Thursday, March 19, 2009


Entering the final movement of the album, things turn kind of cinematic ... Word-pictures blend vivid snapshots with hard reflections on the trajectory of one’s life. I’ve heard that White As Snow is destined for use in a film about a soldier in Afghanistan. I try to avoid such information in advance of hearing a song, but this is one of those cases where it really does enhance what is already powerful in it.

O Come O Come Emmanuel, for starters – the melody on which this lovely, painful song is based. U2 has never done such a thing -- borrowed a traditional tune, or been so direct in Christian references. You can't help but think of The First Time, an equally audacious gospel reflection on … well, cynicism, really; plainspoken and purely sung in an era of irony and overkill, I know that The First Time is a touchstone for many Christians among U2’s fanbase. White as Snow takes on a third-person voice – clearly, as Bono describes a childhood landscape that is nothing like Ireland – of someone far from home … and far from the certainty he once knew. If only a heart could be as white as snow…

Many years ago through a dark night of the soul, I heard Amazing Grace in the most unlikely, incongruous setting. Having run off to a strange town where I knew no one, I attended a dinner theatre for a one-woman show about the life and music of Janis Joplin. I like Janis for all kinds of reasons, and I certainly needed the input of a ballsy artist at that point in my life. But when out of the blue (or out of Janis’ own dark night), the singer-actress offered up Amazing Grace … I was so overcome I sobbed through the last 20 minutes of the show. Way back then, I had no idea what a hold the Holy Spirit had on me. I only knew that the song touched a very raw and defenseless place in my soul.

I’m a little more self-aware now … but just the same, when Bono the carefully nonsectarian activist poet sings Who can forgive…?/Only the lamb as white as snow, to an ancient devotional tune, I’m unprepared. Like Amazing Grace that night – when somebody else, especially a distant stranger, reaches into the intimacy that Christ shares with me (as with each of us) there is no covering my nakedness. There is no other response but to weep. This song tells the truth about the pain of distance from our faith ... or more to the point, about our loneliness for God. Bono's measured, unaffected performance is a gift (if he'll indulge me) of faithful confession.
The road refuses strangers
The land, the seeds we sow
Where might we find the lamb as white as snow?

The nearly-final song makes the big noise that we're more accustomed to from U2: guitar and keyboard capturing the world's teetering, flailing off-balance me-mania -- I wasn’t gonna buy just anyone’s cockatoo…Would you?? -- And then flooding it with the light of our choice to love.
Breathe – I know the title’s been used elsewhere, but no other song sounds like this. It truly came alive when I caught the band’s appearances on Letterman, to introduce this material. It was spectacular – Bono was working to reach those new notes, but throwing his body from a jaded sneer into this gospel shout:
Every day I die again, and again I’m reborn/Every day I have to find the courage to walk out into the street with arms out/Got a love you can’t defeat, Neither down nor out…

Countercultural in all the best senses, the song careens through a tour of a slippery, slimy, frantic world that tries to tell you who to be, and what to buy to get there. It takes work, brothers and sisters, to be in the world but not of it, you have to think about it, you need courage, like he says, and in the end you’ll remember --There’s nothing you have that I need/I can breathe, breathe now…What a defiant, fireworks finish to an extraordinary ride.

How scary is the world, anyway? What’s it gonna do to you? Choose the finest risk of all, choose love – as loud as you can.
Walk out, into the sunburst street
Sing your heart out, sing my heart out
I’ve found grace inside a sound
I found grace, it’s all that I found


…Let me in the sound: I found grace, it’s all that I found…
He actually said that. And I thrill every time I hear him shout it, every time I recall the sheer size of the performance I saw on TV… they are as thrilled with this music as I am, I think. They should be. It feels like vision has broken open, and the Light is getting in. The ghosts aren’t real.
I’ve found grace inside a sound…
And I can breathe
Breathe now


But unexpectedly, the album ends on a coda, the evocative Cedars of Lebanon. On first hearing, I wasn’t so sure I liked the abrupt turn away from the road we’d just travelled. It didn’t take long for the song’s hard-bitten ironies and pensive insights to hook me, though. Bono’s deadpan talk-singing wrapped in silky, undulating layers of sound – and punctuated by that same floating “Sunshine…” chorus from Unknown Caller. As an alienated reporter ponders the spiritual contribution of his enemies, voices from above implore, Return the call to home…
This story’s not over yet.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


The Pilgrim's Path (Clonmacnoise, Ireland)

St Patrick was a great evangelist, because he spoke the language of the people he served.

