Friday, March 21, 2008

Race To November

I had hoped that Obama's speech the other day, in which he addressed comments by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, would provide an opportunity for us to have a serious discussion on the issue. To that end, I offered space for such a discussion. Blogging friend ER has done the same, with more success.

Of course, I did not count on the fact that FOXNews would much rather point out what a scary black guy Barack Obama really is. I did not count on the fact that right-wing bloggers and journalists would do their utmost to paint Obama as a closet Black Muslim, Black Panther, white-hating fire-breathing scary black man.

Furthermore, on the post at ER's, some comments I made in which I challenged some things written by another commenter, were deemed close, but not quite, out of bounds. I thought it best to move my own position over here, to keep both ER and me from getting angry and frustrated with each other. It is far better to do what needs to be done on one's own territory, with rules one sets, rather than cause problems for others.

Having said that, I want to quote now in full my final comment:
ELAshley, I did not call you a racist. I said that certain things you wrote ignored historical facts and realities that could be construed as not being sensitive to the way others see the world. That's all.

As to comparing speeches . . . King's rhetoric, while soaked in the style of the Baptist Church, became increasingly strident as he turned from the single issue of Civil Rights to the larger issue of social justice, with his criticism of the Vietnam War becoming the focal point of a larger critique of American society. Nothing Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton has ever written or said has ever come close to the denunciations of America that appear in King's later speeches. Not one thing.

Finally, I just want to say that it is the focus on these two gentlemen that made my eyebrows rise and sit up and post the comments I did. If we compare anything they said with the words of, say, Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond, George Wallace (before he repented), and going back in historical time a ways, Ed "Cotton" Smith, Theodore Bilbo, and John Stennis, and compare the legacies these latter men represented, and the power they wielded, and the institutions and practices they supported, and the former pair of men, I do believe you might consider the possibility that you are comparing apples and oranges. More to the point, I wish to know why it is that it is incumbent upon the historical victims of racial violence in our society to prove they aren't angry to be acceptable to the rest of us? Why do these men, who have made mistakes to be sure, and occasionally gotten overheated in their comments and controversies, for some reason represent for some people in this country, something frightening? I will address this issue on my own blog, so you may address comments there, if you wish.

I would like to be clear about something before I sign off this thread. The issue of racism, for me, is not an issue of what is in an individual's heart or mind. Since that is inaccessible, it is not so much a realm free from judgment as a straw creation set up to protect us from charges of racism. My observation on ELAshley's comment focused on his words, and his words alone. While I applaud anyone who wrestles with this very American of social sins, and sometimes sounds confused in the process, I do not think it wrong to point out that one might not realize how hurtful one is being in the process of such wrestling.

To me, this is all part of the dialogue process. If I have over-stepped the bounds here, I apologize. I shall, for obvious reasons, abide by the rules as set forth by the host.

While it makes me sad, for better or worse, we are going to have a discussion on race in America that includes crap. We are going to hear from all sorts of white people that they aren't racist, don't benefit from a racist society, have all sorts of black friends, and prefer Marvin Gaye to Bobby Darin, giving them street cred. We will hear from some people that calling the words of someone racist is wrong and bad, because no one knows what is in another's heart. We will hear how awful the Black Panthers and Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are, compared to that big old teddy bear Martin Luther King, Jr. (who had his house bombed, was called a communist, had his phone tapped, his organization infiltrated by the FBI, and was finally murdered in what can only be called curious circumstances).

Except, I don't like those rules. In fact, I think we need to address head-on the notion that any public discussion on race should not include labeling some words "racist". To that end, while I find it irrelevant, I will admit right up front - I have struggled with racism most of my life. I have struggled with the reality that, as a white person, I am given all sorts of privileges and passes that a person of color will never receive. I accept the fact - and, like all facts, it exists independent of our acknowledgment of it as a fact - that racism is such a deep, almost socially and culturally genetic part of American society that it will never be eradicated from my life.

I also know that I have learned this, been called to account for it and had the choice of change forced upon me, by some of the most beautiful people in the world. Confronting one's demons is harder than almost anything. I do not point the finger of racism at others out of a sense of deep satisfaction with my own freedom from that particular anchor dragging me down. Rather, like Marley's Ghost, I see that weight on others so clearly only because I have reached the point, perhaps too late, perhaps not, of seeing my own all too clearly. I do not judge others harshly; I only ask that, again like Marley's Ghost to Scrooge, they see clearly what seems invisible, and take the opportunity for serious repentance.

So, as this is my last post for eight or nine days (what vacation would be complete without a vacation from blogging?), I offer this as an open forum in which people can talk about race. The only rules here are those rules of a knife-fight - there aren't any. Please, discuss, rage, call each other names - but try to listen and learn, even if the words hurt.

A Special Friday Music Post, WIth Both Reasons And A Boring And Irrelevant Personal Anecdote

Sunday, immediately following church, the wife and kiddies and I are rushing home, changing in to comfies, hopping in to my Kia, and heading for The Empire State. For that reason, tomorrow will be a non-blogging day, as there is a house to clean, clothes to wash and pack, and all the little details of getting ready for a week's vacation to prepare.


I mean . . . Yay!

Anyway, I had thought I was going to post something about going home (I had settled on U2's "A Sort Of Homecoming . . .") but then, inspired by who knows what, I decided to do something else. Before I begin this little tale and post the song, I just want to add that, if you haven't checked them out before, the Late Night Music posts over at Crooks and Liars are awesome, usually in a completely different category than mine, and hosted either by John Amato or Howie Klein. Amato and Klein are both veterans of the music business, and love music. Klein was a pioneer in the indie/punk movement in the Bay area in the late-1970's, so his posts tend to dwell on punk. Although I do love those posts (and they were what inspired me to do these little things; hey, at least I only do a couple a week, not one a day), I sometimes find Klein's little personal tie-ins somewhat off-putting. Nicole Smith, who also does a few, usually begins hers with the line, "When I was a roadie with The Clash . . ." and I feel the urge to roll my eyes and sigh heavily, a al my ten-year-old, who often gets exasperated with her father. Yet, I find myself doing the same thing, and probably getting the same reaction.

Oh, well. That's the beam in my own eye that prevents me from seeing clearly the mote in others'.

