Friday, February 15, 2019

Woe to the Prideful Rich

Most people have heard of the Sermon on the Mount, even if they have no idea where to find it or what it says.  Fewer have heard of the Sermon on the Plain, which is like the former, but different.  The first is in Matthew’s gospel, and the second in Luke’s.  It’s a good bet that Jesus gave a bang up speech to a large crowd sometime during his time on earth, and these two “sermons” capture at least some of what was said – they read like hurriedly jotted down classroom notes, so don’t expect more.

Some church goers will hear a portion of Luke’s Sermon on the Plain read out loud this Sunday, but if you want to get a preview take a look at Luke, chapter 6.  Sunday’s reading includes a number of blessings followed by several woes.  Woe to those who are rich, have all they want to eat, are happy with life, and of whom others speak well.  What’s with that? Isn’t it good to have enough money to not worry about it, to have enough to eat at all times, to enjoy life, and be well thought of by others?  Add a three bedroom house and a couple of newish cars, and it’s the American dream.  So why all the woes?

When someone says “Woe is me,” we generally take it to mean that unexpected bad things have come into their life, making them feel sad, incompetent, and unsure of a way out.  When someone says “Woe are you,” it usually means that a person has made dumb decisions and is about to make more, reaping consequences that should have been obvious to them.  So Woes are not curses, but observations and warnings about unpleasant conditions in life. 

The woes Jesus proclaims, it seems to me, are warnings to those who are enjoying the good life, and assuming an air of well earned superiority over those who have less.  They’ve placed their confidence in things of transient value that cannot not endure.  It’s an offense against divine justice when it’s combined with belief that the good life is there for the taking if one is willing to work hard enough for it; others are missing out only because they’re too lazy to do the work, expecting others to make life easy for them.  Still, where is the woe in that?  It’s a popular conservative creed adhered to by many Christians.

The woe is that each of us will be held accountable for our life of stewardship, because no one really owns anything.  We’re temporary stewards of whatever we have.  As the psalmist wrote, you can heap all the riches in the world, but when you die they won’t be yours anymore, so don’t take any pride in them (Ps 49).  The cars we drive, the houses we own, the stuff they’re filled with, they all come and go, they’re in our hands temporarily, even if we have bills of sale and paid off mortgages.  There are all kinds of pride, but the deadly sin of pride is to measure human value by what we possess. 

As stewards accountable to God it’s not about pursuing a better life in the hereafter.  We take that as a given.  Jesus said he came to give life in abundance here and now, and gave instructions for how to live into it in these two “sermons.”  It might be that someone’s life is filled with enough: enough money, enough food, enough enjoyment, and a good reputation, but those for whom that’s so don’t assume it came by merit,  don’t lust for more than enough, make no claim of superiority, and recognize their role as stewards accountable to God.  Accountable stewardship is to do what one can with what one has to cultivate conditions where all can have enough, and none have more at the expense of those having less. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Individualism & Community: A difficult balance

I don’t know if the value Americans place on individualism is greater than in other countries, but suspect it is.  I read a piece a few days ago that I can’t find again.  The author made a point out of praising his own self reliance, ridiculed those who, in his words, want to make life easy for everyone, lauded personal charity giving a hand to those who deserve a hand, and praised unfettered private enterprise.  I’d be more upset about not citing him correctly, but it’s the same generic theme preached by many others in almost identical words.  Another version of it came from a highly paid executive who complained that no one ever helped him, he did it all himself, so don’t lay any of that (white) privilege crap on him.  Maybe like you, I read articles, make a mental note of something said, realize only later how much I’d like to cite it, but can’t find it again.  I need a better system of taking notes for future reference.  In fact, I need any system.  It’s something to work on, but I digress.  

The virtue of self reliant individualism is deeply rooted in the American myth, and it’s not without value.  Self reliance is a real virtue, and so is the American ideal that every person should be able to explore the fullness of their authentic self to the best of their ability.  But self reliance can’t exist outside the context of community, whether local or national.  It’s only in a healthy, supportive community that self reliance and living into one’s full potential can be experienced to its fullest.  

