Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Civic engagement

After a conversation with friends last week, I decided to take action in a simple, thoughtful way.

We were talking about the cost of education, and the kinds of tax breaks you can expect to receive based on the interest you're paying on student loans--the best you can do is to deduct $2,500 of the money you pay in interest on them. It's not a credit.

And at this point, we're not even talking about the possibility of paying a mortgage if you want to own a house. At least with a house you can deduct all of your interest payments...

That seemed woefully inadequate to me, so I wrote this up in a couple hours on a Friday afternoon. Feel free to peruse, use, wholesale copy, or otherwise, and send to your representative and senators if you feel so inclined. Maybe make a call or visit an office.

I did so this week.

Has anyone else done something similar lately? The benefit of having a madman trying to run the nation is that civic engagement seems up.

Monday, March 20, 2017

I believe...[work in progress]

God exists

-[this is the critical, frustrating point that I will never be able to prove, and will honestly, probably always feel uncertain about]

-if I accept that, then the Bible relates that:

--Jesus is the son of God, who came into time and space

--Jesus sacrificed union/love/relationship with the Father on our behalf in a singular way

--we choose to distance ourselves from God in sin

--the penalty for sin is its fulfillment--separation, probably eternal--practically I don't know what that means

--Jesus gives us life freely

--the kingdom of God is greater than my salvation

--the work of the church is to bring the kingdom of God on earth--this happens in sometime conflicting and inconsistent ways (see the Bible)

-the Bible is the story of God's people (in part descriptive, prescriptive, and corrective)--it's God's word, but it is not the Word, nor is it God

--in the Beatitudes Jesus turns power on its head and shows his kingdom priorities

--Parables of the Kingdom tell us how Jesus thought of what was to come:
---the parable of the weeds says that God acknowledges human suffering and strife before his coming Kingdom
---the parable of the sower says that it is difficult to follow Jesus; it is difficult to have faith even; the Gospel of Jesus produces real change in people
---the parable of the hidden treasure describes the way a person gladly gives up his life and possessions, in a way that may be impossible to understand, in order to gain an even more precious way of life
---the parable of the pearl, in a similar way tells of the value of the Kingdom of heaven--worth more than any current power
---the parable of the growing seed reassures those tasked with Kingdom building that their labor is not in vain--a new thing is growing
---the parable of the mustard seed describes the extent and breadth of the pervasive Kingdom
---the parable of the leaven tells of how the Kingdom of God is inevitable after introduction of yeast--surely the resurrection of Jesus

-Jesus is the best thing for everyone because his resurrection is the preview of God's plan for a kingdom made right

-our fellow man deserve love not because they are objects to be converted, but because they are loved by the creator as much as I am

-faith is mysterious and maddening--sometimes I hate it

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Birds eat grass

I'm expectant and bubbling--effervescent and impatient.

The semester is over. I've graded the students; I've graded the course & myself.

Work continues such as it is. Folks & products are heated & cooled. Oil lubricates and is washed away.

But I. I sit on the edge of a precipice.

It might not be a precipice (do my legs stretch before me in the dirt?)--I might be poised above four blades of browning grass.

Or. Or I might be clawing for air: a fledgling.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The idolatry of power

More than anything else, the election in 2016 has been a mirror, showing me what I naïve fool I've been.

I'm going to preface what I say next with three important statements...
I think it is possible to have voted for Donald Trump as a Christian.
I think it is possible to have voted for Hillary Clinton as a Christian.
I think it is possible to have voted for a third party candidate as a Christian.
My naïveté comes from expecting that the white, Christian, evangelical church* would live beyond politics--that is, biblically contextualize them within the Christian life [*note: the CRC is evangelical, a member of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE)].

I was a fool to think that the Church would be honest with its poorness of spirit and need for the gospel. I was a fool to think Christians would embrace the way Jesus turned human politics on its head. Evangelicals have demanded a modern Saul as their king [1 Samuel 8]. Saul is who they have received.

In past elections the "religious right" have voted for Mitt Romney due to their embrace of family values (likely because they were uncomfortable with the idea of a Mormon in the White House--considered by the CRC to be a cult). Family values means: opposed to rights for LGBTQ citizens and an anti-abortion stance.

