Guns, Islam, and Orlando, and a note on Brexit

A note if you haven’t heard: Brexit won, everywhere but London, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, and fairly decisively. I’m not going to say any more because Jess and I both cared very much about this, and we disagreed, and we agreed not to gloat, whoever won.

So, while we all catch our breath, perhaps some Bill Whittle on Orlando. There are some quite graphic images in the video, so be warned, but then again that’s how life is, as well.

Jo Cox, RIP

Jo-Cox-2Yesterday, a British MP was assassinated. Yes, I know, you missed it on the news, well I hate to say it I did too. I guess it wasn’t important enough to tell Americans about, but it is. Here’s why.

First off she was a woman, her name is Jo Cox, in her early 40s, married, mother of two small children. By all a counts a very decent, charming, humanitarian, gifted woman. Our thoughts, like those of the decent Britons, are with her, and her family, we share in very small measure, their loss.

The problem is, as it is here, there wasn’t time to wash up the blood before the blaming and recriminations began, just as it was after Orlando. This unseemly finger-pointing has become the hallmark of our societies, and I think we would be well advised to simply stop it. No Nigel Farage didn’t want Jo Cox to be murdered, nor did he order it, but when rhetoric runs as hot and fast as it does lately, should we really be surprised when things like this happen. No,we should not be, nor should we be, when they happen on the other side, for that matter. If we characterize everyone who opposes us as evil, well, first we denigrate the term evil, for evil is much worse than misguided, and that’s mostly what we see in political terms. Yes, I mean that to be taken both ways. Second, our words may, in fact, call forth evil, as may have happened yesterday.

Cranmer this morning says this:

And then a brief thesis from EU Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos: “Jo Cox murdered for her dedication to European democracy and humanity. Extremism divides and nourishes hatred..” And with this, you begin to see how the laudable fight against hatred becomes a fight against what some people hate, and evil becomes all that is disagreeable or contentious. Brexit? Good Lord, no, not now. It is driven by the demons of prejudice, hatred and bigotry. Jo Cox was for Remain, and we must honour her memory by voting to remain. It is what she would have wanted.

And that is also what we saw at last weekend, isn’t it? The rush to man the barricades for our causes, to cast ‘the other’ into the den of iniquity, while wearing our pure white garments. Well, I call nonsense on all of us. We’re men and women, all of us, trying to do good while trying to pick our way through a minefield, while seeing through a glass darkly. Good and evil exist, and they have their place in the discussion, but they are not what motivates most people, most of the time. Give the opposition this much credit, in very few cases, if any, does anyone in either Britain or America seek to wreak actual harm on anyone. Most of the harm is unintended consequences, no less harmful, maybe, but not intentional, either.

Jess too, wrote about this today, and I think her perspective is important.

I would go further. Rhetoric is meant to have consequences – that is its purpose, that is why it is used at all. We see this same toxic rhetoric of betrayal used in the sphere of religion too – anyone who reads certain blogs where the Pope is called ‘Bergoglio’ will have some idea of the form this rhetoric takes, excusing itself by saying that what its exponents believe is true and urgent and justifies the language and tone; so say all rabble-rousers. Contemptuous rhetoric can easily lead to contempt in action.

Pope St John Paul II described ‘solidarity’ with others as not a ‘feel of vague compassion or shallow distress’, but rather a ‘firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to see to the good of each and every individual, because we are all really responsible for all’. Jo Cox showed that sort of solidarity, first at Oxfam, and then, as an MP, as a prominent campaigner for more help to be given to Syrian refugees. I have no idea whether she was a Christian, but she lived by St John Paul’s definition of solidarity. She was, by all account, an excellent constituency MP, engaging closely with the community into which she was born.

Our world is a worse place today because Jo Cox is no longer in it. She was taken from us by an evil man, likely a deranged one, we don’t know, we may never really know, why. But the incredibly bad campaign rhetoric over Brexit, while it likely wasn’t the only cause, may have a share in the blame.

We, in Britain, and in America, can and must do better than this.

Yes, I’m sure that Ms. Cox and I disagreed about many things, in life, and in politics, but she made us all better, for there is nothing worse than working without opposition, it causes so very many mistakes.

God grant you peace, my sister, Jo, and provide comfort to your family.


