17 December 2015

Law and Sausages


"What has happened to altruism on the political spectrum? When I was growing up, it seemed that it was 'One for all and all for one!' It seems to be much more visceral and mean-spirited, today. " - HK

"There is not new under the sun," said the author of Ecclesiastes.  She or he could also have said, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."  Sadly, the abject condition of national politics is more typical for our history than not.  Way back in 1866 the lawyer Gideon Tucker said, "No man's life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session."  "Imagine I am an idiot," said Twain.  "Now imagine I am in Congress.  But wait, I repeat myself." My title is usually attributed to Bismarck, but The Daily Cleveland Herald, March 29, 1869, quoted lawyer-poet John Godfrey Saxe that “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.” In our own era, Milton Berle said, "You can lead a man to Congress but you can't make him think."   In other words, the venal and petty and nature of politics is well commented and documented.  

That does not excuse or absolve it, friend, but it does mean we should not be surprised it has come to such a lowly pass as we see now.  Rather we should look to those times of high resolve and comity and ask how they happened at all.  What brings out the spirit of magnanimity in people such that they overcome the lesser angels of their nature?

Again, history is a help, though not an encouragement.  Our eras of greatest nobility seem to follow times of greatest strife.  Only when it is evident that pursuing your own agenda slavishly leads to greater misery not greater good. The lesson of motes and planks still needs learning 20 centuries later.  

But let me set Ecclesiastes aside and try to be practical for a moment.  The current 'free market' orthodoxy in politics confuses and conflates the market with the forum. We need to dismantle the market of politics.  That means limiting the ability of individuals and groups to have more influence than the people themselves.  This comes down to at least three things.

1. Partisan Redistricting to limit party influence over the power of the electorate.
2. Public financing of campaigns
3. Restoration of the Fairness doctrine in Broadcasting.

These will not happen, though, until both parties grasp that trying to get and keep the upper hand is not possible and ultimately self destructive (Witness the ever greater cultivation of the right wing and its culmination in Trump/Cruzism).  It is this competition for power that corrupts, as Lord Acton so wisely noted.  Pray that it does not require some great struggle and sorrow to become evident again.

04 December 2015

Grief is the Winter of the Soul

How best to cope with the loss of yet two more DEAR friends...I remember them with gratitude..and our long friendship...but the sting is still there...MJE

As the Tin Man so famously said, "Now I know I have a heart, because it's breaking."  Much longer ago the great Seneca (I think!) said, "next to the death of one's self is the death of a friend."  

Like winter there is no shortcut through loss and grief, but unlike winter it cannot be evaded by going elsewhere.  Continuing with the metaphor, surviving emotional winters takes work.

Stay warm.  Grief makes us more solitary, feekling sad and not wanting to impose on them or to answer questions over and over.  You need human warmth more, not less.  Stay in touch with friends, both the friends you and your late friends shared, and friends that they did not.  

Do Not Stay Outside Too Long.  Grieve too long and you get emotional frostbite.  Get inside by taking time off from grief.  See a silly movie, fix a favorite meal, do things that feel good.  And tell yourself that grief can wait for a day.  It can.  

Don't get stuck in the snow.  Grief can tempt us to stop exercising, sleep late, drink more.  Some slippage is inevitable but going slow is better than stopping as any driver in the snow will tell you.  

Make spring come.  Rather than measure how bad you feel from day to day, measure other things that matter, like people who plan their vegetable garden while the snow flies.  

Tap your maples. Sugar season is in late winter, when it is still cold.  But the cold now is a good thing.  At some point you might want to create a scrapbook of your friendship, perhas inviting other mutual friends to join you.  Hold a party when a friendship anniversary comes around. Plan a visit to a place you remember and cherish. Give money to a cause that she or he cared about.  

None of these things will make your sadness go away, and as you know there will be days during your winter of grief that are overwhelming.  That's when these tactics will serve to get you through them better, and when you are feeling overwhelmed help you get 'whelmed' sooner. 

The same Seneca (I hope!) also asked rhetorically, "shall a man bury his friendship with his friend?"  The friend is gone, but the friendship remains.  At first the absence of the friend is so strong that it is all you can feel.  But as the season of grief edges along the friendship becomes more evident.  

Finally, make new friends.  The gifts you received from your friends deserve to be passed along.  Be the friend she was for you to someone else.  Pay it forward, as they say.

01 December 2015

"Ask Pastor Know It All"

First, I should say why this blog has been dormant for a year.

The answer is that whatever I had to say was being said elsewhere and better.  My career as a public intellectual came to an end, outnumbered by lesser louder voices and out-thought by greater brighter minds.

Then, someone asked me why I had stopped and, having said these things, she still expressed hope that I would resume.  That set me to thinking, a dangerous sport in these thoughtless times.  While I have no urge to opine on what seem to me obvious things to a small and already convinced cadre (that would be you dear readers) I have a desire to help those who ask for it.  Not once in all my days have I persuaded anyone who did not already wish to change.  At best I have helped people make up their minds when asked.

I am a pastoral theologian, not an apologetic one.  Those are technical terms in theological schools. Pastoral theology is about the 'cure of souls,' and its tool is the spiritual talking cure for those whose acedia has grown burdensome.  It is in response to a need expressed by someone.  Apologetic theology is addressed 'to whom it may concern,' an audience undefined and unknown. It seeks to persuade without being asked, to convert.

This became evident as I lost interest in the blog as a platform and became more invested in a newspaper panel I share on matters of ethics and religion.  You can sample that here, though I am not in every issue.  Similarly, I enjoy my radio program Faith & Reason more when I am talking to someone not just talking into the air.

As one ages, it is best to focus on one's strengths rather than labor over one's weaknesses.  Therefore, this blog will now be entirely devoted to answering your questions - matters of religious fact and fancy, questions of doctrine and dogma, riddles ethical and moral, struggles spiritual and personal.  Your questions will be my subjects.

To send a question you may add a comment here, or tweet me @fred_wooden or via Facebook.  Please tell me if you wish to remain anonymous, or any other restrictions.  I may wish to contact you beforehand to make sure I am clear.

There is already one question, which I will address in a day or so.  But it seemed fair to let you know what was up ahead of time.  Feel free to comment and tell me your thoughts.  Thanks for reading!