(a non-trinitarian adaptation of the prayer traditionally attributed to him.)

I arise today Through the strength of heaven;

Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

I arise today Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's hand to guard me.

Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude.
Christ shield me today
Against wounding:

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in me.

I arise today Through the mighty strength Of the Lord of Creation.

Happy St Patrick's Day.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Years ago, hanging out on U2 message boards, I struck up a literate companionship with a schoolteacher who asked if I owned Passengers, the album the band had done with Brian Eno in 1995. When I said no, he kept pestering me to get it – “You’re gonna love it, you have to hear it …” However unpredictably, he was right. I listened to it for hours on end. It’s fascinating because it was a collaboration of the 5 of them, so they took a new name, “Passengers,” and conceived an anthology of soundtrack music to imaginary films – yes, very art-rock. But it was clearly a fruitful melding of their two styles. Some of the group’s best songs came out of it: the gorgeous Miss Sarajevo (with Pavarotti, no less), the hypnotic Your Blue Room, and a personal confessional favourite, Slug. –Seriously, that’s a great song about relationships. Go get it, and listen! It's a different kind of conversation in your blue room… Bono made inventive use of his vocal downtime in the mid-90s, and these are great examples.

Most compelling about the project, though, was the sense I had that it is the sound of Eno “playing” U2, like instruments in his studio. I don’t mean to dismiss the equal contribution of Adam, Edge, Larry, and Bono, and their tastes probably overlap a lot … but I still think if Eno could be U2, he’d sound like Passengers.

So it’s a surprise and a pleasure to NOT hear that at work on No Line on the Horizon. It speaks volumes about their long history together, and about the respect they have for each other’s creative identities. Eno and Lanois co-wrote and performed on most of these tracks, but they did not overtake them. Lanois is a significant difference, too: while Eno makes superb atmospheric brain music, Lanois’s gift is for atmospheric soul music, and it shines all over this record.

The little vignette, Fez, that precedes Being Born, is the purest Eno moment here (or Elvis Presley & America moment – The Unforgettable Fire at its most free-form).
It’s also helpful to learn that U2 recorded in Fez, Morocco, and it feels like a deliberate spatial, cultural shift away from the preceding funky and familiar, maybe a lifting off again from orientation. It’s a beautiful transition … restfully quiet, yes, but unstructured and vaguely chaotic. The landscape is changing.
There’s a hurdy-gurdy clatter from Fez into Being Born, this intense, single-minded existential travelogue … which closes with an arresting image blending speed and planes and boats and birth and blood and arrival and finally…joy:
Head first, then foot/Then heart sets sail

Being born, and born again. Amen.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Act II... A respite. Three songs filled with light and levity, and music that is (at this point) comfortingly recognizable. But even the fun is in the service of something higher. I Know I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight is a sweetly cajoling call to "Lighten up, everybody!" Because the work of changing the world is hard, long work and you know what? We need spiritual and emotional nourishment.

Every beauty needs to go out with an idiot/How can you stand next to the truth and not see it? For all its cheekiness, Bono fills this song with beautiful couplets apparently inspired by all those footsoldiers in the NGOs, in DATA, in Children of Chernobyl... A change of heart comes slow/it's not a hill, it's a mountain when you start out the climb... Listen for me, I’ll be shouting/Shouting to the darkness/Squeeze out sparks of light...It needn't be dour work, people! Let joy be our sustenance.

Then it's a tumble into the outrageous and visionary Get On Your Boots. After a couple of hearings (before the album's release) I picked up the roll-up-your-sleeves message in the took a few more listens to hear what else is going on.

I think we're revisiting Mysterious Ways, and dozens of other more oblique references to the Divine Feminine -- and the divine in the feminine. Never seen a moon like this... I can't help thinking of Ali, Bono’s radiant wife, in a song like this. I think Bono referred to her once as an inspiration for When I Look at the World, a more sombre meditation on how "you" see things so differently from me. The spirit of Get On Your Boots is similarly deferent, but we should probably add, goofy as only men can be goofy around a beautiful woman. Satan loves a bomb scare but it won't scare you ...

Women of the world, unite! you have nothing to lose but a whole world in chains. It's great fun but also a great homage ... Bossy boots, yeah! (And no, I don’t take that as disparaging.)

