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Essay

You told us it mattered

By October 7, 2013 8 Comments
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I’ve asked Rev. Meg Jenista to be our guest writer today. Meg is the pastor of the Washington, DC Christian Reformed Church, where 20% of the congregation is directly impacted by the government shutdown.


 

You told us it mattered.

You told us to study environmental science so we could be prepared to take an active role in the creation mandate – to steward the earth.

You told us to study biological sciences because the human body is a complex tribute to the wonders of creation and so that we could find cures to diseases that stunt human health and flourishing.

You told us to study politics so we would be prepared to engage the conversation in the public square with an eye toward honoring the image of God in all people and working together for the common good.

You told us to study language and international cultures so that we could bring snatches of God’s reconciliation to global relationships around the world.

You told us to study the law.  It was good enough for John Calvin, after all.  And now we stand ready to defend law’s due process and take care of the least of these among us.

You told us to study astrophysics and earth science so that we might worship an unfathomable God in our work.

You told us it mattered.

You told us that, because of some guy named Abraham Kuyper, it all mattered.

You told us that “there is not one square inch of the whole of creation of which Jesus Christ, who is LORD over all, has not already proclaimed, ‘you are mine.’”

You told us that our vocation is a partnership – in miniscule fashion, I’ll grant you – in the work of justice, peace, restoration and reconciliation embedded in the “all things new” of Christ’s Kingdom.   

You told us it mattered.

So we joined the foreign service, we work for the State Department, the Departments of Defense and Justice.  Our calling is to serve in the EPA, the USDA, the FDA, the NIH and NASA.  We work on the Hill. We’re doing what you told us to do and you told us you were proud of us.

And then this past week, 80,000 of us lost our jobs.  It won’t be forever, I know.  There’s the hope of back pay for time off, I’ll grant you.  But it isn’t just that.  It’s that when you told us it mattered, we believed you.  And now we sit at home while miles of data about Mars goes unexamined.  Our petri dishes full of experimental medicine grow out of control. Opportunities for global diplomacy are cancelled.  Legal cases are drawn out and innocent people remain in jail.

Meanwhile, members of Congress talk about the shutdown in terms of “winning,” “losing” and “needing to get something out of it”

We can’t get on facebook without someone posting a status the equivalent to an eye-roll.  “Government,” you say with disgust.  “What do we expect?”

A small business owner in Iowa, interviewed by The New York Times said: “If we can get along without all these nonessential services, then maybe we don’t need them.” 

And, really, it’s all about the panda cam at the National Zoo, isn’t it? So what if the National Parks stay shut for a few days?

As the pastor of a Christian Reformed Church in our nation’s capital – wherein 20% of the congregation are government workers, not to mention retirees and contractors – I’m wondering if you really meant it when you told us vocation and calling matter.  Cause, if you really meant it then, where are you now? 

8 Comments

  • Debra Rienstra says:

    Heartbreaking, Meg. I will pray not only for restoration but for encouragement for all the good and faithful people in your congregation. Please let them know that many of us understand that it DOES matter. We value what they do and want them to get back at it!

  • Scott Hoezee says:

    Well done and well said, Meg. The infuriating part of it all–well, ONE infuriating part among many–is that the architects of it all are from such blood-red gerrymandered districts that this all can in no way possibly back up on them with their constituencies back home. That's why to those folks–to riff on your refrain here–none of this really matters to them at all.

  • /s says:

    Who's "you" in this post?

  • Meg says:

    Fair question. I clarified when I posted on my own blog & facebook. So for the benefit of anyone reading here:
    I should probably say that this is directed at a specific demographic of Reformed/Kuyperian academics & those of us blessed enough to have been trained in their churches and institutions of higher learning. (If that doesn't describe you, then "you" probably doesn't mean you.)
    And, of course I think there are plenty of people who may be trying to get their voices heard. But, living in DC, I'm not sure we hear you. And considering "you" sent us here, we'd like to know you've got our backs now.

  • Paul Fessler says:

    I hope that I'm misunderstanding the argument of this posting (and the subsequent comments)

    The whole first half of the posting is — "you told us it mattered" refrain—all the Kuyperian approach, etc. Great–I'm with you!

    Then it jumps–in a non-sequitur to this….

    "So we joined the foreign service, we work for the State Department, the Departments of Defense and Justice. Our calling is to serve in the EPA, the USDA, the FDA, the NIH and NASA. We work on the Hill. We’re doing what you told us to do and you told us you were proud of us….I’m wondering if you really meant it when you told us vocation and calling matter. Cause, if you really meant it then, where are you now?"

    On the basis of the statements following this—the logic behind the leap to one's position on the government shutdown related to the legitimacy of one's articulation of Kuyperian ideals is unclear, at best.

    One can, of course, be frustrated at lack of consensus in our government. Or one can support the checks and balances that can slow down action. Or one can be in favor of more activist government and one can be in favor of a more limited government. These are political distinctions that are both legitimate within the Reformed/Kuyperian perspective. Or one can be concerned about how there are real people impacted by this who are employed by the government–I have friends and colleagues impact by this.

    Does the author mean to say that whole Kuyperian worldview falls into question b/c of one's stance on the government shutdown or the legitimate role of government? Or that one's position on the government shutdown makes one's support of Kuyperian worldview illegitimate (or legitimate)?

    There seems to be a lot of subtext where things are being left unsaid or assumed. More importantly, the writing shows little charity and love towards those that may disagree with the author (surprising since the author is a CRC pastor writing in a public forum).