Tongued with fire

Little Gidding Church

Little Gidding Church

Well, it’s coming up on the start of summer (and it already feels like those sticky hot ones I remember (not fondly) from Indiana. It’s also become quite a busy time for both Jessica and me, and as sometimes happens, that can pull us bit off center. It has me at any rate. One of the things that helps me is to read Jess’ work. I was doing that last night, rather aimlessly, and I found this from last winter, and it helped me to stabilize, maybe it will you too. Neo

While Neo is recovering from whatever fell bacteria have felled him a bit this week, I said I’d do one for today to allow him more time to recover – but first, I am sure you will all join me in wishing him a speedy and full restoration to good health. [irrelevant this time, thankfully. Neo]

We’ve been doing a lot on politics this week, and much of it has been pretty gloomy in tone; that’s the thing about a conservative disposition, it means you don’t get to indulge in ‘happy think’ and delude yourself into confusing your wishes with reality. If we’re gloomy, it’s because there’s plenty about which to feel less than pleased. Partisans apart, I’m not seeing anyone over enthusiastic about the candidates for the Presidency. We’ve seen what has happened on the international stage when the World’s Sheriff decided he had better things to do, and that’s going to leave a legacy which may not be possible to clean up.

Those of us with religious faith are sometimes accused of going to our ‘imaginary friend’ for consolation, but that shows an incomprehension of what religion is about. Everyone of us takes on trust certain assumptions, every one of us tries to find a narrative that makes sense of this world. Science is only one mode by which we try to understand things, and it is not its province to answer the thing that puzzles us most – is there a purpose to our being here? If it is just to continue the gene pool, then whatever way we do that is the best life, and yet, in our era, we have tested to destruction the limits of hedonism  without finding in it a place where we can rest. Like St Augustine of Hippo, we too are restless; for the Christians among us we find rest in one place only – God.

That is easier experienced in transit than in permanency. In this fallen world our broken and marred selves interact in ways which might be designed at times to maximise pain as much as pleasure. We find it hard to hold on to the calm places. Across the last year I have spent a lot of time in those silences and found there a calmness that made me want to stay; but in me there is a restlessness which has made that impossible. But we can, perhaps, try to take those moments of transcendence with us into the wider world. My beloved TS Eliot caught something of that in Little Gidding here:

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.

Reason and will can take us only so far, and that is never far enough for our soul – kneeling where prayer is valid can take us further – if we have the courage, or desperation, to entrust ourselves to it. In the end, the things which politics can deal with matter, but there are more things in heaven and earth than are contained in their philosophies.

[Jessica has been far this spring from those quiet places she spoke of, and perhaps she will also take a bit of comfort from her words, she so often helps me so much, perhaps, my recollection of her words can help her a bit as well. Neo]


The ‘Melting Pot’: Some Lessons

melting_potFirst off, when Jess says she’s been doing some spring cleaning, believe her, she wields quite a broom! But let’s take what she said yesterday, and detail it out a bit.

My background is very similar to hers, except being in the US instead of the UK. But I’ve spent some time in cities, although not really living in any of them, as she is now. But when you study American history, well immigration and how we became Americans is a lot of the story.

She’s decidedly right, no matter how multi-cultural, and multi-racial a society is, most people like to live and work with people that are a good bit like themselves. That becomes somewhat less true as income and education levels increase, but it’s always true. The old WASP acronym NOKD (not our kind, dear) is more about human nature than it is specifically about what we used to call ‘Preppies’. That doesn’t preclude mixing things up, especially in pursuit of a higher goal. Theodore Roosevelt found that cowboys and Yalies got along pretty well, at least in Cuba in the 1st US Volunteer Cavalry (the Rough Riders). Another interesting thing about that unit was that the Lieutenant Colonel was a guy called John Pershing, his nickname was ‘Blackjack’ because he had commanded a troop of the 10th Cavalry, one of the black regiments, the Buffalo Soldiers.

In fact the American military has always had a lot to do, especially in wartime, with bringing our disparate groups together.

But those are exceptional. More common was the Irish migration in the 1840s and 50s. They knew all about discrimination, and that had much to do with why they stuck with their own people. They only began to be accepted during the civil war, and units such as the storied Irish Brigade, from New York, and the Confederate one, from Texas, had much to do with it. They were also overrepresented in the Army during the Indian Wars and provided the bulk of the labor force that built the western railroads.

And if I look back at my own family, they migrated from Norway in the 1880s and 90s, to entire communities of Norwegians, and continued to be Norwegian outposts in mostly Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa, speaking Norwegian until the First World War. None of that implies that any of those settlers, Irish or Norwegian, or any other, had any real loyalty to anything but the United States, they all gave up almost everything they knew and loved, including most of their families, to come here, but it was hard.

