Saturday, January 10, 2009

Saturday Rock Show

Since we spoke of weird, wonderful music the other day, I thought I'd put up something from one of those groups that manages to do this consistently, with a good sense of humor. This is "Why Does the Sun Shine?" by They Might Be Giants:

Thursday, January 08, 2009

On Our Culture

The discussion here has got me thinking (for real!), and I figured I should get those thoughts down before they escape my sieve-like mind.

One of the things that really bugs me is when conservatives claim, with no evidence, that "liberals" are comfortable with various elements of our culture - from teenage sexual behavior to the general moral nihilism of much of our popular cultural products - when, speaking only for myself (which is all any of us can do), I am not. In order to be clear, I will deal with the latter first, then move on to the former and related topics.

I make the point in comments that we have not had cable or satellite service in our house for years, and quite deliberately. With the explosion of Hannah Montana, High School Musical, and other televised commercials aimed at girls my older daughter's age, I can only cheer this decision ever louder each day. In fact, though, we stopped for a couple reasons. First, we found that we were paying through the nose for something we did not use. We avoided "sitcoms" because all the jokes centered on sex, in the crudest, most vulgar way. We didn't watch because we didn't want our children exposed to it. Dramas, for the most part, lacked that particular quality. Our kids spend their time reading, using their imaginations, and enjoying a wider variety of things life has to offer because the boob-tube isn't there to sap their energy and their brain cells.

More generally, I think our culture is full of tricks and traps, not just for children, but for anyone not wary enough to avoid them. I do not know, and do not think it possible to determine with anything like accuracy, whether or not people are having more sex and at a younger age, than in previous generations. I remember quite well when I was in Junior High and HS there were those who did, and it was not something we thought was a good idea. I can't remember if folks were ostracized for it, but I do know most of the talk was that people who engaged in such practices were not so much "bad" as they were pretty stupid. By the time I was a Junior and Senior in HS, that had changed slightly, because, of course, all HS students know how adult and sophisticated they are, but there is a vast difference between a sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen year old and a thirteen and fourteen year old, too. How we deal with it as a society, however, is a difficult question, fraught with all sorts of problems. I don't know of any parent who cares little for the behavior of his or her children; I do know that many parents, trapped by the need for multiple jobs just to keep from drowning financially, plus the various pressures of life in general, sometimes feel incapable of dealing with their children, which doesn't make them bad parents. It only makes them emotionally and physically drained and frazzled. That a child, looking for a way to act out, can use this to his or her advantage is something everyone knows, but no one, as yet, has a cure for.

The difference between the kind of response to our various cultural and social ills we see from liberals and conservatives is not so much either acceptance or at least tolerance on the part of liberals with a more traditional refusal on the part of conservatives. Rather, the difference lies in how we understand these problems, and how we approach dealing with them. In the linked post, Marshall posts and update on the state of MS and some of its troubles. I do not think one can place "culture" on the list of reasons for Mississippi's woes. There are issues of racism, poverty, the malign neglect of the underclass in order to do things like build casinos and give handouts to the wealthy who lost coastal homes in Katrina, rather than do what is necessary to support young people and working families that are far more important than some kind of general cultural acceptance of bad behavior. Dealing with these might be far more productive in terms of reducing social deviance, or alleged social deviance, than passing all sorts of laws, or creating a general social atmosphere, in which there is a re-emergence of social and cultural backlash against moral turpitude.

I think a fine example of this is how the question of "abstinence-only" sex education is discussed, at least in my own experience. Because I see and read about studies that show it not only ineffective but actually counter-productive to its stated goals, one might consider developing a curriculum based on comprehensive education, including information on conception control, but that would also include information on abstinence as well, perhaps with the addition of creating support networks for those who might wish to make such a commitment, after receiving enough information and doing so willingly. In other words, it isn't that we liberals, or at least this liberal, is against abstinence. It is the whole "only" addition, and the way it is used - poor and even incorrect information, a refusal to put abstinence in a larger developmental context, social context, etc. - that is the issue. Precisely because the curriculum as currently formulated is not only inaccurate, but does not work, it might be thought wise to do something that might work. Yet, we are accused, inaccurately and often screechily, of promoting underage sexual activity when nothing could be further from the truth. There is no guarantee that comprehensive sex ed would be more effective, and the first line of defense is always the home - in this as in pretty much everything else - but it seems to me since we have tried something that is a demonstrable failure, it might be socially responsible to try something that many people think would work.

