Saturday, April 23, 2011

Some Personal Reflections

In the midst of thinking about and praying in this Passion weekend, I have been led to read the Preface to Jurgen Moltmann's The Coming of God. Normally, I skip prefaces, yet I sat and read this and discovered a passage that echoed in my own heart. First, he notes that he was not brought up in a Christian home, and only discovered and read the Bible as a German POW after the Second World War.
Right down to the present day, theology has continued to be for me a tremendous adventure, a journey of discovery into a, for me, unknown territory, a voyage without the certainty of a return, a path into the unknown with many surprises and not without disappointments. If I have a theological virtue at all, then it is one that has never hitherto been recognized as such: curiosity.

I have never done theology in the form of a defense of ancient doctrines or ecclesiastical dogmas. It has always been a jorney of exploration. Consequently my way of thinking is experimental - an adventure of ideas - and my style of communication is to suggest. I do not defend ay impersonal dogmas, but nor do I merely express my own personal opinion. I make suggestions within a community. So I write without any built-in safeguards, recklessly as some people think. My own propositions are intended to be a challenge to other people to think for themselves - and of course they are a challenge to objective refutation too. Theologians also belong to the communio sanctorum, the communion of saints, provided that the true saints are not merely justified sinner but accepted doubters, too, thus belonging just as much to the world as to God.
Unlike Moltmann, I was brought up in church, baptized and confirmed at First United Methodist Church, Sayre, PA. After a pretty standard and typical college experience, I went through what I now consider my own wilderness years, landing safely, if somewhat bruised and psychologically battered, at the safe shores of Wesley Theological Seminary 20 years ago. I have, ever since, considered this the singular event of my life. What came before was, at best, preparation. What has come since has been a blessing beyond words, all down to that moment in the late summer of 1990 when I stepped in to my dorm room in northwest Washington, DC and discovered a people who were willing to let me be a part of their lives, to start this journey that, for me, will not end even as death takes me.

This blog has been an important part of my own working out of what it means for me to live as one claimed by the risen Christ. Even at its most profane, most bombastic, even occasionally humorous moments, all I have ever been doing is trying to figure out for myself what it means to call myself a Christian. Does it even mean anything at all, or is it little more than fantastic thinking surrounding the on-going delusions of the mad, those who actually consider our world something more than a passing phase in the emptiness of cosmic history.

Nothing I have ever written here, whether on topical matters of the moment, my own philosophical curiosity, or faithful reflections on what God continues to do for all of us, has been to satisfy some vain grasping after intellectual integrity for its own sake. That kind of thing, the life of the mind chasing down various ephemera for the sake of itself, doesn't interest me in the least. Nor am I interested in being seen by others - for I surely do not see myself! - as some kind of self-proclaimed expert. On any matter whatsoever. Expertise is a highly overrated commodity. I am astounded each and every day by the array of things I cannot know and will never know. All I can say in my own defense is I write what I do know, never claiming any more for it than that - it is what I know - and I chase down what it might mean for myself and others, to the best of my meager abilities. I am quite happy with the expectation that quite a lot, if not most, of the things I have written and will continue to write, will be proved quite wrong. Not to do this, however, would be a kind of premature death for me. To refuse to take a stand, even if all upon which I stand is washing away by the tides of time and the pressure of reality, is a kind of cowardice. One cannot fall unless one first stands, and the rock upon which I claim to stand, that cornerstone the builders rejected, has held up countless others, so I have faith there is room for one more.

All this is to say that what I do here, and will continue to do as long as I can, to the best of what little abilities I have, is and will be working through what it means to profess that one is claimed by the crucified and risen Christ. Not for me, because the first thing that bursts forth on Easter is the realization that none of this is about me, or you, or you, or any individual. To stand upon the rock that is the risen Jesus of Nazareth is to look out and realize that our world is not defined as a veil of tears, that the burden of existence has been lifted, that the pain and suffering we see around us - not just of our fellow human beings, but the planet itself, groaning as it does under the weight of our many violations of its integrity and wholeness - is not the final word. If God exists, if Easter really happened, if Jesus was indeed raised from the dead, then all bets are off. We are, even now, if we are willing to see and hear and even work for it, watching the birth of that New Creation. Chronicling my own meager perception of that birth is what I do.

