Desperate Houseflies: The Magazine

Feel free to pull out your trusty fly swatter and comment on what is posted here, realizing that this odd collection of writers may prove as difficult to kill as houseflies and are presumably just as pesky. “Desperate Houseflies” is a magazine that intends to publish weekly articles on subjects such as politics, literature, history, sports, photography, religion, and no telling what else. We’ll see what happens.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Marriage and Divorce – how Scripture can be complicated

Along with the marriage topic from earlier, I thought it would be good to talk about how something simple like Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce could be more complicated than what we’d expect.

What did Jesus teach about marriage and divorce? I’d kind of like to know the answer to this question. Did he teach:

  1. Do not divorce at all because doing so makes your partner commit adultery.
  2. You can divorce and remarry, but only for marital unfaithfulness, otherwise it is adultery.
  3. Divorce is okay, but it is remarriage that is at issue. If you remarry, you commit adultery.

So which is it?

Luke is less complicated so let’s start there. Luke 16:18 reads:

18 "Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery. (RSV)

Divorce is not forbidden, but remarriage is. It causes one to become an adulterer. Let’s put aside the question as to why this is the case and just accept it at face value. In fact, divorce and remarriage is only approached from the man’s perspective as to whether he divorces his wife or marries a divorced woman. It says nothing about if the woman does such a thing.

Now let’s take a look at Mark 10:2-12:

2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" 3 He answered them, "What did Moses command you?" 4 They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put her away." 5 But Jesus said to them, "For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of creation, `God made them male and female.' 7 `For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder." 10 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." (RSV)

In Mark, Jesus teaches that divorce itself is not allowed for a man or a woman, looking in particular at verses 9, 11 and 12. But here both perspectives are in view, the man divorcing his wife or a woman divorcing her husband. Neither is allowed.

Let’s look at Matthew 19:3-12:

3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" 4 He answered, "Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, `For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder." 7 They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?" 8 He said to them, "For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery." 10 The disciples said to him, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry." 11 But he said to them, "Not all men can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it." (RSV)

Let’s leave aside the eunuchs for now because I don’t think we need to address it and I’m not brave or stupid (see Al’s last comment on the other column) enough to address “Christian” sexuality. This is still from the perspective of the man only, but there is an exception clause. Both divorce and remarriage are allowed to the man whose wife commits adultery.

Or is that what the text says in Matthew. There are a few ancient Greek manuscripts that take out the exception clause and do not allow for divorce at all. There are also manuscripts that pick up Luke’s marrying a divorce woman clause indicating that such a situation also amounts to adultery.

So what is the answer? Maybe it is helpful to understand what the question is.

One thing Jesus was dealing with in his day was the question about divorce and when it was lawful. This is what the Pharisees are trying to get him to answer, which side he comes down on.

From the Mishnah, Gittin 9:10 reads:

The School of Shammai say: A man may not divorce his wife unless he has found unchastity in her, for it is written, Because he hath found in her indecency in anything [Deuteronomy 24:1]. And the School of Hillel says: [He may divorce her] even if she spoiled a dish for him, for it is written, Because he hath found in her indecency in anything. R. Akiba says: Even if he found another fairer than she, for it is written, And it shall be if she find no favour in his eyes…[Deuteronomy 24:1]

They want to know if he reads “indecency” as most important and sides with the stricter school on unchastity only or if he sides with the more lenient school that thinks any reason, even a bad meal or a better looking woman allow for divorce.

Here are two more examples to show how ridiculous it could be at times among rabbis:

Talking about a bill of divorce, Gittin 8:2 says, “If he put it into her hand while she was asleep and she awoke and read it, and, lo, it was her bill of divorce, it is not valid unless he shall say to her, ‘Here is thy bill of divorce’. If she was standing in the public domain and he threw it to her and it fell nearer to her, she is divorced, but if nearer to him she is not divorced; if half-way, she counts both as divorced and not divorced.”

Gittin 6:6 reads, “It once happened that a man in sound health said, ‘Write out a bill of divorce for my wife’, and he went up to the top of the roof and fell down and died. Rabban Simeon b. Gamaliel said: The Sages said, ‘If he fell down of himself the bill of divorce is valid; but if the wind blew him down, it is not valid’.”

This is an important cultural context to understand Jesus’ words. He saw all the nonsense and sided with those who favored no divorce. Whether he actually taught that there is an exception like the stricter school of rabbinical thought said is impossible to know. Yet he directs people toward the purpose of marriage.

From the perspective of God’s radical love, we find that an analogy for sending his people into exile is an analogy of divorce. God divorced his people Israel and sent them away into exile (Isaiah 50:1; Jeremiah 3:8). But he does something so radical after this. In Hosea 2, God, after asking Hosea to marry an adulterous woman, does the same thing with his people. Although she went after another husband (idolatry), she will return to God (2:7), who will allure her and get her to come back to him (2:14). She will once again be his wife (2:16). What is remarkable about this is that this violates God’s own law in Deuteronomy 24:4 in which he says it is an abomination for such a thing to happen. God cares so much about his wife, Israel, that he will violate his own law to show mercy and compassion. This is the intent Jesus had in mind, even if we do not know exactly what he taught.

My overall point is not to teach you about rabbinic Judaism or even about what your marriage should be. It is to show the complexity of Scripture. Sometimes we don’t even know the right questions to ask, but assume it is very easy to interpret.

So what did Jesus teach about marriage and divorce?

[In a future column, I’d like to discuss both the Christian Affirmation and the Emergent Church.]

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Photo of the Week



NOTE: I apologize for my absence on the comment boards this past week. I was on a summer vacation with my daughters in Atlanta, and our downtown hotel did not provide the Internet.

THE PHOTO: This week's photo comes from my aforementioned Atlanta vacation. It is obviously of the CNN Center, which included a pretty awesome tour.

THE CAMERA: All my digital pictures are taken with a Minolta Dimage S414 with 4.0 megapixels.

A LITTLE CROWD PARTICIPATION: Dr. Watson gave me a great idea: I'll give a topic each week, and you guys send in some pictures! I'll engage a team of unbiased judges (my family) to pick the actual "photo of the week." It may end up being just Dave and I participating in our little photographic scavenger hunt, but that'd be okay, too. Since I went with a summer vacation picture this week, let's use that one as our first topic. "Summer Vacation." Send in your best picture of that theme to me at oscofc@yahoo.com. I'd also be happy to hear any comments, advice, or even suggestions for future topics.

LINK: To view all of my favorites from my personal collection, visit http://community.webshots.com/user/alsturgeon

Friday, July 29, 2005

Get over the interruption

It's late July and baseball's pennant races are heating up. With the exception of the two central division leaders, no team has more than a 3.5 game lead in their respective division or wild card races. MLB is flirting with its all-time attendance record. So... we've gotta talk about baseball today, right?

Not so fast, my friend!!! Late July is also famous for the beginning of NFL training camps. And with the beginning of training camps comes.... contract negotiations!

The T.O. Situation
The whole Terrell Owens/Philadelphia Eagles dispute has been brewing since the Super Bowl. T.O. is in a seven-year deal with the Eagles worth $49 million. His contract was front-loaded with most of the guaranteed money coming via his $10 million signing bonus and first year salary. The ins an outs of NFl contracts are tricky, and the full terms aren't made available to the public, so reporting is all over the place as to exactly how much Owens made last year and is scheduled to make this year and in follow-on years of the contract. It suffices to say that Owens doesn't think it is enough and wants to re-work the terms.

The gut reaction most of us have is to cry foul. But here's the rub. NFL contracts aren't fully guaranteed. What that means is that teams can cut players at anytime and avoid paying them the non-guaranteed portion of their contract. Some estimates say that less than 50% of the money currently in NFL player contracts is guaranteed money. So... why can't TO try to rework his deal and get more of the money in his contract guaranteed? If the team doesn't have to honor the contract all the way through, why should the player?

Should the NFL have fully guaranteed contracts? With the chance of injury so high, fully guaranteed, long-term contracts could easily drive owners into financial straits. On the other hand, a deal's a deal, right?