That’s the thing, acculturation is hard, even if you’re fairly similar, like an Irishman in New York, where the laws are even fairly similar, and it simply takes a long time. Is America good at it? Yep, we are, but we’ve never made it easy on anybody, from John Winthrop on down. The melting post is a crockpot (slow cooker) essentially. But you know, Lutefisk is improved by Colman’s mustard and a taste of Jalapeno peppers. It takes generations to acculturate people, usually it starts with the children in school, and often churches have helped. We have found that being a bit hard is good, for instance, a common language is nearly essential, and a common dream is very useful. But expecting somebody to get off the boat and be a fully formed and functioning American (or Christian, for that matter) is quite simply a pipe dream.

We can help, probably more than we ever have, with English as a second language programs, citizenship programs and such. I imagine there are similar things in evangelization, they are a good idea, but we are not going to take a Mexican, or a Syrian, and make them into an instant American, or Scotsman. Can it be done? Not instantly. But, I’m not sure the UK doesn’t have some of those answers itself. It seems to me, as the Empire shrank, and the UK let so many former colonials in, they found that they had indeed, become pretty much Englishmen, even if they looked a good bit different. Like our immigrants, they became what they wanted to be, and they were prepared to do the work necessary to make it so.

And that may be the main lesson: If the immigrants don’t want to acculturate, they won’t, and if they don’t, they weaken the society, not strengthen it. Vetting is essential, especially for permanent residents.

What can we learn from the ‘melting pot’?



Over at my blog, there was been some spring cleaning going on – so perhaps this post should be preceded by a trigger warning (no, I think conservatives are tough enough to take it)? As my new job brings me into the front line of evangelism in a big city, although God does not change, my sense of what we need to be doing for him does. I have spent most of my life in monolingual, white, middle class communities. Christianity became inculturated there long ago, but on the whole the culture has moved on and we haven’t. The net result is what any marketing exec could tell you – those who have always bought your product still do so, but it lacks mass appeal.  If you have no experience, as was my case, of what it is to live in a multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-racial community, two options seem common – go all defensive or all enthusiastic. But if you stand back and do neither, so you see things, things about which I think the USA has much to teach us.

Sure, it’s multi-cultural and multi-racial, but the middle class people live in one area, and the working classes in another, and as the goods on the shelves of the corner shops (Mom and Pop stores) show, ethnic communities tend to congregate together. If you are a city or national government, how do you make sure you talk to all those communities – and listen to them? The old way was to insist that people adopted your customs and languages, but across time, that modified those older customs and languages, and you got something like a melting pot effect. It was never a perfect ‘blend’, because people tend to be attached to their own kind and customs, but it offered a chance for people from different places to become ‘Americans’.

Sometimes I read things which say that what went wrong was not insisting that everyone conformed to one model, but I wonder if that notion was wrong? Christianity spread not by insisting that everyone became Jewish – although the ‘men from James’ seem to have thought that would be a good method of evangelisation – but by a process we call ‘inculturation’ – and the USA is a really good example of that. Sure, you can try to spread the Gospel by insisting that African-Americans have church services like white middle class Episcopalians, or that you speak to Spanish-speaking communities only in English, but if you expect any of that to work, you’re on a loser. Being supreme pragmatists, Americans have tended not to do these things. You can point, rightly, to racial tensions and inter and intra-community problems, but these things, like the poor, are always with us, and at least Americans aren’t trying to pretend that these problems don’t exist.

Building communities, like evangelism, is a work in progress. If you want a comfort zone, stay away from such endeavours and criticise those who do – the Monday morning quarterback always plays the best football after all. It is easy, in pessimism, to point at what seems wrong and miss the efforts that go into making a nation out of divided and separated communities. America has been unique in doing this, and I’m less inclined to criticise than to learn – and often we learn most from things which don’t quite work – or even by getting in wrong and trying something that does. If you act, you risk getting it wrong, if you don’t act, you will definitely atrophy – for me the American way suggests positivity is better than negativity.

However much we’re all inclined to throw up our hands and despair, we know for sure that if the Apostles had taken that course, we’d be damned for eternity.

Ride ’em Hard!

The inventor of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle, Arthur Davidson, died and went to heaven. 

At the pearly gates, St. Peter told Arthur, “Since you’ve been such a good man and your motorcycles have changed the world, your reward is, you can hang out with anyone you want in Heaven.” 

Arthur thought about this for a minute and then said, “I want to hang out with God.” 

St. Peter took Arthur to the Throne Room and introduced him to God.

God recognized Arthur and commented, “Okay, so you were the one who invented the Harley-Davidson motorcycle?” 

Arthur said, “Yep, that’s me.” 

God said, “Well, what’s the big deal in inventing something that’s pretty unstable, makes noise and pollution and can’t run without a road?” 

Arthur was apparently embarrassed, but finally he said, “Excuse me, but aren’t you the inventor of woman?” 

Continue reading: Ride ’em Hard! | Oyia Brown

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