Thursday, July 21, 2011

Nightmare of fascism still terrifies

( Here, by request - is the reprint of the essay published by 
Pioneer Press, Chicago Tribune, NPR Common 
and throughout the internet. 
First published November 20, 2001.
Still holds true, don't you think? ) 

I had the dream again.

It is a Technicolor, not-ready-for-prime-time dream, spiced with foul language and blood-chilling foreboding.

In my dream, I am held captive in the front seat of a shabby sedan by a fat, dark haired man with a gun. I sit as far from him as I can, silent in my fear.

The nauseating foreshadow of death floats through the air of the grubby automobile. I squirm as my obese captor brags about how easy it was to trap me.

Piece of cake, he snorts. All he had to do was follow me for a week and study my predictable life. He knew where I went for coffee, where I bought my groceries, how often I take out my garbage.

Stupid, stupid, stupid, I say to my dreaming myself. Why didn't I change jobs? Why didn't I move from my small town? Now, I am sunk.

This awful man is going to murder me and leave my body by the side of the road and no one will know where to find me.

My heart pounds in my ears, my stomach aches with nausea. But I have hope. Inside the fat man"s jacket is a small cell phone. I feel it as he pulls me toward him. While he laughs, I slide my hand into his pocket and try to dial 911.

But my hand is shaking, and I am discovered. I grab for the phone. My fatal mistake. He reaches for my throat and I awaken with a cry.

I don't need to go to a gypsy to understand my dream. It is a nightmare of fascism.

And it makes sense. Even in my waking hours, I am afraid. Not of the anthrax bacteria or the release of smallpox into the air. I don't believe anyone would bother to poison me, tucked away in this tidy little Minnesota town.

Neither am I afraid of planes striking my home or my children dying in their beds under shell fire of some half-crazed suicidal idiot. My imagination cannot stretch that far.

My fears are more practical. In the past few years, I watched them creep upon me like smog over a bright city.

They began when President Bill Clinton denied responsibility for violating a young woman in the Oval Office. They increased when Gov. Jesse Ventura shouted shame and discouragement to a young mother who came to him for help, and when Sen. Tom Neuville asked again for our Legislature to take away a woman's right to decide if and when she wanted to bear children.

Following the last election, when Supreme Court violated my voting franchise by naming the next president of the United States, and a chill of dread began to churn in my soul.

Even here in Northfield, I have reasons to be fearful. My local school district is so afraid of adolescent sexuality, drug use and music videos they are willing to suspend my civil rights to proselytize for Jesus Christ.

The Northfield police built additional barricades to protect the "Safety Center" from assault from some unknown enemy.

Firefighters are ready and able to evacuate the city in the event of bio-chemical attack. And my daughter is afraid to open our mail.

I wish I could believe this all began with the events of Sept. 11. But I know better.

Fascism crept upon post-World War I Europe with the same soft, calm footsteps it is using these days in the United States. As always, it begins with a loss of empathy and demonizing of the poor. A splash of patriotism here. A dab of nationalism there. Here a little affluence, there a little poverty.

Then one day, a shot rings out, a tower tumbles, an airline halts. The economy shivers. Rights are suspended and tyrants rule.

Last month, the House of Representatives and the Senate lined up behind President Bush in a mad dash to suspend the civil liberties of ordinary folks. Neither with a bang, nor a whimper, our liberty was trashed. With the exception of Sen. Russ Feingold, no one spoke a word of protest.

If there were a vaccine to prevent the decline of democracy, I know a few million people who would not even bother to show up for the inoculation.

Who will save us from this national nightmare? No one. It is impossible to dial for help when the fat man holds the phone.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dear Kristine - I look at the Republicans and wonder. . . Why doesn't God love me?

Dear Kristine -

You're an ordained Presbyterian minister, right?

I lost my job in 2008.
So - I figure you know a few things about God and stuff.

Can you help me with this little problem?  I wonder why God created a worm like me?

And if I'm not a worm, why is God so unkind to me and so loving to people like Tim Pawlenty and his attractive wife, Mary?