Let's look at the other end of the spectrum. Maurice Clarrett just signed a deal with most of the money tied up in incentives. Sounds good, right? You meet the incentive levels, you get paid more. The better you play, the more money you make. Why don't more players go this route? Why don't more teams force players to go this route? Again, the injury specter raises its head.

OK... a little baseball talk
What's up with the Yankees picking up scraps all over the place? If you've been designated for assignment by another big league team, you may have a future with the Yanks. They signed Hideo Nomo (5-8, 7.24 ERA in 19 starts) after he was DFA'ed by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Granted, they signed him to a minor league deal, but with their less than stellar pitching and Kevin Brown on the DL, do you think he'll be in the minors for long before the Yanks roll the dice with him? His stay in the minors may be lengthened by the Yanks trade for Shawn Chacon (1-7, 4.09 ERA) from the Rockies. 4.09 ERA is a pretty decent number for pitching at Coors Field.

Rumors also have the Yankes being very interested in Jose' Cruz, Jr., just recently DFA'ed by the Diamondbacks after he experienced "back problems" and hit only .213 in 202 at bats. Those 12 HRs look enticing, though.

This only reinforces my opinion that the Yankees are bottom feeders masquerading as high-level predators.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Stinkin' Thinkin'

Proverbs 23:7 (KJV) says, “For as a man thinketh in his heart so is he…”

Our thoughts are very powerful. I’ve read that the path to creativity is “thought” then “word” then “deed” (or action). Our deeds create a large part of our experience, but the thought to do the deeds comes first. Controlling our thoughts can therefore affect a large part of our experience.

I believe almost all thought can be divided into two categories: positive and/or negative. Negative thinking is what some call “stinkin’ thinkin’.”

The question then becomes what does “stinkin’ thinkin’” do to your health? And, on the other side of the coin, how does positive thinking affect your health? And then finally, what is our responsibility concerning our health?

From what I’ve read, it is a proven fact that stress can cause illness. I’m guessing that stress is often times a result of “stinkin’ thinkin’”—thoughts like “I’ve got to get all of this done today” or “I’m worthless” or “I’m stupid” or “I’m bad” or “I can’t do this, because I have to do that.”

How much healthier would we be if we thought positive thoughts instead, such as “I am only human” or “I am loved” or “I am smart” or “God loves me” or “I can.”

If we are the temple of God, maybe God has called us not only to stay pure of known evils and vices, but also to do our very best to stay healthy and therefore pure of negative thinking and stress. And if the Spirit of God dwells in our temple, maybe the more in touch with that Spirit we are the more ALIVE we will feel.

Just food for “thought.” Speaking of food—we will talk about that soon.

“Have you heard this story: Woman learns she has cancer, six months to live. Within days she quits her job, resumes the dream of writing Tex-Mex songs she gave up to raise a family (or starts studying classical Greek, or moves to the inner city and devotes herself to tending babies with AIDS). Woman’s friends think she’s crazy; she herself has never been happier. There’s a postscript. Woman’s cancer goes into remission.” From The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

Sometimes people just aren’t given enough time to adjust their lives and thinking. Sometimes illnesses are just too aggressive. And, who knows? Maybe, some people are called to illness to teach their caregivers life lessons. Some things just aren’t cut and dry.

But, let’s keep our minds open to the possibilities and miracles given to us by the Great Physician through faith.

Something to think about for next week:
“…Dr. David R. Hawkins rates the energy level of basic human emotions on a scale of 1 to 1,000, stating that anything hitting 200 or lower will be destructive of life both for the individual and for the society, while anything above that level represents constructive expressions of power. Here’s his rankings: Shame=20, Guilt=30, Apathy=50, Grief=75, Fear=100, Desire=125, Anger=150, Pride=175, Courage=200, Neutrality (no judgment)=250, Willingness=310, Acceptance=350, Reason=400, Love=500, Joy=540, Peace=600, Enlightenment=700-1,000.” From The pH Miracle for Weight Loss by Robert O. Young, PhD and Shelley Redford Young.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Part One of Three

I didn’t think that I would be exercising my option to post an article rather than write so soon. I have actually written about two-and-a-half posts (and y'all know from last week that I do not lack for words!), but the interview below has crucial background information to provide context for some of my thoughts -- which I will start sharing next week. (Hey, I have to have a hook!)

And when it comes to marriage, I have a lot of thoughts.

The Myth of Marriage

By Monica Mehta, AlterNet. Posted July 21, 2005.

The institution of traditional marriage is in a state of crisis.

There's a misstatement in that sentence. But it's not that marriage is in crisis. It's that the institution of marriage is, or was at any time, traditional. As Stephanie Coontz reveals in her new book, Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage, human unions have gone through a number of evolutions. We would be remiss to think that it was ever a stable institution. Instead, it has always been in flux. It has only been based on the concept of love for 200 years; before that, it was a way of ensuring economic and political stability. Through painstakingly-detailed descriptions and anecdotes from hunter-gatherer days to the modern era, Coontz points out that "almost every marital and sexual arrangement we have seen in recent years, however startling it may appear, has been tried somewhere before." So when we think of cohabitation, gay marriage, or stepfamilies as deviating from the "norm," we are wrong, because there has never really been a "norm."

For a country obsessed with the perfect image of the nuclear family -- mother, father and two kids -- this is eye-opening. We are trying to force ourselves to be something we never really were, or were for a very brief period of time. Instead, Coontz argues, we need to be more tolerant of and open to different forms of union. People with traditional "family values" lack the skills to adapt to social realities that have changed marriage, such as the increased independence of women.

Coontz argues that many of our familial woes come from an unrealistic, idealized version of marriage, and advocates a more liberal interpretation of marriage. Many have had this idea before, but Coontz's centuries-long historical survey confirms it. Below, she answers our questions about marriage, the government's support (or lack thereof) of the institution, and what really makes a marriage work.

What is the central thesis of your book?

The basic argument for this book is that what we think of as the traditional marriage -- the marriage based on love, and for the purpose of making peoples' individual lives better -- this was not the purpose of marriage for thousands of years. Instead, marriage was about acquiring in-laws, jockeying for political and economic advantage, and building the family labor force. It was only 200 years ago that people began to believe that young people could choose their own mates, and should choose their own mates on the basis of something like love, which had formerly been considered a tremendous threat to marriage. As soon as people began to do that, all of the demands that we now think of as radical new demands -- from the demand for divorce, to the right to refuse a shotgun marriage, to even recognition of same-sex relations -- were immediately raised.

But it was not until the last 30 years that people began to actually act on the new ideals for beloved marriage. Social conservatives say that there has been a crisis in the last 30 years, and I agree with them, that marriage has been tremendously weakened as an institution. It's lost its former monopoly over organizing sexuality, male-female relations, political social and economic rights, and personal legitimacy. Where I disagree with them, is in how to evaluate that change and its consequences. I agree that it poses tremendous challenges to us, the breakdown of this monopoly of marriage, but I disagree with the idea that one could make marriage better by trying to shoehorn everyone back into the older forms of marriage. Because the main things that have weakened marriage as an institution are the same things that have strengthened marriage as a relationship. Because marriage is now more optional, because for the first time ever, men and women have equal rights in marriage and outside it. Because women have economic independence. This means that you can negotiate a marriage, and make it more flexible and individualized than ever before. So a marriage when it works is better for people, it's fairer, it's more satisfying, it's more loving and fulfilling than ever before in history.

But the same things that make it so are the things that allow people not to marry, or to leave a marriage that they find unsatisfying. My argument then is that you can't have one with out the other. And so we'd better learn to deal with the alternatives to marriage. Alternatives to marriage being singlehood, cohabitation, divorce and stepfamilies, all of these kinds of alternatives to marriage that have arisen.

So it's not about necessarily strengthening the union of marriage as it's been known for years, but adapting better to new forms of marriage?

