Republican’s fancy themselves to be the party of values. They profess to love God and country. They believe themselves to be the real Americans. They are the absolute definition of righteous patriots. They see themselves and their families basking in the light of a celestial exceptionalism. They occupy the center of a universe anointed by the invisible hand of free market capitalism, governed and sanctified by the benevolent love of their heavenly father, Jesus Christ.
Their values are based on a fundamentalist foundation of the King James Bible and the US Constitution as it was originally conceived and authored by the Founding Fathers in 1787. They are resolute in the belief of the correctness of their interpretation of this hallowed literature and remain adamant in how the instruction of these sacred tomes should be applied and implemented to shape and govern our Federal Republic.
If you question the basic supposition of their position they will tarry your thrust by questioning your love of country and your belief in God. Those same questions must be asked of them. The virulent defenders of the cross and crown of liberty consistently undermine the spirit of both. They serve the corporate objectives of church, military and industrial institutions that have formed an unholy alliance to rule and exploit the hearts and minds of an enslaved consumer market that cannot discern the difference between political liberty and a have it your way experience at Burger King.
America’s political ignorance is a poverty exploited by the oligarchs; giving them full sway to control and manipulate the levers of power to secure and advance selfish interests. They cloth their motives in priestly robes, medal adorned military uniforms, Rotarian flannel suits and Joe “the wannabe” Plumber overalls feigning a martyrdom of being crushed by the menacing liberal elites by standing for the values of free markets, Christianity, class mobility and a military spreading the global march of democracy.
The GOP presidential debates provided some telling political theater of how the party of values advanced the cause of individual liberty and governance informed by moral precepts. In one session a gay officer serving in Iraq asked the candidates “now that DADT has been repealed and gay service personnel can serve in the military would they support same sex marriage”. The gay serviceman unselfishly serving his country in a theater of war was roundly booed by the uber patriots sitting in the audience before Rick Santorum piled on and asserted not only would he not sign a same sex marriage bill into law, he would also reinstate DADT.
In another session the question concerning the mandatory requirement to purchase health care insurance was raised. The moderator asked a hypothetical question, “if a person failed to purchase insurance and required a life saving procedure who should pay?” One of the more compassionate conservatives shouted “let him die”. This was undoubtedly the same guy who condemned Jesus for healing on the Sabbath.
Another high water mark of GOP moral turpitude occurred when the debate moderator questioned Rick Perry about the State of Texas position as the leader in capital punishment executions. The audience erupted in cheers. The United States is home to the worlds largest penal colony with an inmate population that exceeds 2,000,000. This belies the myth of the United States as the land of the free; particularly for the people of color who account for the largest proportion of the inmate population. This is good news for the free marketeers as the privatization of prisons is a growth industry. The profiteers of misery require the judicial apparatus of the states to maintain a prison occupancy rate of 90% to assure profitability for private investors. The threat to a fair trial has never been more at risk. This is a business opportunity right up the GOPs free market alley. The devaluation of the rule of law an unfortunate consequence. The value of money trumps the grace of justice.
The GOP’s deep investment in the culture of death mirrors a country thoroughly committed to the continued militarization of the economy regardless of its cultural cost. Republicans eagerly beat the drums of war and use the poetry of destruction to articulate a cutesy point. Remember John McCain using the melody of Barbara Anne to sing, “bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” The neocons ate it up. The peacemaker may be considered children of God, but in the GOP the business of war and righteous crusades are divine.
Republicans pledge undying fealty to the Constitution and the rights of citizens. One would think that this would encourage vocal opposition to President Obama’s Executive Order to execute suspected combatant citizens without due process in respect to the right of a trial by a jury of their peers. Not a single word has been raised against this grievous violation of a basic constitutional protection. Where are all the freedom loving, constitution waving Teabaggers? It’s a natural extension of Republican’s refusal to recognize the full civil rights of citizens. As in the case of LGBT civil rights, the GOP’s vision of America protects civil liberties only for select citizens they deem worthy. The rights of the republic’s citizens and the rule of law be damned.
It is in this light that we can understand Rush Limbaugh’s misogynistic characterization of Sandra Fluke as a slut. Dehumanizing a group of people as “the other” or “less then” because they hold a contrary position is a dangerous sedition that undermines democracy.
Democracies need its citizens to reach an informed consensus to function. Consensus requires dialog to assimilate disparate views from multiple viewpoints and perspectives. This presupposes that the participants in the discussion recognize and value the rights of citizenship for all participants in the dialog. The highest value in a secular democracy is respecting the equal rights of all citizens. Without this value democracies crumble. Our democracy is in shambles.
This weekend Rick Santorum sat upon the alter at the Greenwell Baptist Church to accept the endorsement of Pastor Dennis Terry for the upcoming Louisiana primary. After laying his hands on Santorum to bless his candidacy, Pastor Terry delivered a sermon that spewed fire and brimstone onto the reprobate head of our secular democracy. “America” he said “was a Christian Nation ruled by Christ the King. He said American’s don’t worship Buddha, Allah or any other false Gods. He said American’s worshiped the God on High, Jesus Christ. And if they don’t like it they can get out.” As a Christian I can’t tell you how much I loathe this blatant bigotry. Jesus was all about inclusion and tolerance and I’m sure he would make short work of this Pharisee. As an American citizen, I can’t think of a more ignorant and damaging characterization of America’s promise and the democratic values it professes to uphold.
