One’s lost self

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On this day

On this day 57 years ago, a bomb planted at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., detonated and claimed the lives of four little girls. The reason for the bombing? A federal court order for Alabama to integrate its state schools.

Fifty-seven years later, and many public schools in Alabam once again are segregated, through a process called “secession,” in which the wealthy white suburbs break away from the black-dominated urban schools, to form their own district.

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

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Catch that bus

Ah, that jumble of emotions when you joyously see your bus, and then crash with despair as you realize you’re going to miss it. Then, after the wave of relief washes over you when you discover it’s not your bus after all, you settle into a discombobulated sense of displacement because it was the express bus and would have got you to class so much more quickly.

My feelings about the Rutgers bus are complicated.

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Henry V

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‘The Other Wes Moore’

I started reading “The Other Wes Moore” today, a book written by Wes Moore.

The book is both biographical and autobiographical, dealing with two men from Baltimore, who grew up with the same name but came to two very different adulthoods. One, the author, is a journalist and a Rhodes Scholar, while the other is facing a lifetime of incarceration for his part in a robbery that left an off-duty police officer dead.

The book dives into the backgrounds of the two men. The author lost his father, a radio personality, when he was only 4 years old. He was raised by his mother, who moved the family to live with her parents in the Bronx when the author was about 12 years old, and enrolled him at the private Riverdale School to see that he received a decent education.

His story sounds rough, and at the end of Part One it’s unclear how things are going to work for him. His mother is tough but supportive, and her parents are also demanding, but resources are limited, and this Wes Moore is floundering in school. He’s also feeling a the pull of his peers on the streets of the Bronx, and the strain of being different.

The other Wes Moore grew up without his father. Where the book starts telling his story, his mother Mary was going through school and relying on a Pell grant to help her finish college, when the Reagan administration announced cuts to the Pell grant program and ended her dreams of college.

His story follows him as he also moves from Baltimore not to the Bronx but to Cherry Hill, where drugs and gangs are everywhere. By the time he’s in eighth grade, he’s already skipping school and looking to follow his brother into drug dealing.

The book is looking at the resources and support structures available to people, and showing how that affects their outcomes in life.

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Solar power

Our house is not positioned well for solar power. We know this because we checked 19 years ago when we bought the house.

Companies keep calling us anyway, and making a pitch to us why we should spend thousands of dollars on solar panels that will be of little benefit to us. My wife is fielding a call from one such company right now. I wish it were me.

“Switching to solar sounds like a bad idea,” I would say. “If too many of us do that, we could use up the sun, and then where would we be?”

Admittedly telemarketing calls typically don’t progress far with me.

“Hello, this is is Lisa from AAA Emergy Solutions. How are you, Mr. Learn?”

“I’m great. Thanks for checking.”


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The moral values of true religion

People keep casting same-sex relations as a matter of morality and religious conscience; I really can’t see it that way, no matter how I twist it around in my head.

The question is, do we extend the same services and courtesy to one group that we extend to all others, or do we refuse to do so because we do not personally approve of whom they have sex with? Do we refuse medical care or counseling services to same-sex couples? How about postal service? Wouldn’t all those things make us in some way complicit in supporting their marriage?

Is it because marriage is a sacrament? But the marriages we’re discussing typically aren’t being performed in church or by a minister. They’re civic arrangements, officiated by a public official. The sacrament is left intact.

This is the only issue I can think of, aside from abortion, where Christians are raising this level of objection, risking fines and in the case of Kim Davis actually going to jail over. We don’t get this worked up over anyone else’s sexual activity, only gay people’s. We don’t even get worked up like this over the detention of immigrants, the separation of mothers from their children via deportation, wage theft, or political corruption, and those are all things that Jesus spoke out about.

This is not an issue of morality. This is an issue of injustice, and the church is the party that’s in the wrong.

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Grace, but not to you, revisited

If it’s against your conscience to bake cakes, maybe you should leave the bakery business.

Or, look at it this way: If selling a cake to a same-sex couple for their wedding day makes the baker somehow complicit in their relationship, then I expect Christian gun store owners not to sell firearms to people who may use them to commit murder.

Seriously, MacArthur is an ass. The argument he’s using here is exactly the one used by segregationists to keep black people from using the same public facilities and from patronising the same privately owned businesses as white people. It was against their “Christian conscience” for the races to mix in that manner.

The argument was wrong then, legally, morally and before God; and it’s wrong now.

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The Nashville Statement

For all the gains in acceptance they have seen, in society today, gays and lesbians still face discrimination. It is legal in most states to fire an employee for being gay; they remain at risk of physical violence at the hands of greater society, and they continue to risk rejection and being disowned once their families, friends, ad peers discover that they are gay.

These are the people on whom Christ builds his kingdom, yet the Nashville Statement does not bring freedom to them, does not liberate them, and does not welcome them to the table with a statement of “Let’s get through this together.” The message instead is “These are our terms. Accept them or walk.”

In what way is this Christlike?

Look at the popular “clobber passages” in Romans, 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy. These passages list all sorts of violence perpetrated by one party against another. Contextually it makes no sense to include a loving and supportive relationship between two people in those lists, yet that is what the Nashville Statement writers and signatories are doing. Look at the Greek, and it becomes apparent that this is not what Paul is doing either. He doesn’t even use the same Greek word in each passage, because he is describing specific male-on-male acts that are predatory or otherwise fit in within the context of those lists.

