This Republican talk of pulling the federal government out of business is not only stupid...it's dangerous. Look, you get up in a plane, you want to make sure it lands safely-- we can't give up the FAA. You buy stock in a mine, you want to be sure that the mine is really there-- we can't give up the SEC. You buy a bottle of medicine in a store, you want to be sure that what the label says is really in that bottle-- we can't give up the Food and Drug Administration. You tune in your radio, you don't want to find five stations on the same channel-- we can't give up the FCC... This silly Republican prattle of pulling government out of business! This country's become strong because government is a partner of everybody, and we have to recognize that kind of strength is our only hope... a new road is strength, a new bridge is strength, a good school is strength, above all, a good teacher is strength, she's playing with the greatest national resource we have.
Saturday, October 09, 2010
Friday, July 30, 2010
- United Methodism in America (McEllenney)- The first book of many I will be perusing in the name of my senior history thesis, which will likely be about Methodism in the early United States. This was a well-done overview of the history of the United Methodist Church. Not particularly in-depth, but I got my feet wet and picked up a few ideas that I will be pursuing.
- Notes from a Small Island (Bryson)- Bill Bryson is one of my favorite authors. This is the book he wrote about traveling around England, Scotland, and Wales. He has a very funny tone and style, and is clearly enamored with his subject. An all-around great read that made me want to buy a ticket on the next plane to London or Edinburgh.
- The Unlikely Disciple (Roose)- An agnostic college student from Brown University decides, after realizing how little he knows about this particular subculture of American life, to go 'undercover' for a semester at Liberty University, founded by the late Jerry Falwell. I appreciated Kevin Roose's ability to critique his subject without unfairly bashing the people he encountered there. A funny yet profound book, along the lines of AJ Jacobs' The Year of Living Biblically. Note that this is not a coincidence; as Roose spells out early on, his project grew out of his time spent as Jacobs' assistant while Jacobs was living his year.
- A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (Miller)- Donald Miller is another author of whom I am a huge fan. He first gained (some degree of) fame with Blue Like Jazz, and has gone on to write other wonderful spiritual (but not overly religious) books. This is his latest, a quest for understanding and finding one's personal Story-- and learning how to tell a good one. Brilliant-- my copy is well underlined.
- The Guinea Pig Diaries (Jacobs)- AJ Jacobs, of The Know-It-All and The Year of Living Biblically, takes on a year of doing different 'experiments' every month. Each chapter of the book focuses on a different one. From living George Washington's Rules of Civility to trying to eradicate all his cognitive biases to becoming 'the perfect husband,' Jacobs' always laugh-out-loud (yet thoughtful) style makes him one of my consistent favorite authors.
- Rediscovering Values (Wallis)- I really liked Jim Wallis' first book, God's Politics, and have also been interested by his subsequent books. This is the latest. From his (mainly) progressive Christian point of view, Wallis discusses the Great Recession and critiques the mindset that got us into it...but also offers hopeful ideas as to how we can change in the future.
- American Lion (Meacham)- A well-written book about a deeply flawed man. This Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Andrew Jackson, authored by Jon Meacham (the editor of Newsweek) reexamines the presidency of the seventh man to hold the highest office in this country. Most fascinating to think of how relevant the events of Jackon's presidency are in this world today. He dealt with sex scandals, war, racial discord, banking issues, and economic challenges...and for better or worse, consolidated more power in the hands of the Chief Executive than had ever been presumed possible before.
- Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace (Nerburn)- A thought-provoking little meditation on the Prayer of St. Francis. Very well written, and I am still mulling over some of the ideas in it (which I think is the sign of a good book).
- Eat Pray Love (Gilbert)- A bestselling memoir of a woman who went through a nasty divorce before pursuing a year of traveling and finding herself. Perhaps only appeals to a certain demographic (I was told that I was too young to appreciate it) but I still enjoyed it.
- Up in the Air (Kirn)- The recent movie with George Clooney was based on this book, but they are quite different. This one is darker and, admittedly, somewhat stranger. Jason Reitman, the writer/director of the movie, pulled a number of direct quotes from the book, but the plot is a VERY loose adaptation. Still, it is a well-written and interesting book, a portrait of the road warrior. My favorite part of the book was the narrative style-- the main character, Ryan Bingham, just talks to the reader, and you feel like you are really in a conversation and he's just telling you a story. (However, I have to admit that I actually prefer the movie in this particular case. Minus ten book-lovers' points, I know.)
