Friday, December 10, 2010

Bread And Circuses

I am going to voice some dissent concerning Bernie Sanders' long speech on the floor of the United States Senate today. It isn't a "filibuster". Rather, because of parliamentary procedures and Senate rules, he simply took his place on the floor, rattled off some statistics, gained some attention, and . . . that's about it. A whole lot of progressives are cheering him on, and I have no problem with them doing so.

I'm not.

This is a game. Sanders is having what is, in essence, a very public hissy fit. His intentions are certainly honorable. His facts and figures are accurate. All the same, this is a bone tossed to the left-wing, well, maybe not masses, but perhaps large crowds, in the wake of Pres. Obama voicing consternation that they just didn't jump up and down in support of the deal he cut with Congressional Republicans earlier in the week.

This is politics as spectacle. The real thing happened earlier in the week, and is going on in phone calls and blackberry messages among members of the various caucuses in Congress. For all that Sanders has "right", in the sense of correct facts and figures and posture toward those most in need, on his side, this is a way to placate all those folks out there who feel detached from the back room dealing.

Not a word of Sanders' speech will penetrate any "analysis". Instead, all the attention will be on the event itself. Like all else in our political life, we are being fed scraps to satisfy our sense of participation. Except, sitting and watching an hours-long speech isn't participation, it is entertainment.

Even if Sanders is right on the matter of policy; even if Sanders has facts and figures on his side; even if he is now joined by others in this special edition of C-SPAN; even for all this, I cannot and do not believe it matters one whit. Facts ceased to matter in our politics decades ago. The reality of our growing socio-economic polarization - the only one that matters, not our mostly nonsensical ideological polarization - has been ignored and will continue to be ignored. This is a distraction, a diversion, a bone tossed to those who care passionately about these matters, giving them a vicarious sense of participation without doing a single thing to change any policy, change any minds, or actually do something substantive for our growing underclass. Someone in my FB newsfeed wrote, "I stand with the poor" and that sounds marvelous.

But it's bullshit. Sitting and watching TV is sitting and watching TV. That even progressives no longer realize this tells me so much about the state of our politics.

Dirty Theology

I have found myself more and more focused on recentering my theological musings and slightly disciplined pursuit of spiritual renewal fed by the waters of the reality of Jesus' ministry as presented in the Gospels, particularly the Synoptics. My reflections have certainly found a focus in Terry Eagleton's reflections on the God Debate. Yet, he offers little that is new to my own understanding; he just reinforces, in many ways, what I have come to believe is the central, scandalous point of calling Jesus the Incarnate Son of God. Just as the veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the sanctuary of the Temple was torn at the moment of Jesus' death (according to St. Matthew's Gospel account), this symbol of the division between God and the rest of the world, between our own notions of the sacred and profane, between what is holy and what is unholy had already been tattered by Jesus' ministry. When Jesus mutters, "It is accomplished," from the cross, it is because the final straggling bits of the division between God and humanity no longer hold.

Encountering far too many people invested in a view of the Christian religion as propping up an already outmoded, and always changing bourgeois mentality, including its intrusive moralizing and too-small god who is just a big mean Daddy has allowed me the chance to think more thoroughly through what the Incarnation means. Nowhere is it more clearly or succinctly stated than in this Esquire (!!) article by Shane Claiborne.
God may indeed be evident in a priest, but God is just as likely to be at work through a Samaritan or a prostitute. In fact the Scripture is brimful of God using folks like a lying prostitute named Rahab, an adulterous king named David... at one point God even speaks to a guy named Balaam through his donkey. Some say God spoke to Balaam through his ass and has been speaking through asses ever since. So if God should choose to use us, then we should be grateful but not think too highly of ourselves. And if upon meeting someone we think God could never use, we should think again.

After all, Jesus says to the religious elite who looked down on everybody else: "The tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom ahead of you." And we wonder what got him killed?
We lose sight of the really radical picture of who God is if we take our eyes of this part of the Gospel. We are so busy, institutionally speaking and humanly speaking, setting up rules and high bars for people that we forget Jesus sat around with the morally depraved and socially outcast, even entering a graveyard to assist a young man afflicted with demons (few acts would have been more scandalous then entering a place of the dead that way, presuming to do God's work among the dead).