I think of the revolution in marriage very much like the industrial revolution. It opened up some new opportunities for many people. It also created havoc in some peoples' lives. But the point is that it was not reversible, there was no way to go back to turn everyone into self-sufficient farmers. So we had to reform the factories, and we had to deal with the reality we faced. I would say that the revolution in marriage is the same. There is no way to force men and women to get married and stay married. There is no way to force women to make the kinds of accommodations they used to make, to enter a shotgun marriage or to stay in a marriage they find unsatisfying. So we have to learn with both the opportunities and the problems that raises for us.

You mention that evangelical Christians are just as likely to remain single or divorce as atheists.

Yes. One of the signs that this is in fact a huge, irreversible revolution in personal life on the same order as the industrial revolution, is that it doesn't matter what your values are. Everyone is affected by this. Even people who want or think they are in a traditional marriage are not exempt from these changes. So that the divorce rates of evangelical Christians are the same as those of agnostics and atheists. And in fact, the highest divorce rates in the country are found in the Bible Belt. First of all, the Bible Belt is a more poor area of the country, and poverty is a huge stress on marriage and other relationships. But I also think that there's something in the values of the Bible Belt. People who are extremely traditional, people who believe that sex outside of marriage is immoral, tend to get married early. And in today's world, that is a risk factor for divorce. So that's one of the reasons that they tend to divorce more. We are experiencing a revolutionary change in the way that marriage operates, and the dynamics of marriage. It's so much more important now to meet as equals, to be good friends as well as lovers, to have values that allow you to change through your life and negotiate. And a lot of people with so-called traditional values in fact don't have those skills.

Would you say that Republicans with "family values" have better marriages?

No, and I wouldn't say that Democrats have better marriages either. I think that you really cannot predict how well a marriage is going to go by the values that people have entering it. And in fact, one thing we do know for sure is that women with higher egalitarian ideas about gender are still slightly more likely to divorce than women with more traditional ideas. The opposite is true for men. Men with more traditional ideas about male bread-winning and female roles are more likely to divorce today than men with more egalitarian liberal views.

What is the analysis of that? Do you think it's that both parties have to come halfway to meet each other?

I think it's because for thousands of years marriage was set up to benefit men more than women. Most of the emotional expectations and the kinds of tasks that people brought to marriage involved women shouldering the physical work and emotional work that makes life goes on. So it is women that have an interest in changing the traditional terms of marriage. They are the ones most likely to ask for change. And people who actually study marital dynamics report that it is one of the best predictors that a marriage will last and be happy is when a women asks for change and the man responds positively. So I think that the difference in divorce rates is that if the woman is more egalitarian than the man, she's more likely to not get the changes she wants. But if the man is equally or more egalitarian, she is likely to get the change she wants and that marriage is going to work better, for the man as well as the woman.

So from all of your research, if you were to sum up what does make marriage work, what would you say?

Well, first of all, there are two different things: one is interpersonal relations, and one is social context. You cannot produce one success without support from the other. Married couples in their interpersonal way certainly have to be deeper friends and more respectful of each other than at any time in the past. It used to be that people basically fell in love with the gender role. "This is a manly man, he'll take care of me." "This is a womanly woman, she'll take care of my kids." Nowadays, people need to like each other as much as they love each other, and they need to respect each other. That's one important thing. They need to learn how to negotiate and how to handle conflict more than they had to in the past when the rules of marriage just said that women had to obey.

But in addition to that, people need support systems. We live in a very unfriendly environment for families. Married couples, if they're going to keep their marriages going, need things like parental leave, subsidized parental leave so it's not a class privilege to take some time with your kids. They need family-friendly work policies. They need high quality, affordable child-care. So that they don't have to call in sick or quit a job or spend hours agonizing about their kids. The lack of these social supports for families really stresses families. So it's very ironic that many of the people who claim to be most in favor of marriage do not spend any time building these support systems. **** End of Article****

The central point Coontz makes is that marriage has changed over time, particularly since love became its raison d’etre and most especially in the twentieth century. Next week, against the historical backdrop set forth here, I will take on the issue of same-sex marriage. Note: this is an excerpt of the interview. I hope everyone has a great week!

Monday, July 25, 2005

Things that make you go hmmmm...

There was a very interesting story that played out last week around Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa) and one of his staff members. Two weeks ago, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) rebuked Santorum on the Senate floor for comments that Santorum made in a 2002 article about the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal. Kennedy demanded an apology along with several other piling on Massachusetts pols.

I won't defend Santorum's statements other than to say that there is some truth to the claim that a society reaps what it sows. To single out Boston as "a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America," though not an untrue statement, was inappropriate considering the subject matter.

The really interesting events began to unfold after Kennedy's speech on the Senate floor. Since this issue (Santorum's article) was now a hot topic after laying dormant for over three years, folks started to look into Santorum and his record on homosexual issues. During the digging, a gay rights blog, PageOneQ, uncovered the fact that Robert Traynham, Santorum's Director of Communications, was an "out" gay man. Apparently, PageOneQ decided that this man's sexual orientation was news to be shared with the world. Santorum quickly responded to the article and came to his aide's support.

The editor of PageOneQ, Mike Rogers, has said that he's "interested in exposing people, regardless of party, who are gay and enabling anti-gay politicians to deny us basic civil rights.”

My question is: Who is being more respectful of Mr. Traynham's rights?

Is it the "anti-gay" and "homophobic" Santorum. Or gay "rights" activist Rogers?

You be the judge.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Certainly Not

As a bit of an introduction, I have to poke a jab at DeJon who will likely gloat over finally getting me to write regularly for DH. I was requested by Al and DeJon, while I was in Iraq, to write the religious column. For numerous reasons, including the fact that the site (and all blogs) was restricted for us military types, I declined. As I read Sandi’s first post and saw some email traffic about her reservations, and I have similar ones of my own. It is not easy to write under your own name and put your thoughts out there every week for others to criticize—especially when it involves either politics or religion. People are very passionate about their beliefs on these subjects, stemming in part from the fact that they are deeply held and usually very important. They define and shape who we are as people, maybe even in some ways more than our occupations—unless we happen to work in politics or religion. I do have a concern that comments on my column (which I’m hoping will top Al’s 98 :) at some point) could get ugly and mean spirited. I have been thinking and reading and struggling with why this has happened in our group of believers we call Churches of Christ. Not that ours is the only group in which this has happened, but it certainly is a dominant part of our history. For a church started on the principal of unity, we have certainly had much division. As one who has grown up in the Churches of Christ, I must admit that I have had times when I wondered if it is worth staying. Yet I am still committed to the Churches of Christ if for no other reason than that we are truly a movement that emphasizes the importance of the Bible and I believe that if we will let it guide us, there is still hope. We also have enough freedom to be those who think for ourselves and that is extremely important in my opinion.

For introductions, yes I am a military chaplain, but what I say here does not in any way reflect the views of our armed services (there’s my disclaimer). I am also an ACU graduate, and I hope you don’t hold that against me either. My views do not reflect ACU’s opinion on anything either, though my graduate Bible education there has deeply influenced my belief system.

Having said that, let me start my weekly column by reflecting a bit about the struggle with why our movement is so divisive. Two books have influenced my thinking about this most recently, one by a person I hold in high esteem, Jack Reese, called The Body Broken: Embracing the Peace of Christ in a Fragmented Church. The other book, which I will actually quote here, is called Struggling with Scripture. It is co-authored by a scholar whose opinions have had a lasting effect on me, Walter Brueggemann, along with William C. Placher and Brian K. Blount.

Jack Reese pointed out in one of his chapters (sorry I don’t own the book but borrowed a friend’s copy and read it) our problem with our own certainty in our biblical interpretations. It is thinking and reflecting on that problem that really convinced me that he has hit the target dead on when it comes to why we are so divisive. You see, if we believe that any wandering idioteis (pronounced: I-DEE-OH-TAYS) can understand the Bible easily and would come to the same conclusions as us if s/he were just honest with Scripture, we develop a sort of certainty and trust that our own interpretation is correct. We think that anyone should believe as we do, they just need to stop succumbing to their own prejudices and preconceptions about various issues like baptism, Lord’s Supper, instrumental music, you name it, and we’d all be unified in identical beliefs. Sure we might not put it that way, but isn’t that what we think?

