Wednesday, December 31, 2008
The modern State, in fact, becomes a divinized Welfare-Bringer. In the ancient world, the Hellenistic monarchs, and later the Roman emperors, prided themselves on being Welfare-Bringers (Euergetes, Benefactor), passing on the gifts of the gods to their subjects. They depicted themselves on their coins—the primary vehicle of State propaganda in those days which were without journalistic mass media, radio, or TV—as divinized figures holding a cornucopia, a horn of plenty, from which everything good is shown flowing to the grateful people. This is the modern Welfare State ; even some of the ancient symbols are being revived in cartoons and pictures. The omnicompetent Welfare State thus becomes the modern substitute for God and the Church, “from whom all blessings flow.”
Seen in this perspective, it is not difficult to understand why the Church as a religious institution has become more and more marginal in the everyday life of the people.
"Kagan accepted Ferguson’s description of the vastness of American power but rejected the word 'empire' as a description, preferring 'global power.' 'Colonies are the touchstone of empire, he said, and he argued that while America had an imperial past, 'as American imperialism diminished, American power grew.' There is a difference between being the world’s greatest power, he suggested, and 'a country that seeks to exercise dominion over others, which is what the true definition of empire is.'. ."
". . . Richard A. Horsley argues in several books that Americans are uncomfortably discovering their country’s role in the world is not unlike that of the Romans. 'Many Americans are beginning to sense a serious discrepancy between prominent strands in their historical identity and the realities of their current position in the world,” he writes in JESUS AND EMPIRE: THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND THE NEW WORLD DISORDER. Indeed, some Americans “cannot avoid the awkward feeling that they are now more analogous to imperial Rome than they are to the ancient Middle Eastern people who celebrated their origins in God’s liberation from harsh service to a foreign ruler and lived according to the covenantal principles of social-economic justice.'
"Horsley, who has also edited IN THE SHADOW OF EMPIRE: RECLAIMING THE BIBLE AS A HISTORY OF FAITHFUL RESISTANCE, a collection of essays on how to read the Bible as a reaction to empire and a call to oppose imperial power in every age, observes that despite the unease Americans feel about the United States as an empire they cannot grasp Jesus’ message as it is directed to that empire because Jesus has been domesticated and his message depoliticized by generations — indeed centuries, stretching back to the early church — that have, in the interest of survival or power, compromised with empires. Further, he argues, since the Enlightenment they have cooperated in severing the religious from the political and economic, making of them realms that have little to do with one another, a separation that would not have been understood by or even conceivable to Jesus and his first followers"
From the article God and Empire by David E. Anderson, November 19, 2008.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
The Domestication of Transcendence: How Modern Thinking about God Went Wrong
By William Carl Placher
Published by Westminster John Knox Press, 1996
ISBN 066425635X, 9780664256357
From the speech: "Today we are witnessing a second historic wave of capitalist globalization. Karl Marx, foreseeing the first wave, famously predicted in The Communist Manifesto that "everything that is solid melts into air." Suddenly that has an existential ring. But Marx wasn't warning merely that the stock market might vaporize your pension, mortgage or job. His point cut deeper: global capitalism commodifies everything it touches, including labor and nature, putting everything up for sale.Nothing is exempt from the pressure of competition. Social contracts and places of rest have vanished under threats of obsolescence and ruin, while the global market exploits resources, displaces communities and sets off wealth explosions in wild cycles of boom and bust. Thomas Friedman, a celebrant of the second wave, calls it "turbo-capitalism." Economic globalization—the integration of national economies into the global economy through trade, direct foreign investment, short-term capital flows, and flows of labor and technology—has "flattened" the world, Friedman says. In a flat world you either compete successfully or get run over."
Monday, December 29, 2008
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
7:1 Now when the king was settled in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him,
7:2 the king said to the prophet Nathan, "See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent."
7:3 Nathan said to the king, "Go, do all that you have in mind; for the LORD is with you."
7:4 But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan:
7:5 Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in?
7:6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.
7:7 Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?"
7:8 Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the LORD of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel;
7:9 and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.
7:10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly,
7:11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house.
7:16 Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.
Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany have nothing to do with nostalgia. They celebrate beginnings, promise, and hope.
Image: Divinity Library
Jean and Alexander Heard Library
Copyright © 2007 Jean and Alexander Heard Library, Vanderbilt University
148:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
148:2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
148:3 Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
148:4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
148:5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.
148:6 He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
148:7 Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,
148:8 fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
148:9 Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
148:10 Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!
148:11 Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
148:12 Young men and women alike, old and young together!
148:13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.
148:14 He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!
Statement by Mark Roesler, business agent for Bettie Page, April 22, 1923 to December 11, 2008
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Friday, December 26, 2008
"Al Meyerhoff, a leading labor, environmental and civil rights lawyer who brought a landmark case to stop sweatshop conditions for 30,000 workers on the Pacific island of Saipan, died on Sunday in Los Angeles, where he lived. He was 61."
In an impressive piece of lucid journalism, Salon.com reporter Goldberg dives into the religious right and sorts out the history and networks of what to most liberals is an inscrutable parallel universe. She deconstructs "dominion theology," the prevalent evangelical assertion that Christians have a "responsibility to take over every aspect of society." Goldberg makes no attempt to hide her own partisanship, calling herself a "secular Jew and ardent urbanite" who wrote the book because she "was terrified by America's increasing hostility to... cosmopolitan values." This carefully researched and riveting treatise will hardly allay its audience's fears, however; secular liberals and mainstream believers alike will find Goldberg's descriptions of today's culture wars deeply disturbing. She traces the deep financial and ideological ties between fundamentalist Christians and the Republican Party, and discloses the dangers she believes are inherent to the Bush administration's faith-based social services initiative. Other chapters follow inflammatory political tactics on wedge issues like gay rights, evolution and sex education. Significantly, her conclusions do not come off as hysterical or shrill. Even while pointing to stark parallels between fascism and the language of the religious right, Goldberg's vision of America's future is measured and realistic. Her book is a potent wakeup call to pluralists in the coming showdown with Christian nationalists. (May 15) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
"First, for our Treasury Department—and the Federal Reserve—which seem able to lend or guarantee at a scale unheard of until now: Where is all the money going, and how is it decided who gets it? Many of the investments appear to be much less critical than an investment in Lehman Bros. would have been, for example. If this reflects learning, wonderful. But what is the current metric for evaluation?
"Speaking of Lehman, what precisely was the conversation at the Fed among the various bankers that led to the conclusion not to give Lehman assistance but to give AIG an almost unlimited Fed pipeline? What, exactly, did each bank tell the government about its exposure to Lehman or AIG, and when?
"What did the government tell the banks about their obligation to lend, once they had received the infusion of billions to restore their balance sheets? As we have seen, the banks are holding onto an enormous amount of the cash, failing to inject needed oil into a system whose gears have ground to a halt. It defies common sense that the banks have been permitted to receive this capital and yet have not been required to lend in any significantly greater volume. As a result, the economy continues to fall like a rock.
"When did the Fed, Treasury, or the Office of the Controller of the Currency begin to evaluate the credit risk of the subprime debt pipeline, and what did any of them do about it? This is the old what-did-they-know-and-when-did-they-know-it question.
Have these government entities begun to think through the possibility of requiring banks that securitize debt to maintain an ownership of some significant percentage of this debt? That would begin to address the risks that result when those who originate debt really have no concerns or accountability for the long-term capacity of borrowers to pay.
