I'm not quite sure how I came to this idea on Christmas day, other than perhaps this commonplace, common-sense observation.
At the top of each parallel stack are individuals with a vocation, a calling to a particular discipline, and the structures support those few for the benefit of the many. This necessitates a certain humility, a recognition that that position - no doubt quite an improbable accident of circumstance - is very much a privilege that one is expected to earn.
- It's the part of faith to give us a better understanding of God.
- It's the part of religion to make it easier to do that, when things like community and knowledge help with that understanding, and putting that understanding into practice. And as a community of faith, it must needs be as inclusive as possible.
- It's the part of politics to give us a better understanding of the principles of governance.
- It's the part of government to make it easier to put those principles into practice, for the good of all, even for the benefit of those who passionately disagree.
I think, parenthetically, that this is the only sense in which the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to President Obama can be taken. So it's rather better than being awarded a Posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor as an inaugural gift, although it's a more difficult expectation to fulfill. I suspect at some point during this term, Obama might wishfully meditate on the relative ease of falling on a grenade for his fellows.
In writing this, I was looking for a hook, an exemplar for how to do things right; the proper combination of situational awareness, humility and due diligence. And somewhat to my surprise, this brings me back to Al Frankin.
Now, I had expected a good deal of Al. But I was expecting a comedian, much as Michael Medved was.
I was familiar with his Air America program, where he'd shown himself adept at doing his homework and using his information superiority to severely embarrass conservative guests who seemed unaccountably unable to process the idea that an alumni of Saturday Night Live might actually understand the substance of their unintentional comedy.
But I was expecting a Rachel Maddow or Kieth Olbermann, perhaps a Randi Rhodes - someone capable of creating headline-grabbing moments with well-crafted, perfectly timed moments of outrage. In that, I suspect my support was not a great deal different from the Right-Wing opposition - I was, indeed, expecting a particularly skillful clown. And that, indeed, would have been more than enough reason to vote for him - or oppose him, for that matter. Clown Societies are powerful things, and the song "Send in the Clowns" sums up every good reason why you would want to support such a candidate.
What I did not expect someone with an apparently instinctive grasp of the great parliamentary maneuver, where symbolism and genuine issues can be crafted to create an impetus toward good legislation while incidentally, crushing one's enemies into anchovy paste against the walls.
A clown would have been good, but statesmen are better. And they are rare enough and precious enough that we should hail them wherever and from whatever direction they appear. Because it goes back to the checklist above - people who realize that despite all appearances, their duties are not about them, much less beneath them.
Now, please undestand what I'm saying. I do like Al, and from as far as I can see so far, I like his politics, because his politics are founded in the people he represents. Or in other words, a conservative working off the same general set of principles as Al Frankin would get my praise.
You won't find him or Al being schmoozed and flattered at the C-Street Church, being told that they are leaders because Gawd wants them to be leaders, who's only job is to be a doorstop in the way of anything that might avert an impending Armageddon followed by a thousand years of Christian Riech.
And that brings me back to my essential point; a correct appreciation of one's vocation. Politicians make lousy spiritual leaders - and spiritual leaders should not even try to be good at politics. They are two different paths, and frankly speaking, those who confuse the two do neither job well - and often so poorly that they end up destroying both Church AND State.
Consider the last decade of history, if you have the stomach for it. We have two great exemplars of confusion - the Bush Administration, which exploited people of faith to achieve political goals, and the current Pope, who has committed many acts of politics (aside from the inside-baseball required to become the least objectionable candidate for the office) in order to further his faith.
I am picking on the Pope because I think the man to be sincerely wrong, as opposed to the crop of "evangelical leaders" in North America whom are best compared to P.T. Barnum and Marjoe Gortner. In other words, they are quite good examples of what they are, achieving exactly what they intend - which is to separate you from as much money and power with as little actual effort as possible.
And furthermore - I will say this, they serve a function. They keep the people capable of being so easily exploited away from things that might otherwise inconvenience smart people. The only problem with them as of late has been their arrogance in thinking that their expertiese in fleecing the willful marks qualifies them for a "higher calling," such as determining the fate of smarter and more ethical people, undeserving of their predations.
They must be chastened, so that they once again are restricted to those who honestly deserve and require their attentions.
The current Pope's faith and the former President's politics are both defined by who is kept away from the table. That places them in tension with the mission itself - to be inspiration and leader to all, to the advantage of all, not merely those that they would prefer. And that is why all such people - who's morality places themselves above the ethical duty of the role they have assumed - must soon be swept away. We just can't afford to tolerate them any more.
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