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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

New informtion on Ocean Springs

I spoke with Al’s mother, Helen Sturgeon, this morning. Al and his family went to their house yesterday to see the damage. There was nothing left of the house. Mrs. Helen said that there were 10-15 families from the church in the same situation. Al found out that his insurance will not pay anything.

I made contact with the Church of Christ disaster relief organization last night and I gave them Al’s name and information on the Ocean Springs Church of Christ. They said they would try to make contact with them in the next couple of days. Mrs. Sturgeon will give Al the contact information for the relief organization the next time she talks with him.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

No Politics Today

I wish this break were under better circumstances. I was born in Biloxi and raised there and in Ocean Springs, went to college in Louisiana, and have many friends and family who were in the path of the hurricane. So this is hitting me pretty hard. I just talked to my friend Danielle who is from Diamondhead and now lives in St. Louis, MO, and she said it was really hard because she was expected to be working when all she could do is wonder if her childhood home was still standing. I have not been able to concentrate either.

At this point, the extent of the damage is still not known, but what we have learned is pretty much all bad. As I just said in my response to the earlier post, my brother (foolishly) elected to stay at my parents' house in Biloxi rather than evacuate to Alabama with them. Their house is 5 miles north of the interstate in Woolmarket, so I assume that he is okay but there is no way to know. I can't do anything but watch CNN and feel sad that my entire hometown has been destroyed and so many people have died. I wish I had something more profound to say but words fail me at such times.

Fasting and Prayer

I know it is not my day to post, but I thought this would be an invitation to all who would like to participate.

There are a few of us here in Tucson, Arizona, that fast on Wednesdays and come together to pray instead of eating lunch.

I know some reading do not have a lot of disposable income to help the relief effort for the hurricane victims, but here is a chance for everyone to do something.

I would invite anyone who is able to fast for 24 hours (from after supper today until supper tomorrow) and donate the money you would have spent for food to the relief effort. I would also encourage you to spend what would be your normal lunch hour in prayer for those hit by the hurricane.

There are two outlets for helping people. One is through this website Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort and the other is by sending donations to help Al's congregation specifically to:

Helen Sturgeon
c/o 7th & Mueller Church of Christ
1000 S. 7th St.
Paragould, AR 72450

I'm sure there are other ways to contribute as well, and the comment board could be a good clearing house for posting ways to contribute.

Even if you do not have money or are not able to fast, please pray for those affected by this disaster.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Update on Al

Al spoke to his mother this afternoon and said that they are OK. It is my understanding that there was some damage to their church building. They have not been allowed to leave the building though.

Nature the Terrorist

I'm with Duane, praying for our Brothers and Sisters on the Gulf Coast. So far, it looks like N'Awlins has dodged a pretty big bullet. Unfortunately, that means someone else had to take the brunt, and coastal Mississippi looks to be getting the worst of it.

Watching the coverage of Katrina's approach and the impending demise of the Big Easy got me thinking a bit. The doomsday scenarios were grim indeed. Massive flooding, total structural failure of large buildings, a cess pool of stagnant water, petrochemicals, and organic waste, death tolls in the thousands or tens of thousands... the prospects were frightening.

While the scale of the damage may not reach predicted levels, it will still be massive. There will be a significant human toll. If not in deaths, surely in suffering. There is going to be a huge economic impact. New Orleans is shut down indefinitely as a seaport, and no one can say with certainty what the effect on the petro-refineries will be. We may see a 15% drop in oil supplies and a corresponding spike in prices.

Still, our nation does not panic. We brace for the effects on our economy, but we are more focused on what will need to be done to help our friends, families, and fellow Americans affected by this storm. We don't moan and wail about how this storm will "change our country forever."

No... we save that kind of defeatism for the terrorist threat. Remember the fear and despair after 9/11? Remember the talk about how we would never be the same? Four airplanes crashed, two buildings were destroyed, and a third damaged. About 3000 people died. That was from a few airplanes used as makeshift missiles.

Now we have a storm releasing the heat energy of a 10 mega-ton nuclear bomb every 20 minutes. Multiply 9/11 by 20, 30, even 100 and you might begin to approach the level of destruction this storm could have brought.

Did you hear anyone talking about how our nation would be shaken to its core and brought to its knees?

Neither did I.

When does the Global War on Natural Disasters start?

Just kidding, of course.

My point is, if we can survive these storms that carry much more destructive force than terrorists could ever bring to bear, why do we fear Johnny Jihad with the dynamite life vest?

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Homosexuality and the Bible—not the last word

I should start off by apologizing that I did not post anything last week. It was just too difficult with my wife’s birthday, our anniversary, and two cars (make that three) that just did not want to work. I’m back and as you can see dealing with a difficult topic.

I considered writing about the hurricane, but as Al sent out an email, I would also ask that anyone reading this who is religious in any way at all would lift the soon-to-be victims up in their prayers.

Just as a warning up front, what follows will simply be some of my ramblings on this topic and not at all a comprehensive analysis of this hot-button issue. In fact, I will likely take a few tangents so I apologize for that in a way, but also in a way you get to see somewhat of a stream-of-consciousness post. I suspect that is more true to what I’m thinking anyway. So, without further ado, here goes.

My problem with this issue first of all is that it is culture driven. If it were not for the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual?) pushing this into the public eye, I doubt we’d be addressing it at all in our churches. Why? Because when there are those in our churches who are GLBT, they are not outspoken, very likely because we’d kick them out if we knew about them. For example, a site by the pseudonym Gay Restorationist. He tells us that he writes anonymously so he won’t get kicked out of his church. But back to my point, if the whole issue of same-sex marriage was not in the arena of politics (from both sides, i.e. its advocates such as the ACLU and its dissenters, i.e. Focus on the Family), we’d probably not be talking about it much from our pulpits, or indeed, our blogs. Why? I would venture to say that it is not a primary concern of Scripture. We don’t have thousands of verses of our Bibles written about the subject. It is peripheral. One does not have to know what the Christian or biblical stance is on homosexuality to become a Christian. Not that morality is unrelated to Christian living, it is not, but for someone to become Christian, they don’t have to have all the beliefs down about such things. (If so, I think we’d all be in trouble.)

Because it is culture driven (as at least one of the reasons it is such a pervasive topic in Christian circles today), those who believe it is not sinful compare it to the slavery problem in this country. (I know some minorities that take serious issue with this comparison, and rightly so.) They suggest that churches that continue to believe it is sinful and condemned by Scripture are similar in that respect to churches that would not condemn slavery as it was practiced in the Southern states (I’ll just stay with slavery for now because discrimination and everything else involved in the racial problem that still exists today would be too broad for my posting.). From such a perspective, they would challenge us to reinterpret Scripture and come to a better understanding of it as they have (tongue in cheek intended), namely that homosexuality is not sinful. Just as slavery was cultural and Paul could not envision a world without slavery and therefore technically did not condemn it even though it was wrong, so also, the type of homosexuality he condemned was a cultural phenomenon and he could not have envisioned a loving, non-abusive, monogamous, homosexual relationship. What Paul saw of homosexuality was of two kinds—either idolatrous cultic prostitution or man-boy relationships at feasts that were unequal and would be pedophilia by today’s standards. The comparison is usually taken a bit farther along the lines of the head covering (if that is what it is) of 1 Corinthians 11. Just as that was cultural and Paul commands women to wear a veil (or have long hair, the issue is not clear) when praying, and we don’t follow it today, so also what Paul condemned in homosexuality was not the same as what it is today and so we should not follow it either. Since Paul did not know what we would face here in the 20th/21st centuries, he could not have condemned it and so the Scriptures that speak about it do not include monogamous homosexual relationships like we have today. I’m trying to give a fair representation of the issue, but realize that I will likely miss part of their point or misrepresent it and am open to someone calling me on it if they happen to read this article. For more on this, see the arguments, especially in the comments section of Wrestling with Gays, but I must warn you in advance that some of it gets very explicit in describing some behaviors so that you might not want to read that blog. The comments written, of widely varying views, are for the most part irenic, and that surprised me. For the purpose of discussion, I will give those with this view full cooperation in the nature/nurture argument. I have no difficulty allowing that it might be genetic, and if someone claims that in their case it is the way God made him/her, I will give him/her the benefit of the doubt and say okay, it is the way he made you. I don’t think that is the crucial part of the discussion here. I will also allow the point of comparison with slavery, but only where it fits. The only real point of comparison between homosexuality and slavery is that the church was not the front runner in the debate, but it was people from outside the church that brought up the issue and thrust it upon the church, helping the church understand how important it was to condemn slavery as it was practiced in America at that time.

