Things looking up for Bethlehem? 12-22-16
Being Christ bearers for Christmas: 12-24/25-16

When our culture, economy lack grace: 12-23-16

The United States has just been through a terrifically vile and trying election season. Before we move on, we would do well to think about (for the purpose of changing and fixing) what this Atlantic piece calls "The Spiritual Crisis of the Modern Economy."

MeritocracyWhatever else we need as we seek to adjust to a politics and an economics that increasingly seems divisive and unwelcoming to many of our fellow citizens, what we cannot do without is grace.

As Victor Tan Chen, author of the article, writes, "While it has its roots in Christianity, grace is prized by many other religions — from Buddhism’s call to accept suffering with equanimity, to the Tao Te Ching’s admonishment to treat the good and bad alike with kindness, to the Upanishads’ focus on the eternal and infinite nature of reality."

Chen, who teaches sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University, notes that although everyone needs grace, "the people who could learn from grace are the prosperous and college-educated, who often find it hard to empathize with those — both white and nonwhite — who live outside their sunny, well-ordered worlds. When people are not so intent on blaming others for their sins — cultural and economic — they can deal more kindly with one another. Grace is a forgiving god."

You heard this blame game going on from both sides in the Trump-Clinton race. It was Clinton referring to some Trump supporters as a "basket of deplorables." It was Trump describing Mexican immigrants as rapists and Muslims as unwilling to tell law enforcement authorities about terrorists in their midst.

The problem, Chen writes, is that our economy is a meritocracy that moves us toward a failure of compassion, an unwillingness to recognize the common humanity in others who may be poorer or less well-educated than we are and/or to grasp the causes of their poverty and ignorance, many of which are beyond the control of those suffering:

"The modern economy privileges the well-educated and highly skilled, while giving them an excuse to denigrate the people at the bottom (both white and nonwhite) as lazy, untalented, uneducated, and unsophisticated. In a society focused on meritocratic, materialistic success, many well-off Americans from across the political spectrum scorn the white working class in particular for holding onto religious superstitions and politically incorrect views, and pity them for working lousy jobs at dollar stores and fast-food restaurants that the better-off rarely set foot in. And when other sources of meaning are hard to come by, those who struggle in the modern economy can lose their sense of self-worth."

What Chen is doing here is what I suggested in this recent post that we all should do, and that is to think theologically -- even though Chen calls himself an agnostic.

The lessons of grace, of forgiveness, of concern for the poor and needy often seem to be lost in the meritocracy that is our economy and our culture generally. When that happens, we lose sight of the reality that each of us is a precious life, each a child of God, to put it in theological terms. And when we lose that we pretty much lose everything.

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Pope Francis, it's reported, went to a shop in Rome the other day to buy a pair of orthopedic shoes. Everyone seemed astonished that he would perform so mundane a task. But it didn't surprise me. After all, who better is in a position to deal with soles?


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