Friday, November 27, 2020

Healing or Curing: What do we do about Politization in the USA? by Reverend Tom Capo



             As many of you know I was a psychotherapist before being called to ministry.  In order to get compensated for my work with clients by insurance companies, I had to use the medical model of diagnosis and treatment.  I struggled as did Dr. Lisa Rankin when I realized that "Curing means "eliminating all evidence of disease," while healing means "becoming whole…[and] most health conditions are not so easily cured."  In my case I was working with emotional issues, patterns of behavior, family systems, and the concept of curing never really made sense to me.  I will talk more about healing the mind next week with Shae, our ministerial intern.

            This relationship between of healing and curing has come has come into sharper focus for me as I have thought about what our country faces right now.  I am wondering about the systemic issues that are tearing us apart as people, particularly politicizing issues like Covid-19, racism, LGBTQ rights, women's rights, indigenous people's rights, even the rights of people to protest are at risk.  If you don't know what I am talking about regarding protest, check out what DeSantis is up to in Talahasee with Anti-mob Stand Your Ground Gun Bill, you should check.  This Bill would target people accused, accused of illegal acts during riots and looting.  This Bill proposes that physical force, including lethal options, can be used against anyone suspected of illegal acts, not by police, but just by any citizen.  Do you think this will calm down or escalate violence at a rally or protest in Florida?  What will, what can we do about all these?  Can they be cured?  Can they be healed?  

            Instead of dealing with issues such Covid 19 or racism, or managing peaceful protests through peaceful means, as a collective body, as a community trying to work on these issues through the lens of human rights, we now seem to deal with them as if they are Republican or Democratic issues.  It seems the way we choose to deal with them in turn affirms our loyalty to one party or another.   I want to heal the pain in our country caused by this politicizing, but there is also a part of me that wants to cure this problem of politicizing, "to eliminate all evidence of" it.

            When I lived in Iowa, I attended a lecture by two Iowa state legislators.  This image is the Iowa state legislature in session.  Both had just retired from the legislature and were discussing their experiences.  One had been a legislator for 20 or so years, the other has only served one term.  One Democrat, one Republican.  The legislator who had served one term said something surprising; he said that the reason he didn't serve a second term was because as he was preparing for to run for another term, his party leadership told him that he would have to say terrible, awful, no good lies about the person he was running against.  He refused to do so and decided to retire instead.  The other retired legislator, the one who had served 20 plus years, shook his head and said he had been pressured by his party to do the same thing, and had always hated that aspect of being in politics.   Two very capable legislators pressured by their own party to act unethically; it was hard for me to understand.

            I know we have seen too many political ads recently and very few of them were about issues or positions.  The vast majority of these ads spread lies about political opponents designed to shock and awe.  The past election season Martha and I turned off the sound during these commercials, not wanting to expose ourselves to such negativity.  Can't this be inevitably cured, eradicated?  Can't we just stop this kind of political discourse?

            I know radically reconfiguring the way the political season seems to wallow in the gutter would take political will and I am not sure there is such will in Washington, DC or in any of our state legislatures right now, but I know many people are sick of it.  I think the first presidential debate between Biden and Trump pushed many people beyond the brink of bearing.  Trump bullying and interrupting and both of them saying unkind things to each other.  As I watched the commentary on ABC and CNN after this debate, some of the commentators were receiving texts from friends and colleagues about children who were asked to watch the debate for school credit or because their parents felt it would be an important experience for them and the children were traumatized by what they saw and heard.  Is this what we want our children to carry within them about our political system? About our president or other legislators?

            Do the people of this country need healing or curing from all this politicizing?  What do you think? The story I will tell at the end of the service for the children did make me wonder.  It is a story of a girl with a very terrible disease.  This disease made her friends afraid to be around her.  She is lonely and sick.   A minister, a doctor, and a magician come to visit her in hopes of curing her.  The minister tries using prayer, the doctor tries using medicine, the magician tries using magic.  None of them find a cure.  But the girl says that they gave her what she needed: love, friendship, and company.  Perhaps these helped heal the pain she was in.  But here is the peculiar ending, "the doctor, the minister, and the magician gathered around the little girl and laid their hands upon her. In the silence that followed, it is said that they found the cure."  What do you take away from that ending?  What the heck was the cure?  And how can I get some of that?

