Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"You Have Heard It Said . . ."

Refusing to leave well-enough alone, I want to take a look a bit further down Chapter 5 of the Gospel of St. Matthew. After the Beatitudes, with a short interlude on salt and light, we have a long list of sayings, using the formula "You have heard it said . . . but I say to you . . ." This series of sayings is prefaced by Jesus' insistence that he is not abolishing the Law, but fulfilling the Law. I think it important to keep that in mind as we consider this whole series.

One thing it is important to remember is that Jesus is saying all this on his own authority. Pronouncing upon the law was the role of learned teachers; Jesus is insisting he is one. Further, this authority of the Teacher was considered to be something granted by God alone; Jesus is insisting that he has Divine imprimatur for these teachings.

The "You have heard it said . . ." sayings deal with specific commandments: murder, adultery, and issues surrounding the legal practices of the people, including civil complaints, divorce, the rule of vengeance, and creating distinctions of "friend" and "enemy". All of them deal with how we are to live together as a people who proclaim the God of creation and redemption as their sole King. The King in his Court was the sole arbiter of true justice; here, Jesus is telling us that justice is not confined to a simple-minded literal understanding of words like "murder", "adultery", and that Divine favor is not limited to arbitrary distinctions like "friend" and "enemy". As the ekklesia, those called out to be a people different than others, we are a people whose life together is determined by a God of bounteous love and prodigal grace. Murder is not just taking a life; it is destruction of the communal bonds that hold us all together. Adultery is not just marital infidelity, but a surrender to physical desire that breaks the bonds of family that keep the community growing. Divorce might seem like a necessary evil, but it perpetuates the breaking of communal ties that bind us together. Enmity is an artificial category; we are all the recipients of God's grace and forbearance, and therefore entitled to all the love we can share with one another. The false distinctions between friend and enemy are just another way of destroying the communal bonds, a way we divide what God has not only called together, but called to be apart together.

One caveat, I think is necessary. Once again, while it might seem on a cursory reading that Jesus is here setting out all sorts of rules we are obliged to follow, otherwise facing eternal condemnation, I think that the context in which Jesus is offering this set of sayings belies such an interpretation. Remember, Jesus is heightening and tightening the demands placed upon the people who desire to be called God's people. These are not simple rules of personal moral virtue, but a set of understandings within a body of people. They are not rules for living; they are rules for living together. Jesus is insisting that, if we going to be the people of God, we have to live that way. Not just ensuring our adherence to the letter of the Law, but living in the Spirit of the law.

Again, I just don't know how someone could imagine that we liberals would find something not to like about this. Unless, of course, there are liberal Christians who think murder, hatred, enmity, sexual promiscuity, and the general destruction of communal ties is OK.

Marital Advice From An Imbecile

I was directed to this piece at Townhall via Sadly, No!, and all I can say is . . . well, just read it, and I do hope you aren't holding anything because before the first sentence is over you'll want to throw things at the computer.
In Part I, I made the argument that any woman who is married to a good man and who wants a happy marriage ought to consent to at least some form of sexual relations as much as possible. (Men need to understand that intercourse should not necessarily be the goal of every sexual encounter.)

In Part II, I advance the argument that a wife should do so even when she is not in the mood for sexual relations. I am talking about mood, not about times of emotional distress or illness.

I've already read this, and I still want to throw things at my computer.

I will let you read the whole thing, if you dare, but I want to highlight a few things so someone less brave can get an idea of the kind of thing you would find if you read the whole thing.
2. Why would a loving, wise woman allow mood to determine whether or not she will give her husband one of the most important expressions of love she can show him? What else in life, of such significance, do we allow to be governed by mood?


3. The baby boom generation elevated feelings to a status higher than codes of behavior. In determining how one ought to act, feelings, not some code higher than one’s feelings, became decisive: “No shoulds, no oughts.” In the case of sex, therefore, the only right time for a wife to have sex with her husband is when she feels like having it. She never “should” have it. But marriage and life are filled with “shoulds.”


7. Many contemporary women have an almost exclusively romantic notion of sex: It should always be mutually desired and equally satisfying or one should not engage in it. Therefore, if a couple engages in sexual relations when he wants it and she does not, the act is “dehumanizing” and “mechanical.” Now, ideally, every time a husband and wife have sex, they would equally desire it and equally enjoy it. But, given the different sexual natures of men and women, this cannot always be the case. If it is romance a woman seeks -- and she has every reason to seek it -- it would help her to realize how much more romantic her husband and her marriage are likely to be if he is not regularly denied sex, even of the non-romantic variety.

There is much I could say, even more I so want to say, but I will reign in my desire to rant and rave at this nonsense.

Since many of these "reasons" legitimate - I cannot think of any other term to describe it - marital rape, I hope Mrs. Prager has a good attorney, because she could send her hubby to the clink for a long, long time. As Robin Williams said in Mrs. Doubtfire, Dennis Prager's idea of romance apparently can be reduced to three words: "Brace yourself, Effie".

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Different Description Of Progress In Iraq

On the one hand, there's the insistence that, because Christmas can be celebrated in Iraq, that means the entire project there is worth it.

On the other hand, there's the following story, highlighted by digby (be warned, the following is disturbing, graphic, and not for the squeamish):
Sheelan Anwar Omer, a shy 7-year-old Kurdish girl, bounded into her neighbor's house with an ear-to-ear smile, looking for the party her mother had promised.

There was no celebration. Instead, a local woman quickly locked a rusty red door behind Sheelan, who looked bewildered when her mother ordered the girl to remove her underpants. Sheelan began to whimper, then tremble, while the women pushed apart her legs and a midwife raised a stainless-steel razor blade in the air. "I do this in the name of Allah!" she intoned.

As the midwife sliced off part of Sheelan's genitals, the girl let out a high-pitched wail heard throughout the neighborhood. As she carried the sobbing child back home, Sheelan's mother smiled with pride.

"This is the practice of the Kurdish people for as long as anyone can remember," said the mother, Aisha Hameed, 30, a housewife in this ethnically mixed town about 100 miles north of Baghdad. "We don't know why we do it, but we will never stop because Islam and our elders require it."

Kurdistan is the only known part of Iraq --and one of the few places in the world--where female circumcision is widespread. More than 60 percent of women in Kurdish areas of northern Iraq have been circumcised, according to a study conducted this year. In at least one Kurdish territory, 95 percent of women have undergone the practice, which human rights groups call female genital mutilation.

The practice, and the Kurdish parliament's refusal to outlaw it, highlight the plight of women in a region with a reputation for having a more progressive society than the rest of Iraq. Advocates for women point to the increasing frequency of honor killings against women and female self-immolations in Kurdistan this year as further evidence that women in the area still face significant obstacles, despite efforts to raise public awareness of circumcision and violence against women.

"When the Kurdish people were fighting for our independence, women participated as full members in the underground resistance," said Pakshan Zangana, who heads the women's committee in the Kurdish parliament. "But now that we have won our freedom, the position of women has been pushed backwards and crimes against us are minimized."

Kurds who support circumcising girls say the practice has two goals: It controls a woman's sexual desires, and it makes her spiritually clean so that others can eat the meals she prepares.

I will only add some thoughts from digby:
Women are dirty and their urges have to be controlled because they're always tempting men to do things they shouldn't do. Same as it ever was. The good news is that this practice helps preserve the ancient definition of marriage, so that's good. Maybe we can start practicing it here at those purity balls. If the men in pulpits told them it was required, have no doubt that the social conservative women would run with this one without a second thought.

The Kurds are free to torture their girl-children. Yee-ha! Thanks, George, Dick, Don, Colin, Condi. The future husband of this tortured and mutilated little girl will be able to eat a ritually clean meal thanks to you all.

The Beatitudes

Sometimes, even though I know I am being baited, I can't help myself. I need the address of Fundie Readers Anonymous or something to help me steer clear of it. "Liberals" are accused of "not understanding" the Sermon on the Mount at the top of one of the worst exegetical exercises I have ever read.
It portrays Jesus as being very intolerant. He tells the Pharisees how they are doing everything wrong - worship, giving, praying, fasting, behaving, etc.

He upholds every letter and pen stroke of the Old Testament, something they typically abandon first.