    In leading to confusion about the intent of the original author, a commenter associated with this blog and Perspectives notes, "Well done and well said, Meg. The infuriating part of it all–well, ONE infuriating part among many–is that the architects of it all are from such blood-red gerrymandered districts that this all can in no way possibly back up on them with their constituencies back home. That's why to those folks–to riff on your refrain here–none of this really matters to them at all." I would hope that is not what the intent of the original author is.

    This above quote from the commenter conveys, unfortunately, a lack of charity, love, and openness to discussion that I'd think should be the goal of this blog and associated periodical. (I'm hesitant to post this, in fact, if the response will be to categorize questioning the original post with rolling eyes, labeling and dismissiveness). An arrogance and dismissive attitude oozes from statements like "blood-red gerrymandered districts" (clearly people, regions, and political attitudes that he finds beyond the pale). This commenter's rhetoric here is problematic— just as the rhetoric of Steve King examined in the cited NY Times article (and King's rhetoric IS problematic, I'll readily concur) …. yet this commenter's statements show a strikingly similar incapacity to see his own biases. I'm sure the commenter is a great guy that I'd like to have a beer with. Yet all I have to go on is what was written. Rather than help open up the discussion for fruitful dialogue, the commenter conveys his opinion as a neutral and "correct" one beyond criticism (or discussion). And the author of the piece hasn't corrected the poster that his interpretation was wrong.

    If this type of rhetoric had been uttered by Steve King on a different issue, would the response would be very different?

    (I know that I, too, can fail miserably at charitable public discourse–so I am not trying to claim to be better–but I have worked hard to not replicate how I argue with friends or colleagues in a face-to-face setting— and use such an approach in the online world which is open to all. Richard Mouw's Uncommon Decency has made a difference in how I tried to engage is all discourse, but esp public (written or online) discourse where I cannot see others and others will read me outside of context.)

  • Meg says:

    Paul, there is probably more here than I can respond to well.

    I don't see a non sequeter (although I admit my writing could always be improved/clearer). The members of my congregation do the work they do for the government (when many could be paid vastly more in the private sector) as a direct result of/valid application of the Kuyperian mandates they were given in church & graduate school.

    So, like you said, "Or one can be concerned about how there are real people impacted by this who are employed by the government–I have friends and colleagues impact by this."
    That is my point, exactly.

    Surely we can be Kuyperian and opt for a politics that favors government programs or reduction of government. My intention was not to be political — and I think you may have attributed a partisan "subtext" where none was directly intended.
    I'm all for having a real conversations about government spending. But let's NOT hold my congregation hostage in the meantime. Real people, living out real vocations and Christian callings who are employed by the government shouldn't be the collateral damage of red, blue, green or purple political posturing.

  • Scott Hoezee says:

    In response to Mr. Fessler: I am sorry for my friend Meg if anything in my comment post diminished or in any way distracted from her original post. And even in this reply I don't want to make this all about me. However . . . you accused me of "arrogance" and a "dismissive attitude." I do not believe I evinced either posture by reporting what is a well-known political fact: gerrymandering has been going on at historic levels in many places in order to create congressional districts that are as homogeneous as possible. As a matter of fact I love the give-and-take and the dialogue of our democratic process and the "discussion" and "fruitful dialogue" you go on to mention. The problem with our political system now is that when we artificially create congressional districts that do NOT represent the variety of opinion present throughout the wider country (or the variety present even within more narrowly proscribed geographic regions), the possibility of being open to–and the need to listen to–other points of view get cut off at the source. There have always been and will always be the so-called "safe districts" for members of Congress but it is getting to the point that many are being manipulated to be SO safe as to be immune to other points of view. That's a loss for our democracy and adds to the rancor of our current paralysis and dysfunction in Washington. If it is arrogant and dismissive to point that out, then I am guilty as charged. I just fear for the well functioning of our system and meant to convey no more than that.

  • Paul Fessler says:

    Thanks, Meg, for clarifying your intent.

    In addition to trying to gain clarification, I was also responding to what I perceived in the tone and spirit of the post and, esp, Mr. Hoezee's comment. I grew up in a very liberal context on the East Coast where all my contacts and experiences reinforced by the same context again and again. Such a perspective made that context normative. I've also now lived and worked in very conservative "blood red gerrymandered districts" where people have a similar blind spot to see beyond their own world. As a result, I've been able to witness first-hand that both sides have good points even while they unconsciously (and sometimes consciously) demeaning those outside their lived context.

    But if the purpose of this piece (and the subsequent comments) is to try to bridge that gap, I thought it might be helpful to point out the dismissive tone of the posts as they'd be heard by the people you're trying to reach. If you are trying to reach out to people who live beyond the Beltway, then I think one would need to demonstrate more intentionally a willingness to see through their eyes a bit more. Of course, the same goes for people on the other end of the spectrum (like Steve King, as I mentioned).

    One can state facts and statistics in a limited and selective manner, for example, that serves polemical ends but not common understanding. How one points out such facts (and we're all biased) makes more of a difference than the facts that we state–esp in public discourse. I think this is the problem with Mr. Hoezee's posting and his follow up post which still has the same problem, my view.

    Again, I pointed this out b/c I read this blog quite a bit and enjoy a lot postings…but sometimes, I think, many of the bloggers here are unknowingly talking and preaching to like-minded people who affirm, rather than challenge, unseen assumptions and perspectives. It would grow more by being more open to those that might disagree–esp in the comments section.

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