In short, this is all personal because I believe and proclaim and confess and profess that none of it has little to do with me at all. The beauty and joy and pain of life, in all its various flavors and colors, fill me precisely because I am unimportant, ignorant, a tiny voice in the deafening chorus before the throne of God. I have no interest, nor investment, in saying anything once for all. I am glad, however, that I have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, bearing in my very being the marks of the crucified and risen one. That is the only unchanging reality of my life. To quote St. Thomas Aquinas, all the rest is straw.

The Mystery Of Holy Saturday

N.B.: This was originally published on April 23, 2011.  I have made some minor corrections for spelling, but otherwise it is at it appeared two years ago.  I can't imagine saying more, or better, what I wrote here.  Wait and watch with me, as we consider the dead Jesus in the interconnected reality of the Triune Life of God.
The vision of death by the mode of immediate experience, is the most complete punishment possible. And since the death of Christ was complete, since through his own experience he saw the death which he had freely chosen to undergo, the soul of Christ went down into the underworld where the vision of death is. For death is called "underworld", infernus, and it has been loosed from out of the deeper underworld, ex inferno inferiori. The lower or deeper underworld is where one sees death. When God raised Christ he drew him, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, from out of the lower underworld, after delivering him from the torture of that underworld, solutis doloribus ingerni. That is why the prophet says, "He did not leave my soul in the underworld." Christ's suffering, the greatest one could conceive, was like that of the damned who cannot be damned any ore. That is, his suffering went to the length of infernal punishment. . . . He alone through such a death entered into glory. He wanted to experience the poena sensus like the damned in Hell for the glorifying of his Father, and so as to show that one should obey the Father even to the utmost torture. That means praising and glorifying God in every possible way for our justification - which is what Christ has done.
Nicholas of Cusa
De Civitate Dei
We are in that time over which the Gospels remain silent. From the moment on Friday evening when Jesus corpse is laid in the tomb until the arrival of the women on Sunday morning there is nothing. One sentence and paragraph ends, another begins. The Sabbath lies in-between. The only hint that day contained anything of substance is given not in the Gospel, but in 1 Peter, where the author claims Jesus preached to the dead.

Which, of course, raises far more questions that such a short phrase could possibly answer.

The mystery of the Passion is boundless. On this day of Biblical silence, we are nevertheless pushed to consider the naked fact of Jesus' death. What does that mean for one who claimed solidarity with the God of Israel whom he called his Father? In a sense, reflecting upon this day only becomes possible because of Easter. Had there been no resurrection, there would be no reason to consider this day, what Hans Urs von Balthasar calls "the hiatus". Yet, there is this hiatus, this break. Jesus is dead. The silence of the witnesses is deafening in the questions it raises.

The same von Balthasar noted above has a short yet powerful meditation on the Passion, Mysterium Paschale, from whose pages the Nicholas of Cusa epigram comes. The chapter on Saturday is entitled "Going To The Dead", and in it, von Balthasar considers the 1 Peter passage as well as later doctrinal developments, the question of the development of the idea of Sheol, Gehenna, Purgatory, Limbo, Hell, within the context of the fact of Jesus being dead. His final move is to a Trinitarian consideration of the event, which is, to me, the starting point of a fuller understanding (never full; the events of these days are without full measure). From pp. 174-175:
That the Redeemer is solidary with the dead, or, better, with this death which makes of the dead, for the first time, dead human beings in all reality - this is the final consequence of the redemptive mission he has received from the Father. His being with the dead is an existence at the utmost pitch of obedience, and because the One thus obedient is the dead Christ, it constitutes the "obedience of a corpse" (the phrase is Francis of Assisi's) of a theologically unique kind. By it Christ takes the existential measure of everything that is sheerly contrary to God, og the entire object of the divine eschatological judgment, which here is grasped in that event in which it is "cast down". . . . But at the same time, this happening gives the measure of the Father's mission in all its amplitude; the "exploration" of Hell is an event of the (economic) Trinity.