He spoke of judgment. He emphatically shows that there are false religions - the very thing that the liberal theologians teach the opposite of. He warns strongly against false teachers - people like them!

It sets an impossibly high standard and demonstrates that we need a Savior to reach God. He raises the bar or shows the real intent behind prohibitions against adultery, murder, etc. and sums up that section by saying, Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).

The problem is that the liberal theologians view it as a checklist, just as they do with Matthew 22:37-40 (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind . . . Love your neighbor as yourself.”). He didn’t mean for us to respond, “Thanks for the summary, I’ll get right on that!” The proper response is to be convicted that we can never be good enough on our own. You have to be pretty self-righteous not to realize what a joke it would be to claim you followed those passages well enough to merit God’s eternal favor.

In order to show that at least one liberal Christian has at least some inkling of how to read the Bible, let's stick with just the opening of Chapter 5, commonly known as the Beatitudes.

Before we even try to unpack all that, however, we need to take a step back and consider the Gospel of St. Matthew as a whole, and what purpose this passage serves in the author's overall narrative scheme. The writer of the Gospel sees the Christ-event as a recapitulation of the entire history of the people of Israel; every narrative moment, every event, each significant move is mirrored not only by analogy to events in the history of the people, but is accompanied by the writer's insistence that such-and-such an event is the fulfillment of this or that prophecy. On the one hand, this has led far too many people to think of "prophecy" as a kind of Divine divination, God predicting the future as it were. Another way of looking at this particular narrative device is to consider that it might just be a revolutionary rewriting of the entire Hebrew canon, centering it no longer on the people chosen by the LORD, called out of slavery; the center is now Jesus, the Son of Man (which embraces a later formulation, in the rebellious writings of Daniel, which were composed under the tyranny of Antiochus IV, about 150 years before Jesus was born), who embraces and transcends both the older history and tradition, as well as more recent yearning for freedom, independence, and the Kingdom of God.

This summary hardly does the subtlety of the Gospel justice, but we shall move now to the entire passage of Chapters 5-7. Simply put, this is, to use the terminology above, both an echo of and transcendence beyond the giving of the Law in Exodus. The Beatitudes echo the Ten Commandments to the extent that they offer a general view of the possibilities of a life lived in faith. They aren't rules. They aren't a new law. They aren't commandments. They are a description of God's gracious descent toward us, markers of the Kingdom of God, and the possibilities open to human beings who live in faith. We who mourn will be comforted. The meek shall inherit the earth. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. Those who work for peace will be called children of God. These are not demands, laws, decrees, or limits upon human action. They are a vision of life lived under the grace of God.

Speaking as one liberal United Methodist Christian, I just have to ask: What's not to like here?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Public, Private, And Other Distinctions

After writing yesterday about the way the press is hounding President-elect Obama as he attempts to have some last few fatherly moments with his children before beginning the wild ride as our next President, I've been thinking a lot about the utter destruction of the line between public life and private life. I don't think this applies only to Presidents-elect, or Presidents. It is a phenomenon far larger than simple celebrity journalism, the hyping of all sorts of private pain in to public delectation. There seems to be some kind of general feeling that one's public persona should exist in continuity with one's private person. Where this particular bit of nonsense comes from, I really don't know, but it covers the gamut, not just in politics and religion (remember Ted Haggard? All those anti-gay gay Republicans?), but in the way we little people discuss issues on the internet. Even we peons face the demand that the way we frame our discussions of issues of public import exist as a mere extension of our private lives.

I guess I had always assumed that people understood that there was a real difference between the way one comports oneself in public, including how one argues in favor or opposition to this or that issue or controversy, and one's private goings-on. Yet, the line between private and public, between the contents of public argument and the day-to-day happenings of life is increasingly difficult to distinguish. Having faced the ire of those who seem to believe that, because I argue for or against this or that position my private beliefs and acts conform to my rhetoric. Is it at all possible to have a discussion without someone questioning how one lives one's private life? Is it at all possible to take an argument on its merits, rather than read in to an argument something either noble or nefarious about the person making the argument?

This distinction, I believe, should hold whether one is President of the United States or a small-time blogger trying to make this or that point in an argument. At one time, there was a kind of wall that surrounded the private lives of at least some public persons; Franklin Roosevelt could carry on a years-long affair with the White House press both knowing and respecting the fact that this private business had nothing at all to do with how he dealt with the nation's business. Except in the rare instance - Nixon's almost constant drunkenness his last year or so in office being the most recent example for which there is ample evidence - how a person, big or small, important or of little consequence, comports himself or herself in private is really no one's business.

For the purposes of our little blog argument thingy, I think that includes questioning the integrity or virtue of those who take a position with which one disagrees. Calling an individual who is pro-choice a "murderer" erases that private-public distinction pretty clearly, and as far as I'm concerned, is no longer "in-bounds". Insisting that, because someone supports this or that candidate, or does not support this or that policy, the individual in question "hates America", is "unChristian", or some other personal epithet, is also out of bounds. The simplest way to stick to the issues at hand is to do just that.

Others at other blogs and other places can formulate their own rules, and I am quite sure some may protest my own new and improved guidelines. I really don't care, because the point of all this is not to figure out who's a good guy and who's a bad guy. The point is to reach some kind of clarity about our life together. People who disagree, well, those disagreements don't reflect on the virtue or viciousness of those involved. We're all just people, trying to figure it out as we go along. We are, all of us, as right as we are wrong, most of the time.

This doesn't mean that we can't dismiss something that is clearly frivolous, or silly, or ignorant, or just plain stupid, in those terms, as long as we are clear it is the argument of which we speak, not the person making the argument.

This is my new policy for 2009. We are going to operate on the assumption that all of us are pretty good people with all the variety that entails. Any attempt to make either a personal compliment or insult, even some attempt to decipher the person behind the comment being made (and I will confess to having done so myself, so I don't exempt myself from the new "rule"), that comment will be removed. No one will be banned - I'm not Neil! - but I will remove any personal attacks, either upon me or any of my commenters. We need to do something to introduce, once again, the distinction between public and private, and it seems the best way to do it is, well, to do it.

Monday Music

Is it post-Christmas Depression? Nah. I just prefer songs with really dark themes. I suppose it's because some part of me figures this is the way life is; all the happiness and joy and love are the comforting illusions we tell ourselves to hide the terrifying reality that it's all a short, horrid ride from womb to tomb. Except, I don't really believe that, either. Happiness, love, peace are also real. The reality is that these songs put in to words and sounds my own sense of the limits of even these most desirous of emotive states. If you're feeling down, you might want to listen to these with the razors or pill bottles well out of reach.

"Heart Attack In a Lay By" by Porcupine Tree (a "lay by" is a rest area on British highways; the song is about a man dying in his car)

The following set of lyrics, from the end of the next song, sum up the sorrow that comes when a relationship ends. Pretty rough stuff, but, hey, life is pretty rough: "I know someday you'll have a beautiful life,
I know you'll be a sun in somebody else's sky, but why
Why, why can't it be, can't it be mine"
"Black" by Pearl Jam

From the Austrian progressive metal band Dead Soul Tribe (not too many happy songs with a band name like that, huh?) comes their song "Flies". It is a picture of the world as Hell, pure and simple. Not exactly cheery stuff, but hey, get out and take a look at the way most of the world looks to most people who actually live in it, and you might come to the same conclusion. "Sometimes it seems a laughing god has played his joke on me," indeed:

If you want happy songs, send me some requests for next week.

Promises Not Kept

By way of preface, let me just say that I think (a) we as a nation are as confused about human sexuality as can possibly be; (b) the Christian Churches do not help; (c) specifically my own denomination starts out well - by insisting the sexuality is a good gift from a good God - but ends up in the same confused morass as the rest of them, refusing to explain how it is a "good gift" apart from marriage.

Having said that, I have discovered, looking through my 1800 or so blog posts (!!) that I have spent quite a bit of time over the past two and a half years writing about sexual ethics, usually in a reactive way, i.e., reacting to something stupid I've read. I have yet to construct something positive as far as a healthy sexual ethic is concerned. I do think I have made some headway by clearing away what I believe not only does not work, but is actually counterproductive, including the whole "Purity Ball" thing, simple renunciation, and the current status quo. As far as reuninciation is concerned, atrios notes an item at Think Progress I was going to pass over without comment, but having said something, forced me to take up the subject yet again. First, the item itself:
A cornerstone of many abstinence-only programs is the concept of virginity pledges, which encourages “children as young as 9 to promise to wait until marriage to have sex.” But a new study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health finds that “teenagers who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are just as likely to have premarital sex as those who do not promise abstinence and are significantly less likely to use condoms and other forms of birth control when they do”. . .

