Sunday, October 31, 2010

Career Politicians

I am a career politician.

I have only run for government office twice and only been elected once. The first-time I lost to my mother in a crowded field of candidates for a small number of seats on a representative Town Meeting. The second time I ran unopposed. Although I served for less than five years as a public housing commissioner, I still think of myself as a career politician. I am, as one of my professors used to say, the holder of the highest political office in the United States. I am a citizen. As a citizen I try to become engaged in the politics of the nation and in the more local politics of state and town. I vote; I write to elected officials;  I served once as an honorary co-chair of a friend's campaign; and this year I'm doing a very small of volunteer work for a political party. 

I see politics as the way we make decisions for our communities. We elect people to represent us and we engage those representatives in a continuing conversation about public policy, especially the issues that matter the most to us. If we aren't pleased with the decisions that our representatives do, we remember that they work for us, and not the other way around, and we fire them, voting them out of office.

Yes, I am a career politician.

I didn't begin the thought process that led to this post with any thoughts about my own political life, but with some thoughts about the term career politician. Why is it, I wondered, that career politician has become a slur, while career physician or teacher or banker haven't? Why don't we see elected office as a calling that might be a person's life work? Clearly there have been corrupt politicians, but corruption can be found in the ranks of every profession. Why is it that a calling that is so important to our common life is not thought of highly? Many of those who held elected office could be much better paid doing something else, and yet they choose public service. And for that choice they are frequently treated as little better than common criminals, and because of that kind of treatment there are many, I would guess, who choose to avoid public service, even though they have much to offer.

Career politician should be an honorable title and, because so many of us don't see it that way, our common life is much the poorer.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Nicene Creed

Every Sunday I pray the Nicene Creed, pray it because I see it as an act of praise and adoration  But praying it each Sunday doesn't mean that I find the philosophical language in the Creed particularly helpful in my journey of faith seeking understanding. I don't doubt that the language of substances, of  "one in being with the Father," was helpful in the 4th century, but it's not so helpful to me - and others - in the 21st century.

The choice of that particular philosophical language can be seen as the triumph of the tradition of Athens over the tradition of Jerusalem. The biblical witness is less focused on questions of being than of being with. The Bible is a book - or, rather, a series of books - about relationships: the relationship of God with Israel, the relationships of Israel with the nations, relationships within the community of Israel. It is about how God walks with God's people and about how they are to talk with one another and with the people of the nations. 

Using the philosophical language of Athens was not the only way, and maybe even the best way, that the Church could have come to a common mind about how to explain its faith in the One who had claimed them. There were, it is true, heresies to be opposed, and perhaps there was no better language to use in defining orthodoxy. But the Christian faith need not be understood primarily in opposition to heresy. Here in the 21st century we need not be tied to the language of substance in our thinking about God, in our theology. Here in the 21st century the focus of our theology can be on Jesus' being with the Father and being with us, and what that tells us about how we are to live.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What If?

I have to admit that I have cynical moments. One of those moments came as I was listening to the news about Juan Williams’s firing at National Public Radio. The cynical moment came as I heard about the new contract that Williams had signed with Fox News after NPR fired him. A scenario began to form in my mind. What if Williams wanted to leave NPR for a higher-paying job at Fox? What if he thought that it would be fun to leave behind the reasoned tone of NPR for the more bombastic style of Fox? What if he thought that the best way to accomplish that was to say something on Fox that was guaranteed to get him fired and to make that firing a major news item on NPR and other media?

This scenario is, of course, a product of my imagination, but I have heard Williams’ name on NPR more in the past two days than in the past two years. Maybe it's not just my imagination.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Real Americans

There has been a disturbing trend during the past several years to refer to only those with whom we agree on political issues as "real Americans."  I first noticed this in statements by conservatives, but I have heard liberals saying it as well. 

I don't like it at all. There are no phony Americans or unreal Americans or bogus Americans or counterfeit Americans. One American isn't less American than another. We're all real Americans whether we voted for John McCain or Barack Obama or didn't vote at all. I may think that voting for Sen. McCain was a bad choice, but those who did it are as real as I am. Those who don't vote may be accused of being lazy or irresponsible, but they are still real Americans. And those who joined me in voting for our President can't afford to think that those who didn't aren't real Americans.

Using labels like "real American" doesn't help us to solve the problems that this country faces. In fact, it makes the work of solving them a bit harder because, if those with whom we disagree aren't "real Americans," they have nothing of value to contribute to the political process and we can simply stop listening. Stop listening and miss out on the possibility that there are good ideas on the other side.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Thank You, Ellen DeGeneres!


During the years that I was Director of the Erie County Commission on Homelessness, I often ran into opposition to the siting of services. The cry of "Not in my backyard" was heard so often that some of us coined two additional acronyms: NOTE - not over there either; and BANANA - build absolutely nothing at or near anything.

NIMBY arguments have been heard here in Massachusetts recently in the debates over wind power. An opponent of a plan to build turbines near the Cape Cod Canal said that they shouldn't be built in anyone's backyard. Of course, no one was proposing to build them in her backyard at all, but only on some land nearby. I don't  whether or not there are the health risks that she and other opponents cite as the reason for their opposition. What I do know is that there are health risks for all of us if we continue to use fossil fuels as much as we do. And I know that there are very serious health problems for people, especially children, who live close to  coal-fired power plants and other polluters. These are facilities that should never have been built at or near anything.

The NIMBY arguments, whether about wind turbines or social service agencies, are entirely myopic. If wind turbines or social service agencies serve the common good, why shouldn't they be located near where I live, not in my backyard, which isn't big enough, but in my neighborhood? One of the costs of living in community is being willing to set aside personal interests for the good of the community.