Stand Up Comedy carries on subverting political slogans: Come on, ye people, stand up for your love. Love and beauty really are the greatest political causes. I LOVE IT. Say ‘amen,’ somebody! How can you not grin like an idiot to this song?
I feel compelled to comment on what I hear are criticisms of our Rock Star deluxe for comparing himself to Napoleon. I won’t pretend to know Bono’s mind, but Bonaparte happens to be a favourite subject of mine, and the natural (intended) association I made with
Stand up to rock stars
Napoleon is in high heels
Josephine, be careful of small men with big ideas…
was with Napoleon’s imperial ego! He would have loved to be a rock star, are you kidding? The great “man of the people” declared himself Emperor once he took the stage. Hug Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me made a similar, if darker, point. And by the way, Bono isn't exactly a strapping lad himself. Like the man says: Lighten up, people.

Bono gets in a couple of other digs that I personally really enjoy, because they do have serious substance underlying them: But while I’m getting over certainty/Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady. Bull’s-eye! He sings (making like a choir way off in the distance), God is love/And love is evolution’s very best day.

God and evolution in the very same sentence, how ‘bout that? Again I say, AMEN, brother! There’s an emerging concept of God out there that says, Reality is a fluid, relational, ever-changing dynamic – not a fixed order of existence. It says that God is the process of change itself, not the static Absolute around which things change. And that same school of thought/faith says we have to learn to accept ambiguity and uncertainty. "Truth" is not the point: perfect love and thriving life is the point. Love and the urge to newness is God’s nature. This notion of God suggests that God is becoming-ness, rather than static being-ness. Uncertainty is holy – get used to it.

There is more than one affirmation of uncertainty on this record. There are many acknowledgements of being born, and reborn … And it is not talking about being “born again” in the popular and misleading sense. (That’s a problematic theology we’ll discuss another time.) It is about growing, reaching past the known, about "being busy being born," as Dylan says it. God is a fresh encounter every day. This album is all about the shock of that, about both the treasure and the cost of being made new in God's love -- or new in Christ, as we say in my tradition.

Only love can leave such a mark.
Only love can heal such a scar.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Like One; like I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For; like Bad, Moment of Surrender is a moment perfectly distilled -- musically, prayerfully, vocally, it will pierce you to your core. It captures brokenness, the collapse of the illusion that we are independent. It touches the profound compassion the band called up for Bad (a revelation in Rattle and Hum); the difference is that while the older song came from a friend looking on helplessly, the new song comes out of the one who is broken.

What have they done? What Grace touched them, all 6 of them, to create in music the sound of a soul in ecstatic disintegration? They say they did it in one take! That's raw, that's live -- Bono’s voice is choked with all the fears and burdens of living too long in one’s skin, of trying too hard; his pleas are naked and raw against a heartbeat bass and a pulsing organ … until each chorus resolves into an unbearable sweetness -- at the moment of surrender I folded to my knees… accompanied by a harmony of men, a little like angels. I did not notice the passers-by, and they did not notice me…

what is that moment of surrender? Is it, as in Bad, an addict hitting bottom, finally giving up the delusion? Is it the sound of a resurrection, a whisper of eternal joy reaching in from Paradise? Is it death … or is it new birth, in the shock of love, in humility? I was speeding on the subway through the stations of the cross/every eye looking every other way, counting down ‘til the pain will stop… It reads like a song of despair, perhaps, but it sounds… oh dear God, it sounds like a hymn of absolution. The greatest terror we can know is the crumbling of the self, even as we are yearning to break free.

This extraordinary music to say it?? like a glimpse of Heaven – of vision over visibility – a soul in terror collapses, and is lifted up, fleetingly, into homecoming and peace.

The wordless cries, the chanting through the last break recall Peter Gabriel's elegy for Steven Biko. Somehow it is not an inappropriate allusion.

And still the song ends on a fading dissonant chord, hovering in the tension between autonomy and surrender – between will and Grace – not pretending to resolve it.

I have never felt more exposed before God.

How do you follow a sequence like that? The first time I listened to this record, I was tingling, almost shivering after those three songs. But the fourth one made sense. Sunshine, sunshine… apropos of nothing, that gentle opening phrase brings you back to yourself, to meet yourself and to have a chat … with an Unknown Caller. Edge’s guitar recalls that giant victory riff from Walk On – yet this is a song not about walking through an open door, but about hitting a wall. It contemplates the limits of the flesh, and possibilities of the Spirit. All these songs roam all around the unseen and the ineffable, while touching down naturally on the concrete and mundane. Force quit, and move to Trash … You can have a moment of surrender at a bank machine. God reaches you on an unconnected cell phone. Prayer is a password: you know your name so punch it in … God is calling, to remind us of joy, of the still small voice, of new birth … and of God. Restart, and reboot yourself/you’re free to go. It’s whimsical and loving, all at the same time.