Unhealthy, oppressive communities place barriers to both, sometimes to the point of destroying them.  Exceptional persons can overcome the barriers.  Their occasional triumph is often met with claims that anyone can do it if they try.  It’s not true.  Exceptional people are exceptional.  Creating unbreachable barriers was the intent of slavery, and the Jim Crow era assured that for blacks self reliance and personal authenticity was made as difficult as possible (Lest we forget, the same was true for other ethnicities as well).  

In a strange way, a society can produce a healthy, supportive community for some, that is also an unhealthy, oppressive community for others.  The point is, individualism, self reliance and self actualization, can’t exist outside the environment created for it by community.  Community is more than important, it’s essential.  Weakening the bonds of community is the most powerful tool of despots for gaining and maintaining control.  In states of greatly weakened community, persons become things to be manipulated, each one against his neighbor and each one finding security only through loyalty to a leader. 

In American history, the blame for breaking down communities at levels larger than neighborhoods gets laid at the foot of right wing movements and acquiescent conservatives.  It leaves progressives as the good guys who have claimed the title of community builders.  But it doesn’t always work that way because the myth of individualism is as strong on the left as it is on the right.  It’s expressed in the form of each person’s right to be treated as a unique individual in which the community must adjust to accommodate their uniqueness.  It begins with good intent such as requiring the community to accommodate various disabilities or ways of learning.  But if each person claims the right to define a universe of one, it can end with each requiring others to accommodate their unique requirements, thus creating a gathering of unique persons competing to force other unique persons to act as if they were a community that will bend to the particular demands of each individual.  While needs may be real, it can take on a kind of egocentricity that expects the world to cater to one’s personal desires.

I’m struggling right now with a question about claims of individualism originating on the left in which each person feels entitled to demand of the community that it acknowledge and respect their particular, unique, individual reality as the price of their willingness to engage in community life.  It can look like a fight against oppression, a demand for equity, but it’s missing a key ingredient.  Genuine struggles for rights are often led by courageous persons on behalf of entire populations within communities.  They are not demands by individuals that entire communities bend to their unique, individual desires.  When such demands become a force consuming community decision making, they suggest the kind of social atomization that makes Trumpian style politics possible.  Or, as Hannah Arendt would put it, when every individual becomes his or her own self contained community, then every other person is a potential enemy, no other person can be a trusted friend, and society becomes a dangerous place to live in. 

From where would such a convoluted question arise?  Is it real, or imagined?  It’s real, but the source is not world shattering, nor does it create an imminent danger to democracy, but it is infused with highly emotional content.    

A recent movement in institutional communities such as classrooms and corporate offices has to do with how the institution, as community, is supposed to respond to claims that each person is entitled to a personal pronoun by which they want to be known when a personal pronoun is used in a sentence referring to them.  Not everyone self identifies as he or she, so it’s only right to ask what pronoun would be acceptable to them, and then use it, and only it.  Failing to use the correct word has been said to be an offense justifying high dudgeon, and worthy of judicial review.

It’s a clumsy way to deal with a problem in the English language, indeed in most languages.  We have no gender neutral singular pronoun.  ‘It’ doesn’t work because an ‘it’ is an object; ‘it’ renders a life to be unimportant.  ‘They’ is sometimes chosen, but it’s a word meaning not only plural persons, it’s also widely misused in ways making it hard to know what ‘they’ refers to.  One solution is for each person to adopt a made up pronoun, leaving others to wonder how much new vocabulary needs to be memorized and affixed to each person about whom they may sometimes need to use a pronoun.  To be fair, English does need a generally accepted non gender specific pronoun that implies human intimacy, and maybe one will be forthcoming.

In the meantime, pronouns appear to have become gateways for expectations that each person also has a right to one’s own reality, which is not the same as one’s own opinion.  These unique realities seem to be related to unpleasant life experiences causing some form of emotional trauma – where trauma is broadly defined.  The institution, as community, is expected to accommodate them for fear of creating unpleasant emotional reactions resulting in litigation or bad press.  It requires limitations on subjects or conversation that might cause heightened anxieties or trigger post traumatic stress.  While traumatic emotional stress is a real thing, not to be trivialized, pandering to it leaves victims ill equipped with coping skills adequate to maintain emotional health when unpleasant events confront them outside the confines of the institutional community.

