Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Saving America for Christ?


I recently read the final volume of Manchester and Reid’s biography of Winston Churchill.  In it Churchill spoke with passion about the need to defeat Hitler as the only way to save Christian civilization.  On Sunday nights I’ve been watching the PBS series on Churchill that featured a portion of one of his speeches in which he spoke those very words.  Was it really Christian civilization he wanted to save, or something else to which he blithely appended the name of Christ because it was the culturally expected thing to do?  Churchill was a nominal Christian at best, a man who appreciated the form of Christian religion as expressed by the Church of England not as worship, but as an important mark of the best of European civilization and empire. 

Old newsreels make it seem a bit quaint, but it’s not dissimilar to contemporary American calls for restoration of prayer in school, the insistence that America was founded mainly on Christian principles, and a conviction that malevolent forces are at work to destroy all that is good and right about America.  I don’t believe it has much to do with with restoring or following Christ in a Christian America.  It has every thing to do with fear that the dominance of Western civilization defined by white, European standards as interpreted and led by the United States cannot be maintained.

For several decades the Cold War provided the reliable boogyman of Communism to support that conviction.  There was always some evidence to lend credence.  America had a Communist Party.  There were a few spies and agents wandering around.  The Soviet Union was bellicose toward the U.S.  We fought a number of proxy wars by shuffling dictators around the chess board of global politics like so many pawns.  It was never enough to warrant the hysterical fear mongering that went on.  Then they were gone.

Radical Islam has taken their place, and with the same distribution of evidence to support the conviction that Christian civilization is at stake.  Muslims are a rapidly growing segment of our population.  Many remember the fiery Black Muslim and Nation of Islam leaders who used violent words to oppose white rule.  There are foreign organizations of radical Islamists who have demonstrated that they can and will use any form of violence to disrupt American interests.  To them are added a wide variety of domestically grown nuts of whom a few are also radical Islamists.  They are all there, and they provide all the fuel needed for people who get their kicks out of stirring up public fear and hysteria, prompting them to save America’s Christian civilization.

The idea that Christian civilization is at stake is little more than a thin patina of religiosity to hide the greater fear that white, American (European) culture, under which all else is subsumed, is being eroded away.  All the handwringing about God being forced out of public life is not really about saving American Christianity.  It's about sustaining an established social and political order.  For instance, it isn’t just any prayer that some want in our schools and at public gatherings, but a non-denominational, patriotic prayer in Christian dress that combines something like The Lord’s Prayer with the Pledge of Allegiance in one indivisible liturgy that defends the established and historically dominant Euro-American culture into which all others are expected to take their appointed place.  

Churchill was right about the threat to what he called Christian civilization, by which he meant 19th century English civilization, but it came from another direction.  The age of empire was coming to an end, and the old century had passed long ago.  Colonies wanted independence.  They were not interested in perpetual existence as the white man’s burden.  Britain’s economic domination of the world could not be sustained.  Its own population was rapidly changing with the influx of peoples and cultures from throughout the Commonwealth.  England of today remains the repository of all that is worthy of English heritage and culture, it always will be.  It is learning to share that, not without problems, with other cultures while not losing its essential Englishness.  They’ve been through this before.  The Picts had to put up with the Celts.  The Celts with the Angles, Saxons and Jutes.  The Anglo-Saxons with the Normans, and so on.  Good grief, a ruling family of Germans has sat on the throne for two centuries, the Queen’s husband is Greek, and the world’s best kimchi and curry are in London.

Churchill was wrong about saving his version of English civilization, unchanging in a changing world, and so are we if we think we can impose a romanticized version of early 20th century America on the decades ahead.  The most obvious symbol of that is the Christian black man in the White House, a man from mixed parentage, one of whom was a real subsaharan African, and a Muslim at that.  The president’s not even descended from genuine American slaves.  I think that scares some people right down to their toes because whatever they thought their rightful place in society was, is no longer theirs to be had just because that’s the way it is.

So where is Christ in all of this?  I’m not sure, but it isn’t in saving American Christian civilization.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

I Wonder How It Will Play Out?