Having taken me to the heights and to the depths, they have deposited me lightly back on earth – with a mighty tabernacle amen echoing -- or is that a memory? -- high off in the distance.

Friday, March 13, 2009


The album seems to unfold in three acts … for a full 25 minutes, the first four tracks comprise a suite that is as masterful as it is epic. This really is a musical journey...
The second song roars in with this clubby, techno Popmart-y shimmer, and then Bono croons, I was born to be with you... I was born to sing for you... and then heating up, he sings fiercely, Justified, till we die, you and I will magnify the Magnificent... it’s a Pentecostal moment, lemme tell you. It’s as if Bono’s hallelujah chorus at the end of Walk On was just a foreshadowing of this burst of Light.
Y’know, once upon a time, a young man grasping for words sang, Oh Lord, loosen my lips ... Twenty-eight years later, that boy is a man who is not begging for God to give him something to say, but instead has turned his voice over, to sing whatever song you wanted me to.

It gives me a chill, to hear him overflow with it like this – I remember having an epiphany one afternoon while sitting at my computer and listening to the B-sides of ’80-’90. Everlasting Love, the old Sixties hit, had seemed such a bizarre track to include, let alone record for a band like U2 who don’t do covers. And then --*ping!* suddenly I got it: Everlasting Love was a PRAISE SONG from them – and suddenly Bono’s breathless performance made perfect sense! He sang with a rush of joy, almost giddiness. After that I could listen to that track for hours at a time, like a mantra.

Magnificent is a different kind of praise: it’s grown-up. It’s humble. But it is also a rush of joy. It’s a celebration of knowing God will use you for God’s purposes – not your own: you and I will there any finer prayer?? and the dizzying beat will make your blood rush as you listen to this rough man of faith in unapologetic adoration. I can already feel the moment when I join 50,000 other faithful in shouting that refrain along with him … come on, you’re gonna throw your hands in the air with me. I rejected my family's Pentecostalism out of sheer adolescent embarrassment, but I confess it sure comes natural under the right conditions.

Magnificent, indeed.

But that’s only 10 minutes in -- you will still not catch your breath, because Moment of Surrender is ...
Well. Moment of Surrender is a song you must hear before you read anyone else's response to it. If you plan to get the record, then stop reading and come back later. Let your response be as personal as mine was, and is.

But you must know: Moment of Surrender is something special.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Heavy guitars, intense sound. Grinding at the bottom and soaring overhead. Bono is doing things with his voice that are new, elastic, exciting. He hasn't sounded this good since Achtung Baby, before he had health issues with his throat. I never thought we'd get to hear him way out here again -- he's pushing himself, hurtling himself into these songs. It's exhilarating.

U2 has never disappointed with an album's opening track, and this is no different -- the first song, No Line on the Horizon, is deceiving with a little electronic hum for its opening measure, and then an onslaught of Edge lets you know you have entered a U2 world of a different shape...
The sounds coming out of them in this record are new. The songs occasionally nod to the past -- Edge's chiming guitars… Bono's crying tenor …plus Eno's swirling atmospherics -- but only to make their present impact stronger... They are not the same band they were in the Eighties: Larry and Adam have become a powerhouse rhythm section that adds an earthiness and structural grandeur they never had in the old days.

The new album's first single, Get On Your Boots, is a funky attention-getter (just like Vertigo was for Atomic Bomb), an unorthodox sound for them ... But so is everything else on the new album! I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight could sit comfortably on All that You Can't Leave Behind, and maybe Stand Up Comedy could have come from Atomic Bomb. But everything else is at the Unforgettable Fire level of experimentation, and at the Achtung Baby level of substance. And I should add, at the Joshua Tree level of soul.

No Line on the Horizon is no small achievement. I can't help feeling things are different for them -- they actually added Eno and Lanois to the songwriting credits. Maybe that’s a belated acknowledgement of their longtime collaboration; maybe it’s a new way of being in the studio. In either case, U2 sounds like they have stretched, like they are new to themselves... like they are discovering new music within them, rather than honing sounds they've already learned. It's thrilling to hear.