These expressions of individualism’s demands on the community come from the left, not the right, but it has an eerie similarity to right wingers who demand that the community accommodate their right to live and act according to their unique realities without regulation or interference. That they may be overtly oppressive of others, well armed, racist, and violent is clothed in words of Constitutional patriotism, and they take offense at any challenge to the realities they have set for themselves.

If individualism’s claims to supremacy over the community win out, the only way to enforce them is with the iron hand of autocracy.  It seems all wrong, counter intuitive, but there it is, and once applied it eliminates all individual rights, centering them in the exclusive rights of the autocrat.  

In institutional communities such as schools, it restricts the academic freedom of teachers by placing it under firmer control of administrations.  What may look like a win for individualism quickly turns to shackles for both teachers and students.  In the broader community of local and national politics, the demands of extreme individualism corrode movement toward a more just society, and shove the state in an autocratic direction where individual rights are surrendered to the leader.

It’s a question of balance – never an easy question.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Reflections On Political Harvests

The State of the Union speech is over.  Right wingers are thrilled with network snap polls of those who watched it.  They show approval ratings over 70%.  Never mind that network snap polls are the love child of ill informed marketing types.  Pundits and other commentators shrug it off, labeling the speech as adolescent, trite, a dud.  Fact checkers list the exaggerations, lies, and mostly true statements.  Congressional body language is studied far beyond credibility.  So here are a few related thoughts, not so much about the speech, but about Trump’s ability to create and maintain a loyal base.

Not long ago there was a five second news clip of someone saying he likes Trump because he is a “stand up guy who tells it like it is.”   His five seconds echo what many local folks say, and aren’t shy about taking up a lot more than five seconds.  It’s confusing to me because I think of stand up guys as men and women whose integrity and personal courage give them the confidence to proclaim and defend what they believe to be right, even in the face of overwhelming opposition, and to do it without deception.  Trump, as a stand up guy, has all the integrity of an infomercial huckster, and demonstrates courage only when backed by a mob willing to do his bidding.  Whether Tump intends to deceive is another matter.  He may have bought so deeply into his make believe world that it’s real to him.  He may be deceived about how deceptive it is.

On the other hand, Trump does tell it like it is in the sense that he gives public voice to real and imagined complaints some have about how they’re ignored, disrespected, and cut out of decision making by elites, people of color, feminists, and immigrants, all of whom, to avoid being labeled as prejudiced, are lumped together as socialists out to destroy the American Way.  He does it with the consummate skill of a Robespierre like provocateur demanding that heads roll.  

The source of all the complaints has been thoroughly explored, so it only remains to say it’s a combination of declining hope for economic well being, isolation from the centers of society as depicted on television, increasing political power of women and minorities, and an unwavering commitment to the myth of rugged individualism that takes perverse pride in belittling government.

Among the harvest reaped from seeds sown by tea partiers, and brought to maturity by trumpism, are very odd fruits.  
  • Anti-science fundamentalism that often imitates the forms and language of Christianity.
  • Combative politics in which nothing is ever ceded and negotiation is impossible.  It’s win or lose, live or die, do as much damage as possible to the other.
  • Gullible susceptibility to threatening conspiracy stories wedded with resistance to verifiable contrary information.
  • Fear of imminent harm from low probability incidents.
  • Disregard of harm from high probability incidents.
  • Revealed ignorance of basic American civics.
  • Distrust and disrespect for government, including the very programs providing them with needed services and quality of life.

It adds up to a kind of determined Trump supporter: one unwilling to be an independent thinker, and who has bought trumpian ideology in toto.  They remind me of pie eyed erstwhile American Communists in the 1920s and 30s who had been convinced there really was a Bolshevik paradise.  They adhere to the party line without deviation, and are convinced it’s all the others who are not thinking.