Friday, May 28, 2010
Today Mr. Brooks had an especially thoughtful column about the real ramifications of the oil spill-- namely, how it reflects the way we think about technology. We put a great deal of trust in very risky devices, and create overly complex governance systems to manage them, he argues. Mr. Brooks also cited an excellent 1996 piece by bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell (of The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers), written around the tenth anniversary of the Challenger explosion. Whether or not you agree, the pieces are well-written and bear some contemplation as we consider how to move forward with recovery from this massive environmental disaster.
Monday, May 24, 2010
Since then, though, little other than disappointment has ensued from the progressive faith community. The Democrats have been woefully unresponsive to many religious concerns, and even the president's religious advisers feel that they are not being heard. Moral language is really nowhere to be found in speeches by most Democratic politicians, and the "Faith in Action" page on the DNC's website is almost painfully out of date and unused. All of these issues-- and more-- were addressed in an excellent article by Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post, asking, "Are Democrats pulling back on faith outreach?"
The answer, from my perspective, is a resounding "yes," and that upsets me more than I can say. I have long felt that the Democrats were woefully incompetent when it came to connecting to faith groups, and that the Republican lock on religion can only be unhealthy for the faith community. The problem is not the lack of opportunity for Democrats to phrase their ideas in a way that speaks to moral and faith-based perspectives, it is simply their lack of action. The problem is not that there is no value in framing political issues as a moral imperative (health care is a great example), it is that that value is seldom recognized and even more infrequently utilized to benefit the Democratic agenda.
The Democrats seemed to be getting back on the faith-based track a little more during the 2008 election. Obama spoke about his faith openly and framed his issues as a question of values, and many people-- including and especially people of faith-- responded to that. However, the recent backpedaling hasn't done them any favors, and if they fail to get back to that moral language, especially during the upcoming Congressional campaigns, the Democrats will once again risk losing control of the moral ground in the conversations to Republicans-- and that monopoly would be a huge loss to the country and to constructive dialogue.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
A little context: In his show on March 3, 2010, conservative talk show host Glenn Beck made the following proclamation to his religiously inclined viewers:
"I'm begging you, your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them...are going to come under the ropes in the next year. If it lasts that long it will be the next year. I beg you, look for the words 'social justice' or 'economic justice' on your church web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!"And it continued. Understandably, many churches were incensed and the progressive evangelical Christian magazine Sojourners launched a campaign telling their readers to "turn themselves in" to Beck, proclaiming, "I am a social justice Christian." They got several thousand signatures the first night...and the next day on his show, Beck went even further:
Where I go to church, there are members that preach social justice as members–my faith doesn’t–but the members preach social justice all the time. It is a perversion of the gospel. … You want to help out? You help out. It changes you. That’s what the gospel is all about: You."A perversion of the gospel." Right. That phrase, combined with Beck's equating social justice Christianity to communism, Marxism, Nazism, and totalitarian government sparked articles and conversations across the faith spectrum. Sojourners founder Jim Wallis invited Beck to a conversation about the relationship between social justice and Christian faith-- an invitation to which Beck has still not replied. After early April, the topic largely disappeared-- but now it is back with the FOX host's latest claim that the government was forcing churches to preach a "religion of environmental and social justice."
I don't pretend to understand Beck's motivation for launching on this particular tirade any more than I understand why people bother putting vegetables on pizza (I'm just saying, you lose a lot of health value when you load veggies up with grease. You want vegetables, eat a salad). For all I know, he could be sincere in this criticism or he could be just trying to stir things up. But as long as there are those who take people like Beck seriously, I take him seriously. Most of the time I can shrug it off when Beck goes off on a tirade, but this time he is criticizing something that forms the essence of what I believe.
Let me be very clear: I believe the passage in Ephesians that says salvation is by grace, through faith. However, I do not believe that this is an excuse to shrug off the problems of the world around us. My chaplain pointed out in a sermon a few weeks ago that God does not promise to raise us to a new creation in another dimension or something, but to "make all things new" in this world-- which means that we have to care about the world we live in now (side note: I highly recommend reading that sermon, not only for the spiritual and intellectual content but for the excellent references to Star Trek, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones). I believe in the profession made in the Epistle of James: "Faith without works is dead."