Now, Duncan's commentary, which is spot on:
While the fact that virginity pledges and abstinence-only sex "ed" don't stop teens from having sex is unsurprising, I doubt that even proponents are particularly surprised. They aren't interested in abstinence, really, they're interested in making sure "bad girls" get punished for having sex by being subject to the appropriate consequences. So it actually works as designed.

So much of what calls itself "Christianity" these days can be reduced to insisting that much of life is a snare, a trap waiting the unsuspecting. It is hardly new; for centuries the Roman Catholic Church viewed women as a sink of sin designed by Satan to snatch good men away from a life of purity. One great Christian saint, whose name escapes me for the nonce, referred to women as "ordure and vomit". It is hardly surprising, then, that the onus of chastity is placed upon women, who are the source of boys' and mens' weakness when it comes to sexual temptation. After all, if it weren't for women and their wiles, men wouldn't give their sexual urges even a cursory glance, right?

It should surprise no one that those who pledge their virginity for marriage are no more likely to refrain from sexual activity, and when they do have sex do so in ways that are far riskier, than those who make no such promises. This is not to say there is nothing noble about such a pledge, or that, given the right support network, such promises are a complete waste of time. It is only to say the entire system of sexual renunciation is based upon the false premise that there is something of intrinsic worth about sexual abstinence, and that marriage is the sole place for sexual activity. It would be nice if this were true; it might even be nice if we could escape the weight of time and history and develop a healthy ethic of sexuality that recognized its goodness and was open to the possibility that, by reducing it from a necessary evil to just another part of life, we could demystify it, the Church would go a long way toward a healthy sexual ethic.

We have a lot of heavy lifting to do first, however. Part of that includes ridding ourselves of the idea that if we only say a few magic words and think good, pure thoughts, we can avoid the temptations of the flesh, especially when said temptations are clothed in the tresses of the first temptress, Eve. Removing all the onus from women and girls would go a long way toward that goal. Until that time, I don't think there is anything to be gained by making promises disconnected from the rest of life.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Personal Isn't Political

I marvel at the self-importance of some journalists. Politico has an article on the way Obama is reacting to the constant presence of the press corps, even as he spends the Christmas holidays at home in Hawaii. There are moments of absurd self-importance verging on parody, if only the author of this piece were aware enough of them. In fact, the following paragraph borders on the kind of thing The Onion would write.
Obama even took the unusual step Friday morning of leaving behind the pool of reporters assigned to follow him, taking his daughters to a nearby water park without them. It was a breach of longstanding protocol between presidents (or presidents-elect) and the media, that a gaggle of reporters representing television, print and wire services is with his motorcade at all times.

It is against a longstanding protocol for the President to decide to take his children to a waterpark without dragging along a bunch of reporters? Said reporters believe such calumny not only worth reporting, but assuming the President-elect did something wrong in doing so?

Here's a thought, even in this 24-hour, internet era of constant scrutiny and over-exegesis of every word and gesture. Dial it down a bit. Show not only restraint and respect, but recognize there might just be nothing newsworthy in a man taking his children to a waterpark. Even if that man is the next President of the United States. Especially since Barack Obama's children are so small, it might be considered not only respectful, but just plain good form to leave him alone in his private moments, to allow him to take his children to a waterpark without a pack of vultures, protocol or no protocol, waiting in the wings.

He has his Secret Service detail to protect him. He doesn't need you to record his private life. An individual's private life is, for the most part, pretty banal. Even the President of the United States just might wish not to be photographed scratching between his legs, or whatever. Since we are returning to the days of the New Deal in economic policy, we might just consider moving to those same days in terms of the way we cover a President's private life.

Leave them all alone. Especially as President-elect Obama wishes nothing more than to be "Dad" to his two girls. Those moments are going to be few and far between over the next eight years as it is.

Do Things Happen For A Reason?

I do not want to step on any toes. Seriously. Reading this at Unglued, however, got me thinking about a common enough assertion - "things happen for a reason". As we near the end of 2008, I have been given many chances to revisit this particular phrase. Someone I work with uses it quite frequently. I guess I have to say that I think it's a way people cope with events that seem out of their control. Recession cause you to lose your job/home/relationship/marriage? Things don't just happen, or are the result of forces beyond your control, but they happen for a reason. A random set of events set in motion another series of events that lead you to meet the person you spend your life with? It isn't all random chance, but happened for a reason. The most extreme case I have encountered in my life of this was the biography of a prominent local personage from my hometown area, who spoke of his mother's early death, the ensuing family dysfunction - alcoholism, serial marital break-ups, estrangement - as all leading to his embracing the Christian faith, meeting his wife, and landing a position that allowed him to do work that he loved and . . . become a prominent person in our local area.

Untangling that web of reasoning, a kind of Gordian Knot of self-justification to my not-quite sixteen-year-old mind, led me to conclude that things don't happen for "a reason". Things happen, and after the fact we insist there were "reasons" for them happening. Whether to justify our own actions (or inactions), to make sense out of the senselessness of it all, or to find that silver-lining amongst the clouds of life, or perhaps to marvel at the way events sometimes disparate, sometimes unconnected, can lead to profound changes or surprising moments of joy in our lives, the effort to make sense of the myriad and panoply of our lives can lead us to toss up our hands and say, "Must have happened for a reason."

There was a television program that The History Channel used to broadcast (perhaps it still does) called "Connections", in which the odd correlations and interactions among various historical events were traced from some random point in the past to some seemingly unrelated event in the near-present/past. What I liked about that show was not only the way it displayed the futility of any direct cause/effect link (most of the links in the program were links of passing historical interest at some particular time, having consequences only in retrospect, and certainly little meaning), but the wide variety of ways human beings have of drawing meaning and importance out of one event and attempt to apply it to another.

I do not believe "things happen for a reason". I believe that, sometimes, we human beings become the passive recipients of the result either of the actions of others or social/historical forces beyond our control; or we act in ways that may surprise us or others, sometimes in our own interest, sometimes not, and the results are not what was intended, or even perhaps contemplated as possible when the action was first undertaken, but nevertheless can be traced loosely enough to some initial decision on our part. While this latter may under some general understanding come under the heading "reason", I do not believe one can do so unless one stretches the meaning of the word beyond recognition. We may be able to find solace in the idea that "things happen for a reason"; I do not believe such solace, however necessary for a few moments or even a few days, can stand up against the terrifying weight of the reality that things just happen. Sometimes good things. Sometimes terrible things. Sometimes, if we are resourceful enough, emotionally and intellectually strong enough, or just lucky and clever enough, we can draw something beautiful out of the morass. While I would never insist that human beings are passive recipients of events, the interactions of many different individuals, collectives, social and historical events make tracing any "reason" for anything beyond our abilities.

I guess I just prefer to face the fact that sometimes, as the bumper sticker says, "Shit happens". If you can clean it up and through the weird alchemy of life transform that shit in to something sublime and wonderful, that's great. I would hardly insist, however, that the latter result of much emotional effort was the reason for being shat upon in the first place.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


I have repeatedly stated that I do not argue with the following - Holocaust deniers (which should be obvious); those who deny natural evolution by means of natural selection (as modified in the 1950's and, later, the 1980's); and those who deny the reality of Global Warming. Like arguing over the color of grass or the date of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, it serves no purpose to argue with people who simply deny facts.

In an effort at magnanimity (the literal meaning of which is "large souledness", that is, the state of being generous in one's being and person), I thought I'd share a report on actual scientific evidence - from the United States Geological Survey still under the thumb of the Bush Administration - that Global Warming is still not a good thing.
The United States faces the possibility of much more rapid climate change by the end of the century than previous studies have suggested, according to a new report led by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The survey -- which was commissioned by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and issued this month -- expands on the 2007 findings of the United Nations Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change. Looking at factors such as rapid sea ice loss in the Arctic and prolonged drought in the Southwest, the new assessment suggests that earlier projections may have underestimated the climatic shifts that could take place by 2100.

