Archive for Sunday Sermon


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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“I made it. Why can’t you?”

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“They say they got where they are by working 60 hours a week for years,” my friend said (I’m paraphrasing). “They made it and they don’t see why they should pay anything to help other people who did not.”

It is a message my friend hears from doctors he knows. (This was one of those intense bar conversations, rapid-fire and wide-ranging. The kind you wish you had recorded to review again later.)

But the “I made it. Why can’t you?” view of capitalism is history written by the victors, isn’t it? An oversimplified success formula derived from too few data points, from too small a sample. We see the same kind of myopic analysis in the nation’s capital. From wealthy politicians surrounded by wealthy donors and wealthy lobbyists. Georgetown cocktail parties, high-dollar fundraiser dinners. When you and the people you hang with are all successful and rich, it is easy to question why everyone else is not. The problem must be them. That’s it, the poor are just lazy.

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Categories : Economy, Sunday Sermon
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Native American Tribes and Language Groups

An Apache friend related a story this week that he gave me permission to repeat here. That and recent experiences got me thinking about tribe and identity.

My friend met a young Apache guy who had done some prison time. The young man met others in prison from the Native American church. He’d been adopted, and from them he learned a lot about a heritage he never knew growing up. In prison, the older men had given him a medicine name, Dancing Bear. He asked my friend to translate it into Apache.

My friend asked, “What kind of bear? What kind of dance?”

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Prosperity, not Austerity

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“…the economy is running on the fumes of the investments we made in public goods decades ago.” — Prosperity Economics: Building an Economy for All

As the Mongol army swept across the Asian steppes in the 13th century, psychological warfare was one of their most powerful weapons. Looking much like their victims, Mongol spies easily infiltrated towns in the army’s path to foment panic. “The Mongols are coming! The Mongols are coming! They kill the women and rape the men! The Mongols are coming!” Just as the Mongols hoped, many towns surrendered without a fight.

Come to think of it, the relentless psychological messaging from Washington sounds a lot like that. Austerity. Fiscal cliff. Debt crisis. America could go the way of Greece. America is broke. Grand Bargain. Surrender Dorothy.

In 1999, the same sort of Very Serious People told Americans that the Glass-Steagall Act was “obsolete” and “outdated”; they passed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act that granted leave for banks to become “too big to fail.” In 2001, Very Serious People promised Americans that tax cuts for the rich would provide jobs for middle class families. In 2003 — after those jobs didn’t appear — Very Serious People cut taxes again, and made the same empty promise. In 2005, Very Serious People told Americans that Social Security was broke and they should hand over their retirement savings to Wall Street. In 2008 … well, you know about 2008. In 2013, Very Serious People will be peddling the same austerity cure that is sending England back into recession. But don’t you worry any, Middle-Class America. Even in recession the rich get richer.

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This week, Louisiana state Rep. Valarie Hodges expressed second thoughts, about passing the state’s new voucher law because taxpayer dollars might go to support not just Christian, but also Islamic schools.

“Unfortunately it will not be limited to the Founders’ religion,” Hodges said. “We need to insure that it does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools. There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana.”

That is, it’s okay for me, but not for thee. (Hodges might want to read Jefferson and Madison regarding Mahometans.)

Many evangelicals insist that America was founded as a Christian country – right up until you suggest that America behave like one. Like Hodges, they believe America was founded by Christian men and that its constitution is interwoven with Jesus’ principles and values. David Barton travels the country claiming to receptive (and unquestioning) audiences that, “it is absolutely no surprise that so many of the clauses we find in the Constitution are literal, direct quotations out of the Bible.” He then directs listeners to a list of verses that anyone can see are not. Right Wing Watch  asks, “… if Barton is willing to lie about what the Bible says , it raises the question of whether there [is] anything that he won’t he lie about?”

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On Marriage and Sacredness

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Over the years, I have made an offbeat, sociological argument regarding same-sex unions: that supporters would have an easier climb in securing equal rights for same-sex unions if woman-woman and man-man unions had unique names for each. Something other than marriage. Recent events have got me thinking about that again. Tina Dupuy at Crooks and Liars posted Suzie Sampson’s (The Tea Party Report) on-the-street interviews in the wake of President Obama coming out in support of same-sex unions. Sampson hit on the same solution:

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“The word marriage has a connotation,” an Amendment One supporter insists (more on connotation later). “They can have the same right, but not the same name,” says another man. When Sampson suggests pronouncing same-sex unions as “marry-äzh,” both are immediately fine with that. Why? When gay marriage opponents argue that “that’s not what it means,” or insist that marriage is between a man and a woman, it is often dismissed as a thin cover for bigotry. But is there more to it than that? What’s in a name?

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Doubting the Austerians

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In March 1999, Harvey Cox of Harvard Divinity School wrote of the emergence of a new “Supreme Deity, the only true God, whose reign must now be universally accepted and who allows for no rivals.” — The Market.

Omnipotent: In a kind of reverse transubstantiation The Market transmutes all things once holy into items for sale. Like land. “It has been Mother Earth, ancestral resting place, holy mountain, enchanted forest, tribal homeland, aesthetic inspiration, sacred turf, and much more. But when The Market’s Sanctus bell rings and the elements are elevated, all these complex meanings of land melt into one: real estate.”

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Quantum Conservatism

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Quantum mechanics suggests that as you bore down deeper into matter, Newton’s laws break down. You enter a quirky, alternate universe of gluons and quarks, of probabilities and spin, and particles with “flavors” like charm and strangeness where the rules governing ordinary reality no longer apply.

Now enter the world of quantum conservatism, where commonsense rules of logic and evidence do not apply. It is a world of belief, not fact, where up is down, black is white, in is out, wrong is right.

To you and me, a cat locked in a box might be dead or alive. But quantum conservatism finds it easy to argue that Schrödinger’s Cat is both alive and dead … at the same time. For example, quantum conservatism believes government never created a job … and has too many people on its payroll. Quantum conservatism believes in freedom of religion, and that Muslims shouldn’t be able to put up mosques wherever they want to.

Quantum conservatism argues that we should follow the clear language of the Constitution … and that, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States,” are not citizens under the 14th Amendment when those persons are born to undocumented immigrants. Quantum conservatism complains that President Obama hasn’t done anything to curb entitlement spending, and in the next breath complains that Obama cut Medicare. Quantum conservatism (especially in Arizona) believes any employer should be able to fire a woman who uses contraceptives to prevent pregnancy … as well as to fire her if she actually gets pregnant.

And finally, quantum conservatism believes that Kentucky Fried Chicken is a person – headquartered in Louisville, in a bucket.

And that’s my sermon.

Categories : Sunday Sermon
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