Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Be Still . . .

Among my wife's many wonderful qualities, she is extremely wise. Tonight at a church function, as we spoke about our feelings concerning the events of the past week - three school shootings, one attempted shooting, and the unfolding events in Washington - she read Psalm 46. I found it so fitting because the author of this Psalm wrote about the various troubles and horrors of life, and he prefaced each horror by saying, "Even though . . .", followed by, "God is to be praised". The author recognized that the world is full of terror and evil. Yet, God is still to be praised, not in spite of the evil in the world, but in recognition of God's ultimate soveriegnty over and love for creation. Israel is admonished to "Be still, and know that I am God." In the midst of strife, we are not to panic, we are not to run around like headless chickens; rather we are to be still, and recognize that God is still God, even in the midst of the sorrows of this world.
I wish to pause for a moment, then, and consider some things that might be missed because our media have not been silent, the blogs have not been silent, the talk-radio hosts have certainly not been silent, the political preachers have not been silent, no one has been silent enough to hear something that might be a word we need to hear. The minister to the Amish community attacked on Monday has insisted that there be no hatred for the man who assaulted his community and killed its children. He spoke for all when he offered forgiveness to this poor, wrteched soul. In the midst of our national shock and sickness and anger and revulsion at pedophiles and murderers and venal, shallow politicians, we should hear the words of this small, peace-loving, hard-working community of faith, a community living out these words from Psalm 46. Be still, and know that God is God.
When asked to reflect, I said that prayers were needed for our nation, because the events of the past week have revealed a sickness at the heart of our nation, a sickness unto death, to quote the Danish recluse. Yet, there are other signs that there is a witness to a greater health, a greater wholness, a deep faith that sees that this sickness is not the final word, and the Amish witness to this faith may be a living out of the words of that Psalm in the midst of all the volume of our noisy, media-filled lives.

Connecting the Dots

There have been four REPUBLICAN Congressmen who have been forced to resign because of scandals, two of whom are in federal prison. The REPUBLICAN majority leader of the Senate in under investigation for improper stock trading, as well as recently saying that we need to bow to the inevitable and allow the Taliban into the Afghan government (I thought it was the Democrats who were soft on terror?). The Conservatvie Christians are lining up behind Speaker Hastert, equating Foley's pedophilia with Bill Clinton's adultery, and pedophilia with homosexuality. It is REPUBLICAN Newt Gingrich who claimed that the Republicans may have not acted in a timely matter for fear of appearing homophobic (that is the most cognitively dissonant statement I have yet to hear concering the whole mess that has been a cornucopia of congnitive dissonance).
In the meantime, North Korea announces it will test a nuclear weapon, more Americans die in combat in Iraq, Rumsfeld tries to beat his tin drum over Venezuela (of all the ludicrous places), the Constitution lies shredded after last week's horrid torture bill (after years of abuse at the hands of a REPUBLICAN CONTROLLED Congress), and Bob Woodward reveals what everyone knew anyway - that our current administration is ideological to the point of being preferring ignorance to any truth that may disturb their plans, and the leaders are simply delusional concerning the mess they have made in Iraq.
These dots I present to you to connect as we move inexorably toward election day.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Thoughts on the Evolvling Scandal

First, the scandal is only peripherally about the conduct of Mark Foley. He is gone, will not be coming back, and may spend quite some time in prison once he gets out of rehab (if, in fact, that is where he is since no one actually knows where he is). The real scandal is the lack of action by the House leadership to do anything - up to and including getting Mark Foley away from teenage boys as soon as possible. Dennis Hastert has demonstrated incompetence, and pleads ignorance - thus giving us the choice that he is either intellectually incapable of holding his position, or is morally and perhaps legally culpable in the actions of a pederast. John Boehner has clearly made sure attention focuses on Hastert (from my current state of Illinois, and an acquaintance of my mother-in-law, as well as my host for Bill Clinton's first inauguration in 1993, all in the interest of full disclosure), passing that buck faster than you can say "Harry Truman".
The political dimensions - who released what, when, and under pressure from whom - are a part of the whole story, but need to be pursued secondarily to the primary focus. As the House leadership implodes, as fingers point everywhere but towards those with the authority to actually do something, as all scramble for the cover of ignorance, let us not forget that young men may have been hurt by Foley, perhaps irrepably, and the responsibility for that damage lies at the feet of those who aided and abedded him - his enablers in power.
On a final note - pedophilia and homosexuality are not the same thing at all. Period. That is all I shall say.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Just Don't Get It

