College Education For What?

Hilda Solis, Secretary of Labor, was interviewed on NPR yesterday. Among other things, she promoted the value of education as a way toward a higher standard of material well being, pointing out that she was the first in her family to go to college. She was challenged by a caller who complained that the only thing her college degree produced was a heavy loan she could not repay because she couldn’t find a job. What good is a college education if it can’t produce a well paying job, or any job at all?

That’s a pretty good question, and I’ll add one more; Is that what a college education is supposed to do?

We talked about that during the years that I had weekly meetings with a few students at one of our local liberal arts colleges. My counsel was that they were there to learn to become educated persons and not to get a job ticket. Our conversations about what it might mean to learn to become an educated person turned on acquiring the basics for life-long learning and the ability to think critically on the grounds that a democratic society cannot long exist without a critical mass of educated citizens.

That smacks of bit of elitism, and my politically liberal students would bring that up as an objection. Well, it is elitist. These students were of the elite. They were very smart: the few out of many selected to go to a college not all that easy to get into. Their curriculum was very challenging. They were receiving an education that relatively few others would ever attain. It does no one a favor to pretend otherwise. The more important question had to do with what might that mean for their future role in society.

None of that would guarantee a job of any kind. If getting a job ticket was a goal it would have to come through some other kind of technical training either in graduate school or a local community college. Most went on to graduate school somewhere and I lost track of them. A few went to local community colleges to become chefs, mechanics, machinists and so on. More than a few spent the next year or two working for AmeriCorps. Now and then I run into some working locally as secretaries, waiters and retail clerks. In every case they are educated persons able to take up the role of informed citizen. Perhaps they will.

Big Bad Boeing, and the union too

The big news in Washington today was the Boeing announcement that they would move the second 787 production line to South Carolina, a state well known for its high standards of political ethics and concern for labor. What is wonderful news for South Carolina is devastating news for Washington. Several thoughts come to mind.

One is that more than a few parochial opinionators in eastern Washington will smugly celebrate the comeuppance of those rich liberals on the other side of the mountains. I’m always a little surprised over their lack of awareness of how economically interconnected we all are.

Another is about corporate arrogance that operates with little or no sense of moral responsibility toward the communities in which they operate or the least concern for what their leaving will do to the social fabric of the place. Boeing, by the way, is not leaving – yet. Overpaid CEOs feel free to move corporate headquarters to locations close their homes or some other place that massages their egos. Corporate location managers feel free to move plants around based on deals for tax and labor cost breaks they know full well will never produce dividends for local jurisdictions, but they are such an easy sell to naïve local politicians. They remind me of the evil railroad and land barons in the old time westerns. You remember; the ones that were always grabbing the settlers’ land in underhanded ways.

Finally, and this may come to a surprise to some of my readers who know I tend to be pro-union; intransigent, pugilistic unions, such as the Machinists in Washington, would rather fight than get serious about negotiating. The climate for economic well being is poisoned whenever a union insists on presenting management as the bad guys while ignoring their own over the top demands.

OK, I think I’ve offended just about everyone. Now it’s time to sit back and see what fish the lure attracts.

The Flicker Returns!

The Flicker is back. Aarggggh! I am prevented by the law, popular opinion, my place in the community, God and Dianna from buying an air rifle, so it’s on to plan B. Rocks. For those who have followed the flicker saga you know that this spring we repaired the holes, cleaned out the nest and took away any place where it could perch to peck. Ha! It’s clinging to a chimney brick and taking pecking shots at the siding. Bolder than ever, it just sits there staring at me when I come out to yell at it. However, I’ve got pretty good with a small supply of pebbles and a decent right arm. Haven’t actually hit it yet, but come close enough to make it fly off to a tree in another yard where it waits for me to go back inside. I’m trying to train the dogs to go out and bark at it but they seem disinterested. Unless it’s a squirrel, Riley could care less. Andy only barks at imaginary ax murderers and Riley. I’m sure there is a theological lesson in here somewhere that explains All Saints Sunday and the doctrine of transubstantiation, but I haven’t found it yet.

