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Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Competition is a good thing.
It is an especially good thing for political, economic and religious ideas. Why? One reason is because that's the best way we have of sifting out what works from what doesn't. Another reason is that, because we are different, this allows for the satisfaction of different religious styles. Still another is that religion as a whole flourishes as never before when they compete peaceably with one another. It's also a useful reminder of how far we've yet to travel along the road to God; that none of us, individually or societally, are 'finished works' or are likely to be so while we live on earth.
And another very good reason is, whenever an imposed-from-above system, be it religious, political or economic becomes, for all intents and purposes, 'the only game in town' it's never taken too long, till now, for the folks running the system to behave in ways that are discreditable, sometimes egregiously so, to the newly monopolistic 'system' in question. Not to mention how long it can take that same system to shake off the ill effects of once having been a monopoly even if they're not that any more. Exhibit A here is: the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church protecting pedophile priests. Not to mention the probable (and still mostly unreported) horde of imams doing the same (literally) damned thing!
One system fortunate in not having been a monopoly for too long yet is capitalism. Since the Berlin Wall fell and we won the Cold War, capitalism has been largely considered as the only economic system that can work. And for the last decade, have we or haven't we seen capitalists acting in ways that are profoundly discreditable to that same system? Beginning with Enron through the housing bubble and previously reputable brokerages betting against their own clients and culminating in the greatest crash since 1929. Not to mention the questionably deliberate near-gutting of our industrial base, the assault on public education which is still an extremely vital part of our infrastructure, much of which has been allowed to crumble! And it must be said that the Clinton administration, a scant five years after the Wall fell, paved the way for this with the repeal of the Glass-Steagall law, among other things. The over-skewing of wealth into the hands of the uppermost 0.1% is part of this profoundly counter-productive cycle, as is the concomitant loss of real democracy in our politics.
What should we do? Quite bluntly, we need to redistribute wealth to some extent! Justice Brandeis said it in 1927: "We can either have a few very wealthy people, or we can have democracy, but we cannot have both." Most of us are thankfully inclined to opt for democracy. First, the highest tax bracket needs to be at least 50% (which it was under Reagan). Second, public education needs a lot of repair, renewal and stregthening--as does most of our infrastructure. Third, the 'greening' of our economy needs to be pushed forward. This, more than anything else, will produce the number of necessary jobs. Fourth, every business of a certain size or above (I'd recommend this wherever the employer starts not to know all his/her employees) needs to give its employees a chance to 'buy into' the business. As far as possible, employees and stockholders need to be the same people.
We  have always said (and we've seen it to be so), people work better when they work for themselves. Well, let's start putting it more into practice! And if they're owners, will they or won't they take better care (including of each other) in, and of, that facility? Surely the answer is 'yes'. Most businesses which are co-operatives are still with us. Even the Grange still exists, although we could do with it being more influential. Now is the time to democratize our economy and the returns from it!!
Co-operatives can and should show a healthier alternative to the capitalism lately turned vicious and downright piratical. This will still take time even if it starts to happen on a larger scale and we need to not allow ourselves to be distracted by divisive 'wedge' matters. I don't even want to call them 'issues' because they don't deserve to be. We do need to listen deeply to one another so that we can speak with one another. Fellow environmentalists, start hearing issues of class. Then let's expand each other's understanding of bread-and-butter matters like jobs. Never mind anyone else's domestic arrangements so long as the families are healthy. And we all need to recognize, and fight, injustice in whatever color it comes!
There will continue to be wealthy and (relatively) 'poor', but a vital, functioning democracy with Judeo-Christian underpinnings needs brackets for both. None so rich as to bid defiance to the government which receives our input and is thereby empowered to act on behalf of all of us, none so poor as to need to scrape in order to stay alive. And there continues to be a vital 'commons' available to all of us. I hope and believe this to be a reasonable 'yardstick' for free societies.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


When I was a lad the To-day show
Fea-tured good important things to know
Frank Blair gave us weather and McGee the news
And Barbara Walters did good in-ter-views
(And Barbara Walters did good in-ter-views)
But now with Sarah Palin on the show
To-day is just the biggest media ho'!
(But now with Sarah Palin on the show
To-day is just the biggest media ho'!)