Gender identity and same-sex relationships are extrabiblical concepts and experiences, not unbiblical or antibiblical ones. That doesn’t mean the Bible is irrelevant or has nothing to say on the subject, but the Bible is emphatic that the first order of duty is the pursuit of justice. In trying to force everyone into their narrow understanding of Scripture and to force us into a premodern mindset, the writers and signatories of the Nashville statement are missing that entire point. This isn’t about sexual holiness, nor is it about bringing the love of Christ to people. It’s about control and making people act and think according to strictly vetted, preapproved guidelines.

Worst of all they claim that this it’s written in love. That I do believe, but it’s a particuarly toxic form of love, one that controls instead of liberating, one that lays down conditions instead of liberating. I’ve seen the awful fruit born by that kind of love, and the terrible price it exacts from everyone it touches. It has no root in God nor in Christ, and there’s nothing I want to do with it.

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Hate poverty? Capitalism isn’t the answer

Bear with me, as this is a first draft and it is going to be long.

A friend of mine recently shared this video as part of a discussion about poverty and the role of capitalism plays in inequity, oppression and exploitation. The video does a decent job of explaining how free markets are supposed to work, and it makes the contention that nothing has done more to raise more people out of poverty than has the capitalist economy. If you’re not familiar with free market principles, the video is a decent introduction to material doled out in high school social studies programs across the United States.

Unfortunately, the video gets off to a bad start in its argument as it begins by dismissing a number or programs and entities that work to reduce poverty globally, and saying that these programs do not work, because it is capitalism that does it all. That’s a weak argument. Microloans, investment, development grants and better education don’t just spontaneously appear. Someone has to bring them to the people.

So if microloan and investments have helped alleviate poverty in places, it’s a good idea to look and see how they’re reaching the people. Often it’s an NGO, working with one of the programs or institutions the speaker of the video just dimissed.

More fundamentally, though free markets work only when people are more or less on equal footing. As wealth aggregates to a progressively smaller group of people, the gravity of their wealth affects the market in ways that are destructive. Nestle, for instance, orders so many cocoa beans that they are able to tell growers in west Africa how much the cocoa beans will cost per ton.

This makes chocolate cheap and affordable here in the U.S., but it means cocoa growers in west Africa must cut their costs in order to make a profit. So they enslave children and have them work without adequate safety gear, and they’re able to turn a profit, and we get our Nestle chocolate bar for under a buck, so everyone’s happy. (Except those kids, but we can’t see them and so don’t need to worry about them spraying defoliant without safety apparatus, or being locked in a hut overnight with 30 other kids and a can to pee in.)

That’s capitalism at work.

Another way to turn a profit is to take something that throughout history has been a public commodity, like safe drinking water, and privatize it. Since water literally falls from the sky and comes up from the ground, companies like Nestle can ship it about and make a tremendous profit on it. Of course when they remove that much water from the ground, it can dry up streams and cause environmental problems like severe droughts for the area they’ve been tapping. Crops struggle and the locals bear costs well beyond whatever their local officials are compensated for surrendered water rights, but we can get a bottle of chilled water for $1 more than what it costs to get it from the tap, so that’s good.

That story plays out everywhere we remove natural resources. There are costs to the people who depend on the clear-cut forests, the befouled water, the strip-mined land. Those costs all outstrip what the companies pay to extract the materials they were after, and payment continues long after the company has closed its plants and moved out of the neighborhood.

That also is capitalism at work.

Or there’s debt slavery. Unless our kids are really fortunate, they’re going to end up with thousands of dollars in debt from college loans and then mortgages that will take decades to pay off, and ultimately will cost them three or four times the initial stated cost of college, at least.

They’ll have to work and forego the fruits of their labor, because lending institutions and colleges have found a huge amount of money to be made in extending loans to cover rising tuition costs. Education at a decent private college now costs $80,000 a year. I’ve been out of school for 26 years, and I’ve yet to make that much in a single year, let alone enough to pay that and still have enough to support the rest of my family.

Debt is a major product of capitalism in the American economy. I can’t help but wonder how many of us actually would be living below poverty if debt didn’t prop us up with borrowed wealth.

That also is capitalism.

The free market as it exists also exploits workers. We used to believe in a day’s wages for a day’s labor, but these days we have far too many workers who work two jobs or more and still need food stamps because their employers pay a minimum wage that has not kept up with inflation, and insist that paying anything more would jeopardize their corporate profitability.

Oddly that never seems to be an issue with CEO pay. At Walmart, for instance, the CEO is paid in one hour what a typical fulltime employee in the store receives in a year. That’s not what they earn, mind you; no one earns that much. That exorbitant salary is just what they’re paid, and they get it by not paying workers a living wage. “The worker is worthy of her hire,” Scripture tells us. And while the Papa Johns owner boasts of his Christian values, he also pays his workers dirt-low salaries and claims that he has no obligation to share profits with the people who make his business a success, even though Scripture enjoins him, ‘Do not muzzle the oxen while they tread out the grain.”

It’s a mess, and it’s causing more problems than it solves.

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