The first review article in the most recent New York Review of Books features Frank Rich reviewing a spate of books by Democratic politicians and commentators offering policy prescriptions for the near future. Rich is, on the whole dismissive, but Rich misses the larger point because he does what he criticizes one of the authors, Peter Beinart, for doing - he ignores the fact that what he calls "the left" (which he never defines, but seems to equate with "venting bloggers") were right about the Bush Administration, especially the fiasco in Iraq, from the get-go. There has yet to be a news report that affirms even a centrist - "Let's stay in till it gets better" - approach.
On the larger "War on Terror" - of which there is little evidence for such a thing - why pursue it? You do not wage war on a tactic. Why are we allowing ourselves to be drawn into a debate on such an issue?
Of course, there are other issues that prove the Republicans have abrogated any consideration as a serious ruling party for a generation - the recent torture bill, the refusal to do even cursory oversight of the Executive Branch, the attempt to dismantle a tax structure that works well. The Democrats have the advantage of being "Not Republicans", and except for a handful (the worst offender being Joe Lieberman) who continue to support Bush (for what reason I am simply unable to marshall enough resources to fathom), that should be enough. The demand by some that the Democrats come up with "a plan" misses the point. The Republican plan has destroyed our economy, our military, our international credibility, and soon our Constitution. We need no plan, but a return to balanced, Constitutional government.
Rich and other pundits still operate as if the bunch in Washington were another group that played by the rules that have existed for a generation and a half. They don't. One would think the accumulated evidence of the past five years would suffice to prove that we have a bunch of amoral adventurists in power, a group that needs to be constrained, even removed, as soon as possible for the sake of our country, and the whole world.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

That Political Element

I cannot lie and say that I do not have misgivings about much of what I have written recently. I suppose they are the same misgivings I have had repeatedly when I have attempted to clarify what I feel is true and what is not true about the relationship between faith and politics. I hate to sound quietist, because I do not believe Christianity is quietist. On the contrary, we are called to live for others, and not to fall for the variety of honey-traps the world dangles before us - fame, money, power, sex, comfort. When we stubbornly refuse to give in, when we adamantly oppose the world's enticements to silence the radical message of God's love, force is too often applied. I am not speaking here of the killing of Christians in Pakistan, Indonesia, Somalia, and other places around the world, although those are also tragedies, but the kind warned about by Jesus himself, and to be expected. Rather, I am speaking of the forceful silencing of the message of grace by the "powers" that be.
An Episcopal priest speaks out against the war, and the IRS goes after him. ministers march against the war and are jailed. The right-wing scream-machine tries to shout down the message of the emerging progressive Christian movement. Our patriotism, faith, and morals are questioned. I had the parent of a child in Kuwait - just before the beginning of the war in 2003 - come close to physical violence because I spoke out against the war, insisting that we were being lied to and that we, even we who opposed the war, would bear as much a responsibility for all that would and has befallen us, because, as Americans, our tax money buys everything from bullets and bombs to general's salaries. I refused to back down, answering his anger with compassion and love, and rather than attack me, he finally stormed out of the room, more confused than angry.
It seems a time is coming - sooner rather than later with the recent passage of a bill giving the Executive unprecedented, and most likely illegal authority to, among other things, declare anyone anywhere at anytime an enemy combatant, strip that person of all Constitutional protections, and imprison them indefinitely - when we Christians may pay with more than villification and social ostracism for our insistence on being bearers of Good News. We face dangerous, serious times ahead, and we need to be aware of the reality of the dangers. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if some fake emergency arose between now and November 7 and the elections were postponed, under some provision or other of some bill, the interpretation of which is issued by our criminal Attorney General, ALberto Gonzalez. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if our courts weren't closed. I wouldn't be surprised if our nation became some horrible monster, a travesty of a nation, perhaps the most dangerous rogue in a world full of dangerous rogues.
Yet, neither politics, nor law, nor elections, nor courts are our salvation. We must speak out about what has become of this beloved land, but we must never rest our hopes there. Our hope lies beyond these ephemeral trappings of power, in the fearlessness that comes with knowing that all the tools at the hands of the pwoerful mean nothing because the tools will, one day, fail, and the powerful will lose all they have gained. I fear a rough road ahead; I hope it may not be, and we will soon emerge from this nightmare into which we have wandered. I do not, for one moment, believe that any of it has any ultimate, eternal significance.
I think I have rambled more than I have made a point, so it is best to stop.

