Saturday, March 20, 2010

What Might Have Been

This is what happens when I can't sleep.

I dearly love Martin Scorsese's The Departed. A film of so many layers, so many different tics and easily-missed traps, every word of dialogue, every facial expression needs to be seen again and again in order to get the full richness of Scorsese's story.

One of the things I take away from this film is its depiction of contingency. In a perfect world, or at least one far better than the one we inhabit, Matt Damon's character, Colin Sullivan, would never have made it through to become a police officer; Leonardo DiCaprio's Billy Costigan would have been the shining white night, rather than the one Mark Wahlberg's Dignam abuses and sends out as an undercover agent in Boston's southside Irish mob. Since it depicts certain moral realities of our world, however stylized, we are confronted with the aggravating complications of radical contingency.

Keeping it as short as possible, what I mean by "radical contingency" in this case is the overlapping realities that limit our freedom, our ability to fully comprehend our world, and to make decisions that are completely moral. This goes for both individuals and institutions. If there were truly a moral law, quite apart from there being no need for a police unit dedicated to ending something like organized crime, the State Police would have recognized Colin Sullivan for what he was; would have investigated and understood his connection to Frank Costello. They also would have known that Billy Costigan was an upright, dedicated individual whose pursuit of a career as a police officer was due in no small part as penance for his family's connection to Boston's underworld.

Keeping in mind that we never know all that we think we know; that our decisions are never as fully considered as they could or should be; that our freedom of decision and movement in life is limited by forces outside ourselves, institutional and otherwise, that are themselves limited, contingent, and flawed. This is what makes for the drama in this film; this is also what makes the film's characters so effective.

Yet, it is also what makes it so morally aggravating. There is a moment in the film when "what might have been" becomes so crystal clear, all these questions rise up and force themselves on the viewer. In the moment when Billy and Sullivan's therapist girlfriend, Madolyn Madden (played by Vera Farmiga), make love, we see how easily, how smoothly, how utterly better the world could be. These are two people who could have found each other under different circumstances, made a life together without duplicity and obfuscation. The ease of their relationship, compared to the awkwardness of Madden's relationship with Sullivan (combined, as it is, with the reality that he is a criminal playing cop), the passion between Costigan and Madden (compared to Sullivan's sexual dysfunction) makes as clear as day what might have been.

I do not know if there is a lesson one can take away from these reflections. Is it, perhaps, that even a moment, just a moment, of real love and "vulnerability" (Madden's description of Costigan just before he kisses her) sometimes has to be enough, but can perhaps be enough? Is it, on the other hand, that we should live our lives understanding that we can never have enough information, never enough trust in our own freedom of action and decision? Is it even, perhaps, that those to whom we are closest, no matter how much we may think and believe otherwise, are not at all the people we believe them to be? All these lessons? None?

All I know for sure is that one moment of honesty and tenderness in a film filled with brutality and lies offers the briefest of breezes of what might have been through the dark landscape of what is.

Friday, March 19, 2010

And The Circular Firing Squad Takes Aim . . .

I'm so amused when I read right-wingers talk about "Obama-care", or a government takeover of health care, or how every fetus conceived from now on will be aborted with their tax money, or that 65 is now the mandatory death-panel age rather than mandatory retirement. If they would actually read the bill, and consider the way the actual discussion has occurred, they would know - and I mean that in the sense of comprehend the mundane reality around all of us - that none of this is true.

In fact, the left is pretty divided as the time for a final vote has arrived. Just consider this post and the comments, as the pure at heart castigate Matt Yglesias for his role in selling out The People to health insurers who are the only ones who will benefit from this bill. As is par for the course of liberals, those who believe they know the real story are prepared to write off as sell-outs anyone who disagrees with them. They are prepared to demand rejection of a bill that, for all its faults, does exactly what Matt says it does - expands the social safety net.

I have registered my own complaints about the bill, and how Congress went about writing it, and about how the debate has gone, but now is the time to set that all aside and vote. Casting aspersions on the motives and liberal purity of others serves only the interests of those who want this bill to die for all the wrong reasons. While I believe a far better, far stronger bill could have been introduced and fought for; while I believe that a more comprehensive, public plan would have been preferable to the mish-mash currently on offer; while I believe both the Administration and the Democratic leadership in Congress caved far too early and quickly to the demands of Republicans; all this, and I support the bill in its current form for one simple reason - the status quo is untenable. The American people want reform; the American people deserve reform. In all likelihood, there will be tweaks as the courts consider various parts of the bill, or this or that section or subparagraph is seen to be unclear. In the end, though, I believe we will be far better off with this bill.

