Monday, November 29, 2004

Jonathan rambles, just to remind you he's still here

Here's an article about how even sports like football can be used by God to shape human relationships of love.

Did any of you see Meet the Press yesterday? I saw the last twenty minutes of it Sunday night on MSNBC. It was a circus. The lineup of guests were: Jerry Fallwell, Al Sharpton, Richard Land, and Jim Wallis. From what I saw, Jerry Falwell and Al Sharpton were just talking past one another. In one cutaway, Tim Russert was just laughing at the spectacle of it all. It would have been better to devote the whole show to an interview with Jim Wallis. As it was, I'm afraid it didn't contribute much to any sort of understanding, encouragement, or edification.

A couple of points to consider though: Al Sharpton must have said something to Richard Land about, "don't force your religions morals on anyone else." Richard Land correctly pointed out that that would have rendered the entire Civil Rights Movement unintelligible. Sharpton would not acknowledge the truth of that. Falwell would not acknowledge that Soujourners is not a puppet of the Democratic party. Jim Wallis has been just as critical of the Democratic party as he has the Republican. Falwell just never saw that.

I am tempted to say that Falwell is just a buffoon, and let's just forget about him. But, darn it, as much as I hate to admit it, he has done some good things. And we're not going to get anywhere until liberals acknowledge the conservatives have done some good things, and conservatives acknowledge that liberals have done some good things. So here goes my acknowledgement: Falwell's church in Lynchburg, Virginia is to be commended for their Save a Baby homes for women in crisis pregnancies, their ministry with AIDS victims, their outreach to the poor, and for having a better mix racially in their congregation than 99% of United Methodist congregations.

Whew, that was hard for me to say. So much of what Falwell has said and done has been just down right blasphemous, particularly his pro-war rhetoric. But no genuine understanding will arise among different Christian groups if we demonize others and treat them as one-dimensional caricatures of themselves. Uh-oh, I just realized that means I can't demonize John Shelby Spong either.... I'm going to have to think a while before I can think of something good to say about him, but I'll try. It's easy to say something good about Sharpton: his stands for Civil Rights, his opposition to war, his work for economic justice. But Spong, why do I have such a hard time saying something good about him? OK, here goes: Spong also opposed the war in Iraq, he is concerned for the poor and marginalized, and he is in favor of women's ordination.

modern art musings

Three weeks ago I was away for continuing education reading about Beauty and Reformed Theology. A week ago Laura and I were touring the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

It was nice timing. If I learned anything while I was at Columbia Seminary it was how illiterate I am when it comes to the visual arts. My theological tradition bears some culpability. In their zeal for the Second Commandment, Reformed Christians created plain, austere worship spaces. Fine (or not, maybe), but that same zeal spread out of the sanctuary, creating an ethos of indifference or contempt for painting and sculpture. True, Rembrandt and van Gogh grew up in hyper-Calvinist Holland, but most Reformed Christians, suffering from what H.R. Rookmaaker called "an extreme, passive, almost fatalistic view of election," took no real interest in the arts. We failed to realize that "faith is not just a matter of 'religion,' of the soul, with its salvation in heaven, but a salvation of the whole person," including, presumably, the imagination.

My week of reading said, "Get thee to a gallery." So Laura and I toured the Guggenheim. We also had free passes to the Museum of Modern Art, but this being our first trip to the Big Apple, we didn't want to venture over to Queens, where the MOMA had relocated while its facility was renovated. Only after we returned from the Guggenheim and turned on the TV in our hotel room did we learn that the MOMA's grand re-opening in Manhattan was the same weekend we were there.

But the Guggenheim was a good experience too. It's a giant spiral staircase. The revolving collection (Aztec art) literally revolves with the building. You pass by sculpture and statue as you ascend the corkscrew path inside the rotunda. The permanent collections are displayed in rooms off of the twisting walkway. This is where we spent most of our time, taking in the Guggenheim's collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art.

Since I don't know much about interpreting art I was attracted to the paintings that were, you know, pretty. I think that's OK since what I know about impressionism is that it's all about bright, beautiful colors.

But there's got to be more to it than that, right? Take this van Gogh painting, Mountains at Saint-Remy:

It's stunning. Laura sees a human form on the right side. She appreciates the sheer beauty of it, but I found myself unsettled. The painting brought Psalm 97: 5 to mind: The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth. Can you see a mudslide as the storm recedes into the distance? And something more than "just a mudslide?" Then again, I know very little about van Gogh, aside from the fact that he started out as an evangelist and ended up a brilliant and suicidal artist (Oh, and that whole left ear situation).

And bringing up my ignorance of the painter's intent begs a whole other set of questions, questions we went round and round about in seminary but could just as easily be applied to the visual arts as to the interpretation of scripture: Where is the meaning? In the author's/artist's intent? In the reader's/viewer's imagination? In a literary analysis of the text itself, or a technical analysis of brushstroke, proportion, and the like?

I don't have the time right now to write out in any detail what I think a recovery of the visual arts in Reformed congregations might look like. Some Reformed essential tenets need to be honored: nothing should obscure or replace the reading of scripture and preaching of a sermon in worship (thus I remain rather skeptical of the multimedia displays a lot of megachurches are experimenting with in lieu of a sermon). Sanctuaries need not be art galleries.

But those who are blessed with gifts for visual art need to use their gifts to the glory of God and for the building up of the church. It's good stewardship. God told us to till and keep a creation he called "very good." There are yet more beautiful things in this world that God is waiting for us to make. And those beautiful things ought to be offered to God in worship, and talked about and debated in the church's Christian education programs.

That's enough. For now, here are some more of our favorites from the Guggenheim:

Picasso's The Accordionist. I sat there for a long time looking at this one, and I thought I had finally seen him until I read this description of the painting and discovered I was all wrong.

Vasily Kadinsky's Dominant Curve. Again, I like it because it's pretty. And the more abstract Kandinsky works were more visually pleasing than his earlier, more realistic works. But I had to read the description to understand that that's an embryo floating up there in the upper right hand corner, which may symbolize the artist's hope for new life in post-war Europe. Kadinsky's embrace of pure abstractions signaled his belief that art shouldn't represent reality so much as express the artist's own inner life. So if the viewer isn't in on that inner life, is his/her experience of the artwork diminished? A related question is, What is the purpose of "Christian art?" Or, a better way to put it, What is the vocation of the Christian artist? I would think it would be something other than (more than?) bringing forth his/her inner life in visual form.

Lastly, a nude that even John Ashcroft couldn't object to:

Sunday, November 28, 2004

sunday bird blogging

It was going to be a turkey, but this morning in church a man asked for prayer for a demented female cardinal who sits on his car and attacks her reflection in the window. A girl also asked for prayers for her dog whose hip was shattered in a collision with a passing car.

These are fitting prayers. God made birds and dogs, and we should not hesitate to pray for them. Such is the nature of stewardship. In his commentary on Jonah, the namesake of our congregation lingers over the rather noteworthy detail that even the animals put on sackcloth when the King of Ninevah ordered his subjects to repent. Calvin reasoned that such piety wasn't out of place since no one stood more to gain from human repentence than their pets and beasts of burden.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

quiz happy

Like Bud I am a...

You Are the Investigator


You're independent - and a logical analytical thinker.

You love learning and ideas... and know things no one else does.

Bored by small talk, you refuse to participate in boring conversations.

You are open minded. A visionary. You understand the world and may change it.

And with Turkey Day around the corner, it turns out that I'm most like:

You Are Pumpkin Pie

Even when people are full - they make room for you.
Good or bad, your smell is most likely to arouse a man.

Since I'm happily married to a woman, I don't know about that "arousing a man" part. Guess I'll have to warn my brother-in-law not to try to play footsie with me under the table tomorrow!

Last of all, what you already knew about this little blog:

You Are a Pundit Blogger!

Your blog is smart, insightful, and always a quality read.
Truly appreciated by many, surpassed by only a few

Tuesday, November 23, 2004


Man they are feeling their oats! Just look at what the Republicans have done with their newly won "mandate":

1. Said that persons under indictment can't serve in leadership posts in the U.S. House, unless they're Republicans.
2. Tried to sneak through a new law that would let Republican Congressmen leaf through your 1040.
3. Razed Fallujah.
4. Appointed a new Attorney General (the highest law enforcement officer in the land) who thinks that torture might be OK if the Prez sez so, no matter what the law sez.
5. Turned a blind eye to news that acute child malnutrition is worse in Iraq now than before the American invasion.

The Psalm appointed for today by the Daily Lectionary couldn't say it any better:

1Help, O LORD, for there is no longer anyone who is godly;
the faithful have disappeared from humankind.
2They utter lies to each other;
with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
3May the LORD cut off all flattering lips,
the tongue that makes great boasts,
4those who say, "With our tongues we will prevail;
our lips are our own—who is our master?"
5"Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan,
I will now rise up," says the LORD;
"I will place them in the safety for which they long."
6The promises of the LORD are promises that are pure,
silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
purified seven times.
7You, O LORD, will protect us;
you will guard us from this generation for ever.
8On every side the wicked prowl,
as vileness is exalted among humankind.

I don't guess everyone who reads this blog is a person of faith, but if the last three weeks haven't driven you to your knees praying "Help!" then I'm not sure what will. Look, we tried as hard as we could to save the country, and we came up short. We're all very sorry about that, but right now there's not a lot we can do except say, "I beg to differ," when they tell a whopper and go off half-cocked on some crazy fiscal or foreign policy adventure.

Not a lot except pray "Help!" And that's more than anything. Of course divine sovereignty doesn't cancel out human responsibility, but ultimately only God can save us from ourselves. As progressive Christians watch helplessly as the nation slides further into the abyss over the next four years we will at least be chastened about the possibilities of secular political success. If God does save us, there will be room in our hearts only for gratitude and humility, not pride and vengeance. And if God chooses not to bear his right arm, then we will have to admit with the seer of Patmos that "his judgments are true and just; he has judged the great whore who corrupted the earth with her fornication."

Monday, November 22, 2004


So at our annual Thanksgiving Interfaith Potluck the Rabbi from the Temple next door asks, "How's the church?"

Um, do I speak of our beautiful new fellowship hall, 95% built but only 50% paid for? The bane and blessing of being a youth group leader? The superficiality of American Christianity expressed in the phenomenal success of the Left Behind series and The DaVinci Code? The co-opting of Christian symbols, heck, the co-opting of Christ himself, as window dressing for imperial shenanigans? That the election emboldened somebody to rip my wife's "Blessed Are the Peacemakers" bumper sticker off her car?

Hmm... Beatitudes for a new mandate...

Blessed are those whose spirits are high in the age of right wing ascendancy, for they can't tell any difference between the kingdom of heaven and the God blessed USA.
Blessed are those who don't mourn, for "collateral damage" happens only in far off places like Iraq.
Blessed are the arrogant, for they shall conquer the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for "law and order," for civil liberties will surely be curtailed.
Blessed are they who show no mercy to POWs, homosexuals and other threats to society, for they have somebody in the White House who will protect them even as he panders to their fears and loathings.
Blessed are they whose hearts are hardened to clear-cutting, strip-mining, global warming and other gaping wounds in the creation, for they will see asphalt, tail lights and grayish green skies astride their monstrous SUVs.
Blessed are the warmongers, for in this preemptive war, free trade, Orwellian age, war is peace and freedom is slavery.
Blessed are those who are persecuted by feminazis, liberals, treehuggers, effete left coasters and other Blue State traitors, for this land aint your land, this land is my land, from just shy of California to points south of the New York Island.

this space intentionally left blank

I have nothing to say about the Pistons-Pacers brawl that hasn't already been said today in barber shops throughout this great land.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

sunday bird blogging

Warning, not every week is going to be an exotic sighting.

Laura and I are home after a weekend in New York. Woo-hoo! We heart New York! Whadda town! More about the trip later. For now let us tip our hats to the hearty Rock Dove, the pigeon, Columba livia to you Latin speakers. A pigeon suspiciously similar to the one above followed us for more than a block as we strolled down Fifth Avenue with Central Park to our right and stately apartment buildings to our left. We think our tagalong was hoping for a handout of some kind. Mayor Giuliani got rid of the squeegy men, but the pigeons are a tougher nut to crack.

What would our cities be without pigeons? Their ubiquity doesn't take away from their beautiful iridescent green, and rubbery necks. And their cooing is much more bubbly and pleasant than their country kin the Mourning Dove. So here's to urban America's omnipresent feathery friend, the Pigeon.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

the actuality of atonement

I'm participating in a Pastor As Theologian seminar sponsored by the Center for Theological Inquiry. Our local study group meets Monday, and my assignment is to report on a little book by Colin Gunton titled The Actuality of Atonement: A Study of Metaphor, Rationality and the Christian Tradition.

The New Testament and classical Christianity speak in deeply metaphorical terms about being reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. Drawing from the arenas of the battlefield, the courtroom and the temple cultus, the atonement has been described as a Victory over the powers of sin and death, as the Justification of the sinner, and as a Sacrifice which cleanses and purifies.

Gunton observes that these metaphors have fallen on hard times in the Modern era. Kant, wanting to affirm the autonomy and rationality of the mind, saw God's reconciliation as something realized in the moral life of human beings, and not in an objective act of God in past history. Gunton calls this a philosophical and theological 180 degree turn for a Lutheran like Kant. Schleiermacher, in a different way, changed the meaning of the classic metaphors into something else. In his case, he radically subjectivized their meaning. For Schleiermacher, the cross means not that sin is judged and borne away, but that the Christian can live free from fearing that the experience of evil is a punishment for his/her sin. The resurrection and ascension express the historical Jesus's continuing presence to contemporary Christians. Lastly, Hegel dismissed with metaphors altogether, thinking that something as important as religious truth needed clear language and not fuzzy images to express it.

Contra Hegel, Gunton argues that metaphors are an indispensable means of revealing truth. Shrewdly he points to the arena of the natural sciences, since scientific truths are "more true" than other truths, at least for the Modern mind. Conceiving of the world as a machine, Gunton writes, enabled scientists to discover all kinds of new facts about the universe. At the same time, new facts generate new metaphors. We only have indirect knowledge of the world, Gunton says, and the test of the language we use to describe that world ought not be whether it's literal as opposed to metaphorical, but whether it successfully expresses human interaction with the world.

Mutatis mutandis theology. The event of Jesus Christ forced his believers to speak in new and daring ways, describing the torture and execution of a Palestinian Jew by the Roman occupiers as a victory, his brutal death on the cross between two brigands as a sacrifice, as if he had been slaughtered on a slab of stone between two candles. It's worth observing that the application of a metaphor not only redescribes the event, but the event redefines the word. After participating in the victory Jesus won on the cross, can we use the word victory to describe, say, what the U.S. military did in Fallujah last week?

