Friday, May 20, 2011

Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story (2008) (Struggle with Cancer and Deathbed Conversion)

The final part of this film of course deals with Lee Atwater’s struggles with brain cancer beginning in 1990.

Tucker Askew describes Atwater as being consumed with fear during this period. Askew also noted that fear had been a staple of tool chest in politics. Ironically, when the gravity of his illness became apparent, Atwater had an attitude of sheer terror with respect to the imminence of the after-life.

In an interview in the film, Ed Rollins indicates that as Atwater’s health deteriorated, he and Atwater reconciled. Atwater asked for his help and indicated Rollins was the only person he could trust as others were trying to get him out of the RNC.

It was also noted that during this period of his life Atwater went on a frantic search for spiritual meaning, and had clergy of many faiths waiting in the halls to meet with him in the hospital. One friend indicated that Atwater told all of the clergy he was on board with their beliefs in the thought that if one of them were right, he’d be ok.

Another friend indicated Atwater told him he had never read the bible until his illness. He indicated he was consumed with the verse from the New Testament: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?”

Despite the “boogeyman” person he cultivated, Ed Rollins expressed in the film the belief that Atwater was not evil, he was just insecure. His whole life was spent trying to gain power and prestige, and when he achieved it, Rollins believed he was terrified of losing it.

Mary Matalin expressed disgust with the misrepresentation of Atwater’s death bed conversion stories. I found this to be a fascinating attitude, but unfortunately it was not explored sufficiently in the film and I am not sure what exactly provoked her disgust.

The final scene in the film involves footage from the interview with Ed Rollins who explained that Atwater had indicated that a Living Bible was what was giving him faith in his final days. Rollins states that he said to Mary Matalin after Atwater’s death, "I really, sincerely hope that he found peace.” In the film, Rollins states, that Matalin responded, “Ed, when we were cleaning up his things afterwards, the Bible was still wrapped in the cellophane and had never been taken out of the package.” Rollins add that that fact “just told you everything there was. He was spinning right to the end."

That was certainly a fascinating way to end the film. However, I was left with certain questions.

Earlier in the film, Rollins had indicated that he himself was a former altar boy, but politics was not a field that typically recruited altar boys. Rollins also described with an incredible tirade of profanity his reaction to Atwater’s betrayal of him and the threats he made against Atwater at the time. Thus, it was evident in the film that Rollins had an extremely negative view towards Atwater and still held a lot of anger for him. Nonetheless, he later professed in the film that his anger for Atwater melted away when he saw how sick he was. The bottom line of all this is it is unclear to me whether one should even believe Rollins’ story about the cellophane.

Maybe Matalin made the statement, maybe she didn’t. Again, it is not clear in the film what provoked Ms. Matalin’s disgust at the deathbed conversion stories. Maybe it was because she had found a bible in Mr. Atwater’s office and it was in the cellophane. Perhaps Ms. Matalin’s disgust was prompted by her belief that Mr. Atwater’s deathbed conversion was insincere. But perhaps something else provoked her disgust. The reaction inside the Beltway towards Mr. Atwater’s tragic illness and death were enough to provoke disgust in plenty of people.

Indeed, that cellophane statement just seems odd to me. I myself own more bibles than I can count. Some were gifts, and others I bought myself at various times in my life. I’m not sure any of my bibles ever came wrapped in cellophane.

Even if Matalin did make the statement and even if it were true, it is not clear that it has the significance that Rollins suggests, i.e., that Atwater’s conversion was insincere. Like me, perhaps Atwater owned multiple copies of the bible and the one in the cellophane was one that he didn’t make use of. That doesn’t mean that he wasn’t reading another copy (or copies) regularly. Many people don’t do the bulk of their bible study at work. And it seems unlikely that Mr. Atwater would have been at his office much in the latter days of his life anyhow.

Although I own a lot of bibles, I have a few that I read more than others. I have one at my office at work that I have consulted most over the years for a variety of reasons. It is pocket size and has a bookmark ribbon that I find helpful. I have another bible with a different, more modern translation that I keep on my nightstand to read before I go to sleep. A third is one that I tend to use when I take a bible to church or when I go to our church’s small group meetings. Many years ago I tabbed the books in that particular bible, so I can find particular passages very quickly. A few other bibles of mine get read occasionally, but others are frankly rarely (if ever) opened. Though none of my bibles are wrapped in cellophane, if you judged my devotion to the bible based on the frequency these latter bibles are opened, the judgment would be skewed.

