A New Economy?

In spite of the economic downturn we continue to be a consumer driven economy.  Most of the Washington pundits and pols can think of nothing other than doing what it takes to get consumers to start buying again.  What if we stop being a consumer driven economy?  What would we become then?  What sorts of jobs would have to be created in order to maintain economic well being, and what would economic well being be?  Frankly I have no idea, but I do know this; we cannot imagine, plan for and then create that new economy.  We can’t because we are unable to imagine the unknown and unexpected.  What we can do is imagine, plan for and create the conditions under which desirable and productive unknown and unexpected developments can take place.  The incoming administration and some in Congress seem to be thinking in that direction in the sense that they know we need an efficient national infrastructure, a highly educated population, proficiency in technical skills at every level, comprehensive health care for all, and a fair and equitable tax system.  What will that produce?  Who knows?  But it will create the conditions under which worthy things are likely to occur.  The problem is that simplicity gets distorted by greed.  The need for an efficient infrastructure becomes funding for pet projects of no real value.  Education and skills training become regulations and sanctions.  Health care becomes fodder for insurance company profits.  Multiple attempts at tax reform speak for themselves.  Our nation faces a huge test, and our track record is spotty at best.  It’s going to be one heck of a ride.

Home Again on the Fifth Day of Christmas

Home again, home again, jiggidy jig.  Although we did not buy a fat pig, we did have an amazing week with grandchildren and their family.  I will admit that with airline travel as unpleasant as it is under normal circumstances, it’s a madhouse at Christmas.  Once airborne the planes are as one would expect.  It’s the airport scene that reminds me of some of the scariest parts of Dante’s work.  I half expected to see that sign over the entrance, “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.”  Surrounded by thousands of people desperately trying to get somewhere, anywhere, in the face of missed flights and cancellations, we were a little surprised to have made it without any serious hitch.  Some might be inclined to say that God smiled on us, but I doubt it because that would mean God was not smiling on all those thousands of others, and that’s just not the way God works.  We are thankful to God, however, for the blessings of life, home and family, and for the joy of celebrating again the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ.  The great mystery of this event, the birth, life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus, is the source of all hope that does not disappear in the trash with ripped wrapping paper and denuded trees.  We don’t have to wait another year for another brief moment of saccharine desire for a better world.  The salvation of the world is with us now, it has been accomplished, it is finished, and on that I have staked my life.  Merry Christmas!

The Parable of Lucy

This is Lucy (no relation that I know of to the blogging Lucy).  She is an object lesson of what transformation can mean when one of God’s creatures is immersed in an environment of love.

Lucy is eight or nine years old, and, until two years ago, was owned by a family that either ignored her or teased her and finally got two other dogs on whom they lavished attention.  She was well fed and not physically abused, but an environment bereft of love and tainted with disrespect is still an abusive one.  The conditions under which she lived were not unlike the conditions of far too many humans, so it’s no surprise that many of them, like Lucy, become skittish, untrusting, prone to acting out, and inappropriately defensive.

Two years ago Lucy came to live with new family of mom, dad, two girls and a big, very active dog, named Jack.  She left a city apartment for a house and yard in the suburbs, so it had to seem both strange and frightening to a little dog like her.  What she fell into was an environment of acceptance and love that tolerated her bad habits, giving her time to learn new and better ones. 

It took a while, but Lucy now sleeps curled up beside Jack, leaps into anybody’s lap confident that she will be petted in just the right way, welcomes all (well maybe most) strangers as new opportunities for more loving, and gives much joy to her human companions.

The more than obvious point of this story is that Lucy’s second home is exactly what each Christian congregation should be like.  A place where all are accepted with godly love, and transformation from whatever to discipleship in Christ’s love can and does take place all the time.  But are they?  Or are they apt to be more like Lucy’s first home?  That’s part question and part accusation.  You know the answer.  I don’t.

