Justice, compassion and the common good

“Poverty is a matter of cash, not character.”

There’s a delineation in my mind about how one should do Christianity – and I think the faith is action, not just being – versus how certain elements of the faith have manifest themselves.

The theological divide is clear in these two titles: Advancing faith as a powerful force for justice, compassion and the common good versus Has Evangelical Christianity Become Sociopathic?

It causes one to wonder Is Your God Dead? “Building walls, banning refugees and ignoring the poor are the social expressions of bankrupt theologies…” ‘Any god who is mine but not yours, any god concerned with me but not with you, is an idol,’ Heschel writes.”

On a secular basis, I believe those same values of “justice, compassion and the common good” should be pursued by the state. I’ve become really fascinated that Finnish citizens were given universal basic income, without any reporting on how it would be spent. Not surprisingly, the recipients reported lower stress levels. Perhaps not intuitively, it provided them greater incentive to work.

In this TEDx talk, historian Rutger Bregman long believed, as many people do, that poverty was the result of a lack of character. But now he’s come to believe “Poverty is a matter of cash, not character.” In fact, he recommends that those folks doling out checks to the poor could be eliminated, with the money going to those in need.

To that end, I oppose drug testing or screening for public assistance applicants or recipients. “Such laws demonize the poor, violate constitutional rights, and are a waste of government money.” Fiscal conservatives should be drawn to that third point, the clear cost-ineffectiveness of these actions.

However, “maybe there is a difference between ‘handouts’ and subsidies designed to induce specific behavior. OK, I’ll bite, but that means that all of Wall Street — and shareholders too — should have been subjected to drug testing after receiving bailouts in 2008 and 2009.”

Pizza and compassion, to go

On this Thanksgiving day, I’m thankful.

pepperoniandveggieIt was a Monday in late September when I was coming from a meeting, and heading to church. This guy named “Tim” was looking for something to eat.

Being very close to a pizza shop on Lark Street in Albany, I asked him to come in and order a slice or two. While we were waiting, Tim told me what a screw-up he had been.

He’s fallen off the sobriety wagon, again, and he’s embarrassed that his brother will be coming to town to go to some rock concert. Tim knows his brother will be disappointed.

I had no words of wisdom. I told him that I thought he was being terribly hard on himself, that he should keep on trying.

As I packed up my pizza slice to go – I WAS already running late by then – Tim gave me a big hug. And I’ll tell you the truth: I wasn’t fond of Tim hugging me with his boozy breath and slightly malodorous self.

But what I remembered from a very different story informed me: Tim needed to hug ME, Tim needed to thank ME.

So, on this Thanksgiving day, I’m thankful. Thankful that I don’t have Tim’s addiction. Thankful that I had the means to buy him dinner. Thankful that I can try to see the situation from Tim’s point of view.

It’s hard for us to be inclusive, to embrace those who are different. We may be OK with gay people or black people, but waiting the extra time it takes for a person in a wheelchair to board the bus may make us cranky. I suspect there are areas we all have that push against our blinders.

May we all be thankful, and ask for greater awareness and compassion for those around us, especially those we might find different or “lesser.”

Also: John Green: On Not Seeing Hamilton

Eight Poets to Discuss Over the Thanksgiving Table

The Muppets auditioning for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Imagination of compassion, or something like that

I’m told that group referred to as ISIS, or ISIL, HATE to be referred to as “DEASH”.

The night after the shootings and bombing in Paris that killed over 125 people on Friday the 13th of November, the Albany Public Library Foundation held its second annual Literary Legends gala to honor two writers. One, Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked, who was born in Albany, ended his brief remark with a quote, which I failed to write down. I thought it contained the phrase “the imagination of compassion.”

this is what people say

Instead of finding what’s wrong with someone’s response to a situation, try to imagine the scenario with some compassion. The idea of imagination compassion is far more uplifting and far less destructive. “You remake the world when you imagine it compassionate.”

So while I didn’t change my status on Facebook to the French tricolor – in part because it feels, to me, that it gives the bombings in Beirut the day before the short shrift. And indeed, there are tragedies every day around the world that warrant our response, so one could argue Eurocentrism. Yet I’m opposed to criticizing those who did post the blue, white, and red because they are expressing their own compassion.

I note Arthur’s lovely tale, which I suppose would be characterized as an imagination of compassion, though I can see it taking place in Lebanon as well as France.

Hey, I understand the bias towards Paris. France is the US’s oldest ally. More to the point, there were three households I knew personally that night in Paris. One was a woman from Albany passing through. Dartmouth professor and writer Jeff Sharlet, who I knew when he was a child, was interviewed by MSNBC that night.

That Literary Gala’s other awardee was Barbara Smith, who has written a bunch of black feminist literature. I asked her if she knew my mother’s first cousin Fran, a noted writer in those circles, and she had indeed met her. Fran’s two daughters were born in Paris, and daughter Anne and her family are living there currently.
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And then I get the real quote from Maguire: “The consolation of imaginary things is not imaginary consolation.” – Roger Scruton. Memory can be so faulty.

“Compassion: a source of comfort to somebody who is upset or disappointed.” So the above still holds.

Still, I’m told that group referred to as ISIS, or ISIL, HATE to be referred to as “DEASH”. Daesh (or Da’esh pronounced dɑʃ). It’s a term used to describe the terrorist organization, introduced by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. (Is this why they’ve been so focused on France?)

Fabius argued that since the IS is not Islamic and absolutely not recognized as a state, he said “…the Arabs call it Daesh…” (from Arabic “to tread upon”, “to trample or crush underfoot”). I’ve decided to refer to them only as Daesh going forward. My compassion can go only so far.

My pal Amy Biancolli, who has dealt with suicides in her life, is uncomfortable with the term suicide bomber. A reader suggested kamikaze, and I’m thinking that it’s more correct, perhaps with a qualifier of some sort.

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