Should Sam Adams Go or Stay?

It has been disturbing to many of us who have supported Sam Adams that he lied to the public about his sexual relationship with Beau Breedlove.  During the mayoral campaign, Sam was accused by a rival candidate of having sex with a minor, and fearful that the public would not believe him (Sam) if he explained that Breedlove was of age, he lied.  In fact, Sam claimed to be only a mentor and feigned indignance that people might think that he, a gay man, might not be trusted in a mentoring relationship with a handsome young man.  He created a public relations campaign to discredit his detractors, and as part of that effort, coached Breedlove to lie effectively, as well.  Moreover, Sam may have hired an unqualified individual, a former reporter, as part of his staff, in order to stop her investigation of his relationship with Breedlove. 

Many citizens have called for Sam to step down, saying that he has lost the public trust.  Others have urged him to stay on as our Mayor, saying that he has done nothing illegal, and though his deceit was reprehensible, he has learned his lesson and that he has the skills and commitment to serve the city well. This is a complex issue, with no clear-cut answers.  I have tried to sort out my thinking on the situation, and want to share those thoughts with you. 

My God is a God of love and mercy, rather than a God of judgment and condemnation.  Therefore, I believe that if Sam truly understands the import of what he has done and repents of his behavior, then he should stay in office.  If he is opportunistic and devious, thinking of his own career and well-being, then he should by all means resign.  Only Sam knows what is in Sam’s heart, and I would urge him to consider what is there.  Those of us in the Judeo-Christian tradition might be reminded of King David, who sent Bathsheba’s husband into the front lines of battle, that he might be killed, so David could have his wife.  We might remember Paul, who was a fierce prosecutor of Christians before his conversion on the road to Damascus.

We might ask ourselves: who among us has not done something absolutely stupid, because we were sexually attracted to another, or “in love”?  We might ask ourselves if we have ever lied to avoid getting in trouble.  “Yes, but Adams is a public servant!” we say.  And public servants are also human beings.  We often forget that.  And we often forget the immense pressures that leaders are under, and the isolation they feel.  Does this excuse bad behavior?  No, but it helps to explain it.

Another dimension of Sam’s offense is the abuse of power.  The two men were not equals, and Sam needed to recognize that his age and position made Breedlove vulnerable.  Fortunately, by his own testimony, Breedlove seems to not have been harmed by the relationship.  But Sam must recognize that with the power of office comes the responsbility to use that power to serve and protect–otherwise, other abuses of power will come into play. 

Incidentally, the question of whether or not Breedlove was 18 when he and Sam had sex is a legal question, but not a moral question, to me.  Was it two weeks after his 18th birthday, or two weeks before?  The moral question is whether or not any liason, at any age, has integrity.  When I was growing up in the ’50′s in rural Louisiana, people often married young.  I remember that my brother’s best friend was a young farmer who married at the age of 15 to a beautiful young woman of fourteen.  They had four beautiful daughters and a good, sound marriage.  Age and sexual propriety changes with time and with various cultures.  It is arbitrary.  (And yes, one should respect the laws of the land.)

Another consideration is whether or not it makes a difference that Sam Adams is gay.  Are we more forgiving of Bill Clinton, because after all “men will be men”?  In recent days we have brought into office a President who seems to have great integrity–and we breathe a sigh of relief.  We don’t want to see any more sexual scandals in high places.  But it is interesting that during the past few days, dotted frequently with memories of other heroes, when JFK was mentioned or when MLK, Jr., was mentioned, no one seems to remember their well-documented extra-marital sexual liasons, again an abuse of power.  And indeed, I’m happy not to go there, either.  But we cannot have it both ways–condemning people we don’t like (Larry Craig), while passing on people we admire (Clinton).

So again, I say, what kind of man are you, Sam Adams?  Do you know what you have done?  Have you truly repented?  Are you willing to go forward in good faith, and serve the public with honesty and integrity, understanding that it’s not about you?  If so, I say, “Don’t resign.  We all make mistakes.  We can change.  I believe that you have much to offer our city, and I hope you have the character and will to offer it.”


The Triumph of Hope Over Fear

I just watched the Inuguration of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of the United States.  One of the memorable phrases that he used in his address was recognizing “the triumph of hope over fear” at this time in our nation’s history.

I feel that I just woke up from a bad dream, after the past eight years of Republican rule.  During that time everything that I hold dear about my country has been violated by the Bush administration: torture, in violation of the Geneva convention; pre-emptive war, in violation of international law; inept and wasteful handling of that war, once started; ignoring of the protections of habeas corpus; spying on American citizens; refusing to recognize scientific knowledge in making policy; allowing the short-term gains of the few to endanger the life of the planet; power and position given to those whose main virtue was their support of the President; deregulation, leading to shameful economic inequity and finally the breakdown of the economic system.  I could go on, but let’s stop there.

Now in office is a man who embodies change.  The underprivileged son of a black man and a white woman, he is young, highly intelligent, compassionate, and a man of great integrity.  In his very person, he says YES to this nation, YES WE CAN.  Yes to all of us, not just some of us.  And in a time when so many of us have been beaten down by seeing our ideals dashed to the ground, we can once again choose hope over fear.  No wonder my tears were flowing so freely as I watched the Inauguration on television this morning.  It was a great letting go, and a great coming forth. 


