Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Problems with a lot of Progressive/Liberal Christianity...

There are a great many problems with a great many things. I don't like to pretend that life is otherwise. However, this does not give us a free pass to just ignore things we might make better. I have noticed that progressive/liberal Christianity has some real problems. These are not problems with the concept (as I would generally put myself in this category), but rather how it is done. I have noticed that progressive Christians tend not to proselytize. I have a problem with that. If your message is not worth sharing, then perhaps it is not worth having. I see so many places in our society and in other societies around the world where this theology is really needed. Progressives are really good at working through government agencies and NGO's to take care of needy communities at home and abroad, but as soon as it stabilizes there; then the really conservative movements come through and dominate. They bring with them their messages of religious fundamentalism and quite a few bring intolerance for various people groups, religious ideas, and political ideas. This is not good.
This issue with communication can also be seen by the fact that most of the progressive churches I know reach out to poor communities and serve poor communities, but do not articulate a theology that can reach people of different educational backgrounds. Trying to find the (please do not freak out at this term) fundamentals or core principles or testimonies of progressive Christianity and articulating them to these broad communities in simple terms is imperative if we wish to actually see the movement embrace the people we are trying to help. I am not asking the movement to abandon scholarship, but reaching out to people with a powerful message and doing it in various stages of simplicity and complexity is really needed in the movement.
We need to also find a way to speak of a compelling theology to go with our (self-proclaimed) "prophetic" stances on social issues. This is where a good liturgy can come in. These are just some thoughts that have been kicking around in my mind. I am not by any means trying to start a competition for souls with the right wingers in religion, but I think that if we really believe that our message is actually good for our communities and for the world, perhaps we should spreading the gospel more intentionally insted of waiting on people to just walk up and find us. Communities are hurting and need what we have to offer socially and spiritually. I think we need to do some more work on the latter. Thoughts?

Monday, January 18, 2010

When the US Senate was first created it was a body of persons (well, originally only men, but we know a woman can do just as well if not better than most men) to be selected in a manner preferred by the state legislatures. The Senate was a body that was not only a check on the President, the House of Representatives, and the Supreme Court, but was also a check on the federal government making decisions without proper input from the state legislative bodies. Granted, some legislatures decided to have state wide elections for their senators, but many if not most of them selected the senators themselves. This bicameral structure with one house is directly elected by the people and actually has more representatives in it (here known as the US House of Representatives) and having another house with different responsibilities being unelected comes from the British model with their House of Commons and the House of Lords. This structure still exists there to this day, with the House of Lords' power being severely limited by the lower house (note that our Constitution does not call one upper and the other lower, but people still consider the Senate the upper). The difference in the Lords and the Senate is that the senators were selected by democratically elected bodies. Having this structure has someone in the federal government looking out for the interests of the state governments. Now, too much state government independence on the federal level is a counterproductive thing (see Civil War), but imagine the different dynamics in the federal government if this were the case. If there was someone representing a state government saying that they do not have enough resources to carry out a federally mandated but not funded initiative, that they need more money for school programs, that a federal law crosses the line of a historically state-held responsibility. State governments are very important entities, but seem to fall in the backdrop when compared to the federal government. There is also another issue that could be raised about the diversity of people that may end up in the senate. Perhaps state legislatures would choose people who are well known and accomplished in a particular field of (science, academics, law enforcement, government, economics, community organizing, health care, the list goes on and on...) in order to have experts not only testifying in Congress, but actually being a part of the legislative body.

I understand that the issue of state level corruption comes up when thinking about this, but think about how many people you know that actually trust their elected officials. Direct democracy does not prevent corruption at all. At least if we have government officials that are answerable to bodies that have the resources to investigate them and keep a close eye on their actions in office, perhaps we will see more consistency in their voting record, less campaign contribution corruption (likely there would not be many campaign costs), and someone who is answerable to a committee that can sit down and thoroughly go through their record, holding them to greater accountability. Perhaps more members would show up to committee meetings, perhaps more members would take an active part in floor debate, perhaps more members would think very carefully about the legislation before just jumping right in.

