Archive for December, 2010

2011 resolution

I will be taking wordpress’s challenge to blog daily in 2011


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This issue of human rights is the subject of chapter four of Progressive Christians Speak:  A Different Voice on Faith and Politics.  This is a timely chapter to consider as George Clooney partners with Google, anti-genocide organizations and the U.N. agency to provide world wide surveillance of the border between North and South Sudan.  The civil war has been raging since 1983.  We are the antigenocide paparazzi,” Clooney said.

The chapter carries copious details of our nation’s formal or letigious responses to the work of the United Nations but then carefully explains that the most fundamental issue for the progressive chrsitian is not legal but spiritual.  That regardless of how theoretical human rights might be between the nations, the Christian perspective is that all are equal in the sight of God.  The Christian idea that “God alone is Lord of the conscious” is a cornerstone for this chapter.

The United States attention to human rights through international law and courts is heavily criticized in the chapter.  Again the authors encourage developing Christian education programs, lobbying Senators and developing civic awareness so that issues such as:  affirmative action, gender, sexual orientation, group rights, person with disabilities, dying with dignity and rights of nature can be fully considered within our nation.  Surely they suggest this attention to rights theory so that our nation can be exercised to more fully participate and influence the development of human/civil rights on the world scene.

Though this chapter is some 10 years old now, at the time,  there were shocking realities of the U.S.’s posture regarding global human rights

  1. the US had not ratified the international Women’s Convention and thus not been a leader in concern for women’s rights in the world. 
  2. in 2001, for the first time, perhaps due to increasing tensions between the United States and the U.N. the United States was not an elected member to the UN Commission on Human Rights.  However, Sudan was. The U.S. resumed its seat on the council on September 14th 2009.
  3. at the time the chapter was written, only Somolia and the United Stated has not signed the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  4. “In 1994, ten years after the formulation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Senate approved it with so many reservations, understandings or declarations (RUDS) that the Netherlands filed a legal complaint, alleging that the U.S. RUDs are imcompatible with the basic purpose of the treaty.” (63)

It is ironic and provocative to read a ten year old chapter that so harshly criticizes the U.S. on global human rights and to have the current headlines lauding a partnership that does not include the U.S. beyond the interest, dare I say conscience, of one of our most esteemed actors.  Somewhat prophetically the chapter notes that television and video camera mean that “the call of the oppressed is heard more clearly than ever before.” (63)  Clooney’s most recent action is going to make sure that the world can see the violence.  His hope is cinematic…that it will move people to action.  But will it move the U.S. to truly understand the word us?

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Chapter seven of Progressive Christians Speak: A Different Voice on Faith and Politics addresses the expansive prison systems of our country. The authors explain the expansiveness in several ways:  the connection between politics, prisons and election promises to be tough on crime; the lack of rehabilitation; harsh sentences for first time offenders just to name a few.  The chapter is full of civic encouragement to change the wave of sensationalism that currently persuades voters and drives public decision making.  But I was surprised the chapter never used the word restitution

The chapter seemed to focus on what those outside the prison system could do to correct the situation.  Of course the most powerful agency would come from potential prisoners themselves.  Resistitution being not a financial compensation but a relational opportunity that one has to right a wrong or consider how to move forward in the midst of a mistake.  Opportunities for relational restitution are one of the most powerful ways that human beings regain a sense of self importance and power.  It seems that any suggestions on how to modify our current penal system would begin far before one arrives at the prison doors. 

Resistitution:  Restructuring School Discipline by Diane Chelsom Gossen or Ghosts from the Nursery :  Tracing the Roots of Violence by Robin Karr-Morse are two books that suggest attention to human beings long before they reach adulthood.  Gossen’s book suggests that the school experience of discipline can be more enriching for the child of discipline becomes opportunities for restitution.  In these opportunities, children taken and active role in diagnosing what has gone wrong and what they can do to make it right.  Then with guidance and encouragement from adults, they make restitution to their fellow students.  What follows is a sense of accomplishment, confidence and a memory of righting a wrong.   These feelings within the human being can have a powerful result. 

The prison systems of our nation and their embedded relationship with politics must be addressed.  But they can only be adequately addressed by focusing on the systems that precede them.  For example, attention to the systems of discipline that we use in our homes and schools with our children.  These systems of discipline are also deeply embedded. What precedes the political arena where power is corrupted is the very mind of the human being.  We must challenge the mind and stretch it beyond a primitive understanding of power as weilded by some and taken away from others.

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I have needed, for a long time, a formula by which to consider my opinion on religion in public schools.  The first chapter of Progressive Christians Speak:  A Different Voice on Faith and Politics has provided that formula…at least in part.  In addition to providing a rich legislative history of the issue in our nation, the authors provide at four perspectives on religion in public schools: 

School prayer

FACT:  Ceremonies of mandatory attendance invalidate the constitutionality of prayer.  In a document by the US Department of Education in 1995, teacher led prayer is unacceptable but student led prayer is allowed.  In the same document, school endorsement of religious activity is  forbidden. School officials are to remain neutral toward religion

Dilemma – The definition of neutrality usually means one of two things, either school officials shall have nothing to do with religion or officials shall do nothing to discriminate against religion.  How does moral education happen effectively without a  

Teaching about religion –

FACT:  Teachers are to express neutrality regarding religion but there is a conservative and progressive concern that this encourages human secularism as the mindset of the day.

DILEMMA: Issues such as posting of the Ten Commandments (House Bill “Defense Act” Sponsored by Robert Aderholt) and Creationism are dealt with only a surface knowledge of the complexities of each.  For example, which version of the Ten Commandments to post and how Creationism is as limited a choice as a mechanistic model of science.

