26 January 2010


“Even guys like Mr. Burns are going to have to change their ways,” says Utne Reader’s Editor in Chief David Schimke. The January-February issue of the magazine portrays The Simpsons’ favorite bad guy on its cover.

One would hope that Monty Burns and his brethren see the light. Still, as Amitai Etzioni says in the article, “Get Rich Now,” we are afflicted with the disease of consumerism. Here’s the diagnosis: “As long as consumption is focused on satisfying basic human needs—safety, shelter, food, clothing, health care, education—it is not consumerism. When the acquisition of goods and services is used to satisfy higher needs, such as self-esteem and self-actualization, however, consumption turns into consumerism—and consumerism becomes a social disease.”

What is needed, according to the author, is a new megalogue, which involves “millions of members of a society.” The megalogue that is needed is not so much about regulation as it is “to ask people to reconsider what a good life entails.”

Jesus’ warning about serving Mammon (Mt 6:24) sounds wiser all the time. I think he actually knows what he’s talking about!

15 January 2010

some observations of an oblate

As oblates of St. Benedict, Banu and I try to live by the spirit of the Rule of Benedict. The monastery to which we make annual commitments, Mount St. Benedict in Erie, PA, has encouraged us to serve as companions to an oblate initiate. Part of that includes sharing our thoughts on various writings.

One of those is the lecture by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, called “Saint for Europe and Our Age.” This was a 2006 reflection on St. Benedict and what his Rule could mean for Europe—spiritually, culturally, and politically. Though he was specifically addressing the European context, it also applies to America. He takes three aspects of the Rule (what it says about time, obedience, and participation) and directs them to us now.

I won’t try to summarize the article; it’s well worth the time it takes to read. Something that especially struck me is his comment, “A civilised life structured around the vision of the Rule is one in which economics is not allowed to set itself up as a set of activities whose goals and norms have no connection with anything other than production and exchange. We have to ask what it is that economics sustains—its own business or an environment of human development, intelligence and awareness?”

We often pretend that the laws of the market make no assumptions on what it means to be human. We have to beware coming under its spell. Jesus has a word for the 21st century when he says in Matthew 6:24, “You cannot serve God and wealth” (in Greek, mammon).

Williams concludes with the observation, “Patron saints are not there to be benign mascots; they are given so that nations and groups and individuals may have identifiable friends in the company of heaven who will give a particular direction and sharpness to the challenges of the Gospel. We need to recover Benedict as that kind of patron for our presently confused continent; there is still much to do to spell out further the ways in which, both confronting and affirming, his Rule may open some windows in a rather airless political room and create a true workshop for the spirit (Chapter 4).”

Europe—and America, to be sure—needs to break free from the age-old temptation of ideology, which is nothing else but idolatry. When we replace the God of life with a rigid, stultifying straitjacket, death takes the throne. But Jesus Christ, who has “conquered the world” (John 16:33), always provides resurrection to the most lifeless of situations.

(The image comes from the original article.)

05 January 2010

guns or butter

Last month, as the Wall Street Journal reported, the US House of Representatives “approved a $636 billion bill to fund the Pentagon through the remaining 10 months of fiscal 2010, completing the last piece of must-pass spending business that had to be finished before the end of the year. The House vote was 395-34.” That doesn’t include funding for the Obama administration’s surge in Afghanistan, nor does it include our nuclear arsenal.

In a year in which health care reform was compared to death panels, and there was plenty of posturing from many different quarters, the multiple hundreds of billions of dollars we continue to devote to war (as we have for decades) went largely uncontested.

Journalists Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse have reported on this and other aspects of our military activities. One note I found especially interesting is our increasing use of drones, machines that can be flown from thousands of miles away.

They note, “Globally, we have become the world’s leading state assassins—a judge, jury, and executioner beyond the bounds of all accountability. In essence, those pilot-less planes turn us into a law of war unto ourselves. It’s a chilling development. Watch for it to spread in 2010, and keep an eye out for which countries, fielding their own drones, follow down the path we’re pioneering, for in our age all war-making developments invariably proliferate—and fast.”

It makes me wonder where the real death panels are.

01 January 2010

some thoughts for a new year and new decade

“O God, we pray Thee for those who come after us, for our children, and the children of our friends, and for all the young lives that are marching up from the gates of birth…We remember with a pang that these will live in the world we are making for them. We are wasting the resources of the earth in our headlong greed, and they will suffer want…We are poisoning the air of our land by our lies and our uncleanness, and they will breathe it.

“…Grant us grace to leave the earth fairer than we found it; to build upon it cities of God in which the cry of needless pain shall cease; and to put the yoke of Christ upon our business life that it may serve and not destroy…”

Those are some words from a prayer by Walter Rauschenbusch; they date back to 1910—a century ago. They’re included in a book I’ve been reading which was published in 1917, Harry Emerson Fosdick’s The Meaning of Faith. (p. 60) It was published during what came to be known as “the Great War” and “the war to end all wars.” Human knowledge and technology during the latter part of the nineteenth century had reached new heights. However, as it was sadly discovered, knowledge and wisdom don’t often progress at the same rate. The “civilized” nations were plunged into what Fosdick calls in his preface “the most terrific war men ever waged, when faith is sorely tried and deeply needed.”

The first decade of the twenty-first century has amply demonstrated the lack of wisdom when it comes to creatively dealing with conflict. Conflict is inevitable. The question is: when will we learn that war and violence do nothing “to leave the earth fairer than we found it”?