"For the banks, which have received an unceasing supply of credit and guarantees: We have heard too often from those at the top that "we didn't have operational responsibility; we relied on our risk managers." We are now major equity investors in these banks. Our capital is now at risk. So let's get—right now—all the analysis of the subprime debt that was originated, securitized, or bought. If the credit departments got it so wrong, we deserve to know that so we can remedy the situation by bringing in analysts with greater skills. If the credit analysis was correct and the risk managers were sending warnings up the chain, we deserve to know that as well. Because then the senior managers—despite their disclaimers—have some questions to answer. There are few things more essential for a bank than knowing that its loans will be paid back. We had better figure out how the banks got it so wrong. Any bank unwilling to release these documents should not get public funding.
"Also for the banks: What would it cost to modify meaningfully all the subprime mortgages such that delinquencies and defaults can be brought back into line? Have they calculated this figure? Loan modification is a necessary step to resolving the underlying housing crisis, and one way or another, it has to get done. Why loan modification wasn't a condition of the banks' receipt of capital is a mystery that remains unresolved.
"For the rating agencies, we should also require public disclosure—of their subprime analysis. Let them withstand the public scrutiny of the process that generated AAA ratings on debt that so soon became toxic. Perhaps they will be vindicated. Perhaps there really was no way to see around the corner. Or perhaps we will conclude that the agencies simply do not have the analytical tools to sense inflection points, in which case their ratings really are not worth a great deal."
"It’s important that the most hungry, poor and direly troubled Americans not be denied a proper place in line with the financial moguls, auto executives and others pleading for taxpayer help. Most immediately, a temporary increase in food-stamp benefits is needed. It fits logically in the next stimulus package, for each dollar spent on food stamps generates $1.84 in economic activity."
NYT Editorial 12/26/08 Boxing Day (Poor Boxes for the Poor in Churches)
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Jean and Alexander Heard Library
Copyright © 2007 Jean and Alexander Heard Library, Vanderbilt University
Thomas Campbell Morgan, Sr. and Thomas Campbell Morgan, Jr. A long time ago!
52:7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns."
52:8 Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the LORD to Zion.
52:9 Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.
52:10 The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
Image: West Milford, New Jersey
Hebrews 1:1-4, (5-12)
1:1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets,
1:2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.
1:3 He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
1:4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
1:5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, "You are my Son; today I have begotten you"? Or again, "I will be his Father, and he will be my Son"?
1:6 And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him."
1:7 Of the angels he says, "He makes his angels winds, and his servants flames of fire."
1:8 But of the Son he says, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom.
1:9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions."
1:10 And, "In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands;
1:11 they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like clothing;
1:12 like a cloak you will roll them up, and like clothing they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will never end."
(Image: Manhattan 2001)
9:2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.
9:3 You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.
9:4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
9:5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
9:6 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
9:7 His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
(Image: West Milford, New Jersesy)
97:1 The LORD is king! Let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!
97:2 Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
97:3 Fire goes before him, and consumes his adversaries on every side.
97:4 His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles.
97:5 The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the Lord of all the earth.
97:6 The heavens proclaim his righteousness; and all the peoples behold his glory.
97:7 All worshipers of images are put to shame, those who make their boast in worthless idols; all gods bow down before him.
97:8 Zion hears and is glad, and the towns of Judah rejoice, because of your judgments, O God.
97:9 For you, O LORD, are most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods.
97:10 The LORD loves those who hate evil; he guards the lives of his faithful; he rescues them from the hand of the wicked.
97:11 Light dawns for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.
97:12 Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name!
NRSV (National Council of Churches of Christ)
(Photo from West Milford, New Jersey)
I hope you are listening to this splendid service (this is the 3:00 service, I think.
From the web site:
"Our Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols was first held on Christmas Eve 1918. It was planned by Eric Milner-White, who at the age of thirty-four had just been appointed Dean of King's, after experience as an army chaplain which had convinced him that the Church of England needed more imaginative worship. A revision of the Order of Service was made in 1919, involving rearrangement of the lessons, and from that date the service has always begun with the hymn 'Once in royal David's city'.
"The service was first broadcast in 1928 and, with the exception of 1930, has been broadcast annually, even during the Second World War, when the ancient glass (and also all heat) had been removed from the Chapel. Sometime in the early 1930's the BBC began broadcasting the service on the World Service. It is estimated that there are millions of listeners worldwide, including those to Radio Four in the United Kingdom. In recent years it has become the practice to broadcast a digital recording on Christmas Day on Radio Three, and since 1963, a shorter service, which uses different music and readings, has been filmed periodically for television."
Since 1992, I have not been able to celebrate a single Christmas without remembering Klaus. I first met Klaus in the late summer of that year. I had just begun a volunteer position serving at a local soup kitchen in Magdeburg, Germany. Really it was called a “Tea room” (in German, Tee Stube). The Tee Stube was part of the City Mission and consisted of a mid-sized room, connected to a small-ish kitchen with a big pass through window and a long hallway that led to restrooms. The Tee Stube was open from 5 - 9 p.m. every evening and for six months, I was there nearly every night it was open. So was Klaus.
Klaus was only 36 years old. I remember looking at his ID once and being amazed. Because he looked more like 56. Years of near- homelessness had left his face more leathery and wrinkled than it deserved to be. I never once saw him in even half-clean clothes. Chain-smoking unfiltered cigarettes left his fingertips and moustache a color somewhere between dark mustard and burnt umber. When he smiled, he flashed only 4 teeth, positioned symmetrically at the corners of his opened mouth so that he resembled a hippo. He had been in prison multiple times, though he didn’t talk about it much. Nor did he ever mention any family – and no one ever asked. I never encountered Klaus sober. He steadfastly upheld the Tee Stube’s strict policy prohibiting smuggling in alcohol. But he was in a constant state of inebriation, such that one could easily catch a whiff of last week’s drinks seeping through his pores.
Klaus ruled the roost in the Tee Stube. The first to arrive and the last to leave, he would stake out his regular seat at the main table and lead non-stop games of dice and cards. During the four hours of daily operation, worlds of activity would take place around him as people of all ages would come and go. But Klaus never moved from his throne from which he surveyed his kingdom. Tea at the Tee Stube was free, but coffee was 5 Pfennige per cup. Germans love their coffee and it was a treat when one of the staff or regulars might splurge for a pot so that everyone could drink on the house. Otherwise it was tea and cigarettes. At 7 p.m., Frau Thurau and Frau Balzer would put together some sandwiches and whoever was there would gather around Klaus at the head of the main table. Grace would be offered and then all would eat. Klaus respected the two women immensely. Frau Balzer worried about his epilepsy and scolded him about drinking, which exacerbated his condition. Once, when seated next to him, Klaus had a seizure and nearly crushed my forearm – the closest thing he grabbed when it began.
From my first day, Klaus took me under his wing. East Germany at that time had a strong undercurrent of resentment of foreigners. As this was formerly Communist, I was always uneasy about meeting new people and what they would think of me – the American enemy from Cold War times. The kinds of people who inhabited the Tee Stube were more likely to harbor that resentment. But Klaus made sure that I was “one of the guys” and that opened doors to conversations with people that otherwise would never have taken place. When one regular – who became angry and unruly when inebriated – would periodically fly into a rage (once at me, in fact), it was Klaus who calmed things down.
