Sunday, March 30, 2008

Why don’t Christians talk about humility anymore?

Sometimes Garrison Keillor talks about how Protestants used to believe in seeking humility. He will talk about how people in Lake Woebegone think that drawing attention to yourself and being assertive in public is something that a Christian should not do. As near as I can tell outside of Lake Woebegone church people in America don't talk that way anymore. Assertiveness training has been remarkably successful. Far from being humble Americans now revel in their right to be assertive, very much including the majority who consider themselves Christians,

Along with this assertiveness comes a strange sense of entitlement. So lacking in humility are such a large percentage of Americans that commercials now often refer to what they are selling as "what you deserve," confident that Americans think what they deserve is something fine and grand. Telling a traditional humble Christian that what you are selling is what she/he deserves would be a disaster, because as sinners we don't deserve very much. A commercial encouraging people to "get the car you deserve" would, I imagine, conjure up imagines of some old broken-down jalopy in someone with a traditional Christian outlook.

I've been pondering this curious state of affairs for a while and I have started wondering if the rise of the religious right had anything to do with this. A preacher trying to get her/his congregation to get active in politics and vote cannot also encourage humbleness. A determination to defeat politicians who do not agree with you and elect new ones you have selected is the epitome of hubris and pride. The leaders of the religious right had to transform their congregations into assertive people who could and should seek to transform the broader society and lead their neighbors. The idea that Christians should first seek to transform themselves had to be deemphasized. If people waited until they perfected themselves before trying to perfect society they would never get around to participating in politics at all.

Now that the Republican coalition of the religious right, neo-conservatives, financial conservatives and small-government libertarians shows signs of falling apart people are starting to wonder how anyone could have ever thought that these groups had any common ground. The social conservatives of the religious right have had very little of their agenda actually enacted in law – abortion is still legal, a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage is nowhere to be seen. Meanwhile the tax cutters and neo-conservatives have everything they asked for. It surely must becoming clear to the religious right that the Republican elected officials are giving them only lip service, not legislation, in return for their work, money and support. That, along with all the sexual and financial scandals involving Republican law-makers, must have the religious right wondering if they have given up too much in their pursuit of political transformation. Perhaps that realization will be followed by a belated recognition that the goal of transforming society by political action was a profoundly unchristian idea and a mistake.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Pat Buchanan’s rant

I received a question from a regular reader of this blog why I had not commented on Pat Buchanan's Sunday newspaper column. I had not been moved to comment on it when I first read it because I thought it was its own refutation. Here are some excerpts from Buchanan's March 21 column:
Barack says we need to have a conversation about race in America.

Fair enough. But this time, it has to be a two-way conversation. White America needs to be heard from, not just lectured to. This time, the Silent Majority needs to have its convictions, grievances and demands heard. And among them are these:

First, America has been the best country on earth for black folks. It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known. Wright ought to go down on his knees and thank God he is an American.

Second, no people anywhere has done more to lift up blacks than white Americans. Untold trillions have been spent since the '60s on welfare, food stamps, rent supplements, Section 8 housing, Pell grants, student loans, legal services, Medicaid, Earned Income Tax Credits and poverty programs designed to bring the African-American community into the mainstream. Governments, businesses and colleges have engaged in discrimination against white folks - with affirmative action, contract set-asides and quotas -- to advance black applicants over white applicants.

Churches, foundations, civic groups, schools and individuals all over America have donated time and money to support soup kitchens, adult education, day care, retirement and nursing homes for blacks.

We hear the grievances. Where is the gratitude?

Well, now that I think about it I guess I do have something to say about this. Racial prejudice has diminished greatly in this country during my lifetime. A day may come when the disadvantages of being black in America will have diminished so much that they will be outweighed by the advantages and being of African descent will be as positive a thing as Mr. Buchanan finds being of Irish descent is today. That day has not yet come and only a self-pitying white racist such as Mr. Buchanan would think it had.

When people ask Barack Obama why he self-identifies as black rather than white he explains that it is because in many situations, such as trying to hail a taxi at night, he is treated as black. Whether or not he is African-American is not something he can choose the way someone with dual citizenship chooses one or the other of those countries.

In spite of all those programs Mr. Buchanan lists black unemployment, poverty and incarceration rates are much higher than whites. Government assistance targeted at the black community is trying to compensate for the disadvantages blacks face in the job and housing markets because of racial prejudice. When racial prejudice fades away those programs will no longer be needed and will also cease to exist.

Feelings of gratitude arise naturally in those who have reasons to be grateful. Demanding gratitude, as Mr. Buchanan does here, accomplishes nothing. Mr. Buchanan should see the difference between his expectations and reality as a signal that perhaps he is operating with faulty assumptions and he needs to reevaluate everything he thinks he knows.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Looking for a paying job in politics?