For the sake of emphasis, I think it is important to repeat that moral instruction begins not in school, or in peer groups, but in the home. There is absolutely nothing society in general can do to enforce proper moral instruction in the home. We can encourage families to come to church, synagogue, or mosque, and that children receive religious instruction, although that really doesn't have a bearing, in the long run, as a general rule, on how kids and adults turn out. We can be attentive parents, open to discussing and especially listening to our kids when they have problems or questions. I just don't know how effective social coercion, or worse, legal coercion, would work to deal with certain social ills, if for no other reason than they have failed in the past to be effective, so it might be thought wise to avoid such failures in the future.

How we bring up the next generation of young people, in the end, is something each family has to address in its own way. We can support one another, commiserate with one another, but I just don't see where creating new structures of social or legal remonstrance would deal with underlying socio-economic conditions on the one hand, or the reality that there are personal, biological, and peer issues that cannot be dealt with through simple ostracism or worse. These are not easy issues, and I do not believe there can be easy solutions for them.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

First, Baby Steps

As is usually the case for me, I am attempting to make sense of what it is I believe and why in a very tentative way. In order to do that, sometimes my initial thoughts and sentiments sound far more grand and fixed than they might actually be. I am thankful that Feodor called this "weak Christian liberal sauce" because it has forced me to be more clear.

First, this is a blog, not a theological seminar, so I don't feel obliged to be either as thorough or as detailed as I might otherwise. This isn't an excuse, it's just a fact.

Second, nothing I said in the linked post - initial thoughts only - should be construed as negating the call to a disciplined life, the call to live for others, or the demands of righteous living for one and all that is part and parcel of living for the Kingdom. I just see them as opportunities we are offered, rather than a new set of rules we are obliged to follow. Freedom means freedom for as well as freedom from. That initial post was nothing more or less than a brief explanation of my own sense of freedom from. Freedom for, well I think that should be obvious, but apparently it isn't. All of it, however, will take time to work out, to live out.

True to my own sense of the Wesleyan tradition, I see faith as something one lives, not something one declares, or claims. It is, to use a modern phrase, a process, even if it is characterized by moments of clarity in the haze and muddle of life. This blog is part of that process, and these are just steps along the way, and I may just turn around in another week and pronounce it all bunk and hogwash (never forget that).

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Senator Diva Feinstein (UPDATE)

I am not a fan of Dianne Feinstein. Now, more evidence emerges that she is nothing more than a shallow, self-promoting preener, wishing nothing more than to be the center of attention.
Shortly after the news [of Pres.-elect Obama naming Leon Panetta CIA chief] leaked, however, the incoming chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), issued a statement complaining that she was not “consulted” about the Panetta selection and condemning his appointment

What a whiner.

I have no opinion on whether or not the Panetta appointment is a good choice or not. Feinstein's little hissy-fit, however, makes me support it whole-heartedly.

UPDATE: What fragile egos these people have.
Just talked with Dianne Feinstein outside the Senate chamber about her qualms with the Leon Panetta nomination. The incoming Senate intelligence committee chairman said that both President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden called her after the fact to discuss the surprise choice of Panetta, who has no direct intelligence agency experience and whose nomination came as unwelcome news to Feinstein when it broke yesterday.

"I understand their thinking" in choosing Panetta, Feinstein explained, describing herself as "very respectful of the president's authority ... this is the man [Obama has chosen]."

She's like a character out of bad political fiction.

Beating The Brain-Dead

Whether we want to or not, I think most people who pay attention to these things remember the circus that formed around poor Terry Schiavo. Reduced to a permanent vegetative state, her husband petitioned the state of Florida to remove her feeding tube in order to end what little was left of her life in some kind of semi-humane way. The United States Congress was actually called back from a vacation to address this particular private drama, with the extraordinary step of legislation passing the was focused on the life and impending death of a particular individual.

