Friday, June 24, 2011

Dear Republicans,

Republicans of conscience, May 19

The Republican Party used to be an honorable party, but today it is corrupted by the Tea Party. I promised to write about Republicans of conscience. Here are a few.

David Frum, conservative journalist and former speechwriter for George W. Bush , is angry at “conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio” who whip Republicans into “such a frenzy that deal-making [is] impossible.” He points out that the Health Care Act, what the right calls “Obamacare”:
“. . . builds on ideas developed at the [conservative] Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994.”
So what Republicans of today denounce as “socialism” is a rather conservative Health Care Act largely based on Republican ideas.

David Stockman, the budget director responsible for engineering the Reagan tax cuts, the largest in American history, now says all the Bush tax cuts should be eliminated—even those on the middle class. And he says his own Republican Party has gone too far with its anti-tax religion.
“. . . It's become in a sense an absolute. Something that can't be questioned, something that's gospel, something that's sort of embedded into the catechism and so scratch the average Republican today and he'll say "Tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts.”
Republican President Dwight Eisenhower sounded a theme that Republicans today would term "socialist" and "liberal":
Workers have a right to organize into unions and to bargain collectively with their employers. And a strong, free labor movement is an invigorating and necessary part of our industrial society.” [We cannot afford to reduce taxes until] the factors of income and outgo will be balanced.
Eisenhower's Republican Party platform of 1956 called for expanding Social Security, broadening unemployment insurance, and improving health protection for all. It called for full voting rights, equalizing pay for workers regardless of sex, expanding the minimum wage, and improving job safety for workers.
When Eisenhower was president, the top tax bracket for the richest people was 92 percent. He defended that tax bracket, insisting that taxes on the rich are the way to achieve a balanced budget. Three nights before the end of his presidency in 1961, Eisenhower warned of a scientific-technological élite that would dominate public policy and claim,
our toil, resources, and livelihood. . . .
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.
Going back further still, Republican president Theodore Roosevelt understood that, to preserve the free enterprise system, we have to reduce the monopolizing power of the richest in the country. Roosevelt famously curbed the gilded power of his age. He would be aghast at the grotesque imbalance of power and wealth in our country today.

In Washington state, Bill Gates Sr., wealthy father of the Microsoft founder, says the rich don’t pay enough in taxes, and the poor pay too much. On 60 Minutes he said,
This notion that all innovation is the function of private funding, . . . that’s just sheer nonsense. . . . . Taxation creates little things like a great university, and like a competent, rigorous high school . . . like early learning for kids three-years old . . . That’s innovation. . . . The notion that public money is somehow anathema to innovation is just plain wrong.
Campaigning against wealthy business interests, Bill Gates Sr. pushed for a state income tax, but the push failed because the tax-raising proposal included the middle class.

Minnesota's Progressive Republican Tradition includes Governors John Pillsbury, Harold Levander, Elmer L. Anderson, Jim Ramstad, Arne Carlson, and Al Quie. The last three have spoken out against the extreme right’s attempts to cut social programs while protecting profits of the obscenely wealthy.
Andersen called himself a liberal and progressive Republican, as an obituary described it, “a vanishing if not already extinct breed.”
Former Republican Senator David Durenberger merits mention as a national health care expert who says Democrats do a better job with health care. He no longer supports Republicans, and he vigorously opposed the Iraq War.

There’s nothing dishonorable about being a Republican or a conservative if the term includes fairness and respect for government, both of which the party used to support. What happened? I think Big Money took over.
More on this subject next time.