But there is another kind of Trump supporter: one who is knowledgable, conniving, calculating, power hungry, and decidedly anti-democratic.  It’s been said before that they are disturbingly fascist like.  And they are, no matter how hard they try to look like good conservative patriots.  Curiously, they hold the first type of Trump supporter in utter contempt, easily manipulated, needed only as the means to get and keep political control that will benefit their own interests.   

In between are others unwilling to believe a sitting president could be both incompetent and malevolent, so are willing to give him every benefit of doubt as they seek ways to work constructively with him.  There aren’t any.  Occasional outcomes of good turn out to be coincidences, a lucky roll of the dice, or the product of actions from other sources.  They never offer a foundation to build on.  

We live in perilous times.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Miscellaneous Maui Observations

Maui has been our treasured go to place for over thirty years.  It’s hard to explain why.  My wife and I each have reasons.  Speaking for myself, there is no other place that makes my soul feel so much at home.  I am fascinated by Hawaiian history, culture, music and language, although my language skills are sub-minimal.  Yet I don’t want to live here full time; long visits are enough.  There’s a point at which we seasonal visitors are no longer tourists, so hurrying up to do the things tourists are supposed to do has little appeal.  It’s time to slow down, get centered.  Not everyone buys that.  Another seasonal visitor once asked me, “If you don’t play golf what on earth do you do?”  We’re involved in a local parish; have seasonal and local friends; my wife is a professional artist connected with the local arts community; I love revisiting museums and historical sites; we take long morning walks; we go back to favorite spots up on the mountain; we’ve never tired of watching whales; we get lots of exercise and lots of rest; she paints; I write.  We even like doing touristy things. 

With that as background, I’ve been reflecting on tourism, and the differences between tourists and locals.  The local population includes those born and raised here, as well as more recent arrivals who’ve become fully involved in the life of the community.  It’s an odd mix of cultures and ethnicities, each maintaining their own identity while engaging in the ways of others.  Although native Hawaiians are in the minority, it’s their history, culture and language that is a unifying force loosely binding Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Samoan, Tongan, Haole, and other ethnicities into the whole that is modern day Hawaii.  True, there are full time haole (white) residents who remain isolated from that kind of multicultural immersion.  They tend to live in conclaves sandwiched between tourist accommodations and the world of locals.  Thankfully, there aren’t many of them.  Maui is too expensive for the average mainland retiree to afford the comfort they desire. 

With that as a brief background, it’s occurred to me to think of Maui as having a vibrant manufacturing industry driving its economy.  Once upon a time it was sugar, pineapple, and cattle, but no longer.  Now it’s the Fun Factory, and it’s enormous.  

The Fun Factory is staffed by overlapping shifts of thousands of workers.  Tourists are the raw product of the Fun Factory.  Tired, anxious, full of expectation, and thrilled to be here, they’re fed into the Fun Factory where workers do what they can to manufacture a week or two of romantic Hawaiian adventure, churning out contented, homeward bound people who will have paid well for the experience.  The Fun Factory itself is a combination of accommodations, entertainment, food, resort clothing and related goods, landscaping evoking the Hawaii of dreams, and, of course, time share presentations promising the opportunity of a lifetime.  It requires an enormous army of workers to pull it off.

When each shift is over, workers head home to a Maui not often seen by tourists, or even seasonal visitors.  Many are in neighborhoods remarkably like cookie cutter suburbs anywhere else.  Many others are in cramped apartments, old shacks tucked into mountain valleys, rooms over shops, and homeless camps hidden mostly out of sight.  There are also a few more traditional villages in “Up Country,” or along less frequently traveled shore side roads.  Farmers markets, school activities, shopping centers, less expensive out of the way places to eat, and the beach are the things of daily life away from the factory.  All beaches in Hawaii are public, but access to the best of them is often controlled by the Fun Factory.  It must be allowed, but without much parking only a few can get in.  That doesn’t keep workers from using every inch of road access beach for camping, birthday parties, family gatherings, and just hanging out.   

