Some thoughts on the Epiphany…

Some thoughts on the Epiphany this year…

I’ve been rather overloaded this past week with all sorts of images and events I’d rather not to have seen, and I see other things that disturb me mightily.  Epiphany is a time for seeing things, a time of revelation.  When the Magi found the Christ child, they saw they were at a turning point in human affairs.  Their epiphany was that their lives, and the life of the world had changed.  I will not debate whether three actual kings from the Orient actually had this moment, and realized that life for them, and for humankind had changed.  That is what the story presents, though, and it is worth consideration and reflection.  What might it mean to come upon the Christ child (or whatever representation of divinity you’d prefer) and have that moment of oneness, when you know you’d been called, and your heart answered yes? 

The events that took place Wednesday in the Capitol served as something of an epiphany to me.  No, I did not see the Christ child, or even Christian behavior, but I did see something that I cannot unsee, nor can I forget.  People have compared it to 9/11, or to when Kennedy or King was shot, or to Pearl Harbor – everyone who lived through any of those knows where they were when they got the news, or saw the event as it unfolded. 

But this was something quite different – we had fellow Americans, some from Massachusetts, where I grew up, and some from Missouri, where I now live, and some from all over the US.  But these people were doing something that happened only once before – they were storming and violently taking the US Capitol.  The last time this happened was in 1812, when the British took the Capitol.  That was an act of war committed by an adversary during wartime.  This was an attack on a building that all Americans should hold sacred, a temple of what America should stand for, by Americans themselves.  And it was an act which the President of the United States called upon (as did his son, and his future daughter-in-law, and his counselor) his followers to do.  The President’s mob said they felt that he had crossed the Rubicon (a reference to Julius Caesar illegally entering Italy with a standing army, starting anew the Roman civil war). And it was an action that led at least a few Republicans to recoil in horror and condemn the action.  But given the degree of hyperventilation these same Republicans displayed whenever Benghazi was mentioned, the reaction of all Republicans seemed far too mild for what had happened in their workplace, the temple of democracy and the symbol of America.  It still does.

One Senator, Missouri’s own Josh Hawley, though he has denounced the violence in a boilerplate, less than sincere, statement, used that event (admittedly before he saw how bad it got) as a fundraising gimmick for himself.  That same Senator took to wax wroth at Simon and Schuster for canceling a book deal almost immediately, but it took him several hours to extend condolences to the family of the Capitol police officer who died.  For someone who seems so sensitive to any criticism of himself, he seems willfully blind to his own sins, and to the sinful responsibility all Republicans must bear for advancing the cause of the egoist in the White House, overlooking his crimes (and, yes, he committed crimes, whether he does time for them or not), excusing his behavior, and profiting by them (a great tax giveaway to the wealthy at the expense of the needy, judges who will find for corporate interests against the interests of the poor those corporations have injured) as they saw it.  They comforted and encouraged Donald J. Trump in his terrible behavior and in his criminal conduct, nudge-nudging and wink-winking the few times they made comments so oblique it could not be seen as a criticism, and doing absolutely nothing to curtail his excesses. 

When he was called to account by impeachment, and the House team had proven their case, the Republican Senators (all but one) chose to ignore the evidence and to ignore the wise (and prescient) statements by Rep. Adam Schiff that Donald Trump would only go on to do worse and let him go.  That makes them culpable of any and all criminal activity this President has engaged in over the past year.  It makes them all culpable of the blood spilled, the lives lost, and the damage done (physically and psychologically) on Wednesday.  They say they condemn the violence (and I like to think they are decent enough to be bothered, well, most of them); they say they have the families of the slain in their hearts and in their prayers; and then they say we must come together as Americans and leave off partisan bickering.

In other words, they want to move on.  But I think ALL Democrats and any Republicans who have a shred of decency still left them after the past four shameful years need to hold on a minute.  I don’t know how the Republicans feel, but I can see that many of the Democrats remain angry, the way a battered spouse is angry, the way a person of color is angry, the way underpaid workers at Walmart and other places are angry.  And anger, sometimes, has the force of divine wrath.  Let it be with all who feel violated by the vicious attack by goons and thugs on Wednesday.  Democrats should hold strong, as should all decent people, and demand a real move towards racial justice, demand a real move to equity in wages, demand full right to unionization and collective bargaining, demand a fair wage and universal health care for all Americans, full access to the polls for all Americans without undue burdens put there only to suppress the vote.

These are human rights, and those who would be human must demand these rights.  We should not allow those who had no problem trampling on those rights for the past four years (and longer in the case of Republicans in Missouri).  I think we should welcome Republicans who come to help in enacting justice in America, but we should not, as so many battered spouses do, go back to the person who has demeaned and brutalized them.  Half-hearted apologies will not suffice.  Growing up Catholic, I was, and remain fascinated by confession.  Even as a kid I knew that redemption was possible and forgiveness of sins was possible, but only with a genuine change of heart.  Three Our Fathers, Four Hail Maries, and a Gloria will not do. 