Compromise: Give some and get some. So please move off the no-more-taxes position, just as Obama moves off his positions. Please meet in the middle. Consider:

• Relief for small business owners requires raising taxes on top incomes. Those making hundreds of millions and even a billion dollars a year are taxed at the same rate as those making less than a half million ($379,150)!
• While the unbelievably wealthy look for places on Wall Street to invest hundreds of millions, the bottom 90% worry about health care, education, safe food, other basic needs, and taxes.
• Food banks and homeless shelters see a sharp rise in use of their services—by the employed!
• Close to a quarter of America’s children live in poverty, and nearly 15% of households are food insecure. Consider the talent wasted!
• Social service programs yield returns in dollars up to 20 times the original investment. To be blunt, not investing in social programs is fiscally stupid.
• Financial executives who helped to cause the recession get pay raises in the hundreds of millions. But unions, once representing a third of American workers, now weak and unable to protect workers, are under attack.
• Income inequality in the U.S. approaches that of “third world” economies we deplore. Consequences are beginning to appear—crumbling infrastructure, neglected schools, neglected elderly, disabled, and unemployed, neglected mineworkers, homeless on the streets, health care worries, bulging prisons, financial catastrophes in states . . . the list goes on.

Authentic “fiscal restraint” requires fair taxes on those who have not shared in the sacrifice. The grotesque imbalance of money reflects the grotesque imbalance of power that money wields in our money-driven society. Please summon your courage and resist the right-wing ideologues who scream, “Tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts.”

The June 27 issue of The Nation has excellent ideas for inserting real competition and initiative into capitalism to create an authentically free market.
I suggest reading it in the library because this site doesn’t include the best idea given—a small financial-trades tax to curb excessive speculation in pursuit of outlandish profits, which produced the near meltdown in our national and international economies. We pay a sales tax when we buy necessities like appliances, but financial speculators pay no tax for gambling on trades worth hundreds of billions. Even a 1% financial-trades tax could generate enough to fill Social Security shortfalls.

King Banaian, whom Minnesota Republicans appointed to the Commission on Planning and Fiscal Policy, wrote in an email exchange with me,
Government policy has always redistributed income towards lower income groups. We spent $679 billion in the US on transfers to the lower third of the income distribution in 2008.
That’s hardly impressive, considering the trillions every year given in tax breaks to corporations and billionaire individuals.

An email reminded me to post my article in the local paper. Once published there, it belongs to the paper and I can't place the text here, only the link to Economy needs democracy. My message:
The extreme anti-tax position contains this contradiction—“Cut taxes,” and also “There’s just no money.” It is completely oblivious to the wealth wasted in our country in the form of tax breaks—essentially welfare for the wealthy, which runs into the trillions.

We can also chew on Wall Street's Dirty Business.
“I learned that the level of casual corruption, at least in the world of hedge fund traders and managers, is astonishingly high. . . .

Just the way in which people would make the decision to break the law, to commit a felony, to trade on inside information . . . as if it was part of the way they did business.”

Monday, June 20, 2011

Bobby McFerrin & Bishop Regina

Bobby McFerrin defies patriarchy, June 20, 2011
Bobby McFerrin, a ten-time Grammy winner who improvises in various musical traditions, was interviewed by Krista Tippett.
We got to talking about the heavy patriarchal element of, you know, religion . . .
I thought, well let me write something with the feminine gender . . . because when we think about God's love it should encompass, you know, the mother and father . . . the feelings of a man, the feelings of a woman. They are different, you know. . . .

I just wanted to remind people . . . some of them might not have had great relationships with their dads. And also mothers too, you know; some of them don't have great relationships with their mothers. But sometimes we forget just the feminine element in religious service. And I just wanted to bring that out.
He brought out the feminine when he set Psalm 23 to song:
The Lord is my Shepherd, I have all I need,
She makes me lie down in green meadows,
Beside the still waters, She will lead.

She restores my soul, She rights my wrongs,
She leads me in a path of good things,
And fills my heart with songs.

Even though I walk, through a dark and dreary land,
There is nothing that can shake me,
She has said She won't forsake me,
I'm in her hand. . . .

