The rule of law…

We have prided ourselves in the United States as being a nation where no one is above the law. We have said that the law applies to everyone equally–even though statistics show that isn’t really true. Your skin color has a significant impact on how the law is applied to you. We are trying to do better, but we understand we have a long way to go yet.

However, one thing we have been proud of is that leaders of our government are hopefully not immune from facing the consequences of their actions (again, even though that is not always true). Perhaps the most obvious example of that in my lifetime occurred with President Richard Nixon, who resigned in disgrace after the Watergate break-in and following coverup. He did not face the judicial consequences, because his successor, President Ford, pardoned him to try to keep the country from being torn apart by the prospect of a president facing judicial judgment.

While I appreciate what President Ford was trying to do, I think his pardon helped set the stage for where we find ourselves today.

We have a former president who has convinced his followers that any attempt to hold him accountable for his actions is nothing more than a partisan witch hunt. It’s a pattern he has followed his entire life–and it now has the potential to destroy our democracy.

NO ONE is above the law, and that includes presidents and former presidents. Perhaps they should be held even more responsible for their actions because they set the tone for the country–and their actions impact millions of people.

This former president–along with his followers–has loudly proclaimed support for law enforcement…until now, when law enforcement is attempting to hold him accountable.

I don’t know what the future holds for him–or for us. But what I am sure of is that if we want to continue to proclaim ourselves a country that is based on the rule of law, we cannot allow Donald Trump and his supporters to avoid accountability for the actions they have taken…and continue to take.

Downton Abbey – the second time around

We watched Downton Abbey a few years ago but have been going through it again before we watch the new movie. It’s been interesting to notice my reactions to some of the characters and storylines this time through.

The first time through, Thomas (Mr. Barrow) was one of the characters I disliked the most. There were very few (if any) redeeming factors in his favor, and I hated his scheming and conniving. But…this time, I’ve seem him much more as a flawed human being, struggling to find his place in a world that was unbelievably harsh to homosexual men. I still don’t like his scheming and conniving, but I find myself pitying and feeling sorry for him–much more than before.

Lady Mary, the oldest daughter, is someone else I both like and dislike. Her upbringing made her who she was–pampered and given pretty much everything she wanted. But again, this time I’m allowing myself to see her as a flawed human being–and appreciating her self-honesty and the times when she allows herself to be sensitive to others.

Lady Edith, the middle daughter, is the one of the girls I feel sorry for the most. Ignored…never seen as pretty by her family…her desires to do something rather than simply being a pampered upper class woman…yet she still is determined to forge her own path, and I respect her for that.

Old Lady Grantham, portrayed by Dame Maggie Smith, is one of my favorite characters. Not because she’s nice–much of the time she isn’t. But she still sometimes surprises me with her unexpected support for some statement or action (even if it is for Machiavellian purposes). She is completely true to who she is.

One thing that has become very obvious is the lack of compassion towards those who make mistakes. Ethel, the housemaid who has a fling with one of the convalescing soldiers and ends up pregnant–without his support–is immediately turned out of her place and left with no job and no reference. That did not leave her with any real options to support herself and her child except to turn to the streets and become a “fallen woman.” Fortunately she has the opportunity (eventually) to reinvent herself, to gain skills in a job that will give her a good reference–but many of those who had worked with her, and even the upper-class family for whom she worked, still judged her harshly without taking any responsibility for their role in leaving her no other choice but sex work to try to survive.

One of my favorite musicals is Fiddler on the Roof. I love watching the way Tevye struggles with change, wondering just how much can he take. This time through, I’ve seen a lot of similarities between Tevye and Lord Grantham. They are both caught up in a changing world that they can’t control. How are they going to adapt to it? Or are they going to be so determined to hold on to the world they knew that they risk losing their children?

Downton Abbey isn’t a world that most of us could ever dream of inhabiting…but the issues and challenges the characters face are issues we can all relate to, either for ourselves or for ones we know and love.

What if we’ve misunderstood?

I read a recent sermon by Diana Bass Butler that has really made me stop and think. It involves a biblical character who has–I think–been misunderstood in many ways.

Mary Magdalene–often portrayed as a reformed prostitute (although there really isn’t strong evidence for that portrayal)…also often called the “apostle to the apostles”…who is she really?

I’m not going to try to summarize Butler’s sermon; there’s too much information in there to do justice to. Instead I’d encourage you to read her transcript. There’s a lot to unpack!