In the fall of 1991, I was on the Washington Beltway, driving to a date with a lovely woman with whom I thought I was falling in love (I was, and it ended badly; in early October, I had no way of knowing the future). As I drove, I was listening to the radio, and the song I am posting below came on. Now, I will tell you that I like this song for a single couplet contained in it. I would never be mistaken for a Damn Yankees fan. The prospect of seeing Ted Nugent, Tommy Shaw, and Jack Blades on stage together . . . it gives me chills. In this unremarkable, utterly predictable song, with otherwise really bland, typical lyrics, as I sped around I-495 on my way to an evening with someone special, one verse of the song stood out ; "When I get my hands on you, tell you what I'm gonna do. Lay you down, strip you bare, make love to you till the morning comes around."

I love it when the obvious is stated as boldly and baldly as that. Rather than candlelights and flowers, with Michael Bolton playing in the background, it just says what most men think and directly as possible. Since I was going on a date anyway, that little couplet entered my brain and never left it. So, while I really don't like this particular song, for those two little snippets of "verse" - here's Damn Yankees with "Come Again" (and, yes, I like the entendre in the title).

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Never Ending Blowjob

I realize putting "that word" in the title might be offensive to some people. I thought about calling this "The Real Never Ending Story" or something like that, but in fact, this is one act of fellatio that has gone on for over twelve years. Personally, I'd be dehydrated by now.

ABC News managed to get a hold of Sen. Hillary Clinton's records as First Lady, and the first story they ran yesterday was the earth-shattering investigative piece that (gasp!), Hillary was in the White House on that day.

Seriously, people - who cares, other than Bill and Hillary? Monica, perhaps, although I am quite sure she is over the worst of the treatment she received at the hands of the media. Perhaps Chelsea, who has to be reminded of her father's peccadilloes in public, because the media just can't get enough of this crap.

I realize I'm a crazy lefty, but I might point out that Pres. Clinton is most likely not the first President in American history to receive adulterous oral pleasure while his wife was somewhere en manse. I might also point out that President Clinton isn't the first American to receive oral satisfaction, adulterous or not. I might further point out that most Americans, then as now, really don't give a fart in a hurricane about this.

When I criticize the media for weird obsessions and creating narratives that have nothing to do with reality, this is the kind of shit I mean.

Head, Meet Brick Wall (UPDATE With Link)

The column begins, "These are salad days for John McCain . . .", and I instantly regret clicking on the button. More fluffing occurs further down:
When I read Petraeus's comments to The Post, just days before McCain landed in Baghdad, I thought, "What an opening he has created for McCain."

For some outright fantasy-mongering, the following paragraph is difficult to beat:
McCain concluded with, "I will be glad to stake my campaign on the fact that this has succeeded and the American people appreciate it."

Since an overwhelming majority of the American people want us out of Iraq, and believe we were lured there through lies, and that it has been a huge strategic blunder, McCain's position is so far out of step with the American people as to be almost directly opposite the way things really are.

Now, Broder's knee-pad clad column in honor of the very senior Senator from Arizona fails to mention a few salient comments that have been duly noted and scrutinized by Think Progress and Talking Points Memo. That Broder fails to mention them isn't surprising. It is also a sign of journalistic malpractice.

In a post dated March 18, Think Progress first noted McCain's misstatements on the relationship between al Qaeda in Iraq and Iran, and his total lack of any grasp of the distinctions between Sunni and Shi'a Islam. The post, entitled "McCain Conflates Shiite Iran And Sunni Al Qaeda, Needs To Be Corrected By Lieberman" was the first step in a series of misstatements by the presumptive Republican nominee for President. Think Progress noted a progression in misstatements as follows:
- Campaign denies McCain’s Iran/al Qaeda ‘gaffe.’
-McCain modifies his al Qaeda in Iran claim.
-Cafferty on McCain ‘gaffe’: ‘What kind of leadership is that?’

Joshua Micah Marshall at Talking Points Memo has gone a step further in taking McCain's comments and highlighting them. In a post from yesterday, entitled "Unfit for Duty", Marshall uses this "gaffe" (which it really isn't; it's a fundamental misunderstanding of the realities we face in the Levant right now) as an opening to discuss McCain lack of serious foreign policy cred, which is what he gets fluffed on the most.
In almost every discussion of foreign policy, not just today but in previous years, what stands out is McCain's inability to see beyond the immediate issues of military tactics to any firm grasp of strategy or America's real vital interests. His free willingness to commit to a decades long occupation of Iraq is an example, his push for ground troops to be introduced during the Kosovo War is another. His refusal, almost inability, to grapple with the political failure of the surge is the most telling one if people will sift through its deeper implications.

The idea that fighting jihadists in Iraq or policing the country's sectarian and ethnic disputes is the calling of this century is one that is belied in virtually everything we see in flux in today's world and which seems certain to affect us through the rest of our lifetimes and our children's.


Then you step back and see the huge number of dollars we're pouring into Iraq, the vast mountains of capital being piled up in China, the oil-fueled resurgence of Russia, the weakness of the dollar (not only in exchange rate but in its future as a reserve currency), the rising tide of anti-Americanism around the world. I don't think I've ever heard anything from John McCain that suggests he's given serious consideration to any of these issues, except as possible near term military challenges -- i.e., is China building a blue water navy to challenge the US, Russian weapons systems, etc.

Candidly, I do not think I've heard sufficient discussions or solutions to these challenges from my preferred candidates. But neither has the myopia that McCain has about Iraq. Or the willingness to spend -- how else to put it -- like a drunken sailor in that country at the expense of everything else now going on in the world.

Hillary Clinton has stipulated to McCain's qualifications as Commander-in-Chief; and Obama, implicitly, does the same. But his record actually shows he's one of the most dangerous people we could have in the Oval Office in coming years -- not just because he's a hothead in using the military, but more because he seems genuinely clueless about the real challenges and dangers the country is facing. He's too busy living in the fantasy world where our future as a great power and our very safety are all bound up in Iraq.(emphasis added)

Now, these two analyses - one labeled "salad days", the other labeled "unfit" - center on the same series of events, but each ignores part or large parts of McCain's visit to Iraq. Even with that qualification, however, I have to wonder which one is more honest.

UPDATE: This is the third time in three days that Glenn Greenwald has managed to expand and sum up a view offered here. As Glenn points out, this isn't a "brain fart" a la Joe Klein, but a fundamental misunderstanding McCain has repeated. Our choice, it seems, is simple. Do we continue to praise McCain's grasp of foreign policy nuance, or do we understand that he doesn't know what the hell he is talking about much of the time?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


For those of us old enough to remember, the following video, provided helpfully by Matt Yglesias, should remind us of some really bad, scary days.