Glory be to our Mother, and Daughter,
And to the Holy of Holies,
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be,
World, without end. Amen
Also on the theme of patriarchy, readers might enjoy this hilarious and also serious song Kate, sit down, sit down, to the tune of “Que sera sera, whatever will be will be.”
Samples of the lyrics:
When I was just a little girl,
I asked my mother, what could I be.
Could I be bishop, could I be pope? . . .
Whatever you dream can’t be
The future’s for men to see.
Do not question me. . . .

We know what’s best for you. We’re infallible too.”
Now back to serious scholarship. Fr. Richard McBrien corrects the pope’s claim that the denial of ordination to women is infallible teaching.

I wonder how much longer the hierarchy’s repression of women can withstand provocative challenges like these.

Woman ordains another woman a Catholic priest, July 1, 2011
The Community of Mary Magdalene, First Apostle, based in St. Cloud, MN, supports and plans liturgies with Catholic womenpriests. Kelly Doss, one of our group, witnessed a Womenpriest Ordination for the first time on June 26 and wrote this:
As the procession began, I remember my eyes welling up with tears. I thought, “I cannot believe I get to be part of this! This is really happening before my eyes—a woman being ordained.”

. . . Everyone’s love and spiritual presence filled the room! It was a diverse crowd, and yet I could sense the unity and how truly welcome we all felt in that church. I could even sense it in the music. The choir sounded heavenly and all sang with such harmonious force. I believe that for everyone there, this just seemed so natural and beautiful.

There came a harsh reality. By women answering the call to the priesthood, they become excommunicated. How saying “Yes!” to Jesus and ministering to the people warrants excommunication, I will never understand. Bishop Regina brilliantly reminded us that while some of the patriarchs of Rome choose to use threats, we must listen to our conscience. . . .

At the end of the Mass, as the womanpriest was thanking those who supported her on her journey, she reminded me of something profound. There are some in her circle of support who were not able to attend her ordination because their vocations and careers would be in jeopardy.

. . . There are men and women in the Community of Mary Magdalene, First Apostle who take risks by worshipping with us and supporting us. . . . you are truly a gift and I admire your courage. You make the community all the more extraordinary!

Later that evening I attended Mass. Everything was the way I had always known: same motions, same responses. For a moment, I had to question if anything was changing and if it ever will.

When I think about what I witnessed today, I know that the spirit of change has been set in motion, and it will not cease. . . . Keep hope alive! God Bless, Kelly
And here are excerpts from the homily by Bishop Regina Nicolosi:
There should be sheer joy that we can celebrate the ordinations of Monique and Maria on the feast of Corpus Christi. However, the sound of their names alone makes it apparent that there is tension and pain interlaced with the joy in what we are about to do, a tension which would not exist were their names Michael and Marvin.

There is a poem by Frances Croake Frank which powerfully expresses this pain. I have never met anyone who knows this woman, Francis Croake. Rumor has it that she is a Catholic nun. Once you hear this poem, you may understand why she remains anonymous:

Did the woman say,
When she held him for the first time in the dark of a stable,
After the pain and the bleeding and the crying,
“This is my body, this is my blood”?

Did the woman say,
When she held him for the last time in the dark rain on a hilltop,
After the pain and the bleeding and the dying,
“This is my body, this is my blood”?

Well that she said it to him then,
For dry old men,
brocaded robes belying barrenness,
Ordain that she not say it for him now.

Why, I ask my brother Benedict and my brother bishops, or better, why not?
Where does this archaic, relentless sexism come from? When will you stop stressing the maleness of Jesus rather than his humanity? When will you refrain from turning symbols into doctrine?

When will you end exercising power over, rather than with the people of God, with your segregating clericalism? When will you discontinue to see yourselves as dispensers of grace? When will you refrain from excluding those who listen to their conscience?

When will you stop demanding that all of us speak to our God in the form you prescribe and forbid us to call Her Mother?

When will you look at the world without this dualism that pits spirit against nature, historical fact against present experience, sacred against profane?
When will you stop using the Eucharist as a political weapon? Above all, when will you appreciate women and their experiences in the same way you cherish those of men? When will you stop harming women, children and men, too, and our earth with your archaic understanding of, and destructive rules on sexuality.