GOP wunderkind Paul Ryan, yesterday unveiled a budget that assiduously accounts for the price of every tax loop hole, generous corporate welfare allocation and tax reduction for the wealthy while demonstrating a chilling indifference for slashed social programs and its impact on human beings. Republican’s know the price of everything and the value of nothing. The party of values is thoroughly bankrupt.
Music Selection: Sen. John McCain, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran
This little ditty on NPR this morning about the Smithsonian Exhibit, Hide and Seek, an exhibition of Gay portraiture. Seems Virginia Congressman Eric Cantor and Bill Donahue, President of the Catholic League is upset that taxpayer money is being used to showcase what they consider to be unacceptable art. Here’s the link:
Its a doubled edged sword when government underwrites the creation of art. Exhibitions can confer a type of sanction that promotes censorship in service to state sponsored propaganda. From my perspective that is not the issue at stake here; but if you listen to the audio Bill Donahue condemns museums as “liberal elite institutions”. Mr. Donahue probably considers Hide and Seek as the latest subversive initiative by Obama’s Politburo to undermine American Family Values.
Mr. Donahue, still smarting from Andreas Serrano’s Piss Christ gets off his best shot in America’s escalating culture war by asserting that “working people, like himself, (read real Americans) don’t go to museums. He says they go to WWF wrestling matches.” He sarcastically suggests that perhaps government funding of the arts would be better spent underwriting WWF ducats for the masses. Beholden to his dogma, Mr. Donahue fails to recognize the difference between pedestrian commercial camp and artistic pursuit. He confuses the spectacle of bread and violent circus with aesthetic encounter, discovery and contemplation.
Mr. Donahue’s insistence that his position should be viewed in the same light as Muslims reaction when depictions of the Prophet Muhammad appear in visual art presentations is disingenuous. Muslims prohibit all visual representations of the Prophet Muhammad. The same prohibitions of promoting visual images of Jesus Christ is not a common practice of Christian denominations. Secular democracies also do not sanction fatwas and post bounties for jihadists to take out apostates and infidels. That is a unique blessing of secular societies that fundamentalists, religious zealots and Mr. Donahue fail to perceive.
File this one under the dumbing down of America Series, Triumph of the Willfulness.
Walt Whitman: Calamus Poems
You Tube Music Video: Aaron (Gay American) Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man
Risk: culture, censorship, homophobia
My heart aches each year as we approach Columbus Day because it marks the anniversary of the death of a young man who my family and I deeply loved. The young man’s parents are long standing and very close family friends. We went to college together when their son was born. He was the first child of our inner group and we witnessed and experienced the arc of his life from cradle to grave. So it is together in sadness that we share the arrival of this unfortunate day.
When we are confronted with the death of our children we are compelled to search for reasons. In earnest we ask questions and adamantly seek answers from a seemingly remote God whose silence leaves us feeling abandoned and confused. We throw up our arms and shake our fists at an ambivalent cosmos that stares us down with an infinite blackness that mirrors the condition of our soul and the depth of our pain. Anniversaries bring us back to the terrible moment when we learned of our beloved’s passing and all the feelings of dread, violation and terrible pain of that moment are relived again.
I remember coming home on that terrible day. I was standing by the sliding glass doors looking out on a beautiful autumn day. My wife was not home and I asked my daughter where she was. My daughter answered that my wife went to Aunt Sharon’s house and at that very moment the phone rang. It was my wife who in a stream of tears delivered the news of our young friend’s death. I collapsed onto a seat that was fortunately open at my side. It was as if an invisible locomotive knocked the wind and an ability to stand right out of me.
This death was not the first family member or close friend of mine to have died but it was one of the most painful. Our friend’s vitality, his exuberant youthfulness, quixotic smile and potent life force were central to his identity and qualities that made us feel that his living presence would always surround us. When that life was quelled we are shaken by the realization that youthfulness is not an immutable truth that protects anyone from death.
The next year two days after Christmas my nephew passed away after a lifelong battle against Leukemia. My nephew was only 16 at the time of his passing, but God and his family filled his life with the knowledge that he was deeply loved. My nephew fought the disease courageously and faithfully since he was 5 years old. During his life he had three major occurrences of the disease and after the third occurrence the Lord saw fit to call his beloved son home.
My nephew’s parents relied heavily on their faith to carry them through his sicknesses and implored God to heal their son. They prayed incessantly and faithfully to have the Lord restore their son’s health. It was not to be.
We question what purpose is served by the death of children and how could a benevolent God fail to answer our fervent prayers and allow this to happen? Those left behind remain haunted by our loved ones painful absence. We question our ability and effectiveness as parents and the meaning and necessity of a continued walk in the graceful light of God’s sure and abundant love that seemingly has abandoned us.
