Friday, October 09, 2009

ARCHBISHOP BUCKLE, OBAMA, AND GOD

In a recent meeting of African bishops at the Vatican, the Archbishop of Accra, Gabriel Palmer-Buckle, made several comments and has apparently gotten things going over here.

He opined – apparently a view shared by several of his brother bishops – that Obama is part of “God’s divine plan”.

He observed that “it’s like the Biblical story repeating itself”, referring to the Old Testament figure who went from being a slave to being Chief Operating Officer in the Egypt of the Pharaohs. *

Well, there’s nothing wrong with that connection, if you’d like to make it. There are notable similarities in the status-change of Joseph and of Obama as a ‘black’ man. Although personally, I’m not so sure that the ‘victory’ of the historic Civil Rights-era dream is enough to see Us through the ‘new’ problems that We face, domestically and on the world stage. Massachusetts registered such a ‘victory’ in 2006, but – alas – with little to show for it and aside from the ‘symbolic’ value and its effect on ‘perceptions’, the now-incumbent there has not demonstrated any significant aptitude for the job, especially in light of the huge challenges that have arisen just since he was elected.

So my first thought is that if We are still spending precious civic attention on such ‘victories’, then We are not wisely investing such civic competence as remains in Our hugely challenged polity. And among all of Our other dwindling resources, Time is certainly one of the most dwindling of all, given Our circumstances. That’s kind of an adult view of things – the Time thing and all – and has been most certainly been seen as a ‘downer’ (the Boomers in their salad days) or as ‘not optimistic’ (recent elite opinion). But America has not often been renowned for its embrace of adult-y stuff, fer shure.

The ‘scripts’ of the ‘revolutions’ that have evolved since the Seventies are now greatly outdistanced by the march of events: you might try a little exercise and imagine what the America of 1909 would have been facing – domestically and on the world stage – and what might have happened overall if the country had been focused on the ‘success’ of political excitements of the 1870s. History surely moves no slower nowadays (despite its having been declared dead during the heady – and monstrously wasted – times of the 1990s and the fall of the USSR).

Second, according to the Catholic view – which the Archbishop is somewhat competent to enunciate – everything is one way or the other part of God’s plan. Either He (if I may) is seeking to bring about the genuine fulfillment of His created humanity’s promise or else He is busily and intricately trying to rejigger the march of human events in response to humanity’s still imperfect, ‘sinful’ activities when the Evil that abides “deep down things” manifests itself through the minds and hearts of a still imperfect humanity.

Which, by the by, puts paid to the Enlightenment conceit that God is/was simply a Watchmaker who made the Thing with some precision according to certain Laws and then went to Boca for retirement, leaving his Machine to tick on and even take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’ (which, if I recall, was John Cameron Swayze’s (google him) paid encomium to Bulova watches (google those)).

So right out of the gate, the Archbishop is on solid doctrinal ground here.

Now you can start trying to parse him, or deconstruct him, if you wish. Is his apparent confidence based on the fact that Obama is – in the script – ‘black’? Well, that may be part of God’s Plan too – and I’d like to think that it’s not the second part of the Plan, the part where God has to recalculate in order to compensate for yet another frak-up by His children.

Surely, the ‘divine’ part of the Obama story (and given the Beltway’s increasing list toward the Unitary Executive – whether of a so-called liberal or so-called conservative bent – We want to be verrrry careful throwing the ‘D’ word around) consists in the assurance and consolation that God will sustain His efforts to bring all things unto good for humans and – as best can be managed – for Americans.

Although there is no doctrinal guarantee that if it comes to an either-or (either good for Americans or good for humanity as a whole) then God will, as a matter of course, go with Americans. Any parent with more than one kid knows that.

Still, nobody who has any knowledge of History in this world (which is a whole lot more than just that “dead hand of the past”) can deny that the Framers’ vision of a genuine Constitutional Republic governed by a sober and strenuous People, is a boon to this broken world.

Although also one hell of a risk – humans being as weak and changeable as they are. Ben Franklin saw that when he noted to an inquirer’s question in Philadelphia as to what sort of a government the Constitutional Convention was going to come with, replied “A democracy … if you can keep it”.

There is a long list of governments and citizenries that could not keep a grip on democracy because – well, because they just lost the burning desire to do the work necessary to keep one. Ah, “strenuous liberty!” as one 17th century Englishman observed. The Roman Senate, as one early emperor (Tiberius, was it?) observed of the Roman Senators “How eager you are to become slaves” as they bipartisanly truckled to him (their organizational descendants would a while later make their emperor’s horse a god – which still (!) retains its place as one of the most dispiriting acts of overt self-debasement in the Annals of History (as pols like to call it).