            I am still in a quandary over whether this country needs healing or a cure or both.  Perhaps it is both and.  It is certainly true that healing is needed in our hearts, minds, bodies, souls for what we have gone through with all the politization of Covid-19, racism, immigration, women's rights, LGBTQ rights?  If there is a cure what would it be?  Where could we look?

            Let me tell you of two friends of mine.  Sadia Covert and Reverend Al Sharp. 

            Sadia, who is now on the DuPage County Board, is a member of a suburban Mosque outside of Chicago.  Her mosque was attacked a few years ago and she began to wonder about how the law in Illinois dealt with hate crimes.  And hers was not the only faith community attacked in the greater Chicago area.  Not long after midnight on February 3, 2017, a man smashed the glass entrance of the Chicago Loop Synagogue and placed two swastika stickers on its door.  That same week the synagogue was vandalized, residents of several south suburban and central Illinois communities discovered Ku Klux Klan recruitment fliers at their doorstep.   Sadia made it her mission to craft and get passed a new hate crime bill in Illinois.  The bill she crafted had specific consequences for hate crimes and this new law would make it much easier for the police and the courts to understand just exactly what constituted a hate crime.  She was able to accomplish getting her bill passed with the help of many allies from across the political spectrum.  It is now the law in Illinois.

            And Reverend Sharp has been working all over the country to get bills passed for legal medical cannabis and cannabis laws passed have social justice components.  Last year, in Illinois, with the work he and many allies did, a law was passed that legalized cannabis use, but more importantly the social justice components were included in the that law.  For the first time in the United States, a cannabis bill included a stipulation that would result in 770,000 individuals with cannabis records to qualify to have criminal histories removed.  And this bill included an increase in money for social development in areas that have been disproportionally affected by high rates of arrest, conviction, and incarceration related to cannabis-related offenses. 

            I bring up Al and Sadia because any one of us could do what they did, with allies and motivation.  Did they achieve cures?  Well, it certainly seems what they accomplished was more than healing; it feels like it's moving us toward eradication of a problem.  Healing includes more heartfelt, ongoing actions that treat the effects of a disease.  Curing takes more direct action to make change happen, to eradicate the disease.  

            Do you know the myth of the babies and the river?  The people in some unknown town next to some river saw babies floating down the river.  The people saved the babies, set up programs to feed, clothe, and care for the babies.  One day someone in the town finally asked where are all the babies coming from.  Healing is about taking care of the babies.  Curing is about going up river and dealing with what is causing all the babies to be put in the river in the first place.  At least to me curing is about changing the systems that underlie or support the problems – racism is a good example of this.  What are the systems and laws that support racism and white supremacy?  Want a cure?  Deal with not only the effect but the causes. 

            Earlier this year members of the UU Miami Social Justice Committee decided to work on the recent election.  And so many members of this congregation did phonebanking, poll watching, and ballot curing.  There's that word again.  We even put on a concert—during a pandemic, during quarantine-- to support these efforts.  That was amazing! Now that the election is over, it is time for us to consider what our next priority will be.  Perhaps it will be addressing some component of antiracism or the increase in hate crimes or the Anti-mob Stand Your Ground Gun Bill or gun violence or climate change.  The Social Justice Committee will meet at 12:30 PM next Sunday, November 22nd.  If you feel the call to heal or cure, to lobby or protest, to work for equity and justice, please join us.  The zoom link registration is on our webpage

            One of our forebears, Unitarian Reverend Theodore Parker, said that "I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one…But from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice."  Unitarian Universalist Reverend Richard Gilbert reminds us that "the bending, however, is not automatic, nor is it inexorable.  It is dependent on people who feel compassion, equity and justice as imperatives of their faith."  And Unitarian Universalist Reverend Tom Owen-Towle reminds us that if we feel compassion, equity and justice are imperatives, we will need to "keep the pressure on, we must remain attentive, we must dialogue and dance, meditate and march, we must repent and resist.  We must risk more passion and quit trying to be so damn logical about injustice."  My friends, together we can, and together we will, with a little more passion and without trying to be so damn logical, keep that moral arc bent toward justice.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Now What? A Post Election Reflection by Reverend Tom Capo



          How are you doing?  I mean it.  After what we went through during this election cycle and this week waiting to find out who the next president would be, how are you really doing?  I can tell you that I was surprised, scared, and confused at how close the race has been for president.  I wondered who all the people were who voted to keep the 45th president in office.  I tried not to let my own biases rise up within me as I wondered about those people—those people; my prejudice is showing.  I want my curiosity to lead me, not my prejudice, as I try to make sense of what is going in our country. 