Saturday, September 30, 2006


Stripping away all the detritus of theology, what Christianity comes down to is this - God, the Creator of the Andromeda Galaxy, the Master of prions and elephants - loved me so much as to sacrifice a part of the Divine majesty as a ransom for my own wretched life. I have repaid that sacrifice with dilatoriness, sloth, lust, pride, and pettiness. I live an undisciplined, haphazard life, floating through with no thought for anything but my own comfort, promoting my own non-existent gifts, desiring only to promote only myself.
There is little sense to the whole idea, of course. The Deists understood this in their own way, refusing to countenance a god who would care so much for creation as to become so intimately involved in the whole mess. Fundamentalists, too, refuse to countenance such an idea; thus their insistence that once saved, Christians flee the wrath that must surely come upon a world damned by its own desire for power. Secularists and atheists see the whole thing as a tale fit for children and fools, neither wise nor intelligible. They prefer "reality" to the possibility that such a closed loop merely leads them to gaze into their own rectums (yes, I am saying that most ahteists have their heads up their own asses). Most Christians take what they can, take what gives them comfort, and forget that the comfort is not for us, not to prop up our miserable, shallow, pathetic lives, but for those who have no comfort. We are to live for others, not comfort ourselves.
We face stark choices, once we face the truth head on. It would seem simple, of course. On the one hand, there's the God who loves creation so much, embodied in the man Jesus who knows more of death than we who fear it so. On the other, there are the enticements of ease, comfort, self-assurance and promotion, the wonderful desires of the belly and the gonads, the security of the hearth. The problem, of course, is that these enticements, these proddings and pullings of our life are illusions. Our bellies empty, we satisfy our lusts only for a moment or two, our homes too often are purchased at the sacrifice of any possibility of actually enjoying them. We promote ourselves only to find that there is actually nothing there to promote.
What does God offer us? We are promised suffering, self-abnegation and -sacrifice. We are promised to be despised, hated, hunted, killed by a world that seeks to silence the truth that love is more powerful than death. We are told that fear of death is the greatest motivator; yet what if death itself had lost any power? What if the greatest weapon the rulers of this world had were an illusion?
We face a choice, then, of following the path set before us - a path that promises to be lonely and hard, with many side-paths leading away to phantasms of comfort and ease - and achieving . . . what? Nothing for ourselves. There are no Pearly Gates, no St. Peter with a book, no winged Aryans blowing trumpets.
Perhaps, however, there is the possibility that, in the real end - not the end of fairy stories, not the end of the scientists and prophets of dust, but the end decreed by God before the world was - we shall stand once more, our voices raised in a chorus to make galaxies shake and Quasars dim, facing the throne of God, and hear forever both the true song of creation, and the response from the throne, a response whose contemplation even now makes my eyes tear with anticipation, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
I must admit, I wish to stand there. I wish to be a part of that choir. I have no desire for streets of gold, but rather a banquet table spread before us, with God not at the head, but seated beside each guest, laughing, refilling the glasses and plates, sharing in laughter. The road there, however, is dark, and I have no tools of myself to give me strength to make it. That is why I must surrender any confidence in my own abilities and hope and pray that any strength, any power, any cleverness, any discipline, comes from God. It is in God that my hope lies. It is in God that my faith rests. It is from God that love flows forth, filling all that is with true song.
This is a day of new beginnings
Time to remember and move on
Time to believe what love is bringing
Laying to rest the pain that's gone. . . .

