Let’s get back to addressing some really big social problems

Had enough with boogie men spooking us? The last four years have only let the really big issues fester. Here are some top items that need our full attention now. All of us.

  1. Ending systemic racism in society and its underlying assumption of white superiority.
  2. Climate change. It’s real and worsening.
  3. The environment and energy. We were making progress, weren’t we? Clean air and water should belong to all, not the corporate polluters.
  4. Curbing the undue influence of political lobbyists and PAC funds. Yes, Citizens United, too.
  5. The gross imbalance of wealth in America and the demise of the middle class. Progressive tax rates could provide for many services such as health care and education – now borne privately, largely by the lower brackets – to instead be provided across the board.
  6. Also, reviving Social Security. Taxing excessive incomes at the full rate would be a start.
  7. Redress the changing realities of labor, compensation, community, and commonwealth. In short, who benefits when computerization takes over? It’s a much bigger issue than simply raising the minimum wage.
  8. Abolish the Electoral College and voter repression. Under the current system, a shade over 25 percent of the total votes – meaning a bare majority in just 12 states – could elect the president. The majority of the nation’s voters lost their voice in three recent presidential elections, with Republicans given the office. It’s still an attack on democracy and the people.
  9. Health system reforms. Obamacare was a start, but much more needs to be done, including mental health systems and, as we’ve seen with Covid-19, pandemic planning.
  10. Education systems have also gone largely unchecked. Student loan debt is a serious burden on their lives and our economy, just for starters.

Yes, we really can get the upper hand here, if we join together. But the damage has been deep and need time to repair.

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What would you add to the list?

Speaking Truth to power

We’ve heard the phrase a lot lately, but few know that it originated as a Quaker expression.

Most of us Quakers, or members of the Society of Friends, assumed it was one of those many great expressions from the beginning of the movement, back in the upheavals of the mid-1600s.

Not so, it turns out. Nor even the 1700s or 1800s. It’s much more recent than that.

The expression originated with a 1955 pamphlet published by the American Friends Service Committee titled “Speak Truth to Power: a Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence,” which promoted pacifism.

Still, it rings true to the early Quakers, who spoke boldly with an alternative Christianity that  brought many changes to British and American society. The faith and its practice went far beyond mere religion. It extended through one’s relationships, including labor, possessions, business, politics, education, leisure, and nearly everything else.

For them, Truth was Christ, so speaking Truth to those in authority was to challenge the rulers and oppressors, countering them with the greater life and dominion of Jesus.

This goes way, way beyond being factually correct.

It’s more like invoking what others might do when they form a sign of the Cross when facing a demon.

Let’s not forget that authority.

And as the semi-official state religion of today?

Church and synagogue attendance and membership are declining as the population turns gray, but that doesn’t mean many younger Americans aren’t worshiping something. It just might be an unacknowledged idol rather than the God of the Bible.

So what is the idol? One befitting the state, or secular society, rather than what’s more strictly defined as religion?

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The first clue might come it that nemesis for Sunday school programs – soccer and softball leagues, which schedule many of their games and practice sessions on Sunday mornings. (Parental visitation in divorce decisions further affect the youth religious training.) It’s fair to ask just what values are the sports programs are giving our children.

Sports, of course, points to professional athletics, and if you tune into any of the radio sports talk shows, you can get a taste of the ways the players and games are worshiped by adult males. Just listen to the passion and attention. It’s fair to bet few of them have engaged spirituality with such devotion.

Beyond that, consider how much of their identity arises from their chosen team. Where I live, it’s not uncommon for an obituary to list a person as an avid Red Sox or New England Patriots fan (or Celtics or Bruins). Sometimes the following even extends to a favorite sportscaster.

Many of the teams, we should note, play in arenas and stadiums built with taxpayer money or similar concessions.

Sports also points to the cult of physical fitness – people who can find five hours a week to spend at the gym but not an hour a week for worship. Sunday mornings often turn into fundraising walks or races, too.