I believe our best response to these terrible instances of life is to continue a practice of a prayerful and sacramental life. There are many types of prayers. We petition the Beneficent One for things, we ask for guidance and strength, we give thanks, we ask for insights, clarity of thought, peace for the soul, restoration, revelation, protection and help for loved ones, and hope for the sight to perceive the daily grace that abundantly lights the pathways of our daily lives.
If prayer articulates our intentions and desires a sacramental life communicates that intention with firm action by binding devote love in response to the needs and human frailty of others. This connection helps fill the vacuous void left by the death of beloved family members and friends. It is the way we affirm the living power of unconditional love and anoint ourselves and others with the restorative balm of God’s sure presence during times of devastating tragedy, keen want, pointed vulnerability and consuming fear. The presence of The Deliverer is the outstretched hand, listening ear and kind heart open and ready to give and accept love. This sacramental dance nurtures us, uplifts others and keeps the memory our dearly departed close and ever fresh in our minds and hearts. It empowers us to live and feel the love that we hold in our hearts for our children that have passed. It emboldens our spirit. It brings to life the vitality of our children that have gone before us and allows the gift of their life to be a life force and real presence in the life of others.
If we continue to ask God for something and it is not given we need to assess the larger context of our desires and gain a deeper understanding of what it takes to achieve them. Maybe its time to create new life strategies and seek to discover new pathways to live out our life’s calling. Perhaps God is telling us it is time to begin to explore other solutions to our problems.
I think that is what God may be telling us when our children cross the River Jordan. Blessed with an understanding that our life must now be lived in a different context we become open to the possibilities and “newness of life” that Jesus Christ promises. The Good Shepard promises an abundant life. I pray that all God’s children may enjoy that promise of abundance by generously sharing it with others.
For all the dearly departed and those who remain.
Peace and Prayers
You Tube Music Video: Stevie Wonder, Ribbon in the Sky
Risk: restoration, recovery,wellness, faith
Political operatives circulate this photo in an attempt to taint the reputation of candidates running for office in highly contested elections. It has surfaced again in the Nevada Senate election campaign of Harry Reid and Sharron Angle.
I recently received an e-mail with this lovely image. The e-mail states that this is a photo that captures the 1889 public execution of Remus Reid for horse stealing and other crimes in the Montana Territory Prison. Remus is an ancestor of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Mr. Reid is running for reelection and is locked in a campaign battle with Teabagger darling Republican Sharron Angle.
The e-mail stated that a professional genealogy researcher (read: political hack) discovered this photo and asked Harry Reid if he cared to comment on it. Mr. Reid’s reply maddened the author of the e-mail, stating that Mr. Reid’s reply is a typical example of his Bull Shit. To quote the e-mail on this disingenuous genealogical inquiry:
“Believe it or not, Harry Reid’s staff sent back the following biographical sketch for her genealogy research:
“Remus Reid was a famous cowboy in the Montana Territory. His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and intimate dealings with the Montana railroad. Beginning in 1883, he devoted several years of his life to government service, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad. In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the renowned Pinkerton Detective Agency. In 1889, Remus passed away during an important civic function held in his honour when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed.”
NOW THAT’s how it’s done, Folks! That’s real POLITICAL SPIN, or typical Reid “BS”
The real BS of this story comes from Sharron Angle and her political propagandists. This Teabagging wind bag asserts that she has been anointed by God to save Nevada and the Union from socialists, liberals and terror loving anti-Americans (read democrats). God officially came out for Ms. Angle’s candidacy a few weeks ago. Not surprising since Jesus Christ has been the unofficial head of the GOP since at least the Reagan Administration. The breaking news of God’s endorsement of Sharron Angle was scooped by that hard hitting team of journalists at the 700 Club. You can see the story here:
Interesting this deeply Christian women says nothing about repealing gambling or legalized prostitution in her state or ending the wars but will make it her first order of business if elected to repeal the health care bill that extends coverage to all citizens. Curious that God would direct this deeply religious woman to deny health care to the poor and give a free pass to the wealthy riding their camels through the golden eye of the needle. Somehow I don’t think Ms. Angle’s positions are something that Jesus would support.
To make a point of righteous indignation, we get Ms. Angle circulating photos of a public hanging of Mr. Reid’s ancestor. I don’t believe Jesus would approve of this either but Ms. Angle no doubt knows a side of Jesus Christ I have yet to discover. So Mr. Reid responds with some amusing political satire to the inanities of Rovian inspired Teabagger politics and the point becomes the political spin of Mr. Reid.
I imagine Ms. Angle is trying to hold Mr. Reid accountable for the crimes of a distant ancestor that was dead before he was born. Theologically this is not very Christian of Ms. Angle. According to Jesus everyone is responsible for their own salvation. The sins of my father and great great uncles may be visited upon me but I am not responsible nor accountable for those sins. Christianity teaches people are active agents in their own salvation. Ms. Angle should go back to Sunday School. There are loop holes to this belief. According to Pat Robertson, the CEO of the 700 Club, the only exception to this New Testament precept is if you are Haitian and your ancestors made a pact with the devil to rid Haiti of French colonial rule. But as far as we know Mr. Reid is not Haitian (though at press time we understand that Rush Limbaugh is reviewing Reid’s birth certificates) and so would not fall under this rule of being guilty for your ancestors sins.