Then let us, with the Spirit's daring,
Step from the past and leave behind
Our disappointment, guilt, and grieving,
Seeking new paths, and sure to find.
Brian Wren

Friday, September 29, 2006

Where I Stand (Another Big Blogging Day After Much Silence)

The truth is, I no longer put much stock in those who think they have it all figured out, faith-wise. I used to be such a person and am frankly ashamed of my own hubris and naivete. I have reached a point where my passion is no longer showing the world how clever I am; my passion is to discover the depths of God's love for the world, and to live out the life God calls me to. I understand at a depth i never before believed possible St. Thomas' comment on his retirement to a monastery. He looked back on his teaching career, his monumental writings (to which we still refer, even if most don't look for guidance there), and said, "It is all straw." Thus do we have a declaration of wisdom from a great learned man.
I have studied theology, philosophy (I am reading Truth and Method by Hans-Georg Gadamer currently), history, political science, and sociology. Yet it is the realization that none of that means anything if we do not love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength and our neighbors as ourselves that forced me, like St. Paul, to count it all as loss for the sake of the Gospel. I have no interest anymore in proving myself correct. I only want to serve God by serving others. I no longer wish to be recognized, influential, a person of repute. I wish to be a quiet, anonymous toiler in the field of the Lord.
This does not mean that I feel we Christians have nothing to contribute to our society. It only means that we should not pretend that we can be, and certainly we should not pretend we should be, or are, the key to the salvation of our nation. Politics is about power; Christianity is about the repudiation of power. Politics is about control; Christianity is about the surrender of control. Politics is about death; Christianity is about life and love that is stronger than death.
This is just a first step, I suppose in a struggle I have been having since before I began this blog (which has changed in tone and content over the few months of its existence) but has heated up as I have been in contact with all the varieties of Christian voices out there. So far, my results have been negative to the extent that I know for sure only who and what I do not wish to be and become as a Christian.
This is only a beginning, as I said above, and not a very clear beginning at that.

Balmer Takes an Easy Shot

The article here is an example of what I think of as an easy shot. Noted Christian progressive Randall Balmer tells of his attempt to get a clarification from certain religious right groups on our current policies regarding torture, rendition, etc.. The two answers he receives are wholly supportive of Pres. Bush.
It's an easy shot because, rather than discuss issues, Balmer shows these groups up for hypocrites. Hey, Randall, I got news for you - WE'RE ALL HYPOCRITES, even you! You mock these groups for claiming to be arbiters of social morality, whn you are setting yourself up as the same thing, only from a different social and political perspective. My counter to your article is - what is your position on abortion? Have one and a half milliion abortions in this country every year for thirty-three years made us a better people? Has creating a right out of thin air, not to mention insisting that this one medical procedure be outside all the other medicall ethics guidelines (minors should have access without parental consent or previous consultation with physicians, without notification of various possible complications, to name two) made us a freer, more humane people?
I won't pretend to have answers to these question I have posed. Yet, neither will I pretend that I have a superior moral or ethical or political position because I am against torture and these benighted Christian conservatives who claim to speak for social morality support our current policies. I oppose torture for a variety of reasons, not the least of which are my commitments as a Christian.
THIS DOESN'T MAKE ME A BETTER CHRISTIAN OR HUMAN BEING, AND BY IMPLICATION IT DOESN'T MAKE THESE PEOPLE OR THE GROUPS THEY REPRESENT EVIL OR BAD CHRISTIANS. Torture is an evil act. There is no moral syllogism, however, that draws the conclusion that those who support terror, even Christians who do so, are therefore evil. They may be scared, or angry, or any of a variety of other adjectives. But human beings do evil things, and sometimes great numbers of ordinary human beings support the doing of evil. I refuse to sit in God's chair and judge these people, as, apparently, Randall Balmer has done.
Let us have good political discussions. Let us leave our penchant for judging others to one side.

