Bridging a Great Divergence

Alana Semuels at The Atlantic posted a somewhat gloomy assessment of American life, entitled “America’s Great Divergence.” America is separating into different spheres denominated not by race or ethnicity, but by education, and so implicitly, by rural v. urban. In one sense it’s the old problem of how do you keep the kids on the farm?

Jason Ellis wonders if this only one more skewing to the four-year college.

The problem with these statistics is that “college degree” includes Physicians and Nuclear Engineers just as much as the 24 year old with $70,000 in debt and a degree in Literature from a private college who is working at Starbucks. In other words, it’s skewed and a 4 year degree isn’t for everyone regardless what the Higher Ed lobby wants you to think.

That skew is the problem. Post secondary education, whether as a two-year associates or in its variety of certifications is an option that is underplayed (and under-funded).  What Semuels misses  is that the nature of start-up culture is actually distributed, an archipelago of tech, not unlike the way industrialization was spread throughout the midwest. James Fallows at The American Futures project has a lot to say on this.

Technical education, iow, is the key for a longer term  development.

Senator Milquetoast

It’s good that U.S. Senator Gary Peters has spoken out against the President’s anti-immigration Executive Order. But sadly, the voice is muffled.

“As a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Armed Services Committees, my top priority is ensuring we’re doing everything we can to keep Americans safe. But I am also proud to represent vibrant Muslim and Arab American communities that are integral to Michigan’s culture and our economy.

The first sentence is pure political muffery: “my top priority… doing everything… keep Americans safe.” What is missing is a clear point of view, what he (or his office) thinks. The second sentence is little better: he’s “proud to represent.” yeah yeah yeah. This is indirect speech, at a distant from a straight forward presentation of the case.

There are big, legitimate issues of national security involved. This is the natural forceful lead. And it’s powerful, as Mother Jones demonstrates.

In the second paragraph Sen. Peters compounds his wishy-washiness.

“One of America’s founding – and most sacred – principles is the freedom of religion. I am extremely alarmed by President Trump’s executive order that effectively implements a religious test for those seeking to enter the United States…

The shift to First Amendment issues has a nice ring to it, but again one may ask whether it demonstrates a grasp of the actual Constitutional issues involved with the Executive Order. If anything the focus on Freedom of Religion plays into the cultural push of the President’s order, namely that of privileging Christian America. Immediate feedback from Trump supporters indicates their approval of the action. So rather than change opinion the appeal to the First is a sign of political boundary making. It is a lost opportunity.

And then finally there is a return to muffery with the final sentence:

 “While I support continued strengthening of the refugee screening process, I remain opposed to the suspension of the refugee admissions program.”

This is the sound of a man trying to have it both ways. “While I….” Oh, be direct. Know what time it is, and what the issues are. In the days ahead the battle needs far more direct, far clearer expression of ideas. Now is no time to waffle.

 

 

Christian politics

William Willimon takes a cautionary, high-Hauerwasian look at politics, and its temptations.

I have met the political enemy, and he is… me and my fellow Christians, who find it so hard to embody our convictions, and who, even in our left-wing protests, unintentionally give credence to political scoundrels. If we are going to worship a Savior who is determined to tabernacle among us, to show up and thereby disrupt our settled arrangements with Caesar, then we can’t avoid the mundane, corporeal work of having meetings, forming a congregation that becomes in its life together and its way in the world a visible, breathing, undeniable bodily presence of Christ.

Useful, but preaching the Gospel, understanding that it is in fundamental conflict with the powers of the age really only goes so far. Such a gathered community can avoid the sweep of sheer political madness, but then what?

What goes missing is that those gathered will in fact have to act politically in the world. The Church by her preaching opens a space for politics, it frames our thinking. Yet on Monday, one will need to go out into the  world, take part in the world as a citizen, influence and also be subject to the powers as a citizen. The church exists to free from this binding, the false teaching that we are what we are in society.

Missing too, is the element of the Supper. The Table stands between us and the world; we eat and drink as a gathered people; we return as a bruised people; we receive the promise that there is more in our lives, more in God’s live with this world, than we can see.

 

Half a loaf

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 There’s no question that GRPS Superintendent Teresa Wetherall Neal has earned the respect of parents and teachers. So the news from WOOD-TV that DeVos money would fund an all expense-paid trip to support Betsy DeVos came as a shock. Perhaps even asa betrayal. But really, it was no surprise.
The involvement of DeVos money and GRPS is rather well established, including providing a management coach to help her master the first days of her job. If anything, the very personal, connectional qualities that we like in Superintendent Neal are the same that allow her to consider supporting some one who has supported her schools. This same personal connection is also what drives so much pain among teachers and parents — it seems to be something of a betrayal, the personal transfigured to the political. As a practical matter, the success of GRPS depends on its ability to negotiate with the various Republican power brokers, elected or not. And of these, none come bigger than DeVos herself.
All this put Neal in a no-win situation. The cancelled trip gives a gracious way out while maintaining the personal connections of loyalty. And oddly, that half loaf approach is the one that keeps the district growing. I’ll settle for that.