Saturday, July 05, 2008

Summer Reading

I began with the first volume of Gary Dorrien's The Making of American Liberal Theology. I took a two-week break to go through the seven volumes of Harry Potter, and am now on volume two of Dorrien's three-part work. Between volumes two and three, I'll either read It or The Stand. Stephen King is a seasonal writer; Salem's Lot is an autumnal read, and The Shining a winter yarn. The first two I mentioned, however, put me in mind of summer (although I first read It when it came out, in the fall of 1986, it will always be a summer book for me).

I am barely in to Dorrien's narrative/analysis of liberal theology in America at its high water mark and am already heartened by this re-reading. First and foremost, I have to say that my recollection covers Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich, with a smattering of the Boston Personalists moreso than anything else. Beginning again as I am, I am recalling the first constructive theological statement of American theological liberalism, An Outline of Christian Theology by Colgate University theology professor William Newton Clarke. I just want to lift a quote from Clarke, via page 36 of Dorrien's work, that I find heartening:
Christianity is not a book-religion, but a life-religion. It centres (sic) in a person, and consists in a life, and Scriptures are its servant, not its source. To treat it, in proclaiming it or defending it, as a book-religion is to resign one if best point of advantage.

Clarke was a Baptist minister who found his vocation as a theology teacher late in life. As there was no good text from which to work, Clarke wrote his own, relying on his years of experience as an exegetical preacher, rather than the work of theologians. What is remarkable about what he wrote is how well it fit the zeitgeist of the burgeoning liberal theology movement.

So what are you reading this summer?

Saturday Rock Show

I was never a huge Todd Rundgren fan, but this song, "Hello, It's Me" was one I always liked. Why? I guess it recalls a time I remember dimly but fondly - women with long straight hair, men with long curly hair and beards, the on-going cultural and political struggle between youth and authority - still idealized in my head. At the same time, it is a tad over-produced (by Rundgren himself) even as it relies on a simple hook and chord change.

I'd been thinking about this particular song for a while, and yesterday when I went looking for it on YouTube, I found a great cover by the Isley Brothers, who take the song and make a beautiful 1970's soul ballad out of it.

An Independence Day Gift From God (UPDATE, UPDATE II)

Jesse Helms died yesterday. All the more reason to celebrate. Since stealing is what we liberals do best (along with destroying the family and surrendering to terrorists), I want to steal a quote from Mark Twain I found over here:
I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.

-Mark Twain

Unlike Tim Russert, where my disapproval was mostly a matter of degree rather than of kind when I made some critical comments at the time of his death, I wish to be honest enough to say that Helms death came a bit too late. There was little I can perceive in either his public or private life that are worth celebrating; he was a despicable man who held deplorable political beliefs, and his death relieves us of the burden of having to recall that he is still among those stealing oxygen from the rest of us. One hopes the bacteria and worms benefit from his death far more than America ever did from his life.

UPDATE: Another title I like referring to Helms' demise:
Hell gets a little more crowded

UPDATE: At The Washington Note, Steve Clemons types the following:
We will be battling Helms as an ideological force for decades to come.

Actually, Helms' battles were those of a generation before he served, battles he lost. He represented, not conservatism in the Burkean mode, but a form of racial reactionary politics, far more venomous and destructive than that practiced by George Wallace or even Strom Thurmond in his own heyday. Helms never surrendered his belief that blacks were fundamentally inferior to whites, and should be denied a place at our political, cultural, and social table. It would a far better tribute to America to never again mention that Jesse Helms once held an office of importance and power; that would be a true monument to how far we've come than any "debate" or ideological "battle" over Helms' horrid legacy.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

In Congress Assembled

Unlike the detail concerning the heat of late summer in Philadelphia in 1787, there is little evidence concerning the weather eleven years earlier. One thing that is sure is the vote to approve Jefferson's statement occurred, without dissenting votes, on July 2, 1776 (after certain passages were altered or expunged, much to Jefferson's chagrin). The date of the signing, however, was the date given as date of official approval. Even as Washington was about to lose the battle of Brooklyn Heights, once again dividing his forces, leaving New York to the tender mercies of the British Army, the thirteen colonies declared themselves free of British rule. It would be seven years before that Declaration was given force by the Treaty of Paris (although, for all practical purposes, it was clear from the battle of Yorktown that the British would give up the fight). In the ensuing 222 years, we have gone through much, have still more to go through, and may yet fail the test our experiment in liberty has set for us. Time will tell if we live up to words Jefferson cribbed from Montaigne and Locke, but at least they sit there for us, both a goal and a chastening rod to remind us not only of our beginnings, but of who we are to be should we decide to be our best.