Overwhelming support of Donald Trump by evangelicals (81%) is the most recent symptom. It is remarkable, that for so many "liking neither candidate" (a common refrain), they came out in record numbers for a Social Darwinist candidate. This is greater than support for Bush, McCain, or Romney--typical Christian-backed candidates.

I can't take the "liking neither candidate" statement seriously, because the truth is Christians voted for a man that denigrated minorities, women again & again, his fellow GOP hopefuls, the disabled, and military heroes.
Many had no problem calling a professed Methodist evil.
They might have honestly believed that, but I think the real reason is that faith in conservatism and liberalism shone through. Evangelical Christians trusted their parties and political ideology more than they did their Jesus and his message.

Many high-profile Christians did.
Some went as far as Wayne Grudem: "now that Trump has won the GOP nomination, I think voting for Trump is a morally good choice."
Pat Robertson dismissed Trump's comments about grabbing women as "macho talk".
Jerry Falwell Jr. endorsed Trump and said “Five years from now when we’re sitting here and we see all the Constitution being ripped apart by justices (appointed by Clinton), nobody is going to remember what horrible things Donald Trump said over a decade ago,” and in the same convocation, Ralph Reed pointed to abortion as the “defining moral issue of our time,” saying Trump is “running on the most pro-life platform in the history of the Republican Party.”
Franklin Graham has made comments that "the godless progressive agenda of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton likewise cannot be defended. I am not endorsing any candidates in this election" then goes on to say that the future Supreme Court appointees are the most important issue of the election.
James Dobson is a one issue voter: anti-abortion.

A prominent theologian, Miroslav Volf, did come out for Clinton (with reservations): "The best case to be made for Hillary Clinton is that on balance she better represents the convictions and character that should concern Christian citizens. No candidate is perfect."

Christianity Today polled a very curious number, which seems to explain the shift we saw: evangelicals shedding their concern with moral authority and Christian witness.
Q: Can elected officials behave ethically and fulfill their public duties even if they have committed immoral acts in their personal life?
30% of self-identified white evangelicals said yes in 2011
72% said yes in 2016
To move from 30% to 72% in four years is a remarkable pivot--a pivot that essentially supports conservatism, and an anti-abortion stance as the most important issue facing the world and the church.

Choosing to stake that claim on a candidate like Trump with a precarious position on abortion baffles me.

I understand that many Christians (and Americans in general) feel they weren't being listened to--the Democratic Party did an abysmal job of this: they catered to centrist, elitist, imperialist positions.

1) the Sanders campaign was shoved aside in favor of what party leadership wanted
2) the perspective of middle America (and perhaps evangelical America) was ignored: factory jobs lost due to globalization, facing stagnant wages

Clearly there was a gross failing in the Democratic party to reflect and represent its constituency (I wrote about my distaste for Clinton's position previously). It remains to be seen if the party will recover.

However...the fact that evangelicals are defending Donald Trump, or even happily joining the "Trump Train" still beguiles me. Christians are certainly meant to engage with politics, as citizens building God's kingdom now, but what that looks like allied with Trump is unclear.

As he fills cabinet positions, being praised by the alt-Right (literal neo-Nazis), I don't hear concern from conservative Christians. I don't hear anything at all [note: as of 2:30pm 22Nov16, Trump has disavowed "the alt-Right"].

What I have seen are Christians who I once thought respected me, label non-conservative Christians as "sad" people, and others claim victory for the church with a Trump win.
It's one thing to support a candidate--another entirely to be honest with who they are and the extent to which they deserve support and criticism.

I can't speak for anyone else, but for my own part I want the world to easily identify me as a Christian & kingdom builder, and wonder briefly about my politics. I don't intend to be a modern Sadducee.

I'll leave you with this out-shot to think about, from a post written four years ago in response to the Obama-Romney race:
Pastors will have to ensure congregations know right doctrine—a desperate need for this generation of Christians in any case. Individual Christian voters will need to distinguish, perhaps publicly, between their vote for the politician and their fierce disagreement with that politician's beliefs.
// Stephen Mansfield

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The dark side of Clinton's American exceptionalism

Hillary Clinton is an imperialist and hawkcomfortable with the use of American force abroad.

Though perhaps not as strongly as others, she embraces American exceptionalism, defined either as America's superiority over other nations, or as America's unique ability or charge to change the world.