In the end, it is not for any of us human beings to judge the sincerity of Atwater’s death bed convergence, the sincerity of his statements of religious devotion he made to friends, or the frequency of his bible study. It does not really matter to me. That is not my place.

I disagreed with many things Mr. Atwater did in his earthly life, but I hope and believe he is at peace in the afterlife. As a Christian, I view God as merciful even when we are undeserving—and we all fit that description. Jesus taught us that God is not a vengeful god, he is the joyful father of the prodigal son.

To me, the ultimate take away from this film was that those who generally work in politics do not have the kind of values or ethics that I would aspire to embrace. I cannot ever see myself working in a political capacity. I cannot imagine ever deciding to run for public office or working in more than a casual manner (e.g., stuffing envelopes) for a politician.

These are not conclusions I have come to simply by virtue of watching this particular film. Experiences I had growing up in DC also underpin that decision. That does not mean that I am apathetic about politics or I’m disengaged. I think civic engagement is important. But I don’t have any illusions about politicians and those who get them elected. Even when I agree with the positions they take, I am not always convinced of their sincerity and I frankly doubt their integrity. Perhaps that is a horribly cynical view, but that seems to be a basic truth of the political process. I’m disappointed in the electorate that we’ve allowed that to be the case.

Acts 26:8
Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?

Romans 14:9
For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story (2008) (Manipulation of Journalists, Appeals to Superficial Patriotism & the Use of Fear)

Multiple times in the film, interviewees explain that Mr. Atwater argued that perception is reality, and thus in politics one could create one’s own reality. That is a frightening assertion, but it unfortunately makes sense in the context of Mr. Atwater’s career.

Numerous members of the media are interviewed, and they frankly come off as rather lame. They explain how Mr. Atwater was charming on a personal level and befriended journalists. This made them vulnerable to manipulation as they unwittingly helped to spread innuendo and falsehoods as news stories.

For example, the film includes footage of Lee Atwater calmly telling an incredulous reporter repeatedly that he had no ad featuring Willie Horton. A friend of Mr. Atwater’s then recounts an occasion when Mr. Atwater showed him a tape of the notorious Willie Horton ad, and the friend urged him (unsuccessfully) to not use it.

It is also noted that due to the tremendous press attention it received, the infamous Willie Horton ad received more attention than it would have simply for the number of times it ran as a political commercial.

There are also interviews describing how the media knew that Republican leaders were lying about Iran-Contra, but the media not being willing to confront them publicly about it. The film describes the Washington press corps as being cynical and their reporting as being shallow.

In the film, the late Robert Novak stated at one point that Republican politicians just want to win elections; they are not ideologically committed. By contrast, he said Democratic politicians tend to have sincere beliefs about the causes they support. Novak, a conservative, laughed and added disparagingly that he thought Democrats’ beliefs—although sincere--were misguided. I found Novak’s perspective intriguing. His explanation is one that I’ve frankly often suspected as I’ve followed politics over the years, and I have even heard other progressives voice that same suspicion. But heretofore, I had never heard a conservative voice that perspective.

Tucker Eskew also made an interesting comment in the film. He talked at one point about people voting against their own interest because patriotism was stronger. That comment was made in the context of the issues the film notes dominated the 1988 presidential election: flag burning, mandating the pledge of allegiance in the schools, and perceived threats to gun ownership rights.

Eric Alterman also made several interesting comments. In the same context as Mr. Eskew’s statement, Mr. Alterman stated that people vote their fears, not their hopes. His point was that Lee Atwater recognized that reality and masterfully exploited it. Indeed, the film noted that in the 1988, polls indicated that voters were turned off by the negative campaign tactics. Nonetheless, the tactics worked for those who initiated them in the Bush campaign. They turned some voters against Dukakis. Further, they discouraging other would-be voters from going to the polls; voter turnout was low in 1988 and low turnout favored Republicans.

Mr. Alterman also described the Republican Party as a “stealth party.” He noted that the GOP deliberately tried to appeal to the common man in elections, yet in power deliberately provided all the benefits of power to a smaller group of the electorate: the wealthy. He also noted that the GOP advocated high levels of morality, but exhibited other behaviors in private.