Scare-mongering is neither new, nor is it particularly startling. What is so horrible about this video is just this - enough people bought this crap that we elected Ronald Reagan President to protect us from the Evil Empire, and now look where we are. We bought a bill of goods nearly a generation ago, and we are at the bottom of the bag, now, with the crumbs and dregs.

A Personal Story With Some Thoughts

In January of 1987, my best childhood friend, already discouraged by several failures, false starts, personal problems, and family issues, surrendered his last ounce of courage, burned the grade report that told him he had flunked out - again - of college, got high, called around trying to find someone to help him, give him a last minute reprieve, and finding none, went out back, put a long-barreled firearm (I don't know if it was a shotgun or rifle) in his mouth and nearly decapitated himself. I spent my last semester in college trying to understand not only "Why", but why I was reacting the way I did. Twenty-one years later, the "why" doesn't interest me at all, because I have come to the conclusion (as heartless as it sounds) that he was a gutless coward, afraid to turn to those of us who loved him and tell us that things were pretty messed up in his life.

I had survivor's guilt pretty bad. That summer, I had a nightmare from which I woke up screaming. I was a camp counselor that summer, and a bunch of kids hearing their counselor screaming in the middle of the night was most likely unsettling. I was sitting in a theater, and I saw Chip a few rows in front of me, he turned to me and smiled and as I watched, the skin and flesh melted off his head, leaving a glaring, bloodied skull laughing at me maniacally.

You wonder why I woke up screaming?

The reason for reciting this little bit of personal history is this post by Angry Ballerina, which concerns this story in The New York Times on a string of suicides and questionable deaths on Nantucket. While I once had compassion for those who, at wit's end and suffering from either acute or chronic depression, found no recourse but death acceptable, I have since changed my mind, and believe that compassion only ends up handing these people the support they need to commit this one final act of treachery against those who love them. As someone who spent time dealing, professionally, with a case of acute depression, I know what that is like. Going that extra mile, however, reminds me of the emptiness and anger I lived with for close to a year, the sense that I had failed somehow.

I know now, through the benefit of hindsight, that I didn't fail. The failure was his and his alone. I feel fortunate that I also do not hate him anymore (I spent quite a few years hating him for what he did; he committed murder), and when I am home next week, I shall go down to Tioga Point Cemetery in Athens, PA and stand above his grave and we'll chat (don't call me weird, because I know all sorts of people who spend their time in cemeteries having conversations with those whose bodies lie interred beneath their feet). At most, I will berate him because I so much wish that my wife and kids could have met him. Mostly, I'll just stand there and remember some of the crazy stuff he used to do, and got us to do (walking from one of the pool to the other; driving with his knees while combing his hair in the rear-view mirror; that day in the locker room shower with his girlfriend . . . OK, maybe I shouldn't have mentioned that one).

This is one area I know I have a blind spot. I wish I could be more compassionate with those for whom life has become too much of a burden. I wish I could hear their pain, and legitimate it. I can't. We all live with pain. We all have to deal with failure, sometimes multiple failures. We all have to live with the consequences of our bad decisions and limited knowledge. Deciding that such makes life unlivable is cowardice, pure and simple. While I hope the individuals find, in whatever lies on the other side, something like peace, they should know, before they go, that the turmoil they leave behind is as much their responsibility as the turmoil they created in their lives in the first place.

R.I.P. - Charles Kinch, 1965-1987.

Right-Wing Howling (UPDATE With Link)

The reaction to Barack Obama's speech on his minister, in which he changed the subject from the words of one pastor to the issue of race in America, can be summed up in two words - florid psychosis. It isn't enough that Obama attends a church in which community solidarity and upbuilding are the way the gospel is lived out. Obama had the audacity to insist that, subject to unprecedented discrimination, blacks in America have a right to anger, and asked us to hear both the words and feel the emotions, and to remember that while we have gone far, we have so much farther to go.

Of course, part of the reason the right is in such a state is that it feels the momentum has shifted away from the intellectually ridiculous territory of "color-blindness" and racist theft of a few words from Dr. King to give their racism some veneer of respectability. Obama said in public what many blacks, and not a few white and others, have said in private discussions for years. The appropriation of some of King's rhetoric by the right - from Shelby Steele's The Content of Their Character to Jerry Falwell talking about the "proud record of the Baptist Church" in fighting discrimination (thus covering up his own role in fighting integration in Virginia and fueling code-word racism) - is more than simple political trickery; it is more than intellectual theft and dishonesty. It is taking the legacy of one of our great prophets and turning it on its head, using it for the exact opposite purposes for which it was intended.

Obama cut through a quarter century of right-wing appropriation of King's words, moving the conversation forward to where we live now. King is not so much left behind, as returned to his place as a prophetic voice challenging us on the issue of race and justice. Obama has used this contrived controversy as an opportunity for us to actually talk about race, what it means to be American, and the way history has weight and power, both creating opportunities and limiting options. We have an opportunity to have a serious discussion here, and as (H)apa Theology notes in comments, Obama has done us the favor of speaking to us as adults.

None of this is conducive to the mental health of the right. Steeped in a racism that is as American as cherry pie, the right in America has managed to convince some people that black Americans don't know their own plight; that their voices are the voices of crime and social dysfunction, to be guided and taught rather than heard and heeded. For a quarter-century, we have listened to racists and demagogues tell us what we should think while all around us race relations have become more and more strained, and we no longer seem to know what to think. We celebrate the many gifts of African-Americans throughout our history - from the invention of the traffic light and blood transfusions to jazz - yet believe current social conditions cripple them as a group, limiting their ability to be full citizens. We celebrate the various ways individuals of color have managed to destroy barriers to full participation, yet bemoan the intransigence and ineradicable nature of the black underclass, seeing there the seedbed of so much social and cultural dysfunction.

We are told by many on the right that this is not a function of racism, either historical or current, but of the intransigence of certain social realities, such as poverty, or what was once called "the cycle of poverty". We were once told that all people are born with "a moral sense", but it can be truncated by poor socio-economic conditions, creating social unrest. We were even told, a little over a decade ago, that blacks were inherently inferior and intellectually limited, a situation for which there can be no cure.

All of that has been tossed aside by Obama, and the right doesn't like it. Their control of our national discourse on race, like so many other topics, is slipping away. The howling one hears, and flailing about one sees, is evidence enough they know their historic moment is passing, slipping away through their own myriad failings. It seems to be driving not a few of them over the edge.

Fine with me.

