Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Fatal Flaw in the Tea Party Movement

When I first heard of the Tea Party a few years ago, I was strongly attracted to the idea. I generally was fed up by the machinations of the major parties and the polarized bickering that has become so common in every political discussion. Parties have their fixed agendas, and legislators seem swayed by the moneyed, who provide the funding for their next election. I thought, “The Tea Party. What a fresh idea! Turn the power back over to the people! That’s what democracy is all about.”

Of course, I am not one to take an idea seriously until I study it; so I went to the Tea Party’s website and read the mechanism by which the party was designed to work. This indeed is a people’s movement. People from local communities get together and decide what position the majority think should be taken on every major issue. They then select candidates to run under the Tea Party banner. Each candidate pledges to vote always and only in line with the position adopted by the local participants in the Tea Party. And that is the fatal flaw!

Yes, all of us get fed up when our legislators adopt positions and vote differently from what we think is best; but when you tie legislators absolutely to the views of their constituents, you eliminate the possibility of compromise. And that is where our nation is right now in trying to deal with the budget, the debt, appointments, and other legislative matters. When you have pledged to uphold the positions taken by your constituents without exception, you can do nothing to resolve gridlock.

If the Tea Party continues in its current mentality and succeeds, we will have 100 senators and 435 representatives in Washington, all of them locked into the interests of their particular state and their particular congressional districts. The Tea Party naively assumes that all Americans have the same interests. That is simply not the case. People from Idaho cannot understand the peculiar needs of large urban communities, and they certainly are not going to spend “their money” addressing the complex issues faced in metropolitan areas. People from farm states will hardly compromise on farm subsidies, but you can’t get them to support subsidies precious to urban states. States hit hardest by the influx of illegal aliens will certainly have different priorities than urban states with high unemployment or farm states in need of migrant workers.

When we insist that our representatives represent us and only us, we put our local, parochial interests ahead of the “common good.” The “common good” is what has been lost in the current debates in Washington. Maybe it already was gone in the horse-trading mentality that loaded our national budgets with fodder for every state, district, and constituent group. With the zealots on all sides arguing for “do it my way, or you’re out of office,” we have had no open doors for discussion of what is good for all of us.

I am concerned about our national debt, our over-extended budget, our wasteful programs that consume enormous amounts of our resources, our legislative dead-lock, and our “my way or the highway” mentality. I’m also concerned about our environment, our poor, our educational systems, and our unemployed and under-employed. I’m concerned about the power that money can buy, the desire to give as little as possible to the tax-man and to spend as much as possible on frivolous extravagances, and the hungry who don’t know where their next meal will come from. I’m concerned about states that can exist only because the federal government funds essential programs, whose populace would not be willing to pay sufficient taxes to support their own local needs, and whose officials always complain about the insufficient funding from Washington while doing everything possible to keep their constituent taxes low.

The central issue in all of this is selfishness. We are a self-centered people who have lost our sense of community and unity. The Tea Party is a manifestation of this selfishness carried to an extreme. We need again the spirit of those early patriots who, while representing their own particular state’s interests and cherishing the values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, also affirmed justice, domestic tranquility, the common defense, the general welfare, and the blessings of liberty for themselves and their posterity (that’s us!). These ideals cannot be achieved in self-centered isolation; and they won’t be achieved in Washington until the ideals are recognized, endorsed, and embraced by each and every one of us.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Reflections on a Colleague

I am thinking today about a colleague of mine with whom I worked in my first job at the Baptist Sunday School Board. His name was D. P. Brooks, and he was always called “DP.” I don’t know what those initials stood for; but anyone who knew DP had little doubt what he stood for.

DP was close to retirement in 1978 when I moved to Nashville. He had had a long career at the Baptist Sunday School Board and at that time was the editor of Adult Bible Study, the largest circulation Bible study quarterly ever produced by the BSSB (or LifeWay Christian Resources, as it is now named). We worked together in the Adult Life and Work Section; and appropriately, life and work were the focus of DP’s thinking, commitment, and being. He believed that the gospel should be lived, not just studied.

DP came out of the Sandy Creek tradition in North Carolina Baptist life, but his study at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary embedded a deep devotion to Christian ethics in the weft and woof of his being. He not only believed in the Bible, but he believed that its words should be practiced. To him, faith that did not produce a radical redirection in the way a person lived was not faith at all. In the midst of a growing shift in Baptist life toward a focus on the inerrancy of “the Word,” DP would have been classified by the “Word” folks as an advocate for the “social Gospel” (though his critics would have disputed even the capitalization of “Gospel” here, since many of them saw no Gospel in the serious application of biblical principles to the central core of Christian faith and daily living).

DP had a broad range of ethical concerns that he kept before his colleagues as we developed and planned the Life and Work curriculum. He was passionate about issues of race, economics, equal opportunity, help for the poor and weak, exploitation by the privileged, humanity dignity, war, environment, and most any other issue that would be labeled “liberal” today. I would classify his as a modern-day Amos who looked at American society and voiced God’s displeasure at its trampling “the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push[ing] the afflicted out of the way” (Amos 2:7). In many ways he was a prophet whom the people of God commanded, “You shall not prophesy” (Amos 2:12).

I did not always agree with DP, but I never doubted that his “radical” convictions grew out of a deep commitment to the Scriptures and the teachings of Jesus Christ. He was able to pull out of almost any passage of Scripture some deeply significant moral issue that required radical change of direction in our personal lives and in our corporate and national experiences. That really is the essence of the prophetic voice, and it is a voice that is spoken too softly today or is quieted by both the secular media and the “moral majority” that are more focused on issues that serve their causes and that ignore the poor and the outcasts around us.

I don’t have all the answers about how we should be handling the issues we are facing in our country today; but something within me still hears the voice of D.P. Brooks that chides my conscience that we are missing the important moral and ethical issues as we squabble over budgets and deficits, jobs and welfare, individual responsibility and community needs, the rich and the poor, war and peace, economic growth and moral integrity, the environment and standards of living, me and we. In the midst of these weighty issues, the church seems to have lost its voice. We’ve lost it because we have become too much like the scribes and Pharisees confronted by Jesus in Matthew 23:15 for their striving to make converts (NRSV) or proselytes (KJV and NASB) when they should have been making disciples. We have infantilized the church by focusing on getting people to confess faith without calling them beyond that to loving God and loving neighbor in real and concrete way.

D. P. Brooks was a discipler who recognized that the task of the church is not completed when we baptize converts. We must go on to active and concrete expressions of love for God and neighbor that change our entire moral compass and lead us to Christlikeness. DP may be “resting in peace” now, but he has left a legacy of dis-ease in my heart about truly living out faith daily.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Post for Wordsmiths

My sister sent me one of those cute emails that get passed around on the internet, and this one is so good that I am passing it on. I've taken the editorial liberty to "touch it up" a bit. I hope it will start your day with a smile.

An Ode to the English Plural

We'll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,
Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn't the plural of pan be called pen?
If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,
And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth?

Then one may be that, and three would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim!

Let's face it - English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, no ham in hamburger, neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in England. We take English for granted, but if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square, and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write, but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham? Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it? If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?
Sometimes I think all the folks who grew up speaking English
should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?

We ship by truck but send cargo by ship. We have noses that run and feet that smell. We park in a driveway and drive in a parkway. And how can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out, and in which an alarm goes off by going on.

And in closing, if Father is Pop, how come Mother's not Mop?