And specifically, today on this day of ordination, I ask you: When will you respect the body of a women as holy enough to stand close to the altar? Is it not one of your dogmas that God respected the body of our Mother Mary enough to raise this body into heaven?

Let us focus our minds and hearts on that which we can do to renew the church we love. When we say: Corpus Christi / Body of Christ, is it only the bread and wine, the body and blood of our brother Jesus that we envision? Or is there another powerful image coming into our minds? I am thinking of the image of the church community as Corpus Christi.

Maria and Monique, what can you, a newly ordained deacon and a newly ordained priest, contribute to bring life and nourishment to the body of Christ, our church?
. . . Jesus invited all to the table. Do as he did.
Inasmuch as you find yourselves on the margins, it makes sense to serve those who are on the margins as well. Follow the example of one of your sisters who recently at the Cathedral served the body of Christ to those who had been rejected because they were wearing rainbow sashes. Center your liturgies and actions around hospitality.
Feed the people of God. Feeding and nourishing, including from our own bodies, is something we women have done since the beginning of time. Respect the priesthood of all believers.

If people ask you how you can request ordination and at the same time believe in the priesthood of all believers, you may answer: We are willing to live with that ambiguity. As a matter of fact, a greater acceptance of ambiguity is something we as women can bring into a church mired in dogma, rules and definitions.
May your priesthood and diaconate be inspired by the washing of the feet. Do not seek power but rather empowerment of others. Remember that Sarah's circle leads to heaven as surely as Jacob's ladder. But also, do not yield to unjust power. Don't excommunicate anyone, including yourself.

When you preach and teach, ask your sisters and brothers to respect women's bodies, including the body of our mother earth. Hold our Mother Mary in your hearts as an image of priesthood. If they tell you that you cannot act in persona Christi, then tell them that you act in persona Mariae. Her female body carried him for nine months after all.

The Spirit Sophia will empower you to accomplish what Isaiah in our first reading describes:
"Give them a wreath of flowers instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of tears, a cloak of praise instead of despair."
I had intended to shorten the statements of Kelly and Regina but I couldn’t bear to cut much and reduce their eloquence.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Astrophysics spiritual

Lord Martin Rees, cosmologist, astrophysicist, and recent past president of Great Britain's scientific Royal Society, is an atheist, but for me Krista Tippett’s conversation with him held more spiritual meaning than a typical church service does.

He has little interest in science versus religion battles, but his reflections on scientific discoveries imply the existence of spiritual reality. Rees said,
There's evidence, which has come about in the last 10 years or so, that even empty space, when you take away all the dark matter and all the atoms, still exerts a kind of force. It exerts a sort of push or tension on everything.
Immediately I think of spiritual reality, which physical science ignores but for which it has encountered evidence since the dawn of the quantum age. In the manner typical of scientists, this possibility never occurs to Lord Rees. He speculates about purely physical possibilities.
This therefore means that even empty space has a kind of structure, and we don't understand that at all. . . . most of us would guess that empty space does have a structure but on a tiny, tiny scale, a scale a billion, billion times smaller than an atomic nucleus. . . .
One of the fascinating ideas is that if you could chop up space on a very tiny scale, you would find that what we think of as just a little point in space is actually a tightly wrapped origami of extra dimensions. . . .
And then he enters a field exciting to me because it corresponds with the Seth material I’ve blogged about:
On this very, very tiny scale there may be extra dimensions over and above the three that we are familiar with. And that indicates the mathematical challenge of trying to understand space at the very deepest level. . . .
There may be other universes, other regions of space/time, which are separate from ours, because they're embedded in a common higher dimension.
Another universe may be just a few millimeters away from ours. But if those millimeters are measured in a fourth spatial dimension and we're imprisoned in our three we wouldn't know about it.
Rees, in typical scientific fashion, does not entertain the possibility that dimensions other than our space/time one might occupy no physical space at all while still exercising power. The evidence propels him toward admitting the possibility of unfamiliar dimensions, but as a typical scientist, he cannot admit the possibility of immaterial or spiritual dimensions.

