Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Better Communication Needed???

Back in seminary, in the late 60s, one of the by-words of the conflict between a "progressive" seminary staff and a conservative classis (Reformed Church in America) was "communication" - i.e. the need to communicate better.

I remember saying: "Heck, no. We've already "communicated," and have done so rather well."

The classis knew full well what the faculty generally believed and taught about Scripture and its interpretation, theology and its world views, what ministry is all about, and how to be good pastors.

And the seminary, in turn, knew full well what the classis believed and taught about all of the above.

The conflict wasn't for want of communication, but rather because communication was clear, and it was clear that we were moving in radically different directions.

Sadly, what we have on our hands, 50 years later, is mostly the same demarcation points.

We all know, rather well, what we believe, and what others believe, too, about the shape of the church, how to read the Bible, and what justice and peace are all about.

And the same holds true for government: we all know, rather well, what we believe, and what others believe, about the role of government, regarding Social Security, public education, unions, marriage equality and health care.

The conflict isn't for want of communication, but is simply the result of two competing, and diametrically opposed, world views in collision, aided and abetted by social media, talk-radio, 24/7 news, blogs and books and all the attendant media of communication.

 It's not a matter of being right or wrong, or closer to god or further away, but of sincerely held beliefs, shaped in the fires of life, and respective groups, coming to different conclusions.

There's no need to fear or lament the discord, and let's be clear: it's the progressives, or liberals, who most likely fear or lament discord, because they're "nice" people, looking for ways to build bridges. Conservatives, on the other hand, seem to have no such qualms, because they see themselves as defenders of "god's truth," more than willing to blow up the bridges and instead dig the ditches deeper.

It's all about honesty.

Honestly held views, and the sometimes painful truth, about all world-views: there will be conflict, even intense conflict, and there comes a time when lines have to be drawn in the sand, and convictions be held firmly, and when and where all the little compromises have been made, and all the books written and read, that we simply admit the ineradicable gap, live with the tension, and do our best.

Biblically, I think of the Genesis story about Cain killing Abel, and then the birth of Seth ... and how the respective lines of Cain (violence) and Seth (worship) were simply incompatible, and, at best, had to somehow live in constant tension, neither one completely dominating and eliminating the other.

The conflict is revealed in the voice of the prophets standing firm and clear against the voices of power and privilege, and seen again in Jesus standing against Jerusalem, and Jerusalem, colluding with Rome, finally exasperated by Jesus and making the decision to eliminate him.

Perhaps the Korean Peninsula is illustrative, as well, of two competing systems of thought divided by a no-man's land ... their respective world-views are not compatible; it's either one or the other.

And certainly the United States itself, with all of its talk about "democracy" versus totalitarian forms of government; obviously, much of our talk has been just that, talk ... or some might say, "hot air," mostly driven by our self-interests, but the point is clear: democracy is incompatible with totalitarianism.

On a more immediate scale, the world envisioned by Betsy DeVos and that envisioned by Marion Wright Edelman, have little in common, and to expect the proponents of these respective world views to sit down and "communicate" is nothing short of ludicrous. The only agreement is that they might agree to disagree.

While the language is a bit melodramatic, it's time for progressives, liberals, to know they're in a war with those who see a world through the lens of money: 1) money for the few who will then dictate life to the rest, or 2) money constantly redistributed, to insure the greater number of people having access to the greater numbers of opportunities for education, health care, and the "pursuit of happiness."

Sadly, it's all about politics and power ... these world views will come to dominate when enough people are in positions of power to insure the one or the other.

Am I being cynical?

I think I'm being honest.

Which begs the question: Is there hope?

Sure, there always is, but history doesn't allow us to be naive ... there is great cruelty in the human story, and great love, too ... war and rumors of war ... love and mercy. Cain's ways, and the love of Seth ... in a virtual dead heat. Why it should be this way is the great enigma of our journey. And though faith would have believe in the ultimate victory of love, along the way, a lot of suffering, a lot of pain and sorrow. Work for the best in our story, but be prepared for the worst, as well.

Where does that leave us?

Well, it means we have to be mindful of our p's and q's ... the stakes are high, and while we must learn, and keep on learning, all we can about how the various world-views work, we have to admit, perhaps tearfully, with broken hearts, that we're engaged in a serious conflict of values, and to "gird up our loins" and join the fray.

Fearful though we may be, dangerous as it, what we do in love, we do for one another.

And that's the way it is, to quote Walter Cronkite ... that's just the way it is.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Democracy in Chains - Study Notes

Thoughts/Questions for discussion - 8.28.17
Study Group: "Democracy in Chains," by Nancy MacLean