          With all this election drama, there have been times when I just couldn't make sense of what was happening.  One moment I felt normal, then suddenly it felt like my world was on fire, and I was overwhelmed with the election, the pandemic, and then other issues like climate change and the recession slipped in to make matters worse. Was I the only one experiencing last week this way?  I am guessing not.  I'm guessing that maybe we were all pretty traumatized by the recent political chaos.  In trying to make some sense of how I've been feeling, I did find a word that describes it--“zozobra.”  Zozobra is a peculiar form of anxiety that, when we are inundated with diverse or divisive messages from within and without, we become destabilized.  We find it difficult to settle into a single point of view, and we sway from what feels like one reality to another, with questions bouncing through us like: "Isn't this a lovely autumn day in Florida?" to "How can we possibly deal with these converging historical catastrophes?" And we have a difficult time grounding ourselves.  It was hard to know what to depend on, to lean into, to deal with when everything seems to be in constant flux.  This was particularly acute over this past week, at least for me.

          This anxiety is more acute during times of isolation or a lack of community.  Francisco Gallegos, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Wake Forest University And Carlos Alberto Sánchez, Professor of Philosophy, San José State University wrote about people suffering Zozobra (website "The Conversation"): "First, people in a disintegrating society become prone to self-doubt and reluctance to take action, despite how urgently action may be needed. Second, they become prone to cynicism and even corruption – not because they are immoral but because they genuinely do not experience a common good for which to sacrifice their personal interests. Third, they become prone to nostalgia, fantasizing about returning to a time when things made sense. In the case of America, this applies not only to those given to wearing MAGA caps; everyone can fall into this sense of longing for a previous age."  Heck, I long for when Obama was in office and there was no daily barrage of abusive tweets.  A time when we seemed to be making progress with LGBTQ rights, with racial inequity and systemic racism, and when the world was beginning to acknowledge the abuse and harassment that women face in the workplace and the world.  But I know longing for the past is not productive, and is not based on reality, but on my idealized view of reality, and will not really help create a just, equitable and compassionate world.

          This week I had to find a way to ground myself, cope with my Zozobra and look toward next steps.  I could not let feelings of relief, sadness, anger, frustration, fear, joy, all at the same time, overtake me.  And I needed to take time to discern what my role is going to be in helping heal the people in this country who would be grieving the loss of their leader.  I was talking to a member of this congregation after one of the twice daily meditations I held this week, and she reminded me that it would be a lot easier for her to forgive and reach out to those who had lost, because "we" won the election.  She went on to say that she would have been able to forgive and reach out if her candidate had lost, but she would have had to work through her own grief and pain first.  This made me consider what is really happening to those who feel lost right now, grieving their loss.  Would they even want someone like me to reach out to them?

          I realize that some of us are worried about the crowds outside ballot counting centers yelling either "Stop Counting" or "Keep Counting" while trying to intimidate the workers inside, the president trying to infuse our culture with conspiracy theories about the results of the election, and Steve Bannon and others calling for violence. I will tell you first that this congregation and Unitarian Universalists congregations across this country are preparing for whatever discord may happen in our country.  And we are not the only ones.  For your peace of mind, I want to let you know that your leaders and I have created an Asset Map for the resources available to us including a list of our allies in Miami and throughout America so that are ready to aid one another and work for peace in this city and this country.

          But, just to let you know I am feeling some hope that the tide is turning toward peace.  My aunt is a rather passionate Trump supporter.  On Friday morning, I read this on her Facebook page:  "Waking up to still Biden. It's okay my friends. We will still support him because the people have spoken. I know it's not over, but let's just face it. He has won. Let it be. I just hope he gets some medical help. I am sure it's hard living with dementia. I'll be there too soon, so I have sympathy for him."  Well, not all positive, she still believes that Biden has dementia and that there was something fishy that happened in the poll counting, but this is a step.  And she has gone on to help calm her friends, rather than exacerbate their anger and fear.

          The work to reach out to those experiencing grief right now will be a long and daunting process.  Desmond Tutu once wisely said that “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.” What he meant by this is that everything in life that seems daunting, overwhelming, and even impossible can be accomplished gradually by taking on just a little at a time.  We just need to tackle the healing of our country one bite at a time.

