Daily Archives: January 20, 2009
That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.
These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land – a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America – they will be met.
They don’t know what they’re doing, do they? With every step taken by the Government as it tries frantically to prop up the British banking system, this central truth becomes ever more obvious.
Yesterday marked a new low for all involved, even by the standards of this crisis. Britons woke to news of the enormity of the fresh horrors in store. Despite all the sophistry and outdated boom-era terminology from experts, I think a far greater number of people than is imagined grasp at root what is happening here.
The country stands on the precipice. We are at risk of utter humiliation, of London becoming a Reykjavik on Thames and Britain going under. Thanks to the arrogance, hubristic strutting and serial incompetence of the Government and a group of bankers, the possibility of national bankruptcy is not unrealistic.
I mention this because as we prepare for the upcoming 218th Convention of the Diocese of South Carolina the stormy seas have not abated in the almost six years since General Convention 2003. If anything, the swath from the northeaster has broadened and intensified, engulfing more and more provinces of the Anglican Communion. While nothing is certain at this point, it seems clear to me that there is no immediate solution to our present crisis. In the midst of a storm, most of us can only react to changing circumstances as they develop. My commitment is to keep in line with the Scriptures, the historic faith of the Church, and the larger Anglican Communion. So long as we can remain Episcopalian and keep with these three instruments of trustworthy navigation, there is no reason at this point to man the lifeboats. Though many would like to see this crisis ended, or hear prophetic predictions of calmer seas, such are not likely to be forthcoming. The next foreseeable sounding of significance is the Primates’ Meeting in February 2009 and the Anglican Consultative Council in May. At both meetings, issues regarding the Anglican Covenant and, I suspect, the proposed new province in North America will be in the forefront. Then comes TEC’s General Convention in July. It’s questionable that any of these will be ports of decisive destiny; still, vigilance is a virtue.
While there are many dimensions of our present situation we cannot control, (what else is new?), that does not free us from discerning God’s vision for the Diocese of South Carolina as we near the end of this first decade of the 21st Century and prepare to enter the next. Rather, it makes it even more imperative. This raises for me the question””“What is a diocese supposed to do?” Theologians often reflect on what a diocese is””such as those who say, the Diocese is the basic or fundamental unit of the Church. But that is a statement of being, not of doing. I have spent more than a little time lately reflecting on this question. And from there, the more specific question””“What is the Diocese of South Carolina supposed to do?” Or put another way, “What is God calling the Diocese of South Carolina to do?” This is demanding but essential work if we are to maintain both a macro and micro-perspective in God’s kingdom. In fact, it is all the more essential if we are to be proactive about our future rather than merely reactive to the tossing of every gusty wind and swelling wave. Therefore, I will seek to articulate what I believe this is at our upcoming convention.
It was Obama’s religious outreach director, Joshua Dubois, who first mentioned Warren as a choice for the inaugural invocation. Warren and Obama spoke and prayed together about it. When Warren had invited Obama to speak at a California conference two years ago for World AIDS Day, he was harshly criticized by evangelical Christians because of Obama’s position on abortion rights. During last year’s campaign, when Warren conducted his compassion forum at Saddleback, he was criticized by the right for giving Obama that platform. Although both have taken heat from their constituencies for this decision, Obama felt closer to him than to any other minister. After the firestorm erupted, Obama reportedly called Warren and told him that he loved him and that Warren had his full support. David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Obama, also gave the choice his blessing.
And Obama’s move is already yielding results: Warren has taken down the anti-gay material from his Web site and has essentially come out in favor of civil unions. Obama has pledged to rescind the unpopular “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule imposed on gays in the military. Bishop Robinson, who told me that Warren’s view of “people like me and my relationships is pretty horrific,” nonetheless was invited to give the invocation at Sunday’s concert at the Lincoln Memorial and has asked to meet with Warren. He acknowledged that Obama had included “all voices” in the inauguration and added, “No one had a bigger tent than Jesus.”