One interesting side point is that the people who were “wrong” in the slavery debate were the ones who went to Scripture to try to prove that what they were doing was okay. The Bible does not condemn slavery, or even abusive slavery (see 1 Peter 2:18), and while I would have to agree with one of our ancestors in the faith, Alexander Campbell, in this respect, there are plenty of Scriptures that talk about how we are to treat one another as Christians, which should lead one to conclude that slavery as it was practiced in the United States was wrong. In other words, there was something more central in Scripture than slavery itself, namely the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself, that should override anything that seems to condone something that by its very nature disregards this important command. I don’t want to belabor this point, but it is curious to me that those advocating homosexuality as not sinful are on the same side in their use of Scripture as those who advocated slavery—they are going to Scripture to try to prove that what they are doing is not condemned. Anytime someone does this, I’m a little leery to say the least. I find that on a personal level, when I try to do this, I’m wrong 100% of the time, whether or not my interpretation is ultimately proven correct. It is my own denial of my sinful behavior and my attempt to rationalize it by going to Scripture to prove it is okay that scares me. When I’m in this situation, it takes someone other than myself to bring me back to reality.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. There are varying views on sexual self-fulfillment. (I wrote it this way because the actual term may set off warnings on the parental controls of most web browsers, but I’m sure you get what I’m talking about.) Since the subject is not addressed directly at all in Scripture (for those of you thinking of Onan, this is not what he was doing and it is not what Genesis 38:8-10 is addressing), we are left to our own interpretations as to whether it is okay or sinful. As it is practiced by most, I cannot accept it as being okay; it is sinful. (You might be convinced otherwise and I won’t take issue with that.) The Scripture I think applies is Matthew 5:27-28, which reads:

27 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (NRSV)

One who usually is a practitioner of this type of self-fulfillment in my experience is usually using some picture or mental image of someone other than his wife. From the other side of the fence, on the women’s side, it might not involve a picture, but is fantasizing about someone other than one’s husband typically. I think Jesus’ remarks in Matthew 5 speak to this situation and call it sinful. It is committing adultery by lusting after someone else and actually fantasizing about the actual fulfillment of that act. Now suppose I have a very strong sex drive (that is definitively a genetically inherited trait) and my wife/husband just can’t fulfill my desires as much as I need her/him to do this. Or, say I’m a single person. What is the answer? Experience tells me I will try to rationalize my own behavior and justify it by saying the Bible does not address it. Although this argument is technically true, it is not the end of the matter. Aside from using the Scripture I mentioned, I’ve counseled enough couples to know there are damaging effects this behavior has on couples’ intimacy similar in kind to the damage having an affair does. The point, however, is that I’m tempted to go to Scripture to prove that what I’m doing is okay. When I do that, I’m in dangerous territory, to say the least. It is too easy to find a way around what Scripture says so that I can rationalize away my sin.

One other case where I’m tempted to do this is when it comes to women’s roles in the church. It is somewhat confusing to say the least when we look at women praying and prophesying in 1 Corinthians 11 and then being told not to speak at all in 1 Corinthians 14. Scripture itself is not of one voice it seems when it comes to what women should do in the assembly. Phoebe, in Romans 16:1-2 was clearly a deacon as she is called such there and yet in some situations Paul seems to say women should not have authority over men (or is it their husbands?). Without going into detail here (and getting myself into more trouble), I think women were doing many more things than what we allow them to do today in Churches of Christ, but I will also say that some Scriptures seem to limit their role. It is sufficiently unclear that I hope that I am not letting my egalitarian nature drive my interpretation of Scripture, but I will admit that this is possible.

The Scriptures speaking about homosexuality, alternatively, are of one voice—it is sinful. One can argue that they don’t apply because of cultural reasons but one cannot say that there is a Scripture that discusses homosexual behavior and permits it. Even in attempting to rationalize the behavior, one would have to really twist Scripture around to say that Paul (or Leviticus) taught that homosexual behavior, as it was practiced then, was permitted. Although Leviticus discusses some things that seem strange to us and are culturally driven, the overriding point in Leviticus 18 (where male homosexuality is discussed as well as bestiality, but not female homosexuality [was it not even an option?]) is not to be like the nations who defiled themselves by doing everything that God commands the Israelites not to do. They are his people, whom he brought out of Egypt, and he has the right to command them when it comes to sexual morality. To do otherwise would mean God would punish the people and kick them out of the land he gave them. Paul, a Pharisee trained in the Law, does not suggest anything different from what Leviticus says. Although in Romans 1 he adds the female variety of homosexual practice, he does not go on to permit any form of homosexuality.

For those who think they know the mind of Paul well enough to say he’d permit their form of homosexuality, Paul recommends some things we would not today. In 1 Corinthians 7, he suggests people should get married if their passions are too strong (notice in the case above of a genetic predisposition of strong sexual desire, Paul does not recommend self-fulfillment, even for singles), that couples should not withhold sex, except by mutual agreement, that widows and single people should remain such, like Paul, because it is better and they can devote themselves fully to the Lord, that it is better to be married than aflame with lust, etc. Paul nowhere permits couples to live together and have sexual relations to see if they are compatible. (There are at least a couple of books out there that show how this is harmful to a marriage rather than helpful as is the typical reason for doing this.) In fact he does not permit pre-marital sex anywhere, but it is prevalent today. In fact, in the only situation I can think of right now where Paul deals with an actual relationship that involves aberrant sexual behavior, he tells the church to kick the man out (1 Corinthians 5 where a man has his father’s wife). It appears that in 2 Corinthians this was done, the man was repentant, and he was restored to the community (2 Corinthians 2:5-8). My point in this paragraph is that we do not know the mind of Paul, but only have some of what he wrote in our Bible. It is a common misconception that is also part of the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) bracelets. We assume we know what Jesus would do, but I doubt that we would think that when a Syrophoenician woman came up to him asking him to heal her daughter that he would call her a dog and try to send her away without helping her (see Mark 7:24-30).

One last word on this issue. Some will contend that when they make the homosexual issue a cultural one, thereby saying that Paul does not condemn the form of homosexuality they practice, they are being more consistent in their application of Scripture, considering everything in it to be culturally bound. This does not make me any less consistent simply because I think that Romans 1 and Leviticus 18 speak to our current situation. I am consistent in saying that any form of sexual behavior that is against God’s intention is sinful. That is the principle at work that I see in these texts. Paul thought that Leviticus 18 applied to his day in Romans 1 just like I see that both apply in our current context. The specific manifestations of the behavior are not at issue; the principle of sexual purity is, in Romans and in 1 Corinthians. (For another argument, that does not even mention homosexuality, in 1 Corinthians 6 Paul deals with people who go to a prostitute [culturally this is very likely a cultic prostitute in some form of ritual worship] and have relations with her. In his discussion of this issue [similar to Romans 1], he does not even deal with the fact that this involves worshiping an idol or another god. He goes directly to the problem with the impure sexual behavior. A person has become “one flesh” with a prostitute. His basic question is, “How can a person be united with the Lord and with a prostitute at the same time?” Such a sin is against one’s own body, which belong not to oneself, but to the Lord. The body is not meant for sexual promiscuity, but for the Lord [1 Corinthians 6:13], no matter what form of sexual behavior this takes.) When Paul takes this much of an issue with impure sexual behavior, I will probably not be convinced that he would permit the form of homosexuality that is practiced today, even if it is monogamous. Yet I am open to listen on this point to whomever would show me a text suggesting the behavior is not sinful. All I would ask is that one not try to point out all the aberrant heterosexual behavior to try to distract people from the main point and point fingers saying “they do the same things we do.” Keep in mind that I have not said those are permissible either.

Sorry for my rambling, but I hope you can take something from this. You at least know where I stand. Let me know where you stand. The crucial point here, though, is an irenic spirit in the discussion (which I hope I’ve demonstrated as well), and an attitude of love toward one another in spite of our disagreements.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Golf and Photography


While I was in college at Harding University, I decided it was time for me to cultivate a hobby. Knowing that I would be going to dental school in a few years, I decided to pick up the game of golf because, as everyone knows, doctors and golf go hand in hand. I received a set of clubs for Christmas my sophomore year and could not wait to try them out when the weather improved. Quickly I realized that I was not very good at golf.

As spring rolled around that year I began to go to the driving range and the golf course weekly. Playing more golf did not make me any better. The more I played I realized that every once in a while I would hit a Jack Nicholas type shot (Tiger Woods and John Daly had not come along yet). It was those once a round shots that kept me coming back to golf. Every time I played I would long for one of those great shots. If I were in the sand, if I were in the woods, or if I had to go over water, I would imagine hitting that great shot. Sometimes I would.

Now, I know you are wondering how this fits into a photography column. For me, golf and photography are similar in this way. Every time I go out on a photography expedition I long for that perfect shot. Sometimes I may go out and shoot pictures all day and not get a great shot. Then one day I get it. The shot. The Ansel Adams, Alfred Stiegitz or George Tice style picture. You know the one, the one that after it is developed or put on the computer you sit and stare at it and think, “Wow, that is a great picture!” It is after I have taken one of those pictures that I develop a fire in my belly to go out and try to masterfully compose another one that is even better than the last. If you are a photographer, I hope that you have taken at least one of those shots. If you have not, go out and keep shooting until you do.


What was your perfect shot?



By the way since no one submitted a photo for the theme joy we will postpone that until someone sends me a photo for that theme. My email is drwatson@grnco.net

Friday, August 26, 2005

SPORTS DAY

I’ve worn a few Housefly hats so far, and now it’s my turn to focus on Friday’s sports page. DeJon has promised to keep the comment board buzzing and fill in for me on days when I’m out of pocket, and he has full security clearance to post a second column anytime he wants to. Plus, Joe Longhorn is also ready and willing to keep the sports arguments going.

