28 February 2008

February shorts

What does "liberal" mean? For this much-maligned and confusing word, David Jenkins wrote a nice clarification at the beginning of his book, God's Continent:
Another word requiring explanation is "liberal," which refers to quite different political values on either side of the Atlantic. Generally, an American liberal favors expanding personal rights and civil liberties while using state intervention to achieve socially progressive causes, to advance traditionally underprivileged groups. Hence, liberals are on the political left. In Europe, in contrast, liberalism usually means a belief in laissez-faire economics and small government, combating the growth of the over-mighty state; liberals are thus opposed to socialist or communist advances. In American terms, then, European liberals are thus on the political "right."

Most of us are not satisfied with linear definitions. If we put liberals and progressives on the left side of a line and conservatives on the right, what analytical or dialogic advantage do we have? Do we need something in common for us to have a conversation? I would like to assume that the common value is the good of the community--but is that a valid assumption? If it is, we'll be motivated to put our "left" and "right" differences in perspective, and even consider that a fertile recombination of ideas traditionally associated with one or the other side might be possible. Examples: Jim Wallis preaches both family values and economic justice. Seamless-garment Christians advocate "pro-life" attitudes toward abortion, while also opposing militarism, racism, and capital punishment.

What if we don't take it for granted that everyone shares a commitment to the good of the community? (I'm not going to complicate this discussion by worrying about the argument that unfettered personal greed is the greatest good for all.) Maybe we need another line that intersects the left/right line, and this new line is labeled "common good" above the intersection and "individual gain" below, signifying actual personal priorities rather than the line we might take in public. That might help compensate for those of us who espouse generous and progressive social theories while holding tight to what's ours, and rarely lifting a finger to challenge systems either through concerted prayer or through prophetic action.

Following Urban Holmes's diagram of a "phenomenology of prayer" (A History of Christian Spirituality: An Analytical Introduction), we can imagine a "circle of sensibility" within which all of these compass points maintain a healthy tension and dialogue, but outside of which we can see worrisome exaggerations.

I could imagine yet a third axis, perhaps a spectator/activist line, for a true festival of variations and nuances! But as Robert Benchley said, "There are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don't." Maybe for someone who cautions against objectifying, I've done enough dividing for one post!

PS: These thoughts were inspired in part by this article on the Christianity Today Web site: "The Government We Deserve."

This weekend and next week, the full Northwest Yearly Meeting Russia team is meeting with several members of the Yearly Meeting's Global Outreach Board to pray, discern, and plan. Please pray with us!

Russia is very much in the news these days, with the presidential election just three days away. I can't believe how frustrating it is not to be there! The wife of one of my friends is a staffer at a polling place--I'd love to sit over tea and talk with her about that job, but you can bet I'm not going to be doing that over the phone!

The New York Times recently published an article which can mildly be described as rather negative: "Kremlin Rules: Putin’s Iron Grip on Russia Suffocates Opponents." To me, more instructive than the article itself were the many comments from Russians. Some of them are here; the newspaper's own summary of the discussion is here.

If I had to choose one comment that is most like what my some of own Russian friends would say (remembering that they're a diverse bunch of people!), it is this one.

National "security," again: Today President Bush, apparently reflecting the imperial arrogance that must be the air they breathe in Washington, explained at a press conference why it is unsuitable for the U.S. President to talk with our adversaries. Even after being reminded by a reporter that talking doesn't mean "embracing," Bush said, "Sitting down at the table, having your picture taken with a tyrant such as Raul Castro, for example, lends the status of the office and the status of our country to him. He gains a lot from it by saying, look at me, I'm now recognized by the President of the United States." (Read the transcript here.)

So those leaders who do get the Presidential photo-op bestowed upon them must walk away just glowing: they've been recognized by the President of the United States!! How did they ever raise their heads in public before they were lent the status of His office and His country? I don't suppose He would ever benefit from the status of another leader?

Mr. President: How about meeting with our adversaries because it is your JOB?

Righteous links:

Power-sharing deal signed in Kenya. Three cheers! Video link here.

"Voices without Votes opens a window on what non-Americans are saying in blogs and citizen media about US foreign policy and the 2008 presidential elections."

"Faith without a home"--Michael Gerson in the Washington Post. "For my Nazarene preacher grandfather in Kentucky, the Democratic Party of Franklin Roosevelt stood for God and the common man." (Thanks, Karen Street.)

Another flush of the tax toilet: the high-tech fence designed to score political points--but, as it turned out, mercifully ineffective at curbing illegal immigration. ("Remember, you were once aliens in Egypt.")

Cinematic "meditations on celebrity"--Jean Bethke Elshtain's review of the films I'm Not There and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Goodbye to Larry Norman.

Robert Cray and John Lee Hooker together, "Baby Lee." Gives me goosebumps ....


Donna said...

Excellent! It doesn't get much better than that! Is there some connection between polka dots and the blues? I noticed John Lee Hooker's shirt, and then Buddy Guy always seems to wear polka dots too--

Johan Maurer said...

Is there a connection between polka and the blues? Wasn't the Chess family from Poland? Oh, the connections you could make once you get started, but they always end up at the roots.

One of the clips I posted here had Buddy Guy wearing a fabric that matched his polka-dotted guitar exactly. Never saw that particular outfit in person, but it certainly looked interesting in video.