By Charles Redfern
Note: I wasn’t satisfied with my previous entry on this subject, so I rewrote it:
Can we see? Can we hear? Can we rinse out our psychological earwax and listen for sounds from beyond our culture’s white noise? Can we decipher the call of innovative Christian thinkers such as Ronald Sider, Jim Wallace, Richard Cizik, Shane Claiborne, Andy Crouch, Kim Phipps, Richard Mouw, Joel Hunter, and Tony Hall? They invite us to alter our assumptions. We can park on a different platform and view our budget wrangling from there: a society’s greatness is not measured in mansions, golf courses, bull markets, tanks, and bombs, but in how it treats “the least of these.”
And politicians can actually help. Honestly. I’ve relaxed with them during off-the-record moments,when they really show their stuff: They remember names and birthdays barely mentioned over a long-forgotten Budweiser: How’s that wife of yours? It’s Rosie, right? And that seven-year-old scrapper? Is he still the Little League’s champion short stop? And you – over there, Bob: I hear your wife, Betty, got sick. She okay? Gimme a shout, ‘cause a thousand medical people owe me a thousand favors and I’ll pull every last one of ‘em so the lovely lady stays lovely for a long, long time. Nothing but the best for you, Bob …
It slowly dawns on you that this guy (they were usually guys when I walked the beat) – this fleshy wad of idealism, relational savvy, raw narcissism, vanity, egotism, and self-importance – is good. Really good. And he cares. Really cares. And he likes people. Really likes them. They’re his high. He inhales them like a glue-sniffer. He really sees himself as a public servant. He could be working for a private law firm, raking in seven-figure fees while dictating memos from behind a mahogany desk the size of the Astrodome. But no, he’d rather serve the people. He’ll even glad-hand simpering clowns like me who, despite his noble attempts to use small, simple words in short, simple sentences, never get the story right. And he really means it when he says he’ll hunt down the best doctor for Bob’s lovely wife – despite the fact that Bob wrote up a scurrilous story last week in which only one sentence bore a wraith-like similarity to the truth. Oh, these people are skilled: smooth in the best sense of the word, veritable artists at rapport and networking. They’re the experts at seeing fresh angles with new twists.
Thus our universal cringe at this moment: the very geniuses who swill public service like whiskey are acting like drunken peacocks, apparently thinking they’re charming us when we’re really wilting under their breath. Only vain, egotistical, self-important narcissists could possibly think we’re impressed. Their egotism has swallowed their savvy and we’re in the shadow of a government shut-down. Again.
We’re all on the same beach, children, and we must build our sand castles together before the tide comes in – and you should be saying that, not an idealistic blogger from evangelicalism’s left-wing fringe. You’re better than this. I know it. I’ve seen it.
Here’s the genuine tragedy: the peacock’s feathers are veiling America’s real scandal – the one Hurricane Katrina lay bare, the one Sider, Wallace, Cizik, Claiborne, Crouch, Phipps, Mouw, Hunter, and Hall plead about, the one that should humiliate us all: America, the world’s most powerful, energy-sucking economic powerhouse, has 36 million people living below the poverty line. Moreover, the poor saw their income shrink by 4 percent in the last thirty years while the rich gained 73 percent. Will the peacocks even hear the thinkers’ mournful cry, who point to Matthew 25:40: “… I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Stephanie Samuel wrote all about them in the Christian Post. She quoted Sider, who heads up Evangelicals for Social Action: “How we balance our national budget is first of all a moral question; that we must do so is clear. But the Bible says God measures societies by what they do to people at the bottom.”
Sider and the others (Jim Wallace heads up Sojourners; Andy Crouch and Claiborne are writers; Cizik presides over the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good; Mouw is from Fuller Evangelical Seminary; Kim Phipps is president of Messiah College; Hunter pastors Northland Church) see the need for fiscal frugality, but not at the expense of the poor. They’ve signed “A Call for Intergenerational Justice: A Christian Proposal on the American Debt Crisis.” Hall, a former Democratic congressman and ambassador, is now leading a fast on behalf of the poor. You can read all about it at Hungerfast.org.
Lower your feathers, senators and congressmen. The fleshy, narcissistic Mr. Hyde has had his fun; we need savvy Doctor Jekyll
again. Be that public servant. Get the deal done while leading us in our priority re-alignment. Remember the poor, the least of these. I know the psychological ears of your rich constituents are especially clogged: a recent survey found that many millionaires think they’re not wealthy unless they’ve stored up $7.5 million, poor things. They might even campaign against you if you see the truth and try to deal with it, but what’s the problem? You keep telling us you’re a “Washington outsider.” You don’t even like the place. A “no” vote in 2012 is your free ticket to all those sweethearts back home.
Move to a different platform. Listen and see. View our budgetary landscape through another prism. Perhaps Vermont Senator Barry Sanders can point the way (okay, he’s a liberal; we’re all ears to compassionate conservatives offering genuine solutions). Hear Sanders. He agrees that we need to close the budget gap; he just begins with the real issue and goes from there:
And don’t forget Jim Wallace, who reminds us of the budget’s moral dimensions: