replied.

“Well I don’t have any cash,” Phil said showing the man his empty wallet. “But if we can find an ATM I’ll get you some money.”

“There’s an ATM just down the street,” the man said.

We strolled to the ATM and Phil took out  a wad of $20 bills (at least $100 worth) and handed them to the man.

“I’m a follower of Jesus and that’s why I’m sharing with you,” Phil said. “Take care of yourself tonight.”

“God is looking after me. Let’s all pray,” the man said. He put one arm around my friend and the other arm around my friend’s son and there on the sidewalk we prayed together. Then he strolled off.

“About six years ago I read Tim Keller’s book on justice and after that decided I would offer a ride to every bum I met,” Phil said. “I only did that for about a year and then felt like I had learned what I needed to learn, but every single one I picked up began talking about God before I did.”

A police car rolled up with two white police officers inside. The driver rolled down his window.

“Did that man ask you for money?”

“Nope, he did not,” Phil replied.

“OK. He’s been pan handling down here.”

“No, he didn’t ask us for anything.”

Phil wasn’t lying. The man hadn’t made a monetary request from us.

“I realize he’ll probably by booze with that money,” Phil said after the police left. “But  if I’m going to give someone a gift, it should show them they are valuable. A small handout is almost worse than nothing at all. I’ve been asking how much it costs in our hometown for someone to enter the Kingdom of God? And I’ve calculated it to be about $150,000. The churches are doing a good job of making people comfortable and entertained.”

“I noticed when I attended my niece’s play on Saturday that the company held their performance in a church,” I commented. “That’s a contrast to Seattle where Christians are a minority and churches often rent a space to meet from the theaters. I’m concerned to see wealth and religion so intertwined.”

“Wealth and religion and politics,” Phil said.

“Yes!” I agreed.

“But the church on the Left is actually just as political if not more so. My concern is that although they don’t care what I do morally-I can have sex with my pet and no one cares-but they want to control the way I think. If I deviate from what’s politically correct, I get labeled as ignorant or, worse, lose everything I own in a lawsuit.”

For over an hour Phil continued his exposition while standing on the streets of downtown Little Rock. We were getting cold and the hour was late when a young man approached us.

“My wallet is empty,” Phil said. “I’ve already given my quota tonight.”

“What about you?” the man looked at me.

“I can buy you some pizza,” I replied.

We began heading to the pizza shop where Phil and his family and I had eaten dinner.

“I’m not sure if the place is still open,” I said.

“There’s a place down that way,” the man told us, pointing the opposite direction. We headed there and found ourselves entering a pub.

“We gotta leave before we go broke,” Phil’s son mused to me as we entered. A bubbly waitress escorted the four of us to a table.

“We just want to order a couple slices of pizza,” Phil said as she handed us all menus.

“We don’t sell pizza slices,” the waitress replied. “But you can order a 12″ pan pizza.”

“OK, I’ll get that and a Sprite,” the young man said. “And what kind of desserts do you have?”

“We have chocolate cake and ice cream.”

“You don’t have pecan pie?”

“We don’t.”

“Thanksgiving is this week and there should be pecan pie then,” I quipped.

“Oh yes!” his eyes lit up. “I’ll make the rounds then!”

When a waitress passed by, he snagged her hand, kissed it and said, “God’s gonna bless you.”

“Be careful,” Phil said half jokingly. “We don’t want to all get kicked out of here.”

Phil insisted on getting the tab and quietly capped the order off.

“I’ll need to leave as soon as the food comes,” he told me.

Our fourth member at the table spoke openly about how he was getting his life back on track, singing in the choir at his church, playing basketball, recording his freestyle rap and finally having an apartment to live in again. We said goodbye when the waitress brought his pizza.

“I’m sorry to cut out, man,” Phil said. “But my wife’s been at home waiting for me for a couple hours now and I gotta leave.”

“You don’t think you can spare a couple bucks?” the man asked.

“No, I can’t.”

“Well, thanks for the meal.”

“I don’t think he’ll cause any disruption,” Phil said as he and his son and I left the pub. “And the waitress will be OK with him staying to finish–I tipped her well.”

“I’m glad to have this experience tonight,” I said. “You guys have given me stories for my blog.”

“I suppose,” Phil chuckled. “About two ‘racist’ white guys in the South.”

However, I thought to myself how my right-wing friends were demonstrating the original definition of “liberal,” of generously distributing wealth. The words of Proverbs 11:25 came to mind:

The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.

I may not have recorded a 75-word video of Phil’s position on the election or immigration, but our time together had shown another view of someone who opted to vote for Donald Trump, an image vastly different from those of rioting Rednecks circulating my Facebook feed. And that story told more than a 75-word–or 7500-word–speech ever could!

If Trump Had Been a Democrat

img_8437After last week’s US election, I turned into a bit of a political junkie, listening to NPR while driving, watching politician’s speeches while exercising and binging on social media late at night, reading articles shared on Twitter, Facebook and personal blogs. I’ve been shocked by a huge divide I’ve observed between people in the United States living in completely separate realities. Conservative Christians accuse the media of making this election about race. Meanwhile, many immigrants feel like they are utterly unwanted by those who voted for Trump. Friends of color have voiced to me that when they see red states and counties, they fear for their lives. Fear has struck even legal immigrants and some are afraid of step outside their house.