I wish all readers a happy and safe Independence Day celebration. We are free of foreign rule today because two centuries ago and more there were men who understood what honor and sacrifice meant, what they could cost, and were willing to do what it took to achieve the goal they had set. God grant their example sit with us as we cruise through the bread and circuses of another Presidential campaign.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Somerby Gets It Wrong

It is a sad day. I have to disagree with Bob Somerby of The Daily Howler today.

Why? Because, as he so often says, he gets it wrong.

On the one hand, he gets points for being even-handed enough to take on real liberals for what he feels is a mischaracterization of something reported in the news. On the other hand, just because Keith Olbermann was a bit over-the-top when he called Charlie Black's comments earlier this year - that a terrorist attack would help the Republican Party - an "obscenity", that hardly qualifies as being equal to the full-throated bellow to which so many in the media are giving vent because Clark had the audacity to say what he said; here's the example Somerby chooses, from CNN's Campbell Brown:
onight, we begin with John McCain's military service under attack. Should the record of a celebrated POW be fair game during this campaign? As always, we give you the facts—no bias, no bull—on the strong push-back over what some see as the Obama campaign's attempt to swift-boat John McCain, and this coming on the day Obama delivers a major speech on patriotism in the carefully staged location of Independence, Missouri.

Somerby points out, from Clark's comments to Bob Schieffer on Sunday, that Clark did in fact criticize McCain's military career:
But when you go out of your way to say that someone “hasn’t had to make the tough decisions” (in the way I, Wes Clark, have done), is it true that you aren’t “dissing his military experience in any way, shape or form?” Hacks of the left will insist on such claims.

Except, of course, the portion of Clark's comments that Somerby highlights aren't a criticism of McCain's military career. They are a criticism of his lack of executive experience.
But he hasn't held executive responsibility. That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded wasn't a wartime squadron. He hasn't been there and ordered the bombs to fall. He hasn't seen what it's like when diplomats come in and say, “I don't know whether we're going to be able to get this point through or not. Do you want to take the risk? What about your reputation? How do we handle it publicly?” He hasn't made those calls, Bob.

And, yes, Bob, Wes Clark has made those calls.

Comparing the reaction on the part of one or two commentators to Charlie Black's ill-advised comments (which are nothing more than standard-issue Republican talking points) to the Pundit Panty-bunch going on right now over Clark's comments is nonsensical. While Somerby is right that our time is being wasted by what is an unremarkable statement, he is wrong when he says it was "dumb". It wasn't dumb, it was an astute observation about a central argument McCain has been using for nine years as an argument that he should be President. It dismisses this argument quickly and cleanly.

The real story, now that we are three days removed from the original comment, is the press corps reaction to Clark's comments. That Somerby misses this point is surprising; that he compares the remarks by Keith Olbermann to the entire Washington-based media (with the notable exception, as he points out, of the the Washington Post's editorial page) throwing a tantrum shows that he lacks a certain appreciation of proportion.

Reluctant Doesn't Mean "Every Chance I Get"

During a flight to Colombia, Sen. John McCain not only reacted with anger to a reporter's question concerning the relevance of his Vietnam War experience to being President of the United States. That is a given - the guy has a short fuse, and being questioned like that is impertinent. After having a couple BFF's run interference for him while he counted to one hundred, he gathered himself together and explained his initial reaction as follows:
"I kind of reacted the way I did because I have a reluctance to talk about my experiences," he said, noting that he has huge admiration for the "heroes" who served with him in the POW camp and said the experience taught him to love the U.S. because he missed it so much.

"I am always reluctant to talk about these things," McCain said.

This is funny provided for free, folks. The guy uses this talking point every chance he gets.

He's so reluctant, he's even used it in TV ads.

McCain Lie Watch

It's been a while . . . Not for lack of examples.

John McCain in December: "The issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should."