Evolving Positions

I guess I have found, over the course of the past few months, my positions on the relationship between politics and Christian faith changing. I no longer simply view the Christian faith as an endorsement of certain policies and an opponent of others. I no longer view the Christian Right with disdain as heretics or misguided, benighted yahoos in need of proper theological education. I no longer see myself as part of some small, besieged vanguard of left-leaning Christians bearing the Truth to a world hungry for it.
All Christians of all political persuasions are moved by a combination of their faith and life-experiences, and none of us possess the Truth. We all have a small bit of truth with which we face a world hostile to our faith, and we attempt to live with something like integrity (for myself, I fail miserably), carrying the message of God's grace revealed in Jesus Christ to a world fallen and falling. We need to listen to one another, to learn from one another, to challenge one another, to hear the Word with fresh ears. We are all in need of renewal each day, each moment of each day, and never once claim anything like finality to our own way of being and living in the world. Exuberance, even militancy, in proclaiming the Gospel is one thing. Such in proclaiming our own interpretation of the faith as final and true is quite another.
Our world is hungry for more than simple answers. Our world is desperate for a new way of living - a way that may just save us from the brink of the abyss over which we hang, an abyss brought about not by religion, but by our own sinful insistence that our interpretation of religion has any authority over others. God is not the source of our dilemma; we are.
I seek a way that is truly humble - unaware, that is, of its own simplicity of life and humility - and truly loving. I seek a way that is unafraid, not of speaking the truth to power (as Noam Chomsky has observed, the powerful know the truth, which is why they try to suppress it), but of living the Christian life in a world that would seek to deny its very possibility. As N. T. Wright has observed, such will always have a political element, clashing with the powers that be that enforce the denial of the message of grace. This does not mean that the Christian faith is political at its core, only that, as I wrote below, there is an irreducible political element to the faith. We must live, and act, and be, never claiming finality for our lives, our beliefs, but unafraid to declare that, somehow through the miracle of grace, we are called to be the hands and feet and arms and mouth of God to a world that needs to be held and loved and spoken to in love.
I do not preach quietism. I only preach Jesus Christ, and him crucified and risen. Because the world always denies that possibility (as N. T. Wright has also observed) this may threaten our very lives. Yet, we already live in Christ, so what can the world do to us that we cannot overcome?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

God has no politics

As a reply of sorts (no one has read this blog in a while, so who knows who will see it) to Jim Wallis, I offer this basic critique of the whole idea that God has policy positions. First, God's goal, as testified to in Scripture and revealed in Jesus Christ, is the final reconciliation of fallen creation with the creator. To that end, we are to live as we were created to live - loving one another, living for one another, praising God through our words and deeds. As such, there is no inherent political program in the Christian faith.
On the other hand, there can be no doubt that there is an irreducible political element to the Christian faith. We avoid it at our peril, because we are tossed and torn by conflicting priorities demanding more and more of our time and energy. Through prayer and the the sustaining power of the sacraments, we renew our strength to move forward. And that moving inevitably leads to conflict with a world that does not share our sense that God's will, God's call, comes first. These conflicts, however, are not part and parcel of a particular political persuasion, position, or party. God neither endorses nor condemns democracy, monarchy, or even dictatorship. As are to live our lives as we are called by God, and in doing so, if that conflicts with the powers that be, so be it. There is no final answer, and certainly no final political answer this side of the eschaton. We must meet the challenges as they come, with no preconceptions about the source of those conflicts, and no plan for overcoming them.
Of course, there are also things that we are called to do - in loving and serving others, we are to pay special attention to those who are weakest, most vulnerable, most despised - that lead to repeated conflicts. These conflicts, in and of themselves, however, are not part and parcel of the Christian life, nor is their resolution a once and for all solution (just consider Civil Rights!). Rather, we must go on, never sure we are doing enough, or even doing right, but believing that God's will is being done when we sacrifice our own comfort and complacency to feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned and lonely, clothe the naked, and return hatred with love, evil words with prayer, and violence with the obstinate refusal to succumb to the wicked temptation of retribution.
That is what I believe, in general. Specifics would take too long to delineate.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