Speaking of sports arguments, let’s argue about two today.

THE JUNIOR CIRCUIT

If you missed it last week, the three of us offered our fearless picks for the National League playoffs in a little friendly contest. With a week gone by, DeJon’s looking a little better than Joe and I. If anyone else wants in (we’re just playing for bragging rights), feel free to add your picks this week.

Here’s a little recap for those interested:

Al:
NL EAST: Marlins overtake the Braves in a late upset
NL CENTRAL: Cardinals
NL WEST: Padres
WILDCARD: Braves
DIVISION PLAYOFFS: Cards over Braves; Marlins over Padres
NLCS: Cards over Marlins

Joe:
NL EAST: Braves
NL CENTRAL: Cards
NL WEST: Padres
WILDCARD: Astros
DIVISION PLAYOFFS: Cards over Padres; Astros over Braves
NLCS: Astros over Cards

DeJon:
NL EAST: Braves
NL CENTRAL: Cards
NL WEST: Padres
WILDCARD: Phillies
DIVISION PLAYOFFS: Cards over Phillies; Braves over Padres
NLCS: Cards over Braves

Now, it’s only fair that we pay attention to the Junior Circuit (I love using that term!). Let’s round out our little prediction war and see if any other sports fans are willing to join in our little August Madness contest. Ten points are available for each division winner and wildcard winner, twenty points each for each division playoff winner, forty points for each pennant winner, and eighty points for the World Series champion. For a tiebreaker, predict how many games the World Series will go.

Here’s my fearless American League picks:

AL EAST: Yankees
AL CENTRAL: White Sox
AL WEST: Angels
WILDCARD: Red Sox
DIVISION PLAYOFFS: Red wins the battle of the Sox; Yanks over Angels
ALCS: Sox over Yanks – again…

And in the World Series, Cardinals over the Red Sox in seven games in a much more palatable rematch.

Alright, step up to the table. Let’s see what you’ve got.

ARGUMENT #2: WOMEN’S SPORTS:

I’d like a little friendly argument on this topic: the present-day female athlete that is, by her persona, doing more to advance women’s sports than anyone else.

Some of you male chauvinist pigs will need a little help to get this discussion off the ground. I’m not asking who’s the hottest female athlete (i.e. the reason YOU may have a sudden interest in female athletes). Let’s take the high road and discuss who we believe it is that, by her athletic prowess, is causing more girls to take up sports as well as causing more people around the world to tune in and show up for women’s athletic events.

Okay, you’ll need a little primer. Let me offer whom I believe to be the individual that leads this concept in each individual sport – which may prompt some discussion all by itself. But let’s eventually take it one step further and offer up an idea of who does the most to popularize women’s sports among all of these great athletes.

Tennis: Serena Williams (with apologies to both Maria and Lindsay – girls want to BE Serena, and fans tune in to see her athletic dominance)

Motor Sports: Danica Patrick (too easy)

Golf: Michelle Wie (Annika may be better, but Wie brings more popularity)

Basketball: Sheryl Swoopes (with lots of competition from Leslie, Catchings, Bird, and Taurasi)

Soccer: Mia Hamm (easily)

Softball: Jennie Finch (another no-brainer)

Track & Field: Gail Devers (I guess. The only other name I recognized on the USATF website is Marion Jones, and it sure can’t be her.)

Swimming: Amanda Beard (I at least recognize her name)

Volleyball: Misty May and Kerri Walsh (they have to tie)

May I have a drumroll, please?

My overall pick? Serena Williams.

I know you all agree with me, right?

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Who Cares?!

In the book Spontaneous Healing, Dr. Andrew Weil states, “More than negative feelings, apathy may be the major emotional obstacle to spontaneous healing.” He goes on to discuss our cultural epidemic—depression. “I experience depression as a state of high potential energy, wound up and turned inward on itself. If that energy can be accessed and moved it can be a catalyst for spontaneous healing.”

I bet that you know someone who is taking an antidepressant—maybe even you, yourself, are on a Prozac type drug. Question is—was it prescribed by a psychiatrist or simply by your gynecologist?

Granted there are people who need mood-altering drugs, but I wonder if our medical professionals aren’t just a little out of control when it comes to the way they handle people’s so called “depression.”

I have to agree with Dr. Weil who said, “…I worry about such enthusiasm for drugs that damp down passion, because I see intensity of feeling as a key to activating the healing system.”

Maybe it isn’t negative emotions that make you ill as much as it is the suppression of negative emotions, and I fear antidepressants lead to more and more suppression in general.

Lose apathy—gain passion. I applaud the “life purpose” movement.

I had the opportunity to meet a convicted murder in a Nashville prison last year. I was just visiting, thank goodness, but the prisoner I met, John, had been there for 30 years. He may never get out before he dies.

John has seen all types of criminals come and go, and he has determined that the most important and sometimes hardest thing a person can do is find their purpose. He is smart enough to know that purpose always has something to do with helping people. He said, “When you get out of self, you can move along in life.”

I have bouts with depression myself, and the only cure for me is to do like John said and “get out of self,” and I thank God, I didn’t have to sit in a 10’x10’ cell to learn that wisdom.

The little rooms in monasteries are also called cells. Our cells are what make up our bodies. Healthy cells make for a healthy person.

As a friend pointed out to me, cells eat, breathe, and eliminate. I’ve got the eating part down, but sometimes I forget to breathe, and from the looks of the stack of old boxes in the corner of my bedroom—elimination is a real issue as well.

So, as I ramble…it was something about apathy, depression, suppression, passion, and getting out of self. And, don’t forget “passion” means “to suffer.”

“But the truly wise, Arjuna, who dive deep into themselves, fearless one-pointed, know me as the inexhaustible source. Always chanting my praise, steadfast in their devotion, they make their lives an unending hymn to my endless love.” Bhagavad Gita (Stephen Mitchell)

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Me Neither

Hi guys,
It's been a really crazy week at work, and I have several things in the works but no finished product yet as of today.

I do, however, have a book recommendation that is not particularly political in nature. Last week I read The Obesity Myth by Paul Campos, a law professor at the University of Colorado. As someone who has really struggled with, and continues to struggle with, body image issues, this book was a breath of fresh air. He reviews the medical literature about weight and concludes that the health risks have been grossly exaggerated and that media reporting on the issue is almost uniformly distorted. He then discusses the political and cultural dimensions of our country's war on fat. Some of what he talks about is intuitive: for example, that fat is the last safe prejudice, and we have decided that overweight people are overweight because of their own bad choices and uncontrolled gluttony even though that is rarely true.

In all, the book was very thoughtful, deeply felt, and honest. Campos sees what our culture does to women (and increasingly to men also) and doesn't want it to happen to his daughter. It was an interesting decade-later bookend for me to The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf, which I read almost exactly ten years ago. The books share a lot of similarities actually, even aside from their titles and subject matters -- both are a little polemical, a little scattered, very imperfect, but the kind of books that stay with you. The irony is that, despite the fact that we are approaching some clear biological limits with respect to what is possible for people to aspire to physically ... nothing has changed in a decade with respect to how pervasive this pressure is. If anything, things have gotten worse.

In the course of those ten years, I've flirted with anorexia twice, had cosmetic surgery, and lost and gained the same ten pounds several times, all very self-consciously (as in, I knew what I was doing even as I had my nose cut off to spite my face). I've hated myself with unimaginable depth for not looking the right way, for not being beautiful and perfect. And no matter how enlightened I get with respect to anything else, no matter how much I have accomplished, no matter how many people love me, it can't erase the cellulite or the weak chin or anything else that makes me "less than" in my mind and in our looks-obsessed culture.

People always ask me how I can feel these things and be a feminist. I say, it's my Achilles heel. I've resisted in so many other ways it was inevitable that they would get to me somehow. But I acknowledge that feeling this way about myself does not comport with my values. It's hard to resist a cultural pressure this strong. It's so endemic to the particular segment of the culture I live in, too, that it's hard to even carve out any psychic space that is free of it. It is no coincidence that my thinnest and fittest years were in law school, where there were very few overweight people (seriously, almost none) and tons of ultra-skinny women many of whom were rumored to have eating disorders. But I was at an Ivy League school with a bunch of rich white kids. This is a race- and class-bound issue as well as a gendered issue.

Campos' most original and interesting argument comes right at the end, when he muses that perhaps upper-class Americans are so disgusted by the supposed overconsumption of the obese lower classes because we are aware of and secretly alarmed by our overconsumption of material things and natural resources. I'm not really doing it justice, since he also ties in the history of capitalism and the Protestant work ethic, etc.

Another thing that really struck me about the book is that, having no prior knowledge of his work, I could not tell what Campos' politics are (other than the overconsumption part, which suggests that he leans left). And looksism, or whatever you want to call it, is one of those odd issues that doesn't have a clear left-right split. No matter which side of the fence you're on, the weight of public opinion (pun intended) seems to cut the same way. Beautiful and thin= good, Ugly and fat= bad. I knew that in kindergarten, when I first lied about my weight, saying that I weighed 35 pounds even though I weighed 45. I knew at age 5 that it was better to be ten pounds less than what you were. Surely that is an indictment of something about our culture.

Monday, August 22, 2005

I Got Nothing...

