Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Nothin' but....

I dunno, this all just sounds oddly familiar:

Later on, we discover that God's influence over the proceedings of the majority caucus of the House only extends so far, however.
The windowless room with two large-screen TVs and a couple of microphones on either side was handed over to rank-and-file Republicans, nearly 40 of whom waited their turn to offer ideas for what the GOP should try to get later this year in return for agreeing to raise the debt ceiling. Some wanted more energy exploration, some entitlement reform and one lawmaker pushed to attach antiabortion measures to the legislative package, according to Republicans in the room. This is the price of remaining in charge in today's House: Boehner must always appear to be working from the bottom up, never seeming to impose his will. "Gone are the days when the leaders decide what the conference is gonna do," said Rep. Lynn Jenkins (Kan.), a third-term lawmaker who recently joined the GOP leadership.
This is interesting. If the leadership doesn't determine that, then who in god's name -- you should pardon the expression -- actually does? It is possible that's the entire point. A caucus made up of a substantial number of people who don't think the federal government should do anything might well undermine their own leadership's credibility in order to attain that goal, which would have the added bonus effect of helping to paralyze the government. If that's the case, then none of us have a prayer.
In what are increasingly my few days (years become a few days after awhile; ask any old person, ya snot nosed punk!) in parish ministry, I learned quickly that I wasn't in charge of anything.  If ever there were days when the pastor ran things, those days had ended long before I got on the planet.  What remained was the fact that the pastor, while having no leadership role, had a tremendous amount of responsibility.  So when I (foolishly) pointed out that church membership had been in decline for several decades (meaning we should face facts and consider our collective future responsibly), the first response was to look at the decline since I had been pastor (about 2 years, at that point).  Because the trend didn't matter, what mattered was the period of time I could be held responsible for. Maybe in a more hierarchical, or episcopal, church structure the leadership still actually determines what the congregation is going to do; but that hasn't much been my experience.  In general, groups of people seem to think they get to decide what's going to happen, and usually that group is as small in relation to the whole as a House caucus is in relation to the country, and just as determined to have their way.

"Gone are the days when the leaders decide...." is pretty much applicable to any church I've been involved in, including those churches now struggling over the issue of same-sex marriage or ordination of gays and lesbians.  By which I mean it runs both ways:  episcopal structures may resist the calls for change, but congregational structures like the UCC often find the interest in liberty at the top is not met with enthusiasm by the people in the pews.  I ran into more than a few church members quite astonished, and not in a good way, at what I had learned in seminary; and most of what I learned was new and controversial 100 years ago. It's dangerous to read these situations through one's personal experience, but the best part of Pierce's post is the perhaps apocryphal story he tells:
Not to mock this whole thing, at least not severely, but I am reminded about Bob Knight's perhaps apocryphal reply to one of his Hoosiers when the lad told the coach the team would win if God willed it. "Son," Knight told him, "one day, you'll grow up and you'll realize that God doesn't give a fk about Indiana basketball."
If that's even barely true, it marks Mr. Knight as a fine theologian.  It is also a theological point almost no pastor dares make from his or her pulpit.

Is this tendency in the House of Representatives an example of a trend?  I don't know; but I think it may be an example of a GOP trend, since the Tea Party seems still to be running their show, and the Tea Party is mostly old people and people who think like old people, and (painting with a broad brush, I know, especially since I'm 12 years older than I was when I was asked to leave my last church), it was mostly old people who decided I wasn't what they wanted anymore.

I see an increasing divide in churches between those dominated by the elderly, who will brook no interference with their control and comfort, and churches with a broader mix of ages, allowing those who are younger a legitimate voice in what happens.  Is that a legitimate basis for analysis of national politics and public policy?

I dunno.  I'm gonna go work on what it means to say God doesn't care about Indiana basketball.....


  1. A lot of the blognighted expression on religion consists of the mistake of believing that God's thoughts would be our thoughts, more evidence that what they believe they are addressing as "Christianity" is really a narrow range of fundamentalism. People who believe God cares about Indiana Basketball.

    I see the powerlessness of Boehner as being partly his own inabilities and refusal to be responsible and partly the consequences of the strategy of the economic elite to hitch their wagon to a sewer. When your margin of power depends on the teabaggers, you won't be able to have an effective, rational leadership. It's reckless to have a policy of junking anything that counts as human progress but that's the one they've chosen. Bachmann, Cruz, .... Under that system even competent but amoral politicians like Kelly Ayotte will dive for the bottom in a strategy to gain power. Ironically, it's exactly the nightmare of the early critics of democracy, arising in those their intellectual and, well, for want of a better word "spiritual" descendants that are making it real. And it's success isn't dependent on the stupidity of the teabag crowd but on the moral corruption of the elites that try to harness them but then find themselves being taken for a ride.

  2. If I were inclined to make an overly broad connection, it would be to the decline of institutions like the church and, now, political structures.

    Politics, especially in America, has always been a nasty grab for power business. I'm still not sure if it's getting worse, or if the post-WWII era was just an aberration where national prosperity and the moral consciousness of MLK, et al., raised our sights above our navels for a brief, shining moment. There's a great deal more self-aggrandizement than glory in most of American history and what we tell ourselves we accomplished between 1776 and today.

    And churches were never the central pillars of America we think they were, either. The influence of the church actually peaked in the Baby Boom generation. We grew up thinking that influence was the norm, but it was the exception. I see a sharp decline today as young people are less and less interested in the church, or if they are, are interested in the simplistic church that won't challenge them morally, except to be good consumers and satisfied customers.

    Are these declines real? Are they running in parallel, or causally linked; if they are real? Is there reason to believe, as the "austerians" do, that the "moral rot" will be purged from both institutions, or either, because their failures will be so spectacular reforms will be demanded?

    I dunno. Questions this big seem to be above my pay grade....