This e-mail campaign is typical reactionary Rovian electoral tactics. It is born from the same virulent partisan attacks of Andrew Breitbart that demonstrates no allegiance to truth and less to the guidance of any moral compass in journalistic pursuit. Again in my estimation a most Un-Christian practice. Attack an opponent to raise an emotional response using lies and racist symbolism are Tea Party practices that is rife throughout the movement of these little neo-fascist Christian Falangists.
The less said about issues and substantive programs to address the deep rooted problems of our country the better for the Teabaggers and the GOP. The Party of No got their Brown Shirt Shock Troops motivated around no taxes, no social welfare, more guns and prayers. It is the sycophantic mantra for a white middle class movement that patronizes class distress and offers no solutions to their pressing economic and cultural constriction. Nothing about issues. All about raising an emotional response with cliche, platitudes and negative symbolism.
Many of the original western settlers had a hand in the violent displacement that stole land from the Native Americans. Did Ms. Angle’s ancestors occupy Native American land as they colonized the West? Did Ms. Angle’s ancestors rightly compensate Native American’s for their land when they took control of the hood? If Remus Reid horse stealing ways is a valid campaign issue perhaps we should examine the genealogical lines of other westerners to determine how they got control of the land that they currently occupy.
One last point about the e-mail that I found curious was that “Politically” was misspelled in the subject line. The subject line read: Politicaly correct? I wonder if the ignorance born from people who quote words like “refudiate” are seen as badges of honor. These badges (kind of like Rush Limbaugh’s imaginary medals of honor that adorn his puffed up chest) are worn only by True American’s who hate pin headed liberal intellectuals who know how or care enough about the quality and “correctness” (there’s that word again) of communication to use a spell checker. Correctness, accuracy, truth and morals means little to the authors of these e-mails and the Andrew Brietbarts of the world. Its all about the preservation of their cosmology that protects the fundamental truths of political party, social class an eroding culture of privilege and a warped theology.
Who ever is sending this stuff out, Joseph Goebbels would be proud of you. Keep repeating the Big Lie. Pretty soon you’ll begin to believe it yourself and swear its true.
My response to this dangerous nonsense:
You Tube Video: Paul Robeson, Ballad of Joe Hill
Risk: culture, politics, religion, truth
A few years ago I caught Jimmy Cliff at BB Kings. What a party. He was terrific as he went through his expected repertoire of liberation songs to a very Reggae beat. For his last tune Cliff pulled out this giant bass drum the likes of which I have never seen. As he got into the tune the drum strike would send a soul penetrating sound wave reverberating into a frenetic audience bopping in unison. The vibe tickled as it pierced the body and continued to resonate after the sound wave passed through your heart. I imagine it was like getting zapped with a cosmic ray gun. The sound wave united artist with audience bringing them together into a unified vibe similar to the collective experience of the Holy Spirit that brings believers into a shared spiritual communion.
The recent performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis (Solemn Mass) by The New York Philharmonic Orchestra at NJPAC was a similar experience only multiplied by a factor of 10. The Orchestra led by Alan Gilbert fronted a 80 person choir and four vocalists that sang the libretto. Immediately, one is struck by the genius of Beethoven to score a composition of such massive dimensions and ensembic scale in service to the dramatic sweep of a divinely inspired vision. One is also left to wonder how a conductor can order a unified musical presentation by such a massive assemblage of singers and musicians? Mr. Gilbert acquitted himself very well and delivered a musical experience the likes of which I have never encountered most certainly in a live setting. This type of music is not listened to it is more of a full body experience.
The choir and orchestra engaged a dynamic dialectical interplay throughout the 75 minute piece with the choir often getting the upper hand. The vocal proclamations ascended with declarative force while the orchestra evoked a counterpoint of reasoned consistency that absorbed and controlled the power of the choir. The interplay of the piece suggested to me an image of an absorbent God that reigns in a celestial habitat. The multitudinous evocations, prayers and petitions from humanity are folded into the massive divinity that challenges and defies a human comprehension. The brute scale of the presentation’s momentum and the avowed certainty of the pieces direction remained unquestioned suggesting a cosmological predestination at work absorbing any loose ends of free will by performers or the comprehension of the audience.
Beethoven wrote the Missa Solemnis in 1814. It was a time of great upheaval and political uncertainty throughout Europe. The rise of nation states were eroding the political and institutional power structures of the aristocracy and a theocratic ideology that held it in place. The Missa Solemnis was commissioned by Arch Duke Rudolph who was appointed Cardinal and Archbishop of Olmutz. The piece was to be played at a solemn mass to commemorate the occasion. Though billed as a solemn mass, solemnity is not an adjective I would use to describe the piece. Beethoven assaults us with an overpowering forced conversion experience.