The Gospel message isn't, "Change first, then I'll love you and give you a big house in the heavenly suburbs." The Gospel message is, "I love you because you are, because I made you, and all I want for you is to live as I created you, not as you have been determined by others. Now go and tell other people about this same love."

The Gospel is a message of hope because it is all about who we are, how we are to live, right here and now. It is about living in the prodigal love of God, sharing that same love with all with whom we come in to contact, and asking them to see themselves, each other, the whole world, as beautiful and worthy of love just because it all exists. Precisely for that reason, we should be working to make the world a more human place to live, a more just and righteous and peaceful place to live. I don't mean "politics", by the way. Such a way of viewing the work of building the Kingdom of God misses the point. Politics is about power, and the way we are to follow, the way of Jesus, is known as the "Via Dolorosa", the way of pain. The forces that St. Paul called powers and principalities, those who control the status quo and enforce it because it favors them will snuff out any serious attempt to question it, let alone overturn it. So, we should be prepared for all sorts of serious obstacles and objections.

It is also, however, not just a way of pain, but also a way of joy. Seeing in all those we meet, the accountant and the heroin addict, the President and the prostitute, the anorexic model and gluttonous gambler something worth celebrating, worth preserving because they are children of God is joyous. We no longer sit in judgment upon the lives of others, but can celebrate the reality of their being because it is a sharing in the same celebration God has in their being.

So, I say, more and dirtier theology, please. Only in this way can we come to a more fruitful understanding of who God is, as God was present in Jesus to reconcile the world.

Much Ado About Not Much

I once heard a radical claim the interstate highway system was really part of the Military-Industrial Complex because of Eisenhower's oft-repeated anecdote concerning its provenance in his thoughts as a young Lieutenant recently out of West Point. While it may well have been true that the military saw advantages in a continental, limited-access highway system, the reality is that, even back in the 1980's when the conspiratorial whispers about the highways were first laid upon my ears, it was such a part of our national life, having transformed social mobility, family life, and our view of our country that any worries over the potential military uses of the Interstates seemed only a remote worry.

In the early 1970's, Canadian philosopher Marshall MacLuhan's The Medium Is The Message overdetermined television to the point that an entire generation of social and cultural critics were convinced the advent of the idiot box was a sign of our moral decadence. While MacLuhan may have made an interesting observation or two, his view of the public as little more than rooted sponges, awash in contextless imagery and sound, missed the reality that commercial television, particularly in the United States, relied upon the feedback of both consumers and advertisers in a far more subtle formula to function at its peak. Since it was a cog in the consumerist machine, it is more than a cultural phenomenon, but an integral part of capitalist life.

With these two pieces, one from NYRB, the other from The New Inquiry, we now have the beginnings of the overdetermination of Facebook. We have already gone through worries over video games and the Internet (it began as part of the military, so you know who really controls it, right?). With the explosion of Facebook as more than just a web site but a national craze and social phenomenon, we are reminded of its roots in Mark Zuckerberg's interest in young women. As Helena Fitzgerald writes at TNI,
The juvenile mentality built in the medium pushes us to broadcast our private lives and expect that the details we share will be obsessively dissected. We sense, more or less consciously, that with the capability to broadcast our lives comes an obligation to be entertaining.
As with MacLuhan's "hot" versus "cold" media, there is some truth here regarding the ways we now envision our interactions. All the same, I would insist there is no "mentality", juvenile or otherwise, built in to this communications platform. There is little in either of these articles that wrestles with the reality that, having half a billion users, Facebook might just be changed by the activity of all those people all over the planet. This vision of Zuckerberg as the manipulator of our social interactions through the on-going tweaking of his platform echoes similar fears that go back to bankers before the Civil War, industrial moguls in the Gilded Age, and Presidents, kings, and potentates in any age. Glancing at any powerful force in our society with a jaundiced eye is always a good, even necessary, thing. Going full-bore philosophical hepatitis, however, ignores the reality that, once out there doing its thing, any medium is changed. It is changed by the economic and political and social framework within which it operates. It is changed by the cultural and social presuppositions of those who use it. It is changed by the very act of doing what it was designed to do. Any tool, no matter its simplicity or complexity, becomes something different the moment it ceases to sit on a shelf and actually be used.