And even as recently as the fall of the Soviet Union, when former Commie overlords were elected back into the offices they had recently held under the guns of the Soviet military, it became sadly clear that humans will – when addled by anxiety or fear – choose the false security of predictability over the strenuous liberty of political freedom and its attendant maintenance and oversight responsibilities. Oh, and the necessary self-discipline necessary to each Citizen. Downer, man!

And even more recently, and here, as growing cohorts of the immature, the unripe, the fear-addled, the self-pitying, and the (hardly unpredictably, given the lack of formation into genuine maturity that kids have been getting for decades now) just plain overwhelmed and under-prepared now retreat into the distractions of bleating and tweeting. Or face the heart-chilling reality of living in a country where a ‘job’ is an iffy thing and there are no nets anymore – the circus from Hell, as so many human beings have experienced it in recent centuries. It puts the ‘labor agitation’ of the 1880s-1930s in a whole new (old) light. Like when a museum will take a long-held masterpiece, refurbish it to its colors to their original vibrance and vitality, and you see it as if for the first time.

This is no time for a hootenanny or a sobfest or – more acutely ominously – a retreat into slogans and simplistic following of ‘leaders’ who may be not much more than Charles Manson or Jim Jones in a great suit with a great hair-stylist. We are not, by birth, donkeys or the background cattle in a Wild West movie. Although as Franklin realized, there is always that possibility …

The Catholic position, of course, is notorious for being loaded down with by the dead hands of the past. From the ancient East, the Greeks, the Romans, the English, the French, the Germans – and all their thinkers and all their accomplishments – the Church has carefully learned and incorporated wisdom.

Oh, and from Jesus and the Bible and the Apostles, and from a whole bunch of her own people who over the course of two millennia have developed this and that insight into the fundamental nature of a genuinely human reality (which, famously, includes God and His ceaselessly nurturing Spirit).

In fact, without God and His Spirit and His ‘love’ (far too weak a word to really describe it all) then the human reality is not only much diminished but fatally wounded, robbed of the solid Ground upon which individual humans can define and understand themselves, relate to others of their kind with some level of Justice and Charity, and hold themselves together in this “vale of tears” in the face of “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”.

Without such a keel to balance the ship, and with no faith in that Wind which is the breath of that Spirit, and with no real compass attuned to some core navigational coordinate, and with captains who look to their own short-term gain and a crew that sees no reason to postpone their gratifications in order to maintain the myriad systems of the vessel – or either the ship’s or their own integrity … well, the voyage promises to be unhappy, unfruitful, probably violent, and perhaps rather short.

Which is not to say that once a human or an organization of humans has set out on a good course with a good heart and some serious thought, that the old ‘sinfulness’ won’t rear its head and induce some frakkery. But We are all humans, and that’s how We roll. God keeps rejiggering, because He loves His creation – and that how He rolls.

And the beat goes on.

Now – as is almost de rigeur over here – the question has arisen in some quarters as to whether the Archbishop is saying that abortion is part of God’s plan – or isn’t, take your pick.

Rather long and deeply acquainted with human frakkery, the Church’s vision includes the abiding resolution to try and minimize any development that will degrade the dignity of the individual human being. The human being – not as a member of a ‘class’ or ‘race’ or ‘gender’ or an ‘Identity’ even, but as an individual – is the most marvelous creation in all God’s impressive record of stuff He’s created, and that the worst thing humans can do is lose sight of their own dignity (and the responsibilities that go along with fulfilling, maintaining, and generally exercising it).

And while not much thought has been given to it lately, that the Framers themselves, basking in the warm afterglow of Christian influence, built the Constitutional vision precisely on the dignity of the individual Citizen – though they most carefully and suitably took pains to find ‘philosophical’ rather than overtly ‘theological’ grounds for that dignity.

Well and good – the American vision avoided theocracy (a Caliphate or a Papal city-state, for example, just as it rejected a divine-right monarchy).

But the foundational elements are what they are. And any builder can tell you that on an old, solidly built edifice such as Ours, you don’t just go and figure you can pull out all the foundations at once, right away, with no blueprints and no real plan as to what you expect to have left of the edifice when you get through. You can re-model or re-furbish or re-arrange or even re-decorate, but you don’t re-foundation, and certainly not all at once without the blueprints or any plan beyond what you’d like to see instead.

Nor would any ship captain decide to rip out the ‘old’ keel in the middle of a voyage, with the ship so full of ‘souls’. (And that crew that really isn’t ‘into’ self-discipline and the demands of genuine service aboard).