If the Father must be considered as the Creator of human freedom - with all its forseeable consequences - then judgment belongs primordially to him, and thereby Hell also; and when he sends the Son into the world to save it instead of judging it, and, to equip him for this function, gives "all judgment to the Son" (John 5:22), then he must also introduce the Son made man into "Hell" (as the supreme entailment of human liberty). But the Son cannot really be introduced into Hell save as a dead man, on Holy Saturday. This introducing is needful since the dead must "hear the voice of the Son of God," and hearing that voice, "live". (John 5:15) The Son must "take in with his own eyes what in the realm of creation is imperfect, informed, chaotic" so as to make it pass over into his own domain as Redeemer. . . .

This vision of chaos by the God-man has become for us the condition of our vision of Divinity. His exploration of the ultimate depths has transformed what was a prison into a way. . . .
There is much more in this vein, but the point, I think, should be clear. Even as that moment of abandonment lingers, it bears the character of inner-Trinitarian obedience, of the furthering of the mission of the Father by the Son through the Spirit. What von Balthasar calls throughout the solidarity of the dead Christ with the dead captures the fullness of this mission, in both its immanent and economic Trinitarian forms, and what the historic doctrine of the descent to Hell and the Harrowing of Hell by the dead Christ cannot. What constitutes the character of this obedience is nothing more or less than taking in to very existence of the inner life of the Triune God that which cannot be, that which was before God created, chaos and lifelessness. Matters of Hell and Gehenna, of Purgatory and Limbo, not only cross a line where speculation rooted in misunderstanding and silence should calm our nervous spirits, but in any event continue to see the Passion as something rooted in human existence, human needs. The being solidary with the dead is part of the Divine desire to be in relationship even there, with the dead in the nothingness, the powerlessness (he quotes the Hewbrew refa'im, those who are powerless, to emphasize the utter passivity of Jesus even in death) which is their lot. Salvation is not only God's act for Creation. Considering the death of Jesus within the context of the Trinitarian life of God leads one to see the fullness of God's desire to take in to that mysterious love of the Three for one another that which cannot be a part of it. The Passion becomes, through the emptiness and silence of Holy Saturday, more clearly understood as a working out of the depth of the Three Persons for One Another in the world God created, even to that which denies creation.

We are in a time of vigilance, of waiting and watching. As we wait and watch in silence, what no eye has seen nor ear heard is about to burst forth. We believe this and proclaim it as the heart of the Good News which even now rests in the silent depths of the grave. On this Holy Saturday, only because we can look back from Easter, we see just how far Jesus is willing to go, not only for us, for for the Father who loved him, and left him alone to die on the cross.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Death Of The Son Of God

The scene from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is iconic. After voluntarily going to The White Witch's camp, offering himself as a substitute for the crimes of Edmund Pevensie, Aslan the Great Lion is humiliated, his mane shorn. He is bound and gagged and set roughly on a table. The White Witch, her face flush with triumph raises the knife and plunges it in Aslan's heart. The noble beast breathes his last. The White Witch, an almost erotically charged look of satisfaction upon her face, declares the final end to the great Lion, and moves on to the battle with the Pevensies and the armies of Narnia.

This too-obvious allegory of the crucifixion never ceases to move me. It also makes me wonder if people understand that, on that Friday afternoon, God died. The day belonged to the Adversary. The signs and wonders reported in the Gospel of St. Matthew - the rending of the veil in the Temple; the rising of the dead saints; the darkness at noon - can be understood, I suppose, as marks of victory. Yet, whose victory? With the veil in the Temple torn, the God of Israel has departed. The dead, vomited out of the ground like bad beef, are not to be embraced but feared. In these hours and days before the real ending of the story (which should always be borne in mind, but at the moment set to one side as we contemplate this moment of pain, suffering, agony, Godforsakenness, and death) these walking dead are a blasphemy, a violation of the Divine order.