An Interesting Conversation and (I think) a Great Analogy

Yesterday, I participated in a comment-conversation here with some folks from Portugal concerning the events of 9/11 and the anniversary. It was a great conversation, with opinions being a rough mix of all sorts, all with sympathy for America as it remembered its honored dead.
In the midst of the conversation, I was trying to point out to one commenter who had said that at least the United States had done something about terrorism while Europe had done nothing that sometimes doing the wrong thing is worse than doing nothing. I used th following analogy from US history, even though i wonder how many were familiar enough with our history to understand the nuances involved:
It is April, 1861, and the South Carolina militia, following orders from the secessionist state government, shells Ft. Sumter. In response, not only to the military thraet, but to the political reality of a secessionist south, Lincoln, who has pledged to keep the Union entact, attacks Ohio because it harbors individuals who violate the federal Fugitive Slave Law. While clearly in violation of federal law, and a source of friction between the North and the South, my question is, how would history have seen such an attack, as other than pure insanity?

Moving Forward the Day After we Remebered

Taps has been played. Tears have been shed. We all shared where we were, what we were doing, how we coped, how we didn't cope. It is now time to return to the present, to do the work we must do if we are to honor our dead justly. It is now time to take up again the struggle for justice and peace - not war, vengeance, and coroporate profit - and seek with humility and in full awareness of our own faults and limits to move our country forward. We must take back what is ours by right, tradition, and law. We must never flag in our insistence that our dead are not avenged in a fruitless war and occupation. We must never cease shouting from the rooftops that we are losing ourselves as a people because we have sold our freedoms for the fake security of secret prisons, torture, humiliation, and the death of the Other. We must never stop weeping over the innocent dead at our own hand. We must use our grief, our righteous anger, our fierce love, to embrace those whom the powers that be would deem our enemy. We must love, and love more, and still give and give even when we are weary and we feel that no one listens (or reads) and we are blind leaders of a blind nation. We must never forget that our hope does not, in the end, lie in politics, in words or deeds or plans from our own cleverness. Our hope lies in the promise that God is in charge, knows what we need before we even ask it, and will lead us out of the wilderness through which we have wandered for all these years. That is where our faith rests, the source of our hope, and the reason for the courage to love. It seems, at times, a slender reed, because there is so little evidence for hope, for faith, or for love.
What else do we have?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Everyone else is doing it, why not me?