The kind of nonsensical name-calling, usually in the name of self-righteousness, is not only counter-productive, but is meaningless. At the end of the day, the plan will be about the same as most Congressional plans - imperfect, in need of some work, but far better than if nothing at all is done.


Glenn Beck, apparently, is doubling down on his truly warped idea that working for social justice is unChristian.
This past week, Glenn Beck publicly revealed that his staff is moving beyond simply twisting the news for ideological ends to now funding opposition research and internet attack campaigns with the stated purpose of destroying the personal credibility of pastors who dare to question statements made by FOX commentators.

And who, pray tell, is the first target?
But the pastor who quickly rose to the lead of the Catholic, mainline, and evangelical rebuke of Glenn Beck was Rev. Jim Wallis, President of Sojourners.

And so with no scriptural or theological arguments to fall back upon, Glenn Beck apparently decided that his only option is to try to destroy Rev. Wallis personally. Personal attacks aren't uncommon from partisan commentators, but what is especially troubling about this most recent development is that Glenn Beck isn't just planning to throw insults; he said that he has been using his FOX staff to research everything that Rev. Wallis has ever said or done and to dig up dirt on the people who work with the pastor.

Now, I'm no fan of Wallis, for a variety of reasons. All the same, this would be funny if it weren't so frightening. Of all the people Beck could pick to go after . . . Jim Wallis, who has lived a very public life for, at least, a quarter century?

So, has he rescinded his apology, or is he just plain loony? Inquiring minds and all . . .

When Generals Lie

Much was made yesterday when retired General John Sheehan, former SAC NATO, claimed that he was specifically told that the Srebrenica massacre in the Balkans, back in the 1990's, was a direct result of the Dutch military integrating gays in to their ranks.

I have never seen diplomats come so close to calling someone a bald-faced liar.
“It is astonishing that a man of his stature can utter such complete nonsense,” said the Dutch defense ministry spokesman, pointing out that international investigations of the Srebrenica massacre found no evidence “that the sexual orientation of soldiers played a role.” The Dutch ambassador to the United States said she “couldn’t disagree more” with Sheehan’s statement, and Dutch caretaker Defense Minister Eimert van Middelkoop called the claim “‘damaging’ and not worthy of a soldier. ‘I don’t want to waste any more words on it,’ he said.” Gen. Henk van den Breemen, Dutch Chief of Staff at the time of the Srebrenica genocide, added that Sheehan was spouting “total nonsense.”

Such a shock that a conservative would lie under oath. It would be one thing if the guy just said that he was made uncomfortable with gays in the ranks. OK, fine. Instead, he decides to just make stuff up, accusing officials of a foreign country of duplicity.

As far as I'm concerned, just like Bill Clinton was dragged through the much for lying over sex, this guy needs to be indicted for perjuring himself before Congress. Also, anyone who listens to anything this guys has to say should also be disregarded, at least on this subject.

Time Away

Early tomorrow morning, my family will be taking off for a few days of R&R in my hometown. Even though there is this whole wi-fi thing, and my laptop will be with me, blogging will be light to non-existent next week as we all enjoy some well-earned time off.

My only hope is you are all jealous.

Congressional Hamlets

One of the things that makes the drama of Shakespeare's Hamlet so compelling is the annoying trait the eponymous Prince had for attempting intrigue in the face of evidence of murder, regicide, and his clear duty. That greatest of dramatic soliloquies, "To be or not to be, that is the question" shows Hamlet's penchant for trying to be clever, when his clear duty is to act. He, and a lot of other people, die because he dithers doing that at which he is least capable, rather than taking a far more direct approach.

In the face of nearly a year's debate and discussion on a particular piece of legislation, and decades of discussion on the merits of the issue in general, NPR features a story on "Congressional Undecideds", in particular Tom Periello of Virginia. Toward the end of the story, Periello, it is said, is still undecided and will continue to read the bill before making up his mind.