As a side note, I suppose, we should consider the betrayal of Judas. As I've read The Gospel According to Judas, with the author I have to ask how Judas' betrayal is qualitatively different from the abandonment by the disciples, the denials of St. Peter, and even that final abandonment by God. On that Friday, in the midst of all the horror and pain, Jesus comes to understand the lengths to which he must go, the loss he must endure. Pain and death are a part of life, of being human. Any reading of the Gospel narratives leads to the conclusion that Jesus' predictions of his own passion are rooted not in some weird Divine foreknowledge, but the all too human realization that the only way his path leads is the very sticky end of a Roman cross.

So, how important then is Judas' betrayal in the overall scheme of things? Jesus made the choice to follow the path to which God, his Father, called him. He walked it, understanding it led to the Hill of the Skull, outside the city gates. Judas was paid, to be sure. No less dishonorable, however, was the fleeing of the Apostles. No less a betrayal was St. Peter's insistent denials, "I do not know this man." No more final an act of abandonment was that moment when Jesus, his strength already stretched and tested by a night of no sleep, the ritual humiliation and torture of the Romans made even more so by the crown of thorns, hangs on that cross and feels and knows that even his Father, even the God in whom he trusted, who walked with him, called him, loved him, gave him the Disciples, has left him utterly, and completely alone. In that moment, Judas' betrayal is as nothing to that cry that God has forsaken Jesus, that he hangs there in pain and humiliation, alone.

Even if there is some small part of Jesus that understands this is not the real end of the story, how is that any consolation for the utter, hellish knowledge that there is a gulf, a final separation, between himself and the God whom he called Father? How can that chasm be crossed (no pun intended)? To die is one thing. To die in the full understanding that even God is no longer there . . . there is no hell hot enough or cold enough, no eternal darkness trapped in the madness of one's own thoughts, that challenges my own sense of loss more than that single moment when Jesus cries out, from the depths of his now objectless faith, that even God, along with his Disciples, has abandoned him.

Seems to me the silence of the grave, the coming darkness, would be welcome. Even if it offers nothing. Even if, as that abandonment makes a mockery of all one's hope, all one's love poured out for others. Even if it gives no meaning to all the pain and humiliation, it seems to me far more welcome than the never-ending torment of the eternal moment that Jesus, moreso than any person who has ever or will ever live, is utterly, completely, totally alone. No God. No victory. No friends to stand and watch him.

On another note, isn't it funny that the old pagan Day of the Dead is considered a day to celebrate all things spooky and even evil? Isn't it odd that we dress up this night in the midst of autumn with all the trappings of a bad horror show when here in the midst of spring the real victory - Pyrrhic though we understand it to be - of death and hell, the abandonment by God not only of the Divine Son, but the very real death of God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, provides the true moment when evil is triumphant?

Like the trussed-up and shaved lion, over whom Susan and Lucy Pevensie weep, when Jesus is taken down from the cross he is quite dead. His eyes would have been cloudy, his jaw gaping. If he wore a loin cloth, it was probably soiled. There may have been very little blood in him, since he had gaping wounds in his feet from the nails placed there; with his heart having stopped hours before, the blood pulled by gravity would have started pooling in his legs, only to run out those huge holes. Since it was near dark, his body would not have been ritually purified; the flies who had come to feast and lay their eggs would be a cloud. All the ways nature has of making death ignoble and inhuman would have been present.