John McCain in July:
Q: You have admitted that you’re not exactly an expert when it comes to the economy and many have said –

McCAIN: I have not. I have not. Actually, I have not. I said that I am stronger on national security issues because of all the time I spent in the military. I’m very strong on the economy. I understand it. I have a lot more experience than my opponent.

If it weren't so easy, it might actually be a bit more satisfying.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Taking Requests

Last year I did a Monday Music post asking readers for requests for their favorite "summer songs". I got a good response, although the three I selected - "Afternoon Delight", "Summer Breeze", and "Blinded By the Light" - were all from the 1970's. So, for this year's summer music post, I am asking for summer songs from the 1980's. If a song takes you back to the days of Reagan, men in pink dress shirts, and Miami Vice, then I want to know about it. Otherwise, I might just have to, well, play something like this:

Or, I could be cruel and play this:

Or this:

So be warned . . .

Mercy For A Family Member

The on-going fascination with the Manson "Family" murders and the fate of the perpetrators is something I find fascinating. For those who are too young to remember, Charles Manson was the schizophrenic leader of a group of young men and women bent on starting a race war, the details of which Manson insisted he heard in the Beatles' song "Helter Skelter", which was Paul's song about riding a roller coaster stoned. While the murders of the LaBiancas was heinous, the murder of B-movie starlet and pregnant wife of director Roman Polanski pushed the murders from local news in LA to national attention. District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi and theatrical psycho Charles Manson seemed suited for one another, vying for the court's and the public's attention.

The "Family" became well-known in detail after Bugliosi published a book, in which he painted Manson as some kind of Satanic presence in the lives of those around him. Further notoriety was gained when "Family" fugitive Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme attempted to assassinate Pres. Gerald Ford on orders she claimed she received psychically from Manson.

In 1988, during a special on non-existent Satanism, "journalist" Geraldo Rivera "interviewed" Manson in prison, and was dumb enough to fall for Manson's routine (just as Don Wildmon fell for Ted Bundy's "confession" that a pornography addiction was the reason for his own reign of terror, ignoring all the classic signs of developing sociopathology and psychopathology in his biography; fools will be fooled is the lesson from these two examples).

Now, Susan Atkins, the one who actually stabbed Tate to death, is pleading for release as she sits in prison. As has been noted, at some point in her prison life, she converted to Christianity and has led an exemplary life. She has even worked to help youth whose life might end up paralleling her own. Many words have been spilled on the issue of whether or not she should be released, including the On Faith forum at the Washington Post.

First, I have no opinion on whether or not Atkins should be released. That decision is up to the parole board and the governor of California, and should be determined based upon the facts of her present condition, mitigated by any expressions of remorse she may have made concerning the horrid murders she committed nearly 40 years ago.

Second, I think the issue of grace as a theological concept and religious practice, and mercy as a legal question are related, but should never be equated. The issue of forgiveness - is Susan Atkins forgiven for her heinous crime by God? A faithful Christian would say, in all likelihood, yet - is far different from the issue of mercy - should Susan Atkins be released from prison so she won't die there? One can argue the merits of the second question based upon facts, as I stated above. The former question, however, is an issue of faith that reasonable people, or people from different traditions, can disagree upon. I will just add, for the record, that convicted murderers have become saints (like that tent-maker Saul in the Bible).

When Lisa and I first married, we disagreed on the death penalty; I considered it a necessary punishment for the most heinous of criminals, although I was troubled by the way it was and continues to be used. I have since converted to her opposition, but one case early in our life together was a source of conflict. About a year after we were married, John Wayne Gacey was executed. Lisa felt this was wrong, and while I struggle to say I agree now with her, at the time I thought it not only right but just for Gacey to die. Indeed, the only part I thought unjust about it was the relative ease of his own death; considering the fear and suffering he caused, his own unceremonious death hardly counted.

I repeat all this because it was in discussing the Gacey case that I started to change my mind. Lisa saw a necessary link between justice and grace. I did not. I still do not. My opposition to the death penalty is pragmatic rather than principled (as currently applied, it is racially- and class-biased; there have been far too many death-row inmates freed on what should have been easily accessible exculpatory evidence for me to be sanguine about the oft-touted claim that no innocent individual has ever been executed). Part of that pragmatism leads me to question whether there is, or should be, a religious component to the question of mercy for Atkins. Obviously, the whole issue of her ultimate status before God is a matter of faith, and something between her and God alone. I do not believe, however, that should have any bearing on whether or not she dies outside a prison's walls.