We should not make common cause with those who do not respect Democrats or liberals, but call them Communists or some other boogey-man label as a way to frighten people.  Most people, yes, even most Red State people, believe in a fair wage, believe in compassionate and affordable health care, believe in Social Security, believe that corporations who have done harm should have to repair that harm and pay a penalty for what they have done, and yet, these are things which most Republican elected officials have fought for all of the 20th century, and now for all of the 21st century.  They use the argument that “we can’t afford it.”  But we can afford to pass legislation that allows economic meltdowns that hurt everyone.  And we can afford to make sure that the poor get poorer, while the rich get richer.  And we can afford that essential social services, including the Postal Service, die through underfunding and gross mismanagement.  Well, the truth is (and the Republicans know this to be true, if, for their world view, inconveniently so) we cannot.

We can no longer afford to allow someone like Donald Trump to hold and desecrate the highest office in the land, a cruel and hateful man who has perverted that office and squandered any good will the US has in the world solely to enrich himself and to feed his own apparently bottomless need for cruelty.  We can no longer allow the behavior of elected officials who are willing to overlook the crimes and cruelty of the chief executive in order to advance their own agenda of dismantling the social safety net and making desperate people more desperate.  We can no longer allow the privileged to get away with it when they tell the BIG LIE (about socialism, about health care, about social security, about relief, about race).  The cost is too great. 

Some of the most moving images, one I go back to a lot, are those photos taken of the sanitation workers in Memphis on strike (Dr. King was in Memphis to speak to them when he was killed).  In those photos you see a bunch of guys on strike, many in their best clothes, holding up signs that simply read “I AM A MAN.”  It is such an iconic image – that men of color had to state clearly to those who saw them that they were human beings, with rights and deserving of love and fairness, just like everyone else breaks my heart.  But that those workers, with those four simple words, were also proclaiming such status, were putting the powers that would subjugate them by demonizing them by labeling them all sorts of awful things on notice that the politically powerful did not get to define them.  They got to define themselves.  When I think of that, it fills my heart with joy. 

In recent years, that message returned, using different words, no less powerful: BLACK LIVES MATTER. 

To those out there who feel umbrage at the signs that say BLACK LIVES MATTER, there is a solution.  Learn to see people of color as your neighbors, let the one you’ve cast as the OTHER be seen and treated as your BROTHER (and SISTER). See their pain, see the injustice done to them, see your part in that injustice.  If we work to build a just world, signs that state the obvious — “I am a man” and “Black Lives Matter” — won’t be necessary. 

To the powerful who have embraced and promulgated the BIG LIE or stood by giving assent through your silence (here I’m mainly thinking of Church Leaders who’ve been too chummy with power and not embracing the prophetic role of the Church to speak truth to power), there is another way.  Stop telling the BIG LIE.  Those who have the most to lose will need lots of reminders here.  Men like Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz feel they have too much to lose to give it up.  So take time to remind them – every day in every creative way you can.  Make it clear that they cannot hide behind the BIG LIE and that ultimately that lie will not work.  Hold them to account, Senate, and show them the error of their ways. The Democratic Senators cannot let them use the BIG LIE and the carnage it creates to advance their own personal causes without comment.  Republican Senators too need to step up, even though that means letting all those lies you’ve embraced and told go.  For the Church leaders, and here I’m mainly thinking of the Catholic Church.  The official church has been far too chummy with corporate power and the legislative and executive power that would protect corporations at the expense of the poor.  That has to stop.  That is not Christ’s work.  You know it is not Christ’s work, and the comfortable lodgings of the bishops of the Catholic Church come at too high a price.  You cannot serve God and Mammon, and right now, among church leaders, Mammon is winning.  Break the deal you made with the Republican party to turn a blind eye to economic and racial injustice just so you can get legislation which criminalizes abortion and demonizes women and doctors. 

This is going to be a long hard and difficult journey for all of us, but Democrats and liberals and socialists, you cannot back down.  Work with your Republican colleagues, but do not roll over for them.  Expose the BIG LIE every time it is put forth.  And you cannot accept reconciliation and moving forward on their terms.  For the past 150 years or so, the Republican party has stood on the side of the wealthy at the expense of the poor.  Democrats, welcome them to work with you to make America better and fix the carnage sewn these past four years, but do not accept their lies about voter fraud, about being unable to provide help to the sick, the elderly or the needy.  They are lies, the Republicans know they are lies, and know that, for years, those lies have worked.  Don’t fall for them, and do not let them control the narrative. 

Remember “I AM A MAN” and “BLACK LIVES MATTER” and make the American dream inherent in those phrases and movements a reality. 

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