It is impossible, this side of the resurrection, to completely live in and grasp that moment, to live in the despair of Divine failure, abandonment, and death. All the same, we need to recall over the next thirty-six hours the very real, very horrifying thought that worse than death triumphed that day. Abandonment, betrayal, denial, meaninglessness all win. Death may seem welcome, yet the eternal moment when one sees the triumph of nothingness, the helplessness of God may well chase us down even as the light fails, and silence engulfs Jesus.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Conservatives Hate The Military

I'm so old I can remember, back in the dim, dark days of 1994, when the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-KKK) said the following:
Just days after Mr. Helms, a Republican from North Carolina, created a furor by saying that President Clinton was not up to the job of Commander in Chief, he told The News and Observer, a newspaper in Raleigh: "Mr. Clinton better watch out if he comes down here. He'd better have a bodyguard."

Mr. Helms said soldiers disliked President Clinton because he had avoided service during the Vietnam War, supported homosexuals in the military and had reduced military spending.
On its face, this is one of the most insulting things I can imagine anyone saying about the military. Did members of the military dislike Pres. Clinton? In all honesty, I have no idea, but my guess is probably some did, quite a lot. All the same, this little quip by the big old hooded Tar Heel Teddy Bear not only envisioned a military so unprofessional it would allow political differences to affect its actions; it seemed to suggest that this lack of professionalism was so broad that it actually raised the specter of a military coup (and please note, dear reader, that the implied threat to the life of the President of the United States, the Commander-in-Chief of the US military, by a member of the uniformed services, is just that).

For years, decades, we have been hearing how liberals hate the military, think folks involved in combat are evil baby killers to be spat on when they return from service, that we liberals, being pacifists and traitors, want the military weakened so that our foreign enemies will have an easier time taking us over. How anyone could lend any credence to these statements is quite beyond my capacity to understand, yet they are not only given credence, they are so much a part of our political culture one continues to read stories of Democrats and liberals being "nervous" about discussing any military question because of "credibility".

Yet, if one considers actual facts - those strange things that impose upon us whether we like them or not - I have to wonder how this upside-down situation arose. If one considers just the Bush Administration, there is the war of choice in Iraq - open-ended and on-going despite the claim that it has "ended"; 50,000 US troops in Iraq are a huge target - and all the opera bouffe nonsense surrounding it. Too few troops too ill-equipped and ill-trained (in particular for the aftermath, the policing duties, etc.). Slashing services to wounded military personnel, in particular mental health services. The deplorable conditions at veterans hospitals made glaringly obvious by the horrible scandal at Walter Reed. When the occupation of Iraq dragged on, and the Afghanistan conflict seemed never to end (it still seems that way), rather than spend more money for recruiting new troops by providing for larger numbers of uniformed service personnel, troops were rotated in and out of the various theaters multiple times. Even retired and discharged troops were eligible for service through the ready reserve. Then, of course, we had National Guard troops, who are supposed to be nationalized only in cases of emergency, not because the Executive is unwilling to spend more money to recruit more troops.

The anecdote about troops asking family and friends to send body armor and equipment for improving the armor on HUMVEEs should be enough to convince anyone the jokers in the Bush Administration not only had no idea what they were up against, but seemed to threaten the lives and bodies of the military unduly. No one, however, raised the latter claim, for the singularly stupid reason that they were Republicans.

Fast forward, to the past half-year or so, and we have the nonsensical claim that the military will experience a mass-exodus due to the repeal of the anti-gay Don't Ask Don't Tell policy. Except, maybe, not so much.
You might remember General James Amos from such anti-gay rumors as “Letting gays join the military will cause a distraction” and “If gays join the military, there will be a mass exodus of soldiers.” Yeah, good times.

In news that is sure to shock absolutely nobody with half of a brain, General Amos has revealed that he’s heard of exactly zero soldiers resigning from the military since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
“It would be naive to think that somewhere down the road there’s not going to be issues,” Amos told reporters. “I think there probably will be in probably all the services, but I don’t think it’s going to be of any magnitude that’s going to cause much more than a blip. So I’m very optimistic.”
Implementation of repeal is going smoothly, according to the service chiefs in testimony before a Congressional committee. Why is that? Is it because the military is secretly gay? Perhaps a more likely explanation is that the military, which among its many other points of pride is its professionalism, understood that the order to allow full integration of gays and lesbians in to the services was legal, and therefore devised a policy (my guess is it has existed in some skeletal form since the early Clinton Administration, when the subject first arose; never underestimate the ability of any bureaucracy to have all sorts of contingency plans ready to hand) to do so that served the twin goals of making the policy real without disrupting the overall mission of the military.

