Archive for Sunday Sermon


Their American spirit is AWOL

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Something about Sunday mornings brings out the preacher in me. I wrote about this yesterday, but this morning I’m still fuming about misguided efforts by right-wing ideologues to abandon our system of public schools for whatever crazy reasons, or because freedom. Listen:

One hundred and sixty thousand rugged individuals didn’t suddenly decide to grab a gun off the mantle, don uniforms, build landing craft, and separately invade Normandy on June 6, 1944 because if big gummint did it, it would be un-American, add to the debt, and we don’t like France anyway.

There are things we do as a people, together, that make us US.

Educating our nation’s children together is one of those things. Support for universal public education in this country predates ratification of the United States Constitution. It’s built into the state constitutions and enabling legislation that brought new states into the Union all the way up to and including Hawaii, the 50th state.

I don’t know what country chest-thumping, would-be patriots who want to abolish public education think they want to live in, but it’s not the United States of America.

My father in-law law fought on the front lines in Europe during WWII. One of the things he said distinguished the American GI from the enemy is that when their tanks and trucks and jeeps broke down, the Germans would abandon their equipment on the field of battle and walk away. But the American boys had grown up tinkering with their cars, trucks and tractors. It was a point of pride for them, he told me, that when their gear broke down, they could fix it and get it running again with whatever they had at hand. Shoelaces. Rubber bands. “Duck” tape. And get back into the fight.

That’s the spirit that won the war. You don’t hear that spirit from public school abolitionists. Freedom, my ass.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Cesspits of bad behavior

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Hans Speckaert – Conversion of St Paul on the Road to Damascus. Via Wikimedia Commons.

In business today, too often integrity is an afterthought.

The San Francisco Chronicle quotes from the blog, Both Sides of the Table, by investor Mark Suster, “I believe that integrity and honesty are very important to most venture capital investors. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that they are required to make a lot of money.”

In a piece that might be titled, “The Real Jerks of Silicon Valley,” Alyson Shontell examines how many rising stars in Silicon Valley tend to be “–holes”. (The construction pops up frequently in the piece.) The rogues gallery is expansive, including Uber’s Travis Kalanick. He’s had a particularly bad week. Still,

“Sometimes,” one acquaintance said of Kalanick, “–holes create great businesses.”

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Underground railroading

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On Friday, we were in Greensboro, NC when the International Civil Rights Center & Museum was open. We’d been meaning to stop in for years. We even managed to get through the tour of the old F. W. Woolworth lunch counter without crying. (OK, barely.) The word unequal kept coming up in the tour. That and the funeral earlier of a black friend had me mulling over how many white people still resent sharing the country with Others they consider unequal. Demographic shifts are bringing them kicking and screaming to the realization that they must.

Losing power is very personal for people on the right. Both left and right talk about taking “their country” back, but it seems much more personal for conservatives. In their America, it seems, there is no we, just i and me.

One place you hear it is in their rhetoric about voter fraud. It is a very personal affront to them that the power of their votes might be diminished by the Other. Every time someone ineligible casts a fraudulent ballot, they insist, it “steals your vote.” Your vote. They have convinced themselves that there are thousands and thousands of invisible felons stealing their votes every election. Passing more restrictive voting laws is a matter of justice and voting integrity, of course. What other motivation could there be for railroading eligible poor, minority, and college-age voters?

The Others they suspect of this heinous activity are people who do not believe as they do nor vote as they do. Voter fraud itself is a code word, the way Lee Atwater used “forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff.” It’s “much more abstract,” as Atwater said. The issue is not really whether the invisible “those people” are voting illegally or not. It is that they are voting at all. Sharing in governance, sharing power, is a privilege for deserving, Real Americans, not for the unwashed Irresponsibles. That Others do so legally is just as much an affront. Right now they’re targeting the invisible Others. Restricting voting to Real Americans comes later, I guess.

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Psychologists at the Yale Mind and Development Lab explore the human tendency to believe that “everything happens for a reason.” Not just religious believers think this, either. They found many atheists believe it as well:

This tendency to see meaning in life events seems to reflect a more general aspect of human nature: our powerful drive to reason in psychological terms, to make sense of events and situations by appealing to goals, desires and intentions. This drive serves us well when we think about the actions of other people, who actually possess these psychological states, because it helps us figure out why people behave as they do and to respond appropriately. But it can lead us into error when we overextend it, causing us to infer psychological states even when none exist. This fosters the illusion that the world itself is full of purpose and design.

That maybe puts too fine a point on it. People don’t just do this in relation to others and to events. Growing up, I heard the quote from Benjamin Franklin: “Man is a tool-making animal.” Man is also a pattern-seeking animal. We see faces in ink blots, madonnas in toast and in stains on buildings. We find animal shapes in the clouds and in the stars. We read messages in palms and tea leaves. And after a tragedy, we ask reflexively, “Why did this happen?” As if there is a why.

