Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Streams in the Desert

Without taking up any of the sides in this issue, this is the kind of thing that makes me want to retreat to the desert.

Figuratively speaking.

Though perhaps what's more interesting is this critique, as cited by Pastor Dan:
there's little question that the RIC and its journalistic proponents (Amy Sullivan, E.J. Dionne) have sometimes let wishful thinking run away with sober judgment, hopefully announcing the evangel of what has not (yet?) come to pass. The problem here is not with the RIC, which is simply going about the traditional political business of grabbing for folks in the middle of the road and spinning the results. Sticking strictly to your prophetic guns, as Pastordan urges, amounts to a lefty version of the Rovian strategy of playing to the base. (Sorry, Dan.)
There is more there than meets the eye, because the comparison to Rove is not an idle one. Rove is a committed ideologue (as he has shown since leaving the environs of the White House) but he was more committed to one thing than to his iedology: power.

Rove was all about power: gaining it; holding it; wielding it. Not pretty, is it? Nor do I accuse Pastor Dan of being even a little bit Rovian. But it is very difficult to have these conversations without coming around to the question of power. So how's this for a conversation starter?

My soul extols the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has shown consideration for the lowly stature of his slave. As a consequence, from now on every generation will congratulate me; the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name, and his mercy will come to generation after generation of those who fear him. He has shown the strength of his arm, he has put the arrogant to rout, along with their private schemes; he has pulled the mighty down from their thrones, and exalted the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, as he spoke to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever. (Luke 1:46-56, SV)

To repeat myself: The Magnificat is not a political statement. This is not about a greater power than all others on earth, overwhelming what we know and wiping it out. If reason is really going to save us from ourselves, it can only do so by overpowering emotions; it will only do so when we all finally and fully think alike, and praise the same things, and damn the same things, and there is no deviation. It will only finally rule supreme when human emotion is wiped out, and desires and wants are expunged. Reason will only finally be our best and highest ruler when everyone is a slave and no one thinks unlike the rest, and the philosopher kings take their rightful place, and we all learn to bounce our ball in sequence on the coldly perfect planet of Camazotz.

The Magnificat is not a political song. It is not the Maccabees taking on Rome and precipating the slaughter of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. It is not the Pax Romana that finally fell, never to rise again. It is not the plea of the Populists, of New Deal Democrats, the Yippies, or the Green Party. The Magnificat is not about what will be, but about what is.

It is not about resistance, about plans to rule and overpower, either malicious or benign. It understand implicitly: there is no power without resistance. It is not a song of resistance, or a song of prediction.

It is a song of now.

All this discussion of "RIC" and whether or not Rick Warren is an "epic fail" or a boy genius is all so much inside baseball. (Ironic, no?) And I'm not even a fan, much less a player. I can't tell the players without a scorecard, so outside of E.J. Dionne and Digby, I don't know who the people are Dan is talking about (nor had I ever heard of a "Religious Industrial Complex." I think I prefer the traditional term: "Christendom." And though I'm a UCC pastor, I don't want to have anything to do with what either of those terms represent.) I'm happy to agree with Fred Clarkson that Rick Warren is an "epic fail," but honestly: who cares what I think about Rick Warren? I don't like Joel Osteen either, but I haven't made a dent in his popularity, nor do I ever hope to.

This is much larger than Pastor Dan, so I'm not picking on him, just picking it up from him:

Our movement, like any, depends on people with diverse skills, constituencies, voices and approaches to advancing our cause. Some speak prophetically about what we should fight for and inspire the faithful, some work to organize the community into coalitions, some strive to bring unlikely allies together, some magnify the voices of others, some develop the next generation of leaders, and so on and so forth. In my short time here at FPL, we've tried to help in many of these respects, and we're continually assessing how to best contribute to advancing a common good agenda. We hope our "RIC" status doesn't stop the critics in our community from wanting to work together in 2009 -- there's no shortage of things to be done.

My first response is still: isn't the agenda of Christians to advance the basiliea tou theou? Which may seem an exclusive stance, too, so my second response is: if I'm going to spend my days deciding who is "in" and who is "out," I'm going to be very busy not getting a whole lot done (Hey! Kind of like blogging!). If I'm going to come at this from my Christian confession, is being a good member of the RIC the purpose of being a Christian? Is my confession just a seasoning on my preferred activities, a way of giving me a different frame than Atrios or Digby or the "evangelicals"? And what does any of this have to do with now?

As Merton said of the Desert Fathers, when all human society is in chaos, sometimes the only response is to grab a bit of flotsam in the flood and hang on for dear life.

These kinds of discussions always strike me as more flood than flotsam.

Next up: how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? And are they using the right foot? In the meantime, what's going on right now? And what does the Magnificat have to say about it?

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