The Chris Christie beach memes are funny of course but I talked to more than a few local residents who wondered what the state shutdown was about. The Star Ledger has gone deep and interviewed the players to find out just what happened earlier this week:
When it ended early on the fourth day, New Jersey had been treated to a remarkable political spectacle, even by Trenton standards, complete with dueling press conferences, nasty backroom shouting matches, and even propaganda posters. Some of it played out publicly — very publicly. What didn’t is told here, the inside story of what caused — and what finally settled — the New Jersey government shutdown of 2017.
It’s especially depressing to read the kind of horse trading that was going on behind the scenes: other measures floated to end the standoff. It was a game to see which constituency the politicians might all be able to agree to screw over. I presume this is normal Trenton politics but it’s not good governing and the ramifications are felt throughout the state.
Shock and awe is the tactic of a bullying invader who wants to demoralize a country into surrendering before a defense has been mounted. It a strategy you choose if you don’t think you can win in a long, drawn-out battle.
Trump has surrounded himself by a protective scrum of advisors who spend much of their time keeping him steady and massaging his ego to assure him the people are all behind him. I don’t think he knows how to deal with the size of the opposition so far. He turns to conspiracy theory to try to convince himself that what he wants to be true really would be except for evil “dudes” out there — George Soros hiring actors to protest, millions of undocumented aliens voting, etc., and of course the original Trump conspiracy that refused to think a black American could be a legitimate president.
It seems a lot of conversations I’m in these days, on social media and IRL revolve around how we should be responding to Trump’s election. I know there’s a certain danger in being too deterministic, but a lot of answers seem to match where individuals are in the vulnerability scale. Some are counseling patience: let’s see how it goes after the inauguration. Maybe we don’t know the real Donald Trump.
Well, I think we do know the real Trump by now, but what I don’t think we know is the actual flavor of a Trump presidency. Have we ever seen a president elect who was so thin on actual policy? Trump rode his lack of policy experience to victory, of course, citing his independence from the people who govern as one of his chief qualifications. But it’s also his personality: on the campaign trail and in his famous 3am tweets from the toilet he often contradicted himself.
He’s a man of high-concept ideas, not detailed policy. This means the actual policies – and the governance we should and shouldn’t worry about – will depend disproportionately on the people he hires. Right now it seems like he’s trolling lobbyists and a handful of neocon dinosaurs that started the Iraq War on forged documents. He’s bringing the alligators in to “drain the swamp” and in the last 24 hours they’ve already signaled that a lot of key campaign pledges are open for reconsideration. How much we have to worry – and just what we have to worry about – will be clearer as his team assembles.
This weekend was the annual Lighthouse Challenge of New Jersey, a two-day celebration of shoreline sentinels during which every working lighthouse is open and staffed by volunteers. The truly committed drive hundreds of miles over the two days to visit the eleven lighthouses open to the public. Because of a scouting weekend for Theo, we just hit one on Saturday and three on Sunday. But these are the last four for our lighthouse-obsessed son Francis, who has been to the others over the course of the summer.
The Golden Rule project is an improbable accomplishment by unlikely volunteers. Members of Veterans For Peace, they are a motley bunch that might have appalled the original crew, all conscientious Quakers. They smoke, drink and swear like the sailors, though most of them are not. Aging and perpetually strapped for money, the mostly retired men sought to banish their war-related demons as they ripped out rotten wood and replaced it plank by purpleheart plank.
But this striving for perfect humbleness can easily become dogmatic. We can come to reject anything that looks remotely like attention-seeking, and we miss God’s message in it.
Jon weighs in with some good, juicy questions. Where is self-promotion a way to promote something bigger? And when is it ego-driven? t’s not just a internet question, of course. This is also at the heart of our Quaker vocal ministry: someone just stands up in worship with an implicit claim they’re speaking for God.
Samuel Bownas is a good go-to person for these sort of dilemmas. He was a second-generation Friend who shared a lot of the inside dirt about Quakers in ministry. He wrote down the trials and temptations he faced and that he saw in others in their “infant minstry” as a conscious mentorship of future Friends.
One of Bownas’s themes is the danger of apeing others. It’s tempting to get so enamored of someone’s beautiful words that we start consciously trying to mimic them. We stop saying what we’ve been given to say so as to sound like the (seemingly) more-articulate person whose style we envy. Most creative artists walk this tension between copying and creating and as Wess will tell you, the idea of remix has become of more importance in the era of digital arts. But with ministry there’s another element: God. Many Quakers have been pretty insistent that the message has to be given “in the Spirit” and come from direct prompts. Unprogrammed Friends (those of us without pastors or pre-written sermons) are exceptionally allergic to vocal ministry that sounds too practiced. It’s not enough that the teaching is correct or well-crafted: we insist that it be given it at the right time.
When thinking the pitfalls about ministry I find it useful to think about “The Tempter.” I don’t personify this; I don’t insist that it’s central to Quaker theology. But it is a thread of our theology, one that has explained my situation, so I share it. For me, it’s the idea that there’s a force that knows our weaknesses and will use them to confuse us. If we’re not careful, impulses that are seemingly positive will provoke actions that are seemingly good but out of right order – given at the wrong time.
So, if like Jon, I start worrying I’m too self-promotional, the Tempter might tell me “that’s true, it’s all in your head, you should shut up already.” If I work myself through that temptation and start promoting myself, the Tempter can switch gears: “yes you’re brilliant, and while you’re at it while don’t you settle some scores with your next post and take some of those fakers down a notch.” There’s never an objective “correct” course of action, because right action is about stripping yourself of self-delusion and navigating the shoals of contradictory impulses. The right action now may be the wrong action later. We all need to grow and stay vigilant and honest with ourselves.