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Sunday Morning Music

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Categories : Sunday Sermon
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This week’s Sunday sermon appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times:

Election allegations about working the refs, not integrity

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The Politics (And Theology) Of Who Suffers

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Last week was the funeral of North Carolina state senator, Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt. Big Baptist church. Two governors (one sitting, one ex), two former lieutenant governors, most of the North Carolina Council of State and more politicians of both parties than I have ever been in a room with at one time. After eulogies by senate colleagues, the preacher gave a sermon about salvation. I got the message. Just not the one he intended. But we’ll get back to that in a minute.

“When I hear Republicans in the United States say that taking away people’s food stamps will do them good I ask, what do you know that allows you to say this?” — Avner Offer

Avner Offer is Chichele Professor Emeritus of Economic History at Oxford and author of “The Challenge of Affluence: Self-Control and Well-Being in the United States and Britain Since 1950.” Chris Hedges shared Offer’s epistemological inquiry into what they know and how they know it at Truthdig. Offer studies neoclassical economics and “just-world theory.”

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Hunger Next Door

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Several stories about hunger in America popped up this weekend, a couple online and another just down my street. Among people you wouldn’t identify as poor and struggling just by looking at them. PBS Newshour reported on women in Denver who fell into poverty, women who don’t fit popular stereotypes of people on SNAP.

CAROLINE POOLER: Any one of your fellow peers, colleagues or fellow parishioners may be hungry, but you don’t know that about them, because people don’t want to advertise that about themselves. There’s lots of people out there who do not have enough to eat until next payday. There’s a lot of working people who give their last five bucks to their kid for lunch and they go without. And so that’s kind of a different face of hunger than people are thinking of hunger.

Over at Crooks and Liars, Susie Madrak reposted Jenn’s story from Poor As Folk blog, “Living in poverty is like being punched in the face over and over and over on a daily basis”

That brings me to the hunger. The hunger is extraordinary. There is a constant gnawing in your stomach, an empty feeling that has taken up permanent residence. Even as you’re eating a meal, you feel the hunger. It never goes away because you don’t know when you’re going to eat again…

As food stamp benefits continue to be cut and food pantries struggle to feed communities, that uncertainty will just continue. I hate to think of my children feeling the same way. They get first dibs on all food that comes through this house. There are many days when my kids get their three meals and I get half of one and my husband … well, I never see him because he is working all the time, but he barely eats, too.

A chance meeting my wife had this week brought the problem home. This is the story pretty much in her own words: Read More→

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Big-Picture Politics

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Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

A couple days ago, one of our regular readers, Hazelite, observed (indirectly) the lack of people here grousing about Rep. Mark Meadows’ voting record. More on that in a minute.

Many years back, I was involved with a group in forming a church. These were friends I’d known since college. We had church together, went camping, played basketball, went out to eat, and had for some years. Eventually, those with kids and jobs wanted to get a tax break on their contributions. We decided to formally apply to the IRS.

When the IRS paperwork came, we got hung up on writing a formal statement of faith. We’d never had one or needed one before. We were just us, friends, and never gave it much thought. Now all the differences we’d never noticed came out. This guy over here was raised Catholic, became a Quaker, and wanted a statement about Mary and the virgin birth. Those raised Protestants were uncomfortable with that and wanted different beliefs emphasized. It got dicey, but eventually we got through it. As long as we’d stayed out of the weeds, we got along fine. When we started arguing about the footnotes, not so much.

One thing the NAACP-led Forward Together/Moral Monday movement in North Carolina has done well is to keep its members working at the executive summary level of their politics and beliefs. Including diverse groups, but not focusing on the particulars. Rev. Barber and Moral Monday stick to the broad issues member sub-groups agree on, lest the group lose focus and disintegrate into factions angling for their own group’s particular interests. This is Big Picture politics. When we work together, we all win and we all have a better shot at getting what we want.

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In the aftermath of the Bangladesh garment factory disaster, Matthew Yglesias caught a world of criticism for these comments in Slate:

It’s very plausible that one reason American workplaces have gotten safer over the decades is that we now tend to outsource a lot of factory-explosion-risk to places like Bangladesh where 87 people just died in a building collapse.* This kind of consideration leads Erik Loomis to the conclusion that we need a unified global standard for safety

I think that’s wrong. Bangladesh may or may not need tougher workplace safety rules, but it’s entirely appropriate for Bangladesh to have different—and, indeed, lower—workplace safety standards than the United States.

The reason is that while having a safe job is good, money is also good [and] in a free society it’s good that different people are able to make different choices on the risk–reward spectrum.

Yglesias ignited a firestorm. But targeting him or any individual actor for similar comments misses a larger point.

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