Again, I have no opinion, because I am unacquainted with the facts beyond what I read in news reports. I would just say that grace from God is one thing; mercy from the state another, and the two should always be kept separate.

The Bunched Panties Of The Media

From Talking Points Memo, the following compilation of McCain's lovers expressing their shock at Gen. Wesley Clark's comments that being shot down doesn't qualify one as President:

One point I wish to emphasize. Unlike the attacks on John Kerry's war record in 2004, this is not "Swiftboating", although there is a certain amount of irony to the word being reintroduced in to our political vocabulary (one of the biggest Swiftboaters is working for the McCain campaign, so they might be less than happy having folks reminded of that sorry bit of business). See, Kerry was attacked with lies. His military record was open, the testimony that earned him his medals was available, and his activism as part of Vietnam Veterans Against the War was part of his public life of which he was rightly proud. All Clark did was say, without muss or fuss, that being a POW, in and of itself, was hardly a qualification for President. Period.

No one is lying about McCain's military record, questioning his patriotism, calling in to question the testimony of those who served with him, or any of the other things the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth did to John Kerry. McCain himself has said that military experience alone is not a necessary qualification for the Presidency. Since that is what Clark's point was, and the point was pretty clear, I fail to see anything more than McCain's base shrieking in rage at the audacity of someone who would take a point McCain has used frequently as part of his c.v. and turn it around so easily and question its relevance. Since the media have bought in to the whole "he was a POW so that's off limits" nonsense, they are outraged that an outsider has done it for them, and in a way that is so clear it should be obvious.

Moral Degradation

It is pretty common for Presidents to take a certain amount of credit for a bill they are about to sign even if they opposed this or that portion of it. Usual practice, however, is for them to take bills they don't like and sign them unceremoniously, out of the view of those who might remind them they once opposed the bill about to become law. Never one to express anything like a conscience, Pres. Bush not only signed a bill that included Sen. Jim Webb's new GI Bill, he praised the legislation. There's nothing wrong with that, obviously, except for the fact that he actively and publicly worked against the bill's passage, insisting that it would deter re-enlistment and reward shorter service. On Countdown yesterday, Sen. Webb said the following (via Think Progress):
“I think it’s safe to say there was a good deal of cooperation between Republicans and Democrats. It just didn’t include the administration,” Webb said with a chuckle. He added that Bush “blew it”:

I think George W. Bush made a real bad mistake in terms of our trying to show full respect for military service. I think he blew it.

On the one hand, there is nothing surprising about this. As I say, Presidents have been known to say a n ice word or two about a bill some of the provisions of which they opposed. In this case, however, when Bush goes all out to praise his own Administration's efforts to pass a bill it actively tried to undermine, we have a further example of the kind of moral nihilism practiced by the folks in charge.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Music Monday

I thought I would do something I believe I have done before. What follows are three different songs from three different genres of music by music groups no one would call "Christian" (except perhaps for the first one presented, early in their career) that nonetheless use Christian and Biblical themes in a song. The first is pretty well known, the second a bit more obscure, the last should surprise anyone with a brain.

First, we have U2. Three of the members of the band converted to a form of evangelical Christianity in their late teens, and their early songs were drenched in Christian imagery. Indeed, this continued long after their first releases; just consider some of the songs on their best recording, The Joshua Tree. From a 1982 Festival, this is "I Will Follow":

In 1973, Genesis mined the Book of Revelation for their biggest and longest ever epic song, "Supper's Ready". I always liked the live version from Second's Out and the following video is from the same, rough, time, 1976, with Phil Collins on lead vocal, rather than Peter Gabriel, and Bill Bruford doing the grunt work on drums. This is only a snippet - about eight or nine minutes - of a song that is 23:00 minutes long.

On their second release, Ride the Lightning, Metallica recorded what is among my favorite of their songs, "Creeping Death", which is nothing more than the Passover story. Here they are from a 1989 concert, at the height of their power.