In chapters three, four and five Gunton takes each metaphor in turn and corrects misunderstandings of the metaphor, misunderstandings which have generated the reappropriations of Kant, Schleiermacher and innumerable others, wrongheaded but understandable, Gunton seems to think. Of special interest is his treatment of Anselm's Satisfaction Atonement theology under the heading of "The Justice of God," since satisfaction atonement is the leading metaphor in Western Christianity.

It is not the case, argues Gunton, that Anselm's God is an abusive Father taking it out on his son, or a testy feudal Lord avenging his besmirched honor. It is the moral order of the creation that is at stake here, not the Deity's hurt feelings. If sin is not punished the world becomes an unjust place, and creation no longer becomes capable of sustaining life. Jesus's death on the cross is a gift by the GodMan to God, the value of which is infinitely greater than the sum of creaturely wrongdoing. Moreover, the justice of the Triune God is an alien justice to the extent that justice is secured by the giving and receiving of a gift rather than the avenging of evil, as are most human efforts to secure justice.

Gunton also thinks that the Justification metaphor has, in its neo-Lutheran forms (Kierkegaard and Bultmann), turned far too inward. Gunton believes that an authentic use of the metaphor would do well to follow Paul's letter to the Romans, where the family of words related to "justify" nest most frequently. Romans 8 has the whole creation in view, and Romans 9-11 considers the complicated relationship between Jew and Gentile, the great ethnic, cultural and religious divide of antiquity. God's justice not only acquits the sinner; it secures social peace and cosmic transformation.

The organizing question for our study group is "How do you as a theologian for the Church think and believe that Jesus is to be presented as Savior in preaching, teaching and pastoral care?" I still have a few days before we meet to formulate a tentative answer based on the Gunton book. At this point I find myself thinking about worship, especially preaching and the sacraments. Both liberal preaching, with its exhortations to social justice, and conservative preaching, with its demands for sexual purity, are thoroughly Modern forms of homiletics, insofar as they reduce Christianity to morality and subjectivity. I think that the Church would benefit from a sustained proclamation of who God is and what God has done, with no overt or even covert demands for response on the part of the hearers.

I stand under this judgment as much as anyone. Our intern pastor told me that my sermons are "very practical." I think she meant that as a compliment, but if the truth of God can best be apprehended indirectly, through the fuzzy images of metaphor rather than clear concepts, perhaps our sermons ought to be a little less "How to" oratories, even on such laudable subjects as prayer, peacemaking or service to the poor. Fuzzy preaching. I need to think about that.

Secondly, Gunton's book practically cries out for weekly communion. The sacrament of the Lord's Supper is a performed word. It is metaphor par excellence. It draws us into the mystery of Christ's death and resurrection, and draws us out of ourselves, into the future consummation of all things, described chiefly as a banquet by Luke, and into the lives of our sisters and brothers in Christ who sit at table with us. True, absent the preached word the performed word may devolve into rote ritual or magic act, but the preached word minus the performed word, especially the heavy-handed literalisms from pulpits left and right may be an attempt by ministers to feed their flocks a stone and not bread.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

more blue state pastoral care

A colleague sent this to me. Well worth clicking on if you want to chase those blue state blues away.

Monday, November 15, 2004

are you better off than you were four years ago?

Not if you're a Christian living in Iraq. Yes, Virginia, there are Christians in Iraq, and they were there long before our godly President paved the way for Southern Baptist missionaries to enter that land of terrorists and infidels. While the invasion has been good for Haliburton and fundamentalist missionaries, it's been bad for Iraq's indigenous Christian population, so says this AP article. Removing Saddam Hussein from power has taken the lid off of simmering ethnic and religious tensions in Iraq. Christians are now fleeing the country because of increased threats and persecution.

Why do I even bother writing this stuff? The Religious Right doesn't live in the reality based community. Rhetoric and only rhetoric is all they pay attention to. They couldn't give a flying fig what the real, live impact of their candidates' policies are on real, live brothers and sisters in Christ.

grief work

I ran across this Harold Meyerson quote at the Donkey Rising weblog:

In large ways and small, campaign 2004 was marked by unprecedented Democratic
unity. That's one reason why the defeat feels so shattering: The whole team was
on the field, working together as well as if not better than ever before.

I can only remember one Gore/Lieberman sign in Rowan County in 2000, and that was in the yard of our local ultraliberal yoga instructor. This year Kerry/Edwards yard signs sprouted like the chickweed in my non-Chemlawn yard. The Democratic Party HQ was filled to overflowing with volunteers. Democrats were energized and united, and we were confident that unity and energy plus the good common sense of the American people would deliver a victory. Boy, were we wrong.

In a sense nobody changed their minds between 2000 and 2004. New Hampshire reverted to blue, New Mexico to red, and Iowa turned red as well, but other than that the electoral map stayed the same. The popular vote went the other way, perhaps because the Religious Right voters who stayed home in 2000 rather than vote for the DWI Republican showed up this year for the gay-bashing Republican incumbent.

After all that's happened, pretty much no one changed their mind.

I'm speechless. Shattered is more like it, to quote Meyerson.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

sunday bird blogging

Since everyone else does Friday Cat Blogging, I had to be different.

This is a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. We saw one like it fluttering around our boxwoods this afternoon. It was hard to identity. At first we had it pegged for some kind of Vireo, but Vireos have blunter, more finch-like beaks. In the Peterson book, this Kinglet is included on a page titled "Confusing Fall Warblers." Confusing indeed! They only display their ruby crown when aroused. Apparently the one in our yard was in a more placid state of mind. Their breeding range is Canada and the U.S. Rockies, but they winter here in the southestern U.S. So welcome!

Maybe Santa will bring a digital camera, and I can put my own photos up for Sunday bird blogging.

helpful advice

Now that Yasser Arafat is dead, innumerable wise men and women are stepping forward to fill the role of Unofficial Advisor to the Palestinian People. Eric Weiner's column in today's Observer is a case in point. Weiner urges the Palestinians to adopt Gandhi's satyagraha program to win a viable state for themselves. While a Palestinian Gandhi might at first be greeted with great suspicion, "surely Israel wouldn't object to a shift away from violence," Weiner concludes.

I myself have lamented that Arafat, unlike Nelson Mandela, did not transform himself from revolutionary into statesman. But let's be honest. The Israeli government does not want to deal with nonviolent Palestinians any more than the bomb-wearing variety.

Mark LeVine, writing at Juan Cole's weblog, reminds us that in its early days Hamas was bankrolled by the Israelis as a counterweight to the PLO, in much the way that the apartheid government of South Africa lent support to the Inkata Freedom Party in order to weaken black South African solidarity behind the ANC. LeVine goes to ask,

But what of the courageous Palestinians who still believe in non-violence, who are risking their lives working with Israeli peace activists to fulfill the fading Oslo dream of two states living side by side in peace? We could ask this question to Ahmed Awad, founder of the non-violent Committee for the Popular
Struggle against the Separation Fence, which has brought Palestinian and Israeli
activists together in a relatively successful campaign to redirect the
separation wall away from local olive groves. In the process his group has
become a model for grass-roots, non-violent struggle. Unfortunately, we'd have
to wait at least three months for an answer, as Awad has just been jailed
without charge by a military court on the accusation he constituted a threat to
security. The judge who handed down the order hoped that his detention would
lead him to turn away from th[is] bad road with its unhappy ending, although
its hard to see whom his stated goal of letting the world understand that there
can be coexistence between us and the Jews threatened. In the meantime, the
Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that the army has stepped up violence and
aggression against protesters in order to enable the fence to proceed along its
original route.