All the same, most of the declared candidates for the Republican nomination for President are tripping over themselves claiming they will re-institute the policy if elected. Why? Not because they know anything about the military. Not because they accept the findings of the service-wide survey that found a majority of uniformed service personnel in favor of repeal. Not because there is any evidence that repeal is being done in an unprofessional manner that threatens national security. No, their sole beef, it seems, is their own fever dreams of shower scenes from bad porn movies being enacted on military bases around the world. Yet again, they are not only showing their bigotry for all the world to see. They are also displaying a marked lack of faith in the integrity and professionalism of the members of the US military in acting as adults usually act.

There is abundant evidence from recent history that shows how little conservatives regard the lives and health of the military, as well as its primary mission, protecting and defending the Constitution of the United States and our national interests in extreme emergencies. With the reaction - rooted not in reality but bad sexual fantasies - to DADT repeal, we have yet more evidence how little conservatives regard the military.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Right On Cue

The other day, I wrote a bit about the gas exploration boom in and around the area in which I grew up. Today, there's a report that one of the drills, near Canton, PA, is out of control and the fluid used in fracking is spilling out all over the ground.

So, um, is this just one of those things, over which we should all shrug our shoulders and say, "Oh, well"? Or, perhaps, is this an indication that we might need a tad bit of, well, regulation, considering what is spilling out over the ground is a secret, a secret that contains known toxins and carcinogens?

I love it when reality comes along and smacks us in the face. Except that such things are painful, both in reality and metaphorically.

Paul Ryan Is An Ignoramus

I want to respectfully disagree with Matt Yglesias on what is the most important point of this little story. Along with lying about what his "budget plan" does to Medicare and Medicaid, Ryan styles himself as someone who understands monetary policy. Yet, as the exchange at Matt's post makes clear, he doesn't know anything about monetary policy.

Gas prices are currently high due to the exploitation of Middle East unrest by futures traders manipulating the market. Here in Illinois, prices are especially high because we have higher standards which increase the base price. None of this is especially murky, and it certainly has nothing to do with monetary policy.

That Ryan would make such a claim, in public, after insisting he understands monetary policy, is all the more reason to cease paying any attention to him whatsoever. Except to call him an ignorant boob and move on.

Variety Is The Spice Of Life

Over the weekend, I had a couple great conversations regarding music. From an old college friend I learned there was a marvelous, all-black punk band, before punk was punk as it were, with the cheery name of Death.

Then, thanks to one of my FB friends acknowledging a recording by Pat Metheny, got into a discussion not only about him, but the great electric bassist Jaco Pastorius.

This led to a mention of the work Pat Metheny and Jaco did with Joni Mitchell (and in the following clip, that's Metheny's long-time keyboard collaborator, Lyle Mays).

Learning to Fly (Live) - Pink Floyd
Demon Queen of Spiders - Bigelf
Analog Kid - Rush
Dream The World Away - Wakeman with Wakeman
Dancing With Eternal Glory - Transatlantic
49 Bye-Byes - Crosby, Stills, and Nash
Get Ready - Temptations
A Time And A Place - Emerson, Lake, and Palmer
It's Alright - Indigo Girls
Neon Knights - Black Sabbath

Yeah. I hope your ears bleed.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Freedom Of Speech Includes The Freedom To Call Crazy Lies, Well, Crazy Lies (UPDATE)

What follows is an expansion of this comment.

It isn't just me. The level of crazy-stupid-bullshit in our public discourse rises and rises. We are actually having a serious discussion whether or not the United States will meet its debt obligations. We are treating a fiscal deficit due to a seriously warped revenue system in line with a bad economy as a puzzle on par with quantum physics.