I've got baseball on the brain and can't concentrate long enough to write an article that has any coherent thought behind it. My wife and I are about to embark on a baseball bonanza, going to six Astros games over the next seven days. The tickets to the LA series and our hotel in LA are my anniversary presents. Do I have a wonderful wife or what?

Anyway... There's been a lot in the news about border control. The U.S./Mexican border situation is dangerously close to getting out of hand. Here's a scary story about happenings in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. This is not happening deep in the Mexican interior or in some far off banana republic. This is happening right on our border!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Why I take pictures.


David Watson here. I'm a lifelong friend of Al's. He asked me to take over the Saturday column. A little bit about me. I'm a dentist in Paragould, Arkansas, with a passion for photography. Some Saturdays I will write a column, other times there will just be pictures following a particular theme, along with the techniques employed to achieve the desired effect.

Al had asked readers to submit pictures for each theme and I want to continue with that. Next week's theme is joy. I look forward to seeing other peoples' interpretation of joy and all the themes, so I hope that many of you will participate. Send photos to drwatson@grnco.net.



People take pictures for different reasons. Why do I take pictures? I take pictures because it gives me the opportunity to preserve a moment in time. I take pictures to allow me to express my creativity. I take pictures so that I can show others the things that I enjoy. When I am in a beautiful place, the first thing I want to do is photograph it. I spend a great amount of time looking at the subject and analyzing it so that I may be able to capture it in a way that expresses how I feel about it. If the subject is a wonderful landscape, I look for the elements that I want to include in the picture and for what I want to leave out. I determine what is the best time of day to photograph this landscape, and even what time of year will allow me to transfer my feelings of this landscape to the photograph. Sometimes I photograph what I like to call abstract images. Abstract images are just that, abstract. In photography, many times the parts equal more than the whole. Taking a picture of just a part of the subject makes a more dramatic statement. An abstract picture of an object often makes the viewer of the photograph think more about what the object is and its purpose than if he or she has a view of the whole object.
So, why do you take pictures?

Friday, August 19, 2005

Quick Hits

My reasons why the Cardinals won't win the Series:
1) Complacency: Name the last time the World Series Champ won their division with more than a 4-game lead. Answer: 1998. The last three champions didn't even with their division. This is no fluke.
2) Pitching: As a nay-sayer, I am mum on Chris Carpenter. The guy is lights out. Mulder hasn't been the stopper they expected, and Suppan is not a shabby third guy. However, Cardinals fans can't like the prospects of Jason Marquis or Matt Morris pitching to post-season hitters given their post-All-Star-break performance. Marquis is 1 and 8 in his last 9 decision with an ERA of almost five and a half. Morris has drawn 5 losses in his last 10 stars, managing to keep his ERA just below 4. The Cards have some young guns, but is the post-season the place to break them in?
Injuries
3) Injuries: Scott Rolen is done and Larry Walker have been out, and reports say Rolen is done for the year. Save Pujols, Rolen is the one guy the Cardinals couldn't lose. He had an MVP's impact on last year's playoff run. It appears Walker will be back and So Taguchi has been admirable in reserve duty, but time will tell if Walker's 38 year-old frame has anything left to contribute.

NFL
If you don't read Peter King's weekly Monday Morning Quarterback, it is well worth your time. I bet even those that don't care about the NFL will appreciate his full-spectrum, world-class writing.

Finally, here's a week apology for my lack of content on Friday's. I'm hoping Coach Al will bench me. I think I'm best suited for platoon duty.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

I'm Stressed!

Seems like I never write about what I think I’m going to write about. Oh, well, for once I’m spontaneous!

Experiences of this past couple of weeks have helped me realize what stress feels like to me and what affects it has on my body. So, I want to take a little time to talk about stress.

The word “stress” is something I think all would agree can have a negative affect on your health. Even if people don’t agree that negative thinking and negative emotions can have negative affects on your health—pretty much everyone has accepted the unhealthiness of “stress.”

But, what is stress? And what causes it?

Stress, whatever it is, makes me feel very tense—like I am a tight ball of nerves. I get irritable and overwhelmed, and it seems to accompany being nervous and worried. Well, sure, I snuck in some negative emotions in my description of stress. Maybe, your feelings are completely different.

But, what is stress? It usually happens to me when I feel like I don’t have enough of something—like time or money, etc.—especially time. Deadlines are stressful—not meeting deadlines is even more stressful.

I also get stressed when things don’t work—my email or my computer for instance! Being around chaos and chaotic people is stressful to me, too, because I ultimately like my environment to be harmonious.

Maybe stress for me is a situation where things just don’t go my way. And, when things don’t go my way, I stress myself out. Yes, I do it to myself. How do I do it? Something happens. Things go wrong. Things don’t go as I planned. I’m behind in more ways than one. If I reacted to that scenario in a positive way, I would say to myself, “Just relax. God works in mysterious ways.” But usually, my reaction is, “I’m so stupid! What was I thinking! I can’t do this!” And, I tense up and get upset. There you go—I snuck some negative thinking in my description as well.

I read a lot. I try to read all different types of books by all different types of people. My philosophy is whether I agree with everyone else or not it gives me a wider perspective.

The book True Prosperity by Yehuda Berg states, “Stress is the collision between what you are and what you could be; it’s a wave that rolls through your life. The tension…between potential and actuality is stress. …It is not stress that kills; it is our reaction to it. …So the idea is not to turn stress away, but to let it in. If we want to know what’s holding us back, we must search for the darkness, because only through the darkness will you find the light. And that is what stress does: It finds the darkness, and right behind it, we find the light.”

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A Day Late and a Dollar Short

Hi, all. I have been falling down on my job lately. To complete the third entry in the marriage series, I have to finish a book I'm reading, so it hasn't happened yet. Mostly because of all the other books I'm reading. One of which is the Jon Krakauer book, Under the Banner of Heaven, which I finished last week. Al mentioned to me that it had been reviewed by Mike two months ago, so I read his review and wrote back to Al the following (which he forwarded to Mike and Mike suggested I post here):

"So interesting that none of the comments nor the post (all by men) addressed what to me is the overarching theme of the book -- misogyny. To me, the book says that the Mormon church was founded by a misogynist (Joseph Smith) and his contemporary doppelgangers (the Laffertys and the guy who kidnapped Elizabeth Smart to make her his plural wife) are also misogynists -- that misogyny is, in fact, their raison d'etre. Mike's account of why Branda and Erica were killed does not even mention the most salient facts: that Brenda stood up to all the Lafferty brothers and encouraged Ron, the oldest's, wife Dianna to leave him because he was abusing her. This pushed Ron over the edge to the extent that he wasn't already, and caused him to decide (via a cooked-up "revelation" from God) that Brenda and baby Erica, as well as two others who had helped Dianna either emotionally or financially to leave him, had to be "eliminated." The baby was killed solely because she was a girl and, according to Ron would "grow up to be a bitch just like her mother." Ron probably would have chosen to kill Dianna herself had she been geographically proximate to him, but she was smart enough to move to Florida.

The difference between Joseph Smith's polygamy and the current polygamy is that Smith wanted polygamy so he could have sex with several different women with the approbation of the community. Now that men and women are largely free to do that without fear of reprisal, the Lafferty brothers' reason for converting to fundamentalism (they were raised mainline Mormon) and polygamy is that it is a system for subordinating women, forcing them to be sexual slaves and mothers, keeping them from obtaining education and any modicum of financial independence. It is an extreme reaction that is on a continuum of reactions that men have had to the increase in women's freedom and equality. Some men are "players" and can't have any kind of relationship with a woman that involves responsibility or intimacy; some men marry a series of 14-year-old girls and force them to bear their children and keep their house. The communities and social milieus are different, but the basic feeling is the same -- some men cannot handle the change in their roles that occurred in the 20th century. They either take the opportunity to control every aspect of their homes and families, if given the opportunity, or they bow out of the whole game. Everyone loses in either scenario. This is where the Coontz interview comes in: marriage, when it works, is a better relationship now than it ever was before. The lucky few, like me, who get to participate in it are those who have found men who can deal with being an equal. I feel so sorry for all the people who will never get a chance to have what I have. Mormon fundamentalists or inner-city gang members or whoever, they are all living emotionally stunted, hollow lives that appear nightmarish to me."

This is my version of a rant. But I was incredibly disturbed by the book and had an emotional response; it was very hard to read (and I have seen probably every episode of American Justice and Cold Case Files that exists, so it's not that I don't have the stomach for murder). It also made me feel incredibly fortunate to have the life I have. Much love to my husband David for being who he is and sharing it with me.

I agree with Joe's point that the book is an indictment of Mormonism. My snide thought in response was, well, maybe some things need to be indicted. My reasoned thought is that there are some real problems with Mormonism, some of which are shared by some Christian sects as well (are Mormons Christians? the book left me confused on this point). For example, racism (not to mention sexism since I already mentioned it). I also agree that there was a bit of an anti-religion tone, which would maybe be fine if he were writing for an atheist audience, but is definitely off-putting to the vast majority of people who believe in a God of some sort. And it's too bad because I think the book was really well-written and had some valuable points and interesting history that most people are not aware of. So, anybody who hasn't read it might pick it up; it's a very quick read. Just be sure to fasten your seat belt, as it is a bumpy ride.