In Seth Speaks we read about realities that do not coalesce into matter; we read about intense concentrations of energy entirely separate from matter. Material form, which occupies the whole of scientific inquiry, does not, however, exhaust the total sum of power that exists.

There is a force indescribable that religions try to describe. It overwhelms with thrilling power both religious and non-religious persons. It inspires holiness, and it also generates odd phenomena such as the paranormal experiences normal people experience—seeing deceased people, hearing bodiless voices, receiving just the right idea while engaged in writing or some other creative activity (an experience familiar to me).
This power/force/energy is beyond the capacity of science to explain. Scientists like Lord Rees and other atheists are touched by it without acknowledging it.
Next time, Lord Rees on strident atheist hostility toward religion.

June 14
In her conversation with astrophysicist Lord Martin Rees, Krista Tippett said he is “very vocal about not seeing science and religion as adversarial aspects of human life.” She asked him about ancient religious traditions that “have moral reasoning at their heart” and bring depth to public life. But Rees associated religion with dogma:
I am not a person who adheres to any religious dogma. [I am]skeptical of anyone who claims to have the last word or complete understanding of any deep aspect of reality.
The most we can hope for is some incomplete and metaphorical understanding and to share the mystery and wonder whether we are believers or not. . . .
I find myself very out of tune with old dogmatic religions, which . . . includes the three Abrahamic religions. . . . I can see a closer affinity with Confucianism and systems of thought like that.
His thoughts ring in tune with me, and I add that the deepest expressions of Christian thought also might ring in tune with him. But they are less accessible than literal expressions—the U.S. bishops’ attempt to ban S. Elizabeth Johnson’s Quest for the Living God demonstrates their inability to even grasp deeper expressions, much less teach them. Consequently, scientists like Rees fail to see much depth in religion.

Lord Rees respects,
some very distinguished scientists who do have traditional religious beliefs…. I find it hard to understand how they can adhere to these beliefs in the way they do, but plainly they do.
He recommended maintaining “peaceful coexistence” with religious believers. Tippett noted,
We have a lot of listeners who are atheists and agnostic, [leading] ethical and spiritual lives. . . . They are asking these questions of meaning.
She deplored the lack of middle ground in public discourse:
There’s the new atheist revival or there’s religion . . . You are . . . at least defusing the idea that the relationship is adversarial.
Rees commented that strident hostility toward religion is not typical of non-believing scientists. He regards mainstream religions, which have no problem with science, as allies against the “real danger to the world”—fundamentalism.
Tippett asked about an ongoing debate:
[Some say] it's so unlikely that everything came together to create this hospitable biosphere . . . there must be some purpose behind it, whether they call that God or not. [Others say], it's a random accident. It's an incredible, exquisite random accident.
Rees understood the issue differently from the debate raging in the U.S.
I regard this as . . . a scientific question … not a metaphysical question, albeit a very speculative scientific question. . . .

