Posts Tagged ‘United States’

Consumerism = Slavery

Very often, religion critiques excessive consumerism.  I am sure many a pulpit has done so with the help of many wonderful theologians.  One such theologian (and one that is quite important to me personally) is Walter Brueggemann.  His later works strongly critique American consumption without, to my knowledge, a substantive enough appreciation for what drives consumerism.  Perhaps what drives consumers is an intent to welcome the “newness” of life.  Perhaps consumerism is a form of communication of the deeper self.  Perhaps consumerism is wishing for something powerful to do.   Who knows for sure?  Not many.  Largely this is because consumerism is critiqued without first being appreciated.  And yet, it seems the only thing that diminishes consumerism is a lack of money.  Self deprivation cannot, for the majority, combat excessive consumerism.   If North American Christians should consume less (food, stuff etc.) how is the church going to honor and redirect what drives consumption.


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approaching considerations of  forgiveness with DH Lawrence’s help….







How nice it is to be superior!

Because really, it’s no use pretending, one is superior, isn’t one?

I mean people like you and me.–


Quite! I quite agree.

The trouble is, everybody thinks they’re just as superior

as we are; just as superior.—


That’s what’s so boring!  people are so boring.

But they can’t really think it, do you think?

At the bottom, they must know we are really superior

don’t you think?

don’t you think, really, they know we’re their superiors?—

I couldn’t say,

I’ve never got to the bottom of superiority.

I should like to.

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peace symbol

Wearing the peace sign on her shirt

Her competition trains her sister to the dirt.

Wearing the peace sign on her hip,

Her stride unsaddles brother’s tenure with a rip.

Hanging peace signs from her ears,

Her tone and message echo a drill into fears.

I say…..”Peace girl….PEACE!!!!”

She says, “MY piece, YOUR piece….NEVER easy peace.”

“Good night mom.”

Good night….piece of my peace. 🙂

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Springfield, Illinois, USA. Barack Obama, his ...

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Christian Century has a wonderful political summary of our current administration’s plight.  This is a wonderful and well written article.  As I read it, I thought of Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky’s Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading.In the book they detail the art of the holding environment in order to keep the temperature not too hot or too cold for change.  It seems to me that President Obama may be working to sustain a holding environment in a more complex or entrenched political environment than the one FDR operated in.  So not just a pragmatist but a diligent, non-anxious strategist (which the article also suggests).

However the real insight in the article for me should not have been an insight at all.  The difference between Obama and FDR is that in Obama’s election there was a revolutionary sort of change, i.e., the first African-American elected to office.  Such revolutionary moments of change (overdue or not) withdraw a large amount of change-ability from the bank account so to speak.  If all things had been equal (and I understand in the article that they were not), FDR represented no such revolution upon his election and may have had greater power to do  revolutionary change while in office. As organizational development theorists would tell us, revolutionary change might be necessary or we might just want it.  However, evolutionary change has a greater staying power if the ego of the leader can be held in check for it’s more subtle but powerful efforts.   Whether he likes it or not, it seems Obama has symbolized one revolution and is now into the agony of evolution.

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The Barna Group‘s latest research reveal indicates that most Americans want a customized religious experiencehttp://www.usatoday.com/NEWS/usaedition/2011-09-13-If-World-War-IIera-warbler-Kate_ST_U.htm   The research, as summarized in the USA Today article,  suggests that Americans shop for their religious believes like accessories to the self.  That is, Leslie’s religion reflects her preferences and is absent of the convictions or statements that make her uncomfortable.  For example, the article cites that there is an increased belief among individuals in Jesus as their personal savior as well as the conviction that they are going to heaven however none have attended church in the last 6 months other than for a special event such as wedding or funeral.