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald, once again, is well worth reading today. He quotes Steve M. from No More Mister Nice Blog who writes:
The premises [the speech] lays out require you to be an adult, and I'm not convinced that most Americans are adults, at least when looking for a candidate to support. . . .

This isn't what Americans like to hear in political speeches. They like to hear: Good people = us (America, our party). Bad people = them (communists, terrorists, criminals, drug dealers, our ideological opposites, the other party, or some group we identify in code rather than explicitly).

That wasn't the tone of this speech. I hope I'm wrong, but Obama may pay a price for not giving people what they like to hear.

To this, Greenwald responds directly:
The entire premise of Barack Obama's candidacy is built upon the opposite assumption -- that Americans are not only able, but eager, to participate in a more elevated and reasoned political discourse, one that moves beyond the boisterous, screeching, simple-minded, ugly, vapid attack-based distractions and patronizing manipulation -- the Drudgian Freak Show -- that has dominated our political debates for the last two decades at least.

Nobody actually knows which of these views are right because there hasn't been a serious national campaign in a very long time that has attempted to elevate itself above the Drudgian muck by relying (not entirely, but mostly) upon reasoned discourse and substantive discussions -- at least not with the potency that Obama generates. Will George Bush's ranch hats and Willie Horton's scary face and Al Gore's earth tones and John Kerry's windsurfing tights inevitably overwhelm sober, substantive discussions of the fundamental political crises plaguing the country? Obama's insistence that Americans are hungry for that sort of elevated debate and are able to engage it -- and his willingness to stake his campaign on his being right about that -- has been, in my view, one of the most admirable aspects of his candidacy.

I couldn't agree more. Steve M.'s position is one I find distasteful because it is the assumption that Americans are silly, superficial, obsessed with trivia to the exclusion of serious thought, and incapable as a body of the kind of politics we need. The main reason I support Obama is he believes Americans are adults, ready for a politics not geared towards five-year-olds, but one designed to appeal to the inner adult in us. His casual dismissal of so much of the nonsense surrounding our current political scene is not just a political tactic, but the reaction of a serious person to nonsense. The reaction of his supporters is indicative of hunger many of us have for more of this kind of thing.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Unmentionable (UPDATE with link)

When I was in seminary, one of the professors of systematic theology was a student and protege of the great Black Theology founder and propounder James Cone. Josiah Young as a tall, beautiful man, elegant, brilliant (he also got a Masters in philosophy under Cornel West while studying at Union Seminary, spoke and wrote several languages, and even published a guide to African theology in French), and angry. I was taking a seminar Young was leading on Barth's theology the spring the LA riots occurred, and I shall never forget how tense things were that first morning when we all wondered whether Washington would explode, as it seemed on the verge of at times; Josiah seemed on the verge of an explosion, too.

He was promoted to full professor my first year, 1990, and gave his sermon during a special chapel service. In that sermon, he confessed his anger which occasionally spilled over to hatred, for whites, based on his own experiences and those of his family and friends. He spoke of day-dreams of "rivers of white blood flowing in the streets". Yet, he also spoke eloquently of how that evil could never overcome the evil of systemic racism, and could only be countered by the love of God, realized in the love of community in solidarity for justice. In the first class I attended after that sermon, one woman was in tears because she stopped listening after she heard Josiah talk of his anger and wishes for violence.

Barack Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, made comments in a similar vein, pointing the prophetic finger of blame at the hubris and arrogance of white America for so much of our current predicament. It is a diagnosis that should be unsurprising to anyone paying attention, yet people still get all vapory, swooning at the thought of blacks actually standing on their two feet shouting, "J'accuse!" The situation is made worse by racists who not only refuse to accept this diagnosis, but tell white folks who do accept it that we suffer from something imaginary known as "white guilt". After all, I've never lynched anyone, or owned slaves, so I can't possibly be responsible for the plight of African-Americans, can I?

My experience with Dr. Young taught me a lot. Not just him, but my friends Alpha Brown and Rodney Graves and Anthony Arrington all taught me to see the world a little differently, to enter imaginatively in to the lives of others whose life experiences, and the experience of the communities of which they are a part, are far different from my own. I left behind the sheltered, privileged cocoon of my race, class, and up-bringing and understood something I might not have but for the intervention of these individuals - that the promise of America is a shameful lie to large minorities of American citizens (not just African-Americans, but Latinos, women, and others), and the historic legacy of these folks is often stolen and turned against them. Reading Rev. Wright's sermon, I was reminded that the prophetic voice of black America is not dead, and carries the uncomfortable message that we must own the responsibility for the mess we've made, or we shall perish.

Today, Barack Obama gave a speech in which he managed to say what needed to be said - this is an opportunity to speak about race candidly that should not be lost because a bunch of racists get all skittish at the thought that some black folk might be angry. Of course, those racists have the bulk of the power, including the power to direct our discourse down trivial side roads that have nothing to do with the real issues before us. Without distancing himself or embracing too closely the specifics of the Rev. Wright's words, Obama managed to change the subject, making it a challenge for a serious conversation on race, moving beyond the obvious rut we've been in, with the words of Dr. King emanating from the mouths of those who wished him ill while he was alive (all that bleating about "content of their character" is taken wholly out of context, and distorted to mean the exact opposite of what he intended; color-blindness is a genetic deformity, not an elevated social condition).

While Obama has not tried to be "the black candidate", neither has he shied away from making clear that, like Justice Thurgood Marshall said in an interview after he retired, "not a day goes by that I don't wake up knowing I'm a Negro". The reality of race in America is too deeply ingrained to ever overcome that hurdle. Yet, discussions of race have been forbidden for far too long in this country, with the rules set by those whose only desire is not to hear black voices that a real discussion, an honest argument is almost impossible as things stand.

So, we have a choice before us. A largely fabricated controversy is creating a set of conditions in which we as a country can start, perhaps for the first time, to talk about race and culture and politics. Do we grasp this particular bull by the horns? Do we do what needs to be done? Or do we, collectively, remember that our responsibility and guilt weigh far too much, and give over and silence the voices that call us to account?