A relatively small island with a large Fun Factory filled with a river of tourists arriving and departing, plus all its workers occupying the same piece of land in the middle of an ocean, two thousand miles from anywhere else, creates a special kind of community requiring all the same sorts of things any complex community requires: local government, utilities, roads, public transportation, medical services, parks and recreation, schools and colleges, public safety, arts and cultural organizations, service clubs, places of worship, and the incredible logistics needed to supply it.  Moreover, while plantation days are long gone, there’s a thriving agricultural sector producing garden vegetables, livestock, flowers, and most everything else needed for daily life.   It’s remarkable in every way.  It’s an amazing place.  We love it.  The Fun Factory aside, there is something deeply spiritual about Maui,  There’s a saying, something like “ka mana’o o ka’aina,” meaning the spirit of the land, which is alive, and has personality.  It’s why adventuring into new places is often preceded by a chant asking permission to enter and promising to honor the spirit of the place.  For me it has the familiar ring of ancient Celtic practices that still haunt our Episcopalian ways. 

Of course there are hiccups.  Not everyone gets along.  Crime happens.  Politics and issues of public policy can get messy.  Not everyone likes the Fun Factory.  Traffic can be a nightmare.  Weather can easily disrupt all the hard Fun Factory work.  Tourists can be disrespectful of local values.  Officialdom runs with less formality and urgency than it does on the mainland, and well established relationships can be more important than strict adherence to regulations.  None of it is more than hiccups in the long run.  Or, as the old saying goes, Maui No Ka Oi: it’s part of a chant boasting that Maui is the best.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

What Is Love and How Do You Do It: a semi-practical guide

Bishop Michael Curry preached at a wedding last May.  It was at Harry and Meghan’s televised wedding watched by millions.   Just to clarify, Bishop Curry is not the royal family’s chaplain, and he’s not an itinerant bishop from New York.  He is the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, a part of the World Wide Anglican Communion.  His stirring words on love captured the attention of a global audience that day.  They were strong words, challenging words, words that described love in terms of courage, determination, and life long discipline.  They were not the romantically gooey words so often associated with romantic love, nor were they words of those who believe advocates of loving one another are naive wimpy losers.

Bishop Curry grabbed the attention of the world for a moment.  But words of love are easily forgotten in a world of daily crises that make the future frighteningly uncertain.  Love may be a wonderful sentiment, but how practical is it in the face of real threats and problems?  For that matter, what is love, and how do you do it?

It was a question raised by early Christians in Corinth, and this coming Sunday many will hear read during worship services the familiar verses of the 13th chapter from Paul’s first letter to them.  It’s often read at weddings, sometimes at funerals, and generally pops up whenever love is celebrated one way or another.  It’s a helpful start, but leaves lots of loopholes and too much unexplained.  Paul described love as: rejoicing in truth; patient; kind; and bearing, believing, hoping, and enduring all things.  It conjures up an image of an innocent, gullible, very kind nebbish.

On the other hand, Paul says there are things love is not.  It’s not: envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, irritable, or resentful.  It doesn’t insist on its own way, nor rejoice in wrong doing.  That adds a little meat to it, but regretfully includes most of the behaviors we’re good at and loath to give up.  It adds up to this, he says, you can have many gifts, skills, and strengths, but without love they count for nothing, you have nothing.  It’s powerful advice, perhaps divinely inspired advice, but in the end it still leaves questions about what love is, and how to live in love.

Jesus answered by commanding, not suggesting but commanding, that we love one another as he has loved us.  So to learn what love is and how to do it, we need to turn to an examination of Jesus’ life as recorded in scripture.  It’s not good biography.  Don’t get hung up on that.  The four accounts don’t agree with each other about too many things.  They need to be examined for revelation about the meaning of love by exploring what Jesus did and said.  For Christians, what Jesus said and did is not simply a good example, it is a demonstration of what love is given by God in person.  That’s what Curry’s famous but quickly forgotten sermon was all about.  Since then, the Episcopal Church has taken on “The Way of Love” preached by Bishop Curry as a work of discipleship to help bring Christ’s commandment to love one another into real everyday lives as real ordinary people live it. 