As Klaus and I were two of the only ones who really spent every minute at the Tee Stube when it was open, we became quite friendly with each other. When it was warm and I would wear shorts, Klaus would tease me by saying the same thing over and over, in his thick South Town accent (Mit den Beenen wurd’ ick oof die Haende loofen – “With legs like those I’d walk on my hands”). And he’d laugh every time as though it were the first time he’d ever said it. And at some point nearly every night, he’d break into a crooning voice, schmalzing “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.” I found this at once annoying, but also highly intriguing, as this was the only English he could speak and he never mentioned why only this bit of the language stayed with him.
That Christmas, 1992, a friend and I talked with Frau Balzer and Frau Thurau and we decided to open the Tee Stube for Christmas Eve. Normally not done, we would open it for two hours after the early-evening city-wide worship services. We let all of the regulars, like Klaus, know. On Christmas Eve day Lorenz, Barbara and I purchased a tree from the lot north of town and rode it to the Tee Stube on our bikes. We put together care packages for each person consisting of a sweater, scarf and gloves, coffee, tobacco, chocolate and cookies. That night Klaus sat at the head of the table while the tree was decorated, a holiday cassette played on a tape player in the corner, and the care packages opened. Frau Thurau made a full meal and coffee was on the house. I even brought my trumpet and played “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” for Klaus before we all went home. The whole evening, if he wasn’t beaming his beautiful four-toothed smile, sobbing tears rolled down his cheeks.
I don’t know where Klaus is now. If he were no longer living, I would not be surprised. But at some point during every Advent season since 1992, my mind wanders back to Klaus and that Christmas Eve night we shared together in the Tee Stube. And when I think of that child born in a manger I think of how he came for Klaus. Not the Klaus that you or I might want him to be. But the Klaus that he was. Not for what he might become or first do in order to receive Christ. But just as he was. And I believe that is why Christ was born in the base, dirty, gritty stable. Because that is where life is lived and faith is found.
I would not want to be presumptuous and assume that Klaus’ life somehow improved because I was part of it. But I know that mine has because of him. My pastor and mentor in Germany said once that no matter who we are, we all have some fond memory of Christmas in our pasts. I think that was true for Klaus. It was why he would sing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” off and on throughout the year. And, in part because of him, it is true for me as well.
Peace and God bless,Michael
© 2009 First Christian Church of Baton Rouge8484 Old Hammond Highway, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70809Developed by Colton Brugger
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
NYT: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 Compiled 2 AM E.T.
Monday, December 22, 2008
1. Of course the Taliban are not entirely monolithic. But those who are "reconcilable," to use a current catchword, would "come in" if the Afghan government were tolerable. You wouldn't need to engage in a formal negotiating process to make that happen, unless to set conditions under which they would not be liable for prosecution!
2. One documentary was done on me, it was called alternatively "Life After War" (Sundance Channel) and "A House for Hajji Baba." (Frontline/World). It was produced in 2002. And I think you would be astounded at how the issues it reveals echo everything I discussed with Bill. It was all there to behold, back in 2002 -- for anyone who was watching.
3. Beware of ideologies, even those of the "left." To suggest that any military intervention of any kind, anywhere in the world, for any reason, is evil and ill-begotten is just as ideological as to mechanically favor pre-emptive invasion as a solution to major international problems. Please. Use your intelligences. Different cases in different countries and historical periods are different and require different responses. If Pearl Harbor had not been bombed, should we not have engaged in World War II, for example? What about Rwanda? Shouldn't there have been a more robust international military intervention there? I am not comparing Afghanistan to those cases, I am just saying that distinctions need to be made, including between Iraq and Afghanistan. While I was strongly opposed to the war in Iraq, and while I thought that having made the decision to prosecute it, there were ways to have prosecuted it that would have been much less disasterous than the way we did, I would not wish to discourse on the best way, now, to disengage. I simply don't know enough, as much as I may read and think about it. I would urge you all to consider that one-size-fits-all is poor policy, no matter what size it is.
4. I must say that in my experience in Afghanistan, I have encountered a higher proportion of military officers who are acting in genuinely good faith, who are throwing themselves to the best of their ability and with rather little compensation, into efforts to improve the situation of people half a world away, than many "humanitarians," who are not without their share of corruption and careerism. This isn't to say the military, both institutionally and individually, hasn't gotten it wrong, often, sometimes with devastating effect. But I have been impressed by the motivations and good faith efforts of a great many of the US and NATO officers I have encountered.
Posted by: Sarah Chayes December 21, 2008 7:57 AM
Sunday, December 21, 2008
"I wish there were a hell of the Miltonian type for the Bush, his cronies, Wall Street, Bernie Maden, Paulsen, the top execs at the big three motor companies (US), and every mortgage lender and handler who every screwed a poor person or bundled a sub-prime loan."
For when as each thing bad thou hast entomb'd,
And last of all, thy greedy self consum'd,
Then long Eternity shall greet our bliss
With an individual kiss;
"Now enter the Christian calendar and the season of Advent. Often in this time, we talk of the incarnation. On one hand, it is a perfectly legitimate time to do so. On the other hand, we misunderstand the incarnation as simply divine conception. With this problem, we disconnect the incarnation from the entire life of Jesus and therefore, misunderstand much to be seen in the incarnation. . .
". . . Thus, Christ’s Mass should never be understood within the context of a jolly, vapid song, or the fight for a Christmas tree in a shopping mall or airport, but within hesed, promise-making, promise-fulfilling, solidarity, divine love, justice, peace, and reconciliation. This is why I detest so much the false Christmas and those who seek to wage, in their estimates, a holy war to save Christmas. We must remember that it is for their bourgeois Christmas, not Christ’s Mass of acceptance and reconciliation. . . ."
Flying Father Blog
"'How,' he wondered aloud, 'did we get here?'
"Eight years after arriving in Washington vowing to spread the dream of homeownership, Mr. Bush is leaving office, as he himself said recently, 'faced with the prospect of a global meltdown' with roots in the housing sector he so ardently championed.
"There are plenty of culprits, like lenders who peddled easy credit, consumers who took on mortgages they could not afford and Wall Street chieftains who loaded up on mortgage-backed securities without regard to the risk.
"But the story of how we got here is partly one of Mr. Bush’s own making, according to a review of his tenure that included interviews with dozens of current and former administration officials. . . . "
". . .As early as 2006, top advisers to Mr. Bush dismissed warnings from people inside and outside the White House that housing prices were inflated and that a foreclosure crisis was looming. And when the economy deteriorated, Mr. Bush and his team misdiagnosed the reasons and scope of the downturn; as recently as February, for example, Mr. Bush was still calling it a 'rough patch.'
"The result was a series of piecemeal policy prescriptions that lagged behind the escalating crisis."
from article in the 12/20/08 NYT by JO BECKER, SHERYL GAY STOLBERG and STEPHEN LABATON
Thursday, December 18, 2008
One was enough. I know this is a peace gesture to the far right Christians, but it still bothers me.
Well, ens Allah!
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Metz, The Emergent Church, 61.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
"The right blames the credit crisis on poor minority homeowners. This is not merely offensive, but entirely wrong."
I have no idea how long these references will be active, but they intrigue me.
"We've now entered a new stage of the financial crisis: the ritual assigning of blame. It began in earnest with Monday's congressional roasting of Lehman Bros. CEO Richard Fuld and continued on Tuesday with Capitol Hill solons delving into the failure of AIG. On the Republican side of Congress, in the right-wing financial media (which is to say the financial media), and in certain parts of the op-ed-o-sphere, there's a consensus emerging that the whole mess should be laid at the feet of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the failed mortgage giants, and the Community Reinvestment Act, a law passed during the Carter administration. The CRA, which was amended in the 1990s and this decade, requires banks—which had a long, distinguished history of not making loans to minorities—to make more efforts to do so." http://www.slate.com/id/2201641/
"But as the Wonk Room’s Pat Garofalo points out, at the beginning of today’s hearing, Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) said that 400,000 documents amassed by the committee showed that the right-wing claim is nothing more than a conservative myth. Later in the hearing, Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY) asked the four CEOs whether poor people caused the current financial crisis. All said “no. . . .” See also: http://thinkprogress.org/2008/12/09/myth-fannie-freddie/
"Blaming the CRA is one of conservatives’ favorite talking points and has been peddled by Charles Krauthammer, Fox News, FreeRepublic.com, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, and the National Review.
