Tag Archives: Politics

What’s your conflict threshold?

In my consensus reading I see that conflict is an important part of consensus. One of the main problems in consensus is the avoidance of conflict. This made me ask, “What is my own conflict threshold?” I’m getting better, but on a scale of one to ten I’d reckon I’m at about a three. If I hear two people arguing about an issue I care about and I feel they’ll want to involve me, I’ll usually try to dodge them. I’m starting to get a better picture as to my own political person. As much as I talk politics, when it comes down to confrontation and conflict—I’m your classic long neck in the sand.

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Consensus is work!

In Jacques Ellul’s spirit of making a statement and then quickly arguing three sides of it that seem contradictory, my last post on Consensus built largely on a popular notion of what consensus is, namely, a majority rule. Brian Grover reminded me that that’s actually what consensus is not. Since yesterday I have been reading On Conflict and Consensus: a handbook on Formal Consensus decisionmaking by C.T. Butler and Amy Rothstein. You could consider it an alternative to parliamentary procedure, namely Robert’s Rules of Order. Does this sound boring? I mean—who likes meetings?

Consensus is a decision making process. Every community and every church have decision making processes, but what Butler and Rothstein’s book address is the fact that many needed people get left out of that process. What quickly becomes apparent however is that in order for people to be included they have to want to be included.  Consensus relies on the assumption that we all have an important voice with matters to be considered. Herein lies the problem with politics in America.

Instead of believing that as citizens we each have a voice capable of thoughtful political discussion, we are a society of people content with uninvolvement. We get angry about the war or angry at people who are angry at the war and we clam up and turn on Fox News or MSNBC (sorry Jon) and fill our brains with rhetoric rather than formulating actual positions. Do you all know what polling places want to see on election day? What they would say is a good day? 50% of registered voters.  And then we have theorists who say, “This demonstrates a healthy democracy. People are satisfied with the economy and our system of checks and balances. That’s why they don’t vote.” Now that is something to be angry about!

Real consensus is hard to achieve because as Americans and as Christians we are not adequately equipped with resources necessary to formulate real dialogue. I know for instance that in church calling a large meeting to discuss the war would have a lower turnout than if we handed out fifty dollar bills and assigned seats in a van to go and collectively get root canals at the dentist! (In fact I think a lot of us want those!) Why? Because as a society we’ve been trained to feel helpless on international issues. Now isn’t it the church’s job to empower people? To let them know that Christ’s Kingdom reality can change the world? Yes, but I would argue that this must happen one person at a time, and you know what? People forget. People revert to old bad patterns of thinking. People are sinners. Yes, consensus is work.

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Federal Prison library lists

I’ve been following the recent story regarding the “Standardized Chapel Library Project” Lists in the New York Times. I believe that those of us in the theoblogging community could weigh in here and really do some good to reverse this decision by the federal Bureau of Prisons to catalog and standardize for all religious federal inmates what they can and cannot read in their libraries. The New York Times acquired and has posted lists for nineteen religious categories. I would encourage you to download and look at these lists as I have, and look at what they consider acceptable.

Here are some items we can discuss and ask that the federal BOP make clear regarding its policies:

1. What “Standard” are they looking for? Please define appropriate and inappropriate material and for what reasons.

2. Who is making these decisions? If there is a panel, who is on it? If there is a voting process what does it entail?

3. How are the religious categories chosen? By demographic? By popularity? Do the inmates have a vote? Are the inmates being queried? The chaplains?

4. It is not only books, but visual and audio materials being standardized. On many of the lists I looked at, its not often clear how a particular movie forinstance, (“Indian in the Cupboard”) relates to the needs of the category (General Spirituality).

5. Who is each religious category addressing? Its not always clear. The categories assume, as with Judaism or Islam forinstance, that the faiths are monolithic in character. All Jews read the same materials the same way. In practice there are huge differences between Orthodox, Conservative, Reformed, and Reconstructionist Jews.

6. The category “Other Religions” demonstrates the care, sympathy, and affection of this whole process. It has two items on Christian Science and the Video and Audio fields are blank. “Messianic” would seem to indicate that the federal prison system is full of Messianic Jews, why else would there be a category just for them? Not only this, these churches have usually not been understand as their own separate religion. They are by-in-large protestant in nature, as I understand it. Many Messianic Jews belong to Christian churches and the materials listed are used by many Baptists, Charismatics, and  Pentecostals.

7. It is interesting that the Catholic and Protestant lists are cross pollinated. NT Wright is found on the Catholic list and Henri Nouwen on the Protestant. Why? Truthought, LLC, not identified at all as a religious group, is on the Protestant list. They are “the Nation’s leading provider of Corrective Thinking™ and Criminal Thinking Seminars and Resources.” But how does that make them Protestant?

8. It seems that prisons are encouraging not only certain reading, but also certain providers. On the Orthodox list for instance, an address and contact info are given from which to order videos. I assume this means the library won’t stock them, but that they can be ordered.  This leads to the question, Why not just order in everything? Why have libraries at all? Why not hand out money to the inmates every month and let them buy what they want for their own personal libraries? This whole standardization process assumes that the previous materials were ill-gotten, snuck in, overlooked. Who has made that arbitrary decision? How do the people who got the materials before feel about it?

Well, here are some talking points. Let’s get it started.

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Filed under Politics, prison, religion and politics, theology