One shoe off

January 20, 2009

“Praise Song for the Day”

The title comes from Elizabeth Alexander’s inaugral poem. You can find the transcript here.

What to say about today ….

Last night I walked in the Muskogee Ministerial Alliance annual MLK march, which culminated in a service at a local African American church. It was an enormous God-Party, because King deserves no less, but also because of the momentousness of the holiday falling on inauguration eve. I bought three over-priced Obama buttons from a teenage girl raising money for the local NAACP youth group. One moment that crystalizes it for me happened in the opening minutes. We sang a praise chorus that I’d sung before at my parents’ church, but had always dismissed as another kind of lame “Yay Jesus” song. But listen:
“Lord you are good and your mercy endureth forever!
Lord you are good and your mercy endureth forever!”

You Are Good – Israel & New Breed

I can’t even express the impact of singing these words on that night, the night before this day, and for the first time realizing a fraction of what they meant to the sisters and brothers standing next to me. It’s one thing to read those words from Scripture for the thousandth time, it’s another to sing them on the night before the culmination of a promise of God to an oppressed people.

Am I waxing too poetic, too dewy-eyed, glossing over the racism that still endures, that will continue to endure, in our culture. Perhaps. Am I spiritualizing? Undoubtedly. I’ve tended more towards that lately. I blame it on Shane Claiborne, whom I started reading after Obama got elected, when I decided that it might possibly be possible to change the world. So actually, I blame it on Obama.

Now, about Rick Warren. I’m no great fan of Rick, but I’ve known of him for years, and he used to pal around with my uncles at youth retreats. My grandma remembers him sitting at their kitchen table eating Oreos. I’ve admired his stand against poverty, racism, global warming and AIDS, even as I’ve been hurt by his homophobic rhetoric. The fact is though, if you’re looking at it from the outside, you don’t realize that Warren is quite moderate by current evangelical standards. If you were to imagine a spectrum of evangelical folks, from conservative to liberal, Rick Warren is quite a bit to the left of the likes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, and only slightly to the right of people like Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis. I see in people like Warren a bridge that can bring evangelicals away from asshole Christianity and towards a more Jesus-like faith. Is he wrong about a lot of things? Yes, I believe so. But perhaps this reaching across lines, this breaking down of categories (Conservative Christians: “All Christians must be Republicans! Democrats are evil! Democrats hate God!” Progressive Christians: “All Evangeicals are Republicans! Keep them away from us!”) can be transformative not only for those of us on the left, but also for Warren and others like him, evangelicals who realize (and there have always been evangelicals who realized this) that following Jesus is not about a political agenda, but about compassion and justice. So, yes, to sum up, I’m not a big Warren fan, but I’m not all bent out of shape about Obama choosing him.

Enough with the defense o’Warren. Here’s a link to Bishop Gene Robinson’s invocation from the concert yesterday.

And here’s a link to an article that highlights one of the things that makes Obama most awesome: his bookishness.

September 12, 2007

in the poor house

Editor’s note: This was written a couple of weeks ago. It’s a little overdue, but I thought I would share it 1) in the interest of having some kind of content on this blog and 2) because the themes of “affluenza,” poverty and consumerism are ones that continually bounce up to the surface.

So, Tony Snow finally announced his resignation. Funny how people around Bush are dropping like flies. It’s like the party guests who go home early, not hanging around to be rousted off the floor or couch and thrown out by the host.

Funny, also, how Mr. Snow cites financial reasons for leaving his job. Apparently, as White House spokesperson he made a paltry $168,000, which he says isn’t enough to support his family. FYI the median income for a family of five in D.C. is $35,754. Yet, Mr. Snow claims he “had to take out a loan” in order to make ends meet when he left his high-paying Fox job to come to the White House. And yet, his income of $168k puts him in the top 5 percent. So, there are 3 options, as I see it:
1) He’s lying, and he’s really leaving because of a) his cancer or b) everyone else is leaving.

2) Tony Snow and his family, like a huge chunk of people, are mired in debt. For the average American, that’s nearly $19,000 in consumer debt, not counting mortgages. The average principal on a mortgage is about $69,000. So, let’s for fun say that the average American owes about $90,000. We’ll pretend Mr. Snow is indeed average. I suppose that, were his family to suddenly need to pay off all their debt all at once, an income $168,000 would be a little tight. (Failing to point out, however, that even that scenario would leave him with $78,000 to live off of. More than twice the median income mentioned above).

3) Mr. Snow lives way beyond his means. There is no reason at all why a five person family cannot have all their needs — food, shelter, clothing, water — met on $168k a year. Yes Mr. Snow has been ill, but federal employees are one of the few groups of people who DO have good insurance. And what about all that money he was making at Fox? Do you mean to tell me he saved NONE of it? He’s burnt through it all?

I’ve been afraid for a very long time that the industrialized world is going to run into an economic catastrophe on the scale of the Great Depression sometime in the next 50 years. My biggest fear, though, is that we’ve lost the skills to deal with that kind of catastrophe. Cable TV and (and to a lesser extent Internet access) have become “utilities” that are considered equal to electricity or gas service. We each spend about $2100 a year on restaurant meals. We’ve forgotten how to soak a bean, much less bake a loaf of bread. God forbid we brew our own coffee, or drink tap water from a glass.

Maybe my Walden Pond complex is coming back … every once in awhile I get this urge to dramatically simplify my life and start valuing NON-thing things. I can’t help but think that as a person of faith I need to take seriously Jesus’ command to live a life where people matter much more than things, and where we stop worrying about the money and live instead lives that are more humane. Lives that are more human.

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