Saturday, December 20, 2008

Psalm 126

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday Rock Show

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

Friday, December 19, 2008

Compromising Professionalism

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

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

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

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

In other words, there are options.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you and best regards,


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

Can Krauthammer Get Anything Right?

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Obama Explains, It Doesn't Help

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


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

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

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

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

No (UPDATE With Link To Older Material)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think a good MCC pastor would do nicely.

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

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I Think ER's Fundie Addiction Is Catching

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 15, 2008

In Which I Prove I Can Read The Bible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music Monday

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

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

"In The Upper Room":

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

Giving Bush The Boot

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

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

Virtual Tin Cup

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