Thursday, February 14, 2013


I am not someone who has a whole lot of rules about living.  One of the few I hold dear is as follows: No one over the age of 30 should pretend to understand pop culture.

This also applies to politicians and church people.  Trying to create some kind of "credibility" with younger people through the earnest insistence that individuals and institutions are culturally "hip" is embarrassing.  Remember the recent election, with Paul Ryan attempting to demonstrate credibility by claiming to be a fan of heavy metal music, saying his iPod has songs "from AC/DC to Zeppelin".  First of all, neither of these bands are really heavy metal.  Second, the latter isn't even a band.

Now we have Marco Rubio, apparently well-known as a fan of hip-hop, being heralded as being able to connect with young people because "he knows who Tupac is."

Tupac Shakur's been dead for seventeen years.  So, maybe not so current?

On the church side, this kind of thing makes me lunge for something to poke my eyes out.  Not the article so much, which is both vague and slightly condescending; the comment section, rather, produces exactly what one would expect - equal parts clueless pandering and the kind of "Neener-neener" back-and-forth that make the Internet so mind-numbingly stupid at times.

Look, I love music, and am always looking for something new and exciting.  I find myself moved by songs from performers as diverse as the Grateful Dead, Lady Gaga, and Opeth.  I would never pretend, however, that gives me some kind of credibility with young people.  Even being a disc jockey, playing music for high school dances only demonstrates I know how to read pop radio playlists.  As for the "moral lessons" from contemporary films such as Knocked Up, I couldn't agree more but I also find such things irrelevant.

We middle-aged and older folks should just admit our basic cluelessness when it comes to contemporary popular culture.  After all, it isn't being produced for us; Carly Rae Jepsen isn't being marketed to folks much beyond high school graduation, and plenty of people I know are scandalized by films by Judd Apatow, even as the films themselves are remarkably conservative in their view of American life.

It is important to give people tools to see and hear with grace-filled eyes and ears the movement of the Spirit in things as diverse as contemporary art and music and film.  We shouldn't pretend, however, that we either "get it" in some way other's do not; nor should be pretend to know things about popular culture in some misguided effort at appearing relevant to youth.  Leave youth culture for them.  They deserve it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

At The Hour Of Our Death

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  It is the day in which we who are followers of Jesus do as he did and turn our faces toward Jerusalem, knowing as Jesus did this means suffering and death.  On Ash Wednesday we, like the person in the image above, come face to face with the terrible reality that we are mortal.

Far too often I've read and heard critics of the Christian faith claim ours is a faith that denies death.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.  Our most holy and solemn feast days and seasons begin with the affirmation of death.  Death in all its horrible ultimacy; death in all its barren emptiness; death in its monstrous potential to tear apart the living.  We Christians no more deny the horror of death than we deny any other reality.

On Ash Wednesday, we believers are called to remember that we have been created from dust and it is a simple reality that to dust we shall return.  We cannot embrace the hope and promise that is the cross and empty tomb of Jesus Christ unless we confront the awful reality that our days are numbered, and once our final day arrives, absent the grace of the Father in the Son through the Spirit, we face what the Bible calls "the final enemy" alone, without hope.

This is the terrible reality of Ash Wednesday.  Yet, there is even on this solemn day, a measure of Good News; precisely because we do this remembrance as followers of the crucified and risen Christ we need not fear this reality.  That death is a monster goes without saying; that we need not fear it because our hope and our trust lie in the One who defeated death on Easter Sunday, even as we call to mind our own mortality, we also are reminded that we do not rest on any strength or ability that is ours.  Rather, we have the Advocate who has already beaten back death.  We can look in the abyss of our own tomb and praise the Living God as the One who will call us out to a new creation.

I look forward to taking the ashes tonight, knowing I am coming face to face with the great enemy with the power of the Incarnate Son of God on my side.  I can then move forward through Lent, holding this moment as a word, just not the final word, of my existence.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Not Enough Awe

My original plan was to write a rather lengthy article about Ted Nugent being at tonight's State of the Union address.  In the middle of my original draft, however, my mind took a left turn and I realized that I really wanted to write something else.

There's not enough wonder in our world.

Really.  Our politics is void of any sense of possibility not least because I think, at some point, we gave up our ability to appreciate the transcendence, the possibility, inherent in any given moment of life.  Not just our life together, but our personal lives as well have been drained of any notion there might well be something beautiful about them, something mysterious, something wonderful.

For a long time, I've been fascinated with the fact that the word often translated as "fear" in the Old Testament, when referring to our need to "fear the LORD", would better be translated as "awe".  That combination of fear and love, of wonder and apprehension, when facing the unknown - that should be how we approach the God who created the Universe, the God who is the Father of our Lord and Savior, who called Jesus the Son in whom the Father was well pleased, the God who raised this same Jesus from the dead.  How else should we approach this God?