Broken Hearts

There really is such a thing as a broken heart says cardiologist Ilan Wittstein, of Johns Hopkins.  Hopkins researchers have isolated a phenomenon called “stress cardiomyopathy” (known colloquially as “broken heart syndrome”), which is triggered by sudden emotional shock.  Shocking news, such as learning of the unexpected death of a loved one, can result in a heart condition that mimics a massive heart attack. 

It seems that such patients are often misdiagnosed.  What they are suffering from is a surge in stress hormones which temporarily “stun” the heart.  The overly stimulated nervous system of the individual releases large amounts of adrenalin and noradrenalin into the blood stream, along with their breakdown products.  These chemicals can be toxic to the heart, producing symptoms similar to a classic heart attack, such as chest pain, fluid in the lungs, shortness of breath, and even heart failure.  But the good news is that the effect is reversible, and recovery is generally quick.

When I read about these researchers and their discovery, I began to consider more comprehensive effects of a broken heart.  It’s not just momentary stunning.  Sometimes people experience a loss that they simply cannot overcome.  I’m thinking of my grandparents, with whom I grew up.  They were married for 67 years, and then died in their late 80′s within 6 months of each other.  As I have observed in my ministry, this is not an uncommon story with elderly couples.  The two seem to have become one in such a way that when one leaves, the other simply loses incentive to stay, and the body responds by letting go of life.

Grief is more difficult on our physical systems that we may yet understand.  It is not uncommon for one who has lost a loved one to be disoriented, to get in an accident, to fall seriously ill.  One of my congregants who lost her husband of many years failed to report this event to her doctor, and yet her deep grieving inevitably will affect her physically, so I encouraged her to let him know what she is going through emotionally.

Serious loss shakes us to the core.  We are likely to feel not only sadness, but anger and guilt.  Our brain and entire nervous system are working overtime, so we become distracted, spacey.  We are forgetful, and we don’t think clearly.  The right words just won’t come anymore.  Physiologically, we may feel heavy and tired, and pain or discomfort may emerge in those systems which are our weakest, whether it’s a back or a neck or a stomach.

Remember that bumper sticker that used to encourage us to practice “random acts of kindness”?  We never know what people may be going through.  Sometimes a clerk may be rude, or a driver may cut us off in traffic.  Would it make a difference if we knew that this person had just lost a spouse or a child?  We never know when we might be dealing with someone who has just had his heart broken in two, someone who desperately needs to heal. Kindness rather than judgment may be the better way. 


Who Gets Left Out?

The headline in this morning’s Oregonian is “Health care: Who gets left out?”  Then the writers pose the question: since Oregon can’t cover the needs of both the young and the elderly and the disabled, who should be left out?

This question is an example of faulty logic–a false dilemma, if you will.  After all, Oregon is paying for a wide variety of things, including keeping a record number of prisoners in jail, even those who have committed non-violent and/or victimless crimes.  And then there is the assumption that we have only so much revenue and can raise no more.  If we need more money for basic services such as health care for disabled persons, we always have the option of raising taxes. 

I realize that raising taxes is not a popular move in Oregon or any other place on the planet–especially during an economic downturn.  But let me ask you this: when some of us have more than we need–in fact quite a bit more than we need–why shouldn’t we share more of what we have with those who are in dire circumstances?  Some people would cry out, “This is socialism!”  Actually, no, it could be called “following Jesus.” 

I’m not for a socialist state with an economy planned from the top down–that has proved to be a failed concept everywhere it has been tried.  But I am for re-distributing the wealth of this land in a more equitable manner, so that some people don’t have to suffer and even die while others have three homes and four automobiles. 

Right now, the disparity in wealth is this country is greater than it has been since the late1920′s–just before the Great Depression.  An equitable tax structure would help.  And bringing unions back to power.  And raising the minimum wage to a living wage for all workers.  And building an economy based on production and service instead of finance. Of late, 80% of the economy of the United States has been based on finance–that is, shuffling papers and counting.  Let’s get real.

Let’s pose a situation.  Imagine, just imagine, that you sat down to a sumptuous meal one evening and there suddenly appeared right next to you a child eating only a bowl of thin soup.  Your heart would be moved, and you would immediately offer to share your food with this child.  The problem is, we who have more than enough do not sit down with poor people–they are abstractions to us, they are numbers.  We sit down with our own kind.  And so we are more likely to say, “No more taxes!”  We are more likely to believe that our money is for ourselves, to use as we please–after all, didn’t I work for it?

Who gets left out?  It’s always the same: poor people, old people, disabled people, mentally ill people, people with chronic illnesses.  The most vulnerable among us.  Why is this the case?  Where is the logic in that?  Why shouldn’t we who have more than we need share what we have with those whose needs are the greatest?  You tell me. 

You know, we’ve just done Christmas, haven’t we?  What was that story about, anyway?