Mr. Alterman did not elaborate what he meant in the film, but I think it is fairly obvious. At least since the 1980 election, the party has pandered to cultural insecurities and resentments of white folk at middle and lower socio-economic levels. In the last presidential election, this approach was focused on “Joe the Plumber” (or “Joe Sixpack” as he was sometimes called). But folks like Joe get ignored when the GOP gets into power. They are supposed to wait for “trickle down” economic benefits that never seem to trickle down. Moreover, when it comes to social issues, such voters are supposed to be patient (and frankly just shut up) when their supposed political allies never come through on their campaign promises to outlaw abortion or adopt a constitutional amendment forbidding same sex marriage.

Indeed, the GOP touts “family values” and embraces religion publicly, and such campaign tactics are directly responsible for many of the votes they receive in elections. However, despite Christ’s own teaching against divorce, many of the GOP’s most prominent leaders and allies have been divorced (some multiple times): Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, Bob Barr, Rush Limbaugh, Phil Gramm, Mary Matalin, Bob Dole, Dick Armey, Pete Wilson, John Warner, John McCain, Ed Rollins, and George Will, among others.

Similarly, some conservatives currently accuse President Obama of not being a Christian and chiding him for not going to church regularly. It is interesting that such folks didn’t have a problem with President Reagan’s absence from the pews. But then again, I’m not sure he technically ever publicly professed to be a Christian in his political life. Perhaps it would have conflicted with Mrs. Reagan’s devotion to astrology.

Exodus 18:21

But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story (2008) (Bigotry, Deceit & Hypocrisy)

Early in the film, some time is devoted to Mr. Atwater’s early days in Southern politics. There is mention of exploitative, divisive “push polls” that suggested slanderous things about opposing candidates or invoked bigotry. In that vein, there are claims that Atwater exploited anti-Semitism in the Bible Belt to win an early election. It is also asserted that Atwater had said that in a prior era Southern politics required extensive use of the n-word to win, but that day was past and one had to be more subtle. In that context, it is asserted that Reagan’s use of the term “welfare queen” became code for the n-word.

In a similar vein, it was also observed in the film that in 1980 Ronald Reagan began his presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi. It was a small town off the beaten path, but was known internationally as the site of one of the most egregious, racially charged crimes. Three civil rights workers were killed there in 1964. Reagan famously used the term “states rights” in his speech in Philadelphia. The film asserts this campaign ploy was pandering to the basest instincts in the electorate.

The film portrays Atwater as a workaholic striving for power and recognition. Interviewees stated he had an amazing work ethic, working 7 days per week. People who worked closely with him when he first came to D.C. said they were shocked to hear eventually that he had a wife and child. Interviewees also described Atwater as devious, manipulative, and insecure. They expressed the belief that he was trying to prove himself; he was cynical about politics and not idealistic.

Along those lines, Ed Rollins described his betrayal in 1984 at the hands of Atwater. Mr. Rollins expressed in the film that he had been warned by those around him to not trust Atwater, but he did not heed that advice. Mr. Rollins did decide to trust Atwater, but he indicates he came to regret that decision bitterly. Rollins described Atwater as cold-blooded. He also noted that Atwater’s younger brother had died when they were little children in a tragic, grotesque kitchen accident. It was asserted that early childhood experience warped Atwater, proving to him that God was unmerciful.

The film described that the Bush family treated Atwater dismissively and viewed him as the “hired help.” Barbara Bush allegedly disliked Mr. Atwater’s vulgarity. George W. Bush was apparently assigned by the family to keep an eye on Atwater. The film asserts that George W. Bush ultimately became a fan and admirer of Atwater, learning much about politics from him.

There were a number of interviewee comments about the 1988 election that were interesting. One charged that Ronald Reagan desperately needed to prevent the Democrats from taking over the White House to make sure he did not face investigations and possible prosecution for the Iran-Contra Affair. The plan was to keep Dukakis constantly on the defensive; in such a context, even if you did nothing wrong, you seem guilty if you always have to defend yourself.

One of the things I myself remember about the 1988 campaign and found most insulting at the time was the obvious manipulation of image, which the film attributed to Atwater’s genius. Dukakis was the son of immigrants who had had to work hard for all he had achieved. Nonetheless, Dukakis was successfully portrayed as an elitist by the Bush campaign. By contrast, George H.W. Bush (who was a prep school grad, the son of a respected politician and well-entrenched in the aristocratic Yankee elite) was paraded around in fancy polished cowboy boots eating pork rinds.

