Coming Clean on Student Absenteeism

Daily Kos reports that allowing poor students access to washing machines at school decreased absenteeism in 90% of cases – as well as improving student enthusiasm and participation.

People facing challenges in life test the effectiveness and fairness of the systems designed by those granted opportunity. When something so basic as personal dignity can be addressed so simply, with such a profound impact, it’s hard to argue that we shouldn’t do what we can to understand their condition.

The Better Half

As a member of the afflicted sub-population, I may admit freely that the Bible is all about men’s problems. As I observe in The Soul Comes First, Jesus obviously had a rich ministry to women, but there are few writings that address their unique concerns. I consider it a terrible loss that Jesus’ teachings to women are not available to us.

Some might doubt the existence of such teachings, but a number of the encounters in the Bible make it clear that Jesus recognized the oppressed status of women, and Luke records an encounter with two sisters [Luke 10:38-42] in which Martha becomes irate because her sister Mary sits and listens, foregoing her obligations as a hostess.

The recorded parables, however, are mostly about men. In the modern era, the context of business and financial probity is more relevant to women, but I would imagine that in their day they would have been hungry for stories that related more directly to their concerns.

How would they have understood the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids? As related in Matthew [25:1-13], ten bridesmaids await the arrival of the bridegroom to be received at the wedding feast. They bring their lamps, but fall asleep until midnight when the bridegroom is announced. The five foolish bridesmaids depart to by more oil for their depleted lamps, while their wiser peers enter the feast with the vials they thought to bring in advance. Upon their return, the foolish women are turned away by the bridegroom with “I do not know you!”

The imagery of the story is not obvious. The lamps could be souls or wisdom, but I believe the story holds together better if we think of them as virtue. The wise maids store their virtue, conserving it for the afterlife. The foolish maids do not. In their contemporary religious practice, the loss of virtue could be recouped by alms and sacrifice at the temple. What Jesus warns, however, is that that practice carries no weight in the kingdom of heaven.

The last leaves me to consider whether this isn’t just another dig at the priesthood, but in comparison with the parable of the landowner, I do see some special meaning for the women of the era. Masculine personalities are active, dynamic and at times brutal. Feminine personalities express their virtues in merging. I don’t think that it’s an accident that we have two groups of women, for it is in community that women find their strength.

More might be extracted from the parable if I better understood the marital traditions of the era. Clearly, the lamps are carried for some purpose other than to light the way to the celebration. Some sense of the special purpose of women in heaven is suggested in John’s vision of the New Jerusalem [Rev. 21 and 22]. The masculine virtues, represented by the twelve tribes, stand guard at the walls, while the feminine virtues manifest as the tree of life with leaves that heal the nations and twelve crops to feed them. I have an intuition that Jesus also is offering an insight in Matthew 25 that would be revealed by study of the marriage rites.

I once characterized Jesus’ stories as the “WTF parables,” meant to draw sharp contrasts between the retribution expected of men and the forbearance of a loving God. In this case, a literal interpretation of the story leads in the other direction. Why are the wise maids so harsh with their sisters, in contradiction to the practice of Jesus himself on the cross? Why are the lamps necessary at all to enter heaven, when the prodigal son brings nothing but his humbled spirit? It is here that we again see this as a story targeted to women: men were used to lording it over people, and as the prodigal sons they needed to learn humility. Women had different priorities – first and foremost the preservation of their virtue in a society so devoted to their diminution and degradation.

Steven Fry’s Challenge

Rocket Kirchner addresses Steven Fry’s critique of God out at Dandelion Salad. Fry interprets the existence of suffering as proof that the Christian God is a fantasy. My response to one skeptic follows:

Here is the conundrum: If the “fantasy God” made a perfect world in which everything unfolded according to his will, then there would be nothing to love, because his will would be all. Since love requires an object to exist, the creation of such a universe would be a form of self-annihilation.

So we are granted the option to not heed the will of God – we are allowed our own free will. Unfortunately, many of us chose to play at being gods ourselves, and it is in imposing our will upon others that sin occurs.

The Christian proposition is that if we learn to submit ourselves in service to one another, we obtain access to enormous amounts of power. I won’t bother you with how that manifests in the New Testament – you’d simply assert that science disproves the possibility of the events that transpired. But to the person of faith, the healing accomplished by Jesus and the Apostles indicate that many ills that we suffer are not of God’s will. In fact, if we surrendered ourselves to the dictates of love as Jesus did, those ills would be unable to obtain purchase upon us.

So Rocket is right: we are misguided to refuse (or worse, misuse) the gift of love and then decry the consequences of its absence. And it is hypocrisy for Fry to say “God, you didn’t intervene to save the children!” when God created Fry and gave him wealth to so intervene. We were made in God’s image, which can be interpreted as “we are his intervention.”

