Sunday, March 8, 2009

Beyond all That

There has been a lot of finger pointing of late.  We have to look beyond all that.  By the summer of 2008, polls suggested that more than 80% of the public thought the country was headed in the wrong direction.  You can read that as an indictment of the Bush administration, and reference the election to prove your point.  That’s too easy.  Perhaps, we should rather look in the mirror.  After all we are the country.  So I’d rather that we turn this statistic on ourselves and admit that we – all of us – were headed in the wrong direction.  The enormous problems we face today can’t all be blamed on what one President left on another’s plate.  There is little doubt that Bush bequeathed Obama a negative legacy of almost criminal proportions, but he had a lot of help and we, that amorphous country from which we like to disassociate ourselves, were willing enablers. 

Something has gone terribly wrong with the values to which subscribe or to which we pay homage.  We gaggle at celebrity and at Fortune’s pathetic and shrinking list of the super rich while factory workers vote for politicians who cut taxes on everyone but the hourly wage earner.  Like lemmings we, and I include myself, follow that misnamed thing called “conventional wisdom” when we should know that it is nothing but “conventional stupidity”.  Perhaps the context of Phil Gramm’s infamous “country of whiners” was off the mark, but we most certainly like to complain about our woes being the other guy’s fault.  Elie Wiesel may be no financial genius (though he probably likes money as much as anyone else), but someone with a $17 Million foundation bares a fiduciary responsibility in turning it all over to a single “money manager”, even one who is not a crook.  The promise of big returns was just too good to resist.   Sure the banks held out misleading mortgage and credit card offers, but we took and we used.  In large measure we are responsible for where we find ourselves.  Perhaps our financial institutions have a systemic problem, but so do we.

Almost since its inception, I’ve focused my blog almost exclusively on politics, hitting other subjects only on an ad hoc basis.  There were good reasons to do so and to begin advocating for Barack Obama even before his formal announcement.  Needless to say, I’m happy to have him in the White House.  His position is not enviable, but somehow I think he is the right person for the time.  If we can bend our heads around the truth that you can’t lose 20 pounds in a week, perhaps we’ll be better equipped to understand that this crisis won’t be fixed overnight.  Instant is just not in the cards.  In any event, at this point there are an untold number of voices speaking out on matters political and economic, many of them doing it better and with substantially more credentials.  My interest hasn’t waned, but I want to turn my efforts in another direction, one that reflects the larger writing in which I’ve been engaged, specifically the role that religion plays or for many doesn’t play in our lives.  We’re facing some very real problems that will have to be overcome, but I want to look beyond all that.  Some people believe the President shouldn’t be thinking about health and energy as we face this crisis.  I think he’s right; both are deeply intertwined with our financial woes.  So, too, while my turn from political commentary to things beyond all that may seem equally unrelated, life is all of a piece.  It isn’t only about what we do but who we are and in all things there is a substantial amount of déjà vu.

Here’s just one example of what I mean.  In the scheme of things is there much difference between a mega-corporation and a megachurch?  Both like to tout their numbers, $5 Billion “earned” this quarter, 20,000 members and counting.  Is bigger means better any more or less a value?  When Joel Osteen looks out at the assembled thousands at Lakewood, he tells them (and us) that they have come to find God.  He unashamedly promises them much in God’s name.  God will protect and God will fix. I don’t know him and can’t question his commitment or faith.  But do you have any doubt that he and his “Tammy Faye” or Rick Warren and his aren’t pretty proud of the institution they built much as were Sandy Weill and his wife Joan?  In looking out at that former stadium filled to capacity it’s hard to believe that it doesn’t occur to Osteen that all those eyes and ears “are focused on me”.  Of course, he and Warren aren’t the whole or even a small part of religion, but they are often the face of it we see on the news and in the public square.

Religion is a human endeavor and while the megachurches are building their memberships (often at the expense of smaller institutions) growing numbers of Americans are rethinking their commitment.  They were reared in a church or synagogue but are now looking beyond all that, wondering if just doing what they always did still works for them?  Perhaps for the majority it does, but as we consider the general path we’ve been on in other areas, I can’t think of a better moment to ask the question or to look beyond.  That’s what I hope to do with this reset blog, “Beyond All That”.  I hope you’ll come along and engage with me.

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