As a native Texan whose family has been in the state for many generations, I had found that parody to be deeply insulting at the time. Even worse, I was disappointed that we Texans allowed this quintessential blueblood Yankee New Englander to briefly put on the most stereotypical of Texas costumes to pretend to be something he clearly was not. If you were born in Massachusetts, you were educated in elite private schools in Massachusetts and Connecticut, your home is actually in a place like Kennebunkport, you only came to the Lone Star State as an adult to exploit its oil resources, and your speech does not naturally include the word “y’all,” you are not a real Texan in my book. Nonetheless, the Bush family continues to be quite popular in Texas—much to my dismay and disgust.

The film interviews Mike and Kitty Dukakis. Sadly, Mr. Dukakis seems to still be kicking himself for the decision to stick to the moral high ground and not respond to the baseless negative campaign ads ran against him in 1988. In the interview with Dukakis, the film noted that the Massachusetts prison furlough program, with which the GOP pummeled him in the campaign, was actually initiated by other political leaders such as Governor Ronald Reagan of California.

Psalm 26:4 (New International Version)
I do not sit with deceitful men, nor do I consort with hypocrites.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story (2008) (Overview: The South and “Liberal Elites”)

Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story was a fascinating documentary and quite different from what I was anticipating. I thought the film would be a straight-forward description of Mr. Atwater’s embrace of dirty tricks to win campaigns and his deathbed terror at the prospect of having to account in the afterlife for such misdeeds. That was certainly part of the documentary, but the film actually told a much more complex story.

A number of folks from varied backgrounds were interviewed in the film to tell Mr. Atwater’s story—admirers and detractors, Democrats and Republicans, blacks and whites. The film interviewed politicians, political operatives, journalists, as well as non-political, unsophisticated average Joes who knew Mr. Atwater in his home state of South Carolina. The famous people interviewed included Robert Novak, Ed Rollins, Mary Matalin, Tucker Eskew, Mike & Kitty Dukakis, Eric Alterman, and Sam Donaldson, among many others.

There were a number of points in the film that I found fascinating. I’ll explore those points in several different blog posts. The first I’ll address is Mr. Atwater’s intimate understanding of Southerners and his exploitation of that knowledge for political purposes.

Many of the interviewees early in the film focused on the significance of Mr. Atwater’s Southern roots. The interviewees made insightful comments about the role of the South in modern politics. They noted that the South was the only part of the United States that had ever been defeated and humiliated in war, and that experience fostered a backlash and resentment against so called “liberal elites.”

The interviewees mentioned the long-held perception that liberal elites think they are very smart and are generally better than Southerners (who are viewed by the liberal elites as being stupid). One white Southern interviewee asserted that liberal elites are biased against white Southerners in the same way that liberal elites accuse white Southerners of being biased against blacks. The film suggested this lingering resentment against liberal elites was well-understood by Mr. Atwater; he exploited it to his candidates’ advantage.

I think this is an important point of which “liberal elites” should take note. I never supported any of Mr. Atwater’s candidates, but this point about “liberal elites” even rang true with me. Throughout my life, I’ve spent a fair amount of time with folks from the Northeast, and have experienced such attitudes first and second hand. Though the title character in Forrest Gump had an intellectual disability, it has often been my impression that many people raised and/or educated in the Northeast believe the character Tom Hanks created is typical of all white Southerners. A while back I read an interview with Stephen Colbert (another native South Carolinian) who pointed out that when he was growing up popular culture always portrayed Southerners as dummies. This prompted Mr. Colbert at an early age to consciously neutralize his own speech to avoid being lumped in with such stereotypes due to his accent. Of course, it is hard for even the most enlightened of human beings to not find such stereotypical portrayals (and the underlying attitudes they betray) to be offensive and downright annoying.

What is even more irksome to many of us, however, is the more subtle attitude that white Southerners are all racists. I am very much aware of the extreme levels of violence that have been directed against African Americans in the South for several centuries. And despite the formal dismantling of Jim Crow several decades ago, I would never assert that racism is ancient history and no longer a problem in the South. I know there has been huge progress, but deep problems certainly still exist. Nonetheless, in my experience, there is currently as much racism in other parts of the country. This is true though folks in other parts of the country often get self-righteous--acting like the South is uniquely racist but places like Newark, Boston and Philadelphia are harmonious examples of racial tolerance.

I try to be open to and tolerant of all of God’s children, but I must confess one demographic that is particularly difficult for me to stomach is white, politically liberal Yankees with an educational pedigree. I struggle against prejudging people in that demographic; at times it is a real challenge. We may vote the same in most general elections, but such people typically have little else in common with me.
And to the extent that such people dominate or appear to dominate the Democratic Party and major media outlets, such an attitude is a real problem. If such institutions are at times even alienating Southern folks like me, they need to recognize that as a very serious problem and address it.