At this point, after all these months of specific debate, years of general discussion, I would go to Washington, enter Rep. Periello's office, and say to him, "What the hell's your problem?" On the "question" that Periello seemed to dither for quite a while - abortion funding - the language of the bill is clear (even before the Stupak Amendment) that there will be (alas) no federal funding for abortion. Periello announces in the story that he is "satisfied" this is not the case; again, we have Hamlet having been given the facts by his dead father, dithering as to how to address the question, "What are you going to do about it?"

Speaker Pelosi is quoted in the story as saying that she does not preside over a "rubber-stamp" Congress (in contrast to recent, Republican-controlled Congresses), which is hardly the point at all. How is it possible that these men and women who are "undecided" can be so, with the text available for anyone to read, and the issues pretty clear-cut, and the stakes so high.

Just remember, Hamlet was too clever by half, and ended up dying at the end of the play. Don't be clever, folks. Be decisive.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

I'm No Expert . . .

. . . but I disagree with George Scialabba on two, related, points. First and foremost (as can probably be gathered from the title of this post), I think the word "expert" has now become a club to beat people over the head, rather than a descriptor of a person actively engaged in the pursuit of knowledge in any particular field. Expertise used to denote a refinement of knowledge, but did not connote exclusivity. Anymore, however, one becomes an "expert" at the expense of pretty much everything else. Whether one is an "expert" in atomic physics, say, or film acting, this seems automatically to preclude any understanding outside one's chosen field (unless, of course, we happen to agree with the views expressed by this or that "expert").

I claim no expert knowledge in any particular field whatsoever, nor have I ever. I find the whole notion of expertise to be as outmoded as phlogiston and the luminiferous ether. One can, if one is so inclined, become conversant in all sorts of areas of understanding - in science, literature, philosophy, art criticism, the social sciences - without claiming any as an area in which one lives one's life. It really isn't that hard, as long as one familiarizes oneself, in a general way, with the vocabulary, the peculiarly apt way these fields discuss their topics. If one begins with the premise that, whether it's physics or philosophy, the median intelligence of those pursuing these topics is about the same as that of the auto mechanic and the accountant, one at least has the advantage that one can get an understanding perhaps at least as clear as about half those so engaged in pursuing these specialties.

So much for expertise.

Second, Scialabba seems content to accept the multiplication of perspectives as unique, distinct, and incommunicable. That is to say, a social scientist not only views events in a way different than, say, an analytical philosopher, these two spheres seem to require that one place all one's perspective at the foot of whatever idol these branches of understanding (not to say "knowledge") serve. In other words, these points of view cease to be merely that, and become, for all practical purposes, totalitarian.


I consider myself generally conversant in all sorts of areas, but would hardly think of myself as occupying some high seat from which to pronounce authoritatively on anything whatsoever. I am certainly open to the charge that I can be, and have been, wrong. Every time I read a comment in which I am charged with being an "intellectual", I have to laugh, because, quite frankly, like "expert", the word has ceased to mean anything. To be engaged with ideas and their relation to our common life is to be an active citizen. It is to take the best ideas of our liberal education - in the original meaning of those two words - and apply them to one's life. That there is far more out there for me to learn, even to acquaint myself with, I take as a given.

The other notion - the multiplication of divisions of understanding creating the impossibility of any comprehensive understanding, and therefore, critique - is also nonsensical. This idea does not create "vertigo" as George claims. Instead (at least for me), it just seems to create laughter. It is nothing less than a combination of hubris and ignorance to claim that if one is a sociologist, one by definition cannot take a non-sociological position on non-sociological topics.

More than that, it is a violation of our most cherished Republican values. We are all to be conversant in those areas that impinge on our common life. The actor, the physicist, the unemployed artisan, the artist - we are all together in this mess and have a perspective, a voice to be heard and considered. I often find it hysterically funny that right-wingers get their panties in a bunch when an actor takes a public position at odds with their own. "Why should we listen to 'X' on this matter? He/She is only an actor!" Yet, the brightest star in recent right-wing myth-formation spent the earliest part of his life as "only" a film actor (and, really, not a very good one). Whatever a person does to help pay the bills, or if they are lucky enough to do so, whatever pays their bills and fulfills the deepest yearnings of their hearts and makes them be, fully, themselves, has no bearing on the merits of any public position they may or may not take on issues vital to all of us.

