Military families

One of my former students married another former student who has become an officer in the U.S. Army.  She reports that the military has cut out the customary mid-deployment leave in which servicemen and women could spend some time with their families.  Here is a story about the change as it affects the National Guard.   This has gotten little attention in the media, so she has launched an effort to raise awareness of the issue, along with an online petition in support of military families.  Here is her statement:

 For Father’s Day this year, many deployed dads got the opposite of a present. They were told that the traditional two weeks of mid-deployment R&R that soldiers are given to see their families has been cut. Doing away with mid-deployment R&R is a devastating policy change that has affected practically all Army soldiers.

On the FAQs section of the Army.mil site, this is said about R&R: “The program provides respite from the stresses associated with the combat mission . . . this is seen as an investment in the well being of our forces that will improve mission performance.”

But unfortunately, this vital investment is no longer made. All soldiers and families have suffered from the cutting of the R&R program, but National Guard and Reserves soldiers are especially hard hit. Along with spending an entire nine months outside of the country, Guard and Reserve soldiers also must spend several months before that on full time, seven day a week mobilization orders, normally away from family. Twelve plus months is too long a time to work 24/7 for seven days a week. As the Army.mil site said, soldiers need R&R for morale. Military families also need R&R for family time.

Even with the R&R program, eleven years of back to back deployments have taken their toll. The PTSD rates among soldiers are ever increasing and this PTSD heightens the strain on marriages that are often already stretched to the breaking point by so many deployments. Military children also do their share of suffering when dad, and now increasingly mom as well, is never home.

Making life even harder on military families is a travesty. It is not right to try to balance the budget on the backs of military families. Sign the petition and ask your Senators, Congressmen, and the President to bring back our troops’ much-deserved R&R. http://www.petition2congress.com/8229/bring-back-military-rr/

The fate of moral issues

The Republicans did not make a big deal of  moral or “cultural” issues during the last election.  Little was said about abortion.  Conservatives were well-behaved when it came to gay marriage.  Unlike previous elections, Republicans–including social conservatives who care a great deal about these issues–pretty much left them alone.

But the Democrats, in contrast, did run on moral and cultural issues.  They attacked conservatives for opposing abortion and gay marriage.  They went further, scaring the general public that the Republicans would outlaw birth control and enslave women.

And the Democrats won on these issues.  Their take on moral and social issues was, in fact, very important.  Single women voted overwhelmingly for Obama, largely, according to the exit polls, because of “women’s issues.”  Clumsy and unsophisticated treatment of the “rape exception” for abortion on the part of two pro-life candidates cost arguably cost Republicans the Senate.

So we have reached the point at which conservative moral issues are political losers and liberal moral issues–gay marriage, abortion on demand–are political winners.

So what now for social conservatives?

How Christians can live in a non-Christian culture

Yesterday we discussed a post from my colleague Mark Mitchell:  The Culture of Hospitality | Front Porch Republic.  I’d like to focus on one line that he cites from the Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus written in the 2nd century A.D. (or maybe even earlier).  It describes how the very earliest Christians lived in the Roman Empire:

“they marry, as do all [others]; they beget children but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed.”

Isn’t this the same thing Christians are called to do today against the same cultural pressures?  Get married; back then even the Roman pagans did this, and that might change.  But whatever happens, Christians will still practice marriage and cultivate families.  Beget children and do not destroy them; that is,  don’t get abortions. Don’t have “a common bed”; that is, don’t be sexually promiscuous.  But do have “a common table”; that is, be hospitable to all, inviting even non-believers into your home so as to get to know them and so they can get to know you and your faith.

Keeping these simple distinctives, Christians would eventually win over the Roman empire.  Maybe if we did the same things, Christians might eventually win over the American empire.

Grandmother cops

A reminder that  people can be kept in line (and tyranny enforced) not only by fear but also by niceness.

China’s authoritarianism has many faces, but rarely does it appear in the friendly, grandmotherly guise it has taken over the past week, as thousands of older women have shown up on the streets of the capital, their vigilant eyes eager to ferret out the smallest signs of trouble.

These graying, smiling, energetic women are the most visible sign of the 1.4 million volunteers enlisted to squelch protests, crimes and anything else that could embarrass the ruling Communist Party during its sensitive once-a-decade transition of leadership. . . .

the embodiment of the velvet-glove approach is the collection of older women who turned up last week eager to be sworn in as “Capital Public Security Volunteers.” In all, about 1.4 million security volunteers are at work in Beijing during the party congress, according to state-run media.

“Our duty is to guard our homes and streets and create a deterrent,” explained Zhang Liling, a 68-year-old woman with deep dimples, as she stood with a handful of other women to watch their street corner on the eastern side of Beijing.

After a morning spent with Zhang and others, it is hard not to acknowledge a particular ingenuity to the idea of harnessing the inherent nosiness among some members of this demographic.

Retired with time to spare, the women come to the job with an already highly developed penchant for gossip and zero hesitation about posing prying questions. Throw in free windbreakers and red arm bands that indicate their special status, and you’ve got an instant army of eyes and ears.