While their contribution to the conversation is helpful, it may be true that the Barna research is playing a tired chord within an over-played song.  That chord is that people are mindless without the church; clergy have lost their persuasive abilities and that the church is fractured because of both the previous points.    What if the chord was transposed just a note or two higher?   It might sound like this, people are still striving to be found faithful in an increasingly complex world;  Clergy have never been persuasive apart from their care to people by which their study of the gospel is fully informed; and the church has never been of one mind or expression about anything.  Such a higher note might allow us to honor gospel fundamentals without grasping at trendy straws in order to solve what is uncomfortable about the church’s life.  After all being the church means being fundamentally uncomfortable.

Quite contrary to Barna’s concerns, religious experience is fundamentally customized (that is the essence of believing in a personal God).   Customization is not something that people do artificially because clergy and the church have lost control.

In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) we believe in the aggregate of experience that informs the entire Body of Christ.  So, my customized religious experience is put alongside others who have a distinct customized experience.  If there is the right spirit between us, I am interested not only in my experience but in the experience of my fellow worshiper and church-goer.  The shared life, then is a creative mix of the customized.

Research like Barna’s is the most recent arrival  in a long line of laments that mainline Christianity is on the way down and out.  This anxious cry is becoming increasingly impotent.  This is the cry that would have us all trying harder to keep up with insatiable expectations for the church.  Some of our expectations for Christianity in the United Stated of American cannot be satisfied.  We expect more and more.   Increasing demands include more attendance, more income, more members, more successful programs.    Perhaps these insatiable demands are what drive people from organized religion to find some relief.  It seems to me that there is a natural ebb and flow in the organized life of the church.   If we are truly in an ebb, perhaps it is a good time to dig down and serve those gathered with greater personal attention to their customized experience so that it can inform our shared life in creative ways that contribute to the next flow from an abundant God.

After all the fundamental expectation for Christ‘s church is not just rapid appeal and growth.  There is also the relational work that serves as scaffolding to the Body of Christ.  In this relational work, we taken on tough questions as we figure out the customized experience of “the other” person….specifically the person who seems miles from our own experience.    This work is not for those who believe they are going to heaven because they prefer to….this is the work of those who are wondering, hoping and working ….doubting that their customized faith is all there is.     This has always been the work of an inner circle of customized individuals who prepare to interact intensely with God’s wider world.

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Carnival of Souls

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Continuing my reflections on the video series from the Teaching Company The Passions:  Philosophy and the Intelligence of Emotions a second basic emotion considered there is that of fear.  According to Robert C. Solomon it is perhaps the most studied emotion because it is so easy to induce. There is a neurological structure for fear that seems tied to the lower brain stem.  And though it is a trigger, most of us would agree that it is purposeful and even good to be afraid. The world is full of uncertain things that require our defenses.  However, it would be a simplification to understand that fear is a brief psychological response to stimuli.   Fear is an important engagement or strategy with the world.

It is an engagement or strategy that appraises our environments and circumstances on two levels.  Solomon lays these out very clearly.  The first level is a basic appraisal that perhaps functions at the intuitive level.  We have the sense that something is not right or potentially dangerous at the basic level of appraisal.  The second level is a well-informed level of appraisal that researches, investigates and considers the source of a fear.  He contends that usually various sources of information, as they are processed, come into alignment or agreement.  However, when our appraisals don’t agree,  it is because  of the “profundity of the one level of appraisal, as opposed to the superficial and not-fully-believed other level of appraisal. Irrational fear is not a matter of intelligence versus emotion but of a convoluted and complex set of inner conflicts.” (pg. 21)   Solomon notes several variations of fear:

  • Panic – Solomon contends that panic is a mindless state within fear.  It  a state of engagement with a minimal amount of information.
  • Anxiety  – Solomon contends that anxiety lacks a straightforward engagement with world. I understand this to mean that when we feel fearful, anxiety detours us to some tangential part of what makes us afraid without a clear focus on the source of fear itself.  It would be like being afraid of spiders and this manifests itself an in an anxiety regarding webs.
  • Horror – While fear is characterized as struggling to find a right response or something to do, horror is an experience that there is nothing one can do.   Some 2,000 years ago Aristotle speculated that experiences of horror provided a catharsis from fear.   What do you think?