The Curmudgeon Reflects on Christ’s Mass

The blogosphere is filled with posts meditating on Advent and Christmas in the most joyfilled way. My spouse among them. Her daily posts as Sunrise Sister on Mind Sieve are rich with well thought out reflections based on the several books she has been reading these last four weeks. I, however, seem to be stuck in something of a curmudgeonly mood. My friend Deirdre Good asked if some of that might be brought on by my heart attack a few months ago. I don’t think so, but part of it may be due to the weather, or my need for more sunshine and daylight hours. Some may be due to the decompression of not having to plan, worry about and delight in a slew of Christmas services and events. I think most of it has to do with my own reflections on our annual remembrance of the birth of the Prince of Peace in the midst of a world that talks about peace but really doesn’t give a damn about it. In Christ we have all that we need to live with one another in ways that do not engage in violence to each other and tear at the fabric of society, but self-professed Christians leading powerful nations are among those who are most violent.

Some of my evangelical brothers and sisters would attribute that to the fallen nature of humanity from which there is no earthly recourse while they gather together to sing, praise and petition God for better times for those who are saved and have faith. As an Anglican (a progressive Anglican), I have a more hopeful sense of what humanity can do, and am therefore more disappointed when it doesn’t. And it saddens me when the overwhelming mystery of the Incarnation that simply leaves me breathless looses its mystery and magnificence in tepid celebrations of superficial worship led by wishy-washy clergy.

It’s in these moments when I feel a strong kinship with Luther in his darker moods, though I have yet to throw an inkpot at anything.

Maybe that’s why, among all the Christmas carols, I so often find myself turning to “It came upon a Midnight clear.” (The formatting below may be a little odd. It’s what happens when you copy something off the web.)

It came upon the midnight clear,
 That glorious song of old, 
From angels bending near the earth, 
To touch their harps of gold: 
”Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
 From heaven’s all-gracious King.” The world in solemn stillness lay, To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come,
 With peaceful wings unfurled,
 And still their heavenly music floats
 O’er all the weary world;
 Above its sad and lowly plains,
 They bend on hovering wing,
 And ever o’er its Babel sounds 
The blessèd angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife The world has suffered long;
 Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
 Two thousand years of wrong; And man, at war with man, hears not
 The love-song which they bring;
 O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
 And hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load, Whose forms are bending low, Who toil along the climbing way With painful steps and slow, Look now! for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing.
 O rest beside the weary road, And hear the angels sing!

For lo!, the days are hastening on, 
By prophet bards foretold,
 When with the ever-circling years 
Comes round the age of gold
 When peace shall over all the earth
 Its ancient splendors fling,
 And the whole world give back the song
 Which now the angels sing.

Talk Radio

America prides itself on it’s First Amendment right of free speech.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Among other things, that provides a legitimate place for conservative talk radio, which, at least in our part of the country, is extremely popular.  Now and then I’ll listen to a bit of it just to hear what’s going on.  For the most part it appears to consist of sarcastic bombast thinly disguised as informed political commentary.  Harmless enough, I guess, if you don’t take it too seriously.  But I was distressed to read in the paper that radio hosts the likes of Michael Savage continue to be among the most popular.  He, and a few others, are blatant in their racist hate mongering in ways that can do nothing but incite conditions of intolerance, even for our Constitution and First Amendment rights.  It isn’t that he, and some others, are on the air, but that they remain popular, that there are people eating up that stuff because it’s their stuff, they like it. 

What really discourages me is my suspicion that many of their listeners would also proclaim themselves to be Christians.  I don’t see how the gospel of Jesus Christ can be reconciled with a mindset based on fear, intolerance, hatred and ignorance.  Maybe my suspicion is wrong, but when I look at Barna Surveys on the politics of so-called born again Christians I wonder. 

The Secret of Evangelism Revealed

A friend has been struggling with his faith. He grew up as a solid Christian in the Assembly of God tradition, but something went awry as he matured. He tried a number of other denominations but none seemed to fit. He even tried to start his own house church. The other day he made his confession; he is studying to become a Roman Catholic. Why? It’s pretty simple. His most trusted friends and colleagues have been richly nourished by God’s word in their local parish, and they have invited him to be nourished as they have been in companionship with them. That’s what evangelism is about. It’s as simple as that. There ain’t no more!

The Value of Special Interest Group Lobbying

The Obama team promised a more transparent administration.  How long they can keep that up, I’m not sure, but for the moment they are publishing all the papers submitted to them from various special interest groups.  I roamed through them the other day, and there are hundreds representing every conceivable voice of public interest with, what looked like to me, a heavy emphasis on early childhood health and education, environmental protection, and technological innovation.  Missing from the lineup were proposals from conservative business interests such as the U.S. Chamber, NAM and NFIB.  More focused groups like the bankers and realtors also seemed to be silent, as well as the operatives from the very large “K Street” lobbying firms (except those working for Boeing). 