The logic goes this way: The Bible is easy to understand. Since it is easy to understand, everyone who picks it up should easily be able to come to the same conclusions (i.e. OUR conclusions). Since they have not, either they are do not value Scripture as a guide to their own beliefs, or they let their preconceptions get in the way so much that they cannot see the clear, plain meaning of Scripture as we do. If they would get over this, we could all be united. So it is our goal either to educate them on the clear, plain meaning of Scripture, or just go on to someone else who is not so obstinate. (I realize I am oversimplifying and generalizing this, but to make a point.)

Our certainty is in the fact that we believe we have restored the New Testament church in both belief and practice so that everyone who values the Bible and the faith of the first Christians should see everything the way we do. The problem is that it has not worked. Two or more well-intentioned, sincere Christians DO NOT come to the same conclusions when looking at the same text. But our sense of certainty does not allow for this. Someone must be right and the other person must be wrong. If you are wrong, you are not as sincere a Christian as I am and must repent of your error. And if you are wrong about one thing, there might be many more things about which you are wrong. Maybe your salvation is even at stake because you misunderstand something. So we developed a system of belief that centered on the five-step process by which one becomes saved and the way that saved person must practice worship (once again I am oversimplifying). After all, the only way to worship God properly is the way the New Testament church worshiped. (Sorry about the sarcasm, but that’s how we were taught, wasn’t it [for those who grew up in Churches of Christ]?) Being right became more important than showing the love of Christ. Our slogan at the beginning of our movement, “In essentials unity; in nonessentials liberty; in all things charity,” became warped. We categorized everything as essential and left no room for either liberty or charity.

There are several places where I believe we have gone wrong, and here is where I will pick up some quotes from the book, Struggling with Scripture.

First, as Brueggemann states, “There is no interpretation of Scripture (or interpretation of anything else, for that matter) that is unaffected by the passions, convictions, and perceptions of the interpreter.” (p. 20) Our perceptions of the clear, plain meaning of Scripture and of the need for restoration of the 1st-century church (as if that church itself were uniform—more fodder for a different article) were part of the historical milieu out of which we began. Yet one of our core beliefs was that we are the restored church of the first century and so we became historyless. There are still many churches that will etch on part of their buildings “founded in 33 A.D.” We were above critique as THE New Testament church restored, all the while happy with the delusion that we were free from preconception, prejudice, passion or conviction.

Second, there is a fundamental misconception that the Bible is easy to understand. Once again, as Brueggemann says (p. 13), “The Bible…is not self-evident and self-interpreting….Rather, the Bible requires and insists upon human interpretation that is inescapably subjective, necessarily provisional, and, as you are living witnesses, inevitably disputatious.” The fact that stems out of this is that, as Brueggemann also says (p. 13), “Nobody makes the final read; nobody’s read is final or inerrant, precisely because the Key Character in the book who creates, redeems, and consummates is always beyond us in holy hiddenness.” From my time of study at ACU and elsewhere, I have seen this to be true.

If you have been following with these two ideas, that blows our sense of certainty out of the water and leads us to a sense of humility before the text, not a sense of arrogance. We will start to move away from the idolatry of holding our own interpretation of the text up as the text itself, what Bruggemann calls ideology. He says (p. 20), “Ideology is the self-deceiving practice of taking a part for the whole, of taking “my truth” for the truth, of running truth through a prism of the particular and palming off the particular as a universal.” If we then lose the sense of arrogance, perhaps there will be more room for the charity and liberty that was a foundational part of our beginnings as a church. This is my hope.

Sorry for all the quotes, but it seemed like a way to communicate more clearly this time. Tell me what you think.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Photo of the Week


CONCEPT: This new column each Saturday in Desperate Houseflies will feature an amateur picture taken by either yours truly or one of our loyal readers. Amateur photography has become one of my many hobbies, and I thought this would be a fun topic for our readers who prefer books with pictures in them.

THE PHOTO: This photo is one of my all-time favorites. I took it in Cade's Cove last summer on our family vacation to the Smoky Mountains. This beautiful deer decided to strike a pose at just the right time.

THE CAMERA: Although its a couple of years old now (so woefully behind), my digital pictures are taken with a Minolta Dimage S414 with 4.0 megapixels.

TALK TO ME: I'd be happy to hear any comments, advice, or even suggestions of pictures you'd like for me to try to get. I love the challenge of a photographic scavenger hunt! I'd even be happy to entertain submissions from you guys for a Photo of the Week. I can guarantee that my friend, Dr. David Watson, who is a great photographer, will be featured from time to time. Anyone interested can submit pictures to me at oscofc@yahoo.com.

LINK: To view all of my favorites from my personal collection, visit http://community.webshots.com/user/alsturgeon

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Get over the interruption

The wonderful DJ
I'm no Yankee fan. I'm more of a Yankee hater, but I have to call it like I see it.

Derek Jeter is one of the least appreciated players in baseball. I know, I know he makes $18.6M this year alone in salary. But here's my point. Considering the pressure of New York and the Yankee mystique, since 2003 he has been the quintessential captain of baseball's most storied franchise. Jeter carries himself with an uncanny, down-to-earth demeanor. And don't forget he has put up 10-year stats similar to the immortal Jackie Robinson with more runs, hits, homers and a better batting average. He led his team to World Series victories in '98, '99 and 2000. In these Fall Classics he never hit lower than .353, and was the MVP in 2000 hitting .405.

Say what you want about overrated defense. He is the total package. There's not a better player out there. He makes the must-have play. He has that Jordanesque ability to create synergy, and he never, ever creates a problem for his team on or off the field. In the self-centered world of Barry Bonds, Sammy (the-most-over-rated-hitter-of-all-time) Sosa, Jeter provides the refreshing antithesis to the monster ego. And doesn't exactly embarrass himself between the foul lines.

If he's not the total package of baseball then whom?

Fearless College Football Predictions
1) Georgia will not finish in the ranking's top 10
2) Texas will (finally) beat Oklahoma
3) Texas A&M will beat Texas
4) Mike Price's UTEP Miners will flirt with an undefeated season after going 2-11 in '03
5) BC will beat Florida State at Chestnut Hill
6) Iowa won't live up to their hype
7) LSU will only lose one game all year ... to Arizona State
8) This will be Joe Paterno's last year
9) Matt Leinart will win the Heisman
10) USC will not win the national championship

Tell me what I missed.

Dink

Hello Everyone,

My name is Amy Hitt, and Al is my twin brother. Just kidding! But, we were born on the same day. I just happened to arrive a few years before he did. Al is actually my second "double" cousin, I think. Something like that anyway. No matter what the title, it is still nepotism.

I have enjoyed reading all of the wonderful articles since Desperate Houseflies began, and I am honored to be a part of it. When Al asked me to join the magazine, he told me to pick a topic, so I picked health, and here is why . . .

In 1999, my eighty-year-old grandfather, “Dink”, finally succumbed to his life-long (or at least during my whole life) battle with heart disease. Interesting things is, as I understand it, it wasn’t his heart that quit working and caused his death, it was his kidneys that got him. Why? After thirty some odd years of taking a handful of synthetic medicine every day, his kidneys said—no more will we process these foreign substances. And, they just stopped. And, he had grown so weak that he just stopped as well.

To me, my grandfather was a wonderful man—full of humor and art. During the last couple years of his life I watched a man, who had always been sick ever since I had known him, go from just sick to debilitatingly sick—from “ I need to rest a bit” to “ I need to rest a lot”—from “building this house has worn me out” to “I almost couldn’t get out of the bathtub today.” And, as I watched him fade away, because Western Medicine couldn’t save him, I started studying Eastern Medicine, and I’ve been studying it ever since.

Now, I have no idea if Eastern Medicine could have kept my grandfather alive longer. He lived a very long and full life as it was. But the question of why some people get sick and stay sick, while others don’t—boggles my mind.

Early yesterday morning, we lost my forty-year-old cousin, Michelle, to cancer. She only lived six months after she found out she had the disease. She left behind a husband and a fourteen-year-old daughter.

