26 March 2011

The Bigger The Better

Those who read and remember history know what The Big Lie is. Read a summary here, if you want a refresher. Now read about how "the Republican Party of Wisconsin is seeking, under the state's open-records law, to obtain e-mail sent by a Madison professor who has publicly criticized that state's Republican governor." I'll wait. Did you notice this paragraph in the middle:
"I have never seen such a concerted effort to intimidate someone from lawfully seeking information about their government," Mr. Jefferson said in the statement. "Further," he added, "it is chilling to see that so many members of the media would take up the cause of a professor who seeks to quash a lawful open-records request. Taxpayers have a right to accountable government and a right to know if public officials are conducting themselves in an ethical manner. The left is far more aggressive in this state than the right in its use of open-records requests, yet these rights do extend beyond the liberal left and members of the media."
In other words, it is the liberal left that is the danger here. Now, go back to the first link and notice this comment.

"The phrase (Big Lie) was also used in a report prepared during the war by the United States Office of Strategic Services in describing Hitler's psychological profile: His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it."


20 March 2011

Oh Well,

Dear Reader,

It seems our climate here in West Michigan will deprive of us the 'super moon,' which was full last night and almost so tonight. I would not mind so much, except that the next time this happens will be when I am 76. You can be sure I will not be in West Michigan then, if only for the event.

When you get close to 60 the harsh arithmetic of age tells you that you can't bank on getting more than one shot at some things. That's always true in a strict sense, of course. But let's face it, we play the odds most of the time. Tomorrow might not come for us or for the world, but the odds are that they well. But it is less likely, on a probability basis, that we will have multiple chances to see super moons, comets, climb mountains or other things that are rare or demanding.

That's why I am pondering India and Nepal. Places like that are best to see when one has good knees, a strong back, and other physical powers that age has a way of eroding. I have no need to climb Everest or bathe in the Ganges, but I would like to see and sense and encounter them closer than a photo. I could add Macchu Picchu, Xian, the Kremlin, Tikal, The Alhambra, Saqqara, Petra, and other places. Odds are I will not see them all, but it would be good to see a few with my own eyes and smell the air with my own nose, and feel the sand or stone or ground beneath my own feet.

I just returned from a 3 week jaunt to South California, something I have done for the last four years at this season. And most years have included something in addition to the retreat itself. This year I shared San Simeon, the Pacific Coast Highway (which had a major landslide the week after we were there, thank goodness) and Yosemite with my wife. We saw friends in Missouri and California and Colorado and a sister in New Mexico. Rich, rewarding, and more exhausting than I remember when making such trips years ago.

We're back of course, and back into the consoling rhythms of ordinary life. Good to get a decent night's sleep more than once a week, for one thing. And there is something good going on at my church, a spirit more than anything, that is full of optimism. This, of course, is exactly what churches ought to have but often do not. Especially in tough economic times. Can't say exactly where it came from, but even rational religious liberals can catch a whiff of grace now and then. I say breathe deep and enjoy it.

13 March 2011

Now I Get It!

For some time I have been wondering why America has moved so far to ‘the right’ in recent years. I use quotation marks because what is right and left are historically moving targets. Richard Nixon, for example, the conservative at the time, proposed national health care as president and invoked wage and price controls. These are now unthinkable even among Democrats, which tells me we are not now where we once were.

Anyway, it finally dawned on me why we have moved so much to the right in recent years.

Identity crisis.

As you may recall, I wrote an essay five years ago suggesting that the 9/11 attacks rattled our sense of identity as a nation, an identity that has always swung between two equally American images – the puritan and the pioneer. The former is moralistic and socialistic, which can be like the Amish or 1960s communes. The latter is opportunistic and individualistic, and can describe both the pious homesteader on the prairie or the robber barons of then or now.

My point is that both are true and powerful, and when all is well we affirm the good in both. Look back along the years and see that our two party system reflects these two images or identities. The tension between city and country, farmer and rancher, union and confederacy, all reflect these two American ‘archetypes.’

But when a crisis comes we tend to choose one over the other. And which one depends on where we are at the time of the crisis. The Civil War led to an upsurge over the next century in the puritan, culminating in the Great Society. Since then we have seen a return of the pioneer, first as a reaction to excess in the puritan movement. That all our presidents between between 1964 and 2008 were southerners and westerners (quintessential pioneer areas) says something I think. A natural process, I think, and even good because too much of one costs us the wisdom of the other.

9/11 happened just as the pioneer image was overcoming the puritan, and that had the effect of fusing us with it, as one clings to whatever one has in a storm. We essentially grabbed the pioneer image when we were threatened and decided that was the real America. Like people in general, when faced with a threat or crisis, we do not so much as rise to the threat as retreat from it into symbols and archetypes we know and trust.

That’s why today it is possible we shall reconstruct a late 19th century America when unions were considered anti-American, when exotic religious minorities were regarded as dangerous, when regulation of business was almost unknown. And we will stay there until the perceived sense of threat is lower.

The danger, and it is very real to my mind, is that those who benefit from the pioneer dominance of America will not want to see that change. Keeping America afraid and threatened is necessary, therefore. As long as terrorism or ‘islamofascism,’ or other fears can be stoked we shall remain captive of one half of our soul.

Thus the path to a better America is the one that casts out fear. I now ponder how to do that. As powerful as fear is, hope is stronger I think. “Give ‘em hope,” Harvey Milk said. That’s what we have to do now, give the nation hope so it can reclaim the other half of its soul. Without it we are a man with one leg, unable to move forward and barely able to stand. Let’s find the hope.

Yes Ruth, There is a Blogger

Dear Readers,

I have been a poor correspondent of late because I have been on the road. Every year I attend a small meeting of clergy in Southern California at the end of February, which is a welcome thing to those mired in Great Lakes winter. In past years I added time to see the mountains and valleys and other natural sights of the area. Both are very restorative. Once before I preached at a local church and visited with friends in the area. This year I combined them all in a long trip with my splendid spouse, which began on February 20th and ended March 11.

I could tell you about the experience of driving 5500 miles in 18 days, or about the impact of visiting friends and relatives who knew us when we were young, or the struggles of an urban multicultural church in LA, or the history of spiritual practices among the Unitarians, or the psychosocial implications of Las Vegas, or the pleasures of sleep deprivation having experienced five time zones in six days, but right now I have to get back to my day job, which is a great job.

Hang in there friends. I'll be back soon.