Saturday, October 3, 2009

penny spar'd

A penny spar’d is twice got.

-- George Herbert, Outlandish Proverbs (1640)

Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

-- Luke 12:34 (KJV)


If you’re steward of a church, you’re expected to act prudently – that is, conservatively. You’re supposed to make sure the church will be there in the future, doing its good work. You’re supposed to repair the roof, maintain the furnaces, the plumbing and electrics. You might have to build new systems and new rooms, as the needs of your people change. Above all, you’re supposed to find the money; you must arrange to pay not only for present operations but for future dreams. You ask your fellow congregants to rise to their responsibility, and you rise to it yourself. You’re not supposed to say, “Guess what – it’s free!” You’re not supposed to say, “Read my lips – no new pledges.” That would be, to say the least, the opposite of conservatism.

Half my life ago, we elected a leader who said it was “Morning in America.” Now we know what he meant. He meant that we should always take the shortcut. Everywhere you look these days, you see some public monument named for him by a grateful people. Why take care for the future? he said. We can have whatever we want, right now, and never pay for it. We can have guns and butter, wars and tax cuts. As for the poor, damn them, they’re all driving Cadillacs, they should have worked harder (Isn’t that what Jesus said, I can’t think of the verse right now, but it’s in the Bible somewhere, right?) This leader threw a party with four trillion dollars of funny money. People said it made them feel good. Well, if I had four trillion dollars to throw around, I could make you feel good too. But I don’t have it. Nor in truth did he.

This leader’s moral teaching rules us to this day. We invade other countries without putting the cost on the budget. We idolize millionaire singers who don’t pronounce their words, or hit their notes, or tune their guitars. We let our roads and bridges go to rot. We give degrees in English to people who can’t read Shakespeare, Milton or Chaucer. We award vast bonuses for the “talent” of people who lie about money and then leave town before the lies come home. We gut our public schools and universities. We let our people go without medical care, each of us hoping it won’t happen to us. We let our nation grow dependent on Islamic oil barons and Chinese bankers. We steal every year the surplus of Social Security and spend it on current accounts. When for a couple of years we saved some money against future national obligations, people who called themselves conservative declared it a sin and gave the money away to rich people.

The people who call themselves “conservative” today are imposters. No real conservative would teach the people that they needn’t pay their bills. Such corrupters of youth should be shouted down when they claim that once honorable title. What did they conserve? They consumed both what was theirs and what was ours; and our newly elected leader, facing a bankrupt present and a looted future, must make terrible choices, for which the addicts of that purloined Morning in America will revile him. They ate all the food-stores and drank all the rum while the ship sprang leaks. Now they fear the ship is sinking, and now they claim the lifeboats as their personal property. Those with a different idea are, they say, socialists.

I am a conservative. (Since no one else is doing the job, I guess I have to do it.) I still think you have to work and save and take care against the future. If you want to own something, you must pay the price of it. If you want to have a job, you must offer the value of your wages. If you want to be rich, you must do things that create wealth. If you want a learned degree, you must study long and hard, and demonstrate intelligence. If you want to be an artist, you must practice your art until you’re good at it. If you want to be heard when you speak, you must read and write, study elocution and logic, and you must know what you’re speaking about. If you want to live in a decent country, you must pay the bill for it. If you want a mortgage, you must have an income that supports it. If you want to make money in the mortgage business, you must stick around and suffer if the deal goes bad. If you want the rewards of virtue, you must be good. If you want to be loved, you must love; if you want to be loved by your children, you must prepare a future for them, and a world to live it in. Shortcuts are roads to hell.

And in this arena of choices and consequences, the founders and Yeshua say, each of us has an inalienable right to play. America doesn’t guarantee you happiness, but it guarantees that you can pursue your happiness – and that is an expensive obligation. A child who cannot go to a decent school, cannot see a doctor, cannot be secure from violence, or cannot eat, is a child who cannot pursue happiness. There are no shortcuts to justice: opportunity has an infrastructure, which must be built, and maintained and paid for. Yeshua taught us that the troubles of the day are sufficient, but he didn’t mean that we can found our present happiness on the ruin of our children – or the ruin of other people’s children. They are our treasure; their future is their essence and therefore in our present, where our hearts should be as well.

To say this is to say only what I once thought everybody knew. But the Lords of Shortcut, prophets of the Great Free Lunch, have had a long loud night, and now it’s Morning in America. A hung-over morning, with broken vodka bottles on the floor, and that banging is not in your head – it’s the bill-collector. A penny spared against this moment would have been twice gotten.

The words “Damn the Poor, They Should Have Worked Harder” appear nowhere in the Bible. The opposite commandment appears hundreds of times. Congratulations to the poor, for the Divine Domain is theirs. No man, said Donne, is an island. Not one of us is self-made. Not one of us is self-sufficient. No one takes their idols with them when they die.

How has it come to this? That I – this liberal here – must wave both flags? Well, if others would just do their job, I could go about my vocation unencumbered; but it seems I have to do other people’s work for them. To those who may think I’m doing a bad job of it I say, “Pour your moonshine down the commode, smell the coffee, sit down in this chair and get to work.” Then I’ll go back to my chair, and we’ll go about our honorable business together. I’ll take my people to the woodshed when they deserve it, if you’ll do the same to yours. My prudent, true conservative friend, I miss you. Where have you been so long? Let us be prudent together. Capisci?

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