One of the most fun aspects of this article is the explicit explanation of the difference between science and the Global Warming deniers - the use of (Duh!) the scientific method. That is to say, the article explains that the new estimates are based both on new evidence, and new ways of understanding certain dynamics that were unknown or underappreciated before.
Konrad Steffen, who directs the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder and was lead author on the report's chapter on ice sheets, said the models the IPCC used did not factor in some of the dynamics that scientists now understand about ice sheet melting. Among other things, Steffen and his collaborators have identified a process of "lubrication," in which warmer ocean water gets in underneath coastal ice sheets and accelerates melting.(emphasis added)

I realize this article, just like every other bit of real science, will run up against the brick wall of the minds of Global Warming Deniers, but that's OK. See, they don't run things anymore, and for a while can be both safely ignored, and laughed at for the goobers they really are.

Don't argue with them. Just point and laugh.

Saturday Rock Show

I think I knew my tastes in music were slightly different from my friends when I was in high school because one of the very first albums (and they were albums, too) I bought was There and Back, by Jeff Beck. How many not-quite fifteen year old kids will sit and listen, over and over, to an entire album of blues-rock-fusion instrumentals by an underappreciated British guitarist? I didn't know this at the time, but this was the tail end of Beck's collaboration with Jan Hammer. Hammer would become famous in the US for his work on Miami Vice, but had already achieved respect and fame for his work with John McLaughlin's groundbreaking fusion group The Mahavishnu Orchestra.

The first cut on the LP is a blistering solo-trading exercise, called "Star Cycle", and it actually got air play on my local AOR station when it was released (this was before the days that all such decisions were made by corporate executives who thought all people who listened to radio were brain-dead). This clip not only has Beck and Hammer, but drummer Simon Phillips, who performed on the album, and has also toured with Pete Townsend.

Friday, December 26, 2008

St. Stephen

Today is the feast day for the first Christian martyr, according to the book of Acts. Steven was a deacon, a servant of others in the name of Christ, whose death sentence probably stemmed, if it happened at all, from a refusal to acknowledge the Imperial cult. In Acts, a witness and supporter of his murder is a young tent maker named Saul.

I've often wondered about the fact that the first feast day after Christmas is in honor of the death of St. Stephen (two days from now, it is the feast of the slaughter of the innocents). We have this long, intense season of Advent, during which we prepare ourselves, as John the Baptizer insisted, for the coming of the Messiah. Then, immediately following the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the coming of the light in the midst of our darkness, we are called upon to remember the unjust execution of a man whose sole crime was serving his Lord. It is as far removed from the over-sentimentalized "Christmasy" stuff we are inundated with, especially here in America, as can be. Yet, just as it is important to sit with the shepherds in the stable and gaze in wonder at this Savior born to us, it is also important to remember that this baby grew up, ministered to his people, died on a cross, rose, and those who understood and believed his message and in his person were willing to die for that belief.

We tend to think of "peace" as the absence of turmoil or strife. Yet, it seems to me the peace of God is a kind of self-assurance in the midst of strife and turmoil. Even more, sometimes the peace that faith brings creates, or at any rate enhances our perception, of the turmoil and strife which surrounds us. Either way, We are called to remember, just one day after we remember the birth of Jesus, what one result of that birth was - the willing death at the hands of an unjust government of one who believed in the words and person of the man that baby would become.

Jesus was born in to a world of strife. While his Kingdom is surely the peaceable Kingdom for which we Christians work and pray, we must never forget that the strife of this world refuses to surrender, and will fight to hold sway. The death of St. Stephen was just the first of a seemingly endless supply of persons who have been and continue to be willing to not just live for Jesus, but to die for him as well. While we can decry the injustice and evil of the system that brought about his death, we should also remember the strength and courage of St. Stephen as he faced his accusers, and his executioners.

While Christmas is over, at least for another year, the on-going life of the church is watered by the blood of those who, like St. Stephen so long ago, have refused to give up their faith in Jesus for the promise of life here and now, believing their life, in the crucified and risen Christ, is not limited to the mundane, banal, and evil machinations of this world.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Other Story

The original plan was to write a tract. Outraged at the social callousness of a Christian nation tossing away whole populations as surplus garbage, the author sat and thought, and the more he sat and thought, the less likely it was a tract would come.

Why not a story instead?

Why not a ghost story?

Written quickly, on a single manuscript that probably gave the printer nightmares, the short novel arrived in time for Christmas, 1843, and became not just a national treasure, but such a part of our cultural currency, we forget it was and is nothing more or less than the product of human imagination.

Yet, for all that, it still has the power to move people to tears, and rage, and joy - because for all their particularity and limits due to historical circumstances, the characters are all recognizable human beings. Even the Spirits.

If you have a couple hours, sit and read A Christmas Carol. Hear the words of the Second Spirit as he lectures Scrooge on the callousness of his dismissal of "surplus populations", millions of whom are more worthy to live than this groping, clutching, grasping, covetous old sinner.

Yet, he, too, is worthy of love, and yet another chance at life. Which is the real meaning of Christmas, after all. All of us, and each of us, get as many second, third, fourth, etc., chances as we need - because God never gives up on us, but in God's time will make clear to us how dear we are.

Even if it hurts.

So, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Everyone.

The Story

In the original Elizabethan:
1: And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
2: (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
3: And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
4: And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
5: To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
6: And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
7: And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
8: And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9: And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10: And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11: For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12: And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13: And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
15: And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
16: And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
17: And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
18: And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
19: But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


One Christmas Eve, perhaps when I was in fifth grade, perhaps sixth, I was sequestered by direct order of my parents to the TV room as the 'rents went about wrapping presents, my mother baked, and the older siblings did this, that, and the other. I think I was a bit peeved at the time, but I have to admit that, in retrospect, it was one of the better Christmas Eve's I ever spent. We received WPIX-11 out of New York City on our local cable, and at the time it was completely independent. On that particular Festivus Eve, it ran a whole day's worth of Our Gang comedies, Laurel and Hardy shorts (including a couple silent ones), and thanks to that, I will forever associate these great old short films with Christmas. The following is part of a 1933 short, "The Kid from Borneo".

Here are Stan and Ollie, in "Flying Deuces".

What would old comedy shorts be without The Three Stooges? Here, in two parts, are "I Want My Mummy"

Monday, December 22, 2008

Some Questions

For some reason, on the comments' thread here, Feodor demonstrates a truly remarkable hard-on for me. I can only ask, in all seriousness and with all due respect, "What's your fucking problem, dude?"

While the whole thing is kind of odd, and at the remove of several hours a little less annoying, I still wonder where it all came from. I did find it funny that every guess about me, my life, who I am as a person, my personal and intellectual history - every little bit Feodor thought he could glean from reading what I've written - is pretty much wrong. Were I the kind of person to take offense at his petty moral scoldings, I would be particularly offended by the whole "a couple black friends" jibe. That kind of came out of nowhere. The complaint about word use - he actually takes me to task for saying the Holocaust Museum is "chock-a-block" with items - is almost silly. As for his armchair moralist quip, all moralists are armchair moralists, which is why I am not one, nor do I play one on my blog. I find it odd that he insists I read a book, I hint that I might have read a book, then makes fun of me for mentioning I might have done exactly what he demands I do in the first place. Not that reading, or the number of books anyone has read matters one whit for me. As Alan says, "Who cares?" It's kind of like his wondering where I went to seminary, I tell him, even giving him the mailing address for the place, and he waves a dismissive hand.

It's like Marshall Art with better spelling.

So, I have invited him here, I have asked my question, I have staked out my complaint, and I want an answer. What gives, man?

Music Monday - Nostalgia Edition

Where we lived when I was a kid, we had a Grant's Department Store. Does anyone remember Grant's? Anyway, they had a deal with Columbia Records. They released exclusive Christmas compilation records every year, starting sometime in the late 1960's, and running up until the company went belly-up. Those great old records had songs from the usual suspects - Tony Bennet, Bing Crosby - but also some not so usual folks. Who remembers Leslie Uggams? Dianne Carroll (she does a great version of "Some Children See Him")? You haven't heard anything until you've heard Johnny Cash sing "I heard the Bells on Christmas Day".