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Another, but more passive cult idolizes celebrities. Generally, the figures are venerated for their physical beauty or sexual magnetism, which are parlayed into the entertainment or fashion business. Some professional athletes cross over into celebrity status, while a perplexing few more are simply born rich and have no talent at all other than being celebrities, kind of like royalty without the responsibilities. No scientist, surgeon, teacher, corporate executive, senator, governor, or other working leader can match the recognition a typical celebrity possesses.

For much of the envious public, following their contortions occupies a lot of time and brain space.

The whole scene looks to me like a modern-day cyber-Parthenon full of semi-mortals.

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Less obvious is the way art has become a semi-official state religion in America, now that state and federal funding exists. There’s long been the recognition of the fine arts as an adjunct to wealth, for whatever reasons. Many sense an abstract “goodness” in the products of art – chamber music, art museums, Shakespeare festivals, opera, poetry, the “book” that so many people dream of writing – even if the artist himself/herself remains (often with good reason!) somewhat suspect, a shady character. Perhaps that’s why these big institutions stand between us and the rest of ourselves, as artists and audiences.

Something abstractly “good” even when they themselves admit they don’t know much about the field. Contrast that to the lesser state religions in America: collegiate and professional athletics, Hollywood movies, and rock concerts, wherein no one actually advocates any common wealth.

I raise this to point out the materialism we, even as starving artists, are enmeshed in – one way or another.  It is so easy to hold the artist up in some idealized light – or the product itself – as the object of worship, totally forgetting to turn to the source of all. The dilemma of the news photographer: Should he rescue the victim and lose the opportunity of taking a great photograph? Or remain instead “professional” and observe the world as an outsider? This holds for all artists: at one point are we being selfish in our pursuits? At what point is our solitude essential for the well-being of all?

Gets complicated, doesn’t it.

Living into the Kingdom

It really is a revolutionary concept, presented toward the end of the Lord’s Prayer taught by Jesus of Nazareth.

To invoke God’s kingdom on earth as well as in heavenly spiritual expanses takes us way beyond nationalities, social status, even economics. It transcends our experience in everyday relationships. It’s a call for justice and peace, especially.

The idea of kingdom is, of course, unfathomable for Americans, as is a dictatorship or any other form of authoritarian rule. We can try to translate it as commonwealth, dominion, realm, or sphere, each with its own limitations. The Blessed Community comes closest for me.

Some of us take this seriously. What steps can we take to bring this closer? How do we honor the creation we’ve been given? How does governing by love rather than fear really appear?

It’s something we can take baby steps toward in our families and local congregations. It’s not always easy, but we need practice.

I find it a more engaging approach to following Jesus than the question, “Are you saved?”

Especially with the kicker, “as your personal lord and savior.”

I believe the concept of Living into the Kingdom is more essential than the Resurrection.

Yes, that is startling, even as I write it.

But it is also of the here-and-now.

How are you Living into the Kingdom?

Some perspective on four years of upholding a difficult decision

After the last presidential election, I made the hard decision to refrain from posting on White House politics for the duration. Admittedly, it’s been a trial when it comes to biting my tongue.

For one thing, my degree’s in political science, with a strong dose of the Federalist Papers and the foundation of American political theory. For another, I spent most of my career in the newsroom and watched with dread as these developments gathered momentum.

What I sensed with Trump was that I could add nothing from the sidelines. The storm had to play itself out, and vital criticism would ultimately have to come from the so-called conservative side of the spectrum.

What I didn’t anticipate was how appalling the daily affronts would be, each one washing over the previous one before the impact could sink in. No blogger watching the news from afar could react in time to remain current. Well, maybe by taking a longer term view, like once a week, but it would have been a full-time job.

As you can see, I had enough else to post on, trying to maintain a life-is-normal focus, even amid the current Covid culture.

Still, drafting this confession is painful. I long to see decency and intelligence return to leadership and society in general. At this stage, it won’t happen overnight. But we can hope the tide will turn.