A Beethoven contemporary Prussian General Karl Von Clausewitzt stated, “pursue one great decisive aim with force and determination.”Missa Solemnis seemed to take the great generals advise to heart. The power and scale of the piece, its careful orchestration, and the continual exchange of the orchestra and choir also seems to suggest another Beethoven contemporary, the master dialectician Georg Hegel, may have been an influence in the Missa Solemnis. I raise this observation because the pieces structure suggests that the composer utilized Hegel’s dialectic method to arrange a conceived cosmology. The piece earnestly sought a divine experience but failed to transcend the bounds of an inspired institutional theology jealously guarding its eroding political power and ebbing sovereignty by co-opting the denying a transcendent experience to the audience. In my mind, the dialectic of the Missa Solemnis, never synthesized into a satisfying higher apotheosis. The piece seemed to continually fold back into itself. It lacked a needed reform of subtlety, reflection and space for a personal ubiquitous transcendence of the listener. It seemed to exclusively rely on the quality of the absolute force of its statement.
The Missa Solemnis scale and force of proclamation condemns the audience to a fixed position in a staid universe. It reinforces the quiet solemnity demanded of an inert audience required by the art form. I may have yearned for some Pentecostal action from the likes of Charles Mingus’s Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting only to be handed some very white bread Episcopalian homily affirming the fixed hierarchical cosmology. Absent of a voice of protestant reform and no ubiquitous inflection points, that allowed for the soul to escape the earthly barrage of the musical assault. All becomes controlled and incorporated into a catholic exegesis. Yes there was passion, tragedy, expectation and hope but save a small interlude of a bubbling choral evocation the transcendent moments always get dragged back to earth by an authoritarian dogma intent on maintaining the earthly order of things, through ruthless power, stringent conformity and submission to a mysterious all powerful opaque hierarchy. I know that this conflicts with Beethoven’s democratic sympathies beautifully articulated in his Ninth Symphony, but the two pieces dramatically diverge and one lies prostrate before the kingdom of heaven while the other celebrates the secular promise of humanism. I liken Missa Solemnis to Dmitri Shostakovitch’s Songs of the Forest. Drowning itself in the mass conformity of Soviet Social Realism the human voice is heard and articulated as a singular chorus whose greater aspirations are ultimately subsumed by the “Great Gardener” Joseph Stalin.
In the age of The Avatar, the majestic architecture of grand cathedrals, the power of mass choirs and the aesthetic elation of classical art forms has lost its awe inspiring impact. The grandness of the Missa Solemnis is indeed awe inspiring and beautiful to behold; but in the age of technology the mass availability of individuated 3D multidimensional events eclipses universal catholic corporatism negating the individual by channeling and controlling a personal connection to a transcendent experience. Jesus Christ was not about palaces, power structures or propping up potentates. The ministry of Jesus Christ was about real people with real problems solved with abiding love that encouraged thoughtful engagement. It is the only way that mortals can transcend earthly trials and touch the divine. There is no coercion or sacred cows to protect only an abiding practice of unconditional transcendent love.
Yet for me an irony of the Missa Solemnis remains. I came away from the performance unable to remember a single melody or consistent theme from the score. Beethoven never repeats the theme throughout the extended work. We are enraptured into the immediacy of the experience like Moses’s encounter with God in the form of the Burning Bush on Mount Sinai. Like God the Missa Solemnis is what it purports to be. “I am that I am.” In this respect Missa Solemnis succeeds as a call to an existential engagement of a divinity that passes all understanding. Reggae may synchronize the human heart beat to The Beneficent Ones finger taps; while the Missa Solemnis envelops the soul in a cascade of sound capturing the communicant with an overpowering force that leaves little doubt of the providence of a divine sovereign.
As a simple truth, Reggae’s beating drum may be a bit more prophetic and democratic. Jimmy Cliff confronted me with an undeniable truth of his resonating drum. Beethoven assaulted me with an overpowering forced conversion experience. If religion is about informing our conscience and heart to conquer free will by liberating it from the earthly tyranny of the flesh you must be allowed to dance to the beat of many different drummers. That is what liberation is all about. Perhaps dancing to the drum of a Shamanic Rhasta Man is closer to my idea of a Missa Solemnis.
You Tube Music Video: Beethoven Missa Solemnis (D-Dur, Opus 123) Kyrie
Risk; culture, institutional
As we start the second decade of the new millennium, innovation is understood as a critical driver to overcome the economic malaise plaguing the global economy. Economic stasis and political factionalism has made it increasingly evident that faltering economic and social institutions cry out for sweeping reform. These reforms can only be achieved with innovative approaches in policy and practice. Innovation is realized by giving flight to uninhibited thought and the clear application of ideas with decisive action. Though most agree that we badly need reform, we remain at painful odds as to what those reforms should be and how to implement them. The destructive legislative debates on health care and the ugly political theater of town meetings that occurred in the United States over the summer accomplished little in regards to meaningful reform. The exercises only served to drive a deepening wedge into the ability of a democratic culture to form a transformative consensus.
Our society is a complex ecosystem comprised of many competing interests. The classic definition of politics, “the means to decide how limited resources are allocated to disparate interests” is clearly a truism that must be applied if we are to realize the reform that we desperately need. In a post scarcity society that definition may seem a bit crude or antiquated. America’s history is marked by a culture of innovation and the incubation of industry. Innovation and its commercial expression in entrepreneurialism is a national asset that tempers the hard edges of stringent allocation or resources and has been the source of our great social wealth. Democracies continually require citizens to arbitrate how competing interests are reconciled and converge. As a self professed democracy the United States must break down the barriers that inhibit innovation by confronting the challenges posed by convergence.