Volumes 3 and 4 were always my favorites. The first track on Volume 4 was the following by Las Vegas and Tonight Show perennial guests (at least when Carson hosted) Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormet. It's called "That Holiday Feeling". God knows why I love it so - it's so cheesy you want to rush out and by stock in Nabisco - but it is a lot of fun.

I think it's the second or third cut on Volume 4 was by Gary Puckett, he of Union Gap fame, "Young Girl", "Don't Give In To Him" (my sister has a couple 45s of his; I had no idea what the latter song was about until I was in HS, I'm embarrassed to admit). He comports himself quite well, considering his limited abilities, on "O Holy Night".

Volume 3 Introduced me to "The Messiah" beyond the Hallelujah Chorus. After I learned the oratorio was actually written for Easter, I wondered why people insisted on listening to it only at Christmas. Hardly one to struggle against the considered opinion of everyone else, I only listen to it at Christmas, too. However, there is one section that could be considered "Christmasy", "For Unto Us A Child Is Born". On the old Grant's records, it's on side two of Volume 3, and comes from a recording of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Choir, conducted by Eugene Ormandy. Couldn't find that, but had absolutely no trouble finding all sorts of "For Unto Us".

My favorite recording from these is a rendition of "Angels We Have Heard On High" by the Percy Faith Orchestra. It's so beautiful, but, alas, no video of it exists on YouTube. Also, I fear, there is no way I can get a copy of it from my parents' old 33 rpm vinyl disc on to CD to listen to at my house.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Tired, But Still Trying

Four days before Christmas, and I should be feeling all warm and friendly toward everyone. Seriously. The rhetoric should be ramping down a bit, we should be remembering that, at this time of year, we are all in it together, celebrating the birth of Jesus, and what that means for each of us, and all of us.

Instead, I'm getting this:
"Unlike you, I trust God's intellect over humankind's." - Me

"That's only because you have none."-J-Off

One can ONLY conclude that you think more of man than you do of God.

It's your own words, J-Off, that reveals your attitude towards God.

Besides, your low opinion of God fits right in with your political philosophy.

Maybe you just don't REALIZE how revealing your offerings on this site are.

Quite reavealing.

What's "revealing" about this statement is that this person uses words that, really, have no meaning for me. I cannot begin to fathom the meaning, or relevance, of much of this comment, other than it is an attempt to insult both me, and my faith. It doesn't, but it does piss me off that someone would continue to be as low as this. Meaningless and low.

Of course, I've also had to put up with this:
I'm curious Geoffrey; and not because I want a club to beat you with. What kind of church does your wife pastor? Is she still pastoring? I'm very curious about the kind of christian faith that can, with a clear conscience, support abortion?

Seriously. I want to understand where you're coming from.

Once again, someone crosses the line, invoking my wife, her ministry, her integrity as a side-swipe at me. You can question my faith all you want; coming from these idiots it's almost a compliment. Doing so to my wife who is not a blogger, or a participant in any of these discussions really pisses me off.

Also, as my father pointed out to me in my youth, the phrase, "I want to understand where you're coming from", is a kind of jargon that is really bad. It shows a lack of imagination, a real lack of thought. My only response to Eric is, if he wants to know what kind of Christian I am, check out my blog, and my own repeated response - like most Christians, I'm a pretty bad one, but I keep trying.

People like this test not so much my faith, but my commitment to Christian love. I would dearly love to tell all of them to take a flying leap, but I can't. They, too, are fellow children of God. They are loved and cherished, saved and held up by the Holy Spirit. They each and all have gifts - reasoning and loving and even typing are not among them, however - and are part of that great family of God.

Whether I like it or not.

As we move toward Christmas, I think it is important to remember that the birth of Jesus comes to all of us, and each of us. As different as we might be, as much as we might loathe one another at times - Jesus is there for all of us.

So, I am tired. But I am also grateful. I am grateful that God's love and grace are far larger than my own. I am grateful that I am trying to learn to love even in the midst of anger and frustration. I am grateful for the presence of some so different from me they challenge, not so much my beliefs, but my commitment to true inclusion in love.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Psalm 126

Monday is the Feast of St. Thomas, and the Psalter reading in the Episcopal Lectionary is 126, the first verse of which states, "When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream."

That sentence has always moved me in a way that is difficult to communicate. Imagine, if you will, something for which you have worked and prayed for years, a lifetime, suddenly, in the blink of an eye, becoming a reality.

We stand on the brink of the celebration of the birth of Jesus. While certainly not as significant, theologically, as Easter, it is important because without the birth there could not have been the death and resurrection (that's kind of a "Duh" comment, I know but there you go). It does signify that Jesus was not some weird spiritual creature whose essence we cannot understand. He was a man, a person born of a woman, raised by parents, surrounded by family and friends. His ministry sprang as much from the life of the man Jesus as from the animating Spirit of God.

It is important to remember that sentence in the context of Christmas, as we recall the words of the old prophet Simeon, who was promised that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. What he saw was a week old infant, being brought to the Temple for blessing; yet he knew, and understood that he could now die in peace, because this tiny infant, most likely still pink and wrinkly, perhaps even crying because he was hungry or cold or hot or tired, was the anointed one (the literal meaning of the Hebrew meshach) of God, delivering the people from slavery to freedom, although not, perhaps, in the way the people might have thought.

Let us enter the following week, as we hustle and bustle, wrap presents, go to parties, get cranky with other drivers, other shoppers, our kids, our spouses, our parents, our siblings that we are about to receive news that should hit us in the same way.

As we go about our daily affairs, let us suddenly, in an instant, be like those who heard the news that Cyrus was releasing the captives. The LORD is, indeed, restoring the fortunes of all of creation. Let us, as we contemplate that, be like those who dream. The moment all of creation has been groaning for (in the words of St. Paul) has finally arrived.

Saturday Rock Show

This is one for the upcoming Holy Day. I refuse to give the name of the group, although that is kind of given away in the rather long intro. Once you discover it, don't click away in disgust; stay and enjoy. "O Come, All Ye Faithful".

Friday, December 19, 2008

Compromising Professionalism

My part time job as a wedding disc jockey provides moments when I am the unwitting instigator of behavior of which I might approve, not just on religious grounds, but grounds that certain acts are simply beyond the pale. I am no fan of drunkenness. There's enough of my mother's upbringing in me to be a bit of a church lady about people who imbibe so much alcohol as to purposely render themselves public idiots. I have no problem with casual PDA, but there are moments when said acts become more than casual. Stuff best left for private has no place on a dance floor at a wedding reception.

I also worked, for a time, as a DJ in a bar. A woman, suffering the effects of too much drink, enjoyed teasing her boyfriend/husband/significant other of one sort or another. In the process she, well, ahem, grabbed me, and said SO was not happy. At all.

I continue to do my job, providing a soundtrack to drunken debauchery, even as my private nanny-voice tut-tuts much of what I see. It's called being a professional. An adult who recognizes that sometimes doing one's job means acting in a way that runs up against acts of which one does not approve. It's part of life. All I can ever do is be me, and let others be themselves, and let my inner scold rant away.

While for some this might not compare with, say, being a doctor who is asked to perform abortions against his or her conscientious objection to the practice as far as I'm concerned, the principle is the same. I might even go a step further and insist that, if you are entering a profession that violates a core ethical or moral concern, you might want to consider another profession. Don't become an OB/GYN if you oppose abortion. If you have a late-life conversion, hie thee to a Catholic hospital. If you are a pharmacist, but believe that contraception is evil, you might want to consider research as an option, rather than standing behind a counter and denying someone a prescription because you believe the Pill is a scourge from the devil that is destroying the social fabric of our country.

In other words, there are options.

I am all for freedom of conscience. The Bush Administration rule, which it seems clear, will last until January 21, 2009 or thereabouts, however, is not about anyone's conscience. It is an end run around the legislative process which would include discussing the issue in public, debating the why's and wherefore's, and offering alternatives.

In Which I Cheat, And Copy And Paste Another Blogger's Post

Mark once said that I never say anything original. I think that's funny, because I have never claimed to do so. I have taken my lack of originality a step further now.