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald is quite clear on why this entire hubbub is largely an invention. The fantasies of John Hagee, the psychosis of Pat Robertson, and the divisive hatred of Jerry Falwell are all perfectly acceptable while the prophetic voice of conscience is somehow out of bounds as serious discourse. It isn't just weird, it's wrong. Obviously, the color of the preachers has much to do with it. The three white evangelical, dispensationalist, and Baptist preachers mentioned do not threaten our sense of ourselves as good and true Americans, called by God to save the Universe. Wright, on the other hand, calls us by the name we dare not speak, and reminds us that our success as a nation is floating on a sea of blood, built largely by those in chains and denied their humanity. That is the difference. The three whites lie. Wright, on the other hand, speaks prophetic truth far too real to be acceptable.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Music Monday

I've posted a video or two of Marillion in the past, but I decided to feature them today. Born in the neo-prog era of the mid-1980's in Great Britain, they started out very much being a Genesis-style band. Their early releases - Fugazi, Script For A Jester's Tear, Misplaced Childhood - were hits in Britain, but they failed to get serious radio play in the US. The first single off Childhood,
"Kayleigh", got some airtime, and moderate rotation on MTV, but they never really broke here.

In the late spring of 1991, I was in a pizzeria in Washington, DC and heard an interesting song that someone told me was called "Incommunicado" by Marillion. They showed me the CD, Clutching at Straws. I went out and bought it that evening. The following song, not "Incommunicado", is part of an opening trilogy of songs, the observations of a very drunk man sitting at a bar watching the people around him, and the people outside as he looks out the window. It's called "Warm Wet Circles".

The original lead singer for the group, whose stage name was Fish, and whose real name was Derek Dik (which is why he went by Fish), left as the band was working on their follow-up to Clutching at Straws. The band put everything on hold, finally hiring Steve Hogarth. Now, I think Fish is a clever lyricist, and Hogarth isn't as good a poet. But, he's been with the band for 20 years, and produced some of the most amazing music, different to be sure from their earlier efforts, but no less brilliant for all that. Their best recording, in my opinion, was the CD Brave, a concept album that muses on why someone would commit suicide. The closing song on the CD is a bit of a cop-out, because it ends on a happy note, but the song is so beautiful I tolerate it. It's called "Made Again".

The spent two years making their CD Marbles, an exercise in self-indulgence really quite unprecedented. They filmed a concert on their subsequent tour, released in 2005. The following song means more to me than I really want to say, because it describes me. About the way a person who lives inside his own head finds someone who actually gives him the freedom to keep doing that, and goes there with him. It's called "Fantastic Place".

More On Donald Miller II

Miller writes about the pastor of the congregation of which he is a part in Portland, OR, a man named Rick. Rick, he says, doesn't really care if the people to whom he reaches out believe in God or not, or come to believe in God. Rick ministers to people because that's what he's supposed to do, no questions asked, no demands or conditions applied.

One of my frustrations in my excursions through fundamentalist land last summer was the constant badgering about "belief". The various fundies somehow found it necessary to turn every discussion in to an argument to be won or lost; they invariably won because I wasn't involved in the arguments at all, and they set the rules anyway. At the same time, my good friend Democracy Lover enjoys pointing out the irrationality of religious belief in general and some of the claims of Christianity in particular, and feels that he has the better argument on these matters because I quite freely admit that there is no reason for holding the beliefs I do. Both positions share the fundamental assumption that it is necessary to show other people that living a truly human life involves understanding it, making sense of it, living by a set of rules comprehensible in themselves, and coherent enough to get other people to join up.

What a bunch of nonsense.

I wanted to exchange views with fundies; they wanted to tell me I was going to hell because I didn't subscribe to various doctrines, or don't believe in "Truth". I had and have no desire to convince anyone that what I believe must or should apply to anyone but me. All along, all I've been trying to do is explain what I believe, and why, so that I'm clear about it for myself. If anyone understands, that's wonderful. If not, well, most of this is between me and God anyway, and I think God understands, so that's all I really need to keep going from one day to the next.

If we had more clergy who didn't care if the people to whom they ministered accepted their words as representing something transcendent to which it was necessary to subscribe in order to live forever, I think I would be happy. Unfortunately, we think of "evangelism" as including asking the question, "Do you know Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?", a question I'm still trying to understand. God didn't send Jesus only when the world accepted all the various teachings about who God is; Jesus came "in the fullness of time" - when God decided the time was right. The Disciples were called before they even knew who Jesus was; the whole time they were with him, they really didn't get what he was about, as he constantly pointed out. Why we should be held to some unbiblical standard concerning belief is beyond me.

The Christian life is about figuring it out as we go, and it is changing all the time. I no longer believe most of the stuff I thought I did ten or fifteen years ago. I'm quite sure in ten or fifteen years I will believe things I do not now, because life changes the way we see and think and believe. I would much rather have a faith that changes than slap a coat of lacquer on a bunch of words and say, "That's it, right there, all you need to live in faith!"

More on Donald Miller I

One of the things that I really like about Blue Like Jazz is there are parts with which I can identify very clearly. He writes about a friend of his who went to a rally against President Bush. He says that she was doing it to be cool; there was no conviction inside her that the things Bush was doing were wrong, only a sense that protesting Bush put her in a group of people with whom she identified for reasons that have everything to do with upholding her picture of herself as a cool person.

In the spring of 1993, I attended a huge gay rights parade in Washington, DC. I had marched against the first Gulf War, so this was not my first massive protest march. There were probably 750,000 people there, and the march was held up by ACTUP holding a die-in in front of the Clinton White House. This was also the march which was featured heavily by Jerry Falwell's TV show, with pictures of a six-and-a-half-foot-tall drag queen dressed as Cher to show the whole world who was really there, and what their agenda really was.

On the way to the gathering spot, the group I had ridden the Metro with passed a homeless man sleeping on a grate on the sidewalk. Everyone walked around him without even looking at him. One even stepped over him. I put two dollar bills under his hands, which he was using as a pillow.

As we stood in the warm sunshine, waiting our turn to step off, getting our chant ready ("2, 4, 6, 8! Who says your preacher's straight?"), I kept going back to that homeless man, and the way he was invisible. As I listened to the speakers, and watched the muscle boys - all of whom looked like Mr. Universe but sounded like Richard Simmons when they talked - in their speedos and the Dykes On Bikes walk around topless daring any man to look at them, I kept going back to that homeless man on the street. We finally stepped off, and were moving up Pennsylvania Avenue, doing our chant, the counter-protestors no longer waving their signs, I kept thinking about that homeless man. At the National Archives, I left the parade, hopped on the Metro and went home. I have never done a big march, nor will I, ever again.

My experience that day changed the way I thought and behaved. Now, I still believe that gay rights are important, even necessary for a truly just society. That day, however, I felt surrounded by mostly white, mostly privileged, upper-middle class people who wanted the government to get people to stop calling them "fag" and "dyke", while some poor man had to sleep on a grate with his only blanket a tattered an filthy trench coat. I realize the situation is more complex than that; that Saturday, however, that is how clear it was for me.