International support for nonviolent approaches to the conflict are also dealt with severely. In September and October Jewish settlers attacked and seriously wounded members of Christian Peacemaker Teams who were escorting Palestinian children to school in Hebron. The pacifist CPT staffers were unarmed. The children they were escorting had been terrorized by the settlers for some time. Israeli Army spokesmen blamed the internationals for heightening tensions in the area.

At home the Presbyterian Church (USA) has moved forward with a very limited plan to divest its holdings from corporations that profit from the Israeli occupation. Denominational officials identified four criteria that would guide their divestment decisions. They include identifying multinational corporations that provide services to or for use by the Israeli police or military to support and maintain the occupation; provide products, services or technology of particular strategic importance to the support and maintenance of the occupation; have established facilities or operations on occupied land; and provide products and services, including financial services, for the establishment, expansion or maintenance of Israeli settlements on occupied land.

Actual divestment is a long way off. Presbyterian officials will first meet with corporate leaders to advocate for changes in corporate policies.

The reaction to the Presbyterian plan? Arson threats against the denominational headquarters in Louisville.

There is no shortage of people and groups, inside and outside Israel and the Occupied Territories, who have for years been seeking a just and nonviolent solution to the conflict. The real impediment to peace is not an unwillingness to employ nonviolent tactics and strategies. The real impediment to peace is the attitude in some quarters of the United States and Israel that the Palestinians are a subhuman species with completely illegitimate hopes and dreams. In the wake of Arafat's death we need less "good advice" for the Palestinians and more for the Israelis and Americans.

charles krauthammer is a tortured soul

"It's the war, stupid!" cries The Hammer in his latest tirade. His point--abortion, same-sex marriage and stem cell research got lumped together in one exit poll heading titled "Moral Values." By contrast pollsters broke down, say, "National Security" into a host of subcategories like Iraq, the War on Terror, Homeland Security, etc. This skewed exit polling data toward the conclusion that "Moral Values" put the President over the top. The Hammer writes,

If you pit group against group, moral values comes in dead last: war issues at 34 percent, economic issues variously described at 33 percent, and moral values at 22 percent -- i.e., they are at least a third less salient than the others.
We know that this is the real ranking. After all, the exit poll is just a single poll. We had dozens of polls in the run-up to the election that showed that the chief concerns were the war on terror, the war in Iraq and the economy.
But The Hammer is pointless, witless, misleading and just plain pitiful when he asserts that liberals are deliberately misconstruing the exit polling data in order to fell smug about another election defeat. Again, The Hammer:

In the post-election analyses, the liberal elite, led by the holy trinity of The New York Times -- Paul Krugman, Thomas Friedman, and Maureen Dowd -- just about lost its mind denouncing the return of medieval primitivism. Dowd achieved the highest level of hysteria, cursing the Republicans for pandering to "isolationism, nativism, chauvinism, Puritanism and religious fanaticism" in their unfailing drive to "summon our nasty devils."

The great anti-gay surge was pure fiction.
This does not deter the myth of the Bigoted Christian Redneck from dominating the thinking of liberals, and from infecting the blue-state media. They need their moral superiority like oxygen, and cannot have it cut off by mere facts. And so once again they angrily claim the moral high ground, while standing in the ruins of yet another humiliating electoral defeat.
Problem is, plenty of Religious Right Red State types are feeling superior these days, for exactly the same reason. D. James Kennedy, right wing Presbyterian TV evangelist, said, "Now that values voters have delivered for George Bush, he must deliver for their values. The defense of innocent unborn human life, the protection of marriage, and the nomination and confirmation of federal judges who will interpret the Constitution, not make law from the bench, must be first priorities come January." James Dobson, founder of focus on the Family, also warned, "The GOP has been given four years to deliver on marriage and life and family, and if they fumble it … (we'll) stay home next time."

That the election broke over Moral Values is now conventional wisdom. If The Hammer wants to take a swing at the CW, Bully for him. But to attribute the CW to some leftist wound-licking fetish says more about The Hammer than it does elitist liberals.

It must be strange to have your political fortunes lifted by people who are basically committed to the destruction of your identity. The Jewish Krauthammer is in exactly that position, what with the Religious Right's support for Israel predicated upon the conviction that the End Times script calls for the mass conversion of the Jews. But alas, the cognitive dissonance is as yet not disorienting enough to free The Hammer's mind. "Must pretend all is well back home!" The Hammer snarls through clenched teeth as his fingers bang out another liberal-bashing screed.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

why is this woman so happy?

A. George W. Bush just won a second term as President of the United States.
B. Yasser Arafat just died.
C. She's got Laci Peterson's back, baby!

Uh, the answer would be C.

Bonus Question:
Why was this Suzy Creamcheese on the front page of today's Charlotte Observer?
A. Because Charlotte is only 2,708 miles from Redwood City, California, and the Observer's local coverage is first-rate.
B. Because the war's not really front page news anymore since it's going entirely according to plan, what with us retaking Fallujah and losing Mozul in the same week, 20 months after the invasion.
C. H**l if I know.

Uh, that would be C again.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

let those who have ears to hear listen

RE: this, Eberhard Busch is worth quoting:

Barth began by declaring that at this very moment it was important to do 'theology and only theology'--'as though nothing had happened. This too is an attitude to adopt... and indirectly it is even a political attitude.' He described the teaching of the German Christians quite openly as 'heresy': the church 'does not have to serve men and so it does not have to serve the German people.' It has to proclaim the gospel 'even in the Third Reich, but not under it or in its spirit. Thus church membership is not determined 'by blood, nor by race either.' Barth caused particular offense by dissociating himself equally sharply from the middle-of-the-road 'Young Reformation Movement.' This was supported by Heim, Kunneth, Lilje and others, and stood on the one hand for the preservation of the independence of the church and on the other for a 'joyful yes to the new German state.' Barth objected that it did not stand 'in clear and radical opposition to the German Christians.

'I did not have anything new to say in that first issue of Theological Existence Today apart from what I had always endeavored to say: that we could have no other gods than God, that holy scripture was enough to guide the church into all truth, that the grace of Jesus Christ was enough to forgive our sins and order our life. The only thing was that now I suddenly had to say this in a different situation. It was no longer just an academic theory. Without any conscious intention or endeavor on my part, it took on the character of an appeal, a challenge, a battle-cry, a confession. It was not I who had changed: the room in which I had to speak had changed dramatically, and so had its resonance. As I repeated this doctrine consistently in this new room, at the same time it took on a new depth and became a practical matter, for decision and action.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004


Alberto Gonzalez--the new AG. He's stood for the highest ethical standards, says the President. He's also wrote memos arguing that POWs in the War on Terror don't deserve Geneva Convention protections, and that torture isn't necessarily illegal, so long as the President says its OK.

If this is high ethical standards, if this is what "moral values" really means, then count me among the Immoral Minority.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

peach state stream of consciousness

I'm at Columbia Seminary this week, plowing through books in my search for a Reformed theology of beauty. Thus I haven't had much to say here at the blog. Truthfully I don't know what to say. When it comes to politics, Plan A was getting John Kerry elected President. There was no Plan B, so I don't know what to do or what to say. I have commented a bit on the post-election analysis, but my appetite for that sort of thing has quickly soured.

