We’re all buzzing about the resignation of Van Jones from the White House over the Labor Day weekend. For those of us who spent time with Van last year at General Assembly in Fort Lauderdale, Van became something of a hero. I was privileged to spend a fair amount of time with him and was impressed (as I have been every time I’ve seen him) with his combination of intelligence, insight, and ability to cast a compelling vision. He had UUs ready to receive him in a mosh pit in our often-staid Ware lecture setting. (If you weren’t there, you can watch it online…)

People are posting all kinds of stuff on blogs, facebook, and in private emails. Some folks are mad at the President for not demanding that Jones stay, for not standing up to the attackers. Some people are mad at Jones for going to the White House after a career as an edgy leftist activist, leaving the door open for attacks. Pretty much everyone is furious at Glenn Beck for the scurrilous attacks, filled with lies. Tim Wise is urging Jones to sue for slander.

Here’s what I keep thinking about. At the Ware lecture, Van encouraged us to stop acting like the desperate protestors we’d been for eight years, and begin to act instead in ways that made us worthy of being respected as the people in charge of the nation. I have been wondering, given the types of behavior being encouraged by folks like Glenn Beck, full frontal assault on the legitimate governors of the nation up to and including our President, what it means to act “worthy of respect.”

I fired off a very angry letter to my local paper one sleepless night about the racism I’m seeing around me. I wish I’d decided instead to focus more calmly on what I’m seeing so that I wasn’t fanning the flames of polarization and self-righteousness. But words are hard to come by. (The paper hasn’t yet published my letter; I find I’m ambivalent about whether I want them to! Certainly I did not mention the UUA or my ministry status in it!)

The Buddhists say there are three questions to ask in order to determine if something is ‘right speech’: Is it true? Is it kind? Will it help? It’s hard to know exactly what kind of speech can help us now. But I think we need to fumble around and find it. I sat on a plane today from Minneapolis to Boston, wedged into a seat with two fundamentalist bear hunters from rural Minnesota. My braver self encouraged me to find some way to talk to them about their views of what’s going on right now, and to have a civil conversation with them about it. To act worthy of respect by being respectful.

My more scaredy cat self said, “Yeh, but you’re on the inside seat!” and put on my iPod instead. I keep wondering what would have been said if we had engaged in discourse about health care, the President’s address to schoolchildren, Van Jones’ dismissal. Could we find common ground that brought us together? What kind of language opens doors to real sharing? Without taking risks with each other to find the words, we’ll never know!

About the Author
Rev. Meg Riley


  1. David Keppel

    I am not happy with this response. While I agree that anger is counterproductive, there are things we must make clear we cannot accept. Van Jones was dismissed because the Obama Administration let itself be intimidated by a McCarthyite campaign. All our affirmations depend on our ability to say No to the unacceptable. For that reason, I think Van Jones's Ware Lecture, while brilliant and suggestive, was perhaps a bit overstated. But his broader work is absolutely central. Silence at his dismissal, however we may understand it, will be taken at large as complicity. "First they came for the communists…" (Martin Niemoller)
    David Keppel
    Bloomington, IN


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