Thursday, November 22, 2007

A day of national thanksgiving; a day of repentance?

If I had the talent of Sam Clemens, I'd write a scathing prayer to match the famous Mark Twain prayer for victory in war. Prompted by the jingoism of the Spanish-American War, it went unpublished until after his death.

I'll content myself with giving thanks for the bounty of this great land and for the opportunity our European founders were given to steal it from its original unworthy inhabitants who didn't know how to exploit its resources to the maximum; and for the means of accomplishing that great transfer -- the guns, steel, and germs that made genocide feasible and a continental empire possible. And the Bible that was used to bless it.

Lest in our tales of Pilgrims and Savages we forget the other great member of the trinity that provided the material foundations of our great nation, I also give thanks for the slavery that enriched both North and South -- the one through wise, enriching participation in the great trans-Atlantic Triangle Trade of slaves, molasses, and rum; the other through the clever use of unpaid labor to build the region's wealth.

Thanks are due, therefore, for theft, genocide, and slavery -- the means to opening up the vast resources that were previously unknown to Europeans, and the foundations for our later prosperity. And for war, to secure our blessings.

I give thanks that the past is past, allowing many to remain serenely indifferent to these things while watching parades and football games and eating overbred birds that are maladapted for living free -- a nation giving thanks and resting up for the ominously named "Black Friday" of extreme shopping.

And I give thanks for the possibility of repentance. Without inward examination, reflection, and repentance, untroubled minds never learn; they, we, keep repeating the old patterns in new ways. Confession is good for the soul: that holds true for the nation, too. A day of national repentance would offer up the possibility, for the clear of mind and contrite of heart, of following a new path. The unexamined life, as a continuous repetition until at last the point of terminal exhaustion is reached, is in the end not worth living.

Words to hear and inwardly digest:

Sherman Edwards, the composer and lyricist of "1776" put these words in the mouth of Edward Rutledge of South Carolina:

Molasses to rum to slaves, oh what a beautiful waltz
You dance with us, we dance with you
Molasses and rum and slaves

Who sails the ships out of Boston
Ladened with bibles and rum?
Who drinks a toast to the Ivory Coast?
Hail Africa, the slavers have come -
New England with bibles and rum

And its off with the rum and the bibles
Take on the slaves, clink, clink
Hail and farewell to the smell
Of the African coast

Molasses to rum to slaves
'Tisn't morals, 'tis money that saves
Shall we dance to the sound of the profitable pound
In molasses and rum and slaves

Who sails the ships out of Guinea
Ladened with bibles and slaves?
'Tis Boston can coast to the West Indies coast
Jamaica, we brung what ye craves
Antigua, Barbados, we brung bibles and slaves!

Molasses to rum to slaves
Who sail the ships back to Boston
Ladened with gold, see it gleam
Whose fortunes are made in the triangle trade
Hail slavery, the New England dream!
Mr. Adams, I give you a toast:
Hail Boston! Hail Charleston!
Who stinketh the most?

Sam Clemens wrote: "O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them, in spirit, we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(After a pause)

"Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Let us now praise famous men

On the Sunday after Hallowe'en, when I got to church I was surprised to find out that I wasn't reading the passage that I thought I was going to read. I had used the old Lectionary to prepare, forgetting that the new edition had been revised to recognize All Saints Day and All Souls Day and thus the designated readings had been changed. So instead of Isaiah 1 and "your hands are full of blood", I read the tamer and elegaic "Let us now sing the praises of famous men" passage from Ecclesiasticus 44.

Instead of the message of "More Woe" which I had expected to project convincingly for them, the congregation heard an evocation of community -- a hymn in honor of our notable ancestors.

Granted, only men were mentioned, and they weren't "common men", but at least they were diverse. The word was that all of them, from the rulers of kingdoms who had made a name for their valor, down to those whose names have been forgotten, had been apportioned "great glory" by the Lord. Even those whose names and lives, and children's names and lives, have been forgotten are not forgotten. Their righteous deeds and their name live on "generation after generation".