The letters to the editor in our local paper are a gold mine of firmly held opinions well anchored in anxiety, fear and ignorance. In the past few days we have been informed that:
  • Windmills produce no electricity.  It’s all an elaborate con job.
  • The Chinese are planning to build an industrial city populated by Chinese in Boise.
  • There is a Muslim plan to take over America and impose Islamic law on everyone.
  • The Federal government is trying to abolish Christianity.
  • The economy has never been worse and it’s getting even more worse.
These are the kinds of things we used to see only in checkout counter rags such as The National Enquirer.  My guess is that people like the writers of these letters have always been around, but have only recently felt empowered to speak out in the public forum with confidence that there are many others who share their fears and beliefs.

There is another group not far behind.  Our community has defeated three successive bond proposals to rebuild the high school. Each time there has been a select committee of knowledgable persons who have studied the need for a new school from every possible angle and made their findings public.  Each time the school board has held dozens of public hearings and published the proposals in every available way.  Each time the required super majority of 60% has fallen short by a relatively small margin.  The opposition has successfully claimed that:
  • No one asked us our opinion.
  • Our opinion is that we don’t need a new school.
  • No one has proved that we do need a new school.
  • No one has done a decent study of real needs.
  • We were (I was) not included in the needs study, and we (I) know more than the people on the committee.
  • The school board does not listen to the public.
  • We cannot afford to bear higher taxes now (or ever).
  • Frivolous luxuries such as all this technology stuff and new teachers lounges are unnecessary.
In like manner we have defeated several proposals for a community aquatic center.  Each study has demonstrated that a simple pool would cost more to operate than it could generate in income, but a water park type facility could pay, or almost pay, for itself.  That has not convinced enough voters.  There are enough who are convinced by no evidence whatsoever that such a fancy water park is a waste of tax payer money when an old fashioned plain pool is what will satisfy the kids, and if they really want a water park we should not be duped into catering to that kind of excessive foolishness.

Walla Walla has frequently been listed as one of the best small cities in the country. Our revitalized downtown has won multiple awards.  Our wine industry is booming, and tourist traffic exceeds expectations.  Each of our three colleges is rated at the top in its field.  They attract intellectual talent of all kinds who like it here and stay.  Although the population is not increasing much, those who do move here tend to be higher income professionals and retirees.  Hispanics are no longer migrant farm workers, but a growing proportion of the permanent population working in agriculture, contracting and small business.  It has changed the dynamics of power and position around here, and I suspect that has something to do with the failure of school and pool bond issues.   

Those who were born and raised here no longer control community decision making, and the old families of wealth have competition for the title of rich and powerful.  Sons and daughters who did not move away but stayed to take jobs, raise their families, and take their place in society, have become the worker bees with history and roots but no power, and no one cares very much that they are related to half the other old families in the county.  Those who moved away and came back, came back with new ideas, stories of adventures in life and business, and relationships extending into far away places.

All of that plays, I suspect, into a feeling of alienation that gets translated into bizarre letters to the editor and votes against most everything new.  I wonder how it will play out?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Recollections of Nothing Much


I spent many years flying around the country on work related business, and have been sitting here remembering some of the interesting things that happened in the air.  Some of my trips were on small private planes because sometimes that was the only way to get around in the West.  A rancher flying me across Wyoming pointed out that his property went from horizon to horizon.  A pilot who contracted with government agencies showed me how to find and count wildlife while flying through the Rockies.  Colleagues from the East were stunned to see miles of nothing but Nebraska corn fields in every direction.  An old DC-3 outfitted for smoke jumping featured a bucket as the toilet.  Snow piled up on the wings of a light twin on the way to a meeting during a winter storm.

Not every flight stayed on course.  On one, the other passenger, a local rancher, got the pilot to take him to look at a herd of cattle he was thinking about buying.  On another, the pilot detoured to look at a piece of property he had an eye on.  Then there’s the story of the pilot who fell asleep, but that’s for another time.  

Airline flying was different too.  More small cities were served by the big airlines, so a flight from Minneapolis to Denver or Billings might include stops at a half dozen places.  A few people would get off, a few get on, and freight was exchanged.  Western Airlines served a glass of (not very good) Champaign on every leg: it could add up.  Overhead bins were open racks, and though they were for coats and hats only, more than a few suitcases were stowed up there.  It made window seats a premium.  Smoking was allowed on every flight, sometimes only in the rear, and it was common for promotional packs of cigarettes to be on meal trays: meals were always served on every flight of an hour or more.

A late night Kansas flight got slammed into the runway by a wind shear.  A South Dakota flight, caught in a thunder storm, had to turn back.  All passengers were given the opportunity to get off and wait for another plane.  My daughter and I were the only ones to stay on and make another go of it.  We made it.  More than once, a plane would have to buzz the runway of smaller airports to chase deer or antelope away before landing.