The morning of September 11, 2001 was the beginning of a week's vacation. I got off work at 7:00 am and headed home, looking forward to a good morning's sleep, then leaving the next day with my four-year-old daughter for a trip to my parent's house in upstate NY to celebrate my father's 80th birthday. I crawled into bed after kissing my wife and our three month old daughter.
I hadn't been asleep very long when my wife came bursting into the bedroom and screamed, "Geoffrey, wake up, we're under attack!"
My answer, out of the depths of my sleep and refusal to believe that any such thing could occur was, "No we're not."
My wife says I got up and wandered into the TV room to see the first tower fall, shrug my shoulders, then go back to bed. It is important to note I say "my wife says" I did these things because I have no memory of them whatsoever.
I woke up about 12:30 and wandered out to the TV room, saying to my wife, "Did you say something about us being under attack?" She recounted what had happened and I remember sitting in stunned silence as footage of the towers falling - with the uncomprehending newscasters gasped in the background - and a quick cut to the Pentagon burning. I was absolutely shocked. I sat for an hour, drinking cup after cup of coffee, watching the horror unfold in NYC. I watched people run from the dust of the rubble as the towers fell. I saw the 14th St. Bridge in the foreground - a bridge I used to drive over often when I lived in, then commuted to, Washington, DC right past the facade of the Pentagon that was struck - as the Pentagon burned. I wondered what the casualty count would be, convinced that 3000 was much too low. I even participated in a bit of a panic as locals rushed to fill their tanks and gas prices soared - even as I pumped! - on fears of what this would mean for the price of oil, as it became clear the attacks originated in the Middle East.
I called my parents to find out if the highways in NY were still open, as CNN had reported that Gov. Pataki contemplated closing all highways in NY as he had closed all roads in to and out fo Manhattan. I was assurred the roads would be open.
The drive from north central IL to upstate NY was surreal for two reasons. First, there was absolutely nothing on the radio but reports of what had happened, even though by the morning of September 12 it was clear we knew as little as we did on the morning of the 11th. I was just east of Toldeo, OH, listening to an AM station out of Detroit when the other thing hit me - there were no trucks on the highway! The station was taking calls from drivers stuck at the borders, stuck at rest areas, stuck at docks, just plain stuck because interstate commerce had ground to a halt. I had a pleasant, quick zip through Cleveland on I-90 at rush hour, and I teared up when my daughter asked, "Is this New York City, Daddy?"
I also remember Sen. Orrin Hatch opening his fat mouth on the evening of the 11th, letting the world know something most intelligence folks would have preferred kept quiet. I remember Bush flying back and forth and around the country. I remember his halting speech, hardly appropriate for the occasion. I remember the attack on the airport in Afghanistan as rebels took the initiative, knowing the Americans were coming. I remember wondering where we went from here.
Most of all, I remember a broken skyline, the images of people jumping from the towers, ghoulish camera operators following their descent, and all the unanswerable questions that are nontheless part and parcel of an event such as this - why? There was more than a moment when I thought Pres. Bush might lead us in a conversation about the differences between Muslims and terrorists. With his recent rantings about "Islamo-fascism" (taking a page from the nutty right), what tiny flicker of hope I had for him has burned out.
Five years later we are no more safe, we have lost as many as we did on September 11 in an illegal and stupid war and occupation, the President used the bodies of our honored dead as a platform to slash the taxes of the rich and enrigh his corporate sponsors, and we here the Pres. and the Republicans in COngress bleating "Stay the course!" Isn't that what one of the hijackers might have said to the pilot as it headed towards the World Trade Center?

. . . And then there's Jim Wallis

An article linked through Faith in Public takes two steps back as liberal and progressive Christians, evangelical and mainstream, struggle to make their voices heard. I feel particularly piqued at Wallis over this because, ahem, not too long ago in this very blog I was saying similar things (no, I won't tell you where, I am too embarassed by them now). I have come to realize over the past summer, as I have been contacted by other progressive Christians, and seen their comments and their own struggles, that we must move beyond the false "either/or" that lies behind much of the right. Openness and inclusivity, dialogue and growth require a surrender of the prideful thought that we may have a right answer or two where other, less-enlightened folks are misguided. I would rather try to talk to, and listen to, those with whom I disagree, than I would call them "bad Christians" and insist they have nothing worth hearing to bring to any table.
I may disagree with them, but so what? I certainly have no monopoly on truth, and it is long past time to call each other names. We need to find areas of common assent, places where we can reach out to the world, together, in faith and hope and love, together as children of God of Jesus Christ. Didn't Jesus die on the cross for Pat Robertson, too?