In the end, it seems that Obama’s choice was brilliant — good for gays, good for the country and good for him. Who knows? Perhaps in a few years, Pastor Rick Warren will have another epiphany . . . and may eventually be officiating at same-sex wedding ceremonies.
Even for those who voted against him, that outcome presents indisputable evidence of how thoroughly the American people have rejected bigotry since Dr. King issued that defining challenge a mere 24 days after the second birthday of our first black president.
Additional public judgments of Mr. Obama will be made after he moves beyond today’s pomp, circumstance and jubilation and into the nitty gritty of pressing issues, both domestic and foreign.
But as a nation, we’re clearly much less inclined than we once were to judge each other by the color of our skin. And despite the momentous significance of his election, Mr. Obama should not simply be viewed as a black president ”” or as a Democratic president. He should be viewed as all Americans’ president.
And while all Americans should wish him success in the daunting job he begins today, we also can share in the joy of knowing how remarkably far we’ve come in his lifetime.
The global challenges are just as daunting, beginning with U.S. forces deployed in two wars and extending to fighting in Gaza; nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea; tension between India and Pakistan; suffering in Darfur, Burma, Congo and Zimbabwe. If anything, the war in Iraq, the issue that helped propel Mr. Obama to his nomination, is among the easier items on his international to-do list.
But Mr. Obama sets out with some powerful advantages, and not only of temperament and ability. He has assembled, already, a team rich in experience and pragmatic competence. He is graced with a country that is eager, almost desperate, for him to succeed. In part thanks to the somber and unflappable tone he has sounded since the election, Americans are both hugely optimistic about the Obama presidency, polls show, and realistic about the time he will need to produce results. His popularity abroad creates new opportunities for U.S. leadership.
More than a few grains of salt are called for here. Mr. Obama is a man of great promise but relatively little experience. The hopefulness of recent inauguration days soon gave way to cynicism and disappointment. Each new administration promises to reject the slash-and-burn politics of the previous crowd, only to get caught up in more of the same, or worse. Too often, the way presidents pledged to govern as candidates bears little resemblance to the way they operate once in office. And history plays its own tricks: The challenges a president ends up wrestling with are rarely foreseen on Inauguration Day.
Yet, like most Americans, we can’t help feeling something particularly special about this Inauguration Day. Like most Americans, we will be rooting for Mr. Obama to succeed.
As the city of Springfield addresses a $200 million shortfall in the Police and Fire Pension Fund, officials might look to similar situations across the country for inspiration.
From Pennsylvania to California and at points in between, municipalities facing shortages in their own pension plans have found various solutions.
In Joplin and St. Louis, city leaders have handled their own fund shortages through benefit changes and new sales taxes, respectively. The financial situation in Vallejo, Calif., meanwhile, led that city to file for bankruptcy last year; the city’s pension was listed as the largest creditor on its bankruptcy filing, accounting for $219 million in liabilities.
Obama’s challenge will be to translate the social repair that has occurred over the past decade into political and governing repair. Part of that will be done with his inaugural address today. Look for him to emphasize the themes of responsibility, cohesion and unity. Look for him to reject the culture, which lingered in the financial world, of anything goes.
Part of that will be done with his governing style. Obama aims to realize the end-of-ideology politics that Daniel Bell and others glimpsed in the early 1960s. He sees himself as a pragmatist, an empiricist. Politics is not personal with him. He does not turn political disagreements into a status contest between one kind of person and another. He is convinced that most Americans practice their politics between the 40-yard lines.
Part will be accomplished with his aggressive outreach efforts. Already he has cooperated with Republicans. He has rejected the counsel of the old liberal warriors who want retribution and insularity.
But the real test will come in the realm of policy. The next few months will be occupied with the stimulus package. And anybody who is not terrified by the prospect of spending $800 billion hastily has not spent enough time studying the difference between economic textbooks and the way government actually operates.
She deserves so much credit, especially for the encouragement she gave him day by day in Hawaii to work hard in school and get an education–KSH