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Unity of Love – Unity of Hate

Unity of Love – Unity of Hate

There are plenty of posts going up today commemorating the events of September 11, 2001. I do remember where I was. I was hoping to sleep in for some reason (usually late working or reading), and was awakened by being told there was something I just had to see. On the TV was a picture of smoke coming from the towers.

I did not lose any closer friends or family on that day. There is that sense of national loss, but I would not compare that to the loss of those whose loss was personal and direct.

In the days following I watched as our country pulled together, found a new unity, and came closer to God. I have also watched much of that unity evaporate, along with much of closeness and new spirituality that came out of the event. We saw heroes arise in unlikely (and some likely!) places: First responders of all varieties, our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines, and thousands of civilians who just happened to be at the right place.

Good things can come out of evil deeds. They never justify the evil deeds. They are part of how we try to build and make a better world, part of how we deal with grief, fear, and the disruption of our lives.

One thing that can result from a threat is unity. People who are under a common threat tend to grow together as they face it, at least as long as the threat is current and real. And unity is a good thing. At least it is some of the time.

I’ve found that many vices are simply virtues that have gotten tainted by something else. For example, there is discernment, a good thing (Heb. 5:14). On the other hand, there is judgment (Matt. 7:1-5), which I think might be discernment mixed with pride or self-righteousness and directed at others.

In the case of unity, there is that unity that comes of our love for one another, and that results in a loving group reaching out to others (1 John 4:7-21). This is the kind of unity we Christians are supposed to seek. You could call this a unity of inclusion.

Then there is that unity in which fear brings us together to hold others at arm’s length or even to attack them and to seek revenge. You could call this a unity of exclusion.

You could also call the first a unity of love, and the second a unity of hate.

Now it happens I am not a pacifist. I am, in fact, a veteran, and proud to be able to say so. But violence, or any kind of force, is a blunt and dangerous activity. It has a tendency to go beyond itself, to breed new and greater dangers, and to fail to accomplish its intended goals. Remember World War I, the war to end all wars?

I don’t believe that a unity of inclusion means an absence of defense. I believe there is evil, and there are evil people. Against such, action may be necessary. But my belief that violent action—by nature dangerous even to those who use it—may be necessary leads me to support a unity of inclusion even more strongly.

I believe that it is only by rejecting revenge that we can successfully apply the necessary actions to evil people. Hate will rot out the good structure of unity and cause us to choose actions that are unnecessary and that only breed more problems. Hate will also change us in ways that are hard to predict, and never good. Hate may see true enemies; in fact, it often does. But it also makes us see enemies where there might be potential friends.

Are there people who will hate us no matter what we do? I suspect so. But there are also people who may be angry at us for good reasons, and if we could look at ourselves closely enough and carefully enough, we might just be able to change that.

I would like to see us reexamine ourselves as a nation and see if the changes we see after 9/11/2001 make us the people we want to be. For a few days right now we’re going to be more unified. We’ll see people like George W. Bush and President Obama on a platform together.

But it won’t be long until we’re sniping at one another again. Peace and unity may only last for hours. So now is the time to ask ourselves this: Do we like what we are becoming?

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I Don’t Understand This

I Don’t Understand This

From CBS News:

Eighty percent of speech watchers approve of President Obama’s plans for dealing with the economic crisis. Before the speech, 63 percent approved.

Fifty-one percent of speech watchers think the president’s economic plans will help them personally. Thirty-six thought so before the speech.

I have mixed emotions about President Obama’s economic policies, and I had mixed emotions about President Bush’s. My point is that this isn’t about criticizing or supporting the policies.

President Obama gives a good speech. In this case there was even some content in the speech. But it wasn’t an explanation of his policies. It didn’t tell us anything new about why such policies were necessary, or why they would help particular people. I listened to the whole thing and was impressed, but it didn’t convince me of anything I didn’t already believe and I don’t see what element in the speech would be expected to change my mind.

So what in the speech would change enough minds to cause a 17 point jump in the percentage who approve of the president’s handling of the economy? What produced a 15 point jump in those who think the plans will benefit them personally? Presumably those numbers will drop with time, but those are still some rather hefty gains.

I truly don’t see how this works.

Bipartisan Dialog is Messy

Bipartisan Dialog is Messy

As readers of this blog already know I have mixed feelings about the current stimulus bill, but I think most of the discussion on the progress of the bill is measured against a wrong standard.

Despite complaints to the contrary, President Obama has taken a bipartisan approach to formulating this bill. There are Republican ideas in the resulting bill–some of which are things I don’t like. Whether or not he has gotten Republican support does not determine whether he has listened to Republican voices.

The problem is that people are expecting a smooth path to passage such as might be produced by a well-oiled political machine. But a process of dialog is never that tidy.