"But as the Center for American Progress’s Robert Gordon noted in the American Prospect, lenders did not approve bad loans to comply with CRA; they did so to make money: 1) Subprime loans intensified 'at the very time when activity under CRA had slowed and the law had weakened,' 2) CRA doesn’t even apply to many of the loans behind the mortgage meltdown, and 3) The 'lenders subject to CRA have engaged in less, not more, of the most dangerous lending.'”
And then: http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2008/09/26/national_review/index.html
"But here’s the thing: Fannie and Freddie had nothing to do with the explosion of high-risk lending a few years ago, an explosion that dwarfed the S.& L. fiasco. In fact, Fannie and Freddie, after growing rapidly in the 1990s, largely faded from the scene during the height of the housing bubble." http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/14/opinion/14krugman.html#
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Reminder about a fine place to visit again and again.
"Kierkegaard sometimes talked as if there were no objective truth, because he believed that nothing can be approached objectively. Again, the statement that "truth is subjectivity" does not mean that truth conforms to one's imaginings; it means that all truth must be appropriated subjectively. This is due both to our nature and to the very order of things. Again, subjectivism has regard to the appropriation of truth, not to its content." from the site.
64:1 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence--
64:2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil-- to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
64:3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
64:4 From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.
64:5 You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.
64:6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
64:7 There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.
64:8 Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.
64:9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.
An Advent observance from Amy Gopp, WOC: Week of CompassionDecember 08,
2008Greetings! Advent ReflectionThe prophet Isaiah writes extensively about the city and the desert, both places where, traditionally, dark forces were known to dwell. Cities were crowded, noisy, anonymous, dangerous. Armies were more likely to attack city centers where power and wealth were centralized, diseases could travel quickly with so many people living so close together. Deserts were, well, deserted; barren, distant, and potentially deadly. There was a different anonymity and danger. If something happened in the desert, there might be no one to hear your cry, no one willing or able to help. Deserts were sometimes seen as an escape, where prophets and, later in the early Christian tradition, monastics, lived. The desert provided them a vantage point-a place from which they could see the pitfalls and pleasures of life spent together in community, whether companied by religious followers in the desert or of observing life as it happened in the city. From the desert, Isaiah and John the Baptist spoke the same powerful, prophetic, perplexing words to their religious followers who were standing nearby, and to the people living in the distant city, and to all of us who would hear them: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God!" (Is. 40:3 and Mk. 1:3) From his vantage point in that vast, empty desert, and bewildered by the deep rift between his vision of God's will for the world and the world as it was, Isaiah is told, "Cry out!" (v.6). Advent is a desert season. Isaiah calls to us to use this time as a vantage point to see our lives as the prophets of old saw the world. We also can see that the world we live in is not the world as God created it to be. There is an ironic resonance that reaches to us even as we grasp and clutch for suburban ease, or urban jobs, or a deserted getaway of our own. We hear Isaiah that--although some parallels have been turned up side down, God's will for the world has not emerged right-side-up. For one, some deserts have been transformed into fertile oases, with endless highways connecting people of privilege to other centers of power and wealth. Meanwhile people living in nearby cities are completely without water, the most basic resource of human life. Who hears their cry? Also, Isaiah's own desert, the Holy Land and the Middle East, are enmeshed in wars and ethnic conflict over the land and all that is in it. There is not enough anonymity for neighbor to live near neighbor without high walls. There is too much anonymity for the accountable distribution of resources that would provide enough for all. Who will make straight through the desert a highway? Who will travel through that desert? How will they go? Isaiah cries out still. And standing here in the desert of Advent, we can hear it calling to us. In verse six Isaiah asks back: "What shall I cry?" What shall we cry? How shall we respond to the brokenness of God's world, and the relationships between all God's people? Compassion is different from sympathy and charity. Compassion means "to suffer with," and that is what we do through our work with and giving to Week of Compassion. Week of Compassion aims to hear the one crying in the wilderness and to respond with mercy and justice. Through our partners Week of Compassion is positioned in cities and villages and rural outposts all over the world, to be poised to respond in the event of a natural or human disaster. Week of Compassion hears the call during Advent and every day, around the world and around the year. We understand that disasters don't affect just one person, and that hurt isn't healed in a day.
Image from Jean and Alexander Heard Library, Vanderbilt University Library, from Lectionary Page http://lib11.library.vanderbilt.edu/diglib/ACT-processquery.pl?code=ACT&LectionaryLink=BAdvt03&Collection=Art+in+the+Christian+Tradition&submit=Search
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
61:1 The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;
61:2 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;
61:3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion-- to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.
61:4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
61:8 For I the LORD love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
61:9 Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the LORD has blessed.
61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
61:11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations
Friday, December 5, 2008
40:1 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
40:2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.
40:3 A voice cries out: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
40:4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
40:5 Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
40:6 A voice says, "Cry out!" And I said, "What shall I cry?" All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.
40:7 The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass.
40:8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.
40:9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!"
40:10 See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.
40:11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
NCC Site: Getting hold of himself, Lara-Braud asked Romeo what he meant by conversion to the Gospel. "To defend the poor as our Lord did."
Social Ethics for Social Justice: Renewing an Ecumenical Tradition
By Gary Dorrien
Ed. Note. Gary Dorrien is the Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and Professor of Religion at Columbia University in New York. These remarks were made before the annual General Assembly of the National Council of Churches and Church World Service in Denver, Nov, 11, 2008.
It is a singular honor and delight for me to address this assembly. I’ve been asked to relate the social ethical heritage of ecumenical American Christianity to our current social and political situation, and on both sides of that assignment I will emphasize two subjects: economic justice and racial justice.
The idea that Christianity has a regenerative social mission is as old as the biblical message of letting justice flow like a river, pouring yourself out for the poor and vulnerable, and attending to what Jesus called “the weightier matters of the law,” justice and mercy. In this country, the great evangelical and liberal movements of the 18th and 19th centuries were rife with temperance, anti-slavery, anti-war, and other social causes. Throughout American history, many American churches have taken for granted that the church must be a steward of a good society.
But the Progressive era introduced something new to American Christianity. In the early 1880s, proponents of what came to be called “the social gospel” founded what came to be called “social ethics” and the first institutions of ecumenical social Christianity. It was not a coincidence that the social gospel, social ethics, socialism, Social Darwinism, and sociology all arose at the same time; also corporate capitalism, the trade unions, the ecumenical movement, and the term “social justice.” For social ethics was essentially a departmental subset of the social gospel; the social gospel was based on a doctrine of social salvation; social salvation employed the sociological idea that there is such a thing as social structure, which gave rise to the concept of social justice; the rise of industrialism raised new social issues for the churches; the churches created new ecumenical organizations; and the social gospelers had to figure out how to say yes to Darwinism as science while saying no to an ascending Social Darwinism. Only with the social gospel movement did the church begin to say that it had a mission to transform the structures of society in the direction of social justice.