Use of facilities

FACT and no DILEMMA:  By law, all religious groups are given equal access to school facilities and that poses no dilemma for the authors of this book.

Financial aid and vouchers

FACT: State support of public and private schools is determined by a child benefit theory. 

DILEMMA:  Voucher system promises to bring political battles over concerns of racism, perceived complacency in the public school system. 

Over each of the four points they characterize conservative and progressive Christian response to these issues. The  characterization is that Conservatives are typically interested in hemegony while Progressives are typically more interested in diversity.     

Hegemony is my habit…diversity is my desired destination.  At this time of year, I cannot help but think of the Christmas story as a movement toward diverse community.  Within that simple and familiar story, there is a radical reality of pluralism as represented by the Wise Men‘s world view as foreign to the Isrealites.  There are audacious breaks from tradition in the decisions of Mary and Joseph. There is risk as Shepherds change direction for we know their routes were set in advance through political alliances and contract agreements.   There is a cosmology at work as the heavens and the earth are in conversation.  All characters within the story arise with a specificity of circumstance to comingle as a great concert that is remembered as harmonious.

 It seems to me that religion in schools within a democratic nation is a tool for diversity rather than hegemony.  Consideration of religion as a subject and as a subjective reality at its best is a tool to help a child understand the specificity of others not with a competitive eye but each trusting in God as if a conductor of humanity’s orchestra.   The schools surely need local churches to be mobilized toward such an open end.  Churches must be interested in learning about different sections of the spiritual orchestra.  Even within our sections, congregations would do well to resist sorting themselves as either conservative or progressive congregations.  Only when both types of individuals abide within the same congregation can a church receive the necessary fodder for spiritual growth out of cultural context.  Ultimately, churches must make an important switch.  We must become servants of the spiritual journey rather than keepers of denominational destinations. 

 And yes, my metaphor of an orchestra is a blatant plug for increased spending on arts within the school.

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In the chapter entitled:  “Do Corporations Serve the Human Family”, from the book Progressive Christians Speak, Progressive Christians United ask the reader to consider the history of corporations rising out of trade and the industrial revolution.  That history reveals a rise of mechanization and technology and the temptation to understand organized human beings as part of a machine.  The authors note that corporations have major stakeholders as well as stockholders.  Stake holders include stockholders, managers, employees, customers, suppliers neighbors and society as a whole.  This understanding has emerged in Europe and Japan as stakeholder capitalism.  Stakeholder capitalism thrives where strong unions are informing and challenging corporations.  In the last quarter century, unions have been powerfully diminished in America.  This diminishment as coporation grow have given rise to another type of capitalism in America….stockholder capitalism wherein the goal is to realize a profit for those who invest in the company and those who hold shares.  The authors suggest that humanity can experience a better quality of life if there is a stakeholder capitalism at work.  So that entities like, Planet Earth, the poor and destitute; humanity as a whole are also stakeholders in the corporations activities.  Thus the success of the corporation is determined by its ability to consider all the stakeholders as it does its work.

The authors encourage the reader to take action through their congregations and adult education programs;  as consumers and stockholders attending to humane and environmental practices and policies;  and as citizens whose voice and vote and influence government. 

My particular interest is in the church as an organization itself.   For as an organization local churches can be tempted toward a more corporate model.  In fact this is the nickname for our largest churches.  Here growth /expansion have been primary energies if not primary goals.  Forfeited or at least under attended are the congregations that do not promise growth or expansion.  Clergy will declare that they have “done all they could do” or need to “move on” for their career or call.  This, in itself,  is permissible partly because America’s corporate mentality has the ability to infect clergy’s perception of their call to ministry.  I heard recently that within the call process, a minister declined further conversation with a church because of its mortgage.  While there may have been other reasons, not wanting to tackle the mortgage may be likened to a CEO who does not believe the situation is profitable enough to invest his or her energy.

 Assessing the church as a corporation may be, simultaneously, a serious impediment and a necessary evil in order to experience the church as the Body of Christ.  It may be a necessary evil because as the authors of Progressive Christian United note, corporations have at least four strengths that might be summarized as an ability to organize work, raise capital, think at a global level and transcend prejudice.  Congregations need clergy and leaders to attend to their life toward , at least, these very ends.  I believe every congregation can be affected in order to be better organized.  However, all organizational efforts must be reinforced by relational glue.  Assessing the church as a corporation has also served as an impediment as clergy live and move and make a living within the churches.  The temptation is to move on and up the ladder.   Congregations cannot survive this corporate type temptation.  Their need is for residential pastors who have the patience and long term interest for congregational redevelopment and restructuring.  They need pastors who have the relational fortitude to bury the beloved and welcome the stranger into a congregation continually over time.  The corporate idea that excellent CEOs are the heads of the largest companies is not a helpful idea for the church but it is pervasive.  There is an assumption that the best preachers, writers and administrators among pastors are in the largest congregations.  EVERY Congregations hold a promise to be the thinking, praying, community building, missional entities of our nation. If we succumb to a corporate model where the smallest are left to atrophy and die we may be left with terrific gaps of under-served communities in our nation where thinking, praying, community building…is compromised or absent.  All size congregations are stakeholders in the Kingdom.

I have a hunch that clergy do not want to be CEOs.  Some if not all of us must function like them but the corporate model alone does not help the human family nor the congregational family.  When the corporate model is balanced by pastors that are wiser than stockholder CEOS and take up stakeholding,  relational inspired leadership open to all types of congregations….then there an ability for God’s church to be a well-represented Kingdom Corporation.

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