Convergence has been the watch word in the tech industry for the past few years. Convergence aggregates, joins and aligns discreet trends, competencies, technologies and missions to spawn innovation and progress. Masters of business innovation understand that a precondition of convergence is the ability to collaborate. Collaboration requires extended conversations and dialog to understand how competing interests can be reconciled and brought together so that innovation and progress can be achieved. Marketeers invent neologisms like coopetition to brand the idea and lend heft to its thrust. We believe that innovation borne from convergence is the path to rebuild our economy, heal cultural wounds and take a step toward political maturity the United States needs to sustain the great experiment of our democratic republic.
With that in mind we offer a list that outlines the inhibitors to innovation. It is hoped that our nations leaders and people can begin an earnest conversation to address these barriers to growth. Maybe I’m wrong with offering this modest list but I remain willing to discuss it, hopeful that people of good will with a different viewpoint will be open to correct my thinking and contribute to my enlightenment.
1. War: War is inherently wasteful. The current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are grievous examples of waste and national distraction that hampers the United States economic recovery. At an Ecumenical Memorial Service held at Yankee Stadium following the 9/11 terror attacks a Buddhist Monk stated that he believed “it was wiser to drop refrigerators on Afghanistan then bombs”. Almost a decade later and two wars on I can’t help but to think what a meager $100 billion investment in Afghanistan would have returned to the United States tax payers. More importantly it would have shown the world that above all else America values the sanctity and preservation of life. It would have also minimized the rising toll of casualties of both citizens and soldiers. We developed some great bunker buster bombs but we can’t figure out a way to stop a suicide bomber with exploding underpants. We succeeded in stirring up a hornets nest of angry insurgents and failed to build innovative pathways to peace with steadfast bridges to secure allies and pacify combatants.
2. Politics: To be sure politics is omnipresent but the politicization of faith institutions and government functions is a great separator of people. When politics infects faith institutions their ability to breach the social divide and join people together is seriously compromised or downright destructive. The Catholic Church’s practice of denying the Eucharist to parishioners based on political biases of the communicant places politics at the center of the Lords alter. The recent occurrences of radical Islamists burning down Christian Churches in Malaysia is tragically ironic. The violence, a response to the Christians appropriation of the word Allah as a name for God; is a violent rejection of language convergence of two great faith traditions. It would seem that unity is a threat that God cannot abide and is a growing threat that must be abolished. In the secular world government agencies were instructed to withhold scientific climate change research of the National Science Foundation because it did not conform with the politics of the party in power. The extent of the politicization of the judicial branch of government under the Bush Administration was a seditious move worthy of dictatorships. Innovative application of constitutional law in defense of civil liberties is one of the greatest challenges the war on terror poses to this country. The creation of kangaroo courts to support the politics of the ruling party would undermine our system of justice. It would transform our judiciary into a repressive apparatus of the state, our laws into stale dogmas ill suited to meet the legal challenges of our time and a justice system that is indistinguishable from the justice offered by our opponents.
3. Ideology: Only good ideas need apply. Deng Xiaoping said it best “does it matter if its a communist or capitalist mouse trap. The question is, does it catch mice?” Seeing this as a threat, Mao Zedong unleashed the cultural revolution and routed the capitalist roaders as a threat to the Great Proletarian Revolution. After the death of Mao, Deng would be rehabilitated and play a key role in China’s adoption of a market economy and its current ascendancy as a world economic power. In my mind there is a striking resemblance to the debate about heath care. Socialized medicine is bad. Do you want to turn into France? Canadian health care is too expensive. UK heath care system is overloaded and can’t cope with demand. These problems would be solved however after the death panels had a chance to meet and decide who shall live and who must walk the plank.
4. Entrenched Commercial Interests: Though we are ardent believers in capitalism as an engine of innovation the dictatorship of ROI, entrenched concentrations of capital and an unwillingness or inability to adopt longer term investment horizons hamper innovation. The failure of the United States automobile industry to develop fuel efficient vehicles is a good example of market intransigence. The development of junk bonds by Michael Milken and Drexel Burnham Lambert dismantled the manufacturing base of the US economy accelerated the countries decline as a net exporter of products creating the foundation of a debtor nation. During the presidency of Jimmy Carter solar panels were installed on the roof of the White House. The succeeding administration had them removed. Imagine where the alternative energy industry would be today had it developed this leading edge idea and capitalized on this first mover advantage.
5. Unbridled free markets: The economic carnage of the banking meltdown is a startling example of the excesses the pursuit of profit will create. The boom in commercial and residential real estate construction created massive stocks of unused inventories that misdirected and wasted enormous resource. The energy and capital expended on these wasteful endeavors misdirected funds and created huge social hazards that requires massive amounts of capital to mitigate. Also worth mention is the development of video gaming. Lots of energy and creativity is being expended on the best techno music to use while your Mafia Avatar bashes open the head of your opponent with a baseball bat. We are not suggesting censorship or a prohibition of video games nor centralized economic planning. Its a compensation and social value issue. Perhaps a communicants denial of participation at the Lord’s Table lead them to leave the church and miss the message about social values.
