Wallis, Calvin, Bush and this coming Saturday

A few days ago Eric asked me in a comment what I’d made of Jim Wallis‘ recent talk at Calvin, and how it had affected my thinking about the upcoming Bush commencement speech.

Jim actually led two sessions at Calvin. The first was particularly focussed on the commencement speech, but we didn’t manage to get to that, favouring his main talk which was more in line with the rest of his book tour. As a result I didn’t get to hear any of his thinking directly about the commencement situation, but it was certainly on my mind.

From the latter appearance, it was clear that Jim was well into a lengthy tour. He had polished his talk and knew exactly when to pause for effect, how to word his soundbytes for maximum response, and how to target his content. Most of the stories had already been doing the round of blogs and sojourners mailings, and it was a little amusing to witness his transformation into Media Personality. As someone whose faith and politics are intrinsically linked (but not aligned with any party) it was also a useful reminder to remember the reality of the convictions of those on the other sides of political gulfs from me.

But I’m not sure that the talk really affected my thinking about the commencement very much. As someone who is neither staff, student, nor faculty at Calvin (the closest I come is some freelance work) I’ve had to think carefully about my involvement in anything that happens on the day, and have decided to limit my involvement to a little chronicling, commentary and conversation.

I’ve been glad to see the way that many of the debates I’ve been privy to have been conducted, and it certainly seems that those who are wanting to protest this event have been considerably more sensitive to the need to focus on the graduands than those who orchestrated the event. Press coverage such as this in the Chronicle of Higher Education (temporary URL not requiring subscription) has been encouraging and the whole thing retains a sense of dignity which is encouraging.

What has been clear, both from Jim’s talk, and the discussion around the commencement address, is how deeply insidious the co-option of political debate by the right has been in the US. The refrain that “poverty is a moral issue too” is becoming more and more familiar, but it remains hard to make such a statement in a non-partisan manner. It has been encouraging to hear from a few people who voted for Bush but don’t believe that the symbolism of his speech at Calvin is a good thing, but such nuanced points remain deeply difficult to make.

I’m trying to look at occasions such as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s hearings on John Bolton, and talk of a cross-partisan compromise to prevent “the so-called nuclear option” as signs of hope, but it’s hard to imagine how exactly we’re going to disentangle the present linguistic mess.

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  1. More on Bush at Calvin College

    Here’s a quick rundown of what some people have been saying lately about Bush’s upcoming commencement address at Calvin College.