When Lisa got home, I told her all this, and I said, "Who's marching for that homeless man? Whose demanding the government help this man sleep in a bed, maybe get trained to work, get off booze?" She sat and listened, and I think she understood.

To this day, I look back on that moment as pivotal in my own life. I know longer believe that massive protest marches do much of anything but make the participants feel good about themselves. When a group of self-consciously liberal young people (we were all in our 20's, that period when people are most earnest about their radical political convictions) can not see a man sleeping on a sidewalk, then all the good intentions in the world, all the demands that things change is a bunch of bullshit, as far as I'm concerned.

Fifteen years later, with our financial infrastructure collapsing around us in real time, our military broken, and our political discourse chock-a-block with liars and fantasists, criminals and ninnies, I do not see where we have become better through protest or politics or legislation or pretty much anything. It would be nice to believe that a change in political party will change much of this, but that's as fanciful as believing that hundreds of thousands of people marching through the nation's capital chanting nonsense will change the country's mind about minority rights. In the years since that initial revelation, I have ceased to believe there is a solution to our problems that, if only grasped by enough people in a rational manner, would effect the kind of change we might like. We have to live with this crappy situation because the world is full of crappy situations to which there is no solution.

Except, maybe, in our own little worlds, where we live cheek by jowl with others who need our love and attention and our non-earnest support. Maybe that's all that we can hope for. Maybe, too, it's enough.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Second And Third Thoughts

I am rereading Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz for the first time in nearly two years. It had an enormous impact upon me when I first read it, and I am finding that what I remembered were the parts I still like. The parts I had forgotten, however, I am having trouble with. This is not to say this isn't an important book, or that Miller's struggle with being a Christian doesn't resonate with me in myriad ways. It is to say that we have similar questions; the answers we get, however, after much searching and prayer, are quite different.

Yet, isn't that part of the beauty of what it means to be a Christian? I doubt that two people sitting down and discussing what it means to be a Christian (if such a question really is intelligible) would come to the same conclusion. Even if these two people were life-long friends who attended the same church, listened to the same sermons, and shared many of the same views on a variety of things. God's call to us is the most intimate, personal call we can have. Our on-going dialogue with God involves the most secret, most feared, most hateful parts of our lives. We comfort ourselves with cushy lies about our how closely our faith lies next to the faith of that great cloud of witnesses who has gone before us, but the facts are quite different. That great cloud of witnesses includes all sorts of people - murderers, rapists, genocidal maniacs, schizophrenics who stripped in public and ate paper claiming all the while that God was telling them to do it - we would never acknowledge as co-religionists. We coddle our pride not only with the comforting lies of our own piety, but the rewarding self-flagellation concerning our own reprobation. They are the two sides of a coin that gives pride of place to our lives and our thoughts and our faith in the strange drama of salvation. The truth is something far more dangerous to our sense of ourselves - God loves us so much, and engages us so deeply precisely to remind us that who we are doesn't matter all that much, because it's really about God. Whether we are good or bad, sin or don't, or even believe or don't - God is still there, still running the show, even if we don't always understand why some things are the way they are; even if we refuse to entertain the barest notion that there is some Thing in charge, God goes gamely on, laughing at our pretense and our guilt and our pride and our remorse, asking only that we live and love and try not to hurt each other too much in the process.

Anyway, I think Donald Miller's book is important. I look forward to discovering more things I don't like because they remind me that God speaks to Donald Miller differently that God speaks to Geoffrey Kruse-Safford, and our responses are different because we are different people. And that's OK.

Like jazz, this is far too personal to try and dissect. Sometimes, you just have to listen to the groove.


I posted the following last April, and it is among my favorite pieces. I found the discussion in the comment section frustrating, except for the final two comments which I would not discover for some months, because it focused not on the point of the post, but on one person's vapors at seeing a nude woman. I still think it is weird.

I've been thinking about this post and the accompanying photo in the context in which it all came about - French fascist Jean Marie Le Pen's comments on how women should avoid unwanted pregnancy - and the larger issue of sexuality, especially women's sexuality, and the social reaction to it. I had been thinking about how to say more, from a Christian perspective (or at least my Christian perspective) on this question, but I wanted more than just my opinion to be out there. I started one yesterday, then gave up. Then, late last night, I came across this piece by Jane Hamsher at FDL on Rudy Giuliani, and lo! and behold! it began by summing up much of what I wanted to say by way of background, and I quote (although it would be rewarding to read the whole thing):

I know I'm late to this particular party, but I have to disagree with just about everyone who thinks Rudy really stepped in it with his abortion comments last week and believes he has now alienated the mouth breather vote. It may have been an artless move, but I think it actually won't cost him a thing — in fact, it liberates him from an image of slavish devotion to wingnuttery that will help him in the long run, and I seriously doubt that that the lizard brains are going to abandon him.

There is a central misconception at play wherein people believe that because the social conservatives make so much noise about abortion, it's something they actually care about. It isn't. It's an abstraction. If you think they really give a happy hootie about innocent fetuses, you're living in a fool's paradise. George Bush could say the war on terror will be won tomorrow by stringing up Islamofascist blastulae and torturing them at Guantanamo Bay and nobody would make a peep. Not a one. Being anti-abortion is an article of faith, a calling card, a way of saying you are a member of the tribe. It's Michelle Malkin showing up in a white hood to the Klan meeting. The "unborn child" is what they profess to care about because what they really care about are self-determined urban women with lives of their own who take their jobs away and have sex and don't bake quite enough pies, and they hate 'em. But that's not okay to say so we get yet another chorus of "Every Sperm is Sacred."(emphasis added)

It is my belief that the Supreme Court's decision in Roe V. Wade, legalizing abortion on demand, was the last straw for many on the Christian Right. For a decade since the introduction of the birth control pill, the prospect of women being able to have a fulfilling sex life without fear of unwanted pregnancy posed a mortal threat to male dominance of society. For centuries, sexual freedom was a male prerogative. Women were the objects of male sexuality, quite often nameless, faceless, non-persons who were walking masturbation aids. With the advent first of the pill, then of abortion, which took care of those missed by the pill, women were now emancipated from the fear of issue and could exercise their sexual desire and power with a freedom previously only reserved for men.