Monday, August 15, 2005

When Diversity Becomes Conformity

"Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth."

- John F. Kennedy


A lot of folks have been buzzing about the NCAA's post-season ban on Native American mascots and "hostile or abusive" images. Some people were taken by surprise. I was not. That doesn't mean I wasn't shaking my head in frustration when the announcement was made. It just didn't shock me.

It's just one more symptom of a deeper problem in academia. Our colleges and universities have an incredible amount of liberal bias. I'll link to two separate articles to back up this claim:

  • In this Washington Post article, a George Mason University study polled faculty members from 183 four-year schools around the country for their political leanings.

  • This article from the Leadership Institute takes data from Federal Election Commission records on the political contributions of university faculty members.

The two articles draw data from separate sources to arrive at the exact same conclusion: American universities are indeed liberal bastions. Neither article goes into depth about the reasons for the disparity.

Most academic institutions like to tout the fact that they are places where young minds are taught to think critically. How is that claim supportable given the demonstrated bias on our campuses? Students only get one side of ideological arguments. How does that foster critical thinking? I think we would be wise to contemplate Kennedy's quote when faced with the ideological and political conformity on campuses.

Diversity is a buzzword echoed throughout the hallowed halls of academia. Campuses champion the diversity of culture, race, religion, and sexual orientation. That is if your culture, race, religion, or sexual orientation falls within the minority. The majority better walk on eggshells. As for ideological and political diversity, forget it. The "diversity" mantra is chanted as a smokescreen for liberal and "progressive" agendas.

College students violate academic "speech-codes" at their peril. At the University of Virginia, new students are ecouraged to avoid the use of terms like "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" as they are too "gender specific." Indoctrinees at UVa are encouraged to use the terms "lover" and "partner" instead. Examples of students being persecuted for ridiculous violations of speech-codes are too numerous to mention. (If you're curious, there are plenty of examples here and here.)

[I've got to give kudos where deserved. The ACLU has teamed up on numerous occasions with FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) to defend students facing disciplinary action for violations of speech-codes.]

This stuff needs to see the light of day. We've got an educational system in place that suppresses individual thought and expression when it doesn't conform to preconceived notions of diversity and acceptable political thought. Alumni need to be aware of what goes on at their alma maters before sending off that annual contribution check.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

A Christian Affirmation 2005 and the Emerging Church, Part 2

Okay, I have read a decent amount about the Emerging Church, enough, I think, to make a few comment about it, but before that, I’d like to just put forth a few more thoughts on A Christian Affirmation 2005. The very first sentence says, “It is our intention to clarify our Christian identity in a time of increasing uncertainties.” I wonder what the uncertainty is and, in fact, that word really strikes a nerve with me. We in Churches of Christ have been very certain about our beliefs and have tried to push our particular way of doing church onto everyone else. But we are not alone. Many of the leaders in the Emerging Church movement are going against what they have experienced in evangelical Christianity as well. Brad Cecil, one of the writers in Stories of Emergence: Moving from Absolute to Authentic (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), says about his first seminary experience, “I was confident that my beliefs were right and all other options could only be wrong. But hearing someone else proclaim this kind of certainty seemed so odd to me. I couldn’t figure out why exactly—after all, I was trained to be certain.” (p. 166) He continues on the next page, “I realized the failure of ‘certainty’ and also how much is presumed upon God, the Bible, and the world.” So is this the certainty people need and is that what CA05 is about? This is possible. CA05 also states in the introduction, “The path to substantive Christian unity is found in returning to the clear teachings of Scripture and practices of the early church, commonly acknowledged and respected by all Christian traditions.” What clear teachings and practices of the early church are respected by all Christian traditions? When CA05 goes on to mention original design, baptism by immersion, weekly Lord’s Supper and a cappella music, I know for a fact that these are not “commonly acknowledged and respected by all Christian traditions.” There are not many, other than as CA05 points out, the Orthodox Church, who worship a cappella (without instruments for those of you unfamiliar with the terminology). Many, actually most, do not practice adult, believer baptism, though all practice baptism of some sort. All practice the Lord’s Supper, but most do not do it weekly. So, does this mean there cannot be any “substantive Christian unity”?

When I brought up the idea of talking about the “non-negotiables” of the Christian faith, many were hesitant, and I think rightly so. Yet what I think is so misguided about the way we have practiced restoration is trying to restore the “faith and PRACTICE” of the early church. Returning to the faith of the early church is a good idea. We need to be informed by Scripture. We need to think about what they believed. If it challenges our practices based upon theological grounds, then let’s change our practices. Yet, I don’t think unity can be based on how we do worship on Sunday. I think it is supposed to be based on our common faith, not our common practice. We do all believe that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh, though we may have different understandings of how that exactly happened. We do all believe that he died for our sins, with, of course, varying interpretations as to what his death did for our sins, and we all believe that he was resurrected by God on the third day. We believe that submitting to his Lordship is a part of living the Christian life, no matter how often we might fail at doing this—i.e. being a Christian is more than just confessing faith, but has to do with how we live out that faith as well. The only two arguments in Scripture I can think of right now (I’m open to correction here) that involve a core part of our theology deal with required belief in the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15) and belief that Jesus came in the flesh (1 John). Without these two beliefs, one could not be Christian. We waver on talking about essentials of the faith, but our very Scriptures do not, at least in these two cases. There seems to be some room for certainty, but it is not found in worship practices. (Those of you with other examples, put them on the comment board so we can discuss them.)

So, CA05 bothers me because it promotes certainty, especially in practices that separate me from my brothers and sisters in Christ, rather than beliefs that unite me to them.

On to discussing the Emerging Church. The subtitle of a recent book by Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003) seems to say it all—emerging leaders are seeking to restore “vintage Christianity” for the very purpose of attracting younger generations. They, too, looked at the certainty in their own denominations, but also the ineffective, seeker-sensitive worship practices, that seemed to attract only the baby boomers. Here is a brief, and probably a little more boiled down than I’d like, summary of the book: The first part is an attempt to lay a foundation for what is recommended in the second part. It is mostly an attempt to define postmodernism and describe the culture such a worldview then creates. There is much talk about who the new seeker is and what will attract or repel that person. There is a sharp critique, and probably well deserved, of modern evangelical’s failure to reach the new generation. In fact, there are many charts that pit the “modern” church against the “postmodern” church, mainly showing how the former is pretty much outdated and irrelevant for contemporary culture, while the latter is a more authentic and powerful way to reach younger generations. There is much to commend the book. Kimball focuses on the witness to the world of following Christ’s example in reaching out to the poor and outcast of society. It is good critique of modernism and our assumptions that stem from our worldview. It is also extremely important that we see ourselves as missionaries trying to learn a new culture. He even recommends something really close to my heart—restoration. Emerging Church leaders want to revive practices of the early church, to include use of candles, incense, prayer labyrinths, and just anything that will make worship seem more spiritual with more of a connection to God. They have the praise team play at the back of the room so the focus is not on them, but on the music and worship of God. The preacher does not stand far back on a stage, dispensing truth to the masses, but is more like one of them and brings the message from among them. Variety in worship is a good thing. Yet I found myself over and over again wondering if what he suggests is so much a matter of a postmodern worldview and not more a matter of personality style. Many of the practices mentioned appeal much more to “right-brained” people and should have always been an emphasis in our worship. If Kimball’s book was the only one out there and he was the main leader of the movement, I would agree wholeheartedly with where they are going and what they are trying to do, even though it is a protest against mainstream evangelicalism and is likely to turn into a sectarian fellowship much the same way that has happened in Churches of Christ and other churches in the American Restoration Movement. The subtitle “moving from absolute to authentic” says much about this protest—it suggests that Christianity that is not Emergent is not authentic. I take issue with that for many reasons, though I don’t want to belabor the point here.

So, where do we go from here? I think that CA05 is a reaction to this, reaffirming our practices in light of an Emerging movement that is trying to change church practices. This can help us keep our identity, but there are some changes the Emerging leaders suggest that are both helpful and necessary to reach those who have different personalities and different ways of connecting with God. This is a helpful critique. If it means we do Lord’s Supper a bit differently from time to time that connects better with some people, this is a helpful correction and realizes that we don’t all practice our faith in the same way. There has always been diversity. If CA05 helps us remember the importance of baptism and Lord’s Supper in the life of the believer so that while we consider different ways of reaching out to the new generations we don’t throw away what is beneficial from our heritage, I think it too has served a useful purpose. Will it lead to unity among all Christians? I think history has already answered that question with a resounding “no.” The call to cast off denominational names such as Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc. and become “Christians Only” for the sake of unity was not heeded (if you happen to be one of these, I’m not picking on you, I just used the first three that came to my head as an example).