I have said it before, but DCup says it so much better, and shorter, than I ever could.
Dear President-Elect Obama:

In your press conference yesterday where you defended your choice of Pastor Rick Warren to participate in your inauguration, you used the word "abortion." I am writing today to request that you revise your language and begin using the word choice when discussing the issue of reproductive freedom. The term abortion is too narrow and misleading.

The Religious Right is not actually against just abortion. They are in favor of limiting the rights of women. If the recent last minute Bush Administration changes to reproductive laws are any indication of their true goals, you should be able to see that, too.

That is why, when you speak of this issue, it is so important that you really address the issue. The issue is not abortion. The real issue is privacy and a woman's right to control her own reproduction throughout her lifespan. That is why the issue should be referred to in the broad term of choice. Don't let the issue be narrowed to simply "abortion." When you use the word abortion to describe the issue, you are complicit in the Right's deception. They know that they have a better chance of chipping away at womens' rights if they pretend that they are just trying to save babies.

Don't help them in their mission to erode the rights of women.

I am heartened to learn that you will try to overturn the new Bush laws, but in the meantime, I ask you to be clear in your language. When you mean reproductive freedom, please say so.

Thank you and best regards,


The only thing I will add is that someone needs to get her a pundit job.

Can Krauthammer Get Anything Right?

Some days it just doesn't pay to click a tab. I just know the stupid will pile up like the snow on the roads around here, which is to say thick and fast, blowing around in the wind and covering any attempt to clear away the stupid from a path through it.

I have made it an unwritten and rarely commented-upon rule not to comment upon the political machinations in other states. It is none of my business. I consider it a faux pas, a kind of impertinence. Of course, that doesn't stop big name pundits from flapping their keyboards. In all honesty, if Caroline Kennedy wishes to replace Hillary Clinton as the junior Senator from my home state, that is a decision for the governor of NY to make. I honestly have no opinion on the matter. Krauthammer, however, takes wanking to new heights, understanding something about her personality and state of mind that I had not even considered.
The problem with Caroline Kennedy's presumption to Hillary Clinton's soon-to-be-vacated Senate seat is not lack of qualification or experience. The Senate houses lots of inexperienced rookies -- wealthy businessmen, sports stars, even the occasional actor.

The problem is Kennedy's sense of entitlement. Given her rather modest achievements, she is trading entirely on pedigree.(emphasis added)

Kind of like a certain two-term President Krauthammer spent hundreds of words defending as the reincarnation of Winston Churchill. A two-term President who is about to leave office under the cloud of being considered the worst President of the modern era.

Seriously, there are arguments for and against Kennedy's appointment. Seeming to suggest one has some occult link to Ms. Kennedy's attitude - entitlement - is just crap. Pure and simple. Why oh why can't these people just leave us alone?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Obama Explains, It Doesn't Help

At a press conference today, President-elect Obama attempted to defend the indefensible, his selection of "Pastor" Rick Warren, him of Brokeback Mountain Church, to give the invocation at the Presidential inauguration next month.
[I]t’s important for America to come together, even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues.


[W]hat we have to do is be able to create an atmosphere where we can disagree without being disagreeable and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans.

The last part is so warm and fuzzy, it makes me want to hold hands with everyone and sing "We Are The World".

This isn't about including the whole world in a new, improved, happy-face America. Rick Warren is a dangerous individual precisely because his "religious views" are the basis for a reactionary and discriminatory social policy. Part of Barack Obama's pledge to set a new tone and new politics should have included sidelining people like Warren from our public life. I have no problem with Warren preaching whatever hateful crap, and insisting it isn't hateful at that. I do have a problem with said hateful crap getting an official imprimatur from the incoming President of the United States.

It's probably too late to stop it. I see no reason in the world, however, why we shouldn't continue to make our displeasure known.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

In Which I Mention Which Bible Verse Neil's Blog Reminds Me Of

First, here it is:
I thought about switching verses but so many of my favorites are too long for a header.

The verse that came to my mind, that sums up Neil's Blog:
Jesus wept.

No (UPDATE With Link To Older Material)

Barack Obama wins the "Wanker of the Day" award at Eschaton, and I have to agree.
President-elect Barack Obama's swearing-in ceremony will feature big names like minister Rick Warren and legendary singer Aretha Franklin, the Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies announced Wednesday.

Warren, the prominent evangelical and founder of the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, will deliver the ceremony's invocation.

There are many great and good clergy out there. Clergy in Obama's own denomination of the UCC. Clergy in my very own United Methodist Church. Catholic priests, Baptist preachers, Lutheran pastors, American Imams, Rabbis from all three sectors of Judaism - great and good men and women who could cry to heaven for Divine presence not just as Barack Obama is sworn in as President, but on all of us as we enter a new phase of being America.

Rick Warren needs to be sent packing to Brokeback Mountain Church, or whatever the hell it's called. In light of statements like the following, he might also be asked to go back and read the Bible, pray, and remain in silence for the still, small voice of God to tell him to remove his head from his ass.
His public support for California's Proposition 8 — the measure that successfully passed and called for outlawing gay marriage in the state — sparked the ire of many gay rights proponents, who seized on a comment in an October newsletter to his congregation: "This is not a political issue — it is a moral issue that God has spoken clearly about."

Over at Tapped, Sarah Posner catches the "Rev." Warren in an actual lie.
Warren claimed he supported Proposition 8 because of a free-speech issue -- asserting that "any pastor could be considered doing hate speech . . . if he shared his views that homosexuality wasn't the most natural way for relationships."

In simple words that even someone as dumb as Rick Warren could understand, that's just pure bullshit. In other words, it's a LIE.

You know, David Plouffe has our email addresses, and worked overtime clogging our in-boxes during the campaign with a whole lot of piffle. It might be nice to return to favor with something a bit more substantive. I have no problem mounting a campaign to get Obama to revoke the invitation to Warren. We don't need a troglodyte like him asking for God's blessings.

I think a good MCC pastor would do nicely.

UPDATE: I highlighted this a bit back, but I hadn't noticed Warren's endorsement of state-sponsored murder (no, not abortion):
Appearing on Fox’s Hannity and Colmes . . . to promote his new book, Pastor Rick Warren made a brief foray into foreign policy. Responding to Hannity’s assertion that “we need to take him [Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] out,” Warren agreed, . . .(emphasis added)

Awful doesn't even begin to describe this kind of crap.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I Think ER's Fundie Addiction Is Catching

I should know better. Really. But I just can't help myself. This kind of thing used to make me angry. I am a tad irked by the thought that someone would presume to know the Divine mind and plan so thoroughly as to declare, unequivocally, on the ultimate status of any individual.

Now, though, I think the entire project, while leaning toward an arrogance of faith, is also just silly and pointless. In the first place, there just isn't any Biblical support for the idea that we are going to hell unless we say a certain magic word or phrase. In fact, the whole idea that after we die we have only two choices as to where our "soul" goes is such a misreading of Christian eschatology, both personal and communal, that it would take far longer than I have desire to point out the glaring Biblical errors. Also, I don't do that kind of thing anyway; that's Neil's metier, and I'll leave it to him.

In the end, whether it's Ghandi, or Mother Teresa (another fundie target for "She sews socks in Hell!"), or whomever - even me! - the whole idea is unbiblical and, in the end (for me, at least) uninteresting. If after I die there's the whole tunnel thing, or perhaps a pit opening up beneath my feet, I might have a "thought" that I was wrong before facing whatever awaits me. For the most part, though, these kinds of things really don't interest me. Jesus Christ did not come in to this world, teach, suffer, die, and rise from the dead in order to secure for Neil, or Mohandas Ghandi, or me, or anyone else, a place in "Heaven"; the denial of Christ, or an insouciance concerning his person or work, is not a one-way ticket to "Hell". None of this has anything at all to do with who Jesus was and is, what the Biblical message of salvation is really about, or the call to serve the coming of the Kingdom of God.

That there is still so much of this kind of thing out there only shows that it is still possible to waste all sorts of time an energy on the contemporary equivalent of angels dancing on needles.

All this means, I suppose, to someone like Neil, that I am not only a false teacher, but obstinate in my falseness. At least I haven't blasphemed the Holy Spirit.