We do want to know how much is there, in physical reality as it were, beyond the part of the universe we can see . . . Are there completely disconnected regions of space and time? And if so, are they all governed by the same physical laws or could it be that there are different physical laws, so that what we've called the universal laws are really just bylaws? . . .
only one form of space or many different forms of space. . . . That’s an important question, which string theorists worry about.
Physical reality with laws and forms different from ours again gets close to information in the Seth material, but Tippett persisted in getting his take on the question roiling Americans:
Do you rule out . . . the possibility of purpose or of a, you know, a creative intelligence or what … Einstein divined behind the universe?
Rees answered,
I just don't understand what could be meant by purpose. I think if there was a purpose, I wouldn't expect human brains to be able to understand it. . . .
We exist and are conscious and able to wonder about how we came to be here. But I regard the rest as a mystery, and perhaps it will have to await the evolution of some species more advanced than humans to make more sense of it. So it is just a mystery to me.
I can’t wish for a better spiritual reflection than this!
Tippett seized an opportunity to discuss a subject she has probed in past interviews.
You just mentioned consciousness, . . . How do you as an astrophysicist, a cosmologist, observe that development and think about its possibilities? Does it inform what you do and how you make sense of it all?
Along with Krista Tippett, I regard consciousness as a threshold between science and spirituality, but Lord Rees did not accept her invitation to enter that field. He talked about the brain:
. . . the highest summit in studying the complexions of our world. And how far we will get in solving that I don't know, but there are many mysteries still obviously. . . . We should not be surprised that there are many mysteries, because we are just beginning and the world is very complicated and our brains may not be up to solving all of them.
Then he halfway acknowledged his dodge.
Scientists obviously are aware of the big problems, but they don't tackle the big problems head on. They work on a problem which they think they can solve. . . .
no scientist gets credit for failing to solve problems beyond their competence . . . So scientists tend to work on a sort of bite-sized small problem. But the occupational risk then is that they forget that their small problem is worthwhile only because it's helping to illuminate the big picture. . . .

Robert Wilson . . . made one of the greatest discoveries of the century . . . tinkering with the antennae of a radio dish and making sure he got rid of all the background [which led to the Big Bang theory]. He was doing detailed technical things, and he was so focused obviously on doing that because that was his expertise that it didn't really sink in what a great discovery he'd made.

And — and so I think that's why it is important for scientist to engage with the public. Because if you talk to a general audience, then the questions they ask are, of course, the big questions. They don't care about these tiny technical details. . . . they remind us that the big questions are important and also they remind us that most of those big questions haven't yet been solved.
Krista Tippett’s persistent return to the big questions revealed that, embedded in scientific discoveries, can be spiritual implications beyond the capability of many, both religious and non-religious, to see.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"Free" enterprise?

When I started this subject a month ago, I thought I’d have two posts. This is six posts later. I can’t stop stewing about this.

“America, land of the free” sounds hollow today, and “Free enterprise” sounds hollow.

The misnamed “free” market actually enslaves most when it grants unlimited power to the already powerful—those with hundreds of millions to invest, not in job-making enterprises, but in more-money-making ventures for themselves alone.

Money is power. We see money power flaunted when Congress dismantles regulations on industry, when it grants tax privileges to the wealthy, when it fails in fairness. Unregulated, the market lets some people exploit others, acting out the truism, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We need reasonable regulation to limit power, rules to govern the game of buy and sell.

Undeniably, our society presently fails in this: massive inequalities; crumbling infrastructure; education and health services in trouble; underfunded police and fire departments; streets littered with homeless, many of them veterans and the mentally ill, some of them employed. All this and we bear the title of richest nation on earth!

In itself, wealth is good. When used for the common good, wealth is good. But every society needs rules that direct wealth properly, and that’s the job of government. Only thus can a society provide freedom and opportunity for everyone; only thus can it protect our common rights, our freedom, and our common property—our air, water, and soil.
Carol writes:
From my study and teaching of U.S. History (in particular the Gilded Age Era), I agree 100% with your comments about the mal-distribution of wealth problem. We are surely back with a vengeance into the spirit and practices of the Gilded Age…new robber barons in our midst!
How strange that the populace as a whole does not seem to notice this. But then, again, Americans generally do not have a good grasp of history and too often see only what they want to see. Sad—
Derek writes:
Thanks for sharing this. I’ve connected with a group of wealthy folks who are trying to raise awareness of income inequality. One of them is Nick Hanauer; you might be interested in his little book The True Patriot, , which argues for greater contributions to society from the most well off
To save our democracy, we must correct the imbalance of wealth in the U.S.
Biblical warnings about money have never been more relevant. Would that Christians paid attention.