A cautionary attitude toward FB, or the Internet, or television, or any other medium designed for human interaction, is always warranted. On the other hand, we grant to the media far too much power, and refuse to see our own potential for subverting what power they do have, if we believe that the only possible reaction to these ways of interaction is surrender.

Thursday, December 09, 2010


With my brain empty of anything substantive, I thought I'd have some fun, or something. I was on my way to pick up Miriam from school, and I heard a story on NPR about the changing nature of what makes a "hit" record. I got to thinking about my own iTunes library and discovered some interesting factoids by exploring different "measures" of popularity. The most played songs on my list reflect the fact that for months I hadn't uploaded most of my CDs to my library, so they are a handful of songs that I purchased for a variety of reasons. "Find Your Way Back" by Jefferson Starship, Gary Hoey's version of "Lunatic Fringe", the live version of "These Empty Places" by Sieges Even, and "Dragonfly" by Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush - all good songs, but not on my current playlist by any means.

So, what constitutes a "favorite", considering I have two usual ways of listening. If I'm in the mood for a particular artist, I pick out an album, and listen to it. Or, I just hit "random" and let the list play through. Since I have everything from sacred and Christmas music to jazz to rock in my library, I never quite know what I'm gonna get.

Among stuff I find myself returning again and again in recent weeks are the Polish prog band Riverside; a side project of Riverside, called Lunatic Soul; a live recording of the Neville Brothers; the new single from singer-songwriter Amos Lee, entitled "Windows Are Rolled Down"; "Wind At My Back" by Spock's Beard; the title track to CSNY's Deja Vu album; "Coyote" from Joni Mitchell.

What songs are you hitting the "replay" button for?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Wikileaks And Me

So the United States of America is waging war against a single individual. Not our useless, largely failing war against Osama bin Laden. Rather, the target of its latest militant response is Australian Julian Assange. I find it fascinating this is happening amidst the slow leak of classified diplomatic cables, rather than previously when military reports were leaked that had the potential for serious damage to US troops and their field allies. Apparently getting egg on the face of those higher-up the food chain - Hillary Clinton calling for espionage on UN diplomats! - was enough to prompt the on-going attempts to stop what, really, will not and cannot be stopped. As someone said in a report I heard on NPR yesterday, many individuals and groups are watching what is happening so they can learn how to be more flexible in similar circumstances in the future.

I am troubled by any attempt of disorganized groups and individuals to wage "cyber-war" against the US government, not because I think they are in the right on this issue. I am troubled because I think this is a war the US would win. Assange is in jail - admittedly voluntarily; he turned himself in to British authorities - awaiting extradition to Sweden on rape charges. I have no opinion on the legitimacy of the charges. Yes, the timing is curious. Beyond that, I leave it up to the Swedish courts. I think the attempt by some of Assange's defenders to smear his accusers is horrid, and will be counter-productive.

Finally, in a "meta" sense, I'm just not sure what this has to do with most of the rest of us. So far, it is playing out as a fight between the US government, whose tactics I find questionable; Assange, who is hardly a sympathetic figure not the least for me because he is quite public in his hope that he wants to screw the United States; and some of Assange's defenders who have not played the PR game well. One can find what the US has done to try to control and restrict him as awful, perhaps even illegal (read this on a comment thread on Crooked Timber) without succumbing to the rhetoric of authoritarianism. The US is acting precisely as any state actor would in these circumstances.