And conceptually: these songs are challenging, and often powerfully impressionistic without being abstract... Bono the lyricist is on his game here. Much less cleverness, much greater poetic reach. The message of disorientation from the girl who's like a sea...always changing every day for me is not about feeling dizzy -- it's about how things in (H)er world are not measured according to the same gauges we are used to. "Time is irrelevant, it's not linear," then she put her tongue in my ear... Bono's tense protestations as he tries to figure her out give way to a low, unison chorus intoning, No line on the horizon, no line.

So just let go -- just let go! and you will be moved...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


The last time I felt like this, I was sitting in a car on a romantic lookout with a [platonic] soulmate, each in respectful silence while the other absorbed the spiritual journey we had just shared … It was the spring of 1987, and my friend had come by my place and said, “You have to hear this.” He had the new U2 cassette in his car, so I piled in for a long drive and he put on The Joshua Tree.

I think I listened to that album every single day for 2 years … Prior to that, I had spent most of 1983 with War, U2’s third album, while trying to learn how to be an adult in the world. The hook in that addictively listenable album was those defiant, unlikely references to scripture… I scarcely acknowledged it at the time, but their Top Ten hit, Sunday Bloody Sunday, along with those other lyrics scattered through the album, were a huge affirmation of the Sacred in the world … in my world. The real battle just begun to claim the victory Jesus won …
And they had already scored a hit a couple years earlier with Gloria -- not a song about a girl, but a Latin liturgical prayer! Gloria, in te Domine [in you, Lord]...
Who says that on MTV??

Hold on, hold on tightly
Rise up, rise up
With wings like eagles
You'll run, you'll run
You'll run and not grow weary …from Drowning Man;

If I want to live
I've got to die to myself someday … from Surrender ( -- surrender! That’s not very rock’n’roll, now is it??)

And of course, War's closing track, ‘40,’ U2’s rock’n’roll paraphrase of Psalm 40. Clearly, here was a young band who made music not only with a pelvic thrust, but also with a big heart and a restless intellect. So I was primed for The Joshua Tree when it arrived a couple albums later … but I wasn’t prepared for it. It is no overstatement to say: it changed me.

The great thing about not being 25 years old anymore, is that you get the rich benefits of your own history … Like Springsteen, U2 has been a companion on my journey since I was barely out of high school. Bruce is a generation older than me; the guys in U2 are my contemporaries. Makes for an interesting relationship with an artist [collective], who continue to produce relevant work. I have been watching their movie for more than 25 years, and they have been participating in mine. That longevity is meaningful, it weights everything I hear from them. I will never pretend to hear their new music “objectively,” because it is inevitably a new chapter in an ongoing saga – theirs and mine. That is as it should be.

Now it's 22 years and 7 albums after The Joshua Tree altered my world, and we've come to expect the unexpected from U2. They shocked us in 1991 with Achtung! Baby. They scandalized the rock world in ’97 with a so-called “dance” album, Pop (it wasn’t), and a costly, over-conceptualized tour. They “came back” in 2001 with a sweet rockin’ soul album, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, forever bound to us all for its healing powers right after 9/11.

In the years since, Bono turned in earnest to his political advocacy for Africa, and the band released How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. That album was as close to a conventional rock record as U2 had ever made, tight on structure, low on irony, and more explicitly theological than we’d heard before, thanks to the prayerful power-hit Vertigo, the Top 40 worship song, All Because of You, and the unequivocal Yahweh. Every single song on it knocked standard rock songwriting off its ass, but the album as a whole never did completely capture my heart.

With a new album, maybe I was expecting some more intelligent, kick-ass, spiritually literate rock’n’roll, a sort of All That You Can’t Leave Behind, Part III. I hoped to like it, because I trust them, wherever they might take me.

I presumed too much, presumed to know them too well. No Line On the Horizon is not a record that pleases me.
It’s a record that breaks me apart. And then offers up all the pieces in prayer.
I wasn't prepared for this.

Monday, March 9, 2009


Okay, the news is huge and the promotional blitz is huge (and smart), right on the heels of the new album’s release. But now that the tour dates have been announced – U2360, HERE I COME!! (God willing) – and the album's on the cover of Rolling Stone and they're all over the telly and the papers … well, see, No Line on the Horizon has only been out for a week, and I am still falling into its remarkable, reverent, soaring spaces.

