Generous Orthodoxy  

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The loss of civility as a Christian concern

I was just re-reading an absolutely wonderful article by Russell Baker about the lost art of conversation. He quotes a number of colorfully adroit political insults from the 19th century ("with a few more brains he could be a halfwit"), comparing them to "poor Dick Cheney's" inability to come up with anything but the Anglo-Saxon expletive when he wanted to disrespect someone. (Isn't "disrespect" a splendid neologism?) . Then Russell Baker swears that "only fifty years ago" he heard with his own ears these words uttered by Senator Everett Dirksen, foretelling the death of an opponent's bill: "It will have all the impact of a gentle snowflake falling on the broad bosom of the Potomac." They don't make 'em like that any more.

What is happening to us? These reflections are occasioned by the news that the mild, kind, devoutly Christian civil rights hero John Lewis was called a "nigger" by the Tea Party protesters (and Barney Frank was called "faggot"). The sheer nastiness, meanness, pettiness, and stupidity of the rhetoric we hear on the airwaves (I'm ignoring cyberspace for the moment--it seems hopeless to try to change that) has profoundly affected American society. Isn't this an issue for the Christian churches? It should strike us to the heart that so many churches with minority congregations have tried for so long to maintain habits of decorum in order to instill standards of courtesy among their young people. In black churches in the South, elegant language (based often on the King James Version) was prized and imitated. To this day this can still be recognized, occasionally, on the streets of New York when a black laborer addresses a woman in a church hat with a twinkle and a turn of phrase. As a hat-wearer, I can speak warmly of the joy this brings me.

One of the new books about the 2008 Presidential campaign discloses that John McCain directed thirteen angry sentences at his wife Cindy in public, in which he used the f-word twelve times. Is this what we want in our public servants? (At least Joe Biden was using the word affectionately this morning, at the signing of the health care bill. But please! Joe! watch the open mike!)

The Russell Baker article was in the May 11, 2006 issue of The New York Review of Books, but you have to subscribe to read it.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Ruth Gledhill in the Times of London

I have been reading articles by Ruth Gledhill, religion correspondent of the Times Online (and the paper too, presumably), for several years now and she seems to me to be quite knowledgeable.

A March 9 piece offers some good words from Rowan Williams. He is much criticised from both ends of the spectrum for his lack of leadership skills, but he certainly is intelligently thoughtful and deeply faithful. Here is an excerpt:

The Archbishop of Canterbury has condemned evangelist "bullies" who attempt to convert people of other faiths to Christianity. Dr Rowan Williams said it was right to be suspicious of proselytism that involves "bullying, insensitive approaches" to other faiths.

In a speech at Guildford cathedral, Dr Williams criticised those who believed they had all the answers amd treated non-Christians as if their traditions of reflection and imagination were of no interest to anyone. "God save us from that kind of approach," he said.

But he added: "God save us also from the nervousness about our own conviction that doesn’t allow us to say we speak about Jesus because we believe he matters. We believe he matters, because we believe that in him human beings find their peace, their destinies converge, and their dignities are fully honoured."

[We believe more than this about Jesus, of course, and Dr. Williams would be the first to agree. But this is in the context of trying to find an approach that is really universal without yielding our foundational Christology.]

Link to the complete article:

Monday, March 01, 2010

Well-meaning rescuers cause problems

I just posted an article in Tips by Nicholas Kristof, extolling World Vision and other evangelical and Roman Catholic organizations for their work in the troubled zones around the world.

Yesterday I heard a talk by the head of Episcopal Relief and Development who said that it is better to support longstanding, experienced organizations than it was to rush to the area personally with no well-defined mission or special expertise.

And a few days ago I read an article about the Haitian situation which quoted Dale Winslette, 51, a volunteer with Give Me Shelter Ministries in Shalimar, Florida, which has been providing food and medical and dental care in Haiti for the past four years. Mr. Winslette said there were many missionaries who were mostly interested in returning to their churches with grand stories of good works. “These people are so zealous to get out there and say, ‘Look what I did; look at these kids I saved,’ ” he said.

Even doctors who have flown into Haiti on private or chartered planes have sometimes been less than helpful, according to Dr. Scott Nelson, a veteran Adventist missionary.“The community trusts us [the Adventist doctors and nurses], but when other groups make shortsighted decisions it undermines everyone’s credibility,” he added. Dr. Nelson and other veteran missionaries faulted the new arrivals for frequently acting on their own instead of collaborating with more established missionary groups that plan on staying in Haiti for years to come.

All of this adds up to the great need for us to give significant support to the established organizations with longtime experience and proven effectiveness. The Episcopal Church has had a strong presence in Haiti for 150 years, and so it is in a position to be really helpful. (Most of the publicity has focused on the Roman Catholic Church in Haiti, so this fact is an important corrective). The Episcopal Bishop chose not to flee to the countryside, or to the US where his severely injured wife is receiving treatment, but has remained with his destroyed cathedral where the people continue to gather for worship and mutual comfort despite the loss of their building. Therefore, Episcopal Relief and Development is one of the most effective funds to support right now for those interested in Haiti. (If you are interested in Chile, then there are other funds that have better connections there.)

The article concludes:

“The outpouring of compassion is heartwarming,” said Sarah Wilson, spokeswoman for Christian Aid, a British organization that receives much of its financing from church members and has a longstanding operation in Haiti. But she added: “People shouldn’t come down here for an experience. They should stay home and write a check.”

Here is the link to the article