The City of Man is a Single Community

The city of man, for all of the width of its expansion throughout the world and for all of the depth of its differences in this place and that, is a single community.  The simple truth is that the bond of a common nature makes all human beings one.  Nevertheless, each individual in this community is driven by his passions to pursue his private purposes.  Unfortunately, the objects of these purposes are such that no one person (let alone, the world community) can ever be wholly satisfied.  The reason for this is that nothing but Absolute Being can satisfy human nature.  The result is that the city of man remains in a chronic condition of civil war. (St. Augustine, City of God, XVIII, 2)

Barack Obama, the Edgar Faure of American Politics

If I ever write a “self-help” book, it will be All I Ever Knew About Politics I Learned From the French. (Click here for some of what I have actually written.)  Watching the French makes one a cynic, and at times like this it holds one in good stead.

My French teacher in prep school would, in the course of trying to teach us the language of Bossuet and Camus, talk about French politics from time to time.  One of those was Edgar Faure, Premier twice during the Fourth Republic, in 1952 and 1955.  My teacher told me that, every time Faure became Premier, the stock market went down.  His first premiership was characterised by its opponents as ”the Government of 40” because it lasted 40 days, had 40 ministers and supposedly cost the treasury 40 billion francs.”  (He himself said that he lost 4 kilos during the ordeal.)

Today we have an American President who, after campaigning on change we can believe in and writing about the audacity of hope, has given neither hope nor believable change to investors, who are driving the stock market down.  And the only forty day event we can see is the Lenten season we’re in.  Many of those investors, who voted for him out of fear of what “flyover country” would bring to the White House, are now making the market “fly-out country.”

If this were France, we’ve have a populace who would be busy stuffing gold in the mattress, evading taxes and figuring out ways of surviving under a government whose main interest is its own.  But what we have is a naive people who are bawling to a government for deliverance which can only come from God.

Faure, a witty and prolific writer, was accused to being a “weathercock,” changing his direction with the flow of public opinion.  According to legend, his response was that “it is not the weathercock which turns; it is the wind!”  Bill Clinton certainly followed this idea.  The way Obama is going about his own program, he’s making turning in the wind look good.

Maybe That’s Why Obama Didn’t Ask Phil Bredesen to be Commerce Secretary

Tennessee’s Democrat governor weighs his, and the state’s, options:

Tennessee could reject a portion of the $787 billion economic stimulus package out of concerns that it would force the state to raise taxes on businesses in the future.

At the National Governors Association meetings in Washington, D.C., Gov. Phil Bredesen said this week that he might turn down relief for unemployed workers worth an estimated $143 million because of conditions placed on the money by Congress.

The stimulus package would also raise unemployment benefits by $25 a week for all workers, but in addition, lawmakers want states to expand the pool of people who can apply for benefits. That would put more pressure on an unemployment trust fund that is already trying to stave off insolvency.

“We are evaluating this piece of money, whether it makes sense for us to take it,” Bredesen said in an interview Monday with the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “We’re in the position of going back to our legislature this year for changes in our tax structure just to keep our fund whole, and taking it to a new level may be too much of a lift for the legislature this spring.”

To be frank, Bredesen has been a reasonably good governor.  He’s a businessman, and has actually reflected that in the way he’s run the state.  He put the state income tax fracas in the past and has worked to attract new industries (such as Chattanooga’s new Volkswagen plant.)  And the TennCare fiasco–which was supposed to be a test model for nationalised health care–has been an expensive headache, one which he’s had to tackle.  He’s also got a Republican legislature to face, a restriction Barack Obama doesn’t have.

Obama’s goal, his own words notwithstandng, is to expand the role–and with it the expense–of government.  Bredesen understands that his state, in a country which has lost so much industry, can’t stay competitive with such an expansion of the government.  Barack Obama does not. Perhaps that’s why Obama didn’t ask Bredesen to be his Commerce Secretary.