I don’t know how the White House is measuring this. But I don’t think they should be embarrassed by a messy process. If they continue to listen, they may find that eventually there are places where, contrary to the public rhetoric, barriers have been broken. I believe a little annoyance is a small price to pay in the long run.

A Few Kicks in the Rear

A Few Kicks in the Rear

I think that President Barack Obama’s inaugural speech was less about soaring rhetoric and more about giving the nation a few kicks in the rear, though only in the nicest way.

Yet the kicks were firm for all of that. While government has work to do, we all need to change our attitude and get going both in work and in service.

I was also pleased to note that he mentioned “non-believers” in his list of groups. That doesn’t happen all that often.

Let’s try to live up to it!

Now Rick Warren is in REAL Trouble

Now Rick Warren is in REAL Trouble

According to OneNewsNow, an organization only slightly less paranoid than WorldNetDaily, Rick Warren is praising President-Elect Obama for inviting Bishop Gene Robinson to pray at the inauguration as well.

After supporting Proposition 8 in California and then accepting the President-Elect’s invitation, it’s possible that nobody will be happy with Rick Warren any more.

They note particularly Robinson’s statement that he will not use the Bible:

Robinson has said he will not use the Bible when praying, and states “I will be careful not to be especially Christian in my prayer.”

This is one of my problems with all this. I would prefer to see many people sincerely praying according to their own traditions and practices than an attempt to have everyone pray generically. More accurately, the whole thing bothers me.

The Difficulty of Appropriate Public Prayer

The Difficulty of Appropriate Public Prayer

MSNBC.com reports that there is a bit of a kerfuffle over whether Rick Warren will use the name of Jesus in his prayer at Barack Obama’s inauguration. At the same time we have a group of atheist and humanist groups suing to prevent any prayer at all at this public event.

I confess to mixed emotions about the public prayer, largely because I think that the event reflects not only the public, but also the person who has been elected to that office, and Barack Obama is a believer. I could quite easily regard the prayer as relating more to him as a person than as something that is intended to reflect the country as a whole. While I may have mixed emotions, I would suspect that the lawsuit is doomed to failure, except in producing publicity, because we still have military chaplains and prayers to open the houses of congress, and the courts have shown no inclination to stop them.

But I have more problem with a public prayer as a Christian than I do as a political matter, something that has only been stirred up and sharpened by discussions with a friend of mine who is a pastor and who gets invited to pray at public events. There are two major points involved. First, for most trinitarian Christians, prayer in the name of Jesus (or in a trinitarian formula in some cases) is the way to pray–it is prayer. Second, just what is it that we expect a pastoral prayer at a public event to accomplish? As my friend has pointed out to me, and I agree, the public bodies over which prayer is offered are not going to actually seek God’s guidance and blessing as a group. They’re going to go right on doing whatever they were going to do anyhow. And it’s difficult to expect a public body that is diverse in beliefs to do so.

So in that case the public prayer becomes, in many ways, an act of idolatry. It is a pretense at worship, but not the reality. A critical part of the Lord’s prayer is “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Show me the public body here in the United States that intends to behave in that particular way. And with acute awareness of my atheist and other non-Christian friends, that is not a prayer that can be prayed collectively by a public body, expected to act in a secular way to govern a diverse body of people.

Were I an elected individual, I could individually pray that God guide me, even though I must express my viewpoint in non-religious terms in public debate. And note here that I can only express my viewpoint in non-religious terms if it is honestly supportable in non-religious terms. That means that I can pray the Lord’s prayer for myself, but that collectively prayed, it becomes an outright lie. Any prayer prayed in the name of Jesus is similarly supposed to be “under the authority of” as well as “in the name of” and thus, in my view, becomes idolatrous if prayed corporately on behalf of those who do not consent.

Given that there will be prayer at the inaugural event, I think the explosion of hostility over the selection of Rick Warren to offer that prayer is at best overdone. President-elect Obama, in my view, thinks he’s secure in his liberal credentials and wishes to reach out to a block of voters. That’s the political view. Thinking of it as a Christian I am much less comfortable, not because I don’t think Rick Warren can pray for, with, and on behalf of Barack Obama, but because I think it’s somewhere between difficult and impossible for him to pray on behalf of the inaugural crowd and certainly on behalf of the nation as a whole.

I understand pastoral prayers in congregations to be collective, that is that the pastor prays both for and on behalf of the people. Those who are more theologically and liturgically oriented than I am may argue this. I don’t see how this can be transplanted to the public square.