In Case You Missed It, We've Reached A Compromise

TBogg is always good for a laugh, some pictures of basset hounds (my girls look forward to them every week), and the kind of satire that reminds us why we do not like conservatives any more. Late last night, he linked to Ross Douthat, who considers the possibility of a "compromise" on abortion. As TBogg notes, as with all conservatives, the compromise is one that actually is a surrender of the opponents of conservatives.
If you want a reason why an abortion compromise isn't possible, try this contrast: My idea of a plausible middle ground on the issue requires the overturning of Roe v. Wade, followed by a move toward a system in which abortion is legal but discouraged in, say, the first ten weeks of pregnancy, and basically illegal thereafter.

I do not know if Douthat is aware, or would care if he were aware, that this "compromise" was essentially the law of the state of California, the most liberal abortion law in the country. It was signed by Ronald Reagan and widely held to be an abomination by anti-abortion folks back in the early 1970's. It was, of course, overturned by Roe v Wade, and in retrospect is hardly adequate as a "compromise" even considering the times.

TBogg misses some serious stupid a bit further down in Douthat's article, however, that is worth taking a look at, with goggles of course, to avoid injury to the eyes. It should be pointed out that the very first sentence of what follows, if considered a serious intellectual position, not only invalidates the rest of Douthat's article. It invalidates every single human endeavor to understand their world and draft publc policy. Indeed, it invalidates government itself. After thinking about that sentence for a moment, I have a headache. Anyway, be careful as you read what follows:
The interaction between public policy and social trends is highly complex, and very difficult to predict, and thus there are any number of policy choices that can be plausibly said bear on the abortion rate, for good or ill. The distribution of contraception is just a small part of the pantomime. Which means that once you take the legal debate over the rights of the unborn out of the picture, and start redefining being pro-life as "pursuing lower abortion rates through policy choices," almost any policy preference can be re-cast as "pro-life." Married women tend to have fewer abortions, so clearly ending the marriage penalty was the most pro-life measure of the last fifteen years! But wait: There's evidence that increases in state-level Medicaid funding correlate with lower abortion rates in the short term - so maybe liberal Democrats are real pro-lifers! But wait again: Welfare reform and the economic boom of the 1990s correlated with plunging abortion rates, so maybe free-market conservatives are the real pro-lifers! But wait again: Maybe the abortion rate fell in the 1990s because the sort of women who would have grown up to have abortions were themselves aborted in the post-Roe 1970s ... so people who favor maximizing the abortion rate, paradoxically, turn out to be the real pro-lifers!

You can play this game ad infinitum. If the definition of being pro-life is "desiring the sort of circumstances that tend to reduce the abortion rate," than almost everybody is pro-life(emphasis added), because almost everybody thinks that their favored positions on trade, government spending, tax policy, the minimum wage and so forth will lead to better socioeconomic outcomes overall - and better socioeconomic outcomes overall will probably lead to fewer women seeking abortions. Now I'm obviously happy to have broad debates about public policy, and I certainly think that pro-lifers should be interested in crafting a broadly pro-family politics in addition to seeking a more pro-life legal regime. But the pro-life cause is primarily about issues of law, morality and justice, and if pro-lifers treat the broader pursuit of socioeconomic progress as a substitute for, rather than a complement to, the pursuit of legal protections for the unborn, then they've given up on their movement's raison d'etre to no good effect. Pro-lifers can and should be willing to compromise within the debate about how the law should treat unborn human life, by agreeing to legal regimes that stop short of their ultimate goal. But a "compromise" that involves giving up on that debate entirely in favor of arguments over which domestic-policy interventions will reduce the abortion rate on the demand side is no compromise at all: It would strip the pro-life movement of its purpose, drain it of its idealism, and transform it into an advocacy group for, well, good public policy, which practically every other political movement and organization claims to be already.

Do you see the neat trick that Douthat pulls off in the highlighted section? By claiming that opponents are attempting to redefine the terms of the debate (which shouldn't surprise him) he notes that, if successful, it would steal the moral authority of pro-lifers by granting pro-choice advocates the privilege of being advocates for lower abortion rates, even as they continue to argue for the freedom to make the decision for abortion if they deem it necessary.

It should be noted that, in my humble opinion, the reason abortion was all but invisible in the Presidential campaign this past fall is something that pro-lifers like Douthat refuse to acknowledge. The country has reached a certain comfort level with the way abortion policy currently exists in the US. While certainly not easy or accessible to all - the vast majorities of counties in the US have no abortion providers at all - it is nonetheless available. In other words, there are practical impediments in place in areas that tend to be more anti-abortion, while such do not exist in areas that tend to be more pro-choice. In terms of "compromise", this de facto division seems acceptable to most people, even if those who exist at the extremes of the debate are unhappy with it. Extremists are never happy, however, unless the world reflects their own picture of how things should be.

One final note. Overturning Roe v Wade wouldn't mean a whole lot, because a later Supreme Court case, Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania v Casey completely redefined the terms of "abortion rights", ditching the trimester scheme adopted by the Court in Roe. Any "overturning" would have to address the restructuring of the terms of abortion as given in Planned Parenthood.

Monday, December 15, 2008

In Which I Prove I Can Read The Bible

I was reading Pastor Dan's sermon, from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-28, and thought I would read the section immediately preceding it.
Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. 2For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! 4But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; 5for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.

6So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; 7for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. 8But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.

11Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing. 12But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; 13esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. 15See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.

There is much in this particular passage about which to comment, but verses 9-10 strike me as interesting in light of a couple things. First, the words in question: "9For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him."

For one thing, I think it is important to note the way Paul ends this particular passage, especially in light of the way he has been using "awake" and "asleep", not just here, but in other passages as well. He uses "asleep" as a metaphor, or perhaps euphemism might be a better word, for death. Here in this particular section, however, he seems to be using it as a metaphor for attentiveness, considering the close use of drunkenness. Christians, he seems to be saying, are those who are aware that the arrival of the Kingdom, the final consummation of God's Divine Plan, is not something that can be figured out from some hidden itinerary or schedule. Precisely because we are those who are aware already of the coming renewal of all things, made real in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, we should live our lives as those awake to all the new possibilities provided by God.

Yet, Paul understands that there is no "must" in God's vocabulary. Grace leaves room for all sorts of real life messiness. He urges the Christian community in Thessalonica to support those who work, to "encourage" (not harass) those who are idle, and in all things to support and lift up one another. Yet, even as these urgings are written, even in the very middle of them, we have that wonderful turn of phrase, "awake or asleep".

This is not a slip on Paul's part. Nor is it of little consequence in light of both the former and latter parts of this particular epistle. Indeed, I think this is a demonstration of the heart of Paul's theology, the reality of God's grace. Because the cross is always lurking in the background of Paul's thought - our suffering and Jesus' suffering are an integral part of the same process, the same Divine plan of encounter and salvation and grace - it might be thought that his urgings and exhortations to his fellow Christians might be thought of as a new set of laws or rules necessary for being real Christians. Yet, Paul is wise enough and cognizant enough and human enough to remember that we human beings fail all the time. He acknowledges these very failings in his own life in another, later, epistle. So, even as he remonstrates the Thessalonican Church as to how it is to live together in both discipline and love, he recognizes that human love and life is fraught with pitfalls and traps; so, he puts that little "or asleep" in there, not only connecting the living and the dead, as in an earlier use of the metaphor, but those who are not as attentive as others, who fail on occasion (as we all do). In short, Paul leaves not just a little wiggle room, but a great gaping maw for the grace of God to cover the myriad failings he knows the Christians in Thessalonica will have.

Would that there were Christians today who would remember this. Grace is there whether we are awake or asleep, living or dead, attentive or distracted. If it wasn't it wouldn't be grace, and God wouldn't be the Father of Jesus Christ.

Music Monday

I know there are other Gospel singers and groups out there, but listening to Mahalia Jackson makes the rest of them sound like imitators. God gave her the voice, the faith, the presence, to take this to the whole world. We had an old Columbia (I think) Christmas record of hers, with a version of "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" that makes you want to cry when you hear it. I couldn't find a version of it on YouTube, unfortunately.

