What the Conservatives Got Right

Consumerism = Slavery
Consumerism = Slavery (Photo credit: just.Luc)

I had this realization today.

That realization is this: the conservatives are (almost) right.

I bet I got the attention of the people I know.

The thing they got right, and we on the left got wrong, is that there is a battle of world views going on.  There is an enemy.  The way that people view the world is of critical importance.

The reason that they got this almost right is that they have the enemy all wrong.

The enemy is not the homosexual agenda.  Or liberalism.  Or activist judges.  Or communism.  Or socialism.  Or anarchism.  Or Islam.

I think that list implies one of my issues with the right wing.  They all seem to agree that there is a single world view tearing us apart.  But the name of that view seems to shift with the wind.

The truth that they have right is that there is a single enemy.  His name is Satan.  I don’t, for the record, believe that Satan is behind any of the world views listed above.  I chose them because they are favorite scare crows of the overly conservative crowd.

A deeper and wider and more destructive world view, one that has lots of manifestations and repurcussions, one that Satan is always behind, is a world view that many of the right are so enmeshed in that they sometimes don’t even get that’s it’s evil.

The world view is consumerism.

Such a telling title, consumerism: we devour what we use.  It’s built into our nature.

I think, on the whole, capitalism might be a smart way to go.  I’m not sure, however, how we disentangle capitalism from consumerism.

But I know that we must.

Consumerism is the enemy of community.  Community is a web of mutual and sustainable relationships.  Consumerism is a list of one-sided interactions.  Consumerism has gotten itself clever and grasped on to the deeper truths that community reaches in us.    It has dressed itself up.  And I don’t know about you, but I’ve bought it all too often.

There is nothing wrong with meeting a friend for a $5 cup of Starbucks.  But there is something terrible about the fact that we’ve been convinced that this is the only viable place we can experience community.  There is nothing wrong with an advertising executive trying to sell me on the idea that if I buy product X I’ll be part of an exclusive group.  But there is something terrible about the fact that I accept his claims so easily.

The church is this amazing counter-cultural force.  I think it is the hope of the world.  A part of this hope is to be the source of an alternative to consumerism.  Because it’s not enough to rail against the dark.  We must turn on a light.  And I just don’t see any other lights around.



I’m working on transforming myself from a left-wing Christian into a… no-wing Christian.   (We shouldn’t need wings to fly, ha-ha.)

There’s been this tension I’ve been experiencing recently.  It’s been around politics, really.  I am so far from having it worked out.  I’ll probably continue to slip into old patterns when I don’t mean to.  But I’m going to shoot for being a no-wing Christian.

Conversations (both online and real-world) with many of you, and books like Shane Clairborne’s excellent Jesus for President have been some of the external factors that have shaped and driven some of the internal considerations that bring me to this place.

I’m probably going to be mining this territory in my brain/mind/heart/soul for some time, but today I’m going to start with some realizations that maybe laid the groundwork for where I’m at now.

These realizations are the hypocrisy of the right… and the left.

(If hypocrisy is too strong a word, at the bare minimum let’s call these inconsistencies.)

Inconsistency #1

The right says that the government shouldn’t police anything material, physical.  They say down with the EPA, down the FDA, down with consumer protections, because the market will keep us all safe… and then the right goes on to affirm that the government should police everything moral.

Inconsistency #2

The left says that we need tons of government regulation of material things.  But this regulation stops with anything we can put our fingers on.  Many folks on the left want the government to be a-moral, which seems to me do be a virtual impossibility.

Inconsistency #3

The right claims that a free market capitalist system is so powerful because greed is such a profound and universal characteristic.  Yet the claim seems to be that if we weren’t taxed so heavily the extra wealth that we’d all have would be used for so many charitable causes that we wouldn’t need government welfare programs.  This leads to the question: which is it, are people basically good or are people basically selfish?

Inconsistency #4

Many people on the left assert that convicted killers have a right to live, yet won’t accord that same basic right to children who haven’t left the womb.

Inconsistency #5

Many people on the right claim that we don’t have the right to terminate a pregnancy which will eventually lead to a human child… Yet they think that we do have the right to extinguish a fully developed human in the case of the death penalty.

I’m sure that there are more than just these.  And I’m sure that there are ways that some of these tensions and inconsistencies might be resolved.  But they all lead me to the conclusion that there aren’t any real political solutions.