I take this as a celebration of continuity and community. And I take some pleasure in noting that in the list of types of famous men, with its implicit hierarchy, the rich men were last. Composers of music and poets came before them. Rulers led the list, followed by intelligent counselors to the rulers, then prophets, then wise instructors of the people, and then the musicians and writers of verses, and only then the rich, "living peacefully in their homes". We should, perhaps, be concerned that our rich, in our day, have moved up too high on our current list of famous (and powerful) men. Would that they would stay more peacefully in their homes.

It's significant that this eulogy comes after a long hymn (the second half of chapter 42 through the end of chapter 43) that praises the Natural World, Sun, Moon, Stars, Rainbow, and other Marvels. And it comes before a very long series of praises to the great names beginning with Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and ranging through the great kings and prophets (with brief condemnations of a couple of bad kings along the way).

Thus, the hymn to the unnamed famous men of Ecclesiasticus 44 fits into an even grander sequence of hymns, revealing continuities and an evolving community. The really big-name famous, like Moses, are rooted in this more ordinary community of honored ancestors, a community that goes way back in time and geography and will go way forward in both. And this more ordinary human community is in turn rooted in the natural, material world and universe.

Our praise of famous men here in Ecclesiasticus is in this way a part of a poetic expansion of the creation stories of Genesis. The larger set of hymns implies or prefigures a holistic view of creation and our place in it -- a view that sees everything as connected. Or perhaps as nested, each manifestation of reality sited within the next, from the cosmic down to the human. Linked. Or, as texts in the web, hyperlinked. Everything's connected. I like to think of this section of Ecclesiasticus as an early example of systems thinking, a foreshadowing of systems theory and the study of interconnectedness in all realms of nature.

Connectedness is essential. But community, under the great stress of impersonal economic and political forces, is ever harder to find, create, or sustain. Many cliches are on target: it does take a village; we are standing on the shoulders of giants, even unknown ones. And even those who appear to be the giants of the ages are standing on the shoulders of others. And all stand on the shifting structures of natural systems. Unfortunately, the village, the "human pyramid" of standers-on-shoulders, and our natural life-support systems are all in danger of disconnecting on a grand scale.

Our resources for building up good connections are small in comparison to the resources devoted to destruction. There is, however, a large place where the Bible and humanism, where anthropology and ecology, and dissidence of many kinds, all meet. I see that place as a staging area for movements of resistance and justice, raising hopes for community and peace.

Whatever commitments move people to that staging area are to be applauded and nurtured. Finding and keeping their connectedness, and developing it further will not be easy. Doctrines that would restrict access to the staging area will always abound, be they religious or secular in their assertions of various orthodoxies. Splits and diverging movements will always arise. The way is definitely difficult -- and narrow.

So, in the immortal words of a character who led a football cheer in Walt Kelly's ancient comic strip, Pogo, "fight on, chartreuse and plaid!" That should rally us.

No? Then let's try "blessed are the peacemakers."

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Values - Christian? Secular?

The Green Party promotes "10 Key Values". Two things strike me. First, they're popular. They come close to representing an American consensus on many points. They would probably poll pretty well. (As an example, in 2000, in trial heats between single pairs of candidates, in what's called "Condorcet polling", the Green candidate, Ralph Nader, beat each of the other candidates, Bush, Gore, and Buchanan.)

Second, they're not "religious", but they appear to me to be generally consistent with the "true religion" (or true worship) which is described and prescribed in the Epistle of James, and with the equivalent charitable love of Paul's epistles.

They raise the issue of whose values are more Biblically defensible -- the Christian Right's or those of at least some of the secular left's?

An amusing question. Think about it.

Here are the more or less definitive definitions from the national Green Party site. Some states have variant versions. I rather like the California version which is in the form of "how can we..." questions rather than statements of what we should or must do. That way, the CA version raises some interesting specific questions.

Rather than explain and comment, I'll leave it to you to ponder, comment, and ask questions.

Ten Key Values of the Green Party
Originally ratified at the Green Party Convention in Denver, CO, June 2000.

Every human being deserves a say in the decisions that affect their lives and not be subject to the will of another. Therefore, we will work to increase public participation at every level of government and to ensure that our public representatives are fully accountable to the people who elect them. We will also work to create new types of political organizations which expand the process of participatory democracy by directly including citizens in the decision-making process.