This morning NPR interviewed the heretofore anonymous CIA agent who wrote a book stating that the Bush administration has fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the threat that Al Qaida poses to the United States. I found myself getting very irritated at the radio. Why report these things since nobody cares (or at least 51% of the people don't care)? For my part, I wish that NPR would switch its format to a mixture of White House press releases and John Phillips Sousa. They should leave it to the people to intuit for themselves what's going on, much like the Soviet people had to figure out for themselves the fortunes of war in Afghanistan.

OK, now that I got THAT out, I think I'm discovering a Plan B. John De Gruchy's book Christianity, Art and Transformation has a whole chapter on the aesthetics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Yes, I was surprised too. Even De Gruchy admits to being surprised. For what it's worth, ponder this quote from the essay After Ten Years in which we find "explicit reference to the connection between the struggle against the destruction of society and 'good taste,' between ethics and the aesthetic":

Quality is the greatest enemy of any mass leveling. Culturally it means a return from the newspaper to the book, from feverish activity to unhurried leisure, from dispersion to concentration, from sensationalism to reflection, from virtuosity to art, from snobbery to modesty, from extravagance to moderation.

I still think that John Paul's idea of donating money to some progressive and/or faith-based grass-roots organization right now is sound, but after that, let's spend our long winter of discontent reading Macbeth rather than weblogs, viewing art rather than images from Fallujah, and throwing snowballs rather than pizza crust at Chris Matthews and Tucker Carlson. Like the Fellowship resting in Lorien before journeying south to Mordor, we need beauty to fill our hearts before we live out four more ugly years, and truth to counter ideology.

pastoral care for progressives

From Eric Alterman's weblog:

"A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles. It is true that in the meantime we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war and long oppressions of enormous public debt.
If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are at stake."
-- Thomas Jefferson, June 4, 1798, in a letter to John Taylor of Philadelphia, after passage of the Alien and Sedition Act.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Sunday morning blues

I have to be more careful what I joke about in my sermons. In August 2003, I told a story in a sermon about getting caught outside in a terrible rain storm with no umbrella. Later that night, it rained so hard that my parsonage flooded. Everything in the first floor ruined. Had to live in duplex for three months while they did repairs. Wife not happy. No flood insurance on the parsonage. Church not happy.

Two weeks ago, I made jokes about the flu vaccine shortage (wife told me that was not appropriate subject to joke about). This weekend, I didn't get the flu, but I got a stomach virus - had to stay home Sunday morning. Maybe I should listen more to my wife; or maybe God wants me to be more serious in my sermons.

Anyway, since I was sick to my stomach anyway, I decided to watch Charles Stanley. Couldn't do it. Too many moralisms; hadn't he heard of the Reformation? Couldn't find any TV preacher worth listening to. I did, however, hear a story about another United Methodist Church that would have made my stomach turn as green as this web page, even if I hadn't had a virus. As it turns out, some UM pastor began the service by saying, "We can all thank God that Christians in this country finally made a stand on Tuesday. It is good to be reminded that we do live in a Christian nation after all."

Remember, drink plenty of clear liquids.

Meanwhile, back at my local church, there was one fellow democrat who emailed me Sunday night, and told me that she had heard of people being depressed after the election, but my reaction had been too extreme. She accused me of not even wanting to look out over the congregation on the Sunday after the election. To tell the truth, it would have been hard.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

my tent's bigger than yours

Harry Reid, the new Minority leader of the Senate, is a pro-life Democrat. On the other side of the aisle, conservatives are conspiring to abort the bid of pro-choice Republican Senator Arlen Spector to chair the Judiciary Committee. This, I think, puts to rest any doubts about which party is more tolerant of dissent on the abortion issue.

we're all israelis now

From Juan Cole's weblog:

Three years ago, as the pungent odor of what was left of the World Trade Center slowly pervaded my neighborhood, I wrote a piece called “We’re all Israelis Now.” I didn’t invent the idea; in the hours since the attacks I had heard several commentators say essentially the same thing, although our meanings were in fact diametrically opposed. For them, the September 11 attacks had constituted a tragic wake up call to America about the mortal threat posed by Muslim terrorism, which Israel had been living through for decades and whose methods the US would now have to copy if it wanted to “win the war on terror.”

For me, however, the attacks suggested a more troubling scenario: That like Israelis, Americans would never face the causes of the extreme violence perpetrated against us by those whose oppression we have supported and even enforced, and engage in the honest introspection of what our role has been in generating the kind of hatred that turns commuter jets into cruise missiles. Instead, my gut told me that we’d acquiesce to President Bush’s use of the war to realize the long-held imperial, even apocalyptic visions of the neoliberal Right, ones that find great sympathy with its Israeli counterpart.

As I watch George W. Bush celebrate his reelection I realize I never could have imagined just how much like Israelis we would become. Think about it: in Israel, the majority of Jewish citizens support the policies of Ariel Sharon despite the large-scale, systematic (and according to international law, criminal) violence his government deploys against Palestinian society, despite the worsening economic situation for the lower middle class religious voters who constitute his main base of support, despite rising international opprobrium and isolation. Sound familiar?

As for the country’s “liberal” opposition, it’s in a shambles, politically and morally bankrupt because in fact it was a willing participant in creating and preserving the system that is now eating away at the heart of Israeli society. Aside from occasional plaintive oped pieces by members of its progressive wing, the Labor Party can and will do nothing fundamentally to challenge Sharon’s policies. Why? Because they reflect an impulse, nurtured by the Labor movement during its decades in power, that is buried deep in the heart of Zionism: to build an exclusively Jewish society on as much of the ancient homeland as possible, with little regard for the fate of the country’s native inhabitants.

As any native American will remind us, America was built on a similar holy quest. So it shouldn’t surprise us that the parallels between Israel’s mini-empire and America’s Iraq adventure are striking.

It’s not just that America’s occupation is faring as terribly as Israel’s. In the last week--with more than enough time to influence the election--doctors from America’s leading research hospitals published a study demonstrating that US forces have killed upwards of 100,000 Iraqis, the majority of them women and children killed by American bombs. Yet before November 2 Americans could at least say they weren’t directly responsible for the disaster that has unfolded there in Iraq, since an unelected President had taken the country to war under false pretenses. No more. As of today, American society has declared its support for the invasion, and as such is morally and politically culpable for every single one of those 100,000 dead, and every single one of the tens of thousands of deaths that are sure to follow.

To put it bluntly, Americans have chosen to return a man to the White House who has supervised the killing of more civilians than Slobodan Milosevic. We have signed onto a President who sanctions torture, who wantonly rejects any international treaty--Kyoto, the ABM and the International Criminal Court--that doesn’t suit his messianic agenda. Who truly believes “God Almighty” is on his side.

America, in short, has become a criminal nation, and it must be stopped. (Yes, there are many other criminal nations, but aside from Israel how many even have the pretense of democracy? Russia? The Sudan? China? India is perhaps one; and given its sordid occupation of Kashmir it shouldn’t surprise that a US-India-Israel axis of occupation and Islamophobia is one of the most prominent features of the world’s geo-strategic post-9/11 landscape.)

In Israel most citizens know full well the realities of their occupation; even right-wing newspapers routinely publish articles that describe its details with enough clarity to make any ignorance willful. This dynamic is in fact why Israelis have responded to the civil war with Palestinians by increasing the dehumanization of the occupation, accompanied by a fervent practice of getting on with life no matter what’s happening ten or fifteen miles away in “the Territories.” The alternative, actually working to stop the insanity of the occupation, would lead to much more hatred and violence within Israel and between Jews than Palestinians could ever hope to inflict on Israeli society from the outside.

