Dec. 6, 2013
“Now, the premise that we’re all created equal is the opening line in the American story. And while we don’t promise equal outcomes, we have strived to deliver equal opportunity — the idea that success doesn’t depend on being born into wealth or privilege, it depends on effort and merit. And with every chapter we’ve added to that story, we’ve worked hard to put those words into practice.”
The subject of income and economic inequality has gained some notice recently —not that it’s exactly a new problem —who was it that said ‘the poor will always be with us’?— but both the Pope and the President have proffered thoughts on the subject in these last couple of weeks —the President with his bully pulpit, the Pontiff quite literally pontificating. We even had the one quoting the other in a recent speech.
“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”
We’ve had that argument about outcome versus opportunity going on for a long time. The distinction or failure to distinguish between the two has been the stumbling block, the seeming insurmountable obstacle, to many many’s the conversation that might otherwise have been constructive.
What strikes me as I consider what I’ve heard from both the Pontiff and the President, as I consider the problem I am asked to, is that something other than outcome or opportunity is at stake, because there is something more meaningful than a game going on. There is more than process or result at issue. It’s sure as hell more than politics. There is something we are being asked as Americans and as human beings about who we are.
When certain of the Cultural Conservatives in this country talk about this being a Christian nation it is supposed to be my obligation —as a Progressive or a Liberal —or whatever the appropriate label, to object and react with horror and condemnation and/or detailed historic argument about enlightenment era deists et cetera, et cetera. I could certainly go there, but I won’t this morning. What with it being Advent and all, maybe it’s alright to consider the term’Christian’ as it applies —perhaps as an adjective describing some quality or aspect, rather than a categorization —to consider the mythos and meaning implied with such a descriptor: The Son of Man, The King of Kings, born in such famously humble circumstance: a manger —were it today maybe it would be under a highway overpass or the shelter of a garage attached to some hotel with ‘no vacancy’ burning neon bright in a darkened window. What should that tell us about our regard for the poor? for each other —each and every one of us? —the pluribus of our unum?
I wonder if we could reconvene our conversation with that notion of the ultimate human dignity centering things, if we were to accept that larger meaning in the founding premise of our national narrative —we might come back around to considering economic opportunities, even outcomes, but we might find something more meaningful than the whole of life considered a game or a contest with winners and losers. We might come round to a very basic respect for one another at least, where we are asked for reverence, for love.