Hearing the sentiments of my family and the community where I grew up, however, I try to explain that people I know did not vote for Trump out of bigotry. Most of my family voted for Trump because they hated Hillary Clinton and Trump offered them more hope that he would select Supreme Court judges less leftist than would Hillary. The topic of immigration was barely on their radar to influence their decision to vote the way they did*. By voting for Trump, in my family’s minds they were in no way voting against communities of color.

Yet I am not only shocked; I am also baffled. Baffled that evangelicals could so easily swipe past the morals (or lack thereof) to vote for a billionaire celebrity. Baffled that white liberals are shrugging their shoulders to embrace the status-quo. Baffled that the caller at a square dance I attended referenced the election and said “Let’s just skip it out.” To fully process my thoughts and emotions, I would have had to write a 3,000 word essay. Instead, I’ve channeled them into a poem:

If Trump Had Been a Democrat

To progressive people
Who would you choose
If Trump had been a Democrat
And ran against Ted Cruz

To white liberals
Who want to avoid reality
Simply legalize weed
Flip the channel on TV

To elitist on the left
Who don’t anticipate personal impact
“Let’s see what he does”
Remain a status-quo Democrat

To white evangelicals
Who prayed Trump to power
Voted eighty-one percent
Claimed, “He’s God’s man for this hour.”

If Trump had been a Democrat
You would have fought him as a winner
You would have raised your finger of judgement
Called him a pro-choice sinner

But America has proved

You can call a lady “fat” and “ugly”
You can be a racist bigot
You can grab a woman’s pussy
We’ll still make you President!

You can make up false reports
You can lie all day long
Doesn’t seem to matter
Now the Right’s OK with wrong

The Right are in denial
Refusing to admit mistake
While the Left swallowed complacency
With an impact that’s hard to negate

Social media lusts for attention
Feeds lies to both sides
To harness more clicks
Only furthering our divide

People of color hear
“White evangelicals hate your existence
Say you want to stay here
You’ll be met with resistance”

“Enter a red border
Expect to face a .22
Cross that county line
And it’ll be aimed at you!”

Warm and loving people
Describe many white Christians
Concern for future decades
Drove their decisions

Rural-dwelling ranchers
Hear the need to escape
Cities harboring violence
Riots lead by hate

“Enter an urban setting
Expect to face a gun
Cross six lanes of traffic
Get ready to run!”

Warm and loving people
Come in every hue
Concern for future decades
Drove their decisions too

By listening to each other’s stories
Hearing others’ views
We’ll get a better understanding
Of what’s actually true.

We must hold Trump accountable
Both the left and the right
And in order to do that
We must unite!

Your Story in a Minute

If you’re willing to share your perspective on 1) why you voted for Trump and 2) your personal message to immigrants, let me know.

If you’re willing to share your sentiments on 1) why you fear Trump supporters and 2) your fears about what may personally happen to you once he’s in power, let me know.

I would like to compile a two-part video series of regular people speaking candidly to one another our hopes and our fears. If you would like to participate in this project, you can contact me here.

*I acknowledge that such is the case of white privilege. Living in a community where I’m not the ethnic majority, my friends have taught me about “white privilege”, one trait of which is denial and the inability to see our privilege. To take for granted that people who look differently from us often suffer from our inability to see past ourselves, to acknowledge their plight within our nation.

Politics That Began in Heaven

Cross at a hogar (children's home) I visited in Honduras earlier this year

Cross at a hogar (children’s home) I visited in Honduras earlier this year

At several points in the United State’s Presidential election this year I half jokingly suggested that every Christian simply write in “Jesus” as our leader of choice. Considering our options, if the campaign #JesusForPresident had gained momentum, I wouldn’t have been surprised if even delusional atheists had would have cast their vote that direction. However, one of my housemates informed me that in Washington State, writing in a name for anyone who has not declared they are officially running automatically nullifies the entire ballot. So much for writing in my idealistic candidate.

So if I can’t write in “Jesus” for President (at least, not and still expect my vote to count), how does a Christian synthesize God with politics? This has been a divisive topic for many Christians, particularly this election. Some abstain from voting altogether. Others “vote their conscious” by selecting third-party candidates. Still others opted for Trump or Clinton, warning one another their faith was in jeopardy for supporting the opposing candidate. In such a climate it was easy to wonder: does God even care or should we categorize faith and politics separately?

For the past month every morning I’ve prayed out loud the most well-known prayer in the Bible, the one Jesus taught his followers in Matthew 6:9-13:

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from the evil one.

As I daily prayed these words, the meaning of “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth like it is in heaven” began to deepen.

I realized that “kingdom” translated into modern English would essentially be nation-state or political system.

“No wonders Jesus was considered so revolutionary in his day!” I thought.