Jesus for President

An ongoing thing I wrestle with: If Jesus’ claims are supreme on my life, how political should I be? And given that I live in a Representative Democracy, what political decisions should I make.
One example of my attempts to come to terms with this is here
I picked up this phenemonal book: Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw. They state elequently and convincingly this tension that I feel: on the one hand, many things Jesus said and did had profoundly political repurcussions. On the other hand, Jesus was and is larger than politics itself: he transcends easy distinctions like left vs right, Republican vs Democrat, conservative vs. liberal. I’m going to share a couple passages and then spend a couple paragraphs wondering what these passages mean to me.
The passages:
“But it wasn’t as if Jesus, in using such (politcally charged) language wanted Rome’s power or wanted to gain a foothold in the culture wars of his time. He didn’t want to climb Caeser’s throne. This political language didn’t harmonize with the contemporary church project of “reclaiming America for God.” Precisely the opposite: Jesus was urging his followers to be the unique, pecular, and set-apart people that began with Abraham. He didn’t pray for the world in order to make governments more religious; he called Israel to be the light of the world- to abandon the way of the world and cultivate an alternative society in the shell of the old, not merely to be a better version of the kingdom of this world.” (71)
“It’s extraordinary that when the Devil said all political power in the world belongs to him and he can give it to whomever he wishes, Jesus didn’t dispute the claim: he just flat out refused the offer. He knew well the bitter fruits of this world’s power. He saw governmental power not as a coveted position to run after but rather as the Devil’s playground. Jesus’ ancestors had suffered from the bloodshed and hunger and pain inflicted by Kings and empires. He knew how the powers had killed the prophets before him, and so he abondoned himself to the imperial cross. Instead of ascending the throne of power to establish Go’d society, he would descend into the world as a slave.” (86)

It’s tempting for me to ally myself with people who play politics in the direction I agree with. If this account is right– and it seems like it is– then I shouldn’t do this. My temptation is a distant echo of Jesus’ temptation itself: will I just flat out refuse the offer, too?
So often I don’t. In truth, I don’t even know if I know how. Should I vote? Should I formulate poltical opinions? Should I share my political opinions? Should Christians run for office at all? If we do, what sense does it make to leave our convictions behind?
There’s more questions than answers here… But maybe they are the right questions to be asking.

Should Mccain’s expereinces count for him?

I’m fascinated at the symbolism that’s shaping up in the presidential election.  It looks like it’s coming down to a mostly conservative former prisoner of war and a mostly progressive former community organizer. 

As we assess these two facts about the candidates, it’s interesting to me how they play out.  There seems to be an unquestioned assumption that being a prisoner of war counts as something that works in Mccain’s favor.  There seems to be an unquestioned assumption that Obama’s time as a community organizer does not.

In the final analysis, these assumptions might turn out to be right.  But it’s incredibly difficult to even ask the question “Is being a former prisoner of war good preperation to be president?”

Before I explain why I think this is a question worth asking, I want to state some things up front:

#1) I thank God for veterans and recognize we would not have a country with out them.

#2) I can’t imagine being a prisoner of war.  Mccain experienced periods of torture.  So near as I can see, he came through this experience fairly healthy and whole.  I doubt I could do this.

#3) Though I am not a Republican and disagree with Mccain on a variety of issues I have a great deal of respect for him as a human being.  I appreciate that he is calls things like he sees them and doesn’t get hemmed in by partisan politics.

(It’s interesting.  If I were criticizing a liberal, I’d be able to bring up the idea that “political correctness” says I’m not supposed to call these things into question.  Conservative politics also has a code of things that are taken as sacred and that we’re not supposed to question, too.  Nobody’s come up with a neat little name for these ideas, so it’s harder to complain about the fact that we’re bullied into not talking about them.)

Having said all that, I’d like to explore  why I think we ought to question the assumption that Mccain’s experiences as a prisoner of war inherently lead to him being a better candidate.

The most obvious reason is that simply being a hero is not preperation for being the president.  Certainly character is huge.  And character certainly might have been built through that process.  But if that’s the real issue then we ought to look at all the candidates’ lives and choose our president based on who has suffered the most or overcome the most adversity.

If we engaged in such a search through all the candidates lives, and uncovered the toughest experiences they went through, we’d be wise to ask whether these experiences were a good thing or a bad thing for them.

When I look back at the traumatic experiences of my own life, I know that they leave a mixed impact on me.  Some leave me with strength and bitterness.  Others leave with me with greater endurance and also a prejudice.

So here’s the question: Did being a prisoner of war for five years, did being tortured for five years leave a positive or a negative impact on Mccain?

