The day I got cancer? That was bad news.
Life-changing bad news, the kind that takes ages to recover from and the kind where even if you survive, nothing will ever be the same again.
The day we brought Kyrie home from the hospital (the first time)? That was amazing news.
It was amazing news, but the kind where you knew life was going to be really hard for a long time and there was no way around it.
Keeping up with politics the last two weeks? That was INSANE.
There was so much happening so fast!
Nathan and I are trying to read to be aware and understand, and he is way braver than I am in some ways for asking questions publicly on social media. I mostly just read both sides of the story and compare, then talk to him and a few select friends who can discuss without being pushy one way or another. We have been surprised how negatively some people have responded just to questions, and grateful for others who have had the maturity to discuss without imposing their own beliefs or being ugly about it.
I won’t speak for Nathan, but I will say that I am a registered Independent. I want to study the people, and the issues, and the party responses, rather than commit myself as a “member” of that kind of nationalism. It feels dangerous to me, but maybe I read too many books from hundreds of years ago and ought to catch up to modern times.
I do participate consistently, though, and make a decision in time before primaries and re-register so I can vote how I want in primaries before the big elections come. I want to be independent of the two party-system by default, but that doesn’t mean I vote for a third party candidate. The one in Oklahoma this year was nuts! The other big one in the country wasn’t an option in my state. The big one before him, who lost to Hillary, had a few cool ideas, but no way could he pull it off. America just wasn’t ready for that kind of change. It wasn’t going to work even he stayed independent.
I don’t want to commit to a third party any more than I want to commit to one of the polarized parties. It just is creepy to me, and makes me feel all suffocated. I’m just too oppositional, I think. I wouldn’t even be a member of my church if I didn’t have such a testimony of its truth, and its a miracle I ever married Nathan, excepting that he was so exactly me that even I knew it.
But now here we are, with a new President and everyone is all cranky about it. Some people like him and are being really inconsiderate of the people who are still adjusting, and other people don’t like him and seem to be shouting all the time. It has been such a politically charged atmosphere, and it seems the unfolding of events – or, rather, the response of the people, has really polarized everyone. It feels divisive and gross.
Thomas Paine said:
“Those who expect to reap the blessings of liberty
must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”
I have thought about that quote a lot as the last few weeks have unfolded in all its drama.
I believe our government, though not always its people, has something true and special about it that is unique from other governments.
Maybe that’s like a church, where you believe it is true even though the people that make it up are so human and full of mistakes sometimes.
I also believe that our Constitution, which establishes and explains our government, is most sacred.
But I see this play out with the Bible, when I work as a chaplain, and so many people interpret the same thing a hundred different ways.
So it’s tricky.
It gets even trickier when people are so passionate about what is happening: some people are passionate because they are so excited for serious changes the government has needed for a long time, and other people are passionate because they are actually afraid for different groups of people and the future of us all.
All of them, though, are having trouble keeping up with what all is happening because so much is happening so fast! I read in one place that previous Presidents have had three or four major things on their schedule each day, but Trump has an hourly agenda. They say he only sleeps three or four hours a night, so it’s no wonder he can work so hard so fast. It seems he is working the government the same as he worked a business: on overtime, with his staff running to keep up with him!
I think he’s also the first President to use social media to the degree that he does. There has been a presence for a while, but not personal use or the frequency or intensity of that presence like there is now. It’s like having a live Eagle cam, except instead of little baby birds we have the Oval Office and all that’s happening. That’s legit, and feels intense in a new way, something different than our society has ever experienced before. It’s like we just got the first television set, all over again.
This experience also requires, developmentally, a higher level of thinking and processing than just critical or abstract. Almost everything that happens in the White House now has two sides to it, and we the people are left wrestling with it and what it all means and what the implications might be. It’s uncomfortable. It’s easier when things are black and white, or this and that, or we have some preparation time before our whole lives change again.
For example, news that Trump wants to cut funding for the arts was heartbreaking, right? Obviously with Nathan’s background and the education level we have and the activities we enjoy with our children, we are great fans of the arts and theater and music. It’s really, really important to us, and we believe in its value in our culture and its impact on the development of our children.
But at the same time, we know Trump is serious about the budget. And when our family is keeping a strict budget, we have similar cuts. We don’t get to go to the movies or the symphony or the ballet or fancy art shows. We may get free tickets to the dress rehearsals, or go on a free Saturday at the museum, but frivolous stuff like that gets cut from our budget when every penny goes to keeping your baby alive… even though we really, really, really love it.