Monday, April 2, 2012


"The new anti-clericals did not perceive that those who used the [Gospel's] language to serve slavery [and its successor Jim Crow] or 'private initiative' or 'the American way of life' were [and still are] in fact perverting the Gospel and betraying the great tradition of revivalism in America. They did not themselves (italics mine) understand that the word of true evangelism is not this bad word that everything must stay exactly as it is [or, worse, regress to some mythical 'golden age] but the wonderful and emancipating word that all things are being made new." Including us--but we must choose to be so remade!
The above passage, without my bracketed interjections and italics, is from the excellently seminal book From State Church to Pluralism by Franklin Littell. What Littell describes here is a cardinal reason why many educated, cultured and intellectually curious people became, and are still becoming, disenchanted with the church. And as the number of such people grow (and, whatever we think of the 'vitiation of taste' and other such elitist chatter, their numbers are growing, especially amongst young adults and especially where intellectual curiosity and honesty is concerned) the churches' influence will continue to decline.
In this case, unless we wise up and proclaim as we may not have proclaimed it since maybe the Great Awakening, or the Reformation, or maybe even since Theodosius made Christianity compulsory for Roman citizens in 390, that Christianity is NEITHER the bad word that everything must stay exactly as it is or as we pretend to remember it from Leave It To Beaver days NOR the worse word that we must re-attach religion with state and regress to some mythical golden age BUT the wonderful Word that God makes all things new!! And that in and through a relationship with God through His Word--and, best of all, His Word made flesh--we can choose to be made new. Yes, we need to choose almost every day to be so remade; this requires persistence. But I hope it helps to know that, you ask God for that persistence day by day, you'll have it! And the making new will usually take the rest of our earthly lives and into the next life. But, again, probably the most important thing is to persist. Stay engaged with God. Rage at Him when you need to. He can take it and, if David raged, moaned and kvetched at God, so can you. Who else won't you annoy with all that? And God welcomes all honest questions; just don't necessarily expect immediate answers. Be alert for them, though: they can and do pop up when you least expect 'em.
Ingest and always remember this: a robust, living, vibrant faith welcomes questions and challenges, can credibly answer criticisms and smile at satire. It is a weak and brittle 'faith' on the verge of collapse anyhow that fears and/or seeks to suppress questions, challenges, criticism and satire! If you encounter a gathering which looks alive but where questions--or certain questions--are 'not asked', then it's phony and the 'life' of the congregation is but froth on the beer!
One thing which most serious believers try to do (I know I do) is to harmonize our earthly requirements with being called to the Gospel. To do this, here's what I hope are some handy and helpful guidelines:
1) Know the difference between needs and wants: we all need to eat, drink and breathe. We all need a place to sleep and call home. We need connections with one another and with nature. We all need some kind of work that leaves us with some sense of doing something real. Even the handful of us rich enough to not need the money need some kind of work. And nearly all humans want such work, too--ESPECIALLY the poor among us! We need some means of getting around, either private or shared. But I challenge anyone to convince me they NEED a Humvee, a private jet or a beachfront mansion. There is enough for everyone's need, but not everyone's greed!
2) Do whatever we can to help more of us meet needs and to keep greeds within some kind of tolerable bounds. Maybe that would be to be as sure as possible that no one's need is endangered by another's greed.
3) God welcomes questions and has given us all free will; we're the ones that seek to deny or destroy the free will of others. Hence, isn't it upon us to work in ways that open more possibilities to more of us? This means, as FDR said, 'schools must be the last thing on which we economize'. And it means the schools not be test and/or indoctrination plantations, but places which actually encourage critical thought. And this is also why strict separation of religion and state is indispensable to the state's benevolence and to the flourishing of real religion. Real religion is alive today where the government is neutral towards it--including and especially here! Roger Williams was right: "Forced religion stinks in God's nostrils."
4) God makes room for a lot of different things to 'play' together; so should we. This means multiple uses of  areas--but excluding what's likely to annhilate all other uses and/or destroy the life therein. Balance is the key here. Keep the ecosystems vital, but not unchanged.
5) Most importantly, put relationships first: the relationship which we each have with God, healthy relationships with one another and with other creatures. By 'healthy' I mean helping each other grow. NO stomping allowed--neither physical nor verbal! And don't be taken down any deceptively easy path: be as sharp as serpents and guiltless as doves. Be shrewd and keep your hands clean. Telling the unpleasant truth is NOT getting your hands dirty, although some will try to convince you otherwise.
But let's start with God, and God's Word (including made flesh) making all things new, and doing it not from the top down but from the bottom up!! There's a world of difference between seeking to infuse society with God's Spirit from the bottom up and seeking to take over the government and enforce top-down conformity of worship and behavior. Nothing is more destructive to real religion and civil society than the latter; nothing vitalizes both like the former. That Spirit can never be forced; it flees from force.
The God we worship is the One Who makes all things new; let us follow in the Way as God gives us strength! Amen and amen!