If it were me that experienced that, I know that there would be absolutely no way that I could come through that experience and be qualified to be America’s commander and chief.  There’s no way I could represent my country in an unbiased manner.  There’s no way that I could negotiate reasonably with other countries.

Mccain has strength in ways that I’ll never imagine.  I’m open to the outside possibility that someone, such as him, might make it through those 5 years and have it build them up.  I believe that people heal and overcome their wounds.

When we look at things on the surface, we often think “the person who has been through the most experiences is most qualified.”  But if we look at the issue very deeply we realize that there are limits to this. 

Most of us would not want to look like the potential boss’s ex-boyfriend in a job interview.  The boss recently experienced a break-up.  This experience does not better prepare her for making the decision around whether or not we’re qualified for the job.

If something horrendous happened to someone in my family, part of me might wish for the death penalty of the perpretrator.  I believe I’d be wrong to wish for the death penalty; I don’t believe in it.  But this wouldn’t make me wish for it any less.  Having a family member victimized would not prepare to judge fairly about legal issues.

We recognize this principal in jury selection.  People with significant experiences similar to the case are dismissed as the assumption is that the person could be biased.

Perhaps Mccain’s made it through to the other side of his experiences.  Maybe he’s grown through them.  Nobody’s really asking the question, so we can’t really know.  And some of the reason we don’t know, some of the reason we’re not asking is simply because we’re afraid that people will bully us by labeling us “unpatriotic” for asking the question in the first place.

 But it’s not an issue of patriotism at all.  It’s bigger than our country.  Nelson Mandella become president of South Africa within months of being released from a decades-long improsonment.  When this occured, people wondered the same things I’m wondering about Mccain: Is he unbiased?  Did the experience scar him?    Though Mandella is a hero and did an amazing job, it was appropriate to ask these questions in his case.  I’m suggesting here that we ought to be asking the same for Mccain.

At the bare minimum, I’d say that his experiences are a sword that cuts both ways.  In some sense it probably did prepare him for the presidency.  But how could it not have other, negative effects?  It seems to me that it’s incredibly important to wiegh these effects as well.

Leveling the playing field for God

God tells me to worry about the foriegner and the widow and the orphan.  It seems a safe bet that he’s talking about all the disenfranchised and disenpowered.

He’s located me in America in the year 2007.  He’s blessed me with an amazing career that’s exposed me to inner city, emotionally disturbed kids. 

I have no doubt that these are the widows and the orphans and the foriegners that God told me to worry about. 

So I ponder and I pray about how best to take care of these kids where I am.  One thing that I struggle with is people who think we are doing enough.

It’s awesome that I live in America.  I love my country.  I love democracy.  There are great things about capitalism.  We are doing a better job than many places and times in history of looking out for the least of us.

But I don’t think it’s enough.

People talk about equality versus equality of opportunity.  They characterize liberals (like me) as folks who just want to equalize everything: divide all the money we have among all the people, divide all the property we have among all the people, irrespective of the abilities, work ethic, risks taken, etc.

But this isn’t really what I want.

The folks who sometimes characterize liberals thusly say that we don’t need to do anymore, than in fact we shouldn’t do anymore.

They claim that all we really should supply is a level playing field.  And then people should just slug it out.  If they win, they win.  If they lose, they lose.  If they don’t try, then they didn’t try.

The thing is this: I totally 100% agree that  we should provide a level playing field.  Within certain limits, we should allow people to benefit or pay based on this performance.

My real issue is just how level the playing field is.  Does an inner city kid have the same shot as a suburban kid?  Does a person who starts off wealthy have the same shot as somebody who starts off with nothing?

No, No, no.  There is so much injustice in all this!  No!

I’m going to take a little trip in my brain.  I’m going to compare hypothetical sucessful person and a  hypothetical failure.

Let’s call the winner “Fred” and the loser “Barney”

Fred’s mother becomes pregnant.  She has access to adequate health care.  She is educated and has a support system.  She has access to adequate health care.  She’s able to afford a midwife, pregnancy books, etc.  Her doctor is top-notch and respected in her field.  She’s got a white-collar job during which she spends a fair ammount of her day sitting.

Barney’s mom recieves medicare.  And she is thankful for it.  But her doctor is not an expert in his field.  Barney’s mom does her best on a limited budget but can’t afford to eat healthily all the time.  She’s not much of a reader, perhaps, and has a few loving family members who don’t know much more than she does about healthy pregnancies.  Barney’s mom doesn’t get much time off during her pregnancy, and she works a physically demanding, blue-collar job which leaves her on her feet.