So I end this article thinking there is something valuable about both topics of discussion. Yet this is not my final word. There is much in the Emerging Church that is troubling, especially their complete buy-in to the idea of “hard” postmodernism. Next week I will spend a good deal of time with D.A. Carson’s important critique, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005). If you have read and been interested in the Emerging Church and are considering the merits of becoming part of this movement, you MUST read Carson’s book. I will also have a future article discussing Christian unity that will likely occur after I’m done with the discussion on the Emerging Church and CA05. Thanks for reading and I hope to generate some discussion on this topic.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Photo(s) of the Week

(from Dr. David Watson)


(from Al Sturgeon)

LAST WEEK’S TOPIC: “Famous Landmarks”
THE PHOTOS: The first photo comes from Dr. David Watson at the Lincoln Memorial. The second photo comes from me at the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery.

INTRODUCING… Dr. David Watson is just about my best friend ever. He is also an awesome photographer who knows a million times more about photography than I do. I have asked him to join me as a contributor on Saturdays. I will be out of pocket next week, so Dave will have the column all to himself on the 20th. Afterwards, it could be he or I or both when you check in on Saturdays.
THE PLAN: Since I’ve just added Dave to the mix, and since I want to give him total leeway for next week, let me give everyone a couple of weeks for the next contest (Everyone? So far, that means Dave and I!). Let’s go with the emotional subject "Joy" for our next topic. 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 Al’s favorite pictures from his personal collection, visit http://community.webshots.com/user/alsturgeon

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Connecting and Disconnecting

(I apologize that I didn't have time to write today. The following fits into what we have been talking about. It is an excerpt from an article written by a friend of mine.)

By Shannan S. Taylor

If we simply stated our case, expressed our feelings and realized that it takes two to make a happy home and relationship, we would be taking responsibility for our part of the success or demise of our relationship. We have a right and duty to express ourselves in order to be happy and healthy for the good of both partners and the relationship.

If we stated our case, our feelings and reasoning behind our discomfort and confusion regarding our impending decisions instead of trying to blame the other person for our own inability to relate, thus making them the "bad one" and us the "one done wrong", then we would walk away with some sense of self-respect and a greater understanding of who we are and where our boundaries lie in the big picture of our lives.

Our personal power would remain intact if we walked away by taking responsibility for our decisions, regardless of what material losses ensued. If we knew and accepted ourselves with our weaknesses and faults unfolding in full disclosure before ourselves and others, we would feel the power surge of who we truly are and bring into alignment our outer and inner worlds and values. Therefore we would be able to move forward with a greater knowledge of what we need to be fulfilled and in the joy of knowing that we, alone, love ourselves for all that we are and that love is truly enough.

We are equal partners and equally at fault if communication breaks down. Yet, if we admit fault, we cannot seek a saintly position among martyrs. In walking away as friends in understanding that all things have a life span, which may not coordinate with the lifespan of human nature, human expectancy, and spiritual growth, we take responsibility for our part in a relationship. When the life span of a relationship is over, when the lesson we came together to learn is completed, then our relationship must change or end and we must move forward.

We are here on earth to learn and grow spiritually. We are here to learn about ourselves though our relationships with others and our environment. We are here to learn to love unconditionally. Radical acceptance of unconditional love is the only way to evolve.

It is our divine purpose to learn to love ourselves through others. To accept others and love them as we do ourselves. The problem lies in the fact that we cannot love ourselves. We hit the wall each time we try, but don’t know why. We treat people how we treat ourselves, but not like we would like to be treated, we treat them how we actually treat ourselves. It is a harsh affair full of heat that no one can withstand for long so we seek solace in the comfort of escapisms. Then we live in our own hell of discontent with the world as our mirror. Learning to love and accept ourselves is our hardest task in this life. Our defenses and denials assure the protection of our ego and the growth of our fears. We will not grow or find peace until those walls come down. It is as simple as that.

We cannot get to kindness unless we re-discover our core, which has never changed and never will change, for it is there that the eyes of a child remain as pure as newly fallen snow. It is there where we find love enough to move through the battles of life with ease. It is our inner child who is our strength and guiding light through the storms of life. It is our inner child who is our compass to a life our adult has feared to live. An unlived life is our deepest grievance, our deepest wound, and our deepest dis-ease.

We cannot find kindness and unconditional love for ourselves so easily because we cannot acknowledge our own divinity and self worth. We cannot find our love for anything when we cannot fully accept ourselves, love ourselves, honor ourselves and speak our truth freely. Until we are able to speak truthfully and freely, we will never be able to come into a true partnership with our mate, our God, or ourselves.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Shhhhhh...!!

Listen. Do you hear that? *chirp, chirp*

That's the sound of the mainstream media's coverage of the Air America Radio scandal.

What's that? You haven't heard of this story yet?

Surely, you've seen news articles and editorials about the misdirection of state and federal funds intended for inner city youth and elderly care into the coffers of Air America Radio.

Surely you've heard news anchors speak with outrage about how the Gloria Wise Boys & Girls Club loaned hundreds of thousands of dollars (some estimates are up to $875K) to Air America Radio in 2003.

Surely you've read in-depth coverage of how Evan Cohen used his position as both the Chairman of Air America Radio and the director of development for Gloria Wise to arrange the "loan(s)" from Gloria Wise to Air America.

And I'm just as certain that you've heard about Air America defaulting on the loan(s).

The story is out there. You just have to look for it. The mainstream media won't touch it.

The bottom line is that a shady character (Cohen) fostered a deal between Gloria Wise and AAR. The deal was illegal in that grant money ear-marked for specific programs was diverted to AAR to help it during start-up. None of the money was ever paid back, or at least there is no accounting trail to show that the money was ever paid back. In fact, no one seems to be able to produce documentation on the terms of the loan(s) (interest rates, payback scheme, etc.).

In April 2004, PIQUANT LLC acquired the assets of Air America from the previous ownership entity. It seems that all knowledge of the Gloria Wise loan(s) disappeared with this transition. Now that the discrepancy has been brought to light, PIQUANT refuses to accept any responsibility for the loan(s), laying full responsibility at the feet of the former owners.

By attempting to shift blame to previous owners, PIQUANT establishes yet another double standard from voices on the left. If PIQUANT can't be held responsible for something a company they acquired did two years ago, how can Wachovia be held responsible for something its predecessors did 200 years ago?

No one knows exactly where the money went. Did the previous owners of Air America embezzle the funds? Did the money go into the coffers of Air America to prop up the floundering network?

Just pay the money back and all is forgiven. There's only one problem with that. Air America has such low ratings and low ad revenue, that it can barely meet payroll expenses, much less pay back almost $900K of shady loans.


p.s. If you want to hear a radio host encouraging hate, check out Randi Rhodes on AAR. The poor woman is obsessed with George W. Bush.

Balkanization

Hi guys, I have been on vacation for the past week and some days without much internet access, so I will post part three of the marriage series next week (though I reserve the right to make it four or five or seventeen parts if I think of that much to say). I saw this article on Salon and thought it was interesting. I'll say a little more at the end. P.S. I apologize for publishing on Monday this week, but I will be on a plane all day tomorrow and only have internet access this morning.

Verily, I sell unto you
Increasing numbers of evangelical business owners are hanging out their shingles with the word "Christian" prominently displayed. Are they bringing godliness to Main Street -- or making hay on holiness?
By Lynn Harris

Aug. 4, 2005

Christian Faith Driving School: The name might sound a bit dissonant to those who presume a certain separation of church and interstate. For the school's founder, however, the holy-meets-earthly title was a natural, even necessary choice. Mark Gadow, 40, has been a devout born-again Christian since the day that prayer alone, he says, healed his nearly debilitating joint pain. After 16 years in law enforcement, he was "called" to do something different, he says, and the school, based in Caroline County, Md., was born.

He does not "witness" about his faith until the last session of the program, but he does preach the "moral values" of "courtesy and consideration to other drivers," he says. "By the end of the course the students seem to think that they can call and talk to me as a friend or a mentor, or ask me to pray with them." Gadow recalls that the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration recommended against using "Christian" in the name of the school, suggesting that it might narrow his market. But he persisted, and now, four years later, he's turning students away.

Gadow is just one of an apparently growing number of small- and medium-sized-business owners who are proudly hanging out their shingles with the word "Christian" -- or at least with a telltale symbolic dove, fish or Bible verse -- prominently displayed. There are now Christian real estate agencies, cellular and long-distance services, financial planners, computer repair guys, furniture stores, bed-and-breakfast associations, diets, yoga and karate instructors, and goat breeders. These companies -- in contrast to religious bookstores, for example -- do earthly things in, they say, a Christian way.

Unlike Curves, Domino's or Coors, for example, which have been criticized for tithing their earnings to archconservative causes -- and unlike the Chick-fil-A fast-food chain, closed on Sundays because of its founder's religious beliefs -- these Christian companies link their work directly and overtly to their missions. ("Christian," in these cases, is generally taken to mean "born again," in which the business owner has a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" that guarantees eternal life, and the responsibility to offer others the same opportunity.) The mission statement of Houston-based auto-repair franchiser Christian Brothers Automotive ("Christian" as in Christian, not a surname), for instance, reads: "To glorify God by providing ethical and excellent automotive repair service for our customers, according to Colossians 3:17, 'And whatever you do in word and deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.'"

Such enterprises are "a byproduct of multiculturalism," says Alan Wolfe, author of "The Transformation of American Religion" and director of Boston College's Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, noting that identity politics are not the exclusive domain of the secular left. "You identify who you are, take pride in your subgroup. It's no different in that sense from a business that caters to African-Americans or Hispanics. It's part of the general trend of segmentation in American life."