Yet we do so constantly in this country. I’m not sure where my conscience would lead me if I were a pastor. My friend doesn’t want to pray at public events (not in church), a position with which I sympathize. The only compromise position I can see is praying in public, but seeing this as praying solely on one’s own behalf, and for the gathered audience. Trouble is, unlike pastoral prayer in which I believe all participate, I think this sounds a great deal like a violation of the principle expressed in Matthew 6:1-6. The prayer becomes a public show, or perhaps a political show.

I like interfaith dialogue, but I like interfaith prayer much less. I prefer the idea that in interfaith dialogue all sides maintain their distinctives honestly and openly, yet celebrate the diversity. In my view too much interfaith dialogue involves homogenization and blandness rather than actual celebration of diversity, combined with robust but respectful discussion and debate.

Readers are free to see this as a modification or even a partial repudiation of my view expressed here, where I considered the invitation solely from the political point of view.

Obama Regards Himself as Liberal

Obama Regards Himself as Liberal

Terms like “bipartisan” and even “post-partisan” were employed throughout the campaign and are being used now in criticism of the Obama administration that is taking shape.

The problem is that we have gotten used to the notion that bipartisanship involves people from two parties who happen to agree on an issue working together. Thus moderate Republicans and Democrats can get together on points on which they can agree, and that is regarded as “bipartisan.”

Trouble is, neither party has a very coherent ideology, and thus there are always issues on which people who already pretty nearly agree can get together. There is a virtue in ignoring unimportant labels in order to work together on common goals.

I honestly didn’t believe it during the campaign, but President-Elect Obama seems actually to have meant bipartisan. Not merely as in Republican and Democrat, but as in conservative, moderate, and liberal, as in people who actually disagree on substance having an input and a part in the process.

That’s much harder to do, and it involves reaching out to people with whom one disagrees. The complaint has been that Obama has done too much reaching to the center and the right hand side of the spectrum.

But it seems to me that the president-elect regards himself as a liberal, and thus any reaching out would involve reaching out to those on that side of the spectrum. He expects to set policy, as he has indicated in answers to the press, and to have this team carry it out. He will be listening, however, to a variety of voices.

This doesn’t involve merely adding a couple of Republicans of moderate persuasion to an otherwise Democratic cabinet. It involves putting people who disagree substantively in a position to be heard by the president.

I don’t know how this is going to work. If the president-elect is less of a leader than he thinks he is, the result could be disastrous. On the other hand, if he is capable of directing this group of leaders he has put together, which strikes me as a bit like herding cats, he could accomplish something quite extraordinary.

Only time with him in actual power will tell us what the result will be, but I would say that I am more optimistic today than when I cast my vote.

There are some issues on which the cabinet concerns me, particularly the Iraq war, torture, and certain constitutional issues in domestic counter-terrorism. I will continue to watch these issues, and to hope that Obama’s view, as expressed in the campaign, is one he can see through with the team he has assembled.

But overall, think there is much cause to hope this coming administration will be better than I expected.

Dialogue with Those Who Agree

Dialogue with Those Who Agree

Two blogs I read regularly provided contrasting responses to Barack Obama’s choice of Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration.

First, Michael L. Westmoreland-White, who speaks from the left, expresses some anger because he sees Warren as someone whose views are opposed to those of many who made Barack Obama’s candidacy possible. As is usual, Dr. Westmoreland-White nuances his position and expresses it gracefully, even saying that some on the left would be willing to go along with the inclusiveness if Warren were giving the benediction, when many will have tuned out, rather than the invocation. I can understand that viewpoint.

On the other end of the spectrum, Drew, guest blogger at Pursuing Holiness, thinks that Warren should refuse to give the invocation, because he is tacitly approving Obama’s “immoral” positions, citing particularly gay marriage, abortion, and even tax policy. To accurately reflect the flavor, let me quote:

1 Corinthians 5:11 doesn’t explicitly mention “murder” or “stealing” or “blatant heresy,” but nonetheless…Warren should certainly hesitate before tolerating Obama’s gross immorality.

It’s not my purpose here to debate these issues, but I should note that I would certainly not make it through Drew’s morality filter, and in fact I don’t think that he has expressed a particularly Christian filter at all. I define “Christian” as one who places one’s trust in Jesus, not as one who takes a particular set of positions on public policy.

Though I’m clearly closer to Dr. Westmoreland-White’s position, my concern with both of these posts is similar in nature. I think we have a strong tendency to propose dialogue largely between groups of people who agree totally.

Considering that the left, not to mention much of the center, has not had a seat at the table for the Bush administration, it is not surprising that many not on the right want to grab hold of the power and exclude the excluders. It is also doubtless difficult to carry on dialogue with those who regard you as grossly immoral, which is the position in which the GLBT community is placed.

At the same time the challenge for Obama is to make whatever changes he can accomplish in Washington last more than one term and even more than two terms. In order to do that, he will need the support of opponents, and he will need to draw in more people. As such, his supporters might consider giving him more room.