Are you a political progressive and interested in a job as a field organizer – a job that offers a salary and benefits?

I just received an email from Karen Traeger, who works for Americans for Democratic Action on a grassroots campaign called Working Families Win. They are looking for some field organizers in our area and Karen wondered if this blog accepted job announcements. A job announcement involving progressive political field organizing in this area? Not only will I post the job announcement, I might even apply for it.

Field Organizer for local Working Families Win Project

Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) is the nation’s most experienced independent advocacy organization whose lobbying philosophy is based on democratic action - motivating our grassroots members to lobby their Senators and Representatives as constituent-advocates.

Working Families Win is ADA’s community-based organizing project. The program is based on the belief that for working families across the country, the economy is not working. Good jobs continue to leave our communities and are replaced by lower wage jobs, often without benefits. Daily living costs are skyrocketing, yet wages for most workers are stagnant at best. Many of the workers who are suffering the most from the current economy are not meaningfully engaged in the political process.

Americans for Democratic Action believes that when working people are organized to support real alternatives to today's economic policies, demand that candidates support these alternatives too, and persuade their neighbors that we have a clear choice, real change will occur.

POSITION: WFW is looking for energetic self-starters to do local issue organizing. Candidates should have previous organizing experience in issue and/or candidate campaigns and a desire to help support progressive issues. Local ties a plus. This is a unique opportunity to play an integral role in a dynamic project.

The position reports directly to the WFW project director and/or the national field coordinator.

• Implement WFW field and outreach strategies in target communities, including grassroots lobbying actions, voter education campaigns, candidate “bird-dogging,” voter id, and GOTV.
• Build coalitions among allies and nontraditional constituencies to grow broad community support for the WFW agenda.
• Build, engage, and mobilize a network of activists to advance WFW’s national advocacy campaigns through local organizing efforts.
• Generate local media coverage on behalf of WFW.
• Coordinate local and regional activist skills trainings
• Help develop and execute direct actions in target areas
• Track and report campaign deliverables.

• Previous organizing experience in electoral, issue and/or legislative campaigns.
• Experience engaging and motivating large numbers of volunteers.
• Experience working collaboratively with other organizations.
• Enjoy working under pressure and can think quickly on your feet.
• Work well independently, as part of a geographically dispersed team.
• Familiarity with and understanding of health care and economic issues
• Excellent organizational, verbal, written, and interpersonal skills
• Willingness and ability, including own transportation, to travel throughout the assigned project region

Competitive salary plus health care.

Available immediately through 11/30/08.

Interested parties should submit a cover letter, resume, and references to Don Kusler at

Who knew you could get paid for doing stuff like that?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Candlelight Peace Vigils

Today, Wednesday, March 19, 2008 is the 5th anniversary of the start of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Candlelight peace vigils are being held around the country to commemorate this anniversary. Here in Moline, Illinois the vigil will be held at the corner of 34th Ave and 60th Street (near Black Hawk College) at 7PM. At 7:30 PM there will be an Interfaith Service for Peace at the Muslim Mosque at 34th Ave and 60th St. The American Muslim community of the Quad Cities is hosting a service that will include prayers and verses from Christians of various denominations, Muslims, Jews, Unitarians, Hindus and all people who desire peace.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Threatening sermons

Check out the Once Upon a Time… blog's take on the Obama-Jeremiah Wright media frenzy. In brief the blog points out that Rush Limbaugh in particular, and white society in general, considers Rev. Wright's theology improper because it differs from the bland, unthreatening Christianity they are used to. Of course, if you believe the Bible, Jesus was anything but unthreatening towards the rich and powerful of his day. According to the Gospels he was such a rabble-rouser, stirring up the people with anger towards the ruling classes, that he was executed as a subversive. Christianity only became bland and unthreatening to the rich and powerful when it was co-opted by the rulers and made the state religion. Rev. Wright's brand of Christianity only seems strange and unchristian to white America because we are used to a theology that was crafted to serve the interests of the ruling classes, a message very different from the one Jesus delivers in the Gospels.

Of course, the ideas each of us have about what Jesus was really like and really stood for are like mirrors – they reflect our own beliefs and points of view back at us. Social and political revolutionaries see Jesus as one of them. People who feel well-served by the exiting order and are invested in it feel sure that Jesus would be on the side of law and order.

My take on it is that if a sermon of Rev. Wright, someone who is well respected by many educated and intelligent people in his community including Barack Obama, seems strange and foreign to you then this could become a learning opportunity. There are communities of Americans you need to learn more about.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Bush wishes he were on the front lines

Bush expressed envy for our troops in Afghanistan

In a videoconference, Bush heard from U.S. military and civilian personnel [in Afghanistan] about the challenges ranging from fighting local government and police corruption to persuading farmers to abandon a lucrative poppy drug trade for other crops. […]

"I must say, I'm a little envious," Bush said. "If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed."

"It must be exciting for you … in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You're really making history, and thanks," Bush said.

I guess youth is wasted on the young, because when Bush was of the age when he could have served he shirked the opportunity. Now older, and presumably wiser, he wishes he were young again so he could face that romantic danger on the front lines.

In an unrelated story Karl Rove recently gave credit to President Bush for teaching him honesty and ethics.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

What can you say?

The story was going around my workplace about something one of the employees was overheard to tell a customer on the phone. Apparently the customer had asked for a particular salesman, who happens to be African – American, who had recently been promoted to another position at a sister company. The none-too-bright employee told the customer that salesman no longer worked for the company but suggested the customer instead talk to a particular other salesman because "He's black too."

What can you say, but "Oh dear?" He probably thought he was being helpful.

What can you say about Geraldine Ferraro? She is angry and defiant about the criticism she has received for saying that Barack Obama is lucky to be a black man, because if he was white he would not be running for president. She thinks she is telling the truth. She seems to sincerely believe that people who claim they are supporting Barack Obama, not because he is black but because of his intelligence (top of his class at Harvard Law, professor at the University of Chicago) charisma, inspiring oratory and proven ability to unite rather than divide, are deceiving themselves or are hypocrites. What can you say, but "Oh dear?"

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What will be the most lasting effect of the War in Iraq?

Those of us old enough to remember the War in Vietnam remember that among the most enduring effects of that war was the psychological damage done to the soldiers who served. The Vietnam veterans had a much higher drug-addiction and homelessness rates than the general population and for many years after the war the tragic figure of the homeless Vietnam Vet was a reminder of the war that most would have preferred to forget. I have heard very little talk about it but there are a lot of reasons to think that the current War in Iraq is producing far more damaged veterans than did the War in Vietnam. Most soldiers in Vietnam served only one tour. Only those who volunteered to do so went back for more than one tour. In Iraq soldiers are being sent back for two or three tours. Now with the Surge the length of those tours are getting longer and the length of time between tours is getting shorter. At the same time we are reducing the amount and quality of medical and psychological care for our returning veterans. It can be years after a soldier has returned from war before the full effects of the war are obvious.

The United States has damaged itself grievously by attacking and occupying Iraq. We will be suffering the effects of these self-inflicted wounds for a very long time. There is economic damage, damage to our prestige and reputation around the world, damage to our civil liberties and privacy rights, the rule of law, our military preparedness and the damage to the individual soldiers. We will be suffering the effects of this damage for a very long time, indeed.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Bill Foster defeats Jim Oberweis

Democrat Bill Foster defeated wealthy Republican businessman Jim Oberweis yesterday in a special election to fill the Congressional seat of former Republican speaker Dennis Hastert who retired last year. Dennis Hastert's district was jerrymandered to be a safe Republican seat and in 2004 it went for Bush by 55%.

The national Republicans spent over $1 million trying to hold the seat and John McCain came to help raise money for Jim Oberweis. When the Democrats responded in kind with an equal amount of money and Barack Obama creating television commercials for Bill Foster the race became something of a preview of a possible November contest between McCain and Obama.

In typical Republican fashion the National Republican Congressional Committee released a statement last night denying the obvious significance of the race for Republican hopes in November:

"The one thing 2008 has shown is that one election in one state does not prove a trend. In fact, there has been no national trend this entire election season. The presidential election is evidence of that. The Democratic candidates are trading election victories from week to week and the nomination could hinge on a few news cycles. The one message coming out of 2008 so far is that what happens today is not a bellwether of what happens this fall."

Can you believe the chutzpah?! They are trying to claim that the close contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton somehow shows that race between the Democratic and Republican nominees must be equally close. As this special election, the turnout in the primaries and caucuses, the amount of money raised and the general level of enthusiasm all show, the Democrats are far ahead of the Republicans.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Obama spending a lot of money in Texas and Ohio

I just watched Howard Wolfson, campaign adviser for Hillary Rodham Clinton, and David Axelrod, campaign adviser for Barack Obama, debate on ABC's "This Week." As previously promised the Clinton campaign was trying to throw the kitchen sink of charges against the Obama campaign so the exchange was not very inspiring or uplifting. At one point Wolfson pointed out in an accusing tone that Obama will be spending a lot of money in the next few days in Texas and Ohio.

Well, excuse me Mr. Wolfson, but Barack Obama will be spending a lot of money because over one million people have given him money expressly for that purpose.