The California questions:
-- How can we develop systems that allow and encourage us to control the decisions that affect our lives?
-- How can we ensure that representatives will be fully accountable to the people who elected them?
-- How can we develop planning mechanisms that would allow citizens to develop and implement their own preferences for policies and spending priorities?
-- How can we encourage and assist the "mediating institutions"--family, neighborhood organization, church group, voluntary association, ethnic club--to recover some of the functions now performed by the government?
-- How can we relearn the best insights from American traditions of civic vitality, voluntary action and community responsibility?

All persons should have the rights and opportunity to benefit equally from the resources afforded us by society and the environment. We must consciously confront in ourselves, our organizations, and society at large, barriers such as racism and class oppression, sexism and homophobia, ageism and disability, which act to deny fair treatment and equal justice under the law.

The California questions:
-- How can we respond to human suffering in ways that promote dignity?
-- How can we encourage people to commit themselves to lifestyles that promote their own health?
-- How can we have a community controlled education system that effectively teaches our children academic skills, ecological wisdom, social responsibility and personal growth?
-- How can we resolve personal and intergroup conflicts without just turning them over to lawyers and judges?
-- How can we take responsibility for reducing the crime rate in our neighborhoods?
-- How can we encourage such values as simplicity and moderation?

Human societies must operate with the understanding that we are part of nature, not separate from nature. We must maintain an ecological balance and live within the ecological and resource limits of our communities and our planet. We support a sustainable society which utilizes resources in such a way that future generations will benefit and not suffer from the practices of our generation. To this end we must practice agriculture which replenishes the soil; move to an energy efficient economy; and live in ways that respect the integrity of natural systems. [A current statement of this would also emphasize climate change as an issue.]

The California questions:
-- How can we operate human societies with the understanding that we are part of nature, not on top of it?
-- How can we live within the ecological and resource limits of the planet, applying our technological knowledge to the challenge of an energy efficient economy?
-- How can we build a better relationship between cities and countryside?
-- How can we guarantee the rights of non-human species?
-- How can we promote sustainable agriculture and respect for self-regulating natural systems?
-- How can we further biocentric wisdom in all spheres of life?

It is essential that we develop effective alternatives to society’s current patterns of violence. We will work to demilitarize, and eliminate weapons of mass destruction, without being naive about the intentions of other governments. We recognize the need for self-defense and the defense of others who are in helpless situations. We promote non-violent methods to oppose practices and policies with which we disagree, and will guide our actions toward lasting personal, community and global peace.

The California questions:
-- How can we develop effective alternatives to our current patterns of violence at all levels, from the family and the street to nations and the world?
-- How can we eliminate nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth without being naive about the intentions of other governments?
-- How can we most constructively use nonviolent methods to oppose practices and policies with which we disagree, and in the process reduce the atmosphere of polarization and selfishness that is itself a source of violence?

Centralization of wealth and power contributes to social and economic injustice, environmental destruction, and militarization. Therefore, we support a restructuring of social, political and economic institutions away from a system which is controlled by and mostly benefits the powerful few, to a democratic, less bureaucratic system. Decision-making should, as much as possible, remain at the individual and local level, while assuring that civil rights are protected for all citizens.

The California questions:
-- How can we reduce [ie: devolve] power and responsibility to individuals, institutions, communities and regions?
-- How can we encourage the flourishing of regionally-based culture, rather than a dominant mono-culture?
-- How can we have a decentralized, democratic society with our political, economic and social institutions locating power on the smallest scale (closest to home) that is efficient and practical?
-- How can we redesign our institutions so that fewer decisions and less regulation over money are granted as one moves from the community to the national level?
-- How can we reconcile the need for community and regional self-determination with the need for appropriate centralized regulation in certain matters?

We recognize it is essential to create a vibrant and sustainable economic system, one that can create jobs and provide a decent standard of living for all people while maintaining a healthy ecological balance. A successful economic system will offer meaningful work with dignity, while paying a “living wage” which reflects the real value of a person’s work.