One can be overwhelmed by the idea that only "experts" should say anything about matters of public import. This is, however, a violation of the Republican social contract, a surrender of the most important role any of us have - the engaged citizen. Recent political and social reality actually gives the lie to this notion. The rise of Barack Obama in 2008 was due, in no small part, to the creation of an active, engaged public through a deliberate outreach from his campaign. People responded for any number of reasons, but the larger point is this - whatever his faults as President, as a candidate, Barack Obama not only understood that active participation in our public life is a vital necessity for reestablishing our political infrastructure; he lived it out, got people motivated, got people talking. The reality of the political internet, both left and right, also belies this (always false) idea that we should leave to the "experts" the regulation of our public affairs. Since most such experts have been revealed as naked Emperors (some of whom continue to appear in public without acknowledging their own nudity), it seems more vital and necessary than ever to celebrate the return of something like an active, engaged political consciousness among the people. Whether we disagree or agree on issues, or even fundamentals, the past couple years gives the lie to the idea that "knowledge" and "expertise" should trump simple engagement.

Beck Backs Off

So, it seems Glenn Beck didn't really mean to say that people should leave the churches that preach social justice. That's a good thing, because the pews would be empty at pretty much any church worth attending. Yet, the original statement still exists, and can't be redefined to mean anything other than what it seems to mean.

Over at Dan Trabue's Through the Woods, in two threads, discussions seems to take on a surreal quality, as one commenter, in attempting to defend Beck, ends up not only arguing points not in the discussion, but makes it clear that the real issue isn't social justice as preached from a Christian perspective. Rather, what gets their panties in a huge wad is the idea that believing in Christian social justice might actually lead some people to think and believe and live in such a way that leads them to become . . . liberal.

Except, this really isn't the case. The pursuit of social justice in the name of Christ has no political label attached to it. This isn't about supporting government programs, or particular partisan agendas, or political ideologies. It can lead those who come to live out their faith this way to do some of these things, but the pursuit of social justice in the name of Christ, in the first instance, is just that - hard work, in communities sidelined by a society that deems them of little or no worth. I have always believed that the starting point for Christian work such as this is the oft-repeated statement in the Bible - in Exodus, in Deuteronomy, in the Prophets - referring to the Exodus event, "Once you were no people; now you are My People." Just as the LORD took the slaves of Egypt and made of them the chosen vehicle for Divine revelation, so, too, we are to live in such a way that those who are despised, dehumanized, degraded are to be at the center of our attention, our concern, our mission. We are to serve them so that they come to see themselves as human beings, as people God loves.

This isn't part of any political theory of which I am aware. This isn't some secret Marxist agenda gussied up in Biblical quotes. It's just living as God calls us to live.

Anything else, any attempt to make of discussions of social justice some secret plot by liberals to take over the church is ignorant. Pure and simple.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Like, Oh My God!

On the one hand, part of me just wants to say, "Ugh!" to this Matt Yglesias piece, which takes off from Miley Cyrus as a criticism of the recent Ponnuru/Lowry nonsense on American exceptionalism.

On the other hand, this is precisely what I was writing about in my previous post. Even something as droll, contrived, and artificial as a Miley Cyrus song can offer us a glimpse of ourselves if we allow ourselves the freedom to think about it.

Better cultural commentary follows, though . . .

Christianity & Culture - Some Thoughts

A couple generations ago, theologian H. Richard Niebuhr wrote what is now considered the classic Christ and Culture. Rather than a detailed discussion of the relationship between being a Christian and living in society and participating in culture, it was a meta-narrative of various ways Christians have and do live in relation to the culture in which they find themselves. A student of the religious philosopher (he was once a theologian, but turned in later life to a more detached view) Ernst Troeltsch, Niebuhr approached the question of the relationship between being a Christian and living in society from the outside.

Rather than take such an "angel's eye view" of the issue, I much prefer to stand firmly at the intersection of my faith and the culture within which I live, and try to understand what it means to be a Christian. My various wrestlings with music, literature, art, pop culture in general, all start from the premise that, as a believer in Christ, I live my life in-between what has been - a world separated from God - and what will be - a world redeemed by and in full communion with God. I suppose I am a bit more Reformed than Arminian/Wesleyan in this way, because I take it for granted that all we do, all we strive after, our attempts to create beauty, to make our lives more livable through the aesthetic experience in all its variety take part in this "in-between" reality. On the other hand, I think I redeem my Arminian roots to the extent that I believe pursuing greater, deeper understanding through a continued pursuit of ever richer aesthetic experience is part and parcel of what John Wesley called "going on to perfection in this life."