Fred is born healthier than Barney.  He hits his milestones earlier.  He learns faster.

Fred ends up with a college-educated Nanny that reads to him.  Barney ends up in a day care center.  Fred is frequently read to.  He has a library of books in his nursery.  Barney’s dad tries to get him to the library.  He often has a couple books around.

Fred’s reading readiness skills are all set by the time he enters kindergaren.  Barney?  Well, he’s starting to get some basic concepts, but he’s behind.

Studies show that we can predict high school success pretty accurately based on grade school performance.  Fred is at the top of his class in a suburban school.  Barney is somewhere in the middle.

Fred’s school has all the resources it needs.  It has well paid teacher and lots of technology.  It has lots of opportunities for enrichment. .. Much of it’s increased funds come from the higher property taxes of where Fred lives.  Also, Barney’s school is forced to spend it’s limited funds remediating the poor standardized testing results his inner city school suffers from.  The music teacher from Barney’s school is fired  (Never mind all the studies that demonstrate the academic value of enrichment classes.) to free up enough funds for the school to offer an after school program to low-performing students.  Barney, not particularly low performing, doesn’t participate. 

Fred’s parents new that they needed to start saving for college years ago.  They also have the resources to do so.  Barney takes out loans or works more hours than Fred.  But he went to an inferior school where he learned less subject matter, was taught less critical thinking and study skills, etc.  Fred graduates at the age of 22.  Barney is on the 6 year plan.

Barney has less understanding of business expectations because he comes from a blue collar family.  Fred’s loving parents take him out to buy interview clothes after college graduation.

Imagine Fred and Barney showing up at an office, interviewing for the same job.

Fred is suave and well dressed.  He is well prepared, having discussed his first big interview with dad.

He got a great night’s sleep on his new matress.  He traveled in comfort because he just had his air conditioner charged.  He learned stress management techniques at summer camp growing up.  He’s young and hip and seems a go-getter.

Barney’s old matress lead to his old back injury flaring up.  It’s scorching hot and his cheap hair cut is sticking to his scalp because his sensible car’s air conditioner is running down.  He made guesses about appropriate dress and couldn’t afford the most fashionable.  The boss deduces the 7 years Barney took to graduate by subtracting high school college graduation date from college graduation date.

The boss is sensible enough to know that it might not be Barney’s fault… He might be an amazing person.  But the boss has a responsibility to hire the best person for the job.  How could it not be Fred?

There are a hundred little ways that the field is tilted.  It seems petty to mention any one of them in isolation.  But when taken together, they form this barrier to equality… more than that, they form an empire that opresses God’s children as surely as the Romans and Egyptians did.


Things I wrestle with: Politics

Among those issues that I don’t feel that I’ve got worked out is how to be political.  Part of the problem is that I’m quite passionate about this topic: I’m a raging left-winger.  Obama is my guy for president.  But I’d better stop myself from this track before I get started.

One of the reasons this is all a problem for me is that Jesus was staggeringly apolitical.  He didn’t shrink from the power structure… but he seems mostly to have gone about his business as if the political situation didn’t exist… though the political situation he was up against was quite extreme, and the expectations on him were quite political, he just did his thing.

This is also a problem that I can identify by looking at the other side.  The Christian right drives me up a wall.  They have a right to there beliefs… but they don’t have a right to subject me to beliefs that I don’t agree with. 

Some of the dilemna maybe comes from the fact that there are facets of faith that are personal, even mystic.  Some of my reasons for following Christ are so intensely personal that I can’t put words on them.

Yet the ramifications of faith calls us to political beliefs…  Democracy is based on debate in the public sphere, yet some of my politics aren’t reducible or understandable through debate in the public sphere.

Furthermore, if I admit my right to support politics based on private matters, it seems hypocritical to expect others not to… Discourse, seems to break down if we admit religion… and yet, society breaks down if we deny it.


How we have been divided

and conquered.

I will pray tonight about this point of diminishing returns

I will pray tonight that I might wipe Jesus’ spittle from my eyes and then see.

I will mourn the loss of the warriors tonight.

If there had been more warriors

There would have been fewer wars.

How we have been conquered

and then divided.

I will pray tonight about this grand deception

I will pray tonight that I might take up a cross and follow him.

I will seek out those powers and principalities.

I will storm the gates of Hell

I will set the captives free now that I am set free.

When we were conquered we were divided

when we were divided we were conquered.

I will pray tonight that I might wage Heaven’s peace

I will pray tonight that I might fight Heaven’s war

There are no wars but there is this War.