One thing we tend to forget when we rail against the voice of special interests is that we are a part of at least some of those voices because they do represent what we believe and the policies we would like to see enacted.  We need organized special interest groups.  Getting the ear of a member of Congress is not all that easy.  I write letters to mine all the time, and what I get back are generic boiler plate responses sent out by some over worked and bored staffer or intern.  The weight of my opinion is measured in pounds, as in:  “Boss, you got ten pounds of mail against and five pounds for.”  It helps to get our voices organized, coordinated, focused and forcefully represented to our representatives, and that’s where all the associations and lobbying organizations come in.

What I see right now is that the powerful voices of the less wealthy and less well funded interests are making the biggest impact early in the game.  No doubt the big money types are biding their time until all the little people get tired and go home so they can resume operations as usual.  If Obama sticks to his commitments, and we stick to making our voices heard early and often, that will not easily happen.  

Simon and the Woman who was a Sinner in the City

A friend is writing a lengthy analysis of Luke 7.36-50, the story of Simon the Pharisee, a symposium he hosted, Jesus his guest, and a Woman who was a sinner in the city.  As I have read his daily drafts, another direction of interpretation started to form in my mind, and it goes something like this:

Most of us are Simon, and it is unlikely that we will ever not be Simon.  If we receive Jesus at all, it is most often in a casual sort of way that is either reserved for an hour or so on Sunday morning, or as an exaggerated emotionalism that is a bit hard to take seriously.  To be harsh about it, they are both pretty superficial.  We see and hear the lessons of the Woman who was a sinner in the city from arm’s length with an appropriate degree of interested disinterest.  After all, she is really not the sort with whom we associate in our normal daily lives.  We may be aware of her, take pity on her, and even contribute a few dollars to some organization that may help her, but she is essentially from a world other than our own.

To be sure, some of us are the Woman, living in fear of others and disgust with ourselves, always finding ourselves being confronted by the condemning and condescending Simon.  But I think most of us are more Simon than the Woman.  That is true in the ordinary sense of daily life, but it is also true in a much more threatening way, an almost Jungian way.

The entire pericope is, at least in part, about finding the conditions needed for integration centered on Jesus, and it is only by Jesus’ presence that integration might be achieved.  There must be a form of integration between Simon and the Woman in order for each of them to stand in holy relationship with each other.  There is a wholeness of self that cannot be otherwise achieved.  Whether intentionally or not, Luke has made it clear that the story is not so much about Simon and the Woman as it is about you and me, and that both Simon and the Woman reside in us, the symposium resides within us, and our own healing to wholeness requires the holy integration of Simon and the Woman within us.  The odd thing is that it appears that all of the Woman that needs for healing to wholeness, all that she needs that is of Simon, has been given her through Jesus alone.  Simon himself has not (yet) shared in the integration, thus, for the moment, making him the greater and more broken outsider.  But Jesus has not left the symposium and the conditions have been clearly set for Simon also to be healed and made whole by the integration of that part of him who is the Woman into a healthy and holy self-relationship.

Of course, the other guests are an obstacle to that, and we well know who they are in our own internal symposium. 


Our Unusual Usual Weather

There are many ways in which a small rural city can be amusing. Local lore plays a big part in that because so much of it remembers a time that never quite was. Weather is one of those things in our community. It’s always “unusual.” Whether a hundred above or ten below, raining or dry, cloudy or clear, it’s always “unusual.” We bought into that for a while, but it didn’t take long to wonder, “What is usual?” It’s always hot and dry in the summer, cool and foggy in the late fall, spring always starts in March and doesn’t end until mid-June, but none of that is “usual.” One thing that does not happen very often is a lot of snow two or three days in a row with really cold temperatures. Something like that happens maybe two or three times a decade, and it happened this last week. Sure enough, I got in the middle of a conversation with an old timer assuring me that this was “usual” for our valley. That we might go five consecutive years without a white Christmas – that’s most unusual. That we might actually have one at last – that’s usual for us. Go figure.