Sunday, November 27, 2005

zero

"...I'm too old to be at zero..." my friend wrote in an email today.

To which I reply: The day finds us where we are, doesn't it -- not where we're supposed to be, not where we imagined, dreamed, planned and hoped to be. Did you jump or were you pushed? Does it matter? You're broken. So now what? If we're anything like close about the God we claim to know something about, I'm betting it's not just the day that finds us where we are and i'm pretty sure that's good news.

God, I hope I'm right about that.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

we shall see


I wish I'd written this:

Truly we should be thankful. And we do try to be. But the English language is so rich in terms of complaint and insult and groaning and rather sparse in the Exaltation Dept., so the Lord doesn't get praised as He should. Instead, we bellyache, we kvetch, we get our undies in a bunch. After all, we're descended from people who considered rejoicing to be bad luck: It tempts fate. So they grumbled about the weather, politicians, children, popular music, new cars, anything modern, and complained about their health year after year until they died and went to heaven, where no doubt they are a little edgy even now -- nice place, paradise -- a little surprised at who else is here, harrumph, harrumph, but never mind -- plenty of bliss, no tears and so forth -- not sure how long it can last, but we shall see.

Garrison Keillor at Salon.com

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

the least

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a budget proposal that will, if signed into law, do egregious harm to America's weakest citizens. The proposal passed by just two votes.

Following the vote, Sojourners' Jim Wallis issued this statement:

The prophet Isaiah said: "Woe to you legislators of infamous laws ... who refuse justice to the unfortunate, who cheat the poor among my people of their rights, who make widows their prey and rob the orphan." Today, I repeat those words. When our legislators put ideology over principle, it is time to sound the trumpets of justice and tell the truth.

It is a moral disgrace to take food from the mouths of hungry children to increase the luxuries of those feasting at a table overflowing with plenty. This is not what America is about, not what the season of Thanksgiving is about, not what loving our neighbor is about, and not what family values are about. There is no moral path our legislators can take to defend a reckless, mean-spirited budget reconciliation bill that diminishes our compassion, as Jesus said, "for the least of these." It is morally unconscionable to hide behind arguments for fiscal responsibility and government efficiency. It is dishonest to stake proud claims to deficit reduction when tax cuts for the wealthy that increase the deficit are the next order of business. It is one more example of an absence of morality in our current political leadership.

Budgets are moral documents that reflect what we care about. Budget and tax bills that increase the deficit put our children's futures in jeopardy - and they hurt the vulnerable right now. The choice to cut supports that help people make it day to day in order to pay for tax cuts for those with plenty goes against everything our religious and moral principles teach us. It says that leaders don't care about people in need. It is a blatant reversal of biblical values - and symbolizes the death of compassionate conservatism.

The faith community is outraged and is drawing a line in the sand against immoral national priorities. It is time to draw that line more forcefully and more visibly.

I applaud those House members who have stood up for better budget priorities and fought hard all year to keep issues of basic fairness at the forefront of this debate. And I thank those on both sides of the aisle who stood up and did the right thing in voting against this bill, despite pressure from the House leadership. These strong voices provide some hope for getting beyond an ideology that disregards the role of government for the common good.


Here's hoping the Senate shows greater common sense and compassion as they hash out their budget proposal...

Saturday, November 12, 2005

almost true

If you're paying attention to what the White House is saying this week about the rollup to war in Iraq, you're hearing a number of talking points that are almost true.

Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus hold these contentions under a magnifying glass in today's Washington Post.

I believe I'll leave to you to parse the meaning of almost true.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

insidework


[I posted this a few days ago at InsideWork...]

Last weekend, David Brooks wrote a piece in the New York Times reviewing Jerome Karabel's The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.

It's a tale we already know, give or take, and Brooks' telling begins like this:

"A few years ago, I wrote a book about the rise of a new educated class, the people with 60's values and 90's money who go to Starbucks, shop at Whole Foods and drive Volvos. A woman came up to me after one of my book talks and said, "You realize what you're talking about is the Jews taking over America.

"My eyes bugged out, but then I realized that she was Jewish and she knew I was, too, and between us we could acknowledge there's a lot of truth in that statement. For the Jews were the vanguard of a social movement that over the course of the 20th century transformed the American university system and the nature of the American elite."

Brooks follows Karabel's narrative about the shift from blue blood Protestant prep school boys to the sons -- and, eventually, daughters -- of people "more likely to prize work, scholarship, verbal dexterity, ambition and academic accomplishment" than the virtues of being "effortlessly athletic, charismatic, fair, brave, modest and, above all, a leader of men."

Measuring what's been won and lost in the exchange, Brooks pauses to critique Karabel's critique, before pronouncing the moral of the story:

"Those old WASP bluebloods may have been narrow and prejudiced, but they did at least have a formula for building character. Today we somehow sense that character matters, and it still vaguely plays a role in admissions decisions, but our thoughts about character - what it is and how to build it - are amorphous and ineffectual.

"One place where Karabel excels, however, is in his understanding that today's admissions policies have created their own set of problems. As time goes by, it becomes more and more clear that the meritocrats are doing exactly what the WASPS did, rigging admissions criteria to favor the qualities they and their children are most likely to possess.

...

"All of which suggests that human nature hasn't changed. People who possess privileges try to protect their own, even if they do shop at Whole Foods and drive Volvos."

It's an interesting piece -- especially (to me at least) that go-away line: "...human nature hasn't changed. People who possess privileges try to protect their own, even if they do shop at Whole Foods and drive Volvos."

Right now, American Evangelicals are an easy target on this score -- not in the academic elite, of course, but in politics and the theology of exclusion. After decades of living as a shadow culture with "our own" versions of nearly everything (Christian Booksellers Association v. American Booksellers Association (along with their attendant best-seller lists), Dove Awards v. Grammy Awards, Full Gospel Businessmen's Committee/Christian Business Men's Committee v. Rotary, et.al), Evangelicals in America have tasted the nectar of political potency (not to mention biggish money from the sale of books and music) and found it to their liking. And, like just about anybody else, they intend to protect their own.

I think one of the most remarkable things about the kingdom of heaven is that it is neither blue-blood aristocracy nor meritocracy -- a place where the Lion takes the Lamb to lunch and the Lion picks up the check. Not that it can't be done, but I think it takes some effort to read around that in the biblical narrative.

And I think one of the most interesting things about developing a biblical worldview is how, the more we move around the landscape of the biblical text and more we move around the landscape from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria to the ends of the earth, the more the "We" circle grows and the "They" circle shrinks.

These are, I think, counterintuitive values in our culture and reveal how much more at home most of us are here than in the kingdom of heaven. But maybe that's just me.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

just this about today's elections

A couple of days ago -- long past the time anything could be done about today's elections -- someone I prize wisecracked in a conversation about state and local politics, "I'm not registered to vote, so I don't give a crap."

Without much thought, but I hope not too ungenerously, I cracked back: "Should that be, 'I don't give a crap, so I'm not registered to vote?'"

I get it that people don't believe their vote can make a difference in the kind of world (or neighborhood) where children grow up. But I'm still surprised when parents and would-be parents, youth workers and people who care about the young, don't force their way to the front of that line -- just in case it should turn out they're wrong.

— RANTS + REFLECTIONS ON THE COMMON GOOD —

[mostly]