Dry land is a privilege

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One of the things that goes unmentioned in many discussions on race is this:  for some of us we can worry or not worry about POC, about the impact of race in our community. I can choose to pay attention or not.

I have a space where the black person is not my neighbor. In that light any talk of BIG SIN is really a talk about perfectionism, because I can escape.

But the question of race strikes me more like the biblical mire, that mix of mud and sewage. One has to escape, but it is not easy to escape, let alone to be clean. But one has to.

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Man of the Hour

26brooksWeb-superJumbo-2This is nothing like the attention Paul VanderKlay pays, but the man of the cultural moment certainly seems to be Jordan Peterson. As some one outside the moment (and basically wanting to remain that way), I found Patrick Mitchell’s review of Peterson useful. Not surprisingly, David Brooks connects some of the dots.

Parents, universities and the elders of society have utterly failed to give many young men realistic and demanding practical wisdom on how to live. Peterson has filled the gap.

What strikes me as particularly relevant to the age is the insistence on fundamental truths about humanity, not just about our gender tendencies, but our seeking meaning as a necessary condition of our life — that’s a variant of Abraham Heschel’s approach, that we possess the moral duty to explain the wonder, the ineffable we encounter. Both Brooks and Mitchell highlight the realist, the tragic sense of life, this too, coming as an echo of Reinhold Niebuhr.

Ours is a conservative age, if not a reactionary one, and in that framework Peterson provides the essentialist and ethical voice necessary for its navigation, a voice with strong appeals to conservatives. The same voice, its fundamental humanism also offers the alternative to the tawdriness of expression and sloppy ideas that marks so much of the conservative ruling class.

Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules
The Jordan Peterson Moment
photo: Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star, via Getty Images

 

Habits of Mind

Whom communities vote for is largely structural in character; we can think of it as a sort of central tendency. So university towns lean one way, traditional CRC communities  consistently lean another way, and President or no, there is little reason for them to vote differently. The variability will be in their enthusiasm expressed in voting, funding, and volunteering – the stuff of retail politics.

For the Dutch community, who they vote for is less important than minding their own understanding of what holding political office means. This comes to the fore because of  the President and his highly transactional value system which corrodes approaches based on principle, or for that matter, custom. One of the distinguishing characteristics of Dutch involvement in politics in Michigan has been the willingness to hold to broader goods than just partisanship. At its best, this resulted in a more rounded, more three-dimensional approach to politics and the societal problems politics sought to address.  This value system with its sense of the public good is something that should be nurtured, even as the approaches that would corrode it (e.g.. a certain President, or a tendency to identity politics) be resisted.

Start planning for the post-Trump era.

When the Evangelical Church provides such support, it can seem fair  to state (of the CRC)

WE ARE THE PEOPLE WHO VOTED FOR THIS POTUS.

Well, maybe.

Yet there’s a big difference between going 80% for the President the way Evangelicals have gone, and 55%, the more common margin for religiously observant generally (including the mainline!). But the voting support may not be the real problem.

As the President exemplifies in person the man of appetite, the sort regularly denounced in Scripture, the critical stance for the church is to be less concerned with the President per se, than with how we offer critique. The so-called Realist stance corrodes our long-term credibility, where we exchange our moral credibility for political “wisdom”. This latter stance is always seductive since it also seems to be the path of power, of shrewdness. And yet,   the Gospel is not about “Realism” so much as it is about the possibility of hope, that is, with the work of the Spirit.

Last, are we (the CRC) those people who voted for this POTUS? There’s evidence that we are not, or at least not fully on board. Few actually voted for the President, but instead cast votes for the possibility of movement on the further limiting of abortion, or on the hope of a judiciary that can serve as a bulwark, etc.  This is understandable at least in terms of “the least of two bad alternatives” or “get what you can.” Understandable. But a year later we need to reckon with other data: the corruption of this administration, the violation of norms etc., pose a long-term challenge for a Christian response – it’s not just policies that we may (or may not)object to, but a cultural revitalization. Looking ahead to a post-Trump era and our neighbor’s doubts about us, we will have plenty on our plate. And until then, we will also need to speak.

Bait and Switch?

