Impeachment: A Fair Fight?

Care what you will and say what you want about President Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi’s decision to move forward with Articles of Impeachment will only solidify the base of the anti-Trumpers and the pro-Trumpers. In the meanwhile, Washington’s “Great Distraction” will paralyze the nation. I’m tired of feeling like I need to choose a side in the moral morass of our modern culture whether it’s about Trump, or anything else.

I want to pull a Rip Van Winkle and wake up when all the distractions are done. Of course, this isn’t an option for either a good citizen or Christian who wants there to be justice and change for the better. I cannot be like the ostrich that buries its head in the sand and says, “Because I can’t see it, it’s not happening.” Now we know it’s happening, but what are we going to do about it? Are we going to go quietly into the night, stay on the sidelines, or are we going to do something productive?

Someone recently said that the greatest threat to democracy isn’t vitriol, it is civility. In this impeachment climate, I long for rational civility, but civility and tolerance has made us more divided. If we believe that some things are right and some things are definitely wrong, no matter what the context or who it involves, then civility is the enemy of truth and justice. For “nice” moral people to be quiet and acquiesce to the rancorous squeaky wheels on the extremes is a dereliction of duty. Following St. Paul’s dictum, “In your anger, do not sin,” does not mean that people who believe in Absolute Truth should roll over and play dead when attacked as bigots.

I’m all for everyone’s civil rights including free speech and the right to assemble, but the first rule of common law and parliamentary procedure is that, “The minority must be heard, but the majority must prevail.” The problem is that the loudest voices on the ends of spectrums have silenced the majority of those of us in the middle, and they have stalemated any hope of clarity or unanimity in important matters.

To say we need more vitriol doesn’t mean that we need to hear from the extremists, but from the folks in the center. What do they or we have to say? In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King Jr. famously lamented the “white moderate” who “prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” He also acknowledged the importance of tension to achieving justice. “I have earnestly opposed violent tension,” King wrote, “but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.” Americans should not fear that form of tension. They should fear its absence.

So, we need to embrace tension because it helps reveal our core values. Tension provides clarity about what’s really important to us. Tension can lead to open honest dialogue rather than strong-arming or shallow hail-fellow-well-met pleasantries. In authentic democracy there is due process that makes room for both differences of opinion and fairness. Civility without enough vitriol makes people hide their real feelings, and sides just get more and more entrenched.

Maybe you’ve heard the story of the guy who fell overboard into the water. Another guy tried to rescue him, only to grab arms, legs, whatever and finding each time that a prosthetic appendage came loose. The man in the water kept yelling, “Save me!” In frustration, the would-be rescuer said, “I would, if you would only stick together!” I wonder if that’s an analogy for the United States and what God is trying to say to us and our two-party system. Can we stick together for our country’s sake while we embrace a little vitriol? Is it possible to have a fair fight? We will see soon enough, won’t we?

What We Will Remember About Bush

>The Iraqi reporter who threw the shoes at President Bush over the weekend was a pretty good shot, and the President has better relexes than I thought. Whether we would like to have been the guy throwing the shoes or not, one has to say that the President acted with great aplomb to dodge the tosses and his reaction was one of grace and humor. I haven’t always been a fan of Bush, but he’s got chutzpah. As much as I disdain the awkward pompous way that he walks and the stumble-mumble of the way he talks, I have to remember that at heart he’s a decent man. I know this from the personal experience of my father-in-law, Guy Godwin.

Mr. Godwin, as we all called him out of deference to his years as a high school principal, was one of the most decent and faithful men I have ever known. He died 8 years ago at age 66 of a heart attack. He loved everyone regardless of their station in life, was forthright, a man of great convictions and few words. He exuded leadership. He attracted “lost boys” and mentored many of us into manhood.
He met George W. Bush when Bush was part-owner of the Texas Rangers. He was at the game with his long-time friend Gene Moore of Lake City, father of financier Darla Moore. They were sitting in the owner’s box, and I’m sure Mr. Godwin, would have preferred sitting off to the side observing the crowd where he could analyze the situation. He was good at sizing up people.
What he relayed to us about what had impressed him about George Bush was when one of Bush’s daughters, a teenager at the time, was sitting up front in Mr. Godwin’s assigned seat. Bush spoke to whichever one it was and said, “_____, Get up. That’s Mr. Godwin’s seat.” He didn’t have to do that. Mr. Godwin was content where he was, but it showed common concern and decency for Bush to make his daughter move. This simple act of courtesy stuck with Mr. Godwin, a man who tended to always vote for Democratic candidates. He measured Bush and found a man who wasn’t given to privilege and pecking orders, just a man who did what he thought was right.
As much as George Bush has chosen wrongly over his presidency, I’m glad that he chose correctly at Texas Stadium. He taught his daughter manners, and he exhibited the common touch. I hope to remember Bush in a better light than I’ve pondered his leadership. Clinton may have been the consummate politician, but Bush deserves a little respect for his fanfare for the common man, at least for my father-in-law. For that I’m grateful.

Summer Weddings and What to Wear

Proper etiquette nowadays fluctuates from person to person. There’s hardly a one-size-fits-all standard anymore. With blended families and other concerns, even the seating arrangement at weddings can be a maze of upset-the-fruit-basket. I’ve had some interesting weddings. There was the one when the bride’s veil caught on fire. Instead of snuffing her side of the Unity Candle in the holder, she blew and her veil went right into the flame. Things went up in smoke, literally, before our very eyes. However, the little glitches that happen at weddings are no big deal really. Weddings are like that, and the couple’s love for one another completely overshadows the snafus. Things happen. Indecorum occurs when people are either intentionally insensitive to others, or they just don’t know the proper etiquette.

We do want to do things right, don’t we? I want to know if a party requires casual dress or formal attire. There’s nothing as awkwardly obvious as a minister decked out in formal clerical garb at a casual garden party. It puts a damper on the festivities to be sure, and telegraphs a not-so-subtle assessment of the affair. For the most part, we want to fit in rather than stand out. We applaud those who know the rules, have discriminating taste, and are connoisseurs of acceptable standards of decorum.

But what if you don’t know the rules? What do you do when you aren’t sure what to do and the latest edition of Amy Vanderbilt doesn’t cover your etiquettical dilemma? It makes sense to me to enjoy the party and go with the flow. Sometimes good etiquette has spoiled an otherwise fine time. We can have such discriminating taste that we end up eating alone. What a bad idea. Is it better to be right, or to be included? An even bigger question is whether or not we value being inclusive over discrimination.

Wouldn’t you rather have your long-lost friend show up at your party with dungarees and dirt than not be there at all? Maybe they didn’t hear about it until the last minute. Maybe they were helping someone in an emergency. Nevertheless, my guess is that you would rather see them than what they were wearing. That’s the nature of friendship. Friendship looks past the outer trimmings and values the friend.

Don’t get me wrong. I like rules. I wouldn’t be our Conference’s Parliamentarian if I didn’t. I wouldn’t be teaching the Book of Discipline to seminary students at Emory if I was an antinomian. However, when worse comes to worse, and shove comes to shove, I say, “Let decorum move over if friendship is at stake.” Dress codes promote elitism as much as sexism promotes gender inequities, and racism falsely touts the inherent superiority of one group over another. Don’t let a buddy’s tee shirt attire cause you to bump him from the guest list. Jesus ate with all kinds of people and the ones who gave him the worst time weren’t the dressed-down but the dressed-up.

Our United Methodist motto is “Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Open Doors!” Let’s open our arms to everyone and practice a Jesus-like reverse discrimination. That’s an etiquette that will never go out of style.