I got to remembering all this on a recent flight back home from Nantucket.  The Nantucket to Boston leg on a light twin was canceled due to a fire in the number two engine.  Sometimes things are a lot like the way they used to be.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Thank You Jesus!


What an interesting set of lessons we have for this coming Sunday (August 18, 2013).  God, through the pen of Isaiah, is disgusted by the condition he has found his vineyard to be in.  The writer of Hebrews encourages perseverance of faith, but the people he holds up as examples are between questionable and despicable.  Jesus confesses that following him will lead people, who are not paying much attention anyway, straight into very personal levels of bitter conflict.  Golly, sure makes one want to be a Christian doesn’t it!

Oh well, that was then.  This is now, and God cannot possibly be unhappy with the condition of the vineyard we work in, can he?  I mean, let’s get serious, what do we have to do with real estate manipulation and housing bubbles?  Alcohol and other delights don’t distract us from what is right and good, and we hardly ever party hearty into the wee hours.  We know perfectly well that God desires justice and righteousness, and some of us have got things pretty well set up so that what is just and right for us is as close to a slam dunk as money can buy.  Maybe someday others can set things up for themselves too, as long as they don’t rock our boats, someday.  That’s progress, and God should be happy about that.  Right? 

God says that he doesn’t like and isn’t fooled by people who call good evil, and evil good, who think themselves wise and clever in their dealings with others, who are open to a little exchange of money for favors delivered, and deprive the innocent of their rights.  Honestly and truthfully, that’s not us.  Whew!  We’re safe, being the upstanding Christians that we are, and patriotic ones at that.  

It’s a relief to know that today one can be a Christian and not worry about fire, division, and conflict.  We know which way the wind is blowing and have learned how to accommodate it.  Yeah, I think we’ve got it figured out.  Thank you Jesus.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Raise the Minimum Wage?


The administration’s proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $9 has mixed reviews.  For many years the minimum wage was a starting point for low level, unskilled, entry level work, often part time, and applying often to teenagers and young adults just entering the workforce.  It was never intended to be a living wage for full time employment.  So why all this fuss about making it a living wage now?

Besides, as the common argument against it goes, any increase in the minimum wage will result in the loss of entry level, part time jobs for teens and young adults, as well as a drastic reduction in service industry jobs in restaurants and hotels.  Another common argument against it asserts that minimum wage jobs are an entry into something, that something being a predictable pathway to the middle class for anyone willing to work hard to earn higher wages from generous employers grateful for their hard work, increased skill, and greater productivity.  Raising the minimum will shut down that port of entry to a better life.

I imagine there is a point at which that could be true, but that point has never been reached in any previous increase in the minimum wage, nor in states where the minimum wage is already at or near $9.  Moreover, there are other forces at play that need to be examined.
  
It turns out that in the corporate world most employers are more interested in getting as much labor for the cheapest cost as possible, and resist anything that might take control of labor out of their hands.  In other words, it doesn’t have anything to do with shutting down job creation or ports of entry to a better life; it has everything to do with maintaining as much control as possible over the cost of doing business without interference from anyone else.  It is, they claim, the essence of a free enterprise system, ignoring the reality that it is not and never has been free, as in laissez faire.  It is a private enterprise system operating within the bounds set for it by public policy.  If you are senior management the rules work in reverse.  To get the best you have to pay the most, and when one of them doesn’t live up to their hype you pay them off with a couple of million dollars and utter a silent “oops” to shareholders.  Getting fired from the top is like winning the Lotto, but I digress.

Small business, mom and pop types, don’t play by those rules, but just the same they are not interested in paying anymore than they are forced to pay.

Which brings us to questioning the reality of these jobs as ports of entry to a predictable path to the middle class.  It appears that the majority of new jobs for seasoned adults supporting families are part time, low wage, minimal benefit, with little or no room for career development.  That’s the way it is, and it may be time to not simply raise the minimum wage, but index it to inflation so that we do what we can to head off the creation of generations of chronically impoverished persons who work hard and get nowhere.  If anyone needs an example of how that kind of system works out, just do a little reading on the economics and conditions of life in the South during the first sixty years of the 20th century.  When hard work for little pay gets entire generations nowhere, it will get them somewhere, and that somewhere is not good for society.