The situation is almost identical vis-à-vis the American perspective on Iraq. Abu Ghraib? Mass civilian casualties caused by a war launched on demonstrably false pretenses? The erosion of civil liberties? The transfer of hundreds of billions of dollars of tax payer money (not to mention Iraqi resources and capital) by the US government to its corporate allies? To more than 70% of America’s eligible votes--that is, the approximately thirty percent that voted for Bush and the forty percent that didn’t feel this situation was compelling enough to warrant their taking the time to vote--none of it really matters. America is great and strong and can do what it wants, and to hell with anyone who gets in our way, especially if they fight back.

The numbing acceptance of large scale and systematic violence perpetrated by the state as a normal part of its exercise of power and the willingness of a plurality of the electorate to support parties and policies which are manifestly against their economic and social interests (as demonstrated by the increase in poverty and economic insecurity across the board in Israel and the US produced by the last two decades of neoliberalism) sadly characterize both societies today. This is why I never shared the optimism friends who thought this situation would help elect Kerry. Like Israel’s Barak or Peres, in the context of a post-9/11 militant globalization, John Kerry offered Americans little more than Bush lite on the most crucial issue of the day. In America’s increasingly obese culture, is there any wonder we chose SuperSize over Nutrasweet?

So here we are, three years after the tragic day of 9/11. The smell of charred metal, fuel and flesh no longer pervades the five boroughs of New York; instead it wafts across the major cities of Iraq (where most Americans don’t have to smell it, but I can attest from personal experience that the odor in Baghdad is as pungent as in Queens). The Bush Administration is free to proceed with a violently imperialist foreign policy with little fear of repercussion or political cost at home--who cares about abroad?--the Left is stupefied at its own political and moral incompetence, and the people at large are increasingly split between a fundamentalist religious-nationalist camp, and a yuppie-liberal camp that has no real legs to stand on and has little hope of engaging the millions of poor and working class who have moved to the right because of “social issues.” Indeed, it is clear that they don’t care if the rich are getting richer and the environment is going to Hell, as long as they’re on the road to Heaven--or at least the Second Coming.

This situation reveals something dark, even frightening about America’s collective character. Making the situation worse are the reasons why people voted for President Bush: the belief that he better represents America’s “moral values,” along with the faith that he, not Kerry, will fight a “better and more efficient war on terror.” What kind of moral values the occupation of Iraq represents no one dares say. What kind of terror the US military has wrought in Iraq most American don’t want to know.

Better to “stay the course” and pray for the safe return of the troops. Leave the troubling moral lessons of Iraq to be exorcised by Hollywood’s or Nintendo’s latest version of Rambo, helicoptering across the sands of Iraq blasting away yet more hapless Iraqi soldiers (as if enough weren’t killed in the real war) and rescuing whatever is left of America’s honor once the reality of a determined anti-colonial resistance drives America out of Iraq--the common fate of occupying powers across history.

Until such time, however, unimagined damage will likely be done to the world and America’s standing in it. What are progressives to do about it? Whether in Israel or the US the liberal opposition--the Labor Party in Israel, the Democrats in the US--have proven themselves to be politically and morally bankrupt. They are dying parties and should be abandoned as quickly as possible in favor of the hard work of slowly building truly populist progressive parties that can reach out to, engage and challenge their more conservative and often religions compatriots who today look Right, not Left, to address their most basic needs.

In the meantime, the international community, especially the EU, most assert a defiant tone against US and Israeli militarism and perform the novel but fundamental role acting as a counterweight and alternative to America’s imperial vision (at the same time, however, they must move beyond a narrow anti-American and anti-Zionist anti-imperialism to a broader critique of the larger system of Middle Eastern autocracy and violence, whose victims are no less deserving of our concern than Palestinians or Iraqis). But this will not happen on its own; it’s up to citizens across the continent to ensure that their governments don’t take the easy road of adopting a pragmatic approach of supporting the status quo and “working” with the Bush administration, while waiting for America to bleed itself dry in Iraq and other imperial adventures.

One thing is for sure. Bush and his millenarian policies can’t be defeated by the kind of violence and hatred that guides his worldview. As Antonio Gramsci warned us seventy years ago, a “war of maneuver” or frontal assault on an advanced capitalist state by the Left cannot be won. Instead we need to dust off our copies of Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks and buy a copy of Subcomandante Marcos’s dispatches from the Lacondan jungle. Then perhaps we can find clues on how to fight a better and more efficient “war of position” against the terrifying prospect of four more years of George W. Bush.

While the Left has often turned to Gramsci for guidance, most commentators have ignored one of his most important insights: that however negative a role religion played in Italian society, it constituted the most important social force in the struggle against capitalism and fascism, without which the Left could never hope to achieve social hegemony against the bourgeoisie. This is because religion contains the kernel of “common sense” of the masses whose natural instinct is to rebel against the domination of the capitalist elite. But because it is largely unformed or articulated, it is easily manipulated by that elite--as Thomas Frank has so eloquently shown in his recent What’s the Matter with Kansas--and needs to be joined to the “good sense” of radically progressive intellectuals in order to shape the kind of ideology and political program that could attract the majority of the poor and middle class. But in this dialog the secular intellectuals would be transformed as much as the religious masses, creating the kind of organic unity that helped propel the religious Right from the margins of their party to the center of power.

It’s sad but telling that a sickly political prisoner in fascist Italy writing from memory on scraps of paper could anticipate the struggle facing America today better than most contemporary leaders of the so-called Left. But never fear, if John Ashcroft has his way many of us will soon have a similar opportunity to learn the benefits of solitary confinement for producing innovative social theory. In the meantime if progressives don’t figure out how to reach working class conservative Christians, before to long we will all be living through Bush’s dreams of apocalypse.

Mark Levine
Associate Professor of History
Department of History
Murray Krieger Hall
Irvine, CA 92697-3275

dispatch from reality

Meanwhile, back in Iraq...

The 350 tons of explosives is still missing, having been looted in plain sight of outnumbered American soldiers.

A couple of weeks after U.S. forces stormed Samarra, suicide bombings in that city killed dozens. So of course we can expect the Battle of Falluja to yield similar peace and concord.

And best of all, 25% of an elite Iraqi Army unit assigned to U.S. Marines outside Falluja has deserted, including their commander.

Clearly, any Iraqi with any fight in him wants to kill Americans, not insurgents. No doubt our tendency to fight the guerillas from the air rather than on the ground over the past few months contributes to that mentailty. All the blather about precision strikes is just that: blather. Bombs go astray. They kill innocent civilians. Perhaps as many as 100,000, says the medical journal The Lancet. They breed new insurgents. We need to face the fact that we aren't fighting for democracy in Iraq. We're fighting against the Iraqi people on behalf of a puppet government of our creation.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

values equal war

We've had a minor debate here over whether national security or moral values tipped the election in President Bush's favor. This is a distinction without a difference. It occurred to me yesterday that the war is the biggest value issue going. Remember what General Boykin said?

"We as Americans, we as Christians, need to understand that that's not the enemy that America's up against. In fact, the enemy that we're up against is called the principality of darkness, he's called Satan. We are in fact in a spiritual battle, ladies and gentlemen, more than we are in a physical battle."