I work with several people who have some sort of cancer.

Tennessee, the state I live in, is on the top ten list for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Why? I have no idea. Mississippi and Arkansas are right up there, too.

Is it the way we live or eat or think or believe? I just don’t know.

So, on some level that is my quest, and I welcome you to join me.

I intend to use all types of sources on my quest—Western Medicine, Eastern Medicine, Religion, Psychology, Philosophy—you name it.

Here are a couple of quotes to think about for next week:

“… what we believe to be the precursor of all life-threatening illnesses—negative thinking.” You Can’t Afford The Luxury of a Negative Thought by John-Roger & Peter McWilliams (1988)

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” I Corinthians 3:16

Thanks!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Prologue

Greetings, Houseflies readers. For some reason, Al invited me to fill the “liberal politics” slot on this blog. Al and I have been friends for five years, since my well-meaning father put me in touch with him in an effort to set me on the right path (no pun intended) after learning that I had pledged to defend the legal rights of depraved satyrs and various other heretics while working with that most reviled of “liberal” organizations, the American Civil Liberties Union (note to self: devote future post to misuse of word “liberal”). Little did he know that, in fact, Al and I have a lot in common – much more than most people who know us solely through our professions would expect. And that I would someday end up working for him (hey, how long before I get a raise?). :)

Now, the last time I wrote an opinion column was when I was the editor of my high school newspaper (in 1994, if you’re curious). It seemed a lot easier to do back then, since my thoughts were still simple and could be communicated in short paragraphs. More importantly, I was too young and uneducated to acknowledge the limits of what I knew. College and law school changed all that; the old saying “the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know” is apt. I am now far more inclined to use qualifying clauses, to point out the limits of my arguments, and to be able to intelligently evaluate other ideas. Education is good that way.

Still, the essence of my values has not changed in those eleven years. In truth, the essence of my values has not changed from its most embryonic formulations as far back as I can remember, probably second grade or so. I was always the one who could be counted on to speak out against injustice, for example pointing out the wrongness of European settlers’ displacement and genocide of Native Americans in a fifth-grade report (which my teacher termed “editorializing”). From the time I knew what the word “feminist” meant, I knew that I was one. I stood up to my parents’ latent racism in junior high and high school. I was for Dukakis in 1988 and Clinton in 1992, when these were unpopular stances in the places where I was (Texas and Mississippi, respectively). I managed to rile up a number of frat boys at my university with a letter to the editor about the Dixie flag. And so on, ad infinitum. Succeeding levels of education added more knowledge and more nuance, but I was always some version of who I am today – a civil rights lawyer and committed progressive who believes that the Golden Rule is the foundational moral principle for humanity, writ small and writ large.

My lens for viewing my childhood, the South, and their influence on my thinking is the church in which I was raised, and its people. Much to its credit, the particular congregation in which I spent the majority of my growing-up years was not, save one moment in 1994 that thankfully seems to have been an aberration, overtly political. Rather, it was in suburban San Antonio, Texas, that I got my first taste of what is now known as the Religious Right – and found it a thoroughly distasteful (not to mention un-Christian) experience. The watershed moment was undoubtedly the Sunday evening that one of the deacons led a devotional in which he informed us that people who had contracted AIDS were being punished by God for their sins, and that AIDS in general was a punishment from God for humans’ promiscuity, drug use, and of course that now-ubiquitous canard, homosexuality. I was thirteen at the time, and singularly horrified at the malice dripping from his words, the smug self-righteousness, the utter lack of compassion. The church had sprouted political sensibilities, they were alien to everything I believed was good and right, and it was time for me to get the heck out of Dodge.

In fact I did not manage to extricate myself until my senior year of high school, when I finally put my foot down and refused to go back. To the best of my recollection, this occurred soon after the aforementioned political moment in 1994, which I will recount here as one extreme example of what determined my exit from the church. After a very minor episode of gay-friendly activism that had the town’s self-appointed moral guardians up in arms, the minister published a small, pamphlet-sized anti-gay screed which, as I recall, consisted of a “top ten” list of the reasons that homosexuality in general and gay men in particular were a blight upon humanity, including among other oft-debunked Anita Bryant-esque myths that gays were “out to convert your children.” I was disgusted beyond belief and embarrassed to be affiliated, however loosely, with such tripe. If this was what the church believed, then the church could do without me from this day forward, thank you very much.

In those days, the Religious Right was still a fringe group, and so my moral indignation at their wrongness on every issue under the sun was buttressed, in my mind, by the overwhelming weight of public opinion. Now that that no longer seems to be the case, at least with respect to large swathes of the country, and now that the backlash myth has fully penetrated the consciousness of pretty much every American, whether they agree with it substantively or not, I want above all things to understand why what I see as a hateful and regressive view of the world has become so compelling to so many. And how I got so far from the people I grew up around, and why the chasm grows wider with each passing year, as they drift ever further rightward and view me less and less as a member of the community, and more and more as one of the people who, they are told by their political gurus (Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and their ilk) that they are supposed – nay, required – to despise in order to be an upright, patriotic, God-fearing American. This fact was brought into sharp relief when a man from the church I attended as a child, who had probably first known me when I was still in diapers, called me a “cultural elite” to my face at my own wedding reception upon learning that I live in Washington, DC. And this without any knowledge of my politics! But, you see, he knew all he needed to know – that I had left the church, and that I had left Mississippi to live among those Yankees who thought they were so much better than Southerners. Thus, I was not to be trusted.

After having read some of the previous posts from the other parties, I see that my voice is quite different from those that have come before me. Hopefully folks will view that as all for the good. There’s not enough true sharing of different voices out there, not enough attempts at understanding each other. I see this column as a forum to help me continue my quest to understand the sharp rightward turn our nation has taken and what it might mean in the sweep of history. A few on the left would undoubtedly say that such an enterprise is fruitless, that hatred and irrationality on such a scale is not to be explained, merely opposed. And on the right, I imagine that this approach would be scorned and thought to exemplify everything that is wrong with “liberals” to begin with (why try to understand something that angers or frightens you when you can just send in the troops?). I believe that both reactions would be wrong and shortsighted. Because I also believe that most people are basically decent and want to do the right thing. The problematic part is defining what “good” and “the right thing” are, but even there I believe that there is a great deal of common ground between me and most Americans, regardless of party or label or religious affiliation. That the things that we all have in common have been obscured by the relatively few ways in which we differ. And that if I can find those things and explain how we have mistakenly diverged, maybe some of the wrongs can be made right. This is the theme that I envision will run throughout my articles: an attempt to bridge the gap by taking a look at what true concerns lie beneath our stated policy preferences and the labels we embrace. I could just indulge my fear, bitterness, and anger on these pages, but there are plenty of writers who do that. I would rather try to speak as one human being to others, all concerned about the state of the world and its future.

One thing that will be different about my entries from my predecessor (who left large shoes to fill) is that my focus will be less on the day-to-day movements of the national political scene and more about how values and politics intersect – that is, the ways in which our laws and government are reflections of how we believe people should treat each other. This is partly because I am a “big picture” rather than a “detail” person, and also because I, like many, find the “dirty business” of politics alienating, notwithstanding its admitted importance.

A word about comments: Upon hearing that I had been invited to join this blog, my husband mentioned to me that he had read that bloggers are overwhelmingly men, even more disproportionately so than the ratio of men to women on newspaper op-ed pages. The explanation given was that women do not have as much desire to publicly state their opinions as men. Now, I have known many women in my lifetime, none of whom seem to have a problem with formulating or expressing opinions, at least in certain settings. But I can say for myself that I find the aggressive and combative tone with which people tend to respond to bloggers’ posts to be extremely off-putting, and that I thought twice about joining this one for that very reason. Ad hominem attacks, excessive sarcasm, and just a general lack of civility seem to prevail in the blogosphere. I understand this to be the product of at least two factors: the anonymity of the Internet, and the deep schisms of our present political moment. Yet, it is no less alienating for being explicable. So I would respectfully request that my posts be treated in the manner in which they are proffered – as contributions to a conversation, not pronouncements from on high or invitations to bicker. I look forward to hearing others’ thoughts, but can do without uncivil or unproductively negative expressions of disagreement.

