Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Posthumous Buckley Feud

A few weeks ago I was shocked to hear of Christopher Buckley's endorsement of Barack Obama. How could conservative such as Buckley back Obama, let alone the conservative son of William F Buckley?!?! Pardon my sounding psycho-Freudian in this, but I think it has everything to do with his relationship with his father, as detailed in this article.

Following his father's death the younger Buckley was both grieved and relieved. While had lost his father, he also was freed from the explicit and implicit burden placed upon him by his father. Said simply,"It’s also awful. I miss him every day. But I can now write about things I was not terribly comfortable writing about." Buckley described his relationship with his father as "complicated" and resembled a subtle competition between father and son. The more famous Christopher became, the more negative the elder Buckley became of his son.

Despite this newfound freedom, Buckley still suggests that his father would have endorsed Obama as well, claiming that his father endorsed several liberal Democrats for high office, including Joseph Liberman. I can't help but wonder if Buckley the younger is appealing to his dead father for others' sake, or to reassure himself. Is he truely free from the ghost of his father?

All this goes to show the inherent tension in the father-son relationship. The father wants to be respected and admired by his son. The son desperately wants the approval of his father.

Christianity uniquely knows God as our Father. In doing so it means that, unlike Buckley the elder, God is one unwaveringly approves of his children, no matter how far the apple falls from the tree. Put another way "all the promises of God find their Yes in Christ Jesus (II Cor. 1:20)." We do no need to win God our Father's approval or love. He gives it freely to all his children.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

10, 15, 18, or 20% ?

I recently read a New York Times article about tipping and it made me think a bit about what's behind the whole idea of tipping. I've never given the practice of tipping my waiter a second thought. Whenever the bill comes, I quickly compute the percentage in my head and round up or down to around 20%.

The logic behind tipping is that the customer is able to reward or punish the waiter for good or bad service based upon the size of the tip. This encourages the waiter to be more attentive and friendly to the customer. As the article says:

"Tipping, its defenders say, improves service by rewarding good waiters and punishing bad ones. But that’s not what Porter saw when he looked out on his dining floor. In his brief experience, working for tips encouraged selfishness rather than teamwork. Moreover, good service was not always rewarded with a big tip, nor bad service with a poor one.'"

Instead of promoting god service by the waiters, tipping produced the opposite result! It promoted dissension between the waiters and the kitchen crew and the pressure to perform in fact made the waiters less friendly.

Instead, the writer of the article promotes a flat service fee of 18%, to be evenly distributed amongst the staff. This practice is similar to ones found in Europe. Instead of giving license for waiters to spit in people's food, this seems to promote good service. As one waiter said, “For the first time, I get to concentrate on the job, and I’m looking at the guests without seeing dollar signs or worried about what anyone else is making,”

The other issue the article tries to address is the reasons why most people tip to begin with. While there is no clear cut answer, the article suggests two reasons: guilt and ego. Peopel tip out of guilt because “the need to pay, psychologically, for the guilt involved in the unequal relationship is so strong that very few are able to ignore it.” Those who don't tip our of guilt ususally tip out of ego. The practice of tipping prey upon our need for control and the supconcious enjoyment one has of having such financial power over another person.

All this to say theologically that tipping is another form of the law to the waiter. In the face of the demand for better service, the waiter becomes stressed or disingenuous in their service (think of Jennifer Aniston's character in the movie "Office Space"). Yet when the waiter is given "grace" in the form of a guarenteed pay check, it enables true freedom to fulfill that which the law demands.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Folsom Prison Blues

I have a deep appreciation of Johnny Cash and his music. It's not that I love country, or that signature " boom-chicka-boom" drum beat. But what I love is how his music speaks to the reality of life. Cash doesn't sing about idealistic pleasantries- he sings about the struggles of grief, love, rebellion and death. I believe the song "Folsom Prison Blues," is the characteristic Cash song. It's the title track of his album recorded live from within an actual prison. Here are the lyrics...

I hear the train a comin'
It's rolling round the bend
And I ain't seen the sunshine since I don't know when,
I'm stuck in Folsom prison, and time keeps draggin' on
But that train keeps a rollin' on down to San Antone..
When I was just a baby my mama told me. Son,
Always be a good boy, don't ever play with guns.
But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die
When I hear that whistle blowing, I hang my head and cry..

I bet there's rich folks eating in a fancy dining car
They're probably drinkin' coffee and smoking big cigars.
Well I know I had it coming, I know I can't be free
But those people keep a movin'
And that's what tortures me...

Well if they freed me from this prison,
If that railroad train was mine
I bet I'd move it on a little farther down the line
Far from Folsom prison, that's where I want to stay
And I'd let that lonesome whistle blow my blues away.....

Folsom Prison Blues is a song about a man longing for freedom, for a chance to ride the train away from the troubles of his life. The tragedy of the song is that the man singing isn't free and it tortures him.

This is the plight of being human. We wish we could be free from the despair of life. We wish we could transcend the difficulties and stress of our inability to be who we want to be. Or as St. Paul says "For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing...Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

Monday, October 13, 2008


A while back I read a New York Times article about a prominent blogger who worked for gawker.com. This particular blogger spoke personally about how blogging and posting personal thoughts and biographical details had ruined her life. Since then I've come to enjoy several of my friends' blogs, but I've always been hesitant to blog. There's the danger that I'll blog and no one will respond to my posts. There's the danger that if people to respond, then I'll hang upon every word of what people say. But today as I sit in class I'm come to realize that I need to blog to keep a record of all the articles, books, movies, TV shows etc. Without such a record, I'll forget it alltogether. I only wish I had thought of this sooner.