Great empires the world over have viewed themselves as exceptional--from Imperial China to Britain. That re-purposed narrative rings tired to me. America's foundation and rise in influence are perhaps singular, but to take that as a divine mandate is folly*.

In our nation's history, this view has resulted in such conflicts as Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

As Secretary of State, Clinton supported the United States-Colombia Free Trade Agreement--passed by Congress in 2011 and set in motion during President Bush's second term in 2007. Her stance on trade has of course changed over time. In 2008 she opposed it, citing "the history of violence against trade unionists in Colombia," which is turning out to be a very real concern.

The agreement is meant to:
"...expand U.S. goods exports alone by more than $1.1 billion and give key U.S. goods and services duty free access in sectors from manufacturing to agriculture. It will increase U.S. GDP by $2.5 billion and support thousands of additional U.S. jobs."
While it hasn't been covered in great depth by mainstream news sources, Daniel J. Camacho, a scholar at Duke (and Calvin grad) who I follow on Twitter, has been an outspoken critic of the Free Trade Agreement and Clinton's involvement:

In a well-reported piece by the Nation, Michael Norby and Brian Fitzpatrick delve into the internal refugee crisis in rural Colombia, exacerbated by the agreement. The country is one of the most dangerous in the world for union members, with ITUC reporting:
"that thirty-five unionists were murdered in Colombia in 2012, solidifying the country’s status as the most dangerous place on earth to be a union member. Between 3,000 and 4,000 Colombian unionists have been killed since the late 1980s."
Criticism of American exceptionalism is clearly not popular. It's even touted in the first line of the 2016 GOP Platform: "We believe in American exceptionalism."

But that doesn't make it right, and that doesn't make us, as a nation, above reproach.

The reason this hasn't seen more coverage is that both major parties are complicit. The U-CFTA has been a bipartisan effort, passed under the Obama administration, but since it benefits American exports, no one is saying anything.

Clinton deserves criticism on this. We are better than this. If we truly are exceptional, we can show it by engaging in trade agreements that are fair and just to both nations, and that don't leave the poor in a state of dire marginalization and violence.

I'll leave you with one of Daniel's tweets:

*I'm proud to be an American, but to say that we are inherently different from other nations is hubris.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Political correctness or dignity (and whiteness)?

If you listen or read anything remotely related to political matters in the United States (or probably elsewhere), you will have heard the term 'political correctness.'

The trend lately is to decry what is seen as overly politically correct speech, used by candidates or officials.

Recently in an Esquire interview, Clint Eastwood has praised Presidential candidate, Donald Trump and ranted about political correctness:

"Because secretly everybody's getting tired of political correctness, kissing up. That's the kiss-a-- generation we're in right now. We're really in a p---- generation."

"Everybody's walking on eggshells. We see people accusing people of being racist and all kinds of stuff. When I grew up, those things weren't called racist."
I'm not sure who 'everybody' is. More troubling though, I am not sure the use of 'political correctness' isn't meiotic, a stand-in for something more sinister--in this case I'm speaking specifically about race in response to Eastwood's comments, though the implications reverberate broadly (see note at the end).

In a way, push-back against political correctness definitely sounds better than push back against 'the Golden Rule.' The GR, in the words of Jesus (Matthew 7:12):

In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets.
I want to be able to tell my own story, in my own terms--allowing that I am honest with myself, most people would agree to this plea because most desire it for themselves (the degree to which you are allowed that chance by others is directly related to how much they trust your version of things).

White people have always been able to frame discussions and terms used to describe White people--historically we've also been free to describe any other race and frame class discussions without fear of repercussion or consequence.

A side note to make this point: consider the picture you have in your mind of 'White people.' I immediately envision a White middle class family with a house and yard in the suburbs--a class specific image that doesn't paint the whole picture. It doesn't describe poor Whites in any number of locales, or the super rich either. The class we each come from and belong to frames the way we generalize about groups. Class provides enormous power when it comes to description--like it or not, the classes with more money (power) are afforded the privilege of enhanced perceived credibility (the same goes for level of education).

