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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Winter of Discontent

Maybe it's the prolonged cold snap in these parts.

Maybe it's the economy.

Maybe it's just me.

Is that it, or does it seem to you that many people are in a Very Bad Mood?

There's a sort of disquieting buzz of grumble that's easily detected underneath many conversations I'm overhearing in the stores and shops and restaurants. An overtone of frustration sometimes breaks in. Sometimes that is accompanied by low-level bickering between husband and wife or shopping companions.

The Winter of Discontent seems to have made an early arrival.

Sussex County, which includes Lower, Slower Delaware, is a conservative, Republican stronghold. After living in Chatham, NJ for 8.5 years - a place known affectionately as "Republicanville" - I sometimes wonder if God isn't having a bit of a laugh with me.

This area, however, is also flush with bone fide Red Necks who drive 'round town in pick up trucks with a gun rack in the back, a Rebel Flag attached to the antenna and country-western music blaring from the radio.

Nothing wrong with that. I have an inexplicable fondness for Red Necks. Honestly. I think it's their defiance I like. They don't just stand on the edge of respectability. They dance there. And laugh. And sing heart-felt songs of honest lament and love and America. And have firmly implanted ideas about who should and should not live here and who God is and how God should be worshiped and how people should live.

Which also makes me a little nervous to live among them. I'm quite certain I'm not on their list of 'preferred residents'.

Like the Psalmist (137), I sometimes feel like a stranger in a foreign land, where I have hung up my lyre on the poplars, singing songs of Zion.

Even though there will - soon and very soon - be a Republican majority in the Senate, some people are still Very Upset that Christine O'Donnell lost her bid as Senator. Mind you, she carried Sussex County, but got trounced 'upstate' - as folks 'round here refer to anything above Milton. There are still lots of bumper stickers supporting her bid, and a surprising number of people who still wear their "Christine" T-shirts - these days, over a turtleneck and under a puffy down vest.

News of how bad things really are seems not to inspire a call to action, but to more grumbling. I recently learned that there are 125 local high school students who are known to be homeless. Now, those students, one presumes, have parents and siblings, so that statistic gives one a sense of the gravity of the situation.

I understand that local churches have banned together to tend to their needs for shelter and food, but when I ask questions about "looking upstream" for the cause of the problem, and taking a more systemic approach to find a long-term solution to poverty, homelessness, hunger and unemployment, I am greeted with looks that range from astonishment to something that gets very close to anger.

I had coffee with my dear friend, Mark Harris, last week. He reminded me of what many Progressives in the area (well, I don't know if there are that many, but I'm delighted every time I meet one) have said about Delaware.

People here tend not to let Political Parties define the landscape. Mike Castle is a Republican and was US Representative for Delaware's At-Large Congressional District for many, many years. People voted for him because he is a good, decent, competent man who "crossed the aisle", if necessary, to get the job done. His supporters and voting base include many Democrats - including Joe Biden, former Senator and now, of course, our Vice President.

"That's the way things are here," I'm told.

Well, maybe that's the way we once were, but not so much any more. Christine O'Donnell's nomination and candidacy seemed to change all that. And I must say, as an observer, it hasn't been for the better. It wouldn't be hard for me to get a whole lot of "Amen's" from folk all around me.

That's not O'Donnell's fault, of course. She was nominated by some Very Unhappy Republicans who are part of the Tea Party Movement. Indeed, even when she won the nomination, she was not supported by the Republican Party chair who said she "couldn't get elected dog-catcher".

Turns out, her candidacy was a Most Excellent Thing for the Democrats, but that didn't leave too many people on either side of the aisle very happy. Not that Democrat Chris Coons is not a good, decent, competent man who will also "cross the aisle" if need be to get the job done.

It's that the landscape has changed. Lines that everyone knew were there but were barely distinguishable are now painfully obvious. Republican and Democrat. Rich and Poor. Black and White and Hispanic. Male and Female. Young and Old. The Steelers vs. The Ravens.

Last Sunday, my rector did a 'rif on the gospel that included a gentle but firm chiding and a few 'godly admonitions' about conversations he's been having with some folks in the church about those who are the John the Baptists among us.

Apparently, some of the good folk are upset that more and more people in the area don't speak - or read, or write - English and resent "our tax dollars" being spent to educate and school children and adults in the "Mother Tongue" of "This Great Nation."

Never mind that the "Mother Tongue" of this country is decidedly NOT English. Neither is the "native religion" Christianity. The mentality of "We Were Here First" starts off on illogical footing and very quickly slides down a slippery slope from there, usually ending up in the Very Low Valley of Prejudice and Bigotry.

Apparently, some folk were also none too happy with the little joke I told on myself at the end of my Heritage Day sermon which happened to involve a certain "senate candidate" from "the First State" with whom I would also find myself in heaven. One woman - who identified herself as a 'guest' that Sunday who was also 'a life-long Episcopalian' - even wrote to me to demand an apology from the pulpit.

I have, of course, written to tell her how sorry I am that she was offended and hoped she might not be if she understood that I was making a joke about myself, for the sake of the Gospel I preached that Sunday, which tells us that even the thief who was crucified with Jesus would be, that very day, in Paradise.