The biblically literate will recognize Boykin's comments as a gloss on Ephesians 6, in which the apostle urges his readers to put on the whole armor of God. Being a member of an illegal sect, first century Christians had to be spiritually mature in order to withstand the political and social pressure on them. Thus they needed to "clothe" themselves with the belt of truth, the shield of faith, the sword of truth, and so forth. Moreover, the Christian could meet the magistrate or prison guard with charity and not resentment, knowing that they were not the real enemy. The real enemy is the demonic power which animates the system, a system in which the magistrate or guard is enslaved, a system that enslaved the Christian himself only recently.

General Boykin turns Ephesians 6 on its head. First, he fails to see that the United States is itself a "principality and power" fallen and ensnared in the demonic. For Boykin the Church equals the United States of America.

Second, Boykin uses the text to demonize the flesh and blood enemy. It was Boykin, if I'm correct, who was dispatched to Iraq to "Gitmoize" the processing of Iraqi POWs. Thus, Abu Ghraib. If your enemy is a demon and not a slave to sin, then there's no real barrier in the conscience to torture, humiliation, abuse and even murder.

Lastly Boykin, as many Evangelicals do, takes metaphorical language literally. This crude literalism is in fact the most liberal anti-literalistic reading strategy that exists, for it refuses to take the text on its own terms. Boykin wants to fight the devil like any soldier fights any enemy when the plain meaning is quite different: Forget about the terrorist. Proclaim the gospel; pray, and live a virtuous life and defeat the satanic forces that have the terrorist in their thrall.

General Boykin is quite wrong, and he speaks for a lot of people. For many Americans the war in Iraq is our own jihad. It's a religious war. It's a war between an unquailfied good and an unqualified evil, in which anything goes. And, the worse the war gets the more enthusiastic Evangelicals get about it. I've heard more radio preachers than I can number explain that President Clinton's bid for Middle East peace in 2000 was tragically misguided because the script (the Book of Revelation) calls for a bloodbath, not the lion lying down with the lamb. The more suicide bombings the better. If Falluja is our Grozny, swell. Armageddon draws nigh.

When President Bush says that we will go forth "in faith," he's talking to General Boykin's ilk. He's talking to the values crowd. While the Bull Moose and others advise Democrats to show up at revivals and cloak their proposals in stained glass rhetoric, such scrambling won't reach people whose world view is shaped by a heretical and intellectually dishonest perversion of Christianity.

What would? I don't know. How about giving to the endowment funds of Baylor, Wheaton and Calvin College, places where the next generation of Evangelical whackos might be introduced to a more orthodox and thoughtful faith by faculty who are close enough to them to be trusted? Admittedly that's a long term strategy, far, far beyond the next election cycle. But all Americans have a stake in whether or not a healthy Christianity puts down roots here and bear fruit, or if it's crowded out by some hothouse, genetically altered, invasive hybrid Christianity.

living "as if"

Josh Marshall observes that in claiming a mandate with just 51% of the vote President Bush is turning our government into a quasi-parliamentary democracy. He can execute this maneuver because his cult of personality is strong enough to override inherent tensions between the executive and legislative branches. Just witness how the White House smacked down Arlen Spector yesterday.

Democrats have been complaining about Bush creating a mandate ex nihilo, but Marshall argues that this creates an opportunity for them. Since Democrats can't derail legislation and won't be included in writing it, they can be a true opposition party in good parliamentary fashion.

It could be a fun two years for Democrats. Having had the burden of governing lifted from their backs by Radical Republicans they can concentrate on a handful of things: 1.Constituent service.

2.Saying No. Make the Republicans pass bills with no votes from the other side of the aisle, just like Republicans did in 1993-4. I'm not saying be obstructionist. In fact I think that Democratic senators should save their filibusters for a precious few cases. Let them have their mandate, and run against it in 2006.

3.Write alternative legislation to run on in 2006. Sure it won't see the light of day. That very assurance can free Democrats to leave the reality-based prison to which they've been consigned and dream big. Write a health care bill as if you had 61 votes in the Senate. Write environmental legislation as if the President were the former executive director of Greenpeace. Reform the tax code as if you had a 1964 or 1932-sized mandate. Be creative. Live in Dreamland for the next two years, and then run on it against the people who've created the Iraq/Budget Deficit/Global Warming reality, and have for some bizarre reason claimed the right to manage it.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Follow Up

Not that I want to open up an old can of worms, but a few weeks ago in this post, I promised to provide a quote from John Howard Yoder. Here it is – better late than never:

“What is wrong with the violent revolution according to Jesus is not that it changes too much but that it changes too little; the Zealot is the reflection of the tyrant whom he attacks in the moral claims he makes for himself and his cause…. What is wrong with the Zealot path for Jesus is not that it produces its new order by use of illegitimate instruments, but that the order it produces cannot be new….”

-From Yoder’s essay, “The Original Revolution,” as it appears in For the Nations: Essays Public and Evangelical, p. 172.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

maintenance, etc

I've taken down the poll on the President's morality. Voters overwhelmingly identified the Iraq whopper as George W. Bush's most eggregious want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God. I've also added two new entries to the punditocracy category. The Bull Moose is written by an ex-operative of the Christian Coalition, of late associated with the DLC. He thinks of himself as an independent in the mold of TR, circa 1912. The New Donkey author is also a New Democrat. Both blog twice to thrice daily. Their political analysis is witty, insightful and cogent.

Speaking of the Bull Moose, he quotes approvingly Congressman Rahm Emanuel on the topic of religion and politics:

"Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter got elected because they were comfortable with their faith," said Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, a former Clinton aide. "What happened was that a part of the electorate came open to what Clinton and Carter had to say on everything else - health care, the environment, whatever - because they were very comfortable that Clinton and Carter did not disdain the way these people lived their lives, but respected them." He added: "We need a nominee and a party that is comfortable with faith and values. And if we have one, then all the hard work we've done on Social Security or America's place in the world or college education can be heard. But people aren't going to hear what we say until they know that we don't approach them as Margaret Mead would an anthropological experiment."

I'm thinking Yes and No. I remember listening to a Democratic Primary debate last year. Someone posed the question, "How does faith inform your politics?" Howard Dean said he believed in the separation of church and state. Yeah, that and the Confederate flag comments will win you a ton of votes in the South Carolina primary. Kerry haltingly talked about being an altar boy and contemplating becoming a priest. It was painful to listen to.

But does that signal some kind of disdain for religion, some kind of Northeastern establishment meets Hollywood style secular humanism? Or is Kerry simply one of those "I'd rather see a sermon lived than hear a sermon preached" kind of people? There are a lot of those types in my family and in my congregation. Their inability to articulate their faith verbally is something that needs to be worked on, but it doesn't mean that genuine, heartfelt, active Christian devotion isn't there. And in truth Kerry got better at talking the talk. Better at the convention than in the primaries, and better in the last week of the campaign than at the convention.

Though this election may have turned on the perception that one candidate was the Christian candidate and the other was a secularist, I think the real difference was between a candidate who practices his piety in front of others, and a candidate whose faith is shut up in the prayer closet. Style triumphed over substance. It happened locally. The leading vote-getter for the Rowan County Commission said brilliant things during the campaign like, "We shouldn't pay the interest on the school bonds we issue." But his yard signs had crosses on them, so he must be OK.

I've got it. We need to change the Democratic Party's mascot from a donkey to a fish:

"much to do" part two: time and money

John Paul commends this Josh Marshall passage:

[I]f the Dems had been crushed, that would be one thing. If the American people were coalescing away from them, etc. But that's not what has happened here. In 2000 the country was divided into two (increasingly hostile) camps. And it's still exactly the same way. If anything it seems only more entrenched -- perhaps symbolically and geographically captured by the flip between New Hampshire and New Mexico from 2000.