To the extent that I am wrestling with cultural experiences in this blog, I believe that is part of my own journey of understanding. It is evident, I think, that of all the arts, music is the one closest to my own heart. At its best, music transports the listener to that place described in Revelation, where the blessed stand before the Throne and sing, "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD". Those songs which speak to us most deeply, which give us greater understanding of our world, which move us to laugh and cry - they are dim echoes of this one, final song we shall all stand and sing together. This is not hyperbole or metaphor, but something I believe with my whole heart.

Yet, music is not the whole of it. Because we are a people formed by the Word, quite literally (just read Genesis, say, or the prologue to the Gospel of St. John), considering literature should also be important for Christians. We have those particularly gifted to shape whole worlds through marks on a page; we enter the lives of people who have never and will never exist, whole worlds that cannot exist, and through their experiences come to understand something of our own. We learn of love and loss, of war and peace, of struggle and triumph and failure. Through their words we might even add a word or two to our own understanding of the world, making it a little brighter, a little more hopeful.

The aesthetic experience is participation. It is not just standing (or however you wish to consider your position) and gazing. It is active, taking part, making something outside part of one's set of tools for understanding the world. Even if that understanding is only that momentary, "Ah! I always thought the world might be this beautiful!", this expands our own understanding of the world just that much. We might get a glimpse of the possibility of living a truly human life, of creating a truly human society. Even that art that presents the terrible and awful bares our darker tendencies. It can serve as a warning of the depths to which we human beings can sink.

All this is by way of introduction, as it were, to my own recent indulgence in considering issues of our received and current culture. These are not something human beings do as a sideline. They are now and have always been tools we use to come to terms with our existence. Being a Christian does not mean we forfeit our humanity to the extent that we can neglect the aesthetic experience; on the contrary, we are called to full participation with our fellow human beings in this life, and the aesthetic experience is part of being fully human. From art in its variety we can understand something of what God meant in Genesis 1 when it is said, after creation, that God said it was "very good."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Art Of Hard Rock

So, I was thinking last night as I was driving to work, listening to Tool, wondering what Lester Bangs would think of Tool's 10,000 Days CD. Bangs advocated a particular vision of rock music - loud, nihilistic, sheer pleasure for the sake of pleasure, and never, EVER too far from its roots as an unsophisticated music for the polloi. While not ideological like Simon Firth (who argues that any popular music not rooted in African-American folks musics like jazz and the blues isn't rock), Bangs nevertheless cultivated a particular critical point of view that would write out whole genres from "rock" because they aren't "black" enough. What's interesting, to me at any rate, is these same writers who disdain British progressive rock for its references to European art music, also deplore heavy metal - surely a working-class music if there is any - precisely because it isn't sophisticated enough. Of course, the real problem is the music is seen as "escapist", rather than engaging and protesting working-class conditions. A song like "Iron Man", say, or "Spiral Architect", doesn't deal with the conditions of labor in an industrial society; the bands eponymous song relates a Vincent Price movie of the same name to a paranormal event in the life of bassist Terry "Geezer" Butler. How does this raise the consciousness of the proletariat?

In to the mix over the past couple decades swoops Tool. Dark, brooding, their songs mix elements of traditional heavy metal with a more melodic, one could even say progressive approach to song-writing, with a literate lyricism that elevates their singer, Maynard James Keenan, above the fray of mere screamer to something like a poet. They experiment with odd time-signatures, their rhythms are always slightly off-kilter, their music isn't for dancing or even raging. Rather, it is to sit, more like stoned than not, and listening. In performance, the band keeps relatively still (unlike many rock bands, who perform), even as the lead singer dons masks, wigs, even drag. Their songs deal with homoerotic themes ("Hooker With A Penis"), extreme sexual practices ("Stinkfist"), and even dabbles in what some might consider near-blasphemy ("Eulogy"). A favorite theme is hypocrisy ("The Pot", "Tick"). They even have a song detailing what may have been an encounter with a UFO, or perhaps just a psychotic episode ("Rosetta Stoned").