The social gospelers that history remembered were bracing personalities with a missionary spirit who reached the general public: Walter Rauschenbusch, Washington Gladden, Jane Addams, Richard Ely, John Ryan, and Josiah Strong. They got to be renowned by preaching the social gospel as a form of public homiletics. The social gospelers that founded social ethics were not as famous, because they operated primarily in the academy: Francis Greenwood Peabody, William Jewett Tucker, J. H. W. Stuckenberg. They urged that society is a whole that includes an ethical dimension; thus there needed to be something like social ethics, a self-standing discipline of ethically grounded social science. This discipline would be a central feature of liberal arts and seminary education. It would succeed the old moral philosophy, replacing an outmoded commonsense realism with a socially oriented idealism.
Intellectually the founders of social ethics belonged to the American generation that reconciled Christianity to Darwinism, accepted the historical critical approach to the Bible, and discovered the power of social ideas. They believed that modern scholarship had rediscovered the social meaning of Christianity in the kingdom-centered religion of Jesus. As early advocates of sociology, they also believed in the disciplinary unity of social science and its ethical character. In the social gospel the world became the subject of redemption. If there was such a thing as social structure, salvation had to have a social dimension; personal salvation and social salvation were intrinsically interlinked.
Francis Greenwood Peabody was an apostle of this theme and the originator of social ethics. His father was a prominent Boston Unitarian pastor; thus, Peabody grew up knowing Harvard professors, whom he found to be a rather stuffy, insular bunch, and who didn’t improve after he enrolled at Harvard. As far as Peabody could tell, Harvard professors prized their detachment from the world as a virtue. They bored their students with deadly recitations, took no interest in anything besides themselves and their texts, and barely acknowledged that a school must have students.
Proceeding to the Divinity School, Peabody found it equally depressing. He later described his three years of divinity training as “a disheartening experience of uninspiring study and retarded thought.” In theory Harvard Divinity School was nondenominational, not Unitarian, but in reality a fuddy-duddy brand of Unitarian orthodoxy prevailed. Historical criticism was practiced sparingly, philosophical idealism was spurned, classroom lectures seemed purposely dull, and theology and ethics were taught as subjects of “doctrinal desiccation.” Reaching for the strongest way of conveying a bad memory, Peabody recalled: “The fresh breeze of modern thought rarely penetrated the lecture-rooms…I cannot remember attaining in seven years of Harvard classrooms anything that could be fairly described as an idea.”
That was slightly hyperbolic, but it conveys the feeling that launched Peabody into social ethics. As a graduate student he was struck with an idea—that a religious philosophy might be validated by its history. One might derive a religious outlook from an inductive study of human nature, ethical activity, and the work of reformist institutions.
Peabody expected to preach and write about such things as a pastor, not an academic. Following his father’s footsteps, he was called to a flagship Unitarian parish in Cambridge. But Peabody suffered from persistent illness, and after six years, he concluded that ministry was too strenuous for him. Sadly, he resigned himself to a lower, less important, less demanding vocation: teaching at Harvard Divinity School. There he founded social ethics, just as the social gospel movement was taking off.
The social gospel happened for a confluence of reasons that impacted each other. It was fed by the wellsprings of eighteenth century Enlightenment humanism, the nineteenth century Home Missions movement, and the post-Civil War activism of the evangelical and liberal anti-slavery movements. It took root as a response to the corruption of the Gilded Age and the rise of industrial society, goaded by writers such as Edward Bellamy, Stephen Colwell, Richard Ely, and Henry Demarest Lloyd. It took inspiration from the Christian Socialist movement in England. It rode on the back of a rising sociological consciousness and literature. 6
Above all, the social gospel was a response to a burgeoning labor movement. Trade unionists blasted the churches for doing nothing for poor and working class people. Christian leaders realized it was pointless to defend Christianity if the churches took an indefensible attitude on this issue. To change American society, the social sciences and Christian ethics had to be fused together, mobilizing the churches to effect progressive social change.
The social gospel movement had many faults and limitations. Most of it was sentimental, moralistic, idealistic, and politically naive. It preached a gospel of cultural optimism and a Jesus of middle-class idealism. It spoke the language of triumphal missionary religion, sometimes baptized the Anglo-Saxon ideology of Manifest Destiny, and usually claimed that U.S. American imperialism was not imperialism because of its good intentions. The social gospel helped to build colleges and universities for African Americans, but only rarely did it demand justice for blacks; it supported suffrage for women, but that was the extent of its feminism. Most social gospel leaders vigorously opposed World War I until the U.S. intervened, whereupon they promptly ditched their opposition to war; after the war they overreacted by reducing the social gospel to pacifist idealism.
In the 1930s and ‘40s, Reinhold Niebuhr blasted the social gospel for many of these things. Niebuhr taught, wrongly, that the social gospel had no doctrine of sin, and more justly, that it was too idealistic to be a serious force in power politics. After Niebuhr’s generation had passed, liberation theologians judged that the social gospel and Christian realism were too middle-class, white, male-dominated, nationalistic, and socially privileged to be agents of liberation.
Yet for all its faults and limitations, the social gospel movement produced a greater progressive religious legacy than any generation before or after it. Christian realism inspired no hymns and built no lasting institutions. It was not even a movement, but rather, a reaction to the social gospel centered on one person, Reinhold Niebuhr. The social gospel, by contrast, was a 60-year movement and enduring perspective that paved the way for modern ecumenism, social Christianity, the Civil Rights movement, and the deep involvement of the ecumenical movement in the Civil Rights movement. It had a tradition in the black churches led by Reverdy Ransom, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Benjamin E. Mays, Mordecai Johnson, and Martin Luther King Jr. It had anti-imperialist, socialist, feminist and theologically conservative advocates in addition to its liberal reformers. It created the ecumenical and social justice ministries that remain the heart of American Christianity. And it expounded a vision of economic democracy that is as relevant and necessary today as it was a century ago.
To put it in contemporary terms, the social gospel was a response to the first historic wave of economic globalization, the clash between a burgeoning corporate capitalism and a rising labor movement. Social gospel theologians urged that modernity surely had a stage beyond laissez-faire capitalism. If modernity was a good thing, which they did not doubt, it had to have a stage beyond capitalism.
In 1908 approximately thirty-one Protestant and Eastern Orthodox denominations banded together to form the Federal Council of Churches. There were a few conditional and associate members, which explains why the precise number ranges between twenty-nine and thirty-three, depending on how you count. The churches could not agree on doctrine; thus, there were many denominations. But the social gospel leaders of the Federal Council--Frank Mason North, Samuel Zane Batten, Charles Macfarland, Harry Ward, Charles Stelzle, Reverdy Ransom, Alexander Waters, Washington Gladden, Walter Rauschenbusch, many others—contended that American Christians should be able to agree about social justice and do something for it. So the first thing they did was issue the Social Creed of the Churches of 1908, which advocated “equal rights and complete justice” for all human beings; the abolition of child labor; a “living wage as a minimum in every industry”; social security; an equitable distribution of income and wealth; the abatement of poverty; and eight other planks focused mostly on economic justice.
The Federal Council became a vehicle for the transmission of social gospel ideas into the churches and society; the Social Creed reverberated with the values of social and economic democracy; and the idea of economic democracy was intrinsic to the social gospel. To the social gospelers, democracy was indispensable in the political, social, and economic spheres, and for the same reasons: to provide equal opportunity, to safeguard the rights of citizens, and to prevent any group from attaining too much power. Most social gospelers spoke a “third way” language of cooperatives and community ownership. A more radical group, following Walter Rauschenbusch, explicitly called economic democracy “socialist” while rejecting state socialism. Before the 1930s there was also a small group that advocated state socialism; George Herron and Vida Scudder were prominent among them.