It’s divided into seven parts that form a whole, making it convenient for a different focus on each day of the week: Learn, Pray, Turn, Go, Bless, Rest, Worship.  
  • Learn: study scripture to see what it reveals about the way Jesus showed love.  
  • Pray: be in conversation with God about all the things Paul says love is and isn’t.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions and argue.  
  • Turn: pause, listen, and recommit to following Jesus (which is not the same as accepting/believing in Jesus). 
  • Go: get out there, cross boundaries, engage with others, listen, and try to do it the way Jesus did. 
  • Bless: a prayer of blessing for another is not a request for God to do something.  It’s the very conduit through which God’s blessings flow into the other’s life.  Be the blessing someone else needs.  You don’t have to be wise with words.  The two most powerful ways to be a blessing are to be present and listen.
  • Rest: receive the blessings others bring to you.  Remember the Sabbath and rest.  Lay your ego aside.  Open yourself to allow God’s love to restore your soul.   
  • Worship: it’s not a solo act.  We need each other in too many ways.  Gather with others to hear and reflect on God’s word, to offer up prayers in community, and to be fed with holy food and drink for the journey ahead.

The Episcopal Church has put out study guides on “The Way of Love” to help lead congregations.  For those who are unlikely to pick one up, this short column is intended to be a helpful guide to the possibility of doing better living in the way of love without being sappy about it.  I hope it does.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Fear, Fools, and Elephants

Striking fear into the hearts of the vulnerable has long been an effective device for motivating political movement, if rarely in the best interests of the vulnerable. Cable imitation news programming enhances it through interviews and commentary making fools out of the opposition.  Fools, having been dehumanized, are only good for ridicule and abuse, but they can fight back.  It means important issues are ignored when character assassination takes precedent.  Unattended but important issues become elephants that must be shoved under already over crowded rugs.  Elephants entice fearful people to obsess about them to the exclusion of needed conversation about issues that only sometimes include elephants.  Excluding needed conversation creates more fear, which is useful in motivating more political movement.

Playing on the fears of rural and working class Americans, political operatives helped create conditions favorable to the election of Trump, who, had he been reasonably competent, would have been successful in replacing representative democracy with something more like fascism.  It hasn’t worked out well for several reasons.  Trump’s incompetency is one.  Another is the strange alliance of billionaire barons and convicted libertarians that had put its faith in lower taxes and deregulation as first steps in getting government out of the way of free enterprise.  Their tax legislation and forceful moves to deregulate have not worked as planned.  

Lower taxes were a gift to the very wealthy, but offered only a pittance to ordinary people, and did nothing to encourage a stronger domestic economy.  It was a classic supply side sham.  Throw in Trump’s trade wars, and what a mess.  

The demand for deregulation was constructed on the widely held assumption that Americans are over regulated.  Trumps energetic deregulation efforts have done nothing to relieve bureaucratic burdens, but much to endanger the health and safety of the environment and public.  That’s because most regulations turn out to be needed protections.  More important would be a transformation of the regulatory bureaucracy from enforcement cultures to customer service cultures.  It would relieve irritating bureaucratic burdens.  Deregulation per se has turned out to be a smoke screen for certain corporate interests to invade lands and ways of doing business most agree are unethical, harmful to the environment, destructive of human well being,  but very profitable in the short run.

It adds up to multiplying fear and anxieties across a broad political spectrum, creating conditions ripe for finger pointing, scapegoating, and various forms of political fratricide.  What fun for talk radio and cable news networks, and how profitable to boot.  They can pick a side, disregard all contrary evidence, and resolve cognitive dissonance by ridiculing the opposition, making them appear to be nothing but fools.  No one enjoys being made the fool, especially on national media.  The obvious response is to fight back –– I’m not a fool, you are!  Issues become little more than badminton shuttlecocks in a game of fool making.  

It means important issues get shoved under the rug where they become elephants joining others already there.  And as we all know, because the experts have told us so, if you don’t deal  with the elephants you can never make any real progress.  It brings out elephant hunters obsessed with hauling out their favorites.  No matter what else might be on an agenda, they demand their elephant be dealt with first and only.  In other words, elephant hunters and their elephants hijack agendas intended to be solving other matters.  It seldom works.  The elephant goes back under the rug, the elephant hunters are irate, and other matters are ignored.  It’s fertile ground for growing more fear and anxiety laced with anger.