I think this is part of the reason I am frustrated by all the nonsense. The US isn't immune from the regular actions of any state. The French bombed a Greenpeace vessel that sought to disrupt nuclear testing in the South Pacific. The British were a bit overzealous in their reaction to the IRA in the 1970's and 1980's, including extrajudicial execution, torture, indefinite detention, and many other crimes. Pretending that the US has some dispensation, due to our rhetoric of freedom or the Constitution, is to engage in the practice of American exceptionalism by other means. We aren't exceptional, and the reaction - over-reaction is probably better - to the ongoing Wikileaks tempest reveals this quite clearly.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Eagleton And The Dead Jesus

On page 23 of Reason, Faith, and Revolution, Terry Eagleton offers this beautiful summary interpretation of the Incarnation.
The only authentic image of this violently loving God is a tortured and executed political criminal, who dies in an act of solidarity with what the Bible call the anawim, meaning the destitute and dispossessed. Crucifixion was reserved by the Romans for political offenses alone. The anawim, in Pauline phrase, are the shit of the earth - the scum and refuse of society who constitute the cornerstone of the new form of human life known as the kingdom of God. Jesus himself is consistently presented as their representative. His death and descent into hell is a voyage into madness, terror, absurdity, and self-dispossession, since only a revolution that cuts that deep can answer to our dismal condition.
While certainly resonating with so much of the best of the Christian tradition, without the confession of the resurrection - setting to one aside any question of its banal historical accuracy - it remains incomplete. It is true enough that the dead Jesus, spurned by those closest to him, left to suffer in a rejection that included, for him, the Father on whom he had called and in whom he trusted throughout his public ministry. Yet, the resurrection took this death and redeemed it. The Father who had forsaken His beloved Son is now redeemed as the bringer of new life. The followers of Jesus are redeemed, tasked as they are now with carrying his message to all the Earth. Jesus himself is no longer that battered, bruised, and broken corpse, but made alive again, that death and all death is now seen as powerless against the love of the God whom Jesus called Father. Even the grave cannot hold back the prodigal love for those rejected by the world.

At the end, for all there is so much in this work to lift up, it is also the case that without the resurrection, there is no sense that the crucifixion of Jesus offers us hope beyond solidarity for and in the struggle to make our world, and our societies more human. One can be agnostic over the "reality" of it; yet one brings only an incomplete picture of the kerygma of the Gospel if one neglects the empty tomb, the wonder and confusion of the Disciples, and the promise of presence as they carry the message of Divine love for all to all the world.

The Misery Of Our Contentment

(h/t Feodor via Facebook)

Back in the 1830's, a young French aristocrat returned from a nine month journey across the young United States and wrote a two-volume set of reflections on his trip. One of the great gifts of Democracy in America is the introduction of so many themes for understanding who we are as a people. De Tocqueville, while curious about so much of our national life, was not impressed with what he saw as the potential of our burgeoning capitalist society for stripping meaning from the life of the people. His warnings proved prophetic, and have been cited and repeated, and sometimes even elaborated without the later author understanding their source, so full and deep has his critique entered our national psyche.

In the New York Times, Harvard philosopher Sean Kelly offers a defense of our middle class life that strikes me as flawed in any number of ways (not the least of them a positive citation of the egregiously awful David Brooks).
The meaning that one finds in a life dedicated to “the wife, the heart, the bed, the table, the saddle, the fire-side, the country,” these are genuine meanings. They are, in other words, completely sufficient to hold off the threat of nihilism, the threat that life will dissolve into a sequence of meaningless events. But they are nothing like the kind of universal meanings for which the monotheistic tradition of Christianity had hoped. Indeed, when taken up in the appropriate way, the commitments that animate the meanings in one person’s life ─ to family, say, or work, or country, or even local religious community ─ become completely consistent with the possibility that someone else with radically different commitments might nevertheless be living in a way that deserves one’s admiration.
This pluralistic emendation to a cursory summary of suburban values is a pangloss on what more sensitive commentators - the article begins with Nietzsche, but also Jonathan Franzen (the inheritor of John Barth among others who view suburbia with a jaundiced eye) - which, I believe, misses the point critics (not least of them Nietzsche) continue to make. It isn't that these commitments aren't real, or unimportant, or animating for a life lived in their shadow. Rather, they are a life lived small. The aperture narrows and narrows until all that seems to be left is the flow of day-to-day, with meaning ascribed to it without any reference to any larger framework.