No statistics yet exist on the number or growth of these businesses, but there are certainly enough to support numerous regional and national Christian business directories. The largest such directory, the Shepherd's Guide, now covers over 100 cities (after launching with just Baltimore, Md., in 1979). "There seems to be more of a recognized movement of Christian businesses in the marketplace," confirms David Moyer, Shepherd's Guide vice president. "In years past you didn't so much make a statement of your religious life through your business. Today Christians -- and I believe rightfully so -- are making a commitment to say, 'I want to stand out for my belief.'" (According to Christian retail trade association CBA International, sales of specifically Christian products reached $4.34 billion in 2004, up by about 10 percent from 2000). The Christian Blue Pages has tripled the number of regions it serves; Chris Chandler, founder of the online business directory Christian eBuy.com, says that four years ago, he received one or two listing submissions a day. Now he gets 200. Why the increase? "Now people are seeing that they can be more open with their faith in the marketplace and the workplace. They're more emboldened," says Chandler. "I also think a lot of people feel that we're in the last days, and we've really got to share our faith."

The last days? One might have assumed that for evangelicals, these were the glory days. In fact, just as Chandler suggests, what's behind this surge in "Christian" businesses seems to be a little of both.

Mark Justad, executive director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Culture at Vanderbilt University, attributes the growing visibility of "Christian" businesses to, on the one hand, "an increasing public awareness of Christianity and people's comfort with identifying themselves as Christian." "Comfort" seems to be a gentle way to put it, though. "There's been a concerted assault on this thing called 'the separation of church and state,' and the boundaries of where religion can and should be expressed are shifting," he continues, noting that the explicit "Christianity" of particular businesses is related to the increasing acceptance of religious expression in secular workplaces in general. "There's an aggressive assertiveness on the part of one aspect of the Christian church, charging that this is a Christian nation, our roots are Christian, and we shouldn't have to pretend that we're not. They see it as 'pretending that they're not' if they're not bringing their whole lives into the mix. I'm sympathetic to that, but it does beg the question of how to live in a pluralistic society with many viewpoints, which is also part of the American tradition."

On the other hand, the act of identifying a business as explicitly Christian is "part of the ongoing culture wars, a statement that the culture still isn't Christian enough," says Justad. "You could see calling a business 'Christian' as an act of faith and an act of defiance at the same time."

Cynical readers may at this point be thinking, Faith, schmaith: Couldn't calling yourself "Christian" be nothing more than an act of savvy marketing?

Well, yes and no. Some so-called Christian businesses -- such as debt consolidators -- are guilty at least of the sin of spamming, and possibly of much worse. Debt Relievers Inc., for one, which also used the name Christian Debt Management, is currently under investigation for fraud by the Office of the Attorney General of Florida.

But many business owners express sincere horror at the notion of using the Lord's name purely for gain. "Heck, no!" exclaims Mark Carr, founder of Christian Brothers Automotive, when asked if his company's name could be considered a marketing ploy. "One of the guys in church criticized me for that, and I got down on my knees and said, 'Lord, I would never use your name to capitalize on it.' I get a few snide e-mails about it, but I have to blow them off because that stuff is nonsense. I'm proud to have that name on my building, man. It's not for marketing purposes, because that turns my stomach."

Others say that using the word "Christian" isn't so great for business to begin with. "If I was going to come up with a gimmick, I would come up with a better gimmick than that!" insists Irene Trammell, founder of This Is IT! Christian Fitness ... for Ladies in Pasadena, Md. (The "IT" represents her initials.) "I have made my market smaller by putting that sign up there." Trammell, who used to go in person to sell vitamins and nutritional supplements to area gyms, developed a distaste for the lyrics of the workout music and the fact that the women who were exercising could be seen from the street; one day she got into her car and heard a "still, small voice" -- a reference to the way God speaks to Elijah in 1 Kings -- suggesting that she start her own gym. "We have three big window shades in front, but I can hear through them what people are saying on the sidewalk: 'They're Christian? I'm not going in there!'" says Trammel. "It's actually unfortunate; this world is wicked and the name of the Lord sometimes repels people."
Perhaps even fellow Christians, suggests Justad. "Christianity is very diverse, and there are a lot of people -- Christians -- who I know would feel that putting a 'Christian' sticker on one's business lacks humility," he says. Scripture itself, after all, warns against flaunting one's own righteousness.

"There's a difference between Christianity in your heart and Christianity in your face," says James Twitchell, author of "Branded Nation: The Marketing of Megachurch, College Inc., and Museumworld" and professor of English and advertising at the University of Florida at Gainesville.

But for many Christian business owners, it's not proclaiming their faith that would be insincere. The more liberally, or less devoutly, religious might see their lives divided into overlapping circles such as "personal," "professional" and "spiritual." But for an evangelical Christian, there is generally no clear line between "work" and "religion," no hard distinction between Monday through Friday and Sunday. "Jesus has placed on the hearts of Christians that they should get out there and let others know: 'I am God and I am going to be present in all aspects of people's lives, not just at church but seven days a week,'" says Trammell.

Thus, for many born-again Christians, every action -- from prayer to wheel alignment -- is an opportunity to glorify God, perhaps even spread the Gospel. "I got saved at an Amway meeting, so the marketplace is where I invite Christ into my life," says Chuck Ripka, 46, co-founder of Riverview Community Bank in Otsego, Minn. ("We invited Jesus to be the CEO of our bank," he says, attributing the bank's "supernatural" growth -- from $5.5 million in start-up capital to $103 million in 27 months -- to divine intervention.) While the bank's name may sound generic (and the company Web site is "God"-free), the Ten Commandments banner in the foyer, the "God Bless You" sign at the tellers station, and the painting in the CEO's office of two businessmen shaking hands with Jesus, might tip customers off. "God has allowed us to be who we are: We're Christians and we're bankers, and we're allowed to mix the two. To me, it's seamless. We're a bank first, but in the midst of it all, when customers express their own needs, I am able to pray along with them," says Ripka, who customarily asks God's blessing for reporters at the end of interviews.

For those who patronize certain businesses because they label themselves as Christian, that's affinity marketing at work: It's like going to the plumber you know from Bible study -- only now the plumber's advertising as such. "This is hardly new," says Twitchell. Back in the day, he says, "you went to church, you looked around, you saw a lawyer or a doctor who was part of the community, and you wanted to deal with them because they're familiar and you're going to see them on Sunday." The difference is that now, in the megachurches that dominate the evangelical landscape -- and often attract transient populations -- you often don't know your neighbor, he says. The result: Christian businesses need to make themselves known as such. One could say the same not just of megachurches but of the exurbs in general, many of which may have lost their everyone-knows-everyone town center to a local Wal-Mart. Some companies, in fact, such as the Christian Real Estate Network -- which pledges "to represent our clients as Christ would have us do, and to approach each transaction with a servant heart" -- have sprung up precisely to match up relocating Christians with Christian loan officers or real estate agents. The network has 360 agents in 48 states who are familiar with area churches and Christian schools.

To the jaded homebuyer, "Christian real estate agent" -- much like "Christian auto mechanic" -- may sound like an oxymoron. That's also, of course, part of the point. The word "Christian" does seem to promise an exceedingly ethical, love-thy-customer, "How would Jesus sell?" approach to doing business, though Christian entrepreneurs themselves admit that it's no universal or automatic guarantee (two words: "Jim Bakker"). (They are also quick to add that they don't mean they wouldn't trust the local atheist electrician.)

According to gym owner Trammel, there's just one downside to this assumption of Christian kindness: Customers occasionally figure that "Christian" means "nice to a fault." Trammell has had to explain that, no, just because she's a Christian doesn't mean she's going to let you break your contract. "You shouldn't expect to be able to steamroll over the Christian business, but you should expect to be treated more than fairly," she says. "The ones that are tricking people, they'll be found out," she adds, chuckling. "After all, he's the one in charge of the lightning bolts."

Christian business owners also say their customers like to know where their money's going: not just to a Christian company but also, in many cases, to Christian causes. While companies such as Curves and Coors separate business and charity, Christian companies often explicitly support churches, missions or other religious charities. "Not that you're always going to be treated badly in the secular world, but people feel a little better going to a Christian business," says Christian eBuy.com's Chandler. "They think, 'If I use a Christian Realtor, they're going to turn around and tithe our ministries, so ultimately this will benefit our cause.'" It's the same kind of thinking -- on the other end of the spectrum -- that sends people to Working Assets long distance for their blue-state-to-blue-state calling plans.

By the same token, the name "Christian" also suggests that a customer's money will not support causes that a Christian would not. Blessed Hope Communications, for one, markets itself precisely as an alternative to the mainstream long-distance carriers that -- according to its Web site -- support and encourage "sinful things." Blessed Hope alleges, footnotes and all, that AT&T, MCI and Sprint (the carrier for Working Assets) serve as carriers for "dial-a-porn" and contribute to organizations supporting abortion, "liberal causes and candidates," and "special rights for homosexuals." (AT&T declined to comment on the matter; MCI and Sprint did not respond to requests for comment.) Such charges -- as if to say, "You can't even pick up the phone without consorting with sinners!" -- play into, and play up, the sense that Christians are foundering in an increasingly godless world. (They are not, however, all that different from the kinds of charges that would prompt, say, a Domino's boycott.)