Perhaps this is where my own more liberal inclinations come into play. I suspect even someone like Beck might agree with me on the need to pair faith with good works. However, I believe that Christians are responsible to work on a larger scale to make a difference in the problems of poverty, environmental degradation, and more. It's not enough to change your lightbulbs to be more energy efficient, or put a $5 bill in a homeless man's cup. I believe that the government has the responsibility to "ensure domestic tranquility" and "promote the general welfare," as the Preamble to the constitution says. Poverty reduction, environmental justice, health care-- these are all concepts that directly relate to "the general welfare."
Jim Wallis articulated the problem with Beck's claim about social justice Christianity very well in an opinion piece for the Huffington Post.
Private charity, which Beck and I are both for, wasn't enough to end the slave trade in Great Britain, end legal racial segregation in America, or end apartheid in South Africa. That took vital movements of faith which understood the connection between personal compassion and social justice. Those are the movements that have inspired me and shaped my life -- not BIG GOVERNMENT. And my allies in faith-based social justice movements have wonderfully different views on the role of government -- some bigger than mine and some smaller than mine -- but we all believe social justice requires changing both personal choices and unjust structures. Apparently Beck thinks social justice ends with private charity, but very few churches in the nation would agree with him.Now, I personally admittedly go a bit farther than Wallis in my views (if you read through his whole article, you'll see), but I agree with his notion that it is important to work from the bottom up-- changing yourself first and moving to a smaller local level, and then beyond. Personal first, policies later. But the unjust structures of government have to be changed if a real difference is going to be made in this country and especially around the world. I worked for a small Catholic social justice lobby last spring, and part of the appeal of their organization for me is that they took both a top-down and bottom-up approach to helping the global poor. They had missionaries in the field helping with day to day needs of the people, and also people like myself in Washington, advocating for change in the structures that contributed to that level of poverty. It was a remarkable experience because of the power of that context (I expect I will write more on my experiences with that organization soon).
For now, though, let me just say this: by what he said about social justice Christianity, Glenn Beck challenged me to defend why I believe that this kind of activism is an integral part of my faith, and for that I am of course grateful. But he is wrong in encouraging Christians to leave churches that preach social justice-- and if people listened, he would be forcing a mass exodus from a majority of mainline Protestant, evangelical Protestant, and Catholic churches around the United States. Social justice Christians have made a real difference in creating a better world. Don't believe me? Take a look at William Wilberforce and the abolition of the slave trade in England, or Martin Luther King in America's civil rights movement.
-Glenn Beck Declares War on United Methodists
-Jim Wallis: What Glenn Beck Doesn't Understand About Biblical Social Justice
-Take Action: Tell Glenn Beck: I'm a Social Justice Christian
-Glenn Beck Responds: Social Justice is a 'Perversion of the Gospel'
-Glenn Beck Attacks Churches on Climate Change
-Mark Schaefer: Wiping Away Every Tear
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Bender Arena, American University, Washington, DC
It has been a long, long time since I have done anything remotely like this-- Midnight Madness with Youth-to-Youth in middle school and Word of Life in early high school are the closest equivalents that come to mind. Why? Put briefly, all-nighters do not agree with me. I surprised even myself when I seriously entertained the thought of coming to this event. However, it seemed appropriate to do something after losing three friends to cancer in the course of a year, so here I am. I relay in memory of Gail Parady, Fred Holliday, Jean Moore, and Paulette Hilchie, and I relay in honor of the ongoing fights against cancer by Jinny Scott [update: and Ann Kippley].
This is a truly unique event: part memorial, part fundraiser, part celebration. Each participant donated at least $10 as an entrance fee; many donated or fundraised more than that from family or friends. Most of us are walking with a friend or family member in mind-- a victim, a survivor, a caregiver. There are even survivors among our number here...they are some of the leaders of the event, and they walked the first lap as we all cheered them on.
The luminaria ceremony was probably the most touching part of Relay. People purchased these bags and dedicated them in memory of those who have died; we all walked around the track in silence for about 10 minutes after they were illuminated. One of my friends was a major organizer of Relay; he celebrated his birthday today and lost his dad to cancer about five years ago. It was heart-wrenching to watch him and the others during the luminaria ceremony-- it was a poignant reminder of why we are all really here.