Here's my sad tale.

I lost my job in 2008.  Since then, my home has gone into foreclosure, my oldest child got pregnant by her no-good boy friend.

In 2010, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer - but I can't get treatment because I don't have health insurance.

Even so, I've had this sense that God loves me - that I have something to look forward to.

Until today.

Today, someone sent me this Republican video, promoting Pawlenty's religious faith.  When I saw Tim and Mary,  how happy they are, I realized how awful it must be for God to look at such a loser as I.

I have been a faithful person all my life.  Even so, I can't say that God has ever spoken directly to me.  In fact, I've always thought that people who said stuff like that were probably mentally ill or something.

But now, everywhere I look, all I see are beautiful, rich people, touting their religion and telling me that God wants them to rule over me.

Look at Pawlenty, for instance.

Michelle Bachmann claims God wants her to be President.
Tim Pawlenty was governor of Minnesota.  According to him, he was a great leader.  Last Sunday he bragged to David Gregory (on Meet the Press) that he was the first Governor of Minnesota to shut down state government -  - and that was more than Michelle Bachmann has ever done in her whole life.

Michelle Bachmann is running for president because God wants her to do so.

And here, in my own state, the Republican legislators tell us that God wants every woman pregnant,  every couple straight, and every child educated at home.

What do I know?  I don't know nothing.  I never talked to God in my life.  And when it comes to jobs, my work was nothing compared to Pawlenty's great accomplishment of shutting down Minnesota.  I was only a school teacher.  I couldn't even shut down my second grade when they ticked me off.

 So, what's the deal?  What do I tell my twelve-year-old when she asks me if I'm going to die?  What do I tell my wife when she asks how she and my children will survive after I'm gone, or why I'm so "down" when I should be trying to get a job, get medical insurance, and deal with my cancer?

I'm pretty much at the end of my rope here.

I understand that I'm not lovable.  But why are Tim and Mary so loved by God?

 Sign me -
The Reluctant Skeptic

Mary Pawlenty is so holy she squeaks.

Dear Relly -

 Your letter is so pathetic I'm inclined to believe you're putting me on.

But since I am a woman of faith, I have to believe you.  So - I'm going to take seriously your questions and do my best to help.

First - my condolences.  It's miserable to lose a job.  It's awful to work in a career that one hates - - but it sounds like you loved teaching.  Please accept my sympathy for your loss.

I have to tell you - I have all ready seen the video you reference.  I found it so offensive, I could hardly make it through my day. An earlier blog describes my personal relationship with Tim Pawlenty.  He is not a good man - and he is certainly not a man of God.  I don't know you as well as I do him, but I can tell by reading your letter that your conscience is clear, your life is righteous.

Here's what I know for certain; God is a guess.  None of us know why, where, when or how the Universe operates.  Morality is vague; only through pain and delight are we able to monitor our state of grace.

He's smug; he doesn't have a chin. He's Pawlenty.
I do know this; God is good.  And none of this nonsense will go unpunished.

These wealthy, arrogant, ignorant pedestrians will not prevail.  Public servants with real concern for humanity still abound.  John Marty, Mark Dayton are watching out for our well being as best they can.

I recommend you tell your story often.  Let your legislative representative know of your circumstance.  Make noise.  Seek, and you shall find resources.

And look to the light.  You are about to be a grandfather.  Granted, not in idea circumstances, but a grandfather nonetheless.  Celebrate the new life in your family.

When the government is up and running again, contact your county and ask for help.  You might be eligible for Minnesota Care, Medical Assistance or another form of assistance.

I'm not going to recommend you go to worship.  I wish I could - but my experience with organized religion is negative.  The last thing you need is the pain of an indifferent or cruel faith-based community.

So, buck up.  Be strong.  Believe in yourself.  Forget the Pawlentys.  My mother always said that when we compare ourselves to others, we always come up short or tall.  It's never good to think of ourselves as better or worse than others.

And I will keep you in my prayers.  Good luck, Relly.

Don't let the bastards get you down.

Sincerely yours,
Pastor Kristine