I do not wish to downplay the economic dimension, either. With both conception control and abortion available as live options, women were now free to pursue careers outside the home with a freedom even their mothers had not had. As legislation and case law increasingly defined the limits of discrimination against the employment of women, and as women were no longer bound by either tradition or biology to limit their options, it increased competition in the workplace. Indeed, in many ways, the pool of available workers suddenly doubled, as both men and women became potentially equal partners in the job market (I say "potentially" because it hasn't happened, and we are years away from the playing field being even). Combined with the more elemental threat of a more free sexuality available to women, the reaction of the right, especially the Christian right, should have been obvious.

A generation later, however, we have yet to grasp the almost elemental fear and hatred of women among many on the right. I do not mean hatred of individual persons who happen to be women; I am talking about the fear engendered by free, powerful, sexually and (relatively) economically liberated women upon men. As long as women fulfill roles defined for them, there is nothing to fear. Once women start to press the limits of "acceptable" behavior, however, one can almost hear the howls of rage. Consider, for a moment, the disdain for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In the past two weeks, there has been an onslaught against her for a trip to Syria, part of which included bringing along a message from the Israeli government to reassure Bashar al Assad that Israel had no plans for a spring or summer offensive against them (the Israeli government claimed afterward that no such message was given, even though the Israeli press had been discussing it prior to Pelois's visit; this is a separate matter deserving a much fuller treatment elsewhere). For our purposes here, it is just enough to consider the almost universal screech, not just from members of the Administration and Congressional Republicans, but from members of the mainstream press who should be aware that the trip was (a) bi-partisan, and (b) unremarkable because members of Congress routinely do exactly what Speaker Pelosi has done, not the least of them being Newt Gingrich. Yet, as Glenn Greenwald has carefully and thoroughly demonstrated, the attacks upon Pelosi began before she even took office as Speaker of the House and have continued in the same manner for the past five months.

Nancy Pelosi is a woman who has attained the Number 3 position, essentially, in our Constitutional order (she is second in line for the Presidency after the Vice President). The threat she poses, I contend, is not just political, but sexual. She is a successful, powerful, appealing, and attractive woman - a horrible combination for men already threatened in their masculinity by female freedom in general. Is it any wonder that many on the right feel about her as frequent visitor and commentator Neon Prime Time expressed in a comment several months ago, viz., "She scares me"? What is frightening can be summed up in Simone de Beauvois's famous dictum, "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." Here is a woman who does not need a man to be free, powerful, a leader. She doesn't know her place. That she is physically appealing as well as politically appealing only makes the threat that much more horrendous.

Faced with the power that women have over men, a power men have had to control through de-humanization, social and economic control, sexual exploitation and physical violence, and the rhetoric of innate sexual difference, many men end up, in the end, a quivering puddle on the floor, terrified that a strong woman will discover and make public what has been heretofore a secret even to these men themselves (except perhaps in their darkest thoughts they dare not express) - these men just don't cut it. A sexually, socially, economically liberated woman is a threat on many levels. It is my contention, however, that the most elemental threat is the sexual element. There are various social and economic controls that still exist to limit the social and economic power of women. A woman who is sexually free, however, threatens men's view of themselves at its most basic level.

You might be wondering about the whole "Christian" element I spoke of above. It is my contention that all that I have written has been written from a perspective that views women as equal creatures before God, created with power and vulnerability, part of which is sexual. Unless we want to deny that sex is a good gift from a good God (as my other told me, "If God made anything better than sex, He kept it to Himself"; there is no better theology of sex that I know of!) we have to start thinking in more creative ways about human sexuality. We should begin by recognizing, as a social fact, the threat posed to men's well-being by strong, independent women. We need to recognize that threat as existing on multiple levels, and deal with it on multiple levels. We need a positive view of human sexuality, one not linked to outmoded social roles and easily avoidable biological consequences, and teach both boys and girls, men and women, about the power they have, and how it should be used creatively and positively; and about the dangers it poses destructively and negatively.

For further reading, I suggest you go here to I think the headline says it all.

Note: The photo is entitled "Forbidden Fruit" by Alexander Feodorov.

More Of This, Please

Nothing denotes the most basic difference between Lisa and me in matters of the practice of ministry than our attitude towards the United Methodist Church's stance on gays and lesbians in ministry. On the one hand, I believe that the Discipline provides enough wiggle room for homosexual clergy to serve with integrity, provided they abide by the rules - the Judicial Council of the Church has stated that both parts of the rule governing gay clergy, self-avowed and practicing, need to apply before disciplinary action is taken. On the other hand, I find it odd that the church discriminates against an entire class of individuals for the sole reason that they love differently from the rest of us. I have been saying for close to 20 years the entire "controversy" would end if the clergy in just one Annual Conference - pick one, it doesn't matter - would stand in unison and declare their sexual orientation and dare the Church to kick them out (it might help if a bishop or two joined them). For all practical purposes, some of the best, brightest, more creative pastors would be on the brink. There would also be a dearth of clergy, and the Church would find itself in the interesting position of needing an influx of new talented, gifted individuals to serve. For my money, pragmatism would win out, and the whole issue would die in that moment.

Lisa, on the other hand, being the pastoral person she is, empathizes with those who are uncomfortable with the issue. She hears people who say they wish, not that gay people or clergy would go away, but that the issue would go away. In the late 1990's, the VA Conference declared a moratorium on discussing the issue, and while there was an outcry, Lisa liked it because she believed then and believes now (rightly, I might add) that it is peripheral to the concerns of most church-going folk.

Yet, the issue will not go away, nor do I believe it should. Just because most members in the pews are not exercised by their disgust at same-sex people preaching and serving communion does not mean that the discriminatory practices of the church are therefore inconsequential. As more and more high-profile cases of gay clergy coming out emerge, the issue will continue to sharpen. At the United Methodist Church's website, there is a story about the Rev. Kathleen Weber, who outed herself during a September 30, 2007 worship service at Blaine Memorial United Methodist Church in downtown Seattle.

Now, some might think this a really stupid thing to do (I believe that Lisa would be one, but she's still asleep so I can't ask her). For myself, I think we need more and more of this kind of thing. If one admits one's sexual orientation up front, and declares oneself still to be a person given the gifts and grace for the practice of ministry, the onus is upon not just the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, but the entire Church to figure out why, exactly, a person should be denied ordination simply for being who one is as created by God.

If a person believes him- or herself called to ordained pastoral ministry, and after the increasingly rigorous (even invasive) candidacy process finds that call affirmed by one's local church, one's District Committee on Ordained Ministry, and one's Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, I do believe that the weight of presumption that something is amiss is upon the Church, not the individual.