And, given the huge amount of charitable work and giving provided by people of faith, to challenge faith is also counter-productive. The faithful understand that the world is imperfect. We simply choose to keep on giving, in part because we feel our hope sustained by the endless love that arises in our hearts.

Hillary Must Go!

Hillary Clinton, in her association with the do-gooders at the Clinton Global Initiative, accepted money from people that she later met with in an official capacity. This blogger has digested the message that by current media standards, Clinton appears to be ethically challenged. For God’s sake: using your position to twist Saudi arms for money for AIDS relief! And I used to believe that was clever!

As a result, this blogger now believes that Clinton must exit the presidential race. The primary cause for alarm is that Clinton has in the past received campaign donations from Donald Trump, and also attended parties thrown by Trump. That Clinton as president would be in any way influenced by Trump’s priorities is revolting. Given that the standard for ethical conduct advanced by the Associated Press and others is that the potential for a conflict of interest is sufficient to establish misjudgment, it appears that at this point I have no choice but to insist that Hillary withdraw from the campaign in order to avoid any possibility that Trump wield influence over her conduct in office.

Actually, I should bow out of this debate. I have a conflict of disinterest.

Soul Cultivation

The parable of the vineyard [Matt. 20:1-16] begins:

For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.

And ends with the non-sequitur:

So the last will be first, and the first will be last.

I call it a non-sequitur because the bulk of the parable is a caution against the assumption of religious privilege. At the very least, after doing our work for the landowner (Christ and the Father), we don’t want to screw up the relationships by challenging the generosity shown to those that come later. But in that context, the final line seems a little harsh to the Hebrews. Are they really to expect that as the original subscribers to God’s burdens, they are going to be lesser than the Gentiles brought into the fold through Jesus’ ministry?

That doesn’t seem fair.

To make sense of the final line, I recommend treating it as a bookend to the first. Jesus is suggesting the process by which God prepares fallen souls to enter the kingdom of heaven. Early in the “day,” when the spiritual condition of the “field” is most rugged, the strongest workers are brought in to uproot the weeds and remove the stones. They enlarge the perimeter in which cultivation can be done. As the day progresses, less hardy souls are brought in to plant and irrigate. As the crop develops, gentle and sensitive spirits are brought in to prune and guide the growth. Finally, at the very end of the process, the final workers are brought in to gather the harvest – in Jesus’ metaphor, to guide the cultivated souls into heaven.

The first workers are spiritual pioneers. Not only do they clear the land, they prevent corruption of the crop. If they were called in first, the efforts of the later workers would be overwhelmed. Thus they must stay out in the field, performing their roles, until the workers brought in later in the “day” are safe in the kingdom of heaven. Only then can the pioneers enjoy the fruits of their shared labor.

Will there be no honor in heaven accorded to those early workers? In this parable, Jesus is silent on that point. It is in the parable of the talents that the point is made that those that do the work accrue the gratitude of their fellows, and will receive honor in heaven. Here, Jesus is attempting more to give them strength not to carry privilege and pride back with them when they come to heaven. That corruption cannot be allowed through the gates. If they receive honor, it will be because their fellows grant it to them, and privilege and pride are the surest way to lose that boon.

FBI Defective

This continues to make the rounds: David Priess, author of The President’s Book of Secrets, characterized the choice between our major party presidential nominees as between “a man who can’t control his mouth” and “a woman that the FBI Director says was grossly negligent in her handling of classified information.”

The Director, James Comey, referred to Clinton’s use of a personal e-mail server during her tenure as Secretary of State. Comey’s characterization was based upon the observation that it “was possible” that foreign states might have hacked into the server to steal classified material. The specific content were 115 messages that were market as classified, sent by others in violation of State Department directives, out of 30,000 that pertained to State Department business.

There is no evidence that any foreign nation attempted to hack into Clinton’s private server. Why, you might ask, when Vladimir Putin obviously hates Hillary’s guts?

Because the FBI, which is responsible for security clearance assessments on all government employees, had vetted Edward Snowden as a system administrator for the NSA’s top secret information systems. Scandalized by the routine violation of access policies by his colleagues, Snowden gathered as much classified information as he could – much of it from the State Department – and published it through WikiLeaks. This occurred during Clinton’s tenure as Secretary.

Why hack a private server intended for unclassified information when you can browse all our State Department secrets online?

Comey has been the FBI director since the Bush Administration. He was responsible for the Snowden disaster. For him to characterize Clinton as “grossly negligent” for protecting her private life in the face of Comey’s gross incompetence – well, that is the height of hypocrisy.

E-Mails vs. Secret Ledgers

Is anybody but me seeing the connection between the Republican Party nominating a candidate with ties to the Russian dictatorship and the energy invested in trying to smear Clinton for having friends in both the private sector and government?

For heaven’s sake, guys: while you were splashing around in the mud, your party was taken over by a con man!