This brings me to another book that I am reading after watching an interview on John Stewart’s Daily Show earlier this week.  The interview was with Fareed Zakaria regarding his 2nd edition of The Post-American WorldWithin the book, Zakaria addresses our fear through the dynamics of terrorism and mainstream media. I quote,  “A cottage industry of scaremongering has flourished in the West – especially in the United States – since 911.  Experts extrapolate every trend they don’t like, forgoing any serious study of the data. …The watchdogs note the musing of every crackpot Imam, search the archives for every reference to the end of days and record and distribute the late-night TV musings of every nutcase who glorifies martyrdom…..The minority that wants jihad is real, but it operates within societies where such activities are increasingly unpopular and irrelevant” (pg. 14-16).  In such statements Zakaria encourages the US population to appraise their fear in order to live successfully and powerfully within the global community.

On the one hand, we are to respect the emotion of fear.  On the other hand, without appropriate appraisal of our fears, we run the risk of diminishing our own capacities and life.  It is important to be afraid but even more important to research and investigate the fear that come as a part of God’s creative design imparting information for better living and appropriate response.

Psalm 111:10

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Corn male flower AKA corn tassel. The stamens ...

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My mother remembers among her childhood memories, a time when her small family farm was anticipating a corn harvest.  The corn was ripe, mature with tassels promising a great yield.  As is the risk in the midwest, about this time, a powerful storm blew up with increasing intensity.  As hail began to patter against the roof and then drive against it, my mother remembers her parents watching the storm through the picture window of their modest farm-house.  With their arms wrapped around the small of each other’s backs, side by side, my mother read her parent’s faces:   worry…then sorrow and slowly….ever so slowly… resolve.

My sense of America and my sense of my own work ethic is grounded in such stories.  It is with a sense of my grandparents humility, creativity and self-reliance that I consider the future of our country.  When I think of my investments (material and immaterial) I think of the promise and vulnerability of their corn.  When I think of life, they remind me there is much that you cannot control.  So human beings need one another for strength at the base of the spine.

Chapter six, “Is Social Security Really Broken”  of Progressive Christian Uniting:  A Different Voice on Faith and Politics was written just as President Bush’s proposal for the privatization of social security was being anticipated.  I have included links at the bottom of this post that might allow individuals to think about social security reform in a more up to date way.

Despite its age, like the other chapters of this book, the in-depth analysis of this chapter can inform our decision-making today.  The central concern of the chapter is the way in which privatization of social security might privilege those who are financially sophisticated.  “But what about the less fortunate citizens, the ones who will need to live on their Social Security checks but who may not know the difference between a stock and a bond?  Is a freedom of choice a blessing for them?” (99).  There is a great deal of work in the chapter to do math on the projections for privatization or the status quo and I am quick to admit the economics is beyond me.

As a pastor and granddaughter of farmers is the way that our country reforms itself according to capitalism as opposed to community.   There is an undercurrent of scarcity amid our abundance.  Like a proverbial pea under the mattress of gratitude, scarcity whispers to us…”there is not enough for all get what you can while you can.”    Such whispering seems likely to break the back of social security which is not the security of some individuals over another but a security for the whole fabric of our society.

Even as I am concerned that the poor at risk in the reforms AND that there is a fearful undercurrent driving reforms, I agree with the authors and am not opposed to “…the restructuring of Social Security in ways that increase participant choices over how they obtain their social-insurance protections.   …Americans have come to expect choices over what they buy and do.  …a structure that offers participant choice may be less rigid and more capable of evolutionary change than one with unitary structure.  ….Alas, the search for more efficient structures usually ignores the economic security of those (usually the poor) who are unfamiliar with the risks and rewards of private investment decisions.” (102).

We in the church have a responsibility to think about social fabric beyond our individualism and even beyond our nuclear family.  (Zech. 7:10 and Amos 2:6-7)  So the security we imagined has been ravaged by economic weathering!  There is an opportunity, with resolve to clean up, dig in and sow a few new ideas remembering that property lines are not as important as good neighbors.



http://www.socialsecurityreform.org/ (updated as of 16th of February 2011)

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