On Lateralus, however, they actually has some songs that were less negative, less filled with sheer rage at an uncaring universe. The opening song, "The Grudge", offers the opinion that holding a grudge can be like an anchor, dragging us down. The title track offers the view that life is an upward spiral, offering limitless possibilities. Even the equivocal "Parabol/Parabola" which might be about sex, or might be about suicide, offers the view that the one thing that might keep us linked to this life is the intimate connections we forge with other people.

So, I have to wonder, what is so wrong about this? These songs rock, without a doubt. Why can't rock, even the hardest rock, also rise above mere folk music to become something transcendent? Does it cease to be "rock and roll" because the musicians and lyricists take up themes beyond getting laid, dancing, and the general concerns of teenagers?

Furthermore, isn't it possible to be both a popular art form and still challenging to much of our received understanding of the world? Can the two-word descriptor "popular art" actually mean something, with the two words reinforcing one another?

Furthermore, the idea that an aesthetic experience is always "only" one thing - escapist, or political, or social, or what have you - is such a myopic view of any art form. Even the Dadaists in the early part of the 20th century understood the political and social ramifications of their art. At its best, rock offers a view of the world that affirms its basic solidity, the joy of existence, and the possibilities inherent in living one's life truly free. Even the most negative rock has this going for it - it protests the status quo, asking if it is possible to see in the drudgery and horror of existence some possibility for something more.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Music For Your Monday

Herbie Hancock came to public attention as a prodigy, performing on stage as a small child. Later, he rose to fame as the piano player for Miles Davis' mid-1960's quintet. He struck out on his own, and has forged a path of relentless experimentation. Even in the early 1970's, when jazz seem mired in confusion as to its identity, he refused to sit still. In the 1980's he reminded the world that he could be relevant as well as hip, with his MTV hit "Rockit", featuring his electronica and dancing robots. He is at his best, though, when he is playing with friends.


Here he is with Miles Davis Quintet, featuring Wayne Shorter on saxophone, Ron Carter on bass, and a very young Tony Williams on drums. It should be noted that their music was completely improvised.

Going back to his roots - with members of the Quintet, performing from Davis' massive Kind of Blue LP - here they are doing "So What" at a far faster pace than the original, giving it a fresh, free feeling.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Treading With Care

The New Inquiry has a syllabus for crying out loud. The first of many gems I discovered there is this piece on silence.

I wish I could remember where I read it, but I recall someone writing that putting some things in to words renders them smaller, makes of the confusion and chaos something orderly, even as one attempts to capture that chaos and confusion.

There are many things I have written about over the life of this blog (far too may, I think at times). Yet there is far more about which I shall never write, here or anywhere. Some things like love and loss, some experiences and people and emotions are far too fraught, far too complicated to untangle. Sometimes it is best to give them their integrity as confusing and tangled.

Silence not only saves us from lawsuits. It also saves us from taking that which is most precious and rendering it safe, domesticated somehow. Writing about things or people, events in our lives - already we start to pick these things out of the maelstrom of experience, isolate them in a way that is largely artificial. It may make understanding some things better; it might be important for some things to be rendered comprehensible in this way. Others, though, those perhaps closest to our hearts, those perhaps whose strings are still tied around our lives in ways even we cannot fathom - these we should pass over, as Wittgenstein urged of may such things, in silence.


My wife is being appointed to a new church, starting July 1 this year. We will end six wonderful years here in Poplar Grove, and begin a new life in Plato Center, just west of Elgin. Things will get hinky with the blog over the course of the next few months as we pack up our lives and move to a new house, a new town, an entirely new church community. There have been and will be tears shed as we say goodbye to the people of Poplar Grove UMC who have become our extended family.

The mixture of emotions right now is difficult to grasp. The thing is, though, I think I summed up my own feelings best when I told Lisa that we have become too comfortable here, and maybe that's not a good thing. Being comfortable is not to be denigrated; it shouldn't be part of the life of a minister and that minister's family, though.

So, now that the cat's out of the bag, we can start the complicated process of ridding ourselves of so much stuff, packing up the essentials (like our library, the hundreds of CDs and DVDs without which . . .), and starting something fresh, new, and exciting.

Which Churches Don't Do Social Justice?

Glenn Beck has goofed. Nothing surprising there, because he's dumber than a postage stamp. His call for people to "run" from any church that preaches social and economic justice is not just stupid; it's ignorant and funny, too.