6. Technology: It may seem odd to include technology as an inhibitor to innovation but technology for technology sake may inhibit the development of innovative applications solutions that are not technological in nature. The technorati of the world is transforming technology into a religion. Deprived of its human dimension it can become a dogma that grows in an antagonistic relationship with its human masters. The United States continues to trumpet its technological prowess as the deciding factors in its war in Afghanistan. But that paradigm was explored during the war in Viet Nam where pungi sticks ultimately trumped napalm bombs. The power of an idea and how it connects and motivates people is force that is mightier then the sword.
7. Fundamentalism: The Pharisees once asked Jesus, “is it lawful to heal on the sabbath?” Jesus answered that it was always the right time to heal those who are sick. The world recoils in horror at the capacity for destruction fundamentalism regularly visits upon the world. The denial of equal civil rights to LGBT people creates a bifurcated system of citizenship. It is an ugly stain on our democratic heritage. The gravest peril to democracy is the abridgment and denial of civil rights to any group of citizens. Democracy necessitates that all republicans enjoy equal access and rights in order for it to function. The denial of that right based on a fundamentalist reading of religious scriptures makes it particularly abhorrent because civil rights of citizens in a secular democracy is not an issue that is decided by theologians or the adherents to a particular theology.
Tolerance and consensus are both antithetical to the precepts of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is not the sole province of religion. It has its secular and ideological adherents as well. Fundamentalism is a pillar of dictatorship; either of a political or theocratic nature both are enemies of secular democracy. Secular democracies require tolerance to respect the diverse ideas and competing viewpoints require in the democratic process. Secular democracies require the trust to converse and hash out the best ideas that serve the greatest good. This is only possible if consensus can be achieved. It is how “out of many becomes one”. It is the true genius of America. It is a worthy innovation of governance that every freedom loving citizen should jealously guard and consciously pursue.
8. Public Education: The public education system that the United States built is the true arsenal of democracy and the nations source of wealth and its many contributions it has made to the world. Without the vast network of learning institutions built and supported by successive generations of Americans the worlds great experiment in representative democracy would have long ago perished. The public schools sole charter is to create an enlightened citizenship with the skills to discuss, discern and decide in a civil and constructive manner the ever evolving dialectic of a democratic consensus placed at the service of the republic. It is one of the true geniuses of America and remains her enduring strength.
Today public schools are under attack by forces whose agendas are the pursuit of parochial goals that first and foremost seek their enrichment and interests at the expense of the greatest good of the republic. The charter school movement is a trend that threatens the public school system by privatizing some of the systems assets and draining away much needed resource and financial support. It forces public schools to dispense with curriculum offerings like music and arts, sports programs and civic excursions that will convey an understanding of how institutions interact and support the greater social good. This aspect of the educational experience is supplanted by an exacting examination regime that destroys the love of learning. Secular learning is also being threatened through the introduction of theological precepts like creationism into the science curriculum of public schools. Religion and faith are important precepts to offer in a public educational curriculum; however theology that masquerades as science is an ideological stricture that has no place in public schools. These trends are pose great challenges to the public schools mission to form enlightened citizens free to think and free to act in the sole service of liberty and participatory democracy. Innovation and progress is in danger of becoming a secular sin a disease of the soul that needs to be eradicated from the public schools as its threatens to infect the greater body politic.
You Tube Music Video: Louis Armstrong, I Get Ideas
Risk: innovation, convergence, progress, tolerance
One of the more disturbing Gospel passages for me appears in the fifth chapter of Mark. It is the story of Legion; a man possessed of many demons. Legion lived amongst tombstones and took to cutting himself. The townsfolk were terrified of Legion and bound him with chains. Legion would break his chains and he could be heard howling and cursing his fate as he roamed the night in lonely exile through his mountainous domain.
One day Legion saw Jesus approaching the village and went to him begging not to torment him. Jesus saw that the man was possessed of demons and commanded them to leave the stricken Legion. When the illness left Legion the demons asked Jesus if they could inhabit a heard of pigs foraging nearby. Jesus consented and the pigs went mad and rushed off a cliff into the sea where all the pigs drowned.
Though the story may be the first accounting of a human sickness causing a swine flu infestation it always bothered me. Jesus’ consent to infect a heard of innocent pigs whose sickness compelled them to leap to their deaths is disturbing. Perhaps there is a cultural justification to the story for the prohibition of eating pork and the classification of pigs as haraam but upon rereading the story, it was the desire of the illness to enter the swine. The story is a wonderful examination of the non-discriminate nature of illnesses and disease. Jesus provides the reader with an important lesson not to shut out the ill and to take considered action to engage the malady to effect the cure.
Who amongst us does not have demons or illness lurking within? Indeed we are all Legion. As a person in recovery, I identify with Legion’s state of possession and find great comfort in Jesus’ example of the necessity to heal. He rebuked the use of chains, showed tenderness and empathy to the infirm. He effected the cure and commanded the ill to rejoin the the community as a whole and healthy human being. John Donne’s Meditation 17 is very similar in the importance of community in dealing with illness and tribulation.