In the 1930s, Reinhold Niebuhr blasted all of these groups for their moralism and idealism. For radical state socialists like Niebuhr, economic democracy was serious only if it meant government control of the economy. Wrongly, radicals like Niebuhr equated socialization with nationalization; wrongly, they rejected production for profit; wrongly, they claimed that state planners could replicate the pricing decisions of markets; wrongly, they wanted government planners to organize an economy not linked by markets.
On these issues Rauschenbusch ended up looking better than the radicals that panned him for being too idealistic. He contended that democracy was the heart of the matter and that markets cannot be abolished in a free society. He had a strong concept of personal and collective evil coupled with an overcoming message of social salvation. But even Rauschenbusch recycled the totalizing rhetoric of state socialism and trusted too much in the overcoming tide of social idealism.
One of the ironies of modern theology is that the social gospelers of the 1930s are nearly always treated as naïve idealists, because many of them were pacifists, while Niebuhr is treated as the hero of the story. Yet Niebuhr was wrong about the New Deal and the social gospelers that dominated the Federal Council of Churches were right. The social gospelers supported the Emergency Banking Act of 1933, which allowed the new Reconstruction Finance Corporation to buy bank equity. Suddenly that sounds familiar. Over the next year, the RFC bought over $1 billion of bank stock, about one-third of the capital invested in U.S. banks.
The social gospelers advocated mixed forms of worker and community ownership, select public ownership, social security, and public infrastructure projects. In 1932 the Federal Council issued a new version of the Social Creed that called for “subordination of speculation and the profit motive to the creative and cooperative spirit”; “social planning and control of the credit and monetary systems for the common good”; the right to organize for collective bargaining and social justice; equal rights for all people, specifically including all races; “repudiation of war”; “drastic reduction of armaments”; and the “building of a cooperative world order.”
The social gospelers told a story about the necessity of gradually democratizing society; Niebuhr told a more dramatic story, that history would either move forward to state socialism or backward to barbarism. There was no third way. In his telling, the social democratic reforms of the Social Gospel were Band-aids and the New Deal was a form of quackery. Not until the 1940s did Niebuhr change his mind about the New Deal; in 1945 he gave up on Socialism; and he adopted a welfare state realism that put him in the mainstream of liberal Democratic politics. Niebuhrian realism became a strategy of countervailing power relations between capital, labor, and an assertive national government. Internationally it was a theory of countervailing power relations among sovereign states. In both cases, it emphasized the power of states and the relative balance of power, and it was tremendously influential in the late 1940s and 1950s.
Today we are witnessing a second historic wave of capitalist globalization. Karl Marx, foreseeing the first one, famously predicted in The Communist Manifesto: “Everything that is solid melts into air.” Suddenly that has an existential ring. But Marx wasn’t warning merely that the stock market might vaporize your pension, mortgage, or job. His point cut deeper, that global capitalism commodifies everything it touches, including labor and nature, putting everything up for sale.
Nothing is exempt from the pressure of competition. Social contracts and places of rest have vanished under threats of obsolescence and ruin, while the global market exploits resources, displaces communities, and sets off wealth explosions in wild cycles of boom and bust. Thomas Friedman, a celebrant of the second wave, calls it “turbo-capitalism.” Economic globalization—the integration of national economies into the global economy through trade, direct foreign investment, short-term capital flows, and flows of labor and technology—has “flattened” the world, Friedman says. In a flat world you either compete successfully or are run over.
Today we are recycling first wave debates about the possibility or limits of taming capitalism, but this time it has truly globalized. In the U.S., manufacturing jobs have disappeared and downsized workers compete for minimum wage jobs in the service sector, while the global economy is an amazing boon for economic winners. American-based corporations roughly doubled their wealth between 1994 and 2004, paying ample rewards to employees and stockholders and huge rewards to top performers in lucrative industries, while the global economy stokes a culture of celebrity.
Friedman argues that global capitalism reduces national politics to minor tweaks. There is no third way in political economy anymore; there isn’t even a second way. Any nation that wants a growing economy has to wear a one-size-fits-all “golden straightjacket” that unleashes the private sector, keeps inflation low, minimizes government bureaucracy, sustains a balanced budget, eliminates tariffs on imported goods and restrictions on foreign investment, abolishes quotas and domestic monopolies, privatizes state-owned industries and utilities, deregulates capital markets, and allows direct foreign ownership and investment. Once a nation takes this path, Friedman says, “its political choices get reduced to Pepsi or Coke—to slight nuances of taste, slight nuances of policy, slight alterations in design to account for local traditions, some loosening here or there, but never any major deviation from the core golden rules.” Friedman wants the U.S. to spend more on green technology and science education, but he advises us to give up on nostalgic dreams of social justice and equality.
This perspective is so widely shared that in much of the literature on globalization it is treated as mere common sense. And it is true that globalization shrinks our politics; at least, it did until last month. But Friedman exaggerated the futility of political attempts to channel economic forces, and now, suddenly, the ground is shaking beneath us. The counsel to simply accept turbo-capitalism overlooks that some societies do better than others in regulating the financial sector and in dealing with the maldistributive logic of the market.
Governments still play a key role in managing globalization and shaping socio-economic outcomes. Thus we have contentious battles over free trade agreements, labor rights, ecological standards, immigration, control of labor flows, and now, the nationalization of the financial sector. Government policies on technology and direct foreign investment have immense impacts on the kind of economy that a nation develops. If short-term capital flows aren’t regulated by somebody, turbo-capitalism is vulnerable to the kind of meltdown that occurred in East Asia in 1997, which threatens us today.
A month ago I went around the country saying that because our banks don’t know what their assets are worth, and it’s impossible to sort out the toxic debt, we might as well half-socialize the banks to unfreeze credit lines. Then Gordon Brown did it in England, France and Germany followed suit, Paul Krugman said we should do it too, he won the Nobel Prize, suddenly Henry Paulsen agreed, and on October 13 the Bush administration invested $250 billion in senior preferred bank stock in nine major banks, take it or take it, there was no choice. We’re bailing like it’s 1933. The financial meltdown is so enormous that it will severely impede whatever plan President Obama had for his presidency. The next several years will be devoted to cleaning up the financial mess and coping with a bad recession.
But this crisis also puts into play questions of national purpose and vision that have been off the table politically for decades. Instead of the usual Pepsi-or-Coke options, and the usual fixation with trivia, there is an opening for larger concerns. What would a good society look like? What kind of country should we want to be?
In the 1980s Sweden and Japan had national discussions of that sort that revolved around the tolerable limits of inequality. Swedish conservatives and liberals debated whether the wage differential between corporate executives and laborers permitted by the nation’s solidarity wage policy should be increased to eight to one or maintained at four to one. In Japan, where worker shareholder plans are commonplace, a similar debate occurred over the tolerability of allowing more than the existing ratio of sixteen to one.
In the United States the ratio climbed to 145 to 1 and there was no debate. The right to attain wealth was exalted over other values. In the 1980s the U.S. cut the marginal tax rate for individuals from 70 percent to 28 percent and cut the top rate on capital gains from 49 percent to 20 percent. These measures had very large effects on the kind of society the U.S. became, fueling a huge surge for inequality. By the end of the decade, the top fifth of the population earned more than half of the nation’s income and held more than three-quarters of its wealth while the bottom fifth received barely four percent of its income.