Nor would anybody or should anybody feel comfortable if at 37,000 feet the captain came on the horn and said cheerily “Uh, folks, we all feel that the ‘old’ airframe just isn’t doing it for us, so we’re – uh – fixin’ to do some changing around to it, so – ummmm – don’t be nervous if you see the flight crew walking by with blowtorches and heavy hand-tools, and if the flight attendants ask you to move or such, why please jus’ go ahead and do what they ask and then, when we sorta think we’ve done what we’d like to, well then we’ll getcha on the ground on time”. Yah. I don’t think so – I don’t think that’s how it works.

So is ‘abortion’ part of God’s Plan or part of Divine History? Well, like everything else, it is – one way or the other.

But that leaves an awful lot of room for serious consideration and deliberation. And an awful lot of need for it.

And I’m not talking about slogans or sound-bite quickies here. Nor for this or that tactical ‘success’ by this or that lobbying effort in the Beltway (where everybody seems pretty much to ‘succeed’ in their tactical plans and the country has gone down some very dark paths indeed, and is now in an increasingly darkening place).

JFK’s “long twilight struggle” is about to take on a whole new meaning for Us. As it should have been seen then.

It was always an unwieldy (though sound-bitey) phrase. Twilight usually means (except for modern pre-teen females) an approaching ending and the onset of night and dark and chill. There’s more than a whiff of Norse fatalism to it, sort of like King Theoden’s ringing exhortation to his mounted troops as they prepared to charge the evil Orcs: “Now ride to death and the world’s endingggggggg!” It didn’t bode well for an America that was trying to be a light unto the nations. Nor was it very optimistic about outcomes. And maybe that the government, if not the country, was going to have to ‘work in the dark’, or ‘walk on the dark side’ – not quite the imagery ‘Camelot’ was intended to invoke.

But I imagine (as I did when I first heard him speak it) that JFK meant to say that the type of effort required of the American People was a long, quiet, behind the scenes and below the surfaces sort of maturing – of themselves and their great Experiment, and that only on the basis of that long struggle (as humans have always had to struggle with themselves deep down) could the nation gird itself for the challenges ahead.

Yes, ‘beating’ the Soviets in the Cold War (though it takes two to make a war and since 1948, at the very least, the Beltway and its elites had kept up their part of the game). But JFK or his advisors must have already seen that the glorious postwar era of simple American economic hegemony was coming to a close, that – as Galadriel says when she opens the entire ‘Lord of the Rings’ movie series – “the world is changing”.

Well … changed it has, the world.

In a time when so many of the usual and familiar landmarks are dissolving into other, strange and unfamiliar shapes, then all the more reason why each American and all Americans must be able to navigate by That which does not change. And Which – the good news! – loves and cares and knows what the frak It’s doing, and even knows how humans are put together and what humans – individually and in their communal life – are supposed to be about.

This is truly where the real action is. And where ‘real’ humans should want to ‘go’.

NOTE

*It can’t be ruled out that the Arch was also making a nicely subtle reference to America as the current Pharaonic Empire – but who’s to say? You’re welcome to run with that if you like; the foreign policy implications alone (if this is how much of the world sees America now) are sobering.

ADDENDUM

I can’t help but think that poetry and hymnology – from all across the spectrum – hold more key to the treasury of the People’s very human affections than any elite and revolutionary and Correct snark and opprobrium.

Just for the hey, I think of these examples:

John Betjeman’s poem, “Christmas”:

“And is it true,This most tremendous tale of all,Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,A Baby in an ox's stall ?The Maker of the stars and seaBecome a Child on earth for me ?….That God was man in PalestineAnd lives today in Bread and Wine.”

Or this, from an old mountain hymn tune:

“There is a fountain filled with blood / drawn from Emmanuel’s veins
And sinners plunged beneath that flood / lose all their guilty stains /
Lose all their guilty stains
Lose all their guilty stains,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains.”

You can imagine with what consoling gusto that refrain was belted out and repeated, by those who knew damned well what a guilty stain was when they felt it within themselves.

Or, lastly, this from an old Methodist hymn:

“Where shall I be when the First Trumpet sounds?
Where shall I be when it sounds, when it sounds?
When it sounds so loud it wakes up the dead,
Where shall I be when it sounds?

Going to join the Lord, when the Last Trumpet sounds,
Going to join the Lord when it sounds when it sounds,
When it sounds so loud it wakes up the dead,
Going to join the Lord when it sounds.”

The elites of all stripes having driven the country into dark dark valleys indeed, I think there’s going to be a lot more popular interest in singing hymns than ever before (at least since the Civil War).

And that’s not at all a bad thing.

We can all hope that if “Nearer, My God, To Thee” makes a comeback, it won’t be under the extremity of circumstance that rendered it famous in 1912.

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