My Magnolia

Around here the tree outside my study window is called a magnolia. I doubt that any southerner would recognize it as such, but that’s beside the point. In the early spring it is covered with beautiful, large pink flowers that quickly come and go. By late spring it has leafed out with such enormous overlapping leaves that it forms an impenetrable canopy letting through mere dapples of sunlight and sheltering the birdhouse from wind and midday heat. I love having that tree outside my window. It frames the garden below, which, because of its shade, needs little watering and is always lushly green. All summer long the sparrows in the birdhouse produce nest after nest of little birdlettes. A lone resident squirrel patrols the perimeter with one eye watching for Riley the Westie and another for encroaching squirrels from foreign lands on the other side of the house. In autumn its leaves never turn color; they just slowly fall, one-by-one, until the whole is denuded. The last of them can sometimes hang on until December. Not so this year. The wind came up last night and roared through the day encouraged by heavy afternoon rains. By evening the tree was all but bare. I know it’s all part of the great ebb and flow of nature’s self renewing cycle. Spring will come again. But just the same it makes me a bit sad.

Getting Jesus Back Where He Belongs

An acquaintance of mine has a habit of forwarding sentimental postings, often with a religious theme. She sent one a few days ago with a cute little set up leading to the punch line: “When we get Jesus back where he belongs, our country will come together.” Now how would you interpret that?

One thing is clear; the original writer believes that Jesus is not where he belongs, at least in our country. I wonder where he is, and if he was where he belonged, where would he be? Another thing is clear; it is our responsibility to get him back where he belongs, wherever that is. I wonder how we are supposed to exercise that responsibility?

I suspect that the original writer of that little ditty was headed in a direction I would prefer not to go. Of course I don’t really know that, it’s just a suspicion. So, giving him/her the benefit of the doubt, I’ll offer my own interpretation.

If the Christians in this country would act more like Christians by following in the way of Christ, this would indeed be a better country, albeit not altogether together.

Progress of Sorts

It’s hard to think of this as progress, but it is:


UGANDA: Bishop supports jail for homosexuals, opposes death

By Fredrick Nzwili

[Ecumenical News International, Nairobi] An Anglican church leader in
Uganda has rejected proposals that homosexuals should face the death
penalty for sexual assault in some cases, but says that prison terms
should remain as a deterrent.

Boundary Questions

Breaking down boundaries that separate us one from another is an important teaching of Jesus and an essential ministry of the Church. But it’s a very complicated matter, or perhaps I should say that we have made it a complicated matter. And I think that our complications come in two primary forms.

On the one hand, we build up boundaries that separate us from unbelievers and believers who have not yet attained the truth and wisdom that we have attained. We are very proud of these boundary fences. Fence building is something we do best. Robert Frost wrote “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” We are not among that ‘something’; we love those fences. The more the better. Of course that is not what we preach, but it is what we tend to practice with considerable skill.

On the other hand, we tend to fumble quite a bit when it comes to setting appropriate boundaries. The recent exposure of Roman Catholic sexual abuses is simply the most public face of abuse and betrayal issues that have infected a multitude of congregations and denominations in many ways throughout the world. We are obsessed with skin color, ethnicity, race and sexual identity. We have tolerated the oppression of women and children. We have salivated over the sexualization of contemporary American lifestyles that dehumanize women and men as mere objects of desire.

There are appropriate boundaries that protect the integrity of human relationships. But what those proper boundaries are and how to teach them has been an elusive target. Appropriate boundaries between parents and children, teachers and students, husbands and wives, bosses and subordinates are important but indistinct. We tend to deal with them on a case-by-case basis because we don’t have an adequate shared set of standards generally acceptable to society as a whole. Zero tolerance policies have been tried and found wanting. They don’t stop predators, but they do stop appropriate expressions of Christ like love for one another, and everyone is left more confused than ever.

However, we are not without trustworthy guidance. God has actually had quite a lot to say about these matters. For instance, I’m inclined to think that the last half of the Ten Commandments points us in the right direction. I suggest that they might be read this way:

  • Our relationships with one another are to honor the legacy of repenting, reforming faith bequeathed to us by the generations that preceded us.
  • We have no right to kill, whether through word or deed, any part of another person whether in body, mind or spirit.
  • We have no right to introduce any word or matter into the life of another that jeopardizes that life’s integrity and wholeness.
  • We have no right to appropriate to our use, whether by word or deed, anything that is not ours to appropriate.
  • We have an obligation to respect the privacy of others and to refrain from bearing unsubstantiated or hurtful tales.
  • We have no right to become angry or envious of another’s good fortune, or to assume a right to our own good fortune at the expense of another.

