Torch Column: Assistant Minister's Corner

01 August 2017

Assistant Minister's Corner - Rev. Monica Dobbins

Last Friday morning, I awoke to the news that the US Senate had failed to pass the “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act, with a decisive and unexpected vote from Arizona Senator John McCain. Although I rarely find myself politically aligned with McCain, I took to Facebook to thank him for casting that no vote. Soon after, I realized that many of my friends were posting outrage that the male senator was getting all the credit, while the two women who’ve been siding with Democrats for months (Senators Murkowski and Collins) were being ignored. Was I not also outraged about this blatant display of sexism? 

There’s definitely truth to that. I am only one of millions of women who has had the experience of seeing a man get all the credit for something I’ve been doing for months. I’ve had my great ideas stolen by men, right before my eyes. I’ve felt the humiliation of not realizing what was happening until it was too late to advocate for myself. Sexism is real – it is not behind us, not by a long shot – and it hurts. 

And I’m angry with McCain for the way he did this: setting himself up as the savior of the Senate, inviting journalists to “watch the show” rather than answer their questions. Watch the “show” – is it just a show to you, Senator? As if millions of lives didn’t depend on this decision?

And yet: this vote was a victory. One person joined with two other people, one person picked up their courage, to do the right thing. It was a victory! I choose to celebrate that. 

There’s a story about a son who loses his way, takes all his money and runs off to waste it in wild living. When the money runs out, he crawls back home and asks his father to take him back. The father is overjoyed at the return of his precious child, and wines and dines the foolish young man. Meanwhile, the guy’s older brother seethes with resentment: I’ve been here the whole time, doing what I was supposed to do. I’ve never failed you; why is he getting all the credit? 

The father replies: “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this lost one has been found.” 

I believe that, in that moment, the young man’s father made a decision, not so much about justice for the son, but about what kind of life he wanted for himself. He decided he didn’t want to live a life of bitterness and anger. He chose joy, at the cost of the satisfaction of retribution. 

No justice movement can survive in the long run fueled only by fury. The bitter herb of outrage must be followed by the sweet honey of celebration and gratitude. Otherwise, our hearts become corroded and hope trickles away through the rust-holes. We must cultivate gratitude, even when its recipient’s motives are cheap; not because the person always deserves our gratitude but because we deserve to live lives of gratitude. We deserve to live in gardens that grow wild with the fragrance of gratitude, tending even the smallest and roughest of blooms – believing, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that people can change, that they can do the right thing. Like forgiveness, gratitude is not just a gift I give to others – it is a gift I give to myself. 

I’m not ignoring the sexism of the praise of John McCain in that moment. But as a former recipient of ACA health coverage, coverage that protected my family during a risky time in our lives, I’m choosing to celebrate and give thanks. It’s neither simple nor easy, but it’s what feels right for me. I have faith that the celebration will sustain me longer, for all the fights to come.

So: thank you, Senator McCain, for doing the right thing. Thank you, Senators Murkowski and Collins, for being steady in the face of sexist threats. Thank you, Democrats, for holding the position. Thank you, protesters, for sacrificing your time and resources to show up for justice. Thank you, thank you, thank you all.