Jesus’ understanding of illness and his example as a healer stands in direct contradiction to some of the inane proscriptions for dealing with the swine pandemic that have been put forward. Guided by fear and the desire to politicize the pandemic some politicians are using the swine flu as an opportunity to collect some political capital. The Stepford Republican Congresswoman Michelle Bachman; observed with great intelligence and insight that the the last swine flu outbreak occurred while another democratic administration held the White House. Ms. Bachman apparently suspects that the pandemic may be politically inspired and connected to the platform of the Democratic Party in some way.
Twitter and other social networking sites are alive with tweets proclaiming this is evidence of another terrorist attack. Ive seen a bunch of tweets stating this pandemic is clear evidence of Al-Qaeda activity in Mexico using our open borders to destroy America.
This type of thinking is very dangerous. I remember when AIDS first surfaced as a disease. Little was known about its origins and causes. What was known was that many Gay men were becoming infected with the disease and if I recall correctly it was referred to as the Gay influenza or virus. This categorization of AIDS stigmatized the disease and those who were infected. This stigmatization contributed to the spread of the disease because homosexuals who were infected with AIDS would avoid treating the disease because of guilt and shame. Non-gay men who were infected with the disease may have been slow to seek treatment because they believed themselves not to be infected because they did not engage in homosexual activities. In either case the misinformation, stigma and shame attached to the disease by people for the purpose of political gain were responsible for the spread of the disease.
The howling yodelers of Talk Radio and Fox News are also crowing about the political dimensions of the flu. Some want an immediate closure of our borders and question the political resolve of of the Obama Administration to live up to their pledge to protect the Homeland. Glen Beck of FOX TV states that President Obama is a prisoner of his liberal PC convictions. Beck cries through a river of alligator tears about the failure to close the borders is synonymous with an act of sedition that seeks to destroy America.
While Mr. Beck professes a great love for his country he demonstrates a poor understanding of what distinguishes America. Just lurking underneath the surface of Mr. Beck’s demagoguery is blaming Mexicans for the pandemic just as Ms. Bachman blame of democrats for the spread of the disease. Science instructs that illness is an equal opportunity malady. It does not discriminate on the basis of people place or color.
In Mark’s story about Legion, Jesus took action. Jesus didn’t say use a more study chain nor did he say build a wall around us to protect us from this scourge. No Jesus touched Legion. In story after story Jesus touched lepers, blind people, crippled and the dead to cure them. Jesus was available during his ministry to all people and allowed others to touch him so that their faith would free them from their demons. Jesus understood that a wall of ostracism is a poor defense from a pandemic. Ironically its isolation that incubates the disease of body, mind and soul. Jesus stressed that the ill be part of the community to witness and teach others about restoration, rehabilitation, the importance of action and the need to serve.
Politicizing problems obfuscates solutions. The mother of fear is ignorance and the thinking exemplified by Ms. Bachman and Mr. Beck is enough to create 10 pandemics of fear, suspicion and resentment. Little do they realize the real gold that can be mined through the challenge of tribulation. We’ll close with these words from John Donne’s Meditation 17.
Another man may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell, that tells me of his affliction, digs out and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another’s danger I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.
You Tube Video: Louis Armstrong, St. James Infirmary
Risk: isolation, politicization, ignorance
On the anniversary of this most tragic day we offer prayers and condolences to the family and friends of the victims of this terrible event. As an on the ground witness to the terrible effects of the terrorist attack and as a recipient of aid and shelter for that nights refuge I experienced the best and worst of humanity in the span of a day.
Its most ironic that the attackers and aid givers were both motivated by what they presumed to be God’s will. I can only say that the aid givers truly demonstrated what I understand to be moving in the holy spirit in a selfless demonstration of God’s love.
To be sure God is not a terrorist nor compels humans to kill on his behalf. I believe God wants us to live in peace and work for peace so as we can truly know and become what God will is for the people of this world.
I recall a 911 healing service held at Yankee Stadium soon after the attacks. I remember a speaker who quoted a Buddhist monk suggesting that America should respond to the attacks by dropping refrigerators on Afghanistan. The meaning being we should respond to this atrocity with kindness.
Considering what these attacks have since wrought; I believe this statement contains a kernel of sage advise. It speaks of an ageless divine wisdom that echoes the teachings of Jesus Christ to turn the other cheek, offer your coat also and the grace and blessings of peacemaking.
Sage advise indeed. Consider the dividends the world would have received had America and its coalition partners placed exclusive attention on the military, political and national development of Afghanistan and its troubled neighbor Pakistan.
A $100 B investment in Afghanistan would have gone a very long way in helping develop and build a destitute country, create good will for America abroad and help America achieve security at home.
God compels us to be peacemakers. If you remember anything concerning the meaning of this day consider the Psalmist words,
“God is our refuge and our ever present help in trouble… be still, and know that I am God. … the God of Jacob is our fortress”
May the victims of the 911 attacks rest in peace. For us that remain may we find peace in our hearts and find the strength to share it abundantly with others.
Music: Donald Byrd Cristo Redentor
Risk: security, peace, war, good will of all people on earth