For the life of this blog, I have made it my policy that I do not "argue" with, first, Holocaust deniers. Seems simple enough. I haven't encountered any, but, if I do, well . . . I have, in the intervening years, come to include creationists, global warming deniers, and now birthers. In each case, the principle is simple enough - I refuse to coddle people who hold beliefs that are counter to reality. If you wish to believe, say, that pouring billions of tons of carbon compounds in to the atmosphere in a relatively brief span of time has not created easily measurable effects on our climate, with disastrous results, that's OK, I can't stop you. If you refuse to acknowledge the .5-degrees centigrade rise in global temps over the past couple decades, bully for you. Just don't expect me to treat your ideas with anything like legitimacy.

Part of our problem, I think, is we in America believe that freedom of speech means we need to treat all ideas as having some kind of equal demand upon our attention, some equality of potential truth value. That's nonsense. If we had a public figure who insisted that he or she was the spokesperson for a group of aliens from the 28th century who wanted to rule us for our own good, I think most people would assume a serious mental illness.

Why do we not do the same thing for notions equally insane? Because a whole bunch of people, sincere, honest, hard-working, otherwise good-enough folks, hold them? Since these ideas - say, birthers - are rooted in claims that are demonstrably false, why not just make the point they continue to hold false beliefs and carry on? I mean, seriously. Are newspaper editors, journalists, and public figures so afraid of hurting the feelings of large groups of people they will coddle people who hold crazy ideas? We do these sections of the public no demonstrable good by indulging their fantasies.

We would be far better off if someone in a position of authority made it clear that, while there is no harm done by individuals holding all sorts of fanciful notions - I was abducted by aliens! Bigfoot ate my dog! - we cannot conduct our public affairs based on such ideas. I see not qualitative difference between believing in the tooth fairy and birhterism, say, or "cryptozoology" and "creation science" (or Intelligent Design, as it is now called). Why pretend otherwise? Since our country has been demonstrably harmed by social, economic, and political ideas that are the equivalent of belief in Hobbits, it seems to me a wise way of moving forward is taking these folks by the hand, smiling at them indulgently, and moving on. If their feelings get hurt, well, that can't be helped. Best to treat adults like adults, and inform them it is time to surrender belief in Santa Claus.

And, no, this is not "cowardice", as one person recently told me. There is nothing cowardly about laughing at nonsense. It is the height of intellectual integrity to tell someone who says something crazy, "That's just nuts."

UPDATE: Just one of so many stories that, I am quite sure, Marshall Art will dismiss as liberal lies.
Global warming is driving the American pika, a unique cousin of rabbits that dwells in the snowy peaks of the Rockies, to extinction. Pikas, who spend the summer days collecting alpine plants and flowers for their winter nests, die off when exposed to temperatures above 78 degrees. New research published in Global Change Biology find that local populations of pikas — each isolated on the upper reaches of different mountains — are being extirpated by warming temperatures at an increasingly rapid rate.
And Al Gore is fat.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Judas And Grace

With Holy Week upon us, I am venturing down a long-neglected road. As I speed through The Gospel According to Judas (a theological exploration of grace, not the novel of the same name or the spurious non-canonical text claimed to have been found) by Ray Anderson, I am confronted by a multitude of questions, most of which make me uneasy, and for which it seems there are no answers that leap to mind. It would be easy, I suppose, to rest with the traditional Biblical testimony that Judas was possessed by the devil, that Judas was a traitor all along, stealing money from the common funds, that Judas, consumed by guilt and remorse, cursed not only himself but the entire plot of land upon which he took his own life.