That’s probably enough for this week, and hopefully enough to give you a little insight into who I am and where I’m coming from. I look forward to a stimulating, challenging, and productive conversation in the coming months.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Blame it on Al.

Look... I was going to stay out of this Karl Rove/Valerie Plame fracas until Al goaded me into it last week. I have to admit. At the time, it did look like Al had some justified prodding to do. The whole "Rove as leak" angle was pretty hot. The MSM had successfully whipped the left into a frenzy. It was straight out of "Shark Week" on the Discovery channel. (By the way... did anyone get to see the Mythbusters "Jaws" special last night? Being a Mythbuster is my dream job.)

Now the bubbles have dispersed from the frenzy, the waters have become a little clearer, and we can see a lot deeper, almost all the way to the bottom of this "scandal." Sadly, the clearer view reveals that we have a mainstream media behemoth that cannot be trusted. I've railed against the big media outlets on this blog many times before. Most of those rants have been about the media cherry-picking stories based on a pre-existing political biases and a sensationalistic slant.

They've gone beyond cherry-picking with this Rove situation. The MSM disingenuously presented the "Rove as leak" story, when it had previously told the complete opposite story in an attempt to close ranks around two of its own (NY Times's Judith Miller and Time's Matthew Cooper) who were threatened with jail time for refusing to divulge sources. Here's an article from Andrew C. McCarthy that effectively exposes the hypocrisy of the MSM.

Here's a quick rundown of the most salient points in the article:

1. A consortium of 36 media outlets filed a "friend of the court" brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington. This consortium included ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, AP, Newsweek, Reuters America, the Washington Post, the Tribune Company (which publishes the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun, among other papers), and the White House Correspondents (the organization which represents the White House press corps in its dealings with the executive branch).

2. In this brief, the claims were made that Valerie Plame's cover had been blown on two separate occasions in the mid-1990's, once by a Russian spy and once through the CIA's ineptitude in Cuba.

3. The case this consortium put forth was that since Plame's cover had been effectively blown in the mid-1990's, the reporters that named her as a covert operative in 2003 could not be guilty of a crime.

Now these media outlets, in a twisted game of "gotcha", levy the same charges against Rove that they so staunchly fought against just four months ago. Based on this behavior, I think that we can conclusively add the term "journalistic integrity" to the list of well-known and well-deserved oxymorons.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Sunday Thoughts

by Al Sturgeon
(published each week in Desperate Houseflies)

SURF’S UP!

My introduction to the Tulsa Workshop came on a Thursday morning this past March when Wade Hodges presented, “How Do We Get in Sync With This Culture?” I had heard of the speaker, but I had never heard him speak. The subject, however, was one I had spent quite a bit of time considering. Once, in one of my periodic reading flurries, I had read back to back to back, Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus, Rauschenbusch’s A Theology for the Social Gospel, and Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture (the first two at Juvenal's suggestion).

I’m still a bit iffy on my conclusions, but at the very least I have pumped a lot of information in my little brain on this topic!

I was pleased to discover Hodges’ lecture to be very good. He engaged the age-old dilemma of how Christians are to be “in the world” but not “of the world” with (appropriate for Coast residents such as myself) a beach metaphor. Imagining the waves as our culture, he presented us with the two most obvious options for we Christians standing on the shore: will we stay on the beach, or will we drown? Without a satisfactory answer on either side, he urged us to consider one more option: maybe we could learn to surf the waves. Maybe we can ride the waves of our culture.

He taught that we’d need discernment, because real surfers know that you don’t ride every wave that comes along. He added that we needed courage, because there are some scary waves that we just have to ride (the notable example of the Civil Rights Movement, generally ignored by Southern Christians was mentioned). He went on to mention that we’d need community, because smart surfers don’t go surfing alone. It was, without a doubt, a lot of good stuff to consider.

I’ll tell you the truth; I could be Amish if I wasn’t so fond of electricity. Jesus wasn’t too much on creature comforts you know. And I could even junk the whole religious ballgame and just hang out with tax collectors and sinners, too, citing once again the lifestyle chosen by Jesus. But there must be some middle ground, which is why this topic fascinates me, and which is why I think Hodges hit on something with his surfing metaphor - engaging the world without drowning in it.

I won’t argue with you when you mention that Scripture teaches us to avoid evil, though I would point out that it also tells us to love the people through whom evil is always perpetrated. So I think we should find a way to meet the world on its turf, messy though it may be, without allowing it to swallow us whole.

Besides, surfing always sounded like fun to me anyway.

Note: Comments are always welcome. In particular this time, if you buy the surfing metaphor, I'd be interested in hearing opinions on which waves of culture you think Christians ought to be riding today. I have long thought that churches dropped the ball big time during the Civil Rights Movement. What ball are we dropping today?

The New Plan

Hey Everyone:

For now, here is the new lineup at Houseflies...

SUNDAYS: Religion with yours truly until one (or both) of our invitations are accepted...

MONDAYS: Conservative politics with Joe Longhorn (business as usual)

TUESDAYS: Liberal politics with Sandi (I'll let her introduce herself)

WEDNESDAYS: Books/Literature with Mikey (business as usual)

THURSDAYS: Health with Amy (I'll let her introduce herself)

FRIDAYS: Photography with Al (new topic)

SATURDAYS: Sports with DeJon (same DeJon, new topic)

Hopefully we'll have begin to have full weeks again, though Sandi may not be on board by this Tuesday. And when DeJon is out of the country, Joe and I may fill in with some sports arguments...

Keep reading!

Al

Friday, July 15, 2005

Don't Stop Reading Just Yet!

Desperate Houseflies: The Magazine is undergoing some big changes!

Three of our original cast members are moving on to bigger and better things, and we're negotiating with three replacements.

* We are sad to see Juvenal Urbino move on. I am in particular. I am excited, however, that we do have a liberal voice coming in to fill the void he leaves behind.

* We are sad to see the artist formerly known as Wednesday Housefly move on as well. Since Dave Barry is unavailable, we're having to scrap the humor column. Instead, we're excited about a replacement that will be writing on "health."

* We are sad to see Coolhand move on, too. We are even MORE saddened to realize that, as for now, I am replacing him. The good news is that we have two leads on "religion" columnists that will be infinitely better than me.

Keep checking back every day. Changes are on the way...

Al Sturgeon

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

My Evolving Theses About Silly Advertising; or, What Would the Love Child of John Grisham and J.K. Rowling Look Like?

This past Christmas break, I was sitting in the local bookstore quite a bit, and every half-hour or so John Grisham would come over the loudspeaker and tell me about his new book with a lead character that was unlike any character he has ever written about before. There was a big cardboard sign on the way in to the store advertising the book (The Somethingorother [I can't remember which noun Grisham chose this time]). The movie-like cardboard cutout said something along the lines of: "Grisham: The First Name in Blockbusters".

I'm not hating on Grisham here. I haven't read one of his books in a long time (probably back in The Pelican Brief era), but I do owe a lot to Grisham -- namely, he was probably the first writer I read without being told to read. So, all you Grisham lovers just hush up now. My beef with his advertising over the loudspeaker and with huge pieces of cardboard (aside from the annoyance factor) is why, oh why!?, does John Grisham need to advertise a book. I have a sneaking suspicion that if he wrote a new book and didn't tell anyone about it until it arrived in bookstores it would still be a #1 bestseller. He has a large, loyal fanbase. I assume he still writes a good story. People will buy it. Even if he doesn't still write a good story.

Okay. So just to come on out and be blunt about everything, this is my thesis statement (or actually, thesis question [and no one give me crap about my thesis being a "question" because it "weakens" my point or because it actually makes it not really a thesis at all -- I'm a writing teacher and therefore am entitled to play fast and loose with the whole "thesis" idea]): why are his books so heavily advertised? Is his publisher worried the book isn't going to sell?