Let’s hope Phil Bredesen sticks to his guns on this one.

Galatoire’s on Ash Wednesday, and a Lesson on Prosperity Teaching From Katrina that Needs to be Remembered

I’m reposting this today primarily because the incident at Galatoire’s (a very well known restaurant in the French Quarter of New Orleans) took place on an Ash Wednesday which is, IMHO, the best day to eat out in the Crescent City.  But I also think that the comments on prosperity teaching needs reiteration.  Orignally posted on 1 September 2005 (just after Katrina.)

Today we have the sad spectacle of New Orleans, once a grand city in its own right, reduced to a cesspool, both literally and in a human sense as well with armed looters taking control in a scene more reminiscent of Iraq than Arabi. My grandmother, born and raised there at the turn of the last century, hated to return there in the 1960’s and 1970’s to see what it had become; she’s surely turning in her grave at this. But let’s consider something cheerier and more informative that took place just a few years ago.

I was in town with a business associate who was kind enough to take me to Galatoire’s, one of the French Quarter’s finer restaurants. Along with us came his attorney. We sat down and the waiter came to take our order. The attorney gave his order, and the waiter, an old coot in the best Gulf Coast sense of the word, barked back, “You don’t want that.”

“What do you mean, you don’t want that?” the attorney asked, puzzled.

“You don’t want that,” the waiter gruffly replied. “You want that,” he continued, pointing to another item on the menu. The attorney tried to get the waiter to take his order as he had given it, but the waiter refused. The waiter served him what he had recommended and, sure enough, it was good! The attorney was pleased with the result.

Unfortunately, many Christians don’t approach prayer to God the same way the attorney approached ordering at Galatoire’s. Their approach is more like the workers who went offshore to build the platforms, now struggling to get going again. Platforms are generally built from a derrick (construction) barge, complete with a crew who were furnished with all kinds of tools, including hand tools. Most men who work with their hands are particular about the kinds of tools they use, but the purchasing department in New Orleans was looking for a good deal, so they’d order a different kind of tool. Better or worse, it wasn’t what the workers were looking for, so they’d throw these tools over the side into the Gulf and write on the next purchase requisition, “No Substitutions.”

No substitutions…isn’t that what we all too often tell God when we pray? Years of “prosperity” teaching has given the image that God is like a slot machine in the casinos in Biloxi: you pull the handle just right, it comes up all cherries, and you hit the jackpot. The casino analogy is good for other reasons: winning the slot machine up front only whets the appetite of the gambler for more, so he or she keeps feeding the machine money. Since the machines are set up to retain a certain portion for the house, the gambler effectively squanders their initial gain. Or, like the derrick barge workers, they throw what they obtain from God over the side because it doesn’t suit them for one reason or another.

If we think about this a while, this is incredible. How is it that we can know so much more than an omniscient creator God that we can make such absolute demands? “For your father knoweth whereof ye have need, before ye ask of him.” (Mt. 6:8, Tyndale) Or worse yet, know his will and yet try to bend it to our fancy? “When he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his hands and feet and said: Thus saith the Holy Ghost: So shall the Jews at Jerusalem, bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the gentiles. When we heard this, both we and other of the same place, besought him, that he would not go up to Jerusalem.” (Acts 21:11-12) Paul, however, knew both God’s will and the danger he faced: “Then Paul answered, and said: What do ye weeping, and breaking mine heart? I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Iesu. When we could not turn his mind, we ceased saying: The will of the Lord be fulfilled.” (Acts 21:13-14)

The Lord’s will indeed. One of the secrets of successful prayer is synchronising our will with God’s, just as you reading this need to synchronise your computer with the server time. We also need to realise that God’s purposes are greater than ours and more important than ours, which means that we need to align our purpose with His. We also need to understand that eternity was designed to be the ultimate fix of the problems we face in this life, as events such as Hurricane Katrina are brutal reminders of.

