Day 29 – Good Vessels

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Dear President Trump:

In today’s Daily Lectionary readings, God tells Jeremiah to go to the potter’s house, where Jeremiah observes that “The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.” God then instructs Jeremiah to tell the people, “Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand… I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it.” (Jeremiah 18:4-10)

This reading offers as a humbling reminder that so called “sovereign nations” – no matter how powerful — are subject to being reworked and reshaped in God’s hands.

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In the Gospel reading, Jesus represents the kind of worthy vessel God desires. “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will,” says Jesus, “but the will of him who sent me.” (John 6:38)

From God’s perspective, good vessels are those that are pliable, willingly shaped as containers for acting justly, loving kindness and walking humbly. Good vessels are those who love neighbor as self, even laying down their lives for others.

Yesterday, our campus community at Eastern Mennonite University received the sad news that the body of one of our alumni, Michael J. Sharp, had been found in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Sharp, who worked for the United Nations, was kidnapped, March 12, during a dangerous mission to investigate alleged human rights abuses attributed to the Congolese army and local militia groups.

What kind of vessel will you be, Mr. President?  What kind of vessel with this nation be? I fear that your “America First” agenda is moving us toward a bunker mentality, while inside the bunker things are falling apart.

Yesterday the Associated Press reported that, “The White House is calling for immediate budget cuts of $18 billion from programs like medical research, infrastructure and community development grants to help pay for the border wall…”

The late civil rights leader Coretta Scott King once reflected, “It doesn’t matter how strong your opinions are. If you don’t use your power for positive change, you are, indeed, part of the problem.”

Use your power for positive change, Mr. President. Be a good vessel.

Sincerely,

J. Daryl Byler

 

Day 28 – Living Well

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Dear President Trump:

Today’s Daily Lectionary readings are about living well.

In the Old Testament reading, God promises that, if the people will set aside the Sabbath as holy and a time for rest, God will bless them and make them secure. (Jeremiah 17:19-27) The psalmist writes: “Which of you desires life, and covets many days to enjoy good? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:12-14) In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells his disciples not to work for food that perishes, but for the food that Jesus gives — “food that endures for eternal life.” (John 6:16-27)

Living well requires rest, speaking well, doing good, seeking peace and having a spiritual sense of purpose.  It also requires a living wage.

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According to the Institute for Policy Studies, “In the United States, income inequality, or the gap between the rich and everyone else, has been growing markedly, by every major statistical measure, for some 30 years.” The average annual household income for the bottom 90 percent of Americans is $33,068 compared to $295,845 for the top 10 percent and $1,260,508 for the top 1 percent.

The tireless children’s rights activist Marian Wright Edelman has challenged, “There should not be one new dime in tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires as long as millions of children in America are poor, hungry, uneducated and without health coverage.”

Mr. President, as you think about tax reform in the coming days, I urge you to only propose changes that will narrow this gap. Help make it possible for all to live well.

Sincerely,

J. Daryl Byler

 

Day 27 – Small Acts, Big Results

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Dear President Trump:

In today’s Daily Lectionary readings, a young boy shares his lunch of five barley loaves and two fish with Jesus, who turns it into a feast that feeds a large crowd. (John 6:1-15) The psalmist writes: “The Lord is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds.” (Psalm 145:13)

Sharing a lunch, keeping one’s word, being gracious in how we treat others. These are seemingly small acts that can yield big results.

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Like tiny drops of freezing rain, our small acts have the potential to create great beauty or destruction. Photo by Howard Zehr

In Trump: The Art of the Deal, you write frequently about big deals that began with a simple phone call or reaching out.

Here are some small acts that could produce big results for your presidency:

  • Once a month host a weekend retreat for a mix of Democratic and Republican leaders. Focus on building relationships. Invite each person to share his or her dreams for the country.
  • Once a week Tweet a word of congratulations to one of your opponents. Surprise them with a random act of kindness.
  • Visit with a small group of Syrian refugees. Listen to their stories of why they fled their homes.
  • Visit with a group or undocumented immigrants to hear why they came to the United States. What are their dreams? How are they investing in this country?
  • Invite Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Camp David for a conversation about the mutual interests of the United States and Iran.

The late American abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe once reflected: “To be really great in little things, to be truly noble and heroic in the insipid details of everyday life, is a virtue so rare as to be worthy of canonization.”