Proverbs 16:18

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story (2008) (Preconceptions Before Watching the Film)

In prior posts this year, I focused on the tragic lack of civility in public discourse in the modern era. Some people cite Lee Atwater as a chief cause of the polarization, the vilification of political opponents and the general breakdown in civility that we currently see in public life. Personally, I am not sure what the chief causes have been; I haven’t studied the subject enough to know what got us to this point. But I recently came across an interesting documentary about Mr. Atwater. Before I blog about the documentary itself, I think it is helpful to mention the attitudes and impressions I had about Mr. Atwater when I initially watched the film. One’s preconceptions impact how one reacts to new information.

I came of age as an adult in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Growing up in the DC area, I was attuned to politics for as long as I can recall. As a teenager, I volunteered on various political campaigns. It was so incredibly exciting when in 1987 I was finally eligible to register to vote. For the first time, I myself was able to vote for a particular candidate, not just encourage others to do so. It was thrilling and empowering.

Early on in the primary season for the 1988 presidential election, I backed Mike Dukakis. He was a little known, nerdy and frugal governor from a Yankee state. Despite being a Northerner, I thought he was great. He struck me as pragmatic, intelligent and committed. He really seemed to want to make our country better and help as many of us as possible live the American dream. Moreover, he seemed to have the attitude and skills necessary to get the job done. It was thrilling when my candidate actually did well in the primaries and secured the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. When he accepted the party’s nomination at the convention, he seemed well situated to beat George H.W. Bush, who seemed whiney and hopelessly out of touch.

Somehow it all unraveled in the fall of 1988. Our economy was going down the toilet and my fellow college students were pessimistic about our futures. The phrase “McJob” had been coined, and we half-joked we would be flipping burgers after we received our diplomas. Nonetheless, the presidential election somehow focused almost exclusively on red herring issues like flag burning and prison furloughs. I was incredulous, bitterly disappointed and deeply dismayed. When Dukakis lost the election, I shed a lot of tears not just because my candidate lost. That had happened before. It was not fun, but that was nothing new. But in 1988 my tears flowed because of how Dukakis was beaten. Negative campaigning had worked, and enough of the electorate was distracted with red herrings to vote against their own interests and against rationale policies.

The presidential election of 1988 was the first in which I was able to vote and the way that particular election was won ended up having a deep impact on me whether or not I really recognized it at the time. I suppose in retrospect I lost my political innocence and hopefulness just as I was taking my place in the electorate. Although it did not dissuade me from taking part in elections and voting, the 1988 presidential election taught me in a very real way that good guys don’t always win in politics, voters can be manipulated, and to win elections candidates must sometimes play dirty. Prior to that election, having grown up in DC, I think I had always had a vague thought that I might make a career out of politics. The lessons of the 1988 presidential election taught me that I ought to find a different path. I didn’t have the temperament needed to win elections.

By the time George H.W. Bush was inaugurated, the name Lee Atwater was not unfamiliar to me, but I didn’t know a whole lot about him. I knew he was a white Southerner who loved blues music, and he was credited as having turned the election around for George H.W. Bush. I remember him playing blues guitar at the inauguration gala. That was about all I knew at the time.

Several years after the 1988 election, I was taking classes to prepare for my baptism in the Catholic church. Just before my baptism at Easter in 1991, I attended a retreat in Austin, Texas led by a very sweet older priest. He was a white man from some Yankee state; his accent made me think of Brooklyn. But what the heck did I know, he could have been from Boston or Philadelphia. I don’t remember exactly what he was talking about, but the priest made a brief mention of Lee Atwater having converted to Catholicism right before his untimely death. This was a surprise to me, I had not heard about this in the secular news media and it got my attention at the retreat. The priest’s mention of this fact was very casual, he seemed to not find the (deathbed) conversion remarkable or suspicious. I forget the precise context of the priest’s reference to Atwater’s conversion, but he seemed to accept the conversion as earnest and fairly typical. By contrast, I was not so sure.

When Mr. Atwater had died, the secular media had mentioned his legacy as consisting of the infamous Willie Horton ads and being the king of dirty politics. Many of us felt unease that someone who’d apparently lived such an unscrupulous life was going to meet his maker and judgment was imminent. Unlike the priest at that retreat, my intuitive interpretation of Mr. Atwater’s conversion was that he was trying to avoid judgment by embracing a religion that offered forgiveness freely. As a result of this interpretation, I remember feeling very bad for Mr. Atwater.