Despite all this, the core theme of the event is "Celebrations." Accordingly, my team chose a "Happy Retirement" theme for ourselves and we dressed up as various ages and stages of retirees. We also made a sign for our "campsite" that says, "Our team is RE-TIRED of cancer."
It has been a mostly high-energy evening full of entertainment. As I write, there is a "Miss American" drag contest going on. Five guys got dressed up in fancy gowns and did a little catwalk. There has been a lot of music, ranging from an ongoing DJ dance party, to two a cappella groups, to to two rather bad bands, to a bagpiper. The music is keeping us all going at this late hour-- it is now 03:40. There has also been a lot of donated food and drink-- Chipotle, crepes, sodas, and more. The stuff that really keeps most people going is the Red Bull, I suppose, which makes a good deal of sense.
Other activities that have been going on include board games at different campsites, volleyball, frisbee, soccer, and the eternally popular bounce house.
I don't know that I am going to have the energy to make it all the way through the event. I have certainly done my best, and my knee has held up remarkably well, in spite of all the stress I've put it through. Regardless, this has already been a remarkable experience. We collectively raised over $40,000 for cancer research, heard some remarkable stories, and partied like it was 1995. I guess all I can say is-- Relay on!
Update: I made it through until about 5:30 in the morning before returning to my dorm and crashing. The final fundraising count was nearly $45k. I firmly believe that Relay for Life is an important way for a community to rally around cancer survivors and caretakers, and to remember those who died, while fighting back against the worst six-letter word in the dictionary. I plan to participate again next year, and urge others to do the same.
Tuesday, April 06, 2010
- public transportation, including Amtrak
- public radio
- public schools
- Medicare or Medicaid
- Social Security or unemployment benefits
- police or fire departments
- all roads, bridges, etc.
Thursday, April 01, 2010
Monday, March 29, 2010
“Date rape” is an incoherent concept. There’s rape and there’s not-rape, and we need a line of demarcation. It’s not clear enough to merely speak of consent, because the lines of consent in sex — especially anonymous sex — can become very blurry. If that bothers you, then stick with Pat Robertson and his brigade of anti-sex cavemen! Don’t jump into the sexual arena if you can’t handle the volatility of its practice!
Monday, March 08, 2010
Saturday, March 06, 2010
Every once in a while, a generation gets a necessary call to act and sacrifice. The last time this happened, a nation mobilized to defeat the armies of fascism. The most powerful force on Earth is a mobilized democracy calling for action, and that is what we need to be. Right now, we have been granted a very small and rare window to change our ways to save this planet for our children. A new decade means a clean slate. [...] When 2020 rolls around, let’s be able to say truthfully we left the decade with the Earth better than we found it.
Friday, February 26, 2010
Thursday, February 18, 2010
A sacrament is, as St. Augustine said, “a visible sign of an invisible reality.” It communicates love and grace to us in very real concrete terms.
Through the very physical water of baptism, we encounter forgiveness, reconciliation, renewal, and cleansing. The water surrounds us, and we are surrounded not merely by bonded hydrogen and oxygen, but are immersed in God’s love. The water cascades over us, and we feel the rush of God’s grace. The water soaks us, and we are infused with God’s acceptance and mercy.
In the very physical elements of bread and wine, we encounter mercy, love, healing, and grace. We taste not only the substance of the harvest—grains become flour, flour become bread—sating our hunger, but gain a foretaste of a banquet in which all the things for which we hunger are satisfied: justice, righteousness, peace. In the sweetness of the grape juice we taste the sweetness of redemption, the sweetness of the vindication of hope.
These ordinary physical things convey a deep spiritual grace. But why should it stop there? Can’t more things be sacraments?
The Eucharistic meal is a sacrament, but what about the potluck supper? Anyone who has ever done a potluck right, and made it an occasion of fellowship, sharing, and hospitality, has certainly conveyed and experienced something of God in those moments. Two friends sharing a plate of Buffalo wings and a couple of glasses of beer can experience the love of God known in relationship. Can the wings and beer not be sacramental elements, no less than bread and wine?
We can open ourselves up to the possibilities of a sacramental life: everything we do can be a way that God’s love and grace are communicated. A ballgame, a hike through the woods, time at the artist’s canvas, giving a helping hand, writing a letter to an old friend, a hug. If vested with a sense of love and of grace, anything can be sacramental. If we seek to embody love and grace in our lives, then everything we do becomes “a visible sign of an invisible reality.” All life becomes a sacrament.