Fast forward, and it seems that "pro-lifers" are planning on reminding America of this entire sorry episode.
Conservatives are now brushing off the Schiavo case to use it against Thomas Perrelli, President-elect Obama’s pick for the no. 3 spot at the Justice Department. Right-wing websites are outraged at Obama’s association with Perrelli, since he was one of the lawyers who represented Michael Schiavo, who wanted his wife’s feeding tube removed. The Washington Times today reports that these conservatives are now gearing up to fight Perrelli’s nomination:
Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, derided Mr. Perrelli’s selection as “just another death-peddler Obama has added to his list of nominees.” She said he’s earned the nickname among pro-lifers of “Piranha Perrelli” for his work on the case.

Tom McClusky, vice president for government affairs at the Family Research Council, said several end-of-life issues could make their way to the federal level in the next four years and having Mr. Perrelli at the department means pro-life causes would have a tougher time winning those debates.

“If the Justice Department isn’t going to do anything about it, the states, what’s to stop them from cases like Schiavo and even worse cases,” Mr. McClusky said.

I just love the whole "piranha Perrelli" bit.

Far be it from me to give advice to conservatives - no one listens to me anyway - but bringing up the Schiavo case out of dedication to principle may make pro-lifers feel good about themselves, but I doubt it will do much good. Most Americans were aghast at the thought the United States Congress would intervene in the private pain of a family wrestling with the most drastic decision any could face. I was particularly horrified at the way Michael Schiavo's reputation was destroyed by the connivance of Republican politicians trying to shore up their base and a press-corps reduced to tabloid-level sensationalism, printing every accusation imaginable. The whole incident was awful, yet because the Republican Party and the pro-life movement is tone-deaf to shame, it will soon be revived. The only benefit, it seems to me, will be reminding America why it voted Democratic in the past two national election cycles.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Music Monday

An odd band, to be sure, Procol Harum managed some interesting music. Let's start with one you may not know, but was covered by Transatlantic on their first studio release. This is "In Held 'Twas In I":

"A Salty Dog" from a 1977 concert.

I always liked "Conquistador", although it always bugged me that the word was consistently mispronounced. In this clip, Gary Brooker looks an awful lot like Anthony Hopkins. . .

Your Lips Say No, But That Gold Ring Says Yes

It seems Dennis "Womanizer" Prager has a defender! I'll just put it up without any commentary of my own.
Wow! A few things wrong here. First, that Geoffrey feels he's qualified to call Prager an imbecile. What hubris and what incompetence of judgement.

Secondly, where in this piece do you see a mandate for force in any way, shape or form. He's merely speaking from the perspective of the woman, not the man if the woman refuses.

Thirdly, 1 Corinthians 7:3-5. And look closely at verse 5, where Paul speaks of mutual consent. No force is suggested there, either.

Fourth, love often means doing that which one would prefer not doing. If any of you feels that expressing love is contingent upon your mood, you don't deserve a spouse and as it is I'll say an extra prayer for each of them.

Fifth, everything to which Prager alludes can be said to men as well. The genders being different, there are other expressions of love that mean more to women than men. It could be something as simple as joining the wife for grocery or clothes shopping or picking out patterns for the freakin' drapes or forgoing the game on Sunday to visit relatives or planting bushes. How often are men in general in the mood for such things? Doing it anyway is a demonstration of love and not female tyranny. Rape indeed!

More than anything else, I see the point regarding behaviors based on mood and feelings as being the most salient in the article. But then, I'm not as progressive as you fakers here.

And just to re-iterate, I didn't see anywhere in Prager's article that suggests the point is based on whether or not the man insists. I think he's suggesting that the woman not even resist the advance just because she's not in the mood. At the same time, it does not preclude the possibility that the woman is NEVER to deny when she's not in the mood. It seems obvious his point concerns those who do it as a matter of routine, conceding only when everything's perfect in HER mind. That's called selfishness. And if, like Dcup (sheesh) suggests, if a woman must enjoy it everytime, selfish it is and again, she is unworthy of her spouse.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Real Challenge Of Christmas

For those who may not know it, we are still in the Christmas season. Today is day 11, with Epiphany, the Feast of the Magi, just around the corner. Thanks to some links and the courtesy of a friend, I found the following, a sermon preached on Christmas Eve in Oklahoma City:
Essential to our Christian understanding of the birth of Jesus is the claim that Christ is born anew in all of us as an on-going event in the history of creation. We who have vowed to follow Christ must also imitate and embody Christ. This is a daunting task. I wish I could say that it is easy, but it is not. We are called to be countercultural, and in no way more obvious than by taking the path of peace.