Meditative, reverent, yes, epic, grungy and sexy, mind-altering…all of these creative currents pull you into an alternate universe, one that deserves time and contemplation. And the promotional BOOM-CHA! is really messing with my ambience, man. I don’t want to PARTY ON, DUDE just yet …

so now that I know the concert dates and the on-sale date and I’ve seen the virtual tour of the stage set-up – okay, for THIS I will suffer a stadium setting – I will close the multi-media doors on everything U2 (except interviews with the guys themselves), and simply live in this spine-tingling music for awhile.

If you pray; if you’ve wanted to change the world; if you want to know how faith grows up in a schoolyard world; if you love big rock’n’roll and (or) Eno’s ambient dreamscapes all rolled into one … If any one of these is you, I invite you to listen to this record with me.

Get on your boots, yeah.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Years ago I was genuinely puzzled by people I knew and liked who voted conservative. If they're perfectly nice, ethical people, what makes them so different from me that they vote for a party that doesn't care about people in trouble? What is "the Left" and "the Right," anyway?

Well, to start with, the terms came out of the French Revolution, when the radicals sat on the left side of the government chambers and the incumbents of the upturned status quo, the Royalists, sat on the right.

In the broadest strokes, there are a couple of critical distinctions. The conservative right-wing really really believes in individualism and in the so-called “free” market. Government – regulations, oversight, heaven forbid, public agencies – is a necessary evil, to be limited in influence at all costs. This used to be known as “liberalism,” just to confuse matters … from a time when the autonomy, the liberation, of the individual from restrictive social convention was a new and radical concept. Today we’re more likely to call the right-wing “neo-liberal.”

Sadly, the right-wing definition of ‘the individual” has deteriorated into a caricature of the Entrepreneur, the person who wants to be solely responsible for his/her own income and profit. That has morphed into elevating Business itself as an entity, as a social value to be protected at all costs. As for those people in trouble? They should just follow the entrepreneurial model, and they’ll be okay! See the film/read the book The Corporation. You’ll see what I’m getting at.

Right-leaning Americans prefer to call Democrats and anyone politically left of themselves, “liberals.” Maybe as in, “they’ll let people get away with anything!” because another primary value of conservatives is moral authority – external authority. Rules…that limit moral freedom. But NOT, mind you, regulations that limit commercial freedom. Why? Because profit-making has nothing to do with moral character! So goes the fable.

On the Left, we have a more positive view of government, as an agent of collective values. As a social democrat, I see the tax base as the pool of resources we use to take care of communal concerns. In the conservative view, maybe that should be limited to infrastructure: roads, water, building codes. (You know, those things that help business function.) The view from the Left would add education and health care and other systems that empower our view of the dignity of all persons, whether or not they have money. Some people simply do not function within the consumer market, they don’t directly serve the purposes of profit-making … but as community-builders we want to ensure they have a safe place to serve the community in their own way. Children, students, artists, parents, intellectuals, the physically or mentally challenged, the free spirits and the innovators. On the Left, we value the combination of moral autonomy and communal responsibility.
Socially, Canada as a whole is situated distinctly left of the US. We value social programs as part of how we want to live, despite a minority of voices (unfortunately one of them, the Prime Minister) who are trying to sell privatization.

It’s been fascinating to watch the American reaction to President Obama’s budget. As a Canadian, of course I’m watching closely the discussion around his health care reform … I cherish universal health care as a jewel of a mature society. It is under assault in this country, by the proponents of profit-making. I don’t believe the profit motive is a guarantee of quality – not by a long shot. The current American system is the best argument against that. The right wing will always try to sell for-profit health care – or education, or social services, anything – in terms of “consumer choice,” as if that’s empowering.
It’s only empowering for those with money, and enough money at that. (Which raises a tangle of other issues, starting with a minimum wage, a living wage, a social safety net ... for another conversation!) Some things, some social goods, exist outside the market system – they cannot be commodified, they can’t be exchanged for something of “equal” value. One individual's choices are impotent against, say, the threat of illness or the hunger for spiritual sustenance.

But “individual choice” is the mantra of the current, failed global economy. I'm talking about an inflated value on individualism that has obscured the role of community in shaping our lives.

Nobody is self-made. Nobody succeeds – or fails – entirely by their own resources. The values and customs of a community, whether that’s an ethnic community, a region, a nation, contribute to a person’s failures just as they do to successes. This is the great lie of the “rugged individualism” myth, of the “consumer choice” charade. And I think it’s the great lesson in the current economic catastrophe.
At least, I hope it is.