We need to see more, not less, of this kind of thing. The end of discrimination in the Church will only come through action, not through negotiation.

Blood And Oil

The top story at Washington Post Outlook is an interesting examination of the role of our need for petroleum in invading Iraq. Entitled "A Crude Case for War" by Steven Mufson, who writes on energy for WaPo, one of the first quotes in the piece is as follows, and should be duly noted by everyone who reads this piece:
"If we went to war for oil, we did it as clumsily as anyone could do. And we spent more on the war than we could ever conceivably have gotten out of Iraq's oil fields even if we had particular control over them," says Anthony Cordesman, an expert on U.S. strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who rejects the idea that the war was designed on behalf of oil companies.

Please note two things about this quote. First, its source, Anthony Cordesman, and his views on the role of our search for control of oil in invading Iraq. Second, please note the structure of the quote; "we did it as clumsily as we could" could either be a dismissal of the claim by pointing out the way our reconstruction efforts have failed, or it could be a general observation on the way the Bush Administration does anything, which is to say badly.

Yet, when one considers some startling statistics Mufson offers just prior to this quote, it might give one pause to reconsider Cordesman's alleged expertise.
The profits of the five biggest Western oil companies have jumped from $40 billion to $121 billion [since the 2003 invasion].

Now, if the goal was to get more oil for US consumers, then obviously that failed along with everything else. On the other hand, if the goal was to line the pockets of the oil industry, it has been a rousing success by the most important metric there is - revenue.

Mufson puts much of the blame for the current high price of oil on lack of production in Iraq. Yet, just last month, OPEC met, and Bush went on bended knee, pleading with OPEC ministers to open the valves and let the oil flow. For all intents and purposes, the current price of oil is not a function of the lack of Iraqi oil, but of production caps stringently upheld by the oil cartel. While further weakened by our slowing economy, OPEC knows it does not have to rely on the United States as its chief source of oil revenue; as is constantly crowed, both India and China, the two most populous nations on the planet, are undergoing economic and social expansion that require huge amounts of oil. While still the largest consumer of petroleum-based products, we are no longer alone as the chief source of money, and high demand does create high prices. We cannot dictate terms to OPEC anymore.

While I do not believe oil is the sole, or even among the top five, reasons for invading Iraq, no one can deny its importance. Nor can anyone deny the success it has been for the petroleum industry in the United States. Even as prices soar at the pump, we continue to consume at an alarming rate, handing over more and more of our diminishing income to a handful of mega-corporations who make ever more money, even as they poor-mouth and complain about the high price of a barrel of oil. My question is this - if the price of a gallon of gas were lowered by even $.50, how much revenue would the oil companies make? At what point do we realize we are being taken for a ride, paying for a date with the richest folks on Earth?

God's Morality Or God's Will

Insomnia sucks. It is 3:30 am, and I'm not working, so I should be fast asleep.

As I tossed and turned, it occurred to me that I had not come up with my position on the relationship between morality and Christianity on my own. After putting on a pot of coffee (why do I need it if I'm not sleeping? Habit), I searched my bookshelf but could not find my copy of Ethics by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Let me just say that the work under this title is neither complete nor unified. His literary heirs compiled several different false starts Bonhoeffer had written over several years and put them between one cover; his mentor, Karl Barth, said that he would not want anyone publishing his incomplete, fragmented thoughts in such a way.

Yet, there is a passage at the very beginning that, when I first read it in the autumn of 1991, struck me like a hammer blow. While I believe some unpacking of it will be necessary below, and while I may have a detail or two incorrect (again, I couldn't find my copy; it might be in Lisa's church office), essentially, Bonhoeffer begins his discussion of Christian ethics by stating that an emphasis on the moral life - that is, living in the knowledge of good and evil, and living life as if it moved between these two poles, choice being forced upon us - is a life still lived in sin, because knowledge of good and evil accompanied the fall and introduction of sin in to the world. The Christian life, lived by faith through grace, is a life seeking the will of God. We do not seek to do the good and eschew evil because one is good and the other evil. We seek to do God's will, leaving the question of morality behind us.

In essence, Bonhoeffer is turning Nietzsche on his head. For Nietzsche, morality was a bone tossed to the common folk; the new humanity that was arising lived beyond good and evil, eschewing such bourgeois notions as beneath contempt, slave mentality. Bonhoeffer took Nietzsche by his syphilitic hand and said, "Ja, Friedrich, you are right. But the new humanity isn't amoral, but living in the light of God's will revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ." I'm quite sure that Nietzsche would have shook his head at what he could only deem sophistry.

Now, I will note that there are problems with Bonhoeffer's position. In the first place, both his method and presuppositions rely far too much (for my taste) upon certain Lutheran ways of thinking - the dialectic and dichotomy between grace and law, and gospel and law; the two kingdom's theory in which our Christian lives and the decisions we make there have little role in our public lives - as well as a Hegelian Spirit of overcoming contradiction through a higher synthesis, said synthesis leaving the old contradiction not so much resolved as moot.

Yet, I believe that at a fundamental level, Bonhoeffer has something here. A fully integrated Christian life is one lived in prayer, seeking after what God would have us do in our lives. This should include, for obvious reasons, how we live our lives with others. We are not to seek to do good, or to do well. We are exhorted to seek first the kingdom of God, and God's righteousness. We aren't told to seek first a Republican majority, and the end of gayness and abortions. Sometimes, doing God's will can be destructive of the most congenial human relationships and institutions, and those who so do can be called immoral without compunction; consider Bonhoeffer as an example.

He saw God's will in the Abwehr plot to kill Adolf Hitler, and participated through relatives and friends. Now, setting aside who and what Hitler was and represented, to actively seek the death of another human being, as well as the head of state of one's own country - who would deem that a moral act. Even if we do not set any of that aside - would or could any of us make such a decision, and live with ourselves?

At the end of The Kingdom of Heaven, one of the characters offers the difference between Islam and Christianity, with Christianity being one where the fundamental issue is choice - do we choose Christ or the devil, good or evil, morality or immorality? I think that this is a fundamentally wrong take on the Christian faith. Christianity isn't about choice, because the necessity of choice has been removed by the one for whom our faith is named. The issue isn't so much choice as it is freedom or slavery. Do we live our lives free in the faith and hope that Jesus has walked the path of Godforsakeness for us so we no longer have to be riddled by guilt or shame? Or do we still yoke ourselves to whatever fancy comes along, calls itself the True and Good, and hope that there is something of God in there, or enough of God in there, to keep us from the pit of doom?

Virtual Tin Cup

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