But we know that this beautiful story will lead to the cross. The way of peace that we must imitate and embody as followers of Jesus is the way of the cross. We can courageously live out that adventure assured that the story doesn’t end with the cross, but continues through Resurrection and Pentecost. However, that confident, post-Easter hope does not remove the fact that the cross lies starkly in the path of peace that begins here on this Christmas Eve.

Do we wish to face the stark reality that this moment of joy, this moment of peace, is the first step on the journey that leads to the place of the skull? To an ignominious death outside the city gates? Not just for Jesus, although for him certainly. This journey, this remembrance of the birth of the Savior, if it does not also bring about the recollection that we, too, are called to this journey, has not, yet, become fully real for us.

This is the challenge of Christmas, the dare, if you will, of God to all those who see this baby and rejoice in his birth. Are you willing, as all who follow are called to do, to bear your cross? Are you willing to embrace your own death, face squarely the reality that ours is a path of peace, to be sure, but a peace bought at a steep price? We recall Jesus' life, and death, and resurrection, his words, his healing, the loving care and frustration he directed at his disciples not because it offers some ideal we are to emulate. We recall Jesus' life, and death, and resurrection, his words, his healing, and all the rest because this is our journey. We are to be imitators of Christ, in the full knowledge that the Prince of Peace was brutally tortured, scorned, and died abandoned. Embracing the baby Jesus in the stable is not enough, unless we are willing to see the blood from his already wounded wrists on us, the mark of our salvation, the real blessing of Peace.

At Christmas, no less than any other time of year, as we recall the beginning of Jesus' life and ministry, we should remember that, having Jesus be born anew in us, marks us with the sign, not of a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, but the sign of the cross, a cross from which flowed a fountain of blood (in the words of an old hymn). Before any of us get to comfortable with this whole "Christian" thing, I think recalling the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer are important - "When God calls a man, he bids him come and die."

Love - Revising and Extending

I would like to take part of a comment and expand upon it a little.
Falling in love, being in love - it's about the most threatening thing in the world. Making oneself completely open and vulnerable to another human being is the riskiest thing in the world. Wars have started because of love unrequited or gone awry. Love is about the most dangerous thing in the world. That's why I don't think it's schmaltzy. The real thing is a test of our strength; being able not only to feel this way, but to mean it - it entails the greatest threat and possibility of being fully human there is.

In the context in which this comment was made - responding to my sister's claim that a certain song was "schmaltz", I think it is important to amplify this statement a bit. We, especially Americans, love love. That is to say, we are a hopelessly romantic people. We think there is something all warm and cozy about love. We do not fear it, but desire it above all other states.

There is much to recommend being in love. There are few states as filled with moments of wonder and rapture. Yet, if we were honest, we would also admit there are few states as dangerous to our very selves as being in love. To be in love, to really love another, one must first be willing, against all good sense, allow ourselves to be completely open, honest, and vulnerable with another human being as possible. Love is fraught with hazards, to which the phrase "broken heart" hardly does justice. People have been psychically destroyed by the end of a love affair. The betrayal of a loved one is far worse than any other emotional pain. It can leave a person worse than depressed; despair, destitution, violation - these and far more can result from a love betrayed, or even just collapsing.

I think remarking that a song expressing undying love is "schmaltzy" while it may be true, also is a kind of defensive ignorance. We are refusing to acknowledge the other side of such a declaration. Giving voice to such feelings runs the risk not only that they will be belittled; it also runs the risk that such openness will be rewarded with rejection, whether in the present or the future. Loving, like all of life, is a risk. It is the most dangerous risk we run. Love can bring life, it is true. Love that ends, however, that is betrayed, denied, or simply withers away over time, can destroy.

Virtual Tin Cup

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