Today these numbers look rather moderate, because we have just had 20 years of unleashed greed in the financial sector and 8 years of tax policy redistribution for the very wealthy. First, Wall Street fell in love with derivatives—financial instruments that allow investors to speculate on the future price of something without having to buy it. Then the Clinton administration tore down the regulatory walls between banking and investment firms. Then the Bush administration refused to enforce protections within the law, cut the capital gains rate to 15 percent, and gave enormous tax windfalls to the top five percent of earners. In the past eight years virtually all of America’s economic growth has gone to the top five percent, while the middle class has been saved from drowning only by taking on greater debt. But now the debt resort has reached its outer limit; and people are losing their homes, jobs, and pensions.
From the perspective of Economics 101 the current meltdown is just a bigger version of the dot-com bust of the 1990s, with the usual lessons about financial bubbles. But this one is harder to swallow, because it starts with people who were just trying to buy a house of their own; who usually had no concept of predatory lending; and who had no understanding of the derivatives-scheme on which sub-prime lending was based. It seemed a blessing to get a low-rate mortgage that saved you from drowning. It was a mystery how the banks did it, but this was their business; you trusted that they knew what they were doing. Your bank resold the mortgage to an aggregator who bunched it up with thousands of other sub-prime mortgages, chopped the package into small pieces, and sold them as corporate bonds to parties looking for extra yield.
Your mortgage payments paid for the interest on the bonds.
This scheme was fantastically lucrative for a while, but it ensured unaccountability. If nobody knew what was in the packages, nobody could be blamed for what happened to them. When the housing bubble finally burst, the bonds lost value after people couldn’t pay their mortgage or sell their house, Lehman Brothers went down, and the entire system cratered because the banks don’t know what their assets are worth. Eleven years ago there was no market for credit default swaps: private contracts in a completely unregulated market that allow investors to bet on whether a borrower will default. In the past decade that market has soared to $55 trillion dollars, and it is at the heart of the current crisis.
The speculators gamed the system; the regulators looked the other way; people everywhere get anxious if they’re not making as much as others around them; and we must not shy away from saying: This is what comes from greed running amuck. This is a story about greed being stoked and celebrated to the point of self-destruction. The banks got leveraged up to forty-to-one and still couldn’t resist the lure of higher yield, never mind where that was leading.
We are witnessing the end of an era, when the winning strategy was to denigrate government and assure that wealth from the top would eventually trickle down. The current trade and budget deficits are staggering; the entire cost of invading and occupying Iraq was put on a credit card; all of us have to start living within our means, and we face colossal environmental problems. The economy is physical. There are limits to economic growth. Global warming is melting the Arctic ice cap at a shocking pace, as well as large areas of permafrost in Alaska, Canada, and Siberia, and destroying wetlands and forests around the world.
Actually dealing with these problems throws us way beyond Pepsi-or-Coke options. Today we have a new Social Creed that addresses the fearfulness and global complexity of our time. You passed it last November. It calls for “full civil, political and economic rights for women and men of all races.” It demands the “abolition of forced labor, human trafficking, and the exploitation of children.” It supports “employment for all, at a family-sustaining living wage, with equal pay for comparable work.” It stands up for the right of workers to organize, opposes the death penalty, calls for the abatement of hunger and poverty, and endorses universal healthcare, social security, and progressive tax policies. It commends immigration policies that protect family unity and foster international cooperation. It stresses the necessity of adopting simpler lifestyles; living within our means; protecting the earth’s environment; and investing in renewable energy. It supports equitable global trade that protects local economies, and advocates a foreign policy based on international law and multilateral diplomacy. It calls for nuclear disarmament, reductions in military spending, and the abolition of torture. And it calls for cooperation and dialogue among the world’s religions.
The new social creed features a Trinitarian structure of Creator, Christ and Spirit that correlates with faith and creation, love and incarnation, and hope and relationship. It re-commits American churches to the work of creating a society that nurtures moral character; shares more and consumes less; and prizes equality, peacemaking, and community. Since the world has gotten terribly complex and interdependent, the new social creed is longer and more verbose than the earlier ones, but it is a superb statement, and it squeezes into a single page.
Christian Iosso and Michael Kinnamon were the key players in producing and pushing through the new social creed. For the past year I’ve been citing it on the lecture circuit. Every week pastors ask me, sometimes sharply: “Why have I not heard of this? Why are the churches not getting behind this statement?” A number of my friends who work in social justice ministries have a depressing answer: The ecumenical churches today are weak and defensive, lacking in self-confidence, and fearful of seeming political. The NCC is weak and defensive too; it operates by a 1950s corporate model; and it cannot mobilize for action because it operates by consensus.
Thus you shouldn’t expect the churches or the NCC to push very hard for the Social Creed or for anything that provokes controversy.
I hope you find that impression disturbing, if not maddening. Like many of you, I treasure the social ethical witness and tradition of the ecumenical movement. It is the heart of my teaching, scholarship, and social activism. When I think of the National Council of Churches, the first thing I think of is its deep involvement in the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. That witness drew me into the church and the ordained ministry, in the 1970s. But how many young people today are attracted to the church by our clear, prophetic, visible, energetic social justice ministry?
Today our churches need to be spiritual strongholds of social justice conviction and zones of multi-racial diversity. They need to be strongest, however, in the very areas where our traditions are weakest. The point of ecumenical social ethics has always been to get Christianity on the side of social justice and peacemaking. For that reason I love the social ethical tradition that I teach and write about. But in the area of racial justice my field has not done so well; it had a moment of glory during the King years; it had a brief moment of renewal during the anti-apartheid struggle; and now we are entering a moment, as a church and nation, when the redemptive possibilities are palpable.
The ecumenical movement during the social gospel era was good at helping to build colleges and universities for blacks, an achievement that should not be slighted. It was difficult work that sometimes required moral courage. But after segregation hardened in the 1890s, the social gospel rarely spoke for the rights of blacks, and often it said nothing at all. On this topic there were four social gospels among white church leaders. One was brutally racist, as in the bestselling writings of Thomas Dixon Jr. A second perspective, closer to the mainstream, was the right-leaning cultural chauvinism of Josiah Strong and Lyman Abbott, which advocated black assimilation to an Anglo-Saxon ideal. Abbott was the chief player in making Booker T. Washington famous. Another mainstream group, the left-leaning assimilationists, also lionized Washington and the vocational path to progress, but with a stronger recognition of the rights of blacks; they included Joseph Cook and William Channing Gannett. The fourth group, spiritual descendants of the abolitionists, strongly defended the dignity and rights of African Americans. They included Herbert Seeley Bigelow, Algernon Crapsey, Harlan Paul Douglass, and Newell Dwight Hillis. But there were never enough of them, and they had little influence.
Until the Great Migration most social gospel leaders had little acquaintance with African Americans; they felt awkward about addressing a problem that was remote from their experience; and only the bravest of them publicly repudiated the prevalent American assumption of black inferiority. Some of them fought against the restriction of black suffrage, but most social gospelers focused solely on education, and for some that meant vocational education only. Peabody, for example, gave many years of service to the Hampton Institute. He was committed to vocational uplift, but regarding justice for blacks, he spoke for glacial slowness.
Peabody was willing to offend his white audiences when they denied that blacks were educable, or when they fantasized about colonizing African Americans in a “Negro state” (Texas was the usual candidate). Sometimes he spoke with feeling about the humanity of blacks. But always he spoke with a whiff of white supremacy and a stream of stereotypes.