Paul VanderKlay points to an interesting article at the BBC by Brandon Ambrosino, “The Invention of ‘heterosexuality.'” VanderKlay wonders, in an era of increasing sexual fluidity, might other items be at stake, as well?
The argument for the CRC embracing SSM is that “people are born that way and have no other choice. Are you heartless?” It increasingly looks like the 73 report won’t die for the reasons imagined even a few years ago, but because it dares to imagine people ARE “born that way”. Sexuality is fluid and to not celebrate whatever fluid moment is demanded in order to make the fluid feel validated is violence, oppression and the worst sort of evil (per a tweet from Rachel Hyde Evans).
I think the basic point of Ambrosino’s argument stands, that our sexual expression is culturally formed. E.g. how we understand marital relations today is really quite different from how marriage was understood 200 years ago.
What I find interesting is that this discussion of “fluidity” is unconciously part of the neo-liberal economic era. The notion that it is asserted or validated through violence points us in that direction.
When we had SSA as a physical or innate condition, we may have been making a theological statement but we were certainly claiming a political stance. If I am (physically) different, innately so, then I have a right to participate in society as that physical person. With an innate understanding of SSA then, to come out is to make a claim on societal resources; it is inherently political.
Now check in with fluidity. If identity is not located in the body (I.e. Externally) then how does it possess rights? The celebration of the self that chooses (this fluidity) lapses over into a participation in consumerism, in self-gratification. That matches with how we buy cell phones (iPhone v Android) — choices can participate in tribes, but the concept of rights? Of politics?
This fluidity is one more part of the post-modern era, but it still leaves the notion: how do we agree in common, on what basis? Even accepting this as a personal decision, how does one evaluate the choice; what makes one choice preferable to that of another? On what grounds? We are back to tribal identities and with them the determination of group relations by power equations: one wins the other losses; it’s all zero-sum, and very much part of the Spirit of the Age. Thus, this sense of fluidity is quite compatible with the restriction of human rights.
I think here is where the actual struggle takes place, where Christians engage: how do we relate to one another? On what basis? Christian thinking makes particular claims about bodies and selves. In the Western tradition it underlies, forms the bedrock for a political liberalism. And where I have an identity, then the subsequent question can be asked: to what purpose does that identity incline?

The Many and the Gone

Paul VanderKlay writes
“Pluralism, both contemporary and historical pushes us into skepticism.

Really? Isn’t this just a longing for Christendom by another name? It seems that the early church lived in pretty much of a pluralistic culture. The problem today is that while we live with our separate worldviews, we now have a different  emperor, a different encompassing narrative. It’s the emperor that you want to pay attention to.

Greeks and barbarians live cheek by jowl. The first deacons were Hellenist. The post-NT culture is rife with separate cultural frameworks, some like the Palestinian Ebonites got called out and expelled. But really, Alexandria thinks one way, Athens another, Damascus a third etc.
Our challenge is how to live across those gaps between different worldviews, different religions. The road is filled with their shrines.
Spiritually, the question of skepticism ties into narratives of the self, and especially of the self’! s knowledge, our tacit epistemology. There are two Christian responses: the self must die (that’s Benedict) and the smoldering wick is not snuffed.

Fools

Len VanderZee notes the similarity between our President and the biblical fool

 It strikes me that Trump is basically what the Bible calls a fool. I am not seeking to belittle Trump, but simply to find a way to understand and respond to him, and the biblical word for such a man is fool. Fortunately, the book of Proverbs provides an inspired guide for how to deal with fools.

Fools sets in motion the other question, the real question, the counsel of Wisdom. The Wisdom Literature instructs in taking a prudent, long-term view of things, to be emotionally constrained, etc. This is not merely a sort of Nominalism (true because in the Bible), but especially true for its practicality — this is the stuff that enables rulers to endure and wise servants (and people) to prosper.

Wisdom guards our own reaction in a time of enthusiasm or of excess. As with marches, or certainly with appetites.
Wisdom also is grounded. It does not merely stand aside, “strategically” to mark its time. It is wise, because it knows something. Contrast this to line from Hamilton, “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?”
Oh, and about fools. Their way is that of destruction. History teaches that.