I can understand the apprehension to this idea. It takes the power out of the hands of the people, it is bad for democracy, and democracy is what we are all about. True, it does take power of selecting senators from the direct hands of the people, and this is a limit of direct democracy. However, unchecked democracy is a very questionable thing. The founders knew that, and our current political situation reflects this. Our democracy is placed within some parameters by our federal and state constitutions. Many see them as granting democracy, but they place guidelines on how our democracy is expressed to prevent all decisions from being made by large groups of people working on an emotional high, not reasonable thought. Our US Supreme Court is also a limit on democracy. The justices are selected and approved by elected officials, but after that are free to interpret the law as it is written (which is a product of representative democracy) without worry of public opinion, which should not figure into their deliberations. We do not ask of any other judge that they take a public opinion poll before ruling in a case, and this should surely not be the case here.

This is a situation for consideration. Think about how it may be different if the Senate is what it was supposed to be originally. Perhaps it would have evolved differently. It may become a "chamber of sober second thought" like the Canadian Senate, where larger bills go to be dissected and carefully debated. Perhaps their authority to reject certain bills would be more limited, thus making the chamber less politically powerful, but still influential, and certainly maintaining its media power (which is just as good if not better than actual power granted by constitution and law these days). I would not mind a Senate that was representative of my state, not just the voters, but the entities of my state as well. Just a thought.

Charity: Answer of Distractor?

Ok, when I was in undergrad I did a philosophical paper on the pros and cons of charity, and I have felt the need to do it again (not sure why...). Essentially my major concern with charity is that people use it as a solution rather than a temporary fix. Charity is good. I am a strong supporter of charity and the good people that contribute both time and money to them. However, I am concerned that people look at charity as a solution to society's ills without actually addressing the problems. They will donate to a charity that gives clothes to the very poor, petition the city to start a homeless shelter, or help donate money to a person in the hospital paying for medical bills. These are all good things, the problem comes when the concern stops there. I am afraid that far too many people would rather give to charity and forget about the problem than actually examine the societal structures that cause and perpetuate these problems. Will there ever be a fix for all the worlds problems? Likely not. Will there ever be a time when people do not want for anything? Likely not. Will there ever be a time when there is no economic hardship? Likely not. We can only hope for a better, but not a perfect world. However, if we do not try to look as the societal flaws that can lead to homelessness, crushing poverty, a lack of quality medical care, and so on, then we are falling desperately short in fulfilling our responsibilities to those who are most vulnerable in our world. Chairity is good for doing what it does best, alleviating immediate suffering. However, charity cannot solve the larger disparities, only self reflection (on a personal, local, national, and global level) and change can.

Surprise at Mass and Mary Travers

Part I
The other day at mass (I am Episcopalian not Roman Catholic, just clarifying I like the Romans too :) we were saying prayers for the people. After the usual groups (bishops, clergy, elected officials, those in need, etc...) someone in the congregation requested a prayer for the servicefolks in harms way. This is not unusual at St. Bartholomew's or anywhere I would imagine. Then, however, he also requested prayers for the terrorists and all that would seek to do us harm. It was literally the first time in my life that I had seen anyone other than clergy ask for prayers for terrorists, killers, etc... It was quite refreshing to see someone other than clergy actually following Christ's teaching to pray for those who hate you. I find it easier to pray for a large group like that (ie terrorists) than it is to pray for individual people who I know and have done me wrong. Make no mistake, I do it. However, it seems a little more difficult to do. It also made me wonder exactly how different the world would be if Christians throughout time had actually done this instead of making war. I don't know, what do y'all think?
Part II
RIP Mary Travers. She was a woman who was using her God-given gifts to make the world a better place. I pray that she finds peace in the hereafter; though I am not too worried about her :) The same for Crystal Lee Sutton. She is the real life inspiration for the film Norma Rae and she passed very recently as well. I was touched by the fact that she left her collection of papers and works to Alamance Community College and not a four year university. She said she wanted the average working people to be able to access them. Amen to that. I was dissapointed to find out that she lived in Burlington, NC. I went to college there. I would like to have met her. Many of my family members worked in a cotton mill at some point in their lives. Efforts from people like Ms. Sutton made it possible for realy people to have a better working environment. The spirits of these two women live on not only in our hearts but in God and in the human effort to care for our neighbors.

I didn't like the address of the last one, so I changed it.

I didn't like the address and title of my other blog beccause I realized that I would eventually have to leave Atlanta, which would make the title inappropriate. I will always be from North Carolina.