Here she is with Nat Cole, singing that old slave tune, "Steal Away" (with it's wonderful double meaning):

"In The Upper Room":

For Christmas, this is her rendition of "Go Tell It On The Mountain". In this song, you get the feeling that is exactly what she is doing, too, standing on the mountain and shouting out the news of the birth of the Savior.

Giving Bush The Boot

Since the whole world knows about it, I suppose it should be noted that I am very uneasy about the whole shoe-throwing thing yesterday at a press conference. On the one hand, God knows what might have happened had the boot hit Bush in his drinking hand, say. On the other hand, what if he had been . . . a shoe bomber?

Seriously, while it is kind of a silly thing to get all worked up about (of course, there are people who are ready at the toss of a shoe to get worked up over any little thing, so we won't have to wait long), I am glad it was only a shoe and not a hand grenade. Of course, Bush did say that we went to Iraq to free them, and freedom includes the freedom to call the person more responsible for that freedom than any other individual on the planet a dog, and chuck a size 11 soft-soled missile at him. Wasn't it Donald Rumsfeld, commenting on the looting after the fall of Saddam, who said that freedom is messy? Just another chicken finding a place to roost at home, I suppose.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Saturday Rock Show

A couple years ago, Bob and Kathy Zoeller took us up to Madison, WI to see Trans Siberian Orchestra in concert. While I never would have thought of going on my own, or even taking Lisa, it was certainly an enjoyable experience. They had excellent musicians, a small, well-amplified string section, and quite the light show. Their electric violinist even managed to play all sorts of fast passages while running around the floor of the amphitheater. This song gets some rotation on rock radio at Christmas time, for good reason. It rocks. This is their version of "Carol of the Bells".

Friday, December 12, 2008

Republicans Must Love Economic Collapse

That's all I can figure. I mean, I'm no fan of handing out free money to the Big 3 Auto Makers, but the simple logic that, as we are in a bit of a death spiral right now as it is, it might not be a good idea to shut down not just big auto manufacturers, but their suppliers as well as the folks who market and sell their cars to the public seems pretty solid to me.

Yet, the Republicans just think it's so awful that the UAW won't pauperize their workers, to the point of being unable to afford the very cars they are helping to produce (even Henry Ford understood that wasn't such a hot idea), they refuse to hand out a shiny thin dime to Detroit. And . . . markets in Asia tanked.

Screw 'em. I realize that whole TARP thing wasn't meant for Detroit, but at this point, handing out free money to the banks isn't helping a whole hell of a lot, so why not do something with it until we get some frigging grown-ups in Washington, after the first of the year? Give 'em more than they asked for. Give 'em enough not only to pay their bills and their workers, but maybe to do all that retooling and redyeing and whatever else they need to do to make cars people will buy. Do it even if some idiot who calls himself an economist says it's a bad idea.

At this point, we need to do stuff. I'm no fan of giveaways like this; I'm less of a fan of my children telling stories of the Great Depression of the early 21st century to my grandchildren.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Dwarfs, Buses, Boxes - A Story Meme

I've been . . . TAGGED!

Here's the story so far:

The bus was more crowded than usual. It was bitterly cold outside, and I hadn't prepared for it. I noticed that a fair number of the riders were dressed curiously. As I glanced around, I stretched my feet and kicked up against a large, heavy cardboard box laying under the seat in front of me. (Splotchy)

I couldn't believe my eyes. Surreptitiously, I tried to establish, without giving it away, if anyone else had seen what I had. For ten years I had been looking for that box. What looked like an ordinary cardboard box to most contained something most precious. Only by the small golden "P" was I able to identify what I was looking at. (Freida Bee)

How the box got here, or how I happened to be on this bus with it now--these questions were immaterial. I just had to get that box. The bus slowed to a stop, so I steadied myself. Just as I was about to make a grab for the box, however, it moved. Someone else was picking it up to take it away! I had to stop her! (Dguzman)

What? This couldn't be happening--to get this close and watch some quick-footed little dwarf just up and snatch it away from! I got up and just as I did the sweaty hillbilly in front of me stood up and stepped into the aisle. Moving like a bad mime imitating a man in a box he extended his arms and stretched, looking up at the ceiling as he did so. The dwarf with the box--I couldn't be sure if it was a man or a woman, but something about her seemed feminine--slipped out the front door and off the bus. I took a deep breath and slumped back down into my seat.(Bubs)

"Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!" I mumbled under my breath. I leaned my head against the cold window and watched the dwarf threading her way through the crowd. She held the box tightly to her chest as she leaned into the wind and rushed forward. The small gold P on the box flashed teasingly between the coats and legs of the passersby. I bit my lower lip, trying not to cry. I had a brief flashback to the last time I'd seen that box. Agnes and I had just enjoyed a concert at Crew Hall. We ducked into her father's book shop for some tea. As we shrugged off our wraps, we heard her father arguing animatedly in French with someone in the back room. Agnes laughed and waved her hand dismissively at me when I looked at her questioningly. "Eetz nussing!" she whispered. "Eetz, mon pere and mon oncle! Zay are deescussing an order." Just then Agnes's father jerked open the door to the back room and hurried out. His face was ruddy with anger and he was carrying the box with the small. gold P. A second later, Agnes's uncle followed. He opened his mouth to say something, but seeing Agnes and me staring at him, closed it again with a snap. His large mustache quivered. The bus pulled away from the curb, jerking me out of my reverie. I shook my head to clear my thoughts and searched the crowd on the sidewalk for the dwarf. There she was! Keeping my eyes glued to her, I stood again and yanked the bell cord. I'd get off at the next stop and see if I could catch up to her. The bus pulled up to the curb a couple of blocks away. I could still see the dwarf as she hurried in and out of the crowd. I lurched to the front of the bus and ran down the steps, still not taking my eyes off the dwarf and the gold P on the box. (DCup)

The hillbilly stretched again once his feet hit the pavement, his arms blocking my view of the dwarf and the box. Overwhelmed by the odor of a three-day drunk, I skittered around him as fast as I could. There she was! She seemed to be moving toward a store front? No! An alley! She ducked down the alley, the box clasped to her small frame. I hurried past couples holding hands, individuals talking to thin air, and turned down the alley, only to be confronted by two daunting challenges. A man vomiting, and a whole series of doors, any of which could have been the escape route of the little lady with the box.(Geoffrey)

Take it away, Erudite Redneck!

From Heated To Unacceptable

We who do this blogging thing, particularly those of us who engage in issues of public import, do it because we care passionately about the kind of country in which we live. We are opinionated, sometimes to the point of getting huffy. Debates and discussions can get heated rather quickly. Sometimes, feelings get hurt. Yet, I think when all is said and done, each of us recognize that there are lines that are not to be crossed, out of a sense of deference, social acceptability, and just common decency.

Yesterday, over at Marshall Art's, that line was crossed. No wait, it was friggin' obliterated in a short comment, now removed. I was glad to see that Marshall used common sense and took the comment down, but it was far too late for Dan.

I think we should all take a deep breath and realize that, even the most diametrically opposed persons who engage in argument are human beings, and as heated as we become, we should respect certain boundaries as to what is and is not acceptable behavior. The person who did this particular bit of vulgar nastiness is, sad to say, unrepentant. He says he is done with us, and damns both Dan and me, which given the circumstances is kind of odd. Of course, he has said he won't engage me before, yet continues to do so, unsolicited, so I wonder how long before he touts his genius IQ at me, only to go all weird and vulgar and beyond the pale with me. My own preference would be to do something more than just point out the person who did this, and speak in generalities about his offense. Too bad we can't shun, or something similar, this guy.

It takes a certain kind of vile mind to come up with what he wrote. It takes a mind with little consideration for the feelings of others, or respect for the delicacies and limits of public debate to take those thoughts and make them public.

Kudos to Marshall Art for removing the offensive and offending remarks. Sympathies to Dan for having to endure this kind of horrific treatment from one of so little Christian virtue he sees nothing at all wrong with what he did. As for Mark?

God may love you. God may even forgive you. Me? I would devoutly wish that you cease writing on blogs, and prayerfully consider the hurt you have done. When you are ready to apologize and make amends to Dan, publicly, then maybe you can be let out in public again. Until then, I have only one sentence for you, and it will be short so even your genius IQ can grasp it:

You are one sick, horrible motherfucker.

Virtual Tin Cup

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