Jesus was always talking about a system completely counter to the one his people were living in. Many of his followers thought he was talking about a literal kingdom, a new political system he was about to bring in and become ruler over.

“No wonders their dreams were shattered when he died!”

During his time on earth, Jesus challenged systems of oppression and the rulers who held them in place. These included both religious and political powers which were interconnected in the cultures that he lived among. Yet his form of challenge often looked less like confrontation and more like elevation of the marginalized, healing the blind who were forced to beg, lepers who were prohibited from worship, women who were shunned from society. Similarly, when we pray that God’s kingdom–or rather, heaven-based politics–will be implemented here on earth, we may be surprised by where God is most at work.

“If we are to see God’s kingdom come and will be done, on earth as in heaven, we must first recognize that what we mostly experience here on earth is not heaven, and may actually feel closer to hell for some,” Bob Ekblad wrote in A New Christian Manifesto: Pledging Allegiance to the Kingdom of God. (p.52).

Bob continues saying: “This recognition is more difficult for those vested with the benefits of this world: credit, capital, economic and social success, acceptance, family support, racial profile, and citizenship that offer special entitlements or any sort of privileged status.”

Bob then points out how Jesus emphasized that’s it’s hard for a rich person to enter this new system, that it’s actually easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich person to enter (Matthew 19:23-24).

While Jesus goes on to say that ‘with God all things are possible’ (19:26), his words here show the difficulty of entry into God’s kingdom unless people have first left the kingdom or systems of this world. Ministry among inmates, immigrants, and homeless people has helped me see how systems that work or are at least tolerable for people of relative privilege like myself are completely unlivable for people on the margins. They have already left ‘the world’ in a sense and are a big step closer to reentry into the kingdom of God than many mainstreamers (Eckblad, pp.52-53).

Jesus talked constantly about this kingdom, this other world, this “new system” as we might call it in our decade. The system looked entirely different from what people expected, completely counter to what they expected a leader to do. Jesus shattered divisions and created new ones. He broke down structures and created bridges, across languages, cultures, ethnicities and worldviews. Perhaps most mind-blowing of all was when after he came back to life, he left earth almost immediately with the instructions that the new system he had taught his followers wasn’t just for them and their ethnic group, but for everybody.

No wonders they were shocked when God’s Spirit began to include people from other language and ethnic communities! 

One of these followers, Peter, became a leader of the movement and would later write a letter to those scattered around Asia and the Middle East calling them “a holy nation.” (1 Peter 2:9). God’s “kingdom” or “nation” does not follow country borders. Instead it’s like a wild weed—like mustard—popping up wherever we least expect it. This is why as I write this piece on the eve of Election Day, I have hope. Not in the US political system, not in a presidential candidate, not in a new Initiative, but in God’s nation that’s global and resilient with a just leader who will continue year after year after year. Perhaps it is fitting that election season is on the cusp of Christmas when we celebrate this leader first coming to earth:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this. ~Isaiah 9:6-7

Boo Bash at the Beach: A Safe(way) to Celebrate

Children deserve a safe and fun Halloween. That is the basis for a free trick-or-treating event held in a Safeway parking lot of South Seattle.

For the past several years my home church has hosted a Trunk or Treat on the Wednesday before Halloween in which we invite our neighbors to come collect candy from the back of cars we decorate in our church parking lot. This year, our lead pastor asked our community development team to look for ways we as a church could be more out in our neighborhood. One of the ways we found to do this was to partner with a community Halloween event that had already been established: Boo Bash at the Beach.

Our community development team leader called up the organizer of Boo Bash and asked if we could bring a couple of our cars to the event. She was delighted to hear from us, having reached out to over a dozen churches and either failed to hear back at all or received negative replies.

img_9216

Pastor Peter hosting a Lego-themed trunk

“Bring all of your trunks,” she said.

Whereas a couple hundred people would participate in our Trunk or Treat, last year’s Boo Bash attracted over 3,000 children and parents. Plus, since Boo Bash began three years ago, crime has  decreased and shootings have been nonexistent in our neighborhood on Halloween.

I arrived mid-afternoon to help set up. Originally I had planned to co-host a fishing-for-prizes trunk in the back of a img_9205friend’s van, but she was sick that plan was scratched. I definitely felt a little out-of-place in my pink camo “fisher-woman” attire and had people thinking I was either on a safari or going for a combat look. Instead of hosting a trunk, I did odd jobs helping set up chairs, hang banners, run to the organizer’s home for a box of supplies she had forgotten and gave breaks to the hosts of other trunks. One of these was Les Miserables- themed and featured blank white flags kids could write or draw their hopes and prayers on for making the world a better place. I was impressed by the contributions by young children:

img_9229“Make People Stop Fighting.”

“I could make the world a better place by planting and growing trees.”

“Jesus”one wrote in the center of a cross.

“#BlackLivesMatter”

Staying until the end to clean up meant I was about a half hour late to a study I had initiated in North Seattle on The Art of Neighboring, but it seemed silly to rush away from a neighborhood event to go read and discuss a book on neighboring. Thankfully, the participants there understood why I valued being part of this Halloween neighborhood event.