Two years ago I tracked down the writings of Reverdy Ransom, most of which are hard to attain. That he is forgotten is incredible. Ransom was the first black church leader to identify with the social gospel. He was a theological liberal and democratic socialist who played a leading role in the Federal Council of Churches, and served in his later career as an AME bishop. He was a liberationist and Afrocentrist before these terms had currency. His rhetorical eloquence was stunning. Often he observed that American blacks got nothing from Christian America despite being faithful Christians and loyal Americans. American blacks wanted to believe they would gain equal rights if they went to church, got an education, and learned a trade: “But their disillusionment is almost complete, since they find that Christ has not been able to break the American color line. If Jesus wept over Jerusalem, he should have for America an ocean of tears.”
W.E.B. Du Bois wrote that Ransom’s powerful speeches “erected a monument in the history of African Methodism, the U.S., and the world” that [would] last through “time and eternity.” On the contrary, he was almost completely forgotten. Ransom wanted to work in large interracial organizations that built a cooperative commonwealth for all people, but there weren’t any for him to join, so he opted for survival work, worn down by the relentless hostility of the dominant society.
This year we have witnessed a presidential candidacy that carries the burden of America’s entire history of racial prejudice and exclusion. Regardless of which candidate you supported in the election, it is undeniable that Barack Obama’s election represents an historic breakthrough in the American experience, symbolizing the hope of an American society that affirms and celebrates its multiracial diversity. That hope reverberated in the enormous cheering crowds of mostly white people that convinced him to run for the presidency sooner than he had expected.
Obama ran an assiduously post-racial campaign. He talks about racial justice as little as possible; he plays down the racial prejudice that his campaign encountered; and he required his campaign workers to follow his example. Yet he does not regard himself as a symbol of “post-racial politics,” for on the few occasions that Obama has explicitly addressed the issue, he has stated that it’s premature to imagine such a thing in American society.
Obama was a civil rights lawyer, and as a law professor he specialized in civil rights. He understands acutely that we still need civil rights lawyers because racial discrimination is still pervasive in the United States. His very argument for not rubbing the noses of white Americans in the reality of white racism is that the problem is too entrenched in white attitudes and social structures to be remedied by race-specific policies or any appeal to white guilt. He puts it plainly in his book The Audacity of Hope: “Rightly or wrongly, white guilt has largely exhausted itself in America; even the most fair-minded of whites, those who would genuinely like to see racial inequality ended and poverty relieved, tend to push back against suggestions of racial victimization—or race-specific claims based on the history of race discrimination in this country.”
Since even the most fair-minded whites have a low threshold for anything smacking of black grievance, better not go there in a political campaign. Better play down anything pertaining to racial justice. But bear in mind that these very guidelines reflect the persistence of the problem. Obama’s favorite image of how we should think about racial justice is a split screen. One side of the screen holds in view the just, multi-racial society that must be created; the other side shows the existing America that is far from a just society.
Now we have an historic opportunity to change the second half of this screen. Last week the world changed, and we woke up in a better country. A veteran of the Civil Rights movement said to me joyfully, “It feels like Selma, only happy this time.” But another treasured friend of mine, Pastor James Forbes, told me last week: “I have a word of warning for Obama. There is a dubious distinction in being the first one. I pray that my fellow ministers will stand up for Obama when he pays the price for being the first one.”
Many of us grew up believing that overcoming our country’s racist past and present is mostly a matter of eliminating racial bias. But the problem of racial justice is something deeper and more structural than mere bias—it is the very culture of white supremacy. Wherever white people are dominant, white culture is transparent to them. It is hard to see because it is everything that is not specifically African American culture, Native American culture, Mexican culture, and so on. More precisely, it is hard for whites to see because white supremacy makes white culture normative. White supremacy is a structure of power based on privilege that presumes to define what is normal. If you live in this society without being constantly reminded of your race, and don’t have to worry about representing your race, and can worry about racism without being viewed as self-interested, and don’t have to worry about being targeted by police for your race, then you are a beneficiary of white supremacy. Its privileges are your daily bread and environment. Today the shape of this inheritance is complicated immensely by the immigration of Asians, Latin Americans and others from every part of the world into the U.S. Some of them move right into white privilege; some struggle to get a piece of it; some have no chance of getting any; all are affected by the ravages of America’s original sin.
I grew up in a semi-rural mish-mash of lower class and working class families in Michigan, where nobody talked about going to college, the middle class families on television seemed to live in a foreign country, and there was no consciousness whatsoever of possessing any cultural privileges. I know very well how any talk about white privilege goes down in such areas. Its reality is also widely denied in the white middle class. Even in ecumenical churches and activist organizations it is very difficult to talk about.
Long before I joined a church, I worked in activist organizations that struggled to achieve even token diversity: “We’re so inclusive and we want to be more diverse: Why don’t they join us?” It took me years of asking that question before I realized that to become more diverse, we had to privilege the issues of people of color. And that began by building bonds of trust across racial lines. Most activist organizations and religious communities are not willing to do it. Usually there is an established agenda and ethos that militates against anything stronger than weak gestures toward diversity.
But there are significant exceptions in our churches, in the history of this organization, and in the work of church-based activist organizations like the Industrial Areas Foundation and the Gamaliel network. In the best of these organizations, white and racially diverse religious communities are deeply bonded with black, Hispanic, and Asian communities to address local problems. Along the way, culturally privileged Christians come to see marginalization and exclusion that they did not see previously.
The social gospel generation did not do very well in this area, and too many of us have to harken back to the time of Martin Luther King Jr. to remember when we felt a surge of hope about new possibilities. Now the hope is renewed. We need new forms of community that arise out of but transcend religious affiliation, culture and nation. All our religious traditions have propensities for dogmatism and prejudice that must be uprooted. If those of us who are Caucasian fail to interrogate white supremacism and its privileges, we will resist any recognition of our own racism. If those of us who are male fail to interrogate our complicity in sexism, we will perpetuate it. If those of us who are Christian fail to repudiate anti-Semitism and Christian supercessionism, we will perpetuate the evils that come with them. If those of us who are heterosexual fail to stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians, we will have an oppressive church. If we sign up for militarism and empire, we will betray the way of Christ. We need a wider community of the divine good. The future belongs to God, and after all our work is done, it is God who will make something new in the world out of our struggles for justice and peace and the flourishing of life.
Photo by George ConklinNCC News contact: Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228, NCCnews@ncccusa.org
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"Serendipitous Creativity" from Gordon Kaufman
"In some respects and some degrees this creativity is apparently happening continuously, in and through the processes or activities or events around us and within us(…) is a profound mystery to us humans(…) But on the whole, as we look back on the long and often painful developments that slowly brought human life and our complex human worlds into being, we cannot but regard this creativity as serendipitous …
"I want to stress that this serendipitous creativity - God! - to which we should be responsive is not the private possession of any of the many particular religious faiths or systems …
"This profound mystery of creativity is manifest in and through the overall human bio-historical evolution and development everywhere on the planet; and it continues to show itself throughout the entire human project, no matter what may be the particular religious and or cultural beliefs."
Gordon Kaufman, Mennonite Life, December 2005 vol. 60 no. 4
Melville is a rational man who
And that is a problem for me.
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- 3 The Intitute on Religion in an Age of Science: IRAS is a non-denominational, independent society with three purposes:
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- 5 Science and Religion Bookstore: Welcome to the online Science and Religion Bookstore where you can find a full and diverse listing of books in science and religion, all available at a 20% discount! Listed below are the categories we have available, or look through the full listing of over 1044 books.
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