Of course the book is going to sell. So, it must be more a matter of who is going to sell the book. Is it going to be Wal-Mart or Borders or Barnes and Nobles or Amazon? Knowing nothing about the arena of the competitive market, maybe its the person in the middle who must prostitute themselves in an attempt to secure the purchases of the buying public (okay, so now I'm not sure if my thesis is the why of the last paragraph or the who of this one, so we'll go with a sort of evolving thesis here -- keep us on our toes and what-have-you).

Quick experiment. Call the local store of your choice (could be a gas station for all it matters, as this experiment is scientifically guaranteed to work if you call any For-Profit business) and quickly after thanking you for calling they will inform you that you can at this very store PRE-ORDER your very own copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at 40% off. That's really the end of the experiment, but just for kicks lately, I've been asking them what it means, exactly, to pre-order something.

Oh, and they'll also tell you that you can-absolutely-NOT get the book faster from anywhere else.

I understand that the publishing industry relies on writers like Grisham and Rowling to sell books in order to a) make a profit and b) enable them to publish lesser known writers who do not reach as big an audience. I don't understand why they would spend a lot of money with a media blitz, for months on end, for a book that will without a doubt be the bestselling book of the year.

Good money says that sometime in the next month or so there will be an article in some major publication lamenting the fact that people don't read anymore, that the publishing industry is in shambles because people watch too much television and movies. Etc. (Quick aside and what will be an unexplored thesis in this post: I think people probably read more now than 50 years ago, but I'll just leave it at that as too many theses spoil somethingorother.) Yet, millions of dollars (I'm making that up, but it's got to be a lot) are being spent to sell A book to people who don't read.

So, again, why the media blitz? And, (okay, I'll go ahead and combine the two theses), who is driving the blitz? Is it the publishers or the stores? Maybe this is a chicken and egg question, as the two are obviously in bed together, but for some reason this bothers me. Not because I'm a snob who doesn't read Grisham or a purist who thinks of books as art and that art should not be advertised. I'm sure the promotions for pre-orders in bookstores and gas stations are largely symptoms of the I-want-to-make-some-money-off-of-this-too factor, but I'll not let these theses off the hook that easily! Unless the buying public really is silly enough to only buy books they know other people are buying, unless they somehow are unable to find out when their favorite author's newest book is to be released, unless they are in such a hurry to get this book faster somehow, someone's (publisher's or bookstore's) resources could be reallocated into a more strategic area, no?

All this advertising bothers me because it seems money wasted (money that could be used to publish other books, lower book prices, pay other writers [my roommate would let his book be published for a six-pack of PBR, he claims]), and it bothers me because it seems to mirror Hollywood promotions too much.

Some agent somewhere read the manuscript for the first Harry Potter and for A Time to Kill and convinced some editor that the book was worth taking a chance on and the books were published without much of a hoo-hah. And they sold. And sold. Yet the publishing industry (which tries to give people an alternative form of entertainment than movies or television or radio) and bookstores (which try to provide a different environment in which people can be entertained), have decided to advertise in the exact same manner as movies and radio. Maybe all entertainment industries are more alike than I'm comfortable with. Or maybe I'm wrong about the goals of publishers and bookstores. Either way, I'd like to see bookstores and publishers (whichever is responsible) take some different approach to promoting books and writers and reading in general. Something that I can't see on television or at the theater.

Next week I'm going to try to say something intelligent about the author China Mielville. I'm doing research and everything. Or at least reading an interview.

Monday, July 11, 2005

This One's for All the Marbles

As Whitney alluded to in a comment to another post, I'm on the road this week. I'm posting this from Annapolis, Maryland after starting out the morning in San Diego. Why is it that travel takes so much out of us? I just want to take a nap before watching the home run derby tonight.

In light of my state of rest, I'll just post this link to an excellent article about the Iraq situation from Victor Davis Hanson. It's a good recap of how we got into Iraq in the first place and he finishes with some sobering thoughts. I sure wish the president would speak as bluntly as VDH does here.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Sunday Thoughts

by Al Sturgeon
(Sundays in Desperate Houseflies)

OF HURRICANES AND GOD

I thought I might be on a hurricane-induced vacation today, but surprisingly, I'm sitting here with an opportunity to write. Without much forethought, however, I'll just take the risk of making it up as I go along. After staring down a hurricane, taking a writing risk doesn't seem too intimidating.

I'm no old-timer just yet, but the past couple of years have kicked my hurricane knowledge into high gear. I've heard more than my share of stories from the big one (1969's Camille), along with firsthand accounts of other Mississippi Gulf Coast storm visitors like Frederick, Elana, and Georges. I've learned a little bit about how these scary suckers work, I've done some on-the-job training on how to evacuate, I've sat in the dark waiting for the storm to pass through, and I've even learned a little of the lingo. (Don't say that Dennis ended up as a Category 3 hurricane if you live here - just say that Dennis was a Cat 3. It even sounds cooler.) And last year, after Ivan, I've even spent a couple of days helping in the clean-up.

Today was another class session.

We've been watching Dennis all week long, wondering if it would really do what Jim Cantore and his cronies predicted. It did. We were "in the cone" until late this morning, just hours before Dennis made landfall in storm-ravaged Pensacola. Many of our friends and neighbors headed for friendlier places in the last couple of days, witnessing quite a sight I'm sure when entire Interstates were turned to run only one direction. The rest of us stayed here, fighting at Wal-Mart over water and batteries, lining up at the gas pumps to fill up, watching ourselves on television, and getting our houses ready for a possible attack.

To tell the truth, it is quite a rush.

After working on loading up all day yesterday, and watching the Weather Channel all along, we went to bed last night ready to evacuate this morning. I sat my alarm at 4am, got up as soon as it went off, and after a final look at the weather, loaded up everything, shut off the power, and headed for our church building (the safest place we know of down here). That was the most excitement we had today.

We ended up west of the storm, the best place to be outside of Alaska. It was windy, a bit rainy, and that was about it for us. We came back home a couple of hours ago, unpacked our belongings, and life has returned to normal. Not true for Pensacola, Florida, just 100 miles away. Who knows the devastation they witnessed today.

I don't guess I have a big religious point today. I'm probably just writing for therapeutic purposes. I do know one thing, however: Days like this sure make me think about God. I am painfully aware that I cannot control very much of this life, and it is my treasure to truly believe that someone bigger than Hurricane Dennis rides above all the storms.

I'll rest easier tonight.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Work Is A Good Thing... I've Heard

Sorry, folks.

Life's getting busy in these parts, and there's just too much to do today. I'll try to have something next week.

I did see, hear and read some really funny stuff (most of it unintentionally so) this week. I'll see what I can share next time.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

A Blaze of Old Glory

Well, the Congress is at it again. We're in the middle of a war in Iraq that isn't going quite as well as predicted, and there's no end in sight. We've still got troops dying in Afghanistan. North Korea is manufacturing nuclear weapons in shoe boxes. Iran probably is, too. With the industrialization of China and India, we're facing serious energy problems. Guantanamo Bay continues to do whatever it's doing, without meaningful supervision from Congress. Our ports remain easy targets for terrorists and other ne'er-do-wells. Pension plans are making giant sucking sounds. And the country's health costs are still skyrocketing, leaving many Americans behind.

So, naturally, the Congress has been talking about flag burning.

Can anyone say "political grandstanding?" How about "pandering to your base?" Is flag burning really a major problem? Are they being burned so fast the Chinese laborers Wal-Mart pays to manufacture them are unable to make them fast enough to keep them on the shelves? Come on. There are always more Chinese available to work for a dollar an hour. Admittedly, I do see flags burned now and again on the news. But that's in other countries. Are the Republicans in Congress aware that their legislation won't affect what goes on in those countries? (Or do they know something about the president's plans that we don't know? Mergatroids!)

The last time this came up in a serious way (if the current action on the issue can be called "serious") was about ten or twelve years ago. I feel the same way about it now as I did then. For one, it's a silly thing for Congress to be spending its time on. For another, it brings up the whole 'can there be such a thing as an unconstitutional constitutional amendment?' question, since the Supreme Court has long since ruled that flag burning is protected as political speech. For another, if this actually becomes law, I'm going to burn a flag.