Media Tempests

I missed this yesterday, because I had a serious migraine and kept away from the computer as much as I could.
CLARK: He has been a voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee. And he has traveled all over the world. But he hasn't held executive responsibility. That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded — that wasn't a wartime squadron. He hasn't been there and ordered the bombs to fall. He hasn't seen what it's like when diplomats come in and say, "I don't know whether we're going to be able to get this point through or not, do you want to take the risk, what about your reputation, how do we handle this publicly? He hasn't made those calls, Bob.

SCHIEFFER: Can I just interrupt you? I have to say, Barack Obama hasn't had any of these experiences either, nor has he ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down.

CLARK: I don’t think getting in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president.

I could get all "objective" about this, and make some wishy-washy point beginning "on the one hand . . ." and containing the phrase "on the other hand . . ." somewhere else. But, I won't. Clark's point is simple and clear. Furthermore, he's correct. I don't think there's anything particularly controversial here.

Let me be clear. First, McCain deserves our thanks for his service, as well as a certain deference for the inner strength he showed through simply surviving seven years as a POW, undergoing the harsh treatment he received at the hands of his North Vietnamese captors. Yet, unlike John Kerry, who merely pointed out his Vietnam service as part of his biography, McCain uses his own experience as a specific qualification for the highest office in the country. Clark is saying what is obvious - being a POW is not something that automatically qualifies one for the office of President. Nor should the topic be off the table. It is one thing to admire the personal strength of character McCain exhibited; it is another to take such admiration and say, "He should be President because he made it through that hell hole." There's no logic to it.

Yet, Clark's comments have already been "repudiated" by the Obama campaign, for reasons I don't really understand. Furthermore, as Tbogg and atrios point out, the panties of the right are bunching already, the hissy-fits are already being thrown, and the lies are already beginning. Klein's mischaracterization of Clark's statement should come as no surprise; the media is McCain's base, after all. Yet, we should pause for a moment to consider what he has to say, because like him or not, his is a voice of Inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom that is listened to very closely (which means folks in Germantown, MD and Burke, VA are allowed to think something different, apparently):
Clark is just plain wrong when he says that "getting shot down" doesn't qualify as foreign policy experience. I think McCain's Vietnam war experience gives him important perspective on the horrors of war and should never, ever be discounted--even if McCain's more recent positions have been unduly bellicose. It's also just really bad manners on Clark's part, given the suffering McCain endured.

Klein is wrong because this is not what Clark said. He said that being shot down and spending seven years as a POW does not qualify one as President. He said nothing of "foreign policy experience". He was answering a specific question Bob Schieffer addressed to him in a very specific way (which is probably why he is misunderstood; we aren't used to questions being answered on the Sunday blabfests). Furthermore, Klein falls in to the very trap the Clark is advocating we not do, which is confuse our personal admiration for this part of McCain's biography for any kind of bonus to be given him as he seeks public office.

This differs from the "Swiftboating" of John Kerry in a number of ways. The most obvious one is that it is honest. Unlike the lies spewed by the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth, all Clark is doing here is pointing out that being a POW is hardly something that counts as a bullet-point on a resume.

I am quite sure we will hear all sorts of things said about Wes Clark, all kind of breast-beating and garment ripping over this particular bit of nonsense. I do hope it isn't as long a week as I fear it will be.

On a programming note, I will not be blogging on Friday, as it will be a day spent with my girls before a week spent alone. May I wish everyone a happy and safe holiday now.

Preaching Good Sex From A Pulpit

I was led to think about this subject after reading this takedown at Sadly,No! Addressed to this piece from, where the author, Kevin McCullough attempts to address Barack Obama's advocacy of condom-use. I will waste little time repeating the very thorough beating McCullough received from Mister Leonard Pierce. I would, rather, address the issue of how sexual morality is discussed, and not discussed, in our churches and our society. I do believe I will probably anger pretty much everyone with what follows, but bear with me, if you would, because there is a point behind what might seem, at first blush, to be outrageousness for its own sake.

First, I think it is important to say, up front, that I do not believe an honest and thorough reading of the Bible can lead to "a" or "the" Christian ethic on human sexual behavior. The whole gamut is presented, from rape and honest sensuality to advocacy of celibacy. Granted, the practice of rape is hardly recommended, but were we honest enough, we would grant that it is at least present. Furthermore, the most thorough statement on sexuality is not Paul's letters, but the Old Testament poem THe Song of Songs, which celebrates that most intimate of human acts in a blatant, graphic manner.