The country is bitterly divided. And as much as anyone President Bush has divided it. But president Bush got 51% and if there's anything I've learned from watching him for the last four years-plus, it is that his team will take this as a popular mandate for an aggressive push for their agenda -- notwithstanding the profound division in the country or what has happened over the previous four years.

For the Democrats, what I fear most (and what I've privately worried about for months) is this: Energy cools after an election. That's inevitable. But organization and institutions can survive. And it is within institutions and organizational infrastructure that energy and power exist and persist.

Certainly it would have been more pleasant (and perhaps better) to nurture all the organization and infrastructure that has been built up over the last two years under a President Kerry. But my concern over the last few months has been that if Bush won, all of these groups and organizations and incipient infrastructure would simply be allowed to wither, as though it had been tried and found not to have worked.

That, as a factual judgment, I think is just plain wrong. And if that were allowed to happen it would truly be tragic. The truth is that what Democrats have begun to build over the last two years is tremendously important. It just wasn't enough, not yet.

I remember talking to Simon Rosenberg, the head of the New Dem Network, at the Democratic convention last summer. You'll remember, he and his group were profiled in the Times magazine around that time. The article, in brief, was about plans to create a Democratic-leaning counter-establishment along the lines of what Republicans did two generations ago -- with an alternative media, activist groups, organized political giving, in short a political infrastructure.

He told me he thought it would take ten years to accomplish. And I told him my one worry was that it could all be strangled in its crib if Kerry didn't win.

Well, here we are. And this is the test for people who care about this kind of politics and these sorts of values -- making sure that what has been started is not allowed to falter. This isn't 1964 or 1972 or 1980. This wasn't a blow-out or a repudiation. It was close to a tie -- unfortunately, on the other guy's side. Let's not put our heads in the sand but let's also not get knocked of our game. Democrats need to think critically and seriously about why this didn't turn out 51% for Kerry or 55% for Kerry (and we'll get to those points in the future). But it would be a terrible mistake to stop thinking in terms of those ten years Simon described.

Take time to feel the desolation and disappointment. But I remain confident that time is not on the side of the kind of values and politics that President Bush represents. It took conservatives two decades to build up the institutional muscle they have today. Though I was always nervous about the result, I thought we could win this election. But it was always naive to believe that that sort of institutional heft could be put together in 24 or 36 months.

President Bush and the Republicans now control the entire national government, even more surely now than they have over the last four years. They do so on the basis of garnering the votes of 51% or 52% of the population. But they will use that power as though there were no opposition at all. That needs to be countered.

Leave today for disappointment. Tomorrow, think over which of these various groups and organizations you think has made the best start toward what I've described above, go to their website, and give money or volunteer. After that, okay sure, take a few more days for disappointment, maybe a few more weeks. But this takes time. And you shouldn't lose heart. The same division in the country remains, the same stalemate. The other side just got the the ball a yard or two into our side of the field rather than the reverse. And we have to deal with the serious consequences of that. Tomorrow's the day to start.

John Paul's urging us to act on Marshall's analysis by giving money to the DNC or MoveOn or some other progressive, grass roots organization. I, for one, am thinking about something faith-based too, perhaps Christian Peacemaker Teams, which monitors human rights abuses in the West Bank and Iraq. I'm fed up with the truncated definition of "values" that's operative in our society at this moment. I'm also running down to the courthouse now and changing my party affiliation from independent to Democratic, and I'm going to call the County Democratic Party chair to find out when the next meeting is.

It's Thursday. Stop crying in your beer and get to work.

"much to do" part one: don't move to france

Several of my friends have said that if Bush won re-election they'd leave the country. This appears to be a widespread sentiment in the reality-based community. The webmaster of Electoral Vote Dot Com recently revealed himself as an American living abroad and a professor in a graduate program in computing. He too mentioned that he'd heard a lot of liberals threatening to move, and invited the software-savvy ones to apply to his school.

You can't do this, my friends. Dietrich Bonhoeffer served German-speaking congregations in London and spent a year in New York in the 1930s. Living abroad was an attractive option to him, given his dismay at the darkness settling over Germany, but Karl Barth wrote him a letter and said, "You're a German, by God. Now get back to your homeland and save it!" Barth himself was Swiss, and had been expelled from the Fatherland for refusing to sign a loyalty oath to Hitler.

Barth's letter worked. In a letter to Reinhold Niebuhr, Bonhoeffer confessed, "I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. . . I shall have no right to take part in the restoration of Christian life in Germany after the war unless I share the trials of this time with my people."

Bonhoeffer returned to his homeland... and wound up on the gallows.

Forget Mars. It's to the gallows, my friends! To the gallows!

thursday is a new day

(Aragorn) turned to the company. "We must do without hope," he said. "At least we may yet be avenged. Let us gird ourselves and weep no more! Come! We have a long road, and much to do."
The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien
More later about the "much to do..."

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Comfort Ye My People

Lamentations 3:16 - 36

He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
and made me cower in ashes;
my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, ‘Gone is my glory,
and all that I had hoped for from the LORD.’

The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
is wormwood and gall!
My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,*
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul,
‘therefore I will hope in him.’

The LORD is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.
It is good for one to bear
the yoke in youth,
to sit alone in silence
when the Lord has imposed it,
to put one’s mouth to the dust
(there may yet be hope),
to give one’s cheek to the smiter,
and be filled with insults.

For the Lord will not
reject for ever.
Although he causes grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not willingly afflict
or grieve anyone.

When all the prisoners of the land
are crushed under foot,
when human rights are perverted
in the presence of the Most High,
when one’s case is subverted
—does the Lord not see it?

crow, mmm good

President Bush has won re-election, and the Republicans have strengthened their position in Congress. Needless to say I'm disappointed.

I haven't heard much post-election analysis, just Cokie Roberts' report that "moral values" (i.e., homosexuality?) was the top issue for voters who talked to exit pollers. If the election turned on that issue, then I'm afraid it's a doubly tragic loss for the country. Would that "moral values" cast a wider net than same sex genital contact. Would that "moral values" had something to say about the humane treatment of prisoners of war, a just means of determining their guilt or innocence, and most importantly, the wise, prudent and indeed reluctant use of military force to redress grievances between states.

Secondly, re-electing the President will do very little to stem the tide of greater acceptance of homosexuality in our society. In fact, the President admitted a week or two ago that he doesn't object to the states crafting civil union laws for gay and lesbian couples. This makes his position on gay marriage virtually indistinguishable from Senator Kerry's--with one exception: the President, unlike Senator Kerry, was eager to pander to the homophobia that still exists in our culture by floating a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, a cynical move if there ever was one, since everyone knew it had no chance of passing.

Four years from now there will be more civil union laws on the books, and more domestic partnership benefits offered by corporations, non-profits and governmental employers. But will there be a peaceful and democratic Iraq? Will the federal treasury be in the black? Will good-paying jobs with benefits be plentiful?

God bless President Bush. I mean it.

Monday, November 01, 2004

bumper sticker etiquette

So what should I do with this thing come Wednesday? I have three options:
1. If Kerry wins, the bumper sticker goes. No need to gloat.
2. If the election winds up in the courts, leave it as is and fight on!
3. If Bush wins, leave as is until I can order a new one: