Saturday, June 13, 2015


Still waiting for the Big One.  It's in the oven; it's just not done yet.  In the meantime you can see where I'm trending....

When I read a statement like this:

Our balloons were no sooner in the air, floating lazily in the reflected glow of the strobe lights, when word came forth that certain late entries in the secularity sweepstakes were to be given a respectful glance; black theology, liberation theology, feminist theology. Affirmative action, perhaps.

I think about this:

And here’s a grim footnote to this saga: in 2012, in preparation for the new charter school district, cryptically named the Muskegon Heights Public School Academy System, the emergency manager laid off every single school employee.

“We knew it was coming,” explained one of the city’s longtime elementary school teachers. She asked not to be identified, so I’ll call her Susan. “We received letters in the mail.”

Then, around one a.m. the night before the new charter school district was slated to open, she received a voicemail asking if she could teach the following morning. She agreed, arriving at Martin Luther King Elementary School for what would be the worst year in her more than two-decade career.

When we visit that school, a single-story brick building on the east side of town, the glass of the front door had been smashed and the halls were empty, save for two people removing air conditioning units. But in the fall of 2012, when Susan was summoned, Martin Luther King was still filled with students — and chaos. Schedules were in disarray. Student computers were broken. There were supply shortages of just about everything, even rolls of toilet paper. The district’s already barebones special education program had been further gutted. The “new,” non-unionized teaching staff — about 10% of whom initially did not have valid teaching certificates — were overwhelmingly young, inexperienced, and white. (Approximately 75% of the town’s residents are African American.)

“Everything was about money, I felt, and everyone else felt it, too,” Susan says.
Because that last sentence is a perfect summation of politics and governance in modern America.  Contrast it with the wholly idealistic and romanticized soap opera vision of governance reflected in "The West Wing,"  a show that looks even more Disneyfied and Pollyannaish for the fact the worst demons in it are right wing fundamentalists who don't have the bite of Jerry Falwell (who accused Hillary Clinton of murder, and yet somehow was never shamed out of polite company).  The struggles of the staff in the Bartlett White House are to horse trade for legislation in the manner of FDR or LBJ or even Harry Truman.  That show (I never watched it, but now through the graces of Netflix, I'm binging on it) is a time capsule of what truly looks, now, like a simpler age.  The pilot opens with every staff member carrying a pager, and by the third episode we're told solemnly that "The internet is here to stay."  I was reflecting on that in a restaurant yesterday where I could connect to the internet on my cell phone, and only restaurants have pagers (those little "coasters" they give you to tell you your food is ready, or your table is now available).  But the real change is that while they could worry about saying "the era of big government is over" and they could dismiss "fringe" House members and fret over right wing Christian leaders, all of those people now run the Congress.  The troublesome "fringe" politicians in "The West Wing" are senators and former vice presidential candidates and the majority of Congress insists the very jobs they worked so hard to get and keep are the problem with America today.

Except, of course, insofar as those jobs protect and serve the people with the money to put those Congresspersons and Senators in office.  Because the era of government protecting the wealthy, be i in 21st century America or first century Rome (hello, Jesus!), is never over.

The struggles in modern D.C., and more and more in states like Wisconsin and Michigan (we've been doing it in Texas so long we take it for granted), is not over horse trades for votes, but over which throats to cut, which group to disparage.  Don't make me come up with examples, it's too discouraging.

Chris Christie has decided college students have a moral obligation to go into debt, because they'll all be rich when they graduate and why should the state help them with that?  The state, of course, is only obligated to help banks, casinos, and corporations get and stay rich.  Individuals can enjoy the pleasures of indentured servitude.

And while you may admire the work of Karl Rahner and Yves Conger (Fr. McBrien betrays his bias by praising Roman Catholic theologians and disparaging Protestant ones), the work of James Cone and Gustavo Gutierrez and Jan Sorbino and Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, has done more for individuals than the Church has.  (One could make the liberation theology argument that theology should not be used to buttress institutions, an argument that might raise Father McBrien's hackles, were he still here.  That, too, is another topic.).  "The West Wing" is full of people concerned with individuals, not just institutions.  It's noble and fine and good to see that on TV; it was also almost completely a fantasy, and as influential as a snowflake on a balance scale, in the grand scheme of things.

Theology is probably no more than a snowflake in the best of times.  But it should always be on the right side of the balance scales.  There are times when theology becomes just another bulwark of institutions.  At those times, if theology cannot serve the people, it must yield

Things don't matter.  Ideas don't matter. 
People matter.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I read that too and your point is valid and I agree with it. It was in 1975 that he said that. McBrien had, by the second edition of his "Catholicism" come to a better appreciation for liberation theology,

    "Another variation is advanced by those in the liberation theology. God is disclosed in the historical praxis of liberaion. It is the situation and our passionate and reflective involvement in it, which mediates the Word of God. Today that Word is mediated through the cries of the poor and the oppressed. ... The Word of God is distorted and alienating unless one is committed to change for the sake of the Kingdom. Such a commitment to liberation gives rise to a new way of being human and believing, of living and thinking the faith, of being called together as Church. Revelation, therefore, happens when we recognize and accept God's summons to us to participate in the historical struggle for liberation."

    Your point about his not naming Protestant theologians, too, though he was, after all, writing a column that would be published in Catholic newspapers, we used to actually have those before they were closed to pay for the scandals.

    I gradually became more and more irritated with The West Wing, which was a fantasy. No president has been President Bartlett and I doubt one could be elected in our country. But it was the dim lighting and the fast dialogue full of wonkeese that really got to me. I got the feeling a lot of bureaucrats might have wanted to be CJ and Toby and Josh. I'd say more but I don't want to be a plot spoiler. I liked the actors. Most of them.