Category Archives: Commentary

Food for Thought

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I took the kids to our local used book store the other day.  I didn’t want to buy anything but a snack (Boy said he just wanted to read, not buy anything. Mm-hm.), but a book called WorldChanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century, edited by Alex Steffen, was sitting in the el cheapo bin, staring at me. It is a collection of strategies and solutions and possibilities meant to inspire people into facing the ecological difficulties the planet is in. It has chapters on “stuff,” shelter, cities, community, business, politics, and planet.  I thought I’d take a look at the section on “movement building” in the politics chapter.  I think the following quote, written by Steffen, was worth the $4 I ended up spending:

  Optimism is a political act.
Entrenched interests promote despair, confusion, and apathy to prevent change.  They encourage us to think that problems can’t be solved, that nothing we do can matter, that the issues are too complex to allow even the possibility of change.  It is a long-standing political art to sow the seeds of mistrust among those you would rule: as Machiavelli taught, tyrants do not care if they are hated, so longs as those under them do not love one another.  Cynicism is often seen as a rebellious attitude in Western popular culture, but in reality, our cynicism advances the desires of the powerful:  cynicism is obedience.
Optimism, by contrast, when it’s neither foolish nor silent, can be revolutionary.  When no one believes in a better future, despair is a logical choice–and people in despair almost never change anything.  When no one believes there might be a better solution, those who benefit from the status quo are safe.  When no one believes in the possibility of action, apathy becomes an insurmountable obstacle to reform.  But when people have some intelligent reasons to believe that a better future can be  built, that better solutions are available, and that action is possible, their power to act out of their highest principles is unleashed.  Shared belief in a better future is the strongest glue there is.
Great movements for social change always begin with statements of great optimism.  Facing as we do today so many interlocking challenges, one of our biggest tasks is simply this:  to be willing to look so many looming catastrophes in the face and courageously point out that radical changes for the better are possible.  History attests that if we can show people a better future, we can build movements that will change the world.

Happy Holidays!

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Happy Holidays!

I recently found a newsletter from a conservative political organization in my email inbox.  After considering for a moment from what possible source the organization had collected my email address, I read through the opening article.  It was a joyous shout out to the President-Elect, giving him the credit for doing away with political correctness and making it possible for Christians to once again say “Merry Christmas.”

Um, what?  I must have missed the notice banning that phrase.  I use it with confidence, among people who celebrate Christmas, especially on Christmas Day, itself.  I also use “season’s greetings” and “happy holidays.”  If I know what holiday, other than Christmas, an acquaintance celebrates, I offer my good wishes for that holiday.  I do not consider this “political correctness,” and here’s why.

In the church calendar, Christmas is one day.  One very important day, of course, but just one.  The season leading up to it is Advent – four weeks of waiting and preparing our hearts.  We light a candle each Sunday of Advent; the candles represent hope, joy, peace and love.  These are the gifts Christ brings with Him, and they are bundled together in my mind when I say or write “season’s greetings.”

If we are supposed to show the love of Christ, why do we get bogged down in arguing about these words?  All the holiday greetings, at their heart, are expressions of good will and joy.  Yes, there are other holidays included in “happy holidays.”  So what?  When someone who celebrates a different winter holiday, or who celebrates Christmas secularly, wishes me happiness, I’m grateful.  Their thoughtfulness does not diminish the importance of Christ to me, or in the world.  When I wish non-Christians well, I am loving my neighbor; again, including whatever holiday they celebrate, by using a generic “happy holidays,” or even by specifically wishing them “happy solstice” (for example), does nothing do diminish Christ and the importance of His birth.  In fact, by sharing these seasonal greetings, we increase the love, hope, peace and joy in the world.  Politically correct or not, isn’t that a good thing?

Darcy for President

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My Girl’s delight with her English Country Dance class, and her desire to watch the dancing scenes in the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice, awakened in me a wish to reread that novel.  And then I had to watch the production from beginning to end, admiring and sighing over all the beautiful scenery, Colin Firth, the lovely dresses, Colin Firth, the magnificent estates, Colin Firth, the gorgeous sets and, of course, Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy.

I am not a Jane Austen scholar, but I know enough to understand that she offered, through her novels, criticism of a society focused too sharply on manners, appearances and status.  I wonder if part of her continued appeal is that we have moved so far away from that excess of civility.  What an oddity Mr. Darcy would be in today’s world, especially if he suddenly appeared in the U.S., during this particular autumn.  What would we make of a fabulously wealthy man whose employees and tenants sing his praises rather than write tell-all books about him, who conceals both his own good deeds and the wrongdoings of others, and recognizes that people of different social strata can be worthy of respect? How would we handle the facts that his only “private server” is his valet, he is careful both in his actions and his speech (usually), and he admits when he has made a mistake?   Good manners wouldn’t give Saturday Night Live and the late night talk show hosts much material, and wouldn’t that be refreshing!  If Darcy ran for president, his slogan could be “Honesty with Discretion; Courtesy with Morality.”  People would probably say he waffled on his opinion of the Bennett sisters, and the birther crowd would actually have a point.  But you know, if he looked like Colin Firth, I might just vote for him anyway. 🙂