More than we might think, it is the small things done well that can change the world.

Sincerely,

J. Daryl Byler

Day 26 – Drought and Rain

Dear President Trump:

Today’s Daily Lectionary readings are about drought and rain.

In the Old Testament reading, the people who pay no attention to God experience drought.  The “nobles send their servants for water; they come to the cisterns, they find no water, they return with their vessels empty…Because there has been no rain on the land the farmers are dismayed; they cover their heads.”  All the while, false prophets promise that all is well. (Jeremiah 14:1-22) By contrast the psalmist says that those who dwell with God experience springs of water and generous rainfall. (Psalm 84:6

Yesterday, I felt the moist soil between my fingers while setting out the first broccoli, collard and kale plants of the season.  But I am deeply concerned about the environment my grandchildren will inherit.

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A scholarly article in Wikipedia reports: “The scientific consensus is that the Earth’s climate system is unequivocally warming, and that it is extremely likely (meaning 95% probability or higher) that this warming is predominantly caused by humans.”

Mr, President, in late 2009 you and your children Donald, Jr., Eric and Ivanka, signed the following forward-thinking full page ad in the New York Times:

“We urge you, our government, to strengthen and pass United States legislation, and lead the world by example…We recognize the key role that American innovation and leadership play in stimulating the worldwide economy. Investing in a Clean Energy Economy will drive state-of-the-art technologies that will spur economic growth, create new energy jobs, and increase our energy security all while reducing the harmful emissions that are putting our planet at risk.”

But your more recent words and actions appear to be moving away from this visionary approach. Why?

Your proposed budget says “The Administration will take an evidence-based approach to improving programs and services—using real, hard data to identify poorly performing organizations and programs.”

My appeal is that you will use the same evidence-based approach in dealing with climate change. As you said in 2009, addressing climate change can be good for business.

Wendell Berry has written: “To cherish what remains of the Earth and to foster its renewal is our only legitimate hope of survival.”

Mr. President, remember the future that our children and grandchildren will inherit, even as you spur economic growth by investing in a Clean Energy Economy.

Sincerely,

J. Daryl Byler

Day 25 – Missed Opportunities

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Today’s Daily Lectionary readings are about missed opportunities.

In the Old Testament reading, God calls a people who are to represent God’s name and ways. But they refuse to listen and miss a golden opportunity to be God’s ambassadors. (Jeremiah 13:1-11) In the Gospel reading, the religious leaders hurl insults and stones at Jesus rather than listening to the truth and hope that he offers to them. (John 8:47-59)

Mr. President, the nation missed a big opportunity this week.  During your campaign, you promised, “there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid” and that there will be “insurance for everybody” and healthcare will be a “lot less expensive” for everyone.

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Photo by Howard Zehr

But you didn’t appear to advocate for these principles this week.  Rather than strengthen the Affordable Care Act – which most would agree needs improving — the bill you supported would have resulted in 24 million Americans losing health insurance coverage by 2026, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.  Mercifully, the bill was pulled from the House floor yesterday.

Several months ago, I had the privilege of being part of a circles process training led by Kay Pranis – one of the leading U.S. experts in this field.  Rooted in the practices of Indigenous Peoples, circles are becoming popular in schools, businesses and communities to facilitate dialogue, make decisions and transform conflicts. In a circle, everyone’s voice matters. Kay cautioned that effective decision making cannot happen if the groundwork of building relationship is short-circuited.

In reflecting on the debacle that unfolded this week in Congress, I had to wonder if the outcome would have been better if you and the Congress had taken a different approach.

  • What if you had begun with a season of relationship building? Mr. President, we are in a time of crisis. Congress and the Executive Branch are not governing. They are not serving the interests of the American people. Nothing will change when you move on to the next issue – taxes or whatever – if you and the leaders of Congress continue to ignore this fundamental political and human reality: relationships matter.
  • What if you had begun with a positive vision? What if, instead of bashing “Obamacare” and failing to build on the hard work it represented, you had focused on a lofty goal like you articulated in your campaign — quality and affordable healthcare for all Americans? And then had joined the best thinking from both sides of the aisle to achieve this vision?

Reach out your hands, Mr. President. Build bipartisan coalitions to fix the challenges this nation faces.

Sincerely,

J. Daryl Byler