As Anderson makes clear, those easy answers are retrogressive justifications, the collective memory of the Apostles through the tradition making clear that Judas was, from the start, apart from the rest. Anderson also makes clear that these are half-self-justifications on the part of the rest of the Apostles for their own failures of nerve and abandonment of Jesus, as well as half-understandable reactions to betrayal that are a common occurrence in any such situation. Even taking these remarks - that Judas was acting through the impetus of demonic powers, or was a thief and not to be trusted from the get-go - at face value, we still confront the reality that grace, as worked out through a reflection upon the cross and resurrection of Jesus, never allows our choices, our actions, even death, to have the last word. We profess this to be true even for those chronologically out of synch with the history of redemption; does not, after all, the author of Hebrews insist that the patriarchs and matriarchs of the people of Israel are counted among the "great cloud of witnesses" to the faith embodied in Jesus?

As we Christians move through this week in which we remember the events from the triumphal entry to the ignominious death to the empty tomb, Judas' act of betrayal takes center stage, forcing us, should we so choose, to ask uncomfortable questions about ourselves, our relationships with one another and with God, and how we justify our own election and acceptance always with one eye on the one man who kissed Jesus to death. It isn't easy, and I have yet to rest comfortably with the implications. That, I suppose, is the mark of good theology, however. We should never rest comfortably with our own sense of theological truth, bound up as that is with the life of the Triune God.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Let's Wait Until Everyone Dies Before We Do Anything

Back in the 1970's, scientists discovered, to their surprise, that the use of choloflorocarbons had a deleterious effect on the ozone layer. It destroys it. They published their findings and a whole lot of people thought it might be a good idea to stop producing and using these chemicals for the perfectly sane reason that human life would be seriously threatened by the depletion of the ozone layer.

The chemical companies went in to full-bore lobbying mode, but their essential argument was this - since even the scientists admit their science isn't exact, how about we do nothing and see what happens, OK? So, no country did anything and in 1986, while doing som atmospheric mapping a satellite discovered a huge fricking hole in the ozone layer, as well as the presence of high concentrations of chloroflorocarbons. It actually didn't take very long to get up a treaty on the manufacture and use of CFCs, as they came to be called, and somehow, western civilization hasn't toppled because of their phase out. All the same, what the scientists said would happen, in roughly the way they predicted, actually happened, and industry, when given the evidence, shrugged and said, in effect, "Who knew?"

This little story is not only an analog of another, on-going story. It is a precautionary tale as well. Last June I wrote about how my hometown is ground zero for the biggest natural gas boom in the country, spanning a couple states and tens of thousands of square miles - the Marcellus Shale. Scientists have known for a very long time there might well be vast supplies of natural gas buried deep in the bowels of the shale deposits of this part of the Appalachians. Until recently, however, the problem of extracting it was technological. With the advent of hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, the final hurdle was leaped, and the companies hit the area like men wandering the desert hit an oasis.

There is one teensy detail. Most of what goes in to the compounds used to crack the shale and force the gas to the service is unknown (coffee grounds?) and some of it is quite toxic. Stuff like benzene and toluene. In Colorado, folks living near areas where fracking takes place have experienced their tap water catching fire (probably saves electricity having to boil water for dinner, I guess). A report in today's New York Times covers familiar territory, including the difficulty of finding out details on the exact makeup of the hydraulic fracturing materials. Since there is no law that compels the companies to reveal this information, and it is proprietary, they have every legal right to refuse to make public what goes in to the stuff they're pumping underground.

Except, of course, it doesn't stay put, and the benzene, and the xylene, and the other fun ingredients migrate and end up in the water table and eventually in the water supply. The companies have insisted this can't happen. When water has been tested, however, it is shown to have happened. When it is determined to have happened, the companies insist the levels are well within legally acceptable limits, even in their original use. Except, of course, as pointed out in the Times article, that isn't true either. For example, levels 28 times the legal limit was found in wastewater being dumped from one plant in Pennsylvania.

Just as with CFCs, at some point a whole bunch of people are going to get sick, and after all sorts of investigations and years in the courts, it will be determined that, indeed, the chemicals used in fracking are to blame. Just as the scientists said would happen. My guess is these drilling companies will react in much the same way the chemical industry did at the time the CFC treaty was being worked out - "Who knew?" Well, we all knew, of course.

Virtual Tin Cup

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay Learn More