It’s one of those times you just wish you were wealthy, in an imaginary and obscene amount of wealth kind of way, so that you could just rescue the programs by funding them forever.
Because they are worth it.
One thing we can all agree on, though, is how honest Trump is. I mean, lots of people talk about lies, and there are all the arguments about “alternative facts”, but what I mean to say is that Trump is doing exactly what he said he would do. In fact, the very language of the rhetoric of the executive orders is taken directly from the campaign trail. So while he may be super aggressive and doing more than we can keep up during his very long work days, he is doing what he already said he would do. No one should be surprised, even if they disagree with him.
The text of the executive orders in the last few weeks also reveal how involved that Bannon guy is. He has a very apocalyptic view of the world, and some of the hysteria from the people will only reinforce his views. The people who do not agree with Trump need to be very careful how they respond, or there will literally be more of what they already don’t like.
And Bannon means business: he’s the one who broke the bio-dome, you guys!
In fact, some people are saying that Trump wanted to move more slowly with all the changes, but Sessions and Bannon were the ones who wanted to hit hard from the beginning and push so much through all at once before there was much opposition.
True or not, it also seems that when there is big drama over one thing, ten more things happen that slip past the media. I wish everyone would simmer down so we could all pay attention. That would be more effective than just being fussy.
That begs the question, then, when to fuss or when to just be present. One Muslim friend told me that since they have had to condemn extremists of their faith for sixteen years since 9/11, then moderate Republicans should condemn the Alt-Right now that they are fighting extremists in their own party. Those are big words!
At the other end of the spectrum, an evangelical friend told me that all the personal inappropriateness from Trump before he was President should just be let go already, because it was in the past and because the office of President isn’t personal. I think for me, it feels more personal because Trump is so present and active in his own social media story. Maybe that’s just me still adjusting through the transition from reality star to real life, maybe.
The circumstances of our family also make it personal, of course. That’s true of any family. The way it impacts us is the comments DeVos made about special needs children. That exchange got my attention since I have six special needs children, obviously. The other piece that got our attention was the immigrant issue, which is why we let our children respond so directly as I stated before, since our faith tradition is built on immigrants, and our ancestors are immigrants, and we never would have had Kyrie without Muslim immigrants. Her biological family was directly caught in that drama, and it’s been hard to see those issues at a personal level rather than just the broad view of politics. We also have our oldest daughter whom we fought for so long to help get her green card, which is now at risk, plus our friends from India and Mongolia and Korea who are immigrants and have families in other countries that are affected.
The other big piece affecting us is if Trump really moves Medicaid to “block grants” or repeals or defunds the ACA, which would affect our children who have already met their lifetime caps otherwise, and all of us who each have different pre-existing conditions. So no matter what the actual issues are, as soon as those topics start getting debated in politics, we get anxious and start paying attention and maybe sometimes are even afraid. Having insurance or having those protections help make us feel safe, so it’s scary when those issues are even on the radar, much less threatened, even when in reality maybe nothing would change or everything will be fine.
Sometimes it’s not about facts or alternative facts, but about the experience of the facts.
A friend told me this morning that Trump has good plans for the country as a whole, but is just terrible at social skills. Another friend debated back that it wasn’t about Trump at all, but that Republicans are good for the economy but Democrats are good for humanity. I think that for me, whether any of those perceptions are true or not, a girl sure thinks about it differently when she has six special needs children to raise.
Franklin D. Roosevelt said:
“We must scrupulously guard the civil rights and civil liberties of all citizens, whatever their background. We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack our civilization.”
I think that’s the start of the answer, when debates over politics start to intrude upon civil rights. That’s the answer to the question about when to fuss or not. That’s the answer that comes when you ask about how long do I wait before I protest in defense of my faith? How long am I quiet before I shout for the protection of my daughters who will grow up as women in this world? How long do I listen to political sparring before letting my mind wander to my brown daughters, to my ability-challenged children, to the supplies and doctors and equipment I need to keep my baby alive?
Political ploy or manipulation tactic or real life or not, when even other countries around the world start an outcry against what feels like certain groups targeted, and comparing it to things that happened with Hitler, how can I not respond to that? It pulls at my heart because I have been to Israel, because I have studied its history and its people, because I have been to the candle-mirror-memorial where the lives of children were ended to quickly and too violently and without anyone speaking up for them.
I promised, that very day, I would speak up.
Never again, we say on Holocaust Memorial Day.
So I think it’s fair to be diligent, even if this is not that.
Because we have to stop this before it is that.
