Oh, George

Image result for george h.w. Bush speaking
(George H. W. Bush Presidential Library)

President George H. W. Bush was known for his distinct speaking style–just ask Dana Carvey. That style was his from the moment he stepped into politics running for the U.S. Senate. Ben Cramer captures it:

Bush–well, he wasn’t much on the stump. He’d get cranked up, dive into a twisty river of a sentence, no noun, a couple or three verbs in a row, and you wouldn’t know where he was headed–sometimes for minutes at a stretch, while his hands sawed and pulled at the air, smacked on the podium, drew imaginary lines and boxes without name, without apparent reference to what we was talking about, which you couldn’t exactly tie down, unless you caught a key word, now and then, like “Sukarno,” or taxes,” or “lib-rull” (that one came up a lot), although you could tell it really hacked him off, the way his voice rose through the octaves–until he emerged on the other side of the Gulf of Mexico, red in the face, pleased as hell with himself, spluttering out the predicate, or maybe the direct object of that second-last verb, and a couple more random words that had occurred to him in the meantime, and you could see he cared, and it went all together in his mind, but it wasn’t clear exactly how, or what it was he thought was so damned important.

Richard Ben Cramer, What It Takes: The Way to the White House (Vintage, 1993)

Grounded Freedom

My parents loved the soil, the earth, the outside, and in their garden I saw the freedom they felt with it. The garden announced to them and the world that they were absolutely free to be themselves.

Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination. Yale: 2010. p.2

The Awkward Language of Creation

DSC_0102Creation is part of Christian conviction, yet for the most part Christians continue to struggle with how to express engagement. On other social movements there is often an underlying Christian template of justice or redemption that can sustain political conversation, however on green issues and climate issues there is a missing story.

Of course, it’s not for want of trying. Our Christian language defaults to the celebration of the variety of creation, so Ps 148:

7Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
    stormy wind fulfilling his command!

Mountains and all hills,
    fruit trees and all cedars!
10 Wild animals and all cattle,
    creeping things and flying birds!

This missing internal voice has two consequences: first, it defaults to external frameworks, leaving Christian voices more as allies rather than as contributors to the discussion. Second, there is an internal turn to focus on Creation, ante-Redemption. This recovers a voice but leaves the larger story of God’s intervention and rescue in Jesus Christ as a minor part.

Conservative voices have been reluctant to pick up the green or climate change issues, since at best it seems little more than politics, and at worst a surrender to a sort of panentheism.

Out of all this, there may be one more item to bring to mind. In an era of climate change, and that often of a disastrous nature, the Christian may bring another, more pertinent voice: that of tragedy. With the change and its destruction comes the grief, the sense of loss: how does one stand before catastrophe? How does one hope? Here, perhaps is where the Christian tongue may be released, not in a language of celebration or of politics, but of lament, of knowing that loss is not the final word.


Who’s the music for?

This afternoon had the opportunity to listen to the Grand Rapids Youth Symphony concert that included a wonderful performance of Holst’s The Planets. The orchestra was full and often thrilling in its playing. But I also left with a certain sadness, it was a concert that indirectly conveyed the continuing hit the arts have taken in our schools.

As was clear in the program, these high performing student comes from a rather restricted background: a few elite public schools, Christian schools, or home schools. Music that should be the common inheritance of all is instead nurtured only in a few schools or programs. This was most evident in the Classical Symphony (their training program) where most students were out of home schooled environments. While a host of benefits belong to learning and mastering a musical instrument, such work is now the area of a committed few. And as the Youth Symphony revealed, most often not in a public (or charter) setting. Directly or not, we’ve privatized out our music.

Not surprisingly, a privatized music is sociologically narrow, even (dare we say it) mono-chromatic. That’s not the students’ fault, or the organization’s, rather it points to conditions in our society, the audible disconnect with our communities. Much as I love the kids I know at Christian school kids, or the students it work with at City, what I long for is a different ensemble. Something Sphinx-inspired, music that frankly has a little more color in it.

I’m thinking we would all be better for it.

Personal firearms and resistance

A great many gun owners express their ownership through the grid of resistance to tyranny. Apart, from the fact that little in the way to suggest incipient tyranny, the vocalized meme is too strong to ignore. This suggests that its holders do so, not for policy or political reasons, but for those resting in a more private drama. Much of that inner life if in a somewhat more extreme form is captured in Arthur Farnsley’s “Flea Market Capitalism” in the current issue of The Christian CenturyPrivate ownership  borrows the language of armed resistance, but it is of a more emotional sort, turning on the question of autonomy.

A gun represents the ultimate ability to say no to coercion. Guns are about freedom—again, not the freedom to do whatever you want, but the freedom from being forced to do what you do not want.

Here, the gun ends up as the symbol of freedom while also being the sign of a lack of freedom, that one’s freedom to act, one’s freedom from authority is itself limited. Closely tied to the self is that of the implicit community, and why  narratives of oppression by elites reinforces the desire to resist, all symbolized in the gun. Any discussion of Second Amendment and especially of the restriction on guns can sound like an attempt to further erode this psychic resistance. And so a political non-starter.

School is a headache

Between the demands of the classes at the college, and debate/speech four days a week at City — blogging has taken a back seat.

Plenty of good things are happening, but honestly, I need to make time. So as they say,

watch this space.