  1. Most Americans, I suppose, take for granted the on-going existence of the nation, Constitution and all … but MacLean suggests otherwise; her claims seem incredible, but could the Koch Boys, given their libertarian history and John Birch Society background, with their enormous wealth, be sufficient to bring about a right-wing revolution?
  2. Part of the plan is to discredit all forms of government influence (Reagan: Government is the problem), from public education to social security to medicare and so on … suggesting to the people that these programs simply can’t work any longer, they’re in state of failure and will not long exist, so let’s get out while we can, and if anyone is looking for an alternative, we have it - privatized everything. 
  3. To this point in time, people have not been willing to consider the termination of these large and successful programs, but the libertarians are not dissuaded. They remain committed to undoing FDR’s America, an America envisioned by Eisenhower (despised by the far right), expanded by LBJ and Nixon … and, of course, Obama. The libertarians rightly understand that a frontal attack on these programs will fail. In time, however, convinced that these program are failing, people will vote against their own interests.
  4. Critical to these libertarian efforts is the delegitimizing of anything pertaining to environmental matters, because the Koch Boys see the people engaged in environmental studies as the single most dangerous threat to their interests.
  5. At the heart of the libertarian effort is white supremacy - the need to severely limit who can vote, to insure the original model - only white landowners can vote, and to return Senate elections to state houses and not the people. Hence, the progressive onslaught of the libertarians to win state houses and governorships, most notably in Wisconsin and Michigan, states with a traditional progressive lean now fully in the lands of the libertarian program. Make America Great AGAIN … it’s the “again” that’s critical, as they harken back to the ante-bellum time of the Southern States, and across the nation in the early part of the 20th Century, when Jim Crow laws were in effect.**
  6. They love the distinction between “takers” and “makers.” 
  7. They’re convinced that the takers have taken advantage of American Democracy by pooling their efforts to move government to help all Americans, which is a tremendous loss of liberty, not only for the chief tax payers (the wealthy who deserve to keep more of their taxes) but also to those who are helped, because the very help received destroys their character, their initiative and their freedom to plan for their own retirement and the education of their children. If they have failed to do so, they must no longer count on the government to bail them out; they’re on their own, and tough luck if they fail. All of this will create a stronger nation and greater liberties for all.
  8. Crucial to all of this: destroy public education: 1) slash its funding, 2) destroy its unions, 3) discredit teachers. Voila Betsy DeVos. When people realize that “public education” is failing, promote charter schools, home schooling and private schools; use vouchers, and tell people constantly that this now gives them “real choice.”
  9. Along with this libertarian move, we have evangelicals signing on, condemning the poor for being lazy … evangelicalism, at its heart, is self-centered because of its 1) fear of hell, 2) its focus on the believer who made the right decision to accept Christ. All of these theological moves put the person at the center, with god more or less a bystander, offering some help, but no more than that, because it’s up to the “believer” to come forward (Billy Graham crusade) and receive Christ. And, as Joel Osteen would have it, if you do right by god, god will do right by you and give you wealth.
  10. For both the evangelical of late, and the libertarian, wealth is everything! For the evangelical, wealth proves the blessing of god; for the libertarian, wealth proves the wisdom and courage and fortitude of the wealthy.
  11. Along with this, the NRA and its need for chaos to promote guns.
  12. White Supremacists and their need for power - “the Jews will not replace us.”
  13. The angry and the alienated and their need to attack something.
  14. For me, it’s first class mess … and I’m grateful to MacLean for her work.

**the following piece, from a bio on Walter Cronkite, by Douglas Brinkley … unnerving for me to read this, it’s so brutal … Houston, 1927 …

As a liberal Jayhawker who considered John Brown a hero of the Civil War era, not a terrorist, Dr. Cronkite professionally refused to adhere to Jim Crow, taking black as well as white patients. As his son later told Ron Powers of Playboy, this ethic was reflected in a wrenching episode on one of their first nights in Houston. Dr. Finis Hight, president of the Texas Dental School, had asked the Cronkite family to dinner at his River Oaks home. After the steak-and-potatoes meal, the group moved to the porch to savor the breeze and await the delivery of homemade ice cream from a nearby drugstore. In those days, there was no air-conditioning and residential refrigeration options were limited. The Jim Crow “rules” of Houston said that African Americans could not approach the home of a Caucasian from the front. Years later, Cronkite recalled what happened next: “The black delivery boy drove up on his motorcycle and looked with his flashlight, clearly for some way to go to the back of the house.” Not finding a driveway or alleyway to deliver the ice cream, the young man started up the sidewalk. When he hit the first step to the porch, Dr. Hight, in Cronkite’s words, “jumped out of his chair like a cat, and hit him right in the middle of his face, wham!—knocked him back into the grass, ice cream cart spilling—and he said, ‘That’ll teach you, nigger, to put your foot on a white man’s front porch!’ My father said, ‘Helen, Walter, we’re leaving.’ ” 

The three Cronkites marched out of Dr. Hight’s house. When the embarrassed host tried to coax them into staying, Dr. Cronkite said “get lost” and kept walking. After that incident, Dr. Hight had the long knives out for Dr. Cronkite because of his “pro-Negro” sympathies. “I was horrified about the incident,” Cronkite recalled. “Terrified by the walk through the oak trees with their long Spanish moss dripping in them. It looked like a Walt Disney forest that I would expect all the animals jumping at us. We finally got a ride from somebody on a street corner. Got back to our hotel. But from that moment on I was wholly aware of the racial bigotry, prejudice, and treatment of blacks in that part of the world.”

Brinkley, Douglas. Cronkite (Kindle Locations 425-441). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

No Escape!

I continue to read theology and scripture, and so there are times when I wish I could simply retreat into points of doctrine and exegesis.

But every page of Scripture screams of politics, because of the Kingdom of God, and there Lordship of Christ ... and everything I read of theology demands a decision about how we treat one another, and the hope we have in Christ ... not simply for some distant future after death, but here and now, because "this is my Father's world," and the little children need to see and feel the lap of Christ.

Anything that ignores this joyful and demanding reality, anything that dismisses this world as of no concern, anything that smells of rapture, or some bizarre kind of escape clause from this life and its goodness, and its need of redemption from the forces of evil, is a contradiction of the gospel, a crucifixion of Christ all over again ... as the powers that be, in love with themselves and their glory, despise the glory of God, which is humble and kind, merciful and forgiving - values that the powerful, the comfortable, can't stand, because Christ shames their greed and reveals just how paltry are their riches.

So, for me, longing for escape, there is none. Longing for a retreat from this world and its present sorrow, there is no place of retreat from the command of God to Elijah to leave the cave and get back to work.