It’s going to be a long time before places like Galatoire’s and Commander’s Palace (where my great-grandparents dined) are going to be back in business again. Probably quicker to rise again are the offshore oil fields (where the rejected tools make their watery grave) and the casinos in Biloxi (regrettably.) But in the meanwhile we can seek to be in tune with God’s will and plan for both our life and His plan for the world around us. And then we will receive not only what we ask but what is best for us.

P.S. I did get to dine at Commander’s Palace the following year, shortly after it reopened.

Evil men hate those who are good for no other reason than that they are good

In the case of Cain and Abel, there was no rivalry in any cupidity for the things of earth, nor was there any envy or temptation to murder arising from a fear of losing the sovereignty in both were ruling together.  In this case, Abel had no ambition for domination in the city that his brother was building.  The root of the trouble was that diabolical envy which moves evil men to hate those who are good for no other reason than that they are good.  Unlike material possessions, goodness is not diminished when it is shared, either momentarily or permanently, with others, but expands and, in fact, the more heartily each of the lovers of goodness enjoys the possession the more does goodness grow.  What is more, goodness is not merely a possession that no one can maintain who is unwilling to share it, but it is one that increases the more its possessor loves to share it.  (St. Augustine, City of God, XV, 5)

This is related to what I call the “fornicators’ dilemma,” which I commented on some time back.

Somebody Thinks the Church of God is Growing

None other than the National Council of Churches, in their 2009 Yearbook:

According to the 2009 Yearbook, among the 25 largest churches in the U.S., four are growing: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (up 1.63 percent to 5,873,408; the Assemblies of God (up 0.96 percent to 2,863,265); Jehovah’s Witnesses (up 2.12 percent to 1,092,169); and the Church of God of Cleveland, Tenn. (up 2.04 percent to 1,053,642).

I don’t think this is a reason for either complacency or triumphalism, especially when you consider the size of the mission field.

The Gospel for Quinquagesima, Set to Music in French

The Gospel for Quinquagesima is on this wise:

“Gathering the Twelve round him, Jesus said to them: “Listen! We are going up to Jerusalem; and there everything that is written in the Prophets will be done to the Son of Man. For he will be given up to the Gentiles, mocked, insulted and spat upon; They will scourge him, and then put him to death; and on the third day he will rise again.” The Apostles did not comprehend any of this; his meaning was unintelligible to them, and they did not understand what he was saying. As Jesus was getting near Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the road-side, begging. Hearing a crowd going by, the man asked what was the matter; And, when people told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing, He shouted out: “Jesus, Son of David, take pity on me!” Those who were in front kept telling him to be quiet, but he continued to call out the louder: “Son of David, take pity on me!” Then Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. And, when he had come close up to him, Jesus asked him: “What do you want me to do for you?” “Master,” he said, “I want to recover my sight.” And Jesus said: “Recover your sight, your faith has delivered you.” Instantly he recovered his sight, and began to follow Jesus, praising God. And all the people, on seeing it, gave glory to God.” Luke 18:31-43, Positive Infinity New Testament.

The French “Xian folk” group Les Reflets set the second part of this in their song Un aveugle à Jéricho, in their album De l’abondance du coeur, la bouche parle (For what fills the heart will rise to the lips.)  Download both the song and the whole album; it’s an outstanding piece of “Jesus music,” whose appeal transcends both language and even religious (or lack thereof) persuasion.

Note to my Pentecostal friends: I’m sure you’ve been mystified by all of this “Sexagesima” and “Quinquagesima” and the “Collects” that have inhabited this site lately.  They’re tied with the traditional Anglican liturgy, embodied in the 1662 and 1928 Books of Common Prayer.  To keep up with this on a more consistent basis, some websites (such as the Ohio Anglican Blog, see this) proclaim the collects, epistles and gospels for each Sunday.

Selling Upward Mobility, Delivering Downward

Jethro Tull fans will remember the line “slowly upstairs/faster down” from Stand Up’s “We Used to Know,” and that’s pretty much what Obama and Democrats are trying to accomplish in their current program.