She missed the joke, of course, because it's hard to laugh when you're stewing resentment and drinking from a brew of the bitter herbs of disappointment and frustration and anger.

My rector skillfully drew another line in the ecclesiastical landscape. Essentially, he said, that absolutely everyone was entitled to their opinions. Part of what makes The Episcopal Church great is that we have a high tolerance for a great diversity of opinion and thought - but that acceptance and tolerance would be the standards and the practice in whatever church he was privileged to serve as rector.

His message was warm but firm and very, very clear. Why else would you come to church but to know that 'nothing separates us from the love of God in Christ Jesus' - not even ourselves?

As he preached, I saw Jesus standing over his shoulder asking the congregation,
"What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,
`See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.'
I think we need more more of that sort of message in the church. It's the kind of quietly, lovingly prophetic ministry that can warm the chilliest soul in any winter of whatever discontent.

It was very brave of my rector, I thought - especially as people are whizzing through Advent and gearing up for Christmas. We need more of that in the church, too. Pastors who aren't afraid to remind us of our baptismal vows to "strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being".

And, we need to laugh more at ourselves. Make a few more jokes about ourselves and the various positions we cling to that we need to let go of so we can all meet Jesus at the altar.

So, I'll leave you with this wonderful little video clip one of the parishioners recently posted on her Facebook page.

It made me laugh a bit about the "state" I find myself in, which I now call home.

It's not exactly a 'song of Zion' but it is one I can take down my lyre from the poplar tree and sing. That's going to be important.

I suspect this Winter of Discontent is going to get a whole lot colder come January.


ethnicguy said...

I don't know if I would call anyone a red neck or not. I do know that I worked on the Eastern Shore for many years and was offended by those Confederate flags and the loaded history they represent. I even wrote a leaflet and stuck it on their cars protesting the flag and the attitudes behind it, which are something much more serious and racist than simple rebellion. I was grateful that I got to drive home to West Virginia on most weekends given the economic disparity and widely evident racism on the Eastern Shore. It got so bad that I could not stay in most hotels or eat in many restaurants there.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

"I have an inexplicable fondness for Red Necks."

"Whew!" says the person with her front foot in Educated, Polite Society and her back foot in Redneckville (and tends to put her weight on that back foot...)

(Word verification: Eddetos--are those kinda like Cheetos?)

Muthah+ said...

The video didn't show up. But Elizabeth, you and J and I and most of us who graduated from EDS/ETS were formed as prophets! We cannot help but be. And I am so thankful for that training. Whether it is in LDS or TX, we are still trying to proclaim a Gospel that says we are called to clean up the world in the name of Jesus. It doesn't make us popular but is makes it easy to sleep at night or look at ourselves in the mirror.

Matthew said...

I grew up around rednecks -- at least the upper Midwest Scandinavian Lutheran variety -- lots of cowboys and ranchers and farmers in the Dakotas. I did not realize how out of place you can be made to feel until I took my partner home one Christmas years ago. It was deceiving because my sexual orientation was not much of an issue. Then I got it. They will usually accept THEIR gays! Its the gays from other parts of the country, non-Whites, THOSE gays are the problem. OUR gays are different.

BTW, I loved the video. Its been a decade since I went on vacation to DelMarVa. Loved Lewes. And I still have a London Fog coat I bought there, tax free of course! And that LONG bridge is to VA is a stunner -- SO long!

Oh, and DE is home to Delaware State Univ, a historicaly black institution and during my visit to DE I toured a plantation -- wish I could remember which one and where. Parts of the state feel a little southern.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hmmm. . . the vid showed up for me. I'm sorry you had trouble with it.

I am so looking forward to going back to EDS as Proctor Fellow. I don't know that you can be "formed as a prophet" but we certainly ate the bread of justice - in abundance.

Brother David said...

A tiny correction, if you speak of your national legislature, the US congress, then it is the House that will have a Republican majority, not the Senate.

IT said...

Technically, the Republicans will not be the majority in the Senate. Doesn't matter. They have now ensured that the Senate must have a supermajority of 60 to move ANY legislation. The "World's Greatest Deliberative Body" is now a partisan wasteland bent on destruction.

KJ said...

I grew up in a politically conservative household (AU H2O!), and of course, most of my current church family is "progressive." Yet, the commonality I see in both camps is a tendency to take one's views (and party) far too seriously while taking rides on waves of fear. Life's just too short for that!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

@ ethnic guy - People around here who are red necks will tell you that they are. Damn proud of it, too.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Kirke - You're one of my favorite rednecks.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - I think the plantation you are referring to is outside of Wilmington.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

IT and Davheed - Yes, I know the technicalities, but in actuality . . . .well, let's just say it's not a pretty picture.

LVTfan said...

When you write about looking upstream for the sources of economic and social injustice, I wonder whether you've had occasion to read some of the books and speeches of Henry George. My late grandparents were Georgists, and I only came around to their point of view after they were gone, and even then slowly. Might I commend to your attention a speech entitled "The Crime of Poverty" followed by one or more essays from the book "Social Problems" and then a modern abridgment of his magnum opus, "Progress and Poverty." All are linked at (And you might look at its somewhat neglected sibling site,