Still, the crucial factor that separates explicitly Christian companies from others -- even from the niche or affinity marketing of an African-American caterer or a Hispanic legal practice -- is that some Christian business owners see their jobs as a legitimate, even necessary, means of proselytizing. "When someone asks, 'Who's your long-distance carrier?' it's a way for me to have a foot in the door to share the message of Christ," says Chandler, who also works as a sales agent for Blessed Hope Communications. Ripka of Riverview Community Bank says he has had 105 people "invite Christ into their lives" on bank premises. (He also claims over 70 faith healings.)
"There's been a big change in what 'witnessing' means," says Alan Wolfe of Boston College. "It used to mean overt actions to bring the message of Jesus to the nonsaved. Now it means more 'lifestyle evangelism.' You glow, and if someone asks you why you're so happy, you say, 'I found Jesus.' That's what's become more common. It's evidence that cold-calling, so to speak, doesn't work."

But aren't patrons of Christian businesses "saved" already? Not all of them. Some are Christians of other denominations who are not "born again"; others might be drawn by the business's reputation or something else that it offers (a women-only workout experience, say). "God leads them here," says Ripka. "A few have even said, 'This is really strange to say, but I felt drawn to your bank.'" A Christian-identified workplace -- helmed by someone with that "glow" -- actually offers the perfect opportunity for believers to encounter those who may be less devout but who still made it past the word "Christian" on the sign or the Ten Commandments at the door.
The majority of Trammell's customers are indeed saved. "They're Christian ladies, like pastors' wives, who can't walk into Bally's in a thong -- and who don't particularly want to walk in and see anyone else in a thong, either," she says. "But then, we've had 22 people saved here as well." Mostly, she subscribes to the notion of witnessing by example. "We should be patient with those that don't know him and go out of our way to be kind," she says. "Maybe someone will look back and say, 'Wow, I remember those Christian people -- they were kind of nice!'"

But when Trammell does feel "moved by the spirit," she will ask a customer if it would be OK for her to "share Jesus' plan of salvation," she says. "I could have opened up any gym and just decided to witness to people if I wanted to. But I don't want to be obnoxious about it. So I said, 'No, it's just gotta be out there.' This way I can say, 'You asked for it! You walked in.'"

******End of article******

As a general matter, I find the increasing balkanization (called segmentation here, making it sound much more benign) of America really disturbing. This article describes one example of a phenomenon that has much larger implications for the health and future of our democracy.

Here's a small example: when I was a child, every Saturday I listened to the weekly Top 40 countdown with Casey Casem (sp?). Now there is no Top 40 radio to speak of -- music, like everything, is niche marketed. So people are getting to listen to more of the music that they are interested in, but there is a much smaller common pool of music that most everyone knows. This may seem minor in isolation, but it's happening in every area you can think of. And the result is that we are losing any sense of having a shared culture and shared experiences. That this is unhealthy for community and democracy seems indisputable. The more we isolate ourselves from our fellow citizens and associate only with people we know think like us (and dress, talk, worship, eat, and read like us), the less able we are to even be civil to those who are different.

This is part of the reason that I wanted to write for this blog. I feel myself getting more and more ensconced in my "urban elite" world (and I've spent the past week in San Francisco and Berkeley, so hello, I even do it on vacation), and I am scared that one day I will go to Mississippi to see my parents and not even speak the same language anymore, to the extent that I even do now. And I imagine that it is the same from the other side -- that people I grew up around see me as this alien with no values, when nothing could be further from the truth. And I cling to the things that still make us the same (which seem mostly to be related to food and weather, on occasion popular culture, but not so much) because this isn't necessary, you know? I get up and go to work in the morning, and I do my laundry, and I watch tv, and I cook dinner, and I love my cats, and I miss my husband terribly when I'm away from him (like I am now). I smile at babies and dogs on the street. I tell customer service when I see a car in the parking lot of a store with its lights on. There's nothing remotely threatening about me, but yet to a lot of people there is because I don't think there's anything wrong with anal sex and don't go to church and practice civil rights law and would let my son wear barrettes and read Heather Has Two Mommies to him before bed.

Despite my desire for community and acceptance of differences, I wouldn't patronize a business with a fish on it. I hate being proselytized about anything -- even if I agree with it. And I would assume that anyone who would put a fish on their business does not share my values, and that they would discriminate against me (as a couple of Salon readers said had happened to them in letters responding to this article). I am afraid, for myself and my future children and for all of us, that one day not too far in the future we will learn to truly hate each other instead of just listening to talk radio hosts who encourage us to. And when I think of where that could lead, I long for times past when we were still different, but said hello on the street and waved.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

A Christian Affirmation 2005 and The Emerging Church, Part One of ?

I have been reading some books on The Emerging Church, but have not quite gotten through them yet, so I hesitate to offer up my opinion on it. However, I have been reading and thinking about A Christian Affirmation 2005, as well as being part of a discussion group on the document. If you have not read it, you should do so before reading the rest of my column. It would also be helpful to read Leroy Garrett’s Response to A Christian Affirmation 2005 and A Reply to Leroy Garrett. These will just be my initial thoughts and hopefully the start of a discussion.

I started out wondering why such a document was desirable or even necessary. One of my first inclinations was that it is a way to try to at least get some control over the direction Churches of Christ are going. With so many churches going to praise teams, some even considering instruments, and others really doing different things when it came to the Lord’s Supper, it seemed to me like a way to try and point us back in the “right direction.” While I’m not completely opposed to something like that, I just wondered about the timing. Why now? Then I started to read about the Emerging Church. This movement (though its main leaders, who don’t call themselves the leader of a movement and don’t call it a movement) is an attempt to reach the postmodern generations in ways that are very postmodern themselves. They are trying very radical ways of worshiping that really challenge mainstream Christianity, some things that sound a lot like what some of the more progressive Churches of Christ are doing, but this movement is doing them on a much larger scale. I began to think about how the two are coinciding and wondered if there was a correlation. I will have to save those thoughts until a future column, though, after I’ve read more about the movement itself.

So back to A Christian Affirmation 2005. It stresses the importance of restoration, baptism by immersion, weekly Lord’s Supper and a cappella music as part of our heritage in Churches of Christ. Although I cannot share what the discussion group said, I will say that as the introduction to the document states, it truly was intended, at least by many of the original signers, to be a way to start a discussion about what is important to our heritage—i.e. what we should seek to keep that is valuable, at least as I read it. I was actually quite impressed with the ability of people in the discussion group to disagree charitably and to still get along okay (as much as that can be seen in an internet discussion group). This is something I have not witnessed in Churches of Christ. It goes back to my article on July 24 about certainty. If I’m right then you’re wrong and you need to be taught the right way to look at things.

Here are my musings that I hope will generate a discussion. I understand as the document affirms that we have been about trying to restore the first century church. Many of our churches have that on their buildings somewhere in the form of “established in 33 A.D.” A question that has been raised is which practices are we trying to restore? Those of Corinth? Those of the Jerusalem church? Philippi? Colossae? Crete? That is just to name a few. I have serious doubts as to whether speaking in tongues was a regular part of the worship of the Jerusalem church, but it was clearly a part of the assembly at Corinth. The Jerusalem church was primarily Jewish and spent much time at the temple, worshiping and learning from the apostles (Acts 2:42-47). Philippi was a small, Roman colony and may have only had one church, rather than multiple house churches. I could go on. We also tend to view things through the lens of “Western” Christianity. Yet Christianity spread into Syriac-speaking areas very early, and there are certain reports of it spreading into India within the first two centuries as well. Though it is not as clear, Ethiopic Christianity is early as well as Coptic Christianity. So which of these churches are we trying to restore? Although there are at least some passages that seem to speak of widely-held practices (1 Corinthians 11:16), the language is so unclear that scholars don’t really know exactly what the practice was. Was it a veil women wore when praying? Was it that they just had long hair? The key phrase in question simply means “down the head” in Greek (although that is a quite literal reading). If we don’t know what it was, how to we imitate it?

The question I am raising is not whether or not our traditional understandings are important, but it goes deeper to whether or not restoration is desirable or necessary. The New Testament does not seem to indicate that Christians should seek to all worship alike according to some preconceived order. If such were the case, we’d expect something far more detailed like Hippolytus’ Apostolic Constitutions, which were much later. Or, perhaps we’ve even misunderstood restoration entirely. Luke tends to have a “restoration of Israel” theme in Luke and Acts, but it does not result in restoring the right worship practices for Israel. It is much more about Jesus fulfilling Israel’s hope and “getting it right” in the sense of actually being a light to the Gentiles, which was supposed to be Israel’s purpose all along.

Well, it is getting late and I need to post this. I would like us to dialogue about the desirability of restoration as a whole, what it should look like, and what are the non-negotiables of the Christian faith. I’ll also write more on unity, because that is close to my heart as well.

[P.S. Sorry this is just a bunch of ramblings, but we’ve had company this weekend and I’ve had several crisis situations at work I had to resolve this weekend. I’ll write more on the Emergent Church next week.]

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