Pope, Yes

When we were in college, a friend of mine did not call the fast-food chicken franchise “Popeye’s,” but called it rather “Pope Yes.” As in, “Let’s go get some fried chicken at Pope Yes.” In the mid-1980s, this was his intentional affirmation of John Paul II.

To affirm Francis in the same way now, is strikingly appropriate: Pope, Yes. To the dismay of some Catholics who seem to be motivated by the nostalgia for an imagined glorious past, this pope is hitting the right notes, as followers of Jesus– Catholic and Protestant alike– try to bring Christianity back from irrelevance. (Nostalgic Protestants have the same kind of dismay as nostalgic Catholics regarding church renewal, even if the details are different). The larger narrative of Christianity in Western civilization over the last half-century follows the Catholic storyline in North America and Europe: decline.

This pope does not seem interested in trying to force new wine into old wineskins. Indeed, Pope Francis invokes the metaphor that guides this blog– balance– as he calls for more humility and grace in the church’s dealings with both its own flock, and with the wider world. Confidence in the truth of the gospel and trust in the Lord Jesus should not add up to a hectoring, holier-than-thou moralism. In fact, such a confidence and such a trust should add up to something altogether different.

That “something different,” Francis indicates, should have “the freshness and fragrance of the gospel… simple, profound, radiant.”

This is good news for anyone interested in the Jesus Movement for our time. Pope, Yes.

Below is an excerpt from a Commonweal editorial on the Pope’s interview with the world’s Jesuit publications:

Even more refreshing was the pope’s insistence that “thinking with the church” does not mean thinking only with the hierarchy. “The church [is]…the people of God, pastors and people together. The church is the totality of God’s people.” It has been a long time since that bit of orthodox wisdom has been heard from Rome. In a similar fashion, Francis warned of the dangers of certainty in the life of faith. “If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good. For me, this is an important key. If one has the answers to all the questions—that is the proof that God is not with him.”

via A New Balance | Commonweal Magazine.

Limits to Knowing– Donald Hall and Poetic Greatness

Recognizing limits is a mark of wisdom. One of Benedict’s instructions to the monks under his care was “day by day remind yourself that you are going to die.” To death-denying Americans and kindred spirits, this sounds morose; in truth, the recognition of the limit of a human lifespan is the narrow portal to a wide joy.

In a delightful recent New Yorker article, poet (and New Hampshire resident) Donald Hall reflects on a life of reading poetry. I snipped a bit of it for highlighting, and you will find the snippet below– but really, if you have the time, I recommend the whole essay.

Hall’s particular point is that a poet cannot know if her work is “any good,” “goodness” being measured by both quality and durability. Awards and accolades are nice, says Hall, but prove nothing. Extrapolating Hall’s point about poetic work to all human endeavor is apt: this stripping away of the importance– and even the authority– of outward, worldly accomplishment can leave a person momentarily untethered, suddenly weightless and unsure of the ground.  If we are not to be measured by our trophies, plaques, certificates, pay stubs, contact lists, and badges, how is a human life measured? Even if your answer doesn’t refer to a god or gods, it’s still a religious question: how is a human life measured?

Here’s the snippet from Donald Hall:

It’s O.K. to be pleased when an audience loves you, or treat you as deathless, but you must not believe them. If a poet is any good, how would the listeners know? Poets have no notion of their own durability or distinction. When poets announce that their poems are immortal, they are depressed or lying or psychotic. Interviewing T. S. Eliot, I saved my cheekiest question for last. “Do you know if you’re any good?” His revised and printed response was formal, but in person he was abrupt: “Heavens no! Do you? Nobody intelligent knows if he’s any good.” No honor, no publication proves anything. Look at an issue of the Atlantic in 1906; look at a Poetry from 1931. A Nobel Prize means nothing. Look in an almanac at the list of poets who have won a Pulitzer Prize; look at the sad parade of Poets Laureate.

via Thank You Thank You: Donald Hall on a Lifetime of Poetry Readings : The New Yorker.