So it’s fair to take two weeks to listen and learn and watch and see, to ask questions until you understand, to even protest or speak up or shout out against oppression, even if just to be sure you are on record as saying That. Was. Not. Okay. Never. Again.
Henry David Thoreau wrote that:
“true patriots are not those who blindly followed their administration
[but] those who followed their own consciences and in particular, the principle of reason.”
I believe in America.
I believe in the Constitution.
I believe in our government being the best we know how to do so far.
I might even be proud of it, of our country, of us.
I appreciate that there are some things needed to protect our country and its government that are sometimes very uncomfortable, whether that be budget cuts or protests about them.
I appreciate that we have the right to discuss and debate and even dissent.
I appreciate that we are empowered to “undergo the fatigue of supporting” that which we call “liberty” and “freedom” and this government charged with ensuring rights for all of us as humans sharing this land together.
I can barely run my family of eight, and have no idea how the leader of a whole country can do it – especially with every single moment highlighted on television or social media.
My friends who are Republicans are saying that Trump is doing exactly what he promised, and that it’s all good and will help things, and just to trust him and watch and see.
My friends who are Democrats are still grieving the loss of the Obamas, feel Trump is being tricksy, and are overwhelmed by so much change so fast.
I read this morning in Alma 60, where there is a story of our champion Moroni complaining about the government.
Well, he doesn’t complain at first. In fact, he specifically does not complain. He trusts the government to “govern the people” and “manage [their] affairs”. So even when things were hard, and resources scant, and the people were hungry and had little help, he did not complain.
He didn’t complain until he felt the government had actually neglected the people instead of caring for them.
Even then, he didn’t really complain about the government so much as protest by confronting directly and just straight up discussing it.
And in that protest, he notes how once again the people are in crisis only because they first allowed themselves to be divided by contention. He writes:
Yea, had it not been for the war which broke out among ourselves; yea, were it not for these king-men, who caused so much bloodshed among ourselves; yea, at the time we were contending among ourselves, if we had united our strength as we hitherto have done; yea, had it not been for the desire of power and authority which those king-men had over us; had they been true to the cause of our freedom, and united with us, and gone forth against our enemies,…
But then he says something subtle but super important:
But why should I say much concerning this matter? For we know not but what ye yourselves are seeking for authority. We know not but what ye are also traitors to your country.
He asks the government, through what he writes during this little protest, what is actually going on. He says why they are scared, and what they are concerned about, and why it is frightening. He calls them out, giving voice to the people, and stands his ground in protest until he gets an answer.
Now, in that story, he does get an answer, and everything gets untangled, and Moroni goes on to support the government in conquering a rebellion.
But the point is, the questions were fair.
Sometimes in the church world, we forget that questions are part of the process.
In our church particularly, we cannot forget the power of questions, not when our entire faith tradition is founded upon one young man’s questions.
We see in the scriptures over and over again how nations fall because they are divided among themselves, because of contentions that leave them vulnerable.
We are becoming a country divided, and I wonder what can we do to rise above that, to learn to listen to each other and not lose hope in one another?
What can we do to celebrate the triumphs of those with whom we disagree?
What can we do to slow down and have compassion on those who don’t see what we can understand?
Are these not the very covenants we make at baptism, to mourn with those who mourn and to comfort those in need of comfort?
We cannot rise above as long as we see the drama as us versus them, whether that be conservative versus liberal, or Republican versus Democrat, or my God versus your God.
None of that is of God.
None of that brings peace.
There are ways to understand each other, even if we disagree.
There are ways to appreciate each other, even from different perspectives.
There are ways to stand together, to hold the hand of someone a world away, to be a light to those who don’t want to be unheard, or forgotten, or to be left alone.
This is the answer to every religious question, my supervisor said today: LOVE.
These experiences transform us, with “form” referring to who we are and “trans” referring to “beyond”. How can we grow beyond who we were yesterday? Is that not our theology, even as Latter-day Saints, even as we talk about eternal progression?
I don’t have a personal audience with Donald Trump, but I can talk to my representatives about the needs of my families.
I can’t protect everyone on the planet from all the terrorists out there, but I can work on my own self-talk so that when I get poked by others there is nothing but love to come out.
I can’t help my friends get into the country to be safe, but I can send them supplies that they need to be well until we know what is going on.
I can’t rescue the arts budget for the nation, but I can teach my children to love the worlds of music and color and imagination.
I can’t keep up with the political news as fast as it is coming out, but I can make a difference in the lives of my neighbors.
I can’t make other people agree with what I think about which issues are important or why, but I can listen to them and learn why their issues are important to us all.
In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children—
~ Alma 46:12