Except, of course, capitalism provides the framework within this denuded Weltanschauung, insisting that "solidarity" is best limited to those we encounter in our daily round. Political action for change is outside what capitalism sets as the conditions of possibility. Religion becomes the enforcer of this complacence, tracing a narrative of moral conformity and final reward in a mockery of capitalist accumulation.

This is not to say our encounters with those immediately present to us are not important, even necessary to our living a full life. Yet, while necessary, they are not sufficient. The authors who first encountered suburbia after the Second World War, and their spiritual offspring, saw in the enforced conformity, the by-laws of neighborhood groups and gated communities, an acquiescence that left the greatest generation staggering under a burden of commitments that stripped any identification with the larger society.

As that life is less and less tenable due to our current economic straits, we are finding ourselves more and more unable to articulate a vision of commitment precisely because for too long we have been told that "what you see is what you get", and we haven't been given any help in seeing beyond our immediate surroundings. The result isn't agitation for redressing our political and economic grievances. Rather, it is the Tea Party, the Birthers, Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck. We are given targets for rage rather than tools to shape a passion for fixing our ills.

We are reaping the fruits of the prophets of the simple life in suburbia, and we are finding them to be rotten, inedible, unable to sustain us in extremis. Our churches no longer give us a view of the common life as shared suffering for a better world for all; our politics is no longer responsive to the needs of the people; our corporations long ago ceased being run by the owners (the stockholders), being managed in absentia for their supposed benefit. Where are we to turn for help?

Sean Kelly? I think perhaps not.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Arguing Is Not Fun

This post and ensuing comment thread is an object lesson. If you notice the pattern here, someone comes along and insists that certain words and phrases mean something other than that intended by the person who actually used them. Then, based upon the novel idea that an individual is too dumb to understand the point of his or her own words, all sorts of topics are introduced as the "real" meaning. Any attempt to drag the discussion back to the topic at hand becomes a struggle precisely because the individual who insists on being argumentative (as opposed to discursive) makes a claim to priority. No matter how often this person is told, in plain language, that he or she is wrong, the claim of correctness is repeated.

The resulting exasperation is enough to make one abandon any and all discussion whatsoever. When facts become irrelevant, it is time to go.

I've experienced this same phenomenon at work. I was once informed that "everyone" at work believed that, when I first started working there, I thought I was "better" than anyone else. To which I responded, rather succinctly, that I not only believed no such thing, but exactly the opposite. I was informed that I was lying not because of any reference to anything I had ever said, or any act I had done that would have left the impression that I felt that way. Instead, the original claim - "everyone" seemed to believe that (who "everyone" may have been was never given any specifics) - was reiterated, thus making me out a liar.

Faced with the insistence, whether on-line or face-to-face that one is incapable of understanding one's own words or state of mind, the sane response is walking away. It certainly doesn't help when evidence is offered that is factually inaccurate, and no matter how easily that is shown to be the case, simple reiteration becomes the fallback position, as if it is repeated often enough it becomes factual.

So, I don't enjoy arguments. I don't enjoy being told that I don't understand my own words, that I don't understand my own mind, that I don't understand a subject and way of life in which I have been immersed for the better part of my whole adult life. I do not feel it necessary to belabor a point at issue that is clear enough to me, even if it seems obtuse to others. Someone "arguing" in this way already has all the answers anyway, so it is far better to just shrug, smile, and walk away.

Dull Brights (UPDATE Link Added)

(h/t Steve Manskar on Facebook)

Man. You just gotta hand it to some people. I have no issue with a serious critique of religion that includes a humorous sneer at various humorless forays in high-dudgeon moralizing.

On the other hand, the following is the opposite in every single way.
The talk show where an angry couple of “brights” (“brights” are people too smart and sophisticated to be duped into believing anything so stupid and “dull” as religion) argued that atheists, secular humanists, and intelligent people of all backgrounds need to fight to “redeem” Christmas from ignorant Christians who base the holiday in supernatural myth and fairy tales. Their thesis is that Christians suck all the joy out of Christmas by trying to make it a religious holiday. I sat incredulous, thinking “these people claim they are smarter than Christians?” They proceeded to recite a laundry-list of odd, backwards, simple, silly and unenlightened incidents that cast Christians in the worst possible light, then lifted up a series of heart-warming and wonderful stories of non-religious people who celebrate Christmas as a purely secular and cultural holiday. They concluded their rant by stating that Christmas could become a world-transforming phenomenon if only we could strip it of any spiritual or religious meaning.
Like Christians who refuse to celebrate Halloween because it is an "celebration of evil" without understanding it is little more than the night before All Saints Day, the "brights" mentioned here are really just ignoramuses. Beyond that, I really have nothing to add.

