Saloon: Ask legislators to walk by ‘both faith and sight’

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Oklahoma State CapitolNow faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

There’s a time to walk by faith rather than by sight. You hear variations of this tossed about regularly in Christian circles – heck, many even practice it. It’s also an essential survival technique for many teachers, artists, your better police officers, or those who practice family law (instead of the kind that makes real money and doesn’t leave you broken and crying alone in the bathroom once a week).

You know, idealists.

No teacher worth their flipped lesson-plans wiki would willingly sacrifice their own gut instinct just to follow a prescribed curriculum or ignore their untethered belief in a kid’s potential because of some numbers on a chart in their file. Educators quickly learn not to look too closely at statistics concerning poverty, or the likelihood of learning to read after 8th grade, or how their paychecks break down as an hourly rate.

If we were overly concerned with reality, we wouldn’t be teaching for a living. We’d get real jobs, doing practical things like “fastener development manager” or “medical records specialist.”

Come to think of it, I have no idea what people with real jobs even do. I’m sure they’re all very important in their own ways. The point is, that’s not us.

But as powerful as stubborn faith can be, facts and data deserve consideration as well. Reality matters, even if we don’t always agree on exactly what it means, or to what extent we should bow to its will. If you and I are teaching similar groups of kids but getting very different results, that’s worth examining. If you’re seeing great success by multiple measures, and mine just kinda drool and drop out, something’s wrong.

Maybe it’s random. Maybe it’s just bad luck. Or, just maybe there’s something you and I are doing differently from which I could learn … something we could explore using facts and information.

Sure, I could dig in and assert my convictions regarding the power of my methods. The worthiness of my approach. My higher pedagogical morality untethered by mundane results. But that’s not faith – that’s delusion. It’s unprofessional denial. It’s ignoble, it’s ignorant, and it’s harmful to those within my purview.

Our state legislators walk by a different kind of faith. They cling to it just as tenaciously and in defiance of all temporal evidence. Their faith doesn’t insist on glorious possibilities or err on the side of humanity – it digs in on the status quo no matter what the cost. Like Mr. Carlson and the WKRP Turkey Drop, all they can do is mutter again and again that it should have worked. That they were sure turkeys could fly.

While they’ve not yet published a legislative holy book, I believe we can safely infer its tenets by the decisions made in its name and the rhetoric used to rationalize them. What sort of faith keeps our legislature so willingly blinded?

First, Oklahoma’s Legislative Elite believe in the power of tax cuts – especially for those who need them least.

Some of this is driven by temporal considerations – they have fiscal overlords, and those overlords demand obeisance. But that alone doesn’t account for the tenacity with which they cling to this doctrine of revenue reduction.

If we cut taxes on the top, they preach, prosperity will come to all. We must enrich the elite, who will then partake in economic revelry, thus unleashing wealth to trickle down. It may not appear to be working, but that’s where faith comes in – we must not waver! Keep cutting, and abundance will arrive like a thief in the night.

The kind of thief who leaves prosperity behind, I mean. Not the normal kind, who just keeps taking stuff away from those who can least afford it. Like real thieves. Or these tax policies.
Second, Oklahoma’s Legislative Movers and Shakers believe in the power of morality – the kind you mandate from on high, without reference to actual individuals being impacted. The kind you enforce with harsh secular authority – you know, like Jesus wanted.

“If we’ll take care of the morality, God will take care of the economy” – a phrase we’ve heard from more than one state legislator in recent years as they make their case for some madcap proposal. And maybe the state should discuss abortion, the Ten Commandments, or Obama FINALLY coming to take your guns. Maybe.

But our obsession with making sure gays can’t buy cake or visit their partners in the hospital consistently preempts actual efforts to solve fiscal and structural problems of the sort state government is intended to address. Of course, if you believe the latter is God’s job, it frees up substantial time to argue about the official state vegetable and who’s allowed to use which restroom.
Third, Oklahoma Legislators believe in the 19th century. Not all of it, necessarily – just the part before 1861 or so.

Lawmakers proudly proclaim their desire to return to a time when America was “great.” An era in which women couldn’t own property, slaves were property, and the U.S. government was still trying to kill off enough Indians to fulfill our Manifest Destiny.

People didn’t live long enough to need sophisticated health care or retirement planning, so that’s a plus. Many who couldn’t fend for themselves died early and violently – probably due to character flaws and a poor work ethic. I assume that’s how you get cholera.

Most importantly, everyone knew what a real American looked like. How they thought. What they did. You know… American stuff. We didn’t have problems or complications because things were all so clear and unified. Probably.

Finally, our Elected Leaders believe in the American Dream – at least the version from that idealized antebellum era I just mentioned.

In their dream, any straight white male with sufficient health, natural ability, and opportunity can work his way up through a system repeatedly altered to make sure people at the top stay there and no one threatens the status quo. Like Ragged Dick or Orphan Annie, all it takes is pluck and a perpetual series of unlikely plot twists and wealthy benefactors to succeed.

The dichotomy is clear: you choose success or failure. Prosperous or parasitic. Conservative or corrupt. Any suggestion things are more complicated than that, any doubt that every child has the exact same odds and opportunities as themselves, is simply too threatening to their paradigm to be tolerated.

They’re loathe to serve anyone outside their house of mirrors for fear of propping up bad behavior. They become goats in sheep’s rhetoric, genuinely bewildered by the ongoing inconvenience of “the least of these.”

We shouldn’t expect state lawmakers to leave their faith at home during this upcoming legislative session. We could request, however, that temporal realities receive at least some consideration this time around. That they consider the needs of the many and not merely their favorite few. That they serve the state, and not their status.

We could ask them to walk with more sight.

If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead… (James 2:15-17 KJV)

Dallas Koehn teaches 9th Grade history in the Tulsa area and routinely revolutionizes educational bloggery via his Blue Cereal Education website. He eventually reads most communications sent to BCE@BlueCerealEducation.com, although unfettered praise receives top priority.

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