But one of the points she makes deals with some biblical scholarly research that a friend of hers did, research that totally upends what we thought we knew about Mary. “Magdalene” is not a place location; it’s a title–“Tower.” So what’s the significance of that?

Well…it’s related to the recognition of Jesus as Messiah.

Peter is the apostle we tend to turn to when we talk about a Christological statement (that is, recognizing and acknowledging Jesus as the Son of God). And when Peter made that statement, Jesus referred to him as “the Rock” on which his church would be built.

One of the things Butler refers to her in her sermon is that Mary also makes a Christological statement at the raising of Lazarus. And Jesus calls her Mary “the Tower”–a powerful symbol.

What if both Peter and Mary’s statements were given equal importance? What if–as Paul said in his letter to the Galatians–there really was no difference between the importance of male/female, slave/free? What if both “tower” and “rock” were seen as foundations for our faith?

What if women’s words…women’s testimonies…were valued from the beginning?

If we’ve misunderstood who Mary Magdalene is–and her role in the Gospel stories–what else have we misunderstood?

Jesus was not a Christian Nationalist…

I am a follower of Jesus…

I am NOT a Christian Nationalist.

The Jesus I follow and believe in spent time with the marginalized and the “unacceptable.” He was willing to spend time and visit with any who were willing to listen—and unfortunately that rarely included those who were part of the religious or political leadership, with a few exceptions.

He healed people. He didn’t ask questions about their worthiness or whether they had followed all the religious rules. He saw people in need, and he responded.

He taught—with stories that challenged the status quo.

He didn’t demand that everyone follow his teachings. He invited.

I believe that the Jesus I follow is appalled at what he sees happening in his name today.

I believe that a government requiring everyone to follow specific religious beliefs and policies in the name of Christianity is anything but Christian.

I believe that many of those who came to America came seeking religious freedom—and I find it ironic and troubling that many of their descendants now insist that their religious beliefs are the ONLY way for people to live and are trying to enshrine them into law.

What I far too often see being proclaimed in Jesus’ name is in complete opposition to the way he lived…the way he taught…the invitation he offered.

Rather than demanding people follow a specific set of rules, he said there were only two important ideas to live by: (1) love God with all your being, and (2) love your neighbor as though they were yourself.

THAT is the Jesus I follow—and I will speak against the heretical perversion of his teachings found in Christian Nationalism as much and as often as I can.

What does it mean to be free…?

When people are released from prison, then what? What services and resources are available to help them reintegrate into a world that is very different from the world they may have known for years? a world where decisions are made for them…into a world filled with technology and activities they could not have imagined.

I’ve been reading the book Free by Lauren Kessler, a book that raises these questions and puts human faces to them. She follows six individuals on their journeys from prison to the outside world.

I have to admit, I had never thought of the barriers facing newly released inmates. This is an example of the privilege I have—this situation has never been part of my family experience, and I have just assumed that there are resources available.

There are…but they are not coordinated or easy to find. And a person needs to know how to navigate them, and if there is no one to help guide them through the process, it becomes easy to simply give up hope and return to what one has known.

On a gut level, I understand the desire for retribution, for revenge, when one has been violated in some way. But I also wonder if there isn’t a better way. Many of those currently locked in prison will be released—what can we do to help them adapt to a new world successfully?

Finding housing…getting a job…getting a driver’s license…these sound simple, but many don’t want ex-cons in their neighborhood. Without stable housing, it becomes almost impossible to get a job—if it’s even possible to find one that pays more than minimum wage (which isn’t a living wage).  And there are many jobs automatically closed to those who have been in prison.

Some have families who will support them, but others have families who have turned their backs on them—or whose families are toxic enough to suck them back into the life of crime and violence that they may be trying to escape. Is there some place else they can turn for support?

As a country, we have chosen to be “tough on crime”—and we are paying the consequences. That “toughness” has done incredible damage to many minorities, targeting them with severe punishment that has closed down their futures rather than finding ways to help them turn their lives around.

What if we chose to really focus on rehabilitation and restoration rather than simply punishment? That doesn’t mean allowing individuals to escape facing the consequences of their actions. The idea of restorative justice recognizes that crime harms everyone—the criminal, the victim, society—and focuses on repairing that harm as much as possible.

What would happen if that became the norm? What would happen if—as a country—we decided that it was worth it to create coordinated resources and support that would help newly released inmates find a positive way to become members of society? What would happen if we truly recognized that our criminal justice system is broken and we decided to refocus our efforts on healing rather than merely punishment?

Wouldn’t the world be a much better place for everyone?