“Do you wish to honor the body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk, only then to neglect him outside where he is cold and ill-clad. He who said: ‘This is my body’ is the same who said: ‘You saw me hungry and you gave me no food’, and ‘Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me’… What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with golden chalices when your brother is dying of hunger?”
Those words of the 4th century Archbishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom, came to mind Sunday as I was walking along Exeter’s Lincoln Street while St. Michael Church was celebrating Mass.
A lovely, high-end luxury European import, parked on Lincoln Street, displaying a Phillips Exeter Academy window decal and parking permit caught my eye. It was also adorned with a bumper sticker, “Socialism is Un-American,” with the Obama logo inserted where the O in socialism appears.
Not, “Romney for President.” No. It commands us: “Obama is The Other.”
How ironic, I thought, that the car’s owner, the worth of which is significantly more than America’s median family household income, with children being educated at one of America’s most privileged, expensive and liberal prep schools, should be attending Mass to honor Jesus, arguably the most socialistic of all religious and political reformers.
Yes, the same Jesus who hung out with the poor and downtrodden, who threw the moneychangers out of the temple and who embraced a radical re-distributionist philosophy. How does one embrace Jesus’s values of truth, social justice, charity, tolerance and love your neighbor while simultaneously falsely accusing your neighbor of being a socialist?
How does one take communion and in the next breath accuse our president of being a socialist?
I don’t covet my neighbor’s SUV. As a teenager I read Road and Track while others were reading Playboy (go figure!). For years my treasured ride was a 1952 MG-TD. After I married we trusted a Volvo to keep us safe and warm. A 1990 240DL now does my bidding.
I’m not questioning the car owner’s charity or priorities. I don’t know him. I’m questioning the character of those who conflate social justice with socialism, who conflate President Obama with The Other.
Is there anyone who wonders whether Moses, Jesus or Muhammad would be seen cruising Main Street in a Benz, or whether they would be dishing beans in soup kitchens?
“It is God’s gift to humankind that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.” Ecclesiastes 3:13.
It was the convergence of those symbols of piety, privilege and power that got my attention. I was reminded how hard it is to be self-critical, to understand what it means to be calling out our president for being “socialist” while reading Matthew and Luke.
“ When you are told, ‘Make room for one another in your collective life’, do make room: (and in return) God will make room for you.” – Qur’an 58:11.
Make room, even for Samaritans. When Jesus commanded that the hated Samaritans be embraced as “my neighbor,” he radically demanded of us to accept that even those we fear or despise must not be scorned or rejected.
Let’s get something straight: President Obama inherited an economy that was going off a cliff. Obama put a floor under the crisis and since then America’s economy has created over 4 million private sector jobs. The current unemployment rate is lower than when he took office. The stock market is twice what it was in 2008.
Further, Obama ended the Iraq war. He found and killed Osama bin Laden and decimated Al Qaeda’s leadership. There are still threats, of course, as we saw in Libya, but Al Qaeda is now a shadow of what it once was.
In 2009, against NeoCon advice, Obama wisely resisted intervening in Iran — because the Iranians didn’t want us to. Remember, also, that even Iran’s opposition favored a nuclear program, which actually had its roots in the Shah’s regime — with American and Israeli support. Since then Obama has gradually brought the Iranian economy to the brink of collapse — without starting a new war. Today, he is being equally cautious in Syria.
Finally, he enacted the Affordable Healthcare Act, giving millions more Americans access to health insurance than ever before. As President Nixon said in 1974, “Without adequate health care, no one can make full use of his or her talents and opportunities. It is thus just as important that economic, racial and social barriers not stand in the way of good health care as it is to eliminate those barriers to a good education and a good job.”
John Chrysostom also said, “I am often reproached for continually attacking the rich. Yes, because the rich are continually attacking the poor. But those I attack are not the rich as such, only those who misuse their wealth. I point out constantly that those I accuse are not the rich, but the rapacious; wealth is one thing, covetousness another. Learn to distinguish.”
Yes, let us learn to distinguish.
President Obama played the hand he was dealt. Did he always do so deftly? I think not. But to impugn his motives by trying to ascribe to him foreignness, an Otherness, is political cravenness in its crassest form.
There is no Republican acknowledgement of the degree to which they would go, after themselves creating the conditions for the catastrophic rending of America’s economic and social fabric, to try and undermine Obama’s administration. Rather than helping heal America, Republicans, weeping and howling for the miseries that they falsely feared were coming upon them, chose the almost treasonous path of obstructionism, putting party and power ahead of country.
Unitarian William Henry Channing, wrote, “… to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart; to study hard; to think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions, hurry never; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common — this is my symphony.”
It should be America’s collective symphony.
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.