More Creative Evangelicals

A tip of the link to Michael Binder over at The Christian Left blog for this story from The Wshington Post. There are two things that struck me about the article, which I would urge you to read. First, at an attempt at "balance", the reporter, Caryle Murphy, managed to interview a conservative evangelical, Don Carson, from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School here in Illinois, who mentioned something in his remarks about "Chrisitian non-negotiables". As far as I know, the only non-negotiable item in the Christian faith is the belief that we are saved from separation from God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; that this act and its salvific fruits are gracious acts, whose acceptance and rejection by us mere mortals are not necessary for them successding in their desired results; and that the Christian life is less about assuring our own place in some heavenly condo complex than it is sacrificing our own comforts, our own "lifestyles", our own lives if need be, to make sure that others know that they are loved. To me, while such dogmatic things as the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and a certain ecclesio-centrism in teaching and holding fast to the teachings of the church are important, they are by no means "non-negotiable", and have never been in the history of Christianity, so I'm not sure what Professor Carson is complaining about.
Second, I thoroughly enjoyed the criticism of the mega-church movement, with its blandness, its sameness, its lack of risk and challenge, and its emphasis on numbers. It seems Rev. Mclaren has managed to achieve a nice-sized church without sacrificing that which makes a church the Church - the message of sacrificial love and hope and faith offered by God through Jesus. I am not saying he is the harbinger of the future, or a perfect representative of a Christian pastor, or that his theology and practice of ministry is perfect. Rather, I am saying that, by embodying a struggle with questions, rather than comforting himself (and others) with false answers, Rev. McLaren has managed to bring together a community that lives that struggle while never surrendering the faith and hope the Church has always represented.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A Musical Promo

On this Sunday morning, I am sitting, listening to the rain, and am captivated by a recording of "St. Matthews Passion", by J. S. Bach. The recording is courtesy of the Musical Heritage Society, a great place for fantastic classical and jazz recordings (I got a double CD of Benny Goodmann's 1938 concert at Carnegie Hall, not a copy of the vinyl, but complete with songs that had gone missing, with great liner notes). If I could find a link to MHS, I would put it here, because for those who love great music, it is wonderful.
If you have a spare couple hours, I would urge anyone who might have it to sit in a quiet place and listen as Bach moves us to consider the death of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

UPDATE: The link is A must for those who love music.

Election year Stupidity

Thanks to my new link comes this story that, among other things, would seem to disprove what I have said earlier concerning the theocracy threat. After all, a law that would limit damages in religious liberty suits does seem to be part of a larger plan to inch theocracy forward, doesn't it?
Except, of course, even if the law - part of a larger bill - passes the House (my guess is it will, but only on a voice vote, rather than a call for "yeas" and "nays"), it will die a slow death of indifference in the Senate. My guess is for two reasons. The legislative session before the elections is short, and there is a budget to pass, appropriations bills to pass, and other major overhauls to work on. The Senate, by rules and tradition, works much more slowly than the House.
The most important reason for the bill never reaching the President's desk is this - as a wedge issue, and a fringe wedge issue at that, it simply has no traction in this year od war, wrong directions for the country, high energy prices (notice how the price of gas is creeping down as we move closer to election day?), and general incompetence and malfeasance on the part of the Executive Branch and dereliction of cuty on the part of the Legislative Branch. Most people are much more concerned with the realities they face than the concoctions of the Republicans, and attempts to draw attention away from those realities seem only to draw the ire of the people rather than "rally the base", as it is designed to do.
Back in the 1980's Jessee Helms tried to remove religious liberty cases from the jurisdiction of the federal courts - perfectly acceptable Constitutionally. It died miserably and quite publicly, and Helms never tried such a move again. My guess is this little clause will meet the same fate. The sooner the better, of course.

New Link

To the right is a new link to the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. The blog is full of articles and opinion that reflect a strong faith, a determined politics, and a wise sense of the limits of both. It is a site, like Faith in Public, I shall use often as a source for information and reflection. Click it and check it out for yourself.