Thursday, June 12, 2014

Howard Beale Moments

Howard Beale Moments

Peter Finch won a posthumous Oscar for his role as deranged network anchor, Howard Beale, in the 1976 movie Network. The most memorable scene in the film has Beale rehearsing a list of problems facing the nation and yelling repeatedly, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" He calls on people right then to open their windows, stick out their heads, and shout the same thing. All over the country citizens are shouting that they also are mad as hell and are not going to take anymore. That line is ranked number 19 on the American Film Institute's list of 100 of great movie quotes. (Watch)

From time to time, despite my mild, go along-get along personality, I have my Howard Beale moments. This blog sometimes serves as a window out of which I stick my head and shout my frustration. Here I go again.

Clothes Make the Minister? It seems that the effort to identify with people and so gain a hearing from them has come to white ministers dressing like they just came from the beach and black ministers dressing like they just came from the hood. Even the high class ones, dressed in khakis, open collared or polo shirts, blazers, and loafers without socks, look like they just stopped in on their way from or to a cocktail party. It makes me feel even more comfortable about being part of a tradition in which ministers engaged in "ministerial business" generally wear collars (those who find the collar a sign of "Romanizing" tendencies may be surprised to know that a Presbyterian invented the collar) and, when leading in worship, the cassock and surplice. Now I have heard ministers from denominations in which ministers used to wear suits ask, "What's with dressing like a businessman?" I thought the point was that the suit is the closest thing we have to dignified daily dress. People who visit the President wear suits. (Ronald Reagan would not even go into the Oval Office without tie and jacket.) Isn't God as important as the President and worship as important as a visit with him? Someone recently shared the story of a time when Dr. John Richard DeWitt was teaching a class and the air conditioning system broke. As Dr. DeWitt began to sweat profusely, students suggested he remove his tie and jacket, to which he replied, "And teach theology?" 

Politics Is Politics. The voters in Eric Cantor's Richmond, VA, district had their own Howard Beale moment on May 10 when they rejected Cantor, the Republican House Leader, and chose David Bratt as their nominee for Congress. Bratt, a graduate of Hope College (RCA) and Princeton Seminary (PCUSA) and present Roman Catholic, says God gave him the victory. It seems likely that the Republicans in Mississippi will have a similar moment in a few weeks by rejecting Thad Cochran and choosing Chris McDaniel as their nominee for the Senate seat Cochran now holds. The MS race is especially hot. I dared post a few pro-Cochran notes on some pro-McDaniel Facebook threads and had a former parishioner challenge my veracity about how long I lived in MS, followed by a hot-headed private message to me by her spouse. I also got several of the "don't come back to MS" replies. Both the Cantor defeat and the likely Cochran defeat have been cast as conservative Republicans rising up against progressive ones, real Republicans facing down RINOs, and the Tea Party defeating the establishment. A couple of brief comments: (1) While the outcomes of these elections are decreed by God, the Sovereign Ruler whose kingdom is eternal, they have not one whit to do with the kingdom of God which Jesus brought, preached, and rules. (2) Anyone who thinks that Ryan or Cochran are not conservatives (though not so conservative perhaps as their rivals) lacks historical and political perspective. (3) Whoever gets elected will have to decide whether to be a speech-maker or a legislator, to talk or to get something done. (4) With regard to the MS election, I am not so sure a McDaniel primary win means a McDaniel election. If there are more gaffes, if the MS Republican establishment sits on its hands, and the Democrats turn out the black vote, conservative Democrat, Travis Childers, could take the Cochran seat.  (4) It's all just and nothing more than politics. And politics is always "the art of the possible." Ronald Reagan knew that. His heirs? No so much.

Decisions. Two of the most of the most important issues in the political arena today are immigration (illegal aliens) and budget (spending and taxes). Both issues are easy to make speeches about but require some hard decisions. On immigration the question is, "What do you want to do with these people who are here and having babies?" The more liberal would say, "Leave the borders open and make them all citizens." The more conservative would say, "Close the borders tightly and send them all back." But some grown-ups have got to decide what in the realm of the possible should and can be done. With regard to the budget, the most liberal will say, "Don't worry about the spending, and, if you want to do something about the deficit raise taxes." The most conservative will say, "Cut spending. Balance the budget. Grow the economy to pay down the deficit." But what taxes will rise? Business? Income? Capital gains? How much will federal income grow? What effects will increased taxes have on the economy? Or, what do you want to cut? There are very few whose principles are such that they are willing to have cut what benefits them. Cut veterans's benefits? "I earned those benefits." Cut Social Security and Medicare? "Not in my lifetime." Cut defense? "Don't close our base. Don't cut the weapons systems we build." Cut the highway program? "Not the project I bid on. Not the project I work on." Cut student loans? "Not for my kid. Not while I'm in school." Cut disaster relief? "Not when we just had a tornado." Cut welfare? "Not for the customers who buy their groceries from me." With this issue as well some grown-ups need to say what in the realm of the possible should and can be done. On both issues we are likely to live with the status quo until there is an unavoidable crisis.

Grain. "Give us this say, our daily (wheat, barley, oat, and especially corn) bread," we pray. In most of history and in most of the world today the problem is how to get enough grain. But we are in an anti-grains moment in our history. I thought it had gone too far when I first heard that people were asking for gluten free Communion bread. But now it seems it extends to the world of dogs. In last Sunday's paper there was a coupon for a dog food that contains no grain. The business of business is business. The producers will give us what we want and will pay for whether or not it makes any sense.

Ok, I'm closing the window for awhile.

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