Going back to my point about who is allowed to frame discussions and terms: White people. Historically the locus of power has been with White people (slavery & reconstruction via Jim Crow, Native American reservations, Chinese laborer immigration restrictions, Japanese American internment camps) and non-Whites have paid the price (even the term non-White does this! It frames a White-centric perspective.).

The locus of power does not lie merely with martial or political power however. It lies with who is able to control dissemination of communication (look at how Republicans and Democrats have partisan language patterns--it's important!).

Lately you hear talk about how great things used to be. People describe wanting to go back to something that has apparently been changed.

I think I know what's changed. I don't think it's because violent crime is on the rise (it's on the decline) and I don't think it's because people are "race baiting," whatever you think that term means.

I think it's because White people are hearing Black voices (and of other people of color), and they don't like it, and they aren't used to it, and they want it to stop because it makes them uncomfortable (I had the same experience before I thought about why I felt that way). It's likely due to the expansion of social media platforms and coverage of the 24 hour news cycle. Black voices can be unsettling to the concept of whiteness (see reading resources below) particularly when we're used to information that has been sanitized in some way by Whites (how would a White person like it to sound?).

The #BlackLivesMatter movement and Civil Rights movement are prime examples of this.

Let's address the Civil Rights movement. Dr. King's Letter From a Birmingham Jail is a direct response to White clergy who were convinced that the ongoing demonstrations were "unwise and untimely" (let's wait for all the facts, don't be hasty). Black people were demonstrating and resisting and doing their own thing to advance justice. White clergy (and White Christianity) were threatened by this.

Today, when people make the statement that "Black lives matter," they are immediately met with resistance, in the form of "all lives matter"--as if that statement needed to be said. White people don't like the sound of "Black lives matter." It makes us uncomfortable, not because we don't think it's true, but because it is not a White-centric message. Sure, White voices like mine feel comfortable saying it, but many Whites don't feel comfortable hearing it.

A Black voice said it originally, and Black and White voices continue to echo it.

It's like Broderick Greer (an Episcopal priest I follow on Twitter) says repeatedly:

We Whites are used to treating others like WE want them to be treated, with OUR voices.

We Whites are seeing push-back by other groups, increasingly being able to define terms and rescue/create dignity by being called what they want to be called.

Some of the power being given up by Whites via the dismantling of 'whiteness' is the ability to, with comfort, ignore 'the Platinum Rule': treat others like THEY want to be treated. We don't like the loss--it feels like people of color are being overly sensitive, when really they just want the dignity of telling their own story with their own words.


If you want to tell me I'm racist for writing this, here are a couple steps:

1) Read the resources on 'whiteness' below.

2) It's not racist or 'race baiting' to talk about matters of race.
3) If you disagree with the concept of 'whiteness' the burden of proof is on you, because there is significant scholarship to support it.
4) Ok, having done that, describe how I'm racist, and give some support for your argument.
5) Cool. Thanks. I'm racist.


Constructing Whiteness by Judy Helfand
Trump Reflects White Male Fragility by Charles M. Blow
What is Whiteness by Nell Irvin Painter
Summary of Whiteness Theory by Audrey Thompson

Note: the idea of political correctness or dignity is directly applicable to how different groups frame the discussion around the rights of LGBTQ individuals as well.

I've heard descriptions such as "tranny, he-she, it, shemale, transvestite, man in a dress, hermaphrodite, or freak." Those slurs are meant to strip dignity and wound. There is no other reason for them.
For some, these might not be slurs, but for the people in the video, they are, and they hurt. The point is not which specific words can or can't, should or shouldn't be said, it's about treating people how they want to be treated.

It's a choice to use language that conveys dignity--when you choose to "not be politically correct," know that what you're doing is intentionally stripping dignity from a group or person, nothing more, nothing less.

Even if someone's identity makes you uncomfortable, you can still treat them as a person--you're the only one who needs to come to terms with your discomfort.

Monday, August 15, 2016

List of things that are Obari as hell

My friends
Gardens full of tomatoes & squash & asparagus
Hammocks (eno obv)
Tennis with my brother
Coffee in the morning
Coffee at noon
Coffee in the evening
Tea any time
Chemical kinetics
Tonka pies
Rhubarb cake
Rhuberry bluebarb jam
Mass, heat, and momentum transport
The conservation laws
Sour beers
Red wine
Fried okra