Local communities must look to economic development that assures protection of the environment and workers’ rights; broad citizen participation in planning; and enhancement of our “quality of life.” We support independently owned and operated companies which are socially responsible, as well as co-operatives and public enterprises that distribute resources and control to more people through democratic participation.

The California questions:
-- How can we redesign our work structures to encourage employee ownership and workplace democracy?
-- How can we develop new economic activities and institutions that will allow us to use our new technologies in ways that are humane, freeing, ecological and accountable, and responsive to communities?
-- How can we establish some form of basic economic security, open to all?
-- How can we move beyond the narrow "job ethic" to new definitions of "work," jobs" and "income" that reflect the changing economy?
-- How can we restructure our patterns of income distribution to reflect the wealth created by those outside the formal monetary economy: those who take responsibility for parenting, housekeeping, home gardens, community volunteer work, etc.?
-- How can we restrict the size and concentrated power of corporations without discouraging superior efficiency or technological innovation?

7. FEMINISM AND GENDER EQUITY [Some state parties call this "Gender Equity and Cooperation"]
We have inherited a social system based on male domination of politics and economics. We call for the replacement of the cultural ethics of domination and control with more cooperative ways of interacting that respect differences of opinion and gender. Human values such as equity between the sexes, interpersonal responsibility, and honesty must be developed with moral conscience. We should remember that the process that determines our decisions and actions is just as important as achieving the outcome we want.

The California questions:
-- How can we replace the cultural ethics of dominance and control with more cooperative ways of interacting?
-- How can we encourage people to care about persons outside their own group?
-- How can we promote the building of respectful, positive and responsible relationships across the lines of gender and other divisions?
-- How can we encourage a rich, diverse political culture that respects feelings as well as rationalist approaches?
-- How can we proceed with as much respect for the means as the end (the process as much as the product of our efforts)?
-- How can we learn to respect the contemplative, inner part of life as much as the outer activities?

We believe it is important to value cultural, ethnic, racial, sexual, religious and spiritual diversity, and to promote the development of respectful relationships across these lines.

We believe that the many diverse elements of society should be reflected in our organizations and decision-making bodies, and we support the leadership of people who have been traditionally closed out of leadership roles. We acknowledge and encourage respect for other life forms than our own and the preservation of biodiversity.

The California questions:
-- How can we honor cultural, ethnic, racial, sexual, religious and spiritual diversity within the context of individual responsibility toward all beings?
-- How can we reclaim our country's finest shared ideals: the dignity of the individual, democratic participation, and liberty and justice for all?

We encourage individuals to act to improve their personal well-being and, at the same time, to enhance ecological balance and social harmony. We seek to join with people and organizations around the world to foster peace, economic justice, and the health of the planet.

The California questions:
-- How can we be of genuine assistance to the grassroots groups in the Third World? What can we learn from such groups?
-- How can we help other countries make the transition to self-sufficiency in food and other basic necessities?
-- How can we cut our defense budget while maintaining an adequate defense?
-- How can we promote these ten Green values in the reshaping of our global order?
-- How can we reshape the world order without creating just another enormous nation-state?

Our actions and policies should be motivated by long-term goals. We seek to protect valuable natural resources, safely disposing of or “unmaking” all waste we create, while developing a sustainable economics that does not depend on continual expansion for survival. We must counterbalance the drive for short-term profits by assuring that economic development, new technologies, and fiscal policies are responsible to future generations who will inherit the results of our actions.

The California questions:
-- How can we induce people and institutions to think in terms of the long range future, and not just in terms of their short range selfish interest?
-- How can we encourage people to develop their own visions of the future and move more effectively toward them?
-- How can we judge whether new technologies are socially useful, and use these judgements to shape our society?
-- How can we induce our government and other institutions to practice fiscal responsibility?
-- How can we make the quality of life, rather than open-ended economic growth, the focus of future thinking?

Ten Key Values from other state and local Greens.
There is no authoritative version of the Ten Key Values of the Greens. The Ten (sometimes 11) Key Values are guiding principles that are adapted and defined to fit each state and local chapter. (