That mention at my pre-baptism retreat was the only reference to Mr. Atwater’s
conversion I ever remember. I don’t remember hearing much else about his death until I recently watched the documentary Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story. It was a fascinating film, but not in the way I had anticipated.

Exodus 20:16

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

Exodus 14:31

And when the Israelites saw the great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Washing Hands and Feet

Two weeks ago was Good Friday, which is the remembrance of the day that Christ was crucified and died. It is a solemn and sad day for Christians. We can imagine the anguish that the disciples felt when they lost their teacher and friend, but did not yet understand that he would be returning soon.

The day before Good Friday (i.e., the Thursday before Easter) is referred to as “Holy Thursday” or “Maundy Thursday.” It is the time when many Christian churches commemorate the Last Supper including Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples. Like many churches, our family’s church reenacts the foot washing.

To non-Christians, or even to Christians from different faith traditions, the foot washing ritual is admittedly sort of strange. Indeed, I myself never participate in the foot washing. I hate to be a wet blanket, but it is just not my cup of tea.

I even felt that way prior to an uncomfortable experience when my husband and I were serving in a church ministry years ago and the ministry’s leaders surprised the volunteers with a previously unpublicized foot washing activity. On that day, my toenail polish was unfortunately chipping and I was mortified to have to remove my loafers to present my feet for the leaders of our ministry to wash. It was not a positive spiritual experience for me.

So, even though I don’t enjoy participating in foot washing ceremonies directly, I am moved by them as a participant. This year, prior to the ritual, our pastor gave a sermon to give some context for what we were about to do. She explained that the point of the foot washing was not to just model humility. Instead, at the Last Supper, Jesus knew what was coming; he knew he would not be with his disciples much longer and he was concerned for them. He wanted them to have a model of love to take care of one another after he was gone. The foot washing ritual is an opportunity for the church to express their love and care for one another.

We love each other because Christ first loved us. That is such a beautiful concept. So, despite the social awkwardness of washing the feet of non-family members (sometimes people we barely know or don’t know at all), the ritual is quite moving. At my church, people are moved to tears in many cases and hugging each other. Heck, even though I never left the pew, I was in tears during the whole ceremony.

In the pre-foot washing sermon, our pastor reminded us that in preparation for Easter, we had actually read another story recently about washing. She reminded us that the weekend before at church we had just read the account of Pontius Pilate washing his hands after acquiescing to the crowd’s demands to crucify Jesus. In that account, Pilate washed his hands to symbolically show that Jesus’s blood was not on his hands. Though he did nothing to protect Jesus, he rejected responsibility for what was going to happen to him. Pilate looked the other way and refused to intervene. Though Jesus would be executed under his authority, Pilate insisted he bore no responsibility.

In her sermon, our pastor pointed out that these two contrasting stories of washing were complementary. Jesus uses washing to model care and love of his disciples. By contrast, Pilate’s symbolic hand-washing epitomized his refusal to help someone in need, his refusal to be bothered, his refusal to do anything on someone else’s behalf that might require some sacrifice or effort. Our pastor taught that was an insightful contrast, and we should pray for strength to not follow Pilate’s example but to follow Jesus’s. She noted that being a Christ follower is not easy. It is hard, but it is a choice we freely make.

I’ve been thinking about that sermon and the comparison of the two readings. It seems to have great relevance to the themes in recent blog posts—the humanitarian tragedy that has been going on in Mexico and on this side of the border as migrants are exploited and die in the desert. I pray that I (and all of us) have the courage to follow Jesus’s example and not Pilate’s in that context and others.

2 Chronicles 15:7

But you, take courage! Do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded.

Matthew 25:35

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Children in Mexico

Continuing with themes in the last few blog posts, I wanted to share a radio piece that was on the radio program "Morning Edition Sunday" this morning. It discussed how children have been impacted by the drug wars in Mexico. It was a heart-breaking report. The link below contains the text as well as the ability to listen to the audio.

1 Samuel 2:8

He raises up the poor from the dust;he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princesand inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s,and on them he has set the world.

Psalm 72:4

Help him to defend the poor,to rescue the children of the needy,and to crush their oppressors.

Psalm 82:3

Give justice to the poor and the orphan;uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.