To use another line from the same album, nothing is easy.

On the one hand, Obama knows that Americans expect their government to deliver (or at least facilitate) upward social mobility, which is why he’s spending time with his stimulus package and this new homeowner’s rescue.  That’s the upward mobility side.

On the other hand, he also knows that axioms of the left include the ideas that Americans consume too large a portion of the world’s resources, that they need to abandon single-family dwellings and live in < 100 m2 apartments in high rises (like I used to see in the old Soviet Union,) that they need abandon their cars and embrace public transportation, that they need to cut down their carbon emissions, that they need to be stop being so ambitious and acquisitive, etc.  That’s the downward mobility side.

What we have here is a fundamental contradiction.  Democrats have dealt with this dilemma in a number of ways.

Jimmy Carter was honest enough to mobilise indoor sweaters and call for petrol rationing.  He was shoved aside in favour of Ronald Reagan and the Democrats lost the driver’s seat in American politics for the next quarter century.

Bill Clinton gave lip service to the left’s pet agendas, but he wouldn’t even submit the Kyoto Protocol to the Senate, knowing how unpopular it would be.  He turned over the economy to Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin (and later Larry Summers, now on the Obama team) and let the good times roll–until the credit bubble burst under his successor.

Barack Obama seems to be trying a slicker but trickier slight of hand.  Using the grim economy as a background justification for downward mobility, he nevertheless mobilises panic to get things going again, all the while plying the austerity/downward agenda in the background with the connaivance of such luminaries as Henry Waxman.

Make no mistake: the idea of prosperity through “green jobs” is a mirage.  Whether you agree with the whole global warming/environmental business or not, the inevitable result of actualising this agenda will result in people doing and living with less.  That’s downward mobility.  There’s no getting around it, except in the illusions the skilful can create in people’s minds.

If Obama didn’t have the inconvenience of representative government (along with those pesky elections,) he could simply let the economy slide down, accomplishing the downward agenda with little effort.  But American politics as always is a game of bluff.  How his whole convoluted game plan will play out economically or politically remains to be seen.

It’s Not What School You Went to, It’s The Kind of Person You Are, Part II

Evidently I’m not the only one who has doubts about this:

Left to their own devicies with the investment opportunity set now available the banks will earn their way out of the hole over a period of years. Miserably run as the banks are, this is preferable to handing a nationalized system over to the Harvard geeks. As I’ve said in the past, the prospect of bank nationalization fills me with mixed feelings. I would love to see the bankers get their come-uppance, if it did not mean that we actually would be governed by the late Willam F. Buckley’s nightmare regime, the faculty of Harvard University.

But, based on experience, I don’t see any relief any time soon.  If ever, in this Republic.  We are simply too addicted to Ivy League pap.

What Heretics Are For: A Reminder for the Anglicans and the Rest of Us

Something Anglicans need to remember:

Heretics are those who entertain in Christ’s Church unsound and distorted ideas and stubbornly refuse, even when warned, to return to what is sound and right, to correct their contagious and death-dealing docrtrines, but go on defending them.  When they leave the Church they are ranked as enemies who try her patience.  Even so, their evil-doing profits the loyal Catholic members of Christ’s Body, for God makes good use of bad men, while ‘for those who love God all things work together unto good.’ (Rom 8:28) Actually, all foes of the Church, whether blinded by error or moved by malice, subserve her in some fashion.  If they have power to do her physical harm, they develop her power to suffer; if they oppose her intellectually, they bring out her wisdom; since she must love even her enemies, her loving kindness is made manifest; and whether she has to deal with them in the persuasiveness of argument or the chastisement of law, they bring into play her power to do good. (St. Augustine, The City of God, XVIII, 51)

The tricky part to this comes, as my friend Fr. Greg puts it, when “the “weeds” get control of the structure, as with TEC.”