Or, to paraphrase scripture even more: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and might; love your neighbor as yourself; quit making it harder than it is and get on with life.

What do you think?

Thoughts on Diocesan Conventions

I have mixed feelings about diocesan conventions. We just got home from one, and, on the whole, it was a wonderful weekend. By weekend I mean a convention that begins early on Friday afternoon, continues all day Saturday, has a gala banquet Saturday evening, and ends with yet another general session on Sunday morning followed by the Holy Eucharist and final adjournment about Noon or a bit later. Our custom is to alternate sites between the cathedral in Spokane and some other community in the diocese. This weekend we met in Lewiston, Idaho, and the parishes of the region did a terrific job of making arrangements and offering hospitality. I love the fellowship and worship, but I’m less enthusiastic about the formality of our processes. I very much enjoy reconnecting with clergy and lay leaders all across the diocese, renewing old friendships and making new ones. As a high index introvert, there are limits to how much mingling appeals to me. As much as possible I prefer quiet conversations in small groups, but I’ve learned the skills needed to survive in large venues. However, I wonder if a small, rural diocese such as ours needs all the formality of our processes that include chairs of dispatch and credentials making their frequent but generally unnecessary reports. I wonder if we need to set aside hours for proper Robert’s Rules organizing when we get it all done in forty-five minutes and then sit around for an hour or so wondering what to do until the next scheduled session. I suppose it would be different if we had thousands of delegates and many controversial issues to debate. We have neither. As it is, when one counts all the clergy, lay delegates, spouses, visitors and staff there might be two or three-hundred of us – maybe. As a practical matter, we could get all our business done in a single day with a lot of time left over. As a matter of fellowship and worship, we need more time to gather in community. Maybe we should give up on credentials and dispatch and spend more time in community. It’s a curious problem.

The Curmudgeon Opines on Television News

While on our recent trip we got most of whatever news we got from the international channels of CNN and BBC. They offered what might be called boring but important programming. Non-US, and often non-British, personalities offered in-depth reporting on important goings on around the world in social, political and economic arenas from the point of view of the nations being covered. I was made more aware of how different that is from domestic US television news when we got home and clicked on our favorite news channels. With a few exceptions, social, political and economic news seemed to have merit only if tainted by scandal, outrageous behavior or purported conspiracies. Tabloid quality reporting pivoting on ad hominem attacks presented itself as courageous journalism. Mundane banality about celebrities coupled with trivial drivel about local ‘news’ of human interest filled in the gaps. Important events around the world got mention only if US should pay attention for economic or security reasons, and then only from a US point of view, which, depending on the reporter, could sound rather smug. That, of course, does not rule out the possibility that we might get a peek at naked girls at one of Berlusconi’s parties.

I’m sympathetic. The international channels of CNN and BBC would probably have an audience of a few hundred if aired domestically. I doubt that there is much advertising value in their product. As one of my old ‘run it up the flagpole’ acquaintances would have said, “we don’t sell steak, we sell sizzle.”

I’m sure that it will all rub off in a few weeks and I’ll be back to my usual junky news junky habits. I’ll be entertained by the humorous oddity of Maldivian ministers having a cabinet meeting underwater while continuing in disinterested obliviousness to the issue of global climate change that is subsuming their country. I mean, if they go under we’ve always got the Seychelles.

If it Floats

If it floats I like being on it. I don’t know why. I knew it the first time I paddled a cement-mixing tub on the creek where I grew up. Anything will do. I don’t care if it’s a rowboat or an ocean liner. I had a boat of some kind from the time I was in high school until my late 30s when I moved to the east coast and it was too expensive to own one. The best thing about NYC was an occasional ride on the Staten Island Ferry. Visiting Seattle or heading off to Vancouver, BC is most fulfilling when celebrated on a ferryboat. That may have something to do with why I enjoyed our recent cruise as much as I did. The sounds and movement of the ship rejoiced my whole being. Maybe it helps that I never served in the Navy. My dad did, and it took him close to fifty years to decide on a cruise. It helped that the liner was not a destroyer and the likelihood of being attacked was slight, but it brought back memories just the same. As it turned out, he and mom went on to other cruises and enjoyed every one of them. As for me, if we ever live close enough to the water again I’d like to have a little sailboat, maybe around 19ft., just to go out and mess around in the late afternoon on a summer day. In the meantime it’s ferryboats and cruise liners.