What is odd is that, during the period when the western church held sway the strongest, the Song was the most commented-upon book of the Bible. It was interpreted allegorically, stripping the praise of the beauty of the human form and the joys human sexual congress bring of their power. Yet, we can appreciate now, I think, the simple fact that, here within the pages of the Bible is a definitive statement concerning the possibilities inherent in human sexuality.

It is not enough to just start here, however. It would be far too easy to do what has been done for centuries, and ignore some parts of the Bible in favor of those that seem to speak to our own concerns. It would also be wrong to ignore millennia of preaching and teaching that saw human sexual desire in all its forms as at the very least an occasion for sin, a trap and lure for the weak and fallen, pulling them away from the higher and more refined life to which some have insisted Christ calls us. So, on the one hand, we have a good starting point for developing a healthy, human sexual ethic that acknowledges the reality and goodness of human sexual desire; on the other hand, we are kicking against the pricks (no pun intended) of centuries of church insistence that sex, even marital relations between a husband and wife, should be limited to procreation, never admitting that the more pleasurable aspects of sex have any role whatsoever.

I have always wondered about this last. If the simple sensual pleasure of human sexual intimacy is a snare devised by the devil, why is the sex drive so much stronger than the will to survive? Why, indeed, are non-Christians as able to overcome it, if those who preach this idea are consistent? Buddhists, Jain, and other eastern religious practitioners are capable, after years of stern discipline, to deny this most basic human drive, sometimes far better than their western counterparts.

In any case, I believe that it is time to take Paul's advocacy of sexual denial except within marriage as part of his belief that Christians should be different from the society at large. Remember, he lived and taught during the period when Roman cultural dominance was at its height. Among the elite, sexual license was prevalent. As Christians were drawn from a variety of social strata, and were taught to be a people apart, part of this difference would be a different approach to human sexuality.

One objection to my own approach (which should be obvious) is that our society is no different. We are a culture inundated with sexual imagery. To be a people apart, it would seem, would continue to include limiting the sex act to reproduction, and ignoring the more beneficial aspects.

Except, while we are certainly swamped with the images and words of sex, they are images and words that reduce sex, not to reproduction certainly, but rather to a recreational activity. With the ubiquity of pornography, we could even call it a spectator sport. Yet, this is no more healthy than restricting sex to marital reproduction.

What I am advocating is the church teach a far more comprehensive, human, open, approach to the sexual urge. Recognize its power. Recognize the pitfalls and inherent dangers of abusing this wonderful gift from God. By "good sex", in the title, I am talking here not just about the quality, but the ethical nature of sex. Sex is good not just when it is physically pleasing. Sex is good when it is done with love, with concern for our partner, when it builds up a relationship, when it creates and strengthens bonds between two individuals. Sex is good, in other words, when the pleasure we receive from it goes far beyond the normal physical release. It should include an emotional and psychological component of joy and happiness.

At its best, whether one is a Christian or not, whether one believes in a god, or God, or not, human sexuality is the scene of one of the great mysteries of our existence. The bonds created are forged as we are stripped not just of our clothes, but of all the barriers we create that protect us from too close contact with others. At its best, sex leaves us as vulnerable as we could ever be, and yet feeling quite safe at the same time. The Church should strive to make sure that this kind of emotional and psychological vulnerability is understood not only as normal, but as a healthy spiritual reaction. By stripping away all our defenses, we can exist with another human being far better, in a far more open way, leading to better inter-relating.

Obviously, I will find few takers for such an approach to Christian sexual ethics. There are far too many people out there who are not only afraid of the power of human sexuality, but whose fear includes the fear that others will discover that power. Far better to limit it, than to expose it to the world as the same kind of power that Jesus displayed upon the cross - the powerlessness of the completely vulnerable. I believe the church should remember that, as embodied, created, whole beings who stand each moment of our lives in the light of grace, we have nothing to fear, and everything to gain, from remembering in our most intimate moments together, that God called all of creation (and sex is part of creation) very good.

Virtual Tin Cup

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