But from Warren’s point of view, I think it is important for him to have a voice. I don’t think that offering an invocation indicates support for all the moral positions of the person, group, or event in question.

Dialogue needs to be between people who disagree. Bipartisanship needs to involve more than one party. Obama seems to be interested in both dialogue and bipartisanship. Let’s give him a chance to demonstrate an ability to lead in the midst of a chorus of diverse voices.

Not so Much with the Cabinet Surprises

Not so Much with the Cabinet Surprises

I’ve been watching television with a certain amount of amusement as various reporters try to create news and then discuss the news they’ve created with reference to President-Elect Obama’s cabinet and other appointments.

But what interests me is the great surprise that the president-elect may appoint former rival Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Besides the fact that their foreign policy views are really quite close despite efforts to distinguish them during the primaries, she clearly has strong leadership skills. At first I wondered why she would want the position, but then I considered that, should she run for president again, it would be nice resume padding. That is besides the basic notion of public service.

But what most of the commentators, even those who strongly supported Obama during the campaign seem to be doing is assuming that he can’t lead a strong cabinet. They’re concerned about how she’s going to take foreign policy leadership away from him.

Now I have no way of being sure that he can manage the nation effectively. There is a certain amount of risk in voting for anyone for president, because there really isn’t anywhere to get experience of the same type. But I wouldn’t vote for someone if I didn’t at least have strong hope that they’d be able to do the job.

I’m sure the the president-elect wants Hillary Clinton in his cabinet because he believes she can provide strong leadership in foreign policy. I think he is not afraid to appoint her because, unlike some of his supporters, he actually believes he has the leadership skill not just to run for president, but to be president. I think he believes that he can shape the group of strong personalities he is gathering into fulfilling his vision.

I could be wrong, obviously, but I also think he can do it. If I hadn’t have thought he could do it, I wouldn’t have marked a ballot for him on November 4, apparently unlike some vocal supporters today.

We all need to chill out and actually let this new leader take some actions as president before we start to panic because he’s not going to fulfill his promises, or because strong subordinates in government are going to run away with policy.

Republican Role: Defend Capitalism?

Republican Role: Defend Capitalism?

In an MSNBC story today Senator Jeff Sessions, from our neighboring state of Alabama is quoted:

Fellow Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions also opposes helping the auto industry. “Once we cross the divide from financial institutions to individual corporations, truly, where would you draw the line?”

Just a second here. Line? What line? Look in your rear view mirror. That thing way back there, practically out of sight? That’s the “line.”

You see, congress may have passed a law providing relief to “financial institutions” but the actual money goes to–you guessed it–corporations. But the line was crossed many years ago when the government decided to rescue Chrysler, after which Lee Iacocca was known to run about posing as a champion of capitalism.

I’m not a purist on capitalism, but I do think we need to realize what we’re actually doing. The most socialist actions we’ve taken recently are not proposing minor chances in the structure of redistribution as provided by the tax code. It’s in these gifts of capital to private industry.

It’s good that Republicans are working on opposition to this type of activity, though I don’t think they will be very successful. There’s too much fear in our economy right now. I noted during the election that I was in kind of a reverse of the rest of the country. I thought I’d give McCain an edge on the economy and Obama the edge on foreign policy–not that McCain had a large edge.

So what do I think ought to be done? Personally I would not directly aid these industries at all. We have a problem in this country regarding deficit spending, but most importantly we carry out deficit spending on projects that will not produce anything later. In other words we borrow money from our children and grandchildren with no prospect other than that we will have to borrow some more from their children and grandchildren in order to pay them back.

But deficit spending is not necessarily bad in the short term. What is bad is when deficit spending becomes essentially eternal, when we will carry on building the deficit even when an emergency is past.

Two elements would be necessary in any plan for me to feel unqualified support for it. (Note that I’m aware that nobody is waiting for my unqualified support!) First, it would have to accomplish goals that I generally think can be accomplished well by government, such as building infrastructure. (I include basic education as an infrastructure issue, so building schools would be acceptable.) Improving this country’s infrastructure would have the potential of improving our economy down the road, providing those infrastructure projects were well chosen.

Second, we need a commitment to ending the spending, and making a corresponding reduction in either taxes or in the deficit (depending on how the work was financed) when the mission was accomplished. I have little hope that such a commitment would be made and kept, but since I’m writing almost entirely about fantasies–nobody’s going to do this stuff–why not fantasize about that as well.

In the meantime we’re going to be stuck with debates on whether we are giving money to “institutions” or “individual corporations” carried out by people who ought to know better. Or perhaps they do know better but don’t feel like admitting it.