A Found Item– from Czeslaw Milosz’s “The Captive Mind”

Czeslaw Milosz

The epigram of Milosz’s The Captive Mind:

“When someone is honestly 55% right, that’s very good and there’s no use wrangling. And if someone is 60% right, it’s wonderful, it’s great luck, and let him thank God. But what’s to be said about 75% right? Wise people say this is suspicious. Well, and what about 100% right? Whoever says he’s 100% right is a fanatic, a thug, and the worst kind of rascal.”

— An Old Jew of Galicia

via Czeslaw Milosz- Poets.org – Poetry, Poems, Bios & More.

Huckabee’s Right, But He’s Confused

Mike Huckabee has come to represent how conservatism has come off the rails, and become reflexively (rather than thoughtfully) illiberal. This is unfortunate, because America needs a good dose of a thoughtful conservatism that is current. Huckabee’s reactionary agenda continues to include one-size-fits-all positions on abortion, immigration, and Israel, for example.

This is too bad, because what makes Huckabee worth the time to write about, and to think about, is his correct assessment that much of what bedevils American society is spiritual. Where he goes wrong, is to believe that this situation can be remedied by adopting policies– the ones he advocates– that are godly. This belief is worse than having the cart before the horse: “having the cart before the horse” is a simple confusion, clarified by reversing the order, whereas Huckabee’s mistake is confusing the kind of thing politics is, and the kind of thing religion is, in a 21st-century pluralistic democracy.

In the excerpt below, Huckabee trots out the tired memes of “government is bad” and “the Democratic party is godless.” While these memes play successfully to a certain audience and score points for his side, they do nothing to promote the healing of the social body, or to solve political problems. Huckabee’s deeper confusion is to think that politics is a suitable place for people of faith and parties of principle to express their faith and rectitude.

The authentic religious perspective for our time with regards to politics begins with a much larger dose of humility. Not timidity; not (moral) relativity– but a humility that recognizes the limits of any human– or group of humans– to possess the complete and final picture of what is good and true.

That’s the religion Huckabee ought to look toward, as his starting point.

Here is Huckabee in the immediate aftermath of the November election:

There is a lot to be disappointed by in the election results this evening and I am disappointed, but not despondent.

Tonight’s results only remind me that our country has slipped into a deeper state of dependence on government than I wanted to believe. Where the Goliath of government has grown so too has our dependency.

It’s also increasingly apparent to me that our real problems are not political, but spiritual. Both parties have failed to acknowledge that. Democrats have not wanted to even acknowledge the need for God in our public institutions, but sadly, many of the Republican leadership will acknowledge God, but not because they believe we should be humble before Him, but to use God in our speeches and platforms. We wear our love of Israel like a badge of courage but on the issues of life and marriage too many of our leaders are more like lambs than Lions of Judah.

Well now maybe our Republican Party will look at itself in the mirror. I feel that we shouldn’t pack up and quit, but gear up and get ready for the next battle. That’s what we do as people of faith and a party of principle. We don’t stop believing what we believe. We do a better job of doing what we’re supposed to do. That’s how you attract voters and win elections. And that is how you save America from herself.

Permalink: http://www.mikehuckabee.com/2012/11/statement-on-the-election

via Statement On The Election – Mike Huckabee News – News – Mike Huckabee.

The Long and Sober View

Religion in the Balance aims to comment on our world, taking a long view: in the words of James Hunter, looking at the “climate” (trends over time) rather than the “weather” (what’s happening now). For our culture of instant gratification, short memory, and pain-avoidance, the long view brings a needed “yin” to the culture’s dominant “yang.”

The other balancing we seek, is to counter-weight our culture’s dominant rosy view of human nature and that rosy view’s relatives, such as limitless progress (more is more!) and American exceptionalism (the tragedy of history stops here!). On the question of human nature, we acknowledge and embrace limitation, humility, and finitude– the ultimate expression of which is the memento mori, the remembering that we will die. No conception of the good life (individually, communally, or societally) can be unfettered from this sober recognition of our contingency.

It was from this perspective, then, that I was happy to read the following reminder in a recent issue of The Christian Century:

This much the church should make clear about any election: it is about fallible people choosing between fallible candidates in an electoral process that is deeply flawed.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t vote. It does mean, however, that we shouldn’t act as though political power is ultimate power.