It’s a perpetual motion machine guaranteeing long term employment for political consultants, cable news hosts, and political commentators.  In the middle of the mess Trumpian incompetents rejoice in the attention they’re getting as they issue orders this way and that thinking they’re actually doing something.  Nearby skilled inside political operatives such as McConnell and Pelosi strategically move pieces around in a game Trump doesn’t even know they’re playing.  Hovering around, outside political operatives and lobbyists work to pull strings behind the scenes, manipulating outcomes to their satisfaction.  Wealthy Koch type networks have contempt for all of them, and are certain they’re all for sale at the right price.  The whole miserable machine is kept going by assuring high levels of public fear and anxiety are maintained. 

Who will relieve us of these troublesome oafs?  I suggest an unlikely crowd of humbled liberals, chastened rural activists, and an awakened working class.  Humbled liberals will stop marginalizing the working class and rural rubes.  Chastened rural leaders will stop their coastal elite nonsense.  An awakened working class will take two huge steps.  They’ll recognize that many liberal policies are not the dreaded socialism they were led to believe, but the life savers they need.  They’ll accept a more racially and culturally diverse America as the new norm, one in which they have a respected but not dominant place.  If it happens, fear and anxiety will not disappear, but they will be greatly eased and much less useful to political operatives trying to manipulate electoral outcomes.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Paul’s Conversion and Pat Robertson

Saul’s (Paul) conversion to following Jesus provides an example that doesn’t resonate well with many in modern society.  There’s no altar call, no sinner’s prayer, no accepting Jesus as lord and savior in one giant leap of faith.  

Yes, he was blinded by a sudden flash of light, thrown to the ground, and heard Jesus’ voice demanding to know why he was running around persecuting Christians.  It certainly got his attention, but he had to be led for basic instruction and baptism to the house of a stranger who didn’t want him to be there.  Then it took him three years to figure out what it all meant before he was ready to begin his apostolic work, which was itself a work in progress as his understanding evolved with each step. 

What’s more, as his faith matured he didn’t reap today’s promised rewards of a better life.  Instead, he was beaten, jailed, shipwrecked, chased from town to town, and eventually beheaded.  Along the way he founded new congregations, counseled existing ones, and discovered none of them seemed to get it right.  He got into heated arguments with other apostles and some of those he evangelized.  In other words, he was a failure by today’s standards, and by Caesar’s too for that matter.  Still, he rejoiced at being among the most blessed.

Paul’s life isn’t the only example of discipleship, nor is it a model for you and me to follow, though it could be.  For all of us it’s a cautionary tale about what following Jesus can demand as we each travel our own unique paths.  Whatever path we’re on, there are some useful lessons to be learned about becoming a Christian in the Pauline way.  It’s to take the time needed to learn what it means to follow where Jesus is leading.  It’s to surrender one’s ego in exchange for the courage required to go on in the face of threatening odds and uncertain results.  It’s to record for public consumption the evolution of one’s understanding.  It’s to do all of that with no expectation of anything else, because there’s nothing more that could be better. 

It’s not a way of being Christian that appeals to many, nor is it the way that’s sold to many.  This morning at the gym my wife was stuck watching Pat Robertson.  On his show a woman gave her testimony that following her acceptance of Jesus as Lord, her business got more clients, her marriage was restored to health, and she found joy in becoming a subordinate wife and loving mother.  Good for her.  It’s not a path to discipleship one finds in scripture, and it’s certainly not Pauline, but it may be the path for her.  May her life continue to prosper, but may others not be misled into thinking that’s how Christianity works.  The better guide for a Christian life is in scripture, the verifiable stories of “saints” throughout the ages, and most important, in the lives of those closest to us that have reflected what loving others as Christ loves us looks like.  I can think of a handful.  None of them would ever have been invited by Pat Robertson to give their testimony.  A couple of them aren’t even Christian.