Links and the Like for December 8, 2020.
Hello and welcome to the first edition of Polite Company Shorts on Medium. This was on Substack, but like a lot of other newbies, Substack is really a better platform for established writers and I am not that yet. So, I moved to Medium since I already have a following here. I hope this can come out every few weeks, but we shall see if I can squeeze time to write one of these every so often.
I’m an ordained minister and ever since I was a kid, I’ve been interested in politics. This means that the two things that really interest me are the two things you aren’t supposed to talk about in…Polite Company. But that’s what we are doing here. These are contentious issues, but they can be addressed if we handle each other with the utmost care and civility.
So here are some stories you might want to look at:
Articles of Note
The Price of Fame. The thing about being a pastor is that when you wear that collar or have the name Rev. in front of your name, people treat you differently. Even at a time when religion is not treated as differentially as it was in the past, there is still a belief in seeing pastors as different. It comes with the territory. The danger is when the power goes to your head.
So, this story in the New York Times about the former Hillsong Church New York Pastor Carl Lentz was fascinating and sad. Lentz and others on staff seemed to get caught up in the fame and paling around with entertainment and sports stars. This part of the story was amazing:
The church seemed to go out of its way to cultivate a hierarchy of coolness. A reserved seating section for V.I.P.s appeared at the front of the church, and then expanded to take up multiple rows. Ms. Lagata, a former volunteer, said that when high-profile entertainers or sports stars would try to slip into the main seating area, content to worship with ordinary churchgoers, ushers were often instructed to guide them to the special section in front, or to whisk them backstage to meet Mr. Lentz. “The staff built this culture, and made them a big deal,” Ms. Lagata said. “A lot of us felt torn because it doesn’t feel like something Jesus would do.”
Congregants also described a distinct caste system at the church that corresponded to appearance, wealth and fame. “If you’re a pastor, you’re more important than everyone else,” said Josh Canfield, who used to attend the church and sang with the local church’s worship band. “If you’re a celebrity, you’re more important; if you’ve done something to make you famous, or if you’re rich, you’re more important.”
I dunno, maybe I missed that reading in the Bible about Jesus and the velvet rope.
It’s easy to think this is something that is just limited to evangelical churches, but I know of stories of people taking advantage of their power in my own mainline Protestant circles as well.
When you finish reading the Times story, read David French’s take on the scandal.
The End of Department Stores. Growing up in Flint, Michigan in the 1970s, I remember when I would shopping with my Mom. We would go downtown to the local department store, Smith Bridgemans downtown and then maybe over to Montgomery Ward. Other days, we might go to the local mall on the west side of town and to the Sears store to by clothing for me or Dad would buy something for the lawn.
These days, all three stores are gone. That’s become the story across the country as stores like Macy’s, JC Penny and Lord and Taylor are either struggling or no longer in business. An article published last month in Vox, explores the decline in department stores and how that is tied to the stagnation in wages for the middle class. The loss of department stores means the loss of good paying jobs that are being replaced with jobs at stores like Dollar General that pay poorly or jobs at Amazon fulfillment centers which are back-breaking.
With few exceptions, the idea of a department store sales job being a career hasn’t been a reality for decades. In the mid-1900s, they could be steady, family-supporting jobs with fixed schedules. But in the decades following the birth of big-box retailers Walmart, Kmart, and Target — all in 1962 — retail wages began dropping as traditional chains chased the lower-paying labor models of the new discount retailers.
“I would have to guess that by 1980 it was not likely that a single-wage earner could support a family while working on the selling floor of a retail store,” said Cohen, the Columbia professor and former department store executive.
Yes, there are still top salespeople at chains like Nordstrom or Neiman Marcus who might pull in six figures, but they are the few exceptions to the rule.
So where are department store employees going as their employers cut jobs, close stores, or go bankrupt? In the five-year period from 2015 to 2019, more started working in discount chains. The category of the retail industry that includes dollar stores like Dollar General jumped into the top five categories of employment that attracted workers who had recently left or were laid off from a department store job. (This job transition data was based on a Brookings Institution analysis of current population survey public-use microdata provided to Recode by Chad Shearer, a former senior research associate at the think tank who is now an economic development consultant.)
That may not be a great thing, as least as it relates to employee earnings. While Dollar General’s stock price has nearly tripled over the past five years, its front-line employees don’t see much of that enrichment. Average hourly base pay at Dollar General is $9, according to the job review site Glassdoor, compared to $11 at Macy’s.
If you’re someone that’s concerned about the state of the middle class, you will want to read this article.
Links of Note
David Wallace-Wells writes in the New York magazine that we basically had the vaccine to COVID-19 by as early as January. Of course, it takes a bit to test it and all the other things you need to do with a vaccine. The SARS virus of 2003 laid some of the answers since COVID-19 and SARS belongs to the same coronavirus family. It really is amazing how far medical research has come.
If there is a sign of the descent of American evangelical culture, it would be found in the person of Eric Metaxas. He was once an intellectual that hobnobbed with the like of Malcolm Gladwell and N.T. Wright. Now he has become a Trump apologist. Religion News Service tells the sad tale. Michael Gerson also talks about Metaxas and about how his witness might cause people to doubt the faith.
Adam Garfinkle talks about how the Englightenment mindset of the common good, and cooperation is giving way to a pre-Enlightenment viewpoint that is considered zero-sum.
“Why does God need a starship?” That was the question Captain Kirk asked “God” in the 1989 movie Star Trek: The Final Frontier. It wasn’t a great movie, but it was a great line. Andrew Donaldson takes that line to talk about how the faithful believe God needs the ship of state for God’s will to be made known. Does God Need Starship or a Nation? (The answer would be no.)
Finally, as someone of Puerto Rican heritage, I wrote about how the destruction of the Arecibo radio telescope ripped the heart out of Puerto Ricans and the scientific community. Space.com shows that this is not the first telescope to collapse. The Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia collapsed in 1988. In 2003 a new telescope was built at that sight. Will Arecibo be replaced? Maybe, but there is a big difference between the fate of the two telescopes. West Virginia is a state that had two Senators, Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, who championed the project. Puerto Rico is a self-governing territory that has no representation in Congress.
That’s all for now. See you soon.