What Kind Of World Do We Wish To Inhabit?

A theme running through Terry Eagleton's Reason, Faith, and Revolution is the perspective from which questions concerning the status of religious belief are asked. Unlike his main interlocutors Dawkins and Hitchens, Eagleton is quite clear that his perspective includes a concern for justice, honesty concerning the moral depravity of western hegemony, and the self-destructive capacity of late liberal capitalism. Bearing these concerns in mind, his approach to the Christian faith is one of generous thanks in the midst of honest acceptance of the horrors visited upon our world in the name of religion.

Being supporters of various aspects of the status quo, intellectual and political, Dawkins and Hitchens voice no similar criticism for either scinetific advancement or the kind of humanism both seek to see supplant religious belief. Eagleton is willing to grant, as did even the great critic of liberalism Karl Marx, that at one time liberal humanism, and the Enlightenment from which it burst forth, was quite simply the most revolutionary force in western history. For all that, it has, in the words of the title of the second chapter/lecture of Eagleton's short work, betrayed that revolution. Living as do we do among the rising ruins wrought by a political and economic system that seeks above all domination in the name of profit - a dominance that includes not just human populations but the planet that is under dire threat as well - it should be easy to insist that we should be far less worried about, say, the effort to push intelligent design in our schools and more worried about the unintelligent designs upon the natural resources of other nations that has led to the growing uprising we call Islamic radicalism.

Eagleton sees Ditchkins as late-Victorian triumphalist rationalists, celebrating the grand march of human reason over and against the darker forces of superstition and ignorance. Even as the edifice of capitalism simultaneously expands even as its center collapses from within - a potential supernova that could drag so many down with it - one reads not a word of caution about the inherent dangers of supporting, either intellectually or otherwise, a system whose internal incoherence is the diabolical creator of many of the horrors they deplore.

Eagelton is quite correct, in my estimation, that the question is not whether or not God can be shown to exist, or whether or not organized religion has been a bane to human existence. The first is unanswerable in the terms Ditchkins sets forth (which they had to understand from the beginning) and the second even the most ardent believer with a scrap of understanding would admit. The real issue that confronts us, as the political and corporate elites retrench against their populations across the West, is whether or not we, any of us, religious believer or not, wish to work for a world ruled by real justice and peace. Eagleton finds resources for that struggle in the Christian theological tradition (and mentions both Jewish and Muslim traditions as also supplying some of the same tools), including a belief in God as understood in the best of Christian theology.

It seems to me that solidarity would create conditions in which the question of whether or not one is a believer in the Christian God and all that entails could be set aside. Except Ditchkins is not interested in solidarity in the face of the sufferings of the wretched of the planet. Instead, they are interested in ensuring that the threat posed by radical Islam and fundamentalist Christianity - two deformed offspring of western Imperialism and capitalist triumphalism - is wiped out before it threatens their heremtic lives.

I would side with Eagleton on his vision any day.

Are We Screwed?

Just a few weeks after elections that everyone in Washington insisted was about fiscal responsibility, we are in the midst of political fights in Washington on whether or not to extend historically low tax rates on the wealthiest Americans. It should be kept in mind, as I noted the other day, the same cohort for whom Republicans are lobbying for continued low taxation currently hold about 70% of our national wealth.

Meanwhile, these same Republicans, who wish to continue starving the beast of income so that fiscal responsibility can boil down to getting rid of the last, tattered vestiges of the welfare state, insist we just can't afford to extend unemployment benefits to the twenty million or so Americans who are without a job and no longer have any money coming in. The leader of the Tea Party is on record as favoring a return to our Founding principles - limiting the franchise to property owners, at a point when the percentage of people owning property is dwindling rapidly.