We are told by St. Paul that in Christ and with Christ we can approach the throne of God with boldness, a position I think makes sense.  In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes that we Christians are like Moses coming off the mountain with the Law, reflecting the Glory of God; unlike Moses, however, we can do so with unveiled faces, letting the light of the Glory of God shine for the world to see.

Our lives reflect the Glory of God.  In that and with that understanding, how is it possible we can move through our days without wonder?  How is it possible not to appreciate the moments we're offered by our gracious God who holds us and keeps us?  Far too much of our lives is spent complaining, far too little in grateful thanks and wonder that right here, right now, we are alive, surrounded by those we love, in a world we still barely know or understand.

The matter is simple enough for me: I would much rather celebrate the possibility we have to be who and what God has made us to be, and through Jesus Christ saved us to be, than sit around and complain about how ridiculous our politics are, and how ridiculous far too many people in our public life.  Before you finish, take a moment and just consider where you are, at this particular moment in time.  Consider the people around you.  Consider the world outside the door of your house or apartment.  Have the courage to consider, in faith, that all of it is a loving gift from God.  Made for us, so that we might live in praise and thanksgiving for God in return.

What would the world be like, what would our lives be like, if we each did this, just for a few moments each day?

Monday, February 11, 2013

It Isn't About Drones

With the NBC's discovery last week of internal memos supporting the killing of American citizens abroad who have been determined to be an imminent threat to the security of the United States, we now know what we've known for a while - when it comes to waging war, Pres. Obama is little different from his predecessors, including the little-missed Pres. George W. Bush.  Roy Edroso at Alicublog says it well, quoting Chomsky that all American Presidents since Truman are deserving of war crimes trials.

Too much of the patter, however, has focused on the use of UAVs, or "drones" in popular parlance.  Duncan Black at Eschaton calls them "flying death robots", which they are not.  Like the President they are criticizing, the critics are a bit too enamored of these remotely-operated fighter-bombers.  I keep wondering if these same critics would approve of the use of Special Operations Forces to do the same things.  Of course, I'm guessing their answer is "No", but that just brings me back to the whole matter of focusing on the method of ordnance delivery rather than the underlying "legal" rationale.

My criticism not only of Obama but pretty much all Presidential actions like this going back, like Chomsky, to Truman, is simple: The Constitution just doesn't give the President the power to act in this way.  Truman tried to be cute, and all forward-looking, using the United Nations in Korea, calling it a "police action" so he could side-step the Constitutional requirement of a Congressional declaration of war.  It is odd, indeed, to find myself agreeing with the late Sen. Robert Taft, one of the few voices speaking out forcefully and prophetically against the kind of imperial Presidential power-grab Truman was performing.  Taft was just slightly to the right of Louis XVI, but at least on this matter his claim to be speaking on principle rings true, even sixty-three years later.  The whirlwind sowed in the windy Korean peninsula arrived with the whole lying business that was Vietnam; one would think Democrats of either party would have learned the simple lesson that, at the very least, if we're going to commit our troops to battle, they need the vocal support of the people's representatives in Congress.  The closest we have come to an actual declaration of war was the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed by Congress before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  The fact is, it's been just over 71 years since the United States has formally declared war; in those decades tens of thousands of Americans have died in battle.

And the Executive always has an excuse and reasons ready at hand.  All they lack is the one necessary thing - the Constitutionally mandated declaration of war.  In 2003, I doubt Pres. Bush would have lost such a vote; yet, just as his war planners insisted on doing the war with as few troops as possible, and without paying for it (one would have thought the Roosevelt Administration's example would have been honored at least in name by these same people who compared 9/11 to Pearl Harbor and insisted al Qaeda was an big an existential threat as the combined Nazi and Japanese Empires; alas, they were too cowardly), so, too, did they see no need to get a formal declaration of war from Congress.

Were Pres. Obama really confident he had the authority to kill Americans overseas, he would ask Congress to declare war on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and wherever else our troops are currently engaged in conflict, then use that as his authority to act.

My problem with the whole business isn't "drones".  My problem is the unconstitutional action on the part of all Presidents since the Second World War who insist that using Congress is just too cumbersome, a problem FDR couldn't even have imagined when he went before Congress and asked for a declaration of war against the two greatest military powers the world had seen until that time.  If there are Americans who are aiding and abetting our formally declared enemies in a formally declared war, then I don't see where there are legal issues with him killing them as part of larger war efforts.  Focusing on "drones" is a bit like focusing on "tanks" as large, noisy things that might crush a soldier under its treads, or blow a soldier to pieces with a Sabot round.  Focusing on "drones" misses the point that the President wants to do this war both on the cheap and by-and-large out of the public's eye, instead of taking it to the people.

Virtual Tin Cup

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