See, the thing is, any Church - be it a local congregation or denomination - that is really a Church of Jesus Christ has as part of its ministry the pursuit of social and economic justice. You see, all that stuff that Beck thinks is Marxism - liberation theology he hasn't read or understood for example - is really just good, old fashioned Christian theology rooted in the Biblical witness. It's all there, starting in the stories of the expulsion from the Garden and the story of Cain's exile, really. In those instances, we already see God's justice and mercy are one and the same, and we Christians have more stories than that - and not just stories! whole books of the Bible called "the Prophets" - helping us understand that God's love is to be extended in this world through welcoming in to community everyone. Part of the welcoming includes working to undermine and destroy the barriers we insist on building based on race, class, ethnicity, sex and gender, what have you.

Social justice is not some leftist quirk that just emerged suddenly since Karl Marx. It's at the very heart of the Christian life, it defines diakanoia, service, it can be seen in the lives of the saints, in the work of Anabaptist groups such as the Friends and Mennonites. The Methodist Social Affirmation was written . . . in the first decade of the 20th century not under the influence of Karl Marx, but John Wesley.

In other words, social justice isn't a quirk, but a necessary part of being the Church, called out by God to serve the world. Any claim otherwise is, quite literally, ignorant.

On Eric Massa

First, it seems pretty clear to me the guy is sexually confused.

Second, I think that it is far too easy to make fun of the interview on Glenn Beck's program, where Massa said something about tickle-fights. In fact, the multiple accusations about unwanted touching amount to pretty clear evidence of a pattern of behavior that should be disturbing to anyone. It doesn't have to do with being gay; it has to do with not understanding boundaries and what is, and is not, proper behavior.

The comparison to the Mark Foley affair is problematic, because Foley, it seems, had a penchant for the underage. Yet, unwanted physical contact is unwanted physical contact, regardless of age.

Finally, there does seem to be emerging some evidence that the Speaker of the House new of the accusations against Massa. Unlike Dennis Hastert in the case of Mark Foley, however, the evidence isn't clear that she either covered anything up, or urged him to continue in office and even seek another term.

Massa is leaving, and good riddance, and I hope he gets some help.

Dealing With Violence Against Women On Campus

The Center For Public Integrity released a report on sexual assault on our nation's college campuses, and the results are frustrating to anyone who believes that we might actually be making strides in taking reports of sexual violence against women seriously.
The probe reveals that students found “responsible” for alleged sexual assaults on campuses often face little or no punishment, while their victims’ lives are frequently turned upside down. Many times, victims drop out of school, while students found culpable go on to graduate. Administrators believe the sanctions administered by the college judicial system are a thoughtful and effective way to hold abusive students accountable, but the Center’s investigation has discovered that “responsible” findings rarely lead to tough punishment like expulsion — even in cases involving alleged repeat offenders.

I heard about the study on a report on NPR earlier this week, and flashed back to an event from my own college days. I attended a small private University in western New York - less than 2500 students total, undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral candidates - and we all heard stories of violence against women that went unreported, or were treated lightly by the Administration.

I believe it was either my junior or senior year, though, something happened that forces us all to confront the reality that these events need to be taken seriously. A young woman, living in a suite with three other women, had her door broken open by an ex-boyfriend who used a baseball bat. Not only did she go to school authorities, she went public; she refused to remain silent even though in the rare instances when reports of violence reached an official level, silence tended to be the rule.

It is still far too common for officials to treat rape as a "he-said-she-said" event for which there is little room to sort out competing narratives. Victims far too often have every bit of their sexual history revealed, while perpetrators are treated lightly. Women still face the accusation they somehow "deserved" the treatment they received, either because of a past history of sexual activity, their dress, or being in a place and time where their willingness to accept sexual advances might be implied. Yet, the report is clear that rape and sexual assault on college campuses is similar to such cases in the general population, i.e., the vast majority are the result of repeat offenders, young men who have a history of violence and sexual violence against women. Rather than focus on the the role of the victim, it seems to me that colleges and universities need to take cases of violence against women as indicative of a trend toward violence in the life of the perpetrator.

We still have a long way to go before we come to terms with the simple fact that women still face far too many threats, even on our college campuses. It would be nice that our so-called enlightened institutions of higher learning would be enlightened enough to deal with sexual assault without resorting to blaming the victim, or shielding the perpetrator (when guilt is found) from serious consequences for his actions.

Virtual Tin Cup

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay Learn More