Since even the leader of the Tea Party - an alleged populist uprising against elites - is now publicly stating that people without property (which, I would guess, constitutes a significant portion of Tea Party supporters) should not be allowed to vote, the final scrap has been stripped away and it is clear (as if it ever were murky) that there is now not even a pretense of support for the general welfare, real fiscal responsibility, concern for the economic stability of the country, or supporting the policies most understand will actually drag the country out of the doldrums.

Even so, it seems the voices of those advocating even modest counter-cyclical spending, including extending unemployment benefits (if for no other reason than simple fairness, never mind complex economic ideas like the multiplier effect), while having the better arguments, simply have no constituency any more. Not even in the Democratic Party; certainly not in the Obama White House, which seems keen on surrendering to the Republicans in some self-destructive desire to appear even more bipartisan.

I have no idea what the future holds (as if anyone does), but unless we stop playing fantasy football with taxes and the deficit, and start dealing with the economic infrastructure, I believe that yes, we are indeed, screwed.

I wish I could find which Kevin Drum post I saw it in recently, but he said that our economic problems are not insoluble, and he is quite correct. The problem is the real solutions - solutions that would also serve our fiscal health as well - have no advocates in the corridors of power. The people, the nation as a whole, has no lobby with the pull of those few corporate interests that want to continue screwing everything up.

I do so hope the Tea Party will be happy with the results of claiming this election as their own.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

What Does It Take To Get Through To These People - Advent, Week II

Reading Luke 7, particularly verses 33-35, for today brings up a fair point.
For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, “He has a demon”; 34the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” 35Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.’
Jesus has been praising John the Baptizer, all the while pointing out that even his greatness will be overshadowed by the greatness of the residents of the aborning Kingdom. The official religious leaders are willing to grant a certain authority to John, more out of fear of reprisals if they do not than any acceptance of his message of repentance (it doesn't help matters that John referred to a "generation of vipers" and those same leaders heard themselves in that reference). They weren't so sure about Jesus. Yet, Jesus cuts through both their fear and hypocrisy and, in the midst of all that, seems to demand an answer to an implied question.

The problem, I think, is the real out-working of that shop-worn phrase, "God works in mysterious ways." The people were hoping and praying for a leader to release them from the twin captivities of Rome and apostate and quisling kings and rulers. The official, and self-appointed, leaders of the people were well-acquainted with Messiahs, those both self-declared and those the people raised to the title. Jesus seemed just the next in a long line of slightly mad pretenders to the throne, but they were certainly not going to just write him off.

Yet, their experience of him led them to do just that. John the Baptist, no Messiah nor second coming of Elijah (despite the common belief he was just one or the other or perhaps both), they dismissed during his life as possessed. Jesus, in many ways, was worse. Rather than submit to any testing by the guardians of the tradition, he traipsed off willy-nilly, gathering a rag-tag group of followers including collaborators (a tax collector) and freedom fighters (a Zealot), and spent quite the large part of his time with those outside the blessed circle.

The point seemed clear enough to Jesus, yet was lost on those who, one would think, would understand it best. Self-appointed leaders and experts were quite sure they knew the score, exactly how, when, and by whom God would act to set the people free. Jesus comes along and overturned this supposed understanding, in the process chiding the learned and experts for their blindness.

Our world is a mess right now. In part, it is a mess because we have spent quite too long a time heeding the counsel of self-appointed leaders and experts who tell us how things "really" are. No matter how often they are wrong, no matter how often the despised are actually right, they continue to have the ear and hand of the powerful. Jesus' example should be clear enough in this context. Don't argue, don't engage, don't play the game. Just go about the business of loving those most unloved by our oh-so-Christian nation - the immigrant, the Muslim, the sexual minority - and care not a bit for the clicking tongues and harrumphing of the wise. If asked, just point out that, being wrong pretty much all the time, it might be prudent to be silent in the face of new possibilities, then go back to whatever it is we should be doing. Nothing prepares the way for Jesus better or more in line with his own ministry than ignoring those who set themselves up as the moderators of the acceptable.

Virtual Tin Cup

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