          And my hope was/is also fed by the young people in this country.  They are building coalitions and grass root organizing that will last far beyond this election.  I got to talk to some of them this week from organizations like the New Florida Majority, New Georgia Project, Texas Organizing Project, the People Michigan, and Detroit Action. I didn't hear anxiety or fear or anger from them.  I heard "We made progress" "What we have built here is just a beginning." "Young people and people of color voted in large numbers." " More people voted than ever before in the United States." "Through phonebanking, early voting, door knocking, and early voting, we accomplished a lot."  They talked about the victories that they had accomplished locally, state-wide, and nationally.  And they continued to plan how they will work on issues of importance to them across this country.

          How are you doing?  I know I asked you that already, but I think it is a question we need to be asking ourselves.  The anxiety that we have all gone through is real and we need to take care of ourselves and take care of each other.  There are many hopeful signs about the future, and, and, there is still work to be done.

          I attended a lecture on Friday on what we have learned from this election.  It was put on by the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa.  I used to be on the Board of this organization and still receive alerts about their lecture series.  Rachel Paine Caufield, Professor of Political Science at Drake University was the speaker.  One of the big insights I gained from talking with her is about the nature of what are called Pivot Counties.  Pivot counties are counties that voted for Obama twice and Trump twice.  These are rural counties across the United States.  She visited and studied many of these counties and has read the research by many other political science professors.  As it turns out these counties have high rates of suicide, drug addiction, poverty, and Covid-19.  Within these counties, many towns are dying.  The people there have very little social capital or power.  In many of these towns churches are closing, small businesses are dying, and social gatherings that in the past held the community together are no longer happening.  The people in these counties don't feel they are being heard.  They hoped that Obama would turn things around, so they voted twice for him.  They felt listened to by Trump so they voted for twice for him.  But the reality is nothing is happening to help them from either political party.  In the book, "Alienating American" by conservative political columnist Timothy Carney, Carney writes that these places are not looking for the American Dream of wealth, they are looking for social connection because their own established sources of social connection have almost disappeared.  They don't feel connected with each other or with the rest of people in the United States.  They don't resonate with issues of civil unrest or racism or issues that urban populations are struggling with; they just want their day-to-day lives to improve.  They feel condescended to by Democrats and frankly that Democrats don't like them.  They lack services and feel disconnected really from both political parties.

          If we're to heal the schisms in this country, those who feel they won this week must put energy and resources toward effective ways to help those out there in rural America who feel disconnected, disrespected, depressed, and not heard.  I know I have talked about eating one elephant, but this is a challenge that also calls to me.

          By the way, Professor Caufield went on to say something quite radical.  She said: "This is a time of realignment for both Republicans Post-Trump and for Democrats with Biden not being someone who will energize the future of the Democratic party."  She said the future powerful party will need to appeal to both urban and rural voters.  She went on to say that party divisions are artificial and are ripe for change now.  I am not trying to traumatize you by saying this, but I am trying to open you up, to think outside the box, because my friends the future is seeded in the now, by you and me, and we need to be prepared, not stuck in old ideas, but ready for new ways of helping to create a more just, equitable and compassionate country.

          I ask again, how are you doing?  Being part of a country that we love and cherish and a democratic process that we affirm and promote is hard.  And if we are really engaged, we will have our heart broken a number of times.  As Palmer Parker reminds us: "If  we  cannot  talk about politics in the language of the heart—if we cannot be publicly heartbroken,—how  can  we  create  a  politics  worthy  of the human spirit, one that has a chance to serve the common good."  He goes on to say politics “is  the  ancient  and  honorable  human  endeavor  of  creating  a  community  in which   the   weak   as   well   as   the   strong   can   flourish,   love   and   power   can collaborate,  and  justice  and  mercy  can  have  their  day. 'We the People' must build a political life rooted in the commonwealth of compassion and creativity still found among us, becoming a civic community sufficiently united to know our own will—[know our own will, that is something we will need to continue to work on]-- and hold those who govern accountable to it."

          We have all just come through a disorienting time in our lives and a very challenging time for this country.  I'm going to celebrate, not gloat about,  the political changes from this election that mean a lot to me, then I am going to rest a little, so my head stops playing reruns of everything that has happened during these past four years.  And after a while I will start in on those elephants that need eating.  How about you?  What are your plans for healing, for grounding, for eating the elephants that are around us?