“I feel it’s my duty to take on this mission,” said a proud Bao Mianfeng, 62, a former teacher and party member. “No one forced me or any of us into this. It’s something we are happy to do.”

A successful party congress, Bao explained, means “a stronger and more prosperous country.” A stronger country means “one step closer to a well-off society.”

There is something fierce in how she says this, so full of conviction. But it is disorienting, too, hearing her warmth and sweetness in discussing the vital mission of blanket security.

via With a friendly face, China tightens security – The Washington Post.

Working through the five stages of grief

Dana Milbank, while crowing over President Obama’s re-election, says that Republicans are going through the 5 stages of grief:

Denial. “I think this is premature,” Karl Rove protested on Fox News election night, after the cable network, along with other news outlets, correctly projected that President Obama had won Ohio — and therefore the presidency. “We’ve got to be careful about calling things.”

Bargaining. “We’re willing to accept new revenue under the right conditions,” House Speaker John Boehner offered Wednesday, shifting his budget negotiating posture before reconsidering the next day, but “the president must be willing to reduce spending and shore up entitlement programs.”

Depression. “If Mitt Romney cannot win in this economy, then the tipping point has been reached,” Ann Coulter said on Laura Ingraham’s radio show. “It’s over. There is no hope.”

Anger. “We should have a revolution in this country,” tweeted flamboyant mogul Donald Trump, who had served as a prominent surrogate for Romney. “This election is a total sham and a travesty.”

Acceptance. Uh, well, there hasn’t been much of that yet.

via Dana Milbank: Republicans working through their grief – The Washington Post.

Well, let’s work on that last one. First of all, remember that the Democrats were going through the very same depression with the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004.  They too were worrying if their party would survive, if they could ever win the hearts of an American majority again, if they needed to give up their liberalism and become more like Republicans.  That was for the president just before this one.  And now the Democrats have re-elected their guy and are as triumphalistic as 2004 Republicans.  And now look at those woe-begone Democrats and those crowing Republicans.  The pendulum swings, the wheel turns, and fortunes keep changing.

Furthermore, those of us who believe in limited government should also believe in the limited importance of government. True, this election will mean that government will get stronger and, perhaps more concerning, that the general public wants it to get stronger. But our country is too big and complicated to control or even to figure out.  Attempts to control and to figure out everything and everyone invariably fail, making for new political opportunities.

Yes, conservatives will have lots to resist.  Republicans will need to regroup and address their failures.

But this election surely doesn’t mean the end of America, as I have been hearing.  The government as presently constituted does not prevent us from going to church, enjoying time with our families, having a good meal, reading an interesting book, or exercising other facets of our humanity.  We are far, far from state totalitarianism, and if you don’t think so read up on life in the former Soviet Union or present-day North Korea.

Christians in particular should cultivate some perspective from a much-much bigger picture.  However you voted–and I  recognize that some Christians are overjoyed with this outcome that others are mourning–I invite your meditation on Psalm 146, the whole thing, an exploration of whom we must trust including for things we think are political:

Put not your trust in princes,
    in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;
    on that very day his plans perish.

 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord his God,
 who made heaven and earth,
    the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
    who executes justice for the oppressed,
    who gives food to the hungry. . . .

The Lord will reign forever,
    your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the Lord!  (Psalm 146:3-7)

Changing the culture by hospitality

My colleague Mark Mitchell argues that we should change our model of cultural engagement from that of warfare to that of hospitality:

In two recent pieces, I argued that 1) the language of “culture war” is not helpful and should be discarded, and 2) that to the extent that liberalism is rooted in a denial of limits, it is anti-culture, for culture is, at the very least, a set of established norms that include prohibitions as well as prescriptions. In short, to weaponize culture is to destroy culture, and to attempt to forge a culture that denies limits is incoherent conceptually and disastrous socially.

So where does that leave us? I want to suggest that we need rethink the meaning of cultural engagement. “Engaging” culture in the idiom of warfare has not produced much in the way of results. Yet at the same time, those who want to preserve historic norms regarding marriage, sexuality, and even life and death are understandably reticent to simply abandon the field to those who seek to undermine or destroy those norms.

To rethink the possibilities, we might find help in a most unlikely place: a late second century letter from an otherwise unknown author named Mathetes to an equally obscure recipient named Diognetus. The letter is an apologetic of sorts, a kind of primer on what set the new Christian sect apart from the pagan religions of the time as well as from Judaism. In a section dedicated to describing the manners of the Christians, Mathetes remarks that “they marry, as do all [others]; they beget children but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed.” If we unpack these lines, I think we can find a plausible alternative to the culture war, an alternative that Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other men and women of good will can employ as a means of engaging the culture creatively and winsomely.

The phrase I want to focus on is this: they have a common table, but not a common bed.” Of course, the author is describing the lifestyle of the early Christian community, who were known for sharing meals with each other. They were also known for the limits they recognized: they were exclusive sexually even as they were promiscuous in their hospitality.

The emphasis here is the practice of hospitality (with obvious limits), and I want to suggest that hospitality is a radical alternative to both the language and practice of culture wars. [Read more…]


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