My main beef with these periodic attempts at stamping out flag burning is that they always insist on calling it "flag desecration." Desecration? How can you desecrate something that never was sacred to begin with? And when did it become the federal government's job to decide what is sacred? If they can decide that, then they can with equal justification decide what is not sacred. And if they can legislate the sacredness of flags, they can legislate the sacredness of other things. A flag is a piece of cloth. If Congress can tell us it's sacred, maybe they can also finally settle the sacredness of the Shroud of Turin (won't that be a relief?) or a Jewish prayer shawl. A flag is a symbol. If they can decide it's sacred, maybe they can also decide whether or not the cross is sacred. (And which version? Is the cross of the western churches sacred, but the cross of the eastern Orthodox churches not?) Maybe we can create a whole new administrative department to go around and decide whether this or that appearance of the Virgin Mary in a bowl of pudding is really sacred or just pudding.

The fact is, the 1st amendment makes sacredness absolutely none of the state's business. Sacredness is a concept that belongs wholly to the realm of religion. Adherents of the various belief systems decide whether they find a thing sacred or not. Congress may not tell people a thing is sacred.

Some would say the flag is sacred -- in a purely secular sense, whatever the heck that means -- because of the blood that's been sacrificed on the battlefield for it. I remain unconvinced that anybody ever died for the flag. We speak that way sometimes, but it's just a shorthand. The flag is a symbol. People don't die for symbols themselves; they die for what the symbols stand for. People die on the battlefield not for a piece of fabric, but for what it represents to them -- comrades, home, family, their way of life.

The Amish took beatings and went to jail during WWII for refusing to pledge allegiance to the flag. To me, that's sacred.

And While I'm At It...

Also unacceptable to me on both religious and constitutional grounds are things like:

  • "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance

  • "In God We Trust" on our money

  • "so help me God" in oaths of office (unless a voluntary expression of that person's religious beliefs, and even then I don't know why it needs to be vocalized rather than thought)

  • tax deductions for contributions to churches

  • declarations of national days of prayer

  • the existence of Senate and House chaplains



All of them are attempts by the state to borrow, for their own profane purposes, the authority or credibility of the sacred.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Sunday Thoughts

by Al Sturgeon
(every Sunday in Desperate Houseflies)

REMEMBER THE POOR

For music fans, yesterday’s “Live 8” concerts may go down as the best concert ever. Organizer, Bob Geldof’s claim that 3 billion people tuned in may be a preacher’s count, but either way, the ten free international concerts were huge, featuring the biggest stars performing for a noble cause. The concert’s timing was intentional, just days before the Group of Eight summit. Concert organizers urged these most powerful politicians in the world to forgive debts, make trade concessions, and appropriate $25 billion in aid to Africa, where the child death rate is one every three seconds. The organizers further offered statistics that claim 50,000 people die every day from simple poverty.

I have not been invited to attend the Group of Eight summit. I would hope that the powerful politicians of the world would respond with compassion to world poverty, but more pertinent to me, what is a Christian’s role in this issue? How should the church respond to the poor?

God’s instructions to Israel in Deuteronomy 15 seem a bit odd in this matter. In verse 4, God declares that there should be no poor among His people as He lays down Jubilee instructions. Later on, in verse 7, the instructions deal with the possibility “if there is a poor man among you,” and how God’s people should open their pocketbooks to him. But finally, in verse 11, it says that there will always be poor people in the land. Is it possible that God established a standard that would not be followed?

Well…yes.

But that was the Old Testament, right? What about when Jesus came? Well, a case can be made that Jesus came to declare the year of Jubilee. With tons of preaching references to the poor, and prayers and parables regarding the forgiveness of debts, Jesus’s followers became natural advocates for the poor. In fact, in the only judgment scene offered by Jesus, those pleasing to God were those who spent themselves on behalf of the poor.

The early church followed through in this regard. Instead of restricting the benevolent spirit to Jewish Christians, Paul recounts in his letter to the Galatians that after the apostles blessed his ministry to the Gentiles, their only request was that he remembered the poor. Paul eagerly agreed.

So what is the role of the church?

I’ve seen apathy (“I didn’t cause their poverty”), excuses (“Jesus said there would always be poor people”), negativity (“Well, it doesn’t do any good.”), conditional so-called love (“We’ll help if you’ll come to church.”) and passing the buck (“Send them to the government offices and they’ll take care of them.”). Those are the normal culprits.

But what is our real role?

In a word, love. A word that a good friend (with the pseudonym, Juvenal) defined for me recently, “Recognize in each person you meet the image of God. Behave accordingly.”

Friday, July 01, 2005

I’ve Been Cheated… Been Mistreated… When Will I Be Hated?

Hi, my name is Wednesday…

(Hello, Wednesday.)

… and I make fun of people.

Well, not just people. Sexes, ethnicities, congregations, gatherings, cults (which can be differentiated from congregations only because of a lack of suitable hymnals), celebrities, herds, political parties, boy bands, professions, families, and a phylum here or there… they’re all fair game in my effort to mock all (and offend as many as possible).

And yet you still love me. Well, love’s too strong a word. It’s more of a dependency thing – because those of you who read here regularly also write here regularly, and you know if you hack me off (or make me cry) and I quit, one of you will have to take up the slack. Or, worse still, Al will bring in another of his cronies – ”Where have you gone, Eric Folkes? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you, woo woo woo…” – to fill Fridays. (Actually, Fridays would definitely be funnier if Eric took over. His encyclopedic knowledge of elephant jokes would rock this joint. Al, give him a call when he gets back from his autopsy.)

Despite my best efforts to pith you off, there is no expressed hatred. The silence is deafening. I’ve gotten one – one! – derogatory e-mail from an angry reader, and even she was only angry enough to send the missive secondhand. Here’s a paraphrased snippet I’ve unethically formatted to look like a direct quote:

Dear Al,

Please tell your halfwit, sexist, racist jerk of a “humor” columnist that he is a halfwit, sexist, racist jerk who is not funny. I am woman, hear me roar.

Sincerely,

Amanda Huggenkiss
Feminist At Large

This heartfelt missive confirms several points, the most obvious of which is that all women are born with dwarfish senses of humor. (Modern science has proven that some women, through years of serving humbly in both kitchen and bedroom, can more fully develop their funny bones.) This is why the Bible refers to them as “the weaker sex.”

But the more germane point here – and I like the word germane because before I started seeing it used here, I thought it was merely the name of one of Michael Jackson’s (Ms. Jackson if you’re nasty) countless creepy siblings – is that while I’ve obviously done something to anger this pretty li’l filly (and if hen party didn’t push her over the edge, I’m betting pretty li’l filly just might), it is also obvious that I haven’t done enough to enrage the rest of you.

Naturally, I fell compelled to correct that.

(Did you know that Joe Longhorn tilts toward buggery?)

But I want to do so as tastefully as possible.

(Or that Juvenal Urbino wears women’s thong underwear… that he buys heavily used – and soiled – on eBay?)

After all, people build their careers and lives upon their reputations.

(People like Al Sturgeon, Male Prostitute?)

One cannot be too careful.

(A lesson Mikey learned the hard way during his trip to Europe some time back. Those antibiotics doing the trick yet, sailor?)

Because, reputation aside, you might trod on sacred, do-not-go-there territory.

(Like why one of our contributors is named after fancy mustard? “Let me introduce you to my father, Grey, and my mother, Poupon.")

Or on too-familiar ground.

(Fill in your favorite lawyer joke here, and remind yourself that Andy chose this “profession.”)

Thanks, folks. You’ve been a great crowd. I’ll be here all week. Tip your moderators.

(Wednesday wets the bed.)

------

(This post and the offensive content within is designed for a somewhat serious purpose. Namely: to give us all pause from the increasingly hostile rhetoric in some of the comment areas. Let’s disagree with dignity, folks, and stop acting like animals. Because you know what that does to Joe…)

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