Enough With Polite Pleasantries!

Most of us squirm when politics or religion come up in conversation. We are taught from a young age to be “polite”. We learn to stay with amicable and amenable pleasantries lest we be deemed rude or, worse, even crude. Any hint of conflicting opinion or suggestion of contentious topics is a sure way to get your name nixed from future invitation lists.

Such etiquette is all the more intensified by the average American’s simplistic interpretation of “Separation of Church and State.” Live and let live! Isn’t every thought or perspective equally valid? Who am I to judge?  Leave religion out of it!

“My, what lovely weather we’ve been having… Oh, what a cute outfit you are wearing… You look great, you must have gotten away this winter… You know what my silly dog Jeb did yesterday… Yes, I’d love to see photos of your grandkids!…  How ’bout them Cubs!…  Did you have a nice Fourth?”

We all know the schtick! And, yes, there are settings like wedding receptions and picnics in the park when keeping the tenor festive is the order of the day. There are also volatile situations, as when a lot of alcohol is being consumed, when it is prudent to steer clear of matters that could create an ugly scene.

But politics and religion touch on the stuff that really matters. My experience confirms that not talking about them over time leads to a pretty boring conversation.  It’s hard to sustain much of a relationship on trifles and trivialities.  Too much avoidance of hot-button topics and I don’t mind at all being scratched from that invitation list. Life’s just too short and too valuable to fritter it away!

So here is something to chomp on… Unemployment is at a remarkably low 4% in Minnesota. The Dow broke 17,000 this week and continues to set record highs. Wouldn’t you think politicians running for reelection would be touting the economic recovery? But they are not!

Though no longer under-water, home values remain flat for most of us. More people have found jobs, but most workers have not seen their wages rise or “real income” make much inroad into the cost of living. Candidates aren’t talking much about our robust economy because the average American hasn’t felt that much robustness.

“Polite” conversation and a cultural preoccupation with “self-reliance” precludes much honest self-disclosure. But more and more people are beginning to see the facts and speak the truth — fully 95 percent of the nation’s income growth since the recovery began in 2009 has gone to the wealthiest 1% of Americans. Corporate profit trumps the interests of workers who make these gains possible.

The promise of  the American dream plays out as a recurring nightmare for far too many Americans! The soaring Dow has yet to be reflected in the average American’s paycheck. “Recovery” only trickles down to most of us in our dreams.  As the Gipper said so well, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?”

If you have read this far you are probably in a different sort of 1%! By now, 95% have probably hit the “close” icon, such is our preoccupation with polite pleasantries and propensity to ignore the facts.  But we Americans evade contentious topics and have learned — to our peril — to steer clear of politics. And never, never bring religion into the conversation!

Sorry, but Kneading Bread is about spirituality, a spirituality grounded in the incarnation of a God in time, flesh and community!

Faced with the harsh realities too many face in our increasingly global economy, what is a Christian to do?


Source for data showing 95% of income growth going to the top 1% of Americans is from a September 2013 report by University of California economist Emmanuel Saez.  The ten page report is available [here].

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